Full Title: Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind. By Dugald Stewart. Philadelphia: Printed by William Young, Bookseller, No. 52, Second-Street, the Corner of Chestnut-Street, M, DCC, XCIII.
Of the Nature and Object of the Philosophy of the Human Mind.
THE prejudice which is commonly entertained against metaphysical speculations seems to arise chiefly from two causes: First, from an apprehension that the subjects about which they are employed, are placed beyond the reach of the human faculties; and , secondly, from a belief that these subjects have no relation to the business of life.
The frivoulus and absurd discussions which abound in the writings of most metaphysical authors, afford but too many arguments in justification of these opinions; and if such discussions were to be admitted as a fair specimen of what the human mind is able to accomplish in this department of science, the contempt, into which it has fallen of late, might with justice be regarded, as no inconsiderable evidence of the progress, which true philosophy has made in the present age. Among the various subjects of the inquiry, however, which, inconsequence of the vague use of language, are comprehended under the title of metaphysics, there are some, which are essentially distinguished from the rest, both by the degree of evidence which accompanies their principles, and by the relation which they bear to the useful sciences and arts: and it has unfortunately happened, that these have shared in that general descredit, into which the other branches of metaphysics have fallen. To this circumstance is probably to be ascribed, the little progress which has hitherto been made in the PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN MIND; a science, so interesting in its nature, and so important in its applications, that it could scarcely have failed, in these inquisitive and enlightened times, to have excited a very general attention, if it had not acceidentally been classed, in the public opinion with the vain and unprofitable disquisitions of the school-men.
In order to obviate these misapprehensions, with respect to the subject of the following work, I have thought it proper, in this preliminary chapter, first, to explain, the nature of the truths which I propse to investigate; and, secondly, to point out some of the more important applications of which they are susceptible. In stating these preliminary observations I may perhaps appear to some to be minute and tedious; but this fault, I am confident, will be readily pardoned by those, who have studied with care the principles of that science of which I am to treat; and who are anxious to remove the prejudices which have, in a great measure, excluded it from the modern systems of education. In the progress of my work, I flatter myself that I shall often have occasion to solicit the indulgence of my readers, for an unnecessary diffuseness.
The notions we annex to the words, matter, and mind, as is well remarked by Dr. Reid,* are merely relative. If I am asked what I mean by matter? I can only explain myself by saying, it is that which is extended, figured, couloured, movable, hard or soft, rough or smooth, hot or cold; –that is, I can define it no other way, than by enumerating its sensible qualities. It is not matter, or body, which I perceive by my senses; but only extension, figure, colour, and certain other qualities, which the constitution of my nature leads me to refer to something, which is extended, figured, and coloured. The case is precisely similar with respect to mind. We are not immediately conscious of its existence, but we are conscious of sensation, thought, and volition; operations, which imply the existence of something which feels, thinks, and wills. Every man too is impressed with the irresisitible conviction, that all these sensations, thoughts, and volitions, belong to one and the same being; to that being, which he calls himself; a being, which he is led, by the constitution of his nature, to consider as something distinct from his body, and as not liable to be impaired by the loss or mutilation of any of his organs.
From these considerations, it appears, that we have the same evidence for the existence of mind, that we have for the existence of body; nay, if there be any difference between the two cases, that we have stronger evidence for it; inasmuch as the one is suggested to us, by the subjects of our own consciousness, and the other merely by the objects of our perceptions: and in this light, undoubtedly, the fact would appear to every person, were it not, that, from our earliest years, the attention is engrossed with the qualities and laws of matter, an acquaintance with which is absolutely necessary for the preservation of our animal existence. Hence it is, that these phenomena occupy our thoughts more than those of mind; that we are perpetually tempted to explain the latter by tha analogy of the former, and even to endeavour to refer them to the same general laws; and that we acquire habits of inattention to the subjects of our consciousness, too strong to be afterwards surmounted, without the most persevering industry.
If the foregoing observations be well founded, they establish the distinction between mind and matter, without any long process of metaphysical reasoning: for if our notions of both are merely relative; if we know the one, only by such sensible qualities as extension, figure, and solidity; and the other, by such operations as sensation, thought, and volition; we are certainly entitled to say, that in so far as body and mind are known to us, they appear to be substances of different natures. Perhaps, indeed, it would be more accurate to say of the scheme of materialism, that it is inconceivable, than it is false; –for let us consider only what it implies: Is it not the object of those who propose it, to explain the nature of that substance which feels, thinks, and wills? But when they attempt to do so, by saying that it is material, they surely forget, that body, as well as mind, is known to us by its qualities and attibutes alone, and that we are as ignorant of the nature of the former, as of that of the latter.
As all our knowledge of the material world is derived from the information of our senses, natural philosophers have, in modern times, wisely abandoned to metaphysicians, all speculations concerning the nature of that substance of which it is composed; concerning the possibility or impossibility of its being created; concerning the efficient causes of the changes which take place in it; and even concerning the reality of its existence, independent of that of percipient beings: and have confined themselves to the humbler province of observing the phenomena it exhibits, and of ascertaining their general laws. By pursuing this plan steadily, they have, in the course of the two last centuries, formed a body of science, which not only does honour to the human understanding, but has had a most important influence on the practical arts of life. —This experimental philosophy, no one now is in danger of confounding with the metaphysical speculations already mentioned. Of the importance of these, as a seperate [sic] branch of study, it is possible that some may think more favourably than others; but they ware obviously different in their nature, from the investigations of physics; and it is of the utmost consequence to the evidence of this last science, that its principles should not be blended with those of the former. . . .
*Essays on the Active Powers of Man.
Item of the Day: Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1768)
Full Title: Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania; To the Inhabitants of the British Colonies. Boston: Printed by Mein and Fleeming, and to be sold by John Mein, at the London Book-Store, Northside of King-Street. MDCCLXVIII.
LETTERS FROM A FARMER.
My dear Countrymen,
I am a Farmer, settled after a variety of fortunes, near the banks, of the river Delaware, in the province of Pennsylvania. I received a liberal education, and have been engaged in the busy scenes of life: But am no convinced, that a man may be as happy without bustle, as with it. My farm is small, my servants are few, and good; I have a little money at interest; I wish for no more: my employment in my own affairs is easy; and with a contented grateful mind, I am compleating the number of days allotted to be my divine goodness.
Being master of my time, I spend a good deal of it in a library, which I think the most valuable part of my small estate; and being acquainted with two or three gentlemen of abilities and learning, who honour me with their friendship, I believe I have acquired a greater share of knowledge in history, and the laws and constitution of my country, than is generally attained by men of my class, many of them not being so fortunate as I have been in the opportunities of getting information.
From infancy I was taught to love humanity and liberty. Inquiry and experience have since confirmed my reverence for the lessons then given me, by convincing me more fully of their truth and excellence. Benevolence towards mankind excites wishes for their welfare, and such wishes endear the means of fulfilling them. Those can be found in liberty alone, and therefore her sacred cause ought to be espoused by every man, on every occasion, to the utmost of his power: as a charitable but poor person does not withhold his mite, because he cannot relieve all the distresses of the miserable, so let not any honest man suppress his sentiments concerning freedom, however small their influence is likely to be. Perhaps he may “…touch some wheel” that will have an effect greater than he expects.
These being my sentiments, I am encouraged to offer to you, my countrymen, my thoughts on some late transactions, that in my opinion are of the utmost importance to you. Conscious of my defects, I have waited some time, in expectation of seeing the subject treated by persons much better qualified for the talk; but being therein disappointed, and apprehensive that longer delays will be injurious. I venture at length to request the attention of the public, praying only for one thing, — that is, that these lines may be read with the same zeal for the happiness of British America, with which they were wrote.
With a good deal of surprise I have observed, that little notice has been taken of an act of parliament, as injurious in its principle to the liberties of these colonies, as the STAMP-ACT was: I mean the act for suspending the legislation of New-York.
The assembly of that government complied with a former act of parliament, requiring certain provisions to be made for the troops in America, in every particular, I think, except the articles of salt, pepper, and vinegar. In my opinion they acted imprudently, considering all the circumstances in not complying so far, as would have given satisfaction, as several colonies did: but my dislike of their conduct in that instance, has not blinded me so much, that I cannot plainly perceive, that they have been punished in a manner pernicious to American freedom, and justly alarming to all the colonies.
If the BRITISH PARLIAMENT has a legal authority to order, that we shall furnish a single article for the troops here, and to compel obedience to that order; they have the same right to order us to supply those troops with arms, cloaths, and every necessary, and to compel obedience to that order also; in short, to lay any burdens they please upon us. What is this but taxing us at a certain sum, and leaving to us only the manner of raising it? How is this mode more tolerable than the STAMP ACT? Would that act have appeared more pleasing to Americans, if being ordered thereby to raise the sum total of the taxes, the mighty privilege had been left to them, of saying how much should be paid for an instrument of writing on paper, and how much for another on parchment?
An act of parliament commanding us to do a certain thing, if it has any validity, is a tax upon us for the expence that accrues in complying with it, and for this reason, I believe, every colony on the continent, that chose to give a mark of their respect for Great-Britain, in complying with the act relating to the troops, cautiously avoided the mention of that act, lest their conduct should be attributed to its supposed obligation.
The matter being thus stated, the assembly of New-York either had, or had not a right to refuse submission to that act. If they had, and I imagine no American will say they had not, then the parliament had no right to compel them to execute it. — If they had not that right, they had no right to punish them for not executing it; and therefore had no right to suspend their legislation, which is a punishment. In fact, if the people of New-York cannot be legally taxed by their own representatives, they cannot be legally deprived of the privileges of making laws, only for insisting on that exclusive privilege of taxation. If they may be legally deprived in such a case of the privilege of making laws, why may they not, with equal reason, be deprived of every other privilege? Or why may not every colony be treated in the same manner, when any of them shall dare to deny their assent to any impositions that shall be directed? On what signifies the repeal of the STAMP-ACT, if these colonies are to lose their other privileges, by not tamely surrendering that of taxation?
There is one consideration arising from this suspicion, which is not generally attended to, but shews it’s importance very clearly. It was not necessary that this suspension should be caused by an act of parliament. The crown might have restrained the governor of New-York, even from calling the assembly together, by its prerogative in the royal governments. This step, I suppose, would have been taken, if the conduct of the assembly of New-York, had been regarded as an act of disobedience to the crown alone: but it is regarded as an act of “disobedience to the authority of the British Legislature.” This gives the suspension a consequence vastly more affecting. It is a parliamentary assertion of the supreme authority of the British legislature over these colonies in the part of taxation; and is intended to compel New-York unto a submission to that authority. It seems therefore to me as much a violation of the liberty of the people of that province, and consequently of all these colonies , as if the parliament had sent a number of regiments to be quartered upon them till they should comply. For it is evident, that the suspension is meant as a compulsion; and the method of compelling is totally indifferent. It is indeed probable, that the sight of red coats, and the beating of drums would have been most alarming, because people are generally more influenced by their eyes and ears than by their reason: But whoever seriously considers the matter, must perceive, that a dreadful stroke is aimed at the liberty of these colonies: For the cause of one is the cause of all. If the parliament may lawfully deprive New-York of any of its rights, it may deprive any, or all the other colonies of their rights; and nothing can possibly so much encourage such attempts, as a mutual inattention to the interest of each other. To divide, and thus to destroy, is the first political maxim in attacking those who are powerful by their union. He certainly is not a wise man, who folds his arms and reposeth himself at home, seeing with unconcern the flames that have invaded his neighbour’s house, without any endeavours to extinguish them. When Mr. Hampden’s ship money cause, for three shillings and four-pence, was tried, all the people of England, with anxious expectation, interested themselves in the important decision; and when the slightest point touching the freedom of a single colony is agitated, I earnestly wish, that all the rest may with equal ardour support their sister. Very much may be said on this subject, but I hope, more at present is unnecessary.
With concern I have observed that two assemblies of this province have sat and adjourned, without taking any notice of this act. It may perhaps be asked, what would have been proper for them to do? I am by no means fond of inflammatory measures. I detest them. — I should be sorry that any thing should be done which might justly displease our sovereign or our mother-country. But a firm, modest exertion of a free spirit, should never be wanting on public occasions. It appears to me, that it would have been sufficient for the assembly, to have ordered our agents to represent to the King’s ministers, their sense of the suspending act, and to pray for its repeal. Thus we should have borne our testimony against it; and might therefore reasonably expect that on a like occasion, we might receive the same assistance from the other colonies.
“Concordia res parve crescunt. Small things grow great by concord.”
Filed under 1760's, American Revolution, Political Commentary, Posted by Rebecca Dresser