Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

afterward expired. Such was the end of the virtuous Socrates! “A story," says Cicero, “ which I never read without tears."*

The soul of the Platonic system is a much more scholastic compound than :hat of the Socratic; it is in truth a motley triad produced by an emanation from the Deity or Eternal Intelligence, uniting itself with some portion of the soul of the world, and some portion of matter. In his celebrated Phædo, Plato distinctly teaches, and endeavours to prove, that this compound structure had a pre-existent being, and is immortal in its own nature; and that as it did exist in a separate state antecedently to its union with the body, it will probably continue to exist in the same manner after death. There are various other arguments in favour of its immortality introduced into the same dialogue, and, like the present, derived from the different tenets of his own fanciful theory ; in no respect more cogent, and only calculated for the meridian of the schools.

In the writings of Aristotle there is nothing which decisively determines whether he thought the human soul mortal or immortal; but the former is most probable from the notion he entertained concerning its nature and origin; conceiving it to be an intellectual power, externally transmitted into the human body from the eternal intelligence, the common source of rationality to human beings. Aristotle does not inform his readers what he conceived the principle, thus universally communicated, to consist of; but there is no proof that he supposed it would continue after the death of the body.t

The grand opponent of the soul's immortality, however, among the Greeks, was Epicurus." He conceived it to be a fine, elastic, sublimated, spiritualized gas or aura, composed of the most subtle parts of the atmosphere, as caloric, pure air, and vapour,f introduced into the system in the act of respiration, peculiarly elaborated by peculiar organs, and united with a something still lighter, still rarer, and more active than all the rest; at that time destitute of name, and incapable of sensible detection, offering a wonderful resemblance to the electric or Galvanic gas of modern times. In the words of Lucretius, who has so accurately and elegantly described the whole of the Epicurean system :

Penitus prorsum latet hæc natura, subestque;
Nec magis hac infra quidquam est in corpore nostro;
Atque anima est animæ proporro totius ipsa. U
Far from all vision this profoundly lurks,
Through the whole system's utmost depth diffus'd,
And lives as soui of e'en the soul itself.

The soul thus produced, Epicurus affirmed, must be material, because we can trace it issuing from a material source; because it exists, and exists alone in a material system ; is nourished by material food; grows with the growth of the body; becomes matured with its maturity; declines with its decay ; and hence, whether belonging to man or brutes, must die with its death.

But this is to suppose that every combination of matter, and every principle and quality connected with matter, are equally submitted to our senses, and equally comprehended by them. It has already appeared that we cannot determine for certain whether one or two of the principles which enter into the composition of the soul, upon this philosopher's own system, are matter, or something superior to matter, and, consequently, a distinct essence blended with it, out of the animal fabric as well as in it. Yet if they be matter, and the soul thus consists of matter, of a matter far lighter, more subtilized and active than that of the body, it does not follow that it must necessarily

* Mem. Xen. I. 1. Nat. Deor. fil. 33. Calix venenatus qui Socratem transtulit e carcere in cælum. Senec. Ep. 67. | De Gen. An. ii. 3. iii. 11. Cic. Tusc. Q. I. Enfield's Brucker, i. 285 In the language of Lucretius, iii. 284,

Ventus et aer

Et calor Lib. iii. 274.

perish with the body. The very minute heartlet, or corcle, which every one must have noticed in the heart of a walnut, does not perish with the solid mass of the shell and kernel that encircle it: on the contrary, it survives this, and gives birth to the future plant which springs from this substance, draws hence its nourishment, and shoots higher and higher towards the heavens as the grosser materials that surround the corcle are decaying. In like man. ner, the decomposition of limestone, instead of destroying, sets at liberty the light gas that was imprisoned in its texture ; and the gay and gaudy butterfly mounts into the skies from the dead and mouldering cerement by which it was lately surrounded. Matter is not necessarily corruptible under any form. The Epicureans themselves, as well as the best schools of modern philosophy, believed it to be solid and unchangeable in its elementary parti. cles. Crystallized into granitic mountains, we have innumerable instances of its appearing to have resisted the united assaults of time and tempests ever since the creation of the world. And in the light and gaseous texture in which we are at present contemplating it, it is still more inseparable and dif. ficult of decomposition. Whether material or immaterial, therefore, it does not necessarily follow, even upon the principles of this philosophy itself, that the soul must be necessarily corruptible; nor does it, moreover, necessarily follow that, admitting it to be incorruptible or immortal in man, it must be so in brutes. Allowing the essence to be the same, the difference of its modification, or elaboration, which, this philosophy admits, produces the different degrees of its perfection, may also be sufficient to produce a difference in its power of duration. And for any thing we know to the contrary, while some material bodies may be exempt from corruption, there may be some immaterial bodies that are subject to it.

The philosophers of Rome present us with nothing new; for they merely followed the dogmas of those of Greece. Cicero, though he has given us much of the opinions of other writers upon the nature and duration of the soul, has left us almost as little of his own as Aristotle has done. Upon the whole, he seems chiefly to have favoured the system of Plato. Seneca and Epictetus were avowed and zealous adherents to the principles of the Stoics; and Lucretius to those of Epicurus.

Upon the whole, philosophy seems to have made but an awkward handle of the important question before us. A loose and glimmering twilight appears to have been common to most nations: but the more men attempted to reason upon it, at least with a single exception or two, the more they doubted and became involved in difficulties. They believed and they disbelieved, they hoped and they feared, and life passed away in a state of perpetual anxiety and agitation. But this was not all : perplexed, even where they admitted the doctrine, about the will of the Deity, and the mode of securing his favour after death, with their own abstruse speculations they intermixed the religion of the multitude. They acknowledged the existence of the po. pular divinities; clothed them with the attributes of the Eternal; and, anxious to obtain their benediction, were punctilious in attending at their temples, and united in the sacrifices that were presented. Even Socrates, amid the last words he uttered, desired Crito not to forget to offer for him the cock which he had vowed to Esculapius.*

In effect, the whole of the actual knowledge possessed at any time appears to have been traditionary: for we may well doubt whether, without such a basis to have built upon, philosophy would ever have started any wellgrounded opinion in favour of a future state. And this traditionary knowledge seems to have been of two kinds, and both kinds to have been delivered at a very early age of the world—the immortality of the soul, and the final resurrection of the body. From the preceding sketch it seems reasonable to suppose that both these doctrines (unquestionably beyond the reach of mere human discovery) were divinely communicated to the patriarchs; and amid the growing wickedness of succeeding times, gradually forgotten and lost

* Xenoph. Mem. 1. iv. Plat. Apol. Laert. ii.

sight of: in some quarters one of them being slightly preserved, in some quarters the other, and in one or two regions, both.

In this last division it is highly probable we are to class the Hebrews at the epoch of Moses : and hence, perhaps, the reason why neither

of these doctrines is especially promulgated in any part of his institutes. But in subsequent times both appear to have lost much of their force even among this people. The Pharisees and Caraites, indeed, whose opinions (whatever might be iheir practice) were certainly the most orthodox, supported them; but they are well known to have been both relinquished by the Sadducees, and one of them (the resurrection) by the Essenes. Solomon, whose frequent use of Arabisms evidently betrays the elegant school in which he had chiefly studied, appears with the language to have imbibed the philosophy of the Arabian peninsula ; and hence, to have admitted (in direct opposition to the Essenes, who drew their creed from India) the doctrine of the resurrection of the body and a state of retribution, while he disbelieved the doctrine of the separate immortality of the soul : and the distinction ought to be constantly kept in view while perusing his writings, since otherwise they may appear in different places to contradict themselves. Thus, in order to confound the pomp and pageantry of the proud and the powerful, and to show them the vanity and nothingness of lise, he adverts to the last of these doctrines and confines himself to it. Eccl. iii. 19, 20. “ That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts, even the same thing befalleth them: as the one dieth so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath (or spirit), so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast, for all is vanity: all go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again." But when addressing himself to the young and giddy pursuer of pleasure, in order to alarm him in the midst of his gay and licentious career, he as distinctly alludes and as carefully confines himself to the first of these doctrines. His language then is, ch. xi. 9, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth,”—and tread as thou wilt the flowery paths of indulgence and pleasure ; " but know thou that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.” There is an equal point, a keen and forcible moral in both addresses, and which could not fail to strike the heart of those to whom they were respectively delivered.

It has been said by some writers that the judgment here referred to relates to the present world, and must be so interpreted to avoid the self-contradiction I have just adverted to. But the wisdom of Solomon stands in no need of the feeble and rushlight illumination of such commentators : nor could it ever be so said by any critic who has diligently attended to the mixed language of Solomon's diction, or rather to the Arabisms he so frequently indulges in; and who, from this and various other sources, has traced out that his early studies must have been passed in Arabia, or under the superintendence of Arabian tutors; and who, at the same time, calls to mind that the Idumæan cities of Dedan and Teman had the same classical character at Jerusalem that the cities of Athens and Corinth had at Rome.

But are we still abandoned to the same unfixed and shadowy evidence, with just light enough to kindle the hope of immortality, and darkness enough to strangle it the moment it is born ? Beset as the world is at all times with physical and moral evils, and doubly beset as it is at present; while virtue, pairiotism, and piety are bleeding ai every pore; while the sweet influences of the heavens seem turned to bitterness, the natural constellations of the zodiac to have been pulled down from their high abodes, and vice, tyranny, and atheism to have usurped their places, and from their respective ascendants, to be breathing mildew and pestilence over the pale face of the astonished earth," is it to the worn-out traces of tradition, or the dubious fancies of philosophy, that this important doctrine is alone intrusted ?-a doctrine not more vital to the hopes of man than to the justice of the Deity ?- No; the fulness of the times has at length arrived : ihe veil of separation is drawn aside; the mighty and mysterious truth is published by a voice from heaven;

• This lecture was delivered during the period of the French Revolution.

it is engraved on pages of adamant, and attested by the affirmation of the Godhead. It tells us, in words that cannot lie, that the soul is immortal from its birth; that the strong and inextinguishable desire we feel of future being is the true and natural impulse of a high-born and inextinguishable principle: and that the blow which prostrates the body and imprisons it in the grave, gives pinions to the soaring spirit, and crowns it with freedom and triumph. But this is not all : it tells us, too, that gross matter itself is not necessarily corruptible: that the freedom and triumph of the soul shall hereafter be extended to the body; that this corruptible shall put on incorruption, this mortal immortality, and a glorious and beatified reunion succeed. By what means such reunion is to be accomplished, or why such separation should be neces. sary, we know not,-for we know not how the union was produced at first. They are mysteries that yet remain locked up in the bosom of the great Creator, and are as inscrutable to the sage às to the savage, to the philosopher as to the schoolboy ;-they are left, and perhaps purposely, to make a mock at all human science; and, while they form the groundwork of man's future happiness, forcibly to point out to him that his proper path to it is through the gate of humility.

LECTURE III.

ON HUMAN UNDERSTANDING.

HAVING taken a brief survey of the essence and duration of the soul, mind, or intelligent principle, as far as we have been able to collect any information upon this abstruse subject, from reason, tradition, and revelation, let us now proceed, with equal modesty and caution, to an examination into its faculties, and the mode by which they develope themselves, and acquire knowledge.

“All our knowledge," observes Lord Bacon, “is derived from experience." It is a remark peculiarly characteristic of that comprehensive judgment with which this great philosopher at all times contemplated the field of nature, and which has been assumed as the common basis of every system that has since been fabricated upon the subject. “Whence," inquires Mr. Locke, "comes the mind by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge ? 1 answer, in a word, from experience. In this all our knowledge is founded; from this the whole emanates and issues.” M. Degerando, and, in short, all the French philosophers of the present day, in adopting Locke's system, have necessarily adopted this important maxim as the groundwork of their reasoning; and though, as a general principle, it has been lately called in question by a few of the ablest advocates for what they have ventured to denominate the Theory of Common Sense, and especially by Professor Stewart,* as I may perhaps find it neces. sary to notice more particularly hereafter, it is sufficient for the present to observe that the shrewd and learned projector of this theory, Dr. Reid, admits it in its utmost latitude: “ Wise men," says he, “ now agree or ought to agree in this, that there is but one way to the knowledge of nature's works, the way of observation and experiment. By our constitution we have a strong propensity to trace particular facts and observations to general rules, and to apply such general rules to account for other effects, or to direct us in the production of them. This procedure of the understanding is familiar to every human creature in the common affairs of life, and it IS THE ONLY ONE BY WHICH ANY REAL DISCOVERY IN PHILOSOPHY CAN BE MADE.”+ Now the only mode by which we can obtain experience is by the use and . Philos. Essays, vol i. p. 12%.

1 Inquiry into the Human Mind, p. 2.

exercise of the senses, which have been given to us for this purpose, and which, to speak figuratively, may be regarded as the fingers of the mind in feeling its way forward, and opening the shutters to the admission of that pure and invigorating light, which in consequence breaks in upon it.

It must be obvious, however, to every one who has attended to the operatiors of his senses, that there never is, nor can be, any direct communication between the mind and the external objects the mind perceives, which are usually, indeed, at some distance from the sense that gives notice of them. Thus, in looking at a tree, it is the eye alone that really beholds the tree, while the mind only receives a notice of its presence, by some means or cther, from the visual organ. So in touching this table, it is my hand alone that comes in contact with it, and communicates to my mind a knowledge of its hardness and other qualities. What, then, is the medium by which such communication is maintained, which induces the mind, seated as it is in some undeveloped part of the brain, to have a correspondent perception of the form, size, colour, smell, and even distance of objects with the senses which are seated on the surface of the body; and which, at the same time that it conveys this information, produces such an additional effect, that the mind is able at its option to revive the perception, or call up an exact notion or idea of these qualities at a distant period, or when the objects themselves are no longer present? Is there, or is there not, any resemblance between the external or sensible object and the internal or mental idea or notion ? If there be a resemblance, in what does that resemblance consist ? and how is it produced and supported ? Does the external object throw off representative like. nesses of itself in films, or under any other modification, so fine as to be able, like the electric or magnetic aura, to pass without injury from the object to the sentient organ, and from the sentient organ to the sensory ? Or has the mind itself a faculty of producing, like a looking-glass, accurate countersigns, intellectual pictures, or images, correspondent with the sensible images communicated from the external object to the sentient organ? If, on the contrary, there be no resemblance, are the mental perceptions mere notions or intellectual symbols excited in it by the action of the external sense ; which, while they bear no similitude to the qualities of the object discerned, answer the purpose of those qualities, as letters answer the purpose of sounds ? Or are we sure that there is any external world whatever ? any thing beyond the intellectual principle that perceives, and the sensations and notions that are perceived; or even any thing beyond those sensations and notions, those impressions and ideas themselves ?

Several of these questions may perhaps appear in no small degree whimsical and brain-sick, and more worthy of St. Luke's than of a scientific insti. tution. But all of them, and perhaps as many more of a temperament as wild as the wildest, have been asked, and insisted upon, and supported again and again in different ages and countries, by philosophers of the clearest intellects in other respects, and who had no idea of labouring under any such mental infirmity, nor ever dreamed of the necessity of being blistered and taking physic.

There is scarcely, however, an hypothesis which has been started in modern times that cannot look for its prototype or suggestion among the ancients; and it will hence be found most advantageous, and may perhaps prove the shortest way to begin at the fountain-head, and to trace the different currents which have flowed from it. That fountain-head is Greece, or at least we may so regard it on the present occasion; and the plan which I shall request leave to pursue in the general inquiry before us will be, first of all, to take a rapid sketch of the most celebrated speculations upon this subject to which this well-spring of wisdom has given rise; next, to follow up the chief ramifications which have issued from them in later periods; and, lastly, to summon, as by a quo warranto, the more prominent of those of our own day to appear personally before the bar of this enlightened tribunal, for the pur

* See the author's Study of Medicine, vol. iv. p. 46, edit. 2, 1825.

« AnteriorContinuar »