Imágenes de páginas





INTELLECT has been shown by Mr. Bain* to be the result of our successive experiences of the outer world. No man is born with intellect, but only with the power of acquiring experiences. To some the acquirement of such experiences is very easy, probably from a very sensitive condition of the organism inherited from the parents, or the result of individual variation. To others the process is laborious and difficult; but as we cannot tell how slight a variation of the organism determines the facility or difficulty of acquirement, we may well pause before we accept any theory of intuition.

It is true that the doctrine of intuitive ideas still commends itself to some minds; for, although few would now, probably, maintain it in its entirety, as enunciated by Plato, men of the highest ability are not wanting who maintain, with the late Dr. Whewell, that our conceptions of abstractions are intuitive—that time, space, and number are subjective and not objective impressions—that the idea * Bain on the Senses and Intellect. See also Mill's · Logic,' 152


of extension, for instance, exists in the mind and constitutes a "law of thought," as Dr. Whewell has defined an idea in his Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences,' a marvellously clear exposition of the views of the idealists. It is admitted by all that such intuitive conceptions are not perceived until we acquire knowledge ; but those who maintain the Platonic doctrine in its modern modified form think that it is an inherent law which enables us to judge of the truthfulness or falsity of conclusions. Thus it is supposed that our exact conceptions of mathematical truths are the result of intuitive ideas or of laws which exist in the mind and warn us when we draw incorrect conclusions, or, rather, prevent the possibility of incorrect conceptions on fundamental or axiomatic truths—that, in point of fact, our conceptions are limited not by experience alone, but by certain inherent tendencies of thought, which act upon the intellect much as conscience controls the will—only that we are not allowed the same freedom of action in the former case, because we are unable to conceive the opposite of axiomatic truths.

That such opinions do not help us to conceive the manner in which our intelligence works is clear; and even if they did, this would be no good ground for their acceptance. Mr. Bain has shown most lucidly that we attain all our ideas of





abstractions from experience and from the power which we possess of analyzing the impressions we receive. It is indubitable that animals have as good and, in many cases, a far better conception of space than man; the horse that leaps a fence judges his distance; and we must accord intuitive ideas to them if they exist in us. If we accord such inherent conceptions of abstract entities to a horse, shall we also ascribe ideas to an ascidian?

It appears probable that inheritance of structure may influence the nature of the reasoning process; just as an instinct is transmitted from the parent to the offspring, either of building a nest or of shunning man, so certain lines of thought acquired by a progenitor may be easier than others, and may have thus given rise to the belief in intuitive ideas. But we only put back the origin of the idea, or rather of the conditions which favour it rather than another, a few generations, and must ascribe its origin to experience.

Again, if intuitive conceptions and not experience control our thoughts, how can we explain the great difficulty which untutored Man exhibits in acquiring even the simplest abstract conception ? We may deceive ourselves, undoubtedly; but no man has any conception of space without boundaries, because it transcends his experience, or of a

[blocks in formation]

line absolutely without breadth or thickness, from the same cause. As Herbert Spencer has well pointed out *, instead of an intuitive conception of time and space as absolute abstractions, the idea is entirely beyond us, and the perception of their relative existence is due to the existence of extension and sequence in nature.

If, then, as appears probable (nay, to some at least, certain), all human intellect arises from the contemplation of the universe, it is, to use a metaphor, the wisdom in the universe reflected upon the mind of man.

But whence this wisdom ? whence the marvellous correlation of all things, and the fitness of each for all the others ? as the poet philosopher Goethe expressed it,

“ All things with each other blending,

All on each in turn depending,

All to each their being lending.”Faust. The doctrine of evolution shows us that special adaptations are the result of general laws; but it does not unfold to us the nature of the adaptation of those laws to each other. It shows us how creation has progressed; but it cannot explain the origin of the universal wisdom and beauty which our minds seek to discover. Instead of being last, wisdom must have existed first; the fitness of

* First Principles, pp. 47 & 158.



n cr

ur Own

energy to matter and of matter to energy must have been ordained and foreseen, not with such reflected intelligence as ours, which depends on experience, but by Divine and Absolute Wisdom, the forerunner of all intelligence. The universe is a book spread out before us, in which the almighty wisdom of God is written; our minds imbibe it by the contemplation of Nature, whether we acknowledge its great source or no. Just as the sun's rays are feebly reflected by the moon, our intellects shine with divine effulgence. Can we believe with any justification that we, who cannot create a grain of sand or move a particle of matter except by borrowed energy, can create a thought by our own property ?

It is thus, truly, that man, developed and evolved, becomes stamped with God's image, inasmuch as he reflects upon the minds of his fellow mortals the light of divine intelligence, shedding a halo of reflected splendour upon the world.

Beauty and harmony are as absolute in their existence as the truths of geometry. The Alisonian theory of beauty is most unsatisfactory : however we may admire that which is useful to us, it accounts in no way for harmony, either of form, colour, or sound; nor does the theory of utility throw any light upon the melody of sound.

Mr. Darwin, in his great work the Descent of

« AnteriorContinuar »