Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

trine to which the foregoing remarks relate. For it is at all consonant with the other arrangements so wisely calculated for human happiness to suppose, that the conduct of such a fallible and shortsighted creature as Man. would be left to be regulated by no other principle than the private opinion of each individual concerning the expediency of his own actions? or, in other words, by the conjectures which he might form on the good or evil resulting on the whole from an endless train of future contingencies? Were this the case, the opinions of mankind with respect to the rules of morality would be as various, as their judgments about the probable issue of the most doubtful and difficult determinations in politics. Numberless cases might be fancied, in which a person would not only claim merit but actually possess it, in consequence of actions which are generally regarded with indignation and abhorrence ;--for unless we admit such duties as justice, veracity, and gratitude, to be immediately and imperatively sanctioned by the authority of reason and of conscience, it follows as a necessary inference, that we are bound to violate them, when ever, by doing so, we have a prospect of advancing any of the essential interests of society; or (which amounts to the same thing) that a good end is sufficient to sanctify whatever means may appear to us to be necessary for its accomplishment. Even men of the soundest and most penetrating understandings might frequently be led to the perpetration of enormities, if they had no other light to guide them but what they derived from their own uncertain anticipations of futurity. And when we consider how small the number of such men is, in comparison of those whose judgments are perverted by the prejudices of education and their own selfish passions, it is easy to see what a scene of anarchy the world would become. Of this indeed we have too melancholy an experimental proof, in the history of those individuals who have in practice adopted the rule of general expediency as their whole code of morality;-a rule which the most execrable scourges of the human race have, in all ages, professed to follow, and of which they have uniformly availed themselves, as an apology for their deviations from the ordinary maxims of right and wrong.

Fortunately for mankind, the peace of society is not thus entrusted to accident, the great rules of a virtuous conduct being confessedly of such a nature as to be obvious to every sincere and welldisposed mind. And it is in a peculiar degree striking, that, while the theory of ethics involves some of the most abstruse questions which have ever employed the human faculties, the moral judgments and moral feelings of the most distant ages and nations, with respect to all the most essential duties of life, are one and the same.*

"Si quid rectissimum sit, quærimus; perspicuum est. Si quid maximè expediat ; ob. scurum Sin ii sumus, qui profectò esse debemus, ut nibil arbitremur expedire, nisi quod rectum honestumque sit; non potest esse dubium, quid faciendum nobis sit.”—Cic. Ep. ad Fam. iv. 2.

If we seek what is right, our way is clear; if what is expedient, it is not clear. But if our character be such as it ought to be, and we think that nothing is expedient, but what is right and just; we can have no doubt what ought to be our course of practice.]

Of this theory of utility, so strongly recommended to some by the powerful genius of Hume, and to others by the well-merited popularity of Paley, the most satisfactory of all refutations is to be found in the work of Mr. Godwin. It is unnecessary to inquire how far the practical lessons he has inculcated are logically inferred from his fundamental principle; for although I apprehend much might be objected to these, even on his own hypothesis, yet, if such be the conclusions to which, in the judgment of so acute a reasoner, it appeared to lead with demonstrative evidence, nothing farther is requisite to illustrate the practical tendency of a system, which, absolving men from the obligations imposed on them, with so commanding an authority, by the moral constitution of human nature, abandons every individual to the guidance of his own narrow views concerning the complicated interests of political society.*

One very obvious consideration seems to have entirely escaped the notice of this, as well as of many other late inquiries: That, in ethical researches, not less than in those which relate to the material universe, the business of the philosopher is limited to the analytical investigation of general laws from the observed phenomena; and that if, in any instance, his conclusions should be found inconsistent with acknowledged facts, the former must necessarily be corrected or modified by the latter. On such occasions, the ultimate appeal must be always made to the moral sentiments and emotions of the human race. The representations, for example, which we read with so much delight, in those poets, of whatever age and country, who have most successfully touched the human heart;-of the heroical sacrifices made to gratitude, to parental duty, to filial piety, to conjugal affection ;-are not amenable to the authority of any ethical theory, but are the most authentic records of the phenomena which it is the object of such theories to generalize. The sentiment of Publius Syrus-Omne dixeris maledictum, quum ingratum hominem dixeris-speaks a language which accords with every feeling of an unperverted mind;-it speaks the lan

It is remarkable that Mr. Hume, by far the ablest advocate for the theory in ques tion, has indirectly acknowledged its inconsistence with some of the most important facts which it professes to explain. "Though the heart (he observes in the 5th section of his Inquiry concerning Morals) takes not part entirely with those general notions, nor regulates all its love and hatred by the universal abstract differences of vice and virtue, without regard to self, and the persons with whom we are more intimately connected; yet have these moral differences a considerable influence, and being sufficient, at least for discourse, serve all the purposes in company, in the pulpit, on the theatre, and in the schools."-On this passage, the following very curious note is to be found at the end of the volume; a note (by the way) which deserves to be added to the other proofs already given of the irresistible influence which the doctrine of final causes occasionally exercises over the most sceptical minds. "It is wisely ordained by nature, that private connexions should commonly prevail over universal views and considerations; otherwise our affec tions and actions would be dissipated and lost, for want of a proper limited object."— Does not this remark imply an acknowledgment, First, That the principle of general expe diency (the sole principle of virtuous conduct, according to Mr. Hume, in our most impor. tant transactions with our fellow creatures) would not contribute to the happiness of socie ty, if men should commonly act upon it; and, Secondly. That some provision is made in Our moral constitution, that we shall, in fact, be influenced by other motives in discharg ing the offices of private life?

guage of Nature, which it is the province of the moralist, not to criticise, but to listen to with reverence. By employing our reason to interpret and to obey this, and the other moral suggestions of the heart, we may trust with confidence, that we take the most effectual means in our power to augment the sum of human happiness; but the discovery of this connexion between virtue and utility is the slow result of extensive and philosophical combinations; and it would soon cease to have a foundation in truth, if men were to substitute their own conceptions of expediency, instead of those rules of action which are inspired by the wisdom of God.*

It must not be concluded from the foregoing observations, that, even in ethical inquiries, the consideration of final causes is to be rejected. On the contrary, Mr. Smith himself, whose logical precepts on this subject I have now been endeavouring to illustrate and enforce, has frequently indulged his curiosity in speculations about uses or advantages; and seems plainly to have considered them as important objects of philosophical study, not less than efficient causes. The only caution to be observed is, that the one may not be confounded with the other.

Between these two different researches, however, there is, both in physics and ethics, a very intimate connexion. In various cases, the consideration of final causes has led to the discovery of some general law of nature; and, in almost every case, the discovery of a general law clearly points out some wise and beneficent purposes to which it is subservient. Indeed it is chiefly the prospect of such applications which renders the investigation of general laws interesting to the mind.†


In the foregoing chapters of this Second Part, I have endeavoured to turn the attention of my readers to various important questions relating to the Human Understanding; aiming, in the first place, to correct some fundamental errours in the theories commonly received with respect to the powers of intuition and of reasoning; and, secondly, to illustrate some doctrines connected with the groundwork of the inductive logic, which have been either overlooked, or misapprehended by the generality of preceding writers. The bulk to which the volume has already extended, renders it impossible for me now to attempt a detailed recapitulation of its contents:-Nor do I much regret the necessity of this omission, having endeavoured, in every instance, as far as I could, to enable the intelligent reader to trace the thread of my discussions.

[blocks in formation]

In a work professedly elementary, the frequent references made to the opinions of others may, at first sight, appear out of place; and it may not unnaturally be thought, that I have too often indulged in critical strictures, where I ought to have confined myself to a didactic exposition of first principles. To this objection I have only to reply, that my aim is not to supplant any of the established branches of academical study; but, by inviting and encouraging the young philosopher, when his academical career is closed, to review, with attention and candour, his past acquisitions, to put him in the way of supplying what is defective in the present systems of education. I have accordingly entitled my book, Elements-not of Logic or of Pneumatology, but-of the Philosophy of the Human Mind; a study which, according to my idea of it, presupposes a general acquaintance with the particular departments of literature and of science, but to which I do not know that any elementary introduction has yet been attempted. It is a study, indeed, whereof little more perhaps than the elements can be communicated by the mind of one individual to that of another.

In proof of this, it is sufficient here to hint, (for I must not at present enlarge on so extensive a topic,) that a knowledge of the general laws which regulate the intellectual phenomena is, to the logical student, of little practical value, but as a preparation for the study of Himself. In this respect, the anatomy of the mind differs essentially from that of the body; the structure of the former (whatever collateral aids may be derived from observing the varieties of genius in our fellow-creatures) being accessible to those alone who can retire into the deepest recesses of their own internal frame; and even to these presenting, along with the generic attributes of the race, many of the specific peculiarities of the individual. On this subject, every writer, whose speculations are at all worthy of notice, must draw his chief materials from within; and it is only by comparing the conclusions of different writers, and subjecting all of them to the test of our personal experience, that we can hope to separate the essential principles of the human constitution from the unsuspected effects of education and of temperament;* or to apply with advantage, to our particular circumstances, the combined results of our reading and of our reflections. The constant appeal which, in such inquiries, the reader is thus forced to make to his own consciousness and to his own judgment, has a powerful tendency to form a habit, not more essential to the success of his metaphysical researches, than of all his other speculative pursuits.

Nearly connected with this habit, is a propensity to weigh and to ascertain the exact import of words; one of the nicest and most dif

* I use the word temperament, in this instance, as synonymous with the idiosyncrasy of medical authors; a term which I thought might have savoured of affectation if applied to the mind; although authorities for such an employment of it are not wanting among old English writers. One example, directly in point, is quoted by Johnsou from Glan ville. "The understanding also hath its idiosyncracies, as well as other faculties."

ficult of all analytical processes; and that upon which more stress has been justly laid by our best modern logicians, than upon any other organ for the investigation of truth. For the culture of this propensity, no science is so peculiarly calculated to prepare the mind, as the study of its own operations. Here, the imperfections of words constitute the principal obstacle to our progress; nor is it possible to advance a single step, without struggling against the associations imposed by the illusions of metaphorical terms, and of analogical theories. Abstracting, therefore, from its various practical applications, and considering it merely as a gymnastic exercise to the reasoning powers, this study seems pointed out by nature, as the best of all schools for inuring the understanding to a cautious and skilful employment of language as the instrument of thought.

The two first chapters of this volume relate to logical questions, on which the established opinions appear to me to present stumbling-blocks at the very threshold of the science. In treating of these, I have canvassed with freedom, but, I hope, with due respect, the doctrines of some illustrious moderns, whom I am proud to acknowledge as my masters; of those more particularly, whose works are in the highest repute in our British Universities, and whose errours I was, on that account, the more solicitous to rectify. For the space allotted to my criticisms on Condillac, no apology is necessary to those, who have the slightest acquaintance with the present state of philosophy on the continent, or who have remarked the growing spread, in this Island, of some of his weakest and most exceptionable theories. On various controverted points connected with the theory of evidence, both demonstrative and experimental, I trust, with some confidence, that I shall be found to have thrown considerable light in other instances, I have been forced to content myself with proposing my doubts; leaving the task of solving them to future inquirers. To awaken a dormant spirit of discussion, by pointing out the imperfections of generally received systems, is at least one step gained towards the farther advancement of knowledge.

It is justly and philosophically remarked by Burke, that "nothing "tends more to the corruption of science than to suffer it to stag"nate. These waters must be troubled before they can exert their ❝ virtues. A man who works beyond the surface of things, though "he may be wrong himself, yet he clears the way for others, and 66 may chance to make even his errours subservient to the cause "of truth."*

The subsequent chapters, relative to the Baconian Logic, bear, all of them, more or less, in their general scope, on the theory of the intellectual powers, and on the first principles of human knowledge. In this part of my work, the reader will easily perceive, that I do not profess to deliver logical precepts; but to concentrate, and to reflect back on the Philosophy of the Mind, whatever scattered lights have been able to collect from the experimental Inquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful, Part I, Sect. xix. 35


« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »