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ed after which, it advances regularly, and secures the ground it has gained.
Although first principles do not admit of direct proof, yet there must be certain marks and characters, by which those that are truly such may be distinguished from counterfeits. These marks ought to be described, and applied, to distinguish the genuine from the spurious.
In the ancient philosophy, there is a redundance rather than a defect of first principles. Many things were assumed under that character without a just title: That nature abhors a vacuum; That bodies do not gravitate in their proper place; That the heavenly bodies undergo no change; That they move in perfect circles, and with an equable motion. Such principles as these were assumed in the Peripatetic philosophy, without proof, as if they were self-evident.
Des Cartes, sensible of this weakness in the ancient philosophy, and desirous to guard against it in his own system, résolved to admit nothing until his assent was forced by irresistible evidence. The first thing that he found to be certain and evident was, that he thought, and reasoned, and doubted. He found himself under a necessity of believing the existence of those mental operations of which he was conscious: and having thus found sure footing in this one principle of consciousness, he rested satisfied with it, hoping to be able to build the whole fabric of his knowledge upon it;
like Archimedes, who wanted but one fixed point to move the whole earth. But the foundation was too narrow; and in his progress he unawares assumes many things less evident than those which he attempts to prove. Although he was not able to suspect the testimony of consciousness; yet he thought the testimony of sense, of memory, and of every other faculty, might be suspected, and ought not to be received until proof was brought that they are not fallacious. Therefore he applies these faculties, whose character is yet in question, to prove, That there is an infinitely perfect Being, who made him, and who made his senses, his me 1 mory, his reason, and all his faculties; That this Being is no deceiver, and therefore could not give him faculties that are fallacious; and that on this account they deserve credit.
It is strange, that this philosopher, who found himself under a necessity of yielding to the testimony of consciousness, did not find the same necessity of yielding to the testimony of his senses, his memory, and his understanding: and that while he was certain that he doubted, and reasoned, he was uncertain whether two and three made five, and whether he was dreaming or awake. It is more strange, that so acute a reasoner should not perceive, that his whole train of reasoning to prove that his faculties were not fallacious, was mere sophistry; for if his faculties were fallacious, they might deceive him in this train of reasoning; and ant
so the conclusion, That they were not fallacious, was only the testimony of his faculties in their own favour, and might be a fallacy.
It is difficult to give any reason for distrusting our other faculties, that will not reach consciousness itself. And he who distrusts the faculties of judging and reasoning which God hath given him, must even rest in his scepticism, till he come to a sound mind, or until God give him new faculties to sit in judgment upon the old. If it be not a first principle, That our faculties are not fallacious, we must be absolute sceptics: for this principle is incapable of proof; and if it is not certain, nothing else can be certain.-.
Since the time of Des Cartes, it has been fashionable with those who dealt in abstract philosophy, to employ their invention in finding philosophical arguments, either to prove those truths which ought to be received as first principles, or to overturn them; and it is not easy to say, whether the authority of first principles is more hurt by the first of these attempts, or by the last: for such principles can stand secure only upon their own bottom; and to place them upon any other foundation than that of their intrinsic evidence, is in effect to overturn them, c. 168INAT
I have lately met with a very sensible and judicious treatise, wrote by Father Buffier about fifty. years ago, concerning first principles and the source. of human judgments, which, with great propriety,
he prefixed to his treatise of logic. And indeed I apprehend it is a subject of such consequence, that if inquisitive men can be brought to the same unanimity in the first principles of the other sciences, as in those of mathematics and natural philosophy, (and why should we despair of a general agreement in things that are self-evident?) this might be considered as a third grand æra in the progress of human reason,
HE principles of morality are little understood among savages: and if they arrive at maturity among enlightened nations, it is by slow degrees. This progress points out the historical part, as first in order: but as that history would give little satisfaction, without a rule for comparing the morals of different ages, and of different nations, I begin with the principles of morality, such as ought to govern at all times, and in all nations. The present sketch accordingly is divided into two parts. In the first, the principles are unfolded; and the second is altogether historical.
PRINCIPLES OF MORALITY,
Human actions analysed.
HE hand of God is no where more visible, than in the nice adjustment of our internal frame to our situation in this world. An animal is endued with a power of self-motion; and in performing animal functions, requires no external aid. This in particular is the case of man, the noblest of terrestrial beings. His heart beats, his blood circulates, his stomach digests, &c. &c. By what means? Not surely by the laws of mechanism, which are far from being adequate to such operations. They are effects of an internal power, bestowed on man for preserving life. The power is exerted uniformly, and without interruption, independent of will, and without consciousness.
Man is a being susceptible of pleasure and pain: these generate desire to attain what is agreeable, and to shun what is disagreeable; and he is possessed of other powers which enable him to gratify his desires. One power, termed instinct, is exerted indeed with consciousness; but without will, and consequently without desiring or intending to produce any effect. Brute animals act for the most part by instinct: hunger prompts them to eat, and cold to take shelter; knowingly indeed, but with