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DUGALD STEWART - Thomas Reid, Selections from the Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense 
Selections from the Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense, edited, with an introduction by G.A. Johnston (Chicago: Open Court, 1915).
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OF THE OBJECT OF PHILOSOPHY, AND THE METHOD OF PROSECUTING PHILOSOPHICAL INQUIRIES
1. All the different kinds of philosophical inquiry, and all that practical knowledge which guides our conduct in life, presuppose such an established order in the succession of events, as enables us to form conjectures concerning the future, from the observation of the past.
2. In the phenomena of the material world, and in many of the phenomena of mind, more especially in those which depend on the instincts of the brutes, we expect, with the most perfect confidence, that in the same combinations of circumstances the same results will take place; and it is owing to this expectation (justified by the experience of all ages) that the instincts of the brutes, as well as the laws of matter, become a source of power to man. In both cases, the established order of nature affords abundant evidence that it was chiefly with a view to our accommodation and happiness that the arrangements of this world were made. The laws which regulate the course of human affairs, are investigated with much greater difficulty: but, even in this class of events, such a degree of order may frequently be traced, as furnishes general rules of great practical utility; and this order becomes the more apparent, in proportion as we generalize our observations.
3. Our knowledge of the laws of nature is entirely the result of observation and experiment; for there is no instance in which we perceive such a necessary connexion between two successive events, as might enable us to infer the one from the other by reasoning a priori. We find, from experience, that certain events are invariably conjoined, so that when we see the one, we expect the other; but our knowledge in such cases extends no farther than the fact.
4. To ascertain those established conjunctions of successive events, which constitute the order of the universe;—to record the phenomena which it exhibits to our observation, and to refer them to their general laws, is the great business of philosophy. Lord Bacon was the first person who was fully aware of the importance of this fundamental truth. The ancients considered philosophy as the science of causes; and hence were led to many speculations, to which the human faculties are altogether incompetent.
5. The ultimate object of philosophical inquiry is the same which every man of plain understanding proposes to himself, when he remarks the events which fall under his observation, with a view to the future regulation of his conduct. The more knowledge of this kind we acquire, the better can we accommodate our plans to the established order of things, and avail ourselves of natural Powers and Agents for accomplishing our purposes.
6. The knowledge of the Philosopher differs from that sagacity which directs uneducated men in the business of life, not in kind, but in degree, and in the manner in which it is acquired. 1st, By artificial combinations of circumstances, or, in other words, by experiments, he discovers many natural conjunctions which would not have occurred spontaneously to his observation. 2dly, By investigating the general Laws of Nature, and by reasoning from them synthetically, he can often trace an established order, where a mere observer of facts would perceive nothing but irregularity. This last process of the mind is more peculiarly dignified with the name of Philosophy; and the object of the rules of philosophizing is to explain in what manner it ought to be conducted.
7. The knowledge which is acquired of the course of Nature by mere observation, is extremely limited, and extends only to cases in which the uniformity of the observed phenomena is apparent to our senses. This happens, either when one single law of nature operates separately, or when different laws are always combined together in the same manner. In most instances, however, when different laws are combined, the result varies in every particular case, according to the different circumstances of the combination; and it is only by knowing what the laws are which are concerned in any expected phenomenon, and by considering in what manner they modify each other’s effects, that the result can be predicted.
8. Hence it follows, that the first step in the study of Philosophy is to ascertain the simple and general laws on which the complicated phenomena of the universe depend. Having obtained these laws, we may proceed safely to reason concerning the effect resulting from any given combination of them. In the former instance, we are said to carry on our inquiries in the way of Analysis; in the latter in that of Synthesis.—[Scala Ascensoria et Descensoria.—Bacon.]
9. To this method of philosophizing, (which is commonly distinguished by the title of the Method of Induction), we are indebted for the rapid progress which physical knowledge has made since the time of Lord Bacon. The publication of his writings fixes one of the most important eras in the history of science. Not that the reformation which has since taken place in the plan of philosophical inquiry is to be ascribed entirely to him; for although he did more to forward it than any other individual, yet his genius and writings seem to have been powerfully influenced by the circumstances and character of the age in which he lived; and there can be little doubt that he only accelerated an event which was already prepared by many concurrent causes.1
OF THE ASSOCIATION OF IDEAS
The effect of custom in connecting together different thoughts, in such a manner that the one seems spontaneously to follow the other, is one of the most obvious facts with respect to the operations of the mind. To this law of our constitution, modern philosophers have given the name of the Association of Ideas. Of late, the phrase has been used in a more extensive sense, to denote the tendency which our thoughts have to succeed each other in a regular train; whether the connexion between them be established by custom, or arise from some other associating principle.
What the different circumstances are which regulate the succession of our thoughts, it is not possible, perhaps, to enumerate completely. The following are some of the most remarkable: Resemblance, Analogy, Contrariety, Vicinity in Place, Vicinity in Time, Relation of Cause and Effect, Relation of Means and End, Relation of Premises and Conclusion. Whether some of these may not be resolvable into others, is not very material to inquire. The most powerful of all the associating principles is undoubtedly Custom; and it is that which leads to the most important inquiries of a practical nature.
Among the associating principles already enumerated, there is an important distinction. The relations on which some of them are founded are obvious; and connect our thoughts together, when the attention is not directed particularly to any subject. Other relations are discovered only in consequence of efforts of meditation or study. Of the former kind are the relations of Resemblance and Analogy, of Contrariety, of Vicinity in Time and Place; of the latter, the Relations of Cause and Effect, of Means and End, of Premises and Conclusion. It is owing to this distinction that transitions, which would be highly offensive in philosophical writing, are the most pleasing of any in poetry.
In so far as the train of our thoughts is regulated by the laws of Association, it depends on causes of the nature of which we are ignorant, and over which we have no direct or immediate control. At the same time it is evident, that the will has some influence over this part of our constitution. To ascertain the extent and the limits of this influence, is a problem of equal curiosity and importance.
We have not a power of summoning up any particular thought, till that thought first solicit our notice. Among a crowd, however, which present themselves, we can choose and reject. We can detail a particular thought, and thus check the train that would otherwise have taken place.
The indirect influence of the will over the train of our thoughts is very extensive. It is exerted chiefly in two ways:—1. By an effort of attention, we can check the spontaneous course of our ideas, and give efficacy to those associating principles which prevail in a studious and collected mind. 2. By practice, we can strengthen a particular associating principle to so great a degree, as to acquire a command over a particular class of our ideas.
The effect of habit, in subjecting to the will those intellectual processes, which are the foundation of wit,—of the mechanical part of poetry, (or, in other words, of the powers of versification and rhyming),—of poetical fancy,—of invention in the arts and sciences; and, above all, its effect in forming a talent for extempore elocution, furnish striking illustrations of this last remark.
Of all the different parts of our constitution, there is none more interesting to the student of Moral Philosophy than the laws which regulate the Association of Ideas. From the intimate and almost indissoluble combinations which we are thus led to form in infancy and in early youth, may be traced many of our speculative errors; many of our most powerful principles of action; many perversions of our moral judgment; and many of those prejudices which mislead us in the conduct of life. By means of a judicious education, this susceptibility of the infant mind might be rendered subservient not only to moral improvement, but to the enlargement and multiplication of our capacities of enjoyment.1
OF THE POWER WHICH THE MIND HAS OVER THE TRAIN OF ITS THOUGHTS
By means of the Association of Ideas, a constant current of thoughts, if I may use the expression, is made to pass through the mind while we are awake. Sometimes the current is interrupted, and the thoughts diverted into a new channel, in consequence of the ideas suggested by other men, or of the objects of perception with which we are surrounded. So completely, however, is the mind in this particular subjected to physical laws, that it has been justly observed,2 we cannot by an effort of our will call up any one thought, and that the train of our ideas depends on causes which operate in a manner inexplicable by us.
This observation, although it has been censured as paradoxical, is almost self-evident; for, to call up a particular thought supposes it to be already in the mind. As I shall have frequent occasion, however, to refer to the observation afterwards, I shall endeavour to obviate the only objection which I think can reasonably be urged against it, and which is founded on that operation of the mind which is commonly called recollection or intentional memory.
It is evident, that before we attempt to recollect the particular circumstances of any event, that event in general must have been an object of our attention. We remember the outlines of the story, but cannot at first give a complete account of it. If we wish to recall these circumstances, there are only two ways in which we can proceed. We must either form different suppositions, and then consider which of these tallies best with the other circumstances of the event; or, by revolving in our mind the circumstances we remember, we must endeavour to excite the recollection of the other circumstances associated with them. The first of these processes is, properly speaking, an inference of reason, and plainly furnishes no exception to the doctrine already delivered. We have an instance of the other mode of recollection, when we are at a loss for the beginning of a sentence in reciting a composition that we do not perfectly remember, in which case we naturally repeat over, two or three times, the concluding words of the preceding sentence, in order to call up the other words which used to be connected with them in the memory. In this instance, it is evident that the circumstances we desire to remember are not recalled to the mind in immediate consequence of an exertion of volition, but are suggested by some other circumstances with which they are connected, independently of our will, by the laws of our constitution.
Notwithstanding, however, the immediate dependence of the train of our thoughts on the laws of association, it must not be imagined that the will possesses no influence over it. This influence, indeed, is not exercised directly and immediately, as we are apt to suppose on a superficial view of the subject; but it is, nevertheless, very extensive in its effects, and the different degrees in which it is possessed by different individuals, constitute some of the most striking inequalities among men, in point of intellectual capacity.
Of the powers which the mind possesses over the train of its thoughts, the most obvious is its power of singling out any one of them at pleasure, of detaining it, and of making it a particular object of attention. By doing so, we not only stop the succession that would otherwise take place, but in consequence of our bringing to view the less obvious relations among our ideas, we frequently divert the current of our thoughts into a new channel. If, for example, when I am indolent and inactive, the name of Sir Isaac Newton accidentally occur to me, it will perhaps suggest one after another the names of some other eminent mathematicians and astronomers, or of some of his illustrious contemporaries and friends, and a number of them may pass in review before me, without engaging my curiosity in any considerable degree. In a different state of mind, the name of Newton will lead my thoughts to the principal incidents of his life, and the more striking features of his character; or, if my mind be ardent and vigorous, will lead my attention to the sublime discoveries he made, and gradually engage me in some philosophical investigation. To every object, there are others which bear obvious and striking relations; and others, also, whose relation to it does not readily occur to us, unless we dwell upon it for some time, and place it before us in different points of view.
But the principal power we possess over the train of our ideas, is founded on the influence which our habits of thinking have on the laws of Association; an influence which is so great, that we may often form a pretty shrewd judgment concerning a man’s prevailing turn of thought, from the transitions he makes in conversation or in writing. It is well known, too, that by means of habit, a particular associating principle may be strengthened to such a degree, as to give us a command of all the different ideas in our mind which have a certain relation to each other, so that when any one of the class occurs to us, we have almost a certainty that it will suggest the rest. What confidence in his own powers must a speaker possess, when he rises without premeditation in a popular assembly, to amuse his audience with a lively or a humorous speech! Such a confidence, it is evident, can only arise from a long experience of the strength of particular associating principles.
To how great a degree this part of our constitution may be influenced by habit, appears from facts which are familiar to every one. A man who has an ambition to become a punster, seldom or never fails in the attainment of his object; that is, he seldom or never fails in acquiring a power which other men have not, of summoning up on a particular occasion a number of words different from each other in meaning, and resembling each other more or less in sound. I am inclined to think that even genuine wit is a habit acquired in a similar way; and that, although some individuals may from natural constitution be more fitted than others to acquire this habit, it is founded in every case on a peculiarly strong association among certain classes of our ideas, which gives the person who possesses it a command over those ideas which is denied to ordinary men. But there is no instance in which the effect of habits of association is more remarkable than in those men who possess a facility of rhyming. That a man should be able to express his thoughts perspicuously and elegantly, under the restraints which rhyme imposes, would appear to be incredible if we did not know it to be fact. Such a power implies a wonderful command both of ideas and of expression, and yet daily experience shews that it may be gained with very little practice. Pope tells us with respect to himself, that he could express himself not only more concisely but more easily in rhyme than in prose.
Nor is it only in these trifling accomplishments that we may trace the influence of habits of association. In every instance of invention, either in the fine arts, in the mechanical arts, or in the sciences, there is some new idea, or some new combination of ideas, brought to light by the inventor. This, undoubtedly, may often happen in a way which he is unable to explain; that is, his invention may be suggested to him by some lucky thought, the origin of which he is unable to trace. But when a man possesses a habitual fertility of invention in any particular art or science, and can rely, with confidence, on his inventive powers, whenever he is called upon to exert them, he must have acquired, by previous habits of study, a command over certain classes of his ideas, which enables him at pleasure to bring them under his review.1
OF THE INFLUENCE OF ASSOCIATION ON OUR ACTIVE PRINCIPLES, AND ON OUR MORAL JUDGMENTS
In order to illustrate a little farther the influence of the Association of Ideas on the human mind, I shall add a few remarks on some of its effects on our active and moral principles. In stating these remarks, I shall endeavour to avoid, as much as possible, every occasion of controversy, by confining myself to such general views of the subject, as do not presuppose any particular enumeration of our original principles of action, or any particular system concerning the nature of the moral faculty. If my health and leisure enable me to carry my plans into execution, I propose, in the sequel of this work, to resume these inquiries, and to examine the various opinions to which they have given rise.
The manner in which the association of ideas operates in producing new principles of action, has been explained very distinctly by different writers. Whatever conduces to the gratification of any natural appetite, or of any natural desire, is itself desired on account of the end to which it is subservient; and by being thus habitually associated in our apprehension with agreeable objects, it frequently comes, in process of time, to be regarded as valuable in itself, independently of its utility. It is thus that wealth becomes, with many, an ultimate object of pursuit; although, at first, it is undoubtedly valued merely on account of its subserviency to the attainment of other objects. In like manner, men are led to desire dress, equipage, retinue, furniture, on account of the estimation in which they are supposed to be held by the public. Such desires are called by Dr Hutcheson1secondary desires, and their origin is explained by him in the way which I have mentioned. “Since we are capable,” says he, “of reflection, memory, observation, and reasoning, about the distant tendencies of objects and actions, and not confined to things present, there must arise, in consequence of our original desires, secondary desires of everything imagined useful to gratify any of the primary desires; and that with strength proportioned to the several original desires, and imagined usefulness or necessity of the advantageous object.” “Thus,” he continues, “as soon as we come to apprehend the use of wealth or power to gratify any of our original desires, we must also desire them; and hence arises the universality of these desires of wealth and power, since they are the means of gratifying all other desires.” The only thing that appears to me exceptionable in the foregoing passage is, that the author classes the desire of power with that of wealth; whereas I apprehend it to be clear (for reasons which I shall state in another part of this work) that the former is a primary desire, and the latter a secondary one.
Our moral judgments, too, may be modified, and even perverted to a certain degree, in consequence of the operation of the same principle. In the same manner in which a person who is regarded as a model of taste may introduce, by his example, an absurd or fantastical dress; so a man of splendid virtues may attract some esteem also to his imperfections; and, if placed in a conspicuous situation, may render his vices and follies objects of general imitation among the multitude.
“In the reign of Charles II.,” says Mr Smith,1 “a degree of licentiousness was deemed the characteristic of a liberal education. It was connected, according to the notions of those times, with generosity, sincerity, magnanimity, loyalty; and proved that the person who acted in this manner was a gentleman, and not a puritan. Severity of manners and regularity of conduct, on the other hand, were altogether unfashionable, and were connected, in the imagination of that age, with cant, cunning, hypocrisy, and low manners. To superficial minds, the vices of the great seem at all times agreeable. They connect them not only with the splendour of fortune, but with many superior virtues which they ascribe to their superiors; with the spirit of freedom and independency; with frankness, generosity, humanity, and politeness. The virtues of the inferior ranks of people, on the contrary,—their parsimonious frugality, their painful industry, and rigid adherence to rules, seem to them mean and disagreeable. They connect them both with the meanness of the station to which these qualities commonly belong, and with many great vices which they suppose usually accompany them, such as an abject, cowardly, ill-natured, lying, pilfering disposition.”
The theory which, in the foregoing passages from Hutcheson and Smith, is employed so justly and philosophically to explain the origin of our secondary desires, and to account for some perversions of our moral judgments, has been thought sufficient, by some later writers, to account for the origin of all our active principles without exception. The first of these attempts to extend so very far the application of the doctrine of Association, was made by the Rev. Mr Gay, in a Dissertation concerning the Fundamental Principle of Virtue, which is prefixed by Dr Law to his translation of Archbishop King’s Essay on the Origin of Evil. In this dissertation, the author endeavours to shew, “that our approbation of morality, and all affections whatsoever, are finally resolvable into reason, pointing out private happiness, and are conversant only about things apprehended to be means tending to this end; and that wherever this end is not perceived, they are to be accounted for from the association of ideas, and may properly be called habits.” The same principles have been since pushed to a much greater length by Dr Hartley, whose system (as he himself informs us) took rise from his accidentally hearing it mentioned as an opinion of Mr Gay, “that the association of ideas was sufficient to account for all our intellectual pleasures and pains.”1
It must, I think, in justice be acknowledged, that this theory concerning the origin of our affections, and of the moral sense, is a most ingenious refinement upon the selfish system, as it was formerly taught; and that, by means of it, the force of many of the common reasonings against that system is eluded. Among these reasonings, particular stress has always been laid on the instantaneousness with which our affections operate, and the moral sense approves or condemns; and on our total want of consciousness, in such cases, of any reference to our own happiness. The modern advocates for the selfish system admit the fact to be as it is stated by their opponents, and grant that, after the moral sense and our various affections are formed, their exercise, in particular cases, may become completely disinterested; but still they contend, that it is upon a regard to our own happiness that all these principles are originally grafted. The analogy of avarice will serve to illustrate the scope of this theory. It cannot be doubted that this principle of action is artificial. It is on account of the enjoyments which it enables us to purchase that money is originally desired; and yet, in process of time, by means of the agreeable impressions which are associated with it, it comes to be desired for its own sake, and even continues to be an object of our pursuit, long after we have lost all relish for those enjoyments which it enables us to command.
Without meaning to engage in any controversy on the subject, I shall content myself with observing in general, that there must be some limit beyond which the theory of association cannot possibly be carried; for the explanation which it gives of the formation of new principles of action, proceeds on the supposition that there are other principles previously existing in the mind. The great question then is, when are we arrived at this limit; or, in other words, when are we arrived at the simple and original laws of our constitution?
In conducting this inquiry philosophers have been apt to go into extremes. Lord Kames and some other authors have been censured, and perhaps justly, for a disposition to multiply original principles to an unnecessary degree. It may be questioned whether Dr Hartley and his followers have not sometimes been misled by too eager a desire of abridging their number.
Of these two errors the former is the least common and the least dangerous. It is the least common, because it is not so flattering as the other to the vanity of a theorist; and it is the least dangerous, because it has no tendency, like the other, to give rise to a suppression or to a misrepresentation of facts, or to retard the progress of the science by bestowing upon it an appearance of systematical perfection, to which in its present state it is not entitled.
Abstracting, however, from these inconveniences which must always result from a precipitate reference of phenomena to general principles, it does not seem to me that the theory in question has any tendency to weaken the foundation of morals. It has, indeed, some tendency, in common with the philosophy of Hobbes and of Mandeville, to degrade the dignity of human nature, but it leads to no sceptical conclusions concerning the rule of life. For, although we were to grant that all our principles of action are acquired, so striking a difference among them must still be admitted, as is sufficient to distinguish clearly those universal laws which were intended to regulate human conduct, from the local habits which are formed by education and fashion. It must still be admitted that while some active principles are confined to particular individuals, or to particular tribes of men, there are others which, arising from circumstances in which all the situations of mankind must agree, are common to the whole species. Such active principles as fall under this last description, at whatever period of life they may appear, are to be regarded as a part of human nature no less than the instinct of suction; in the same manner as the acquired perception of distance by the eye, is to be ranked among the perceptive powers of man, no less than the original perceptions of any of our other senses.1
OF CERTAIN LAWS OF BELIEF, INSEPARABLY CONNECTED WITH THE EXERCISE OF CONSCIOUSNESS, MEMORY, PERCEPTION, AND REASONING
1. It is by the immediate evidence of consciousness that we are assured of the present existence of our various sensations, whether pleasant or painful; of all our affections, passions, hopes, fears, desires, and volitions. It is thus, too, we are assured of the present existence of those thoughts which, during our waking hours, are continually passing through the mind, and of all the different effects which they produce in furnishing employment to our intellectual faculties.
According to the common doctrine of our best philosophers, it is by the evidence of consciousness we are assured that we ourselves exist. The proposition, however, when thus stated, is not accurately true; for our own existence (as I have elsewhere observed) is not a direct or immediate object of consciousness, in the strict and logical meaning of that term. We are conscious of sensation, thought, desire, volition; but we are not conscious of the existence of Mind itself; nor would it be possible for us to arrive at the knowledge of it, (supposing us to be created in the full possession of all the intellectual capacities which belong to human nature), if no impression were ever to be made on our external senses. The moment that, in consequence of such an impression, a sensation is excited, we learn two facts at once,—the existence of the sensation, and our own existence as sentient beings;—in other words, the very first exercise of consciousness necessarily implies a belief, not only of the present existence of what is felt, but of the present existence of that which feels and thinks: or (to employ plainer language) the present existence of that being which I denote by the words I and myself. Of these facts, however, it is the former alone of which we can properly be said to be conscious, agreeably to the rigorous interpretation of the expression. A conviction of the latter, although it seems to be so inseparable from the exercise of consciousness that it can scarcely be considered as posterior to it in the order of time, is yet (if I may be allowed to make use of a scholastic distinction) posterior to it in the order of nature; not only as it supposes consciousness to be already awakened by some sensation, or some other mental affection; but as it is evidently rather a judgment accompanying the exercise of that power, than one of its immediate intimations concerning its appropriate class of internal phenomena. It appears to me, therefore, more correct to call the belief of our own existence a concomitant or accessory of the exercise of consciousness, than to say, that our existence is a fact falling under the immediate cognizance of consciousness, like the existence of the various agreeable or painful sensations which external objects excite in our minds.
2. That we cannot, without a very blameable latitude in the use of words, be said to be conscious of our personal identity, is a proposition still more indisputable; inasmuch as the very idea of personal identity involves the idea of time, and consequently presupposes the exercise not only of consciousness, but of memory. The belief connected with this idea is implied in every thought and every action of the mind, and may be justly regarded as one of the simplest and most essential elements of the understanding. Indeed, it is impossible to conceive either an intellectual or an active being to exist without it. It is, however, extremely worthy of remark, with respect to this belief that, universal as it is among our species, nobody but a metaphysician ever thinks of expressing it in words, or of reducing into the shape of a proposition the truth to which it relates. To the rest of mankind, it forms not an object of knowledge; but a condition or supposition, necessarily and unconsciously involved in the exercise of all their faculties. On a part of our constitution, which is obviously one of the last or primordial elements at which it is possible to arrive in analyzing our intellectual operations, it is plainly unphilosophical to suppose that any new light can be thrown by metaphysical discussion. All that can be done with propriety, in such cases, is to state the fact.
And here, I cannot help taking notice of the absurd and inconsistent attempts which some ingenious men have made, to explain the gradual process by which they suppose the mind to be led to the knowledge of its own existence, and of that continued identity which our constitution leads us to ascribe to it. How (it has been asked) does a child come to form the very abstract and metaphysical idea expressed by the pronoun I or moi? In answer to this question, I have only to observe, that when we set about the explanation of a phenomenon, we must proceed on the supposition that it is possible to resolve it into some more general law or laws with which we are already acquainted. But, in the case before us, how can this be expected, by those who consider that all our knowledge of mind is derived from the exercise of reflection; and that every act of this power implies a conviction of our own existence as reflecting and intelligent beings? Every theory, therefore, which pretends to account for this conviction, must necessarily involve that sort of paralogism which logicians call a petitio principii; inasmuch as it must resolve the thing to be explained into some law or laws, the evidence of which rests ultimately on the assumption in question. From this assumption, which is necessarily implied in the joint exercise of consciousness and memory, the philosophy of the human mind, if we mean to study it analytically, must of necessity set out; and the very attempt to dig deeper for its foundation, betrays a total ignorance of the logical rules, according to which alone it can ever be prosecuted with any hopes of success.
It was, I believe, first marked by M. Prévost of Geneva, (and the remark, obvious as it may appear, reflects much honour on his acuteness and sagacity), that the inquiries concerning the mind, founded on the hypothesis of the animated statue—inquiries which both Bonnet and Condillac professed to carry on analytically—were in truth altogether synthetical. To this criticism it may be added, that their inquiries, in so far as they had for their object to explain the origin of our belief of our own existence, and of our personal identity, assumed, as the principles of their synthesis, facts at once less certain and less familiar than the problem which they were employed to resolve.
Nor is it to the metaphysician only that the ideas of identity and of personality are familiar. Where is the individual who has not experienced their powerful influence over his imagination, while he was employed in reflecting on the train of events which have filled up the past history of his life; and on that internal world, the phenomena of which have been exposed to his own inspection alone? On such an occasion, even the wonders of external nature seem comparatively insignificant; and one is tempted, (with a celebrated French writer), in contemplating the spectacle of the universe, to adopt the words of the Doge of Genoa, when he visited Versailles—“Ce qui m’étonne le plus ici, c’est de m’y voir.”1
3. The belief which all men entertain of the existence of the material world, (I mean their belief of its existence independently of that of percipient beings,) and their expectation of the continued uniformity of the laws of nature, belong to the same class of ultimate or elemental laws of thought, with those which have been just mentioned. The truths which form their objects are of an order so radically different from what are commonly called truths, in the popular acceptation of that word, that it might perhaps be useful for logicians to distinguish them by some appropriate appellation, such, for example, as that of metaphysical or transcendental truths. They are not principles or data (as will afterwards appear) from which any consequence can be deduced; but form a part of those original stamina of human reason, which are equally essential to all the pursuits of science, and to all the active concerns of life.
4. I shall only take notice farther, under this head, of the confidence which we must necessarily repose in the evidence of memory, (and, I may add, in the continuance of our personal identity,) when we are employed in carrying on any process of deduction or argumentation,—in following out, for instance, the steps of a long mathematical demonstration. In yielding our assent to the conclusion to which such a demonstration leads, we evidently trust to the fidelity with which our memory has connected the different links of the chain together. The reference which is often made, in the course of a demonstration, to propositions formerly proved, places the same remark in a light still stronger; and shews plainly that, in this branch of knowledge, which is justly considered as the most certain of any, the authority of the same laws of belief which are recognised in the ordinary pursuits of life is tacitly acknowledged. Deny the evidence of memory as a ground of certain knowledge, and you destroy the foundations of mathematical science as completely as if you were to deny the truth of the axioms assumed by Euclid.
The foregoing examples sufficiently illustrate the nature of that class of truths which I have called Fundamental Laws of Human Belief, or Primary Elements of Human Reason. A variety of others, not less important, might be added to the list;1 but these I shall not at present stop to enumerate, as my chief object, in introducing the subject here, was to explain the common relation in which they all stand to deductive evidence. In this point of view, two analogies, or rather coincidences, between the truths which we have been last considering, and the mathematical axioms which were treated of formerly, immediately present themselves to our notice.
1. From neither of these classes of truths can any direct inference be drawn for the farther enlargement of our knowledge. This remark has been already shewn to hold universally with respect to the axioms of geometry, and it applies equally to what I have called Fundamental Laws of Human Belief. From such propositions as these—I exist; I am the same person to-day that I was yesterday; the material world has an existence independent of my mind; the general laws of nature will continue, in future, to operate uniformly as in time past—no inference can be deduced, any more than from the intuitive truths prefixed to the Elements of Euclid. Abstracted from other data, they are perfectly barren in themselves; nor can any possible combination of them help the mind forward one single step in its progress. It is for this reason that, instead of calling them, with some other writers, first principles, I have distinguished them by the title of fundamental laws of belief; the former word seeming to me to denote, according to common usage, some fact, or some supposition, from which a series of consequences may be deduced.
If the account now given of these laws of belief be just, the great argument which has been commonly urged in support of their authority, and which manifestly confounds them with what are properly called principles of reasoning, is not at all applicable to the subject; or at least does not rest the point in dispute upon its right foundation. If there were no first principles, (it has been said,) or in other words, if a reason could be given for everything, no process of deduction could possibly be brought to a conclusion. The remark is indisputably true; but it only proves (what no logician of the present times will venture to deny) that the mathematician could not demonstrate a single theorem, unless he were first allowed to lay down his definitions; nor the natural philosopher explain or account for a single phenomenon, unless he were allowed to assume, as acknowledged facts, certain general laws of nature. What inference does this afford in favour of that particular class of truths to which the preceding observations relate, and against which the ingenuity of modern sceptics has been more particularly directed? If I be not deceived, these truths are still more intimately connected with the operations of the reasoning faculty than has been generally imagined; not as the principles (ἀρχαί) from which our reasonings set out, and on which they ultimately depend, but as the necessary conditions on which every step of the deduction tacitly proceeds; or rather (if I may use the expression) as essential elements which enter into the composition of reason itself.
2. In this last remark I have anticipated, in some measure, what I had to state with respect to the second coincidence alluded to, between mathematical axioms, and the other propositions which I have comprehended under the general title of fundamental laws of human belief. As the truth of axioms is virtually presupposed or implied in the successive steps of every demonstration, so, in every step of our reasonings concerning the order of Nature, we proceed on the supposition, that the laws by which it is regulated will continue uniform as in time past; and that the material universe has an existence independent of our perceptions. I need scarcely add, that in all our reasonings whatever, whether they relate to necessary or to contingent truths, our own personal identity, and the evidence of memory, are virtually taken for granted. These different truths all agree in this, that they are essentially involved in the exercise of our rational powers; although, in themselves, they furnish no principles or data by which the sphere of our knowledge can, by any ingenuity, be enlarged. They agree farther in being tacitly acknowledged by all men, learned or ignorant, without any formal enunciation in words, or even any conscious exercise of reflection. It is only at that period of our intellectual progress when scientific arrangements and metaphysical refinements begin to be introduced, that they become objects of attention to the mind, and assume the form of propositions.
In consequence of these two analogies or coincidences, I should have been inclined to comprehend, under the general title of axioms, all the truths which have been hitherto under our review, if the common usage of our language had not, in a great measure, appropriated that appellation to the axioms of mathematics; and if the view of the subject which I have taken, did not render it necessary for me to direct the attention of my readers to the wide diversity between the branches of knowledge to which they are respectively subservient.
I was anxious also to prevent these truths from being all identified, in point of logical importance, under the same name. The fact is, that the one class (in consequence of the relation in which they stand to the demonstrative conclusions of geometry) are comparatively of so little moment, that the formal enumeration of them was a matter of choice rather than of necessity; whereas the other class have unfortunately been raised, by the sceptical controversies of modern times, to a conspicuous rank in the philosophy of the human mind. I have thought it more advisable, therefore, to bestow on the latter an appropriate title of their own; without, however, going so far as to reject altogether the phraseology of those who have annexed to the word axiom a more enlarged meaning than that which I have usually given to it. Little inconvenience, indeed, can arise from this latitude in the use of the term; provided only it be always confined to those ultimate laws of belief, which, although they form the first elements of human reason, cannot with propriety be ranked among the principles from which any of our scientific conclusions are deduced.
Corresponding to the extension which some late writers have given to axioms, is that of the province which they have assigned to intuition; a term which has been applied, by Dr Beattie and others, not only to the power by which we perceive the truth of the axioms of geometry, but to that by which we recognise the authority of the fundamental laws of belief, when we hear them enunciated in language. My only objection to this use of the word is, that it is a departure from common practice; according to which, if I be not mistaken, the proper objects of intuition are propositions analogous to the axioms prefixed to Euclid’s Elements. In some other respects, this innovation might perhaps be regarded as an improvement on the very limited and imperfect vocabulary of which we are able to avail ourselves in our present discussions.1
To the class of truths which I have here called laws of belief, or elements of reason, the title of principles of common sense was long ago given by Father Buffier, whose language and doctrine concerning them bears a very striking resemblance to those of some of our later Scottish logicians. This, at least, strikes me as the meaning which these writers in general annex to the phrase, although all of them have frequently employed it with a far greater degree of latitude. When thus limited in its acceptation, it is obviously liable, in point of scientific accuracy, to two very strong objections, both of which have been already sufficiently illustrated. The first is, that it applies the appellation of principles to laws of belief from which no inference can be deduced; the second, that it refers the origin of these laws to Common Sense. Nor is this phraseology more agreeable to popular use than to logical precision. If we were to suppose an individual, whose conduct betrayed a disbelief of his own existence, or of his own identity, or of the reality of surrounding objects, it would by no means amount to an adequate description of his condition to say, that he was destitute of common sense. We should at once pronounce him to be destitute of reason, and would no longer consider him as a fit subject of discipline or of punishment. The former expression, indeed, would only imply that he was apt to fall into absurdities and improprieties in the common concerns of life. To denominate, therefore, such laws of belief as we have now been considering, constituent elements of human reason, while it seems quite unexceptionable in point of technical distinctness, cannot be justly censured as the slightest deviation from our habitual forms of speech. On the same grounds, it may be fairly questioned, whether the word reason would not, on some occasions, be the best substitute which our language affords for intuition, in that enlarged acceptation which has been given to it of late. If not quite so definite and precise as might be wished, it would be at least employed in one of those significations in which it is already familiar to every ear; whereas the meaning of intuition, when used for the same purpose, is stretched very far beyond its ordinary limits. And in cases of this sort, where we have to choose between two terms, neither of which is altogether unexceptionable, it will be found much safer to trust to the context for restricting in the reader’s mind what is too general, than for enlarging what use has accustomed us to interpret in a sense too narrow.
I must add, too, in opposition to the high authorities of Dr Johnson and Dr Beattie, that for many years past, reason has been very seldom used by philosophical writers, or, indeed, by correct writers of any description, as synonymous with the power of reasoning. To appeal to the light of humanreason from the reasonings of the schools, is surely an expression to which no good objection can be made, on the score either of vagueness or of novelty. Nor has the etymological affinity between these two words the slightest tendency to throw any obscurity on the foregoing expression. On the contrary, this affinity may be of use in some of our future arguments, by keeping constantly in view the close and inseparable connexion which will be afterwards shown to exist between the two different intellectual operations which are thus brought into immediate contrast.1
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[1 ]“Outlines of Moral Philosophy,” Works, vol. ii. pp. 5-8.
[1 ]Ibid., pp. 23-25
[2 ]By Lord Kames and others.
[1 ]“Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind,” Works, vol. ii. pp. 266-269.
[1 ]See his Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions.
[1 ]Theory of Moral Sentiments.
[1 ]Mr Hume, too, who in my opinion has carried this principle of the Association of Ideas a great deal too far, had compared the universality of its applications in the philosophy of mind, to that of the principle of attraction in physics. “Here,” says he, “is a kind of attraction, which in the mental world will be found to have as extraordinary effects as in the natural, and to shew itself in as many and as various forms.”—Treatise of Human Nature, vol. i. p. 30.
[1 ]“Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind,” Works, vol. ii. pp. 334-338.
[1 ]D’Alembert, Apologie de l’Étude.
[1 ]Such, for example, as our belief of the existence of efficient causes; our belief of the existence of other intelligent beings besides ourselves, etc., etc.
[1 ]According to Locke, we have the knowledge of our own existence by intuition; of the existence of God by demonstration; and of other things by sensation—Book iv. chap. ix. § 2.
[1 ]“Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind,” (Works, vol. iii. pp. 40-51).