Images de page

in different minds, the conceptions, which rise according to those tendencies, are of course various; and with the order of our conceptions, that are felt to be related, the relations, which we feel, must vary. There may, indeed, be the same conclusion formed, when the intervening conceptions, in the trains of reflection of dif ferent individuals, have been different. But it is much more likely, that, when these intervening conceptions, of which the relations are felt, have been different, the conclusion, or ultimate relation which results from the whole, should itself be different; and that men should not agree in opinion, seems, therefore, to be almost a part of the very laws of intellect, on which the simplest phenomena of thought depend. Even by the same individual, as I remarked before, when treating of the Laws of Simple Suggestion, what opposite conclusions are formed on the same subjects, in different circumstances of health and happiness, or of disease and misfortune,—and conclusions which are drawn, with the same logical justness from the premises, in one case, as in the other. The process of reasoning, which is only the continued feeling of the relations of the conceptions that have arisen by the common laws of suggestion, is equally accurate; but, though the reasoning itself may have been as accurate, the conceptions of which the successive relations have been felt, during the process of reasoning, were different, in consequence of the tendency of the mind in these different states, to suggest different and almost opposite images. This tendency to form, under slight changes of circumstances, opposite conclusions, on the same subjects, is happily illustrated by Chaulieu, the French poet, in some verses, in which he considers himself as viewing nature during a fit of the gout, and of course seeing nothing in it but what is dreadful; when he is surprised to find different views breaking upon him, of beauty in the universe, and benevolence in its Author, and discovers that the change has arisen, not from any greater brightness of the sky, or from any happier objects that surround him, but from the mere cessation of that paroxysm, which had shed, while it lasted, its own darkness on the scene. It is almost as little possible for him, whose train of conceptions is uniformly gloomy, to look upon nature, or, I may say, even upon the God of Nature, in the same light, as that happier mind, which is more disposed to images of joy, as for one, to whose eyes the sunshine has never carried

light, to think of the surface of that earth on which he treads, with the same feeling of beauty and admiration, as the multitudes around him, whose eyes are awake to all the colours that adorn it. What is true, in these extreme cases, is not less true in cases that are less remarkable. How few are the opinions of any sort, in which the greater number of mankind concur; and, even in the case of those opinions, in which they are unanimous, how few, if they were to attempt to support them by argument, would support them by argument precisely similar. All might set out with the same conception, in their primary design; and, if the discovery of the strongest proofs depended on the mere will to discover the strongest, all would instantly, by the exercise of this simple will, be omnipotent logicians. But all are not omnipotent logicians, -for the intermediate conceptions which rise to one mind, do not rise to others; and the relations, therefore, which those intermediate conceptions suggest, are felt, of course, and stated, only by those to whom the conceptions which suggest them have arisen.

The differences of opinion in mankind, then,-far from being wonderful,—are such, as must have arisen, though there had been no other cause of difference, than the variety of the conceptions, which, by the simple laws of suggestion, occur in the various trains of thought of individuals, diversifying, of course, the order of propositions in their reasonings, and consequently the relation, which the conclusion involves. The objects compared, at every stage of the argument, have been different; and the results of the comparison of different objects, therefore, cannot well be expected to be the same. I formerly alluded to a whimsical speculation of Diderot, in which he personifies the senses, and makes them members of a society, capable of holding communication with each other, and of discoursing scientifically, on one subject at least,that of numbers, in the calculations of which, he conceives that each of them might become as expert as the most expert arithmeticians. In all their other colloquies, however, it is quite evident, that each must appear to the rest absolutely insane; because each must speak of objects and relations, of which the others would be incapable of forming even the slightest notion. " I shall remark only," says Diderot, "that in such a case, the richer any sense was, in notions peculiar to itself, the more extravagant would it appear to the rest,-that the stupidest of the whole would,

[blocks in formation]

therefore, infallibly be the one, that would count itself the wisest, -that a sense would seldom be contradicted, except on subjects which it knew the best, and that there always would be four wrong, against the one that was right,-which may serve to give a very fair opinion of the judgments of the multitude."* In the reasonings of mankind, indeed, the sources of difference are not so striking and obvious, as in this allegorical society. But, in many instances, they are nearly as much so; and merely because the same order of propositions, that is to say, the same order of conceptions and relative feelings, has not arisen in the reasonings of the ignorant, they laugh inwardly at the follies and extravagance of the wise, with the same wonder and disdain, with which, in Diderot's fabled society of the senses, the Ear would have listened to the Eye, when it spoke, with calm philosophy, of forms and colours, or which, in return, the Eye would have felt for the seeming madness of the Ear, when it raved, in its strange ecstacies, of airs and harmonies.

The different order of propositions, in our trains of reasoning, -and consequently, in a great measure, the different results of reasoning, may, then, it appears, depend on the mere differences of simple suggestion, in consequence of which different relations are felt, because the relative objects suggested to the mind are different. But, in like manner, as there are, in different minds, different tendencies of simple suggestion, there are also in different minds, peculiar tendencies to different relative suggestions, from the contemplation of the same objects. Any two objects may have various relations, and may, therefore, suggest these variously. The same two columns, for example, when we look at the remains of ancient splendour, in some magnificent ruin, may, in the moment of the first suggestion, produce, in our mind, the feeling of their resemblance or difference,―of their relative position,

of their comparative degrees of beauty,—of their proportion in dimensions, or various other relations, that may be easily imagined, which connect them, as parts of one whole, with the melancholy traces of present decay, or the still more melancholy vestiges of the flourishing past. In different minds, there is a tendency to feel some of these relations, more than others, a tendency,

* Œuvres, tom. II. p. 133–4.

which may be traced, in part, to original constitutional diversities; but which depends also, in part, on factitious habits, and on transient circumstances of the moment, intellectual or bodily. In short, there are secondary laws of relative suggestion, constitutional, habitual, and temporary, as there are secondary laws of simple suggestion, in like manner, constitutional, habitual, and temporary; and these secondary laws, as well as those of simple suggestion, since they vary the relations which are felt by individuals, and, therefore, the results of reflecting thought, which different individuals present to the world, are unquestionably to be taken into account, in our estimation of diversities of genius,-diversities, that consist both in the variety of the conceptions which arise, and the variety of the relations which those conceptions suggest,—and which, as one splendid compound, you are now, I flatter myself, able to reduce to the simple elements that compose it.

From the influence, then, which education has on the tendencies both of simple and relative suggestion, we can, in this way, indirectly produce in part, that sagacity, or ready discovery of means of proof, which I have shewn to be absolutely beyond our direct volition. We can continually render ourselves acquainted with more objects, and can thus increase the store of possible suggestions, which may on occasion, present to us new means of proof; and we can even, by the influence of certain habits, so modify the general tendency of suggestion, that certain relations, rather than others, shall rise to the mind, or shall rise, at least, more rapidly and readily. How many arguments occur to a well cultivated understanding, in treating every subject which comes beneath its review, that never would have occurred to others?-and though not one of the separate suggestions, which either strengthen or adorn the reasoning, has been the object of a particular volition, -the general cultivation, from which they all flow, has been willed, and would not have taken place, but for that love of letters and science, which continued to animate the studies which it produced, making it delightful to know, what it was happiness almost to wish to learn.

These remarks, on the order of propositions, which constitute reasoning, have shewn you, I trust, that they depend on tendencies of the mind more lasting than our momentary volitions, that

the relations, which they involve, could not be felt by us, unless we had previously the conceptions, which are the subjects of the relations, and that it is impossible for us to will any one of these conceptions; since, in that case, the conception must have existed, before it was willed into existence. The conceptions, then, and the feelings of relation, that is to say, the propositions, in the order, in which they present themselves to our internal thought,— arise, by the simple laws of suggestion only,-conception suggesting conception, and that which is suggested, being felt to have a relation of some sort to the conception which suggested it.

The laws of simple suggestion,-according to which conceptions do not follow each other loosely, but those only which have a certain relation of some sort to each other,-furnish as I have already said, the true explanation of the regularity of our reasonings. While there is a continued desire of discovering the relations of any particular object, it is not wonderful, that with this continued desire, the reasoning should itself be continuous; since the remaining conception of the object, the relations of which we wish to explore, and which must be as permanent, as the permanent desire that involves it, will, of course, suggest the conception of objects related to it; and, therefore, the relations themselves, as subsequent feelings of the mind. If we wish to discover the proportion of A to D, these conceptions, as long as the very wish which involves them remains, must by the simple laws of sugges tion, excite other conceptions related to them; and in the multitude of relative objects, thus capable of being suggested, it is not wonderful, that there should be some one B or C, which has a common relation to both A and D; and which, therefore, becomes a measure for comparing them, or suggests this very relation without any such intentional comparison. Indeed, since A and D, both conceived together, form one complex feeling of the mind, it might be expected, that the relative objects, most likely to arise by suggestion, would be such as have a common relation to both parts-if I may so term them-of the complex feeling, by which they are suggested, the very proofs, or intermediate conceptions, which form the links of our demonstration.

[ocr errors]

You are aware, that in these remarks, I speak of the series of propositions that arise in our mind when we meditate on any sub

« PrécédentContinuer »