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scope of the argument. In proportion as the language of science becomes more and more exact, the difficulty of this task will be gradually diminished; but let the improvement be carried to any conceivable extent, not one step will have been gained in accelerating that era, so sanguinely anticipated by Leibnitz and Condillac, when our reasonings in morals and politics shall resemble, in their mechanical regularity, and in their demonstrative certainty, the investigations of algebra. The improvements which language receives, in consequence of the progress of knowledge, consisting rather in a more precise distinction and classification of the various meanings of words, than in a reduction of these meanings in point of number, the task of mental induction and interpretation may be rendered more easy and unerring; but the necessity of this task can never be superseded, till every word which we employ shall be as fixed and invariable in its signification as an algebraical character, or as the name of a geometrical figure.
In the meantime, the intellectual superiority of one man above another, in all the different branches of moral and political philosophy, will be found to depend chiefly on the success with which he has cultivated these silent habits of inductive interpretation,-much more, in my opinion, than on his acquaintance with those rules which form the great objects of study to the professed logician. In proof of this, it is sufficient for me to remind my readers, that the whole theory of syllogism proceeds on the supposition that the same word is always to be employed precisely in the same sense, (for otherwise, the syllogism would be vitiated by consisting of more than three terms) and consequently, it takes for granted, in every rule wbich it furnishes for the guidance of our reasoning powers, that the nicest,
and by far the most difficult part of the logical process has been previously brought to a successful termination.
In treating of a different question, I have elsewhere remarked, that although many authors have spoken of the wonderful mechanism of speech, none has hitherto attended to the far more wonderful mechanism which it puts into action behind the scene. A similar observation will be found to apply to what is commonly called the Art of Reasoning. The scholastic precepts which profess to teach it, reach no deeper than the very surface of the subject: being, all of them, confined to that part of the intellectual process which is embodied in the form of verbal propositions. On the most favourable supposition which can be formed with respect to them, they are superfluous and nugatory; but, in many cases, it is to be apprehended, that they interfere with the right conduct of the understanding, by withdrawing the attention from the cultivation of that mental logic on which the soundness of our conclusions essentially depends, and in the study of which (although some general rules may be of use) every man must be, in a great measure, his own master. *
In the practical application of the foregoing conclusions, it cannot fail to occur, as a consideration equally obvious and important, that, in proportion as the objects of our reasoning are removed from the particular details with which our senses are conversant, the difficulty of these la
* Those who are interested in this discussion, will enter more completely into my views, if they take the trouble to combine what is here stated with some observations I have introduced in the first volume of this work. See p. 177, et seq. 3d edit.
tent inductive processes must be increased. This is the real source of that incapacity for general speculation, which Mr. Hume has so well described as a distinguishing characteristic of uncultivated minds.
66 General reasonings seem intricate, merely because they are general; nor is it easy for the bulk of mankind to distinguish, in a great number of particulars, that common circumstance in which they all agree, or to extract it, pure and unmixed, from the other superfluous circumstances. Every judgment or conclusion with them is particular. They cannot enlarge their views to those universal propositions which comprebend under them an infinite number of individuals, and include a whole science in a single theorem. Their eye is confounded with such an extensive prospect, and the conclusions deduced from it, even though clearly expressed, seem intricate and obscure."*
Difficult, however, and even impossible, as the task of general speculation is to the bulk of mankind, it is nevertheless true, that it is the path which leads the cautious and skilful reasoner to all his most certain, as well as most valuable conclusions in morals and in politics. If a theorist, indeed, should expect, that these conclusions are in every particular instance to be realized, he would totally misapprehend their nature and application; inasmuch as they are only to be brought to an experimental test, by viewing them on an extensive scale, and continuing our observations during a long period of time. “When a man deliberates (says Mr. Hume) concerning his conduct in any particular affair, and forms schemes in politics, trade, economy, or any business in life, he never ought to draw his arguments
Essay on Commerce.
too fine, or connect too long a chain of consequences together. Something is sure to happen that will disconcert his reasoning, and produce an event different from what he expected. But when we reason upon general subjects, one may justly affirm, that our speculations can scarcely ever be too fine, provided they be just; and that the difference between a common man and a man of genius is chiefly seen in the shallowness or depth of the principles on which they proceed.” The same author afterwards excellently observes, That general principles, however intricate they may seem, must always prevail, if they be just and sound, in the general course of things, though they may fail in particular cases; and that it is the chief business of philosophers to regard the general course of things.”_"I may add (continues Mr. Hume) that it is also the chief business of politicians, especially in the domestic government of the state, where the public good, which is, or ought to be, their object, depends on the concurrence of a multitude of causes; not as in foreign politics, on accidents and chances, and the caprices of a few persons.”*
To these profound reflections of Mr. Hume, it may be added (although the remark does not bear directly on our
* Essay on Commerce. This contrast between the domestic and the foreign policy of a state, occurs more than once in Mr. Hume's writings; (see in particular the first paragraphs of his Essay on the Rise of Arts and Sciences.) A similar observation had long before been made by Polybius. “There are two ways by which every kind of government is destroyed: either by some accident that happens from without; or some evil that arises within itself. What the first will be, it is not always easy to foresee; but the latter is certain and determinate.-Book VI. Ex. 3. (Hampton's Translation.)
present argument) that, in the systematical application of general and refined rules to their private concerns, men frequently err from calculating their measures upon a scale disproportionate to the ordinary duration of human life. This is one of the many mistakes into which projectors are apt to fall; and hence the ruin which so often cvertakes them, while sowing the seeds of a harvest which others are to reap. A few years more might have secured to themselves the prize which they had in view ; and changed the opinion of the world (which is always regulated by the accidental circumstances of failure or of success) from contempt of their folly, into admiration of their sagacity and perseverance.
It is observed by the Comte de Bussi, that “time remedies all mischances; and that men die unfortunate, only because they did not live long enough. Mareschal d'Estree, who died rich at a hundred, would have died a beggar, had he lived only to eighty.” The maxim, like most other apothegms, is stated in terms much too unqualified ; but it may furnish matter for many interesting reflections, to those who have surveyed with attention the characters which have passed before them on the stage of life; or who amuse themselves with marking the trifling and fortuitous circumstances by which the multitude are decided in pronouncing their verdicts of foresight or of improvidence.