Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

than from sensation. However this may be, we cannot but remark that there is a very wide difference between the power which we exercise in thinking and acting, and that which is exercised by the objects of the external world that surround us. When we move our limbs or direct the attention of our minds to any subject, we are conscious that these are voluntary acts appertaining to a being that is possessed of understanding and discretion. When, on the other hand, the cloud rises in the air and is borne along by the wind, when the stream flows in its banks, or the vessel is wafted on its bosom, we are sensible that these things are effected by a very different process from that of which we had been conscious in our own actions. Thus we derive very distinct conceptions of voluntary and involuntary, or necessary agents. But the proof is as complete and satisfactory, that matter acts or exercises powers under the controul of necessary laws, as that mind acts or exercises its powers, under the influence of its own choice or determinations.

Why, then, to merge the second question in the first; why should we deny that efficient causes are to be traced in natural philosophy, and yet allow moral agents to be true efficients? Father Mallebranche consistently maintains, that God is the sole operating cause throughout the universe, as well in the moral as the physical world. This theory, however indefensible we may deem it, and clogged with insuperable difficulties, has at least the merit of being consistent with it. self in its various parts. If God be regarded as the sole operating cause of the appearances in the natural world, why not make him the sole operating cause of the thoughts and actions of men? No reason can be given for the one theory, which will not apply with equal force in the establishment of the other. But matter is not capable of exercising active power. Neither do we suppose that our minds possess power, which is underived or independent. But the Creator has endowed them with the privilege of originating motion. Why not, then,

L

since he has made mind capable of voluntary action, make matter capable of nec-ssary action? I have no more difficul. ty in conceiving that God should communicate to fire the power of reducing wood to charcoal, than that he should convey to a rational creature the power of voluntary action.

CHAPTER VI.

The Opinions of Professor Stewart. I shall conclude this statement of the opinions of different writers on the subject of cause and effect, with that of Dugald Stewart, professor of moral philosophy, in the University of Edinburgh. He treads so closely in the footsteps of Dr. Reid, that when we have exhibited the opinions of the one, we have, at the same time, as to all material points, given those of the other also. What the one, had obscurely intimated as his system, the other assumes and promulges as established doctrines, merely throwing into the whole compound some slight admixtures of his own.

In the first place, Professor Stewart agrees with Dr. Reid in asserting, that we cannot arrive at the truth, for every effect there must be an efficient cause, from intuition, reason or experience, but that it is to be traced only to an original and instinctive principle in the constitution of our nature.

Secondly, he agrees with Dr. Reid in maintaining, that no such thing as an efficient cause is to be ascertained in the material world, and that the province of natural philosophy is not to trace the series of causes and effects, but merely to note the constant conjunctions of objects, and the connection between the signs and the things signified by them; and moreover, as the pupil is always more daring than his master in hazarding and supporting extraordinary tenets, he actually recommends the exclusion of the terms from the pursuits of physical science.

With principles, thus accordant with those of Dr. Reid, and Mr. Hume also, in the last particular, he kneads a few peculiar sentiments of his own.

He allows, what Dr. Reid probably would have been reluctant to admit, that in espousing these opinions they advance half way with Mr. Hume on the road towards his sceptical conclusions, and there desert him. Finally, he asserts, that from premises similar to those of Mr. Hume, Father Mallebranche deduced the inference, that God is the sole operating cause throughout the universe. I shall animadvert upon each of these items in his doctrine in regular order.

In the first place, Professor Stewart agrees with Dr. Reid in asserting, that we cannot arrive at the truth, for every effect in nature there must be an adequate cause, by intuition, reason, or experience, but that it is to be traced only to an original and instinctive principle in the constitution of our nature. His opinion on this point is expressed in the following passages. “In stating the argument for the existence of the Deity, several modern philosophers have been at pains to illustrate that law of our nature, which leads us to refer every change in the universe to the operation of an efficient cause. This reference is not the result of reasoning, but necessarily accompanies the perception, so as to render it impossible for us to see the change, without feeling a conviction of the operation of some cause, by which it is produced.” Again. “ If this part of his system be admitted, and at the same time we admit the authority of that principle of the mind, which leads us to refer every change to the operation of an efficient cause, Mr. Hume's doctrine seems to be more favourable to theism than even the common notions upon this subject, as it keeps the Deity always in view, not only as the first, but as the constantly operating efficient cause in nature, and as the great connecting principle among all the various phenomena which we observe.Those who have taken the trouble to toil through the dark abyss of the Treatise of Human Nature, and at the same time have at heart the great interests of truth and mankind, will be somewhat startled to hear it seriously asserted, that there

is any process by which Mr. Hume's principles may be made to undergo such a thorough transformation, as to come out more favourable to theism than even the common notions upon this subject, and to keep the Deity always in view, not only as the first, but as the constantly operating cause in nature. If such a miracle as this can be performed, they are ready to exclaim, surely that ancient and inveterate war which has been waged, from time immemorial, between the great contending powers of atheism and theism, may now be brought to an amicable termination. Mr. Hume's principles reconcileable to those of theism! Placidis coeant immitia, serpentes avibus geminentur, tigribus agni. What pity is it, that old Democritus, Leucippus, Epicurus, Spinoza, Hobbes, and a long list of others of a similar stamp, had not been made acquainted with this wonderful secret? How completely might they have escaped that load of obloquy and odium, with which their memories have been burthened, and mankind, that long train of mischievous effects that have resulted from their writings? For, surely, if by any contrivance the doctrines of Mr, Hume can be brought to accord with the principles of theism, the same may be done for those of any other atheist that ever lived. A ranker and more poisonous weed of atheism never sprang from the teeming garden of Epicurus, than that which has been planted and brought to maturity, and distributed among mankind in various infusions, by the great modern sceptick of Scotland. And by what art and address is it, that this deleterious drug, is not only to be rendered innocuous but wholesome to the patient? Forsooth, by a slight decoction of that rare exotick, unknown to the walks and unrevealed to the curiosity of the scientifick inquirer, called an instinctive and original principle of our constitution, which, antecedently to reason and reflection, leads us to the prodigiously important conclusion, that for every change in nature there must be an adequate cause. The voice of this single instinct is to

« ForrigeFortsett »