Abbildungen der Seite



overlook, and the other to invest with undue authority in the discussion. This second fact is, that some of the sensations in question are uniformly and irresisti. bly accompanied by the apprehension and belief of certain external existences, distinguished by peculiar qualities. The fact certainly admits of no dispute; and, accordingly, the philosophers who first attempted to prove that this belief was without foundation, have uni. formly claimed the merit of disabusing mankind of a natural and universal illusion. Now this apprehension and belief in external existences, is in itself as much an affection of mind, as the sensations by which it is accompanied; and those who deny the distinction between perception and sensation, might be justified perhaps in asserting, that it is only a sensation of another kind: at the same time, as the essence of it consists in the apprehension of an independent existence, there can be no harm in distinguishing it, by a separate appellation, from those sensations which centre in the sentient being, and suggest to him no idea of any other existence. It is in this sense alone, it appears to us, that perception can be understood in strict philosophical language. It means no more than that affection of the mind which consists in an apprehension and belief in the existence of external objects.

Now in this sense of the word, there can be no doubt that there is a real distinction between mere sensation and perception; inasmuch as there is a distinction between our feelings of pain, resistance, &c., and our conception and belief of real external existences; But they differ merely as one affection of mind may differ from another; and it is plainly unwarrantable to assume the real exist. ence of external objects as a part of the statement of a purely intellectual phenomenon. After allowing the reality of this distinction, there is still room therefore for considering the second question to which we alluded in the outset, viz., Whether perception does necessarily imply the existence of external objects.

Upon this subject we entertain an opinion which will not give satisfaction, we are afraid, to either of the con



tending parties. We think that the existence of external objects is not necessarily implied in the phenomena of perception ; but we think that there is no complete proof of their nonexistence; and that philosophy, instead of being benefited, would be subjected to needless embarrassments, by the absolute assumption of the ideal theory.

The reality of external existences is not necessarily implied in the phenomena of perception ; because we can easily imagine that our impressions and conceptions might have been exactly as they are, although matter had never been created. Belief, we familiarly know, to be no infallible criterion of actual existence; and it is impossible to doubt, that we might have been so framed as to receive all the impressions which we now ascribe to the agency of external objects, from the mechanism of our own minds, or the particular volition of the Deity. The phenomena of dreaming, and of some species of madness, seem to afford experimental proofs of the possibility we have now stated; and demonstrate, in our apprehension, that perception, as we have defined it (i. e. an apprehension and belief of external existences), does not necessarily imply the independent reality of its objects. Nor is it less absurd to say that we have the same evidence for the existence of external objects that we have for the existence of our own sensations: For it is quite plain, that our belief in the former is founded altogether on our consciousness of the latter; and that the evidence of this belief is consequently of a secondary nature. We cannot doubt of the existence of our sensations, without being guilty of the grossest contradiction : but we may doubt of the existence of the material world, without any contradiction at all. If we annihilate our sensations, we annihilate ourselves; and, of course, leave no being to doubt or to reason.

If we annihilate the external world, we still leave entire all those sensations and perceptions which a different hypothesis would refer to its mysterious agency on our minds.

On the other hand, it is certainly going too far to assert, that the nonexistence of matter is proved by such evidence as necessarily to command our assent;



Since it evidently implies no contradiction to suppose, that such a thing as matter may exist, and that an omnipotent being might make us capable of discovering its qualities. The instinctive and insurmountable belief that we have of its existence, certainly is not to be surrendered, merely because it is possible to suppose it erroneous; or difficult to comprehend how a material and immaterial substance can act upon each other. The evidence of this universal and irresistible belief, in short, is not to be altogether disregarded ; and, unless it can be shown that it leads to actual contradictions and absurdities, the utmost length that philosophy can warrantably go, is to conclude that it may be delusive; but that it may also be true.

The rigorous maxim, of giving no faith to any thing short of direct and immediate consciousness, seems more calculated, we think, to perplex than to simplify our philosophy, and will run us up, in two vast strides, to the very brink of absolute annihilation. We deny the existence of the material world, because we have not for it the primary evidence of consciousness; and because the clear conception and indestructible belief we have of it, may be fallacious, for any thing we can prove to the contrary. This conclusion annihilates at once all external objects; and, among them, our own bodies, and the bodies and minds of all other men; for it is quite evident that we can have no evidence of the existence of other minds, except through the mediation of the matter they are supposed to animate; and if matter be nothing more than an affection of our own minds, there is an end to the existence of every other. This first step, therefore,

, reduces the whole universe to the mind of the individual reasoner; and leaves no existence in nature, but one mind, with its compliment of sensations and ideas. The second step goes still farther, and no one can hesitate to take it, who has ventured deliberately on the first.

If our senses may deceive us, so may our memory; if we will not believe in the existence of matter, because it is not vouched by internal consciousness, and because it is conceivable that it should not exist, we cannot consistently believe in the reality of any past impression: for




which, in like manner, we cannot have the direct evidence of consciousness, and of which our present recollection may possibly be fallacious. Even upon the vulgar hypothesis, we know that memory is much more deceitful than perception; and there is still greater hazard in assuming the reality of any past existence, from our present recollection of it, than in relying on the reality of a present existence from our immediate perception. If we discredit our memory, however, and deny all existence of which we have not a present consciousness or sensation, it is evident that we must annihilate our own personal identity, and refuse to believe that we had thought or sensation at any previous moment. There can be no reasoning, therefore, nor knowledge, nor opinion; and we must end by virtually annihilating ourselves, and denying that any thing whatsoever exists in nature, but the present solitary and momentary impression.

This is the legitimate and inevitable termination of that determined scepticism which refuses to believe anything without the highest of all evidence, and chooses to conclude positively that every thing is not, which may possibly be conceived not to be.

The process of reasoning which it implies, is neither long nor intricate; and its conclusion would be undeniably just, if every thing was necessarily true which could be asserted without a contradiction. It is perfectly true, that we are absolutely sure of nothing but what we feel at the present moment; and that it is possible to distinguish between the evidence we have for the existence of the present impression, and the evidence of any other existence The first alone is complete and unquestionable; we may hesitate about all the rest without any absolute contradiction. But the distinction, we apprehend, is in itself of as little use in philosophy, as in ordinary life; and the absolute and positive denial of all existence, except that of our immediate sensation, altogether rash and unwarranted. The objects of our perception and of our recollection, certainly may exist, although we cannot demonstrate that they must; and when in spite of all our abstractions, we find that we must come back, and



not only reason with our fellow creatures as separate existences, but engage daily in speculations about the qualities and properties of matter, it must appear, at least, an unprofitable refinement which would lead us to dwell much on the possibility of their nonexistence. There is no sceptic, probably, who would be bold enough to maintain, that this single doctrine of the nonexistence of any thing but our present impressions, would constitute a just or useful system of logic and moral philosophy; and if, after flourishing with it as an unfruitful paradox in the outset, we are obliged to recur to the ordinary course of observation and conjecture as to the nature of our faculties, it may be doubted whether any real benefit has been derived from its promulgation, or whether the hypothesis can be received into any sober system of philosophy. To deny the existence of matter and of mind, indeed, is not to philosophise, but to destroy the materials of philosophy. It requires no extraordinary ingenuity or power of reasoning to perceive the grounds upon which their existence may be doubted; but we acknowledge that we cannot see how it can be said to have been disproved ; and think we perceive very clearly, that philosophy will neither be simplified nor abridged by refusing to take it for granted.

Upon the whole, then, we are inclined to think, that the conception and belief which we have of material objects (which is what we mean by the perception of them) does not amount to a complete proof of their existence, but renders it sufficiently probable: that the superior and complete assurance we have of the existence of our present sensations, does by no means entitle us positively to deny the reality of every other existence; and that as this speculative scepticism neither renders us independent of the ordinary modes of investigation, nor assists us materially in the use of them, it is inexpedient to dwell long upon it in the course of our philosophical inquiries, and much more advisable to proceed upon the supposition that the real condition of things is conformable to our natural apprehensions.

The little sketch we have now ventured to offer of the

« ZurückWeiter »