Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

notwithstanding this ignorance of natural powers 8 and principles, we always prefume, where we see like sensible qualities, that they have like secret powers, and lay our account, that effects, similar to those, which we have experienced, will follow from them. If a body of like color and consistence with that bread, which we have formerly eat, be presented to us, we make no fcruple of repeating the experiment, and expect, with certainty, like nourishment and support. Now this is a process of the mind or thought, of which I would willingly know the foundation. 'Tis allowed on all hands, that there is no known connection between the sensible qualities and the secret powers; and consequently, that the mind is not led to form such a conclusion concerning their constant and regular conjunction, by any thing which it knows of their nature. As to past Experience, it can be allowed to give direet and certain information only of those precise objects, and that precise period of time, which fell under its cognizance : But why this experience. should be extended to future times, and to other objects, which, for aught we know, may be only in appearance similar; this is the main question on which I would insist. The bread, which I formerly eat, nourished me; that is, a body, of such sensible qualities, was, at that time, endued with such secret powers : But does it follow, that other bread must also nourish me at another time, and that like sensible qualities must always be attended with like secret powers? The consequence seems no way necessary. At least, it must be acknowleged, that thereis here a consequence drawn by the mind ; that there is a certain step taken ; a process of thought, and an inference, which wants to be explained. These two propositions are far from being the fame, I have found ibát such an objeet has always been attended with such an effeat, and, I firefee, that other objeets, which are, to appearance, similar, wil be attended with similar effets. I shall allow, if you please, that the one proposition may juftly be inferred from the other : I know in fact, that it always is inferred. But if you insist, that the inference is made by a chain of reasoning, I desire you to produce that reasoning. The connection between these propositions is not intuitive. There is required a medium, which may enable the mind to draw such an inference, if indeed it be drawn by reasoning and argument. What that medium is, I must confess, passes my comprehension; and 'tis incumbent on those to produce it, who affert, that it really exists, and is the origin of all our conclusions concerning matter of fact.

This negative argument must certainly, in process of time, become altogether convincing, if many penetrating and able philosophers shall turn their inquiries this way, and no one be ever able to difcover any connecting proposition or intermediate step, which füpports the understanding in this conclusion. But as the question is yet new, every reader may not trust so far to his own penetration, as to conclude, because an argument escapes his refearch and enquiry, that therefore it does not really exift. For this reason it may be requisite to venture upon a more difficult tafk ; and enumerating all the branches of human knowlege, endeavor to shew, that none of them can afford such an argument.

All reasonings may be divided into two kinds, viz, demonstrative reasonings, or those concerning relations of ideas, and moral reasonings or thofe concerning matter of fact and existence. That there are no demonstrative arguments in the cafe, seems evident; since it implies no contradiction, that the courfe of nature

6 The word, Power, is here used in a loose and it would give additional evidence to this argupopular sense. The more accurate explication of ment. See Sect-7

may

may change, and that an object seemingly like those which we have experienced, may be attended with diiferent or contrary effects. May I not clearly and diso tinctly conceive, that a body falling from the clouds, and which, in all other respects, resembles snow, has yet the taste of salt or feeling of fire ? Is there any more intelligible proposition than to affirm, that all the trees will forish in DeCEMBER and JANUARY, and decay in May and June? Now whatever is intelligible, and can be distinctly conceived, implies no contradiction, and can never be proved false by any demonstrative arguments or abstract reasonings à priori.

If we be, therefore, engaged by arguments to put trust in past experience, and make it the standard of our future judgment, these arguments must be probable only, or such as regard matter of fact and real existence, according to the division above-mentioned. But that there are no arguments of this kind, must appear, if our explication of that species of reasoning be admitted as folid and satisfactory. We have said, that all arguments concerning existence are founded on the relation of cause and effect ; that our knowlege of that relation is derived entirely from experience, and that all our experimental conclusions proceed upon the fupposiiion, that the future will be conformable to the past. To endeavor, therefore, the proof of this last supposition by probable arguments, or arguments regarding existence, must be evidently going in a circle, and taking that for granted, which is the very point in question.

In reality, all arguments from experience are founded on the similarity, which we discover among natural objects, and by which we are induced to expect effects similar to those, which we have found to follow from such objects. And tho' none but a fool or madman will ever pretend to dispute the authority of experience, or to reject that great guide of human life ; it may surely be allowed a philosopher to have so much curiosity at least, as to examine the principle of human nature which gives this mighty authority to experience, and makes us draw advantage from that similarity, which nacure has placed among different objects. From causes, which appear fimilar, we expect similar e: 'etis. This is the sum of all our experimental conclulions. Now it seems evident, that if this conclusion were formed by reason, it would be as perfect at first, and upon one instance, as after ever so long a course of experience. But the case is far otherwise. Nothing so like as eggs; yet no one, on account of this apparent similarity, expects the same taste and relish in all of them. 'l is only after a long course of uniform experiments in any kind, that we attain a firm reliance and security with regard to a particular event. Now where is that process of reasoning, which from one instance draws a conclusion, so different from that which it infers from a hundred instances, that are no way different from that single instance? This question I pro. pose as much for the sake of information, as with an intention of raising difficulties. I cannot find, I cannot imagine any such reasoning. But I keep my mind still open to instruction, if any one will vouchsafe to bestow it on me.

SHOULD it be said, that from a number of uniform experiments, we infer a connection between the sensible qualities and the secret powers; this, I muft confefs, seems the same difficulty, couched in different terins. The question still recurs, On what process of argument this inference is founded? Where is the medium, the interposing ideas, which join propositions so very wide of each other? 'Tis confessed, that the color, consistence, and other sensible qualities of bread

appear

in any kind, that weni. I is only after parent similarity, exped

appear not, of themselves, to have any connexion with the secret powers of nourishment and support. For otherwise we could infer these secret powers from the first appearance of these sensible qualities, without the aid of experience ; contrary to the sentiment of all philosophers, and contrary to plain matter of fact. Here then is our natural state of ignorance with regard to the powers and influence of all objects. How is this remedied by experience? It only shews us a number of uniform effects, resulting from certain objects, and teaches us, that those particular objects, at that particular time, were endowed with such powers and forces. When a new object, endowed with similar sensible qualities is produced, we expect similar powers and forces, and lay our account with a like effect. From a body of like color and consistence with bread, we look for like nourishment and support. But this surely is a step or progress of the mind, which wants to be explained. When a man says, I have found, in all past instances, such fenfible qualities, conjoined with such recret powers : And when he says, similar fenfible qualities will always be conjoined with similar secret powers; he is not guilty of a tautology, nor are these propositions in any respect the same. You say that the one proposition is an inference from another. But you must confess, that the inference is not intuitive ; neither is it demonstrative: Of what nature is it then? To say it is experimental is begging the question. For all inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past, and that fimilar powers will be conjoined with similar sensible qualities. If there be any sus. picion, that the course of nature may change, and that the past may be no rule for the future, all experience becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference or conclusion. 'Tis impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future ; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance. Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular ; that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not, that, for the future, it will continue so. In vain do you pretend to have learnt the nature of bodies from your past experience. Their secret nature, and consequently, all their effects and influence may change, without any change in their sensible qualities. This happens sometimes, and with regard to some ob. jects : Why may it not happen always, and with regard to all objects ? What logic, what process of argument secures you against this supposition ? My practice, you say, refutes my doubts. But you mistake the purport of my question. As an agent, I am quite satisfied in the point ; but as a philosopher, who has some share of curiosity, I will not say scepticism, I want to learn the foundation of this -inference. No reading, no enquiry has yet been able to remove my difficulty, or give me satisfaction in a matter of such vast importance. Can I do better than. propose the difficulty to the public, even tho', perhaps, I have small hopes of obtaining a solution? We shall at least, by this means, be sensible of our igno-. rance, if we do not augment our knowlege.

I must confess, that a man is guilty of unpardonable arrogance, who concludes, because an argument has escaped his own investigation, that therefore it does not really exist. I must also confess, that tho' all the learned, for several ages, should have employed their time in fruitless search upon any subject, it may still, perhaps, be raih to conclude positively, that the subject must, therefore, pass all human comprehension. Even tho' we examine all the sources of our knowlege, and

R .r

conclude

conclude them unfit for such a subject, there may still remain a suspicion, that the enumeration is not compleat, or the examination not accurate. But with reççard to the present subject, there are some considerations, which seem to remove all this accusation of arrogance or suspicion of mistake.

'Tis certain, that the most ignorant and stupid peasants, nay infants, nay even brute beasts improve by experience, and learn the qualities of natural objects, by observing the effects, which result from them. When a child has felt the fen

fation of pain from touching the fame of a candle, he will be careful not to put · his hand near any candle ; but will expect a similar effect from a cause, which is similar in its sensible qualities and appearance. If you assert, therefore, that the understanding of the child is led into this conclusion by any process of argument or ratiocination, I may justly require you to produce that argument; nor have you any pretext to refuse so equitable a demand. You cannot say, that the argument is abstruse, and may possibly escape your enquiry; since you confess, that it is obvious to the capacity of a mere infant. If you hesitate, therefore, a moment, or if, after reflection, you produce any intricate or profound argument, you, in a manner, give up the question, and confess, that it is not reasoning, which engages us to suppose the past resembling the future, and to expect similar effects from causes, which are, to appearance, similar. This is the proposition, which I intended to enforce in the present section. If I be right, I pretend to have made no mighty discovery. And if I be wrong, I must acknowlege myself to be in

deed a very backward fcholar; since I cannot now discover an argument, which, • it seems, was perfectly familiar to me, long before I was out of my cradle.

[ocr errors]

S E C. T 10 N ; SCEPTICAL SOLUTION OF THESÉ DOUBTS.

PART 1. T HE passion for philosophy, like that for religion, seems liable to this in

I convenience, that, tho? it aims at the correction of our manners, and extirpation of our vices, it may only serve, by imprudent management, to fofter a predominant inclination, and push the mind, with more determined resolution, towards that side, which already draws too much, by the byass and propensity of the natural tenper. 'Tis certain, that, while we aspire to the magnanimous firmnefs of the philofophic fage, and endeavor to confine, our pleasures altogether within our own minds, we may, at last, render our philosophy, like that of Epictetus, and other Stoics, , only a more refined system of selfishness, and reason. ourselves out of all virtue, as well as focial enjoyment. While we study with attention the vanity of human life, and turn all our thoughts on the empty and transitory nature of riches and honors, we are, perhaps, all the while flattering our natural indolence, which, hating the bustle of the world and drudgery of busi-, ness, seeks a pretext of reason, to give itself a full and uncontroled indulgence. There is, however, one fpecies of philosophy, which seems little liable to this incon

venience, venience, and that because it strikes in with no disorderly passion of the human mind, nor can mingle itself with any natural affection or propensity; and that is the ACADEMIC or Sceptical philosophy. The academics talk always of doubts, and suspense of judgment, of danger in hafty determinations, of confining to very narrow bounds the enquiries of the understanding, and of renouncing all speculations which lie not within the limits of common life and practice. Nothing, therefore, can be more contrary than such a philosophy to the supine indolence of the mind, its rash arrogance, its lofty pretensions, and its superstitious credulity. Every passion is mortified by it, except the love of truth; and that passion never is, nor can be carried to too high a degree. 'Tis surprizing, therefore, that this philosophy, which, in almost every instance, must be harmless and innocent, should be the subject of so much groundless reproach and obloquy. But, perhaps, the very circumstance which renders it so innocent, is what chiefly exposes it to the public hatred, and resentment. By flattering no irregular passion, it gains few partizans: By opposing so many vices and follies, it raises to itself abundance of enemies, who stigmatize it as libertine, profane, and irreligious. · Nor need we fear, that this philosophy, while it endeavors to limit our enquiries to common life, should ever undermine the reasonings of common life, and carry its doubts so far as to destroy all action, as well as speculation. Nature will always maintain her rights, and prevail in the end over any abstract reasoning whatsoever. Tho' we should conclude, for instance, as in the foregoing section, chat, in all reasonings from experience, there is a step taken by the mind, which is not supported by any argument or process of the understanding; there is no danger, that these reasonings, on which almost all knowlege depends, will ever be affected by such a discovery. If the mind be not engaged by argument to make this step, it must be induced by some other principle of equal weight and authority; and that principle will preserve its influence as long as human nature remains the same. What that principle is, may well be worth the pains of enquiry.

Suppose a person, tho endowed with the strongest faculties of reason and reflection, to be brought on a sudden into this world ; he would, indeed, immediately observe a continual fuccession of objects, and one event following another ; but he would not be able to discover any thing fartner. He would not, at first, by any reasoning, be able to reach the idea of cause and effect; since the particulár powers, by which all natural operations are performed, never appear to the senses; nor is it reasonable to conclude, merely because one event, in one instarce, precedes another, that therefore the one is the cause, and the other the effect. Their conjunction may be arbitrary and casual. There may be no reason to infer the existence of the one from the appearance of the other. And in a word, such a person without more experience, could never employ his conjecture or reasoning concerning any matter or fact, or be assured of any thing beyond what was immediately present to his memory and senses.

SUPPOSE again, that he has acquired more experience, and has lived so long in the world as to have observed similar objects or events to be constantly conjoined together ; what is the consequence of this experience ? He immediately infers the existence of the one object from the appearance of the other. Yet he has not, by all his experience, acquired any idea or knowlege of the secret power, by which the one object produces the other ; nor is it, by any process of reasoning, R 2

he

« ZurückWeiter »