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Part III. Common sense.
ing an original source of knowledge common to all mankind. I own, indeed, that in different persons it
though for distinction's sake, I use the term common sense in a more limited signification than either of the authors last mentioned, there appears to be no real difference in our sentiments of the thing itself. I am not ignorant that this doctrine has been lately attacked by Dr Priestly in a most extraordinary manner, a manner which no man who has any regard to the name either of Englishmen, or of philosopher, will ever desire to see imitated, in this or any other country. I have read the performance, but have not been able to discover the author's sentiments in relation to the principal point in dispute. He says expressly, [Examination of Dr Reid's Inquiry, &c. p. 119.] “Had these writers,” Messieurs Reid, Beattie, and Oswald, “assumed, as the elements of their common sense, “certain truths which are so plain, that no man could doubt of “them, (without entering into the ground of our assent to them) “their conduct would have been liable to very little objection.” And is not this the very thing which these writers have done * What he means to signify by the parenthesis, “ (without entering “into the ground of our assent to them)” it is not easy to guess. By a ground of assent to any proposition, is commonly understood, a reason or argument in support of it. Now, by his own hypothesis, there are truths so plain, that no man can doubt of them. If so, what ground of assent beyond their own plainness ought we to seek; what besides this can we ever hope to find, or what better reason needs be given for denominating such truths, the dictates of common sense 2 If something plainer could be found to serve as evidence of any of them; then this plainer truth would be admitted as the first principle, and the other would be considered as deduced by reasoning. But notwithstanding the mistake in the instance, the general doctrine of primary truth would remain unhurt. It seems, however, that though their conduct would have been liable to very little, it would have been liable to some objection.
Sect. I. Of intuitive evidence.
prevails in different degrees of strength; but no human creature hath been found originally and totally
“All that could have been said would have been, that, without “any necessity, they had made an innovation in the received use “of a term.” I have a better opinion of these gentlemen than to imagine, that if the thing which they contend for, be admitted, they will enter into a dispute with any person about the name; though, in my judgment, even as to this, it is not they but he who is the innovator. He proceeds, “ For no person ever denied, that “there are self evident truths, and that these must be assumed, as “the foundation of all our reasoning. I never met with any person “who did not acknowledge this, or heard of any argumentative “treatise that did not go upon the supposition of it.” Now, if this be the case, I would gladly know, what is the great point he controverts 2 Is it, whether such self-evident truths shall be denominated principles of common sense, or be distinguished by some other appellation ? Was it worth any man's while to write an octavo of near 400 pages for the discussion of such a question as this And if, as he assures us, they have said more than is necessary, in proof of a truth which he himself thinks indisputable, was it no more than necessary in Dr Priestley, to compose so large a volume in order to convince the world, that too much had been said already on the subject 2 I do not enter into the examination of his objections to some of the particular principles produced as primary truths. An attempt of this kind would be foreign to my purpose; besides that the authors he has attacked, are better qualified for defending their own doctrine, and, no doubt, will do it, if they think there is occasion. I shall only subjoin two remarks on this book. The first is, that the author, through the whole, confounds two things totally distinct, certain associations of ideas, and certain judgments implying belief, which, though in some, are not in all, cases; and therefore not necessarily connected with association. And if so, merely to account for the association, is in no case to account for the belief with which it is attended. Nay,
Part III. Common sense.
destitute of it, who is not accounted a monster in his kind; for such, doubtless, are all idiots and change
admitting his plea, [page 86] that, by the principle of association, not only the ideas, but the concomitant belief may be accounted
for, even this does not invalidate the doctrine he impugns. For, let it be observed, that it is one thing to assign a cause which, from the mechanism of our nature, has given rise to a particular tenet or belief; and another thing to produce a reason by which the understanding has been convinced. Now, unless this be done as to the principles in question, they must be considered as primary truths in respect of the understanding, which never deduced them from other truths, and which is under a necessity, in all her moral reasonings, of founding upon them. In fact, to give any other account of our conviction of them, is to confirm, instead of confuting the doctrine, that in all argumentation they must be regarded as primary truths, or truths which reason never inferred through any medium, from other truths previously perceived. My second remark is, that though this examiner has, from Dr Reid, given us a catalogue of first principles, which he deems unworthy of the honourable place asigned them, he has no where though proper to give us a list of those self-evident truths which, by his own account, and in his own express words, “must be assumed as the foundation of “all our reasoning.” How much light might have been thrown upon the subject by the contrast 2 Perhaps we should have been enabled, on the comparison, to discover some distinctive characters in his genuine axioms, which would have preserved us from the danger of confounding them with their spurious ones. Nothing is more evident than that, in whatever regards matter of fact, the mathematical axioms will not answer. These are purely fitted for evolving the abstract relations of quantity. This he in effect owns himself [page 39]. It would have been obliging then, and would have greatly contributed to shorten controversy, if he had given us, at least, a specimen of those self evident principles, which, in
his estimation, are the non plus ultra of moral reasoning.
Sect. I. Of intuitive evidence.
lings. By madness, a disease which makes terrible havoc on the faculties of the mind, it may be in a great measure, but is never entirely lost.
IT is purely hence that we derive our assurance of such truths as these : “Whatever has a beginning has “a cause. When there is in the effect a manifest ad“justment of the several parts to a certain end, there “is intelligence in the cause. The course of nature “will be the same to-morrow, that it is to-day; or, “the future will resemble the past. There is such a “thing as body; or, there are material substances in“dependent of the mind's conceptions. There are “other intelligent beings in the universe beside me. “The clear representations of my memory in regard “to past events, are indubitably true.” These, and a great many more of the same kind, it is impossible for any man by reasoning to evince, as might easily be shewn, were this a proper place for the discussion. And it is equally impossible, without a full conviction of them, to advance a single step in the acquisition of knowledge, especially in all that regards mankind, life, and conduct.
I AM sensible, that some of these, to men not accustomed to inquiries of this kind, will appear at first not to be primary principles, but conclusions from other principles; and some of them will be thought to coincide with the other kinds of intuition above mentioned. Thus the first, “Whatever hath a beginning “ hath a cause,” may be thought to stand on the same
Part III. - Common sense.
footing with mathematical axioms. I acknowledge, that, in point of evidence they are equal, and it is alike impossible in either case, for a rational creature to withhold his assent. Nevertheless, there is a difference in kind. All the axioms in mathematics are but the enunciations of certain properties in our abstract notions, distinctly perceived by the mind, but have no relation to any thing without themselves, and can never be made the foundation of any conclusion concerning actual existence: whereas, in the axiom last specified, from the existence of one thing we intuitively conclude the existence of another. This proposition, however, so far differs, in my apprehension, from others of the same order, that I cannot avoid considering the opposite assertion as not only false, but contradictory; but I do not pretend to explain the ground of this difference.
THE faith we give to memory may be thought, on a superficial view, to be resolveable into consciousness, as well as that we give to the immediate impressions of sense. But on a little attention one may easily perceive the difference. To believe the report of our senses doth, indeed, commonly imply, to believe the existence of certain external and corporeal objects, which give rise to coir particular sensations. This, I acknowledge, is a principle which doth not spring from consciousness, (for consciousness cannot extend beyond sensation) but from common sense, as well as the assurance we have in the report of memory. But this was not intended to be included under the second
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