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PROGRESS OF METAPHYSICS DURING THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
Historical and Critical Review of the Philosophical Works of Locke and Leibnitz.
BEFORE entering on the subject of this section, it is proper to premise, that, although my design is to treat separately of Metaphysics, Ethics, and Politics, it will be impossible to keep these sciences wholly unmixed in the course of my reflections. They all run into each other by insensible gradations; and they have all been happily united in the comprehensive speculations of some of the most distinguished writers of the eighteenth century. The connexion between Metaphysics and Ethics is more peculiarly close; the theory of Morals having furnished, ever since the time of Cudworth, several of the most abstruse questions which have been agitated concerning the general principles, both intellectual and active, of the human frame. The inseparable affinity, however, between the different branches of the Philosophy of the Mind, does not afford any argument against the arrangement which I have adopted. It only shows, that it cannot, in every instance, be rigorously adhered to. It shall be my aim to deviate from it as seldom, and as slightly, as the miscellaneous nature of my materials will permit.
JOHN LOCKE, from the publication of whose Essay on Human Understanding a new era is to be dated in the History of Philosophy, was born at Wrington in Somersetshire, in 1632. Of his father nothing remarkable is recorded, but that he was a captain in the Parliament's army during the civil wars; a circumstance which, it may be presumed from the son's political opinions, would not be regarded by him as a stain on the memory of his parent.
In the earlier part of Mr. Locke's life, he prosecuted for some years, with great ardor, the study of medicine; an art, however, which he never actually exercised as a profession. According to his friend Le Clerc, the delicacy of his constitution rendered this impossible. But, that his proficiency in the study was not inconsiderable, we have good evidence in the dedication prefixed to Dr. Sydenhams's Observations on the History and Cure of Acute Diseases; where he boasts of the approbation bestowed on his METHOD by Mr. John Locke, who (to borrow Sydenham's own words) "examined it to the bottom; and who, if we consider his genius and penetrating and exact judgment, has scarce any superior, and few equals, now living." The merit of this METHOD, therefore, which still continues to be regarded as a model by the most competent judges, may be presumed to have belonged in part to Mr. Locke,t-a circumstance which deserves to be noticed, as an additional confirmation of what Bacon has so sagaciously taught, concerning the dependence of all the sciences relating to the phenomena, either of Matter or of Mind, on principles and rules derived from the resources of a higher philosophy. On the other hand, no science could have been chosen, more happily calculated than Medicine, to prepare such a mind as that of Locke for the prosecution of those speculations which have immortalized his name; the complicated, and fugitive, and often equivocal phenomena of disease, requiring in the observer a far greater portion of discriminating sagacity, than those of Physics, strictly so called; resembling, in this respect, much more nearly, the phenomena about which Metaphysics, Ethics, and Politics, are con
*Published in the year 1676.
It is remarked of Sydenham, by the late Dr. John Gregory, "That though full of hypothetical reasoning, it had not the usual effect of making him less attentive to observation; and that his hypotheses seem to have sat so loosely about him, that either they did not influence his practice at all, or he could easily abandon them, whenever they would not bend to his experience."
This is precisely the idea of Locke concerning the true use of hypotheses. potheses, if they are well made, are at least great helps to the memory, and often direct us to new discoveries." Locke's Works, Vol. III. p. 81. See also some remarks on the same subject in one of his letters to Mr. Molyneux. (The edition of Locke to which I uniformly refer, is that printed at London in 1812, in ten volumes 8vo.)
I have said, that the study of Medicine forms one of the best preparations for the study of Mind, to such an understanding as Locke's. To an understanding less comprehensive, and less cultivated by a liberal education, the effect of this study is likely to be similar to what we may trace in the works of Hartley, Darwin, and Cabanis ; to all of whom we may more or less apply the sarcasm of Cicero on Aristoxenus, the Musician, who attempted to explain the nature of the soul by comparing it to a Harmony; HIC AB ARTIFICIO SUO NON RECESSIT.* In Locke's Essay, not a single passage occurs, savouring of the Anatomical Theatre, or of the Chemical Laboratory.
In 1666, Mr. Locke, then in his thirty-fifth year, formed an intimate acquaintance with Lord Ashley, afterwards Earl of Shaftesbury; from which period a complete change took place, both in the direction of his studies, and in his habits of life. His attention appears to have been then turned, for the first time, to political subjects; and his place of residence transferred from the university to the metropolis. From London (a scene which gave him access to a society very different from what he had previously lived in †) he occasionally passed over to the Continent, where he had an opportunity of profiting by the conversation of some of the most distinguished persons of his age. In the course of his foreign excursions, he visited France, Germany, and Holland; but the last of these countries seems to have been his favorite place of residence; the blessings which the people there enjoyed, under a government peculiarly favorable to civil and religious liberty, amply compensating, in his view, for what their uninviting territory wanted in point of scenery and of climate. In this respect, the coincidence between the taste of Locke and that of Descartes throws a pleasing light on the characters of both.
The plan of the Essay on Human Understanding is said to have been formed as early as 1670; but the various employments and avocations of the author pre
Tusc. Quæst. Lib. I.
Villiers Duke of Buckingham, and the Lord Halifax, are particularly mentioned as among those who were delighted with his conversation.
vented him from finishing it till 1687, when he fortunately availed himself of the leisure which his exile in Holland afforded him, to complete his long meditated design. He returned to England soon after the Revolution, and published the first edition of his work in 1690; the busy and diversified scenes through which he had passed during its progress, having probably contributed, not less than the academical retirement in which he had spent his youth, to enhance its peculiar and characteristical merits. Of the circumstances which gave occasion to this great and memorable undertaking, the following interesting account is given in the Prefatory Epistle to the Reader. "Five or six friends, meeting at my chamber, and discoursing on a subject very remote from this, found themselves quickly at a stand, by the difficulties that rose on every side. After we had a while puzzled ourselves, without coming any nearer a resolution of those doubts which perplexed us, it came into my thoughts that we took a wrong course, and that, before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings were, or were not, fitted to deal with. This I proposed to the company, who all readily assented, and thereupon it was agreed, that this should be our first inquiry. Some hasty and undigested thoughts on a subject I had never before considered, which I set down. against our next meeting, gave the first entrance into this discourse, which having been thus begun by chance, was continued by entreaty; written by incoherent parcels, and, after long intervals of neglect, resumed again as my humor or occasions permitted; and at last in retirement, where an attendance on my health gave me leisure, it was brought into that order thou now seest it."
Mr Locke afterwards informs us, that "when he first put pen to paper, he thought all he should have to say on this matter would have been contained in one sheet, but that the farther he went the larger prospect he had;new discoveries still leading him on, till his book grew insensibly to the bulk it now appears in."
On comparing the Essay on Human Understanding with the foregoing account of its origin and progress, it
is curious to observe, that it is the fourth and last book alone which bears directly on the author's principal object. In this book, it is further remarkable, that there are few, if any, references to the preceding parts of the Essay; insomuch that it might have been published separately, without being less intelligible than it is. Hence, it seems not unreasonable to conjecture, that it was the first part of the work in the order of composition, and that it contains those leading and fundamental thoughts which offered themselves to the author's mind, when he first began to reflect on the friendly conversation which gave rise to his philosophical researches. The inquiries in the first and second books, which are of a much more abstract, as well as scholastic, nature, than the sequel of the work, probably opened gradually on the author's mind, in proportion as he studied his subject with a closer and more continued attention. They relate chiefly to the origin and to the technical classification of our ideas, frequently branching out into collateral, and sometimes into digressive, discussions, without much regard to method or connexion. The third book, (by far the most important of the whole), where the nature, the use, and the abuse of language are so clearly and happily illustrated, seems, from Locke's own account, to have been a sort of after-thought; and the two excellent chapters on the Association of Ideas and on Enthusiasm (the former of which has contributed, as much as any thing else in Locke's writings, to the subsequent progress of Metaphysical Philosophy) were printed, for the first time, in the fourth edition of the Essay.
I would not be understood, by these remarks, to undervalue the two first books. All that I have said amounts to this, that the subjects which they treat of are seldom susceptible of any practical application to the conduct of the understanding; and that the author has adopted a new phraseology of his own, where, in some instances, he might have much more clearly conveyed his meaning without any departure from the ordinary forms of speech. But although these considerations render the two first books inferior in point of general utility to the two last, they do not materially detract from their merit, as a precious ac