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Letters on Materialism and Hartley's Theory of the Human Mind,
addreffed to Dr. Priestley, F. Ř. S. 8vo. 2s. 60. Robinson.
This publication has been so little advertised (if at all) in the London papers, that, not receiving, as is customary, a printed copy from the author, we were actually ignorant of its appearance, till we received the following letter on the subject.
" To the LONDON REVIEWERS. Gentlemen, Having in vain expected, for some months past, to sec your animadversions on a late publication, entitled, Letters on Materialism, addressed to Dr. Priestley; in which my letter to you,
in defence of that gentleman *, is most terribly handled, I can no longer refrain from taking up the pen to do justice to mytelf, not doubting, from your experienced impartiality, that you will take the firit opportunity to give a place to this letter as you did to my former.
The author of the Letters in question addresses Dr. P. in the first of them as follows.
“ In consequence of your notion of material fouls advanced in the preliminary crys to Hartley's theory, and of the warın sanction that notion received from the authors of the London Review, you was called to an account by Mr. Seton, who, in a letter addressed to you in that periodical publication, warmly, though modestly, expoftulated with you on its impropriery and evil tendency. It was natural to expest that fo pertinent an address would have roused your sensibility, and extorted a reply. Nothing of the kind happened'; unless we are to consider a letter, which appeared in the same Review of September latt, as really Dr. Prieitley's, aud therefore as intended as the only and beit reply ió Mr. Seton's animadversions. 'Till I have it from unquestionable authority, I will never offer fo flagrant an indignity to your fo justly admired abilities, as to suppose you the author of it. But as no other answer hath hitherto appeared, nor have you, as your honour required, ever publicly reprobated that trifting and infidiones prodution, we are authorized to esteem it yours, or, which nearly amounts to the same, to conclude that it came forth under your tutelage and kind protection. In this light I mult therefore consider it, and shall with propriety make fome remarks on its contents in the regular course of my correspondence."
Being the writer of the letter thus formally impeached and condemned, you will give me leave, gentlemen, to make my remarks on the Remarker, and to expose the pretended propriety of his condemnation. In proceeding to do this, let me do Dr. Pricstley the justice to tay, that he neither at first knew any thing of such letter, nor does he, I believe, to this day, know any thing of the writer. If his prelent addreifer, howcver, really thinks it so trifling a production, I wonder he * See London Review for September 1776.
should Thould think Dr. Priestley's honour concerned publickly to reprobate it. If the doctor thought it so trifling, the course he took was certainly the wiseft, viz. that of taking no notice of it. His addreffer, indeed, tells us he should have taken the same course too,“ had not that letter been cried up as a metaphysical composition.” Indeed! by whom? Surely not by trifling or incompetent judges ! The opinion of such would have been as unworthy notice as the performance itself. No, Sirs, Dr. Priestley's present correspondent would not certainly have thought it worth his while to trouble either the doctor or himself with any criticism upon so trifling a production; however cried up as a master-piece by as trifling readers. It must have been from the high opinion, which some people, who stood also high in his opinion, entertained of my letter, that he was induced to take such trouble.
In return for the compliment of such good opinion, therefore, you will excuse me if I am a little follicitous to maintain' my right, to it; notwithstanding the modest assurance of Dr. Priestley's correspondent in declaring, against such respectable authority, that what they deemed a master-piece of metaphysical composition would be otherwise unworthy notice. I am not indeed so vain as to suppose the hafty production of a vacant hour deserving such an encomium ; but I am too tenacious of the approbation of the judicious to submit filently to the rude reproaches of “writing flagrant nonsense-advancing palpable absurdities, and broaching " such puerilities," as the letter-writer “ blushes to repeat. You will soon be able to judge, gentlemen, which of us hath most reason to blush.
" On your recommendation (says this fagacious hypercritic to Doctor Priestley), I have perused Hartley with the greatest attention of which I am capable. I am not even ashamed to say, that I have read him four times over. I foon perceived he was not an author to be run over in a few hours, à téte reposée, as the French express it; and as, from the first reading, I had entertained a design of contefting some parts of his system, it was neceflary, I well knew, to consider it maturely. I non truft, I can say without vanity, that I understand him thoroughly. In his doctrine of vibrations, and therefore of association, I had been long initiated, from having read a French work, which appeared some years ago (Efai analytique sur les facultés de l'ame), by Mr. Bonnet of Geneva. This ingenious and learned author, so well known in the literary world for his various and elegant productions in the Philosophical walk, sets out on the same principles as Dr. Hartley, but, fenfible of their almost infinite extent, it' discuiled analytically, only applies them to one of the human senses, the smell, and from thence gradually rises, through a series of metaphyfical enquiries and observations, in the most intellectual operations. From the same premises, it was natural these philosophers should draw the fame interence: they infer that every mental process is a mechanical effect, and therefore that all
free election in man is a chimerical and ufurped prerogative; in other words, that man is no more a free agent in the real sense of the term, shan ihe stone, I throw from me, which goeth, and then returns to the common center of gravitation.”
What this writer means by the real sense of the term free election, appears to be absolute and arbitrary freedom of will, in
dependent of, and uninfluenced by, physical motives: in this 'cale, however, I must tell him that such freedom of will belongs to no created being whatever; and of course must be chimerical and usurped in man. He should be told also, that in any thing arbitrary and absolute there are no degrees of comparison : "so that it is absurd, if we mean such absolute freedom of will, to say,
no more a free agent than a Plone."-But, if we adopt what I conceive to be the real sense of the terrn free election, viz. a capacity of deliberating in the choice, and of declaring that choice in favour of what appears on any account deferving preference; in this case, such comparison indeed may be used with some kind of propriety, and I fay a man is more a free agent than a fione: because he has a greater capacity of deliberation, and a greater sensibility of the motives of preference. Will he say that here comparison *ceases too; for that a stone has no such capacity or sensibility? :-To oblige him, I will grant it; but then I say, man is a free agent and a flone is not. The mistake seems to hinge on the terins mental and mechanical, as if the influence of mental motives were not as regular and certain in its operation, as is the impulse of mechanical motion. The succcffion of the effect 'toʻthe cause is aš necessary in the one case as the other; thus, though a man may not be under the necessity of making a choice; when he does make a choice, he is as much under the
neceflity of chuling that which he does chuse, as a stone, dropt out of the hand, is to fall to the ground. A man induced by any motives, or for any reatons (volunturily as we fay), to take sa journey, in effect as necessarily takes fuch journey, as if he - were bound hand and foot and carried by force, against his will. The causes producing the effect indeed are identically different, but not the less mechanical. In the one case, he is mechanically moved under the direction of his own will; in the other, under the direction of the will of others : for whether he walk or ride, his loco-motion is equally mechanical. If by the term mechanical, indeed, is meant merely the mode of action among palpable bodies, whose effects are constant and · conformable to the known laws of motion, it is certain that the term is rather improperly applied to the mode of action among impalpable substances, whose citeets, though equally regular and constant, are governed by laws as yet unknown.
It is not about words, but things and their relations, that philosophers should dispute; all that should be meant in this cafe by mechanical, therefore, is, that effects follow their caufes in a regular uniform manner, conformably to certain fixed and conftant laws. At present it might be improper to say, that lagical arguments act mechanically on the understanding, or that fensual temptations act mechanically on the pasions; and yet they have as regular and constant an effect, by means of both; on the will, as hath the moft known and familiar mechanical cause in producing its mechanical effect. The difference only is, that the machine, of whose effects we judge, is more complicated. We do not see the action of the lever, the pulley, the wedge, &c., and perhaps the physical agent is not so mere a mechanic instrument; its action is, nevertheless, as regular and constant.
Not to carry our novice, however, too deep; let us return to his progress after initiation into the mysteries of Bonnet.
“ From the doctrine of necessity, which seems the inevitable consequence of Hartley's and Bonnet's principles, if adopted in their fult extent, I began to suspect some years ago, when I was almost an enthufiaftic admirer of the Genevan philosopher, that such principles were not to be admitted with an implicit confidence. I knew falsehood could never originate from truth, and I knew that inan was free.”
What a knowing genius !-He knew that man was free! He must be a great deal more knowing yet, however, before he knows what it is to be free. And yet, if we believe him, he has taken a world of trouble too, to come at some little kuota ledge; which he might possibly have attained, had not this fame freedom stood in his light: for, like a modern patriot, it feems, he is ready to sacrifice every thing for Liberty.
“ If I should be able to preserve Dr. Hartley's principles, as far as may be requisite, and withal maintain the grand prerogative of man, Liberty, I shall be more than amply rewarded for the many hours of close application I have given to the fubject. But rather than resign my freedom, I am ready to immolate at her shrine the mott dear and fafcinating schemes of a Hartley, a Bonnet, or even a Dr. Priettley. You will laugh, I know, at my wild enthufiafm ; but why should you, it it be the necessary result of the associated fystem of my brain ?" Why laugh. For that very reason, because it is necessary.
“ Laugh where we must, be candid where we can:” as the poet says, not as this pseudo-philosopher, who tells us 'he "
was positively neceffitated sometimes to laugh, and sometimes to be angry." —A bad sign this, when a man finds himfelf neceffitated to be angry, he inay safely conclude (if his rage will let him listen to reaton) that he is got on the wrong fide
of the argument.
But on the
But come; let us see what makes this gentleman laugh, and what makes him angry.--At Dr. Priestley he does not prefume either to laugh or be angry; and he is in the right, as he declares (though he need not have sworn to it) that “ upon his life” he does not understand him. But, though he has a little complaisance for the knight, he has none for his supposed 'fquire, whom he yet understands much less.
“ I beg leave, says he, to turn aside, for a few minutes, to a gendeman, who, in the London Review of September last, made his appearance in quality of your Squire or Sancho Panza, and whose curious epistle may therefore be considered as containing a full delineation of his master's sentiment. You will not, I trust, from that ludicrous idea at all infer that, I mean to compare your Reverence to a knight errant; far be such an indecent thought from me; bat I will add, and I design it for a serious compliment, that your late atchievement in fo boldly affailing and utterly discomfiting the three Scottish tyrants, and rescuing from their iron hands the beautiful damsel, they had ravished and confined, was a work, not to be paralleled in the annals of the knight of the woeful figure.
" As your friend professes to enter upon his enquiry grounds of physical experiment and observation,” I will endeavour to follow him through all his curious researches. Never, I believe, was naturalift so unnaturally engaged !-I allow then, in reply to his first question, that therefore I entertain the notion that man is composed of two substances, fo eflentially different as body and spirit, because I see him capable of acting in a voluntary manner, of which mode of action inanimate bodies I judge to be incapable: the action of such bodies I also judge to be a mere mechanical effect. He then asks, from whence animation and the power of volition are derived? And, not pleased with the common idea, of their springing from an annexed subitance, of a nature totally different from matier, resolves the knot, by asking another question; whether the moít inanimate and unorganized bodies are altogether fo inert and patlive, as that by proper organization they may not be capable of acquiring the power of volition, i.e. the power of being affected by motives not merely mechanical? That is, in other words, whether matter, in a difunited and unorganized state, totally divetted of all animation and power of volition, but barely capable of action and re-action, may not, by the mere juxta-position of parts, rise into life, and begin to act from the influence of moral motives? I will answer for it, no metamorphofis of Ovid, of men and women into trees apd rocks, or even of dragon's teeth into men, was half so wondrous and incredible; though ihe laft example bears some resemblance to it. He endeavours to illustrate this strange transmutation by adding, “ that before the invention of clocks and watches, or other machines, it must kave appeared as incredible that bits of brass or steel could ever, by any . combination, be brought to indicate the hours, &c. as it is now to us, that morsels of aliment can acquire by organization the power of voluntary motion. The first was effected: why may not then the second ?I blufh to repeat such puerilities."
Modeft creature ! Do but hear hiin.