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existence. With respect to the subserviency of this faculty to poetical imagination, it is no less obvious, that, as the poet is supplied with all his materials by experience; and as his province is limited to combine and modify things which really exist, so as to produce new wholes of his own; so every exertion which he thus makes of his powers, presupposes the exercise of abstraction in decompofing and separating actual combinations. And it was on this account that, in the chapter on Conception, I was led to make a distinction between that faculty, which is evidently simple and uncompounded, and the power of Imagination, which (at least in the sense in which I employ the word in these inquiries) is the result of a combination of va. rious other powers.
I have introduced these remarks, in order to point out a difference between the abstractions which are subservient to reasoning, and those which are subser. vient to imagination. And, if I am not mistaken, it is a distinction which has not been sufficiently attended to by some writers of eminence. In every instance in which imagination is employed in forming new wholes, by decompounding and combining the perceptions of sense, it is evidently necessary that the poet or the painter should be able to state to himself the circum. Itances abstracted, as separate objects of conception. But this is by no means requisite in every case in which abstraction is subfervient to the power of reasoning; for it frequently happens, that we can reason con. cerning one quality or property of an object abstracted from the rest, while, at the same time, we find it impossible to conceive it separately. Thus, I can rea
son concerning extension and figure, without any reference to colour ; although it may be doubted, if a person possessed of fight can make extension and figure steady objects of conception, without connecting with them one colour or another. Nor is this always owing (as it is in the instance now mentioned) merely to the association of ideas ; for there are cases, in which we can reafon concerning things separately, which it is impossible for us to suppose any being so
constituted as to conceive apart. Thus, we can reastudy son concerning length, abstracted from any other
dimension; although, surely, no understanding can make length, without breadth, an object of conception. And, by the way, this leads me to take notice of an error, which mathematical teachers are apt to commit, in explaining the first principles of geometry. By dwelling long on Euclid's first definitions, they lead the student to suppose that they relate to notions which are extremely mysterious; and to strain his powers ih fruitless attempts to conceive, what cannot possibly be made an object of conception. If these definitions were omitted, or very slightly touched upon, and the attention at once directed to geometrical reasonings, the student would immediately perceive, that although the lines in the diagrams are really extended in two dimensions, yet that the demonstrations relate only to one of them; and that the human understanding has the faculty of reasoning concerning things separately, which are always presented to us, both by our powers of perception and conception, in a state of union. Such abstractions, in truth, are familiar to the most illiterate of mankind ;
and it is in this very way that they are insensibly formed. When a tradesman speaks of the length of a room, in contradistinction to its breadth ; or when he speaks of the distance between any two objects; he forms exactly the same abstraction, which is referred to by Euclid in his second definition; and which most of his commentators have thought it ne. cessary to illustrate by prolix metaphysical disquisitions.
I shall only observe farther, with respect to the nature and province of this faculty of the mind, that notwithstanding its essential subserviency to every act of classification, yet it might have been exercised, al. though we had only been acquainted with one individual object. Although, for example, we had never feen but one rose, we might still have been able to attend to its colour, without thinking of its other properties. This has led some philosophers to suppose, that another faculty besides abstraction, to which they have given the name of generalisation, is r.ecessary to account for the formation of genera and species ; and they have endeavoured to thew, that although generalisation without abstraction is impossible ; yet that we might have been so formed, as to be able to abstract, without being capable of generalising. The grounds of this opinion, it is not necessary for me to examine, for any of the purposes which I have at present in view.
SECTION SECTION II.
Of the Objeds of our Thoughts, when we employ general Terms.
ROM the account F
which was given in a former chapter, of the common theories of perception, it appears to have been a prevailing opinion among philosophers, that the qualities of external objects are perceived, by means of images or species transmitted to the mind by the organs of sense: an opinion of which I already endeavoured to trace the origin, from certain natural prejudices suggested by the phenomena of the material world. The same train of thinking has led them to suppose that, in the case of all our other intellectual operations, there exist in the mind certain ideas distinct from the mind itself; and that these ideas are the objects about which our thoughts are employed. When I recollect, for example, the appearance of an absent friend, it is supposed that the immediate object of my thoughts is an idea of my friend; which I at first received by my senses, and which I have been enabled to retain in the mind by the faculty of memory.
memory. When I form to myself any imaginary combination by an effort of poetical invention, it is supposed, in like manner, that the parts which I combine, existed previously in the mind; and furnish the materials on which it is the province of imagination to operate. It is to Dr. Reid we owe the important remark, that all these notions are wholly hypothetical ; that it is impollible to produce 8
a shadow of evidence in support of them; and that, even although we were to admit their truth, they would not render the phenomena in question more intelligible. According to his principles, therefore, we have no ground for supposing, that, in any one operation of the mind, there exists in it an object distinct from the mind itself; and all the common expressions which involve such a supposition, are to be considered as unmeaning circumlocutions, which serve only to disguise from us the real history of the intellectual phenomena *.
* In order to prevent misapprehenfions of Dr. Reid's meaning, in his reasonings against the ideal theory, it may be necessary to explain, a little more fully than I have done in the text, in what fense he calls in question the existence of ideas: for the meaning which this word is employed to convey in popular discourse, differs widely from that which is annexed to it by the philosophers whose opinion he controverts. This explanation I shall give in his own words:
“ In popular language, idea signifies the same thing as concep“ tion, apprehension, notion. To have an idea of any thing, is “ to conceive it. To have a distinct idea, is to conceive it dis. “ tinctly. To have no idea of it, is not to conceive it at all.16 When the word idea is taken in this popular sense, no man can “ poffibly doubt whether he has ideas.”
“ According to the philosophical meaning of the word idea, it “ does not signify that act of the mind which we call thought, or “ conception, but some objed of thought. Of these objects of “ thought called ideas, different sects of philosophers have given “ very different accounts.”
“ Some have held them to be self-existent ; others to be in the “ divine mind; others in our own minds; and others in the brain, «« or sensorium." p. 213.
“ The Peripatetick system of species and phantasms, as well as “ the Platonick system of ideas, is grounded upon this principle,