« ForrigeFortsæt »
otherwise. If Mr. Mill's reasoning be correct, then, for aught we know, we fear we must be warranted to say that there may be a number x, such that it cannot be increased, and a world in which two intersecting right lines may possibly meet again; for assuredly experience can disprove neither. We are also left to wonder at the universal presumption and inconsistency of the human race, not one of whom but would stake his life that there is no spot in the universe where two straight lines would enclose a space; and yet, though experience has confirmed it no more than a thousand chemical facts which have been found equally uniform here, not a soul will pledge itself that these last will be found uniformly true in any world but this! We suspect it is something beyond experience which makes the whole race so confident in the one case- and so cautious in the other.
To us it seems most rational to believe that the suggestions of experience and the innate capacities of the mind itself alike conspire to render our thoughts such as we find them; the outward world ministering those materials without which the mind would be without any thoughts at all-wrapped in a perpetual slumber; and the mind itself so operating upon those materials as to give its conceptions their forms, and in many cases to transmute that which experience only gives as contingent into the absolute; as when, experience having told us that two straight lines intersecting and produced, do not meet, the mind superadds this-that they never can. But to say, in all cases, in what proportions these two conjoint sources of our knowledge contribute to the resultsto make a perfect partition of their shares of influence-is, from the perpetual commingling of the two
streams, which issue from their fountains at the same instant, and immediately afterwards flow on undivided, perhaps impossible. He who would make a perfect analysis of this must know more of the history of the mind than, from the mode in which it is developed, can ever be known.
Now in what sense did Descartes hold his celebrated doctrine of Innate Ideas ?' Did he mean thoughts, or laws of thoughts; notions, coeval with the mind in date, congenital with its very faculties, inscribed, if we may use a metaphor (and, indeed, it is impossible on this subject to avoid metaphor), on the tablet of the mind itself, and which the mind consciously possesses from the earliest dawn of intelligence; or merely such a constitution of mind that, as its activity developes itself, these fundamental notions are inevitably evolved? We believe, with Sir William Hamilton and other critics, that he really meant the latter. This appears from some of his own expressions in his reply to Hobbes' objections to the "Meditations; but more especially in his annotations on a certain 'Programma,' entitled 'Explicatio mentis humanæ,' which appeared in 1647, in which innate ideas were attacked. The annotations are prefaced by the letter No. 99. (Epist. Part I.), and are appended to it. Stewart has quoted a sentence or two from them in a note appended to his 'Dissertation on the History of Metaphysical Philosophy'; yet strong as they are, there are others at least equally strong.
One paragraph, the most pregnant sentences of which have already appeared in the Edinburgh Review,'* would have decided the controversy, had this been Descartes' only statement on the subject. The whole paragraph is as follows:
It does not seem,' says Descartes, that the author differs from me except in words; for when he says the mind is in no need of innate ideas, or notions, or axioms, and yet concedes the faculty of thinking (we must suppose natural or innate), he plainly affirms the same thing in fact, as I do, though in words he denies it. For I have never said or imagined that the mind is in need of innate ideas, if supposed to be something different from its faculty of thinking; but when I consider how many thoughts I have which proceeded not from external objects nor from the determination of my will, but solely from that faculty of thinking which is in me, these-in order that the ideas or notions which are the forms of those thoughts might be distinguished from others adventitious or manufactured-I have called innate, in the same sense in which we say that generosity is innate in some families, or that certain diseases (as the gout or the stone) are innate in others; not that the children of those families labour under such diseases in their mother's womb, but that they are born wit a certain predisposition or faculty of contracting them.'
But the Programma and the annotations are well worthy of being translated entire.
Most admirably has Sir W. Hamilton, in his recent edition of Reid, summed up the case in the following words *:
By innate ideas in general Descartes means simply the innate faculty we possess of forming or eliciting certain manifestations in consciousness (whether of necessary or contingent truths) on occasion of, but wholly different from, both the qualities of the reality affecting, and the movements of the organism affected;
*Edition of Reid. On the Philosophy of Common Sense,' p. 782. When will this distinguished metaphysician give us the remainder of his valuable annotations, equally distinguished for acuteness and erudition? As it is, the volume is one of 'the curiosities of literature' in many senses; and not least in being a book of 914 closely printed pages, which leaves off in the middle of a sentence !
these manifestations or ideas being nothing else than states of the conscious substance itself. . . . I have no doubt that had he and Locke expressed themselves with the clearness and precision of Scotus, their opinions on this subject would have been found coincident both with each other and with the truth.' The want of steadiness, however, here referred to, is abundantly apparent in Descartes' writings.
We cannot deny that there are expressions (and still more in the writings of Descartes' defenders and successors) which would seem to imply a less reasonable doctrine, and which are fairly exposed to Locke's animadversions in his celebrated first book. Indeed, it is impossible to compare the different passages of Descartes on this and on other subjects, without suspecting (as already said) either that his philosophy somewhat drifted from its first moorings, but so slowly as to elude his own consciousness, or that he really modified, from time to time, his opinions, but had not the candour to avow it.
From the liability to misconstruction, or rather, certainty of it, it is to be regretted that the phrase 'innate ideas' should ever have been used by Descartes, and still more that it should have been persisted in by subsequent philosophers in the long controversy to which it has led. The word 'ideas,' as otherwise employed by Descartes (who, as Sir W. Hamilton has shown, with such a rare felicity of learning, wrested it to a perfectly novel acceptation), naturally suggests not laws or capacities of thought, but thoughts themselves; not inevitable conditions of the formation of such and such notions, but the very notions. Seldom has anything more true or more amusing been uttered than the sentence in which the above writer closes his acute investigation into
the successive degradations of meaning which the word 'ideas' has undergone from its old Platonic signification till at last, by a double blunder in philosophy and Greek,' it enters appropriately corrupted in the term ideology, as a name for a system of purely sensational philosophy. Word and thing,' says Sir William, 'idea has been the crux philosophorum since Aristotle cursed it to the present day —τὰς δὲ ἰδέας χαιρετω· τερετίσματα γάρ εἰσι. We are not convinced that it would not even now be wise in metaphysicians to abstain from this unhappy term altogether.*
It is impossible, however, on metaphysical subjects to avoid sources of ambiguity, and consequently causes of controversy, from the fact (necessary, but yet how humiliating,) that it is impossible to express a single truth in relation to mind-its constitution, faculties, phenomena, - without borrowing the aid of metaphorical language; language, in the first instance, not only figurative, but violently figurative. To weigh,' to 'ponder,' to 'judge,'' memory,' 'imagination,' 'idea,' and so on through the whole meta
* Whatever Descartes' idea of ideas, innate or otherwise, he was not (as Reid supposed) among those who believe them a tertium quid between the thinking mind and the external object. This is clear from many passages; and from none more so than from the following sentence in his letters (Epist. Part I. No. 115.); where he says, 'I think there is no other difference between the mind and its ideas than between a lump of wax and the different configurations of which it is susceptible.' But the whole passage is very curious and well worth the inspection of the student of Descartes; it also by implication contains the same views of innate ideas as those expressed in the preceding extracts. He says it seems to him that ideas are induced in the mind, ' partim ab objectis sensus afficientibus; partim ab impressionibus quæ in cerebro sunt, et partim etiam a dispositionibus, quæ in anima ipsa præcesserunt, atque a suæ voluntatis motibus.'