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convi&tion to those, who are qualified to judge of the facts on which his conclusion is founded :
“ To such of my readers, as may be flow in « admitting the pofsibility of this progressive im
provement in the human race, allow me to state
as an example, the history of that science in which 6 the advances of discovery are the most certain, and “ in which they may be measured with the greatest “ precision. Those elementary truths of geometry “and of astronomy which, in India and Egypt, “ formed an occult science, upon which an ambitious < priesthood founded its influence, were become, in " the times of Archimedes and Hipparchus, the sub* jects of common education in the public schools of « Greece. In the laft century, a few years of study “ were sufficient for comprehending all that Archi« medes and Hipparchus knew ; and, at present,
two years employed under an able teacher, carry 6 the student beyond those conclusions, which limit“ed the inquiries of Leibnitz and of Newton. Let
any perfon reflect on these facts : let him follow " the immense chain which connects the inquiries of “ Euler with those of a Priest of Memphis ; let him s observe, at each epoch, how genius outstrips the
present age, and how it is overtaken by mediocrity " in the next; he will perceive, that nature has 66 furnished us with the means of abridging and fa. * cilitating our intellectual labor, and that there is
no reason for apprehending that such simplifica« tions can ever have an end. He will perceive, 6 that at the moment when a multitude of particu. « lar solutions, and of insulated facts, begin to dis" tract the attention, and to overcharge the memo
ry, the former gradually lose themselves in one
general method, and the latter unite in one gen“ eral law; and tliat these generalizations continu
ally fucceeding one to another, like the succeslive
multiplications of a number by itself, have no “ other" limit, than that infinity which the human « faculties are unable to comprehend.*
Continuation of the fame. Subject.-Differences in the In
tellectual Characters of Individuals, arising from their different Habits of Abstraclion and Generalisation.
IN mentioning as one of the principal effects of çivilisation, its tendency to familiarise the mind to general terms, and to general propofitions, I did not mean to fay, that this influence extends equally to all the classes of men in society. On the contrary, it is evidently confined, in a great measure, to those who receive a liberal education; while the minds of the lower orders, like those of favages, are so habitually occupied about particular objects and particular events, that, although they are sometimes led, from imitation, to employ general expressions, the use which they make of them is much more the refult of memory than judgment; and it is but feldom that they are able to comprehend fully, any process of reasoning in which they are involved.
It is hardly neceffary for me to remark, that this obfervation, with respect to the incapacity of the vulgar for general speculations, (like all observations of a fimilar nature,) must be received with fome restrictions. In such a state of society as that in which we live, there is hardly any individual to be found, to whom fome general terms, and some general truths, are not perfectly familiar; and, therefore, the foregoing conclusions are to be considered as defcriptive of those habits of thought alone, which are most
* See Note (M.]
prevalent in their mind. To abridge the labor of reasoning, and of memory, by directing the attention to general principles, instead of particular truths, is the profeffed aim of all philofophy; and according as individuals have more or less of the philosophic spirit, their habitual speculations (whatever the nature of their pursuits may be) will relate to the for. mer, or to the latter, of these objects.
There are, therefore, among the men who are accustomed to the exercise of their intellectual powers, two classes, whose habits of thought are remarkably distinguished from each other ; the one clafs comprehending what we commonly call men of business, or, more properly, men of detail; the other, men of abstraction; or, in other words, philosophers.
The advantages which, in certain respects, the latter of these poffefs over the former, have been already pointed out ; but it must not be supposed, that these advantages are always purchased without fome inconvenience. As the folidity of our general principles depends on the accuracy of the particular observations into which they are ultimately resolvable, so their utility is to be estimated by the practical applications of which they admit : and it unfortunately happens, that the fame turn of mind which is favourable to philosophical pursuits, unless it be kept under proper regulation, is extremely apt to disqualify us for applying our knowledge to use, in the ex. ercise of the arts, and in the conduct of affairs.
In order to perceive the truth of these remarks, it is almost sufficient to recollect, that as classification, and, of consequence, general reasoning, presuppose the exercise of abstraction ; a natural disposition to indulge in them, cannot fail to lead the mind to overlook the specific difference of things, in attending to their common qualities. To succeed, however, in practice, a familiar and circumftantial acquaintance with the particular objects which fall under our obfervation, is indispeniably necessary.
But, farther : As all general principles are founded on classifications which imply the exercise of abstractions ; it is necessary to regard them, in their practical applications, merely as approximations to the truth; the defects of which, must be supplied by habits acquired by personal experience. In consid. ering, for example, the theory of the mechanical powers; it is usual to finplify the objects of our conception, by abstracting from friction, and from the weight of the different parts, of which they are composed. Levers are considered as mathematical lines, perfectly inflexible ; and ropes, as mathemati- . cal lines, perfectly flexible ; and by means of these, and similar abstractions, a subject, which is in itself extremely complicated, is brought within the reach of elementary geometry. In the theory of politics, we find it necessary to abstract from many of the peculiarities which distinguish different forms of government from each other, and to reduce them to certain general claffes, according to their prevailing tendency. Although all the governments we have ever seen, have had more or less of mixture in their composition, we reason concerning pure monarchies, pure aristocracies, and pure democracies, as if there really exifted political establishments corresponding to our definitions. Without such a claslification, it would be impofible for us to fix our attention, amidst the multiplicity of particulars which the subject prefents to us, or to arrive at any general principles which might serve to guide our enquiries in comparing different institutions together,
It is for a similar reason, that the speculative farmer reduces the infinite variety of foils to a few general descriptions ; the physician, the infinite variety of bodily constitutions to a few temperaments ; and the moralist, the infinite variety of human characters to a few of the ruling principles of action.' Notwithstanding, however, the obvious advanta
ges we derive from these claflifications, and the genieral conclusions to which they lead ; it is evidently impoffible, that principles, which derived their origin from efforts of abstraction, fhould apply literally to practice ; or, indeed, that they should afford us any considerable afliftance in conduct, without a certain degree of practical and experimental skill. Hence it is, that the mere theorist fo frequently ex. pofes himself, in real life, to the ridicule of men whom he despises ; and in the geneal eftimation of the world, falls below the level of the common drudges in business and the arts. The walk, indeed, of these unenlightened practitioners, muft necessari. ly be limited by their accidental opportunities of experience ; but, fo far as they go, they operate with facility and success ; while the merely speculative philofopher, although pofsefsed of principles which enable him to approximate to the truth, in an infinite variety of untried cases, and although he fees, with pity, the narrow views of the multitude, and the ludicrous pretensions with which they frequently oppose their trifling fuccesses to his theoretical spec. ulations, finds himself perfectly at a loss, when he is called upon, by the fimplest occurrences of ordinary life, to carry his principles into execution. Hence the origin of that maxim, “which” (as Mr. Hume remarks) “ has been so industriously propagated by “the dunces of every age, that a man of genius is unfit for business.”
In what consists practical or experimental kill, it is not easy to explain completely ; but, among
other things, it obviously implies, a talent for minute and comprehensive and rapid observation; a memory, at once retentive and ready; in order to present to us accurately, and without reflection, our theoretical knowledge; a presence of mind, not to be discon. certed by unexpected occurrences; and, in some cases, an uncommon degree of perfection in the ex