Page images
[ocr errors]

subjects, or even those of a different nature. Thus, Quinctilian borrows from the ten categories his division of the topics of rhetorical argumentation. Of all methods of arrangement, the most antiphilosophical seems to be the invention of this age; I mean, the arranging the arts and sciences by the letters of the alphabet, in dictionaries and encyclopedies. With these authors the categories are, A, B, C, &c.

Another end commonly proposed by such divisions, but very rarely attained, is to exhaust the subject divided; so that nothing that belongs to it shall be omitted. It is one of the general rules of division in all systems of logic, That the division should be adequate to the subject divided: a good rule, without doubt; but very often beyond the reach of human power. To make a perfect division, a man must have a perfect comprehension of the whole subject at one view. When our knowledge of the subject is imperfect, any division we can make, must be like the first sketch of a painter, to be extended, contracted, or mended, as the subject shall be found to require. Yet nothing is more common, not only among the ancient, but even among modern philosophers, than to draw, from their incomplete divisions, conclusions which suppose them to be perfect.

A division is a repository which the philosopher frames for holding his ware in convenient order. The philosopher maintains, that such or such a


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

thing is not good ware, because there is no place in his ware-room that fits it. We are apt to yield to this argument in philosophy, but it would ap. pear ridiculous in any other traffic.

Peter Ramus, who had the spirit of a reformer in philosophy, and who had force of genius sufficient to shake the Aristotelian fabric in many parts, but insufficient to erect any thing more solid in its place, tried to remedy the imperfection of philosophical divisions, by introducing a new manner of dividing. His divisions always consisted of two members; one of which was contradictory of the other; as if one should divide England into Middlesex and what is not Middlesex. It is evident that these two members comprehend all England: for the logicians observe, that a term along with its contradictory, comprehend all things. In the same manner, we may divide what is not Middlesex into Kent and what is not Kent. Thus one may go on by divisions and subdivisions that are absolutely complete. This example may serve to give an idea of the spirit of Ramean divisions, which were in no small reputation about two hundred years ago.

Aristotle was not ignorant of this kind of division. But he used it only as a touchstone to prove by induction the perfection of some other division, which indeed is the best use that can be made of it. When applied to the common purpose of division, it is both inelegant, and burdensome to the


[ocr errors]

memory; and, after it has put one out of breath by endless subdivisions, there is still a negative term left behind, which shews that you are no nearer the end of your journey than when you began.

Until some more effectual remedy be found for the imperfection of divisons, I beg leave to propose one more simple than that of Ramus. It is this: When you meet with a division of any subject imperfectly comprehended, add to the last member an et cætera. That this et cætera makes the division complete, is undeniable; and therefore it ought to hold its place as a member, and to be always understood, whether expressed or not, until clear and positive proof be brought that the division is complete without it. And this same et catera is to be the repository of all members that shall in any future time shew a good and valid right to a place in the subject.

SECT. 3. On Distinctions.

Having said so much of logical divisions, we shall next make some remarks upon distinctions.

Since the philosophy of Aristotle fell into disrepute, it has been a common topic of wit and raillery, to inveigh against metaphysical distinctions. Indeed the abuse of them in the scholastic ages, seems to justify a general prejudice against them: and shallow thinkers and writers have good reason to be jealous of distinctions, because they make sad


sad work when applied to their flimsy compositions. But every man of true judgment, while he condemns distinctions that have no foundation in the nature of things, must perceive, that indiscriminately to decry distinctions, is to renounce all pretensions to just reasoning; for as false reasoning commonly proceeds from confounding things that are different; so without distinguishing such things, it is impossible to avoid error, or detect sophistry. The authority of Aquinas, or Suarez, or even of Aristotle, can neither stamp a real value upon distinctions of base metal, nor hinder the currency of those of true metal.

Some distinctions are verbal, others are real. The first kind distinguish the various meanings of a word; whether proper, or metaphorical. Dis tinctions of this kind make a part of the grammar of a language, and are often absurd when translated into another language. Real distinctions are equally good in all languages, and suffer no hurt by translation. They distinguish the different species contained under some general notion, or the differ. ent parts contained in one whole.

Many of Aristotle's distinctions are verbal merely; and therefore, more proper materials for a dictionary of the Greek language, than for a philosophical treatise. At least, they ought never to have been translated into other languages, when the idiom of the language will not justify them: for this is to adulterate the language, to introduce fo


reign idioms into it without necessity or use, and to make it ambiguous where it was not. The distinctions in the end of the Categories of the four words, prius, simul, motus and habere, are all verbal.

[ocr errors]

The modes or species of prius, according to Aristotle, are five. One thing may be prior to another; first, in point of time; secondly, in point of dignity; thirdly, in point of order; and so forth. The modes of simul are only three. It seems this word was not used in the Greek with so great latitude as the other, although they are relative terms.

The modes or species of motion he makes to be six, to-wit, generation, corruption, increase, decrease, alteration, and change of place.


The modes or species of having are eight. 1. Having a quality or habit, as having wisdom. 2. Having quantity or magnitude. 3. Having things adjacent, as having a sword. 4. Having things as parts, as having hands or feet. 5. Having in a part or on a part, as having a ring on one's finger. 6. Containing, as a cask is said to have wine. 7. Possessing, as having lands or houses. 8. Having a wife.


Another distinction of this kind is Aristotle's distinction of causes; of which he makes four kinds, efficient, material, formal, and final. These distinctions may deserve a place in a dictionary of the

« PreviousContinue »