« AnteriorContinuar »
that it may safely be affirmed, there is not a single proposition true of the one, which will not be found to hold equally with respect to the other. It ought to be remembered, too, that it is in those branches of knowledge, where there is least room for experiment, and where the laws of nature are only to be detected by cautiously collecting and combining a multitude of casual observations, that the merits of the philosopher are the greatest, where he succeeds in his researches. That the conclusions of the astronomical observer, with respect to the laws by which the phenomena of the heavens are regulated, contribute, in any degree, to extend the sphere of his power over the objects of his study, no star-gazer, so far as I know, has yet boasted. But have these conclusions had no effect in extending his power over that scene where he is himself destined to be the principal actor? Have they contributed nothing to the progress of chronology and of geography; or to the improvement of that art which, by guiding his course across the pathless ocean, has completed the empire of man over the globe 2 One thing, at least, is evident, that Newton's discovery of the law of Gravitation, notwithstanding the ea periments which supplied him with some data essential to his results, has added nothing to the power of man, the utility of which does not resolve into the same general principle, with that of the observations of Tycho Brahe, and of Kepler. The planetary system still remains as little subject to our control as before ;
and all that we have gained is, that, by synthetical
reasonings from the theory of gravitation, we have
e of the immense accession of a more useful power which his discoveries have added to the human race, on the surface of their own planet. It would be endless to enumerate all the practical uses to which his labours are subservient. It is sufficient for me to repeat an old, but very striking reflection, that the only accurate knowledge which Man possesses of the surface of the Earth, has been derived from the previous knowledge he had acquired of the phenomena of the Stars. Is it possible to produce a more apposite, or a more undeniable proof of the universality of Bacon's maxim, that “ knowledge is power,” than a fact which demonstrates the essential aid which man has derived, in asserting his dominion over this lower world, from a branch of science which seems, at first view, fitted only to gratify a speculative curiosity; and which, in its infancy, served to amuse the leisure of the Chaldean shepherd? To those who have imbibed the spirit of Bacon’s philosophy, it is superfluous to add, that it was in this refined and enlarged sense of his aphorism, far more than in its obvious and partial application to the new resources which experiments have occasionally lent to the mechanician, that Bacon himself wished to be understood, when he so often repeats it in the same words, with an air of triumph, in the course of his writings. Let us now attend to the application which is made of these preliminary considerations to the Human Mind. “The science of Metaphysics,” it is asserted, “ depends upon observation, and not upon “experiment; and all reasonings upon Mind pro“ ceed accordingly upon a reference to that general “observation which all men are supposed to have “made, and not on any particular experiments, “which are known only to the inventor. The “ province of Philosophy in this department, there“fore, is the province of observation only ; and in “this department the greater part of that code of “laws, which Bacon has provided for the regulation “ of experimental induction, is plainly without au“ thority. In Metaphysics, certainly knowledge is “ not power; and, instead of producing new phe“nomena to elucidate the old, by well-contrived “ and well-conducted experiments, the most dili“gent inquirer can do no more than register and “arrange the appearances, which he can neither ac** count for nor control.”— In proof of this, it is alleged, that “we feel, and “ perceive, and remember, without any purpose or “contrivance of ours, and have evidently no power “over the mechanism by which those functions are “ performed. We may describe and distinguish “ those operations of mind, indeed, with more or “less attention or exactness, but we cannot subject “them to experiment, nor alter their nature by any “ process of investigation. We cannot decompose “our perceptions in a crucible, nor divide our sen“sations with a prism; nor can we, by art and con“trivance, produce any combination of thoughts or “emotions, besides those with which all men are “provided by nature. No metaphysician expects, “by analysis, to discover a new power, or to excite a “new sensation in the mind, as a chemist discovers “a new earth, or a new metal; nor can he hope, “by any process of synthesis, to exhibit a mental “combination, different from any that nature has “produced in the minds of other persons.” So far as this reasoning proceeds merely on the alleged inferiority of observation to experiment, as a source of power, or of useful knowledge, I have nothing to add, in the way of refutation, to what I have already advanced. Supposing all the knowledge we possess of Mind to be derived from observation solely, it would not therefore follow, that the Philosophy of Mind must necessarily yield to Physics in practical utility. The difficulty of the study would, indeed, appear proportionally greater; but no inference could fairly be drawn, from this circumstance, to depreciate the value of the conclusions to which it might lead.
But is it, indeed, true, in the full latitude of the critic's assertion, that “ the science of Metaphy“sics,” “ (meaning, by that phrase, the Philosophy of the Human Mind), “depends upon observation, “and not upon experiment P* Even in the case of our perceptions, the most favourable by far for
* After what I have already said on the vagueness of the word Metaphysics, and the futility of most of the studies which are referred to that very comprehensive title, it is scarcely necessary for me to add, that, in controverting the position which has just been quoted, I would be understood to confine my remarks solely to the inductive Philosophy of the Human Mind. That this was the science which the writer had in his eye, when he asserted, that “metaphysics depend upon observation, and not upon “experiment,” appears manifestly from the whole of the context, -