John Stuart Mill, from “An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy”


Anything carried to the infinite must have all of the properties of the same thing as finite, except those which depend on finiteness….The parallel assertion must be made respecting infinite goodness.  What belongs to it either as Infinite or as Absolute I do not pretend to know; but I know that infinite goodness must be goodness, and that what is not consistent with goodness, is not consistent with infinite goodness.  If in ascribing goodness to God I do not mean what I mean by goodness; if I do not mean the goodness of which I have some knowledge, but an incomprehensible attribute of an incomprehensible substance, which for aught I know may be a totally different quality from that which I love and venerate,…what do I mean by calling it goodness? And what reason have I for venerating it?  …To say that God’s goodness may be different in kind from man’s goodness, what is it but saying with a slight change of phraseology that God may possible not be good?  …Unless I believe God to possess the same moral attributes which I find, in however inferior a degree, in a good man, what ground of assurance have I of God’s veracity?  All trust in a Revelation presupposes a conviction that God’s attributes are the same, in all but degree, with the best human attributes.

            Neither is this to set up my own limited intellect as a criterion of divine or of any other wisdom.  If a person is wiser and better than myself, not in some unknown and unknowable meaning of the terms, but in their known human acceptation, I am ready to believe that what this person thinks may be true, and that what he does may be right, when, but for the opinion that I have of him, I should think otherwise.  But this is because I believe that he and I have at bottom the same standard of truth and rule of right, and that he probably understands better than I the facts of the particular case.  In like manner, one who sincerely believes in an absolutely good ruler of the world, is not warranted in disbelieving any act ascribed to him, merely because the very small part of its circumstances which we can possibly know does not sufficiently justify it.  But if what I am told respecting him is of a kind which no facts that can be supposed added to my knowledge could make me perceive to be right; if the alleged ways of dealing with the world are such as no imaginable hypothesis respecting things known to him and unknown to me, could make consistent with the goodness and wisdom which I mean when I use the terms, but are in direct contradiction to their signification; then, if the law of contradiction is a law of human thought, I cannot both believe these things, and believe that God is a good and wise being. …It is worthy of remark that the doubt whether words applied to God have their human signification, is only felt when the words relate to this moral attribute; it is never heard of in regard to his power.  …Is it unfair to surmise that those who speak in the name of God…are content that his goodness should be conceived only as something inconceivable, because they are so often required to teach doctrines respecting him which conflict irreconcilably with all the goodness that we can conceive?