« PreviousContinue »
defend the doctrine of ideas. The doctrine guished by its colour, from the other portions of IMAGES proceeding from actual external that were perceived at the same time. It existences, is the only one in behalf of which seems equally impossible to dispute, however, he can claim the support of the ancient phi- that we should receive from this impression losophers; and it is to it he seems to allude, the belief and conception of an external exin several of the remarks which he makes on istence, and that we should have the very the illusions of sight. On the other supposi- same evidence for its reality, as for that of the tion, however, he has no occasion to dispute objects of our other senses. But if the exterwith 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, re. show its appearances must vary, according to collections, and all the other affections of our distance from the solid objects which emit mind to which the word idea may be applied, 'it. We perceive the form of bodies by sight, in that other sense of it. There can be no in short, very nearly as a blind man perceives question upon that supposition, but about the them, by tracing their extremities with his origin of these ideas — which belongs to stick : It is only the light in one case, and the another chapter.
stick in the other, that is properly felt or peiMr. Drummond seems to lay the whole' ceived; but the real form of ihe object is stress of his argument upon a position of indicated, in both cases, by the state and disHume's, which he applies himself to vindicate position of the medium which connects it with from the objections which Dr. Reid has urged our sensations. It is by intimations formerly against it. “The table which I see," says received from the sense of Touch, no doubt, Dr. Hume, "diminishes as I remove from it; that we ultimately discover that the rays of but the real table suffers no alteration :--it light which strike our eyes with the imprescould be nothing but its image, therefore, sions of form and colour, proceed from distant which was present to my mind." Now this objects, which are solid and extended in three statement, we think, admits pretty explicitly, dimensions; and it is only by recollecting that there is a real table, the image of which what we have learned from this sense, that is presented 10 the mind: but, at all events, we are enabled to conceive them as endued we conceive that the phenomenon may be with these qualities. By the eye itself we easily reconciled with the supposition of its do not perceive these qualities: por. in strictreal existence. Dr. Reid's error, if there be ness of speech, do we perceive, by his sense, one, seems to consist in his having asserted any qualities whatever of the reflecting obpositively, and without any qualification, that ject; we perceive merely the light which it it is the real table which we perceive, when reflects; distinguished by its colour from the our eyes are turned towards it. When the other light that falls on the eye along with it, matter however is considered very strictly, it and assuming a new form and extension, acwill be found that by the sense of seeing we cording as the distance or position of the body can perceive nothing but light, variously ar- is varied in regard to us. These variations ranged and diversified; and that, when we are clearly explained by the known properties look towards a table, we do not actually see of light, as ascertained by experiment; and the table itself, but only the rays of light evidently afford no ground for supposing any which are reflected from it to the eye. Inde- alteration in the object which emits it, or for pendently of the co-operation of our other throwing any doubts upon the real existence senses, it seems generally to be admitted, that of such an object. Because the divergence we should perceive nothing by seeing but an of the rays of light varies with the distance assemblage of colours, divided by different between iheir origin and the eye, is there the lines, and our only visual notion of the table slightest reason for pretending, that the mag, (however real it might be) would, therefore, nitude of the object from which they proceed be that of a definite portion of light, distin- I must be held to have varied also ?
( April, 1807.) An account of the Life and Writings of James Beattie, LL. D. late Professor of Moral Philoso
phy 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 vols. 4to. pp. 840. Edinburgh and London : 1806.
Dr. Beattie's great work, and that which measured praises are bestowed, both by his was undoubtedly the first foundation of his ce- present biographer, and by all the author's lebrity, is the “Essay on the Nature and male and female correspondents, that it is Immutability of Truth ;" on which such un- with difficulty we can believe that they are
The greater part of this article also is withheld speaking of the performance which we have from the present reprint, for the reasons formerly just been wearying ourselves with looking stated; and only those parts given which bear upon over. That the author's intentions were good, points of metaphysics.
and his convictions sincere, we entertain not
the least doubt; but that the merits of his This is the whole dispute; and a pretty book have been prodigiously overrated, we correct summary of the argument upon both think, is equally undeniable. It contains ab- sides of the question. But is there any thing solutely nothing, in the nature of argument, here that could justify the calling of names that had not been previously stated by Dr. or the violation of decorum among the disReid in his "Inquiry into the Human Mind;" putants ? The question is, of all other quesand, in our opinion, in a much clearer and tions that can be suggested, the most purely more unexceptionable form. As to the merits and entirely speculative, and obviously disof that philosophy, we have already taken connected from any practical or moral conoccasion, in more places than one, to submit sequences. After what Berkeley has written our opinion to the judgment of our readers; on the subject, it must be a gross and wiiul and, after having settled our accounts with fallacy to pretend that the conduct of men can Mr. Stewart and Dr. Reid, we really do not be in the smallest degree affected by the think it worth while to enter the lists again opinions they entertain about the existence with Dr. Beattie. Whatever may be the ex- or nonexistence of matter. cellence of the common-sense school of phi- which maintains the latter, leaves all our senlosophy, he certainly has no claim to the sations and perceptions unim paired and enhonours of a founder. He invented none of tire; and as it is by these, and by these only, it; and it is very doubtful with us, whether that our conduct can ever be guided, it is he ever rightly understood the principles upon evident that it can never be altered by the which it depends. It is unquestionable, at adoption of that system. The whole dispute least, that he has exposed it to considerable is about the cause or origin of our perceptions; disadvantage, and embarrassed its more en- which the one party ascribes to the action of lightened supporters, by the misplaced con- external bodies, and the other to the inward fidence with which he has urged some development of some mental energy. It is a propositions, and the fallacious and fantastic question of pure curiosity; it never can be illustrations by which he has aimed at recom- decided ; and as its decision is perfectly inmending many others.
different and immaterial to any practical pur. His confidence and his inaccuracy, however, pose, so, it might have been expected ihat might have been easily forgiven. Every one the discussion should be conducted without has not the capacity of writing philosophically: virulence or abuse. But every one may at least be temperate and The next grand dispute is about the evi. candid; and Dr. Beattie's book is still more dence of Memory. The sceptics will have remarkable for being abusive and acrimonious, it, that we are sure of nothing but our present than for its defects in argument or originality. sensations; and that, though these are someThere are no subjects, however, in the wide times characterised' by an impression and field of human speculation, upon which such belief that other sensations did formerly exist, vehemence appears more groundless and un- we can have no evidence of the justice of this accountable, than the greater part of those belief, nor any certainty that this illusive conwhich have served Dr. Beattie for topics of ception of former sensation, which we call declamation or invective.
memory, may not be an original affection of His first great battle is about the real exist- our minds. The orthodox philosophers, on ence of external objects. The sceptics say, the other hand, maintain, that the instinctive that perception is merely an act or affection reliance we have on memory is complete and of the mind, and consequently might exist satisfactory proof of its accuracy; that it is without any external cause. It is a sensation absurd to ask for the grounds of this belief; or affection of the mind, to be sure, which and that we cannot call it in question without consists in the apprehension and belief of such manifest inconsistency. The same observa. external existences: But being in itself a phe- tions which were made on the argument for nomenon purely mental, it is a mere supposition the existence of matter, apply also to this conor conjecture to hold that there are any such troversy. It is purely speculative, and with. existences, by whose operation it is produced out application to any practical conclusion. It is impossible, therefore, to bring any evi- The sceptics do not deny that they remember dence for the existence of material objects; like other people, and, consequently, that they and the belief which is admitted to be in- have an indestructible belief in past events or separable from the act of perception, can existences. All the question is about the origin, never be received as such evidence. The or the justice of this belief ;-whether it arise whole question is about the grounds of this from such events having actually happened belief, and not about its existence; and the before, or from some original affection of the phenomena of dreaming and madness prove mind, which is attended with that impression. experimentally, that perception, as character- The argument, as commonly stated by the ised by belief, may exist where there is no sceptics, leads only to a negative or sceptical external object. Dr. Beattie answers, after conclusion. It amounts only to this, that the Dr. Reid, that the mere existence of this in- present sensation, which we call 'memory, stinctive and indestructible belief in the re- affords no conclusive evidence of past existence; ality of external objects, is a complete and and that for any thing that can be proved to sufficient proof of their reality; that nature the contrary, nothing of what we remember meant us to be satisfied with it; and that we may have existed. We think this undeniably cannot call it in question, without running into true; and so we believe did Dr. Beattie. He the greatest absurdity.
thought it also very useless; and there, too,
we agree with him: But he thought it very | consequences are perfectly harmless. Their wicked and very despicably silly; and there reasonings are about as ingenious and as innowe cannot agree with him at all. It is a very cent as some of those which have been empretty and ingenious puzzle, –affords a very ployed to establish certain strange paradoxes useful mortification to human reason, -and as to the nature of motion, or the infinite divisleads us to that state of philosophical wonder ibility of matter. The argument is perfectly and perplexity in which we feel our own logical and unanswerable ; and yet no man in helplessness, and in which we ought to feel his senses can practically admit the concluthe impropriety of all dogmatism or arrogance sion. Thus, it may be strictly demonstrated, in reasoning upon such subjects. This is the that the swiftest moving body can never overonly use and the only meaning of such scep- take the slowest which is before it at the comtical speculations. It is altogether unfair, mencement of the motion; or, in the words and indeed absurd, to suppose that their of the original problem, that the swift-footed authors could ever mean positively to main- Achilles could never overtake a snail that had tain that we should try to get the better of a few yards the start of him. The reasoning any reliance on our memories, or that they upon which this valuable proposition is foundthemselves really doubted more than other ed, does not admit, we believe, of any direct people as to the past reality of the things confutation ; and yet there are few, we supthey remembered. The very arguments they pose, who, upon the faith of it, would take a bet use, indeed, to show that the evidence of as to the result of such a race. The sceptical memory may be fallacious, prove, completely, reasonings as to the mind lead to no other that, in point of fact, they relied as implicitly practical conclusion; and may be answered as their antagonists on the accuracy of that or acquiesced in with the same good nature. faculty. If they were not sure that they re- Such, however, are the chief topics which collected the premises of their own reason- Dr. Beattie has discussed in this Essay, with ings, it is evidently impossible that they a vehemence of temper, and an impotence should ever have come to any conclusion. of reasoning, equally surprising and humiliaIf they did not believe that they had seen the ting to the cause of philosophy. The subjects books they answered, it is impossible they we have mentioned occupy the greater part should have set about answering them. of the work, and are indeed almost the only
The truth is, however, that all men have a ones to which its title at all applies. Yet we practical and irresistible belief both in the think it must be already apparent, that there existence of matter, and in the accuracy of is nothing whatever in the doctrines he opmemory; and that no sceptical writer ever poses, to call down his indignation, or to jusmeant or expected to destroy this practical tify his abuse. That there are other doctrines belief in other persons. All that they aimed in some of the books which he has aimed at at was to show their own ingenuity, and the confuting, which would justify the most zealnarrow limits of the human understanding ;- ous opposition of every friend to religion, we to point out a curious distinction between the readily admit; but these have no necessary evidence of immediate consciousness, and dependence on the general speculative scepthat of perception of memory, and to show ticism to which we have now been alluding, that there was a kind of logical or argumen- and will be best refuted by those who lay all tative possibility, that the objects of the latter that general reasoning entirely out of confaculties might have no existence. There sideration. Mr. Hume's theory of morals, never was any danger of their persuading which, when rightly understood, we conceive men to distrust their senses or their memory; to be both salutary and true, certainly has no nor can they be rationally suspected of such connection with his doctrine of ideas and iman intention. On the contrary, they neces- pressions; and the great question of liberty sarily took for granted the instinctive and in- and necessity, which Dr. Beattie has settled, destructible belief for which they found it so by mistaking, throughout, the power of doing difficult to account. Their whole reasonings what we will, for the power of willing withconsist of an attempt to explain that admitted out motives, evidently depends upon considerfact, and to ascertain the grounds upon which ations altogether apart from the nature and that belief depends. In the end, they agree immutability of truth. It has always appeared with their adversaries that those grounds can- to us, indeed, that too much importance has not be ascertained : and the only difference been attached to Theories of morals, and to between them is, that the adversary main- speculations on the sources of approbation. tains that they need no explanation ; while the Our feelings of approbation and disapprobaeceptic insists that the want of it still leaves tion, and the moral distinctions which are a possibility that the belief may be fallacious; raised upon them, are Facts which no theory and at any rate establishes a distinction, in can alter, although it may fail to explain. degree, between the primary evidence of con- While these facts remain, they must regulate sciousness, which it is impossible to distrust the conduct, and affect the happiness of manwithout a contradiction, and the secondary evi- kind, whether they are well or ill accounted dence of perception and memory, which may for by the theories of philosophers. It is the be clearly conceived to be erroneous, same nearly with regard to the controversy
To this extent, we are clearly of opinion about cause and effect. It does not appear to that the sceptics are right; and though the us, however, that Mr. Hume ever meant to value of the discovery certainly is as small as deny the existence of such a relation, or of possible, we are just as well satisfied that its the relative idea of power. He has merely
given a new theory as to its genealogy or scholars of the south, who knew little of meta descent; and detected some very gross inac- physics themselves, to get a Scotch professor curacies in the opinions and reasonings which of philosophy to take up the gauntlet in their were formerly prevalent on the subject. behalf. The contempt with which he chose
If Dr. Beattie had been able to refute these to speak of his antagonists was the very tone doctrines, we cannot help thinking that he which they wished to be adopted; and, some would have done it with more temper and of them, imposed on by the confidence of his moderation; and disdained to court popularity manner, and some resolved to give it all by so much fulsome cant about common sense, chances of imposing on others, they joined in virtue, and religion, and his contempt and one clamour of approbation, and proclaimed a abhorrence for infidels, sophists, and meta- triumph for a mere rash skirmisher, while the physicians; by such babyish interjections, as leader of the battle was still doubtful of the "fy on it! 'fy on it !”—such triumphant ex victory. The book, thus dandled into popu. clamations, as, (say, ye candid and intelli- larity by bishops and good ladies, contained gent!"-or such terrific addresses, as, ye many pieces of nursery eloquence, and much traitors to human kind! ye murderers of the innocent pleasantry: it was not fatiguing 10 human soul!"_"vain hypocrites! perfidious the understanding; and read less heavily, on profligates!” and a variety of other embellish- the whole, than most of the Sunday library. ments, as dignified as original in a philosophi- In consequence of all these recommendations, cal and argumentative treatise. The truth is, it ran through various editions, and found its that the Essay acquired its popularity, partly way into most well-regulated families; and, from the indifference and dislike which has though made up of such stuff, as we really long prevailed in England, as to the meta- believe no grown man who had ever thought physical inquiries which were there made the 'of the subject could possibly go through with subject of abuse; partly from the perpetual out nausea and compassion, still retains its appeal which it affects to make from philoso- place among the meritorious performances, phical subtlety to common sense; and partly by which youthful minds are to be purified from the accidental circumstances of the au- and invigorated. We shall hear no more of it, thor. It was a great matter for the orthodox however, among those who have left college.
(November, 1810.) Philosophical Essays. By DUGALD STEWART, Esq., F. R. S. Edinburgh, Emeritus Professor of
Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, &c. &c. 4to. pp. 590. Edinburgh: 1810.
The studies to which Mr. Stewart has de- and to constitute, in this way, a signal ex. voted himself, have lately fallen out of favour ample of that compensation, by which the good with the English public; and the nation which and evil in our lot is constantly equalised, or once placed the name of Locke immediately reduced at least to no very variable standard. under those of Shakespeare and of Newton, The progress of knowledge has given birth, and has since repaid the metaphysical labours of late years, to so many arts and sciences, that of Berkeley and of Hume with such just ce- a man of liberal curiosity finds both sufficient lebrity, seems now to be almost without zeal occupation for his time, and sufficient exercise or curiosity as to the progress of the Philoso- 'to his understanding, in acquiring a superficial phy of Mind.
knowledge of such as are most inviting and The causes of this distaste it would be cu- most popular; and, consequently, has much rious, and probably not uninstructive, to inves- less leisure, and less inducement than formerly; tigate: but the inquiry would be laborious, to dedicate himself to those abstract studies and perhaps not very satisfactory; It is easy, which call for more patient and persevering indeed, to say, that the age has become fri- attention. In older times, a man had nothing volous and impatient of labour; and has aban- for it, but either to be absolutely ignorant and doned this, along with all other good learning, idle, or to take seriously to theology and the and every pursuit that requires concentration school logic. When things grew a little betof thought, and does not lead to immediate ter, the classics and mathematics filled up
the distinction. This is satire, and not reason- measure of general education and private ing; and, were it even a fair statement of the study; and, in the most splendid periods of fact, such a revolution in the intellectual English philosophy, had received little adhabits and character of a nation, is itself a dition, but from these investigations into our phenomenon to be accounted for, —and not to intellectual and moral nature. Some few inbe accounted for upon light or shallow con- dividuals might attend to other things; but a siderations. To us, the phenomenon, in so knowledge of these was all that was required far as we are inclined to admit its existence, of men of good education; and was held has always appeared to arise from the great complishment enough to entitle them to the multiplication of the branches of liberal study, rank of scholars and philosophers. Now-aand from the more extensive diffusion of days, however, the necessary qualification is knowledge among the body of the people, - prodigiously raised,—at least in denomina
tion; and a man can scarcely pass current in elements of mathematical learning; and were the informed circles of society, without know- even suspected of having fallen into several ing something of political economy, chemistry, heresies in metaphysics, merely from want mineralogy, geology, and etymology,--having of time to get regularly at the truth! a small notion of painting, sculpture, and ar- If the philosophy of mind has really suffered chitecture, with some sort of taste for the more, from this universal hurry, than all her picturesque,--and a smattering of German sister sciences of the same serious complexand Spanish literature, and even some idea ion, we should be inclined to ascribe this misof Indian, Sanscrit, and Chinese learning and fortune, partly to the very excellence of what history, -over and above some little know- has been already achieved by her votaries, ledge of trade and agriculture; with a reason- and partly to the very severe treatment which able acquaintance with what is called the phi- their predecessors have received at their hands. losophy of politics, and a far more extensive Almost all the great practical maxims of this knowledge of existing parties, factions, and mistress of human life, such as the use of the eminent individuals, both literary and politi- principle of Association in education, and the cal, at home and abroad, than ever were re- generation and consequences of Habits in all quired in any earlier period of society. The periods of life, have been lately illustrated in dissipation of time and of attention occasion- the most popular and satisfactory manner; ed by these multifarious occupations, is, of and rendered so clear and familiar, as rules course, very unfavourable to the pursuit of of practical utility, that few persons think it any abstract or continued study; and even if necessary to examine into the details of that a man could, for himself, be content to remain fine philosophy by which they may have been ignorant of many things, in order to obtain a first suggested, or brought into notice. There profound knowledge of a few, it would be is nothing that strikes one as very important difficult for him, in the present state of the to be known upon these subjects, which may world, to resist the impulse and the seduc- not now be established in a more vulgar and tions ihat assail him from without. Various empirical manner, or which requires, in and superficial knowledge is now not only so order to be understood, that the whole procommon, that the want of it is felt as a discess of a scientific investigation should be grace; but the facilities of acquiring it are so gone over. By most persons, therefore, the great, that it is scarcely possible to defend labour of such an investigation will be deourselves against its intrusion. So many easy clined; and the practical benefits appliedand pleasant elementary books,—such tempt- with ungrateful indifference to the sources ing summaries, abstracts, and tables,—such from which they were derived. Of those, beautiful engravings, and ingenious charts, again, whom curiosity might still tempt to and coups-d'ail of information, --so many mu- look a little closer upon this great field of seums, exhibitions, and collections, meet us at wonders, no small part are dismayed at the every corner,--and so much amusing and pro- scene of ruin which it exhibits. The destrucvoking talk in every party, that a taste for tion of ancient errors, has hitherto constituted miscellaneous and imperfect information is so very large a part of the task of modern formed, almost before we are aware; and our philosophers, that they may be said to have time and curiosity irrevocably devoted to a been employed rather in throwing down, than sort of Encyclopedical trifling,
in building up, and have as yet established In the mean time, the misfortune is, that very little but the fallacy of all former phithere is no popular nor royal road to the pro- losophy. Now, they who had been accusfounder and more abstract truths of philoso- tomed to admire that ancient philosophy, canphy; and that these are apt, accordingly, to not be supposed to be much delighted with fall into discredit or neglect, at a period when its demolition; and, at all events, are natuit is labour enough for most men to keep them- rally discouraged from again attaching themselves up to the level of that great tide of selves to a system, which they may soon have popular information, which has been rising, the mortification of seeing subverted in its with such unexampled rapidity, for the last turn. In their minds, therefore, the opening
of such a course of study is apt only to breed Such, we think, are the most general and a general distrust of philosophy, and to rivet uncontrollable causes which have recently a conviction of its extreme and irremediable depressed all the sciences requiring deep uncertainty: while those who had previously thought and solitary application, far below the been indifferent to the systems of error, are level of their actual importance; and pro- displeased with the labour of a needless refduced the singular appearance of a partial utation; and disappointed to find, that, after falling off in intellectual enterprise and vigour, a long course of inquiry, they are brought in an age distinguished, perhaps, above all back to that very state of ignorance from others, for the rapid development of the hu- which they had expected it would relieve man faculties. The effect we had formerly them. occasion to observe, when treating of the sin. If anything could counteract the effect of gular decay of Mathematical science in Eng- these and some other causes, and revive in land; and so powerful and extensive is the England that taste for abstract speculation for operation of the cause, that, even in the intel- which it was once so distinguished, we should lectual city which we inhabit
, we have known have expected this to be accomplished by the instances of persons of good capacity who publications of the author before us.
- The had never found leisure to go beyond the first great celebrity of his name, and the uniform