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“ common acceptation of the term Beauty; but I “believe, that, philosophically speaking, every ob“ject is beautiful, which is fitted to excite in us the “ perception of relations.” On these passages I have nothing to offer, in the way either of criticism or of comment; as I must fairly acknowledge my incapacity to seize the idea which the author wishes to convey. To say that “beauty consists in “the perception of relations,” without specifying what these relations are ; and afterwards to qualify these relations by the epithet agreeable, in deference to popular prejudices, would infer, that this word is philosophically applicable to all those objects which are vulgarly denominated deformed or ugly ; inasmuch as a total want of symmetry and proportion in the parts of an object does not, in the least, diminish the number of relations perceived; not to mention, that the same definition would exclude from the denomination of Beautiful all the different modifications of colour, as well as various other qualities, which, according to the common use of language, fall unquestionably under that description. On the other hand, if the second, and more restricted definition be adhered to (that “beauty consists in the perception of such rela“tions as are agreeable”), no progress is made towards a solution of the difficulty. To inquire what the relations are which are agreeable to the mind, would, on this supposition, be only the original problem concerning the nature of the Beautiful, proposed in a different and more circuitous form. The speculations which have given occasion to these remarks have evidently originated in a prejudice which has descended to modern times from the scholastic ages; that when a word admits of a variety of significations, these different significations must all be species of the same genus ; and must consequently include some essential idea common to every individual to which the generie term can be applied. In the article just quoted, this prejudice is assumed as an indisputable maxim. “Beautiful “is a term which we apply to an infinite variety of “things; but, by whatever circumstances these “may be distinguished from each other, it is cer“tain, either that we make a false application of the “word, or that there exists, in all of them, a com“mon quality, of which the term Beautiful is the & Co. sign.” #: Of this principle, which has been an abundant source of obscurity and mystery in the different sciences, it would be easy to expose the unsoundness and futility; but, on the present occasion, I shall only remind my readers of the absurdities into which it led the Aristotelians on the subject of causation ;—the ambiguity of the word, which, in the Greek language, corresponds to the English word cause, having suggested to them the vain attempt of tracing the common idea which, in the case of any effect, belongs to the efficient, to the matter, to
* “Beau est un terme que nous appliquons à une infinite “d'êtres. Mais, quelque différence qu'il y ait entre ces étres, “il faut, ou que nous sassions une fausse application du terme “beau; ou qu'il y ait dans tous ces étres une qualité dont le “terme beat soit le signe.”
the form, and to the end. The idle generalities we meet with in other philosophers, about the ideas of the good, the fit, and the becoming, have taken their rise from the same undue influence of popular epithets on the speculations of the learned. Socrates, whose plain good sense appears in this, as in various other instances, to have fortified his understanding to a wonderful degree against the metaphysical subtilties which misled his successors, was evidently apprised fully of the justness of the foregoing remarks;–if any reliance can be placed on the account given by Xenophon of his conversation with Aristippus about the Good and the Beautiful. “Aristippus (we are told) having asked him, “if he knew anything that was good?”—“Do “you ask me (said Socrates) if I know anything “good for a sever, or for an inflammation in the “eyes, or as a preservative against a famine * “By no means, returned the other.”—“Nay, “then (replied Socrates), if you ask me concern“ing a good which is good for nothing, I know of “none such ; nor yet do I desire to know it.” Aristippus still urging him—“But do you know “(said he) anything Beautiful ?” “A great many,” returned Socrates. “Are these all like to one another?” “Far from it, Aristippus; there is a very consi“derable difference between them.” “But how (said Aristippus) can beauty differ “from beauty f" *—The question plainly proceed
* Translation of the Memorabilia, by Mrs Fielding.
ed on the same supposition which is assumed in the passage quoted above from Diderot ; a supposition founded (as I shall endeavour to shew) on a total misconception of the nature of the circumstances, which, in the history of language, attach different meanings to the same words; and which often, by slow and insensible gradations, remove them to such a distance from their primitive or radical sense, that no ingenuity can trace the successive steps of their progress. The variety of these circumstances is, in fact, so great, that it is impossible to attempt a complete enumeration of them; and I shall, therefore, select a few of the cases, in which the principle now in question appears most obviously and indisputably to fail.
I shall begin with supposing that the letters A, B, C, D, E, denote a series of objects; that A possesses some one quality in common with B; B a quality in common with C; C a quality in common with D; D a quality in common with E.;-while, at the same time, no quality can be found which belongs in common to any three objects in the series. Is it not conceivable, that the affinity between A and B may produce a transference of the name of the first to the second ; and that, in consequence of the other affinities which connect the remaining objects together, the same mame may pass in succession from B to C ; from C to D ; and from D to E? In this manner, a common appellation will arise between A and E, although the two objects may, in their nature and properties, be so widely distant from each other, that no stretch of imagination can conceive how the thoughts were led from the former to the latter. The transitions, nevertheless, may have been all so easy and gradual, that, were they successfully detected by the fortunate ingenuity of a theorist, we should instantly recogmise, not only the verisimilitude, but the truth of the conjecture;—in the same way as we admit, with the confidence of intuitive conviction, the certainty of the well-known etymological process which connects the Latin preposition e or ear with the English substantive stranger, the moment that the intermediate links of the chain are submitted to our examination *. These observations may, I hope, throw some additional light on a distinction pointed out by Mr Knight, in his Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste, between the transitive and the metaphori
* E, ex, extra, extraneus, étranger, stranger. The very same prejudice which I have now been attempting to refute will be found to be at the bottom of many of Mr Tooke's speculations concerning language.—“Johnson,” he observes in the beginning of his second volume, “is as bold and profuse in asser“tion, as he is shy and sparing in explanation. He says that “Right means—true. Again, that it means—passing true judg“ment ; and—passing a judgment according to the truth of “things. Again, that it means—happy. And again, that it “means—perpendicular, And again, that it means—in a great “degree.” “All false.” Mr Tooke adds, “absurd, and impossible.”—Vol. II. p. 5. How far the epithets false and absurd are justly applied in this instance, I do not presume to decide; but if there be any foundation for the preceding remarks, I certainly may be permitted to ask, upon what ground Mr Tooke has concluded his climax with the word impossible?