Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

It cannot be denied, that against this summary species of logic, when employed without any collateral lights, as an infallible touchstone of philosophical truth, a strong objection immediately occurs. By what test (it may be asked) is a principle of common sense to be distinguished from one of those prejudices to which the whole human race are irresistibly led, in the first instance, by the very constitution of their nature? If no test or criterion of truth can be pointed out but universal consent, may not all those errors which Bacon has called idola tribus, claim a right to admission among the incontrovertible axioms of science? And might not the popular cavils against the supposition of the earth's motion, which so long obstructed the progress of the Copernican system, have been legitimately opposed, as a reply of paramount authority, to all the scientific reasonings by which it was supported?

It is much to be wished that this objection, of which Dr. Reid could not fail to be fully aware, had been more particularly examined and discussed in some of his publications, than he seems to have thought necessary. From different parts of his works, however, various important hints towards a satisfactory answer to it might be easily collected.* At present, I shall only remark, that although universality of belief is one of the tests by which (according to him) a principle of common sense is characterized, it is not the only test which he represents as essential. Long before his time, Father Buffier, in his excellent treatise on First Truths, had laid great stress on two other circumstances, as criteria to be attended to on such occasions; and although I do not recollect any passage in Reid where they are so explicitly stated, yet the general spirit of his reasonings plainly shows, that he had them constantly in view in all the practical applications of his doctrine. The first criterion mentioned by Buffier is, "That the truths assumed as maxims of common sense "should be such, that it is impossible for any disputant either to de"fend or to attack them, but by means of propositions which are "neither more manifest nor more certain than the propositions in "question." The second criterion is, "That their practical influ66 ence should extend even to those individuals who affect to dis"pute their authority."

To these remarks of Buffier it may not be altogether superfluous to add, that, wherever a prejudice is found to obtain universally among mankind in any stage of society, this prejudice must have some foundation in the general principles of our nature, and must proceed upon some truth or fact inaccurately apprehended, or erroneously applied. The suspense of judgment, therefore, which is proper with respect to particular opinions, till they be once fairly examined, can never justify scepticism with respect to the general laws of the human mind. Our belief of the sun's motion is not a conclusion to which we are necessarily led by any such law, but an inference rashly drawn from the perceptions of sense, which do not

See in particular, Essays on the Int. Powers, p. 565, et seq. 4to. edition. 7


warrant such an inference. All that we see is, that a relative change of position between us and the sun takes place, and this fact, which is made known to us by our senses, no subsequent discovery of philosophy pretends to disprove. It is not, therefore, the evidence of perception which is overturned by the Copernican system, but a judgment or inference of the understanding, of the rashness of which every person must be fully sensible, the moment he is made to reflect with due attention on the circumstances of the case; and the doctrine which this system substitutes instead of our first crude apprehensions on the subject, is founded, not on any process of reasoning a priori, but on the demonstrable inconsistency of these apprehensions with the various phenomena which our perceptions present to us. Had Copernicus not only asserted the stability of the Sun, but, with some of the sophists of old, denied that any such thing as motion exists in the universe, his theory would have been precisely analogous to that of the non-existence of matter; and no answer to it could have been thought of more pertinent and philosophical, than that which Plato is said to have given to the same paradox in the mouth of Zeno, by rising up and walking before his eyes.

2. If the foregoing observations be just, they not only illustrate the coincidence between Dr. Reid's general argument against those metaphysical paradoxes which revolt common sense, and the maxims of philosophical discussion previously sanctioned by our soundest reasoners; but they go far, at the same time, to refute that charge of plagiarism in which he has been involved, in common with two other Scottish writers, who have made their stand in opposition to Berkeley and Hume, nearly on the same ground. This charge has been stated in all its force, in the preface to an English translation of Buffier's Premières Vérités, printed at London in the year 1780; and it cannot be denied, that some of the proofs alleged in its support are not without plausibility. But why suppose Reid to have borrowed from this learned jesuit, a mode of arguing which has been familiar to men in all ages of the world; and to which, long before the publication of Buffier's excellent book, the very same phraseology had been applied by numberless other authors. On this point, the passage already quoted from Bayle is of itself decisive. The truth is, it is a mode of arguing likely to occur to every sincere and enlightened inquirer, when bewildered by sceptical sophistry; and which, during the long interval between the publication of the Berkeleian theory, and that of Reid's Inquiry, was the only tenable post on which the conclusions of the former could be combated. After the length to which the logical consequences of the same principles were subsequently pushed in the Treatise of Human Nature, this must have appeared completely manifest to all who were aware of the irresistible force of the argument, as it is there stated; and, in fact, this very ground was taken as early as the year 1751, in a private correspondence with Mr. Hume, by an intimate friend of his own, for whose judgment, both on philosophical and literary subjects.

he seems to have felt a peculiar deference.* I mention this, as a proof that the doctrine in question was the natural result of the state of science at the period when Reid appeared; and, consequently, that no argument against his originality in adopting it, can reasonably be founded on its coincidence with the views of any preceding author.

A still more satisfactory reply to the charge of plagiarism may be derived from this consideration, that, in Buffier's Treatise, the doc. trine which has furnished the chief ground of accusation is stated with far greater precision and distinctness than in Dr. Reid's first publication on the Human Mind; and that, in his subsequent performances, after he had perused the writings of Buffier, his phraseology became considerably more guarded and consistent than before.

If this observation be admitted in the case of Dr. Reid, it will be found to apply with still greater force to Dr. Beattie, whose language, in various parts of his book, is so loose and unsettled, as to afford demonstrative proof that it was not from Buffier he derived the idea of his general argument. In confirmation of this, I shall only mention the first chapter of the first part of his Essay, in which he attempts to draw the line between common sense and reason; evidently confounding (as many other authors of high reputation have done) the two very different words, reason and reasoning. His account of common sense, in the following passage, is liable to censure in almost every line: "The term common sense hath, in mo"dern times, been used by philosophers, both French and British, to "signify that power of the mind which perceives truth, or com"mands belief, not by progressive argumentation, but by an instan“taneous, instinctive, and irresistible impulse; derived neither from "education nor from habit, but from nature; acting independently "on our will, whenever its object is presented, according to an es"tablished law, and therefore properly called SENSE,† and acting in a

* See Note (C.)

†The doctrine of the schoolmen (revived in later times under a form somewhat modi. fied by Locke,) which refers to sensation the origin of all our ideas, has given rise to a ve ry unwarrantable extension of the word sense, in the writings of modern philosophers. When it was first asserted, that “there is nothing in the intellect which does not come to it through the medium of sense," there cannot be a doubt that, by this last term, were understood exclusively our powers of external perception. In process of time, however, it came to be discovered, that there are many ideas which cannot possibly be traced to this source; and which, of consequence, afford undeniable proof that the scholastic ac count of the origin of our ideas is extremely imperfect. Such was certainly the logical inference to which these discoveries should have led; but, instead of adopting it, philoso phers have, from the first, shown a disposition to save, as much as possible, the credit of the maxims in which they had been educated, by giving to the word sense so great a la titude of meaning, as to comprehend all the various sources of our simple ideas, whatever these sources may be. "All the ideas (says Dr. Hutcheson) or the materials of our reasoning and judging, are received by some immediate powers of perception, internal or external, which we may call senses." Under the title of internal senses, accordingly, many writers, particularly of the medical profession, continue to this day to comprehend memo ry and imagination, and other faculties, both intellectual and active.—(Vid. Haller, Element. Physiologia, Lib. xvii.) Hence also the phrases moral sense, the senses of beauty and harmony, and many of the other peculiarities of Dr. Hutcheson's language: a mode of speaking which was afterwards carried to a much more blameable excess by Lord

"similar manner upon all, or at least upon a great majority of man"kind, and therefore properly called COMMON SENSE.


"Reason," on the other hand, (we are told by the same author) "is used by those who are most accurate in distinguishing, to signify "that power of the human mind by which we draw inferences, or "by which we are convinced that a relation belongs to two ideas,


on account of our having found that these ideas bear certain rela"tions to other ideas. In a word, it is that faculty which enables us, "from relations or ideas that are known, to investigate such as are "unknown; and without which we never could proceed in the discovery of truth a single step beyond first principles or intuitive "axioms." "It is in this last sense (he adds) that we are to use "the word reason in the course of this inquiry."


These two passages are severely, and, I think, justly animadverted on, in the preface to the English translation of Buffier's book, where they are contrasted with the definition of common sense given by that profound and original philosopher. From this definition it appears, that, far from opposing common sense and reason to each other, he considers them either as the same faculty, or as faculties necessarily and inseparably connected together. "It is a faculty "(he says) which appears in all men, or at least in the far greater "number of them, when they have arrived at the age of reason, enabling them to form a common and uniform judgment, on sub"jects essentially connected with the ordinary concerns of life."

That this contrast turns out greatly to the advantage of Buffier,‡ must, I think, be granted to his very acute and intelligent translator.


Kaimes. Dr. Beattie, in the passage quoted above, has indirectly given his sanction to the same abuse of words; plainly supposing the phrase, common sense, not only to mean something quite distinct from reason, but something which bears so close an analogy to the powers of external sense, as to be not improperly called by the same name.

* Essay on Truth, p. 40. 2d edit.

Essay on Truth, pp. 36, 37, 2d edit.

It is remarkable how little attention the writings of Buffier have attracted in his own country, and how very inadequate to his real eminence has been the rank commonly assigned to him among French philosophers. This has perhaps been partly owing to an unfortunate combination which he thought proper to make of a variety of miscellaneous treatises, of very unequal merit, into a large work, to which he gave the name of A Course of the Sciences. Some of these treatises, however, are of great value: particularly that on First Truths, which contains (along with some erroneous notions, easily to be accounted for by the period when the author wrote, and the religious society with which he was connected.) many original and important views concerning the foundations of human knowledge, and the first principles of a rational logic. Voltaire, in his catalogue of the illustrious writers who adorned the reign of Louis XIV. is one of the very few French authors who have spoken of Buffer with due respect." Il y a dans ses traités de métaphysique des morceaux que Locke n'aurait pas désavoués, et c'est le seul jésuite qui ait mis une philosophie raisonnable dans ses ouvrages." Another French philosopher, too, of a very different school, and certainly not disposed to overrate the talents of Buffier, has, in a work published as lately as 1805, candidly acknowledged the lights which he might have derived from the labours of his predecessor, if he had been acquainted with them at an earlier period of his studies. Condiilac, he also observes, might have profited greatly by


[We find in his metaphysical tracts, passages which Locke would not have disowned; and he is the only jesuit who has taught a rational philosophy.]

But while I make this concession in favour of his statement, I must be allowed to add, that, in the same proportion in which Dr. Beattie falls short of the clearness and logical accuracy of his predecessor, he ought to stand acquitted, in the opinion of all men of candour, of every suspicion of a dishonourable plagiarism from his writings.

It is the doctrine itself, however, and not the comparative merits of its various abettors, that is likely to interest the generality of philosophical students; and as I have always thought that this has suffered considerably in the public estimation, in consequence of the statement of it given in the passage just quoted from the Essay on Truth, I shall avail myself of the present opportunity to remark, how widely that statement differs from the language, not only of Buffier, but of the author's contemporary and friend, Dr. Reid. This circumstance I think it necessary to mention, as it seems to have been through the medium of Dr. Beattie's Essay, that most English writers have derived their imperfect information concerning Reid's philosophy.

"There is a certain degree of sense (says this last author, in his "Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man,) which is necessary to "our being subjects of law and government, capable of managing "our own affairs, and answerable for our conduct to others. This "is called common sense, because it is common to all men with whom "we can transact business."

"The same degree of understanding (he afterwards observes) "which makes a man capable of acting with common prudence "in life, makes him capable of discerning what is true and what "is false, in matters that are self-evident, and which he distinctly "apprehends." In a subsequent paragraph, he gives his sanction to a passage from Dr. Bentley, in which common sense is expressly used as synonymous with natural light and reason.


the same lights, if he had availed himself of their guidance in his inquiries concerning the human understanding. "Du moins est il certain, que pour ma part, je suis fort fâché de ne connoître que depuis très peu de temps ces opinions du Père Buffier; si je les avais vues plutôt énoncées quelque part, elles m'auraient épargné beaucoup de peines et d'hé sitations."- "Je regrette beaucoup que Condillac, dans ses profondes et sagaces médi tations sur l'intelligence humaine, n'ait pas fait plus d'attention aux idées du Père Buffier,"† &c. &c.—Elémens d'Idéologie, pur M. Destutt-Tracy, Tom. III. pp. 136, 137.

*Pages 522. 524, 4to edit. In the following verses of Prior, the word reason is employed in an acceptation exactly coincident with the idea which is, on most occasions, an Bexed by Dr. Reid to the phrase common sense :

"Note here, Lucretius dares to teach

(As all our youth may learn from Creech,)
That eyes were made, but could not view,
Nor hands embrace, nor feet pursue,
But heedless Nature did produce
The members first, and then the use;

f[At least for my part I am very sorry not to have become acquainted, until within a very short time, with these opinions of Father Buffier; had I sooner seen them, they would have saved me much doubt and hesitation.--I greatly regret that Condillac, in bis profound and sagacious meditations on the human understanding, has not paid more attention to the ideas of Father Buffier.]

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »