Imágenes de páginas

ding to circumstances. In general, naturė leads us to rely upon the veracity of each other; and commonly the degree of reliance is proportioned to the degree of veracity. Sometimes belief approaches to certainty, as when it is founded on the evidence of perfons above exception as to veracity. Sometimes it finks to the lowest degree of probability, as when a fact is told by one who has no great reputation for truth. The nature of the fact, common or uncommon, has likewife an influence: an ordinary incident gains credit upon very flight evidence; but it requires the strongest evidence to overcome the improbability of an event that deviates from the ordinary courfe of nature. At the fame time, it must be obferved, that belief is not always founded upon rational principles. There are biaffes and weakneffes in human nature that fometimes disturb the operation, and produce belief without fufficient or proper evidence: we are difpofed to believe on very flight evidence, an interefting event, however rare or fingular, that alarms and agitates the mind; because the mind in agitation is remarkably fufceptible of impreffions; for

[ocr errors]

which reason, ftories of ghofts and apparitions pass current with the vulgar. Eloquence also has great power over the mind; and, by making deep impreffions, enforces the belief of facts upon evidence that would not be regarded in a cool mo


[ocr errors]

The dependence that our perception of real existence, and confequently belief, hath upon oral evidence, enlivens focial intercourse, and promotes fociety. But the perception of real existence has a still more extenfive influence; for from that perception is derived a great part of the entertainment we find in history, and in hiftorical fables (a). At the fame time, a perception that may be raised by fiction as well as by truth, would often mislead were we abandoned to its impulfe: but the God of nature hath provided a remedy for that evil, by erecting within the mind a tribunal, to which there lies an appeal from the rafh impreffions of fenfe. When the delufion of eloquence or of dread subfides, the perplexed mind is uncertain what to believe. A regular process commences, counfel is heard, evidence pro

(a) Elements of Criticifm, ch. 2. part 1. § 7.


duced, and a final judgement pronounced, fometimes confirming, fometimes varying, the belief impreffed upon us by the lively perception of reality. Thus, by a wife appointment of nature, intuitive belief is subjected to rational difcuffion: when confirmed by reason, it turns more vigorous and authoritative: when contradicted by reason, it disappears among fenfible people. In some instances, it is too headstrong for reafon; as in the case of hobgoblins and apparitions, which pass current among the vulgar in spite of reason.

We proceed to the other kind of belief, that which is founded on reasoning; to which, when intuition fails us, we must have recourse for afcertaining certain facts. Thus, from known effects, we infer the existence of unknown caufes. That an effect must have a caufe, is an intuitive propofition; but to afcertain what particular thing is the caufe, requires commonly a process of reasoning. This is one of the means by which the Deity, the primary caufe, is made known to us, as mentioned above. Reason, in tracing causes from known effects, produces different degrees of conviction. It sometimes produces

produces certainty, as in proving the existence of the Deity; which on that account is handled above, under the head of knowledge. For the most part it produces belief only, which, according to the ftrength of the reafoning, fometimes approaches to certainty, fometimes is fo weak as barely to turn the fcale on the fide of probability. Take the following examples of different degrees of belief founded on probable reafoning. When Inigo Jones flourished, and was the only architect of note in England; let it be fuppofed, that his model of the palace of Whitehall had been prefented to a stranger, without mentioning the author. The ftranger, in the first place, would be intuitively certain, that this was the work of fome Being, intelligent and skilful. Secondly, He would have a conviction approaching to certainty, that the operator was a man. And, thirdly, He would have a conviction that the man was Inigo Jones; but lefs firm than the former. Let us next fuppose another English architect little inferior in reputation to Jones: the stranger would still pronounce in favour of the latter; but his belief would be in the lowest degree,


In the

When we investigate the causes of certain effects, the reasoning is often founded upon the known nature of man. high country, for example, between Edinburgh and Glasgow, the people lay their coals at the end of their houses, without any fence to fecure them from theft: whence it is rationally inferred, that coals are there in plenty. In the weft of Scotland, the corn-ftacks are covered with great care and nicety: whence it is inferred, that the climate is rainy. Placentia is the capital town of Biscay: the only town in Newfoundland bears the fame name; from which circumstance it is conjectured, that the Bifcayners were the first Europeans who made a fettlement in that island.

Analogical reasoning, founded upon the uniformity of nature, is frequently employ'd in the investigation of facts; and we infer, that facts of which we are uncertain, must resemble thofe of the fame kind that are known. The reasonings in natural philofophy are moftly of that kind. Take the following examples. We learn from experience, that proceeding from the humbleft vegetable to man, there are numVOL. III. berlefs

E e

« AnteriorContinuar »