Page images
PDF
EPUB

sequences of events instead of one simple sequence. This tendency of the imagination to form and rest on hypotheses, or, in other words, to suppose substances present and operating, of the existence of which we have no direct proof,-we found to be one great source of error in our practice of philosophizing.

Another source of error we found to be the too great extension of what are termed general laws; which though a less error in itself, is yet, in one respect, more dangerous than the former; because it is the error of better understandings, of understandings that would not readily fall into the extravagant follies of hypotheses, but acknowledge the essential importance of induction, and think they are proceeding on it without the slightest deviation, almost at the very moment when they are abandoning it for conjecture. To observe the regular series of antecedents and consequents, and to class these as similar or dissimilar, are all which philosophers can do with complete certainty. But there is a constant tendency in the mind, to convert a general law into an universal law, to suppose, after a wide induction, that what is true of many substances that have a very striking analogy, is as certainly true of all that have this striking analogy,-and that what is true of them in certain circumstances, is true of them in all circumstances, or, at least, in all circumstances which are not remarkably different. The widest induction which we can make, however, is still limited in its nature; and, though we may have observed substances in many situations, there may be some new situations in which the event may be different, or even, perhaps, the very reverse of that which we should have predicted, by reasoning from the mere analogy of other circumstances. It appeared to me necessary, therefore, in consequence of the very ambiguous manner in which writers on this higher branch of logic speak of reasoning from general laws to particulars, to warn you that the application to particulars can be made with certainty only to the very particulars before observed and generalized,—and that, however analo gous other particulars may seem, the application of the general law to them admits only of probability, which may, indeed, as the induction has been wider, and the circumstances of observed analogy more numerous, approach more or less to certainty, but must always be short of it even in its nearest approximation.

Such, then, is physical inquiry, both as to its objects and its mode of precedure, particularly as it regards the universe without; and the laws which regulate our inquiry in the internal world of thought are, in every respect, similar. The same great objects are to be had in view, and no other, the analysis of what is complex, and the observation and arrangement of the sequences of phenomena, as respectively antecedent and consequent.

In this respect, also, I may remark, the philosophy of matter and the philosophy of mind completely agree-that, in both equally, our knowledge is confined to the phenomena which they exhibit. We give the name of matter to the unknown cause of various feelings, which, by the constitution of our nature, it is impossible for us not to refer to something external as their cause. What it is, independent of our perception, we know not; but as the subject of our perception, we regard it as that which is extended, and consequently divisible, impenetrable, mobile; and these qualities, or whatever other qualities we may think necessary to include for expressing the particular substances that affect our senses variously, constitute our whole definition of VOL. I.

12

matter, because, in truth, they constitute our whole knowledge of it. To suppose us to know what it is in itself, in absolute independence of our perception, would be manifestly absurd: since it is only by our perception,— that is to say, by the feelings of our mind,-that it can be known to us at all; and these mere feelings of the mind must depend, at least, as much on the laws of the mind affected, as on the laws of the substance that affects it. Whatever knowledge we may acquire of it, therefore, is relative only, and must be relative in all circumstances; though, instead of the few senses which connect us with it at present, we were endowed with as many senses as there are, perhaps, qualities of matter, the nature of which we are at present incapable of distinguishing ;-the only effect of such increased number of senses being, to render more qualities of matter known to us, not to make matter known to us in its very essence, as it exists without relation to mind.

"Tell me," says Micromegas, an inhabitant of one of the planets of the Dog Star, to the Secretary of the Academy of Sciences in the planet Saturn, at which he had recently arrived in a journey through the heavens,-" Tell me how many senses have the men on your globe?"-I quote, as perhaps the name has already informed you, from an ingenious philosophic romance of Voltaire, who, from various allusions in the work, has evidently had Fontenelle, the illustrious secretary of the French Academy of Sciences, in view, in the picture which he gives of the Saturnian secretary." We have seventy-two senses," answered the academician, "and we are, every day, complaining of the smallness of the number. Our imagination goes far beyond our wants. What are seventy-two senses! and how pitiful a boundary, even for beings with such limited perceptions, to be cooped up within our ring, and our five moons! In spite of our curiosity, and in spite of as many passions as can result from six dozen of senses, we find our hours hang very heavily on our hands, and can always find time enough for yawning.”— "I can very well believe it," says Micromegas, "for, in our globe, we have very near one thousand senses; and yet, with all these, we feel continually a sort of listless inquietude and vague desire, which are for ever telling us that we are nothing, and that there are beings infinitely nearer perfection. I have travelled a good deal in the universe. I have seen many classes of mortals far beneath us, and many as much superior; but I have never had the good fortune to find any, who had not always more desires than real necessities to occupy their life.-And, pray, how long may you Saturnians live with your few senses?" continued the Sirian.-"Ah! but very short time, indeed!" said the little man of Saturn, with a sigh."It is the same with us," said the traveller; 66 we are for ever complaining of the shortness of life. It must be an universal law of nature."-"Alas!" said the Saturnian, "we live only five hundred great revolutions of the sun, (which is pretty much about fifteen thousand years of our counting.) You see well, that this is to die almost the moment one is born. Our existence is a point-our duration an instant-our globe an atom. Scarcely have we begun to pick up a little knowledge, when death rushes in upon us, before we can have acquired any thing like experience. As for me, I cannot venture even to think of any project. I feel myself but like a drop of water in the ocean; and, especially now, when I look to you and to myself, I really feel quite ashamed of the ridiculous appearance which I make in the universe." "If I did not know that you were a philosopher," replied Micromegas, "I

should be afraid of distressing you, when I tell you, that our life is seven hundred times longer than yours.-But what is even that? and, when we come to the last moment, to have lived a single day, and to have lived a whole eternity, amount to the very same thing. I have been in countries where they live a thousand times longer than with us; and I have always found them murmuring, just as we do ourselves.-But you have seventy-two senses, and they must have told you something about your globe. How many properties has matter with you?"—" If you mean essential properties," said the Saturnian, "without which our globe could not subsist, we count three hundred, extensive, impenetrable, mobile, gravitation, divisibility, and so forth."-"That small number," replied the gigantic traveller, "may be sufficient for the views which the Creator must have had with respect to your narrow habitation. Your globe is little; its inhabitants are so too. You have few senses; your matter has few qualities. In all this, Providence has suited you most happily to each other."

"The academician was more and more astonished with every thing which the traveller told him. At length, after communicating to each other a little of what they knew, and a great deal of what they knew not, and reasoning, as well and as ill, as philosophers usually do, they resolved to set out together on a little tour of the universe."*

That, with the one thousand senses of the Sirian, or even the seventy-two senses of the inhabitant of Saturn, our notions of matter would be very different from what they are at present, cannot be doubted; since we should assign to it qualities, corresponding with all the varieties of our six dozen or one thousand classes of sensations. But, even with all these sensations, it is evident that we should still know as little of matter, independent of the phenomena which it exhibits in relation to us, as we know at this moment. Our definition of it would comprehend more phenomena; but it would still be a definition of its phenomena only. We might perhaps be able to fill up the Saturnian catalogue of three hundred essential properties, but these would be still only the relations of matter to our own perception. A change in the mere susceptibility of our organs of sense, or of our sentient mind, would be, relatively to us, like a change in the whole system of things, communicating, as it were, new properties to every object around us. A single sense additional, in man, might thus be to external nature, like the creation of the sun, when he first burst upon it in splendour, "like the god of the new world," and pouring every where his own effulgency, seemed to shed on it the very beauties which he only revealed.

If our knowledge of matter be relative only, our knowledge of mind is equally so. We know it only as susceptible of feelings that have already existed, and its susceptibilities of feelings which have not arisen, but which may, in other circumstances, arise, we know as little as the blind can be supposed to know of colours, or as we, with all our senses, know of the qualities which matter might exhibit to us, if our own organization were different. Of the essence of mind, then, we know nothing, but in relation to the states or feelings that form, or have formed, our momentary consciousOur knowledge is not absolute but relative; though, I must confess, that the term relative is applied, in an unusual manner, when, as in the present instance, the relative and correlative are the same. It is unquestionably the same individual mind, which, in intellectual investigation, is at once the * Voltaire, Œuvres, tom. xiv. p. 99-101. 4to. Edit. of 1771.

object and the observer. But the noble endowment of memory, with which our Creator has blessed us, solves all the mystery of this singular paradox. In consequence of this one faculty, our mind, simple and indivisible as it truly is, is as it were multipled and extended, expanding itself over that long series of sensations and emotions in which it seems to live again, and to live with many lives. But for memory, there can be no question that the relation of thought to thought could not have been perceived; and that hence there could have been no philosophy whatever, intellectual or moral, physical or metaphysical. To this wonderful endowment, then, which gives us the past to compare with the present, we owe that most wonderful of relations, of which the same being is at once the object and the subject, contemplating itself, in the same manner, as it casts its view on objects that are distant from it, comparing thought with thought, emotion with emotion, approving its own moral actions, with the complacency with which it looks on the virtues of those whom it admires and loves, in the most remote nation or age, or passing sentence on itself, as if on a wretch whom it loathed, that was trembling, with conscious delinquency, under the inquisition of a severe and all-knowing judge. The past feelings of the mind, then, are, as it were, objects present to the mind itself, and acquire, thus truly, a sort of relative existence, which enables us to class the phenomena of our own spiritual being as we class the phenomena of the world without. The mind is that which we know to have been susceptible of all the variety of feelings which we remember; and it is only as it is susceptible of all these varieties of feeling, that we can have any knowledge of it. We define it, therefore, by stating its various susceptibilities, including more or fewer of these, in our definition, as we may either have observed or remembered more or less, or generalized more or less what we have observed and remembered; precisely as in our definition of matter, we include more or fewer qualities, according to the extent of our previous observation and arrangement.

That we know matter, only as relative to our own susceptibility of being affected by it, does not lessen the value of the knowledge of it, which we are able to acquire; and indeed, it is only as it is capable of affecting us, that the knowledge of it can be of any direct and immediate utility. It would, indeed, be the very absurdity of contradiction, to suppose ourselves acquainted with qualities which cannot affect us. But, even though this were possible, how profitless would the knowledge be, compared with the knowledge of the qualities which are capable of affecting us; like the knowledge of the seasons of the planet Saturn, or of the planets that have the Dog Star for their sun, compared with the more important knowledge of the seasons of our own globe, by which we have the comfort of anticipating, in the labours of spring, the abundance of autumn, and gather in autumn the fruits, which, as products of vernal labour, are truly fruits of the spring.

To know matter, even relatively, as our limited senses allow us to know it, is to have knowledge which can scarcely be called limited. Nothing, indeed, can seem narrow in extent, if we think only of the small number of our senses, by which alone the communication can be carried on. But what infinity of objects has nature presented to each! In the mere forms and colours that strike our eyes, what splendid variety! the proportion of all things that bloom or live, the earth, the ocean, the universe, and almost God himself appearing to our very senses, in the excellence and beauty of the works which He has made!

It is the same with respect to the mind, though we know it only by its susceptibilities of affection, in the various feelings of our momentary consciousness, and cannot hope to know it but as the permanent subject of all these separate consciousnesses; to know thus relatively only, the affections even of one single substance, is to have a field of the most boundless and inexhaustible wonders ever present and open to our inquiry! It may be said to comprehend every thing which we perceive, and remember, and imagine, and compare, and admire, all those mysterious processes of thought, which, in the happy efforts of the philosopher and the poet, are concerned in the production of their noblest results, and which are not less deserving of our regard, as they are every moment exercised by all, in the humble intellectual functions of common life. In analyzing and arranging the mental phenomena, then, we consider phenomena, that are diversified, indeed, in individuals, but, as species, are still common to all; for there is no power possessed by the most comprehensive intellect, which it does not share, in some proportion, with the dullest and rudest of mankind. All men perceive, remember, reason,―all, to a certain degree at least, form their little theories, both physical and metaphysical, of the conduct of their fellow men, and of the passing events of nature; and all, occasionally, enliven their social intercourse, or their solitary hours, with inventions of fancy, that last but for a moment indeed, and are not worthy of lasting longer, but which are products of the same species of intellectual energy, that gave existence to those glorious works, to which ages have listened with increasing reverence, and which, immortal as the spirits that produced them, are yet to command the veneration of every future age. When we see before us, in its finished magnificence, a temple appropriated to the worship of the Supreme Being, and almost worthy of being filled with his presence, we scarcely think that it is erected according to the same simple principles, and formed of the same stone and mortar, as the plain dwellings around us, adapted to the hourly and humble uses of domestic life; and by a similar illusion, when we consider the splendid works of intellectual art, we can scarcely bring ourselves to think, that genius is but a form of general tendencies of association, of which all partake; and that its magnificent conceptions, therefore, rise according to the same simple laws which regulate the course of thought of the vulgar. In this universality of diffusion as general tendencies, that may be variously excited by varying circumstances, our intellectual powers are similar to those other principles of our nature, our emotions, and whatever feelings more immediately connected with moral action have been usually distinguished by the name of our active powers. In the philosophy of both we consider, not a few distinguished individuals, as possessed of principles essentially distinct in kind, but the species man. They are to be found, wherever there is a human being; and we do not infer with more certainty, when we perceive the impression of a foot upon the sand, that man has been there, than we expect to find in him, whatever may be his state of barbarism or civilization, some form of the common powers, and passions, which, though directed perhaps to different objects, we have felt and witnessed in the society around us. "The two-legged animal," says Dr. Reid, "that eats of nature's dainties what his taste or appetite craves, and satisfies his thirst at the crystal fountain; who propagates his kind as occasion and lust prompt; repels injuries, and takes alternate labour and repose; is like a tree in the forest, purely of nature's growth. But this same savage has within him the

« EelmineJätka »