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At the same time, I am ready to acknowledge, that what I have now said, is not strictly applicable to those more complicated mechanical inventions, in which a variety of powers are made to conspire at once to produce a particular effect. Such con• trivances, perhaps, may be found to involve processes of the mind which cannot be carried on without signs. But these questions will fall more properly under our consideration when we enter on the subject of reasoning
In general, it may be remarked, that, in fo far as our thoughts relate merely to individual objects, or to individual events, which we have actually perceived, and of which we retain a distinct remembrance *
* I have thought it proper to add this limitation of the general proposition ; because individual objects, and individual events, which have not fallen under the examination of our senses, cannot possibly be made the subjects of our confideration, but by means of language. The manner in which we think of such objects and events, is accurately described in the following passage of Wollaston ; however unphilofophical the conclufion may be which be deduces from his reasoning.
“ A man is not known ever the more to posterity, because his “ name is transmitted to them; he doth not live, because his
name does. When it is said, Julius Cæfar subdued Gaul, beat “ Pompey, changed the Roman commonwealth into a monarchy, * &c. it is the same thing as to say the conqueror of Pompey
was Cæsar ; that is, Cæsar, and the conqueror of Pompey, are “ the same thing; and Cæsar is as much known by the one distinc« tion as the other. The amount then is only this : that the " conqueror of Pompey conquered Pompey; or somebody con“ quered Pompey; or rather, since Pompey is as little known snow as Caefar, somebody conquered somebody. Such a poor “ business is this boasted immortality; and such, as has been " here defcribed, is the thing called glory among us !"
Religion of Nat. Del. p. 117. P
we are not under the necessity of employing words. It frequently, however, happens, that when the subjects of our consideration are particular, our reasoning with respect to them may involve very general notions; and, in such cases, although we may conceive, without the use of words, the things about which we reason, yet we must neceflarily have recourse to language in carrying on our speculations concerning them. If the subjects of our reasoning be general, (under which description I include all our reasonings, whether more or less comprehensive, which do not relate merely to individuals,) words are the sole objects about which our thoughts are employed. According as these words are comprehenfive or limited in their signification, the conclusions we form will be more or less general ; but this accidental circumstance does not in the least affect the nature of the intellectual process ; so that it may be laid down as a proposition which holds without any exceprion, that, in every case in which we extend our fpecu* lations beyond individuals, language is not only an useful auxiliary, but is the sole instrument by which they are carried on.
These remarks naturally lead me to take notice of what forms the characteristical distinction between the fpeculations of the philosopher and of the vulgar. It is not, that the former is accustomed to carry on his processes of reasoning to a greater extent than the latter ; but that the conclusions he is accustomed to form, are far more comprehensive, in consequence of the habitual employment of more comprehensive terms. Among the most unenlightened of mankind, we often meet with individuals who possess the
reasoning reasoning faculty in a very eminent degree; but as this faculty is employed merely about particulars, it never can conduct them to general truths; and, of consequence, whether their pursuits in life lead them to speculation or to action, it can only fit them for distinguishing themselves in some very limited and subordinate sphere. The philosopher, whose mind has been familiarised by education, and by his own refiexions, to the correct use of more comprehensive terms, is enabled, without perhaps a greater degree of intelle&tual exertion than is necessary for managing the details of ordinary business, to arrive at general theorems; which, when illustrated to the lower classes of men, in their particular applications, seem to indicate a fertility of invention, little short of supernatural *.
The analogy of the algebraical art may be of use in illustrating these observations. The difference, in fact, between the investigations we carry on by, its affiltance, and other processes of reasoning, is more inconsiderable than is commonly imagined ; and, if I am not mistaken, amounts only to this,
*“ General reasonings seem intricate, merely because they are “ general ; imr is it easy for the bulk of mankind to distinguish, in
a great number of particulars, that common circumstance in " which they all agree, or to extract it, pure and unmixt, from " the other fuperfluous circumstances. Every judgment or " conclution with them is particular. They cannot enlarge their “ view to thofe univerfal propofitions, which comprehend under “ them an infinite number of individuals, and include a whole “ science in a single theorem. Their eye is confounded with “ such an extensive prospect ; and the conclufions derived from " it, even though clearly expr. fed, seem intricate and obscure.”
HUMI's Political Discourses.' P 2
that the former are expressed in an appropriated language, with which we are not accustomed to associate particular notions. Hence they exhibit the efficacy of signs as an instrument of thought in a more distinct and palpable manner, than the speciilations we carry on by words, which are continu. ally awakening the power of Conception.
When the celebrated Vieta fhewed algebraists that, by substituting in their investigations letters of the alphabet, instead of known quantities, they might render the solution of every problem subservient to the discovery of a general truth, he did not increase the difficulty of algebraical reasonings : he only enlarged the signification of the terms of which they were expressed. And if, in teaching that science, it is found expedient to accustom ftudents to solve problems by means of the particular numbers which are given, before they are made acquainted with literal or specious arithmetic, it is not because the former processes are less intricate than the latter, but because their scope and utility are more obvious, and because it is more easy to illustrate, by examples than by words, the difference between a particular conclusion and a general theorem.
The difference between the intellectual processes of the vulgar and of the philosopher, is perfeály analogous to that between the two states of the al. gebraical art before and after the time of Vieta ; the general terms which are used in the various sciences, giving to those who can employ them with correctness and dexterity, the same sort of advantage over the uncultivated fagacity of the bulk of mankind, which the expert algebraist possesses over the arithmetical accomptant.
If the foregoing doctrine be admitted as just, it exhibits a view of the utility of language, which appears to me to be peculiarly striking and beautiful; as it shews that the same faculties which, without the use of signs, must necessarily have been limited to the consideration of individual objects and particular events, are, by means of signs, fitted to embrace, without effort, those comprehensive theorems, to the discovery of which, in detail, the united efforts of the whole human race would have been unequal. The advantage our animal strength acquires by the use of mechanical engines, exhibits but a faint image of that increase of our intellectual capacity which we owe to language. It is this increase of our natural powers of comprehension, which seems to be the principal foundation of the pleasure we receive from the discovery of general theorems. Such a discovery gives us at once the command of an infinite variety of particular truths, and communicates to the mind a fentiment of its own power, not unlike to what we feel when we contemplate the magnitude of those physical efects, of which we have acquired the command by our mechanical contrivances.
It may perhaps appear, at first, to be a farther consequence of the principles I have been endeavouring to establish, that the difficulty of philosophical discoveries is much less than is commonly imagined; but the truth is, it only follows from