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ART. 1.- Essays on the Formation on those subjects that admit of diver
and Publication of Opinions, and on sity of opinion. But the belief, other Subjects. Cr. 8vo. pp. 296, doubt or disbelief which a man enter88. Hunter. 1821.
tains of any proposition, may be the THIS is not a common book. The
same in strength and every other rer
spect as the belief, doubt or disbelief 1 author (whoever he be) pos.
which he entertains of a proposition sesses an acute, discriminating mind;
in regard to which there is entire una embraces comprehensive views of man
nimity; and if in the latter case his kind; and asserts and maintains the
opinion is involuntary, there can be most liberal and philosophical principles. His style appears to indicate a
no reason to suppose it otherwise in
the former. It is supposed that when practised writer : it is free, perspicu- the understanding is in a state of flucous, manly, and often beautiful. We
tuation between two opinions, it is in fall in so entirely with his specula
the power of the will to determine the tions, that we have little more to do
decision : but all the various degrees than to describe his plan and to quote
of belief and disbelief, from the fullest a few passages as samples of his ta
conviction to doubt, and from doubt lents and illustrations of his design to absolute incredulity, correspond to and spirit.
the degree of evidence, or to the naThe first Essay is “On the Forma
ture of the considerations present to tion of Opinions.” This is divided
the mind. The understanding, it is into eight Sections Section I., is
clear, cannot believe a proposition on “On the terms Belief, Assent and
precisely the same evidence as that on Opinion.” “ Assent appears to de
which it previously doubted it, and note the state of the understanding yet to ascribe to inere volition a with regard only to propositions.” change from doubt to conviction, is “ Belief has a more comprehensive
asserting that this may take place; it acceptation, expressing the state of
is affirming that a man, without the the mind with regard to any fact or slightest reason, may, if he please, becircumstance, although that factor lieve to-day what he doubted yestereircumstance may never have occurred day. The following distinction is obto it in the form of a proposition, or, viously just : what is the same thing, may never have been reduced by it into words." “ Belief appears to be the firmést when “ Opinion is seldom, if ever, used in there are no hostile or contrary consi. reference to subjects which are cer- derations for the mind to rest upon. In tain or demonstrable ;' it is employed proportion to the number and importance by the author. “ in reference to propo- of contrary considerations belief is imsitions of a probable nature, to desir. paired, and if they are increased to a cer
tain extent, it fades into doubt. The nate that which is believed.”
latter is often a state of oscillation, in The Ilnd Section is “On the In
which the mind passes from one class of dependence of Belief on the Will.”
arguments to another, the predominant Here the Essayist exainines and we affection of the moment according with think overturns the assumption of the the arguments on which the contemplavoluntary nature of belief. He ob- tion happens to be fixed. The mind may serves that there are a great number also be said to be in doubt when it is acof facts and propositions in regard to quainted with neither side of a question, our belief of which it is allowed that and has therefore yo grounds for a deterthe will can have no power and ino- migate opinion. The one may be called tives no efficacy : e. g. mathematical active or positive, the other passive or axioms, propositions in geometry, and
ve and negative doubt.”—Note, p. 11. facts coming under the senses or sup- The author next meets the allegaported by good testimony. If the tion that the will may have the power will exercises any controul, it must be of changing the character of the eviVOL. XVII.
dence: this, he says, implies that it their being made is in fact an acknowmay be capable either of raising addi- ledgment of his just authority. No tional ideas in the mind, or of detach- one is at the pains to 'vindicate his ing some of the ideas already there, dissent from Stillingfileet, Norris, or from the rest with which they are as- any other of Locke's antagonists. sociated, and dismissing them from In Section IV. the author suggests view; which is contrary to the con- “the Circumstances which have led clusions of the best metaphysical Men to regard Belief as voluntary." writers.
The common error may, he thinks, « But the proof of the involuntary na
be mainly ascribed to the intimate ture of helief depends not on the justness
connexion subsisting between belief of any metaphysical argument. Every and
and the expression or declaration of one may bring the question to the test of it, the latter of which is at all times experiment; he may appeal to his own an act of the will; the term assent consciousness, and try whether, in any being used to express the intimation conceivable case, he can at pleasure of our concurrence with an opinion as change his opinion, and he will soon find well as the concurrence itself. Anothat the most ardent wishes can be of no ther source of the error he conceires avail. Take any controverted fact in his to be the practice of confounding the tory; let a man make himself perfectly consent of the understanding with that acquainted with the statements and au- of the will or feelings. He further thorities on both sides, and, at the end
accounts for the error by remarking, of his investigation, he will either believe, doubt, or disbelieve the fact in question.
that it may have arisen in some degree Now apply any possible motive to his
from the circumstance of many peomind. Blame him, praise him, intimidate ple having no real conception of the him by threats, or allure him by promises, truth or falsehood of those opinions and after all your efforts, how far wilí which they profess. With such peryou have succeeded in changing the state sons opinions are mere professions, a of his intellect with regard to the fact? party-badge, not. depending on the How far will you have altered the con- understanding, and to be assumed or nexion which he discerns between certain discarded at pleasure. In regard to premises and certain conclusions ? To some subjects, all mankind are in this affect his belief you must affect the sub
predicament; opinions being on most ject of it by producing new arguments or
occasions simply objects of memory, considerations. The understanding being passive as to the impressions made upon
results at which we recollect to have it, if you wish to change those impres.
arrived without at the moment recol sions you must change the cause which lecting the process. Hence it is obviproduces them. You can alter percep- ously possible for even an acute logitions only by altering the thing perceived. cian to be mistaken, as to the opinions Every man's consciousness will tell him, about which he has attained a decisive that the will can no more modify the conviction, and not to find out his mis. effect of an argument on the understaud- take till he is reduced to the necesing, than it can change the taste of sugar sity of recollecting, or rather repeatto the palate, or the fragrance of a rose ; to the smell.; and that nothing can
ing, the process through which he had weaken its force, as apprehended by the
originally gone. intellect, but another argument opposed
The author proceeds in Section V. to it.”—Pp. 14, 15.
to “the Sources of Differences of
Opinion," and on this very difficult Section III. treats of the “Opini. part of the subject displays great inons of Locke and some other Writers genuity. Belief is an involuntary (Reid and Bacon) on this Subject.” state of mind, but may, like sleep, These great writers are shewn to have which is also involuntary, be to a cermaintained the involuntary nature of- tain extent prevented or induced acbelief. A little inconsistency is pointcording to our pleasure. This result ed out in Locke's language. The au- is traced to wilful partiality of attenthor had exposed in the 1st Section tion or examination. Again, external the incorrectness of some of the defi- circumstances which vary in the case nitions in the “Essay on Human Un- of each individual, occasion different derstanding." These exceptions to ideas to be presented to each nind, Locke's accuracy are not made in dis- different associations to be established paragement of that great philosopher; even amongst the same ideas, and of course different opinions to be formed. as have been overlooked and have vanishNational circumstances occasion na. ed, it is those by which the judgment will tional, and individual circumstances
be determined."-Pp. 53, 54. individual peculiarities of thinking. The author next examines the justHow then, if belief is perfectly inde
ness of the common saying, “ quod pendent of the will, shall we account
volumus facile credimus,” we reafor the fact, that the same events or
dily believe what is agreeable to our the same arguments produce different
wishes ;” on which he remarks, that, effects on different minds? Different
like many other maxims current in conclusions from the same arguinents
the world, it points at a truth without originate either in that defect of lan
much precision. Wishes, he contends, guage, in consequence of which the
are totally inoperative till they are terms employed do not convey to
transformed into hope. If, instead of every mind the same ideas, or in those
having a ground for hope, we have a circumstances which occasion other
reason for fear, our apprehension disideaz besides those actually expressed,
poses us, in the same way, to believe (and different ideas in the case of dif
the reverse of what we wish. ferent individuals,) to present them
Perhaps, the Essayist has not in selves to the understanding: to which this we may add such circumstances as, adverted to the natural tendency of
this part of the argument sufficiently when the original arguments or con- wishes to form theinselves into hopes. sequent suggestions are numerous and
and thus into opinions. The Roman complicated, have a tendency to fix
poet appears to us to describe the the attention of different persons on
true philosophy of the human mind : different parts, and thereby occasion different considerations to remain ulti. Quæque cupit, sperat ; suaque illum ora.
cula fallunt. mately in view.
Section VI. is a continuation of the The influence of general opinion same subject, as far as regards “the and some of the most striking effects feelings and passions of mankind.” of eloquence are explained by the Here the author describes and explains author on the principle of the parthe peculiar influence possessed by the tiality of attention which they tend to sensitive over the intellectual part of create. Emotions are shewn to have our nature. The effects of arguments less room to operate in proportion to partly depend upon states of feeling. the perspicuity of our views. With The attribute of drawing and fixing regard to the major part of mankind, the attention belongs in a remarkable traditionary prejudices and early assodegree to all strong emotions : ciations have a predominant influence,
imparting a tincture to every subject, “ Fear, for example, may so concen- and leaving traces in every conclusion. trate our thoughts on some particular The author proceeds to the practical features of our situation, may so absorb part of his subject in Section VII.. our attention, that we may overlook all
which is entitled, “ On Belief and other circumstances, and be led to con
Opinions as Objects of Moral Approclusions wbich would be instantly rejected by a dispassionate understanding.
bation and Disapprobation, Rewards " While the mind is in this state of and Punishments.” It follows. of excitement, it has a sort of elective at- course, that if opinions be involuntary traction (if we may borrow an illustration they cannot involve either merit or from chemical science) for some ideas to demerit. The nature of an opinion the neglect of all others. It singles out cannot make it criminal. Praise or from the number presented to it those blame may, however, be justly attachwhich are connected with the prevailing ed to the manner in which an inquiry emotion, while the rest are overlooked is prosecuted. But the consideration and forgotten. la examining any ques. of opinions, as reprehensible in so far tion, it may really comprehend all the
as they are the result of unfair invesarguments submitted to it ; but, at the
tigation, can scarcely be rendered a conclusion of the review, those ouly are
useful or practical principle ; for opiretained which have been illuminated by the predominant passion; and since opi.
ssion: and since opinions furnish no criterion of the fairwions, as we have seen, are the result of ness or unfairness of investigation. the considerations which have been at. since the most opposite results, the tended to and are in sight, not of such most contrary opinions, may ensue
froin the same degree of impartiality way, otherwise the inquirer will be in and application. -Opinions, then, do volved in criminality, all inquiry becomes not fall within the province of legisla- not only useless but foolish. This appre
hension of the consequences of research tion: . .
once extended eren to natural philoso“ The allurements and the menaces of phy; and there is little doubt that it may power are alike incapable of establishing be justly charged by moral science with opinions in the mind, or eradicating those much of the slowness of its progress. If which are already there. They may the former has long since emancipated draw hypocritical professions from avarice itself from this error, the latter still conand ambition, or extort verbal renuncia- fessedly labours under its oppression. The tions from fear and feebleness ; but this intellect is still intimidated into a deseris all they can accomplish. The way to tion of every track which appears to lead alter belief is not to address motives to to conclusions at variance with the prethe will, but arguments to the intellect. scribed modes of thinking : To do otherwise, to apply rewards and
“Men grow pale punishments to opinions, is as absurd as
Lest their own judgments should become to raise men to the peerage for their
too bright, ruddy complexions, to whip them for the
And their free thoughts be crimes, and
an gout, and hang them for the scrofula."P. 70.
earth have too much light."
Pp. 74, 75. The Essayist distinguishes, at the
The same error has probably beca same time, between the innocence of the man and the harmlessness of his
one principal cause of requiring sub
scriptions to a long list of abstrase, views, and between holding opinions
complex, and often unintelligible doc. and expressing them : the expression of opinions is always a voluntary act,
trines, in order to qualify the aspirant
not only for eeclesiastical, but even and, being neutral' in itself, may be
for civil and military offices. The commendable or reprehensible accord
. most fatal consequence of the error ing to the circumstances in which it
has been the attempt to regulate men's takes place.
ereeds by the application of intimidaThe author treats, in Section VIII., « On the Evil Consequences of the
tion and punishment. All religious
persecutors have been more or less ac, common Errors on this Subject.” One of its most obvious effects has been
tuated by the mischievous principle.
Even the victims themselves appear, to draw mankind from an attention to
in many instances, not to have called moral conduct, and to lead them to
in question the right of persecution, regard the belief of certain tenets as far more deserving of approbation
but only the propriety of its exercise
on their own persons. In reading the than a course of the most consistent
history of intolerance, our pity for the virtue :
sufferers is often neutralized by a de. « The error under consideration has testation of their principles, by a also produced much secret misery, by knowledge that they would have inloading the minds of the timid and con- flicted equal tortures on their adverscientious with the imaginary guilt of
saries had they had equal power; and holding opinions which they regarded with horror while they could not avoid
all that is left for us to do is to mourn them. What is still worse, it has fre
over the degradation of our common quently alarmed the inquirer into an nature. abandonment of the pursuit of truth. Other causes may have mingled Under a confused supposition of crimi- their influence in persecution. There nality in the belief of particular doctrines, seems to be a principle inherent in men have with reason been deterred from the nature of man that leads him to examining evidence, lest it should irre- seek for the approbation of his fellowsistibly lead them to views which it might creatures, not only in his actions but be culpable to entertain. If it is really in his modes of thinking. Hence he true, indeed, that the least deviation is uneasy under dissent and disagreefrom a given line of opinion will be at
"ment. He resents not only the oppotended with guilt, the only safe course is to exclude all examination, to shun
sition to his doctrines, but the preevery research which might, by possibi- sumption of the opponent, and grows lity, terminate in any such result. When eager to chastise it. Those men in
it is already, fixed and determined, that general are the least hurt at opposition · au investigation must end in a prescribed who, having a clear discernment of the foundation of their tenets, least minates and guilt commences; a bounrequire the support of other people's dary not fixed and determinate, but approbation. The state of doubt is, varying with the creed of every party. indeed, a state of trouble, to which . Although the advanced civilization every one will be averse in proportion of the age rejects the palpably absurd as he is unaccustomed to intellectual application of torture and death, it is not exertion and candid inquiry. Hence, to be concealed, that, amongst a numerwhoever takes his opinions on trust ous class, there is an aualogous, though has a thorough repugnance to be dis
nucnance to be dis less barbarous persecution, of all who turbed by contrary arguments.
depart from received doctrines-the per. In a note on this place the author
secution of private antipathy and public makes an observation well worthy of
€ odium. They are looked upon as a spe
cies of criminals, and their deviations attention :
from established opinions, or, if any one " It is a curious fact, which, I think, prefers the phrase, their speculative ermay be observed in the history of perse- rors, are regarded by many with as much cution, that men are generally more in- horror as fiagrant violations of morality. clined to punish those who believe less In the ordinary ranks of men, where than they themselves do, than those who exploded prejudices often linger for ages, believe more. We pity rather than con- this is scarcely to be wondered at ; but it demn the extravagancies of fanaticism, is paiuful, and on a first view unaccoup. and the absurdities of superstition ; but table, to witness the prevalence of the are apt to grow angry at the speculations same spirit in the republic of letters ; to of scepticism. If any one superadds some see mistakes in speculation pursued with thing to the established creed, his con all the warmth of moral indignation and dact is viewed with tolerable composure; reproach. He who believes an opinion it is when he attempts to subtract from on the authority of others, who has taken it, that he provokes indignation. Is it no pains to investigate its claims to crethat we feel a sort of superiority at per- dibility, nor weighed the objections to eeiving the absurdity of what others be. the evidence on which it rests, is lauded lieve, and, on the other hand, are mor for his acquiescence, while obloquy from tified when any body else appears to every side is too often heaped on the arrogate the same superiority over our man, who has miuutely searched into the selves ?"-P. 87,
subject, and been led to an opposite copMore fixed and steady sources of
clusion. There are few things more dis.
gusting to an enlightened mind than to intolerance may be found in the con
see a number of men, a mob, whether nexion often subsisting between men's
learned or illiterate, who have never permanent interests or favourite ob- scrutinized the foundation of their opijects, and the maintenance of certain nions, assailing with contumely an indi. doctrines
ridual, who, after the labour of research In concluding this Essay the author and reflection, has adopted different senglances at the inquiry, how far these timents from theirs, and pluming themcauses of intolerance continue in ac- selves on the notion of superior virtue tion, in the present day, and in our
because their understandings have been own country. As far as they are placed
tenacious of prejudice. in the passions of mankind, we can
“This conduct is the more remarkable,
as on every side we meet with the admisonly look for a mitigation in propor
sion, that belief is not dependent on the tion as the passions are weakened, or will: and yet the same men, by whom placed under stricter controul : and the this admission is readily made, will argue spirits of men are evidently softened aod inveigh on the virtual assumption of by the improvement of the age, and the contrary. the sympathies of mankind constrain “ This is a striking proof, amongst a that bigotry to be contented with re- multitude of others, of what the thinking proach and invective, which in a for- mind must have frequently observed, that mer age would have had recourse to a principle is often retained in its applimore formidable weapons. The ad- cations, long after it has beeu discarded vancement of knowledge also lessens as an abstract proposition. In a subject the intolerance which is founded in
of so much importance, however, it be
" hoves intelligent men to be rigidly couignorance and error, though it has sistent. If our opinions are not volunnot yet accomplished its destruction. tary, but independent of the will, the There is still a boundary in specula- contrary doctrine and all its consequences tion beyond which no one is allowed ought to be practically abandoned ; they to proceed ; at which innocence ter- ought to be weeded from the sentiments,