« PreviousContinue »
may or may not be inferred from the fact, according to the views of the inquirer. The inquiry is an inquiry into the functions and operations of mind; and all that can possibly be stated as fact on such an occasion, must relate to the state and affections of mind only: But to assume the existence of a material world, in order afterwards to define one function of mind to be that by which it discovers material qualities, is evidently blending hypothesis in the statement, and prejudging the controversy by assumption. The fact itself, we really conceive not to be liable to any kind of doubt or dispute; and yet the statement of it, obvious as it is, seems calculated to retrench a good deal from each of the opposite assertions. The fact, if we be not greatly mistaken, is confessedly as follows. We have occasionally certain sensations which we call heat, pain, resistance, &c. These feelings, of course, belong only to the mind, of which they are peculiar affections; and both parties are agreed in asserting, that they have no resemblance, or necessary reference, to any thing external. Dr. Reid has made this indeed the very ground-work of his reasonings on the subject of perception; and it will not probably be .." in question by his antagonists, who go the length of inferring from it, that nothing but mind can be conceived to have an existence in nature. This, then, is one fact which we may safely assume as quite certain and indisputable, viz. that our sensations are affections of the mind, and have no necessary reference to any other existence. But there is another fact at least as obvious and indisputable, which the one party seems disposed to overlook, and the other to invest with undue authority, in the discussion. This second fact is, that some of the sensations in question are uniformly and irresistibly accompanied by the apprehension and belief of certain external existences, distinguished by peculiar qualities. The fact certainly admits of no dispute; and, accordingly, the philosophers who first attempted to prove that this belief was without foundation, have uniformly claimed the merit of disabusing mankind of a natural and universal illusion. Now this apprehension and belief of external existences, is in itself as much an affection of mind, as the sensations by which it is accompanied; and those who deny the distinction between perception and sensation, might be justified perhaps in asserting, that it is only a sensa
asmuch as there is a distinction between on: feelings of pain, resistance, &c., and our conception and belief of real external existences: But they differ merely as one affection of mind may differ from another; and it is plainly unwarrantable to assume the real existence of external objects as a part of the statement of a purely intellectual phenomenon. After allowing He reality of this distinction, there is still room therefore for considering the second question to which we alluded in the outset, viz. Whether perception does necessarily imply the existence of external objects. Upon this subject, we entertain an opinion which will not give satisfaction, we are afraid, to either of the contending parties. We think that the existence of external objects is not necessarily implied in the phenomena of perception; but we think that there is no complete proof of their nonexistence; and that philosophy, instead of being benefited, would be subjected to needless embarrassments, by the absolute assumption of the ideal theory. The reality of external existences is not necessarily implied in the phenomena of perception; because we can easily imagine that our impressions and conceptions might have been exactly as they are, although matter had never been created. Belief, we familiarly know, to be no infallible criterion of actual existence; and it is impossible to doubt, that we might have been so framed as to receive all the impressions which we now ascribe to the agency of external objects, from the me. chanism of our own minds, or the particular volition of the Deity. The phenomena of dreaming, and of some species of madness, seem to form experimental proofs of the pos. sibility we have now stated; and demonstrate, in our apprehension, that perception, as we have defined it, (i.e. an apprehension and be. lief of external existences,) does not necessarily imply the independent reality of its objects. Nor is it less absurd to say that we have the same evidence for the existence of external objects that we have for the existence of our own sensations: For it is quite plain, that our belief in the former is founded altogether on our consciousness of the latter; and that the evidence of this belief is consequently of a secondary nature. We cannot doubt of the existence of our sensations, without being guilty of the grossest contradiction; but we may doubt of the existence
tion of another kind: at the same time, as the of the material world, without any contradic
essence of it consists in the apprehension of stion at all.
If we annihilate our sensations,
an independent existence, there can be no we annihilate ourselves; and, of course, leave harm in distinguishing it, by a separate appel- no being to doubt or to reason. If we anni. lation, from those sensations which centre in hilate the external world, we still leave entire the sentient being, and suggest to him no idea all those sensations and perceptions which a
of any other existence. It is in this sense alone, it o: to us, that perception can be understood in strict philosophical language.
different hypothesis would refer to its mysterious agency on our minds. - On the other hand, it is certainly going too
It means no more than that affection of the far to assert, that the nonexistence of matter mind which consists in an apprehension and is proved by such evidence as necessarily to
belief in the existence of external objects.
command our assent: Since it evidently im
Now in this sense of the word, there can plies no contradiction to suppose, that such a be no doubt that there is a real distinction between mere sensation and perception; in
thing as matter may exist, and that an omnipotent being might make us capable of discovering its qualities. The instinctive and insurmountable belief that we have of its existence, certainly is not to be surrendered, merely because it is possible to suppose it erroneous; or difficult to comprehend how a material and immaterial substance can act upon each other. The evidence of this unirersal and irresistible belief, in short, is not to be altogether disregarded; and, unless it can be shown that it leads to actual contradictions and absurdities, the utmost length iha! philosophy can warrantably go, is to conclude that it may be delusive; but that it may also be true.
íhe rigorous maxim, of giving no faith to any thing short of direct and immediate consciousness, seems more calculated, we think, to perplex than to simplify our philosophy, and will run us up, in two vast strides, to the тегу brink of absolute annihilation. We deny the existence of the material world, because \re have not for it the primary evidence of consciousness ; and because the clear conception and indestructible belief we have of it, «My be fallacious, for any thing we can prove to the contrary. This conclusion annihilates at once all external objects; and, among them, onr own bodies, and the bodies and •anuís of all other men ; for it is quito evident that we can have no evidence of the existence of other minds, except through the mediation of the matter they are supposed to animate; and if matter be nothing more than w »flection of our own minds, there is an end to the existence of every other. This first step, iheiefore, reduces the whole universe to the miiidof the individual reasoner; and leaves no existence in nature, but one mind, with its compliment of sensations and ideas. The second step goes still farther ; and no one can hesitate to lake it, who has ventured deliberately on the first. If our senses may deceive M) so may ou г memory:—if we will not believe in the existence of matter, because it is not vouched by internal consciousness, and because it is conceivable that it should not exist, we cannot consistently believe in the '»lily of any past impression: for which, in Noe manner, we cannot have the direct evidence of consciousness, and of which our present recollection may possibly be fallacious. Even upon the vulgar hypothesis, we »'low that memory is much more deceitful than perception; and there is still greater hazard in assuming the reality of any past «istence from our present recollection of it, 111 in relying on the reality of a present Mistence from our immediate perception. If ** discredit our mcmnry, however, and deny a" existence of which we have not a present consciousness or sensation, it is evident that We must annihilate our own personal identity, TM refuse to believe that we had thought or ^nsalion at any previous moment. There j51" be no reasoning, therefore, nor knowTMNo nor opinion; and we must end by yirTMly annihilating ourselves, and denying TM any thing whatsoever exists in nature, "at the present solitary and momentary imP'eseiou.
This is the legitimate and inevitable termination of that determined scepticism which refuses to believe any thing without the highest of all evidence, and chooses to conclude positively that every thing is not, which may possibly be conceived not to be. The process of reasoning which it implies, is neither long nor intricate; anil its conclusion would be undeniably just, if everything was necessarily true which could be asserted without a contradiction. It is perfectly true, that we are absolutely sure of nothing but what we feel at the present moment; and that it is possible to distinguish between the evidence we have for the existence of the present impression, and the evidence of any other existence. The first alone is complete and unquestionable; we may hesitate about all the rest without any absolute contradiction. But the distinction, we apprehend, is in itself of as little use in philosophy, as in ordinary life ; and the absolute and positive denial of all existence, except that of our immediate sensation, altogether rash and unwarranted. The objects of our perception and of our recollection, certainly may exist, although we cannot demonstrate that they must; and when in spite of all our abstractions, we find that we must come back, and not only reason with our fellow creatures as separate existences, but engage daily in speculations about the qualities and properties of matter, it must appear, at least, an unprofitable refinement which would lead us to dwell much on the possibility of their nonexistence. There is no sceptic, probably, who would be bold enough to maintain, that this single doctrine of the nonexistence of any thing but our present impressions, would constitute a just or useful system of logic and moral philosophy; and if, after flourishing with it as an unfruitful paradox in the outset, we are obliged to recur to the ordinary course of observation and conjecture as to the nature of our faculties, it may be doubted whether any real benefit has been derived from its promulgation, or whether the hypothesis can be received into any sober system of philosophy. To deny the existence of matter and of mind, indeed, is not to philosophise, but to destroy the materials of philosophy. It requires no extraordinary ingenuity or power of reasoning to perceive the grounds upon which their existence may be doubted; but we acknowledge that we cannot see how it can be said to have been disproved; and think we perceive very clearly, that philosophy will neither be simplified nor abridged by refusing to take it for granted.
Upon the whole, then, we are inclined to think, that the conception an^ belief which we have of material objects (which is what we mean by the perception of them) does no! amount to a complete proof of their existence, but renders it sufficiently probable: that the superior and complete assurance we have of the existence of our present sensations, doe* by no means entitle us positively to deny the reality of every other existence; and that as this speculative scepticism neither renders us independent of the ordinary modes of investigation, nor assists us materially in the иве of them, it is inexpedient to dwell long upon it in the course of our philosophical inquiries, and much more advisable to proceed upon the supposition that the real condition of things is conformable to our natural apprehensions.
The little sketch we have now ventured to offer of the abstract, or thorough-going philosophy of scepticism, will render it unnecessary for us to follow our author minutely through the different branches of this inquiry. Overlooking, or at least undervaluing the indisputable fact, that our sensations are uniformly accompanied with a distinct apprehension, and firm belief in the existence of real external objects, he endeavours to prove, that the qualities which we ascribe to them are in reality nothing more than names for our peculiar sensations; and maintains accordingly, that because men differ in their opinions of the same object, it is impossible to suppose that they actually perceive any real object at all; as a real existence must always appear the same to those who actually perceive it.
His illustrations are of this nature. Water, which feels tepid to a Laplander, would appear cold to a native of Sumatra: But the same water cannot be both hot and cold: therefore it is to be inferred that neither of them is affected by any real quality in the external body, but that each describes merely his own sensations. Now, the conclusion here is plainly altogether unwarranted by the fact; since it is quite certain that both the persons in question perceive the same quality in the water, though they are affected by it in a different manner. The solution of the whole puzzle is, that heat and cold are not different qualities; but different degrees of the same quality, and probably exist only relatively to each other. If the water is of a higher temperature than the air, or the body of the person who touches it, he will call it warm; if of a lower temperature, he will call it cold. But this does not prove by any means, that the difference between two distinct temperatures is ideal, or that it is not always perceived by all individuals in the very same way. If Mr. Dnimmond could find out a person who not only thought the water cold which other people called warm, but aleo thought that warm which they perceived to be cold, he might have some foundation for his inference; but while all mankind agree that ice is cold, and steam hot, and concur indeed most exactly in their judgments of the comparative heat of all external bodies, it is plainly a mere quibble on the convertible nature of these qualities, to call in question the identity of their perceptions, because they make the variable standard of their own temperature the rule for denominating other bodies hot or cold.
In the same way, Mr. Drummond goes on to say, one man calls the flavour of assafœtida nauseous, and another thinks it agreeable ;— one nation delights in a species of food which to its neighbours appears disgusting. How, then, can we suppose that they perceive the tame real qualities, when their judgments in regard to them are so diametrically opposite?
Now, nothing, we conceive, ie more obvios t than the fallacy of this reasoning. The ;;• Icing, or disliking, of men to a particular object. has nothing to do with the perception m ill external qualities; and they may differ entirely as to their opinion of its agreeaUenaj. though they concur perfectly as to the description of all its properties. One man тат admire a tall woman, and another a short one; but it would be rather rash to infer, that ih-л did not agree in recognising a difference ш stature, or that they had no uniform idea« o: magnitude in general. In the same way, o;.e person may have an antipathy to gall. 21*! another a liking for it ; but they both percebe it to be salt, and both agree in describir g u by that appellation. To give any degree <•' plausibility to Mr. Drummond's inference«. .1 would be necessary for him to show that soné men thought brandy and Cayenne pepper csipid and tasteless, and objected at the ваше time to milk and spring water as ехсеьател acrid and pungent.
In the concluding part of his book, No. Drummond undertakes nothing less than s defence of the theory of Ideas, against the arguments of Dr. Reid. This is a bold attempt; but, we are inclined to think, ш » successful one. Mr. Dnimmond begins wi:h the old axiom, that nothing can act but «here it is; and infers, that as real material object cannot penetrate to the seat of the soul. :bai sentient principle can only perceive сепаш images or ideas of them ; against the awurr.,'tion of which he conceives there can If r.o considerable obstacle. Now, it is needles. we think, to investigate the legit imacy of tii.; reasoning very narrowly, because the foumiation, we are persuaded, is unsound. Tie axiom, we believe, is now admitted 10 t< fallacious (in the sense at least here assigr.f.i to it) by all who have recently paid any attention to the subject. But what does Mr. Drummond understand exactly by ideas? Does he mean certain films, shadows, or stvndocrc, proceeding from real external existences, ati passing through real external organs to ti« local habitation of the soul 1 If he mea« this, then he admits the existence of a material world, as clearly as Dr. Reid doef. and subjects himself to all the ridicule wtocb he has himself so justly bestowed upon th< hypothesis of animal spirits, or any ottvi supposition^ which explains the intercourte between mind and matter, by imagining eome matter, of so fine a nature as almost to graduate into mind! If, on the other hunt.tr ideas, Mr. Drummond really means nothiw: but sensations and perceptions (as we bare already explained that word), it ie qune obvious that Dr. Reid has never called their existence in question; and the whole détele comes back to the presumptions for the No«• ence of an external world; or the reasonableness of trusting to that indestructible behf ¡ which certainly accompanies those sensations, as evidence of their having certain external causee. We cannot help doubting, whether Mr. Drummond has clearly stated to Ьпме»г in which of these two sensée he ргорок« м»
defend the doctrine of ideas. The doctrine of Images proceeding from actual external existences, is the only one in behalf of which he can claim the support of the ancient philosophers; and it is to it he seems to allude, in several of the remarks which he makes on
guished by its colour, i rom the other portion« that were perceived at the same time. It seems equally impossible to dispute, however, that we should receive from this impression the belief and conception of an external existence, and that we should have the very
ч' fcl, 111 luu? LI»' v/vlilnunl 11/ UlituulC: ULMt^Ln \Jl \I4I IM111.:l > H.Jtn. IMIi Jl Ml' UA1C1
with Dr. Reid about the existence of ideas; for | nal existence of light be admitted, a very the Doctor assuredly did not deny that we slight attention to its laws and properties, will had sensations and perceptions, notions, recollections, and all the other affections of
mind to which the word idea may be applied, in that other sense of it. There can be no qnestion upon that supposition, but about the
of these another chapter.
ideas — which belongs to
show its appearances roust vary, according to our distance from the solid objects which emit it. We perceive the form of bodies by sight,
Mr. Drummond seems to lay the whole itreee of his argument upon a position of Hume's, which he applies himself to vindicate from the objections which Dr. Reid has urged against it. "The table which I see," says I>r. Hume, "diminishes as I remove from it; but the real table suffers no alteration: — it could be nothing but its image, therefore. which was present to my mind." Now this statement, we think, admits pretty explicitly, that there is a real table, the image of which is presented to the mind: but, at all events, we conceive that the phenomenon may be easily reconciled with the supposition of its real existence. Dr. Reid's error, if there be one. seems to consist in his having asserted any qualities whatever of the reflecting ob
in short, very nearly as a blind man perceives them, by tracing their extremities with his stick: It is only the light in one case, and the stick in the other, that is properly felt or perceived; but the real form of me object is indicated, in both cases, by the state and disposition of the medium which connects it with our sensations. It is by intimations formerly received from the sense of Touch, no doubt, that we ultimately discover that the rays of light which strike our eyes with the impressions of form and colour, proceed from distant objects, which are solid and extended in three dimensions; and it is only by recollecting what we have learned from Mm sense, that we are enabled to conceive them as endued
poîitively, and without any qualification, that it is the real table which we perceive, when our eye« are turned towards it. When the matter however is considered very strictly, it will be found that by the sense of seeing we can perceive nothing but light, variously arranged and diversified; ana that, when we look towards a table, we do not actually see the table itself, but only the rays of light which are reflected from it to the eye. Independently of the co-operation of our other fonws, it seems generally to be admitted, that we should perceive nothing by seeing but an assemblage of colours, divided by different lines; and onr only visual notion of the table (however real it might be) would, therefore, be that of a definite portion of light, distin
with these qualities. By the eye itself we do not perceive these qualities: nor. in strictness of speech, do we perceive, by this sense,
ject; we perceive merely the light which it reflects; distinguished by its colour from the other light that falls on the eye along with it, and assuming a new form and extension, according as the distance or position of the body ie varied in regard to us. These variations are clearly explained by the known properties of light, as ascertained by experiment; and evidently afford no ground for supposing any alteration in the object which emits it, or for throwing any doubts upon the real existence of such an object. Because the divergence of the rays of light varies with the distance between iheir origin and the eye, is there the slightest reason for pretending, that the magnitude of the object from which they proceed must be held to have varied aleo?
An account of the Life and Writing* of James Beattie, LL. D. late Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic in the Marischal College and University of Aberdeen: including many of his original Letters. By Sir W. Forbes of Pitsligo. Baronet, one of the Executors of Dr. Beattie. 2 vole. 4to. pp. 840. Edinburgh and London: 1806. ,
Dr. Beattie's great work, and that which »и undoubtedly the first foundation of his celebrity, ie the "Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth;" on which such un
* The greater part of this ariicle aleo ¡я withheld from the present reprint, for the reasons formerly •tiled; and only those parts given which bear upon point» of metaphysics.
measured praises are bestowed, both by hie present biographer, and by all the author's male and female correspondents, that it ie with difficulty we can believe that they are speaking of the performance which we have just been wearying ourselves with looking over. That the author's intentions were good, and his convictions sincere, we entertain noi
the least doubt; but that the merits of his book have been prodigiously overrated, we think, is equally undeniable. It contains absolutely nothing, in the nature of argument that had not been previously stated by Dr Reid in his " Inquiry into the Human Mind;' and, in our opinion, in a much clearer ant more unexceptionable form. As to the merits of that philosophy, we have already taken occasion, in more places than one, to submit our opinion to the judgment of our readers, and, after having settled our accounts with Mr. Stewart and Dr. Reid, we really do not think it worth while to enter the lists again with Dr. Beattie. Whatever may be the excellence of the common-sense school of philosophy, he certainly has no claim to the honours of a founder. He invented none of it; and it is very doubtful with us, whether he ever rightly understood the principles upon which it depends. It is unquestionable, at least, that he has exposed it to considerable disadvantage, and embarrassed its more enlightened supporters, by the misplaced confidence with which he lias urged some propositions, and the fallacious and fantastic illustrations by which he has aimed at recommending many others.
His confidence and his inaccuracy, however, might have been easily forgiven. Every one has not the capacity of writing philosophically: But every one may at least be temperate and candid; and Dr. Beattie's book is still more remarkable for being abusive and acrimonious, than for its defects in argument or originality. There are no subjects, however, in the wide field of human speculation, upon which such vehemence appears more groundless and unaccountable, than the greater part of those which have served Dr. Beattie for topics of declamation or invective.
His first great battle is about the real existence of external objects. The sceptics say, that perception is merely an act or affection of the mind, and consequently might exist without any external cause. It is a sensation or affection of the mind, to be sure, which consists in the apprehension and belief of such external existences: But being in itself a phenomenon purely mental, it isa mere supposition or conjecture to hold that there are any such existences, by whose operation it is produced. It is impossible, therefore, to bring any evidence for the existence of material objects; and the belief which is admitted to be inseparable from the act of perception, can never be received as such evidence. The whole question is about the grounds of this belief, and not about its existence; and the phenomena of dreaming and madness prove experimentally, that perception, as characterised by belief, may exist where there is no external object. Dr. Beattie answers, after Dr. Reid, that the mere existence of this instinctive and indestructible belief in the reality of external objects, is a complete and sufficient proof of their reality; that nature meant us to be satisfied with it; and that we cannot call it in question, without running into the greatest absurdity.
This is the whole dispute; and г correct summary of the argument upon bota sides of the question. But is there any üúcg here that could justify the calling of names, or the violation of decorum among the disputants? The question is, of all other qn«lions that can be suggested, the most purely and entirely speculative, and obvioufh d> connected trom any practical or moral ...:•:sequences. After what Berkeley has written on the subject, it must be a <rross and wilful fallacy to pretend that the conduct of men сад be in the smallest degree affected by ihe opinions they entertain about the existen« or nonexistence of matter. The 8} stem which maintains the latter, leaves all our ч-. salions and perceptions unimpaired and eatire; and as it is by these, and by these оя!у. that our conduct can ever be guided, it я evident that it can never be altered by the adoption of that system. The wholedispsa is about the canse or origin of our pereeptioBi. which the one party ascribes to the actioc of external bodies, and the other to the inwad development of some mental energy. Il is»
3uestion of pure curiosity; it never can be ecided; and as its decision is perfectly i different and immaterial to any practical p:-pose, so, it mighl have been expected ;h¿: the discussion should be conducled m;Lo.;: virulence or abuse.
The next grand dispute is about the mdence of Memory. The sceptics will Ьт? it, that we are sure of nothing but our prarat sensations; and lhat, though ihese are м.limes characterised by an impression an belief that other sensations did formerly exiti we can have no evidence of the justice of Ли belief, nor any certainty that this illusive cc:ceplion of former sensation, which we caJ! memory, may not be an original affecticn o: our minds. The orthodox philosophers, я ;he other hand, maintain, lhat the mstiiici1reliance we have on memory is completea»! satisfactory proof of itsaccuracv: thai ¡! ..' absurd to ask for the grounds of this be'.--' and thai we cannol call it in question without manifest inconsistency. The same obsemlions which were made on ihe argument for the existence of matter, apply also to this cotToversy. It is purely speculative, and " ."• oui application to any practical conclus«] The sceptics do not deny lhat ihey геглет;.;-' ike other people, and, consequently, lhat they lave an indestructible belief in pasl erents м existences. All ihe question is about theonjr», or the justice of this belief;—whether itari* Vom such events having actually happ<"'>¿ jefore, or from some original affection o! timind, which is attended with that imprt'**4" The argumenl, as commonly slat«! by ibe sceptics, leads only to a negative or sceptic»! conclusion. It amounts only to this, that tie >resent scnsalion, which we call memo'v, affords no conclvsii* evidence of past eiirtenw and that for any thing that can be jirorW l n he contrary, nothins of what we remercNr may have existed. We think thisundor.ai\» rue ; and so we believe did Dr. Beatu'e, He bought it also very useless; and tiere. tt*S