« PreviousContinue »
On the law of Association-Its history traced from Aristotle to Hartley.
THERE have been men in all ages, who have been impelled as by an instinct to propose their own nature as a problem, and who devote their attempts to its solution. The first step was to construct a table of distinctions, which they seem to have formed on the principle of the absence or presence of the Will. Our various sensations, perceptions, and movements were classed as active or passive, or as media partaking of both. A still finer distinction was soon established between the voluntary and the spontaneous. In our perceptions we seem to ourselves merely passive to an external power, whether as a mirror reflecting the landscape, or as a blank canvas on which some unknown hand paints it. For it is worthy of notice, that the latter, or the system of Idealism, may be traced to sources equally remote with the former, or Materialism ; and Berkeley can boast an ancestry at least as venerable as Gassendi' or Hobbes.' These
1 (Pierre Gassendi, a philosopher whose aim it was to revive, reform, and improve the system of Epicurus, and who wrote against Des Cartes, was born in 1592, at Chantersier in Provence and died at Paris in 1656. S. C.]
2 [Thomas Hobbes was born at Malmesbury, in 1588, died 1679, aged ninety-one. His works, which are philosophical and political, moral and mathematical, and translations, are now first collected and edited by Sir Wm. Molesworth-the Latin works in five vols. 8vo. ; of the English nine vols. 8vo, have appeared. Cousin observes that the speculative philosophy of Hobbes, who was a materialist in doctrine, has not attracted as much attention as the practical. His style is very excellent, condensed, yet with all the ease and freedom of diffuse writing. It is sharp and sparkling as a diamond. Sir James Mackintosh praises it highly in his well known Dissertation on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy. He says of it; “ short, conjectures, however, concerning the mode in which our perceptions originated, could not alter the natural difference of
Things and Thoughts. In the former, the cause appeared wholly external, while in the latter, sometimes our will interfered as the producing or determining cause, and sometimes our nature seemed to act by a mechanism of its own, without any conscious effort of the will, or even against it. Our inward experiences were thus arranged in three separate classes, the passive sense, or what the School-men call the merely receptive quality of the mind; the voluntary; and the spontaneous, which holds the middle place between both. But it is not in human nature to meditate on any mode of action, without inquiring after the law that governs it; and in the explanation of the spontaneous movements of our being, the metaphysician took the lead of the anatomist and natural philosopher. In Egypt, Palestine, Greece, and India, the analysis of the mind had reached its noon and manhood, while experimental research was still in its dawn and infancy. For many, very many centuries, it has been difficult to advance a new truth, or even a new error, in the philosophy of the intellect or morals. With regard, how. ever, to the laws that direct the spontaneous movements of thought and the principle of their intellectual mechanism, there exists, it has been asserted, an important exception most honorable to the moderns, and in the merit of which our own country claims the largest share. Sir James Mackintosh-(who, amid the variety of his talents and attainments, is not of less repute for the depth and accuracy of his philosophical inquiries than for the eloquence with which he is said to render their most difficult results perspicuous, and the driest attractive),—affirmed in the Lectures, delivered by him in Lincoln's Inn Hall, that the law of association as established in the contemporaneity of the original impressions, formed the basis of all true psychology ; and that any ontological or metaphysical science, not contained in such (that is, an empirical) psychology, was but a web of abstractions and generalizations. Of this prolific truth, of this clear, precise, pithy, his language never has more than one meaning, which never requires a second thought to find.” See his whole character of it at p. 40. S. C.]
great fundamental law, he declared Hobbes to have been the original discoverer, while its full application to the whole intellectual system we owed to Hartley ; who stood in the same relation to Hobbes as Newton to Kepler; the law of association being that to the mind, which gravitation is to matter.
Of the former clause in this assertion, as it respects the comparative merits of the ancient metaphysicians, including their commentators, the School-men, and of the modern British and French philosophers from Hobbes to Hume, Hartley, and Condillac, this is not the place to speak. So wide indeed is the chasm between Sir James Mackintosh's philosophical creed and mine, that so far from being able to join hands, we could scarcely make our voices intelligible to each other : and to bridge it over would require more time, skill, and power than I believe myself to possess. But the latter clause involves for the greater part a mere question of fact and history, and the accuracy of the statement is to be tried by documents rather than reasoning
First then, I deny Hobbes's claim in toto : for he had been anticipated by Des Cartes, whose work De Methodo preceded Hobbes's De Natura Humana, by more than a year.: But what
a whole class. But in truth Hobbes himself makes no claims to any discovery, and introduces this law of association, or (in his own language) discursion of mind, as an admitted fact, in the solution alone of which, and this by causes purely physiological, he arrogates any originality. His system is briefly this ;' whenever the senses are impinged on by external objects, whether by the rays of light reflected from them, or by effluxes of their finer particles, there results a correspondent motion of the innermost and subtlest organs. This motion constitutes a representation, and there remains an impression of the same, or a certain disposition to repeat the same motion. Whenever we feel several objects at the same time, the impressions that are left (or in the language of Mr. Hume, the ideas) are linked together. Whenever therefore any one of the movements, which constitute a complex impression, is renewed through the senses, the others succeed mechanically. It follows of necessity, therefore, that Hobbes, as well as Hartley and all others who derive association from the connexion and interdependence of the supposed matter, the movements of which constitute our thoughts, must have reduced all its forms to the one law of Time. But even the merit of announcing this law with philosophic precision cannot be fairly conceded to him. For the objects of any two ideas need not
6 [The Editor has never been able to find in the writings of Des Cartes anything coming up to the statement in the text. Certainly nothing of the sort follows the paragraph containing the story of the amputated hand. That Des Cartes was a Nominalist is clear from the following passage:
Et optime comprehendimus, qua pacto a varia magnitudine, figura et motu particularum unius corporis, varii motus locales in alio corpore excitentur; nullo autem modo possumus intelligere, quo pacto ab iisdem (magnitudine scilicet, figura, et motu), aliquid aliud producatur, omnino diversæ ab ipsis naturæ, quales sunt illæ formæ substantiales et qualitates reales, quas in rebus esse multi supponunt; nec etiam quo pacto postea ista qualitates aut formæ vim habeant in aliis corporibus motus locales excitandi. Princip. IV., 198. Ed.]
7 [See Human Nature. C. ii , 111. Leviathan ubi supra. Ed.]
8 I here used the word idea in Mr. Hume's sense on account of its general currency amongst the English metaphysicians; though against my own judgment, for I believe that the vague use of this word has been the cause of much error and more confusion. The word, idéa, in its original
have co-existed in the same sensation in order to become mutually associable. The same result will follow when one only of the two ideas has been represented by the senses, and the other by the memory.
sense as used by Pindar, Aristophanes, and in the Gospel of St Matthew, represented the visual abstraction of a distant object, when we see the whole without distinguishing its parts.* Plato adopted it as a technical term, and as the antithesis to sidwlov, or sensuous image; the transient and perishable emblem, or mental word, of the idea. Ideas themselves he considered as mysterious powers, living, seminal, formative, and exempt from time.t In this sense the word Idea became the property of the Platonic school; and it seldom occurs in Aristotle, without some such phrase annexed to it, as according to Plato, or as Plato says. Our English writers to the end of the reign of Charles II., or somewhat later, employed it either in the original sense, or Platonically, or in a sense nearly correspondent to our present use of the substantive Ideal ; always however opposing it, more or less, to image, whether of present or absent objects. The reader will not be displeased with the following interesting exemplification from Bishop Jeremy Taylor. “St. Lewis the King sent Ivo Bishop of Chartres on an embassy, and he told, that he met a grave and stately matron on the way with a censer of fire in one hand, and a vessel of water