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ORIGIN OF PERCEPTION.
supported, and may be overruled by the testimony of his fellow-creatures ?
Dr. Reid has himself admitted that “we might probably have been so made, as to have all the perceptions and sensations which we now have, without any impression on our bodily organs at all.” But it is surely altogether as reasonable to say, that we might have had all those perceptions, without the aid or intervention of any material existence at all. Those perceptions, too, might still have been accompanied with a belief that would not have been less universal or irresistible for being utterly without a foundation in reality. In short, our perceptions can never afford any complete or irrefragable proof of the real existence of external things; because it is easy to conceive that we might have such perceptions without them. We do not know, therefore, with certainty, that our perceptions are ever produced by external objects; and in the cases to which we have just alluded, we actually find perception and its concomitant belief, where we do know with certainty that it is not produced by any external existence.
It has been said, however, that we have the same evidence for the existence of the material world, as for that of our own thoughts or conceptions ; — as we have no reason for believing in the latter, but that we cannot help it; which is equally true of the former. Now, this appears to us to be very inaccurately argued. Whatever we doubt, and whatever we prove, we must plainly begin with consciousness. That alone is certain
all the rest is inference. Does Dr. Reid mean to assert, that our perception of external objects is not a necessary preliminary to any proof of their reality, or that our belief in their reality is not founded upon our consciousness of perceiving them? It is only our perceptions, then, and not the existence of their objects
, which we cannot help believing; and it would be nearly as reasonable to say that we must take all our dreams for realities, because we cannot doubt that we dream, as it is to assert that we have the same evidence for the
IDEALISTS NEITHER MAD NOR WICKED.
existence of an external world, as for the existence of the sensations by which it is suggested to our minds.
We dare not now venture farther into this subject; yet we cannot abandon it without observing, that the question is entirely a matter of philosophical and abstract speculation, and that by far the most reprehensible passages in Dr. Reid's writings, are those in which he has represented it as otherwise. When we consider, indeed, the exemplary candour, and temper, and modesty, with which this excellent man has conducted the whole of his speculations, we cannot help wondering that he should ever have forgotten himself so far as to descend to the vulgar raillery which he has addressed, instead of argument, to the abbettors of the Berkleian hypothesis. The old joke, of the sceptical philosophers running their noses against posts, tumbling into kennels, and being sent to madhouses, is repeated at least ten times in different parts of Dr. Reid's publications, and really seems to have been considered as an objection not less forcible than facetious. Yet Dr. Reid surely could not be ignorant that those who have questioned the reality of a material universe, never affected to have perceptions, ideas, and sensations, of a different nature from other people. The debate was merely about the origin of these sensations; and could not possibly affect the conduct or feelings of the individual. The sceptic, therefore, who has been taught by experience that certain perceptions are connected with unpleasant sensations, will avoid the occasions of them as carefully as those who look upon the object of their perceptions as external realities. Notions and sensations he cannot deny to exist; and this limited faith will regulate his conduct exactly in the same manner as the more extensive creed of his antagonists. We are persuaded that Mr. Stewart would reject the aid of such an argument for the existence of an external world.
The length to which these observations have extended, deters, us from prosecuting any farther our remarks on Dr. Reid's philosophy. The other points in which it appears to us that he has left his system vulnerable are,
CAUSE AND EFFECT
LIBERTY AND NECESSITY.
his explanation of our idea of cause and effect, and his speculations on the question of liberty and necessity. In the former, we cannot help thinking that he has dogmatised, with a degree of confidence which is scarcely justified by the cogency of his arguments; and has endeavoured to draw ridicule on the reasoning of his antagonists, by illustrations that are utterly inapplicable. In the latter, also, he has made something more than a just use of the prejudices of men and the ambiguity of language; and has more than once been guilty, if we be not mistaken, of what, in a less respectable author, we should not have scrupled to call the most palpable sophistry. We are glad that our duty does not require us to enter into the discussion of this very perplexing controversy; though we may be permitted to remark, that it is somewhat extraordinary to find the dependence of human actions on Motives so positively denied by those very philosophers with whom the doctrine of Causation is of such high authority.
Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley, to the year 1795, written by
himself: With a continuation to the time of his decease, by his Son Joseph Priestley; and Observations on his Writings. By Thomas COOPER, President Judge of the Fourth District of Pennsylvania, and the Reverend WILLIAM CHRISTIE. 8vo. pp. 481. London: 1805.
DR. PRIESTLEY has written more, we believe, and on a greater variety of subjects, than any other English author; and probably believed, as his friend Mr. Cooper appears to do at this moment, that his several publications were destined to make an æra in the respective branches of speculation to which they bore reference. We are not exactly of that opinion: But we think Dr. Priestley a person of no common magnitude in the history of English literature; and have perused this miscellaneous volume with more interest than we have usually found in publications of the same description. The memoirs are written with great conciseness and simplicity, and present a very singular picture of that indefatigable activity, that bigotted vanity, that precipitation, cheerfulness, and sincerity, which made up the character of this restless philosopher. The observations annexed by Mr. Cooper are the work, we think, of a powerful, presumptious, and most untractable understanding. They are written in a defying, dogmatical, unaccomodating style; with much force of reasoning, in many places, but often with great rashness and arrogance; and occasionally with a cant of philosophism, and a tang of party politics, which communicate an air of vulgarity to the whole work, and irresistibly excite a smile at the expense of the
610 PRIESTLEY'S CONFIDENCE OF HIS MATERIALISM.
magnanimous despiser of all sorts of prejudice and bigotry.*
In the Second part of his book, Mr. Cooper professes to estimate the Metaphysical writings of Dr. Priestley, and delivers a long and very zealous defence of the doctrines of Materialism, and of the necessity of human actions. A good deal of learning and a good deal of talent are shown in this production: But we believe that most of our readers will be surprised to find that Mr. Cooper considers both these questions as having been finally set at rest by the disquisitions of his learned friend !
“ Indeed,” he observes, “ those questions must now be considered as settled; for those who can resist Collins's philosophical inquiry, the section of Dr. Hartley on the mechanism of the mind, and the review of the subject taken by Dr. Priestley and his opponents, are not to be reasoned with. Interest reipublicæ ut denique sic finis litium, is a maxim of technical law. It will apply equally to the republic of letters; and the time seems to have arrived, when the separate esistence of the human Soul, the freedom of the Will, and the eternal duration of Future punishment, like the doctrines of the Trinity! and Transubstantiation, may be regarded as no longer entitled to public discussion."— p. 335.
The advocates of Necessity, we know, have long been pretty much of this opinion ; and we have no inclination to disturb them at present with any renewal of the controversy: But we really did not know that the advocates of Materialism laid claim to the same triumph; and certainly find some difficulty in admitting that all who believe in the existence of mind are unfit to be reasoned with. To us, indeed, it has always appeared that it was much easier to prove the existence of mind, than the existence of matter; and with whatever contempt Mr. Cooper and his friends may regard us, we must be permitted to say a word or two in defence of the vulgar opinion.
The sum of the argument against the existence of
* I omit now a very considerable portion of this review, containing a pretty full account of Dr. Priestley's life and conversation, and of his various publications on subjects of theology, natural philosophy, and chemistry; retaining only the following examination of his doctrine of Materialism.