« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
Mr. Hume's Principles.
From Berkeley let us proceed very briefly to advert to the principles of Mr. Hume. Nothing can be more certain, than that the system of the former leads by unavoidable consequence to that of the latter. It may be remarked also, that the Bishop has rot taken any pains, or discovered any. solicitude to fortify his theory against invasions from this quarter. If by our senses we cannot attain to a knowledge of the existence of material substances without, by our consciousness, we can, with no greater degree of certainty, ascertain the existence of an immaterial principle within. If the whole outward world consists of a mere train of perceptions and ideas, surely there is good reason to infer, that the whole of the inward world consists of another train of perceptions and ideas. The whole universe, therefore, upon the principles of this sublime philosophy, is resolved into a succession of fleeting ideas, following each other according to certain laws of association. The metaphysicians of the Scottish school, and particularly Reid and Stewart, are lavish of their encomiums upon Mr. Hume; and undoubtedly, as an elegant historian, too much praise cannot be bestowed upon him. His history, as a production of genius, stands unrivalled, except by Thucydides and Livy; and I think, taking it altogether, considering it in reference to the simplicity and beauty of the composition, the lively and agreeable narration which it contains of matters of fact, the masterly delinea
tion of characters, and the mass of important and useful information he has included in it, it is to be preferred to all others. But as a metaphysician, I utterly deny his claims, either to a just comprehension of his subject, or to propriety and perspicuity in his modes of expression. He had read on this subject, as he had on those connected with religion, without having studied and understood them. Let me, however, in order to justify my strictures give a brief sketch of his opinions, in his own language.
He divides all our perceptions into impressions and ideas, without any license from the received philosophy of his time, or any ground in nature for such a distinction, and yet he gives us no reason for it. The difference betwixt impressions and ideas, consists in the degrees of force and liveliness, with which they strike upon the mind, and make their way into our thought or consciousness. Those perceptions which enter with the most force and violence, we may name impressions, and under this head he comprehends all our sen. sations, passions and emotions, as they make their first appearance in the soul.
By ideas, he means the faint images of these in thinking and reasoning. All our simple ideas are in their first appearance derived from simple impressions, which are correspondent to them, and which they exactly represent. He finds by experience that the simple impressions, always take the precedence of the correspondent ideas, but never appear in the contrary order. This appears both from the order of their appearance, and from the phenomenon, that wherever by accident the faculties which give rise to any impressions are obstructed in their operations, as when one is born blind or deaf, not only the impressions are lost, but their correspondent ideas.” Again he proceeds—“ Impressions may be divided into two kinds, those of sensation and those of reflection. The first kind arises in the soul, originally from unknown causes.
The second is derived in a great measure from our ideas, and that in the following order, An impression first strikes upon the senses, and makes us perceive heat or cold, thirst or hunger, pleasure or pain of some kind or other. Of this impression there is a copy taken by the mind, which remains after the impression ceases, and this we call an idea. This idea of pleasure or pain, when it returns upon the soul, produces the new impressions of desire and aversion, hope and fear, which may properly be called impressions of reflection, because derived from it. These again are copied by the memory and imagination, and become ideas; which perhaps in their turn give rise to impressions and ideas." Thus is laid the foundation of a theory, which has received such frequent and honourable mention, in the work s of most metaphysicians of the Scottish school. First, impressions beget ideas, their images or copies, and distinguished from them only by having a less degree of force and vivacity; then these ideas again beget other impressions, having a greater degree of force and vivacity than themselves; then again, to carry on the work of procreation in regular line, these new impressions beget new ideas, and so on. We have heard a great deal of the jargon and intellectual fooleries of the schoolmen, and Mr. Hume is as ready as any one to join in the cry against them; but we defy any one to produce from their voluminous works, any specimen of a more complete Babylonish dialect, than that which we have presented from the Treatise of Human Nature. For our part, we must confess, that we are utterly at a loss to account for the repeated panegyrics bestowed by Dr. Reid and others upon this author, as when he is called the acute metaphysician, one of the acutest metaphysicians that ever lived, and his works and opinions are made to occupy as large a share of attention, and considered as entitled to the same respect as those of Locke, Aristotle, Des Cartes, and Mallebranche. We think that all that he has written on these subjects, have detracted from his reputation, instead of making any additions to his, in other respects, well deserved fame. He had read Mr. Locke, Berkeley and others, with just sufficient care, to obtain crude and indigested ideas of the subjects treated of by them, but he evidently discovers that he never understood them; and with the crude materials thus collected by a cursory perusal, he has attempted to rear a ridiculous superstructure of scepticism and foolery. In order to justify animadversions that may appear to be severe, let me briefly state some of the points attempted to be maintained in the Treatise of Human Nature, and the language in which they are conveyed. I would premise, however, this statement of his doctrine with this single observation, that it will readily be perceived, if the account before mentioned be regarded as a true one, then his sceptical inferences are irresistible. For if our original impressions are derived from unknown causes, and these impressions beget ideas their copies, these copies of external impressions, again produce impressions of reflection, and these again ideas of reflection; it is clear that all the objects of human perception and knowledge are resolved at once into fleeting trains of ideas, and there is no necessity for supposing the existence of a material or immaterial principle in man.
To proceed with our proposed statement of his opinions. Mr. Hume maintains, that we have no idea of substance, space, time, extension, or of a mathematical point, and no abstract ideas. He says, a straight line is not well defined to be the shortest distance between two points, and thinks that more than one right line, may be drawn between two points; as for instance, supposing two lines to approach at the rate of an inch in twenty leagues, he perceives no absurdity in asserting, that upon their contact they become one.
He as: serts, that we are incapable in geometry, of telling when two figures are equal, when a line is a right one, and when a surface is a plain one. He maintains, that it is impossible for us to form any idea of any thing specifically different