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place with regard to a Being so remote and incomprehensible, who bears much less analogy to any other being in the universe than the sun to a waxen taper, and who discovers himself only by some faint traces or outlines, beyond which we have no authority to ascribe to him any attribute or perfection. What we imagine to be a superior perfection, may really be a defect. Or were it ever so much a perfection, the ascribing of it to the Supreme Being, where it appears not to have been really exerted to the full, in his works, savours more of flattery and panegyric, than of just reasoning and sound philosophy. All the philosophy, therefore, in the world, and all the religion, which is nothing but a species of philosophy, will never be able to carry us beyond the usual course of experience, or give us mea. sures of conduct and behaviour different from those which are furnished by reflections on common life. No new fact can ever be inferred from the religious hypothesis ; no event foreseen or foretold ; no reward or punishment expected or dreaded, beyond what is already known by practice and observation. So that my apology for EPICURUS will still appear solid and satisfactory ; nor have the political interests of society any connection with the philosophical disputes concerning metaphysics and religion.
There is still one circumstance, replied I, which you seem to have overlooked. Though I should allow your premises, I must deny your conclusion. You conclude, that religious doctrines and reasonings can have no influ. ence on life, because they ought to have no influence ; never considering, that men reason not in the same manner you do, but draw many consequences from the belief of a Divine Existence, and suppose that the Deity will inflict punishments on vice, and bestow rewards on vir.
tue, beyond whať appear in the ordinary course of nature. Whether this reasoning of theirs be just or not, is no matter. Its influence on their life and conduct must still be the same. And those, who attempt to disabuse them of such prejudices, may, for aught I know, be good reasoners, but I cannot allow them to be good citizens and politicians; since they free men from one restraint upon their passions, and make the infringement of the laws of society, in one respect, more easy and se
After all, I may, perhaps, agree to your general conclusion in favour of liberty, though upon different premises from those, on which you endeavour to found it. I think, that the state ought to tolerate every principle of philosophy ; nor is there an instance, that any government has suffered in its political interests by such indulgence. There is no enthusiasm among philosophers; their doctrines are not very alluring to the people; and no restraint can be put upon their reasonings, but what must be of dangerous consequence to the sciences; and even to the state, by paving the way for persecution and oppression in points where the generality of mankind are more deeply interested and concerned.
But there occurs to me (continued I) with regard to your main topic, a difficulty which I shall just propose to you, without insisting on it; lest it lead into reason. ings of too nice and delicate a nature. In a word, I much doubt whether it be possible for a cause to be known only by its effect (as you have all along supposed), or to be of so singular and particular a nature as to have no parallel and no similarity with any other cause or object, that has ever fallen under our observation. It is only when two species of objects are found to be constantly conjoined, that we can infer the one from the
other; and were an effect presented, which was entirely singular, and could not be comprehended under any known species, I do not see, that we could form any conjecture or inference at all concerning its cause. If experience and obseryation and analogy be, indeed, the only guides which we can reasonably follow in inferences of this nature ; both the effect and cause must bear a similarity and resemblance to other effects and causes, which we know, and which we have found, in many instances, to be conjoined with each other. I leave it to your own reflection to pursue the consequences of this principle. I shall just observe, that as the antagonists of EPICURUS always suppose the universe, an effect quite singular and unparalleled, to be the proof of a Deity, a cause no less singular and unparalleled; your reasonings, upon that supposition, seem, at least, to merit qur attention. There is, I own, some difficulty how we can never return from the cause to the effect, and, reasoning from our ideas of the former, infer any altera. tion on the latter, or any addition to it.
: #! "SECTION XIT".m!!! "
h s 1. SERVIS OF THE ACADEMICAL OR SCEPTICAL PHILOSOPHY.
ES in s toner, prince Vic .
"THERE is not a greater number of philosophical reasonings, displayed upon any subject, than those which prove the existence of a Deity, and refute the fallacies of Atheists; and yet the most religious philosophers still dispute whether any man can be so blinded as to be a speculative atheist. How, shall we reconcile these contradictions ? The knight-errants, who wandered about to clear the world of dragons and of giants, never entertained the least doubt with regard to the existence of these monsters. · The Sceptic is another enemy of religion, who naturally provokes the indignation of all divines and graver philosophers; though it is certain that no man ever met with any such absurd creature, or conversed with a man who had no opinion or principle concerning any subject, either of action or speculation. This begets a very natural question. What is meant by a sceptic ? And how far it is possible to push these philosophical principles of doubt and uncertainty ?
There is a species of scepticism, antecedent to all study and philosophy, which is much inculcated by DES CARTES and others, as a sovereign preservative against error and precipitate judgment. It recommends an universal doubt, not only of all our former opinions and principles, but also of our very faculties ; of whose veracity, say they, we must assure ourselves, by a chain of reasoning, deduced from some original principle, which cannot possibly be fallacious or deceitful. But neither is there any such original principle, which has a prerogative above others, that are self-evident and convincing : Or if there were, could we advance a step beyond it but by the use of those very faculties of which we are supposed to be already diffident? The CARTESIAN doubt, therefore, were it ever possible to be attained by any human creature (as it plainly is not), would be entirely incurable ; and no reasoning could ever bring us to a state of assurance and conviction upon any subject. .
It must, however, be confessed, that this species of scepticism, when more moderate, may be understood in a very reasonable sense, and is a necessary preparative to the study of philosophy, by preserving a proper impartiality in our judgments, and weaning our mind from all those prejudices which we may have imbibed from education or rash opinion. To begin with clear and self-evident principles, to advance by timorous and sure steps, to review frequently our conclusions, and examine accurately all their consequences ; though by these means we shall make both a slow and a short progress in our systems; are the only methods by which we can ever hope to reach truth, and attain a proper stability and certainty in our determinations. .
There is another species of scepticism, consequent to science and inquiry; when men are supposed to have dis.covered, either the absolute fallaciousness of their mental faculties, or their unfitness to reach any fixed determi.