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ed acquisitions of the vulgar. The truth of these remarks is now so universally admitted, and is indeed so obvious in itself, that it would be superflu. ous to multiply words in supporting them ; and I fhould scarcely have thought of stating them in this Chapter, if some of the most celebrated philofophers of antiquity had not been led to dispute them, in consequence of the mistaken opinions which they entertained concerning the nature of universals. Forgetting that genera and species are mere arbitrary creations which the human mind forms, by withdrawing the attention from the diftinguishing qualities of objects, and giving a common name to their resembling qualities, they conceived universals to be real existences, or, as they exprefsed it) to be the effences of individuals ; and flattered themselves with the belief, that by directing their attention to these effences in the first instance, they might be enabled to penetrate the secrets of the univerfe, without submitting to the study of nature in detail. These errors, which were common to the Platonists and the Peripatetics, and which both of them seem to have adopted from the Pythagorean school, contributed, perhaps, more than any thing else, to retard the progress of the ancients in physical knowledge. The late learned Mr. Harris is almost the only author of the present age who has ventured to defend this plan of philosophising, in opposition to that which has been fo successfully followed by the disciples of lord Bacon.
“ The Platonists," says he,“ considering science " as something ascertained, definite, and steady, “ would admit nothing to be its object which was
vague, indefinite, and pafling. For this reason “ they excluded all individuals or objects of sense, .and (as Ammonius expresses it) raised themselves “ in their contemplations from beings particular to beings universal, and which, from their own na
ture, were eternal and definite._" Confonant to “ this was the advice of Plato, with refpect to the “ progress of our fpeculations and inquiries, to de“ scend from thofe higher genera, which include ma“ ny subordinate species, down to the lowest rank 6 of fpecies, those which include only individuals. “ But here it was his opinion, that our inquiries “ should stop, and, as to individuals, let them whol“ ly alone ; because of these there could not poflibly “ be any science." *
“ Such,” continues this author, “ was the method " of ancient philosophy. The fashion, at present,
appears to be somewhat altered, and the businefs “ of philofophers to be little else than the collecting u from every quarter, into voluminous records, an 6 infinite number of sensible, particular, and uncon“ nected facts, the chief effect of which is to excite « our admiration."-In another part of his works the fame author observes, that “the mind, truly « wife, quitting the study of particulars, as knowing “ their multitude to be infinite and incomprehensi6 ble, turns its intellectual eye to what is general “ and comprehensive, and through generals learns to “ see, and recognise whatever exists.”+
If we abftract from these obvious errors of the ancient philosophers, with respect to the proper order to be obferved in our inquiries, and only suppose them to end where the Piatonists said that they fhould begin the magnificent encomiums they bestowed on the utility of those comprehensive truths which form the object of science (making allowance for the obfcure and mysterious terms in which they expreffed them) can scarcely be regarded as extravagant. It is probable that from a few accidental inItances of fuccessful investigation, they had been
HARRIS's Three Treatises, page 341, 342. +Ibid p. 227.
ftruck with the wor.derful effect of general principles in increasing the intellectual power of the human mind; and, mifled by that impatience in the study of particulars which is so often connected with the consciousness of superior ability, they labored to persuade themselves, that, by a life devoted to abstract meditation, such principles might be rendered as immediate objects of intellectual perception, as the individuals which compose the material world are of our external senses. By connecting this opinion with their other doctrines concerning universals, they were unfortunately enabled to exhibit it in fo myfterious a form, as not only to impose on themfelves, but to perplex the understandings of all the learned in Europe, for a long succession of ages.
The conclusion to which we are led by the fore. going observations is, that the foundation of all hui man knowledge must be laid in the examination of particular objects and particular facts, and that it is only as far as our general principles are resolvable into these primary elements, that they poffefs either truth or utility. It must not, however, be understood to be implied in this conclusion, that all our knowledge mult ultimately rest on our own proper experience. If this were the case, the progress of science, and the progress of human improvement; must have been wonderfully retarded; for, if it had been necessary for each individual to form a classification of objects, in consequence of observations and abstractions of his own, and to infer from the actual examination of particular facts, the general cruths on which his conduct proceeds ; human affairs would at this day remain nearly in the same state to which tliey were brought by the experience of the first gen. eration. In fact, this is very nearly the situation of the species in all those parts of the world, in which the existence of the race depends on the separate ef. forts which each individual makesin procuring for himself the neceffaries of life ; and in which, of consequence, the habits and acquirements of each individual must be the result of his own personal experience. In cultivated society, one of the first acquifitions which children make, is the use of language; by which means they are familiarised, from their earliest years, to the confideration af classes of objects, and of general truths; and before that time of life at which the favage is pofsefsed of the knowledge necessary for his own preservation, are enabled to appropriate to themselves the accumulated discoveries
Notwithstanding, however, the stationary condition in which the race must, of necessity, continue, prior to the separation of arts and profeflions; the natural disposition of the mind to afcend from particular truths to general conclusions, could not fail to lead individuals, even in the rudest state of society, to collect the results of their experience, for their own instruction and that of others. But, without the use of general terms, the only possible way of communicating such conclusions, would be by means of some particular example, of which the general application was striking and obvious. In other words, the wisdom of such ages will necessarily be exprefsed in the form of fables or parables, or in the still fimpler form of proverbial instances ; and not in the scientific form of general maxims. In this way, undoubtedly, much useful instruction, both of a prudential and moral kind, might be conveyed : at the fame time, it is obvious, that, while general truths continued to be expressed merely by particular exem. plifications, they would afford little or no opportunity to one generation to improve on the speculations of another; as no effort of the understanding could combine them together, or employ them as premises, in order to obtain other conclusions more remote and comprehensive. For this purpose, it is absolutę,
ly necessary that the scope or moral of the fable should be separated entirely from its accessory circumstances, and stated in the form of a general proposition.
From what has now been said, it appears, how much the progress of human reason, which necessarily accompanies the progress of society, is owing to the introduction of general terms, and to the use of general propositions. In consequence of the gradual improvements which take place in language as an instrument of thought, the classifications both of things and facts with which the infant faculties of each successive race are conversant, are more just and more comprehensive than those of their predecessors : the discoveries which, in one age, were confined to the studious and enlightened few, becoming in the next the established creed of the learned ; and in the third, forming part of the elementary principles of education. Indeed, among those who enjoy the advantages of early instruction, some of the moit remote and wonderful conclusions of the human intellect, are, even in infancy, as completely familiarised to the mind, as the most obvious phenomena which the material world exhibits to their fenfes.
If these remarks be just, they open an unbounded prospect of intellectual improvement to future ages ; as they point out a provision made by nature to fa. cilitate and abridge, more and more, the process of study, in proportion as the truths to be acquired increase in number. Nor is this prospect derived from theory alone. It is encouraged by the past history of all the sciences; in a more particular manner, by that of mathematics, in which the state of discovery, ad the prevailing methods of instruction, may, at all times be easily compared together. In this last observacion I have been anticipated by a late emi. pent mathematician, whose eloquent and philofophical Itatement of the argument cannot fail to carry