Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

We have, however, at length, by the aid of a matchless pilot, Lord Bacon, learned to stem this sweeping, tide of ontology and authority, and have succeeded in steering the vessel of philosophy into a better course. Now we may either ride safely in her, at anchor, in the enjoyment of what we have already acquired, as if over the smooth bosom of a silvery lake,―

"Calm and unruffled as a summer's sea,

When not a breath of wind flies o'er its surface ;”

or we may, with induction at the prow and experience at the helm, prosecute the philosophic voyage, with crowded sails and a favouring tide,-confident, in such circumstances, though we may not always put into the intended harbour, that we can never miss a friendly port, where the philosophic market is well stocked and free, though the purchasers may be but few; and where we cannot fail to reward ourselves, perhaps an hundred-fold, for our toils and anxieties, and all the perils we have passed. Since the vessel has been re-launched and put into this new course, we find that the arts and sciences have lost nothing; but that, on the contrary, they have been consider able gainers. It is true, that in our times philosophy does not always appear arrayed, as some of the ancients dressed her, in the fascinating attire of Fancy, Pride, and Reason; nor is her brow so smooth, nor her mien so soft and captivating, as in her earlier

[ocr errors]

And again :

All this by syllogism, true

In mood and figure, he would do.

"Besides, he was a shrewd philosopher,
And had read ev'ry text and gloss over;
Whate'er the crabbed'st author hath,
He understood b' implicit faith;
Whatever sceptic could inquire for,
For ev'ry why he had a wherefore;
Knew more than forty of them do,
As far as words and terms could go;
All which he understood by rote,
And as occasion serv'd would quote;
No matter whether right or wrong,
They might be either said or sung.
His notions fitted things so well,
That, which was which, he could not tell,

But oftentimes mistook the one

For th' other, as great clerks have done.

He could reduce all things to acts,

And knew their natures by abstracts;

Where entity and quiddity,

The ghosts of defunct bodies fly;

Where Truth in person does appear,

Like words congealed in northern air.-

He knew what 's what, and that's as high,
As metaphysic wit can fly."

*

earlier years, when courted by Plato and by Cicero, in the better days of Greece and Rome. With us she has learned to put on something like the rugged, laborious, and stern appearance of Virtue, the handmaid of whom she ought to be and the friend.-The successful industry of our times has reformed almost her whole frame, and poured into it a portion of new health, life and mo tion, though it has perhaps rendered her less seemly to the eye. She has not, however, been a loser by exchanging her old for newer admirers; since the moderns have converted her from her respect for the verbal worship of her first followers; and, instead of the worship of words and of shadows, have taught her to set her heart upon a more rational, because an experimental and practical adoration. Since the time of this transformation, she has, for the most part, learned to bid farewell to her old suitors, Aristotle and his quibbling, ontological posterity*: and also, in a great mea sure (as Collins says),

"To the porch, whose roof was seen,
Arched with th' enliv'ning olive's green,
Where Science, prank'd in tissu❜d vest,
By Reason, Pride, and Fancy drest,
Came, like a bride, so trim array'd,

To wed with Doubt, in Plato's shade."

[ocr errors]

In most of our inquiries concerning the mind, we must fre quently have recourse to the lights that may be drawn from physiology. This is more particularly the case, when we are consider. ing the philosophy of sensation and perception; for in this part, we can hardly advance even a few steps with safety, unless we take physiology for our guide. And that some guide is necessary, will, I think, be readily confessed by all who have sufficiently reflected on the subject; particularly when they consider, that the first operations of the different senses were at such an early age, that we can know nothing about them in that advanced stage of life, when we are fit to enter upon philosophical inquiries, except what it costs us a long time to learn, with much difficulty, labour, and study.

The operation, to which the name Sensation has been given, is so simple, as to be incapable of definition. Obvious, however, as this truth seems to be, it has not always appeared to philoso

VOL. II. NO. III.

phers

Instead of their modes of philosophizing, the following is more congenial to the spirit of our times :—

"Trace Science, then, with Modesty thy guide;

"First strip off all her equipage of pride;
Deduct what is but vanity, or dress,

Or learning's luxury, or idleness;

Or tricks to shew the stretch of human brain,

Mere curious pleasure, or ingenious pain.”—Pope's Essay on Man,

phers in this light; for this, as well as every other simple operation and affection of the mind, has been subjected to division, distinctions, or definitions, by one philosophic sect or another; nor has this practice been confined, as one might have expected, merely to the verbal philosophers, that is, to the sophisters of ontology and the doctors of the schools; for some authors of reputation, even in our own times,-Darwin, for instance, and some others, who, from their acquaintance with the rules of a chaster and more sober philosophy, one would suppose, ought to have known better,-have so unaccountably, indulged in this spirit of false definitions, that even Hume himself has been drawn into the snare, with all his philosophical sagacity and sceptical acuteness. But although the names of those simple operations of mind caunot be defined, it is always of use to explain, or describe the meanings we attach to them; particularly if we take care to use them steadily without the slightest deviation from the expla nations we have given *. It is partly for this reason, that I do not

[ocr errors]

The abuse of definitions and of words, and the numberless imperfections of scientific language, are well ridiculed and exposed in different parts of Tristram Shandy. Plain things are often made abundantly obscure and absurd, by the language in which we treat of them, or the opinions we take up about them. Considering the aim of Sterne in his very curious work, the motto which he prefixes to his first and second volumes is excellent :σε Ταξάστε τες ανθρώπες ε τα πράγματα, ἀλλὰ τὰ περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων δόγια μάτα. And he might have added, with equal truth, xa ỏi megi Tây maypalav Xoyo; for, in truth, more than two-thirds of every day's disputes are wholly about words. It was this that made Sterne humorously and satirically say,—“When you consider this, you will not wonder at my uncle Toby's perplexities, you will drop a tear of pity on his scarp and his counterscarp, his glacis and his covered way, his ravelin and ajs halfmoon.-"Twas not by ideas by heaven! his soul was put in jeopardy by words."See also the concluding paragraph of the third chapter of his se[cond volume. In the 12th chapter he makes the following remarks :"The common men, says my uncle Toby, who know very little about fortification, confound the ravelin and the half-moon, though they are very dif ferent things; not in figure or construction, for we made them exactly alike in all points; for they always consist of two faces, making a salient angle with the gorges, not straight, but in the form of a crescent. Where, then, lies the difference? quoth my father, a little testily.—In their situations, an- • swered my uncle Toby: for when a ravelin, brother, stands before the curtain, it is a ravelin; and when a ravelin stands before a bastion, then the ravelin is not a rayelin; it is a half-moon;-a half-moon likewise is a half moon, and no more, so long as it stands before its bastion; but were it to change place and get before the curtain, 'twould be no longer a half-moon a half-moon in that case is not a half-moon,-'tis no more than a ravelin.— I think, quoth my father, that the noble science of defence has its weak sides, as well as others."—" The bold spirit of the dogmatic philosophy was never satisfied with uncertainty. It attempted to account for every thing within the limits of nature; nothing seemed too vast for its comprehension

or

not approve of the censure passed by a celebrated medical philosopher on the usual mode of explaining the meaning of the word Sensation, which he, denominates "a would-be explanation, made up of a long-winding, inaccurate, and very foolish circumlocution." The explanation itself is the following:- "That Sensation means that change in the state of the mind, of which we are conscious, in consequence of an impression upon, or a change in the state of the body, from some external object."-Exceptionable as this explanation has been deemed, I have no objection to it when it is not proposed to us as a definition, explaining fully, as all definitions ought to do, the nature of the thing defined; and accordingly, in the remainder of these disquisitions, I shall use the word Sensation in that sense only which is expressed in the above explanation; not because I think that the explanation will ever make any body know what Sensation is, without the actual feeling and consciousness, but because it points out, with sufficient accuracy, the difference between such feelings and operations, as are excited by external impressions, and those that spring more immediately from within, and have the will or the mind itself exclu

[blocks in formation]

or too minute for its research." These are the words of the learned author of " Academical Questions". He might have added, that some of the ancient and even several of our modern philosophers seem to consider themselves obliged to define, to explain, and to account for every thing; and to think, that not to do so would be a disgrace to philosophy. Dr. Reid justly cen. sures Wolfe, the German philosopher (the greatest abuser of definitions) for attempting to define undefinable words, and to demonstrate things that were self-evident; and were we to examine the works of modern authors, we should find none who have trespassed more in this respect than Dr. Darwin and Mr. Drummond. But let us hear Sterne once more on the subject:--"Before I venture to make use of the word nose a second time, to avoid all confusion in what will be said of it, it may not be amiss to explain my own meaning, and define, with all possible exactness and precision, what I would willingly be understood to mean by the term: being of opinion that 'tis owing to the negligence and perverseness of writers in despising this precaution, and to nothing else, that all the polemical writings in divinity are not as clear and demonstrative as those upon a Will of the Wisp, or any other sound part of philosophy and natural pursuit; in order to which, what have you to do, before you set out, unless you intend to go puzzling on to the day of judgment—but to give the world a good definition, and stand te it, of the main word you have most occasion for, changing it, sir, as you would a guinea, into small coin -Which done, let the father of confusion puzzle you if he can; or put a different idea either into your heat, or into „your reader's head, if he knows how."-" I define a nose, as follows:-By the word nose, throughout all this long chapter of noŝes, and, in every other part of my works where the word "nose occurs,- -I declare that by that word I mean a nose and nothing more or less." If the reader would wish to see. good specimens of the proper mode of defining and explaining philosophi cal language, let him consult the first chapter of Dr. Reid's Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, and the Appendix of the Elements of Criti cism, by Lord Kames. ·

sively for their cause. We can readily conceive the mind to be conscious of this change in the state of its feelings, without any. knowledge of external objects.

.

Nor have foolish definitions been the only fruit of this describ ing and defining zeal of a verbal refining philosophy; as we can frace to the very same source the origin even of the modern scepticism, relative to the non-existence of the material world, and all its train of revolting, inauspicious consequences. Philosophers could not be satisfied with considering Sensation as a simple thing; they must divide and define it,the result of which was, a muchvaunted distinction of theirs, which the followers, of Des Cartes and of Locke deemed of such originality and inestimable value, that it imposed on the excellent judgment even of Addison himself, who highly extols its novelty and utility, both in the Guardian and Spectator. And yet, after all, this memorable discovery seems to be nothing more than is within the reach of the vulgar and the ignorant, if expressed in intelligible language; and what, indeed, they seem at all times to have sufficiently understood.

[ocr errors]

The names of what have been called secondary qualities are in all languages ambiguous, signifying one time the Sensation, at another, its unknown cause." · And this we must consider as the foundation of the well-known Cartesian paradox, which we need not hesitate to call as miserable a quibble as ever passed current with philosophers. It was this that led to Locke's noted distinction between primary and secondary qualities, which he and his followers would have us think of such mighty importance. In considering this subject, they thought they had discovered, that the sensations, or ideas, corresponding to the primary qualities were perfect pictures, or resemblances of the qualities themselves, as they exist in internal objects; whilst the sensations, or ideas, of the secondary qualities have no sort of resemblance to them whatever. From this doctrine it was a legitimate inference, that the secondary qualities were mere sensations, or ideas, and had no existence external to the mind: and this, accordingly, was the famous discovery to which I have already alluded. They gravely tell us, that, before, their own times, the sensations (or ideas, as they call them) of the secondary qualities were confounded with them, and thought to be perfect resemblances of the qualities themselves, not only by the vulgar, but even by philosophers; though it must be evident, that no person whatever, of any informa tion, and capable of reflecting, could for a moment confound things so very dissimilar, as a sensation of mind and a quality of matter; unless we suppose his mind full of systematic prejudice, or his judgment completely warped and perverted by the trammels and sophistries of a sectarian, or party philosophy. In the case of secondary as well as of primary qualities, sensations can exist only

[ocr errors]
« ElőzőTovább »