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in France, no previous effect had been produced by the labors of Boyle, of Newton, and of the other English experimentalists, trained in Bacon's school. With to England, it is a fact not less certain, that at no period did the philosophy of Descartes produce such an impression on public opionion, either in Physics or in Ethics, as to give the slightest color to the supposition, that it contributed, in the most distant degree, to the subsequent advances made by our countrymen in these sciences. In Logic and Metaphysics, indeed, the case was different. Here the writings of Descartes did much; and if they had been studied with proper attention, they might have done much more. But of this part of their merits, Condorcet seems to have had no idea. His eulogy, therefore, is rather misplaced than excessive. He has extolled Descartes as the father of Experimental Physics: he would have been nearer the truth, if he had pointed him out as the father of the Experimental Philosophy of the Human Mind.
In bestowing this title on Descartes, I am far from being inclined to compare him, in the number or importance of the facts which he has remarked concerning our intellectual powers, to various other writers of an earlier date. I allude merely to his clear and precise conception of that operation of the understanding (distinguished afterwards in Locke's Essay, by the name of Reflection,) through the medium of which all our knowledge of Mind is exclusively to be obtained. Of the essential subserviency of this power to every satisfactory conclusion that can be formed with respect to the mental phenomena, and of the futility of every theory which would attempt to explain them by metaphors borrowed from the material world, no other philosopher prior to Locke seems to have been fully aware; and from the moment that these truths were recognised as logical principles in the study of mind, a new era commences in the history of that branch of science. It will be necessary, therefore, to allot to the illustration of this part of the Cartesian philosophy a larger space,
de secte en tout genre, dont les ouvrages puissent avoir un certain éclat; Bacon n'a pas été du nombre, et la forme de sa philosophie s'y opposoit : elle étoit trop sage pour étonner personne.” Disc. Préi.
than the limits of my undertaking will permit me to af- ford to the researches of some succeeding inquirers, who may, at first sight, appear more worthy of attention in the
It has been repeatedly asserted by the Materialists of the last century, that Descartes was the first Metaphysician by whom the pure immateriality of the human soul was taught; and that the ancient philosophers, as well as the schoolmen, went no farther than to consider mind, as the result of a material organization in which the constituent elements approached to evanescence, in point of subtilty. Both of these propositions I conceive to be totally unfounded. That many of the schoolmen, and that the wisest of the ancient philosophers, when they described the mind as a spirit, or as a spark of celestial fire, employed these expressions not with any intention to materialize its essence, but merely from want of more unexceptionable language, might be shown with demonstrative evidence, if this were the proper place for entering into the discussion. But what is of more importance to be attended to, on the present occasion, is the effect of Descartes' writings in disentangling the logical principle above mentioned, from the scholastic question about the nature of mind, as contradistinguished from matter. It were indeed to be wished, that he had perceived still more clearly and steadily the essential importance of keeping this distinction constantly in view; but he had at least the merit of illustrating, by his own example, in a far greater degree than any of his predecessors, the possibility of studying the mental phenomena, without reference to any facts but those which rest on the evidence of consciousness. The metaphysical question about the nature of mind he seems to have considered as a problem, the solution of which was an easy corollary from these facts, if distinctly apprehended; but still as a problem, whereof it was possible that different views might be taken by those who agreed in opinion, as far as fucts alone were concerned. Of this, a very remarkable example has since occurred in the case of Mr. Locke, who, although he has been at great pains to show, that the power of reflection bears the
same relation to the study of the mental phenome
na, which the power of observation bears to the study of the material world, appears, nevertheless, to have been far less decided than Descartes with respect to the essential distinction between Mind and Matter; and has even gone so far as to hazard the unguarded proposition, that there is no absurdity in supposing the Deity to have superadded to the other qualities of matter the power of thinking. His scepticism, however, on this point, did not prevent his good sense from perceiving, with the most complete conviction, the indispensable necessity of abstracting from the analogy of matter, in studying the laws of our intellectual frame.
The question about the nature or essence of the soul, has been, in all ages, a favorite subject of discussion among metaphysicians, from its supposed connexion with the argument in proof of its immortality. In this light it has plainly been considered by both parties in the dispute ; the one conceiving, that if Mind could be shown to have no quality in common with Matter, its dissolution was physically impossible ; the other, that if this assumption could be disproved, it would necessarily follow, that the whole mun must perish at death. For the last of these opinions Dr. Priestley and many other speculative theologians have of late very zealously contended; flattering themselves, no doubt, with the idea, that they were thus preparing a triumph for their own peculiar schemes of Christianity. Neglecting, accordingly, all the presumptions for a future state, afforded by a comparison of the course of human affairs with the moral judgments and moral feelings of the human heart; and overlooking, with the same disdain, the presumptions arising from the narrow sphere of human knowledge, when compared with the indefinite improvement of which our intellectual powers seem to be susceptible; this acute but superficial writer attached himself exclusively to the old and hackneyed pneumatological argument; tacitly assuming as a principle, that the future prospects of man depend entirely on the determination of a physical problem, analogous to that which was then dividing chemists about the existence or non-existence of Phlogiston. In the actual state of science, these speculations might well have been spared. Where is the sober metaphysician to be found, who now speaks of the immortality of the soul as a logical consequence of its immateriality ; instead of considering it as depending on the will of that Being by whom it was at first called into existence? And on the other hand, is it not universally admitted by the best philosophers, that whatever hopes the light of nature encourages beyond the present scene, rest solely (like all our anticipations of future events) on the general tenor and analogy of the laws by which we perceive the universe to be governed ? The proper use of the argument concerning the immateriality of mind, is not to establish any positive conclusion as to its destiny hereafter; but to repel the reasonings alleged by materialists, as proofs that its annihilation must be the obvious and necessary effect of the dissolution of the body.*
I thought it proper to state this consideration pretty fully, lest it should be supposed that the logical method recommended by Descartes for studying the phenomena of mind, has any necessary dependance on his metaphysical opinion concerning its being and properties, as a separate substance.t
Between these two parts of his system, however, there is; if not a demonstrative connexion, at least a natural and manifest affinity ; inasmuch as a steady adherence to his logical method (or, in other words, the habitual exercise of patient reflection), by accustoming us to break asunder the obstinate associations to which materialism is indebted for the early hold it is apt to take of the fancy, gradually and insensibly predisposes us in favor of his metaphysical conclusion. It is to be regretted, that in stating this conclusion, his commentators should so frequently make use of the word spirituality; for which I do not recollect that his own works afford any authority. The proper expression is immateriality, conveying merely a negative idea; and of consequence, implying nothing more than a rejection of that hypothesis concerning the nature of Miod, which the scheme of materialism so gratuitously, yet so dogmatically assumes. *
* “We shall here be content,” says the learned John Smith of Cambridge, “with that sober thesis of Plato, in his Timæus, who attributes the perpetuation of all substances to the benignity and liberality of the Creator; whom he therefore brings in thus speaking, Υμείς ούκ έστι αθάνατοι ουδέ άλυτοι, &c. You are not of yourselves immortal nor indissoluble, but would relapse, and slide back from ihat being which I have given you, should I uithdraw the influence of my own power from you; but yet you shall hold your immortality by a patent from myself.” (Select Discourses, Cambridge, 1660.) I quote this passage from one of the oldest partizans of Descartes among the English philosophers.
Descartes himself is said to have been of a different opinion. “On a été étonné," says Thomas, “que dans ses Méditations Métaphysiques, Descartes n'ait point parlé de l'immortalité de l'âme. Mais il nous apprend lui-même par une de ses lettres, qu'ayant établi clairement, dans cet ouvrage, la distinction de l'âme et de la matière, il suivoit nécessairement de cette distinction, que l'âme par sa nature ne pouvoit périr avec le corps.” Eloge de Descartes. Note 21.
if I employ the scholastic word substance, in conformity to the phraseology of Descartes; but I am fully aware of the strong objections to which it is liable, not only as a wide deviation from popular use, which has appropriated it to things material and tangible, but as implying a greater degree of positive knowledge concerning the nature of mind, than our faculties are fitted to attain. For some farther remarks on this point, see Note (I.)
The power of reflection, it is well known, is the last of our intellectual faculties that unfolds itself; and, in by far the greater number of individuals, it never unfolds itself in any considerable degree. It is a fact equally certain, that long before the period of life when this power begins to 'exercise its appropriate functions, the understanding is already preoccupied with a chaos of opinions, notions, impressions, and associations, bearing on the most important objects of human inquiry ; not to mention the innumerable sources of illusion and error connected with the use of a vernacular language, learned in infancy by rote, and identified with the first processes of thought and perception. The consequence is, that when Man begins to reflect, he finds himself (if I may borrow an allusion of M. Turgot's) lost in a labyrinth, into which he had been led blindfolded. To the same purpose, it was long ago complained of by Bacon, “ that no one has yet been found of so constant and severe a mind, as to have determined and tasked himself utterly to abolish theories and common notions, and to apply his intellect, altogether smoothed and even, to particulars anew. Accordingly, that human reason which we have, is a kind of medley and unsorted collection, from much trust, and much accident, and the childish notions which we first drank in. Whereas, if one of ripe age and sound senses, and a mind thoroughly cleared, should apply him
* See Note (K.)
†. “Quand l'homme a voulu se replier sur lui-même il s'est trouvé dans un labyrinthe où il étoit entré les yeux bandés.” Euvres de Turgot, tom. II. p. 261.