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term man or person. It is equivalent to what is conveyed by the two phrases of mental identity and bodily identity. But it is evident we cannot easily separate the two, when speaking of men. And accordingly, when it is said, that any one is conscious of, knows, or has a certainty of his personal identity, it is meant to be asserted, that he is conscious of having formerly possessed the powers of an organized, animated, and rational being, and that he still possesses those powers.
He knows, that he is a human being now, and that he was a human being yesterday, or last week, or last year.–There is no mystery in this. It is so plain, no one is likely to misunderstand it, although we admit our inability to give a definition of identity.
§. 7. Reasons for regarding this a primary truth. If personal identity be a primary truth, it is antecedent to argument, and is independent of it.-What grounds are there, then, for regarding it as such ?
In the first place, the mere fact, that it is constantly implied in those conclusions, which we form in respect to the future from the past, and universally in our daily actions, is of itself a decisive reason for reckoning it among the original and essential intimations of the human intellect. On any other hypothesis we are quite unable to account for that practical recognition of it in the pursuits of men, which is at once so early, so evident, and so universal.
The farmer, for instance, who looks abroad on his cultivated fields, knows, that he is the same person, who, twenty years before, entered the forest with an axe on his shoulder, and felled the first tree. The aged soldier, who recounts at his fireside the battles of his youth, never once doubts, that he was himself the witness of those sanguinary scenes, which he delights to relate. It is altogether useless to attempt either to disprove or to confirm to them a proposition which they believe and know, not from the testimony of others or from reasoning, but from the interior and authoritative suggestion of their very nature ; and which, it is sufficiently evident, can never be eradicated from their belief and knowledge, until that nature is changed.
A SECOND circumstance in favour of regarding the notion of personal identity, as an admitted or primary truth, is, that men cannot prove it by argument if they would ; and if they do not take it for granted, must forever be without it. The propriety of this remark will appear on examination.—There evidently can be no argument, properly so called, unless there is a succession of distinct propositions. From such a succession of propositions, no conclusion can be drawn by any one, unless he is willing to trust to the evidence of memory. But memory involves a notion of the time past, and whoever admits, that he has the power of memory, in however sınall a degree, virtually admits, that he has existed the same at some former period, as at present.
The considerations which we have now particularly in view, and which are greatly worthy of attention in connection with the principle under examination, may with a little variation of terms be stated thus.
Remembrance, without the admission of our personal identity, is clearly an impossibility. But there can be no process of reasoning without memory. This is evident, because arguments are made up of propositions, which are successive to each other, not only in order, but in point of time. It follows then that there can be no argument whatever, or on any subject, without the admission of our identity, as a point, from which to start. What then will it avail to attempt to reason either for or against the views, which are here maintained, since in every argument which is employed, there is necessarily an admission of the very thing, which is the subject of inquiry.
§. 8. There are original and authoritative grounds of belief. Supposing men actually to exist, and to be conscious of the continuance and sameness of their existence, we are next to enter into the interior of their constitution, and to inquire after such elements of intelligence and action, as are to be found there. The next proposition, therefore, which is to be laid down as fundamental and as preliminary to all reasoning is, that there are in men CERTAIN ORIGINAL AND AUTHORITATIVE GROUNDS OF BELIEF.
Nothing is better known, than that there is a certain state of the mind, which is expressed by the term, BELIEF.
As we find all men acting in reference to it, it is not necessary to enter into any verbal explanation. Nor would it be possible by such explanation to increase the clearness of that notion, which every one is already supposed to entertain.Of this belief, we take it for granted, and hold it to be in the strictest sense true, that there are original and authoritative grounds or sources ; meaning by the term, original, that these grounds or sources are involved in the nature of the mind itself, and meaning by the term, authoritative, that this belief is not a mere matter of chance or choice, but naturally and necessarily results from our mental constitution, and is binding upon us.
Sometimes we can trace the state of the mind, which we term belief, to an affection of the senses, sometimes to consciousness, sometimes to memory, and at others to human testimony. In all these cases, however, the explanation, which we attempt to give, of the origin of belief, is limited to a statement of the circumstances, in which the belief arises. But the fact, that belief arises under these circumstances, is ultimate, is a primary law; and being such, it no more admits of explanation, than does the mere feeling itself.
Many writers have clearly seen, and defended the necessity of the assumption, which has now been made. Mr. Stewart among others has expressed the opinion, (Hist. DisSER. PT. I. §. II,) that there is involved, in every appeal to the intellectual powers in proof of their own credibility, the sophism of reasoning in a circle or petITIO PRINCIPII ; and expressly adds, that, unless this credibility be assumed as unquestionable, the further exercise of human reason is altogether nugatory. -Not less decisive is the language of Sir James Mackintosh on this subject, (Ethical Philosophy, Sect. vi. ) “ Universal skepticism involves a contradiction in terms. It is a belief, that there can be no belief. It is an attempt of the mind to act without its structure, and by other laws than those to which its nature has subjected its operations. To reason without assenting to the principles on which reasoning is founded, is not unlike an effort to feel without nerves, or to move without muscles. No man can be allowed to be an opponent in reasoning, who does not set out with admitting all the principles, without the admission of which it is impossible to reason. It is indeed a puerile, nay, in the eye of wisdom, a childish play, to attempt either to establish or to confute principles by argu
ment, which every step of that argument must presuppose. The only difference between the two cases is, that he who tries to prove them can do so only by first taking them for granted ; and that he who attempts to impugn them falls at the very first step into a contradiction, from which he never can rise."
g. 9. Primary truths having relation to the reasoning powers. Man may be sure of the fact of his existence and of its permanency ; he may be possessed of grounds of belief to a certain extent, such as have been mentioned ; and still we may suppose him incapable of reasoning. His knowledge would be greatly limited, it is true, without that noble faculty, but he would know something; his consciousness would teach hiin his own existence ; his senses convey to him intimations of external origin ; the testimony of others furnish various facts, that had come within their observation. But happily man is not limited to the scanty knowledge, which would come in by these sources alone ; he can compare and combine, as well as perceive and experience ; and by means of the propositions thus combined and compared together, is enabled to deduce conclusions.
But there is this worthy of notice, that the reasoning power, although it exists in man, and is a source of belief and a foundation of knowledge, is necessarily built upon principles, which are either known or assumed. - This is seen in the most coinmon and ordinary cases of the exercise of this susceptibility. And it will be found also on examination, that one assumption may be resolved into another, and again into another, until we arrive at certain ultimate truths, which are at the foundation of all reasoning whatever. It is important, therefore, to inquire, what general assumptions, having par
ticular reference to the reasoning power and absolutely es1 sential to its action, are to be made. And these will be found
to be two in number ; one having special relation to the past, and the other to the future.
§. 10. No beginning or change of existence without a cause. The one, which has a relation to the past, and is the foundation of all reasonings, having a reference to any period antecedent to the present moment, may be stated as follows:
that there is no beginning or change of existence without a cause.— This principle, like others which have been mentioned, we may well suppose to be universally admitted. When any new event takes place, men at once inquire the cause ; as if it could not possibly have happened without some effective or preparative antecedent.
And such being the general and unwavering reception of the principle before us, it would seem to follow clearly, that there are grounds for it in the human constitution. A reliance on any principle whatever, so firm and general as is here exhibited, is not likely to be accidental. And when we inquire what these grounds are, we shall not fail to come to the conclusion, that the proposition in question is supported by an original intimation or feeling, which is utterly inseparable from our mental nature, and which is made known to us by consciousness alone. Although the feeling of belief, which is implied in the proposition, that there is no beginning or change of existence without a cause, is an original one, directly resulting from our nature, still it is in our power to give some account of the circumstances, in which it arises.
§. 11. Occasions of the origin of the primary truth of effects and causes.
The mind embraces the elementary truth, which we are considering, at a very early period. Looking round upon nature, which we are led to do more or less from the commencement of our being, we find every thing in motion. Things, which had no existence, are raised into life ; and new forms are imparted to what existed before. The human mind, which is essentially active and curious, constantly contemplates the various phenomena, which come under its notice; observing not only the events and appearances themselves, but their order in point of time, their succession. And it is led in this way to form the belief, (not by deduction but from its own active nature,) that every new existence and every change of existence are preceded by something, without which they could not have happened.
Undoubtedly the belief, as in many other cases, is comparatively weak at first, but it rapidly acquires unalterable growth and strength; so much so that the mind applies it without hesitation to every act, to every event, and to every finite