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377. Or the less permanent excited conceptions of sound
1. Importance of preliminary statements in Mental Philosophy. It is often highly important, in the investigation of a department of science, to state, at the commencement of such investigation, what things are to be considered as preliminary and taken for granted, and what are not. Îf this precaution had always been observed, which, where there is any room for mistake or misapprehension, seems so reasonable, many useless disputes would have been avoided, and the paths to knowledge, too often unnecessarily perplexed and prolonged, would have been rendered more direct and easy.
It is impossible to proceed with inquiries in the science of MENTAL PHILOSOPHY, as it will be found to be in almost every other, without a proper understanding of those fundamental truths which are necessarily involved in what follows. And it will, accordingly, be the object of this chapter to endeavour to ascertain some of them.
Ø 2. Nature of such preliminary statements. Those preliminary principles which may be found necessary to be admitted as the antecedents and conditions of all subsequent inquiries, will be called, for the sake of distinction and convenience, PRIMARY TRUTHS.—But what are these ? Or how do we know them ?
According to the view of this subject taken by Buffier, who has expressly written upon it, and whose views are approved and adopted by Mr. Stewart, they are such, and such only, as can neither be proved nor refuted by other propositions of greater perspicuity. And this seems
to be not only a succinct, but a satisfactory account of them, since, if there were other propositions into which they could be resolved, and by means of which they could be made clearer, then they could no longer be regarded as Primary, but those other clearer propositions would have that character.
But it may be asked again, Are there any propositions of this kind? Are there any so clear, that the great instrument of human reasoning cannot render them more perspicuous ? Can there not be a complete action of the human mind in all its parts without the laying down of any antecedent truths whatever, as auxiliaries in its efforts after knowledge ?—The answer to such questions, however formidable they may at first appear, is by no means difficult. In the first place, every man, who investigates at all, often experiences doubts in his inquiries. He accordingly endeavours to render such doubtful views clearer by argument. He goes on from step to step, from one proposition to another; but, unless he at last finds some truth utterly too clear to be rendered more so by reasoning, he must evidently proceed, adding deduction to deduction without end. His resting-place, accordingly, is in those truths which are elementary, and which illuminate the understanding by their own light, and not by a light let in from any other source.—Again, the nature of reasoning itself leads us to the same view. A process of reasoning is essentially the successive perception of relations; but there can be no feeling or perception of relation where there is but one object of contemplation. Something, therefore, must, from the nature of the case, be assumed as the antecedent, the basis, or necessary condition of
process. 0 3. Of the name or designation given them. We propose to call those propositions, which are so elementary as to be susceptible neither of proof nor of refutation from other propositions of greater clearness,
Such propositions are termed, in the first place, TRUTHS, since they are forced upon us, as it were, by our very constitution. They exist as surelv as the mind exists, where they have their birthplace; they