« AnteriorContinuar »
ceives their agreements or disagreements. But the fact is, that what Locke calls agreements and disagreements, are, in many instances, simple ideas, of which no analysis can be given; and of which the origin must therefore be referred to Reason, according to Locke’s own doctrine. * These observations seem to go far to justify the remark long ago made by the learned and ingenious Mr Harris, that, “though sensible objects may “be the destined medium to awaken the dormant “energies of the understanding, yet are the ener“gies themselves no more contained in sense, than “the explosion of a cannon in the spark that gave “ it fire.” + The illustration which Cudworth had given, almost a century before, in his simple and unadorned language, of the same important truth, while it is correctly and profoundly philosophical, exhibits a view, so happily imagined, of the characteristical endowments or capacities of the human intellect, considered in contrast with the subordinate ministry of the senses, as to rival in its effect the sublime impressions of poetical description. “The mind per“ceives, by occasion of outward objects, as much “more than is represented to it by sense, as a learn“ed man does in the best written book, than an il“literate person or brute. To the eyes of both the “same characters will appear; but the learned man, “in those characters, will see heaven, earth, sun,
* The same observation is made by Dr Price in his Review of the Principal Questions and Difficulties in Morals, p. 49, 2d Edit. + Hermes, Book iii. chap. iv.
and stars; read profound theorems of philosophy “ or geometry; learn a great deal of new knowledge “from them, and admire the wisdom of the com“ poser; while to the other nothing appears but “black strokes drawn on white paper.” "
In the works of Leibnitz various passages occur, extremely similar in their spirit to those which have just been quoted. One of these I select, in preference to the rest, because it shews how early and how clearly he perceived that very vulnerable point of Locke's philosophy, against which the foregoing reasonings have been directed.
“In Locke's Essay, there are some particulars “not unsuccessfully expounded; but, on the whole, “he has wandered widely from his object; nor has he “formed a just notion of the nature of truth and of “the human mind.—He seems, too, not to have been “sufficiently aware, that the ideas of existence, of “personal identity, of truth, besides many others, “may be said (in one sense) to be innate in the mind; inasmuch as they are necessarily unfolded by the exercise of its faculties. In other words, “when we affirm that there is nothing in the intel“lect which was not previously in the senses, we “must be always understood to except the intellectual powers themselves, and the simple ideas “ which are necessarily implied in our intellectual “operations.” t
* Treatise of Immutable Morality, B. iv. c. ii.
+ As, in the above paragraph, I have departed a little from Leibnitz's language, in order to render his meaning somewhat more obvious to my readers, I think it proper to subjoin the words of the original.
In quoting these strictures upon Locke, I would not be understood to approve of the use which Leibnitz has here made of the word innate ; as I think it liable, in some degree, to the same objections which apply to the innate ideas of Descartes.
In both authors, this form of expression seems to imply, not only that ideas have an existence distinct from the faculty of thinking, but that some ideas, at least, form part of the original furniture of the mind; presenting to it treasures of knowledge, which it has only to examine by abstracted meditation, in order to arrive at the most sublime truths. The same remark may be extended to certain doctrines, which Mr Harris has connected with a passage already quoted from his Harmes; and also to the speculations of Dr Price concerning the origin of our ideas, in his Review of the Principal Questions and Difficulties in Morals. Of the limited functions of sense, these two very candid and profound inquirers were fully aware; but, like the other writers, they have blended, with their statement of this important fact, hypothetical expressions and notions, calculated to impose on an unreflecting reader, by a specious explanation of a mystery, placed beyond the
“In Lockio sunt quaedam particularia non male exposita, sed “in summâ longe aberravit a janua, nec naturam mentis verita“tisque intellexit. Idem non satis animadvertitideas entis, sub“stantiae, unius'et ejusdem, veri, boni, aliasque multas mentinos“trae ideo innatas esse, quia ipsa innata est sibi, et in se ipsá haec “omnia deprehendit. Nempe, nihil est in intellectu, quod non “fuerit in sensu, nisi ipse intellectus.”—Tom. V. p. 355. (Edit. Dutens.)
reach of the human faculties." The supposition in which all these different philosophers seem to have agreed, of the existence of latent ideas in the mind, previous to the exercise of the senses (a supposition bordering nearly on the old Platonic scheme of the soul’s reminiscence), cannot be guarded against with too great caution; but, as to the arguments in the Essay of Human Understanding, which have exposed the phrase innate ideas to the ridicule of Locke's followers, I must own, that they have very little weight with me, when I recollect that Locke himself, no less than Descartes, gave his express sanction to the Ideal Theory. If that theory be rejected, and the word idea be understood as exactly synonymous with thought or notion, the phrase innate ideas becomes much less exceptionable; implying nothing more (though perhaps not in the plainest language) than the following propositions, which I have already endeavoured to prove: “That there “are many of our most familiar notions (altogether “unsusceptible of analysis) which relate to things “bearing no resemblance either to any of the sensi“ble qualities of matter, or to any mental operation “which is the direct object of consciousness; which “notions therefore, (although the senses may fur
* What I mean, in this instance, by a mixture of fact and of hypothesis, will be still more clearly illustrated by two quotations from Mr Harris's notes; which have the merit of stating fairly and explicitly the theories of their respective authors, without any attempt to keep their absurdity out of view (according to the practice of their modern disciples) by a form of words, in which they are only obscurely hinted to the fancy. For these quota. tions, see Note (D.)
“nish the first occasions on which they occur to the “understanding), can neither be referred to sensa“tion nor to reflection, as their fountains or sources, “in the acceptation in which these words are em“ployed by Locke.” " The period at which these thoughts first arise in the mind is a matter of little consequence, provided it can be shewn to be a law of our constitution that they do arise, whenever the proper occasions are presented. The same thing may be said with respect to what Locke calls innate practical principles; and also with respect to what other writers have called innate affections of human nature. The existence of both of these some have affirmed, and others denied, without any suspicion that the controversy between them turned on little more than the meaning of a word.
* D'Alembert's opinion on this question, although rot uniformly maintained through all his philosophical speculations, appears to have coincided nearly with mine, when he wrote the following sentence:
“Les idées inées sont une chimere que l'experience reprouve; “mais la manière dont nous acquèrons des sensations et des idées “refléchies, quoique prouvées par la méme experience, n'est “pas moins incomprehensible.”—Elem. de Phil. article Metaphysique.
From various other passages of D'Alembert's writings, it might be easily shewn, that by the manner of acquiring sensations, he here means, the manner in which we acquire our knowledge of the primary qualities of matter; and that the incomprehensibility he alludes to, refers to the difficulty of conceiving how sensations, which are the proper subjects of consciousness, should suggest the knowledge of external things, to which they bear no resemblance.