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want of common sense; two mental disorders for which logic provides no remedy.


Of Faith in Testimony.

THERE are in the world many men, whose declaration concerning any fact which they have seen, and of which they are competent judges, would engage my belief as effectually as the evidence of my own senses. A metaphysician may tell me, that this implicit confidence in testimony is unworthy of a philosopher and a logician, and that my faith ought to be more rational. It may be so; but I believe as before notwithstanding. And I find that all men have the same confidence in the testimony of certain persons; and that if a man should refuse to think as other men do in this matter, he would be called obstinate, whimsical, narrow-minded, and a fool. If, after the experience of so many ages, men are still disposed to believe the word of an honest man, and find no inconvenience in doing so, I must conclude that it is not only natural, but rational, expedient, and manly, to credit such testimony and though I were to peruse volumes of metaphysic written in proof of the fallability of testimony, I should still, like the rest of the world, believe credible testimony without fear of inconvenience. I know very well, that testimony is not admitted in proof of any doctrine in mathematics, because the evidence of that science is quite of a different kind. But is truth to be found in mathematics only is the geometrician the only person who exerts a rational belief? do we never find conviction arise in our minds, except when we contemplate

an intuitive axiom, or run over a mathematical demon stration? In natural philosophy, a science not inferior to pure mathematics in the certainty of its conclusions, testimony is admitted as a sufficient proof of many facts. To believe testimony, therefore, is agreeable to nature, to reason, and to sound philosophy.

When we believe the declaration of an honest man, in regard to facts of which he has had experience, we suppose, that by the view or perception of those facts, his senses have been affected in the same manner as ours would have been if we had been in his place. So that faith in testimony is in part resolvable into that conviction which is produced by the evidence of sense at least, if we did not believe our senses, we could not, without absurdity, believe testimony; if we have any tendency to doubt the evidence of sense, we must, in regard to testimony, be equally sceptical. Those philosophers, therefore, who would persuade us to reject the evidence of sense, among whom are to be reckoned all who deny the existence of matter, are not to be considered as mere theorists, whose speculations are of too abstract a nature to do any harm, but as men of the most dangerous principles. Not to mention the bad effects of such doctrine upon science in general*, I would only at present call upon the reader to attend to its influence upon our religious opinions and historical knowledge. Testimony is the grand external evidence of Christianity. All the miracles wrought by our Saviour, and particularly that great decisive miracle, his resurrection from the dead, were so many appeals to the senses of men, in proof of his divine mission: and whatever some unthinking cavillers may object, this we affirm to be not See below, part 2. chap. 2. sect. 2.

only the most proper, but the only proper kind of external evidence that can be employed, consistently with man's free agency and moral probation, for establishing a popular and universal religion among mankind. Now, if matter has no existence but in our mind, our senses are deceitful: and if so, St Thomas must have been deceived when he felt, and the rest of the apostles when they saw, the body of their Lord after his resurrection; and all the facts recorded in history, both sacred and civil, were no better than dreams or delusions, with which perhaps St Matthew, St John, and St Luke, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Cesar were affected, but which they had no more ground of believing to be real, than I have of believing, in consequence of my having dreamed it, that I was last night in Constantinople. Nay, if I admit BERKELEY's and HUME's theory, of the nonexistence of matter, I must believe, that what my senses declare to be true, is not only not truth, but directly contrary to it. For does not this philosophy teach, that what seems to human sense to exist, does not exist; and that what seems corporeal is incorporeal? and are not existence and non-existence, materiality and immateriality, contraries? Now, if men ought to believe the contrary of what their senses declare to be true, the evidence of all history, of all testimony, and indeed of all external perception, is no longer any evidence of the reality of the facts warranted by it; but becomes, on the contrary, a proof that those facts did never happen. If it be urged, as an objection to this reasoning, that BERKELEY was a Christian, notwithstanding his scepticism (or paradoxical belief) in other matters; I answer, that though he maintained the doctrine of the non-existence of


body, there is no evidence that he either believed or understood it: nay, there is positive evidence that he did neither; as I shall have occasion to shew afterwards*.

Again, when we believe a man's word, because we know him to be honest, or, in other words, have had experience of his veracity, all reasoning on such testimony is supported by the evidence of experience, and by our presumption of the continuance of the laws of nature the first evidence resolves itself into instinctive conviction, and the second is itself an instinctive presumption. The principles of common sense, therefore, are the foundation of all true reasoning concerning testimony of this kind.

It is said by Mr HUME, in his Essay on Miracles, that our belief of any fact from the report of eye-witnesses is derived from no other principle than experience; that is, from our observation of the veracity of human testimony, and of the usual conformity of facts to the report of witnesses. This doctrine is confuted with great elegance and precision, and with invincible force of argument, in Dr Campbell's Dissertation on Miracles. It is, indeed, like most of Mr HUME's capital doctrines, directly repugnant to matter of fact for our credulity is greatest when our experience is least; that is, when we are children: and generally grows less and less, in proportion as our experience becomes more and more extensive: the very contrary of which must happen, if Mr HUME's doctrine were true.

There is then in a man a propensity to believe testimony antecedent to that experience, which Mr

*See part 2. chap. 2. sect. 2. of this Essay.

HUME supposes, of the conformity of facts to the report of witnesses. But there is another sort of experience, which may perhaps have some influence in determining children to believe in testimony. Man is naturally disposed to speak as he thinks; and most men do so for the most egregious liars speak truth a hundred times * for once that they utter falsehood. It is unnatural for human creatures to falsify; and they never think of departing from the truth, except they have some end to answer by it. Accordingly children, while their native simplicity remains uncorrupted, while they have no vice to disguise, no punishment to fear, and no artificial scheme to promote, do, for the most part, if not always, speak as they think: and so generally is their veracity acknowledged, that it has passed into a proverb, That children and fools tell truth. Now I am not certain, but this their innate propensity to speak truth, may in part account for their readiness to believe what others speak. They do not suspect the veracity of others, because they are conscious and confident of their own. However, there is nothing absurd or unphilosophical in supposing, that they believe testimony by one law of their nature, and speak truth by another. I seek not therefore to resolve the former principle into the latter; I mention them for the sake only of observing, that whether they be allowed to be different principles, or different effects of the same principle, our general doctrine remains equally clear, namely, That all reasoning concerning the evidence of testimony does. finally terminate in the principles of common sense. This is true, as far as our faith in testimony is resolv

* See Dr Reid's Inquiry into the Human Mind, p. 474.

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