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them, that this difficulty is of a different nature from what we are apt to suppose, on a superficial view of the subject. To employ, with skill, the very delicate instrument which nature has made essentially subfervient to general reasoning, and to guard against the errors which result from an injudicious use of it, require an uncommon capacity of patient attention, and a cautious circumspection in conducting our various intellectual processes, which can only be acquired by early habits of philoför phical reflexion. To affist and direct us in making this acquisition ought to form the most important branch of a rational logic; a science of far more extensive utility, and of which the principles lie much deeper in the philosophy of the human mind, than the trifling art which is commonly dig. nified with that name. The branch in particular to which the foregoing observations more immediately relate, must for ever, remain in its infancy, till a most difficult and important defideratum in the history of the mind is supplied, by an explanation of the gradual steps by which it acquires the use of the various classes of words which compose the language of a cultivated and enlightened people. Of some of the errors of reasoning to which we are exposed by an incautious use of words, I took notice in the preceding Section; and I shall have occasion afterwards to treat the same subject more in detail in a subsequent part of work.



which we

Of the Errors

are liable in Speculation, and in the condua of Affairs, in confequence of a rah Application of general Principles.

IT, appears fufficiently from the reasonings which

I offered in the preceding Section, how important are the advantages which the philosopher acquires, by quitting the study of particulars, and directing his attention to general principles. I flatter myself it appears farther, from the same reasonings, that it is in consequence of the use of language alone, that the human mind is rendered capable of these comprehensive speculations.

In order, however, to proceed with safety in the use of general principles, much caution and address are necessary, both in establishing their truth, and in applying them to practice.

Without a proper attention to the circumstances by which their application to particular cases must be modified, they will be a perpetual source of mistake, and of disappointment, in the conduct of affairs, however rie gidly just they may be in themselves, and however accurately we may reason from them. Deral principles happen to be false, they will in. volve us in errors, not only of conduct but of speçulation ; and our errors will be the more nume



If our ge

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rous, the more comprehensive the principles are on which we proceed.

To illustrate these observations fully, would lead to a minutenel's of disquisition inconfiltent with my general plan ; and I shall therefore, at present, confine myself to such remarks as appear to be of most efleniial importance.

And, in the first place, it is evidently impossible to establish solid general principles, without the previous study of particulars : in other words, it is necessary to begin with the examination of individual objects, and individual events ; in order to lay a ground-work for accurate claflification, and for a just investigation of the laws of nature. It is in this way only that we can expect to arrive at ge. neral principles, which may be safely relied on, as guides to the knowledge of particular truths: and unless our principles admit of such a practical ap. plication, however beautiful they may appear to be in theory, they are of far less value than the limited 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 superfluous to multiply words in supporting them ; and I should scarcely have thought of stating them in this Chapter, if some of the most celebrated philosophers 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 dif


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tinguishing qualities of objects, and giving a com. mon name to their resembling qualities, they conceive universals to be real existences, or (as they expressed it) to be the essences of individuals; and flattered themselves with the belief, that by directing their attention to these essences in the first instance, they might be enabled to penetrate the secrets of the universe, 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 antients 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 philofophising, in opposition to that which has been so 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,

in. definite, and passing. For this reason they excluded " all individuals or objects of sense, and (as Ammo" nius expresses it) raised themselves in their con:

templations from beings particular to beings uni. “ versal, and which, from their own nature, were “ eternal and definite."-" Confonant to this was “ the advice of Plato, with respect to the progress " of our speculations and inquiries, to descend from “ those higher genera, which include many subordi

nate species, down to the lowest rank of species, " those which include only individuals. But here it

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was his opinion, that our inquiries should stop, 66 and, as to individuals, let them wholly alone ; beo cause of these there could not possibly be any “ science *."

« Such,” continues this author, “ was the method “ of antient philosophy. The fashion, at present, ap

pears to be somewhat altered, and the business of

philosophers to be little else, than the collecting “ from every quarter, into voluminous records, an « 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 wise, “ quitting the study of particulars, as knowing their “ multitude to be infinite and incomprehensible, turns « its intellectual eye to what is general and compre“ hensive, and through generals learns to see, and re« cognise whatever exists t."

If we abstract from these obvious errors of the antient philosophers, with respect to the proper order to be observed in our inquiries, and only suppose them to end where the Platonists said that they should begin, the magnificent encomiums they bestowed on the utility of those comprehensive truths which form the object of science (making allowance for the obscure and mysterious terms in which they expressed them) can scarcely be regarded as extravagant. It is probable that from a few accidental instances of successful in. vestigation, they had been struck with the wonderful

* Harris's Three Treatises, pages 341, 342. + Ibid. page 2274


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