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from other powers, that are called speculative. As all mankind distinguish action from speculation, it is very proper to distinguish the powers by which those different operations are performed, into active and speculative. Mr. Locke, indeed, acknowledges, that active power is more properly called power; but I see no propriety at all in passive power: it is a powerless power and a contradiction in terms!" This argument appears very plausible at first view, but when narrowly scrutinized, is found to contain a very frivolous objection and evident fallacy.
The distinction between active and passive power, is as old as language, and recognised in its structure; and at the same time as substantial as any of the maxims of philosophy. If Dr. Reid had recurred to the works of Aristotle, he would have found this distinction perpetually adverted to in the use of his terms δυναμις and εντελεχεια; and in the division which he makes of the soul into what he elegantly denominates the passive intelligent and active intelligent. What is this but determining it to possess passive and active powers? What is implied in the expression, the vis insita or vis inertiæ of matter, so often mentioned in the philosophy of Newton and his coadjutors in natural science, and upon which its laws of motion are considered to be founded, but that matter has a passive power of receiving and retaining any impulse or motion that may be communicated to it? Is not the expression vis inertiæ, force or power of inactivity, as much a contradiction, as that of passive power made use of by Mr. Locke, and what might as justly be represented as a powerless power? The fact is, philosophy, in order that she may communicate her lights to mankind, is obliged to accommodate herself, in some degree to their ordinary language and conceptions. Now perhaps, there is no distinction more easily comprehended by mankind, as coming constantly under the view of all, than that of passive and active powers. I apply my seal to the wax, and by muscular force or active power re
siding in me, I am able by pressing to make an impression upon it. The wax is able not only to receive the impression but to retain it, that is possesses the passive power of doing both these things. Water, although it has power to receive the impression, cannot retain it. Now can any of our ideas be more clear and intelligible, than those which we have of the power possessed by wax of receiving and retaining impressions made on it, while water only receives without having the power of retaining impressions? Dr. Reid says, that he had never seen this distinction made by any good writer, and considers it unfortunate that Mr. Locke invented it; yet with very little trouble, we think, he might be referred to many of the best writers in all languages, who, if they have not expressed the thing in the same terms, have evidently adverted to it. We shall content ourselves in a matter of no great importance, with the following sentences from Mr. Harris's Hermes-" As wax," says he, " would not be adequate to the purpose of signature, if it had not the power to retain as well as to receive the impression; the same holds of the soul with respect to sense and imagination, (and memory, he should have said.) Sense is its receptive power, and imagination, (memory) its retentive. Had it sense without imagination, (memory) it would not be as wax, but as water, where though all impressions be instantly made, yet as soon as they are made they are lost." Here we find in substance, though not stated in so many terms, the doctrine of the passive powers of Mr. Locke, a language intelligible to all. If the term power should be exploded, in such cases, and that of capacity or any better one substituted in its place, it would not be material, and might, as Mr. Locke admits, be more technically correct: but Dr. Reid puts at hazard his reputation as a philosopher, when he would consider the term speculative, instead of passive, as opposed to active power. Speculation and action, as used in ordinary conversation and writing, are two different modes of exercising the active
powers of man, and as such may justly be discriminated from each other; but surely when as metaphysicians we would search for something opposed to active power itself, we should never expect to find it in speculation, which implies also the exercise of active power?
I proceed to the next objection made to the doctrine of Mr. Locke, which has more immediate relation to the present subject of my investigation. "I would observe," continues Dr. Reid, "that Mr. Locke seems to have imposed upon himself, in attempting to reconcile this account of the idea of power to his favourite doctrine, that all our simple ideas are ideas of sensation or reflection. There are two steps, according to his account, which the mind takes, in forming this idea of power; first, it observes changes in things; and secondly, from these changes it infers a cause of them, and a power to produce them. If both these steps are operations of the external senses or of consciousness, then the idea of power may be called an idea of sensation or reflection. But if either of those steps requires the co-operation of other powers of the mind, it will follow, that the idea of power cannot be got by sensation, nor by reflection, nor by both together. Let us, therefore, consider each of these steps by itself. First, we observe various changes in things. And Mr. Locke takes it for granted, that changes in external things are observed by our senses, and that changes in our thoughts are observed by consciousness.
I grant that it may be said, that changes in things are observed by our senses, when we do not mean to exclude every other faculty from a share in this operation. And it would be ridiculous to censure the phrase, when it is so used in popular discourse. But it is necessary to Mr. pose, that changes in external things should be observed by the senses alone excluding every other faculty, because every faculty that is necessary in order to observe the change, will claim a share in the origin of the idea of power. Now, it is
evident that memory is no less necessary than the senses, in order to our observing changes in external things, and therefore, the idea of power derived from the changes observed, may as justly be ascribed to memory as to the senses. Every change supposes two states of the thing changed. Both these states may be past, one of them at least must be past; and one only can be present. By our senses we may observe the present state of the thing, but memory must supply us with the past; and unless we remember the past state, we can perceive no change. The same observation may be applied to consciousness. The truth, therefore, is, that by the senses alone without memory, or by consciousness alone without memory, no change can be observed. Every idea, therefore, that is derived from observing changes in things, must have its origin partly from memory, and not from the senses alone, nor from consciousness alone, nor from both together."
"The second step made by the mind, in forming this idea of power is this; from the charges observed we collect a cause of those changes, and a power to produce them. Here one might ask Mr. Locke whether it is by our senses that we draw this conclusion, or is it by consciousness? Is reasoning the province of the senses, or is it the province of consciousness? If the senses can draw one conclusion from premises, they may draw five hundred, and demonstrate the whole Elements of Euclid."
We have in this a rare example of that shallow and spurious metaphysic, which has been supposed to supersede the sound philosophy of Locke. Our idea of power cannot be derived either from sensation or reflection; because that idea can be obtained only by witnessing various changes in things, and we cannot become acquainted with any changes in things except by the aid of memory. The operation of the faculty of memory, as well as that of sensation, is necessary to our obtaining an idea of power. This is the reasoning, and let us put its validity to the test.
I apply a lighted taper to a
parcel of gun-powder, and, an explosion taking place, the powder passes off in smoke. Now all these changes, the application of the taper, the explosion of the powder, and the passing off in smoke, are produced instantaneously, with the rapidity of thought itself, and in the twinkling of an eye. And yet, are they not sufficient to communicate to us an idea of power, of a power in the first instance to apply the taper, and a power in the fire to ignite the powder and convert it into smoke? And yet is there any one who will assert that an act of the memory must intervene in tracing the succession of these events? If there be any one disposed to think so, he will oblige us by settling the precise limits where perception ceases and memory begins. No one certainly would think that he was liable to the charge of any inaccuracy in his language, should he assert that he had seen all these things, and it would be the farthest from his thoughts to imagine that his memory had any thing to do in the matter. I see a carriage drawn by horses immediately passing before my eyes. Do I not perceive by my senses that the horses pull that carriage along, and have I not, at the same time, a full conviction derived from this perception, that those horses possess muscular force, strength or power, sufficient to produce this result? Am I reduced to the necessity of asserting that the faculty of memory must be exercised, in order to my attaining this knowledge? Cannot I have a perception of the two successive steps of the horses without the assistance of memory? This is analysing the operations of the mind with a vengeance, and frittering them down to infinitesimals or mathematical points. It is not doubted, or denied, that, in the more extended views which we take of things, as, for instance, when the philosopher is tracing and compar ing the present phenomena of nature with his past experience, the perception and memory co-operate in their exercise. and mutually intermix their lights, the perception furnishing memory with continually increasing materials, and the me