Page images

table of any one impression or character as of any other. In what respect then does the human soul resemble a piece of white paper? To this philosophical conundrum I confess I can give no serious answer. Even when the terms we use are not metaphorical, the natural abstruseness of the subject makes them appear somewhat mysterious; and we are apt to consider them as of more significancy than they really are, Had Mr HUME told the world in plain. termis, that virtue is a species of vice, darkness a sort of light, and existence a kind of non-existence, I know not what metaphysicians might have thought of the discovery; but sure I am, no reader of tolerable understanding would have paid him any compliments upon it. But when he says, that contrarie

Mr HUME had said, that the only principles of connection among ideas are three, to wit, resemblance, contiguity in time or place, and cause or effect: Inquiry concerning Human Understanding, sect. 3. It afterwards occurred to him, that contrary ideas have a tendency to introduce one another into the mind. But instead of adding contrariety to the list of connecting principles, which he ought to have done, and which would have been philosophical, he assumes the metaphysician, and endeavours to prove his enumeration right, by resolving contrariety, as a species, into resemblance and causation, as genera, "contrast or contrariety," says he, "is a connection among ideas, which may perhaps be considered as a mixture of "causation and resemblance. Where two objects are contrary, the 68 one destroys the other, . e. is the cause of its annihilation; and "the idea of the annihilation of an object implies the idea of its for



mer existence." Is it possible to make any sense of this? Darkness and light are contrary; the one destroys the other, or is the cause of its annihilation; and the idea of the annihilation of darkness implies the idea of its former existence. This is given as a proof, that darkness partly resembles light, and partly is the cause of fight. Indeed! But, O si sic omnia dixisset! This is a harmless absurdity.

[ocr errors]


is a mixture of causation and resemblance; and, still more, when he brings a formal proof of this most sage remark, he imposes on us by the solemnity of the expression; we conclude, that "more is meant, "than meets the ear;" and begin to fancy, not that the author is absurd or unintelligible, but that we have not sagacity enough to discover his meaning. It were tedious to reckon up one half of the improprieties and errors which have been introduced into the philosophy of human nature, by the indefinite application of the words, idea, impression, perception, sensation, &c. Nay, it is well known, that BERKELEY'S pretended proof of the non-existence of matter, at which common sense stood aghast for many years, has no better foundation, than the ambiguous use of a word. He who considers these things, will not be much disposed to over-value metaphysical truth, (as it is called) when it happens to contradict any of the natural sentiments of mankind.

In the laws of nature, when thoroughly understood, there appear no contradictions: It is only in the systems of philosophers that reason and common sense are at variance. No man of common sense ever did, or could believe, that the horse he saw coming towards him at full gallop, was an idea in his mind, and nothing else; no thief was ever such a fool as to plead in his own defence, that his crime was necessary and unavoidable, for that man is born to pick pockets as the sparks fly upward. When Reason invades the Rights of Common Sense, and presumes to arraign that authority by which she herself acts, nonsense and confusion must of necessity ensue; science will soon come to have neither head nor tail, beginning nor end; philosophy will grow contemptible;

and its adherents, far from being treated, as in former times, upon the footing of conjurors, will be thought by the vulgar, and by every man of sense, to be little better than downright fools.



UT now a difficulty occurs, which it is not perAhaps easy to solve. Granting what is said above to be true; that all legitimate reasoning, whether of certain or of probable evidence, does finally resolve itself into principles of common sense, which we must admit as certain, or as probable upon their own authority; that therefore common sense is the foundation and the standard of all just reasoning; and that the genuine sentiments of nature are never erroneous-yet, by what criterion shall we know a sentiment of nature from a prejudice of education, a dictate of common sense from the fallacy of an inveterate opinion? Must every principle be admitted as true, which we believe without being able to assign a reason? then where is our security against prejudice and implicit faith! Or must every principle that seems intuitively certain, or intuitively probable, be reasoned upon, that we may know whether it be really what it seems? then where our security against the abuse so much insisted on, of subjecting common sense to the test of reasoning!-At what point must reason stop in its investigations, and the dictates of common sense be admitted as decisive and final?

It is much to be regretted, that this matter has been so little attended to: for a full and satisfactory

discussion of it would do more real service to the philosophy of human nature, than all the systems of logic in the world; would at once exalt pneumatology to the dignity of science, by settling it on a firm and unchangeaba foundation; and would go a great way to banish sophistry from science, and rid the world of scepticism. This is indeed the grand desideratum in logic; of no less importance to the moral sciences, than the discovery of the longitude to navigation. That I shall fully solve this difficulty, I am not so vain, nor so ignorant, as to imagine. But I humbly hope I shall be able to throw some light on the subject, and contribute a little to facilitate the progress of those who may hereafter engage in the same pursuit. If I can accomplish even this, I shall do a service to truth, philosophy, and mankind: if I should be thought to fail, there is yet something meritorious in the attempt. To have set the example, may be of consequence.


I shall endeavour to conduct the reader to the conclusion I have come to on this subject, by the same steps that led me thither; a method which I will be more perspicuous, and more satisfying, than if I were first to lay down a theory, and then assign the reasons. By the way, I cannot help expressing a wish, that this method of investigation were less uncommon; and that philosophers would sometimes explain to us, not only their discoveries, but also the process of thought and experiment, whether accidental or intentional, by which they were led to them.

If the boundary of Reason and Common Sense had never been settled in any science, I would abandon my present scheme as altogether desperate. But

when I reflect, that in some of the sciences it has been long settled, with the utmost accuracy, and to universal satisfaction. I conceive better hopes; and flatter myself, that it may perhaps be possible to fix it even in the philosophy of the end. The sciences in which this boundary has been long settled and acknowledged, are, mathematics, and natural philosophy; and it is remarkable, that more truth has been discovered in those sciences than in any other. Now there is not a more effectual way of learning the rules of any art, than by attending to the practice of those who have performed in it most successfully: a maxim which, I suppose, is no less applicable to the art of investigating truth, than to the mechanical and the fine arts. Let us see, then, whether, by attending to the practice of mathematicians and natural philosophers, as contrasted with the practice of those who have treated of the human mind, we can make any discoveries preparatory to the solution of this difficulty.


Confirmation of this Theory from the practice of Mathematicians and Natural Philosophers.



THAT the distinction between Reason and Common Sense, as here explained, is acknowledged by mathematicians, we have already shewn*. They have been wise enough to trust to the dictates of common sense, and to take that for truth which they were under the necessity of believing, even tho' it was not in their power to prove it by argument. When a mathematician arrives, in the course of his reasoning,

* See part. 1. chap. 2. sect. 1.

« PreviousContinue »