Imatges de pÓgina

and the language in which the ancient The beneficial influence of the study poets of the most cultivated times of physical knowledge, pursued in speak of the feelings and faculties that the spirit of wonder and imaginabelong to philosophy, all testify to the tion, is chiefly to be looked for in this same purpose. Nor should we have moral effect; in the high and powerful much difficulty in believing, that the place which it concurred to assign to power in men's minds, which could the faculties of intellect in the indivisuspend the strong passions of life, dual mind in the living man.-Knowwhich in fierce and turbulent ages, in ledge itself, it is probable that it often the midst of ardent and perilous con- darkened. It could not be otherwise. tention, could turn them to lonely For, carrying upon scanty materials of thought, and to the still contempla- thought great and eager force of con. tion of nature, was sprung from a ception, it must needs rear up to itself deeper source, as it held them with a

at once a vast edifice of seeming know: stronger controul, than is known to ledge, which, disproportionate as it the philosophy of an age like ours. was to the realities upon which it was

These powerful feelings, whatever constructed, could only be illusion. they may have been, pass away; and When these feelings are passed away, there remains to an age like our own, if ever an era of science should arrive, as the impulse to the same pursuits in which the value of such knowledge intellectual pleasure the love of truth is appreciated merely by the power - and the confidence in important re- which it gives to man in his dominion sults of investigation, extending the over nature for the purposes of life dominion of man over nature.

then these results are reversed. Truth If now we should attempt to com- is discovered ; for only the most exact pare the results of these two states of truth satisfies the purpose of inquiry. science, it may appear, that the ten- But the intellectual mind is lowered. dency of inquiry pursued under those It is made a servant to life. No longer strong original impulses, was not so united with imagination and sensibimuch to extend the actual dominion lity, no longer carried back into itself, of science, as to bring back to the mind from its excursion amidst material its own action resulting upon itself. knowledge, with augmented sense of The intellectual powers, filled with its own sublimity of power-it cannot energetic life by the passion that incited bring back into the man himself a moand sustained their exertion, grew to ral exaltation—but it accustoms him to their height of native strength; and deduce a value to his own powers from at the same time, being blended in the purposes in which they are emtheir strong action with sensibility and "ployed. It teaches him at last to feel, wonder, and thus let into the moral that he with his faculties is important, nature, they turned on it their own only because the objects of his knowstrength, and exalted the individual ledge are more important than him. character of the man himself. Hence self. we may read in the history of early But before science can fall into such ages, examples of high moral powers degradation, if it should ever fall into produced by the love of knowledge ; à it, it passes through an intermediate proud and lofty strength, an exaltation and a better state : when intellectual and fortitude of character growing out pleasure, and the love of truth, are the of the speculative faculties, which

gave incitement to its cultivation. to the contemplative philosopher his This is the epoch, when its benefiequal place, among the stern and gi- cial influences appear the most un. gantic progeny of the times. The re- questionable; when its effects seem verence of a dark age was around him; necessarily the most pure. Yet it and if he could dissipate neither their seems possible, that even these effects darkness nor his own, yet he upheld in may be over-rated, and may be carried the midst of their violent and agitated to excess. life the veneration of intellect. He felt Intellectual pleasure is a just motive it deeply in himself-he impressed it in to the pursuit of science ; for we have awe upon others and transmitted in a right to the natural enjoyment of all unimpaired vigour the germ of intel- our faculties. It is salutary too, as all lectual life, to the ages in which its natural and grateful activity induces own sun should arise upon it, to call health and vigour.-But we over-rate it forth into beauty.

the value of intellectual pleasure, when we conceive any intellectual end to be not to be wondered, if with this seduc. the chief purpose of science'; which tive aid to natural inclination, this we easily do from its intellectual na- strength grafted on natural infirmity, ture; forgetting that its highest end difficulties should grow to moral science, is to serve a moral utility. We over- and if the world which it explores, rate it still more unduly, when we es- should diminish in comparison into nare teem in such pursuits our own enjoy. row compass, and fade into shadows. ment, merely withdrawing ourselves There is an injury to moral contemfrom consideration of the service which plation arising also from the influence all our faculties are bound to render. of these studies, on the character of We indulge it in excess, when the in- the intellectual faculties. The facul. terest of the knowledge we attain, is ties, exercised in the investigations of less than the pleasure of our own in- physical science, attain to a new and tellectual activity.

unknown precision in their action; a The love of truth, is the purest of result of great general importance, if all the purposes of science. It en- it could be kept merely subordinate ; nobles the faculties it employs, and but which is in danger, if it draws carries its unconscious virtue into the to itself excessive estimation, of deceivwhole moral being. The study of evening the mind into too low an estimate natural truth, has this high and bene- of its other most important faculties. ficial character; but the study of na- The absolute necessity of this intellectural truth, is in some respects liable tual exactness, in material knowledge to excess, and to over-estimation. and arts, and the overwhelming magni

For it has a tendency to raise itself tude of the results that are thus built, up into competition with moral truth; it may be said, upon that quality alone, not in those minds, perhaps, which concur to generate in the mind a scorn, pursue it in purity and simplicity, a slight regard, at least, of all those but in all those which pursue it in faculties, in which this strongly dethe pride of their power, and in all fined action is wanting. Imagination, those which are carried to it by a con- sensibility, passion, the sources of tagious ardour of opinion. It may be moral knowledge, are lowered in the said, especially, that when the study scale of esteem : not upon a consideraof physical science becomes on any ac- tion of their actual place in human na. count the favourite and general pur- ture, or of their influence upon lifesuit of an age, it tends strongly and but because their action, so often obdirectly to obscure moral truth. scure, troubled, and indefinite, wants

The subjects of moral knowledge, that virtue of precision, by which the though of all the most real to the mind, faculties merely intellectual have aare to a judgment immersed in the chieved their stupendous works, have objects of sense, shadowy and unsub- subjected the laws of nature to their stantial. The mind, incorporated as knowledge, and her powers to their it is, in life, with matter, is prone to sway. forget its own independent nature. It These observations, as far as they withdraws itself with effort from sense, are true, apply to the whole circle of and easily yields to its solicitings. physical science. We would add a single Material science flatters this declension observation, on that particular science, of the spirit; while in the faculties it of which we have more peculiarly spoemploys, it seems to allow the mind ken, that science, which in the labothe privileges of its higher nature, ratories of the alchemists was perhaps and yet calls it down into the sphere the most mysterious and full of imaof sense.

The spirit, prone to delu- gination of all the sciences, and which is sion, engages without suspicion, in become, in the hands of modern chethat knowledge, in which it is yet in- mists, of all the most material in tellectual, while it is given over to its ordinary state, the most separated matter : it attains moreover, such easy from mind. For the intellectual culsatisfaction,-it finds so soon a firm tivation yielded by any science, arises resting-place in the knowledge which from the intellectual interest with is built of such solid materials; and which it is pursued. As long as the conceives in its system of science, die materials that are subjected to the unmension and structure like that of the derstanding invite the faculties to exerworld itself, which its system presumes tion, as long as awakened intelligence to embrace and comprehend. It is is discovering its own paths among

such materials of knowledge, proving the intellect, it imposes a task upon its own strength, and consciously en- the faculties, which, at the same time larging its own capacity, it feels plea- that it requires their strength, oppresses sure return upon itself from its exer- it. In short, by the great extent of tion,-it acknowledges in its aetivity knowledge, which as mere knowledge a self-derived enjoyment; it is un- it lays upon its student, it takes its folding its own nature, by following place at the head of those pursuits, out its dictates. But to this result of which in their commencement are inScience, it is evidently necessary, that viting, grateful, and invigorating to it should be pursued with something the intellectual faculties; but as they of the genius of discovery, in the spirit proceed, passing over the just limits of of inventive inquiry, in the conscious- à natural interest, begin to contract ness of original and independent the capacity they had before enlarged, thought. The science of chemistry, and to stifle the animation of thought as long as it is so pursued, by the ex- they had helped to kindle. treme minuteness, the intricacy, and To the causes which have been thus the occult nature it may be said of its imperfectly stated; and to causes akin investigations, requiring a very subtle to these, may be ascribed perhaps in and delicate, as well as a very exact great part, that dereliction of the most action of the intellectual faculties, important, and naturally most attractends to produce on them a cultivation tive knowledge, which marks the spirit of corresponding character. But when of philosophy in the present day. it extends itself, as with us it does, far Other causes, no doubt, and of a deepbeyond the natural limits of intellectual er origin, have contributed to give to interest; when, comprehending vast the faculties merely intellectual, their ranges of objects, it raises up a new present usurped place in philosophy: purpose to the mind, not to satisfy its but the general ardent pursuit of phyown inquiring intelligence, but to sical science appears necessarily to possess the whole extent of discovery, concur to the same effect :-Nor does which an age has brought forth, from there seem more reason to doubt, that that time it changes its intellectual the ultimate tendency of these studies character. It is to the mind no longer in excess, is to degrade and injure the pure intellectual science.

It is an

faculties which they raise up in the enormous accumulation of facts: and, first place to an unnatural and undue instead of infusing by the spirit of de- authority. light, a living vigour into the action of



terms for the use of metaphysical I have just been reading with much writers." " If, indeed, they disapprove pleasure an article continued through his phraseology, they may well be extwo numbers of your work, in vindi- cused for not having adopted it, but cation of professor Stewart's philoso- they can hardly be excused for not phy, but am inclined, nevertheless, to having stated their objections to it, take up discussion with the writer, if and pointed out the circumstances in it may be permitted to do so at this which it differs from their own.

But distance of time, on a suggestion with if they think that a correct, uniform, which he closes his observations. and definite phraseology is not of the The phraseology,” he says, “ which utmost importance in logic and metathese writers,” (the Quarterly Reviewers physics, then they maintain an opinwhose strictures gave occasion to the ion which is directly opposed to that vindication)"have employed in contro- of the greatest authorities on those verting Mr Stewart's doctrines, is so subjects, and for which it was still very different from his, as to occasion more incumbent on them to assign much embarrassment to one who their reasons.” wishes to form a judgment of the Now, Sir, I ask, must the impugner of controversy.” “ They must be aware another's doctrines, either adopt his lanthat this author has been at great guage or give his reasons for dissenting pains to fix upon precise and definite from it? I think it is a very arbitrary

requisition. To adopt the language of senting from it, should be presumed a philosopher in impugning his doc- to hold that correct and definite lantrines must be generally impractica- guage is not important in philosophy, ble; for what is the specific language I find it still more difficult to underof a system, but a language involving stand. The charge is severe ; it its principles ?-But even if the lan- would seem to me to have required guage be distinct from the doctrines, other grounds to rest on. how am I under obligation to adopt But with respect to the charge of it ?--For the convenience of the holding a uniform language to be not judges, before whom the controversy important in philosophy, and to the is carried on ?-But for them it general tenor of the whole passage, should be sufficient that I speak a re- which insists so much upon the value cognized language of philosophy, and or necessity of a language fixed and it is their part to be prepared to un- defined for the use of philosophical derstand me. The only ground of cen- writers--as this involves matter of sure I can allow is, not that my lan- much more general argument, and guage is not of this or that philosophy, was chiefly in my mind in beginning but that it is unphilosophical.-But if to write at all-on this subject I will I reject the language as disapproving venture to speak a little more at large. it, upon what ground am I required I am aware that much importance to specify and explain this disap- has often been ascribed by writers in proval ?-Why is it not enough if I philosophy, to thus limiting and fixcontrovert the principles of a system ing the signification of words; and in intelligible language ? - Why must that much labour has been bestowed I first controvert its phraseology ?- on the object of thus establishing a

To me it would appear that one clear and correct philosophical lanwriter offering criticism on the philo- guage. But to my own mind, I consophical writings of another, even if fess, there has always appeared somethese comprehended an entire sys- thing harsh and unsatisfactory in the tem of philosophy, and were of high method of proceeding; and at varireputation and authority in the coun- ance, I should say, with the nature try to which both belonged, may with of language itself, nor have I been perfect propriety adopt any one of well able to comprehend the

grounds three courses.

He may, if he pleases, of its alleged importance. The prowrite for the pupils of that philoso- ceeding of which I speak, it will be phy; and then, if he can do it with understood, is the assigning to words satisfaction to himself he may, as a of common language a meaning either facility and 'an indulgence to them, more enlarged or more restrained than adopt the language to which their that which they commonly bear, and minds have been formed-Or he may so rendering them applicable to philowrite to the philosophical world ; in sophical use. which case it is open to him to use One purpose I conceive for which a the language of any recognized system metaphysical writer may be induced of philosophy to which he himself is to adopt words to meanings of his attached, or he may use what he con- own, is to give names to new ideas. ceives to be a more general language An original mind bending its intense of metaphysics, current among philo- action on any branch of science, and, sophers at large :-Or, finally, writing by such action, if I may say so, causto both these classes, and to all the ing it to unfold its natural growth, good understandings of an intelligent as the power of such minds in such nation besides, he may use let me application does indeed produce knowspeak without offence his mother- ledge, and give to science a being of tongue :-he may use, I should ima- which the principles already existed gine, a natural language, free from in nature, but did not before take any limitations assigned by one sys- their form ;—An original mind thus tem of philosophy or another, and creating science, produces new concepwhich, adapting itself to natural truth, tions and new forms of thought, will be found to adapt itself also to which in the exposition of such natural understanding.

science may require new names, either Why the Quarterly Reviewers, from because the language will not furnish having neither adopted Mr Stewart's them expression, even with much cirlanguage nor assigned reasons for dis- cumlocution, or because, being ne

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

1819.) Impossibility of a Standard of Language in Metaphysics. 41 cessarily of continual recurrence in taphysical writer, having exceedingly such exposition, there is needed for familiar to his mind certain thoughts them a simple and brief expression to and certain courses of thought, and savenot the labour only but thegreat ob having their expression in like manner scurity of continual circumlocution. In exceedingly familiar, does by degrees such cases it has been customary, I be- come to affix to any terms of variable lieve, either to form new words within signification occurring in such expresthe language, if its genius allowed it, or sion, that peculiar meaning which to adapt words from some other lan- they there possess, more readily than guage. In either case, the harshness any other. So that his own mind no of the new-formed words has not of- longer needs with the term those cirfended in the language of science, and cumstances of concomitant expression, they have gradually passed, with the which would otherwise be necessary extension of knowledge, into the lan- to suggest and determine the peculiar guage of the country.

acceptation. His mind leaps, as it This case I have stated, rather to were, to that acceptation which is so separate it from the consideration of familiar. And in writing he no longthe present question than in part of er conceives the different state of other it. The question, I conceive, of fix- men's minds from his own in this resing a language of philosophy, applies pect; but writing to them, as he to those subjects and those ideas speaks to himself, he uses a too ellipwhich are already familiar in philo- tical expression, and sets before them sophy, and for which expression has a term which he distinctly underhitherto been sought in the language stands, unaccompanied by those quaof the country. It appears to some lifying circumstances which should writer whose thoughts are more pre- determine or even suggest its peculiar cise, or he fancies so, than those meaning. To him, perhaps, it would of others who have treated the same bear his own appropriated meaning, subject before him, that they have under circumstances which to other used certain terms too laxly or minds would determine another sigvaguely-by which I should under- nification. stand variably, for any vagueness or

Under the force of this kind of ha. laxity in the signification of a word bitual impression of certain terms, an on any single occasion, can mean inquirer of great force of mind, and merely that the conception which the great clearness and distinctness of passage should express is so obscurely thought, might, it should seem, in and imperfectly expressed, as not to writing, use misleading expressions. assign the exact signification of each And yet it would seem to mē, that in of its terms, which would be no more such a case, nothing more than the in effect than that such a particular knowledge of his writings, and such sentence was ill-written, which could acquaintance as they might give with plainly be no ground for proposing the habits of his mind, would be reany general alteration in language. quired to remove such error, and to The vagueness or laxity of significa. clear up occasional obscurity. tion, therefore, which gives ground If in the minds of different writers for proposing to assign the meaning of the same word has acquired, in other a word must be a variable signifi- senses, this kind of appropriation, cation. The inconvenience or evil it there is room, it is evident, for still is intended to remedy must be, that greater obscurity and error in the conthe meaning of any such word is so fusion of associations with which its unfixed in the popular language, that use will be attended in passing from philosophical writers themselves have one of these writers to another. And used it, some with one application, or the obscurity and error which may one extent of meaning, and some with thus attach themselves to writings of another; or the same writers differ- great merit and value, are the inconently, at different times. But still venience and evil which I conceive it what is the inconvenience? If every is intended to remedy, when it is propassage in itself were justly written, posed to fix the philosophical meaning it should assign the meaning in which of the words of language. the word is there used, and leave no But still I am not able to unroom for obscurity. But I presume, derstand the remedy; for I can find that what happens is this. The me- in it, after all, nothing else than the Vol. VI.


« AnteriorContinua »