« AnteriorContinuar »
it has sometimes been classed, it explicitly recognizes the consistency and certainty of those principles of belief on which mankind proceed in the ordinary business of life, as well as in all their physical inquiries concerning the order of nature. The statement, on the other hand, given by Turgot, possesses this advantage peculiar to itself, that it describes the simple fact with scientific precision; involving no metaphysical theory whatever, any more than Newton's statement of the law of gravitation. In both cases, premises are furnished for a most important conclusion in natural theology; but that conclusion is as foreign to our researches concerning the physical laws of our perceptions, as it would have been to Newton's purpose, to have blended it with the physical and mathematical inquiries contained in his Principia. Nor let any one imagime that this statement has the slightest tendency to detract from the reality of external objects. It rests our evidence or this reality on the very same footing with what we possess for the regularity and permanence of those physical laws which furnish the most interesting, as well as the most stable objects of human knowledge; and, even when combined with the theological hypothesis of the Hindoos, only varies our ordinary mode of conception, by keeping constantly in view the perpetual dependence of the universe, in its matter as well as in its form, on the hand of the Creator. I must again repeat, with respect to this statement of Turgot, that it differs from that of Reid merely in resolving our belief of the permanent and inde
pendent existence of matter into another law of our nature still more general ; and of this law it is worthy of observation, that its authority has not only been repeatedly recognized by Reid, but that he has laid much more stress on its importance than any preceding writer. According to the statements of both, this belief is assumed as an ultimate fact in the constitution of the mind; and the triling difference in their language concerning it (considering that neither could have borrowed the slightest hint from the other) adds no inconsiderable weight to their joint conclusions. To this natural belief, common to all mankind (a belief which evidently is altogether independent of any exercise of our reasoning powers), Reid, as well as some other Scotish philosophers, have applied the epithet instinctive; not with the view of conveying any new theory concerning, its origin, but merely to exclude the unsatisfactory theories of their predecessors. For this supposed innovation in language, they have been severely censured and ridiculed by a late celebrated Polemic ; but the strictures which, in this instance, he has bestowed on them, will be found to apply to them, in common with the most correct reasoners in every part of modern Europe. Of this I have already produced one instance, in a quotation from the works of a very learned and profound Italian ; * and another authority to the same purpose is furnished by D'Alembert, a
* See pp. 126, 127, of this volume. K
writer scrupulously cautious in his selection of words: The following passage agrees so exactly with Reid’s philosophy, in point of doctrine as well as of phraseology, that the coincidence can be accounted for only by the anxious fidelity with which both authors have, on this occasion, exemplified the precepts of the inductive logic. “The truth is, that as no relation whatever can “be discovered between a sensation in the mind, “ and the object by which it is occasioned, or at “least to which we refer it, it does not appear pos“sible to trace, by dint of reasoning, any practica“ble passage from the one to the other. Nothing “but a species of instinct, more sure in its opera“tion than reason itself, could so forcibly transport “us across the gulf by which Mind seems to be se“parated from the Material World.”" “In every science,” the same author elsewhere observes, “there are principles true, or supposed, “which the mind seizes by a species of instinct. “To this instinct we ought to yield without resist“ance; otherwise, by recognizing the existence of “a series of principles without end, and abandoning
* “En effet, n'yayant aucun rapport entre chaque sensation, “et l'objet qui l'occasionne, ou du moins auquel nous la rappor“tons, il ne paroit pas qu'on puisse trouver par le raisonnement “de passage possible de l'un a l'autre: il n'y a qu'une espéce “d'instinct, plus sur que la raison même, qui puisse nous for“cer a franchir un si grand intervalle.”—Discours Préliminaire de l'Encyclopédie.
In the last clause of the sentence, I have departed a little from the words of the original; but I flatter myself, that I have rendered my author's meaning with sufficient exactness.
“ the possibility of any fixed points for the com“mencement of our reasonings, we must plunge “ourselves into universal scepticism.” " The inference which I draw from these quotations is, not that the word instinct is employed in them with unexceptionable propriety, but that, in applying it to characterize certain judgments of the mind, the philosophers who have been so contemptuously treated on that account by Dr Priestley, have not departed from the practice of their predecessors. They alone who have studied with care the science of Human Nature, can be fully sensible how difficult it is, on the one hand, for the clearest and most cautious thinkers, to describe its phenomena in definite and unequivocal terms; and how easy it is, on the other, for the most superficial critic to cavil, with plausibility, at the best phraseology which language can afford. Nor has a philosopher, in this branch of knowledge, the privilege, as in some others, of introducing new terms of his own invention, without incurring the charge of absurd and mysterious affectation. He must, of necessity, persevere in employing terms of a popular origin; or, in other words, in employing an instrument made by the most rude and unskilful hands, to a purpose where the utmost conceivable nicety is indispensably requisite. The number of such criticisms, I am inclined to suspect, would be considerably diminished, if every cavil at an obnoxious word were to be accompanied with the suggestion of a less exceptionable substitute. In the meantime, it is the fault of those who devote themselves to this study, if they do not profit by these criticisms where they have the slightest foundation in justice, by approximating more and more to that correctness and uniformity in the use of language, towards which so great advances have been made in our own times; but which, after all our efforts, we must content ourselves with recommending to the persevering industry of our successors, as the most essential of all desiderata for insuring the success of their researches. Till this great end be, in some measure, accomplished, we must limit our ambition to the approbation of the discerning few ; recollecting (if I may borrow the words of Mr Burke), that our conclusions are not fitted “to abide the test of a captious controversy, “but of a sober and even forgiving examination; “that they are not armed, at all points, for battle, “but dressed to visit those who are willing to give “a peaceful entrance to truth.” “
* “Il est dans chaque science desprincipes vrais ou supposés, “qu'on saisit par une espéce d'instinct, auquel on doit s'abandon“ner sans résistance; autrement il faudroit admettre dans les “principes un progrès à l'infini, qui seroit aussi absurde qu'un “ progrès a l’infini dans les étres et dans les causes, et qui ren“droit tout incertain, faute d'un point fixe d'où l’on pút partir.” -Elémens de Philosophie, Art. Métaphysique.
In the alternative stated in the first clause of this sentence (des principes vrais ou supposés), I presume that D'Alembert had in view the distinction between those sciences which rest ultimately on facts; and the different branches of pure mathematics which rest ultimately on definitions or hypotheses.