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“ We are at a loss to know," (says this excellent philosopher,) “how we perceive distant obje&s ; “ how we remember things past; how we imagine " things that have no existence. Ideas in the mind “ seem to account for all these operations ; they are “ 'all by the means of ideas reduced to one operation ;
to a kind of feeling, or immediate perception of " things present, and in contact with the percipient; ss and feeling is an operation so familiar, that we
" that in every kind of thought, there must be some object that “ really exists ; in every operation of the mind, something to work
upon. Whether this immediate object be called an idea with “ Plato, or a phantasm or species with Aristotle ; whether it be “ eternal and uncreated, or produced by the impressions of external “ objects, is of no consequence in the present argument."
Ibid. p. 388.
“ So much is this opinion fixed in the minds of philosophers, “ that, I doubt not but it will appear to moft, a very ftrange pa. “ radox, or rather a contradiction, that men should think without “ ideas. But this appearance of contradiction arises from the “ think it needs no explanation, but may serve to ex“ plain other operations.”
ambiguity of the word idea. If the idea of a thing means only “ the thought of it, which is the most common meaning of the “ word, to think without ideas, is to think without thought ; “ which is undoubtedly a contradiction. But an idea, according " to the definition given of it by philosophers, is not thought, but " an object of thought, which really exists, and is perceived, &c."
Ibid. p. 390.
I have only to add, that when, 'in this work, I make use of the word idea in stating my own opinions, I employ it uniformly in the popular sense, and not in the philosophical sense, as now 'explained : it would be better, perhaps, to avoid it altogether ; but I have found it difficult to do so, without adopting unusual modes of expreffion. I fatter myself that I have used it with due causion.
“ But this feeling, or immediate perception, is as “ difficult to be comprehended, as the things which “ we pretend to explain by it. Two things may be " in contact, without any feeling or perception; there “ must therefore be in the percipient, a power to feel, “ or to perceive. 'How this power is produced, and “ how it operates, is quite beyond the reach of our
knowledge. As little can we know, whether this
power must be limited to things present, and in " contact with us. Neither can any man pretend “ to prove, that the Being who gave us the power to “ perceive things present, may not give us the power
to perceive things distant, to remember things past, " and to conceive things that never existed *."
In another part of his work, Dr. Reid 'has occasion to trace the origin of the prejudice which has led philosophers to suppose, that, in all the operations of the understanding, there must be an object of thought, which really exists while we think of it. His remarks on this subject, which are highly ingenious and fatiffactory, are contained in his account of the different theories concerning conception t.
As in all the ancient metaphysical systems it was taken for granted, (probably from the analogy of our ex. ternal perceptions,) that every exertion of thought implies the existence of an object distinct from the thinking being; it naturally occurred, as a very curious question, What is the immediate object of our
* Essays on the Intellectual Powers, p. 214. + Ibid. p. 378.
attention, when we are engaged in any general speculation? or, in other words, what is the nature of the idea corresponding to a general term? When I think of any particular object which I have formerly perceived, such as a particular friend, a particular tree, or a particular mountain, I can comprehend what is meant by a picture or representation of such objects ;. and therefore the explanation given by the ideal theory of that act of the mind, which we formerly called Conception, if not perfectly satisfactory, is at least not wholly unintelligible. But what account shall we give, upon the principles of this theory, of the objects of my thoughts, when I employ the words, friend, tree, mountain, as generic terms ? For, that all the things I have ever perceived are individuals ; and consequently, that the ideas denoted by general words, (if such ideas exist,) are not copied from any originals that have fallen under my observation; is not only self-evident, but almost an identical proposition.
In answer to this question, the Platonists, and, at a still earlier period, the Pythagoreans, taught, that, al. though these universal ideas are not copied from any objects perceivable by sense, yet that they have an existence independent of the human mind, and are no more to be confounded with the understanding, of which they are the proper objects, than material things are to be confounded with our powers of external perception : that as all the individuals which compose a genus, must possess something in common; and as it is in consequence of this, that they belong to that genus, and are distinguishable by the same name, this common thing forms the essence of each ; and is the
object of the understanding, when we reason concern. ing the genus.
genus. They maintained also, that this common essence *, notwithstanding its inseparable union with a multitude of different individuals, is in itself one, and indivisible.
On most of these points, the philosophy of Aristotle feems to have coincided very nearly with that of Plato. The language, however, which these philosophers em. ployed on this subject was different, and gave to their doctrines the appearance of a wider diversity than probably existed between their opinions. While Plato was led, by his passion for the marvellous and the mysterious, to insist on the incomprehensible union of the same idea or essence, with a number of individuals, without multiplication or division t; Aristotle, more cautious, and aiming at greater perspicuity, contented himself with saying, that all individuals are composed of matter and form; and that it is in consequence of possessing a common form, that different individuals belong to the same genus. But they both agreed, that, as the matter, or the individual natures of objects were perceived by sense; so the general idea, or effence, or form, was perceived by the intellect ; and that, as the attention of the vulgar was chiefly engrossed with the former, so the latter furnished to the philosopher the materials of his speculations.
* In this very imperfect sketch of the opinions of the antients concerning universals, I have substituted, instead of the word idea, the word essence, as better fitted to convey to a modern reader the true iinport of Plato's expressions. The word effentia is said to have been first employed by Cicero ; and it was afterwards adopted by the schoolmen, in the same sense in which the Platonilts used the word idea. See Dr. Reid's Essays on the Intel. lectual Powers, p. 473.
† “ The idea of a thing,” (says Plato,) " is that which makes “ one of the many; which, preserving the unity and integrity of “ its owa nature, runs through and mixes with things infinite in “ number; and yet, however multiform it may appear, is always “ the same : so that by it we find out and discriminate the thing, “ whatever shapes it may affume, and under whatever disguise it « may conceal itself.”—Plato in PhilEBO ; (quoted by the Author of the Origin and Progress of Language, vol. i.
p. 100, 2d edit.)
The chief difference between the opinions of Plato and Aristotle on the subject of ideas, related to the mode of their existence. That the matter of which all things are made, existed from eternity, was a principle which botii admitted ; but Plato farther taught, that, of every species of things, there is an idea of form which also existed from eternity; and that this idea is the exemplar or model according to which the individuals of the species were made ; whereas Aristotle held, that, although matter may exist without form, yet that forms could not exist without matter
* In this account of the difference between Plato and Aristotle on the subject of ideas, I have chiefly followed Brucker, whose very laborious researches with respect to this article of the history of philosophy are well known. In stating the distinction, however, I have confined myself to as general terms as possible ; as the subject is involved in much obscurity, and has divided the opinions of very eminent writers. The reader will find the result of Brucker's inquiries, in his own words, in Note [F].
The authority of Brucker, in this instance, has the more weight with me, as it coincides in the most material respects with that of Dr. Reid. See his Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, and the conclusion of his Inquiry into the Human Mind.