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Of the spirit and temper with which the opposition to Mr. Leslie has been conducted, no better specimen can be given than the two following papers, one of which appeared lately in the public prints of this city, and the other has been for some time circulated in manuscript, not only here, but in different parts of the country. To the authors of such anonymous and clandestine attempts to influence extrajudicially the opinions of those who are afterwards to sit as judges on the question to which they relate, ample justice will, I doubt not, be done in due time and place. At present, I shall confine myself to a few notes on their contents.
It is indeed with no small mortification that I thus descend to the humble task of commenting on the anonymous speculations of a newspaper metaphysician. With such an adversary, I am fully sensible that I am by no means on equal ground, having formed a resolution in early life, from which nothing, I trust, shall tempt me to depart, never to publish a single sentence on any subject whatever, without the sanction of my name.
From the Edinburgh Evening Courant, Thursday, May 2,
WE ARE AUTHORISED to insert the following observations,
Edinburgh, 1st May, 1805. As there appeared, in the different newspapers of last week, a copy of a letter from Mr. John Leslie, who was lately elected Professor of mathematics in the
University of this city, containing a defence of himself against objections that have been stated to his doctrine upon the subject of the relation between cause and effect; and as it was formerly intimated, in the same public manner, that the letter, when originally received and laid before the ministers of Edinburgh, had satisfied Dr. Hunter, and a considerable number of his brethren; it seems, at length, indispensable, that the public should also know the reasons why that letter afforded no satisfaction to others.' For, upon the mind of those who have not read Mr. Leslie's book, the assertions contained in his letter might otherwise make an impression very unfavorable to their candor and justice.*
The object of Mr Leslie's letter is an unqualified defence of both himself and his doctrine. So far from renouncing any thing that he had asserted in the publication objected to, he charges the objectors with gross and injurious misrepresentation, and only dreads the effect of their calumny on the mind of strangers. And in these circumstances, it is obvious, that any satisfaction to be derived from the letter must depend entirely upon the defence of the doctrine being just and valid. For though Mr. Leslie does, at the same time, disavow every inference from his doctrine to the prejudice of religion, this disavowal cannot justify his "continuing to publish that doctrine, if, upon examination, it shall still be found subversive of all religion.
Mr Leslie rests his defence upon an assertion, “ that the note in question refers entirely to the relation between cause and effect, considered as an object of phys ical examination.” Let this assertion be compared with the language of his note, and let the question be thereby determined.
This long and elaborate note commences with these
* Mr. Leslie's letter had been read publicly in the Presbytery; and therefore it is not easy to see how its insertion in the newspapers, where, if I recollect right, it was not accompanied with the slightest comment, could furnish any pretence for the publication, in a similar manner, of a set of critical observations, so little adapted to the comprehension of general readers. But it is not surprising, that some persons should feel a little sore on the subject of this letter. If it was judged to be prudent, on the day of Mr. Leslie's election, to withhold it from the magistrates, it could not fail to appear of still greater importance, that it should not be suffered to meet the public eye without a suitable antidote.
very remarkable words: “Mr. Hume is the first, as far as I know, who has treated of causation in a truly philosophic manner. His Essay on Necessary Connexion seems a model of clear and accurate reasoning. But it was only wanted to dispel the cloud of mystery which had so long darkened that important subject. The unsophisticated sentiments of mankind are in perfect unison with the deductions of logic, and imply nothing more at bottom, in the relation of cause and effect, than a constant and invariable sequence.'
There is not, in the passage here quoted, a single ambiguous expression : * and it is evident, that, in the concluding sentence, the author expresses himself in terms of such unlimited import, as it is impossible to avoid ap
* And yet that passage, short as it is, contains the words, Necessary Connexion, Cause, and Effect. For the various meanings of which the first phrase is susceptible, the writer of the above article is referred to Dr. Gregory's Philosophical Essays, Vol. I, p. 22. (where the subject employs a good many pages). As for the word cause, he will allow me to remind him of the following remarks by an author, whom, in a subsequent paragraph, he professes to have read.
“ Our natural desire to know the causes of the phenomena of nature, our inability to discover them, and the vain theories of philosophers employed in this search, have made the word cause and the related words so ambiguous, and to signify so many things of different natures, that they have in a manner lost their proper and original meaning, and yet we have no other words to express it.”—Dr. Reid's Essays on the Active Powers, p. 238.
“ Aristotle, and the Schoolmen after him, distinguished four kinds of causes, the efficient, the material, the formal, and the final. This, like many of Aristotle's distinctions, is only a distinction of the various ineanings of an ambiguous word; for the efficient, the matter, the form, and the end, have nothing common in their nature, by which they may be accounted species of the same genus; but the Greek word which we translate cause had these four different meanings in Aristotle's days, and we have added other meanings. We do not indeed call the matter or the form of a thing its cause, but we have final causes, instrumental causes, and I know not how many others.
- Thus the word cause has been so hackneyed, and made to have so many meanings, in the writings of philosophers, and in the discourse of the vulgar, that its original and proper meaning is lost in the crowd.” Ibid. p. 44.
So much for the assertion, that in the first paragraph of Mr. Leslie's note there is not a single ambiguous expression.
But farther, if it were to be admitted that there was really no ambiguous expression in that paragraph, it would follow as a self-evident consequence, that the distinction formerly stated (see p. 325.) between physical and efficient causes is completely unfounded; or, in other words, that physical and efficient causes are one and the same ; a conclusion which, as I before remarked, is the very essence of Spinozism.
If this is not demonstration, I do not know what deserves the name. here indeed justiy borrow the language which this writer has himself so rashly and unwarrantably applied to another. “ The application of this doctrine does not remain a matter of choice. If the principle be admitted, the conclusion is irresisti. ble.” I would be far, however, after all, from being understood to charge even this anonymous metaphysician with any leaning to so monstrous a system. The truth probably was, that, in his zeal to convict Mr. Leslie of Atheism, he neglected to weigh very accurately the import of his own averments. VOL. VII.
plying to every thing under the name of cause, whether ascribed to matter or to mind. Yet were the words, as here used, capable of any restricted interpretation, they might rather be restricted to the subject of mind than to what is merely physical or material, as stated in the letter. For a living and respectable advocate of the doctrine there avowed, as limited to physical objects, has most suitably observed, that what is merely physical can with little propriety be spoken of under the name of cause.
Mr. Leslie, however, has furnished us with means of ascertaining the import and extent of his doctrine, in a way that still more effectually precludes the possibility of its being explained in any limited sense, by the unqualified approbation he expresses of what is new and peculiar in Mr. Hume's opinions relative to causation, and particularly of his Essay on Necessary Connexion. For all who have read this essay of Mr. Hume must know, that though he does apply his doctrine to what have been called physical causes, the great object of the essay is metaphysical, and that the greater part of the reasoning refers directly to the subject of cause, or an efficient principle in mind. Mr. Hume's doctrine has, accordingly, been opposed upon this ground, by both contemporary and later philosophers ; and Mr. Leslie, it is believed, is the first person, in this country, that has publicly approved of it.*
* That Mr. Hume's doctrine concerning the relation of cause and effect in physics is sanctioned by the highest theological authorities in our language, has been sufficiently shown in the foregoing pages. That it coincides with the universal opinion of all the soundest philosophers of the present age, will not, I believe, be disputed.
It is no less incontrovertible, (after the light which has been thrown on this subject since Mr. Hume's time), that his reasonings concerning physical causes and effects are completely unconnected, in point of sound logic, with the sceptical conclusion to which he conceived them to be subservient. In fact, this is now so well understood by all who unite with physical science any tincture of general philosophy, that an author who has occasion, in an experimental inquiry, to appeal to such parts of Mr. Hume's Essay as tend to illustrate the rules of inductive investigation, can hardly think himself called on, in every instance, to guard his character against the imputation of Atheism, by entering a formal caveat against Mr. Hume's metaphysical inferences. Of this no stronger proof can be given than the following note subjoined by the late pious and ingenious Dr. Henry Hunter * to his English translation of Euler's Letters to a German Princess. I quote from this author in preference to any other, as he was himself, for a considerable number of years, a member of the Presbytery of Edinburgh; a circumstance which renders it somewhat sur
* Minister of the Scotch Church at London Wall.
Mr. Leslie has, at the same time, ventured a little beyond the precise ground that was marked out by Mr. Hume; for, while Mr. Hume seems only to contend that we can attain no idea of a connexion between cause and effect, and are therefore not entitled to reason upon the supposition that there is a connexion, Mr. Leslie expressly asserts that no such connexion exists. He accordingly attempts, in his note, to establish this position, by a long etymological argument, intended to show that neither the word cause, nor any synonymous word in any language, is either designed or calculated to denote any thing more than “first in the order of succession,” or, “ the object which precedes.” This argument is evidently opposed to the reasoning of the most enlightened adversaries of Mr. Hume, who have, with great propriety, contended that the use and import of the word power in all languages affords a strong refutation of his doctrine. And there is, besides, an evident impossibility of restricting such an argument to physical causes : for if we were not left in possession of a word to denote an efficient principle, how should we henceforth speak of such a principle, with reference even to the Divine mind?
prising, that Mr. Leslie should have been pointed out by any gentleman connected with that reverend body as the first person in this country who has publicly approved of Mr. Hume's reasonings with respect to necessary connexion.
“ The properties of matter must ultimately be referred to the arbitrary appointment of the Author of Nature. There are certain principles at which the prudent philosopher will choose to stop, lest, by pushing his researches too far, he involve himself in greater obscurity. Those who attempted to account for gravity by mechanical impulse, committed an egregious oversight; for the question still recurs, what produces this impulse? No metaphysical work has ever done so much service to philosophy as Mr. Hume's admirable Essay on Necessary Connexion.”—Vol. 1. p. 46. 1st Edition.
The first edition of this translation was published ten years ago ; and yet, although the book has since that period been in very general circulation among all classes of readers in Scotland, I have never heard that any one of Mr. Leslie's accusers has thought it necessary to warn his countrymen against its pernicious tendency. For my own part, I cannot help thinking, that the compliment to the Essay in question is expressed by Dr. Hunter in terms too strong and unqualified for a work, which, from its popular style of composition, was likely to fall into the hands of many persons, not well qualified to restrict his approbation (as a scientific reader must immediately perceive from the context it was meant to be restricted,) to those parts of Hume's doctrine which admit of a practical application to physical researches. Yet where is the critic who would presume to draw from the note, as it actually stands, any inference to the prejudice of Dr. Hunter's principles as a philosopher or a divine ?
In the first edition of the translation which is now before me, this note is subscribed E. E. (English Editor.) In the second edition, it is subscribed F. E. (French Editor.) But this is obviously a typographical error, as the whole spirit of the note is in direct opposition to the prevailing tenets of French philosophy.