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presented to us, both by our powers of perception and conception, in a ftate of union. Such abstractions, in truth, are familiar to the most illiterate of mankind; and it is in this very way that they are insensibly formed. When a tradesman speaks of the length of a room, in contradiftinction to its breadth; or when he speaks of the distance between any two objects; he forms exactly the same abstraction, which is referred to by Euclid in his second definition
and which most of his commentators have thought it necessary to illustrate by prolix metaphysical disquisitions.
I shall only observe farther, with respect to the nature and province of this faculty of the mind, that notwithstanding its effential subserviency to every act of classification, yet it might have been exercised, although we had only been acquainted with one indi. vidual object. Although, for example, we had neve er seen but one rose, we might ftill have been able to attend to its color, without thinking of its other properties. This has led some philofophers to suppose, that another faculty besides abstraction, to which they have given the name of generalization, is necessary to account for the formation of genera and fpecies ; and they have endeavored to shew, that although generalization without abstraction is impoffible; yet that we might have been so formed, as to be able to abstract, without being capable of generalizing. The grounds of this opinion, it is not neceffary for me to examine, for any of the purposes which I have at present in view.
Oj the Objects of our Thoughts, when we employ general
FROM the account which was given in a former chapter, of the common theories of perception, it appears to have been a prevailing opinion among philosophers, that the qualities of external objects are perceived, by means of images or species transe mitted to the mind by the organs of sense : an opinion of which I already endeavored to trace the urigin, from certain natural prejudices suggelted by the phenomena of the material world. The fame train of thinking has led them to suppose that, in the case of all our other intellectual operations, there exist in the mind certain ideas distinct from the mind itself; and that these ideas are the objects about which our thoughts are employed. When I recollect, for example, the appearance of an absent friend, it is supposed that the immediate object of my thought is an idea of my friend; which I at first received by my senses, and which I have been ena. bled to retain in the mind by the faculty of memory. When I form to myself any imaginary combination by an effort of poetical invention, it is supposed in like manner, that the parts which I combine, existed previously in the mind; and furnish the materials on which it is the province of imagination to operate. It is to Dr. Reid we owe the im.. portant remark, that all these notions are wholly hypothetical ; that it is impossible to produce a hadow of evidence in support of them ; and that, even although we were to admit their truth, they would not render the phenomena in question more intelligible. According to his principles, therefore, we have no ground for supposing, that, in any cne op
eration of the mind, there exists in it an object distinct from the mind itself; and all the common ex. pressions which involve such a supposition are to be considered as unmeaning circumlocutions, which serve only to disguise from us the real history of the intellectual phenomena.*
* In order to prevent misapprehensions of Dr. Reid's meaning, in his reasonings against the ideal theory, it may be necessary to explain, a little more fully than I have done in the text, in what sense he calls in question the existence of ideas ; for the meaning which this word is employed to convey in popular discourse, differs widely from that which is annexed to it by the philosophers whose opinion he controverts. This explanation I shall give in his own words:
“ In popular language, idea signifies the same thing as concepof tion, apprehension, notion. To have an idea of any thing, is “ to conceive it. To have a distinct idea, is to conceive it dis« tinctly. To have no idea of it, is not to conceive at all.-- When « the word idea is taken in this popular sense, no man can possibly o doubt whether he has ideas."
" According to the philosophical meaning of the word idea, it “ does not signify that act of the mind which we call thought, or “conception, but some object of thought. Of these objects of “ thought called ideas, different sects of philosophers have given very
different accounts." “ Some have held them to be self-existent; others to be in the “ divine mind; others in our own minds; and others in the brain, or sensorium.”
213. “ The Peripatetic system of species and phantasms, as well as " the Platonic system of ideas, is grounded upon this principle,
that is every kind of thought, there must be some object that “ really exists; in every operation of the mind, something to work
upon. Whether this inmediate object be called an idea with “ Plato, or a phantasm or species with Aristotle; whether it be “ eternal and uncreated, or produced by the impressions of external * objects, is of no consequence in the present argument.” Ibid. p. 388.
“ So much is this opinion fixed in the minds of philosophers, 66 that, I doubt not but it will appear to most, a very strange par66 adox, or rather a contradiction, that men should think without 6 ideas. But this appearance of contradiction arises from the am“ biguity of the word idea. If the idea of a thing means only the “ thought of it, which is the most common meaning of the word, " to think without ideas, is to think without thought; which is
“We are at a loss to know,” (fays this excellent philosopher,) “how 'we perceive distant objects; is how we remember things past ; how we imaginę “ things that have no existence. Ideas in the mind “ seem to account for all these operations ; they are “ all by the means of ideas reduced to one opera“ tion; to a kind of feeling, or immediate percep“ tion of things present, and in contact with the
percipient; and feeling is an operation fo familiar, that we think it needs no explanation, but may serve to explain other operations."
“ But this feeling, or immediate perception, is as “ difficult to be comprehended, as the things which
we pretend to explain by it. Two things may be “ in contact, without any feeling or perception; . there must therefore be in the percipient, a power “ to feel, or to perceive. How this power is produ“ ced, and how it operates, is quite beyond the reach “ of our knowledge. . As little can we know, wheth“ er this power must be limited to things present, “ and in contact with us. Neither can any man “ pretend to prove, that the Being who gave us the
power to perceive things present, may not give “ us the power to perceive things diftant, to remem“ ber things past, and to conceive things that never 66 exifted."*
In another part of his work, Dr. Reid has occalion
undoubtedly a contradiction. But an idea, according to the def“ inition given of it by philosophers, is not thought, but an object “ of thought, which really exists, and is perceived, &c.” Ibid. 390.
I have only to add, that when, in this work, I make use of the word idea in stating my own opinions, I employ it uniformly in the popular sense, and not in the philosophical sense, as now explained; it would be better, perhaps, to avoid it altogether ; but I have found it difficult to do so, without adopting unusual modes of expression. I flatter myself that I have used it with due caution.
* Essays on the Intellectual Powers, p. 214.
to trace the origin of the prejudice which has led phi. lofophers to suppose, that, in all the operations of the understanding, there must be an object of thought, which really exists while we think of it. His re. marks on this subject, which are highly ingenious and satisfactory, are contained in his account of the different theories concerning conception.*
As in all the ancient metaphysical systems it was taken for granted, (probably from the analogy of our external perceptions,) that every exertion of thought implies the existence of an object distinct from
the thinking being ; it naturally occurred, as a very curious question, What is the immediate object of our attention, when we are engaged in any general speculation? or, in other words, what is the nature of the idea corresponding to a general term? When I think of any particular object which I have formerly perceived, such as a particular friend, a particular tree, or a particular mountain, I can comprehend what is meant by a picture or representation of such objects ; and therefore the explanation given by the ideal theory of that act of the mind which we formerly called Conception, if not perfectly satisfactory, is at least not 'wholly unintelligible. But what account shall we give, upon the principles of this theory, of the objects of my thoughts, when I employ the words, friend, tree, mountain, as generic terms ? For, that all the things I have ever perceived are individuals ; and consequently, that the ideas denoted by general words, (if luch ideas exift,) are not copied from any originals that have fallen under my observation ; is not only felf-evident, but almost an identical proposition.
In answer to this question, the Platonists, and at a still earlier period, the Pythagoreans, taught, that, although these universal ideas are not copied from
* Essays on the Intellectual Powers, p. 378.