« AnteriorContinuar »
the attainment of particular ends. Whether these different capacities are, with strict logical propriety, referred to the same power, is a question which I shall examine in another part of my work ; but that they are all included in the idea which is generally annexed to the word reason, there can be no doubt; and the case, so far as I know, is the same with the corresponding term in all languages whatever. The fact probably is, that this word was first employed to comprehend the principles, whatever they are, by which man is distinguished from the brutes; and afterwards came to be somewhat limited in its meaning, by the more obvious conclusions concerning the nature of that distinction, which present themselves to the common sense of mankind. It is in this enlarged meaning that it is opposed to instinct by Pope :
“ And reason raise o'er instinct as you can;
In this 'tis God directs, in that 'tis man.'
It was thus, too, that Milton plainly understood the term, when he remarked, that smiles imply the exercise of reason :
" Smiles from reason flow, To brutes denied :"
And still more explicitly in these noble lines:
“ There wanted yet the master-work, the end
Among the various characteristics of humanity, the power of devising means to accomplish ends, together with ihe power of distinguishing truth from falsehood, and right from wrong, are obviously the most conspicuous and important; and accordingly it is to these that the word reason, even in its most comprehensive acceptation, is now exclusively restricted.*
This, I think, is the meaning which most naturally presents itself to common readers, when the word reason occurs in authors not affecting to aim at any nice logical distinctions; and it is certainly the meaning which must be annexed to it, in some of the most serious and important arguinents in which it has ever been employed. In the following passage, for example, where Mr. Locke contrasts the light of reason with that of revelation, he plainly proceeds on the supposition, that it is competent to appeal to the former, as affording a standard of right and wrong, not less than of speculative truth and falsehood ; nor can there be a doubt that, when he speaks of truth as the object of natural reason, it was principally, if not wholly, moral truth, which he had in his view ; “ Reason is natural revelation, whereby the eternal Father of Light, and fountain of all knowledge, communicates to mankind that portion of truth which he has laid within the reach of their natur. al faculties. Revelation is natural reason, enlarged by a new set of discoveries,
By some philosophers, the meaning of the word has been of late restricted still farther; to the power by which we distinguish truth from falsehood, and combine means for the accomplishment of our purposes ;-the capacity of distinguishing right from wrong, being referred to a separate principle or faculty, to which different names have been assigned in different ethical theories. The following passage from Mr. Hume contains one of the most explicit statements of this limitation which I can recollect : “ Thus, the distinct boundaries and offices of reason and of taste are easily ascertained. The former conveys the knowledge of truth and falsehood : the latter gives the sentiment of beauty and deformity,—vice and virtue. Reason, being cool and disengaged, is no motive to action, and directs only the impulse received from appetite or inclination, by showing us the means of attaining happiness or avoiding misery. Taste, as it gives pleasure or pain, and thereby constitutes happiness or misery, becomes a motive to action, and is the first spring or impulse to desire and volition.” (Essays and Treatises, &c. Appendix, concerning Moral Sentiment.)
On the justness of this statement of Mr. Hume, I have no remarks to offer here; as my sole object in quoting it was to illustrate the different meanings annexed to the word reason by different writers. It will appear afterwards, that, in consequence of this circumstance, some controversies, which have been keenly agitated about the principles of morals, resolve entirely into verbal disputes; or at most, into questions of arrangement and classification, of little comparative moment to the points at issue.*
communicated by God immediately, which reason vouches the truth of, by the testimony and proofs it gives that they come from God. So that he who takes away reason to make way for revelation, puts out the light of both, and does much the same as if he would persuade a man to put out his eyes, the better to receive the remote light of an invisible star by a telescope.”— Locke's Essay, b. iv. c. 19.
A passage still more explicit for my present purpose occurs in the pleasing and philosophical conjectures of Huygens, concerning the planetary worlds. “ Positis vero ejusmodi planetarum incolis ratione utentibus, quæri adhuc potest, anne idem illic, atque apud nos, sit hoc quod rationem vocamus. Quod quidem ita esse omnino dicendum videtur, neque aliter fieri posse : sive usum rationis in his consideremus quæ ad mores et æquitatem pertinent, sive in iis quæ spectant ad principia et fundamenta scientiarum. Etenim ratio apud nos est, quæ sensum justitiæ, honesti, laudis, clementiæ, gratitudinis ingenerat, mala ac bona in universum discernere docet: quæque ad hæc animum disciplinæ, multorumque inventorum capacem reddit,” &c. &c.-Hugenii Opera Varia, vol. ii. p. 663. Lugd. Batav. 1724.
In confirmation of this remark, I shall only quote at present a few sentences from an excellent discourse by Dr. Adams, of Oxford, on the nature and obligations of virtue. “ Nothing can bring us under an obligation to do what appears to our moral judgments wrong. It may be supposed our interest to do this, but it cannot be supposed our duty. Power may compel, interest may bribe, pleasure may persuade : but reason only can oblige. This is the only authority which rational beings can own, and to which they owe obedience.”
It must appear perfectly obvious to every reader, that the apparent difference of opinion between this writer and Mr Humne, turns chiefly on the different degrees of latitude with which they have used the word reason. Of the two, there cannot be a doubt that Dr. Adams has adhered by far the most faithfully not only to its acceptation in the works of our best English authors, but to the acceptation of the corresponding term in the ancient languages. “ Est quidem vera les, recta ratio
-quæ vocet ad officium, jubendo; vetando, a fraude deterreat," &c. &c.
Another ambiguity in the word reason, it is of still greater consequence to point out at present; an ambiguity which leads us to confound our rational powers in general, with that particular branch of them known among logicians by the name of the discursive faculty. The affinity between the words reason and reasoning sufficiently accounts for this inaccuracy in common and popular language; although it cannot fail to appear obvious, on the slightest reflection, that, in strict propriety, reasoning only expresses one of the various functions or operations of reason ; and that an extraordinary capacity for the former by no means affords a test by which the other constituent elements of the latter may be measured."* Nor is it to common and popular language that this inaccuracy is confined. It has extended itself to the systems of some of our most acute philosophers, and has, in various instances, produced an apparent diversity of opinion where there was little or none in reality.
“ No hypothesis," says Dr. Campbell, “ hitherto invented, hath shown that, by means of the discursive faculty, without the aid of any other mental power, we could ever obtain a notion of either the beautiful or the good.” (Philosophy of Rhetoric.) The remark is undoubtedly true, and may be applied to all those systems which ascribe to reason the origin of our moral ideas, if the expressions reason and discursive faculty be used as synonymous. But it was assuredly not in this restricted acceptation, that the word reason was understood by those ethical writers at whose doctrines this criticism seems to have been pointed by the ingenious author. That the discursive faculty alone is sufficient to account for the origin of our moral ideas, I do not know that any theorist, ancient or modern, has yet ventured to assert.
Various other philosophical disputes might be mentioned, which would be at once brought to a conclusion, if this distinction between reason and the power of reasoning were steadily kept in view.t
“ The two most different things in the world,” says Locke," are, a logical chicaner, and a man of reason."-Conduct of the Understanding, $ 3.
† It is curious, that Dr. Johnson has assigned to this very limited, and (according to present usage) very doubtful interpretation of the word reason, the first place in his enumeration of its various meanings, as if he had thought it the sense in which it is most properly and correctly employed. “Reason,” he tells us, "is the power by which man deduces one proposition from another, or proceeds from premises to consequences.” The authority which he has quoted for this definition is still more curious, being manifestly altogether inapplicable to his purpose. “Reason is the director of man's will, discovering in action what is good; for the laws of well-doing are the dictates of right reason.”—Hooker.
In the sixth article of the same enumeration, he states, as a distinct meaning of the same word, ratiocination, discursive power. What possible difference could he conceive between this signification and that above quoted ? The authority, however, which he produces for this last explanation is worth transcribing. It is a passage from Sir John Davis, where that fanciful writer states a distinction between reason and understanding; to which he seems to have been led by a conceit founded on their respective etymologies.
“ When she rates things, and moves from ground to ground,
The name of Reason she obtains by this ;
In the use which I make of the word reason, in the title of the following disquisitions, I employ it in a manner to which no philosopher can object--to denote merely the power by which we distinguish truth from falsehood, and combine means for the attainment of our ends: omitting for the present all consideration of that function which many have ascribed to it, of distinguishing right from wrong ; without, however, presuming to call in question the accuracy of those by whom the term has been thus explained. Under the title of Reason, I shall consider also whatever faculties and operations appear to be more immediately and essentially connected with the discovery of truth, or the attainment of the objects of our pursuit,—more particularly the power of reasoning or deduction; but distinguishing, as carefully as I can, our capacity of carrying on this logical process, from those more comprehensive powers which reason is understood to imply.
The latitude with which this word has been so universally used, seemed to recommend it as a convenient one for a general title, of which the object is rather comprehension than precision. In the discussion of particular questions, I shall avoid the employment of it as far as I am able; and shall endeavor to select other modes of speaking, more exclusively significant of the ideas which I wish to convey.
Another instance of the vagueness and indistinctness of the common language of logicians, in treating of this part of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, occurs in the word Understanding. In its popular sense, it seems to be very nearly synonymous with reason, when that word is used most comprehensively; and is seldom or
The adjective reasonable, as employed in our language, is not liable to the same ambiguity with the substantive from which it is derived. It denotes a character in which reason, (taking that word in its largest acceptation,) possesses a decided ascendant over the temper and the passions; and implies no particular propensity to a display of the discursive power, if indeed it does not exclude the idea of such a propensity. In the following stanza, Pope certainly had no view to the logical talents of the lady whom he celebrates :
“I know a thing that's most uncommon,
(Envy, be silent and attend) I know a reasonable woman,
Handsome and witty, yet a friend." Of this reasonable woman, we may venture to conjecture., with some confidence, that she did not belong to the class of those femmes raisonneuses, so happily described by Molière :
“ Raissonner est l'emploi de toute ma maison,
Et le raisonnement en bannit la raison." Mr. Locke too has prefixed the same title, of Reason, to the 17th chapter of his Fourth Book, using the word in a sense nearly coinciding with that very extensive one which I wish my readers to annex to it here.
After observing, that by reason he means “ that faculty whereby man is supposed to be distinguished from brutes, and wherein it is evident he much surpasses them;" he adds, that " we may in reason consider these four degrees ;-the first and highest is the discovering and finding out proofs ; the second, the regular and methodical disposition of them, and laying them in a clear and fit order, to make their connexion and force be plainly and easily perceived ; the third is the perceiving their connexion ; and the fourth is making a right conclusion."
Dr. Reid's authority for this use of the word is equally explicit : “ The power of never applied to any of our faculties, but such as are immediately subservient to the investigation of truth, or to the regulation of our conduct. In this sense, it is so far from being understood to comprehend the powers of Imagination, fancy and wit, that it is often stated in direct opposition to them; as in the common maxim, that a sound understanding and a warm imagination are seldom united in the same person. But philosophers, without rejecting this use of the word, very generally employ it, with far greater latitude, to comprehend all the powers which I have enumerated under the title of intellectual : referring to it imagination, memory and perception, as well as the faculties to which it is appropriated in popular discourse, and which it seems indeed most properly to denote. It is in this manner that it is used by Mr. Locke in his celebrated Essay; and by all the logicians who follow the common division of our mental powers into those of the understanding and those of the will.
In mentioning this ambiguity, I do not mean to cavil at the phraseology of the writers from whom it has derived its origin, but only to point it out as a circumstance which may deserve attention in some of our future disquisitions. The division of our powers which has led to so extraordinary an extension of the usual meaning of language, has an obvious foundation in the constitution of our nature, and furnishes an arrangement which seems indispensable for an accurate examination of the subject: nor was it unnatural to bestow on those faculties, which are all subservient in one way or another to the right exercise of the understanding, the name of that power, from their relation to which their chief value arises.
As the word understanding, however, is one of those which occur very frequently in philosophical arguments, it may be of some use to disengage it from the ambiguity just remarked; and it is on this account that I have followed the example of some late writers, in distinguishing the two classes of powers which were formerly referred to the understanding and to the will, by calling the former intellectual, and the latter active. The terms cognitive and motive were long ago proposed for the same purpose by Hobbes; but they reasoning is very nearly allied to that of judging. We include both under the name of reason.”—Intellect. Powers, p. 671. 4to edit. Another authority to the same purpose is furnished by Milton :
_ Whence the soul Reason receives; and reason is her being
-Discursive or intuitive."-Par. Lost. b. v. I. 486. [1 presume that Milton, who was a logician as well as a poet, means by the words her being, her essential or characteristical endowment.]
To these quotations I shall only add a sentence from a very judicious French writer; which I am tempted to introduce here, less on account of the sanction which it gives to my own phraseology, than of the importance of the truth which it conveys.
“Reason is commonly employed as an instrument to acquire the sciences ; whereas on the contrary, the sciences ought to be made use of as an instrument to give reason its perfection.” L'Art. de Penser, trans. by Ozell, p. 2. Lond. 1717.