Images de page
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

the sect was revived, by the genius of William Occam, an Englishman, one of the most acute Polemics of his age, and the controversy, under his powerful championship, was agitated again, with double servour. It was no longer, indeed, a mere war of words, or of censures and ecclesiastical penalties, but, in some measure also a war of nations ; the Emperor Lewis of Bavaria, siding with Occam, and Lewis the Eleventh of France, giving the weight of his power to the Realists. The violence on both sides was like that which usually rages, only in the rancour of political faction, or the intolerance of religious persecution. Indeed, as might well be supposed, in a period, in which an accusation of heresy was one of the most powerful and triumphant arguments of logic, which nothing could meet and repel, but an argument of the same kind, religion was soon introduced into the controversy ; and both sects, though agreeing in little more, concurred, with equal devotion, in charging their opponents with no less a sin, than the sin against the Holy Ghost.

At the Reformation, the fury of the controversy was suspended by more important interests—interests which affected equally both those who separated from the Romish Church, and those who adhered to it; and perhaps too, in some degree by the wider views which at that time were beginning to open in literature and general science. The question has since been a question of pure philosophy, in which there has been no attempt to interest sovereigns in wars of metaphysics, or to find new subjects for accusations of religious heresy. It has continued, however, to engage, in a very considerable degree, the attention of philosophers, whose general opinion has leant to that of the sect of the Nominalists. In our own country, particularly, I may refer to the very eminent names of Hobbes, Berkeley, Hume, Dr Campbell, and Mr Stewart, who are Nominalists, in the strictest sense of that term. Indeed the only names of authority which I can oppose to them, are those of Locke and Dr Reid.

Locke and Reid, however, though holding opinions on this subject very different from those of the Nominalists, are not Realists-for, after the view which I have given you of the peculiar opinions of that sect, it is surely unnecessary for me to add, that there are no longer any defenders of the universal a parte rei. There is no one now-certainly no one worthy of the name of a

[ocr errors]

a

philosopher, who believes that there is any external entity corresponding with the general notion of man, and distinct from all the individual men perceived by us, and from our mind itself, which has perceived them. The only opinion which can now be considered as opposed to that of the rigid Nominalists, is the opinion which I have endeavoured to exhibit to you, in a form more simple than that in which it is usually exhibited, stripped, as much as it was possible for me to strip it, of all that obscurity, with which a long controversy of words had clouded it; and precluding, therefore, I trust, those mistakes as to the nature of our general notions or feelings of resemblance, on which alone the denial of the notions as states of mind seems to have been founded. The view which I have given, however, though I flatter myself, more clear in its analyses and reference to a particular class of beings, is, in the main, inasmuch as it contends for a general feeling, of which every general term is significant, the same with the doctrine of Locke and Reid; and may, indeed, be traced far back in the controversy of universals; a considerable number of philosophers, who agreed with the stricter Nominalists in rejecting the notion of universal essences, baving adopted this middle doctrine, or at least a doctrine nearly approaching it; and been distinguished accordingly, from the other parties, by the name of Conceptualists" conceptuales.Their joint opposition to the absurdities of Realism, however, occasioned them to be confounded with the Nominalists, from whom they differed certainly as much as from the Realists themselves; and, I cannot but think, that it is merely in consequence of being thus confounded with Conceptualism, and presenting, therefore, some vague notions of more than mere general terms and particular perceptions, that the doctrine of the Nominalists has been able to obtain the assent and sanction of its illustrious modern defenders, whom I am thus almost inclined to consider as unconsciously in thought, Conceptualists, even while they are Nominalists in argument and language. Or rather, for the word conception, I confess, does not seem to me a very proper one for expressing that feeling of general resemblance which I consider as a mere feeling of relation-1 almost think that some obscure glimpse of that more precise doctrine which I have now delivered to you, must have bad a sort of truly unconscious influence on the belief of the Nominalists themselves, in that imperfect view which they present to others of the process of generalization.

Of that rigid Nominalism which involves truly no mixture of Conceptualism, or of the beliefs of those feelings of relation for which I have contended, but denies altogether the existence of that peculiar class of feelings, or states of mind which have been denominated general notions, or general ideas, asserting the existence only of individual objects perceived, and of general terms that comprehend these, without any peculiar mental state denoted by the general term, distinct from those separate sensations or perceptions which the particular objects, comprehended under the term, might individually excite,-it seems to me that the very statement of the opinion itself is almost a sufficient confutation, since the very invention of the general term, and the extension of it to certain objects only, not to all objects, implies some reason for this limitation,--some feeling of general agreement of the objects included in the class, to distinguish them from the objects not included in it, which is itself that very general notion professedly denied. As long as some general notion of circumstances of resemblance is admitted, I see very clearly how a general term may be most accurately limited; but if this general notion be denied, I confess that I cannot discover any principle of limitation whatever. Why have certain objects been classed together, and not certain other objects, when all have been alike perceived by us; and all, therefore, if there be nothing more than mere perception in the process, are capable of receiving any denomination which we may please to bestow on them? Is it arbitrarily, and without any reason whatever, that we do not class a rose-bush with birds, or an elaphant with fish ? and if there be any reason for these exclusions, why will not the Nominalist tell us what that reason is—in what feeling it is found—and how it can be made accordant with his system? Must it not be that the rose-bush and a sparrow, though equally perceived by us, do not excite that general notion of resemblance which the term bird is invented to express-do not seem to us to have those relations of a common nature, in certain respects, which lead us to class the sparrow and the ostrich, however different in other respects, as birds; or the petty natives of our brooks and rivulets with the mighty monsters of the deep, under one general and equal denomination ? If this be the reason, there is more, in every case, than perception, and the giving of a general name ; for there is a peculiar state of mind -a general relative feeling-intervening between the perception and the invention of the term, which is the only reason that can be assigned for that very invention. Can the Nominalist then assert, that there is no feeling of the resemblance of objects, in certain respects, which thus intervenes between the perception of them as separate objects, which is one stage of the process, and the comprehension of them under a single name, which is another stage of the process,-or must he not rather confess, that it is merely in consequence of this intervening feeling we give to the number of objects their general name, to the exclusion of the multitudes of objects to which we do not apply it, as it is in consequence of certain other feelings, excited by them individually, we give to each separate object its proper name, to the exclusion of every other object? To repeat the process, as already described to you, we perceive two or more objects,—we are struck with their resemblance in certain respects. We invent a general name to denote this feeling of resemblance, and we class under this general name, every particular object, the perception of which is followed by the same feeling of resemblance, and no object but these alone. If this be a faithful statement of the process,—and for its fidelity I may safely appeal to your consciousness,—the doctrine of the Nominalists is not less false than that of the Realists. It is false, because it excludes that general feeling of resemblance, the relative suggestion,—which is all that the general name itself truly designates, and without which, therefore, it never would have been invented; while the doctrine of the Realists is false, by inserting in the process those supposed separate entities which form no part of it. The one errs, as I have already said, by excess, the other by deficiency.

Even in professing to exclude the general notion of resemblance, however, the Nominalist unconsciously proceeds on it; and no stronger proof can be imagined of the imperfectness of the view which his system gives of our generalizations, than the constant necessity under which we perceive him to labour, of assuming, at every stage of his argument, the existence of those very notions, or feelings of relative suggestion, against which his argument is directed. The general term, we are told, is significant of all obVOL, II.

25

a

jects of a certain kind, or a particular idea is made to represent various other ideas of the same sort; as if the very doctrine did not necessarily exclude all notion of a kind or sort, independent of the application of the term itself. “An idea,” says Berkeley,

which, considered in itself, is particular, becomes general, by being made to represent or stand for all other particular ideas of the same sort;” and he instances this in the case of a line of any particular length,-an inch, for example,—which, to a geometer, he says, becomes general, as "it represents all particular lines whatsoever; so that what is demonstrated of it, is demonstrated of all lines, or in other words, of a line in general.” It is truly inconceivable that he should not have discovered, in this very statement, that he had taken for granted the existence of general notions, the very states of mind which he denied ; since, without these, there can be no meaning in the restriction of any sign, to - ideas of the same sort.” If we have previously a notion of what he himself, rather inconsistently, calls a line in general, we can easily understand how the word line may be limited to ideas of one sort ; but if we have no such previous general notion, we cannot have any knowledge of the sort to which we are, notwithstanding, said to limit our term. An inch, which is certainly not the same figure as a foot or a yard, is on the principles of Nominalism, which exclude all knowledge of the nature of lines in general, essentially different from these; and might as well, but for that general notion of the resemblance of lines which all have, independently of the term, and previously to the term, but which Nominalism does not allow to exist, be significant of a square, or a circle, as of any other simple length. To say that it represents all particular lines whatsoever, is either to say nothing, or it is to say that certain general notions of resemblance exist truly, as a part of our consciousness, and that we are hence able to attach a mean.ing to the phrase, "all particular lines whatsoever;" which we could not if a foot, a yard, or a mile, did not appear to us to resemble each other in some respect. It is in vain that Berkeley, who is aware of the objection which may be brought from the universal truths of geometry, against a system which denies every thing but particular ideas, and the signs of particular ideas, endeavours to reconcile this denial of the conception of universality, with that very universality which it denies. It is quite evident, that, if

a

« PrécédentContinuer »