Levi Hedge Thomas Brown.

A treatise on the philosophy of the human mind: being the lectures ..., Volume 1 online

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eleraeats that eo-exist in it, or rather that conakitute it ; or we may
regard it as it exists m time^ and state, in aU the series of changes, of
which It forms an kivariaUe part, the objects to wbicb it is related as
anteeedent or conseqnent.

To comUne these two viewsof nature, as it exists in ^ce and
Bt and to knofw, with perfect accuracy, every elem«it of every

VOL. I. 6



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4i OP POWER^ CAUSE, AND EPPECT.

aggregate, and every series of changes, of which each forms, or can
form, a part, wouM be to kaxm every thing which can be physieaUjr
known of the universe. To extend our mere physical bquiry stiH
farther into the phenomena of nature, after this perfect knowledge, would
be to suppose erroneou^, that, in the compounds before us, of which
we know every element, there is some element, not yet discovered, or
m the weD known successions of events, some amecedeittor coosequent
as yet unobserved ; or it would be to inquhre without any real object
of inquiry, — a sort of investigation, ^viMch, for two thousand sreara, was
almost the sole erapbyment of the subtile and the studious, lad which
is far from having perished, with those vawraUe follies of the sdioois,
at which we know so well how to smile, evea while we are iautatmg.
them, perhaps, with simUar errcnrs of our own.



CHAPTER IV.

OF POWER, CAUSE, AND EFFECT.



Power is not any thing that can exist separately firooi a substaocei
but is merely the substance itself, considered in relation to anollKr
substance, — in the same manner as what we denominate farv^ is Dot
any thing separate from the elementary atoms of a mass, but is memfy
the relation of a number of atoms, as co-existing ia apparent contact
The sculptor at every stroke of his chisel, altars the form of the bkxsk
of marble on which he works, not by communicating to it any new
qualities, but merely by separating from it a number of the corpusdes,
which were formerly included by us in our conc^ition of the coatiau-
ous whole y and when he has ^en the last delicate touches that finiah
the Jupiter, or the Venus, or ApcJlo, the divine form which we admire,
as if it had assumed a new existence beneath the artist's band, is still
in itself unaltered, — the same quiescent mass, that slumbered for a^s
in the quanry of wUch it was a part.

The form of bodies is the relation of their elements to each other
in ^acBy — the pmotr of bodies is their relation to each other in time;
and both ferm and power, if considered separately from the nundier
of elementary corpuscles, and from the changes that arise succesavely^
are equally abstractions of the mind, and nothing more. In the philr
osof^y of Aristode,/o7m, vrhea considered sqparatdy from the figured



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OF POWER, CAUSE, AND EFFECTT; 48

substance, was regarded as somellHiig equaHj real with matter itself;
and indeed, matter^ which was supposed to derive firora form all its
qualities, was rather the less important of the two. Of subHaniial
farms, however, long so omnipotent, we now hear, only in those works
winch reccNxi the errors of other ages, as a part of the history of the
fidlible being, man.

The vague and obscure noticNUs, at present attached to the words
patoer, causey effect, appear very analogous to the notioDs of the an-
cient phiIosq>h«^ vnth respect to form ; and, I trust that as we have
now universally learned to ccmsider ybtm, as nothiog m itsdf, but only
as the relation of bodies co-existing immediately in space, so power
will at length be as universally considered as only the relation which
substances be^ to each other in timt, according as their phenomena
are immediately successive ; the invariable anteced^it being the cause,
the invariable consequent the effect ; and the antecedent and conse-
quent being all that are present in any phenomenon. There are, in
nature, only substances ; and all the substances in nature, are every
thing that truly exists in nature. There is, therefore, no additional
power, separate, or di&rent from the antecedent itself, more than there
is form, separate or di£ferent hoax the figured mass, or any other quality
widxxit a substance. In the beautiful experiment of the prismatic de-
compositiDn of light, for example, the refracting power of the prism is
not any tUng separate or separable from it, more than its weight or
transparency of colour. There are not a prism and transparency,
but there is a prism giving passage to light. In like manner, there
are not a prism, and refracting power, and coloured rays, but there
are a prism and rays of varions cokxirs, which we have perceived to
be deflected variously from their originah line of direction, when they
approach and quit the lens, and which we believe, will, in the same
circumstances, continually exhibit the same tendency.

It is the mere regularity of the successknis of events, not any ad-
ditbnal and more mysterious circumstance, which power may be
supposed to denote, that gives the whole value to oinr physical knowl-
edge. It is of imp(Ntance for us to know, viwt antecedents truly
precede uhat consequents ; since we can thus provide for that future,
vrtnch we are hence enaUed to foresee, and can, in a. great measure,
modify, and almost create, the future to ourselves, by arranging the
objects over which we have conmiand, in such a manner i^ to form
with them - the antecedents, which we know to be invariably followed
by the consequents desired by us. It is thus we are able to exercise



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44 <^ VGWUkj CAUSS, ANO SfVlOT*

that command over nuture, which Be, frt» is hs only real Sov«n4gB,
has designed, m the magiiifieeiice of His bounty, to coBfer on usy
togecfa^with ^ sdll greater privi^e of knowing that Omnipolmce
to which aB our delegated empire is so humbly subordinate.

Such is the simple, and, «s it ^petts to me, the only intei^^Me
view of pouter, as discoverable in the successnre phenomena of nature.
And yet, how difibrent from thfe sim|de view is the ccMnmon, or, I may
almost say, the universal notion of the agencies, which are supposed to
be concerned in the phenomena that are the otjects of phBosopi&c
mqinry* It is the detection of the powers of nature, to which such
faiqoiry it supposed to lead, — but not of powers, in the sense in wfai<^
alone Umi phrase is mtettigible, as signifying die objects themselves
which umfermly precede oeitain changes. The powers wfaid) our
investigation is to detect, or which, at least, b aQ the phenomena tfiat
come tinder our observation, we are to consider as the sole effident,
diough invisible producers of diem, are conceived by us to be
something iar more mysterious,— ^somednng that is no part of the
antecedent, and yet b a part of it,— or that intervenes between each
antecedent and eonsequent, without being itsetf any diing intermediate ;
—as if it were possible drat any thing could intervene in a series,
without mstandy becoming itself a part of die series, — a new ISmk in
ifae lengthened chain, — die consequent ef die former antecedent, and
lAe antocedent of the former eonsequent.

To me, indeed, it appears so very obvious a truth, that the sub-
stances wtttch exist in nature,-^tfae worid, its living inhabitants, and the
adoiaUe Befllg who created them, — are all die real existences In
toature, and dmt, m the various changes which occur, therefore, diere
can as little be any powers or suscepdbSities diflferent from the antece-
dents tmd consequents themselves, as diere can be forms di B bient from
the co-exisdng pattides winch consdtate them,-'-^t to labour thus to
impress this trudi, seems to me abnost Hke an attempt todemonstrate a
seif-eiMeKt proposition. Ab iOosion, however, so unhrersal, as diat
which sopposee the powers of nature, -to be sometlring more, dian the
mere teriesof ameeedentstbemsekes, »notTasMy,or without very ftA
mquiry, to be consideied as an illusion ; and, at any rate, in the case
of a misiakie, so pn^rdent and 90 important in its consequences, it can^
not be imifltapesiHig, to inquire into the circumstances, that appear most
probabfy to have led to it.

One souroe of die general fallacy miquesdonaUy is the influence of
«ii<NMtJefi, aided, and b a great measure perpetuated, by die use of



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OF KIWHR, CAUn, AND KFPECfr. 45

laBguage, and the oonnaoa mitfoidiMe modes of {prammatietl eon*
structioii. W« speak of the poweis of a 8ub9Caocey of substances Aat
liaye tmtam powOTS^— <rf'tbe figofe of a body, 4xt of bodies that have a
certam figure, m the same maan^ as we speak of the stadents of a
mmenxyy or of a house that has a great number of k>dgers ; and we
thus learn to consider die power, which a substance possesses, as
aomethkig difierem fipom the substance itsdf, kihereiit in it indeed, but
inherent as sometfamg diat may yetsabMst separate^. In the ancient
phSosofrfiy, this error extended to the notions both of form and power.
bi die case of finrm, howe^r, the iUiMion, though it htsted for many
i^es, did at length tease, and no one now regards the figure of a body
as any thing but die body itself. It is probable that the illusion, with
respect to power, as something difierent fi^om the substance that is said
to possess it, would, in like manner, have ceased, and given place lo
juflter views, if it had not been for the cause, which I am next to con-
sider.

Hus cause is the imperfection of our seises. They are loo imper-
fect, to enable us to distinguish all the elements, that oo-exiat in bodies,
and of elem^Bits which we themselves unknown to us, the minute
c haiig ei ^diich take place b them, must of course be unknown. We
are hence, iitom our mcapacity of discovering these elements by our
imperfect senses and imperfect analysis, incapable of distinguishing
the whole series of external changes that occur in tiiem,— 4he whole
progressive series of antecedents and consequents in a pbenomeoon
that appears to our senses ample ; and, since it is only betwemi im-
mediate antecedents said ooDsequents, that we suppose any permanent
and innmbfe relatioo, we are tberefere constant^' on the watch, to
detect, in te uxxe obvioos changes that appear to u»in nature, some
of those nuDUler elementary changes, which we suspect to mtervene*
These minute mvisible changes, whm actually intervening, are truly
ndiat connect the obvk)us antecedents with the obvious ooosequeBts ;
and die innomeraMe discoveries, which we are constantly raakj&g of
dMse, lead us habitoafy to suppose, that amid all the voiUe changes
pappdved by us, there is sometUng ktent which Unks them together*
He who fcr the first time listens to the delightful sounds of a violin, if
he be i^iomat of the theory of sound, wfll very naturally suppose diat
Ae taucb of the strings by die bow is the cause of the melody wfai<^
lie faeais. He learns, however, that this prnnary impulse wodd be
of Iktie efltet, wiert it not for the vibraitkms excited by it in die violin
iMlf; wd Mother ^scovery, stOl more important, shows him that die



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46 OF POWfflt, CAUSE, AND SFPEOT.

vibration of the instrument wodd be of oo e&ct, if it were not finrthe
elastic medium, interposed between his ear and it. It is no longer to
the violin, therefore, that he looks, as the direct cause of the seaaatxio
of sound, but to the vibrating air ; nor will even this be long consider'
ed by him as the cause, if he turns iiis attention to the structure of the
organ of hearing. He will trace etkd after effect, tfaroogh a kng
series of complex and very wond^ul parts, till he arrive at the audii-
torjr nerve, and the whole mass of the brainy— in some uoknowo stale
of which he is at length forced to rest, as the cause or immecKaie
antecedent, of that affection of the mind, which constates the puix»-
lar sensation. To inquire into the latent causes of events is thus to
endeavour to observe changes which we suppose to be actually taking
(dace before us unobserved, very nearly in the same manner, as to
inquire into the composition of a substance is to strive to discover the
bodies that are constantly before us, without our being able to ^bsdii-
guish them.

It is quite impossible, that this constant search, and frequent detec-
tion of causes, before unknown, thus foimd to intervene between al
the phenomena observed by us, should not, by the influence c^ the
common principles of our mental constitution, at length associate,
aknost indissolubly, with the very notion of changes as perceived bjr
us, the notion of something intermediate, that as yet lies hid from our
search, and connects the parts of the series which we at present per-
ceive. This latent something, supposed to intervene between the
observed antecedent and the observed consequ^fit, beii^ Ae more
immediate antecedent of the change which we observe, is of coune
Vegarded by us as the true cause of the change, while the antecedent
actually observed by us, and known, ceases, for the same reason, to
be regarded as the cause, and a cause is hence supposed by jus to be
something very my^erious ; since we give the name, in our ima^n-
ation, to something, of the nature of which we must be ab0olutet7 %-
norant, as we are, by supposition, i^orant of its very existence.

The notion which we form of power is the same, whether it be Aaa
of created beings, or of the Creator himself. The power of God
is not any thing different from God ; but is the Almi^ty himsdf^
willing whatever seems to him good, and creating or altering all tlungs
by his very will to crei^ or alter. When we analy^ those. gre^ but
obscure ideas which rise in our mmd, while we attempt to tfamk of
the creation of thbgs, we feel, that it is still only a sequence of eveitfs
which we are con^dering, — though of events, the magnitude of which



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OF POWER, CAVm, AND EFFECT. 47

a&ows us no comparison, because it has nothing in common with those
eartbty changes which fall beneath our view. We do not see any third
drcumstance existing intermediately, and binding, as it were, the will
of ibe Omnq)0tent Creator to the tbing3 which are to be ; we conceive
only the Divine will itself, as if made visible to our imagination, and all
nature at the very moment rising around. It is evident, that in the
case of the divii^ agency, as well as in every other instance of causa-
tion, the intDoduetion of any circuiBstanoe, as a bond of closer connex-
ioD, would ooiy Amush a new phenomenon to be itself conaeded ; but
even tbou^ it were posable to conceive the closer connexion of such
a third circ^imslance, as is supposed to constitute the inexplicable
efficiency between the wffl of the Creator and the rise of the universe,
it would diminish, indeed, but it certainly cannot be supposed to
eievale, the majesty of the person, and of the scene. Our feeling of
of his omnipotence is not rendered stronger by the elevatbn of the
complicated process ; it is, on the contrary, the immediate successicMi
of the object to the desure, which impresses the force of the onmipo-
Cence on our mku) ; and it is to the divine agency, therelbre^ that the
representation of iostsmt sequence seems peculiarly suited, as if it were
more emphatically powerful. Such is the great charm of the celebrate
ed passage of (ienesis, descriptive of tli^ creatbn of light It is from
atatbg nothing more than the antecedent and consequent, that the
mi^slic simplicity of the description is derived. God speaks, and it is
done. We imagine nothing intermediate. In our highest contempla-
tkm of His power, we believe only, that, when He willed creation, a
worid arose ; and that, m all future time. His will to create cannot
exist, widKMit being followed by the instant rise into bdng of whatever
He may haive willed ; that His will to destroy any thing, will be, in
ISce maimer, followed by its non-existence ; and His will to vary the
course of thbgs, by miraculous appearances. The will is the only
aecessary previous change ; and that Being has almighty power, whose
every will is immediately and invariaUy followed by the ^existence of
itsolgect.



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48 OF mptmama and isnoitY.

CHAPTER V.

OP BTPOTHK8IS AMB THBOkT.

f

The same imperfeetioii of oar necses, irtuch, from our iocapacity oT
^soovering aU the ounute dements, and conseqtModj aH the niiniita
elemeotaiy changes, in bodies, leads us to form erroneous Dolions of
power and^^ausatioa, has tended, in like manner, to produoe a i
for ^polfteset, wfaicb, without rendering the observed
Mkj req>eot, more intriligible, ooty render them more cotaplicalad, and
increase the very difficult, which they are supposed to dimimflh*

If we suppose the intervention of some unknown cause, b cwerf
phenomenon which we perceive, we must be equally derirous of db*
covering that unknown cause, which we suppose to be inteniie&aiB ;
and, when this is not easily discoverable, we must fi^l a atrong tenden-
ey to divine what it is, and to accfuiesce, more readily than we ahondd
odierwise have done, m the ceitainQr of what we have od^ in
•—always, of course, ima^ning the cause, which seems lo have
analogy to the observed effisct.

Such is the nature of that iUusion, from ^princh the kive of faypotfae*
ses flowa,^*-«B seeming, by the mtervention of a new antecedeat, to
render more loteDi^le the sequences kA events that art obviotd^ b&>
fere us 9 — though all which is truly done, is to double die nuaaber of an*
tecedents, and, therefore, to double, instead of removing the ifidfetd^,
that is supposed to be mvolved inthecon»deration of ammfdesequeBec
of events. A stone tends to the ground ; Aat it should ^ve ihb ten-
dency, inconsequence of the mere presence of the earth, a{^»earstoiis
most wonderful ; and we think, that it would be much less woodeifid,
if we could discover the presence, though it were the mere pcescnoe,
of somethfflg else. We Aerefore, in our mind, run over every eircina*
stance anak^ous, to discover something which we may consder as
present, that may represent to our imagnaUon the cause which we
seek. The e£^t of impulse, in producing motion, we know by con-
stant experience ; and, as the motk>n, which it produces, in a particular
direction, seems analogous to the motion of the stone, in its partieukr
direction, we conceive, that the motion of a stcme, in its fall to the
earth, is rendered more intelligible, by the imagined interv^tion of some
impelfing body. The circumstances, which we d[>serve, however, are
manifestly inconsistent with the supposition of the impulse of any veiy



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OF HlfPOTHESffi AND THEORY. 4t

gross matter. The anak^ies of gross matter are accordingly excluded
from our thoughts, and we suppose the impulse to proceed from some
very subtle fluid to which we give the name of ether, or any other name,
wWch we may choose to invent for it. The hypothesb is founded, man-
ifestly, on the mere analogy of another species of motion, and which would
Account for gravitation by the impulse of some fine fluid. It is evident,
that there may be, in this way, as many hypotheses to explain a single
fact, as there have been circumstances analogous observed in all the
various phenomeha of nature. Accordingly, another 'set of philoso-
phers, instead of explaining gravitation by the analogy of hnpube, have
had recourse to another analogy, still more intimately familiar to us,. —
that of the j^enomena of life. We are able to move our limbs by our
mere votiticn. The mind, therefore, it is evident, can produce motion
in matter; and it is hence some interposed spirimal agent, which pro-
duces all the phenomena of gravitation. Every orb, in its revolution
on its axis, or in its great journey through the heavens, has, according
to this system of philosophical mythology, some peculiar genius, or di-
recting spirit, that regulates its course, in the same manner as, of old,
Ae universe itself was considered as one enormous annual, performing
its various movements by its own vital energies. It is the influence of
ihfe analogy of oibt own muscular motions, as obedient to our volition, —
together with the mistaken belief of adding greater honour to die dime
Onmipotent, — which has led a very large class of philosophers to as-
cribe every change in the universe, material or intellectual, not to the
origiDal fores^ht and arrangement merely, — the irresistible evidence of
wWdi even the impiety, that professes to question it, must secretly admit,
— ^but to the direct operation of the Creator and Sovereign of the world.

The production of muscular motion by the will, has itself given occa-
sion to innumerable specukitfons of this kind. The nerves, distributing
to the difiermt muscles, are evidendy instrumental to their contraction ;
since the destruction of the nerve puts an end to the voluntary contrac-
tion of the muscle, and consequently to the apparent modon of the
Mmb. But what is the influence that is propagated alcnig the nerve,
and in what manner is it propagated ? For explaining this most fa-
miliar of all phenomena, there is scarcely any class of phenomena in
nature, to the anafogy of which recourse has not been had, — the vibra-
tion of musical chords, — the coiling or uncoiling of springs, — the motion
of elastic fluids, — magnetism, electricity, galvanism ; and the result of so
many hypotheses, — rafter all the labour of striving to adapt them to the
phenomena, and the still greater labour of strivmg to prove them ex-

vou I. 7



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(0 OF HYPOTHESIS AND THEORY.

acdy ^apted, when they were lar from being so,— has beeo the return
to the simple fact, that mAiscular motion follows a certain state of the
nerve ; — in the same manner, as the result of all the similar labour,
that has been employed to account, as it has been termed, for gravita-
tion, has been a return to the simple fact, that, at all viable distances
observed, the bodies m nature tend toward each other.

That hypotheses^ in that vidde sense of the word which implies every
thing conjectural, are without use in philosophy, it would be absurd to
affirm, since every mquiry may, in that wide sense, be said to presup-
pose them, and must always presuppose them if the inquiry have any
object. They are of use, however, not as superseding investigation, but
as directing investigation to certain objects, — not as telling us what we
are to believe, but as pointing out to us what we are to endeavour to as-
certain. An hypothesis, in this view of it, is nothing more than a rea-
son for making one experiment or observation rather than another ; and
it is evident, that without some reason of this kind, as experiments and
observations are almost infinite, inquiry would be altogether profitless.
To make experiments at random, is not to philosophize ; it becomes
philosophy, only when the experiments are made with a certain view;
and to make them with any particular view, is to suppose the presence
of something, the operation of which they wiU tend either to prove or
disprove. When Torricelli, for example, proceeding on the observa-
tion previously made, by Galileo, with respect to the limited height to
which water could be made to rise in a pump, — ^that memorable obser-
vation, which demonstrated, at last, after so many ages of errors, what
ought not for a smgle moment to have required to be demonstrated, the
absurdity of the horror of a void ascribed to nature, — ^when, proceeding
on this memorable observation, Torricelli made his equally memorable
experiment with respect to the height of the column of merciu-y support-
ed in an inverted mbe, and found, on comparison of their specific gravi-
ties, the columns of mercury and water to be exacdy equiponderant, it is
evident that he was led to the experiment with the mercury by the sup-
position, that the rise of fluids in vacuo was occasioned by some counter-
pressure, exactly equal to the weight supported, and that the column of
mercury, therefore, should be less in height than the column of water,
in the exact inverse ratio of their specific gravities, by which the coun-
terpressure was to be sustained. To conceive the air, wliich was
then universally regarded as essentially light, to be not light but heavy,
so as to press on the fluid beneath, was at that time, to make as bold a
supposition as could be made. It was indeed, a temporary hypotheas,



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OF HYPOTHESIS AND THEORY. 61

even when it led to that experimental demonstration of the fact, which
proved it forever after not to be hypothetical.



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