« ForrigeFortsett »
fruits grow, and the most precious treasures are accumulated! It is somewhat singular that the Scottish metaphysicians alone, while they do, indeed, occasionally bestow a passing tribute of respect upon the great English metaphysician, which his extraordinary merit could not but extort from them, appear to be, for the most part, untouched with a sense of his pre-eminent claims to superiority, and not unfrequently indulge themselves in speaking in direct disparagement of his pretensions. They seem to have been actuated by a spirit not unlike that ascribed by lord Bacon to Aristotle, when he says of him, that like a Turkish sultan, in order to establish safely his own dominion in philosophy, he thought it necessary to destroy his competitors and rivals. Into what diminutive forms do Locke, Des Cartes, Mallebranche sink, in the writings of Reid, Beattie and Stewart! They had the happiness, indeed, to be the broachers of a new theory, and explore a territory before unknown, but that theory was false, and pregnant with ruin to science and common sense; and in that new territory, which they discovered, they only lost themselves in the mazes of error, while the soil was left uncultivated and encumbered with rubbish. Hear in what terms Dr. Reid, in the commencement of his metaphysical essays, speaks of the low and imperfect state in which he found the science of the human mind in his time, so long after the publication of Mr. Locke's book. “That our philosophy concerning the mind and its faculties is but in a very low state may be reasonably conjectured even by those who have never very narrowly examined it." He says, "this philosophy is yet in its dawn; that the lame and imperfect systems which have prevailed only open the way to future discoveries," descants upon those defects and blemishes in them, which have exposed them to the ridicule of sensible men," upon the unprosperous state of this part of philosophy, which hath produced an effect somewhat discouraging, but
an effect which might be expected, and which time only and better success can remedy, upon the theory prevalent about the human mind having led, like an ignis fatuus, into bogs and quagmires, having contradicted herself, befooled her votaries and deprived them of every object worthy to be pursued or enjoyed, and being herself worthy to be sent back to the infernal regions from which she must have had her original." This, the reader must recollect, is an account, not only of the intellectual fooleries and sceptical impieties of Mr. Hume, or even the metaphysical subtilties of Bishop Berkeley, in which we should be willing to indulge him in any freedom and severity of animadversion, but also of the sublime philosophy of Aristotle and of Locke. Who that has read and understood the works of the illustrious Englishman, does not feel indignant at such a representation! Should any one presume to speak in this style of the discoveries of Newton in natural science; what would be the sentence pronounced upon him by the philosophic world! We may rest assured that it is no less egregiously false, as it relates to Mr. Locke and the science of metaphysics. While Dr. Reid, however, speaks thus disparagingly of the labours of preceding philosophers, to save us from utter despair in this matter, he takes care to console us with holding out the prospect of more auspicious times, and scarcely leaves us in any doubt as to the quarter from whence light was to arise. "But," says he, "instead of despising the dawn of light, we ought rather to hope for its increase; instead of blaming the philosophers, I have mentioned, for the defects and blemishes of their system, we ought rather to honour their memories as the discoverers of a region in philosophy formerly unknown; and however lame and imperfect the system may be, they have opened the way to future discoveries which they did not reach, or the detection of errors in which they were entangled." Again he says-"These facts which are undeniable,
do, indeed, give reason to apprehend that Des Cartes' system of the human understanding, which I shall beg leave to call the ideal system, and which with some improvements made by later writers, is now generally received, hath some original defect; that scepticism is inlaid in it; and therefore, that we must lay it open to the foundation, and examine the materials, before we can expect to raise any solid and useful fabric of knowledge on this subject. But is this to be despaired of, because Des Cartes and his followers have failed? by no means-Useful discoveries are sometimes, indeed, the effect of superior genius, but more frequently they are the birth of time and of accidents." No language could surely be more intelligible than this. We are thus artfully prepared to expect some great discoveries. What Dr. Reid, however, thus covertly insinuates, we find professor Stewart openly and boldly proclaiming. He too, tells us, "of the little progress hitherto made in the science of the human mind, of the errors and absurdities maintained on this subject, a subject to which, till of late, it does not seem to have been suspected, that the general rules of philosophising, are applicable; and that the strange mixture of fact and hypothesis, which the greater part of metaphysical inquiries exhibit, had led almost universally to a belief, that it is only a very faint and doubtful light, which human reason can ever expect to throw on this dark but interesting field of speculation." Again he tells us-" When we reflect, in this manner, on the shortness of the period during which natural philosophy has been successfully cultivated, and at the same time consider how open to our examination the laws of matter are, in comparison of those which regulate the phenomena of thought, we shall neither be disposed to wonder, that the philosophy of mind should still remain in its infancy, nor be discouraged in our hopes concerning its future progress. The excellent models of this species of investigation,
which the writings of Dr. Reid exhibit, give us ground to expect that the time is not far distant, when it shall assume that rank which it is entitled to hold among the sciences." Here we see that Aristotle, Des Cartes, Mallebranche, Locke, are diminutive stars that twinkle for a moment and shed a dubious light, but expire as soon as Dr. Reid, the great luminary of moral science appears. Those illustrious men who lived a century ago in England, and who by the labours of their genius have reflected upon her immortal honour, were weak enough to think that their countryman Mr. Locke had raised metaphysicks to the dignity of a science, and more successfully than any other man that ever lived, had solved the phenomena of the human mind; but professor Stewart has discovered that this high honour was reserved for Dr. Reid. The professor also here mentions what he takes frequent opportunities to repeat, that Dr. Reid was the first who applied the method of inquiry proposed by lord Bacon to the science of the human mind. "Dr. Reid," he avows, "is the only metaphysician who has perceived it clearly, or at least who has kept it steadily in view in all his inquiries." Now, a more unfounded, and I trust, I shall be indulged in saying, when I shall have fully examined the subject, a more unjustifiable pretension was never made. The Treatise on Human Understanding, modest as is its title, besides being, as a production of genius, second only to the Principia of Newton, if it can justly be considered as second to any thing; is one of the finest specimens of inductive reasoning extant in any language. The precise purpose of Mr. Locke, and a purpose which he completely accomplished, was to apply the principles of lord Bacon to the science of mind, as Newton applied them to matter.
But to conclude my account of the arrogant pretensions of these men. "It is, however, much to be regretted," says professor Stewart, " that ever since the period when philo
sophers began to adopt a more rational plan of inquiry with respect to such subjects, they have been obliged to spend so much of their time in clearing away the rubbish, which had been collected by their predecessors. This, indeed, was a preliminary step which the state of the science, and the conclusions to which it had led, rendered absolutely necessary. The rubbish being now removed and the foundations laid, it is time to begin the superstructure. The progress which I have made in it, is, I am sensible very inconsiderable; yet I flatter myself that the little I have done will be sufficient to illustrate the importance of the study, and recommend the subjects of which I am to treat to the attention of others." Here we are very plainly told, that Dr. Reid having removed the rubbish collected in metaphysical science by Des Cartes, Mallebranche, Locke and others, some great architect or master-builder, (and we are not left at a loss to conjecture who that architect is to be, although, I suspect, the Dr. would controvert that claim with his disciple the professor,) is to erect the superstructure. These, it must be allowed are magnificent pretensions, and it shall be our province to test their validity. We have already seen what a quantity of rubbish has been removed by these master-builders from the subject of cause and effect; and I am inclined to think that their labours are likely to be found in other matters to terminate in a similar result. We do not hesitate to declare, that we entertain not the smallest doubt of our being able to show, to the entire satisfaction of the learned and philosophic world, that these pretensions are founded in mistake and an ignorance of the subject; that Mr. Locke ought still to be regarded as the brightest light of metaphysical science; that his doctrines, with some few exceptions that are inconsiderable, when rightly understood, never have been and never can be refuted; that not one sceptical objection has been removed by a theory different from his, that could not have