Chap. 12 Of conception,


What is implied by this term. It has no peculiar philoso-

phical import, distinct from what is expressed by the

terms, idea, thought, remembrance, imagination, &c. 544

The doctrine of Professor Stewart, that in conception and

imagination we have a momentary belief that their ob-

jects exist and are present to us, explained and refuted, 547

The doctrine asserted that even in tragic representations

the deception is never so complete as to lead us to the be-

lief that the scenes and events which are displayed are



Strictures upon the conduct of Mr. Hume in his last mo-

ments, as represented by his friend, Dr. Adam Smith, 560






Right Reverend Sir,

In venturing upon so important an undertaking, as the publication of a work upon the Science of the Human Mind, I know of no one to whose patronage and protection, I could more properly recommend it, than the friend of my youth, and the companion of my early studies. From you, no doubt, it will meet with as favourable a reception as it deserves, its faults which are many, being viewed with a partial eye, and its merits, if it has any, being justly estimated. In this volume, allow me to present to you, as the best offering I have to make, and the pledge of my unabated attachment, the first fruits of those intellectual toils, which we commenced together in college. Now, that we have arrived at full maturity of age, delightful is the recollection of those days, when we indulged ourselves without restraint, in the “ calm pursuits of mild philosophy,” under the direction of our venerable president Smith, whose name will be revered, while science, learning and eloquence, shall have votaries in our country; and enjoying the society of Gaston, Mercer, and our ever lamented Kollock, equally the ornaments of the bar, the pulpit, and the deliberative councils of the nation,

and whom, I am assured you join me in proudly recognising as our mutual friends. If to such judges as yourself, and those who are still living of the persons just mentioned, I shall be able to afford in the perusal of this performance, any share of that satisfaction and instruction, which I have derived from its execution, as well as from those preparatory investigations which led to it, my highest ambition will be gratified.

I certainly should not have had the presumption, to obtrude upon the public a work of such magnitude, and upon a topic so difficult and interesting, if I had not conceived, that I had something new, and not altogether unimportant to communicate. You are aware that in the College of Princeton, to which we were attached, after the fanciful theory of Bishop Berkeley, as a kind of philosophical daydream, had maintained its prevalence for a season; the principles of Reid, and the Scottish metaphysicians superseded it, and during the period of our residence in the seminary, acquired and maintained undisputed sway. At that time, I, together with all those graduates who took any interest in the subject, embraced without doubt or hesitation the doctrines of the Scottish school. Since, however, I came in possession of the station, which I at present occupy in the College of Philadelphia, my duty as well as inclination, led me to renew my inquiries into this branch of science. The farther I proceeded, the more interesting the subject became, and I determined, if possible, to compass the whole ground, by consulting every author who had written upon it, both in ancient and modern times. I had advanced but a short distance upon this extended plan, before I thought I perceived, that the Scottish metaphysicians had either inadvertently or wilfully, done their predecessors very great injus:ice, in their animadversions upon their writings, ascribed to them opinions which they never held, assumed to themselves the merit of broaching and promulging the very doctrines which

they taught, and, at the same time, had fallen into the grossest errors in that new system of pneumatology, which they claimed the credit of introducing. Dr. Reid, who is, undoubtedly, the best writer upon these topics that Scotland has produced, discovering at times, considerable clearness of understanding, and neatness and perspicuity of style, acknowledges, “ that he never thought of calling in question, the principles commonly received with regard to the human understanding, until the Treatise of Human Nature (Mr. Hume's, was published. The ingenious author of that treatise,” says he,“ upon the principles of Locke, who was no sceptic, has built a system of scepticism, which leaves no ground to believe any one thing, rather than its contrary. His reasoning appeared to me to be just; there was, therefore, a necessity to call in question the principles, upon which it was founded, or to admit the conclusion."*

How far the Dr. is correct in asserting, that Mr. Hume built his system of scepticism upon the principles of Mr. Locke, and that we must either call in question those principles, or admit his conclusion, it becomes my province to determine during the course of this inquiry. At present, I would barely crave leave to remark, that in my view of the subject, it was at this very point in which Dr. Reid commenced, that we find his capital mistake-that mistake which led to many of his subsequent errors and failures. He saw the absurd and preposterous conclusions of Mr. Hume, and that, with an air of confidence and self-complacency so peculiar to him, he professed to ground them upon the principles of Mr. Locke; but he did not take sufficient pains to ascertain, whether or not, those were the genuine doctrines of Locke. He evi. dently allowed the absurdities of Mr. Hume's system to infect his mind, with the taint of a fatal prejudice, against the doctrines of all preceding philosophers, who had written upon

* See Dedication to Reid upon the Mind.

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