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Part II. The nature and origin of experience. .
evinced of late, it is manifest, that this judgment is so truly instantaneous, and so perfectly the result of feeling and association, that the forming of it totally escapes our notice. Perhaps in no period of life will you find a person, that, on the first mention of it, can be easily persuaded that he derives this knowledge from experience. Every man will be ready to tell you, that he needs no other witnesses than his eyes, to satisfy him that objects are not in contact with his body, but are at different distances from him as well as from one another. So passive is the mind in this matter, and so rapid are the transitions which, by this ideal attraction, she is impelled to make, that she is, in a manner, unconscious of her own operations. There is some ground to think, from the exact analogy which their organs bear to ours, that the discovery of distance from the eye, is attained by brutes in the same manner as by us. As to this, however; I will not be positive. But though, in this way, the mind acquires an early perception of the most obvious and necessary truths, without which the bodily organs would be of little use; in matters less important, her procedure is much slower, and more the result of voluntary application; and as the exertion is more deliberate, she is more conscious of her own activity, or at least remembers it longer. It is then only that in common stile we honour her operation with the name of reasoning ; though there is no essential difference between the two cases. It is true, indeed, that the conclusions in the first way, by which also in infancy VOL. I. H
- Sect. II. Of deductive evidence.
we learn language, are commonly more to be regårded as infallible, than those effected in the second.
PART III....The Subdivisions of Moral Reasoning.
BUT to return to the proposed distribution of moral evidence. Under it I include these three tribes; experience, analogy, and testimony. To these I shall subjoin the consideration of a fourth, totally distinct from them all, but which appears to be a mixture of the demonstrative and the moral; or, rather, a particular application of the former, for ascertaining the precise force of the latter. The evidence I mean, is that resulting from calculations concerning chances,
,, . . I....Experience.
THE first of these I have named peculiarly the evidence of experience, not with philosophical propriety, but in compliance with common language, and for distinction's sake. Analogical reasoning is surely reasoning from a more indirect experience. Now, as to this first kind, our experience is either uniform or various. In the one case, provided the facts on which it is founded be sufficiently numerous, the conclusion is said to be morally certain. In the other, the conclusion built on the greater number of instances, is said to be probable, and more or less so, according to je proportion which the instances on that side bear t; those on the opposite. Thus we are perfectly assured, that iron thrown into the river will sink, that déal will float; because these conclusions are built on
Part II. The subdivisions of moral reasoning.....I. Experience.
a full and uniform experience. That, in the last week of December next, it will snow in any part of Britain specified, is perhaps probable; that is, if, on inquiry
or recollection, we are satisfied that this hath more frequently happened than the contrary: that some time in that month it will snow, is more probable, but not certain; because, though this conclusion be founded on experience, that experience is not uniform : lastly, that it will snow some time during winter, will, I believe, on the same principles, be pronounced certall),
It was affirmed, that experience, or the tendency of the mind to associate ideas under the notion of causes, effects, or adjuncts, is never contracted by One example only. This assertion, it may be thought, is contradicted by the principle on which physiologists commonly proceed, who consider one accurate experiment in support of a particular doctrine as sufficient evidence. The better to explain this phaenomenon, and the farther to illustrate the nature of experience, I shall make the following observations. First, whereas sense and memory are conversant only about individuals, our earliest experiences imply, or perhaps generate, the motion of a species, including all those individuals, which have the most obvious and universal resemblance. From Charles, Thomas, William, we ascend to the idea of man ; from Britain, France, Spain, to the idea of kingdom. As our acquaintance with nature enlarges, we discover resemblances of a striking and important nature, between one species
Sect. II. Of deductive evidence.
and another, which naturally begets the notion of a genus. From comparing men with beasts, birds, fishes, and reptiles, we perceive that they are all alike possessed of life, or a principle of sensation and action, and of an organised body, and hence acquire the idea of animal; in like manner, from comparing kingdoms with republics and aristocracies, we obtain the idea of nation, and thence again rise in the same track to ideas still more comprehensive. Further, let it be remembered, that by experience we not only decide concerning the future from the past, but concerning things uncommon from things familiar, which resemble them.
Now, to apply this observation: a botanist, in traversing the fields, lights on a particular plant, which appears to be of a species he is not acquainted with. The flower he observes is monopetalous, and the number of flowers it carries is seven. Here are two facts that occur to his observation, let us consider in what way he will be disposed to argue from them. From the first he does not hesitate to conclude, not only as probable, but as certain, that this individual, and all of the same species, invariably produce monopetalous flowers. From the second, he by no means concludes, as either certain, or even probable, that the flowers which either this plant, or others of the same species, carry at once, will always be seven. This difference, to a superficial inquirer, might seem capricious, since there appears to be one example, and but one in either case, on which the conclusion can be founded. The truth is, that it is not from this example only that he
Part III. The subdivisions of moral reasoning.....I. Experience.
deduces these inferences. Had he never heretofore taken the smallest notice of any plant, he could not have reasoned at all from these remarks. The mind recurs instantly from the unknown, to all the other known species of the same genus, and thence to all the known genera of the same order or tribe; and having experienced in the one instance, a regularity in every species, genus, and tribe, which admits no exception; in the other, a variety as boundless as is that of season, soil, and culture ; it learns hence to mark the difference,
AGAIN, we may observe, that, on a closer acquaintance with those objects wherewith we are surrounded, we come to discover that they are mostly of a compound nature, and that not only as containing a complication of those qualities ealled accidents, as gravity, mobility, colour, extension, figure, solidity, which are common almost to all matter, not only as consisting of different members, but as comprehending a mixture of bodies, often very different in their nature and properties, as air, fire, water, earth, salt, oil, spirit; and the like. These, perhaps, on deeper researches, will be found to consist of materials still simpler. Moreover, as we advance in the study of Nature, we daily find more reason to be convinced of her constancy in all her operations, that like causes in like circumstances always produce like effects, and inversely like effects always flow from like causes. The inconstancy which appears at first in some of Nature's works, a more improved experience teacheth us to ac