Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

is, that the error of every hypothesis, in opposition to that which they have assumed, as well as the truth of their own, becomes visible at once, in the light of the great central facts on which they have taken their stand.

THE PHILOSOPHIC IDEA.

The philosophic idea realized, or objectively considered, is the reduction of phenomena to fundamental ideas, the reduction of the sum of human knowledge to a system, the finding, amid the infinity of facts which are floating in the universe around us, some great central fundamental facts or laws, which are affirmed by all others, and explain them all.

This idea subjectively considered is a conception lying down in the depths of the Reason, that all substances exist and act in harmony with such ideas. Hence the questions perpetually imposed upon the Understanding and Judgment, in all departments of human research ; to wit, what are the laws which explain the facts here presented ? Science is everywhere now on the high road tending to the realization of this great idea. Happy the eyes that shall see it realized.

Chronological Antecedents of this Idea. The chronological antecedents of this idea are the same as those which sustain a similar relation to that of law. Indeed this idea is but one form in which the idea of law manifests itself.

Other ideas of Reason will be considered, when we speak of matter and spirit, the soul, God, &c.

FIRST TRUTHS, OR NECESSARY PRINCIPLES OF REASON, AS

DISTINGUISHED FROM CONTINGENT PRINCIPLES.

Contingent and necessary Principles defined and distinguished.

“ Contingent principles,” in the language of Cousin, “ are those which force belief, though without implying any contradiction in the denial of them, and which are not therefore necessary, but irresistible, natural beliefs, actual, primitive, and instinctive, such as the belief in the stability of the laws of nature, the perception of extension,” &c.

A necessary truth or principle, on the other hand, is one which not only forces assent, but which is always attended with absolute conviction of its necessity, of the total impossibility of supposing the contrary; such as the proposition, Every event must have a cause. The above distinction perfectly corresponds with those made by Dr. Reid. “'Truths," he observes, “which fall within the compass of human knowledge, whether they be self-evident, or deduced from those that are self-evident, may be reduced to two classes. They are either necessary or immutable truths, whose contrary is impossible; or they are contingent and mutable, depending upon some effect of Will or power, which had a beginning, and may have an end.”

That a cone is a third part of a cylinder of the same base, and the same altitude, is a necessary truth. It depends not upon the will or power of any being. It is immutably true, and the contrary impossible. That the sun is the centre, about which the earth, and the other planets of our system, perform their revolutions, is a truth, but it is not a necessary truth. It depends upon the power and will of God.

First Truths defined. First truths are those principles, whether contingent or necessary, which lie at the foundation of all science, of all reasoning. “They admit,” says Dr. Reid, “ of no other proof than the following: 1. All men do admit them, as a matter of fact, in all their reasoning. 2. All men, even those who deny their validity, act upon them. 3. If denied, the validity of all reasoning fails.” Kind of Proof of which necessary Ideas or Principles admit.

The above remarks of Dr. Reid are strictly applicable to contingent principles. Necessary ideas and principles, on the other hand, admit of a kind of proof, that, as far as my knowledge extends, has escaped the notice of philosophers. All such ideas and principles sustain, as we have seen, to contingent phenomena and principles, the relation of logical antecedents, while the former sustain to the latter, the relation of chronological antecedents. Now, in addition to the kind of proof, adduced by Dr. Reid, necessary ideas and principles admit of this also: We can designate the phenomena or principles to which they sustain the relation of logical antecedents. Thus we may prove the reality of time, by referring to succession, of the reality of which every one is conscious. This is, in fact, the highest kind of proof of which any principle is susceptible.

Statement illustrated by a Reference to the Idea of God.

The idea of God is a first truth of Reason. In reference to the proof of the Divine existence, two errors, as it appears to me, have been committed by philosophers and theologians Some have affirmed, that this truth is wholly insusceptible of any proof of any kind. Others have supposed that it admits of logical demonstration from given premises. Now the truth pertaining to the subject lies between the two errors above named. The Divine existence admits of the same proof that other necessary ideas of Reason do ; that is, we may find the contingent phenomena or principles to which this great truth sustains the relation of logical antecedent. This, in common with the kind of proof common to all first truths, is the only kind of which it is susceptible; and when philosophical and theological research takes this direction, we shall find the highest kind of demonstration of the Divine existence. But this subject will claim attention in a subsequent part of this Treatise.

Idea and Principle of Reason distinguished. An idea of Reason is the pure conception of an object of Reason, irrespective of any other object; as the idea of space, time, substance, cause, &c.

A principle of Reason is the conception of the necessary relation of such objects to some other reality, as the principles, Body supposes space, succession supposes time, phenomena suppose substances, and events causes. Here the relation existing between contingent and necessary ideas is affirmed. This is what is meant by a principle of Reason.

Axioms, Postulates, and Definitions. An axiom is a first principle of Reason. Axioms which are employed in particular sciences do not belong to those sciences exclusively. On the other hand, they pertain to all sciences, and are only in the form in which they are presented adapted to the particular science to be treated of. The axioms in Geometry, for example, The whole is greater than any of its parts, things equal to the same thing are equal to one another, &c., are not peculiar to Geometry, but are common to all sciences. The last named is the same thought expressed in a somewhat different form, as the axiom in logic, to wit, Where two terms agree with one and the same thing, they agree with one another.

Postulates are assumed axiomatic principles of Reason, which pertain exclusively to the particular sciences to be treated of. The postulate in Geometry, for example, that a straight line may be drawn between any two points in space, belongs exclusively to this and other cognate sciences.

Definitions, scientifically considered, give the objects, and the qualities of the objects to be investigated in the light of given axioms, and postulates. The conception, for example, of a straight line, a triangle, square, &c., of which the science of Geometry treats, are given by definition.

These principles are applicable to all sciences whatever.

IDEA OF SCIENCE, PURE AND MIXED.

Idea of Science defined. The idea of Science, which of course is a pure conception of Reason, is knowledge reduced to fundamental ideas and principles ; or the properties and relations of objects, systematically evolved in the light of such ideas and principles. Thus in Geometry, we have the properties and relations of particular objects systematically evolved in the light of axioms and postulates, which are, in reality, fundamental ideas of Reason. Whenever this end is accomplished, in reference to any phenomena, or objects, then we have the scientific idea realized.

[ocr errors]

Pure Sciences. When the axioms, postulates, and definitions are all alike pure conceptions of Reason, and when the Judgment evolves the properties and relations of the objects of such definitions in the light of such axioms and postulates, then we have what are denominated pure sciences. Such is Geometry, and the mathematics generally.

Mixed Sciences. When the axioms and postulates are ideas or principles of Reason, and when the definitions pertain to phenomena or objects contingent and relative, as in natural philosophy, and when the Judgment evolves the relations and properties of

such objects in the light of such ideas and postulates, then we have mixed sciences.

FUNCTION OF REASON DENOMINATED CONSCIENCE.

Conscience defined. Conscience is that function of Reason which pertains to the ideas of right and wrong, of obligation, of merit and demerit, &c. It is a testifying function of Reason, pertaining to the relation which ought to exist between the action of the Will and the idea of right and wrong.

General Remarks. 1. Conscience always commands us in the name of God. Her mandates are regarded as the voice of God speaking within us, and when disregarded, we always hold ourselves amenable to the Divine tribunal. Conscience in the heathen is not only a law, but a law of God; and so it is regarded by them.

2. As Conscience is the voice of God within us, it follows that it can never, in its appropriate exercise, put right for wrong, and the opposite. In other words, no man acts conscientiously when doing wrong, nor in opposition to Conscience, when doing right. “ Conscience, as Coleridge remarks,“ in the absence of direct inspiration, bears the same relation to the will of God, that a good chronometer does to the position of the sun in a cloudy day.”

Objection. In opposition to the principle above stated, it is very common to refer to the contradictory standards of moral obligation adopted by different nations, communities, and individuals. The following considerations are deserving of special attention in reply to this objection :

1. To suppose that the heathen, for example, in all their rites and ceremonies, are endeavoring to realize the idea of right, is as absurd, as to suppose that the savage is endeavoring to realize the idea of the beautiful, when he is tattooing his body.

2. The Bible affirms that the heathen are actuated by fear and not by Conscience : “And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage

« AnteriorContinuar »