« ElőzőTovább »
dreamed that verses were recited at supper, and that some one pretended they were too witty. I replied, that verses were entertainments given to the soul, and that ornaments are necessary in entertainments.
I have therefore said things in my sleep which I should have some difficulty to say when awake; I have had thoughts and reflections, in spite of myself, and without the least voluntary operation on my own part, and nevertheless combined my ideas with 'sagacity, and even with genius. What am I therefore, if not a machine?
SOPHIST. *A GEOMETRICIAN, a little severe, thus addressed us one day :-There is nothing in literature more dangerous than rhetorical sophists; and among these sophists none are more unintelligible and unworthy of being understood than the divine Plato.
The only useful idea to be found in him, is that of the immortality of the soul, which was already admitted among cultivated nations; but then how does he prove this immortality?
We cannot too forcibly appeal to this proof, in order to correctly appreciate this famous Greek.
He asserts in his Phedon, that death is the opposite of life, that death springs from life, and the living from the dead, consequently that our souls will descend beneath the earth when we die.
If it is true that the sophist Plato, who gives himself out for the enemy of all sophists, reasons always thus, what have been all these pretended great men, and in what has consisted their utility ?
The grand defect of the platonic philosophy, is the transformation of abstract ideas into realities. can only perform a fine action, because a beauty really exists, which is its archetype.
We cannot perform any action, without forming an idea of the action—therefore these ideas exist I know not where, and it is necessary to study them.
God formed an idea of the world before he created it. This was his logos : the world therefore is the production of the logos !
What disputes, how much vain and even sanguinary contests, has this manner of argument produced upon earth! Plato never dreamed that his doctrine would be able, at some future period, to divide a church which in his time was not in existence.
To conceive a just contempt for all these foolish subtilties, read Demosthenes, and see if in any one of his harangues he employs one of these ridiculous sophisms. It is a clear proof, that in serious business no more attention is paid to these chimeras, than in a council of state to theses of theology.
Neither will you find any of this sophistry in the speeches of Cicero. It was a jargon of the schools, invented to amuse idleness--the quackery of mind.
Thrs is a vague and indeterminate term, expressing an unknown principle of known effects, which we feel in ourselves. This word soul answers to the anima' of the Latins—to the 'pneuma' of the Greeks--to the term which each and every nation has used to express what they understood no better than we do.
In the proper and literal sense of the Latin and the languages derived from it, it signifies that which animates. Thus people say, the soul of men, of animals, and sometimes of plants, to denote their principle of vegetation and life. This word has never been uttered with any but a confused idea, as when it is said in Genesis-" God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul;" and“ The soul of animals is in the blood;” and—“ Stay not my soul;" &c.
Thus the soul was taken for the origin and the cause of life, and for life itself. Hence all known nations long imagined that everything died with the body. If anything can be discerned with clearness in the chaos
of ancient histories, it seems that the Egyptians were at least the first who made a distinction between the intelligence and the soul; and the Greeks learned from them to distinguish their noüs' and their
pneuma.' The Latins, after the example of the Greeks, distinguished animus' and anima;' and we too have our soul and our understanding. But is that which is the principle of our life, and that which is the principle of our thoughts, two different things? Does that which causes us to digest, and which gives us sensation and memory, resemble that which is the cause of digestion in animals, and of their sensations and memory?
Here is an eternal object for disputation: I say an eternal object, for having no primitive notion from which to deduce in this investigation, we must ever continue in a labyrinth of doubts and feeble conjectures.
We have not the smallest step on which to set, our foot, to reach the slightest knowledge of what makes
us live and what makes us think. How should we? For we must then have seen life and thought enter a body. Does a father know how he produced his son? Does a mother know how she conceived him? Has any one ever been able to divine how he acts, how he wakes, or how he sleeps ? Does any one know how his limbs obey his will? Has any one discovered by what art his ideas are traced in his brain, and issue from it at his command ? Feeble automata, moved by the invisible hand which directs us on the stage of this world, which of us has ever perceived the thread which guides us?
We dare to put in question, whether the intelligent soul is spirit or matter; whether it is created before us, or proceeds from nothing at our birth; whether, after animating us for a day on this earth, it lives after us in eternity. These questions appear sublime; what are they? Questions of blind men asking one another - What is light?
When we wish to have a rude knowledge of a piece of metal, we put it on the fire in a crucible; but have
we any crucible wherein to put the soul? It is spirit, says one ;-but what is spirit?. Assuredly, no one knows. This is a word so void of meaning, that to tell what spirit is, you are obliged to say what it is not. The soul is matter, says another; but what is matter? We know nothing of it but a few appearances and properties; and not one of these properties, not one of these appearances, can bear the least affinity to thought.
It is something distinct from matter, you say; but what proof have you of this? Is it because matter is divisible and figurable, and thought is not? But how do you
know that the first principles of matter are divisible and figurable? It is very likely that they are not: whole sects of philosophers assert, that the elements of matter have neither figure nor extent. You triumphantly exclaim—Thought is neither word, nor stone, nor sand, nor metal; therefore thought belongs not to matter. Weak and presumptuous reasoners! Gravitation is neither wood, nor sand, nor metal, nor stone; nor is motion, or vegetation, or life, any of all these; yet life, vegetation, motion, gravitation, are given to matter. To say that God cannot give thought to matter, is to say the most insolently absurd thing that has ever been advanced in the privileged schools of madness and folly. We are not assured that God has done this; we are only assured that he can do it. But of what avail is all that has been said, or all that will be said about the soul? What avails it that it has been called “entelechia,' quintessence, flame, ether,
- that it has been believed to be universal, uncreated, transmigrant, &c.?
Of what avail, in these questions inaccessible to reason, are the romances of our uncertain imaginations? What avails it, that the fathers in the four primitive ages believed the soul to be corporeal ? What avails it that Tertullian, with a contradictoriness that was familiar to him, decided that it is at once corporeal, figured, and simple? We have a thousand testimonies of ignorance, but not one which affords us a ray of probability,
How then shall we be bold enough to affirm what the soul is? We know certainly that we exist, that we feel, that we think. Seek we to advance one step further—we fall into an abyss of darkness; and in this abyss we have still the foolish temerity to dispute whether this soul, of which we have not the least idea, is made before us or with us, and whether it is perishable or immortal?
The article Soul, and all articles belonging to metaphysics, should begin with a sincere submission to the indubitable tenets of the church. Revelation is doubtless much better than philosophy. Systems exercise the mind, but faith enlightens and guides it.
Are there not words often pronounced of which we have but a very confused idea, or perhaps no idea at all? Is not the word soul one of these? When the tongue of a pair of bellows is out of order, and the air, escaping through the valve, is not driven with violence towards the fire, the maid-servant says—The soul of the bellows is burst.* She knows no better, and the question does not at all disturb her quiet.
The gardener uses the expression-Soul of the plants;t and cultivates them very well without knowing what the term means.
The musical instrument maker places, and shifts forward or backward, the soul of a violin, under the bridge, in the interior of the instrument: a sorry bit of wood more or less gives it or takes from it an harmonious soul.
We have several manufactures in which the workmen give the appellation of soul to their machines ; but they are never heard to dispute about the word: it is otherwise with philosophers.
The word soul, with us, signifies in general that which animates. Our predecessors, the Celts, gave their soul the name of seel,' of which the English have made soul, while the Germans retain 'seel;' and it is probable that the ancient Teutones and the ancient Britons had no university quarrels about this expression.
*“ L'ame de soufflet est crevée." VOL. VI.
+ “ Ame des plantes.