Page images
PDF
EPUB

few men to be found, among those who have received the advantages of a liberal education, who do not retain, through life, that admiration of the heroic ages of Greece and Rome, with which the classical authors once inspired them. It is, in truth, a fortunate pre. possession, on the whole, and one, of which I should be sorry to counteract the influence. But are there not others of equal importance to morality and to happiness, with which the mind might, at the same period of life, be inspired? If the first conceptions, for example, which an infant formed of the Deity, and its first moral perceptions, were associated with the early impressions produced on the heart by the beauties of nature, or the charms of poetical descrip. tion, those serious thoughts which are resorted to, by most men, merely as a source of consolation in adverfity; and which, on that very account, are frequently tinctured with some degree of gloom, would recur spontaneously to the mind, in its best and happiest hours; and would insensibly blend themselves with all its purest and most refined enjoyments.

In those parts of Europe, where the prevailing opinions involve the greatest variety of errors and corruptions, it is, I believe, a common idea with many respectable and enlightened men, that, in every country, it is most prudent to conduct the religious instruction of youth upon the plan which is prescribed by the national establishment; in order that the pupil, according to the vigour or feebleness of his mind, may either shake off, in future life, the prejudices of the nursery, or die in the popular persuasion. This idea, I own, appears to me to be equally ill-founded and dangerous. If religious opinions have, as will not be disputed, a powerful influence on the happiness, and on the conduct of mankind, does not humanity require of us, to rescue as many victims as possible from the hands of bigotry ; and to save them from the cruel alternative, of remaining under the gloom of a depressing superstition, or of being distracted by a perpetual conflict between the heart and the understanding ?

-It is an enlightened education alone, that, in most countries of Europe, can save the young philosopher from that anxiety and despondence, which every man of sensibility, who, in his childhood, has imbibed the popular opinions, must necessarily experience, when he first begins to examine their foundation ; and, what is of still greater importance, which can save him, during life, from that occasional scepticism, to which all men are liable, whose systems fluctuate with the inequalities of their spirits, and the variations of the atmosphere.

I shall conclude this subject with remarking, that, although in all moral and religious systems, there is a great mixture of important truth; and although it is, in consequence of this alliance, that errors and absurdities are enabled to preserve their hold of the belief, yet it is commonly found, that, in proportion as an established creed is complicated in its dogmas and in its ceremonies, and in proportion to the number of accessory ideas which it has grafted upon the truth, the more difficult is it, for those who have adopted it in childhood, to emancipate themselves completely from its influence; and, in those cases in which they at last succeed, the greater is their danger of abandoning, along with their errors, all the truths which they had been taught to connect with them. The Roman caout 26 orlek: tholic system is shaken off with much greater difficulty, :* terk. than those which are taught in the reformed churches; but when it loses its hold of the mind, it much more frequently prepares the way for unlimited scepticism. The causes of this I may perhaps have an opportunity of pointing out, in treating of the association of ideas.

been

I have now finished all that I think necessary to offer, at present, on the application of the philosophy of mind to the subject of education. To some readers, I am afraid, that what I have advanced on the subject, will appear to-border

upon enthusiasm; and I will not attempt to justify myself against the charge. I am well aware of the tendency, which speculative men sometimes have, to magnify the effects of education, as well as to entertain too sanguine views of the improvement of the world ; and I am ready to acknowledge, that there are instances of individuals, whose vigour of mind is sufficient to overcome every thing that is pernicious in their early habits : but I am fully persuaded, that these instances are rare; and that, by far the greater part of mankind continue, through life, to pursue the same track into which they have been thrown, by the accidental circumstances of situation, instruction, and example.

PART SECOND.

SECTION II.

Continuation of the same Subje&t.

THE

He remarks which have been hitherto made, on

the utility of the philosophy of the human mind, are of a very general nature, and apply equally to all descriptions of men. Besides, however, these more obvious advantages of the study, there are others, which, though less striking, and less extensive in their application, are nevertheless, to some particular classes of individuals, of the highest importance. Without pretending to exhaust the subject, I shall offer a few detached observations upon it, in this section.

I already took notice, in general terms, of the common relation which all the different branches of our knowledge bear to the philosophy of the human mind. In consequence of this relation, it not only forms an interesting object of curiofity to literary men of every denomination ; but, if successfully prosecuted, it can. not fail to furnish useful lights for directing their in. quiries; whatever the nature of the subjects may be, which happen to engage their attention.

In order to be satisfied of the juitness of this observation, it is sufficient to recollect, that to the philosophy of the mind are to be referred, all our inquiries concerning the divisions and the claflifications of the objects of human knowledge ; and also, all the various rules, both for the investigation, and the communication, of truth. These general views of science, and these general rules of method, ought to form the subjects of a rational and useful logic; a study, undoubtedly, in itself of the greatest importance and dignity, but in which less progress has hitherto been made than is commonly imagined.

munication,

I shall endeavour to illustrate, very briefly, a few of the advantages which might be expected to result from such a system of logic, if properly executed.

I. And, in the first place, it is evident that it would be of the highest importance in all the sciences, in some of them, indeed, much more than in others,) to exhibit a precise and steady idea of the objects which they present to our inquiry What was the principal circumstance which contributed to mislead the ancients, in their physical researches ? Was it not their confused and wavering notions about the particular class of truths, which it was their business to investigate ? It was owing to this, that they were led to neglect the obvious phenomena and laws of moving bodies; and to indulge themselves in conjectures about the efficient causes of motion, and the nature of those minds, by which they conceived the particles of matter to be animated ; and that they so often blended the history of facts, with their metaphysical speculations. In the present state of science, indeed, we are not liable to such mistakes in natural philosophy; but it would be difficult to mention any other branch of knowledge, which is entirely exempted from them. In metaphysics, I might almost fay, they are at the bottom of all our controversies. In the celebrated dispute, for example, which has been so long carried

on,

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »