Imágenes de páginas

versant, are connected together by some particular associating principle; in one science, for example, by associations founded on the relation of cause and effect; in another, by associations founded on the necessary relations of mathematical truths; in a third, on associations founded on contiguity in place or time. Hence one cause of the gradual improvement of memory with respect to the familiar objects of our knowledge ; for whatever be the prevailing associating principle among the ideas about which we are habitually occupied, it must necessarily acquire additional strength from our favorite study.

2. In proportion as a science becomes more familiar to us, we acquire a greater command of attention with respect to the objects about which it is conversant; for the information which we already possess, gives us an interest in every new truth and every new fact which have any relation to it. In most cases, our habits of inaitention may be traced to a want of curiosity; and therefore such habits are to be corrected, not by endeavoring to force the aliention in particular instances, but by gradually learning to place the ideas which we wish to remember, in an interesting point of view,

3. When we first enter on any new literary pursuit, we are unable to make a proper discrimination in point of utility and importance, among the ideas which are presented to us : and by attempting to grasp at every thing, we fail in making those moderate acquisitions which are suited to the limited powers of the human mind. As our information extends, our selection becomes more judicious and more confined ; and our knowledge of useful and connected truths advances rapidly, from our ceasing to distract the attention with such as are detached and insignificant.

4. Every object of our knowledge is related to a variety of others; and may be presented to the thoughts, sometimes by one principle of association, and sometimes by another. In proportion, therefore, to the multiplication of mutual relations among our ideas, (which is the natural result of growing information, and in particular, of habits of philosophical study,) the greater will be the number of occasions on which they will recur to the recollection, and the firmer will be the root which each idea, in particular, will take in the

memory. It follows, too, from this observation, that the facility of retaining a new fact, or a new idea, will depend on the number of relations which it bears to the former objects of our knowledge ; and, on the other hand, that every such acquisition, so far from loading the memory, gives us a firmer hold of all that part of our previous information, with which it is in any degree connected.

It may not, perhaps, be improper to take this opportunity of observing, although the remark be not immediately connected with our present subject, that the accession made to the stock of our knowledge, by the new facts and ideas which we acquire, is not to be estiinated merely by the number of these facts and ideas considered individually; but by the number of relations which they bear to one another, and to all the different particulars which were previously in the inind; for “ new knowledge,” as Mr. Maclaurin has well remarked, (see the conclusion of his View of Newton's Discoveries,) - does not consist so much in our having access to a new object, as in comparing it with others already known, observing its relations to them, or discerning what it has in common with them, and wherein their disparity consists: and, therefore, our knowledge is vastly greater than the sum of what all its objects separately could afford; and when a new object comes within our reach, the addition to our knowledge is the greater, the more we already know; so that it increases, not as the new objects increase, but in a much higher proportion."

The above passage may serve to illustrate an ingenious and profound remark of Duclos, in his considérations sur les Maurs. "If education was judiciously conducted, the mind would acquire a great stock of truths with greater ease than it acquires a small number of errors. Truths have among themselves a relation and connexion, certain points of contact which are equally favorable to the powers of apprehension and of memory; while, on the other hand, errors are commonly so many insulated propositions, of which, though it be difficult to shake off the authority, it is easy to prevent the original acquisition."

5. In the last place, the natural powers of memory are, in the case of the philosopher, greatly aided by his peculiar habits of classification and arrangement. As this is by far the most important improvement of which memory is susceptible, I shall consider it more particularly than any of the others I have mentioned.

The advantages which the memory derives from a proper classification of our ideas, may be best conceived by attending to its effects in enabling us to conduct with ease, the common business of life. In what inextricable confusion would the lawyer or the merchant be immediately involved, if he were to deposit, in his cabinet, promiscuously, the various written documents which daily and hourly pass through his hands ? Nor could this confusion be prevented by the natural powers of memory, however vigorous they might happen to be. By a proper distribution of these documents, and a judicious reference of them to a few general titles, a very ordinary memory is enabled to accomplish more, than the most retentive, unassisted by method. We know, with certainty, where to find any article we may have occasion for, if it be in our possession; and the search is confined within reasonable limits, instead of being allowed to wander at random amidst a chaos of particulars.

Or, to take an instance still more immediately applicable 10 our purpose : suppose that a man of letters were to record, in a common-place book, without any method, all the various ideas and facts which occurred to him in the course of his studies ; what difficulties would he perpetually experience in applying his acquisitions to use ? and how completely and easily might these difficulties be obviated by referring the particulars of his information to certain general heads? It is obvious, too, that, by doing so, he would not only have his knowledge much more completely under his command, but as the particulars classed together would all have some connexion, more or less, with each other, he would be enabled to trace, with advantage, those mutual relations among his ideas, which it is the object of philosophy to ascertain.

A common-place book, conducted without any method, is an exact picture of the memory of a man whose inquiries are not directed by philosophy. And the advantages of order in treasuring up our ideas in the mind, are perfectly analogous to its effects when they are recorded in writing.

Nor is this all. In order to retain our knowledge distinctly and permanently, it is necessary that we should frequently recall it to our recollection. But how can this be done without the aid of arrangement? Or supposing that it were possible, how much time and labor would be necessary for bringing under our review the various particulars of which our information is composed ? In proportion as it is properly systematised, this time and labor are abridged. The mind dwells habitually, not on detached facts, but on a comparatively small number of general principles; and, by means of these, it can summon up, as occasions may require, an infinite number of particulars associated with them ; each of which, cousidered as a solitary truth, would have been as burthensome to the memory, as the general principle with which it is connected.*

I would not wish it to be understood from these observations, that philosophy consists in classification alone; and that its only use is to assist the memory. I have often, indeed, heard this asserted in general terms; but it appears to me to be obvious, that although this be one of its most important uses, yet something more is necessary to complete the definition of it. Were the case otherwise, it would follow, that all classifications are equally philosophical, provided they are equally comprehensive. The very great importance of this subject will, I hope, be a sufficient apology

It is very justly and ingeniously remarked by Dr. Priestley, that “the more we know of any branch of science, the less is the compass into which we are able to bring its principles, provided the facts from which they are inferred be numerous." "The reason is, that, “in an advanced state of knowledge, we are able to reduce more of the particular into general observations; whereas, in the infancy of a science, every observation is an independent fact; and, in delivering the principles of it, they must all be distinctly mentioned; so that, though a selection may be made, a proper abridgment is impossible."

In illustration of this, the same author observes farther, that, " Notwithstanding the vast additions that have been made to the science of optics within the last hundred years, a judicious summary of the whole will be much shorter now than it would have been a century ago; and yet it is probable, much larger than there will be any necessity of making it a century hence; as it may be presumed, that, by that time, a connexion will be traced between many facts which now a pear to be unconnected and independent of one another, and therefore require to be recited separately."History of Discoveries relating to Vision, &c. p. 768.

for me, in taking this opportunity to correct some mistaken opinions which have been formed concerning it.


Continuation of the same Subject.- Aid which the Memory derives

from Philosophical Arrangement. It was before observed, that the great use of the faculty of memory, is to enable us to treasure up, for the future regulation of our conduct, the results of our past experience, and of our past reflections. But in every case in which we judge of the future from the past, we must proceed on the belief, that there is, in the course of events, a certain degree, at least, of uniformity. And, accordingly, this belief is not only justified by experience, but (as Dr. Reid has shown, in a very satisfactory manner,) it forms a part of the original constitution of the human mind. In the general laws of the material world, this uniformity is found to be complete ; insomuch that, in the same combinations of circumstances, we expect, with the most perfect assurance, that the same results will take place. In the moral world, the course of events does not appear to be equally regular; but still it is regular, lo so great a degree, as to afford us many rules of importance in the conduct of life.

A knowledge of nature, in so far as it is absolutely necessary for the preservation of our animal existence, is obtruded on us, without any reflection on our part, from our earliest infancy. It is thus that children learn of themselves to accommodate their conduct to the established laws of the material world. In doing so, they are guided merely by memory, and the instinctive principle of anticipation, which has just been mentioned.

In forming conclusions concerning future events, the philosopher, as well as the infant, can only build with safety on past experience, and he, too, as well as the infant, proceeds on an instinctive belief, for which he is unable to account, of the uniformity of the laws of nature. There are, however, two important respects, which distinguish the knowledge he possesses from that of ordinary men. In the first place, it is far more extensive, in consequence of the assistance which science gives to his natural powers of invention and discovery. Secondly, it is not only more easily retained in the memory, and more conveniently applied to use, in consequence of the manner in which his ideas are arranged: but it enables bim to ascertain, by a process of reasoning, all those truths which may be synthetically deduced from his general principles. The illustration of these particulars will lead to some useful remarks; and will at the same time show, that, in discussing the subject of this section, I have not lost sight of the inquiry which occasioned it.

I. 1. It was already remarked, that the natural powers of mem

ory, together with that instinctive anticipation of the future from the past, which forins one of the original principles of the mind, are sufficient to enable infants, after a very short experience, to preserve their animal existence. The laws of nature, which it is not so important for us to know, and which are the objects of philosophical curiosity, are not so obviously exposed to our view, but are, in general, brought to light by means of experiments which are made for the purpose of discovery ; or, in other words, by artificial combinations of circumstances, which we have no opportunity of seeing conjoined in the course of our ordinary experience. In this manner it is evident, that many connexions may be ascertained, which would never have occurred spontaneously to our observation.

2. There are, too, some instances, particularly in the case of the astronomical phenomena, in which events, that appear to common observers to be altogether anomalous, are found, upon a more accurate and continued examination of them, to be subjected to a regu

Such are those phenomena in the heavens, which we are able to predict by means of cycles. In the cases formerly described, our knowledge of nature is extended by placing her in new situations. In these cases, it is extended by continuing our observations beyond the limits of ordinary curiosity.

3. In the case of human affairs, as long as we confine our attention to particulars, we do not observe the same uniformity, as in the phenomena of the material world. When, however, we extend our views to events which depend on a combination of different circumstances, such a degree of uniformity appears, as enables us to establish general rules, from which probable conjectures may often be formed with respect to futurity. It is thus, that we can pronounce, with much greater confidence, concerning the proportion of deaths which shall happen in a certain period among a given number of men, than we can predict the death of any individual ; and that it is more reasonable to employ our sagacity, in speculating concerning the probable determinations of a numerous society, than concerning events which depend on the will of a single person.

In what manner this uniformity in events depending on contingent circumstances is produced, I shall not inquire at present. The advantages which we derive from it are obvious, as it enables us to collect, from our past experience, many general rules, both with respect to the history of political societies, and the characters and conduct of men in private life.

4. In the last place; the knowledge of the philosopher is more extensive than that of other men, in consequence of the attention which he gives, not merely to objects and events, but to the relations which different objects and different events bear to each other.

The observations and the experience of the vulgar are almost wholly limited to things perceived by the senses. A similarity between different objects, or between different events, rouses their curiosity, and leads them to classification, and to general rules.

« AnteriorContinuar »