Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

to these theological doctrines, and there acquire a superior force and authority. Whether your fcepticism be as absolute and fincere as you pretend, we fhall learn by and by when the company breaks up: We shall then fee whether you go out at the door or the window; and whether you really doubt if your body has gravity, or can be injured by its fall; according to popular opinion, derived from our fallacious senses, and more fallacious experience. And this consideration, DEMEA, may, I think, fairly serve to abate our ill-will to this humorous fect of the sceptics. If they be thoroughly in earnest, they will not long trouble the world with their doubts, cavils, and disputes : If they be only in jeft, they are, perhaps, bad railers; but can never be very dangerous, either to the state, to philosophy, or to religion.

In reality, Philo, continued he, it seems certain, that though a man, in a flush of humour, after intense reflection on the many contradictions and imperfections of human reason, may entirely renounce all belief and opinion; it is impossible for him to persevere in this total scepticism, or make it appear in his conduct for a few hours. External objects press in upon him: Passions solicit him: His philosophical melancholy dissipates; and even the utmost violence upon

his own temper will not be able, during any time, to preserve the poor appearance of scepticism. And for what reason impose on himself such a violence ? This is a point in which it will be impossible for him ever to satisfy himself, consistently with his sceptical principles : So that upon the whole nothing could be more ridiculous than the principles of the ancient PYRRHONIANS; if in reality they endeavoured, as is pretended, to extend, throughout, the same scepticism, which they had learned from the declamations of their schools, and which they ought to have confined to them.

In this view, there appears a great resemblance between the fects of the Stoics and PYRRHONIANS,

though

[ocr errors]

though perpetual antagonists: and both of them seem founded on this erroneous maxim, That what a man can perform sometimes, and in some difpofitions, he can perform always, and in every dispofi. tion. When the mind, by Stoical reflections, is ele. vated into a sublime enthusiasm of virtue, and strong. ly smit with any species of honour or public good, the utmost bodily pain and sufferings will not prevail over such a high sense of duty; and it is possible, perhaps, by its means, even to smile and exult in the midst of tortures. If this sometimes may be the case in fact and reality, much more may a philosopher, in his school, or even in his closet, work him. self up to such an enthusiasm, and support in imagi. nation the acutest pain or most calamitous event which he can poslibly conceive. But how shall he support this enthusiasm itself? The bent of his mind relaxes, and cannot be recalled at pleasure: Avoca. tions lead him aftray: Misfortunes attack him un. awares: And the philosopher finks by degrees into the plebeian.

I allow of your comparison between the STOICS and Sceptics, replied Philo. But you may ob. ferve, at the same time, that though the mind can. not, in Stoicism, support the highest flights of phi. lofophy; yet, even when it finks lower, it still re. tains somewhat of its former dispofition; and the ef. fects of the Stoic's reafoning will appear in his con. duct in common life, and through the whole tenor of his actions. The ancient schools, particularly that of ZENO, produced examples of virtue and constancy which seem astonishing to present times.

Vain Wisdom all and false Philosophy.
Yet with a pleasing forcery could charm
Pain, for a while, or anguish; and excite
Fallacious Hope, or arm the obdurate breast

With stubborn Patience, as with triple steel.
In like manner, if a man has accustomed himfelf to
Sceptical considerations on the uncertainty and nar-
VOL. II.

Еe

1

row limits of reason, he will not entirely forget them when he turns his reflection on other subjects; but in all his philosophical principles and reasoning, I dare not say in his common conduct, he will be found different from those, who either never formed any opinions in the case, or have entertained fentiments more favourable to human reason.

To whatever length any one may push his speculative principles of scepticism, he must act, I own, and live, and converse, like other men; and for this conduct he is not obliged to give any other reason, than the absolute necessity he lies under of so doing. If he ever carries his speculations farther than this necessity constrains him, and philosophises either on natural or moral subjects, he is allured by a certain pleasure and satisfaction which he finds in employing himself after that manner. He confiders belides, that every one, even in common life, is constrained to have more or less of this philosophy; that from our earliest infancy we make continual advances in forming more general principles of conduct and reafoning; that the larger experience we acquire, and the stronger reason we are endued with, we always render our principles the more general and comprehensive; and that what we call philofophy is nothing but a more regular and methodical operation of the same kind. To philofophise on such subjects is nothing effentially different from reasoning on common life; and we may only expect greater stability, if not greater truth, from our philosophy, on account of its exacter and more fcrupulous method of proceeding.

But when we look beyond human affairs and the properties of the surrounding bodies: When we carry our speculations into the two eternities, before and after the present state of things; into the creation and formation of the universe; the existence and properties of spirits; the powers and operations of one universal Spirit, existing without beginning

and

and without end; omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, infinite, and incomprehensible: We must be far removed from the smallest tendency to scepticism not to be apprehensive, that we have here got beyond the reach of our faculties. So long as we confine our speculations to trade, or morals, or politics, or criticism, we make appeals, every moment, to common sense and experience, which strengthen our philosophical conclusions, and remove (at least in part) the suspicion which we so justly entertain with regard to every reasoning that is very subtile and refined. But, in theological reasonings, we have not this advantage; while at the same time we are employed upon objects, which; we must be sensible, are too large for our grasp, and, of all others, require most to be familiarised to our apprehension. We áre like foreigners in a strange country, to whom every thing must seem fufpicious, and who are in danger every moment of transgressing against the laws and customs of the people with whom they live and converse. We know not how far we ought to trust our vulgar methods of reasoning in such a subject; since, even in common life, and in that province which is peculiarly appropriated to them, we cannot account for them, and are entirely guided by a kind of instinct or necessity in employing them.

All sceptics pretend, that, if reason be considered in an abstract view, it furnishes invincible arguments against itself; and that we could never retain any conviction or assurance, on any subject, were not the sceptical reasonings fo refined and subtile, that they are not able to counterpoise the more folid and more natural arguments derived from the senses and experience. But it is evident, whenever our arguments lose this advantage, and run wide of common life, that the most refined scepticism comes to be upon a footing with them, and is able to oppose and counterbalance them. The one has no more weight than the other. The mind must remain in suspense beE e 2

tween

[ocr errors]

tween them; and it is that very suspense or balance which is the triumph of scepticism.

But I observe, says CLEANTHES, with regard to you, Philo, and all speculative fceptics, that your doctrine and practice are as much at variance in the most abftrufe points of theory as in the conduct of common life.

Wherever evidence discovers itself, you adhere to it, notwithstanding your pretended Icepticism; and I can observe, too, some of your fect to be as decisive as those who make greater professions of certainty and assurance. In reality, would not a man be ridiculous, who pretended to reject NEWTON's explication of the wonderful phenomenon of the rainbow, because that explication gives a minute anatomy of the rays of light; a subject, forfooth, too refined for human comprehension? And what would you say to one, who having nothing particular to object to the arguments of COPERNICUS and GALILÆO for the motion of the earth, should with-hold his assent, on that general principle, That these subjects were too magnificent and remote to be explained by the narrow and fallacious reason of mankind?

There is indeed a kind of brutish and ignorant scepticism, as you well observed, which gives the vulgar a general prejudice against what they do not easily understand, and makes them reject every principle which requires elaborate reasoning to prove and establish it. : This species of fcepticism is fatal to knowledge, not to religion; since we find, that, those who make greatest profession of it, give often their assent, not only to the great truths of Theism and natural theology, but even to the most absurd tenets which a traditional superstition has recommended to them. They firmly believe in witches; though they will not believe nor attend to the most fimple proposition of Euclid. But the refined and philosophical sceptics fall into an inconsistence of an opposite nature. They push their researches into

the

« ZurückWeiter »