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of the Purposes to which the Powers of Abftra&tion and Gene
ralisation are subfervient.
T has been already shewn, that, without the use I
of signs, all our knowledge must necessarily have . been limited to individuals, and that we should have been perfectly incapable both of classification and general reasoning. Some authors have maintained, that without the power of generalisation, (which I have endeavoured to thew, means nothing more than the capacity of employing general terms,) it would have been impossible for us to have carried on any species of reasoning whatever. But I cannot help thinking that this opinion is erroneous; or, at least, that it is very imperfectly stated. The truth is, it appears to me to be just in one sense of the word reasoning, but false in another; and I even suspect it is false in that sense of the word in which it is most commonly employed. Before, therefore, it is laid down as a general proposition, the meaning we are to annex to this very vague and ambiguous term, should be ascertained with precision.
It has been remarked by several writers, that the expectation which we feel of the continuance of the laws of nature, is not founded upon reasoning; and different theories have of late been proposed to account for its origin. Mr. Hume resolves it into the association of ideas. Dr. Reid, on the other hand,
maintains, that it is an original principle of our constitution, which does not admit of any explanation ; and which, therefore, is to be ranked among those general and ultimate facts, beyond which, philosophy is unable to proceed *. Without this principle of expectation, it would be impossible for us to accomniodate our conduct to the established course of na. ture; and, accordingly, we find that it is a principle coëval with our very existence; and, in some measure, common to man with the lower animals.
In inquiries of this nature, so far removed from the common course of literary pursuits, it always gives me pleasure to remark a coincidence of opinion among different philosophers ; particu: larly among men of original genius, and who have been educated in different philosophical systems. The following passage, in which M. de Condorcet gives an account of some of the metaphysical opinions of the late Mr. Turgot, approaches very nearly to Dr. Reid's doctrines.
“ La mémoire de nos sensations, et la faculté que nous avons “ de réfléchir sur ces sensations passées et de les combiner, sont « le seul principe de nos connoissances. La supposition qu'il “ existe des loix conftantes auxquelles tous les phénomenes observés “ sont assujettis de maniere à reparoitre dans tous les
temps, dans “ toutes les circonstances, tels qu'ils sont déterminés par ces loix,
eft le seul fondement de la certitude de ces connoissances.
“ Nous avons la conscience d'avoir observé cette constance, et un “ sentiment involontaire nous force de croire qu'elle continuera de “ subfilter. La probabilité qui en resulte, quelque grande qu'elle “ soit, n'est pas une certitude. Aucune relation nécessaire ne lie
pour nous le passé à l'avenir, ni la constance de ce que j'ai vu à “ celle de ce que j'aurois continué d'observer si j'etois resté dans des « circonstances semblables; mais l'impression qui me porte à re. “ garder comme existant, comme réel ce qui m'a présenté ce carac« tere de constance eft irrésistible."-Vie de TURGOT, partie ii.p.56.
“ Quand un François et un Anglois pensent de même, (says Voltaire,) il faut bien qu'ils aient raison."
It is an obvious consequence of this doctrine, that, although philosophers be accustomed to state whak are commonly called the laws of nature, in the form of general propositions, it is by no means neceffary for the practical purposes of life, that we should express them in this manner; or even that we should express them in words at all. The philosopher, for example, may state it as a law of nature, that “ fire scorches;" or that “ heavy bodies, when unsupported, fall downwards :" but, long before the use of artificial signs, and even before the dawn of reason, a child learns to act upon both of these fuppofitions. In doing so, it is influenced merely by the instinctive principle which has now been mentioned, directed in its operation (as is the case with many other instincts) by the experience of the individual. If man, therefore, had been destined for no other purposes, than to acquire such an acquaintance with the course of nature, as is necefsary for the preservation of his animal existence; he might have fulfilled all the ends of his being without the use of language.
As we are enabled, by our instinctive anticipation of physical events, to accommodate our conduct to what we foresee is to happen, fo we are enabled, in many cases, to increase our power, by employing phyfical causes as instruments for the accomplishment of our purposes ; nay, we can employ a series of such causes, so as to accomplish very remote effects. We can employ the agency of air, to increase the heat of a furnace; the furnace, to render iron malleable ; and the iron to all the various purposes of the mecha
nical arts. Now, it appears to me, that all this may be conceived and done without the aid of language : and yet, assuredly, to discover a series of means subservient to a particular end ; or, in other words, an effort of mechanical invention; implies, according to the common doctrines of philosophers, the exercise of our reasoning powers. In this sense, therefore, of the word reasoning, I am inclined to think, that it is not essentially connected with the faculty of generalisation, or with the use of signs.
It is some confirmation of this conclusion, that savages, whose minds are almost wholly occupied with particulars, and who have neither inclination nor capacity for general speculations, are yet occasionally observed to employ a long train of means for accomplishing a particular purpose. Even something of this kind, but in a very inferior degree, may, I think, be remarked in the other animals; and that they do not carry it farther, is probably not the effect of their want of generalisation, but of the imperfection of some of those faculties which are common to them with our species ; particularly of their powers of attention and recollection. The instances which are commonly produced, to prove that they are not destitute of the power of reasoning, are all examples of that species of contrivance which has been mentioned ; and are perfectly distinct from those intellectual processes to which the use of figns is essentially subfervient ..
Whether * One of the best attested instances which I have met with, of fagacity in the lower animals, is mentioned by M. Bailly, in his Lettre sur les Animaux, addressed to M. Le Roy “ Un de mes amis, homme d'esprit et digne de confiance, m'a
Whether that particular species of mechanical contrivance which has now been mentioned, and which consists merely in employing a series of physical causes to accomplish an effect which we cannot produce im. mediately, should or should not be dignified with the name of reasoning, I shall not now inquire. It is sufficient for my present purpose to remark, that it is essentially different from those intellectual processes to which the use of signs is indispensably necessary.
• raconté deux faits dont il a été témoin. Il avoit un finge très o intelligent ; il s'amusoit à lui donner des noix dont l'animal étoit " très friand ; mais il les plaçoit assez loin, pour que retenu par sa of chaine, le finge ne pût pas les atteindre : après bien des efforts « inutiles qui ne servent qu'à préparer l'invention, le finge, voyant “ passer un domestique portant une serviette sous le bras, se faisit « de cette serviette, et s'en servit pour atteindre à la noix et « l'amener jusqu'à lui. La maniere de casser la noix exigea une “ nouvelle invention ; il en vint à bout, en plaçant la noix à terre, “ en y faifant tomber de haut une pierre ou un caillou pour la “ briser. Vous voyez, Monsieur, que sans avoir connu, comme « Gallilée, les loix de la chûte des corps, le finge avoit bien “ remarqué la force que ces corps acquierent par la chûte. Ce
moyen cependant se trouva en défaut. Un jour qu'il avo't plu, “ la terre étoit molle, la noix enfonçoit, et la pierre n'avoit plus « d'action pour la briser. Que fit le finge ? Il alla chercher un « tuileau, plaça la noix dessus, et en laissant tomber la pierre il « brisa la noix qui n'enfonçoit plus.”—Discours et memoires par P Auteur de l'Histoire de l’Afronomie. A Paris, 1790, tome ii. p. 126.
Admitting these facts to be accurately stated, they still leave an essential distinction between man and brutes; for in none of the contrivances here mentioned, is there any thing analogous to those intellectual processes which lead the mind to general conclusions, and which (according to the foregoing doctrine) imply the use of general terms. Those powers, therefore, which enable us to claflify objects, and to employ signs as an instrument of thought, are, as far as we can judge, peculiar to the human species.