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ORIGIN OF KNOWLEDGE IN GENERAL.
0. Connexion of the mind with the material world. THE human mind has a nature and principles of its own; but, at the same time, it cannot properly be said that it is entirely independent in its action; that is to say, it undoubtedly has a connexion, more or less intimate and important, with other things An entire separation of the soul and its action from
everything else is merely a supposition, an hypothesis, which is not realized in our present state of being. What the soul will be in a future state of existence, is, of course, another inquiry. It is possible that it may be disburdened, more than it is in this life, of connexions and dependencies, and will possess more freedom and energy ; but it seems to be our appropriate business at present to examine it as we find it here.
Whatever Providence may have in reserve for us in a future state, it is obvious that in our present existence it has designed and established an intimate connexion between the soul and the material world. We have a witness of this in the mere fact of the existence of an external creation. Was all this visible creation made for nothing? Are the flowers, not only of the wilderness, but of the cultivated place, formed merely to waste their sweetness on the air? Are all those varieties of pleasing sound, that come forth from animate and inanimate nature, uttered and breathed out in Wain? Can we permit ourselves to suppose, that the symmetry of form everywhere existing in the outward world, the relations and aptitudes, the beauties of proportion, and the decorations of colours, exist without
any object? And yet this must be so, if there be no connexion between the soul of man and outward , objects. What would be proportion, what would be colour, what would be harmony
of sound without the soul, to which they are addressed, and from which they are acknowledged to derive their efficacy? Where there is no
soul, where there is a deprivation and want of the con scious spirit, there is no sight, no hearing, no touch, no sense of beauty. Everything depends on the mind; the senses are merely the medium of conmunication, the conditions and helps of the perceptions, and not the perceptions theinselves.--With such considerations we justify what has been said, that Providence designed, and that it has established an intimate connexion between the soul and the material world.
And there is another train of thought which leads to the same conclusion. On any other supposition than the existence of such a connexion, wè capnot account for that nice and costly apparatus of the nerves and organs of sense with which we are furnished! Although we behold on every side abundant marks of the Creator's goodness, we may safely say he does nothing in vain. The question, then, immediately recurs, What is the meaning of the expenditure of the Divine goodness in the formation of the eye, in the windings and ingenious construction of the ear, and in the diffusion of the sense of touch? We cannot give a satisfactory answer to this question, except on the ground that there is a designed and established connexion between the mind and the material world. If we admit the existence of this connex on, everything is at once explained.
$ 37. Of the origin or beginnings of knowledge The Creator, therefore, established the felation between mind and matter; and it is a striking and important fact, that, in this connexion of the mental and material world, we are probably to look for the commencement of the mind's activity, and for the beginnings of knowledge. The soul, considered in its relationship to external nature, may
be compared to a stringed instrument. Regarded in itself, it is an invisible existence, having the capacity and elements of harmony. The nerves, the eye, and the senses generally are the chords and artificial framework which God has woven round its unseen and unsearchable essence. This living and curious instrument, which was before voiceless and silent, sends forth its sounds of harmony as soon as it is swept by outward influences. But this, it will be noticed, is a general statement; the mean
ang may not be perfectly obvious, and it will be necessary to descend to some particulars.
There are certain elementary notions, which seem to ve involved in, and inseparable from, our very existence, such as self, identity, &c. The supposition would be highly unreasonable that we can exist for any length of time without possessing them. It is certain that these notions are among.
the earliest which men form; and yet cautious and judicious inquirers into the mind have expressed the opinion, that even these do not arise except subsequently to an impression on the organs of sense.
Speaking of a being, whom, for the sake of illustration, he supposes to be possessed of merely the two senses of hearing and smelling, Mr. Stewart makes this remark. “Let us suppose, then, a particular sensation to be excited in the mind of such a being. The moment this happens, he must necessarily acquire the knowledge of two facts at once; that of the existence of the sensation, and that of his own existence as a sentient being."* This language clearly implies, that the notions of existence and of person or self are attendant upon, and subsequent to, an affection of the mind, caused by an impression on the
In his Essays he still more clearly and decisively advances the opinion, that the mind is originally brought into action through the medium of the senses, and that human knowledge has its origin
in this way.-" All our simple notions,” he says (Essay iii.), “or, in other words, all the primary elements of our knowledge, are either presented to the mind immediately by the powers of consciousness and perception, or they are gradually unfolded in the exercise of the various faculties which characterize the human understanding. According to this view of the subject, the sum total of our knowledge may undoubtedly be said to originate in sensation, inasmuch as it is by impressions from without that consciousness is first awakened, and the different faculties of the understanding put in action."'+
* Philosophy of the Human Mind, vol. i., ch. i.-See also $ 5 of this Work.
7 Views simlar to those of Mr. Stewart are maintained by De Geran do, in a Memoir entitled, De la Generation des Connoisances Humaines.
Perhaps this subject, however, will always remain in some degree of doubt; and we have merely to say, that of the various opinions which have been advanced in respect to it, we give the preference to that which has been referred to as supported by Stewart, De Gerando, and other judicious writers, without any disposition to assert its infallibility. The mind fappears at its creation to be merely an existence, involving certain principles, and endued with certain powers, put dependant for the first and original developement of those principles and the exercise of those powers on the condition of an outward impression. But, after it was once been brought into action, it finds new sources of thought and feeling in itself. $38. Our first knowledge in general offa material or external origin.
If we know not how a single Jeaf is formed, and are baffled when we attempt to explain the growth even of a blade of grass, it is not surprising that we should fail of absolute certainty in explaining the first cause of the mind's action, and the history of the first feeling to which it gives birth. But, whatever may be true of the first mental exercise, whether its existence be dependant on the condition of some external impression on the senses or not, it may be shown beyond doubt, that, during the early period of life, the connexion of the mind with the material world is particularly close, and that far the greater portion of its acts and feelings can be traced to that source.
1.-What has been said will, in the filst place, be found agreeable to each one's individual experience. If we look back to the early periods of life, we discover not merely that our ideas are then comparatitely few in number, but that far the greater proportion of them are suggested by external objects. They are forfed upon us by our immediate wants; they have relatioh to what we ourselves see, or hear, or touch ; and only a small proportion are internal and abstract. As we advance in years, susceptibilities and powers of the mind are brought into exercise, which have a less intimate connexion with things external; and thoughts from within are more rapidly multiplied than from without. We have in some meas