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But the acknowledged peculiarities of Locke's style, and especially the laxity and freedom of a popular phraseology, ought to make critics so much the more anxious to interpret him only on the principle of a scrupulous comparison and collation of seemingly inconsistent or fluctuating expressions; and certainly ought to prevent them from founding any thing on such ambiguous utterances in contradiction to his express assertions where there is no such fluctuation to be charged. If an author has made use of expressions which seem hard to be reconciled, and susceptible of two meanings, we never, on that account, allow them to override an expression which is perfectly plain. For the apparently inconsistent expressions, we endeavour, if possible, to reconcile them; if we cannot do that, we say, that the author has blundered, or has been forgetful, or careless, or what not; but we do not take the obscure and incoherent expressions wherewith to interpret such as are neither the one nor the other; nor one of two apparently inconsistent expressions as the sole and absolute criterion of his meaning. The maxim of theological critics, that passages of Scripture perfectly plain are not to be interpreted by such as are obscure, but the obscure by the plain, is a very reasonable one; and it were well if in criticism generally the same rule were fairly applied.
Such justice, we think, has not been dealt out to Locke in the present instance; for it has been maintained by many- and amongst them we regret to say even recently, by some of our own countrymen—that Locke has really reduced all human knowledge to one source, namely, sensation; and that the sensational school may rightfully plead his authority for their errors to a far greater extent than we believe they
ever justly can. This has been maintained, though Locke has distinctly, and over and over again, affirmed that he traces human knowledge not to one, but to two, distinct sources or fountains,- Sensation and Reflection. Now we contend that no doubtful expressions, still less a critic's inferences as to what Locke must be supposed to have meant by other expressions, ought to be allowed to overbear this distinct affirmation. His often-quoted words are:
These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have or can naturally have, do spring. First, our senses, conversant about particular sensible objects, do convey into the mind several distinct perceptions of things, according to those various ways wherein those objects do affect them. Secondly, The other fountain, from which experience* furnisheth the understanding with ideas, is the perception of the operations of our own mind within us, as it is employed about the ideas it has got; which opera
*May not the misconception of Locke's meaning be partly due to the more limited signification which the word 'experience' has very generally suggested as compared with that in which it was evidently employed by him? From associating it so commonly with the phenomena of sensation, critics both for and against the sensational school have often used it as exclusively confined to those phenomena; but it is evident that Locke had no such restriction, but intended it to embrace all the information derived from conscious activity in the mind itself as well as that derived from the external world. Thus, when he has declared that the mind derives all its materials of knowledge ultimately from 'experience,' and has explained that the first source of that experience is sense, he then goes on in the above passage to say that the other fountain from which experience furnisheth the understanding with ideas' is one from which flow a set of ideas which could not be had from things without.
We have thought it the more necessary to insist on the possible degradation of Locke's real meaning occasioned by the adventitious limitation of the term 'experience,' as we do not recollect that any critic has expressly referred to it.
tions, when the soul comes to reflect on and consider, do furnish the understanding with another set of ideas, which could not be had from things without. This source of
ideas every man has wholly in himself; and though it be not sense, as having nothing to do with external objects, yet it is very like it, and might properly enough be called internal sense. These two, I say, viz. external material things, as the objects of sensation; and the operations of our own minds within, as the objects of reflection; are to me the only originals from whence all our ideas take their beginnings. In time the mind comes to reflect on its own operations about the ideas got by sensation, and thereby stores itself with a new set of ideas, which I call ideas of reflection. These impressions that are made on our senses by objects extrinsical to the mind; and its own operations proceeding from powers INTRINSICAL and PROPER to itself (which, when reflected on by itself, become also objects of its contemplation), are, as I have said, the original of all knowledge.'
Now, suppose it were granted for argument's sake, that in these passages Locke has used the word 'reflection' very improperly; that, according to Cousin, he ought to have used 'consciousness' instead; that he has even used it in senses which no one word would represent,—sometimes for consciousness in general, sometimes for the reflex acts by which we analyse it;-suppose further that, according to the same critic, Locke's entire method is wrong in first entering on the dark question as to the origin of our knowledge, instead of determining what are the actual products of thought in the maturely developed consciousness; that he is wrong, according to the same philosopher, in postponing, by a distinct interval, the phenomena of 'reflection' to those of 'sensation,' instead of regarding them as simultaneous, and, in some degree or other, as reciprocally involved from the very first; suppose further, if you please, that
in expressing his belief that in 'experience all our knowledge is founded,' he is inconsistent with himself even in the above-cited passages, (though we have little doubt that Locke would have recoiled from the sensational interpretation of that phrase, as strongly as Aristotle from any similar interpretation put on the words often attributed to him, 'that there is nothing in the intellect but what was previously in the sense')*; be all this true, still surely it cannot be denied that the above sentences, in a manner quite independent of any or of all these deficiencies of analysis or inconsistencies of expression, declare Locke's belief, that not from one source or fountain, but from Two is all our knowledge derived; and that the latter of the two is as distinct whatever his
inadequate, or, if you please, inaccurate investigation of it as sensation itself.
'The expressions which Locke employs,' says the objector, are ambiguous. Locke says that all our ideas are derived from "experience." Did he mean by experience, "sensible experience," and if so, did he mean that that experience is the occasion on which the powers of reflection are excited, developed, manifested, the universal condition on which they are evolved, and without which the activities of mind are suspended and slumber in the germ? or did he mean that experience is in such a manner, and so exclu
*In truth the position of Aristotle seems to us singularly like that of Locke in this matter; for though, as Sir William Hamilton remarks, the above current saying is not literally his, he has used phraseology and imagery, which are nearly tantamount; and if such expressions, which, like Locke's similar utterance, are susceptible of two senses, be made to overbear those many other passages which are as plainly susceptible of only one, Aristotle too is chargeable with patronising the sensational schools,
sively, the source of the materials of our knowledge, that reflection adds nothing to them of its own, but merely modifies them? If the last, he must be supposed to trace all knowledge to one source; and it may be fairly urged, that as some of his expressions are ambiguous, they may mean either.' They might have done so, we reply, if the expressions above cited, and many others, had not determined the point. The words show that he did not mean by experience merely 'sensible' experience, and that he did mean that there are two independent fountains, and not one, of all our knowledge. We feel that we cannot, without injustice, interpret those expressions which are in all fairness susceptible only of a single plain meaning, by others which are as obviously susceptible of different meanings. For if it be true, in any sense, (as it assuredly is,) that experience, as human nature is constituted, is an invariable condition of the evolution of any and of all mental activity, then we can comprehend the meaning of the expressions by which Locke refers all knowledge to 'experience;' whereas, we cannot explain his explicit assertions of two distinct sources of our knowledge, 'sensation' and ' reflection 'the last, as he says, furnishing us with ideas which could not be referred to sense, unless he regarded these sources as perfectly distinct and independent. Thus, we apprehend, may Locke's statement be reconciled with the assertion, that all our knowledge originates in 'experience.'
Even in the more limited sense of the word ' experience,' as restricted to sensible experience, the assertion that all our knowledge is ultimately derived from it as an inseparable condition, would still be true. It is true that God could, for aught we know, and that in an unlimited variety of ways, have made the