Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

We have been induced to protract these quotations, * because we believe there is no mistake more extensive than that of supposing, that Hume's philosophy was intended to influence the actions of man, and because no writer, so far as we can recollect, has taken pains to prove, at any length, how completely such a supposition is discountenanced by the explicit phraseology of that philosopher himself. The whole of the Essay under consideration is vitiated by the same mistake; and we may judge how extensive must be its prevalence, when we observe it embraced by such a man as Mr. Ogilvie. Nothing, in fact, more thoroughly establishes the complete practical inutility of Hume's speculation concerning causes, than the attempt of our author to make it the basis of conclusions in the active philosophy of real life. Cause and effect, according to that philosopher, is nothing more than an invariable conjunction of two objects or events; and all we know about the relation between them is, that, upon the presentation of the one, our mind irresistibly infers the appearance of the other. Now mere conjunction does not involve any particular arrangement; and accordingly it is inferable from the doctrine we have just stated, that a cause does not necessarily antecede its effect. All the necessity there can be in the case is, that, either antecedently, or collaterally, or consecutively, one object or event, to which we give the name of cause,-should be infallibly conjoined, both in place and in time, with another object or event, to which we apply the term effect

. We have already thrown out a hint or two respecting the absurdity of such a doctrine; and we only wish in this place to subjoin, that it has evidently given rise to Mr. Ogilvie's definition of human knowledge. If we grant the accuracy of Hume's speculation, it will necessarily follow, that all definitions of that term must include the circumstance of what our author calls arrangement; and the only objection which we should then have to urge against the definition which he has given would be, that,-instead of embracing the ascertainment of real causes, which, in our opinion, is the very essence of human knowledge, -it proceeds upon the supposition, that all the causes are already ascertained, and considers the word as having relation merely to the proper arrangement of those causes. Even in speculation, therefore, we think Mr. Ogilvie has not given the true meaning of human knowledge. But what we most object to is, that he should

* We have not by any means transcribed all the passages in which Hume takes the pains to assure us, that his philosophy has nothing to do with active life. See particularly the latter paragraphs in Part II. of the Section on the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy.

make his own definition the very beam on which he hangs a chain of consequences relative to the real business of active life. His master never intended to have his philosophy so applied; and we venture to affirm, that utter discomfiture will attend every attempt to establish such an application.

But we should be greatly disinclined to believe in the shade' what we knew could have no reality in open day': and we shall, accordingly, proceed to examine very briefly whether, even in speculation, the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy can be supported by valid reasoning. The great argument against the received doctrine concerning causation is, that, as all we are capable of perceiving consists in the uniform accompaniment or conjunction of two objects, whch we customarily denominate cause and effect, we have no philosophical right to conclude, that the one takes place in consequence of any indissoluble or necessary connexion with that which accompanies, or is conjoined to it. We are totally incapable of perceiving the peculiar efficiency,or ivéelose of the antecedent object, which operates to the necessary production of the subsequent event; and the only legitimate conclusion is, therefore, that the former can be nothing more than the occasion' upon which the latter makes its appearance. Throughout his Inquiry concerning Human Understanding, Hume is constantly calling upon us to exhibit the “ tie' which binds one event to another, in the way of cause and effect;—and because we are unable to produce some connecting principle as visible and as tangible as a tow-string, he triumphantly infers, that no such connexion should be believed to exist. The obvious objection to such a doctrine is, that it proves a great deal too much;-for if, indeed, our incapacity to perceive, or to conceive, a particular thing, is a conclusive argument against its existence, we shall find ourselves obliged to prune away a great many of the most important parts both of physical and of moral science. There are some ideas which, on account of their magnitude,—and there are others which, in consequence of their minuteness,—the mind finds itself utterly inadequate to embrace or to get hold of; and yet we reason about such ideas with as much confidence, as if they could be comprehended with the utmost ease and clearness.' Thus, though it is utterly impossible to have an adequate idea of a point, or of an infinite line, we nevertheless employ both these ideas in a great variety of mathematical reasonings. There are also a great multitude of external phenomena which exceed, on both sides, the limits of our perceptive powers. Motion, for example, is often too tardy, and as often too rapid, for the cognizance of sensation. We can perceive neither the advancement of a dial-pointer, nor the circumvolution of a top;

VOL. IX.

[ocr errors]

and yet nothing would be more repugnant to our reason than the inference, that both were absolutely stationary. Instances of this sort might be indefinitely multiplied;—but enough has been said, we apprehend, to convince our readers, that the mere incapability to perceive an object, or an event, is not, of itself, a conclusive argument against the existence of that object or event.

After proving to his own satisfaction, that no connexion subsists between any two objects, Hume undertakes to explain our meaning when we make use of the phraseology in which the common belief on the subject is always expressed. According to his explanation, there is nothing further in the case' than an association of ideas,-insomuch that after the repeated conjunction of two objects, or events, the idea excited by the appearance of the one comes at last to be so indissolubly united to that which is produced by the appearance of the other, that the former never enters the understanding without bringing the latter along with it.* “When we say, therefore, that one object is connected with another, we mean only, that they have acquired a connexion in our thoughts, and give rise to this inference (of the effect from the cause,) by which they become proofs of each other other's existence.'t Again, he says a little farther on, ‘had not objects a regular conjunction with each other, we should never have entertained any notion of cause and effect; and this regular conjunction produces that inference, which is the only connexion that we can have any comprehension of.' Now we apprehend that the same reasoning which our sceptic employs against the belief of a connexion between objects, is equally cogent against the hypothesis of a connexion between ideas. Indeed we think it is more so;—for if we can have no comprehension of any thing like a visible or tangible connexion between things which are themselves both visible and tangible,--how much less can we have a

comprehension of such a connecting principle between things which are themselves neither visible nor tangible! We think those sorry philosophers whom the sifting humour' and · inquisitive disposition of Hume has been pushing from one corner into another,' have here a fair opportunity of turning upon their persecutor,—and of invoking him either to abandon his philosophy, or to exhibit the tie' of connexion which binds together any two associated ideas.

* The doctrine is every where inculcated in such expressions as the following:—We have already observed (Sec. V. Part II.) that nature has established connexions among particular ideas, and that no sooner one idea occurs to our thoughts, than it introduces its correlative,' &c.

| Hume's Essays, Vol. II. p. 87, of the London edition, duodecimo, 1765.

| Id. ibid. p. 107.

Noris this the only corner of absurdity into which they might * push? Mr. Hume. It follows as an obvious consequence of his principles, that all our casual and incongruous associations are so many instances of cause and effect,*-or, in the words of the doctrine itself, whenever any particular object or event excites an idea in the mind, which in its train introduces the idea of any other object or event, the first object or event is to be considered as the cause of the second. Nothing is a more common subject of remark, than the inexplicable capriciousness of association; and if the mere conjunction of two ideas is all the connexion we can comprehend between cause and effect, there is hardly any absurdity or contradiction which may not be proved to form a part of the regular course of nature. In. deed Hume himself has so logically adhered to his doctrine as to be betrayed into manifest absurdities. Thus in his argument against the existence of miracles, he speaks of the conjunction between an event and a report, as a legitimate example of cause and effect. As the evidence derived from human testimony (says he, p. 126) is founded on past experience, so it varies with the experience, and is regarded either as a proof or a probability, according as the conjunction between any particular kind of report and any kind of objects, has been found to be constant or variable.' Now though our philosopher seems here to be himself a little diffident of his own principles,-taking occasion to remark that this species of reasoning, perhaps, one may deny to be founded on the relation of cause and effect,' and subjoining that he shall not dispute about a word,'— we think a due regard to self-consistency must oblige him to acknowledge, that the conjunction abovementioned is precisely conformable

to his own definition of cause and effect. Yet what can appear more absurd than to place the report of an event among the legitimate and necessary effects of its existence!

There are other absurd conclusions involved in this account of cause and effect; but we cannot make room for their specification here;-and indeed the way to confute Hume, is not that of demonstrating his absurdity. He has all the advantage of his antagonist; for the more you push him into uncertainty, by adventuring beyond the limits of human understanding, the greater will be the triumph of his academical or sceptical philosophy. He is sure to sing Te Deum after every defeat; or, in his own words, he will be the first to join the laugh against himself' when you have driven him into some dangerous dilemma.' In fact the very essence of scepticism seems

* See Inquiry, Sec. III.; where Hume himself resolves association into the three principles of contiguity, causation, and resemblance.

to consist in drawing us over the boundaries of the human mind, and then taking occasion to deduce a sweeping conclusion of general ignorance;-in first alluring us beyond our depth, and then laughing at us because we are incapable of touching the bottom. Thus, because our faculties are inadequate to the conception of that peculiar principle which causes bodies to cohere with one another, or to gravitate towards the centre of the earth, our sceptic concludes with the reflection, that the most perfect philosophy of the natural kind only staves off our ignorance a little longer: as perhaps the most perfect philosophy of the moral or metaphysical kind serves only to discover larger portions of our ignorance.' And thus (continues he) the observation of human blindness and weakness is the result of all philosophy, and meets us, at every turn, in spite of our endeavours to elude it.' Similar reflections occur in every part of his Essays on Human Understanding. He asks, . what is the nature of all our reasonings concerning matter of fact!' And when it is answered, that they are founded on the relation of cause and effect, --he inquires again, 'what is the foundation of all our reasonings and conclusions concerning that relation?' • Experience,' is the answer:—but then, says he,' what is the foundation of all conclusions from experience. And when he has thus persecuted us till we have transgressed our intellectual limits, he tells with a knowing: air of triumph, that we had better make a merit of our ignorance' by frankly confessing it at once.

The truth is, that no science could stand the test of Hume's • sifting humour;' for all our reasonings must necessarily proceed froin some principles for which we can give no reason, otherwise they could have neither beginning nor end; and the attempt, therefore, to push our inquiries into the nature of those principles, is at once to break up the very foundations of human knowledge.* There is not a proposition in the whole field

* • There are in every science (says D'Alembert) certain principles, true or supposed, which we lay hold of by a species of instinct; to whicks we must abandon ourselves without resistance: otherwise it would be necessary to admit in our principles a progress ad infinitum,-which would be equally absurd as a progress ad infinitum in actual causes and existences, -and which would render every thing uncertain,-without some fixed point beyond which we cannot proceed.' Hume himself makes a similar remark. When his pushing system has brought him to a conclusion, that all our inferences from experience must be founded in habit; perhans (says he) we can push our inquiries no farther; but must rest contented with it as an ultimate principle.' The spirit of his philosophy should have carried him farther; and some votary of scepticism more • inquisitive than himself might drive him from this corner,' and follow him up, from dilemma to dilemma, in his own two-handed way,-punc dextrâ ingeminans ictus, nunc ille sinistra.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »