Page images

must be obtained.

only with ridicule or pity, which could have been placed by the side of Bacon or Newton, or even before them.”

The high admiration felt for these great minds was associated with their works, and forbade all doubts or inquiry as to the truth of their principles. A very slight examination of the subject would show, how great a portion of the difficulties, which have in modern times obstructed the progress of intellectual philosophy, may be traced to the influence of ancient systems.

“The conquests of Alexander live only in books of history, but a few phrases achieved for Aristotle a far more extensive and lasting conquest ; and are perhaps even now exerting no small sway over minds, which smile at them with scorn."

To this source may be traced the vain disputations of the schools, which almost put a stop to the progress of the human mind for centuries. While men believed they discovered a new truth, in announcing one already known in different terms; while they admitted that the most absurd conclusion, if arrived at according to a prescribed process of reasoning, stood on as fair

, or even better ground, than those elementary principles which all men admit without any reasoning at all, little advancement could be expected in intellectual knowledge, and still less improvement in that faculty by whose exercise all knowledge

The absurdities to which a blind devotion to the ancient systems had led the learned, roused the genius of modern times. This, and the spirit of inquiry to which the Reformation had given birth, prepared the way for Bacon, to whose matchless genius it is not too much to say we owe the rapid advancement which is now making in every department of science.

The rules which Bacon gives are rules of physical investigation ; but they are drawn from juster views of the laws of the mind, than had before his time prevailed ; and the erroneous opinions which preceded them, were founded on false theories of intellect. It was the temple of the mind, and not the temple of nature, which he purified of its idols, before truth would deign to unveil herself to adoration."

It is not surprising, even after Bacon had shown the true method of philosophizing, that

the ancient errors should still cling to the study of metaphysics, and that while the physical sciences were proceeding by fair and copious induction to collect truths, as the materials for their systems, the philosophy of the human mind should yet abide by its hypothetical method. The inductive method is more easily applied

to the phenomena of the material world, and its advantage more immediately apparent, than in inquiries concerning the mind; and that same prominence and importance in our every-day concerns, which entitled these stu

dies to priority in cultivation, also caused them to be the first to catch the light of a truer philosophy.

The maxim, that nothing is to be believed which cannot be proved, that is, logically proved, (a relic of ancient philosophy,) has occasioned a deplorable waste of intellect, even in our own times. It brought confusion into the reasonings of so sound an understanding as that of Locke; e. g. he thought it necessary to adduce reasons for believing in personal identity, and could find no better foundation for this great truth, than consciousness; but consciousness would become responsible only for the present moment; the burden was laid upon memory; and as this of all our imperfect powers is the one oftenest liable to fail, we are thus left without security on a point of all others most interesting to ourselves. To this cause may also be ascribed in no small degree, the sceptical conclusions of Berkeley and Hume. The acute reasonings of these writers, had they been deduced from true principles, might have furnished results of lasting benefit to mankind. Minds of such high endowments are scattered thinly along the course of ages, and it is indeed disheartening to find their labours and talents rendered useless, and worse than useless, to the myriads of humble minds they were formed to enlighten and direct. If it be admitted, that philosophical errors of more than two thousand years' standing, have, during the course of these successive ages, usurped the place of truth; have retarded the natural progress of improvement, and directed the efforts of the great and learned, to inquiries at best visionary, but often detrimental, it must be allowed that a just system of intellectual philosophy, would be of inestimable value to mankind.

The objects of this science are so illusive, we can hardly expect that any thing like the certainty which belongs to the material sciences should ever be attained; but, as Brown has remarked, “attention will be turned to the subject, and systems will be formed.” We see from the injurious and lasting influence of ancient philosophy, how important it is that these systems should not be founded in error, that the true limits of the human understanding should be recognised, and that a method of investigation, even more cautious than that now introduced into the material sciences, should be pursued. If we could obtain an arrangement and analysis of mental phenomena, which should do no more than guard us against metaphysical errors, (and perhaps this is all that can be expected, it would be the means of removing no slight impediments to improvement.

Besides the obstructions to the progress of intellectual philosophy, which the errors received from the ancients have placed in the way, there are some difficulties arising from the nature of the subject itself. The metaphysician cannot, like the chemist or mineralogist, collect a cabinet of specimens which are true and complete representatives of the objects of his science, and which the learned may consult at leisure. The subjects to which he would direct the attention are evanescent, and can be preserved only in description. The terms which have become technical in this science, savour so much of ancient systems, that it is difficult to use them without receiving some little bias of error. This circumstance induces each writer to make a new selection of terms, and he is guided in his choice by those analogies which his own associations have suggested. Thus no fixed nomenclature has as yet been adopted; but, on the contrary, the same terms are used in different senses, by different authors. But it must not be thought that the labours of so many learned men, who have treated on the human mind, are wholly useless; sublime speculations, and just views, particularly of our moral nature, are found in the works of the ancients.

The writings of later authors are still more valuable; and those of our own times, have done more for the science, than all the rest. Among these, the Scotch philosophers are distinguished. Dr. Reid is a writer of great force and simplicity. He clearly discerned the causes which had impeded the progress of intellectual philosophy, and felt that no advance could be made, till these causes were removed. He cleared away much of the rubbish with which ancient systems had clogged the study, and presented it, in comparative simplicity, to the attention of the learned. The works of Dugald Stewart form another valuable accession to the science; he has been very successful in showing the importance of accuracy in language, and the errors to which the metaphysician is peculiarly liable, from the analogical nature of the terms which he is obliged to employ. He has also enforced the importance of the inductive method in intellectual investigation, and fully illustrated this by his own success in its use.

Besides these writers, many other authors of note might be enumerated, who have each done something towards lessening the obscurity by which truth has been concealed from our view. Could all that is just and clear in these works be collected, and separated from what is erroneous and ill digested, we should already find ourselves in possession of a valuable mass of intellectual knowledge. But the relation of the philosophy of the human mind to the common pursuits of life, is not obvious to any but the philosopher. Its extensive bearing on almost all the departments of knowledge, is hardly recognised at the present day; and, in the prejudice which practical minds have imbibed against it, the errors of metaphysicians are confounded with the science itself.

The lectures of Professor Brown on the philosophy of the human mind, will, we trust, avail much in the removal of this prejudice. If we may judge from his writings, he must have possessed a mind inost happily suited to this study. Formed to habits of nice investigation, and not wanting in that sensibility which would secure him from a dry and speculative mode of treating it; with the refined analysis, and deep research, essential in so abstract and intricate a subject, he has constantly preserved that reference to the real business, and the great ends of life, which alone could render his inquiries of practical advantage; and he has adorned these profound investigations with all the beauties of taste and feeling. A striking feature in Brown's philosophy, is its religious character. It is in fact a work of natural theology, no less than Paley's. His nice arrangement and analysis of our intellectual powers and capacities, his apt and beautiful illustrations, seem all designed as a preparation, for showing forth the true end of all knowledge, a contemplation and love of the Great Being, who formed these capacities for happiness and improvement, and so nicely adapted man to the varied scene in which he is placed. The illustrations in this work have as much, perhaps to many they have more merit, than the reasonings. They are splendid passages, distinguished no less by force and accuracy of thought, than by richness and delicacy of fancy. In a mind of sensibility and imagination, metaphysical inquiries, when not exclusively pursued, impart to its productions that truth of character, and delicacy of finish, which are marked by the touches of a master.

Another excellence of this work is its method; which is entirely his own, and possesses the essential characters of a scientific arrangement, simplicity and comprehension. The progress of intellectual as well as material philosophy, has been retarded by the want of an arrangement, in which all the learned would agree. Indeed, since the time of the ten categories, it has been an object with philosophers, not so much to investigate and explain the laws and the relations of the phenomena of nature, as to arrange these according to a method better suited to their own views, than the method of preceding writers. The arrangement which Brown has adopted, is so simple and complete, that we hope succeeding writers may be induced to make it the groundwork of their own inquiries. If this, or any arrangement, could be universally adopted, we should soon obtain a fixed nomenclature; and something of that permanence and certainty, which have not till lately been attained in the material sciences, might be given to the science of mind.

Our object is to give a brief account of Brown's philosophy, as nearly as possible in the words of the author, with now and then a few remarks of our own, and occasional extracts. We hope, in doing this, to convey an idea of a book so justly celebrated, to some, who may not have leisure to go through the whole, and also to refresh the memories of others who have studied the original.

The introductory lectures are employed in showing the importance and the practicability of the philosophy of the human mind. Of its importance, it would be unnecessary to speak, if a prejudice did not, as we have already said,) exist against it in many judicious minds. We recommend a perusal of the four first lectures, which contain an able and eloquent defence of this science, and a just view of its relation to the arts and sciences generally, and to morality.

With respect to the question of practicability, Brown says, “the Physics of mind are like those of matter, only an analysis and arrangement of its phenomena.” This is more difficult in mind than in matter; but these difficulties are by no means insurmountable. The phenomena of mind may be arranged according to their succession, no less than those of matter. Professor Brown has, in a former work, given a very simple exposition of the notion we are to form of cause and effect. He has introduced his theory into these lectures. According to him, all we can learn of the phenomena of either matter or mind, is their invariable succession ; that is, the order in which they invariably precede each other. This is to know their causes and effects. It is not merely all that our faculties are capable of discerning; it is all that actually exists. When, upon a more exact examination, we become better acquainted with the phenomena immediately preceding any result, than we were before, we flatter ourselves we have learnt what we call the cause of this effect, when the fact is, we have only become acquainted with one or more circumstances, in that invariable order of events, which terminates in the result. The degree of our knowledge is increased, but its nature is the same. Thus the term cause, is only an abstraction of the mind, and means nothing which exists in nature distinct from the phenomena themselves.

Although this view of the subject may not appear satisfactory to those who are unaccustomed to nice investigation, it will, on examination, be found to be strictly accurate. However refined our observation of nature may be, still we can only add to the knowledge already possessed, an acquaintance with phenomena which a less careful observation had passed by, but which were not the less truly a part of the series. There is no mysterious agent undiscoverable by our faculties which links these phenomena together, other than the Maker which establishes their invariable order. Power or cause cannot be any thing separate from the phenomena themselves, any more than figure can exist without something figured. They are both abstractions of the mind, and belong to that class of universals once regarded as the only

« PreviousContinue »