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SOME apology, I am afraid, is necessary for the length to which this Dissertation is already extended. My original design (as is well known to my friends) was to comprise in ten or twelve sheets all the preliminary matter which I was to contribute to this SUPPLEMENT.* But my work grew insensibly under my hands, till it assumed a form which obliged me either to destroy all that I had written, or to continue my Historical Sketches on the same enlarged scale. In selecting the subjects on which I have chiefly dwelt, I have been guided by my own idea of their pre-eminent importance, when considered in connexion with the present state of Philosophy in Europe. On some, which I have passed over unnoticed, it was impossible for me to touch, without a readier access to public libraries than I can command in this retirement. The same circumstance will, I trust, account, in the opinion of candid readers, for various other omissions in my performance.
The time unavoidably spent in consulting, with critical care, the numerous authors referred to in this and in the former part of my Discourse, has encroached so deeply, and to myself so painfully, on the leisure which I had destined for a different purpose, that, at my advanced years, I can entertain but a very faint expectation (though I do not altogether abandon the hope) of finishing my intended
* Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Sketch of the Progress of Ethical and Political Philosophy during the Eighteenth Century. An undertaking of a much earlier date has a prior and stronger claim on my attention. At all events, whatever may be wanting to complete my plan, it cannot be difficult for another hand to supply. An Outline is all that should be attempted on such a subject; and the field which it has to embrace will be found incomparably more interesting to most readers than that which has fallen under my review.
KINNEIL HOUSE, August 7, 1821.
In the farther prosecution of the plan of which I traced the outline in the Preface to the First Part of this Dissertation, I find it necessary to depart considerably from the arrangement which I adopted in treating of the Philosophy of the seventeenth century. During that period, the literary intercourse between the different nations of Europe was comparatively so slight, that it seemed advisable to consider, separately and successively, the progress of the mind in England, in France, and in Germany. But from the era at which we are now arrived, the Republic of Letters may be justly understood to comprehend, not only these and other countries in their neighbourhood, but every region of the civilized earth. Disregarding, accordingly, all diversities of language and of geographical situation, I shall direct my attention to the intellectual progress of the species in general; enlarging, however, chiefly on the Philosophy of those parts of Europe, from whence the rays of science have, in modern times, diverged to the other quarters of the globe. I propose also, in consequence of the thickening crowd of useful authors, keeping pace in their numbers with the diffusion of knowledge and of liberality, to allot separate discourses to the history of Metaphysics, of Ethics, and of Politics; a distribution which, while it promises a more distinct and connected view of these different subjects, will furnish convenient resting-places, both to the writer and to the reader, and can scarcely fail to place, in a stronger and more concentrated light, whatever general conclusions may occur in the course of this survey.
The foregoing considerations, combined with the narrow limits assigned to the sequel of my work, will sufficiently account for the contracted scale of some of the following sketches, when compared with the magnitude of the questions to which they relate, and the peculiar interest which they derive from their immediate influence on the opinions of our own times.
In the case of Locke and Leibnitz, with whom the metaphysical history of the eighteenth century opens, I mean to allow myself a greater degree of latitude. The rank which I have assigned to both in my general plan, seems to require, of course, a more ample space for their leading doctrines, as well as for those of some of their contemporaries and immediate successors, than I can spare for metaphysical systems of a more modern date; and as the rudiments of the most important of these are to be found in the speculations either of one or of the other, I shall endeavour, by connecting with my review of their works, those longer and more abstract discussions which are necessary for the illustration of fundamental principles, to avoid, as far as possible, in the remaining part of my discourse, any tedious digressions into the thorny paths of scholastic controversy. The critical remarks, accordingly, which I am now to offer on their philosophical writings, will, I trust, enable me to execute the very slight sketches which are to follow, in a manner at once more easy to myself, and more satisfactory to the bulk of my readers.
But what I have chiefly in view in these preliminary observations, is to correct certain misapprehensions concerning the opinions of Locke and of Leibnitz, which have misled (with very few exceptions) all the later historians who have treated of the literature of the eighteenth century. I have felt a more particular solicitude to vindicate the fame of Locke, not only against the censures of his opponents, but against the mistaken comments and eulogies of his admirers, both in England and on the Continent. Appeals to his authority are so frequent in the reasonings of all who have since canvassed the same subjects, that, without a precise idea of his distinguishing tenets, it is impossible to form a just estimate, either of
the merits or demerits of his successors. In order to assist my readers in this previous study, I shall endeavour, as far as I can, to make Locke his own commentator; earnestly entreating them before they proceed to the sequel of this dissertation, to collate carefully those scattered extracts from his works, which, in the following section, they will find brought into contact with each other, with a view to their mutual illustration: My own conviction, I confess, is, that the Essay on Human Ünderstanding has been much more generally applauded than read; and if I could only flatter myself with the hope of drawing the attention of the public from the glosses of commentators to the author's text, I should think that I had made a considerable step towards the correction of some radical and prevailing errors, which the supposed sanction of his name has hitherto sheltered from a free examination.