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OF REASON, OR THE UNDERSTANDING PROPERLY SO CALLED; AND THE VARIOUS FACULTIES AND OPERATIONS MORE IMMEDIATELY CONNECTED WITH IT.
Preliminary observations on the vagueness and ambiguity of the common philosophical language relative to this part of our constitution.-Reason and reasoning,-understanding,-intellect,-judginent, &c.
THE power of Reason, of which I am now to treat, is unquestionably the most important by far, of those, which are comprehended Reason under the general title of Intellectual. It is on the right use of this power, that our success in the pursuit both of knowledge and of happiness depends; and it is by the exclusive possession of it that Man is distinguished, in the most essential respects, from the lower animals. It is, indeed, from their subserviency to its operations, that the other faculties, which have been hitherto under our consideration, derive their chief value.
In proportion to the peculiar importance of this subject are its ex- Its extent tent and its difficulty;-both of them such as to lay me under a necessity, now that I am to enter on the discussion, to contract, in various instances, those designs in which I was accustomed to indulge myself, when I looked forward to it from a distance. The execution of them at present, even if I were more competent to the task, appears to me, on a closer examination, to be altogether incompatible with the comprehensiveness of the general plan which was sketched out in the advertisement prefixed to the former volume; and to the accomplishment of which I am anxious, in the first instance, to direct my efforts. If that undertaking should ever be completed, I may
perhaps be able afterwards to offer additional illustrations of certain articles, which the limits of this part of my work prevent me from considering with the attention which they deserve. I should wish, in particular, to contribute something more than I can here introduce, towards a rational and practical system of Logic, adapted to the present state of human knowledge, and to the real business of human life.
"What subject (says Burke) does not branch out to infinity! It is "the nature of our particular scheme, and the single point of view "in which we consider it, which ought to put a stop to our re"searches."* How forcibly does the remark apply to all those speculations which relate to the principles of the Human Mind!
I have frequently had occasion, in the course of the foregoing disquisitions, to regret the obscurity in which this department of philosophy is involved, by the vagueness and ambiguity of words; and I have mentioned, at the same time, my unwillingness to attempt verEstablished bal innovations, wherever I could possibly avoid them, without essential injury to my argument. The rule which I have adopted in names, my own practice is, to give to every faculty and operation of the mind its own appropriate name; following, in the selection of this tho' vague, name, the prevalent use of our best writers; and endeavouring afterто Desired wards, as far as I have been able, to employ each word exclusively, in that acceptation in which it has hitherto been used most generally. In the judgments which I have formed on points of this sort, it is more than probable that I may sometimes have been mistaken; but the mistake is of little consequence, if I myself have invariably annexed the same meaning to the same phrase ;—an accuracy which I am not so presumptuous as to imagine that I have uniformly attained, but which I am conscious of having, at least, uniformly attempted. How far I have succeeded, they alone who have followed my reasonings with a very critical attention are qualified to determine; for it is not by the statement of formal definitions, but by the habitual use of precise and appropriate language, that I have endeavoured to fix in my reader's mind the exact import of my expressions.
be used in
In appropriating, however, particular words to particular ideas, I do not mean to censure the practice of those who may have understood them in a sense different from that which I annex to them; but I found that, without such an appropriation, I could not explain my notions respecting the human mind, with any tolerable degree of distinctness. This scrupulous appropriation of terms, if it can be чать called an innovation, is the only one which I have attempted to inmeaning, troduce; for in no instance have I presumed to annex a philosophical meaning to a technical word belonging to this branch of science, without having previously shewn, that it has been used in the same sense by good writers, in some passages of their works. After doing this, I hope I shall not be accused of affectation, when I decline to use it in any of the other acceptations, in which, from carelessness
* Conclusion of the Inquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful.
e able afterwards to offer additional illustrations of certain
subject (says Burke) does not branch out to infinity! It is re of our particular scheme, and the single point of view we consider it, which ought to put a stop to our re*How forcibly does the remark apply to all those s which relate to the principles of the Human Mind! requently had occasion, in the course of the foregoing disto regret the obscurity in which this department of philovolved, by the vagueness and ambiguity of words; and I tioned, at the same time, my unwillingness to attempt vertions, wherever I could possibly avoid them, without esury to my argument. The rule which I have adopted in practice is, to give to every faculty and operation of the own appropriate name; following, in the selection of this prevalent use of our best writers; and endeavouring afterfar as I have been able, to employ each word exclusively, eptation in which it has hitherto been used most generally. gments which I have formed on points of this sort, it is probable that I may sometimes have been mistaken; but e is of little consequence, if I myself have invariably ansame meaning to the same phrase ;-an accuracy which I presumptuous as to imagine that I have uniformly attainich I am conscious of having, at least, uniformly attemptfar I have succeeded, they alone who have followed my with a very critical attention are qualified to determine; t by the statement of formal definitions, but by the habif precise and appropriate language, that I have endeavourn my reader's mind the exact import of my expressions. opriating, however, particular words to particular ideas, I an to censure the practice of those who may have undera in a sense different from that which I annex to them; d that, without such an appropriation, I could not explain s respecting the human mind, with any tolerable degree This scrupulous appropriation of terms, if it can be innovation, is the only one which I have attempted to infor in no instance have I presumed to annex a philosophing to a technical word belonging to this branch of science, having previously shewn, that it has been used in the same good writers, in some passages of their works. After doing I shall not be accused of affectation, when I decline to pe iny of the other acceptations, in which, from carelessness
*Conclusion of the Inquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful.
or from want of precision, they may have been led occasionally to
Some remarkable instances of vagueness and ambiguity in the em-
"And Reason raise o'er Instinct as you can;
It was thus, too, that Milton plainly understood the term, when
he remarked, that smiles imply the exercise of reason;
Smiles from Reason flow, "To brutes denied :".
And still more explicitly in these noble lines:
"There wanted yet the master-work, the end
And worship God Supreme, who made him chief "Of all his works."
Among the various characteristics of humanity, the power of devising means to accomplish ends, together with the power of distinguishing truth from falsehood, and right from wrong, are obviously the most conspicuous and important; and accordingly it is to these that the word reason, even in its most comprehensive acceptation, is now exclusively restricted.*
This, I think, is the meaning which most naturally presents itself to common readers, when the word reason occurs in authors not affecting to aim at any nice logical distinc
Def. senses reason
By some philosophers, the meaning of the word has been, of late, restricted still farther; to the power by which we distinguish truth from falsehood, and combine means for the accomplishment of our purposes; the capacity of distinguishing right from wrong, being referred to a separate principle or faculty, to which different names have been assigned in different ethical theories. The following passage from Mr. Hume contains one of the most explicit statements Reason for? of this limitation which I can recollect: "Thus the distinct boundathe vestvic-"ries and offices of reason and of taste are easily ascertained. The "former conveys the knowledge of truth and falsehood; the latter "gives the sentiment of beauty and deformity,-vice and virtue. "Reason, being cool and disengaged, is no motive to action, and "directs only the impulse received from appetite or inclination, by "shewing us the means of attaining happiness or avoiding misery. "Taste, as it gives pleasure or pain, and thereby constitutes happi"ness or misery, becomes a motive to action, and is the first spring "or impulse to desire and volition."*
ted by Hume
On the justness of this statement of Mr. Hume, I have no remarks to offer here; as my sole object in quoting it was to illustrate the different meanings annexed to the word reason by different writers. It will appear afterwards, that, in consequence of this circumstance, some controversies, which have been keenly agitated about the principles of morals, resolve entirely into verbal disputes; or at
tions; and it is certainly the meaning which must be annexed to it, in some of the most serious and important arguments in which it has ever been employed. In the following passage, for example, where Mr. Locke contrasts the 'ight of Reason with that of Revelation, he plainly proceeds on the supposition, that it is competent to appeal to the former, as affording a standard of right and wrong, not less than of speculative truth and falsehood; nor can there be a doubt that, when he speaks of truth as the object of natural reason, it was principally, if not wholly, moral truth, which he had in his view: "Reason is natural revelation, whereby the eternal Father of light, and Fountain of all knowledge, communicates to mankind that portion of truth which he has laid within the reach of their natural faculties Revelation is natural reason, enlarged by a new set of discoveries communicated by God immediately, which reason vouches the truth of, by the testimony and proofs it gives that they come from God. So that he who takes away reason to make way for revelation, puts out the light of both, and does much the same, as if he would persuade a man to put out his eyes, the better to receive the remote light of an invisible star by a telescope."--Locke's Essay, B. iv. c. 19.
A passage still more explicit for my present purpose occurs in the pleasing and philoso phical conjectures of Huyghens, concerning the planetary worlds. "Positis vero ejusmodi planetarum incolis ratione utentibus, quaeri adhuc potest, anne idem illic, atque apud nos, sit hoc quod rationem vocamus. Quod quidem ita esse omnino dicendum vide tur, neque aliter fieri posse: sive usum rationis in his consideremus quae ad mores et aequitatem pertinent, sive in iis quae spectant ad principia et fundamenta scientiarum. Etenim ratio apud nos est, quae sensum justitiae, honesti, laudis, clementiae, gratitudinisingenerat, mala ac bona in universum discernere docet: quaeque ad haec animum disciplinae, multorumque inventorum capacem reddit, &c. &c.—Hugenii Opera Varia, Vol. II. p. 663. Lugd. Batav. 1724. [That the planets are inhabited by beings endued with reason, being presupposed, it may be inquired, whether what we call, Reason, is the same with them and with us? That this is the case is clear, and it cannot be otherwise, whether we consider the use of reason in those things which pertain to morals and equity, or in those which have respect to the principles and foundation of the sciences. For reason with us is that which inspires the sense of justice, honour, praise, humanity, gratitude, teaches in all things to distinguish the good and evil, and renders the mind capable of instruction, and of various discoveries or inventions.]
* Essays and Treatises, &c. Appendix concerning Moral Sentiment.
most, into questions of arrangement and classification, of little comparative moment to the points at issue.*
Another ambiguity in the word reason, it is of still greater consequence to point out at present; an leads us to confound our rational powers in general, with that particular branch of reason them, known among logicians by the name of the discursive faculty. Taken for The affinity between reason and reasoning counts for this inaccuracy in common and popular language; al- discursio though it cannot fail to appear obvious, on the slightest
that, in strict propriety, reasoning only expresses one of the various functions or operations of reason; and that an extraordinary capacity for the former by no means affords a test by which the other constituent elements of the latter may be measured.† Nor is it to common and popular language that this inaccuracy is confined. It has extended itself to the systems of some of our most acute philosophers, and has, in various instances, produced an apparent diversity of opinion where there was little or none in reality.
"No hypothesis (says Dr. Campbell) hitherto invented, bath "shewn that, by means of the discursive faculty, without the aid of 66 any other mental power, we could ever obtain a notion of either "the beautiful or the good." The remark is undoubtedly true, and may be applied to all those systems which ascribe to reason the origin of our moral ideas, if the expressions reason and discursive faculty be used as synonymous. But it was assuredly not in this restricted acceptation, that the word reason was understood by those ethical writers at whose doctrines this criticism seems to have been pointed by the ingenious author. That the discursive faculty alone is sufficient to account for the origin of our moral ideas, I do not know that any theorist, ancient or modern, has yet ventured to assert.
Various other philosophical disputes might be mentioned, which would be at once brought to a conclusion, if this distinction between reason and the power of reasoning were steadily kept in view.§
• In confirmation of this remark, I shall only quote at present a few sentences from an excellent discourse, by Dr. Adams of Oxford, on the nature and obligations of Virtue. "Nothing can bring us under an obligation to do what appears to our moral judgment wrong. It may be supposed our interest to do this; but it cannot be supposed our duty. -Power may compel, interest may bribe, pleasure may persuade; but reason only can oblige. This is the only authority which rational beings can own, and to which they owe obedience."
It must appear perfectly obvious to every reader, that the apparent difference of opinion between this writer and Mr. Hume, turns chiefly on the different degrees of latitude with which they have used the word reason. Of the two, there cannot be a doubt that Dr. Adams has adhered by far the most faithfully, not only to its acceptation in the works of our best English authors, but to the acceptation of the corresponding term in the an cient languages. "Est quidem vera lex, recta ratio- -quae vocet ad officium, jubendo; vetando, a fraude deterreat." [It is the real law, right reason-which calls to duty by command, and by prohibition deters from injustice, &c &c.]
"The two most different things in the world (says Locke) are, a logical chicaner and a man of reason."-Conduct of the Understanding, § 3.
Philosophy of Rhetoric, vol. I. P. 204. [Boston edition, p. 109]
It is curious, that Dr. Johnson has assigned to this very limited, and (according to present usage) very doubtful interpretation of the word reason, the first place in his enu