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effect of general principles in increasing the intellec. tual power of the human mind; and, milled by that impatience in the study of particulars which is so often connected with the consciousness of superior ability, they laboured to persuade themselves, that, hy a life devoted to abstract meditation, such principles might be rendered as immediate objects of intellectual perception, as the individuals which compose the material world are of our external senses. By connecting this opinion with their other doctrines concerning universals, they were unfortunately enabled to exhibit it in so mysterious a form, as not only to impose on themselves, but to perplex the understandings of all the learned in Europe, for a long succession of ages.

The conclusion to which we are led by the foregoing observations is, that the foundation of all human knowledge must be laid in the examination of particular objects and particular facts; and that it is only as far as our general principles are resolvable into these primary elements, that they possess either truth or utility. It must not, however, be understood to be implied in this conclusion, that all our knowledge mult ultimately rest on our own proper experience. If this were the case, the progress of science, and the progress of human improvement, must have been wonderfully retarded ; for, if it had been necessary for each individual to form a classification of objects, in consequence of observations and abstractions of his own, and to inser irom the actual examination of particular fa ts, the general truths on which his conduct proceeds; human affairs would at this

day day remain nearly in the same state to which they were brought by the experience of the first generation. In fact, this is very nearly the situation of the species in all those parts of the world, in which the existence of the race depends on the separate efforts which each individual makes, in procuring for himself the necessaries of life ; and in which, of consequence, the habits and acquirements of each individual must be the result of his own personal experience. In a cultivated society, one of the first acquisitions which children make, is the use of language; by which means they are familiarised, from their earliest years, to the confideration of classes of objects, and of general truths; and before that time of life at which the favage is possessed of the knowledge necessary for his own preservation, are enabled to appropriate to themfelves the accumulated difcoveries of ages.

Notwithstanding, however, the stationary condition in which the race mult, of neceffity, continue, prior to the separation of arts and professions ; the natural disposition of the mind to ascend from particular truths to general conclusions, could not fail to lead individuals, even in the rudest state of society, to collect the results of their experience, for their own instruction and that of others. But, without the use of general terms, the only posible way

of communicating such conclusions, would be by means of some particular example, of which the general application was striking and obvious. In other words, the wisdom of such ages will necessarily be expressed in the form of fables or parables, or in the still simpler form of proverbial instances; and not


in the scientific form of general maxims. In this way, undoubtedly, much useful instruction, both of a prudential and moral kind, might be conveyed : at the same time, it is obvious, that, while general truths continue to be expressed merely by particular exemplifications, they would afford little or no opportunity to one generation to improve on the fpeculations of another; as no effort of the understanding could combine them together, or employ them as premises, in order to obtain other conclufions more remote and comprehensive. For this purpose, it is absolutely necessary that the scope or moral of the fable should be separated entirely from its accessary circumstances, and stated in the form of a general proposition.

From what has now been said, it appears, how much the progress of human reason, which neceffarily accompanies the progress of society, is owing to the introduction of general terms, and to the use of general propositions. In consequence of the gradual improvements which take place in language as an instrument of thought, the classifications both of things and facts with which the infant faculties of each succeslive race are conversant, are more just and more comprehensive than those of their predecessors: the discoveries which, in one age, were confined to the studious and enlightened few, becoming in the next, the established creed of the learned ; and in the third, forming part of the elementary principles of education.

Indeed, among those who enjoy the advantages of early instruction, some of the most remote and wonderful conclusions of the human intellect, are, even in infancy, as com

pletely pletely familiarised to the mind, as the most obvious phenomena which the material world exhibits to their senses.

If these remarks be just, they open an unbounded prospect of intellectual improvement to future ages; as they point out a provision made by nature to facilitate and abridge, more and more, the process of study, in proportion as the truths to be acquired increafe in number. Nor is this prospect derived from theory alone. It is encouraged by the past history of all the sciences ; in a more particular manner, by that of mathematics and physics, in which the state of discovery, and the prevailing methods of instruction, may, at all times, be easily compared together. In this last observation I have been anticipated by a late eminent mathematician, whose eloquent and philosophical statement of the argument cannot fail to carry conviction to those, who are qualified to judge of the facts on which his conclusion is founded :

“. To such of my readers as may be slow in admit“ ting the possibility of this progressive improvement “ in the human race, allow me to state, as an example, " the history of that science in which the advances " of discovery are the most certain, and in which " they may be measured with the greatest precision. “ Those elementary truths of geometry and of astro. “ nomy, which, in India and Egypt, formed an occult “ science, upon which an ambitious priesthood “ founded its influence, were become, in the times “ of Archimedes and Hipparchus, the subjects of

common education in the public schools of Greece. “ In the last century, a few years of study were fuf8

66 ficient

Let any

“ ficient for comprehending all that Archimedes and

Hipparchus knew; and, at present, two years

employed under an able teacher, carry the student “ beyond those conclusions, which limited the in.

quiries of Leibnitz and of Newton. “ person reflect on these facts : let him follow the « immense chain which connects the inquiries of “ Euler with those of a Priest of Memphis ; let him “ observe, at each epoch, how genius outstrips the “ present age, and how it is overtaken by medio. “ crity in the next; he will perceive, that nature has “ furnished us with the means of abridging and

facilitating our intellectual labour, and that " there is no reason for apprehending that such sim. “ plifications can ever have an end. He will per

ceive, that at the moment when a multitude of

particular solutions, and of insulated facts, begin “ to distract the attention, and to overcharge the “ memory, the former gradually lose themselves in

one general method, and the latter unite in one

general law; and that these generalisations con“ tinually succeeding one to another, like the suc“ cessive multiplications of a number by itself, have

no other limit, than that infinity which the human “ faculties are unable to comprehend *.”

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