Imágenes de página

tion which they have received from the ingenuity of

Hartley, of Priestley, and of Darwin, to be equally unscientific in the design, and uninteresting in the execution; destitute, at.once, of the sober charms of Truth, and of those imposing attractions, which Fancy, when united to Taste, can lend to Fiction. In consequence of the unbounded praise bestowed upon them by some whose opinions are entitled to much respect, I have repeatedly begun the study of them anew, suspecting that I might be under the influence of some latent and undue prejudice against this new mode of philosophizing, so much in vogue at present in England; but notwithstanding the strong predilection which I have always felt for such pursuits, my labour has uniformly ended in a sentiment of regret, at the time and attention which I had misemployed in so hopeless and so ungrateful a task. Mr Locke, although he occasionally indulges himself in hints and conjectures, somewhat analogous to those of Hartley and Darwin, seems to have been perfectly aware how foreign such speeulations are to the genuine Philosophy of the Human Mind. In the second paragraph of the Introduction to his Essay, he thus expresses himself:-" This, therefore, “being my purpose, to inquire into the original, “certainty, and extent of human knowledge; to“gether with the grounds and degrees of belief, opi“nion, and assent, I shall not, at present, meddle “with the physical consideration of the Mind, or “ trouble myself to examine, wherein its essence “consists, or by what motions of our spirits, or al“teration of our bodies, we come to have any sensa“tion by our organs, or any ideas of our under“standings; and whether these ideas do in their “formation, any or all of them, depend on Matter “ or not. These are speculations, which, however “curious and entertaining, I shall decline, as lying “out of my way in the design I am now upon.” It is much to be wished, that Mr Locke had adhered invariably to this wise resolution. I flatter myself it will not be inferred, from what has been here said of the common theories of physiologists about the causes of the intellectual phenomena, that I entertain any doubt of the intimate connection which exists between these phenomena and the organization of the body. The great principle I am anxious to inculcate is, that all the theories which have yet been offered on this subject, are entirely unsupported by proof; and, what is worse, are of such a kind, that it is neither possible to confirm or to refute them, by an appeal to experiment or observation. That I was all along fully aware of the dependence, in our present state, of the mental operations on the sound condition of the corporeal frame, appears sufficiently from what I remarked, many years ago, concerning the laws of this connection between mind and body, as presenting one of the most interesting objects of examination connected with the theory of human nature." I have been induced to caution my readers against the possibility of such a misapprehension of my mean

* I hilosophy of the Human Mind, pp. 11, 12, 3d ed.

ing, by the following passage in a late publication : “What that affection of the brain is,” says Mr Belsham, “which, by the constitution of human na“ture, causes Memory, we cannot absolutely ascer“tain. The hypothesis of Vibrations, which has “already been explained, is the most probable. It is “trifling to object, that if the existence of impres“sions on the brain could be proved, Memory would “remain as unaccountable as before : all which this “hypothesis pretends to, is to advance a step in “tracing the process of the connection between ex“ternal objects and mental feelings.”—“It is cu“rious to observe,” the same author continues, “that “Dr Reid, after starting several objections against “the commonly received hypothesis, is obliged to ad“mit, that “many well-known facts lead us to con“clude, that a certain constitution or state of the “brain is necessary to Memory.’” On this passage I shall offer only two remarks. The first is, that, notwithstanding Mr Belsham's zeal for Hartley's Theory of Vibrations, he confesses explicitly, that “we cannot absolutely ascertain, “what that affection of the brain is, which, by the “constitution of human nature, causes memory;” and that, “the theory of Vibrations, though more “probable than some others, is still but a hypothe“sis.” Secondly, that Mr Belsham, after making this explicit acknowledgment, is nevertheless pleased to insinuate, that all who presume to object to this particular hypothesis, are bound by their own principles to assert, that memory has no dependence whatever on the state of the brain. Where the in

[ocr errors]

consistency lies in Dr Reid’s admission, that a cer-
tain constitution or state of the brain is necessary to
memory, after he had stated some objections against
the commonly received theories, I am at a loss to
perceive. Indeed, I should be glad to know, what
philosopher, ancient or modern, has ever yet assert-
ed, that memory is not liable to be injured by such
affections of the brain as are produced by intemper-
ance, disease, old age, and other circumstances which
disturb the bodily mechanism. The philosophical
inference, however, from this concession is, not that
the hypothesis of Dr Hartley, or the hypothesis of
Mr Belsham, must necessarily be true; but that, lay-
ing aside all hypotheses, we should apply ourselves
to collect such facts as may lead us, in due time, to
the only satisfactory conclusions we have much
chance of ever forming concerning the connection
between Mind and Body—the discovery of some of
the general laws by which this connection is regu-
In offering these strictures on the physiological
metaphysics of the present day, it is proper for me,
at the same time, to observe, that I object to it
merely as an idle waste of labour and ingenuity, on
questions to which the human faculties are altoge-
ther incompetent; and not because I consider any
of the theories, to which it has given birth, as stand-
ing in the way of my own doctrines. The facts
which I wish to ascertain rest on their own proper
evidence;—an evidence which would remain entire
and unshaken, although a demonstration should be
produced in favour of the animal spirits of Des-

[ocr errors]

cartes, or of the Vibrations of Hartley; and which would not gain the slightest accession of strength, if both these hypotheses were to fall into the contempt they deserve. The circumstance which peculiarly characterizes the inductive Science of the Mind is, that it professes to abstain from all speculations concerning its nature and essence; confining the attention entirely to phenomena, which every individual has it in his power to examine for him. self, who chooses to exercise the powers of his understanding. In this respect, it differs equally in its scope, from the pneumatological discussions concerning the seat of the Soul, and the possibility or

the impossibility of its bearing any relation to Space or to Time, which so long gave employment to the subtilty of the schoolmen;–and from the physiological hypotheses which have made so much noise at a later period, concerning the mechanical causes on which its operations depend. Compared with the first, it differs, as the inquiries of Galileo concerning the laws of moving bodies differ from the disputes of the ancient sophists concerning the existence and the nature of Motion. Compared with the other, the difference is analogous to what exists between the conclusions of Newton about the law of gravitation, and his query concerning the invisible ether, of which he supposed it might possibly be the effect.—It may be worth while to add, in passing, that the diversity of opinion among Newton's followers, with respect to the verisimilitude of this query, while they have unanimously acquiesced in the physical conclusions of their master, affords an

« AnteriorContinuar »