« PreviousContinue »
PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN MIND.
If the physical sciences have received great improvements during the century under consideration, it is feared the same cannot; with truth, be said respecting the science of the human mind, and the auxiliary branches of philosophy. In this wide field, new experiments and discoveries, in the proper sense of the words, can have no place; and there are serious grounds of suspicion, that many modern systems of high claims, and imposing aspect, are, by no means, substantial additions to the sum of knowledge. There is no doubt, indeed, that we have happily gotten rid of much pedantry and jargon, which once obtained currency among the learned. We have thrown off the stiff, uncouth, and disgusting habiliments which
formerly enveloped the systems of the schoolmerf. But, in many cases, there is reason to believe, that one jargon has been discarded only to adopt another equally exceptionable. Various old dresses have been laid aside, to make way for others more fashionable, indeed, but no less fantastic and odious. This character, however, though it belongs to many modern metaphysical writers, by no means applies to all. The last age has, doubtless, produced some writers, to whom we are indebted for substantial improvements, and real progress in the interesting field of inquiry under consideration. Even some of those, who taught doctrines, in general, delusive, yet have shed new light, and contributed to clear the way for those who should come after them. By many running to and fro, though they frequently deviated into the paths of error, knowledge has been, on the whole, increased.
It has been peculiarly happy for this branch of philosophy, that, in modern times, the principles and power of language have been more studied, and better understood, than in any preceding century. One great cause of the dark ness and perplexity which so long hung over many of the doctrines of mind, was the loose and inaca curate manner in which the terms employed to explain the phenomena were used. This evil, though not entirely, has been, in some measure, corrected. The use and abuse of terms have received a more enlightened attention than in former times. The art of definition has become more precise, intelligible, and popular. The senseless prating about occult qualities, and the perpetual use of unmeaning words, have gradually become less fashionable. A habit of more precisely distinguishing between cause and effect, between those things which may be investigated and those which are beyond the reach of the human mind, and between those
truths which are self-evident and such as require demonstration, has been introduced, and is still gaining ground. And although the sceptical tendency of the age has retarded the progress of this department of philosophy in these various respects, yet we have reason to rejoice that so much progress, through defiles of error, has been made as to render the last age one of the most distinguished periods in the annals of the human mind.
It is, however, a curious fact, that while a much more simple and intelligible philosophy of mind has, in the course of the last age, taken the place of former perplexed and abstruse systems, yet the study of metaphysics, through the whole of that age, has been almost uniformly declining in popularity. That taste for light and superficial reading which so remarkably characterizes modern times, cannot endure the accurate, the profound, and the patient thinking, so indispensably necessary for pursuing investigations into the laws, powers, and progress of our intellectual faculties. Hence the word metaphysics is seldom pronounced but with contempt, as signifying something useless, unintelligible, or absurd. But the profundity and diffi, culty of the subject do not form the only reason of that general neglect, and want of popularity attending studies of this kind, at a period when they might be expected to command more esteem and attention. The dreams, and mystical nonsense of the schoolmen, which scarcely began to be rejected till the time of DESCARTES, and which were not generally thrown aside till after the labours of Mr. LOCKE, led a large number, even of the literary and ingenious, to decry pursuits of this nature, and to imbibe strong prejudices against them. These prejudices have descended through successive generations, and are yet far from having lost their influence. But if mind be our better part;
if its powers and activity be all important, as every one must acknowledge them to be; and if some correct understanding of these powers be intimately connected with our improvement, comfort, and usefulness; then to despise metaphysics is to despise one of the noblest objects of human inquiry, and to display a most unworthy ignorance of the comparative worth of those studies which invite our attention.
It was before remarked, that at the opening of the century, Mr. LockE had laid his Essay on Human Understanding before the world. The publication of this great work forms an era in the history of metaphysical science. The author was the first who gave, in the English language, an example of writing on such abstract subjects, with simplicity and perspicuity; and there is, perhaps, no work, in any language, “ better adapted to teach men to think with precision, and to inspire them with that candour and love of truth which is the genuine spirit of philosophy.”
Though Des Cartes had done much, before the time of Mr. Locke,a to correct the errors which abounded in the ancient systems of metaphysics; and though some of the leading opinions of that great French philosopher were adopted by the illustrious Briton, yet the latter was, in many respects, an original, and a reformer in science. His investigations concerning the origin and formation
a Des Cartes was the first metaphysician who drew a plain and intek ligible line of distinction between the intellectual and material world, or between spirit and body. The importance and utility of this distincțion are obvious. He was the first who showed that the analogical mode of reasoning, concerning the powers of the mind, from the properties of body, is totally erroneous; and that accurate reflection on the operations of our own mind, is the only way to gain a just knowledge of them. It was his philosophy which threw the phantasms, the sensible species, the substantia forms, &c. of the old systems into disgrace, and introduced a more siniple, perspicuous and rational method of investigating metaphysical truth.