Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

SECT. II.

Progress of Reason.

.

A Progress from infancy to maturity in the mind of man, similar to that in his body, has been often mentioned. The external senses, being early necessary for felf-preservation, arrive quickly at maturity. The internal senses are of a flower growth, as well as every other mental power : their maturity would be of little or no use while the body is weak, and unfit for action. Reasoning, as obferved in the first section, requires two mental powers, the power of invention, and that of perceiving relations. By the former are discovered intermediate propofitions, having the same relation to the fundamental proposition and to the conclufion; and that relation is verified by the latter. Both powers are necessary to the person who frames an argument, or a chain of reasoning: the latter only, to the person who judges of it. Savages are miserably deficient in both. With respect to the former, a favage may have from his nature à talent for invention, but it will stand him in little stead without a stock of ideas enabling him to select what may answer his purpose ; and a savage has no opportunity to acquire such a stock. With respect to the latter, he knows little of relations. And how should he know, when both study and practice are necessary for distinguishing between relations ? The understanding, at the same time, is among the illiterate obsequious to passion and prepoffeffion; and among them the imagination acts without control, forming conclusions often no better than mere dreams. In short, considering the many

K 2

causes

causes that mislead from just reasoning, in days especially of ignorance, the erroneous and absurd opinions that have prevailed in the world, and that conti. nue in some measure to prevail, are far from being furprising. · Were reason our only guide in the conduct of life, we should have cause to complain ; but our Maker has provided us with moral sense, a guide little subject to error in matters of importance. In the sciences, reason is essential; but in the conduct of life, which is our chief concern, reason may be an useful assistant ; but to be our director is not its province.

The national progress of reason has been flower in Europe, than that of any other art : ftatuary, painting, architecture, and other fine arts, approach nearer perfection, as well as morality and natural history. Manners and every art that appears externally, may in part be acquired by imitatior: and example: in reasoning there is nothing external to be laid hold of. But there is beside a particular cause that regards Europe, which is the blind deference that for many ages was paid to Aristotle ; who has kept the reasoning faculty in chains more than two thousand years. In his logic, the plain simple mode. of reasoning is rejected, that which Nature dictates ; and in its stead is introduced an artificial inode, fhowy but unsubstantial, of no use for discovering truth ; but contrived with great art for wrangling and disputation. Considering that reason for so many ages has been immured in the enchanted castle of syllogism, where phantoms pass for realities; the slow progress of reason toward maturity is far from being surprising. The taking of Constantinople by the Turks ann. 1453, unfolded a new scene, which in time relieved the world from the usurpation of Aristotle, and restored reason to her privileges. All the knowledge of Europe was centered in Constantinople; and the learned men of that city, abhorring the Turks and their governa

ment,

ment, took refuge in Italy. The Greek language was introduced among the western nations of Eu. rope; and the study of Greek and Roman classics became fashionable. Men, having acquired new ideas, began to think for themselves : they exerted their native faculty of reason the futility of Aristotle's logic became apparent to the pene. trating; and is now apparent to all. Yet so late as the year 1621, several persons were banished from Paris for contradicting that philosopher, about matter and form, and about the nụmber of the elements. And shortly after, the parliament of Pa, ris prohibited, under pain of death, any thing to be taught contrary to the doctrines of Aristotle. Julius II. and Leo X. Roman Pontiffs, contributed zealoully to the reformation of letters ; but they did not foresee that they were also contributing to the reformation of religion, and of every science that depends on reasoning. Tho' the fetters of Syllogism have many years ago been shaken off ; yet like a limb long kept from motion, the rea, fonin'g faculty has scarcely to this day attained its free and natural exercise. Mathematics is the only science that never has been cramped by fyllo, gism, and we find reasoning there in great perfection at an early period. . The very flow progress of reasoning in other matters, will appear from the following induction. ; ..

To exemplify erroneous and absurd reasonings of every fort, would be endless. The reader, I presume, will be satisfied with a few instances ; and I shall endeavour to select what are amusing. For the sake of order, I divide thein into three heads. First, instances showing the imbecillity of human reason during its nonage, Second, Erroneous reasoning occasioned by natural biaffes.

Third, Erroneous reasoning occasioned by acquired biasses. With respect to the first, instances are endless of reasonings founded on erroneous pre

mises. mises. It was an Epicurean doctrine, That the gods have all of them a human figure ; moved by the following argument, that no being of any other figure has the use of reason. Plato, taking for granted the following erroneous propofition, That every being which moves itself must have a foul, concludes that the world must have a soul, because it moves itself (a). Aristotle taking it for granted, without the least evidence and contrary to truth, that all heavy bodies tend to the centre of the universe, proves the earth to be the centre of the universe by the following argument. « Heavy bodies naturally tend to the centre of the ¢ universe : we know by experience that heavy « bodies tend to the centre of the earth : there66 fore the centre of the earth is the centre of the 66 universe.” Appion ridicules the Jews for adhering literally to the precept of resting on their fabbath, so as to fuffer Jerusalem to be taken that day by Ptolomy son of Lagus. Mark the an. fwer of Josephus : " Whoever passes a sober o judgement on this matter, will find our prac“ tice agreeable to honour and virtue ; for what Ćs can be more honourable and virtuous, than to 66 postpone our country, and even life itself, to os the service of God, and of his holy religion ?” A strange idea of religion, to put it in direct opposition to every moral principle ! A superstitious and absurd doctrine, That God will interpose by a miracle to declare what is right in every con. troversy, has occasioned much erroneous reasoning and absurd practice. The practice of determining controversies by single combat, commenced about the seventh century, when religion had degenerated into superstițion, and courage was esteemed the only moral virtue. The parliament of Paris in the reign of Charles VI. appointed a single 'combat between

.. . two

(a) Cicero, De natura Deorum, lib. z. $ 12,

[ocr errors]

two gentlemen, in order to have the judgement of God whether the one had committed a rape on the other's wife. In the 1454, John Picard being accused by his son-in-law for too great familiarity with his wife, a duel between thein was appointed by the fame' parliament. Voltaire justly obferves, that the parliament decreed a parricide to be committed, in order to try an accusation of incest, which possibly was not committed. The trials by water and by fire, reft on the same erroneous foundation. In the former, if the person accused funk to the bottom, it was a judgement pronounced by God that he was innocent : if he kept above, it was a judgement that he was guil. ty. Fleury (a) remarks, that if ever the person accufed. was found guilty, it was his own fault. In Sicily, a woman accused of adultery, was compelled to fwear to her innocence : the oath, taken down in writing, was laid on water; and if it did not sink, the woman was innocent. We find the fame practice in Japan, and in Malabar. One of the articles insisted on by the reformers in Scotland, was, That public prayers be made and the facraments administered in the vulgar tongue. The answer of a provincial council was in the following words : " That to conceive public « prayers or adminifter the facraments in any " language but Latin, is contrary to the tradi.

tions and practice of the Catholic church for 66 many ages past; and that the demand cannot is be granted, without impiety to God and difo" bedience to the church.” Here it is taken for granted, that the practice of the church is always right; which is building an argument on a very rotten foundation. The Caribbeans abstain from fwinés ffefh ; taking it erroneously for granted,

that

(a) Histoire Ecclesiastique,

« AnteriorContinuar »