Imágenes de páginas

altogether of a different kind, and though undoubtedly much simpler than any of the preceding, does not seem to be built on a more stable foundation. According to his view of the subject, organized differs from inorganized matter merely by the addition of certain PROPERTIES which are called vital, as sensibility and irritability. Masses of matter endowed with these new PROPERTIES become organs and systems of organs, constitute an animal frame, and execute distinct sets of PURPOSES or FUNCTIONS; for functions and purposes carried into execution are here synonymous. Life is the assemblage of ALL the functions (or purposes), and the general result of their exercise.'*

Life, therefore, upon this hypothesis, instead of being a two-fold or three-fold reality, running in a combined stream, or in parallel lines, has no reality whatever. It has no ESSE or independent existence. It is a mere assemblage of PURPOSES, and accidental or temporary PROPERTIES: a series of phænomena,† as Mr. Lawrence has himself correctly expressed it;-a name without a thing. "We know not," says he," the nature of the link that unites these phænomena, though we are sensible that a connexion must exist; and this conviction is sufficient to induce us to give it a NAME, which the VULGAR regard as the sign of a particular principle; though in fact that name can only indicate the ASSEMBLAGE OF THE PHÆNOMENA which have occasioned its formation."‡

The human frame is, hence, a barrel-organ, possessing a systematic arrangement of parts, played upon by peculiar powers, and executing particular pieces or purposes; and life is the music produced by the general assemblage or result of the harmonious action. So long as either the vital or the mechanical instrument is duly wound up by a regular supply of food or of the wince, so long the music will continue; but both are worn out by their own action; and when the machine will no longer work, the life has the same close as the music; and in the language of Cornelius Gallus, as quoted and appropriated by Leo X.,

redit in nihilam, quod fuit ante nihil..

There is, however, nothing new either in this hypothesis or in the pre sent explanation of it. It was first started in the days of Aristotle by Aristoxenus, a pupil of his, who was admirably skilled in music, and by profession a physician. It was propounded to the world under the name of the system of HARMONY, either from the author's fondness for music, or from his comparing the human frame to a musical instrument, and his regarding life as the result of all its parts acting in accordance, and producing a general and harmonious effect.§

We have already had occasion to notice this hypothesis in a former lecture, and the triumphant objections with which it was met by the Stoics as well as by the Epicureans; as also that it has at times been revived since, and especially by M. Lusac, who extended it to even a wider range : while the same objections remain unanswered to the present hour, and seem to be altogether unanswerable.

There is, moreover, the same looseness in the term PHÆNOMENA, employed by Mr. Lawrence, and the French writers just adverted to, as we

Introduction to Comparative Anatomy and Physiology, &c. p. 120.

↑ Ibid. p. 122.

Stud. of Med. ut supra.

Series I. Lect. IX. on the Principle of Life.

have remarked in many of the opposers of Mr. Locke, who seem to be afraid of fettering themselves with definite terms or definite ideas. This looseness may be convenient in many cases, but it always betrays weakness or imprecision. In the mouth of the Platonists and Peripatetics of ancient Greece, we distinctly know that the term phænomena denoted the archetypes of the one, or the phantasms of the other. We understand it with equal clearness as made use of, though in very different senses, by Leibnitz in reference to his system of PRE-ESTABLISHED HARMONY, and by Professor Robson, in reference to that of Boscovich. But when M. Magendie, or Mr. Lawrence, tells us that "human intelligence," which is the phrase of the former, in the passage just quoted, or "life," which is that of the latter, is a COMPOSITION OF ASSEMBLAGE Of PHÆNOMENA,—a RESULT OF THE ACTION of an organ,"-we have no distinct notion whatever put before us. The "purposes," or "properties," or "functions," or whatever it is they intend under the name of PHENOMENA, certainly do not seem to be strictly material in themselves, though we are told they are, in some way or other, the product of a material organ: but whether they be the phantasms of the Greek schools, the visions of Malebranche or Berkeley, the mathematical points of Boscovich, the APPARITIONS OF APPEARANCES of the Common-Sense hypothesis,-whether they be a name or a thing, any thing or nothing, the writers themselves having given us no clue to determine, and perhaps have hardly determined for themselves.


We have thus travelled over a wide extent of ground, but have not yet quite reached our journey's end. It still remains to us to examine the popular hypothesis of the present day, put forth from the north, under the captivating title of the System of Common Sense; produced undoubtedly from the best motives, and offered as an universal and infallible specifie for all the wounds and weaknesses we may have incurred in our encounters with the preceding combatants.

The consideration of this shall form the subject of our ensuing lecture; and I shall afterwards, by your permission, follow up the whole by submitting a few general observations on the entire subject, and endeavour to collect for your use, from the wide and tangled wilderness in which we have been beating, the few flowers and the little fruit that may be honestly worth the trouble of preservation.



It must be obvious, I think, to every one who has attentively watched the origin and progress of those extraordinary and chimerical opinions through which we have lately been wading, and which have been dressed up by philosophers of the rarest endowments and deepest learning, into a show of systems and theories, that the grand cause of their absurdities is attributable to the imperfect knowledge we possess respecting the nature and qualities of matter, and the nature and qualities of those perceptions

which material objects produce in the mind, through the medium of the external senses.

These perceptions, however accounted for, and whatever they have been supposed to consist in, have in most ancient, and in all modern schools been equally denominated ideas; and hence ideas have sometimes implied modifications, so to speak, of pure intelligence, which was the opinion of Plato and of Berkeley; of immaterial apparitions or phantasms, which was that of Aristotle, and in a certain sense may perhaps be said to have been that of Hume; of real species or material images, which was that of Epicurus, of Sir Kenelm Digby,* and many other schoolmen of the middle of the seventeenth century; of mere notional resemblances, which was that of Des Cartes; and of whatever it was the ultimate intention of any of these scholastic terms to signify, whether phantasm, notion, or species; whatever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks, or the mind can be employed about when thinking, which was that of Locke, and is the fair import of the word in popular speech.

It is possible, moreover, that this indiscriminate use of the same term express different apprehensions, and particularly in modern times, has contributed to many of the errors which are peculiarly chargeable to the metaphysical writers of modern times. But this opinion has been carried much farther by Dr. Reid, who has persuaded himself that the word idea has been the rock on which all the metaphysical systematizers, from the time of Aristotle to his own era, have shipwrecked themselves; and hence, having determined to oppose the absurdities of his own countryman Mr. Hume, by the introduction of a new hypothesis, he thought the better way would be to clear the ground on every side, by an equal excommunication of this mischievous term, and of every system into which it had ever found an entrance; whence all the authors of such systems, whatever may have been their views or principles in other respects, he has lumped together by the common name of Idealists.

The motive of Dr. Reid was pure and praiseworthy; he entered the arena with great and splendid talents; and soon found himself powerfully abetted by his friends Dr. Adam Smith, Dr. Beattie, Lord Kames, Dr. Campbell, and Mr. Dugald Steward: but it must be obvious to every one, that in the execution of his motive he has carried his resentment to a strange and somewhat ludicrous extreme, Idea is a word sufficiently harmless in itself, and even his own friends have not chosen to follow him in his Quixotic warfare against it; and have consequently continued to use it, in spite of his outlawry and proscription: while to arrange under the same banner every one who has employed this term, and to impute the same dangerous tendency to every hypothesis in which it is to be met with, is to make the wearing of a blue or a chocolate coat a sure sign of treason, and to assert that every man who is found thus habited deserves hanging.

Mr. Locke distinctly tells us, that he uses the term idea in its popular sense, and only in its popular sense. But he uses it, and that is enough : the mischief is in the word itself. It has, however, been attempted to be proved that he has not always known the sense in which he did use it; and that he has sometimes employed it in a popular and sometimes in a scholastic import, as denoting that certain ideas are not mere notional

*He was warmly opposed by Alexander Ross, of Hudibrastic memory, who was a staunch Aristotelian, and, consequently, denied the materiality of ideas. See Ross's argument in Professor Stewart's Essays, vol. i. p. 556. 4to.

perceptions, but material images or copies of the objects which they indicate, by which means he has given a strong handle to such materialists, or favourers, of materialism, as Hartley, Priestley, and Darwin; while, by his striking away from bodies all their secondary qualities, as taste, smell, sound, and colour, he has given a similar handle to such immaterialists as Berkeley and Hume.

Now it is not often that a theory is accused of leaning north and south at the same time; and whenever it can be so accused, the charge is perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to it, as proving its uprightness and freedom from bias. But it was absolutely necessary for the success of the new hypothesis that the Essay on Human Understanding should be demonstrated to be radically erroneous, and particularly to have some connexion in the way of causation with what may be called the physical speculations of the day, whether of materialism or of immaterialism: since so long as this remained firm, so long as the system maintained its ground, the immortal edifice proposed to be erectedmonumentum ære perennius-could find no place for a foundation; and on this account, and so far as I can learn, on this account alone, the name of Locke has been placed among "the most celebrated promoters of modern skepticism ;"* though it is admitted, that nothing was farther from his intention.

It is hence requisite, before we enter upon a survey of this new hypothesis, to inquire how far the objections which were offered against Mr. Locke's theory are founded in fact. I have already mentioned two of the more prominent, and I shall have occasion to mention two others immediately.

We are told, in the first place, that Mr. Locke has not used the term idea in all instances in one and the same signification; and that while it sometimes imports something separate from body, it sometimes imports a modification of body itself.

But this is egregiously to mistake his meaning, and to charge him with a confusion of conception which only belongs to the person who can thus interpret him. Des Cartes, after most of the Greek philosophers, had asserted, that our ideas are in some way or other exact images of the objects presented to the senses: Mr. Locke, in opposition to this assertion, contended that so far from being exact images they have not the smallest resemblance to them in any respect, with the exception of those ideas that represent the real or primary qualities of bodies, or such as belong to bodies intrinsically and which, in his own day, were supposed to consist of figure, extension, solidity, motion, or rest, and number. These qualities being REAL in the bodies in which they appear, the ideas which REALLY represent them are, in his opinion, entitled to be called RESEMBLANCES of them; while the ideas of the secondary qualities of bodies, or those which are not real, but merely ostensible, or which, in other words, do not intrinsically belong to the bodies in which they appear, as colour, sound, taste, and smell, are not entitled to be called resemblances of them. Now what does such observation upon these two sets of qualities amount to? Plainly and unequivocally to this, and nothing more; that as the first set of ideas are real representatives of real qualities, and the latter real representatives of ostensible qualities, there is in the former case a resemblance of reality, though there is no other resemblance, and

* Beattie on Truth : compare part ii. chap. ii. § 1 2. with the opening of part ii, cb. ii. § 2.

in the latter case, no resemblance of reality, and consequently no resemblance whatever. The resemblance is in respect to the reality of the qualities perceived: it is simply a resemblance of reality: here it begins and here it ends. But the adverse commentators before us contend that it neither begins nor ends here; and that the word resemblance must necessarily import an actual and material resemblance, a corporeal copy or image; and that consequently the class of ideas referred to must necessarily be material and corporeal things. So that it is not allowable to any man to say, that truth resembles a rock, unless he means, and is prepared to prove, that truth is a hard, stony mass of matter, jutting into the sea, and fatal to ships that dash against it.

But many of Mr. Locke's own followers are said to have understood him in this sense. Not, however, in regard to this distinction: though I am ready to admit that many of those who have pretended to be his followers have misunderstood him upon the subject of ideas generally, and have affirmed, in direct opposition to his own words that, in the Essay on Human Understanding, all our ideas of sensation are supposed to be sensible representations or pictures of the objects apprehended by the senses. This observation particularly applies to Locke's French commentators and followers, Condillac, Turgot, Helvetius, Diderot, D'Alembert, Condorcet, Destutt-Tracy, and Degerando; concerning whom Professor Stewart has made the following just remark; that while "these ingenious men have laid hold eagerly of this common principle of reasoning, and have vied with each other in extolling Locke for the sagacity which he has displayed in unfolding it, hardly two of them can be named who have understood it precisely in the sense annexed to it by the author. What is still more remarkable, the praise of Locke has been loudest from those who seem to have taken the least pains to ascertain the import of his conclusions."*

The term OBJECT Mr. Locke has occasionally used in an equally figurative sense. Thus book ii. chap. i. sect. 24. : "In time," says he, "the mind comes to reflect on its own operations about the ideas got by sensation; and thereby stores itself with a new set of ideas, which I call ideas of reflection. These are the impressions that are made on our senses by OUTWARD OBJECTS that are extrinsical to the mind, and its own operations proceeding from powers intrinsical and proper in itself; which when reflected on by itself, becoming also OBJECTS of its contemplation, are, as I have said, the originals of all knowledge."

No words can more clearly prove that Locke regarded ideas of sensation as impressions made by external objects, and not as objects themselves; and ideas of reflection as operations of the mind, and no more objects, literally so considered, than in the preceding case. And hence, when, towards the close of the above passage, he applies the term objects to these operations, he can only in fairness be supposed to do it in a figurative sense in which sense, indeed, he applies the same term to ideas of all kinds in another place, where he explains an idea to be "whatsoever is the OBJECT of the understanding when a man thinks." And yet he has been accused, by the School of Common Sense, of using the term literally; and it is "to Doctor Reid," says Mr. Stewart, "that we owe the important remark that all these notions (images, phantasms, &c.) are wholly hypothetical ;" and that we have no ground for supposing that in

* Essays, vol. i. p. 102.

+ Elem. ch. iii. § ii. Fearne's Essay, p. 23,

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »