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lity is altogether accidental; arising, not from the positive accession they bring to our stock of scientific truths, but from the pernicious tendency of the doctrines to which they are opposed. On this occasion, therefore, I am perfectly willing to acquiesce in the estimate formed by Mr Tucker of the limited importance of Metaphysical studies; however much I may be inclined to dispute the universality of its application to all the different branches of the Intellectual Philosophy. Indeed, I shall esteem myself fortunate (considering the magnitude of the errors which I have been attempting to correct) if I shall be found to have merited, in any degree, the praise of that humble usefulness which he has so beautifully described in the following words: “The science of abstruse learning, when com“pletely attained, is like Achilles's spear, that heal“ed the wounds it had made before. It casts no “additional light upon the paths of life, but dis“perses the clouds with which it had overspread “them ; it advances not the traveller one step on “his journey, but conducts him back again to the “ spot from whence he had wandered.”"
* Light of Nature Pursued. Introd. xxxiii. (London, 1768.)
ON THE IDEALISM OF BERKELEY.
ON SOME PREVAILING MISTAKES WITH RESPECT TO THE IMPORT AND AIM OF THE BERKELEIAN SYSTEM.
It is not my intention, in this Essay, to enter at all into the argument with respect to the truth of the Berkeleian theory; but only to correct some mistakes concerning the nature and scope of that speculation, which have misled many of its partizans as well as of its opponents. Of these mistakes there are two which more particularly deserve our attention. The one confounds the scheme of idealism with those sceptical doctrines, which represent the existence of the Material World as a thing which is doubtful : the other confounds it with the physical theory of Boscovich, which, while it disputes the correctness of the commonly received opinions about some of the qualities of Matter, leaves altogether untouched the metaphysical question, whether Matter possesses an independent existence or not *
1. It is well known to all who have the slightest acquaintance with the history of philosophy, that, among the various topics on which the ancient sceptics exercised their ingenuity, the question concerning the existence of the Material World was always a favourite subject of disputation. Some doubts on the same point occur even in the writings of philosophers, whose general leaning seems to have been to the opposite extreme of dogmatism. Plato himself has given them some countenance, by hinting it as a thing not quite impossible, that human life is a continued sleep, and that all our thoughts are only dreams." This scepticism (which I am inclined to think most persons have occasionally experienced in their early yearst) proceeds on principles totally dif. ferent from the doctrine of Berkeley, who asserts, with the most dogmatical confidence, that the existence of Matter is impossible, and that the very supposition of it is absurd. “The existence of bodies “out of a mind perceiving them,” he tells us explicitly, “is not only impossible, and a contradiction in “terms; but were it possible, and even real, it were “impossible we should ever know it.”
The attempt of Berkeley to disprove the existence of the Material World, took its rise from the attempt of Descartes to demonstrate the truth of the contrary proposition. Both undertakings were equally unphilosophical; for, to argue in favour of any of the fun
damental laws of human belief is not less absurd than to call them in question. In this argument, however, it must be granted, that Berkeley had the advantage; the conclusion which he formed being unavoidable, if the common principles be admitted on which they both proceeded." It was reserved for Dr Reid to shew, that these principles are not only unsupported by proof, but contrary to incontestable facts; nay, that they are utterly inconceivable, from the manifest inconsistencies and absurdities which they involve. f All this he has placed in so clear and strong a light, that Dr Priestley, the most acute of his antagonists, has found nothing to object to his argument, but that it is directed against a phantom of his own creation, and that the opinions which he combats were never seriously maintained by any philosophers, ancient or modern.f With respect to Mr Hume, who is commonly considered as an advocate for Berkeley’s system, the remarks which I have offered on the latter writer must be understood with great limitations. For, although his fundamental principles lead necessarily to Berkeley’s conclusion, and although he has frequently drawn from them this conclusion himself, yet, on other occasions, he relapses into the language of doubt, and only speaks of the existence of the Material World as a thing of which we have no satisfactory evidence. The truth is, that whereas Berkeley was sincerely and bona side an idealist, Hume's leading object, in his metaphysical writings, plainly was to inculcate a universal scepticism. In this respect, the real scope of his arguments has, I think, been misunderstood by most, if not by all, of his opponents. It evidently was not, as they seem to have supposed, to exalt reasoning in preference to our instinctive principles of belief; but by illustrating the contradictory conclusions to which our different faculties lead, to involve the whole subject in the same suspicious darkness. In other words, his aim was not to interrogate Nature, with a view to the discovery of truth, but by a cross-eramination of Nature, to involve her in such contradictions as might set aside the whole of her evidence as good for nothing. With respect to Berkeley, on the other hand, it appears from his writings, not only that he considered his scheme of idealism as resting on demonstrative proof, but as more agreeable to the common apprehensions of mankind, than the prevailing theories of philosophers, concerning the independent existence of the Material World. “If the princi“ples,” he observes in the Preface to his Dialogues, “which I here endeavour to propagate are admitted “for true, the consequences which I think evidently “flow from them are, that atheism and scepticism “will be utterly destroyed; many intricate points “made plain; great difficulties solved; speculation “referred to practice; and men reduced from para“doxes to common sense.” That Mr Hume was perfectly aware of the essential difference between the aim of his own philosophy and that of Berkeley, is manifest from the following
* Note (F.) * Note (G.) ; Note (II.)