« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
any objects perceivable by sense, yet that they have an exiltence independent of the human mind, and are no more to be confounded with the understand. ing, of which they are the firoper objects, than material things are to be confounded with our powers of external perception : that as all the individu. als which compose a genus, muft poffefs something in common; and as it is in confequence of this, that they belong to that genus, and are diftinguishable by the same name, this common thing forms the effence of each ; and is the object of the understanding, when we reason concerning the genus. They maintained also, that this common essence,* nota withstanding its infeparable union with a multitude of different individuals, is in itself one, and indivisie ble.
On most of these points, the philosophy of Ariftotle seems to have coincided very nearly with that of Plato. The language, however, which these phi. Josophers employed on this lubject was different, and gave to their doctrines the appearance of a wid. er diversity than probably exifted between their opinions. While Plato was led, by his passion for the marvellous and the mysterious, to infitt on the incomprehenfible union of the fame idea or eflence, with a number of individuals, without multiplication or division ;t Aristotle, more cautious, and aiming at
** In this very imperfect sketch of the opinions of the ancients concerning universals, I have substituted, instead of the word idea, the word essence, as better fitted to convey to a modern reader the true import of Plato's expressions. The word essentia is said to have been first employed by Cicero ; and it was afterwards adopied by the schoolmen, in the same sense in which the Platonists used the word idea. See Dr. Reid's Essays on the Intellectual Powers, page
+ « The idea of a thing,” (says Plato, “is that which makes one of the many : wbichi, preserving the unity and integrity of its own nature, runs through and mixes with things infinite in
greater perfpicuity, contented himself with saying, that all individuals are composed of matter and form; and that it is in consequence of poffefsing a common form, that different individuals belong to the fame genus.
But they both agreed, that, as the matter, or the individual natures of objects were perceived by fenfe ; fo the general idea, or essence, or form, was perceived by the intellect; and that, as the attention of the vulgar was chiefly engroffed with the former, so the latter furnished to the philofopher the materials of his speculations.
The chief difference between the opinions of Plato and Aristotle on the subject of ideas, related to the mode of their existence. That the matter of which all things are made, exilted from eternity, was a principle which both admitted ; but Piato farther taught, that, of every species of things, there is an idea or form which also exifted from eternity; and that this idea is the exemplar or model according to which the individuals of the fpecies were made ; whereas Aristotle held, that, although matter' may exist without form, yet that forms could not exist without matter. *
“ number ; and yet, however maltiform it may appear, is always " the same : so that by it we find out and discriminate the thing, “ whatever shapes it may assume, and under whatever disguise it
may conceal itself.”—Plato in PHILEBO ; (quoted by the Author of the Origin and progress of Language, vol. i. p. 100, 2d edit.)
In this account of the difference between Plato and Aristotle on the subject of ideas, I have chiefly followed Brucker, whose very laborious researches with respect to this article of the history of philosophy are well known. In stating the distinction, however, I have confined myself to as general terms as possible ; as the subject is involved in much obscurity, and has divided the opinions of very eminent writers. The reader will find the result of Brucker's inquiries, in his own words, in Note [F.]
The authority of Brucker, in this instance, has the more weight
The doctrine of the Stoics concerning universals, differed widely from those both of Plato and Aristotle, and seems to have approached to a speculation which is commonly supposed to be of a more recent origin, and which an eminent philosopher of the prefent age has ranked among the discoveries which do the greatest honour to modern genius.*
Whether this doctrine of the Stoics coincided entirely with that of the Nominalists, (whose opinions I shall afterwards endeavour to explain,) or whether it did not resemble more, a doctrine maintained by another sect of schoolmen called Conceptualists, I shall not inquire. The determination of this question is interesting only to men of erudition ; for the knowl. edge we poffels of this part of the Stoical philofophy, is too imperfect to affist us in the farther prosecution of the argument, or even to diminish the merit of those philosophers who have, in modern times, been led to similar conclusions.
with me, as it coincides in the most material respects with that of Dr. Reid. See his Essays on the intellectual Powers of Man, and the conclusion of his Inquiry into the Human mind.
A very different account of Aristotle's doctrine, in those particulars in which it is commonly supposed to differ from that of Plato, is given by two modern writers of great learning, whose opinions are justly entitled to much respect, from their familiar acquaintance with Aristotle's latter Commentators of the Alexandrian School. -See Origin and Progress of Language, vol. i. and HARRIS'S Ferınes.
It is of no consequence, for any of the purposes which I have at present in view, what opinion we form on this much controverted point of philosophical history. In so far as the ideal theory was an atteinpt to explain the manner in which our general speculations are carried on, it is agreed on all hands, that the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle were essentially the same; and accordingly, what I have said on that subject, coincides entirely with a passage which the reader will find in " Origin and Progress of Language, vol. j. p. 38. 2d edit. * Treatise of Human Nature, book i. part i. sect. 7.
of See Note [G.]
As it is not my object, in this work, to enter into historical details, any farther than is necessary for illuftrating the subjects of which I treat, I shall pass over the various attempts which were made by the Eclectic philosophers, (a sect which arose at Alexandria about the beginning of the third century,) to reconcile the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle concerning ideas. The endless difficulties, it would appear, to which their speculations led, induced, at last, the more cautious and modeft inquiries to banish them entirely from Dialectics, and to content themselves with studying the arrangements or classifications of universals, which the antient philosophers had made, without engaging in any metaphysical disquisitions concerning their nature. Porphyry, in particular, although he tells us, that he had speculated much on this subject; yet, in his Introduction to Aristotle's Categories, waves the consideration of it as obscure and intricate. On such questions as these; “ Whether genera and species exist in nature,
or are only conceptions of the Human Mind; and
(on the supposition that they exist in nature) “ whether they are inherent in the objects of fense,
or disjoined from them ?” he declines giving any determination.
This passage in Porphyry's Introduction is an object of curiosity; as, by a singular concurrence of circumstances, it served to perpetuate the memory of a controversy from which it was the author's in. tention to divert the inquiries of his readers. Amidst the disorders produced by the irruptions of the Bar, barians, the knowledge of the Greek tongue was almost entirely lost; and the studies of philosophers were confined to Latin versions of Aristotle's Dialectics, and of Porphyry's Introduction concerning the Categories. With men who had a relish for such disquisitions, it is probable that the passage already quoted from Porphyry, would have a tendency rath
er to excite than to damp curiofity; and accordingly, we have reason to believe, that the controverty to which it relates continued, during the dark ages, to form a favourite fubject of discuffion. The opin, Ion which was prevalent was, (to use the scholastic language of the times, that universals do not exist before things, nor after things, but in things; that is, (if I may be allowed to attempt a commentary upon expressions to which I do not pretend to be able to annex very precise notions,) universal ideas have not (as Plato thought) an existence feparable from indi. vidual objects; and, therefore, they could not have exifted prior to them in the order of time; nor yet, (according to the doctrine of the Stoics,) are they mere conceptions of the mind, formed in consequence of an examination and comparison of particulars ; but these ideas or forms are from eternity united infeparably with that matter of which things confift; or, as the Ariftotelians sometimes express themselves, the forms of things are from eternity immersed in matter. The reader will, I hope, forgive me for entering into these details, not only on account of their connection with the observations which are to follow; but as they relate to a controversy which, for many ages, employed all the ingenuity and learning in Eu. rope; and which, therefore, however frivolous in it. felt, deserves the attention of philosophers, as one of the most curious events which occurs in the history of the Human Mind.
Such appears to have been the prevailing opinion concerning the nature of universals, till the eleventh century; when a new doctrine, or (as some authors think) a doctrine borrowed from the school of Zeno, was proposed by Rofcelinus ;* and foon after very widely propagated over Europe by the abilities and eloquence of one of his scholars, the celebrated Peter
* See Note [H.)