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No ear their dreary-drowning cry,
No tender friend will ever go
They perish'd far away from home,
By slow degrees hope will expire,
Save where some pale and widow'd onę,
By fond Imagination led,
Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind. By Dugald
Steward, Esq. F. R. S. &c. Vol. II. 4to. Edinburg. Bos
ton, reprinted, Svo. pp. 462. The Quarterly Review, No. xxiv. January, 1815.
In a former number of our Magazine, we had occasion to notice that part of the article before us, which was devoted to the refutation of all those principles upon which the philosophy of Mr. Stewart is founded. If what we then ventured to offer on the subject be correct, the argument of the Quarterly Reviewers is indebted for all its plausibility, in the first place, to an entire misconception of the doctrines contained in Mr. Stewart's Elements—and, in the second place, 10 a specious perversion of analogical reasoning. We come next to consider that portion of the critique, in which it is attempted to be proved, that what Dr. Reid and Mr. Stewart have granted respecting the cogency of the arguments employed by Berkeley and by Hume, on the subject of our belief in a material world, is a superfluous concession on their part; inasmuch as the reasonings of the latter philosophers proceeded entirely upon the old hypothesis of ideas-an hypothesis which it was the signal good fortune of Dr. Reid to have successfully exploded. Granting the accuracy of this representation, and it is impossible not to think with the Quarterly Reviewers, that, since the premises are removed, it is surprising how the conclusions deduced from them should be still suffered to remain. But here, as in the former case, we are obliged to accuse Mr. Stewart's critic of gross misapprehension. It ought to be kept steadily in view, that the absolute existence of the material world, and our belief in that existence, are points in the dispute upon the distinct separa. tion of which the accuracy of all our speculations on this subject must in a great measure depend. We shall, therefore, VOL. VII.
be probably anticipated by our readers in remarking, that the Quarterly Reviewers have strangely identified these two important points, by directing, to the latter, those observations which are applicable only to the former. What aggravates the strangeness of this conduct is, that they committed the error with a passage of Reid's before their eyes, in which the distinction under consideration is plainly recognised. After asserting that Berkeley and Hume have unanswerably proved the impossibility of accounting for our belief in the existence of a material world upon any principles of habit, of experience, or of education, Dr. Reid goes on to remark -“At the same time, it is a fact, that our sensations are invariably connected with the conception and belief of external existences.” This single passage might have convinced the Quarterly Reviewers, that the observations of Dr. Reid were exclusively confined to our belief of the existence of a material world: and yet, with not a little of the self-congratulation which flows from discovery, they proceed “to contend that the arguments from reason, in favour of a material world, remain not only untouched, but unheard”-an assertion, which, however it may accord with the fact, has no conceivable bearing upon the point in question. Granting that the existence of the material world is completely established by means of reasoning, it yet remains to be shown that our belief of that existence can be accounted for by appealing to the same process. The reality of external existences is altogether independent of percipient beings; and an establishment of the fact does not amount to an explanation of our belief in it.
In their subsequent reasonings on this head, the Quarterly Reviewers have more scrupulously confined their language to the real question at issue—without seeming, however, to recognise the distinction which we have been endeavouring to point out. After proving to their own satisfaction, that reason had never been consulted in accounting for our belief of external existences, we regret to find them declining “to en
ter upon the question themselves," and remaining content with a few ineffectual lamentations about the gloomy consequences into which the present state of the subject is calculated to lead. If they really supposed that the received doctrine on this point furnished a sure road to universal scepticism, ought any considerations of deficiency in " limits" to have prevented them from rescuing their readers out of such a dismal catastrophe? Surely the space occupied by their desultory oppugnation of Mr. Stewart's work, might have been better filled up with a question involving so many momentous consequences as that which relates to our belief of the existence of a material world. Instead of this, however, they have only vouchsafed to furnish us with some vague surmises and inconclusive reasonings on the subject of instinctive fallibility;-recommending us at last, after a great deal of boisterous declamation,“ to suspend opinion, go where our instincts lead, and, like other animals, take our chance for the rest.' Now, all this, we humbly conceive, is not in the least conducive to the enlargement of our knowledge; and we are heartily sorry that the Quarterly Reviewers should overthrow Dr. Reid's speculations on this subject--assert roundly that reason had not been heard-insinuate that the question is an easy oneand then leave us to take our chance for the rest."
But for our own parts we see no good reason to adopt ap unlimited scepticism, or to abandon ourselves to despondency, on account of the received system concerning our belief of external existences. The instance of the fallibility of instinct, which has been adduced by the Quarterly Reviewers, is not calculated to cast any very deep gloom on the condition of the human species—or even upon that of the humble crcatures from whom the example is selected. For, granting the fact (which, perhaps, no one will question) that a hen will as soon sit upon a piece of chalk, as upon an egg, and that she cherishes her offspring with equal fondness, whether they be of her own, or of a different species; it yet remains to be proved, that these apparent perversities are pregnant with any alarming consequences in the domestic economy of the hen--or that the human race are precisely upon the same footing with the brute creation in respect to the fallibility of their speculative instincts. On this subject we beg leave 10 introduce some excellent observations of Mr. Stewart's in this volume of his work, which, although they were not written expressly to answer the objection under review, may, nevertheless, contribute to clear up the point, and to place the matter in a light somewhat different from that in which it has been viewed by the writers before us. We have reference now to the fourth section of the second chapter, in which he has occasion to notice the strong propensity of children to apply to similar objects the same appellation; ascribing the phenomenon to an indistinctness of perception, by which they are led to overlook the specifical differences of individuals, and to infer a general coincidence from a few accidental resemblances. “ To the same indistinctness of perception (continues he) are to be ascribed the mistakes about the most familiar appearances which we daily see committed by those domesticated animals with whose instincts and habits we have an opportunity of becoming intimately acquainted.”
Now in the case of the hen above mentioned, we see no imaginable disadvantage resulting from her incubation on a piece of chalk carved into the shape of an egg; whereas an opposite disposition of incredulity by which she might be induced to reject every egg which was not of a particular form and size, would have an obvious tendency to curtail the propagation of her species. With respect also to that peculiarity in her constitution, which influences her to cherish her offspring with a total indifference to the circumstance of its kind, it was unquestionably intended for wise purposes, to prevent the useless destruction of animal existence-however trifling we may think the occasion of such a provision, or however humble the beings to which such sparing mercy is extended. Such a matter is not undoubtedly considered as unimportant, in the view of Him, who condescends to notice the fall of a sparrow, and to number the hairs of our heads.