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In the very flight sketch which I have given of the controversy between the Nominalists and the Realists about the existence of universals, I have taken no no. tice of an intermediate fect called Conceptualists ; whose distinguishing tenet is said to have been, that the mind has a power of forming general conceptions *. From the indistin&nefs and inaccuracy of their language on the subject, it is not a very easy matter to ascertain precisely what was their opinion on the point in question ; but, on the whole, I am inclined to think, that it amounted to the two following propositions : first, that we have no reason to believe the existence of any essences, or universal ideas, corresponding to general terms; and secondly, that the mind has the power of reasoning concerning genera, or classes of individuals, without the mediation of language. Indeed, I cannot think of any other hypothesis which it is poflible to form on the subject, distinct from those of the two celebrated seats already mentioned. In denying the existence of universals; we know that the Conceptualists agreed with the No. minalists. Lo what, then, can we suppose that they differed from them, but about the necessity of language as an instrument of thought, in carrying on our ge• neral speculations ?

* “ Nominales, deserta paulo Abelardi hypothefi, universalia in " notionibus atque conceptibus mentis ex rebus fingularibus ab« ftractione formatis confiftere statuebant, unde conceptuales dicti « sunt.” -BRUCKER, vol. iii. p.908. (Lipf. 1766.)

“ Nominalium tres erant familiæ. Aliqui ut Rocelinus, univer“ falia meras effe voces docuerunt. Alii iterum in folo intellectu “ posuerunt, atque meros animi conceptus efse autumarunt, quos “ conceptuales aliqui vocant, et a nominalibus diftinguunt, quan

quam alii etiam confundant. Alii fuerunt, qui universalia quæ“ fiverunt, non tam in vocibus, quam in fermonibus integris, quod « Joh. Sarisberienfis adfcribit Pet. Abelardo; quo quid intelligat “ ille, mihi non fatis liquet."--MORHOF. Polyhistor. Tom. Sec. lib. i. cap. xiii. V 2.

I have taken no notice of the last class of Nominalists here mentioned ; as I find myself unable to comprehend their doctrine.

With this sect of Conceptualists, Dr. Reid is difposed to rank Mr. Locke; and I agree with him so far as to think, that, if Locke had any decided opinion on the point in dispute, it did not differ materially from what I have endeavoured to express in the two general propositions which I have just now stated. The apparent inconsistencies which occur in that part of his Essay in which the question is discussed, have, led subsequent authors to represent his sentiments in different lights ; but as these inconsistencies plainly shew, that he was neither satisfied with the system of the Realists, nor with that of the Nominalists; they appear to me to demonstrate that he leaned to the in termediate hypothesis already mentioned, notwithstanding the inaccurate and paradoxical manner in which he has expressed it *.

May I take the liberty of adding, that Dr. Reid's own opinion seems to me also to coincide nearly with that of the Conceptualists; or, at least, to coincide with the two propositions which I have already supposed to contain a summary of their doctrine ? The absurdity of the antient opinion concerning universals, as maintained both by Plato and Aristotle, he has exposed standing the meaning of propositions involving general terms. But the observations he has made (admitting them in their full extent) do not in the least affect the question about the necessity of signs, to enable us to speculate about such propositions. The vague use which metaphysical writers have made of the word conception, (of which I had occasion to take notice in a former chapter,) has contributed in part to embarrass this subject. That we cannot conceive universals in a way at all analogous to that in which we conceive an absent object of sense, is granted on both sides. Why then should we employ the same word conception, to express two operations of the mind which are essentially different? When we speak of conceiving or understanding a general proposition, we mean nothing more than that we have a conviction, (founded on our previous use of the words in which it is expressed,) that we have it in our power, at pleasure, to substitute, instead of the general terms, some one of the individuals comprehended under them. When we hear a proposition announced, of which the terms are not familiar to us ; we naturally desire to have it exempli. fied, or illustrated, by means of some particular instance; and when we are once satisfied by such an application, that we have the interpretation of the proposition at all times in our power, we make no fcruple to say, that we conceive or understand its meaning; although we should not extend our views beyond the words in which it is announced, or even although no particular exemplification of it should occur to us at the moment. It is in this sense only, that the terms of any general proposition can possibly be understood :

* See Note [K].


and therefore Dr. Reid's argument does not, in the least, invalidate the doctrine of the Nominalists, that, without the use of language, (under which term I comprehend every species of signs,) we should never have been able to extend our speculations be. yond individuals.

That, in many cases, we may safely employ in our reasonings, general terms, the meaning of which we are not even able to interpret in this way, and consequently, which are to us wholly insignificant, I had occasion already to demonstrate, in a former part of this section.


Continuation of the fame Subje&.-Inferences with respeat to the

Use of Language as an Instrument of Thought, and the Errors ix Reasoning to which it occafionally gives rise.

In the last Section, I mentioned Dr. Campbell, as an

. nalists ; and I alluded to a particular application which he has made of their do&rine. The reasonings which I had then in view, are to be found in the seventh chapter of the second book of his Philosophy of Rhe. torick; in which chapter he proposes to explain how it happens," that nonsense so often escapes being

detected, both by the writer and the reader." The title is somewhat ludicrous in a grave philosophical work; but the disquisition to which it is prefixed, contains many acute and profound remarks


on the nature and power of signs, both as a medium of communication, and as an instrument of thought.

Dr. Campbell's speculations with respect to language as an instrument of thought, seem to have been suggested by the following passage in Mr. Hume's Treatise of Human Nature. " I believe, every one " who examines the situation of his mind in reason“ing, will agree with me, that we do not annex dis“ tinct and complete ideas to every term we make use “ of ; and that in talking of Government, Church,

Negotiation, Conquest, we seldom spread out in our. “ minds all the fimple ideas of which these complex

ones are composed. It is, however, observable, that « notwithstanding this imperfection, we may avoid “ talking nonsense on these subjects ; and may per, “ ceive any repugnance among the ideas, as well as “ if we had a full comprehension of them. Thus if, “ instead of saying, that, in war, the weaker have “ always recourse to negotiation, we should say, that

they have always recourse to conquest; the custom “ which we have acquired, of attributing certain “ relations to ideas, still follows the words, and makes “ us immediately perceive the absurdity of that pro“ position."

In the remarks which Dr. Campbell has made on this paffage, he has endeavoured to explain in what manner our habits of thinking and speaking, gradually establish in the mind such relations among the words we employ, as enable us to carry on processes of reasoning by means of them, without attending in every instance to their particular signification. With most

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