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chiefly to be trusted to and reasoned from even in questions that relate to
In analyzing the idea of THOUGHT, the mind, according to Aristotle, discovers it to be a power that has neither extension, figure, local motion, nor any other property commonly ascribed to body. In analyzing the idea of God, the mind finds presented to it a being necessarily and eternally existing, supremely intelligent, powerful, and perfect, the fountain of all goodness and truth, and the Creator of the universe. In analyzing the idea of MATTER, the mind perceives it to be a substance possessing no other property than extent :-or, in other words, as having nothing else belonging to it than length, breadth, and thickness; that space, possessing equally this property, is a part of matter, and consequently that matter is universal, and there is no vacuum. From these, and other innate ideas, compared and combined with the ideas of sensation, or those furnished to the mind by the senses, flows, on the hypothesis of Des Cartes, the whole 'fund of human understanding, or all the knowledge that mankind are or can be possessed of.
There are two fundamental errors, and errors, moreover, of an opposite character, that accompany, or rather introduce, this hypothesis, and to which, popular as it was at one time, it has at length completely fallen a sacrifice these are the attempting to prove what ought to be taken for granted, and the taking for granted what ought to be proved.
The philosophy of Des Cartes sets off with supposing that every man is more or less under the influence of prejudice, and consequently that he cannot know the real truth of any thing till he has thoroughly sifted it. It follows, necessarily, as a second position, that every man ought, at least once in his life, to doubt of every thing, in order to sift it; not however, like the skeptics of Greece, that, by such examination, he may be confirmed in doubt, but that, by obtaining proofs, he may have a settled conviction.
Full fraught with these preliminary principles, our philosopher opens his career of knowledge, and while he himself continues as grave as the noble knight of La Mancha, his journey commences almost as ludicrously. His first doubt is whether he himself is alive or in being, and his next, whether any body is alive or in being about him. He soon satisfies himself however, upon the first point, by luckily finding out that he thinks, and therefore, says he gravely, I must be alive: Cogito, ergo sum. "I think, and therefore I am.' And he almost as soon satisfies himself upon the second, by feeling with his hands about him, and finding out that he can run them against a something or a somebody else, against a man or a post. He then returns home to himself once more, overjoyed with this demonstration of his fingers; and commences a second voyage of discovery by doubting whether he knows any thing besides his own existence, and that of a something beyond him. And he now ascertains, to his inexpressible satisfaction, that the soil of his own mind is sown with indigenous ideas precisely like that of thought or consciousness. These he digs up one after another in order to examine them. One of the first that turns up is that of a God: one of the next is an idea that informs him that the outside of himself, or rather of his mind, is matter; and combining the whole he has thus far acquired with other information obtained from the same sources, he finds that the people whom he has before discovered by means of his hands and eyes call this matter a body, and that the said people have bodies of the same kind, and also the same kind of knowledge
as himself, although not to the same extent or demonstration; and for this obvious reason, because they have not equally doubted and examined.
It is difficult to be grave on such a subject. What would be thought or said of any individual in the present audience who should rise up, and openly tell us that he had been long troubled with doubts whether he really existed or not; that his friends had told him he did, and he was inclined to believe so; but that as this belief might be a mere prejudice, he was at length determined to try the fact by asking himself this plain question,—— "Do I think?" Is there a person before me but would exclaim, almost instinctively, "Ah! poor creature, he had better ask himself another plain question,-whether he is in his sober senses?"
If, however, we attempt to examine seriously the mode which M. Des Cartes thus proposes of following up his own principles, it is impossible not to be astonished at his departure from them at the first outset. Instead of doubting of every thing and proving every thing, the very first position before him he takes for granted: "I think; therefore I am." Of these two positions, he makes the first the proof of the second, but what is the proof of the first? If it be necessary to prove that HE IS, the very groundwork of his system renders it equally necessary to prove that HE THINKS. But this he does not attempt to do: in direct contradiction to his fundamental principles he here commits a petitio principii, and takes it for granted. I do not find fault with him for taking it for granted; but then he might as well have saved himself the trouble of manufacturing an imperfect syllogism, and have taken it for granted also that he was alive or that he existed, for the last fact must have been just as obvious to himself as the first, and somewhat more so to the world at large.
There is another logical error in this memorable enthymeme, or syllogism without a head, which ought not to pass without notice; I mean that the proof does not run parallel with the predicate, and consequently does not answer its purpose. The subject predicated is that the philosopher exists or is alive, and to prove this he affirms gratuitously that he thinks. "I think; and therefore I am." Now, in respect to the extent or parallelism of the proof, he might just as well have said "I itch," or "I eat; and therefore I am." I will not dispute that in all probability he thought more than he itched, or partook of food: but let us take which proof we will, it could only be a proof so long as he itched, or was eating; and consequently, whenever he ceased from either of these conditions, upon his own argument, he would have no proof whatever of being alive. Now, that he must often have ceased from itching, or eating, there is no difficulty in admitting; but then he may also at times have ceased from thinking, not only in various morbid states of the brain, but whenever he slept without dreaming. And hence, the utmost that any such argument could decide in his favour, let us take which kind of proof we will, would be that he could alternately prove himself to be alive and alternately not alive; that it was obvious to himself that he existed for and during the time that he thought, itched, or ate, but that he had no proof of existence as soon as these were over.
But I have said, that M. Des Cartes' philosophy consists not only in demanding proofs where no proofs are necessary, and where the truisms are so clear as to render it ludicrous to ask for them; but in taking for granted propositions that evidently demand proof. And I now allude to his whole doctrine of innate ideas--of axioms or principles planted in
the mind by the hand of Nature herself, and which are evidently intended to supply the place of the intelligible world of Plato and Aristotle.
Of these I have only produced a small sample, and it is not necessary to bring more to market. Let us state his innate idea of a God. It is, I admit, a very reverential, correct, and perfect one, and does him credit as a theologist: but I am not at present debating with him as a theologist, but as a logician. It is in truth owing to its very perfection that I object to it; for there is strong ground to suspect, notwithstanding all his care to the contrary, that he has obtained it from induction, rather than from impulse; from an open creed, than from a latent principle. If such an idea be innate to him, there can be no question that it must be also innate to every one else. Now, it so happens that the ideas of other men, in different parts of the world, wander from his own idea as far as the north pole from the south. There are some barbarians, we are told, so benighted as to have no idea of a God at all. Such, as Mr. Marsden, His Majesty's principal chaplain in New South Wales, informs us, are the very barbarous aboriginal tribes of that vast settlement. "They have no knowledge," says he, " of any religion, false or true." There are others, whose idea of a God has only been formed in the midst of gloom and terror: and who hence, with miserable ignorance, represent him, in their wooden idols, under the ugliest and most hideous character their gross imagination can suggest. Atheism, in the strictest sense of the term, is at this moment, and has been for nearly a thousand years, at least, the established belief of the majority, or rather, of the whole Burman empire; the fundamental doctrine of whose priesthood consists in a denial that there is any such power as an eternal independent essence of the universe; and that at this moment there is any God whatever; Gaudama, their last Boodh, or deity, having, by his meritorious deeds, long since reached the supreme good of Nigbar, or annihilation; which is the only ultimate reward in reserve for the virtuous among mankind ;* while the ideas of the wisest philosophers of Greece appear to have fallen far short of the bright exemplar of M. Des Cartes.
That Des Cartes himself was possessed of this idea at the time he wrote, no man can have any doubt; but what proof have we that he possessed it INNATELY? and that he found it among the ORIGINAL FURNITURE OF HIS MIND?
The most authentic account of the tenets of Boodhism which have of late years been communicated to the world, are those furnished by Mr. Judson, an American missionary, who for the last ten or twelve years has been stationary at Rangoon or Ava, has acquired an accurate knowledge of the Burman and Pali, or vulgar aud sacred tongue, and has translated the whole of the New Testament into the former. His very interesting account of the mission of himself and his colleagues, as well as of the national creed of this extraordinary people, is to be found in his correspondence with the American Baptist Missionary Board, as also in "an account of the American Baptist Mission to the Burman Empire, in a Series of Letters addressed to a Gentleman in London, by A. H. Judson, 8vo. Lond. 1823." The whole universe, according to the principles of Boodhism, is governed by fate, which has no more essential existence than chance. A Boodh, or god, is occasionally produced, and appears on earth, the last of whom was Gaudama. But gods and men must equally follow the law or order of fate; they must die, and they inust suffer in a future state according to the sins they have committed on earth; and, when this penance has been completed, they reach alike the supreme good of Nigbar, or utter annihilation. Gaudama. their last deity, many hundred years ago reached this state of final beatitude, and another deity is soon expected to make his appearance. An eternal self-existent being is, in the opinion of the Boodhists, an utter impossibility, and they hear of such a doctrine with horror. When Mr. Judson had obtained an audience of the Burman emperor in his palace at Ava, to solicit protection and toleration, his petition was first read and then a little tract, containing the chief doctrines of Christianity, printed in the Burman tongue, put into the Emperor's hand. "He held the tract," says Mr. Judson, "long enough to read the two first sentences, which assert that there is one eternal God, who is independent of the incidents of mortality; and that, beside him, there is no god; and then, with an air of indifference, perhaps of disdain, he dashed it down to the ground.-Our fate was decided."-Id. p. 231.
In like manner, he tells us, that his knowledge of MATTER is derived from the same unerring source; that its idea exists within him, and that this idea represents it to be an extended substance, without any other -quality, and embracing space as a part of itself. Now, if such an idea appertained naturally to him, it must, in like manner, appertain naturally to every one. Let me, then, ask the audience I have the honour of addressing, whether the same notion has ever presented itself, as it necessarily ought to have done, to the minds of every one or of any one before me? and whether they seriously believe that SPACE is a part of MATTER? So far from it, that I much question whether even the meaning of the position is universally understood; while, with respect to those by whom it is understood, I have a shrewd suspicion it is not assented to; and that they would even apprehend some trick had been played upon them if they should find it in their minds. The good father Malebranche, as excellent a Cartesian as ever lived, and who possessed withal quite mysticism enough to have succeeded Plato, upon his death, and turned Xenocrates out of the chair, suspected that tricks like these are perpetually layed upon us. For he openly tells us, in his Recherche de la Vérité, that ever since the fall Satan has been making such sad work with our senses, both external and internal, that we can only rectify ourselves by a vigorous determination to doubt of every thing, after the tried and approved Cartesian recipe: and if a man, says he, has only learned to doubt, let him not imagine that he has made an inconsiderable progress. And, for this purpose, he recommends retirement from the world, a solitary cell, and a long course of penitence and water gruel: after which our innate ideas, he tells us, will rise up before us at a glance: our senses, which were at first as honest faculties as one could desire to be acquainted with, till debauched in their adventure with original sin, will no longer be able to cheat us, we shall see into the whole process of transubstantiation, and though we behold nothing in matter, we shall behold all things in God.
It may, perhaps, be conceived that I treat the subject before us somewhat too flippantly or too cavalierly. It is not, however, the subject before us that I thus treat, but the hypothesis; and in truth it is the only mode in which I feel myself able to treat it at all; for I could as soon be serious over the Loves of the Plants,' or The Battle of the Frogs.' And I must here venture to extend the remark a little further, and to add, that there is but one hypothesis amidst all those that yet remain to be examined, that I shall be able to treat in any other manner; for, excepting in this one, there is not a whit of superiority that I can discover in any of them; and the one I refer to, though I admit its imperfections in various points, is that of our own enlightened countryman, Mr. Locke. I may, perhaps, be laughed at in my turn, and certainly should be so if I were as far over the Tweed as over the Thames, and be told that I am at least half a century behind the times. Yet, by your permission, I shall dare the laugh, and endeavour, at least, to put merriment against merriment; and shall leave it to yourselves to determine, after a full and impartial hearing, who has the best claim to be pleasant. So that the study of metaphysics may not, perhaps, appear quite so gloomy and repugnant as the writings of some philosophers would represent it. If it have its gravity, it may also be found to have its gayety as well; and to prove that there is no science in which it better becomes us to adopt the maxim of the poet, and to
Laugh where we may, be serious where we can.
(The same subject continued.)
In our preceding study we commenced a general survey of the chief opinions and hypotheses that have been urged in different periods upon the important subject of Human Understanding; and, opening our career with the Greek schools, we closed it with that of Des Cartes.
Des Cartes, who was born in 1596, was for nearly a century the Aristotle of his age; and although from his very outset he was opposed by his contemporaries and literary friends Gassendi and Hobbes, he obtained a complete triumph, and steadily supported his ascendant, till the physical philosophy of Newton, and the metaphysical of Locke, threw an eclipse over his glory, from which he has now no chance of ever recovering.
Nothing, however, can prove more effectually the influence which fashion operates upon philosophy as well as upon dress, than a glance at the very opposite characters by whom the Cartesian system was at one and the same time principally professed and defended-Malebranche and Spinosa, Leibnitz and Bayle. It would, perhaps, be impossible, were we to range through the whole scope of philosophical or even of literary biography, to collect a more motley or heterogeneous group; the four elements of hot, cold, moist, and dry, cannot possibly present a stronger contrast; a mystical Catholic, a Jewish materialist, a speculative but steady Lutheran, and an universal skeptic.
It was only, however, for want of a simpler and more rational system, that Des Cartes continued so long and so extensively to govern the metaphysical taste of the day. That system was at length given to the world by Mr. Locke, and the "PRINCIPIA PHILOSOPHIE" fell prostrate before the" ESSAY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING."
This imperishable work made its first appearance in 1689: it may, perhaps, be somewhat too long; it may occasionally embrace subjects which are not necessarily connected with it; its terms may not always be precise, nor its opinions in every instance correct; but it discovers intrinsic and most convincing evidence that the man who wrote it must have had a head peculiarly clear and a heart peculiarly sound. It is strictly original in its matter, highly important in its subject, luminous and forcible in its argument, perspicuous in its style, and comprehensive in its scope. It steers equally clear of all former systems: we have nothing of the mystical archetypes of Plato, the incoporeal phantasms of Aristotle, or the material species of Epicurus; we are equally without the intelligible world of the Greek schools, and the innate ideas of Des Cartes. Passing by all which, from actual experience and observation it delineates the features, and describes the operations of the human mind, with a degree of precision and minuteness which have never been exhibited either before or since.* "Nothing," says Dr. Beattie, and I readily avail myself of the acknowledgment of an honest and enlightened antagonist, "was further from the intention of Locke, than to encourage verbal controversy, or to advance doctrines favourable to skepticism. To do good to mankind by enforcing virtue, illustrating truth, and vindicating liberty, was his sincere purpose.
* Stud of Med. Vol. iii. p. 49. 2d edit.