Page:Blackwood's Magazine volume 050.djvu/562

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The Crisis of Modern Speculation.

ture. For the present question is but the mask of another question; and unless it be known what that other question is, why should its shell be thrown aside as an unprofitable husk? Reader! spare the chrysalis for the sake of the living butterfly which perhaps may yet spring from its folds. The transformation we are going to attempt to describe, forms the most vital crisis in the whole history of speculation.

It must be kept in mind that our perception of an external universe is a phenomenon of a profounder and more vital character than is generally supposed. Besides having perceptions, the mind, it is said, is modified in a hundred other ways—by desires, passions, and emotions; and these, it is thought, contribute to form its reality, just as much as the perception of outward things does. But this is a mistake. Perception—the perception of an external universe—is the groundwork and condition of all other mental phenomena. It is the basis of the reality of mind. It is this reality itself. Through it, mind is what it is—and without it, mind could not be conceived to exist. Since, therefore, perception is the very life of man, when we use the word mind in this discussion we shall understand thereby the percipient being, or the perceiver. The word mind and the word precipient we shall consider convertible terms.

The earliest, and, in France and this country, the still dominant philosophy, explains the connexion between mind and matter by means of the relation of cause and effect. Outward things present to the senses are the causes of our perceptions—our perceptions are the effects of their proximity. "The presence of an external body," says Dr Brown, "an organic change immediately consequent on its presence, and a mental affection:—these, according to him, form three terms of a sequence, the statement of which is thought sufficiently to explain the phenomenon of perception, and to illustrate the intercourse which takes place between ourselves and outward objects.

This doctrine is obviously founded on a distinction laid down, between objects as they are in themselves, and objects as they are in our perceptions of them—in other words, between real objects and our perceptions of objects. For, unless we made a discrimination between these two classes, we could have no ground for saying that the former were the causes of the latter.

Now, when any distinction is established, the tendency of the understanding is to render it as definite, complete, and absolute as it admits of being made. And, with regard to the present distinction, the understanding was certainly not idle. It took especial pains to render this distinction real and precise; and, by doing so, it prepared a building-ground for the various philosophical fabrics that were to follow for many generations. It taught, that the object in itself must be considered something which stood quite aloof from our perception of it—that our perception of the object must be considered something of which the real object formed no part. Had it been otherwise, the understanding would have pronounced the discrimination illogical, and consequently null and void.

It was this procedure of the understanding, with respect to the above-mentioned distinction, which led to the universal adoption of a representative theory of perception. We are far from thinking that any of its authors adopted or promulgated this doctrine under that gross form of it against which Dr Reid and other philosophers have directed their shafts—under the form, namely, which holds, that outward things are represented by little images in the mind. Unquestionably, that view is a gross exaggeration of the real opinion. All that philosophers meant was—that we had perceptions of objects, and that these perceptions were not the objects themselves. Yet even this, the least exceptionable form of the theory that can be maintained, was found sufficient to subvert the foundations of all human certainty.

Here, then, it was that doubts and difficulties began to break in upon philosophical inquiry. It was at this juncture that the schism between common sense and philosophy, which has not yet terminated, began. People had hitherto believed that they possessed an immediate or intuitive knowledge of an external universe; but now philosophers assured them that no such immediate knowledge was possible. All that man could immediately know, was either the object