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tioned, notwithstanding the inaccurate and paradox. ical manner in which he has expressed it. *
May I take the liberty of adding, that Dr. Reid's own opinion seems to me also to coincide nearly with that of the Conceptualists ; or, at least, to coincide with the two propositions which I have already sup. posed to contain a summary of their doctrine ? The absurdity of the ancient opinion concerning univerfals, as maintained both by Plato and Aristotle, he has exposed by the clearest and most decisive arguments; not to mention, that by his own very ori. ginal and important speculations concerning the ideal theory, he has completely destroyed that natural prejudice from which the whole system of universal ideas gradually took rise. If, even in the case of individuals, we have no reason to believe the existence of any object of thought in the mind, distinct from the mind itself, we are at once relieved from all the difficulties in which philofophers have involved themselves, by attempting to explain, in consistency with that ancient hypothesis, the process of the mind in its general fpeculations.
On the other hand, it is no less clear, from Dr. Reid's criticisms on Berkeley and Hume, that his opinion does not coincide with that of the Nominalifts; and that the power which the mind poffefses of reafoning concerning claffes of objects, appears to him to imply fome faculty, of which no notice is tàu ken in the systems of these philofophers.
The long experience I have had of the candor of this excellent author, encourages me to add, that, in ftating his opinion of the subject of universals, he has not expressed himself in a manner fo completely satisfactory to my mind, as on most other occasions. That language is not an essential instrument of thought in our general reafoning's, he has no where positively aflerted. At the fame time, as he has not
* See Note [K.]
affirmed the contrary, and as he has declared himfelf diffatisfied with the doctrines of Berkeley and Hume, his readers are naturally led to conclude, that this is his real opinion on the subject. His filence on this point is the more to be regretted, as it is the only point about which there can be any reasonable controversy among those who allow his refutation of the ideal hppothefis to be fatisfactory. In consequence of that refutation, the whole dispute between the Realifts and the Conceptualists falls at once to the ground; but the dispute between the Conceptualilts and the Nominalists (which involves the great question concerning the use of figns in general speculation) remains on the same footing as be. fore.
In order to justify his own expressions concerning universals; and in opposition to the language of Berkeley and Hume, Dr. Reid is at pains to illustrate a distinction between conception and imagination, which he thinks, has not been sufficiently attended to by philosophers. “ An universal," says he, “ is not an object of any external sense, and there4 fore cannot be imagined ; but it may be distinctly " conceived. When Mr. Pope says, “ The proper
ftudy of mankind is man;" I conceive his mean* ing distinctly; although I neither imagine a black
or a white, a crooked or a straight man. I can con“ceive a thing that is impoflible; but I cannot diftinct
ly imagine a thing that is impossible. I can con“ceive a proposition or a demonftration, but I can“ not imagine either. I can conceive understand “ing and will, virtue and vice, and other attributes " of the mind; but I cannot imagine them. In « like manner, I can distinctly conceive universals;
but I cannot imagine them."*.
It appears from this paflage, that, by conceiving universals, Dr. Reid means nothing more, than understanding the meaning of propositions involving general terms. But the observations he has made (admitting them in their full extent) do not in the least affect the question about the necessity of signs, to enable us to fpeculate about such propofitions. The vague use which metaphysical writers have made of the word conception, (of which I had occasion to take notice in a former chapter,) has contributed in part to embarrass this subject. That we cannot conceive universals in a way at all analogous to that in which we conceive an absent object of senfe, is granted on both sides. Why then should we employ the fame word conception, to express two operations of the mind which are essentially different? When we speak of conceiving or understanding a general propofition, we mean nothing more than that we have a conviction,(founded on our previous use of the words in which it is expressed,) that we have it in our power, at pleasure, to substitute, instead of the general terms, fome one of the individuals comprehended under them. When we hear a proposition announced, of which the terms are not familiar to us; we naturally desire to have it exemplified, or illustrated, by means of some particular instance ; and when we are once satisfied by such an application, that we have the interpretation of the propofition at all times in our power, we make no fcruple to say, that we conceive or understand its meaning; although we should not extend our views beyond the words in which it is announced, or even although no particular exemplification of it fhould occur to us at the moment. It is in this sense only, that the terms of any general proposition can pofsibly be un derstood: and therefore Dr. Reid's argument does not, in the least, invalidate the doctrine of the Nominalists, that, without the use of language, (under which term I comprehend every species of signs,) we should never have been able to extend our fpeculations beyond individuals.
* P. 482.,
That, in many cafes, we may fafely employ in our reasonings, general terms, the meaning of which we are not even able to interpret in this way, and confequently, which are to us wholly insignificant, I had occasion already to demonstrate, in a former part of this section.
Continuation of the same Subject.-Inferences with respect
to the Use of Language as an Instrument of Thought, and the Errors in Reasoning to which it occafonally gives rise.
IN the laft Section, I mentioned Dr. Campbell, as an ingenious defender of the system of the Nomina alists; and I alluded to a particular application which he has made of their doctrine. The reafonings which I had then in view, are to be found in the seventh chapter of the second book of his Philosophy of Rhetoric; in which chapter he proposes to explain how it happens, “that nonsenfe so often escapes be"ing detected, both by the writer and the reader." The title is somewhat ludicrous in a grave philofophical work ; but the disquisition to which it is prefixed, contains many acute and profound remarks on the nature and power of signs, both as a medium of communication, and as an instrument of thought.
Dr. Campbell's fpeculations with respect to language as an instrument of thought, seem to have been suggested by the following passage in Mr. Hume's Treatise of Human Nature. “I believe, ev.
ery one who examines the situation of his mind “ in reasoning, will agree with me, that we do not
annex distinct and complete ideas to every term we make use of; and that in talking of Gov.
* ernment, Church, Negociation, Conquest, we fel“ dom spread out in our minds all the simple ideas “ of which these complex ones are composed. It is, < however, observable, that, notwithstanding this 5 imperfection, we may avoid talking nonsense on “ these subjects; and may perceive any repug“nance among the ideas, as well as if we had a full “comprehension of them. Thus if, instead of fay
ing, that, in war, the weaker have always re“ course to negociation, we should say, that they 6 have always recourse to conquest ; the custom " which we have acquired, of attributing certain ļ6 relations to ideas, still follows the words, and “ makes us immediately perceive the absurdity of " that propofition.”
In the remarks which Dr. Campbell has made on this paffage, he has endeavored to explain in what manner our habits of thinking and speaking, gradually establish in the mind, such relations among the words we employ, as enable us to carry on processes of reafoning by means of them, without attending in every inftance to their particular fignification. With most of his remarks on this subject I perfectly agree ; but the illustrations he gives of them, are of too great extent to be introduced here ; and I would not wish to run the risk of impairing their perspicu. ity, by attempting to abridge them. I must therefore refer such of my readers as wish to prosecute the speculation, to his very ingenious and philosophical treatise.
“ In consequence of these circumstances,” (says Dr. Campbell,) “ It happens that, in matters which “ are perfectly familiar to us, we are able to reason
by means of words, without examining, in every “ instance, their fignification. Almost all the posli. “ ble applications of the terms in other words, all “ the acquired relations of the figns) have become “customary to us. The consequence is, that an un