Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση








The mind of man has the power of imaging or representing, in old forms by the memory, or in new forms by the imagination, whatever it has at any time known or experienced. To this mental property the Aristotelian phrase 'phantasy,' in use till last century, and revived of late by Sir William Hamilton, * might be appropriately applied, and then we should have the old term 'phantasm (not ' phantom,' which might continue to denote the spectre) ready to designate the mental result, or the idea in consciousness. Having seen a given mountain, I can recall it at any time. Not only so, but I can put what I have experienced in an indefinite number of new shapes and colours. Having seen Mont Blanc, I can, when it pleases me, bring it up before me in all its bulk, supported by its snow-capped buttresses and flanked by its glancing glaciers; but I can do more, I can picture a mountain covered, not with ice, but with silver, or a mountain reaching up to the moon. I can reproduce in like mode whatever has been brought under my notice by any of the other senses. I can recall and reconstruct the bodily sensations,—the sounds, the colours, the tastes,—which I have at any time experienced. Milton, when he wrote · Paradise Lost,' had lost the power of beholding colours, but he had still the capacity of imaging them to himself, or delineating them to others, as he did in his picture of the garden of Eden. A late distinguished poet never had the sense of smell, except for one brief but enjoyable space, when it awoke as he stood in a garden with flowers; but he must have been able ever after to realize what odours meant. It is to be carefully noted that this reproductive power reaches not only over all that has been acquired by the bodily senses, but over all that has been obtained by consciousness or the inward sense. I can recall the joys, the hopes, the sorrows, the fears, which at some former time may have moved my bosom. I can do more : I can picture myself, or picture others, in new and unheard-of scenes of gladness or of grief. Not only can I represent to myself the countenance of my friend, I can have an idea of his character and dispositions. I can form a mental picture of the outward scenes in which Shakspeare or Walter Scott place their heroes or heroines; but I can also enter into their thoughts and feelings.

* See his edition of Reid's Works, p. 291.

But all these ideas, in the sense of phantasms, are reproductions of past experience in old forms or new dispositions. He who has had the use of his eyes at any time, can ever after understand what is meant by the colour of scarlet, but the person born blind has not the most distant idea of it in the sense of image, and if pressed for an answer to the question what he supposes it to be, he can come no nearer the reality than the man mentioned by Locke, who likened it to the sound of a

trumpet; or than the blind boy of whom I have heard, who when asked whether he would prefer a lilac-coloured or a brown-coloured book, offered as a prize, decided for the lilac, as he supposed it must resemble the lilac-bush, whose odour had been so agreeable to him. Having experience of cogitations and sentiments of our own, we apprehend and appreciate those of others. Having a spiritual nature ourselves, we can form some idea of that Great Spirit in whose image we can claim to have been fashioned. But there may be attributes possessed by God of which we can form as little idea as the deaf man can of sounds, or the man without smell can of odours; they may be attributes to which we possess nothing like, and which we may be incapable of representing even in imagination. Niebuhr, the traveller, had often brought before him in his old-age the scenes of Eastern lands, but it was because he had witnessed them in his youth ; and even we who have never been in those countries can so far understand the descriptions in his travels, because we have had the elements of them in our own experience ; but there may be scenes in heaven which it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive, inasmuch as nothing similar has passed under his notice in this lower world.

Now the proposition advanced in this Section is that the soul is not born unto this world with a stock of such phantasms, ready to come out on occasions presented. I rather think that this is the sense in which the phrase is understood by those who give Locke the credit of exploding the doctrine of “innate ideas

for ever. Taking 'idea' in the sense of 'image,' they say, what can be so unreasonable as to suppose that the mind comes into the world with such impressions ready to start forth, like writing with invisible ink, or like sun-pictures when exposed to certain chemical agencies. Locke, who I suspect took 'idea' very much in the sense of mental image, or representation, may very possibly claim to have for ever set aside this view. But his credit in this respect is not very great after all. For I rather think no philosopher of influence ever propounded such a doctrine, formally or explicitly. It is quite conceivable, indeed, that Plato might have consistently held some such doctrine. He might have maintained that the soul did come into the world with such ideas; but then he would have ascribed them to experience acquired in a previous state of existence. But Plato's doctrine of ideas, while I believe it, in many aspects of it, to be as true as it is sublime, is apt to run into myths and fancies in the expression, so that it is difficult to give a thoroughly consistent exposition of it. By 'idea' he meant a pattern in or before the Divine Mind from all eternity; and he supposes a course of philosophic abstraction to be quite as necessary as reminiscence to call up such ideas into consciousness. But whether the view which I am opposing has or has not been entertained by men of eminence, it is expedient to notice it, in order at the very commencement to remove it out of the way as an encumbrance.


This proposition is not the same as that illustrated in last Section. A mental picture of a mountain is one thing, and a general notion of the class mountain is a very different thing. All our cognitions by the senses or the consciousness, and all our subsequent images of them in memory or imagination, are singular and concrete; that is, they are of individual things, and of things with an aggregate of qualities. I can see or picture to myself an individual man of a certain form or character, but I cannot perceive nor adequately represent in the phantasy the class man. I can see or imagine a piece of magne

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »