Images de page
PDF
ePub

THE

BOOK OF NATURE.

SERIES III.

LECTURE I.

ON MATERIALISM AND IMMATERIALISM.

It is one part of science, and not the least important, though the lowest and most elementary, to become duly acquainted with the nature and extent of our ignorance upon whatever subject we propose to investigate * ; and it is probably for want of a proper attention to this branch of study that we meet with so many crude and confident theories upon questions that the utmost wit or wisdom of man is utterly incapable of elucidating. The rude uninstructed peasant, or ignorant pretender, believes that he understands every thing before him ; the experienced philosopher knows that he understands nothing It was so formerly in Greece, and will be so in every age and country : while the sophists of Athens asserted their pretensions to universal knowledge, Socrates, in opposition to them, was daily affirming that the only thing he knew to a certainty was his own igno

*“ Our knowledge being so narrow, it will perhaps give us some light into the present state of our minds if we look a little into the dark side, and take a view of our ignorance, which, being infinitely greater than our knowledge, may serve much to the quieting of disputes and improvement of useful knowledge ; if, discovering how far we have clear and distinct ideas, we confine our thoughts within the contemplation of those things that are within the reach of our understanding; and launch not out into that abyss of darkness where we have not eyes to see, nor faculties to perceive any thing; out of a presumption that nothing is

VOL, III,

The shallow Indian sage, as soon as he had made the important discovery that the world was supported by an elephant, and the elephant by a tortoise, felt the most perfect complacency in the solution he was now prepared to give to the question, by what means is the world supported in empty space? And it is justly observed by Mr. Barrow, that the chief reason why the Chinese are so far behind Europeans in the fine arts and higher branches of science, as painting for example, and geometry, is the consummate vanity they possess, which induces them to look with contempt upon the real knowledge of every other nation.

rance.

beyond our comprehension. But to be satisfied of the folly of such a conceit we need not go far.” Locke, Hum. Underst. IV.ji. $ 22.

The subjects we have thus far chiefly discussed, though others branching out from them have been glanced at as well, have related to the principle and properties of matter, both under an unorganized and under an organic modification: and although I have endeavoured to do my utmost to put you in possession of the clearest and most valuable facts which are known upoti these subjects, I am much afraid it is to little more than to this first and initial branch of science that any instructions I have given have been able to conduct you; for I feel, and have felt deeply as we have proceeded, that they have rather had a tendency to teach us how ignorant we are than how wise ; how little is really known thanı how much has been actually discovered. And if this be the case with respect to our course of study thus far pursued, I much suspect that what is to follow has but little chance of giving a higher character to our attainments; for the subject it proposes to touch upon, the doctrine of psychology, or the nature and properties of the mind, is the most abstruse and intractable of all subjects that relate to human entity, or the great theatre on which human entity plays its important part ; and, perhaps, so far as relates to the miere discoveries of man himself, remains, excepting in a few points, much the same in the present day as it did two or three thousand years ago.

This subject forms a prominent section of that extensive branch of science which is generally

known by the name of METAPHYSICS, and which, in modern times, has been unjustifiably separated by many philosophers from the division of Physics or natural philosophy; and made a distinct division in itself. As a part of physics, or natural philosophy, it was uniformly arranged by the Greeks; as such it occurs in the works of Aristotle, as such it was regarded by Lord Bacon, as such we meet with it in Mr. Locke's correct and comprehensive classification of science, and as such it has been generally treated of by the Scottish professors of our own day. And I may add that it is very much in consequence of so unnatural a divorce, that the science of metaphysics has too often licentiously allied itself to imagination, and brought forth a monstrous and chimerical progeny:

The term, though a Greek compound, is not to be found among the Greek writers. The first traces of it occur to us in the Physics of Aristotle, the last fourteen books of which are entitled in the printed editions, Τών μετά τα Φυσικά και “ Of things relating to Physics ;" but even this title is generally supposed to have been applied, not by Aristotle himself, but by one of his commentators, probably Andronicus, on the transfer of the manuscripts of Aristole to Rome, upon the subjugation of Asia by Sylla, in which city this invaluable treasure, as we had occasion to observe not long ago, had been deposited as part of the plunder of the library of Apellicon of Teia. *

* Vol. II, Ser. II. Lect, xi.

In taking a general survey of the subject immediately before us, there are three questions that have chiefly occupied the attention of the world ; the essence of the mind or soul; its durability; and the means by which it maintains a relation with the sensible or external world. Let us devote the present lecture to a consideration of the first of these.

Is the essence of the human soul material or immaterial ? The question, at first sight, appears to be highly important, and to involve nothing less than a belief or disbelief, not indeed in its divine origin, but in its divine similitude and immortality. Yet I may venture to affirm that there is no question which has been productive of so little satisfaction, or has laid a foundation for wider and wilder errors, within the whole range of metaphysics. And for this plain and obvious reason, that we have no distinct idea of the terms, and no settled premises to build upon. * Corruptibility and incorruptibility, intelligent and unintelligent, organized and inorganic, are terms that convey distinct meanings to the mind, and impart modes of being that are within the scope of our comprehension: but materiality and immateriality are equally beyond our reach. Of the essence of matter we know nothing; and altogether as little of many of its more active qualities; insomuch that amidst all the discoveries of the day, it still remains a controvertible 'position whether light, heat, mag.

* See Locke on Hum. Unders. ch, xxiii. book ij.

[graphic]
« PrécédentContinuer »