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effect of general principles in increasing the intellec. tual power of the human mind; and, misled by that impatience in the ftudy of particulars which is so often connected with the consciousness of fuperior ability, they laboured to perfuade themfelves, that, by a life devoted to abstract meditation, fuch principles might be rendered as immediate objects of intellectual perception, as the individuals which compofe the material world are of our external fenfes. By connecting this opinion with their other doctrines concerning univerfals, they were unfortunately enabled to exhibit it in fo mysterious a form, as not only to impose on themselves, but to perplex the understandings of all the learned in Europe, for a long fucceffion of ages.
The conclufion to which we are led by the foregoing obfervations 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 refolvable into these primary elements, that they poffefs either truth or utility. It must not, however, be understood to be implied in this conclufion, that all our knowledge must ultimately reft on our own proper experience. If this were the cafe, the progrefs of fcience, and the progrefs of human improvement, muft have been wonderfully retarded; for, if it had been neceffary for each individual to form a claffification of objects, in confequence of obfervations and abftractions of his own, and to infer from the actual exami nation of particular fats, the general truths on which his conduct proceeds; human affairs would at this
day remain nearly in the fame ftate to which they were brought by the experience of the first generation. In fact, this is very nearly the fituation of the species in all thofe parts of the world, in which the existence of the race depends on the feparate efforts which each individual makes, in procuring for himself the neceffaries of life; and in which, of confequence, the habits and acquirements of each individual must be the refult of his own perfonal experience. In a cultivated fociety, one of the first acquifitions which children make, is the ufe of language; by which means they are familiarifed, from their earliest years, to the confideration of claffes of objects, and of general truths; and before that time of life at which the favage is poffeffed of the knowledge neceffary for his own prefervation, are enabled to appropriate to themfelves the accumulated dif coveries of ages.
Notwithstanding, however, the stationary condition. in which the race muft, of neceffity, continue, prior to the feparation of arts and profeffions; the natural difpofition of the mind to afcend from particular truths to general conclufions, could not fail to lead individuals, even in the rudeft ftate of fociety, to collect the refults of their experience, for their own inftruction and that of others. But, without the use of general terms, the only poffible way of communicating fuch conclufions, would be by means of fome particular example, of which the general application was ftriking and obvious. In other words, the wifdom of fuch ages will neceffarily be expreffed in the form of fables or parables, or in the ftill fimpler form of proverbial inftances; and not
in the scientific form of general maxims. In this way, undoubtedly, much ufeful inftruction, both of a prudential and moral kind, might be conveyed: at the fame time, it is obvious, that, while general truths continue to be expreffed 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 premifes, in order to obtain other conclufions more remote and comprehenfive. For this purpose, it is abfolutely neceffary that the fcope or moral of the fable should be feparated entirely from its acceffary circumstances, and stated in the form of a general propofition.
From what has now been faid, it appears, how much the progress of human reason, which neceffarily accompanies the progrefs of fociety, is owing to the introduction of general terms, and to the ufe of general propofitions. In confequence of the gradual improvements which take place in language as an inftrument of thought, the claffifications. both of things and facts with which the infant faculties of each fucceffive race are converfant, are more juft and more comprehenfive than those of their predeceffors: the difcoveries which, in one age, were confined to the ftudious 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, fome of the most remote and wonderful conclufions of the human intellect, are, even in infancy, as completely
pletely familiarised to the mind, as the most obvious phenomena which the material world exhibits to their fenfes.
If these remarks be juft, they open an unbounded profpect of intellectual improvement to future ages; as they point out a provifion made by nature to facilitate and abridge, more and more, the process of ftudy, in proportion as the truths to be acquired increase in number. Nor is this profpect derived from theory alone. It is encouraged by the past history of all the fciences; in a more particular manner, by that of mathematics and phyfics, in which the ftate of discovery, and the prevailing methods of inftruction, may, at all times, be eafily compared together. In this laft obfervation I have been anticipated by a late eminent mathematician, whofe eloquent and philofophical statement of the argument cannot fail to carry conviction to thofe, who are qualified to judge of the facts on which his conclufion is founded:
"To fuch of my readers as may be flow in admit
ting the poffibility of this progreffive improvement "in the human race, allow me to ftate, as an example, "the history of that fcience 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 aftro
nomy, which, in India and Egypt, formed an occult fcience, upon which an ambitious priesthood "founded its influence, were become, in the times "of Archimedes and Hipparchus, the fubjects of "common education in the public fchools of Greece. "In the last century, a few years of study were fuf
"ficient for comprehending all that Archimedes and Hipparchus knew; and, at prefent, two years "employed under an able teacher, carry the student "beyond those conclufions, which limited the in66 quiries of Leibnitz and of Newton. Let any
perfon reflect on these facts: let him follow the "immenfe chain which connects the inquiries of "Euler with those of a Priest of Memphis; let him "obferve, 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 fuch fim"plifications can ever have an end. He will perceive, that at the moment when a multitude of particular folutions, and of infulated facts, begin "to diftract 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 generalifations continually fucceeding one to another, like the fuc"ceffive multiplications of a number by itself, have "no other limit, than that infinity which the human "faculties are unable to comprehend *."
*See Note [M].
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