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Of the ACADEMICAL or SCEPTICAL PụILOSOPHY.
P A R T 1.
THERE is not a greater number of philofophical
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 knights-errant, who wandered about to clear the world of dragons and 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 allure ourselves, by a chain of reafonins, deduced from some original
principle, which cannot pollibly be fallacious or deceitful. But neither is there any such original principle which has a prerogative above others that are felf-evident and convincing: Or if there were, could we advance a itep 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 pollible 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 afiurance and conviction upon any subject.
It must, however, be confeffed, that this species of scepticisin, when more moderate, may be understood in a very reasonable sense, and is a necessary preparative to the study of philosophy, by preferving 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 selfevident principles, to advance by timorous and fure steps, to review frequently our conclusions, and examine accurately all their consequences; though by these means we shall make both a flow 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 enquiry, when men are supposed to have discovered, either the absolute fallaciousness of their mental faculties, or their unfitness to reach any fixed determination in all those curious subjects of speculation about which they are commonly employed. Even our very senses are brought into dispute by a certain species of philosophers; and the maxims of common life are subjected to the same doubt as the most profound principles or conclusions of metaphysics and theology. As these paradoxical tenets (if they may be called tenets) are to be met with in Come philosophers, and the refutation of them in se
veral, they naturally excite our curiosity, and make us enquire into the arguments on which they may. be founded.
I need not infift upon the more trite topics, employed by the sceptics in all ages, against the evidence of sense; such as those which are derived from the imperfection and fallaciousness of our organs, on numberless occasions; the crooked appearance of an oar in water; the various aspects of objects, according to their different distances; the double images which arise from the presling one eye; with many other appearances of a like nature.
These sceptical topics, indeed, we are only sufficient to prove, that the fenles alone are not implicitly to be depended on; but that we must correct their evidence by reason, and by considerations, derived from the nature of the medium, the distance of the object, and the disposition of the organ, in order to render them, within their sphere, the proper criteria of truth and falsehood." There are other more profound arguments against the senses, which admit not of so caly a solution.
It seems evident, that men are carried, by a natural instinct or prepossession, to repose faith in their senses; and that, without any reasoning, or even almost before the use of reason, we always suppose an external universe, which depends not on our perception, but would exist though we and every sensible creature were abfent or annihilated. Even the animal creation are governed by a like opinion, and preserve this beliefofexternal objects, in all their thoughts, designs, and actions.
It seems also evident, that, when men follow this blind and powerful instinct of nature, they always suppose the very images, presented by the senses, to be the external objects, and never entertain any fufpicion, that the one are nothing but representations of the other. This very table, which we see white, and which we feel hard, is believed to exist, inde
pendent of our perception, and to be something external to our mind, which perceives it. Our presence bestows not being on it: Our absence does not annihilate it. It prelerves its existence uniform and entire, independent of the situation of intelligent beings, who perceive or contemplate it.
But this universal and primary opinion of all men is foon destroyed by the flighteit philofophy, which teaches us, that nothing can ever be present to the mind but an image or perception, and that the senses are only the inlets, through which these images are conveyed, without being able to produce any immediate intercourse between the mind and the object. The table, which we fee, seems to diminish, as we remove farther from it. But the real table, which exists independent of us, fuffers no alteration: It was, therefore, nothing but its image, which was present to the mind. These are the obvious dictates of reason; and no man, who reflects, ever doubted, that the existences, which we consider, when we say, this house and that tree, are nothing but perceptions in the mind, and fleeting copies or representations of other existences, 'which remain uniform and independent.
So far, then, are we necessitated by reasoning to contradict or depart from the primary instincts of nature, and to embrace a new system with regard to the evidence of our senses. But here philosophy finds herself extremely embarraffed, when she would justify this new system, and obviate the cavils and objections of the sceptics. She can no longer plead the infallible and irresistible instinct of nature : For that led us to a quite different system, which is acknowledged fallible and even erroneous. And to justify this pretended philosophical system, by a chain of clear and convincing argument, or even any appearance of argument, exceeds the power of all human capacity. By what argument can it be proved, that the
perceptions of the mind must be caused by external objects, entirely different from them, though resembling them (if that be possible), and could not arise either from the energy of the mind itself, or from the suggestion of some invisible and unknown fpirit, or from some other cause still more unknown to us? It is acknowledged, that, in fact, many of these perceptions arise not from any thing external, as in dreams, madness, and other diseases. And nothing can be more inexplicable than the manner, in which body should so operate upon mind, as ever to convey an image of itself to a substance, supposed of so different, and even contrary a nature.
It is a question of fact, whether the perceptions of the senses be produced by external objects, resembling them : How shall this question be determined? By experience surely; as all other questions of a like nature. But here experience is, and must be entirely filent. The mind has never any thing present to it but the perceptions, and cannot possibly reach any experience of their connection with objects. The fuppofition of such a connection is, therefore, without any foundation in reasoning.
To have recourse to the veracity of the supreme Being in order to prove the veracity of our senses, is surely making a very unexpected circuit. If his veracity were at all concerned in this matter, our fentes would be entirely infallible, because it is not pollible that he can ever deceive. Not to mention, that, if the external world be once called in question, we shall be at a loss to find arguments, by which we may prove the existence of that Being, or any of his attributes.
This is a topic, therefore, in which the profounder and more philosophical sceptics will always triumpli, when they endeavour to introduce an univerfal doubt into all subjects of human knowledge and enquiry. Do you follow the instincts and propensities of nature, may they fay, in affenting to the veracity