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ing a Treatise, in which Simple and Compound Ratios are applied to Virtue and Merit;" and shows plainly, by its contents, that, although he had not entirely relinquished the favorite researches of his youth, he was beginning to direct his thoughts to other objects.
The treatise alluded to in the title of this paper, was manifestly the “ Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue,” by Dr. Hutcheson of Glasgow. According to this very ingenious writer, the moment of
public good produced by an individual, depending part' ly on his benevolence, and partly on his ability, the rela
tion between these different moral ideas may be expressed in the technical form of algebraists, by saying, that the first is in the compound proportion of the two others. Hence Dr. Hutcheson infers, that “the benevolence of an agent, which in this system is synonymous with his moral merit, is proportional to a fraction, having the moment of good for the numerator, and the ability of the agent for the denominator." Various other examples of a similar nature occur in the same work; and are stated with a gravity not altogether worthy of the author. It is probable that they were intended merely as illustrations of his general reasonings, not as media of investigation for the discovery of new conclusions ; but they appeared to Dr. Reid to be an innovation which it was of importance to resist, on account of the tendency it might have, by confounding the evidence of different branches of science, to retard the progress of knowledge. The very high reputation which Dr. Hutcheson then possessed in the universities of Scotland, added to the recent attempts of Pitcairn and Cheyne to apply mathematical reasoning to medicine, would bestow, it is likely, an interest on Dr. Reid's Essay at the time of its publication, which it can scarcely be expected to possess at present. Many of the observations, however, which it contains, are acute and original ; and all of them are expressed with that clearness and precision, so conspicuous in his subsequent compositions. The circumstance which renders a subject susceptible of mathematical consideration, is accurately stated; and the proper province of that science defined in such a manner, as sufficiently to expose the absurdity of those abuses of its technical phraseology which were at that time prevalent. From some passages in it, there is, I think, ground for concluding, that the author's metaphysical reading had not been very extensive previous to this period. The enumeration, in particular, which he has given of the different kinds of proper quantity, affords a proof, that he was not acquainted with the refined yet sound disquisitions concerning the nature of number and of proportion, which had appeared almost a century before, in the Mathematical Lectures of Dr. Barrow; nor with the remarks on the same subject introduced by Dr. Clarke in one of his controversial letters addressed to Leibnitz.
In the same paper, Dr. Reid takes occasion to offer some reflections on the disputes between the Newtonians and Leibnitzians concerning the measure of forces. The fundamental idea on which these reflections proceed, is just and important; and it leads to the correction of an error, committed very generally by the partisans of both opinions; that of mistaking a question concerning the comparative advantages of two definitions, for a difference of statement with respect to a physical fact. It must, I think, be acknowledged, at the same time, that the whole merits of the controversy are not here exhausted; and that the honor of placing this very subtle and abstruse question in a point of view calculated to reconcile completely the contending parties, was reserved for M. D'Alembert. To have fallen short of the success which attended the inquiries of that eminent man, on a subject so congenial to his favorite habits of study, will not reflect any discredit on the powers of Dr. Reid's mind in the judgment of those who are at all acquainted with the history of this celebrated discussion.
In 1752, the professors of King's college elected Dr. Reid professor of philosophy, in testimony of the high opinion they had formed of his learning and abilities. Of the particular plan which he followed in his academical lectures, while he held this office, I have not been able to obtain any satisfactory account; but the department of science which was assigned to him by the general system of education in that university, was abundantly extensive; comprehending mathematics and physics as well as logic and ethics. A similar system was pursued formerly in the other universities of Scotland ; the same professor then conducting his pupils through all those branches of knowledge which are now appropriated to different teachers. And where he happened fortunately to possess those various accomplishments which distinguished Dr. Reid in so remarkable a degree, it cannot be doubted that the unity and comprehensiveness of method, of which such academical courses admitted, must necessarily have possessed important advantages over that more minute subdivision of literary labor which has since been introduced. But as public establishments ought to'adapt themselves to what is ordinary, rather than to what is possible, it is not surprising, that experience should have gradually suggested an arrangement more suitable to the narrow limits which commonly circumscribe human genius.
Soon after Dr. Reid's removal to Aberdeen, he projected, in conjunction with his friend Dr. John Gregory, a literary society, which subsisted for many years, and which seems to have had the happiest effects in awakening and directing that spirit of philosophical research, which has since reflected so much lustre on the north of Scotland. The meetings of this society were held weekly; and afforded the members, besides the advantages to be derived from a mutual communication of their sentiments on the common objects of their pursuit, an opportunity of subjecting their intended publications to the test of friendly criticism. The number of valuable works which issued nearly about the same time, from individuals connected with this institution, more particularly the writings of Reid, Gregory, Campbell, Beattie and Gerard, furnish the best panegyric on the enlightened views of those under whose direction it was originally formed.
Among these works, the most original and profound was unquestionably the Inquiry into the Human Mind, published by Dr. Reid in 1764. The plan appears to have been conceived, and the subject deeply meditated,
by the author long before ; but it is doubtful, whether his modesty would have ever permitted him to present to the world the fruits of his solitary studies, without the encouragement which he received from the general acquiescence of his associates, in the most important conclusions to which he had been led.
From a passage in the dedication, it would seem, that the speculations which terminated in these conclusions had commenced as early as the year 1739; at which period the publication of Mr. Hume's Treatise of Human Nature induced him, for the first time, as he himself informs us, “ to call in question the principles commonly received with regard to the human understanding.” In his Essays on the Intellectual Powers, he acknowledges, that, in his youth, he had, without examination, admitted the established opinions on which Mr. Hume's system of scepticism was raised ; and that it was the consequences which these opinions seemed to involve which roused his suspicions concerning their truth. “ If I may presume, says he, “to speak my own sentiments, I once believed the doctrine of Ideas so firmly, as to embrace the whole of Berkeley's system along with it; till, finding other consequences to follow from it, which gave me more uneasiness than the want of a material world, it came into my mind more than forty years ago, to put the question, What evidence have I for this doctrine, that all the objects of my knowledge are ideas in my own mind ? From that time to the present, I have been candidly and impartially, as I think, seeking for the evidence of this principle; but can find none, excepting the authority of philosophers.”
In following the train of Dr. Reid's researches, this last extract merits attention, as it contains an explicit avowal, on his own part, that, at one period of his life, he had been led, by Berkeley's reasonings, to abandon the belief of the existence of matter. The avowal does honor to his candor, and the fact reflects no discredit on his sagacity. The truth is, that this article of the Berkeleian system, however contrary to the conclusions of a sounder philosophy, was the error of no common mind. Considered in contrast with that theory of materialism, VOL. VIL.
which the excellent author was anxious to supplant, it possessed important advantages, not only in its tendency, but in its scientific consistency; and it afforded a proof, wherever it met with a favorable reception, of an understanding superior to those casual associations, which, in the apprehensions of most men, blend indissolubly the phenomena of thought with the objects of external perception. It is recorded as a saying of M. Turgot, whose philosophical opinions in some important points approached very nearly to those of Dr. Reid,* that, “ he who had never doubted of the existence of matter, might be assured he had no turn for metaphysical disquisitions.
As the refutation of Mr. Hume's sceptical theory was the great and professed object of Dr. Reid's Inquiry, he was anxious, before taking the field as a controversial writer, to guard against the danger of misapprehending or misrepresenting the meaning of his adversary, by submitting his reasonings to Mr. Hume's private examination. With this view, he availed himself of the good offices of Dr. Blair, with whom both he and Mr. Hume had long lived in habits of friendship. The communications which he at first transmitted, consisted only of detached parts of the work; and appear evidently, from a correspondence which I have perused, to have conveyed a very imperfect idea of his general system. In one of Mr. Hume's letters to Dr. Blair, he betrays some want of his usual good humor, in looking forward to his new antagonist. “I wish,” says he,“ that the parsons would confine themselves to their old occupation of worrying one another, and leave philosophers to argue with temper, moderation, and good manners.” After Mr. Hume, however, had read the manuscript, he addressed himself directly to the author, in terms so candid and liberal, that it would be unjust to his memory to withhold from the public so pleasing a memorial of his character.
“ By Dr. Blair's means, I have been favored with the perusal of your performance, which I have read with great pleasure and attention. It is certainly very rare, that a piece so deeply philosophical is written with so
* See, in particular, the article Existence in the Encyclopédie.