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Sect. I. Of intuitive evidence.
branch of intuitive evidence. By that firm belief in sense, which I there resolved into consciousness, I meant no more than to say, I am certain that I see, and feel, and think, what I actually see, and feel, and think As in this I pronounce only concerning my own present feelings, whose essence consists in being felt, and of which I am at present conscious, my conviction is reducible to this axiom, or coincident with it, “It is impossible for a thing to be and not to be at “the same time.” Now, when I say, I trust entirely to the clear report of my memory, I mean a good deal more than, “I am certain that my memory gives such “a report, or represents things in such a manner,” for this conviction I have indeed from consciousness; but I mean, “I am certain that things happened hereto“fore at such a time, in the precise manner in which “I now remember that they then happened.” Thus, there is a reference in the ideas of memory to former sensible impressions, to which there is nothing analogous in sensation. At the same time, it is evident, that remembrance is not always accompanied with this full conviction. To describe, in words, the difference between those lively signatures of memory, which command an unlimited assent, and those fainter traces which raise opinion only, or even doubt, is perhaps impracticable ; but no man stands in need of such assistance to enable him in fact to distinguish them, for the direction of his own judgment and conduct. Some may imagine, that it is from experience we come to know what faith in every case is due to memory. But it will. appear more fully afterwards, that unless we
Part III. Common serise.
had implicitly relied on the distinct and vivid informations of that faculty, we could not have moved a step towards the acquisition of experience. It must, however, be admitted, that experience is of use in assisting us to judge concerning the more languid and confused suggestions of memory; or, to speak more properly, concerning the reality of those things, of which we ourselves are doubtful, whether we remember them or not.
IN regard to the primary truths of this order, it may be urged, that it cannot be affirmed of them all at least, as it may of the axioms in mathematics, or the assurances we have from consciousness, that the denial of them implies a manifest contradiction. It is, perhaps, physically possible, that the course of nature will be inverted the very next moment; that my memory is no other than a delirium, and my life a dream; that all is mere illusion; that I am the only being in the universe, and that there is no such thing as body. Nothing can be juster than the reply given by Buffier, “It must be owned,” says he *, “that to main“tain propositions, the reverse of the primary truths “ of common sense, doth not imply a contradiction, it “only implies insanity.” But if any person, on account of this difference in the nature of these two classes of axioms, should not think the term intuitive so properly applied to the evidence of the last mentioned, let him denominate it, if he please, instinctive; I
* Premiéres Véritez, Part I. Chap. 11.
Sect. [. Of intuitive evidence.
I have no objection to the term ; nor do I think it derogates in the least from the dignity, the certainty, or the importance of the truths themselves. Such instincts are no other than the oracles of eternal wisdom.
FoR, let it be observed farther, that axioms of this last kind are as essential to moral reasoning, to all deductions concerning life and existence, as those of the first kind are to the sciences of arithmetic and geometry. Perhaps it will appear afterwards, that, without the aid of some of them, these sciences themselves would be utterly inaccessible to us. Besides, the mathematical axioms can never extend their influence beyond the precincts of abstract knowledge, in regard to number and extension, or assist us in the discovery of any matter of fact : whereas, with knowledge of the latter kind, the whole conduct and business of human life is principally and intimately connected. All reasoning necessarily supposes that there are certain principles in which we must acquiesce, and beyond which we cannot go, principles clearly discernible by their own light, which can derive no additional evidence from any thing besides. On the contrary supposition, the investigation of truth would be an endless and a fruitless task; we should be eternally proving, whilst nothing could ever be proved ; because, by the hypothesis, we could never ascend to premises which require no proof. “If there be no first “truths,” says the author lately quoted, “there can
Part III. Common sense.
“be no second truths, nor third, nor indeed any truth “ at all #.”
So much for intuitive evidence, in the extensive meaning which hath here been given to that term, as including everything whose.evidence results from the simple contemplation of the ideas or perceptions which form the proposition under consideration, and requires not the intervention of any third idea as a medium of proof. This, for order's sake, I have distributed into three classes, the truths of pure intellection, of consciousness, and of common sense. The first may be denominated metaphysical, the second physical, the third moral; all of them natural, original, and unaccountable, -
SECT. II.....Qf deductive evidence.
PART I...Division of the subject into scientific and moral, with the principal distinctions between them,
ALL rational or deductive evidence is derived from one or other of these two sources: from the invariable properties or relations of general ideas; or from the actual, though perhaps, variable connexions, subsisting among things. The former we call demonstrative, the latter morall. Demonstration is built on pure intellection, and consisteth in an uninterrupted series
* Ib. Dessein de l'ouvrage.
Sect. II. Of deductive evidence.
of axioms, That propositions formerly demonstrated are taken into the series, doth not in the least invalidate this account; inasmuch as these propositions are all resolvable into axioms, and are admitted as links in the chain; not because necessary, but merely to avoid the useless prolixity which frequent and tedious repetitions of proofs formerly given would occasion. Moral evidence is founded on the principles we have from consciousness and common sense, improved by experience; and as it proceeds on this general presumption or moral axiom, that the course of nature in time to come, will be similar to what it hath been hitherto, it decides, in regard to particulars, concerning the future from the past, and concerning things unknown, from things familiar to us. The first is solely conversant about number and extension, and about those other qualities which are measurable by these. Such are duration, velocity, and weight. With regard to such qualities as pleasure and pain, virtue and vice, wisdom and folly, beauty and deformity, though they admit degrees, yet, as there is no standard or common measure, by which their differences and proportions can be ascertained and expressed in numbers, they can never become the subject of demonstrative reasoning. Here rhetoric, it must be acknowledged, hath little to do. Simplicity of diction, and precision in arrangement, whence results perspicuity, are, as was observed already *, all the requi.
s Chay. I. Part I.