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ON THE WRITINGS OF HOBBES.*
In the following Essays I shall attempt to give some account of the rise and progress of modern metaphysics, to state the opinions of the principal writers who have treated on the subject, from the time of Lord Bacon to the present day, and to examine the arguments by which they are supported. In the first place, it will be my object to shew what the real conclusions of the most celebrated authors were, and the steps by which they arrived at them: to trace the connexion or point out the difference between their
The following Essays form part of a series of Lectures delivered with very great effect by my father at the Russell Institution, in 1813. I found them with other papers in an old hamper which many years ago he stuffed confusedly full of MSS. and odd volumes of books, and left in the care of some lodging-house people, by whom it was thrown into a cellar, so damp that even the covers of some of the books were fast mouldering when I first looked over the collection. : The injury to the MSS. may be imagined. Some of the Lectures indeed, to my deep regret, are altogether missing, burnt probably, by the ignorant people of the house; and I have had the greatest difficulty in preparing those which remain for the press. They are, however, most valuable.- Note by the Editor.
several systems, as well as to inquire into the peculiar bias and turn of their minds, and in what their true strength or weakness lay. This will undoubtedly be best done by an immediate reference to their works whenever the nature of the subject admits of, it, or whenever their mode of reasoning is not so loose and desultory as to render the quotation of particular passages a useless as well as endless labour. In the History of English Philosophy, of which I published a prospectus some time ago, I intended to have gone regularly through with all the writers of any considerable note who fell within the limits of my plan, and to have given a detailed analysis of their several subjects and arguments.
But this would lead to much greater length and minuteness of inquiry than seems consistent with my present object, and would besides, I am afraid, prove (what Hobbes, speaking of these subjects in general, calls) “but dry discourse.” To avoid this as much as possible, I shall pass over all those writers who have not been distinguished either by the boldness of their opinions, or the logical precision of their arguments.
Indeed I shall confine my attention more particularly to those who have made themselves conspicuous by deviating from the beaten track, and who have struck out some original discovery or brilliant paradox; whose metaphysical systems
trench the closest on morality, or whose speculations, by the interest as well as novelty attached to them, have become topics of general conversation.
Secondly, besides stating the opinions of others, one principal object which I shall have in view will be to act as judge or umpire between them, to distinguish, as far as I am able, the boundaries of true and false philosophy, and to try if I cannot lay the foundation of a system more conformable to reason and experience, and, in its practical results at least, approaching nearer to the common sense of mankind, than the one which has been generally received by the most knowing persons who have attended to such subjects within the last century; I mean the material or modern philosophy, as it has been called. According to this philosophy, as I understand it, all thought is to be resolved into sensation, all morality into the love of pleasure, and all action into mechanical impulse. These three propositions, taken together, embrace almost every question relating to the human mind, and in their different ramifications and intersections form a net, not unlike that used by the enchanters of old, which, whosoever has once thrown over him, will find all his efforts to escape vain, and his attempts to reason freely on any subject in which