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phantasms of the Greek schools, the visions of Malebranche or Berkeley, the mathematical points of Boscovich, the apparitions or APPEARANCES of the Common-Sense hypothesis,—whether they be a name or a thing, any thing or nothing, the writers themselves have given us no clew to determine, and perhaps have hardly determined for themselves.
We have thus travelled over a wide extent of ground, but have not yet quite reached our journey's end. It still remains to us to examine the popular hypothesis of the present day, put forth from the north, under the captivating tiile of the System of Common Sense; produced undoubtedly from the best motives, and offered as a universal and infallible specific for all the wounds and weaknesses we may have incurred in our encounters with the preceding combatants.
The consideration of this shall form the subject of our ensuing lecture; and I shall afterward, by your permission, follow up the whole by submitting a few general observations on ihe entire subject, and endeavour to collect for your use, from the wide and tangled wilderness in which we have been beating, the few flowers and the little fruit that may be honestly worth the trouble of preservation.
ON THE HYPOTHESIS OF COMMON SENSE.
It must be obvious, I think, to every one who has attentively watched the origin and progress of those extraordinary and chimerical opinions through which we have lately been wading, and which have been dressed up by philosophers of the rarest endowments and deepest learning, into a 'show of systems and theories, that the grand cause of their absurdities is attributable to the imperfect knowledge we possess respecting the nature and qualities of matter, and the nature and qualities of those perceptions which material objects produce in the mind, through the medium of the external senses.
These perceptions, however accounted for, and whatever they have been supposed to consist in, have in most ancient, and in all modern, schools been equally denominated ideas; and hence ideas have sometimes implied modifications, so to speak, of pure intelligence, which was the opinion of Plato and of Berkeley; of immaterial apparitions or phantasms, which was that of Aristotle, and in a certain sense may perhaps be said to have been that of Hume; of real species or material images, which was that of Epicurus, of Sir Kenelm Digby, * and many other schoolmen of the iniddle of the seventeenth century; of mere notional resemblances, which was that of Des Cartes; and of whatever it was the ultimate intention of any of these scholastic terms to signisy, whether phantasm, notion, or species; whatever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks, or the mind can be employed about when thinking, which was that of Locke, and is the fair import or ihe word in popular speech.
It is possible, moreover, that this indiscriminate use of the same term to express different apprehensions, and particularly in modern times, has contributed to many of the errors which are peculiarly chargeable to the metaphy. sical writers of modern times. But this opinion has been carried much farther by Dr. Reid, who has persuaded himself that the word idea has been the rock on which all the metaphysical systematizers, from the time of Aristotle to his own era, have shipwrecked themselves; and hence, having determined to oppose the absurdities of his own countryman Mr. Hume, by the introduction
• He was warmly opposed by Alexander Ross, of Hudibrastic memory, who was a stanch Aristotelian, and, consequenty, denied the materiality of ideas. See Ross's argument in Professor Stewart's Essays, vodi po 500, to
of a new hypothesis, he thought the better way would be to clear the ground on every side, by an equal excommunication of this mischievous term, and of every system into which it had ever found an entrance; whence all the authors of such systems, whatever may have been their views or principles in other respects, he has lumped together by the common name of Idealists.
The motive of Dr. Reid was pure and praiseworthy: he entered the arena with great and splendid talents; and soon found himself powerfully abetted by his friends, Dr. Adam Smith, Dr. Beattie, Lord Kames, Dr. Campbell, and Mr. Dugald Stewart: but it must be obvious to every one, that in the execution of his motive he has carried his resentment to a strange and somewhat ludicrous extreme. Idea is a word sufficiently harmless in itself, and even his own friends have not chosen to follow him in his Quixotic warfare against it; and have, consequently, continued to use it, in spite of his outlawry and proscription : while to arrange under the same banner every one who has employed this term, and to impule the same dangerous tendency to every hypothesis in which it is to be met with, is to make the wearing of a blue or a chocolate coat a sure sign of treason, and to assert that every man who is found thus habited deserves hanging.
Mr. Locke distinctly tells us, that he uses the term idea in its popular sense, and only in its popular sense. But he uses it, and that is enough:—the mischie is in the word itself. It has, however, been attempted to be proved that he has not always known the sense in which he did use it; and that he has sometimes employed it in a popular and sometimes in a scholastic import, as denoting that certain ideas are not mere notional perceptions, but material images or copies of the objects which they indicate, by which means he has given a strong handle to such materialists, or favourers of materialism, as Hartley, Priestley, and Darwin: while, by his striking away from bodies all their secondary qualities, as taste, smell, sound, and colour, he has given a similar handle lo such immaterialists as Berkeley and Hume.
Now, it is not often that a theory is accused of leaning north and south at the same time, and whenever it can be so accused, the charge is perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to it, as proving its uprightness and freedom from bias. But it was absolutely necessary for the success of the new hypothesis that the Essay on Human Understanding should be demonstrated to be radically erroneous, and particularly to have some connexion in the way of causation with what may be called the physical speculations of the day, whether of materialism or of immaterialism : since so long as this remained firm, so long as the system maintained its ground, the immortal edifice proposed to be erected-monumentum are perennius-could find no place for a foundation; and on this account, and, so far as I can learn, on this account alone, the name of Locke has been placed among “ the most celebrated promoters of modern skepticism;"* though it is admitted that nothing was farther from his intention.
It is hence requisite, before we enter upon a survey of this new hypothesis, to inquire how far the objections which were offered against Mr. Locke's theory are founded in fact. I have already mentioned two of the more prominent, and I shall have occasion to mention two others immediately.
We are told, in the first place, that Mr. Locke has not used the term idea in all instances in one and the same signification; and that while it sometimes imports something separaie from body, it sometimes imports a modification of body itself.
But this is egregiously to mistake his meaning, and to charge him with a confusion of conception which only belongs to the person who can thus interpret him. Des Cartes, aster most of the Greek philosophers, had asserted, that our ideas are in some way or other exact images of the objects presented to the senses: Mr. Locke, in opposition to this assertion, contended, that so far from being exact images they have not the smallest resemblance to them in any respect, with the exception of those ideas that represent the real or primary qualities of bodies, or such as belong to bodies intrinsically; and
* Beauie on Truth: compare part ii. ch. ii. $ 1, 2, with the opening of part ii. ch. ii. 82
which, in his own day, were supposed to consist of figure, extension, solidity motion or rest, and number. These qualities being REAL in the bodies in which they appear, the ideas which REALLY represent them are, in his opinion, entitled to be called RESEMBLANCES of them; while the ideas of the secondary qualities of bodies, or those which are not real but merely ostensible, or which, in other words, do not intrinsically belong to the bodies in which they appear, as colour, sound, taste, and smell, are not entitled to be called resemblances of them. Now, what does such observation upon these two sets of qualities amount to? Plainly and unequivocally to this, and nothing more; that as the first set of ideas are real representatives of real qualities, and the latter real representatives of ostensible qualities, there is in the former case a resemblance of reality, though there is no other resemblance, and, in the latter case, no resemblance of reality, and, consequently, no resemblance whatever. The resemblance is in respect to the reality of the qualities perceived; it is simply a resemblance of reality: here it begins, and here it ends. But the adverse commentators before us contend, that it neither begins nor ends here; and that the word resemblance must necessarily import an actual and material resemblance,—a corporeal copy or image; and that, consequently, the class of ideas referred to must necessarily be material and corporeal things. So that it is not allowable to any man to say, that truth resembles a rock, unless he means, and is prepared to prove, that truth is a hard, stony mass of matter jutting into the sea, and fatal to ships that dash against it.
But many of Mr. Locke's own followers are said to have understood him in this sense. Not, however, in regard to this distinction: though I am ready to admit that many of those who have pretended to be his followers, have misunderstood him upon the subject of ideas generally, and have affirmed, in direct opposition to his own words, that, in the Essay on Human Understanding, all our ideas of sensation are supposed to be sensible representations or pictures of the objects apprehended by the senses. This observation particularly applies to Locke's French commentators and followers, Condillac, Turgot, Helvetius, Diderot, D'Alembert, Condorcet, Destutt-Tracy, and Degerando: concerning whom Professor Stewart has made the following just remark; that while "these ingenious men have laid hold eagerly of this common principle of reasoning, and have vied with each other in extolling Locke for the sagacity which he has displayed in unfolding it, hardly two of them can be named who have understood it precisely in the sense annexed to it by the author. What is still more remarkable, the praise of Locke has been loudest from those who seem to have taken the least pains to ascertain the import of his conclusions."*
The term OBJECT Mr. Locke has occasionally used in an equally figurative sense. Thus book ii. ch. i. sect. 24: "In time," says he, "the mind comes to reflect on its own operations about the ideas got by sensation; and thereby stores itself with a new set of ideas, which I call ideas of reflection. These are the impressions that are made on our senses by OUTWARD OBJECTS that are extrinsical to the mind, and its own operations proceeding from powers intrinsical and proper to itself; which, when reflected on by itself, becoming also OBJECTS of its contemplation, are, as I have said, the originals of all knowledge."
No words can more clearly prove that Locke regarded ideas of sensation as impressions made by external objects, and not as objects themselves; and ideas of reflection as operations of the mind, and no more objects, literally so considered, than in the preceding case. And hence, when, towards the close of the above passage, he applies the term objects to these operations, he can only in fairness be supposed to do it in a figurative sense: in which sense, indeed, he applies the same term to ideas of all kinds in another place, where he explains an idea to be "whatsoever is the OBJECT of the understanding when a man thinks." And yet he has been accused, by the School of Com
Essays, vol. i. p. 102.
mon Sense, of using the term literally; and it is "to Dr. Reid," says Mr. Stewart, "that we owe the important remark that all these notions (images, phantasms, &c.) are wholly hypothetical:"* and that we have no ground for supposing that in any operation of the mind there exists in it an object distinct from the mind itself.
With respect to the division of the qualities of bodies just adverted to, though derived from the views of Sir Isaac Newton, I am ready to admit that it is loose, and in some respects, perhaps, erroneous. Nor is this to be wondered at; for I have already had frequent occasions to observe, that it is a subject upon which we are totally ignorant; and that we are rather obliged to suppose, than are capable of proving the existence of even the least controverted primary qualities of bodies, as extension, solidity, and figure, in order to avoid falling into the absurdity of disbelieving a material substrate. But the supporters of the new hypothesis have no reason to triumph upon this point, since it is a general doctrine of their creed that all the qualities of matter are equally primary or real; in the interpretation of which, however, the sentiments of Mr. Stewart are wider from those of Dr. Reid than Dr. Reid's are from Mr. Locke's.
Nor are they altogether clear from the very same charge here advanced against Mr. Locke: "Professor Stewart, in his Elements, says, 'Dr. Reid has justly distinguished the quality of colour from what he calls the appearance of colour, which last can only exist in a mind.' And Dr. Reid himself says, 'The name of colour belongs indeed to the cause only, and not to the effect.' Here, then, we have it unequivocally from Dr. Reid, that colour is a quality in an external body,—and the sensation occasioned by it in the mind is only the appearance of that external quality !!-Would any one suppose that such • doctrine could come from the illustrious defender of non-resemblances?from the founder of the school which ridicules Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, for supposing that our ideas of primary qualities are resemblances of those qualities?" What is the appearance of any thing but a resemblance of it? An appearance of any thing means the highest degree of resemblance; or that precise resemblance of it which makes it seem to be the thing itself. " Appearance, in Dr. Reid's sense of the term, is precisely assimilated to the phantasm of Aristotle.
In reality, neither of these objections against Mr. Locke's theory seem to have weighed very heavy with Dr. Beattie, whose chief ground of controversy is drawn from another source; from Locke's having opposed the Cartesian doctrine of innate ideas and principles: or, in other words, from his having opposed M. Des Cartes's gratuitous assertion tha' infallible notions of a God, of matter, of consciousness, of moral right, together with other notions of a like kind, are implanted in the mind, and may be found there by any man who will search for them; thus superseding the necessity for discipline and education, and putting savages upon a level with theologians and moral philosophers. To confute this absurdity of M. Des Cartes is the direct object of the first book of the Essay on Human Understanding; "and it is this first book," says Dr. Beattie, "which, with submission, I think the worst and most dangerous." Here again, however, it is altogether unnecessary for me to offer a vindication, for it has been already offered by one of the most able supporters of the new system, Mr. Dugald Stewart himself; who thus observes, as though in direct contradiction to his friend Dr. Beattie: "the hypothesis of innate ideas thus interpreted (by Des Cartes and Malebranche) scarcely seems to have ever merited a serious refutation. In England, for many years past, it has sunk into complete oblivion, excepting as a monument of the follies of the learned."
We have thus far noticed three objections advanced against Mr. Locke's system by the three warmest champions for the new hypothesis. And it is a curious fact, that they are almost advanced singly; for upon these three points
Elem. ch. iii. ii. Fearne's Essay, p. 23.
◊ Essays, vol. i. p. 117.
the three combatants are very little more in harmony with themselves than they are with the Goliath against whom they have entered the lists. There is a fourth objection, however, and it would be the chief and most direct, if it could be well supported, on which the metaphysicians of the north seem to be unanimous. The Essay on Human Understanding resolves all the ideas we possess, or can possibly possess, into the two classes of those obtained by sensation, or the exercise of our external senses, and those obtained by reflection, or the operations of the mind on itself; and it defies its readers to point out a single idea which is not reducible to the one or the other of these general heads. The supporters of the northern hypothesis have specially accepted this challenge, and have attempted to point out a variety of ideas, or CONCEPTIONS, as Dr. Reid prefers calling them, which are in the mind of every man, and which are neither the result of sensation or reflection; and they have peculiarly fixed upon those of extension, figure, and motion. And hence this argument is regarded as decisive, and is proposed, both by Dr. Reid and Prefessor Stewart, " as an experimentum crucis, by which the ideal system must stand or fall."*
Now, strictly speaking, this invincible argument, as it is called, is no argument whatever. It is a mere question of opinion, whether the above-named ideas, together with those of time, space, immensity, and eternity, which belong to the same class, can be obtained either by means of the external senses or the operation of the mind upon its own powers, or whether they cannot. And, for myself, I completely concur in believing with Mr. Locke that they can: though I am ready to leave this part of the subject, as I am the whole question between us, to Mr. Stewart's own case of the boy born blind and deaf, as communicated to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in the course of last year;† who, it is admitted, is possessed of perfect soundness of mind; but who, at that time in his seventeenth year, was, as we are expressly told, without any idea of a being superior to himself; of any religious feelings; and who did not appear to have possessed any moral feelings upon the sudden death of an indulgent father, notwithstanding the utmost pains that had been taken to give him instruction. If this boy shall be found to possess as clear an idea of figure and motion as those who have the free use of their eyes, I will readily allow Mr. Locke's system to be unfounded. That he must have some idea follows necessarily from this system; because he appears to have a very fine touch, and has also, or at least had till very lately, some small glimmering of light and colours.
But, upon the northern hypothesis, he ought not only to have some idea of these qualities of bodies, but A MOST TRUE AND CORRECT IDEA, probably more so, instead of less so, than that of other persons: since he is said to obtain it from a faculty which is not supposed to be injured, and since the want of one sense is usually found to strengthen the remainder.
With respect to the idea of extension, indeed, which, by some philosophers, is thought to be the most difficult of the whole, it appears to me that it is capable of being obtained with at least as much perspicuity as that of most other qualities of bodies, and more so than ideas of many of them; for we have in this instance the power of touch to correct that of sight, or vice versâ; while in a multitude of other instances we are compelled to trust to one sense alone. Extension, in its general signification, is a complex idea, resulting from a combination of the more simple ideas of length, breadth, and thickness; and hence evidently imports a continuity of the parts of whatever subject the idea is applied to; whether it be a solid substance, as a billiard ball, or the unsolid space which measures the distance between one billiard ball and another; the idea of measure being, indeed, the most obvious idea we can form of it. In both which cases we determine the relative proportions of the
Reid's Inquiry, &c. p. 137. Stewart's Essays, vol. i. p. 549.
"Some Account of a Boy born Blind and Deaf. By Dugald Stewart, Esq., F.R.S.," ed. 4to. Edin. 1812. With which compare, relating to the same individual, "History of James Mitchel, a Boy born Blind and Deaf, &c. By James Wardrop, F.R.S." Ed. 4to. 1813. See Edin. Rev. No. xl. p. 468.