« PrécédentContinuer »
erties of triangles, scalene, equilateral, and isosceles, should itself be a triangle, equilateral, isosceles, or scalene, is not more philosophic, or I may say, even not less absurd, than it would be to re. quire of us a visual delineation of a sound or a smell, and to deny, that we have any sensations of melody and odour, because we cannot represent these in pictures to the eye.
I have already remarked, that it is only for a small number of the resemblances which we perceive in objects, that we have invented general terms. The general term, therefore, far from being essential to the generalization, is only a record of a generalization previously made. It marks what we have felt, and enables us to refer, with exactness, to this past feeling.
When I speak of our invention of a general term, however, speak of what we do, in the present mature state of our language, not of what was likely to take place, in the early generalizations of savage life; for there seems to me very little reason to doubt the justness of that theory of appellatives, which is hinted, indeed, in some earlier writers, but has been particularly maintained by Condillac and Dr Smith,-a theory, which supposes the words now used as appellatives, to have been originally the proper names of individual objects, extended to the objects, that were perceived to be similar to those, to which the name had primarily been given. The theory is stated with great force, by Dr Smith, in the ingenious dissertation, appended to his Theory of Moral Science. It would be injustice to his opinion, to attempt to express it in any words but his own.
“The assignation of particular names, to denote particular objects, that is, the institution of nouns substantive, would probably be one of the first steps towards the formation of language. Two savages who had never been taught to speak, but had been bred up remote from the societies of men, would naturally begin to form that language by which they would endeavour to make their mutual wants intelligible to each other, by uttering certain sounds, whenever they meant to denote certain objects. Those objects only which were most familiar to them, and which they had most frequent occasion to mention, would have particular names assigned to them. The particular cave whose covering sheltered them from the weather, the particular tree whose fruit relieved their hunger, the particular fountain whose water allayed their thirst, would first be denominated by the words cave, tree, fountain, or by whatever other appellations they might think proper, in that primitive jargon, to mark them. Afterwards, when the more enlarged experience of these savages had led them to observe, and their necessary occasions obliged them to make mention of other caves, and other trees, and other fountains, they would naturally bestow, upon each of those new objects, the same name by which they had been acustomed to express the similar object they were first acquainted with. The new objects had none of them any name of its own, but each of them exactly resembled another object which had such an appellation. It was impossible
. that those savages could behold the new objects without recollecting the old ones; and the name of the old ones, to which the new bore so close a resemblance. When they had occasion, therefore, to mention, or to point out to each other, any of the new objects, they would naturally utter the name of the correspondent old one, of which the idea could not fail, at that instant, to present itself to their memory in the strongest and liveliest manner. And thus, those words, which were originally the proper names of individuals, would each of them insensibly become the common name of a multitude. A child that is just learning to speak, calls every person who comes to the house its papa or its mamma ; and thus bestows upon the whole species those names which it had been taught to apply to two individuals. I have known a clown, who did not know the proper name of the river which ran by his own door. It was the river, he said, and he never heard any other name for it. His experience, it seems, had not led him to observe any other river. The general word river, therefore, was, it is evident, in his acceptance of it, a proper name, signifying an individual object. If this person had been carried to another river, would he not readily have called it a river? Could we suppose any person living on the banks of the Thames so ignorant, as not to know the general word river, but to be acquainted only with the particular word Thames, if he was brought to any other river, would be not readily call it a Thames ? This, in reality, is no more than what they, who are well acquainted with the general word, are very apt to do. An Englishman, describing
, any great river which he may have seen in some foreign country, nat
urally says, that it is another Thames. The Spaniards, when they first arrived upon the coast of Mexico, and observed the wealth, populousness, and habitations of that fine country, so much superior to the savage nations which they had been visiting for some time before, cried out, that it was another Spain. Hence it was called New Spain, and this name has stuck to that unfortunate country ever since. We say, in the same manner, of a hero, that he is an Alexander; of an orator, that he is a Cicero; of a philosopher, that he is a Newton. This way of speaking, which the grammarians call an Antonomasia, and which is still extremely common, though now not at all necessary, demonstrates how much mankind are naturally disposed to give to one object the name of any other which nearly resembles it, and thus to denominate a multitude, by what originally was intended to express an individual.
" It is this application of the name of an individual to a great multitude of objects, whose resemblance naturally recals the idea of that individual, and of the name which expresses it, that seems originally to have given occasion to the formation of those classes and assortments, which, in the schools, are called genera and spe
That the first designation of species and genera, by appellatives, was nothing more than this ingenious speculation supposes it to have been,—the extension of mere proper names, from similar objects to similar objects, I have very little doubt. But still it must be remembered, that the extension was from similar objects, to objects felt to be similar,--that, before the extension, therefore, there must have been a general notion of the circumstance of resemblance,-and, that, without this intermediate feeling of his mind, the savage would as little have thought of calling one tree by the name which he had previously given to another tree, as he would have thought of extending this name to the cave which sheltered him, or the fountain at which he quenched his thirst. In short, whatever our theory of the origin of general terms may be, it either must take for granted the previous existence of general relative notions, corresponding with them, or it must suppose that the terms were invented at random, without
Smith's Considerations conceroing the First Formation of Languages, from the beginning.
any reason whatever, to guide us in our application or limitation of them. To state any reason of this kind, is to state some general resemblance, that is felt by us, and consequently some notion of general circumstances of resemblance, which must be independent of the general term, because it is prior to it. This, which the Nominalist on reflection, I should conceive, must admit, is all for which the Conceptualist contends, or at least, is all for which I contend, in that view of the generalizing process which I have given you.
The decision of the controversy, might, indeed, as I have now said, be very safely trusted to the Nominalist himself, if he would only put a single question to his own mind, and reflect for a few moments before giving an answer. Why do I class together certain objects, and exclude certain others, from the class which I have formed? He must say, either that he classes them together, because he has classed them together, and that be excludes the others, because he excludes them, which is surely not a very philosophic answer, though it is all which can be understood in the assertion, that it is the name which constitutes, as well as defines the genus ; or he must say, that there is some reason which has led him to give the general name to certain objects, and not to certain others. The reason for which the name is given, must, of course, be something which is felt, prior to the giving of the name, and independent of it: and the only reason which can be conceived is, that certain objects have a resemblance which certain other objects do not partake, and that the general name is therefore invented to express the objects which agree in exciting this common notion of relation. Before the name was invented, therefore, there must have been a feeling of circumstances of resemblance, common to certain individuals,-a feeling, which is neither the perception that precedes it, nor the name which follows it, but a state of mind intervening between the perception of the separate objects, and the verbal designation of them, as a species or genus. In short, it is that general relative suggestion, or general notion of resemblance, on which we must admit our classifications to be founded, or contend that they are founded upon nothing.
Since all reasoning implies some generalization, the Nominalist, who allows nothing general but terms, is, of course, led, or forced, by his theory, to deny the possibility of reasoning of any kind, without the aid of general terms; a denial which seems to me one of the boldest, because the least consistent with the observed facts which it is possible either for dogmatism or scepticism to make; as if the infant, long before he can be supposed to have acquired any knowledge of terms, did not form his little reasonings on the subjects, on which it is important for him to reason, as accurately probably as afterwards; but, at least, with all the accuracy which is necessary for preserving his existence, and gratifying his few feeble desires. He has, indeed, even then, gone through processes, which are admitted to involve the finest reasoning, by those very philosophers who deny him to be capable of reasoning at all. He has already calculated distances, long before he knew the use of a single word expressive of distance, and accommodated his induction to those general laws of matter, of which he knows nothing but the simple facts, and his expectation, that what has afforded him either pain or pleasure, will continue to afford him pain or pleasure. What language does the infant require, to prevent him from putting his finger twice in the flame of that candle which has burned him once ? or to persuade bim to stretch his hand in exact conformity with the laws of optics, to that very point at which some brigbt trinket is glittering on his delighted eyes ? To suppose that we cannot reason without language, seems to me, indeed, almost to involve the same inconsistency, ag to say, that man is incapable of moving his limbs, till he have previously walked a mile.
The use of general terms is not to enable man to reason, but to enable him to reason well. They fix the steps of our progress, - they give us the power of availing ourselves, with confidence, of our own past reasonings, and of the reasonings of others,-they do not absolutely prevent us from wandering, but they prevent us from wandering very far, and are marks of direction, to which we can return; without them, we should be like travellers, journeying on an immense plain, without a track, and without any points on the sky, to determine whether we were continuing to move east or west, or north or south. We should still be moving, indeed, and each step would be a progress, if it were compared merely with the step that went before. But there could be no long journey onwards; and, after years of wandering, we might,