« EdellinenJatka »
The modern system of philosophy has one great advantage, which makes it difficult to attack it with any hopes of success, namely, that it is not founded on any of the prevailing opinions or natural feelings of mankind. It rests upon a single principle-its boasted superiority over all prejudice. Unsupported by facts or reason, it is by this circumstance alone enabled to trample upon every dictate of the understanding or feeling of the heart, as weak and vulgar prejudices. In this alone it is secure and invulnerable. To this it owes its giant power and dreaded name. Let the contradictions and fallacies contained in the system be proved over and over again, still the answer is ready:-all the objections made to it are resolved into prejudice. Destitute of
every other support, it staggers our faith in received opinions by the hardihood of its assertions, and derives its claim to implicit credence by the boldness of its defiance of all established authority. Common sense is brought to the bar like
an old offender, and condemned without a hearing. Under the shelter of this presumption there is no absurdity so great as not to be advanced with impunity. There is no hypothesis, however gratuitous, however inadequate, or however unfounded, that is not held up as the true one, if it is but contrary to all observation and experience. The grossest credulity succeeds tu the most extravagant scepticism. From being the slaves of authority we become the dupes of paradox. Every opinion which is so absurd as never to have been affirmed before is converted into an undeniable truth. Whoever dares to question it, unawed by the authority on the one hand, and undazzled by the novelty on the other, is considered as a person of a narrow and bigoted understanding, and as relinquishing all claim to the exercise of his reason.
We are effectually deterred from protesting against any of these “wise saws and modern instances” by the dread of being mixed up with the vulgar, and we dare not avoid the common feelings of humanity lest we should be ridiculed as the dupes of self-love, or of the whining cant of moralists. There is however no bigotry so blind as that which is founded on a supposed exemption from all prejudice. The mind in this case identifies every opinion of its own with reason
itself: and regarding the objections made to it as proceeding from a jaundiced and distorted view of the case, it converts them into the strongest confirmations of the depth and comprehensiveness of its own views. There are accordingly no people so little capable of reasoning as those who make the loudest pretensions to it: and having assumed the name of Philosophers, are astonished that any one should call their title in question.
I have been led to make these observations from reading Helvetius's account of self-love, which is nothing but a series of misrepresentations and assumptions of the question, and which can only have imposed upon his readers from that tone of confidence and alertness which men always have in attacking a received and longestablished principle, and a tacit and involuntary feeling that boldness of opinion implies strength and independence of mind. A few examples will show that this censure is wellfounded. “What,” says this author in the beginning of his view of the question,—“what is the human understanding? It is the assemblage of his ideas. To what sort of understanding do we give the name of talent? To the understanding concentrated upon a single subject; that is to say to a large assemblage of ideas of the same kind.
“ Now if there are no innate ideas, human understanding and genius are only acquired ; and both one and the other have the following faculties for their principles :
“ 1. Physical sensibility; without which we could receive no sensations.
“ 2. Memory, that is to say, the faculty of recalling the sensations received.
“ 3. The interest which we have in comparing our sensations together, that is to say, in observing with attention the resemblances and differences, the agreements and disagreements of several objects amongst them. It is this interest which fixes the attention, and in minds commonly well-organised, is the efficient cause of understanding."
It is added in a note, “To judge, according to M. Rousseau, is not to feel. The proof of his opinion is that we have a faculty or power which enables us to compare objects. Now this power according to him cannot be the effect of physical sensibility. But,” continues Helvetius, “ if Rousseau had more profoundly considered the question, he would have perceived that this power (or faculty of understanding) is no other than the interest itself which we have to compare these objects, and that this interest takes its rise in the feeling of self-love, which is
the immediate effect of physical sensibility.” This is the author's account of the understanding. It is bold and decided, but it is not on that account either more or less true. It comes to this; that the faculty or power of understanding is owing to the use we have for such a faculty; or that we have a power of comparing our sensations, because we have an interest in comparing them, and that therefore this power is nothing but the effect of physical sensibility. So that a man before he has any understanding, feeling the want of it, supplies himself with this very necessary faculty by an act of the will, and out of pure friendly regard to himself, The interest or desire to fly might at this rate supply us with a pair of wings, or an effort of curiosity might furnish us with a new sense, or an effort of self-interest might enable a man to be in two places at once.
All these consequences might very easily follow, if we were only satisfied to believe any extravagance of assertion, and to use words systematically without either connexion or meaning.
The whole of this writer's argument against the existence of a benevolent principle in the mind is founded either on a play of words, or an arbitrary substitution of one feeling for another. He has confounded, and does not