Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

INTRODUCTION.

CHAPTER FIRST.

PRIMARY TRUTHS.

If this precau

§. 1. Importance of preliminary statements in mnental philosophy. It is often highly important, in the investigation of a department of science, to state, at the commencement of such investigation, what things are to be considered as preliminary and taken for granted, and what are not. tion had always been observed, which, where there is any room for mistake or misapprehension, seems so reasonable, many useless disputes would have been avoided, and the paths to knowledge, too often unnecessarily perplexed and prolonged, would have been rendered more direct and easy.

It is impossible to proceed with inquiries in the science of MENTAL PHILOSOPhy, as it will be found to be in almost every other, without a proper understanding of those fundamental truths, which are necessarily involved in what follows. And it will, accordingly, be the object of this chapter to endeavor to ascertain some of them.

g. 2. Nature of such preliminary statements.

Those preliminary principles, which may be found necessary to be admitted as the antecedents and conditions of all subsequent inquiries, will be called, for the sake of distinction and convenience, PRIMARY TRUTHS.-But what are these ? Or how do we know them ?

According to the view of this subject, taken by Buffier, who has expressly written upon it, and whose views are approved and adopted by Mr. Stewart, they are such, and such only, as can neither be proved, nor refuted by other propositions of greater perspicuity. And this seems to be not only a succinct, but a satisfactory account of them, since, if there were other propositions, into which they could be resolved, and by means of which they could be made clearer, then they could no longer be regarded as Primary, but those other clearer propositions would have that character.

But it may be asked again, are there any propositions of this kind ? Are there any so clear, that the great instrument of human reasoning cannot render them more perspicuous ? Can there not be a complete action of the human mind in all its parts without the laying down of any antecedent truths whatever, as auxiliaries in its efforts after knowledge?—The answer to such questions, however formidable they may at first appear, is by no means difficult. In the first place, every man, who investigates at all, often experiences doubts in his inquiries. He accordingly endeavors to render such doubtful views clearer by argument. He goes on from step to step, from one proposition to another ; but, unless he at last finds some truth utterly too clear to be rendered more so by reasoning, he must evidently proceed, adding deduction to deduction without end. His resting-place, accordingly, is in those truths, which are elementary, and which illuminate the understanding by their own light, and not by a light let in from any

other source. -Again, the nature of reasoning itself leads us to the same view. A process of reasoning is essentially the successive perception of relations; but there can be no feeling or perception of relation, where there is but one object of contemplation.-Something, therefore, must, from the nature of the case, be assumed, as the antecedent, the basis, or necessary condition of every such process.

§. 3. Of the name or designation given them. We propose to call those propositions, which are so elementary as to be susceptible neither of proof nor of refutation from other propositions of greater clearness, PRIMARY TRUTHS. Such propositions are termed, in the first place, TRUTHS, since they are forced upon us, as it were, by our very constitution. They exist as surely as the mind exists, where they have their birth-place; they as certainly and as strongly control the convictions of men, as the demonstrations of geometry ; and not of one man merely, or any particular set of men, but of all mankind; for the few, who pretend to reject them in

speculation, constantly retract and deny such rejection of them in their practice. And yet they are not the deductions of reasoning ; but rather the natural and unfailing concomitants of human nature.- -With sufficient reason also, are the propositions in question called PRIMARY ; because, as would seem to follow from the very definition of them, they are the propositions, into which all reasoning ultimately resolves itself, and are necessarily involved and implied in the various investigations, of which the mind is capable, whether they relate to the great subject before us, or to others. As has been intimated, there cannot possibly be a process of reasoning, without soine first principle or admitted truth from which to start.

§. 4. Primary truth of personal existence.

The PRIMARY TRUTH, which we are naturally led to consider first, is that of the reality of our personal existence. The proposition, that we exist, is a sort of corner stone to every thing else ; the foundation of our knowledge ; the place and basis, from which the edifice must rise. Without undertaking to prove this fundamental trath, we nevertheless fully recognize and admit it. In other words, it is a proposition, antecedent to reasoning, but which, notwithstanding, fully and perfectly secures our belief. If we reason on the subject of personal existence, there is necessarily implied an I, a personal self, by whom the process of reasoning is conducted ; and which renders all such reasoning nugatory. If we doubt, concerning our personal existence, there is the same implication ; since there can be no doubting, unless there is some one to doubt. And of course re can be no one to doubt where there is no personal existence. That we exist, therefore, is a truth of nature, and not of argumentation. Nothing, which comes within the reach of the human mind, is more clearly defined to its perception, more thoroughly controlling and operative, and more raised above cavils and scepticism, whether rational or irrational, than this.

§. 5. Occasions of the origin of the idea or belief of personal existence. It remains, however, a distinct subject of inquiry, Under what circumstances this elementary belief arises ?-And in answer to this inquiry, we may say with abundant confidence, if it be not the earliest, it is at least among the earliest notions, which the mind is capable of forming. A kind Providence has not conceded to a conviction, so essential to our whole mental history, a dilatory and late appearance. But that same Providence has given a place as well as a time, an occasion as well as a period of its formation ; and although it may be impossible for us ever to ascertain that occasion with certainty, we may at least conjecture.

We look, therefore, in our meditations on this topic, at man in the commencement of his existence. We see him suddenly called forth from a state where there was neither form nor knowledge nor power, endowed with such capabilities of thought and action, both internal and external, as his Creator saw fit to give. Thus brought into being, and thus fitted up for his destined sphere, we will suppose, that some external object is for the first time presented to the senses. The result of this is, that there is an impression made on the senses ; and then at once there is a change in the mind, a new thought, a new feeling. Although, as already suggested, there is room for different conjectures here, there is much reason to believe, that this is the true occasion of the origin of the belief in question. The first internal experience, the earliest thought or feeling is immediately followed by the notion of personal or self existence, as the subject of this new thought or feeling. And this idea or conviction of personal existence, which arises at this very early period, is continually suggested and confirmed in the course of the successive duties, enjoyments, and sufferings of life.

Such has commonly been supposed to be the origin of the belief in question. We may as well suppose it to come into being in connection with the first act of the mind, as with any subsequent act; although with less distinctness and strength, than afterwards. But whether this account of the origin of the conviction of our personal existence be the true one or not, we may still hold to the fact of the belief itself, as something beyond doubt. We may also regard it as necessarily resulting from our mental constitution, and as wholly inseparable from our being.

§. 6. Primary truth of personal identity. The second of those preliminary truths, which we term primary, is the proposition of our Personal Identity.-If the consideration of our personal existence naturally comes first in the order of time, that of the truth now before us is not secondary in point of importance. We cannot dispense with either, without unsettling the grounds of inquiry and belief, and barring the access to all knowledge whatever.

IDENTITY is synonymous with sameness, and is the name of a simple state of mind. Although, therefore, its meaning is as clear as that of other simple ideas, and every body is supposed to understand it, it is not susceptible of definition. The term is applied to various objects, and among others to men.-The word PERSONAL implies Self, and personal identity is, therefore, the identity of ourselves. But the term self is complex, embracing both mind and matter, and hence we are led to consider the distinct notions of mental and bodily identity.

1. MENTAL IDENTITY ;-By this phrase we express the continuance and oneness of the thinking principle merely. The soul of man is truly an unit. It is not like matter separable into parts. It may bring, from time to time, new susceptibilities into action ; but its essence is unchangeable. That, which constitutes it a thinking and sentient principle, in distinction from that, which is unthinking and insentient, never deserts it, never ceases to exist, never becomes other than what it originally was.

II. Bodily IDENTITY ;-.By these expressions we mean the sameness of the bodily shape and organization. This is the only meaning we can attach to them, since the materials, which compose our bodily systems, are constantly changing. The body is not an unit in the same sense the soul is. It was a saying of Seneca, that no man bathes twice in the same river; and still we call it the same, although the water within its banks is constantly passing away. And in like manner we ascribe identity to the human body, although it is subject to constant changes, meaning by the expressions, as just remarked, merely the sameness of shape and organization.

III. PERSONAL IDENTITY ;—This form of expression is more general than either of those, which have been mentioned. It has reference to both mind and matter, as we find them combined together in that complex existence, which we

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »