Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

wish for a categorical explanation on this preliminary point. Indeed, every other controversy connected with it turns on little more than the meaning of words.

A difference of opinion with respect to this question of fact (or rather, I suspect, a want of attention in some of the disputants to the great variety of signs of which the mind can avail itself, independently of words) still continues to keep up a sort of distinction between the Nominalists and the Conceptualists. As for the Realists, they may, I apprehend, be fairly considered, in the present state of science, as having been already forced to lay down their arms.

That the doctrine of the nominalists has been stated by some writers of note in very unguarded terms, I do not deny,* nor am I certain that it was ever delivered by any one of the schoolmen in a form completely unexceptionable; but after the luminous, and, at the same time, cautious manner in which it has been unfolded by Berkeley and his successors, I own it appears to me not a little surprising, that men of talents and candour should still be found inclined to shut their eyes against the light, and to shelter themselves in the darkness of the middle ages. For my own part, the longer and the more attentively that I reflect on the subject, the more am I disposed to acquiesce in the eulogium bestowed on Roscellinus and his followers by Leibnitz; one of the very few philosophers, if not the only philosopher, of great celebrity, who seems to have been fully aware of the singular merits of those by whom this theory was originally proposed: SECTA NOMINALIUM, OMNIUM INTER SCHOLASTICAS PRO


Particularly by Hobbes, some of whose incidental remarks and expressions would certainly, if followed strictly out to their logical consequences, lead to the complete subversion of truth, as a thing real, and independent of human opinion. It is to this, I presume, that Leibnitz alludes, when he says of him, "Thomas Hobbes, qui ut verum fatear, mihi plus quam nominalis videtur.Ӡ

I shall afterwards point out the mistake by which Hobbes seems to me to have been misled. In the mean sime, it is but justice to him to say, that I do not think he had any intention to establish those sceptical conclusions, which, it must be owned, may be fairly deduced as corollaries from some of his principles. Of this I would not wish for a strong. er proof than his favourite maxim, that "words are the counters of wise men, but the money of fools;" a sentence which expresses, with marvellous conciseness, not only the proper function of language, as an instrument of reasoning, but the abuses to which it is liable, when in unskilful hands.

Dr. Gillies, who has taken much pains to establish Aristotle's claims to all that is va luable in the doctrine of the nominalists, has, at the same time, represented him as the only favourer of this opinion, by whom it has been taught without any admixture of those errors which are blended with it in the works of its modern revivers. Even Bishop Berkeley himself is involved with Hobbes and Hume in the same sweeping sentence of condem nation. The language of the nominalists seems to have been extremely liable to be perverted to the purposes of scepticism, as taking away the specific distinctions of things; and is in fact thus perverted by Hobbes, Berkeley, Hume, and their innumerable follow ers. But Aristotle's language is not liable to this abuse." (Gillies's Aristotle, Vol. I. p. 71, 2d edit.)

Among these sceptical followers of Berkeley, we must, I presume, include the late learned and ingenious Dr. Campbell; whose remarks on this subject I will, nevertheless, venture to recommend to the particular attention of my readers. Indeed I do not know of any writer who has treated it with more acuteness and perspicuity. (See Philosophy of Rhetoric, Book 11. chap. vii.)

†Thomas Hobbes, who, to speak plainly, appears to me to have carried the principles of the Nominalists much too far.



[ocr errors]

FUNDISSIMA, ET HODIERNAE REFORMATAE PHILOSOPHANDI RATIONI CONGRUENTISSIMA. It is a theory, indeed, much more congenial to the spirit of the eighteenth than of the eleventh century; nor must it be forgotten, that it was proposed and maintained at a period when the algebraical art (or to express myself more precisely, universal arithmetic) from which we now borrow our best illustrations in explaining and defending it, was entirely unknown.


Continuation of the Subject.-Of language considered as an instrument of Thought.

HAVING been led, in defence of some of my own opinions, to introduce a few additional remarks on the controversy with respect to the theory of general reasoning, I shall avail myself of this opportu tunity to illustrate a little farther another topic, (intimately connected with the foregoing argument) on which the current doctrines of modern logicians seem to require a good deal more of explanation and restriction than has been commonly apprehended. Upon this subject I enter the more willingly, that, in my first volume, I have alluded to these doctrines in a manner which may convey, to some of my readers, the idea of a more complete acquiescence, on my part, in their truth, than I am disposed to acknowledge.

In treating of abstraction, I endeavoured to show that we think, as well as speak, by means of words, and that, without the use of language, our reasoning faculty (if it could have been at all exercised) must necessarily have been limited to particular conclusions alone. The effects, therefore, of ambiguous and indefinite terms are not confined to our communications with others, but extend to our private and solitary speculations. Dr. Campbell, in his Philosophy of Rhetoric, has made some judicious and important observations on this subject; and, at a much earlier period, it drew the attention of Des Cartes; who, in the course of a very valuable discussion with respect to the sources of our errours, has laid particular stress on those to which we are exposed from the employment of language as an instrument of thought. "And, lastly, in consequence of the "habitual use of speech, all our ideas become associated with the "words in which we express them; nor do we ever commit these "ideas to memory, without their accustomed signs. Hence it is, "that there is hardly any one subject, of which we have so distinct "a notion as to be able to think of it abstracted from all use of lan66 guage; and, indeed, as we remember words more easily than "things, our thoughts are much more conversant with the former "than with the latter. Hence, too, it is, that we often yield our "assent to propositions, the meaning of which we do not understand; "imagining that we have either examined formerly the import of

The sect of Nominalists, the most profound of all the scholastic sects, and coinciding, for the most part, with the present reformed method of philosophizing.

"all the terms involved in them, or that we have adopted these "terms on the authority of others upon whose judgment we can "rely."*

To these important considerations, it may be worth while to add, that whatever improvements may yet be made in language by philosophers, they never can relieve the student from the indispensible task of analyzing with accuracy the complex ideas he annexes to the terms employed in his reasonings. The use of general terms, as Locke has remarked, is learned, in many cases, before it is possible for us to comprehend their meaning; and the greater part of mankind continue to use them through life, without ever being at the trouble to examine accurately the notions they convey. This

*"Et denique, propter loquelae usum, conceptus omnes nostros verbis, quibus eos exprimimus, alligamus, nec eos, nisi simul cum istis verbis, memoriae mandamus. Comque facilius postea verborum quam rerum recordemur, vix unquam ullius rei conceptum habemus tam distinctum, ut illum ab omni verborum conceptu separemus; cogitatiouesque hominum fere omnium circa verba magis quam circa res versantur; adeo ut persaepe vo cibus non intellectis praebeant assensum, quia putant se illas olim intellexisse, vel ab aliis qui eas recte intelligebant accepisse."-Princ. Phil. Pars Prima, Ixxiv.

I have quoted a very curious passage, nearly to the same purpose, from Leibnitz, in a note annexed to my first volume (see note L.) I was not then aware of the previous at tention which had been given to this source of errour by Des Cartes; nor did I expect to find so explicit an allusion to it in the writings of Aristotle, as I have since observed in the following paragraph :

Διο και των παρα την λέξιν ίντος ὁ τρόπος θέτεος πρώτον μεν, ὅτι μαλλον ἡ απατη γίνεται μετ' αλλων σκοπουμένοις η καθ' έαυτους ή μεν γαρ μετ' άλλων σκεψις δια λόγου· ἡ δὲ καθ' αυτους, ουχ ήττον δι' αυτού του πραγματος· είτα, και καθ' αυτους απατάσθαι συμβαίνει, όταν επι του λόγου ποιηται την σκέψιν ετί, ή μεν απατη εκ της òμolorntes, i de åμooths, en tus defec.-De Sophist. Elenchis, Lib. I. cap. vii.

“Quocirca inter eos (Paralogismos) qui in dictione consistunt, hic fallendi modus est ponendu. Primum, quia magis decipimur considerantes cum aliis, quàm apud nosmetip. 808: nam consideratio cum aliis per sermonem instituitur; apud nosinetipsos autem non minus fit per rem ipsam. Deinde et per nosmetipsos ut fallamur accidit, cum in rebus considerandis sermo adhibetur: Praeterea deceptio est ex similitudine; similitudo autem ex dictione."-Edit. Du Val. Vol. I. p. 289.

Leat it should be concluded, however, from this detached remark, that Aristotle had completely anticipated Locke and Condillac in their speculations with respect to language, considered as an instrument of thought. I must beg of my readers to compare it with the previous enumeration given by the same author, of those paralogisms or fallacies which lie in the diction, (De Sophist. Elenchis, Lib. i. cap. 4.)—recommending to them, at the same time, as a useful comment on the original, the twentieth chapter of the third book of a work entitled Institutio Logica, by the learned and justly celebrated Dr. Wallis of Oxford. I select this work in preference to any other modern one on the same subject, as it has been lately pronounced, by an authority for which I entertain a sincere respect, to be "a complete and accurate treatise of logic, strictly according to the Aristotelian method;" and as we are farther told that it is "still used by many in the university to which Wallis belonged, as the lecture-book in that department of study." I intend to quote part of this chapter on another occasion. At present, I shall only ob serve, that it does not contain the slightest reference to the passage which bas led me to introduce these observations; and which, I believe, will be now very generally allowed to be of greater value than all those puerile distinctions put together, which Dr. Wallis had been at so much pains to illustrate and to exemplify.

Wherefore among the fallacies arising from the diction, these must be enumerated: First, that when engaged in philosophical investigations, in connexion with others, we are more liable to deception than when alone; and the reason is, that with others these inquiries are carried on by means of language, whereas when alone, we judge not less by the thing itself. Then again, we are often deceived when alone, if the investigation be carried on by means of language; for mistake arises from resemblance, and resemblance from the diction.

is a study which every individual must carry on for himself; and of which no rules of logic (how useful soever they may be in directing our labours) can supersede the necessity.

Of the essential utility of a cautious employment of words, both as a medium of communication and as an instrument of thought, many striking illustrations might be produced from the history of science during the time that the scholastic jargon was current among the learned; a technical phraseology, which was not only ill-calculated for the discovery of truth, but which was dexterously contrived for the propagation of errour; and which gave to those who were habituated to the use of it, great advantages in controversy (at least in the judgment of the multitude) over their more enlightened and candid opponents. "A blind wrestler, by fighting in a dark chamber (to adopt "an allusion of Des Cartes) may not only conceal his defect, but "may enjoy some advantages over those who see. It is the light "of day only that can discover his inferiority." The imperfections of this philosophy, accordingly, have been exposed by Des Cartes and his followers, less by the force of their reasonings, than by their teaching men to make use of their own faculties, instead of groping in the artificial darkness of the schools; and to perceive the folly of expecting to advance science, by ringing changes on words to which they annexed no clear or precise ideas.

In consequence of the influence of these views, the attention of our soundest philosophers was more and more turned, during the course of the last century, to the cultivation of that branch of logic which relates to the use of words. Mr. Locke's observations on this subject form perhaps the most valuable part of his writings; and, since his time, much additional light has been thrown upon it by Condillac and his successors.

Important, however, as this branch of logic is in its practical applications; and highly interesting, from its intimate connexion with the theory of the human mind, there is a possibility of pushing, to an erroneous and dangerous extreme, the conclusions to which it has led. Condillac himself falls, in no inconsiderable degree, under this censure; having, upon more than one occasion, expressed himself as if he conceived it to be possible, by means of precise and definite terms, to reduce reasoning, in all the sciences, to a sort of mechanical operation, analogous, in its nature, to those which are practised by the algebraist, on letters of the alphabet. "The art of 66 reasoning (he repeats over and over) is nothing more than a language well arranged."."—" L'art de raisonner se réduit à une langue bien faite.”


One of the first persons, as far as I know, who objected to the vagueness and incorrectness of this proposition, was M. De Gerando; to whom we are farther indebted for a clear and satisfactory exposition of the very important fact to which it relates. To this fact Condillac approximates nearly in various parts of his works; but never, perhaps, without some degree of indistinctness and of exaggeration. The point of view in which it is placed by his ingenious

successor, strikes me as so just and happy, that I cannot deny myself the pleasure of enriching my book with a few of his observations. "It is the distinguishing characteristic of a lively and vigorous "conception, to push its speculative conclusions somewhat beyond "their just limits. Hence, in the logical discussions of this estima"ble writer, these maxims (stated without any explanation or re"striction,) That the study of a science is nothing more than the acqui"sition of a language;' and, that a science properly treated is only a language well-contrived.' Hence the rash assertion, That mathe"matics possess no advantage over other sciences, but what they derive "from a better phraseology; and that of all these might attain to the same "characters of simplicity and of certainty, if we knew how to give "them signs equally perfect.' "*


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"The same task which must have been executed by those who "contributed to the first formation of a language, and which is exe"cuted by every child when he learns to speak it, is repeated over "in the mind of every adult when he makes use of his mother"tongue; for it is only by the decomposition of his thoughts, that "he can learn to select the signs which he ought to employ, and to "dispose them in a suitable order. Accordingly, those external ac"tions which we call speaking or writing, are always accompanied "with a philosophical process of the understanding, unless we con"tent ourselves, as too often happens, with repeating over mechan"ically what has been said by others. It is in this respect that languages, with their forms and rules, conducting (so to speak) those "who use them, into the path of a regular analysis; tracing out to "them, in a well-ordered discourse, the model of a perfect decom66 position, may be regarded, in a certain sense as analytical methods. "But I stop short; Condillac, to whom this idea belongs, has de❝veloped it too well to leave any hope of improving upon his "statement."


In a note upon this passage, however, M. De Gerando has certainly improved not a little on the statement of Condillac. "In asserting "(says he) that languages may be regarded as analytical methods, I "have added the qualifying phrase, in a certain sense; for the word "method cannot be employed here with exact propriety. Langua66 ges furnish the occasions and the means of analysis; that is to say, "they afford us assistance in following that method; but they are "not the method itself. They resemble signals or finger-posts "placed on a road to enable us to discover our way; and if they "help us to analyze, it is because they are themselves the results, " and, as it were, the monuments of an analysis which has been pre"viously made; nor do they contribute to keep us in the right path, but "in proportion to the degree of judgment with which that analysis "has been conducted."t

* Des Signes et de l'Art de Penser, &c. Introd. pp. xx. xxi.

Ibid. pp. 158, 159, Tom. I.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »