Page images

in the general laws which regulate the course of human affairs; and which, if ever, in confequence of the progress of reason, philosophy should be enabled to assume that ascendant in the government of the world, which has hitherto been maintained by accident, combined with the passions and caprices of a few leading individuals, may, perhaps, produce more perfect and happy forms of society, than have yet been realized in the history of mankind. !!!

I have thus endeavoured to point out, and illustrate, a few of the most important purposes to which the philosophy of the human mind is subservient. It will not, however, I flatter myself, be supposed by any of my readers, that I mean to attempt a systematical work, on all, or any of the subjects I have now mentioned; the most limited of which, would furnish matter for

many volumes. What I have aimed at; has been, to give, in the first place, as distina and complete an analysis as I could, of the principles, both intellectual and active, of our nature ; and, in the second place, to illustrate, as I proceed, the applica. tion of these general laws of the human constitution, to the different classes of phenomena which result from them. In the selection of these phenomena, although I have sometimes been guided chiefly by the curiosity of the moment, or the accidental course of my own studies; yet, I have had it in view, to vary, as far as poslible, the nature of my speculations, in order to show how numerous and different the applications are, of which this philosophy is susceptible. It will not, therefore, I hope, be objected to me, that I have been guilty of a blameable violation of unity in the plan of


my work, till it be considered how far such a violation was useful for accomplishing the purposes for which I write. One species of unity, I am willing to believe, an attentive reader will be able to trace in it: I mean, that uniformity of thought and design, “ which” (as Butler well remarks,) " we may always expect to “ meet with in the compositions of the fame author, “ when he writes with simplicity, and in earnest.”

[blocks in formation]

Of the Theories which have been formed by Philosophers, to ex

plain the Manner in which the MIND perceives external

Objects. AMONG the various phenomena which the hu

man mind presents to our view, there is none more calculated to excite our curiosity and our wonder, than the communication which is carried on between the sentient, thinking, and active principle within us, and the material objects with which we are surrounded. How little foever the bulk of mankind may be disposed to attend to such inquiries, there is scarcely a person to be found, who has not occasionally turned his thoughts to that mysterious influence, which the will poffefses over the members of the body; and to those powers of perception, which seem to inform us, by a sort of inspiration, of the various changes which take place in the external universe. Of those who receive the advantages of a liberal education, there are perhaps few, who pass the period of childhood, without feeling their curiosity excited by this incomprehensible communication between mind and matter. For my own part, at least, I cannot recollect the date of my earliest speculations on the subject.


It is to the phenomena of perception alone, that I am to confine myself in the following essay; and even with respect to these, all that I propose is, to offer a few general remarks on such of the common mistakes concerning them, as may be most likely to mislead us in our future inquiries. Such of my readers as wish to consider them more in detail, will find ample satisfaction in the writings of Dr. Reid.

In considering the phenomena of perception, it is natural to suppose, that the attention of philosophers would be directed, in the first instance, to the sense of seeing. The variety of information and of enjoyment we receive by it; the rapidity with which this information and enjoyment are conveyed to us ; and above all, the intercourse it enables us to maintain with the more distant part of the universe, cannot fail to give it, even in the apprehension of the most careJess observer, a pre-eminence over all our other per

ceptive ceptive faculties. Hence it is, that the various theo. ries, which have been formed to explain the operations of our senses, have a more immediate reference to that of seeing; and that the greater part of the metaphysical language, concerning perception in general, appears evidently, from its etymology, to have been suggested by the phenomena of vision. Even when applied to this sense, indeed, it can at most amuse the fancy, without conveying any precise know. ledge ; but, when applied to the other senses, it is altogether absurd and unintelligible.

It would be tedious and useless, to consider particularly, the different hypotheses which have been advanced upon this subject. To all of them, I apprehend, the two following remarks will be found appli. cable : First, that, in the formation of them, their authors have been influenced by some general max. ims of philosophising, borrowed from physics ; and, secondly, that they have been influenced by an indiftinct, but deep-rooted, conviction, of the immateriality of the foul ; which, although not precise enough to point out to them the absurdity of attempting to illustrate its operations by the analogy of matter, was yet sufficiently strong, to induce them to keep the absurdity of their theories as far as possible out of view, by allusions to those physical facts, in which the diftinctive properties of matter are the least grossly and palpably exposed to our observation. To the former of these circumstances, is to be ascribed, the general principle, upon which all the known theories of perception proceed ; that, in order to explain the intercourse between the mind and distant objects, it is nea



« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »