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defend the doctrine of ideas. The doctrine | guished by its colour, from the other portions
Mr. Drummond seems to lay the whole
An account of the Life and Writings of James Beattie, LL. D. late Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic in the Marischal College and University of Aberdeen including many of his original Letters. By Sir W. FORBES of Pitsligo, Baronet, one of the Executors of Dr. Beattie. 2 vols. 4to. pp. 840. Edinburgh and London: 1806.
DR. BEATTIE'S great work, and that which was undoubtedly the first foundation of his celebrity, is the Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth" on which such un
The greater part of this article also is withheld from the present reprint, for the reasons formerly stated; and only those parts given which bear upon points of metaphysics.
measured praises are bestowed, both by his present biographer, and by all the author's male and female correspondents, that it is with difficulty we can believe that they are Speaking of the performance which we have just been wearying ourselves with looking over. That the author's intentions were good, and his convictions sincere, we entertain not
the least doubt; but that the merits of his book have been prodigiously overrated, we think, is equally undeniable. It contains absolutely nothing, in the nature of argument, that had not been previously stated by Dr. Reid in his "Inquiry into the Human Mind;" and, in our opinion, in a much clearer and more unexceptionable form. As to the merits of that philosophy, we have already taken occasion, in more places than one, to submit our opinion to the judgment of our readers; and, after having settled our accounts with Mr. Stewart and Dr. Reid, we really do not think it worth while to enter the lists again with Dr. Beattie. Whatever may be the excellence of the common-sense school of philosophy, he certainly has no claim to the honours of a founder. He invented none of it; and it is very doubtful with us, whether he ever rightly understood the principles upon which it depends. It unquestionable, at least, that he has exposed it to considerable disadvantage, and embarrassed its more enlightened supporters, by the misplaced confidence with which he has urged some propositions, and the fallacious and fantastic illustrations by which he has aimed at recommending many others.
His confidence and his inaccuracy, however, might have been easily forgiven. Every one has not the capacity of writing philosophically: But every one may at least be temperate and candid; and Dr. Beattie's book is still more remarkable for being abusive and acrimonious, than for its defects in argument or originality. There are no subjects, however, in the wide field of human speculation, upon which such vehemence appears more groundless and unaccountable, than the greater part of those which have served Dr. Beattie for topics of declamation or invective.
His first great battle is about the real existence of external objects. The sceptics say, that perception is merely an act or affection of the mind, and consequently might exist without any external cause. It is a sensation or affection of the mind, to be sure, which consists in the apprehension and belief of such external existences: But being in itself a phenomenon purely mental, it is a mere supposition or conjecture to hold that there are any such existences, by whose operation it is produced. It is impossible, therefore, to bring any evidence for the existence of material objects; and the belief which is admitted to be inseparable from the act of perception, can never be received as such evidence. The whole question is about the grounds of this belief, and not about its existence; and the phenomena of dreaming and madness prove experimentally, that perception, as characterised by belief, may exist where there is no external object. Dr. Beattie answers, after Dr. Reid, that the mere existence of this instinctive and indestructible belief in the reality of external objects, is a complete and sufficient proof of their reality; that nature meant us to be satisfied with it; and that we cannot call it in question, without running into the greatest absurdity.
This is the whole dispute; and a pretty correct summary of the argument upon both sides of the question. But is there any thing here that could justify the calling of names, or the violation of decorum among the dis putants? The question is, of all other questions that can be suggested, the most purely and entirely speculative, and obviously disconnected from any practical or moral consequences. After what Berkeley has written on the subject, it must be a gross and wilful fallacy to pretend that the conduct of men can be in the smallest degree affected by the opinions they entertain about the existence or nonexistence of matter. The system which maintains the latter, leaves all our sensations and perceptions unimpaired and entire; and as it is by these, and by these only, that our conduct can ever be guided, it is evident that it can never be altered by the adoption of that system. The whole dispute is about the cause or origin of our perceptions; which the one party ascribes to the action of external bodies, and the other to the inward development of some menfal energy. It is a question of pure curiosity; it never can be decided; and as its decision is perfectly in different and immaterial to any practical pur pose, so, it might have been expected that the discussion should be conducted without virulence or abuse.
The next grand dispute is about the evidence of Memory. The sceptics will have it, that we are sure of nothing but our present sensations; and that, though these are some times characterised by an impression and belief that other sensations did formerly exist, we can have no evidence of the justice of this belief, nor any certainty that this illusive conception of former sensation, which we call memory, may not be an original affection of our minds. The orthodox philosophers, on the other hand, maintain, that the instinctive reliance we have on memory is complete and satisfactory proof of its accuracy; that it is absurd to ask for the grounds of this belief; and that we cannot call it in question without manifest inconsistency. The same observations which were made on the argument for the existence of matter, apply also to this controversy. It is purely speculative, and with out application to any practical conclusion. The sceptics do not deny that they remember like other people, and, consequently, that they have an indestructible belief in past events or existences. All the question is about the origin, or the justice of this belief;-whether it arise from such events having actually happened before, or from some original affection of the mind, which is attended with that impression.
The argument, as commonly stated by the sceptics, leads only to a negative or sceptical conclusion. It amounts only to this, that the present sensation, which we call memory, affords no conclusive evidence of past existence; and that for any thing that can be proved to the contrary, nothing of what we remember may have existed. We think this undeniably true; and so we believe did Dr. Beattie. He thought it also very useless; and there, too,
consequences are perfectly harmless. Their reasonings are about as ingenious and as innocent as some of those which have been employed to establish certain strange paradoxes as to the nature of motion, or the infinite divisibility of matter. The argument is perfectly logical and unanswerable; and yet no man in his senses can practically admit the conclusion. Thus, it may be strictly demonstrated, that the swiftest moving body can never overtake the slowest which is before it at the commencement of the motion; or, in the words of the original problem, that the swift-footed Achilles could never overtake a snail that had a few yards the start of him. The reasoning upon which this valuable proposition is founded, does not admit, we believe, of any direct confutation; and yet there are few, we suppose, who, upon the faith of it, would take a bet as to the result of such a race. The sceptical reasonings as to the mind lead to no other practical conclusion; and may be answered or acquiesced in with the same good nature.
Such, however, are the chief topics which Dr. Beattie has discussed in this Essay, with a vehemence of temper, and an impotence of reasoning, equally surprising and humiliating to the cause of philosophy. The subjects we have mentioned occupy the greater part of the work, and are indeed almost the only ones to which its title at all applies. Yet we think it must be already apparent, that there is nothing whatever in the doctrines he opposes, to call down his indignation, or to justify his abuse. That there are other doctrines in some of the books which he has aimed at confuting, which would justify the most zealous opposition of every friend to religion, we readily admit; but these have no necessary dependence on the general speculative scepticism to which we have now been alluding, and will be best refuted by those who lay all that general reasoning entirely out of consideration. Mr. Hume's theory of morals,
The truth is, however, that all men have a practical and irresistible belief both in the existence of matter, and in the accuracy of memory; and that no sceptical writer ever meant or expected to destroy this practical belief in other persons. All that they aimed at was to show their own ingenuity, and the narrow limits of the human understanding;to point out a curious distinction between the evidence of immediate consciousness, and that of perception of memory, and to show that there was a kind of logical or argumentative possibility, that the objects of the latter faculties might have no existence. There never was any danger of their persuading which, when rightly understood, we conceive men to distrust their senses or their memory; to be both salutary and true, certainly has no nor can they be rationally suspected of such connection with his doctrine of ideas and iman intention. On the contrary, they neces-pressions; and the great question of liberty sarily took for granted the instinctive and in-and necessity, which Dr. Beattie has settled, destructible belief for which they found it so by mistaking, throughout, the power of doing difficult to account. Their whole reasonings what we will, for the power of willing withconsist of an attempt to explain that admitted out motives, evidently depends upon considerfact, and to ascertain the grounds upon which ations altogether apart from the nature and that belief depends. In the end, they agree immutability of truth. It has always appeared with their adversaries that those grounds can- to us, indeed, that too much importance has not be ascertained and the only difference been attached to Theories of morals, and to between them is, that the adversary main- speculations on the sources of approbation. tains that they need no explanation; while the Our feelings of approbation and disapprobasceptic insists that the want of it still leaves tion, and the moral distinctions which are a possibility that the belief may be fallacious; raised upon them, are Facts which no theory and at any rate establishes a distinction, in can alter, although it may fail to explain. degree, between the primary evidence of con- While these facts remain, they must regulate sciousness, which it is impossible to distrust the conduct, and affect the happiness of manwithout a contradiction, and the secondary evi- kind, whether they are well or ill accounted dence of perception and memory, which may for by the theories of philosophers. It is the be clearly conceived to be erroneous. same nearly with regard to the controversy about cause and effect. It does not appear to us, however, that Mr. Hume ever meant to deny the existence of such a relation, or of the relative idea of power. He has merely
To this extent, we are clearly of opinion that the sceptics are right; and though the value of the discovery certainly is as small as possible, we are just as well satisfied that its
we agree with him: But he thought it very wicked and very despicably silly; and there we cannot agree with him at all. It is a very pretty and ingenious puzzle,-affords a very useful mortification to human reason,-and leads us to that state of philosophical wonder and perplexity in which we feel our own helplessness, and in which we ought to feel the impropriety of all dogmatism or arrogance in reasoning upon such subjects. This is the only use and the only meaning of such sceptical speculations. It is altogether unfair, and indeed absurd, to suppose that their authors could ever mean positively to maintain that we should try to get the better of any reliance on our memories, or that they themselves really doubted more than other people as to the past reality of the things they remembered. The very arguments they use, indeed, to show that the evidence of memory may be fallacious, prove, completely, that, in point of fact, they relied as implicitly as their antagonists on the accuracy of that faculty. If they were not sure that they recollected the premises of their own reasonings, it is evidently impossible that they should ever have come to any conclusion. If they did not believe that they had seen the books they answered, it is impossible they should have set about answering them.
given a new theory as to its genealogy or descent; and detected some very gross inaccuracies in the opinions and reasonings which were formerly prevalent on the subject.
If Dr. Beattie had been able to refute these doctrines, we cannot help thinking that he would have done it with more temper and moderation; and disdained to court popularity by so much fulsome cant about common sense, virtue, and religion, and his contempt and abhorrence for infidels, sophists, and metaphysicians; by such babyish interjections, as fy on it! fy on it!"-such triumphant exclamations, as, "say, ye candid and intelligent!"-or such terrific addresses, as, "ye traitors to human kind! ye murderers of the human soul!"-"vain hypocrites! perfidious profligates!" and a variety of other embellishments, as dignified as original in a philosophical and argumentative treatise. The truth is, that the Essay acquired its popularity, partly from the indifference and dislike which has long prevailed in England, as to the metaphysical inquiries which were there made the subject of abuse; partly from the perpetual appeal which it affects to make from philosophical subtlety to common sense; and partly from the accidental circumstances of the author. It was a great matter for the orthodox, however, among those who have left college.
Philosophical Essays. By DUGALD STEWART, Esq., F. R. S. Edinburgh, Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, &c. &c. 4to. pp. 590. Edinburgh: 1810.
THE studies to which Mr. Stewart has devoted himself, have lately fallen out of favour with the English public; and the nation which once placed the name of Locke immediately under those of Shakespeare and of Newton, and has since repaid the metaphysical labours of Berkeley and of Hume with such just celebrity, seems now to be almost without zeal or curiosity as to the progress of the Philosophy of Mind.
The causes of this distaste it would be curious, and probably not uninstructive, to investigate but the inquiry would be laborious, and perhaps not very satisfactory. It is easy, indeed, to say, that the age has become frivolous and impatient of labour; and has abandoned this, along with all other good learning, and every pursuit that requires concentration of thought, and does not lead to immediate distinction. This is satire, and not reasoning; and, were it even a fair statement of the fact, such a revolution in the intellectual habits and character of a nation, is itself a phenomenon to be accounted for, and not to be accounted for upon light or shallow considerations. To us, the phenomenon, in so far as we are inclined to admit its existence, has always appeared to arise from the great multiplication of the branches of liberal study, and from the more extensive diffusion of knowledge among the body of the people,
scholars of the south, who knew little of meta physics themselves, to get a Scotch professor of philosophy to take up the gauntlet in their behalf. The contempt with which he chose to speak of his antagonists was the very tone which they wished to be adopted; and, some of them, imposed on by the confidence of his manner, and some resolved to give it all chances of imposing on others, they joined in one clamour of approbation, and proclaimed a triumph for a mere rash skirmisher, while the leader of the battle was still doubtful of the victory. The book, thus dandled into popularity by bishops and good ladies, contained many pieces of nursery eloquence, and much innocent pleasantry: it was not fatiguing to the understanding; and read less heavily, on the whole, than most of the Sunday library. In consequence of all these recommendations, it ran through various editions, and found its way into most well-regulated families; and, though made up of such stuff, as we really believe no grown man who had ever thought of the subject could possibly go through without nausea and compassion, still retains its place among the meritorious performances, by which youthful minds are to be purified and invigorated. We shall hear no more of it,
and to constitute, in this way, a signal example of that compensation, by which the good and evil in our lot is constantly equalised, or reduced at least to no very variable standard.
The progress of knowledge has given birth, of late years, to so many arts and sciences, that a man of liberal curiosity finds both sufficient occupation for his time, and sufficient exercise to his understanding, in acquiring a superficial knowledge of such as are most inviting and most popular; and, consequently, has much less leisure, and less inducement than formerly, to dedicate himself to those abstract studies which call for more patient and persevering attention. In older times, a man had nothing for it, but either to be absolutely ignorant and idle, or to take seriously to theology and the school logic. When things grew a little better, the classics and mathematics filled up the measure of general education and private study; and, in the most splendid periods of English philosophy, had received little addition, but from these investigations into our intellectual and moral nature. Some few individuals might attend to other things; but a knowledge of these was all that was required of men of good education; and was held ac complishment enough to entitle them to the rank of scholars and philosophers. Now-adays, however, the necessary qualification is prodigiously raised,-at least in denomina
elements of mathematical learning; and were even suspected of having fallen into several heresies in metaphysics, merely from want of time to get regularly at the truth!
If the philosophy of mind has really suffered more, from this universal hurry, than all her sister sciences of the same serious complexion, we should be inclined to ascribe this misfortune, partly to the very excellence of what has been already achieved by her votaries, and partly to the very severe treatment which their predecessors have received at their hands. Almost all the great practical maxims of this mistress of human life, such as the use of the principle of Association in education, and the
tion; and a man can scarcely pass current in the informed circles of society, without knowing something of political economy, chemistry, mineralogy, geology, and etymology, having a small notion of painting, sculpture, and architecture, with some sort of taste for the picturesque, and a smattering of German and Spanish literature, and even some idea of Indian, Sanscrit, and Chinese learning and history, over and above some little knowledge of trade and agriculture; with a reasonable acquaintance with what is called the philosophy of politics, and a far more extensive knowledge of existing parties, factions, and eminent individuals, both literary and political, at home and abroad, than ever were re-generation and consequences of Habits in all quired in any earlier period of society. The periods of life, have been lately illustrated in dissipation of time and of attention occasion- the most popular and satisfactory manner; ed by these multifarious occupations, is, of and rendered so clear and familiar, as rules course, very unfavourable to the pursuit of of practical utility, that few persons think it any abstract or continued study; and even if necessary to examine into the details of that a man could, for himself, be content to remain fine philosophy by which they may have been ignorant of many things, in order to obtain a first suggested, or brought into notice. There profound knowledge of a few, it would be is nothing that strikes one as very important difficult for him, in the present state of the to be known upon these subjects, which may world, to resist the impulse and the seduc- not now be established in a more vulgar and tions that assail him from without. Various empirical manner, -or which requires, in and superficial knowledge is now not only so order to be understood, that the whole procommon, that the want of it is felt as a dis- cess of a scientific investigation should be grace; but the facilities of acquiring it are so gone over. By most persons, therefore, the great, that it is scarcely possible to defend labour of such an investigation will be deourselves against its intrusion. So many easy clined; and the practical benefits applied— and pleasant elementary books,-such tempt- with ungrateful indifference to the sources ing summaries, abstracts, and tables,-such from which they were derived. Of those, beautiful engravings, and ingenious charts, again, whom curiosity might still tempt to and coups-d'ail of information,-so many mu- look a little closer upon this great field of seums, exhibitions, and collections, meet us at wonders, no small part are dismayed at the every corner, and so much amusing and pro- scene of ruin which it exhibits. The destrucvoking talk in every party, that a taste for tion of ancient errors, has hitherto constituted miscellaneous and imperfect information is so very large a part of the task of modern formed, almost before we are aware; and our philosophers, that they may be said to have time and curiosity irrevocably devoted to a been employed rather in throwing down, than sort of Encyclopedical trifling. in building up, and have as yet established very little but the fallacy of all former philosophy. Now, they who had been accustomed to admire that ancient philosophy, cannot be supposed to be much delighted with its demolition; and, at all events, are naturally discouraged from again attaching themselves to a system, which they may soon have the mortification of seeing subverted in its turn. In their minds, therefore, the opening of such a course of study is apt only to breed a general distrust of philosophy, and to rivet a conviction of its extreme and irremediable uncertainty: while those who had previously been indifferent to the systems of error, are displeased with the labour of a needless refutation; and disappointed to find, that, after a long course of inquiry, they are brought back to that very state of ignorance from which they had expected it would relieve them.
In the mean time, the misfortune is, that there is no popular nor royal road to the profounder and more abstract truths of philosophy; and that these are apt, accordingly, to fall into discredit or neglect, at a period when it is labour enough for most men to keep themselves up to the level of that great tide of popular information, which has been rising, with such unexampled rapidity, for the last forty years.
Such, we think, are the most general and uncontrollable causes which have recently depressed all the sciences requiring deep thought and solitary application, far below the level of their actual importance; and produced the singular appearance of a partial falling off in intellectual enterprise and vigour, in an age distinguished, perhaps, above all others, for the rapid development of the human faculties. The effect we had formerly occasion to observe, when treating of the singular decay of Mathematical science in England; and so powerful and extensive is the operation of the cause, that, even in the intellectual city which we inhabit, we have known instances of persons of good capacity who had never found leisure to go beyond the first
If anything could counteract the effect of these and some other causes, and revive in England that taste for abstract speculation for which it was once so distinguished, we should have expected this to be accomplished by the publications of the author before us.-The great celebrity of his name, and the uniform