Imágenes de página

first principle he had laid down for the regulation of his conduct, he was determined to doubt of the evidence of the senses, excepting so far as they could bring proof of their correctness. But what proof had the senses to offer? The very notion of a proof, as I took leave to observe in our last lecture, consists in our obtaining a fact or an idea possessing a closer agreement or connexion with the thing to be proved than the fact or idea that the mind first perceives or is able to lay hold of. But what ideas can more closely agree or be more closely connected with an external world than the ideas produced by the senses, by which alone the mind perceives such world to exist? These are ideas of identity, of self-agreement; and, consequently, ideas which, like that of consciousness, it is neither possible to doubt of or to prove. They form, for the most part, a branch of intuitive knowledge, and we are compelled to believe whether we will or not.

I say for the most part, for I am now speaking of the common effect of external objects upon the senses, and upon the mental organ. I am ready to admit that, under particular circumstances, the ideas they excite may not be perfectly clear: we may be at too great a distance from the object, or the sense of sight, smell, taste, or touch may be morbidly or accidentally obtuse ; but in all these cases a sound mind is just as conscious of having ideas that are not clear, as it is, under other circumstances, of having distinct ideas. There is no imposition whatever: the mind equally knows that it has certain knowledge in the latter instance, and that it has uncertain knowledge in the former. I mean, if it will exert itself to know by the exercise of its own activity; for otherwise it may as well mistake in ideas that originate from itself as in those that originate from the senses. And in the case of its being conscious of an imperfect or indistinct idea, excited by one of the senses, what is the step it pursues? That which it uniformly pursues in every other case of imperfect knowledge: it calls in the aid of an intermediate idea by the exercise of another sense that is more closely connected or more clearly agrees with the idea that raises the question, and the faculty of the judgment determines, as in every other case. And here the knowledge, as I have already hinted at on a former occasion, loses indeed its intuitive character, and assumes, for the most part, the demonstrative.

It was impossible, therefore, for Des Cartes to obtain any proofs whatever; and it being the very preamble of his system that his doubts should remain unless he could remove them by proofs, the only device that seemed to afford him a loophole to escape from his dilemma was an appeal to the veracity of the Creator. God, he asserted, has imprinted on the mind innate ideas of himself and of an external world; and though the senses offer no demonstration of such a world, it is completely furnished to us by these internal ideas : the senses, indeed, may deceive, but God can be no deceiver. And hence what appears to exist around us does exist.

The existence of an external world, therefore, in the Cartesian philosophy is doubtful, so far as depends upon the senses; for the testimony they offer is in itself doubtful. And hence it is not upon the evidence of our eyes and our hands, and our taste, smell, and hearing, that we are to believe that there is any body or any thing without us, but on the truth of those innate ideas of a something without us which are supposed to be imprinted on the mind, in connexion with the veracity of the Creator who has imprinted them.

But here another stumbling-block occurred to the progress of our philosophical castle-builder; and that was, the difficulty of determining, in regard to the number and extent of these innate ideas. His friends Gassendi and Hobbes openly denied that there were any such ideas whatever, and put him upon his proofs, by which the whole system would be to be commenced again from its foundation; while Malebranche, one of the most zealous of all the disciples of Des Cartes, at the same time that he contended for the general doctrine of innate ideas, confessed that he had some doubts whether they extended to the existence of the world without us, or to any thing but a knowledge of God and of our own being.

Although, in his opinion, M. Des Cartes has proved the existence of body


by the strongest arguments that reason alone can furnish, and arguments which he seems to suppose unexceptionable; yet he does not admit that they amount to a full demonstration of the existence of matter. In philosophy, says he, we ought to maintain our liberty as long, as we can, and to believe nothing but what evidence compels us to believe. To be fully convinced of the existence of bodies it is necessary that we have it demonstrated to us, not only that there is a God, and that he is no deceiver, but also that God has assured us that he has actually created such bodies ; and this, continues Malebranche, “I do not find proved in the works of M. Des Cartes. The faith obliges us to believe that bodies exist, but as to the evidence of this truth, it certainly is not complete; and it is also certain that we are not invincibly determined to believe that any thing exists but God and our own mind. It is true that we have an EXTREME PROPENSITY to believe that we are surrounded with corporeal beings : so far I agree with M. Des Cartes: but this propensity, natural as it is, does not force our belief by evidence; it only inclines us to believe by impression. Now we ought not to be determined in our judgments by any thing but light and evidence: if we suffer ourselves to be guided by the sensible impression, we shall be almost always mistaken."*

Thus stood the question when the very learned and excellent Bishop of Cloyne, Dr. George Berkeley, entered upon its investigation. For Locke, as we have already seen, boldly overleaped the Cartesian tollgate of doubting, and was content to take the knowledge of our own existence upon the authority of intuition, that of a God upon the authority of demonstration, and that of external objects upon the authority of our senses. Berkeley had minutely studied the rival systems of Des Cartes and Locke. With the latter he agreed that there is no such thing as innate ideas, and with the former that the creed of a philosopher should be founded upon proof. But Locke had not proved the existence of an external world: he had only sent us to our senses, and had left the question between ourselves and the evidence they offer; and though this is an evidence which Locke had assented to, Bishop Berkeley conceives it is an evidence that every man ought to examine and sist for himself. Upon this point, then, he deserted Locke for his rival, and commenced a chase for proofs :

He would not with a peremptory tone,
Assert the nose upon his face his own;

and looked around him for demonstrative evidence whether there be any thing in nature besides the Creator and a created mind. And the well-known result of the chase was that he could discover nothing else: he could discover neither a material world nor matter of any kind; neither corporeal objects nor corporeal senses, with which to feel about for objects; he could not even discover his own head and ears, his own hands, feet, or voice, as substantive existences; and the whole that he could discover was proofs to demonstrate not only that these things have no substantive existence, but that it is impossible they could have any such existence: or, in other words, that it is impossible that there can be any such thing as matter under any modification whatever, cognizable by mental faculties.

Let us, however, attend to the limitation that external objects can have no substantive or material existence, for otherwise we shall give a caricature: view of this hypothesis (which it by no means stands in need of), and ascribe to it doctrines and mischievous results which, if it he candidly examined, will not be found chargeable to it. Dr. Beattie, from not adverting to this limitation, appears, in his humorous description of the Bishop of Cloyne's principles, to have been mistaken upon several points; and it is but justice to the memory of a most excellent and exemplary prelate, as well as enlightened philosopher, to correct the errors into which his equally excellent and enlightened opponent has fallen. When Berkeley asserts that he can prove that there is nothing in existence but a Creator and created mind, and that

* Recherche de la Vérité, tom. III. p. 30. 30.

matter, and, consequently, material objects and material organs have not and cannot have, a being, he does not mean, as Dr. Beattie has represented him to mean, that he himself, or his own mind, is the only created being in the universe ;* nor that external objects and external qualities do not and cannot exist independent of, and distinct from, created mind. He allows as unequivocally as Dr. Beattie himself the existence of fellow-minds or fellow-beings, possessing appropriate senses, as also the existence of external and real objects, and of external and real qualities by which such senses are really and definitely influenced; contending alone that none of these objects or qualities are material, or any thing more than effects of the immediate agency of an ever-present Deity, “who,” to adopt his own words, “knows and comprehends all things, and exhibits them to our view in such a manner, and according to such rules as he himself has ordained, and are termed by us the laws of nature.—When,” says he,“ in broad daylight I open my eyes, it is not in my power to choose whether I shall see or no, or to determine what particular objects shall present themselves to my view; and so likewise as to the hearing and other senses, the ideas imprinted on them are not creatures of my will. There is, therefore, some other will or spirit that produces them. The question between the materialists and me is not whether things have a real existence out of the mind of this or that person, but whether they have an absolute existence, distinct from being perceived by (in) God and exterior to all minds? I assert as well as they, that since we are affected from without, we must allow powers to be without in a being distinct from ourselves. So far we are agreed. But then we differ as to the kind of this powerful being. I will have it to be spirit: they matter, or I know not what third nature.”+

According to Dr. Beattie, Berkeley taught "that external objects (that is, the things which we take for external objects) are nothing but ideas in our minds; and that independent of us and our faculties, the earth, the sun, and the starry heavens have no existence at all; that a lighted candle has not one of those qualities which it appears to have; that it is not white, nor luminous, nor round, nor divisible, nor extended; but that, for any thing we know, or can ever know to the contrary, it may be an Egyptian pyramid, the king of Prussia, a mad dog, the island of Madagascar, Saturn's ring, one of the Pleie ades, or nothing at all.”

Now all this shows a fruitful fund of pleasantry, but in the present case it is pleasantry somewhat misapplied. It would indeed be a woful state of things if such were the confusion or anomaly of our ideas, that we could never distinguish one object from another, and were for ever mistaking the king of Prussia for an Egyptian pyramid, a lighted candle for a mad dog, and the island of Madagascar for the Pleiades or Saturn's ring. But it would be a state of things no more chargeable to Dr. Berkeley's than to Dr. Beattie's view of nature; since the former supposes as perfect a reality in external objects, that they have as perfect an independence of the mind that perceives them, the possession of as permanent and definite qualities, and as regular a catenation of causes and effects, as the latter: or, in other words, it supposes that all things exist as they appear to exist, and must necessarily produce such effects as we find them produce, but that they do not exist corporeally; that they have no substrate and can have no substrate of matter, nor any other being than that given them by the immediate agency of the Deity; or, in still fewer words, that all things exist and are only seen to exist in God: a representation of nature, which, however erroneous, is by no means necessarily connected with those mischievous and fatal consequences which Dr. Beattie ascribed to it, and which, if fairly founded, must have been sufficient not only to have deterred Bishop Berkeley from starting it at first, but those very excellent prelates and acute reasoners, Bishop Sherlock and Bishop Smallwood, from becoming converts to it afterward.

The hypothesis, however, after taking away all undue colouring, and regarding it as merely assuming the non-existence of matter and a material

[ocr errors]

• Beattie on Truth, &vo. p. 150.

† Princip. of Hum. Knowledge

[ocr errors]

world, is still abundantly absurd in a philosophical point of view. Yet so fully had Berkeley persuaded himself of its truth, that he had the firmest conviction that if the world be, as it is said to be, composed of men, women, and children of a corporeal and material make, with ground beneath our feet and a sky over our heads, every body must in his heart believe as he believed, namely, that there are no such women or children, no such ground, sky, or any thing else but mind and mental perception. Nevertheless, whichsoever creed be true, he contended that it could make no difference in the regulation of our moral conduct; which he endeavours to prove by the following notable strain of argument: “ That nothing gives us interest in the material world except the feelings, pleasant or painful, which accompany our perceptions; that these perceptions are the same whether we believe the material world to exist or not to exist; consequently, that our pleasant or painful feelings are also the same; and therefore that our conduct, which depends on our feelings and perceptions, must be the same whether we believe or disbelieve the existence of matter."

The more we reflect upon the native vigour and acuteness of Bishop Berkeley's mind, as well as upon his extensive information and learning, the more we must feel astonished that he could for one moment be serious in the profession of so wild and chimerical a creed. And to those who are not acquainted with the subject it may perhaps appear impossible for the utmost stretch of human ingenuity to push such a revery any farther.

To the possession of such ingenuity, however, the celebrated author of the “ Treatise on Human Nature” is fairly and fully entitled. This notable performance, though published anonymously, is well known to be the production of Mr. Hume; and though, in the Essays to which his name appears, he makes some scruple of acknowledging it, and hints at its containing a few points which he subseqently thought erroneous, he maintains, in his avowed volumes, the same principles and the consequences of those principles so generally, that it is difficult to understand what errors he would wish the world to suppose he had ever retracted.

In mounting into the sublime regions of metaphysical absurdity, Bishop Berkeley furnished him with the ladder; but, as I have already hinted, Hume ascended it higher, and consequently, in his own opinion, had a more correct and extensive view of the airy scene before him.

If, said he, there be nothing in nature but mind and the perceptions of mind,--perceptions diversified, indeed, by being sometimes stronger and sometimes weaker, and which may hence be properly distinguished by the names of impressions and ideas,-how do we know that we possess a mind any more than that we possess a body, which no reasonable man or philosopher can possibly think of contending for? How do we know that there is any thing more than impressions and ideas? This is the utmost we can know; and even this we cannot know to a certainty : for nobody but fools will pretend certainly to know or to believe any thing. These ideas and impressions follow each other, and are therefore conjoined, but we have no proof that there is any necessary connexion between them. They are “ a bundle of perceptions that succeed each other with inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux ;"** and hence I myself of to-day am no more the I myself of yesterday or to-morrow, than I am Nebuchadnezzar or Cleopatra.

Now all this nonsense in Bishop Berkeley, even had his lordship gone so far, which, however, he did not do, we could laugh at; for his mind was of too excellent a cast to mean mischief. But it is impossible to make the same allowance to Mr. Hume, since the doctrines he attempts to build upon this nonsense effectually prevent us from doing so.

If the mind of every man become every moment a different being, all punishment for crime must be absurd; for you can never hit the culprit, who is every moment slipping through your fingers, and may as well hang the sheriff as the thief. No philosopher, it seems, can even dream of believing in an

* Treat on Human Nat. vol. I. p. 438, &c..

external world, and yet (putting by the trash of innate ideas) what other ar. guments have we, continues the same school, if school it may be called, for the existence and attributes of a Supreme Being. You may talk of power, but it is a word without a meaning: we can form no idea of power, nor of any being endued with any power, much less of a being endued with infinite power. And we can never have reason to believe that any object or quality of an object exists of which we cannot form an idea. It is, indeed, unreasonable to believe God to be infinitely wise and good while there is any evil or disorder in the universe ; nor have we any sound reason to believe that the world, whatever it may be, proceeds from him, or from any cause whatever. We can never fairly denominate any thing a cause till we have repeatedly seen it produce like effects; but the universe is an effect quite singular and unparalleled ; and hence it is impossible for us to know any thing of its cause ; it is impossible for us to know that there is any universe whatever; any creature or any Creator; or any thing in existence but impressions and ideas. *

It is not my intention to enter into these arguments, nor is it necessary. For though there had been ten times more force or more folly in them than there is, we have already traced the Babel-building to its foundation, and know that it rests upon emptiness.

Scotland has the disgrace of having given birth to this hydra of absurdity and malignity: she has also the honour of having produced the Hercules by whom it has been strangled. She has, indeed, amply atoned : for she has produced a Hercules in almost every one of her universities. True to the high charge reposed in them, the public guardians of her morals have started forth from Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, armed in celestial panoply, and equally masters of their weapons. Neither argument nor raillery have been spared on the occasion; and instead of invidiously inquiring whether Reid, Beattie, or Stewart be chiefly entitled to the honours of the victory, let us vote them our thanks in the aggregate. The only regret (and it is incident to human affairs that in almost every victory there should be a regret) is that in pulling down one hypothesis they should have thought it requisite to build up another, and to give a proof of their own weakness in the midst of their own triumph. But this is a subject which must be reserved for our next lecture. I cannot, however, consent to quit our present connexion with Mr. Hume, without adverting to Dr. Beattie's very witty, and I may say, for the most part, logical pleasantry upon the leading principle of Mr. Hume's hypothesis, that our impressions and ideas of things only differ in degrees of strength; the idea being an exact copy of the impression, but only accompanied with a weaker perception. Upon this proposition Dr. Beattie remarks as follows :f “When I sit by the fire, I have an impression of heat, and I can form an idea of heat when I am shivering with cold; in the one case I have a stronger perception of heat, in the other a weaker. Is there any warmth in this idea of heat? There must, according to this doctrine: only the warmth of the idea is not quite so strong as that of the impression. For this author repeats it again and again, that an idea is by its nature weaker and fainter than an impression, but is in every other respect' (not only similar but) .the same.'I Nay, he goes farther, and says, that whatever is true of the one


* Mr. Hume seems to have been only a speculative advocate of his own doctrines: the Bishop of Cloyne, like the Greek skeptics to whom we have formerly adverted, was a real believer. And it is not a little singular that the fundamental atheism on which the doctrines of Boodhism are founded, as professed throughout the Burman empire, has given rise, even in the present day, to a sect of philosophical skeptics of the very same kind ; of which Mr. Judson, the intelligent American missionary to whom I have already alluded (Ser. In. Lect. iii.), gives us, in his Journal, the following notable example:-“ May 20th, 1821. Encountered another new character, one Moung Long, from the neighbourhood of Shway.doung, a disciple of the great Tongdwan teacher, the acknowledged head of all the semi-atheists in the country. Like the rest of the sect, Moung Long is, in realiły, a complete skeptic, scarcely believing his own existence. They say he is always quarrelling with his wife on some metaphysical point. For instance, if she says, " The rice is ready," he will reply, " Rice! What is rice? Is it matter or spirit ? Is it an idea, or is it a nonentity ?" Perhaps she will say, " It is matter !” and he will reply, "Well, wife, and what is matter? Are you sure there is any such thing in existence, or are you merely subject to a de lusion of the senses ?"-Account of the American Baptist Mission to the Burman Empire, &c. by A. R. Judson, p. 304, 8vo. Lond. 1823. 1 Beactic on Truth, part. ii. ch. ii.

*Treatise on Human Nature, vol. i. p.


« AnteriorContinuar »