« PředchozíPokračovat »
They may be expected also to acquire a disposition to examine the origin of whatsoever combinations they may find established in the fancy, and a superiority to the casual associations which warp common understandings. Hence an accuracy and a subtlety in their distinctions on all subjects, and those peculiarities in their views which are characteristical of unbiassed and original thinking. But, perhaps, the most valuable fruit of their researches, is that scrupulous precision in the use of language, upon which, more than upon any one circumstance whatever, the logical accuracy of our reasonings, and the justness of our conclusions, essentially depend. Accordingly it will be found, on a review of the history of the moral sciences, that the most important steps which have been made in some of those, apparently the most remote from metaphysical pursuits, (in the science, for example, of political economy,) have been made by men trained to the exercise of their intellectual powers by early habits of abstract meditation. To this fact Burke probably alluded, when he remarked, that “by turning the soul inward on itself, its forces are concentred, and are fitted for stronger and bolder flights of science; and that in such pursuits, whether we take, or whether we lose the game, the chace is certainly of service.” The names of Locke, of Berkeley, of Hume, of Quesnai, of Turgot, of Morellet, and, above all, of Adam Smith, will at once illustrate the truth of these observations, and show, that, in combining together, in this Dissertation, the sciences of Metaphysics, of Ethics, and of Politics, I have not adopted an arrangement altogether capricious.*
* It furnishes no objection to these remarks, that some of our best treatises on questions of political economy have proceeded from men who were strangers to metaphysical studies. It is enough for my purpose if it be granted, that it was by habits of metaphysical thinking that the minds of those authors were formed, by whom political economy was first exalted to the dignity of a science. To a great proportion even of the learned, the rules of a sound logic are best taught by examples; and when a precise and well-defined phraseology is once introduced, the speculations of the most ordinary writers assume an appearance (sometimes, it must be owned, a very fallacious one) of depth and consistency.
Fontenelle remarks, that a single great man is sufficient to accomplish a change in the taste of his age, and that the perspicuity and method for which Descartes was indebted to his mathematical researches, were successfully copied by many of his contemporaries who were ignorant of mathematics. A similar observation will be found to apply, with still greater force, to the models of metaphysical analysis and of logical discussion, exhibited in the political works of Hume and of Smith.
In farther justification of this arrangement, I might appeal to the popular prejudices so industriously fostered by many against these three branches of knowledge, as ramiñcations from one common and most pernicious root. How often have Mr. Smith's reasonings in favor of the freedom of trade been ridiculed as metaphysical and visionary! Nay, but a few years have elapsed, since this epithet (accompanied with the still more opprobrious terms of Atheistical and Democratical) was applied to the argument then urged against the morality and policy of the slave-trade; and, in general, to every speculation in which any appeal was made to the beneficent arrangements of nature, or to the progressive improvement of the human race. Absurd as this language was, it could not, for a moment, have obtained any currency with the multitude, had there not been an obvious connexion between these liberal doctrines, and the well known habits of logical thinking, which so eminently distinguished their authors and advocates. Whatever praise, therefore, may be due to the fathers of the modern science of political economy, belongs, at least in part, (according to the acknowledgment of their most decided adversaries,) to those abstract studies by which they were prepared for an analytical investigation of its first and fundamental principles.
Other connexions and affinities between Political Economy and the Philosophy of the Human Mind will present theinselves afterwards. At present I purposely confine myself to that which is most obvious and indisputable.
The influence of metaphysical studies may be also perceived in the philosophical spirit so largely infused into the best historical compositions of the last century. This spirit has, indeed, been often perverted to pernicious purposes; but who can doubt, that, on the whole, both history and philosophy have gained infinitely by the alliance ?
How far a similar alliance has been advantageous to our poetry, may be more reasonably questioned. But on the most unfavorable supposition, it must be admitted, that the number of poetical readers has thereby been greatly increased, and the pleasures of imagination proportionally communicated to a wider circle. The same remark may be extended to the study of philosophical criticism. If it has not contributed to the encouragement of original genius in the fine arts, it has been followed by a much more beneficial result in diffusing a relish for the beautiful and the elegant; not to mention its influence in correcting and fixing the public taste, by the precision and steadiness of the principles to which it appeals.*
Another instance, still more important, of the practical influence of metaphysical science, is the improvement which, since the time of Locke, has become general in the conduct of education, both private and public. In the former case, the fact is universally acknowledged. But even in our universities (notwithstanding the proverbial aversion of most of them to every thing which savours of innovation) what a change has been gradually accomplished since the beginning of the eighteenth century ! The studies of Ontology, of Pneumatology, and of Dialectics, have been supplanted by that of the Human Mind, conducted with more or less success, on the plan of Locke's Essay; and, in a few seats of learning, by the studies of Bacon's Method of Inquiry, of the Principles of Philosophical Criticism, and of the Elements of Political Economy. In all this an approach has been made, or attempted, to what Locke so earnestly recommended to parents, “that their children's time should be spent in acquiring what may be useful to them when they come to be men.” Many other circumstances, no doubt, have contributed their share in producing this revolution ; but what individual can be compared to Locke in giving the first impulse to that spirit of reform by which it has been established ? +
* See some admirable remarks on this subject by Gray, in his comments on the Io of Plato. (Edition of Gray, by Mathias.)
Under this head of education may also be mentioned the practical improvements which, during the course of the last century, have taken place in what Lord Bacon calls the traditive part of logic. I allude here not only to the new arrangements in the Lancasterian Schools, by which the diffusion of the art of reading among the poorer classes of the community is so wonderfully facilitated and extended, but to those admirable elementary works which have opened a ready and speedy access to the more recondite truths of the severer sciences. How much these have contributed to promote the progress of mathematical knowledge in France, may be VOL. VI.
In consequence of the operation of these causes, a sensible change has taken place in the style of English composition.* The number of idiomatical phrases has been abridged ; and the language has assumed a form more systematic, precise, and luminous.
and luminous. The transitions, too,
judged of from an assertion of Condorcet, that two years spent under an able teacher now carry the student beyond the conclusions which limited the researches of Leibnitz and of Newton. The Essays lately published on this subject by M. Lacroix (Essais sur l'Enseignement en Général, et sur celui des Mathématiques en par. ticulier ; Paris, 1805,) contain many valuable suggestions; and, beside their utility to those who are concerned in the task of instruction, may justly be considered as an accession to the Philosophy of the Human Mind.
• See some judicious remarks on this subject in Mr. Godwin's Inquirer, p. 274. In the opinion of this author, “the English language is now written with more grammatical propriety than by the best of our ancestors; and with a much higher degree of energy and vigor. The spirit of philosophy has infused itself into the structure of our sentences.” He remarks farther, in favor of the present style of English composition, “ that it at once satisfies the understanding and the ear.” The union of these two excellencies certainly constitutes the perfection of writing. Johnson boasts, and with truth, in the concluding paper of the Rambler, that he had “added something to our language in the elegance of its construction, and something in the harmony of its cadence; " but what a sacrifice did he make to these objects, of conciseness, of simplicity, and of (what he has himself called) Genuine Anglicism. To accomplish the same ends, without any sacrifice of these higher merits, has been one of the chief aims of the most eminent among his successors.
As an instrument of thought and a medium of scientific communication, the Eng. lish language appears to me, in its present state, to be far superior to the French. Diderot, indeed, (a very high authority,) has, with much confidence, asserted the contrary; and it is but fair to let him speak for himself: “ J'ajouterois volontiers que la marche didactique et reglée à laquelle notre langue est assujettie la rend plus propre aux sciences; et que par les tours et les inversions que le Grec, le Latin, l'Italien, l’Anglois se permettent, ces langues sont plus avantageuses pour les lettres: Que nous pouvons mieux qu'aucun autre peuple faire parler l'esprit; et que le bon sens choisiroit la langue Françoise ; mais que l'Imagination et les Passions donneroient la préférence aux langues anciennes et à celles de nos voisins : Qu'il faut parler François dans la société et dans les écoles de Philosophie; et Grec, Latin, Anglois, dans les chaires et sur le Théâtre : Que notre langue seroit celle de la vérité, si jamais elle revient sur la terre ; et que la Grecque, la Latine, et les autres seroient les langues de la fable et du mensonge. Le François est fait pour instruire, éclairer, et convaincre : le Grec, le Latin, l'Italien, l'Anglois, pour persuader, émouvoir, et tromper; parlez Grec, Latin, Italien au peuple, mais parlez François au sage." (Euvres de Diderot, Tome II. pp. 70, 71. Amsterdam, 1772.)
These peculiar excellencies of the French language are ascribed, in part, by Diderot to the study of the Aristotelian Philosophy. (Ibid. p. 7.) I do not well see what advantage France should, in this respect, have enjoyed over England; and since that philosophy fell into disrepute, it will scarcely be alleged that the habits of thinking cultivated by Locke's disciples have been less favorable to a logical rigor of expression, than those of any contemporary sect of French metaphysicians.
A later French writer has, with far greater justice, acknowledged the important services rendered to the French language by the gentlemen of the Port Royal Society, “L'Ecole de Port Royal, féconde en penseurs, illustrée par les écrivains les plus purs, par les érudits les plus laborieux du siècle de Louis XIV., eût déja rendu parmi nous un assez grand service à la philosophie par cela seul qu'elle a puissament concouru à fixer notre langue, à lui donner ce caractère de précision, de clarté, d'exactitude, qui la rend si favorable aux opérations de l'esprit.” (Hist. Comparée, &c. Tome II. p. 45.)
Mr. Gibbon also has remarked, how much “ the learned Society of Port Royal contributed to establish in France a taste for just reasoning, simplicity of style, and philosophical method.” The improvement in all these respects of our English writers, during the same period, is, in my opinion, much more remarkable.
in our best authors, have become more logical, and less dependent on fanciful or verbal associations. If by these means our native tongue has been rendered more unfit for some of the lighter species of writing, it has certainly gained immensely as an instrument of thought, and as a vehicle of knowledge. May I not also add, that the study of it has been greatly facilitated to foreigners; and that in proportion to its rejection of colloquial anomalies, more durable materials are supplied to the present generation for transmitting their intellectual acquisitions to posterity ?
But granting the truth of these reflections, it may still be asked, what is the amount of the discoveries brought to light by the metaphysical speculations of the eighteenth century ? Or rather, where are the principles to be found, of which it can be justly said, that they unite the suffrages, not of the whole, but even of the majority of our present philosophers ? The question has been lately put and urged, with no common ability, by a foreign academician.
“ The diversity of doctrines,” says M. de Bonald, " has increased, from age to age, with the number of masters, and with the progress of knowledge ; and Europe, which at present possesses libraries filled with philosophical works, and which reckons up almost as many philosophers as writers ; poor in the midst of so much riches, and uncertain with the aid of all its guides, which road it should follow ; Europe, the centre and the focus of all the lights of the world, has yet its philosophy only in expectation." *
In proof of this assertion, the author appeals to the Comparative History of Philosophical Systems relative to the Principles of Human Knowledge, by M. de Gérando; and after a variety of acute strictures on the contradictory systems there described, sums up his
argument in the following words:
“ Thus, the Comparative History of Philosophical Systems is nothing else than a History of the Variations of philosophical schools, leaving no other impression upon
* Recherches Philosophiques, &c. p. 2. Paris, 1818.