Page images
[ocr errors]

nature, it must be equally unreasonable to ad-
here to the earth, to be nourished with food,
or to die when the head is feparated from
the body. It is indeed eafy to affirm any
thing, provided a man can reconcile himself
to hypocrify and falfehood. A man
A man may af-
firm, that he fees with the foles of his feet,
that he believes there is no material world,
that he doubts of his own existence. He may
as well fay, that he believes one and two to
be equal to fix, a part to be greater than a
whole, a circle to be a triangle; and that it
may be poffible for the fame thing, at the
fame time, to be and not to be.

But it is faid, that our fenfes do often impose upon us; and that by means of reason we are enabled to detect the impofture, and to judge rightly even where our fenfes give us wrong information; that therefore our belief in the evidence of fenfe is not inftinctive or intuitive, but fuch as may be either confuted or confirmed by reafoning. We fhall acknowledge that our fenfes do often impose upon us but a little attention will convince us, that reafon, though it may be employed in correcting the prefent fallacious fenfation, by referring it to a former fenfation, received by us, or by other men, is not the ultimate judge in this matter; for that all fuch reasoning is refolvable into this principle of common fenfe, That things are what our external fenfes reprefent them. One inftance

[ocr errors]

ftance will fuffice at prefent for illustration of this point *

After having looked a moment at the fun, I fee a black, or perhaps a luminous, circle fwimming in the air, apparently at the diftance of two or three feet from my eyes. That I fee fuch a circle, is certain; that I believe I fee it, is certain; that I believe its appearance to be owing to fome caufe, is alfo certain :thus far there can be no imposture, and there is no fuppofition of any. Suppose me from this appearance to conclude, that a real, folid, tangible or visible, round substance, of a black or yellow colour, is actually swimming in the air before me; in this I fhould be mistaken. How then come I to know that I am mistaken? I may know it in feveral ways. 1. I stretch out my hand to the place where the circle feems to be floating in the air; and having felt nothing, I am inftantly convinced, that there is no tangible substance in that place. Is this conviction an inference of reafon? No; it is a conviction arifing from our innate propenfity to believe, that things are as our fenfes represent them. By this innate or instinctive propensity I believe that what I touch exists; by the fame propenfity I believe, that where I touch nothing, there nothing tangible does exist. If in the prefent cafe I were fufpicious of the veracity of my fenfes, I should neither

*See part 2. chap. 1. fect. 2.


believe nor difbelieve. 2. I turn my eyes towards the oppofite quarter of the heavens; and having still observed the fame circle floating before them, and knowing by expe rience, that the motion of bodies placed at a distance from me does not follow or depend on the motion of my body, I conclude, that the appearance is owing, not to a real, external, corporeal object, but to fome diforder in my organ of fight. Here reasoning is employed; but where does it terminate? It terminates in experience, which I have acquired by means of my fenfes. But if I believed them fallacious, if I believed things to be otherwife than my fenfes represent them, I fhould never, by their means, acquire experience at all. Or, 3. I apply, first to one man, then to another, and then to a third, who all affure me, that they perceive no fuch circle floating in the air, and at the fame time inform me of the true caufe of the appearance. I believe their declaration, either because I have had experience of their veracity, or because I have an innate propenfity to credit teftimony. To gain experience implies a belief in the evidence of fenfe, which reafoning cannot account for; and a propenfity to credit teftimony previous to experience or reasoning, is equally unaccountable *.-So that, although we acknowledge fome of our fenfes, in fome inftances, de

* See fect. 8. of this chapter.



ceitful, our detection of the deceit, whether by the evidence of our other fenfes, or by a retrospect to our past experience, or by our trusting to the teftimony of other men, does ftill imply, that we do and must believe our fenfes previously to all reafoning *.

A human creature born with a propensity to disbelieve his fenfes, would be as helpless as if he wanted them. To his own prefervation he could contribute nothing; and, after ages of being, would remain as deftitute of knowledge and experience, as when he began to be.

Sometimes we seem to diftrust the evidence of our fenfes, when in reality we only doubt whether we have that evidence. I may appeal to any man, if he were thoroughly convinced that he had really, when awake, feen and converfed with a ghoft, whether any reasoning would convince him that it was a delufion. Reasoning might lead him to fufpect that he had been dreaming, and therefore to doubt whether or not he had the evidence of fenfe; but if he were affured that he had that evidence, no arguments would fhake his belief.

*See part 2. chap. 1. fect. 2.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]


Of the Evidence of Internal Senfe, or Consciousnefs.

BY attending to what paffes in my mind, I know, not only that it exifts, but also that it exerts certain powers of action and perception; which, on account either of a diversity in their objects, or of a difference in their manner of operating, I confider as diftinct faculties; and which I find it expedient to distinguish by different names, that I may be able to speak of them fo as to be underftood. Thus I am confcious that at one time I exert memory, at another time imagination fometimes I believe, fometimes I doubt the performance of certain actions, and the indulgence of certain affections, is attended with an agreeable feeling of a peculiar kind, which I call moral approbation; different actions and affections excite the oppofite feeling, of moral disapprobation: to relieve distress, I feel to be meritorious and praife-worthy; to pick a pocket, I know to be blameable, and worthy of punishment: I am confcious that fome actions are in my power, and that others are not; that when I neglect to do what I ought to do, and can VOL. I.



« PreviousContinue »