« VorigeDoorgaan »
9 8. There are original and authoritative grounds of belief. Supposing men actually to exist, and to be conscious of the continuance and sameness of their existence, we are next to enter into the interior of their constitution, and to inquire after such elements of intelligence and action as are to be found there. The next proposition, therefore, which is to be laid down as fundamental and as preliminary to all reasoning is, that there are in men CERTAIN ORIGINAL AND AUTHORITATIVE GROUNDS OF BELIEF.
Nothing is better known than that there is a certain state of the mind
which is expressed by the term BELIEF As we find all men acting in reference to it, it is not necessary to enter into any verbal explanation. Nor would it be possible by such explanation to increase the clearness of that notion which every one is already supposed to entertain. Of this belief, we take it for granted, and hold it to be in the strictest sense true, that there are original and authoritative grounds or sources; meaning by the term original that these grounds or sources are involved in the nature of the mind itself, and meaning by the term authoritative that this belief is not a mere matter of chance or choice, but naturally and necessarily results from our mental constitution, and is binding upon us.
Sometimes we can trace the state of the mind which we term belief, to an affection of the senses, sometimes to consciousness, sometimes to memory, and at others to human testimony. In all these cases, however, the explanation which we attempt to give of the origin of belief, is limited to a statement of the circumstances in which the belief arises. But the fact that belief arises under these circumstances, is ultimate, is a primary law; and, being such, it no more admits of explanation than does the mere feeling itself.
Many writers have clearly seen and defended the necessity of the assumption which has now been made. Mr. Stewart, among others, has expressed the opinion (Hist. DISSER., pt. i., & ii.), that there is involved, in every appeal to the intellectual powers in proof of their own credibility, the sophism of reasoning in a circle or PETITIO PRINCIPII; and expressly adds, that, unless this credibility be assumed as unquestionable, the further ex
ercise of human reasoning is altogether nugatory - Not less decisive is the language of Sir James Mackintosh on this subject (Ethical Philosophy, sect. vi.) : “ Universal skepticism involves a contradiction in terms. It is a belief that there can be no belief. It is an attempt of the mind to act without its structure, and by other laws than those to which its nature has subjected its operations. To reason without assenting to the principles on which reasoning is founded, is not unlike an effort to feel without nerves or to move without muscles. No man can be allowed to be an opponent in reasoning who does not set out with admitting all the principles, without the admission of which it is impossible to reason. It is, indeed, a puerile, nay, in the eye of wisdom, a childish play, to attempt either to establish or to confute principles by argument, which every step of that argument must presuppose. The only difference between the two cases is, that he who tries to prove them can do so only by first taking them for granted; and that he who attempts to impugn them falls at the very first step into a contradiction from which he never can rise.”
9 9. Primary truths having relation to the reasoning power.
be sure of the fact of his existence and of its permanency; he may be possessed of grounds of belief to a certain extent, such as have been mentioned ; and still we may suppose him incapable of reasoning His knowledge would be greatly limited, it is true, without that noble faculty, but he would know something; his consciousness would teach him his own existence
; his senses convey to him inti nations of external origin; the testimony of others furnish various facts that had come within their observation. But, happily, man is not limited to the scanty knowledge which would come in by these sources alone; he can compare and
and combine, as well as perceive and experience; and, by means of the propositions thus combined and compared together, is enabled to deduce conclusions.
But there is this worthy of notice, that the reasoning power, although it exists in man, and is a source of belief and a foundation of knowledge, is necessarily built
upon principles which are either known or assuined. This is seen in the most common and ordinary cases of the exercise of this susceptibility. And it will be found also on examination, that one assumption may be resolved into another, and again into another, until we arrive at certain ultimate truths which are at the foundation of all reasoning whatever. It is important, therefore, to in quire, what general assumptions, having particular reference to the reasoning power, and absolutely essential to its action, are to be made. And these will be found to be two in number ; one having special relation to the past, and the other to the future.
§ 10. No beginning or change of existence without a cause. The one which has a relation to the past, and is the foundation of all reasonings, having a reference to any period antecedent to the present moment, may be stated as follows: that there is no beginning or change of existence without a cause,—This principle, like others which have been mentioned, we may well suppose to be universally admitted. When any new event takes place, men at once inquire the cause; as if it could not possibly have happened without some effective or preparative antecedent.
And such being the general and unwavering reception of the principle before us, it would seem to follow clearly that there are grounds for it in the human constitution. A reliance on any principle whatever, so firm and
general as is here exhibited, is not likely to be accidental. And when we inquire what these grounds are, we shall not fail to come to the conclusion, that the proposition in question is supported by an original intimation or feeling which is utterly inseparable from our mental nature, and which is made known to us by consciousness alone.-Although the feeling of belief, which is implied in the proposition that there is no beginning or change of existence without a cause, is an original one, directly resulting from our nature, still it is in our power to give some account of the circumstances in which it arises. $ 11. O..casions of the origin of the prinary truth of effects and causes.
The mind embraces the elementary truth which we are considering at a very early period. Locking round upon nature, which we are led to do more or less from the commencement of our being, we find everything in motion. Things which had no existence are raised into life; and new forms are imparted to what existed before. The human mind, which is essentially active and curious, constantly contemplates the various phenomena which come under its notice ; observing not only the events and appearances themselves, but their order in point of time, their succession. And it is led in this way to form the belief (not by deduction, but from its own active nature), that every new existence and every change of existence are preceded by something, without which they could not have happened.
Undoubtedly the belief, as in many other cases, is comparatively weak at first, but it rapidly acquires unalterable growth and strength; so much so that the mind applies it without hesitation to every act, to every event, and to every finite being. And thus a foundation is laid for numberless conclusions, having a relation to whatever has happened in time past. It is true that the verbal proposition, by which our belief in this case is expressed, is not always, nor even generally, brought forward and stated in our reasonings on the past, but it is always implied.
This primary truth is an exceedingly important one. By its aid the human mind retains a control over the ages that are gone, and subordinates them to its own purposes. It is susceptible, in particular, of a moral and religious application. Let this great principle be given us, and we are able to track the succession of sequences upward, advancing from one step to another, until we find all things meeting together in one self-existent and unchangeable head and fountain of being. But there it stops. The principle will not apply to God, since He differs from everything else which is the object of thought, in being an existence equally without change and without beginning
§ 12. Matter and mind have uniforrn and fixed laws. It is necessary to assume alan, particularly in connex
ion with the reasoning power, that matter and mind have uniform and permanent laws.
This assumption, as well as the preceding, is accordant with the common belief of mankind. All men believe that the setting sun will rise again at the appointed hour, that the decaying plants of autumn will revive in spring, that the tides of ocean will continue to heave as in times past, and the streams and rivers to flow in their
If they doubted, they would not live and act as they are now seen to do.
This belief in the uniformity and permanency of the laws of nature does not arise at once; but has its birth at first in some particular instance, then in others, till it becomes of universal application. In the first instance, the feeling in question, which we express in various ways by the terms anticipation, faith, expectation, belief, and the like, is weak and vacillating; but it gradually acquires strength and distinctness. And yet this feeling, so important in its applications, is the pure work of nature; it is not taught men, in the strict sense of that term, but is produced within them; the necessary and infallible product and growth of our mental being; a sort of inalienable gift of the Almighty to every man, woman, and child; arising in the soul with as much certainty and as little mystery as the notions, expressed by the words power, duration, right, wrong, truth, or other elementary states of the mind. It is true, it is an expectation or belief, directed to a particular object, and, therefore, is not easily susceptible of being expressed by a single term, as in the case of the ideas just referred to; but the circumstance of its being expressed by a circumlocution does not render the feeling itself less distinct or real than others.-As, therefore, the strong faith, which men entertain in the continuance of the laws of creation, is the natural and decisive offspring of that mental constitution which God has given us, there is good ground for assuming the truth of that to which this faith relates, and to regard it as a principle in future inquiries, that matter and mind governed by uniform laws.
Ø 13. This primary truth not founded on reasoning. But perhaps it is objected, that we can arrive at the