Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

variety of forms) has been in all ages maintained by the wisest and best philosophers, who, while they were anxious to vindicate the perfections of God, saw the importance of stating their doctrine in a manner not inconsistent with man's free will and moral agency.

The scheme of Optimism, on the contrary, as proposed by Leibnitz, is completely subversive of these cardinal truths. It was, indeed, viewed by the great and excellent author in a very different light; but in the judgment of the most impartial, and profound inquirers, it leads, by a short and demonstrative process, to the annihilation of all moral distinctions.*

* It is observed by Dr. Akenside, that “ the Theory of Optimism has been delivered of late, especially abroad, in a manner which subverts the freedom of human actions: whereas Plato appears very careful to preserve it, and has been in that respect imitated by the best of his followers." (Notes on the 2d Book of the Pleasures of the Imagination.)

I am perfectly aware, at the same time, that different opinions have been entertained of Plato's real sentiments on this subject; and I readily grant that passages with respect to Fate and Necessity may be collected from his works, which it would be very difficult to reconcile with any one consistent scheme. (See the Notes of Mosheim on his Latin Version of Cudworth’s Intellectual System, Tom. I. pp. 10, 310, et seq. Lugd. Batav. 1773.)

Without entering at all into this question, I may be permitted here to avail myself, for the sake of conciseness, of Plato's name to distinguish that modification of optimism which I have opposed in the text to the optimism of Leibnitz. The following sentence, in the 10th Book De Republicâ, seems sufficient of itself to authorize this liberty : 'Aprenda dádio FOTOV, V Tipeãy xaà étipec wv, Théov xai datto avrne igre airin sousvou : sos ayuítios. Virtus inviolabilis ac libera ; quam prout honorabit quis aut negliget, ita plus aut minus ex possidebit. Eligentis quidem culpa est omnis. Deus vero extra culpam..

A short abstract of the allegory'with which Leibnitz concludes his Theodicæa, will convey a clearer idea of the scope of that work, than I could hope to do by any metaphysical comment. The ground-work of this allegory is taken from a dialogue on Free-Will, written by Laurentius Valla, in opposition to Boëthius ;-in which dialogue, Sextus, the son of Tarquin the Proud, is introduced as consulting Apollo about his destiny. Apollo predicts to him that he is to violate Lucretia, and afterwards, with his family, to be expelled from Rome. (Erul inopsque cades iratâ pulsus ab urbe.) Sextus complains of the prediction, Apollo replies, that the fault is not his; that he has only the gift of seeing into futurity ; * that all things are regulated by Jupiter; and that it is to him his complaint should be addressed. (Here finishes the allegory of Valla, which Leibnitz thus continues, agreeably to his own principles.) In consequence of the advise of the Oracle, Sextus goes to Dodona to complain to Jupiter of the crime which he is destined to perpetrate. “ Why," says he,“ oh Jupiter! have you niade me wicked and miserable ? Either change my lot and my will, or admit that the fault is yours, not mine." Jupiter replies to him : “Renounce all thoughts of Rome and of the crown; be wise, and you shall be happy. If you return to Rome you are undone.” Sextus, unwilling to submit to such a sacrifice, quits the Temple, and abandons himself to his fate.

After his departure, the high priest, Theodorus, asks Jupiter why he had not given another Will to Sextus. Jupiter sends Theodorus to Athens to consult Minerva. The Goddess shows him the Palace of the Destinies, where are representations of all possible worlds,f each of them containing a Sextus Tarquinius with a different

• « Futura novi, non facio."
| World (it must be remembered) is here synonymous with Universe.

It is of great importance to attend to the distinction between these two systems; because it has, of late, become customary among sceptical writers, to confound them studiously together, in order to extend to both that ridicule to which the latter is justly entitled. This, in particular, was the case with Voltaire, who, in many parts of his later works and more especially in his Candide, has, under the pretence of exposing the extravagancies of Leibnitz, indulged his satirical raillery against the order of the universe. The success of his attempt was much aided by the confused and inaccurate manner in which the scheme of optimism had been recently stated by various writers, who, in their zeal to “ vindicate the ways of God," had been led to hazard principles more dangerous in their consequences, than the prejudices and errors which it was their aim to correct.*

Will, leading to a catastrophe more or less happy. In the last and best of these worlds, forming the summit of the pyramid composed by the others, the high priest sees Sextus go to Rome, throw everything into confusion, and violate the wife of his friend. “You see," says the Goddess of Wisdom, “ it was not my father that made Sextus wicked. He was wicked from all eternity, and he was always so in consequence of his own will.* Jupiter has only bestowed on him that existence which he could not refuse hin, in the best of all possible worlds. He only transferred him from the region of possible to that of actual beings. What great events does the crime of Sextus draw after it? The liberty of Rome-the rise of a government fertile in civil and military virtues, and of an empire destined to conquer and to civilize the earth.” Theodorus returns thanks to the goddess, and acknowledges the justice of Jupiter.

* Among this number must be included the author of the Essay on Man, who, from a want of precision in his metaphysical ideas, has unconsciously fallen into various expressions, equally inconsistent with each other and with his own avowed opinions :

“If plagues and earthquakes break not Heaven's design,
Why then a Borgia or a Cataline ?--
Who knows but He whose hand the lightning forms,
Who heaves old Ocean, and who wings the storms,
Pours fierce ambition on a Cæsar's mind,
Or turns young Ammon loose to scourge mankind ?-

[ocr errors]

-The general order, since the whole began,

Is kept in Nature, and is kept in Man." This approaches very nearly to the optimism of Leibnitz, and has certainly nothing in common with the optimism of Plato. Nor is it possible to reconcile it with the sentiments inculcated by Pope in other parts of the same poem.

“What makes all physical and moral ill ?

There deviates Nature, and here wanders Will."

*“Vides Sextum a Patre meo non fuisse factum improbum, talis quippe ab omni æternitate fuit, et quidem semper liberè ; existere tantum ei concessit Jupiter, quod ipsum profecto ejus sapientia mundo, in quo ille continebatur, denegare non poterat: ergo Sextum e regione possibilium ad rerum existentium classem transtulit."

The zeal of Leibnitz in propagating the dogma of Necessity is not easily reconcilable with the hostility which (as I have already remarked) he uniformly displays against the congenial doctrine of Materialism. Such, however, is the fact, and I believe it to be quite unprecedented in the previous history of philosophy. Spinoza himself has not pushed the argument for necessity further than Leibnitz,—the reasonings of both concluding not less forcibly against the free-will of God than against the freewill of man, and, of consequence, terminating ultimately in this proposition, that no event in the universe could possibly have been different from what has actually taken place. The distinguishing feature of this article of the Leibnitzian creed is, that, while the Hobbists and Spinozists were employing their ingenuity in connecting together Materialism and Necessity, as branches springing from one common root, Leibnitz * always speaks of the soul as a machine purely spiritual,t-a machine, however, as ne

In this last couplet he seems to admit, not only that Will may wander, but that Nature herself may deviate from the general order ; whereas the doctrine of his Universal Prayer is, that, while the material world is subjected to established laws, man is left to be the arbiter of his own destiny:

“Yet gav'st me in this dark estate

To know the good from ill,
And, binding Nature fast in fate,

Left free the human will." In the Dunciad, too, the scheme of Necessity is coupled with that of Materialism, as one of the favorite doctrines of the sect of free-thinkers.”

“Of nought so certain as our Reason still,

Of nought so doubtful as of Soul and Will.

“ Two things,” says Warburton, who professes to speak Pope's sentiments, “ the most self-evident, the existence of our souls and the freedom of our will !”

* So completely, indeed, and so mathematically linked, did Leibnitz conceive all truths, both physical and moral, to be with each other, that he represents the eternal geometrician as incessantly occupied in the solution of this problem,- The state of one Monad (or elementary'atom) being given, to determine the state, past, present, and future, of the whole universe.

* Cuncta itaque in homine certa sunt, et in antecessum determinata, uti in cæteris rebus omnibus, et anima humana est spirituale quoddam automatum.(Leib. Op. Tom. I. p. 156.)

In a note on this sentence, the editor quotes a passage from Bilfinger, a learned German, in which an attempt is made to vindicate the propriety of the phrase, by a reference to the etymology of the word automaton. This word, it is observed, when traced to its source, literally expresses something which contains within itself its principle of motion, and, consequently, it applies still more literally to Mind than to a machine. The remark, considered in a philological point of view, is indisputably just ; but is it not evident, that it leads to a conclusion precisely contrary to what this author would deduce froin it? Whatever may have been the primitive meaning of the word, its common, or rather its universal meaning, even among scientific wri

cessarily regulated by pre-ordained and immutable laws as the movements of a clock or the revolutions of the planets. In consequence of holding this language, he seemed to represent Man in a less degrading light than other necessitarians; but, in as far as such speculative tenets may be supposed to have any practical effect on human conduct, the tendency of his doctrines is not less dangerous than that of the most obnoxious systems avowed by his predecessors.*

The scheme of necessity was still farther adorned and sublimed in the Theodicæa of Leibnitz, by an imagination nurtured and trained in the school of Plato. "May there not exist,” he asks on one occasion, “ an immense space beyond the region of the stars? and may not this empyreal heaven be filled with happiness and glory? It may be conceived to resemble an ocean, where the rivers of all those created beings that are destined for bliss shall finish their course, when arrived in the starry system, at the perfection of their respective natures.” (Leib. Op. Tom. I. p. 135.)t

ters, is, a material machine, moving without any foreign impulse ; and that this was the idea annexed to it by Leibnitz, appears from his distinguishing it by the epithet spirituale,--an epithet which would have been altogether superfluous had he intended to convey the opinion ascribed to him by Bilfinger. In applying, therefore, this language to the mind, we may conclude, with confidence, that Leibnitz had no intention to contrast together mind and body, in respect of their moving or actuating principles, but only to contrast them in respect of the substances of which they are composed. In a word, he conceived both of them to be equally machines, made and wound up by the Supreme Being ; but the machinery in the one case to be material, and in the other spiritual.

* The following remark in Madame de Staël's interesting and eloquent review of German philosophy bears marks of a haste and precipitation with which her criticisms are seldom chargeable : “ Les opinions de Leibnitz tendent surtout au perfectionnement moral, s'il est vrai, comme les philosophes Allemands ont tâché de le prouver, que le libre arbitre repose sur la doctrine qui affranchit l'âme des objets extérieures, et que la vertu ne puisse exister sans la parfaite independance du vouloir."

† The celebrated Charles Bonnet in his work entitled Contemplation de la Nature, has indulged his imagination so far, in following out the above conjecture of Leibnitz, as to rival some of the wildest flights of Jacob Behmen. “Mais l'échelle de la création ne se termine point au plus élevées des mondes planétaires. Là commence un autre univers, dont l'étendue est peut-être à celle de l'univers des Fixes, ce qu'est l'espace du systeme solaire à la capacité d'une noix.

“ Là, comme des Astres resplendissans, brillent les HIERARCHIES CELESTES.

“ Là rayonnent de toutes parts les Anges, les ARCHANGES, les SERAPHINS, les CHERUBINS, les TRONES, les VERTUs, les PRINCIPAUTES, les DOMINATIONS, les PUISSANCES.

« Au centre de ses AUGUSTES SPHERES, éclate le SOLEIL DE JUSTICE, l'ORIEST D'ENHAUT, dont tous les Astres empruntent leur lumière et leur splendeur.”

"La Theodicée de Leibnitz,” the same author tells us in another passage, “ est un de mes livres de dévotion : J'ai intitulé mon Exemplaire, Manuel de Philosophie Chrétienne."

In various other instances, he rises from the deep and seemingly hopeless abyss of Fatalism, to the same lofty conceptions of the universe ; and has thus invested the most humiliating article of the atheistic creed, with an air of Platonic mysticism. The influence of his example appears to me to have contributed much to corrupt the taste and to bewilder the speculations of his countrymen; giving birth, in the last result, to that heterogeneous combination of all that is pernicious in Spinozism, with the transcendental eccentricities of a heated and exalted fancy, which, for many years past, has so deeply tinctured both their philosophy and their works of fiction.*

In other parts of Europe, the effects of the Theodicæa have not been equally unfavorable. In France, more particularly, it has furnished to the few who have cultivated with success the Philosophy of Mind, new weapons

* “ The gross appetite of Love,” says Gibbon, “becomes most dangerous when it is elevated, or rather disguised, by sentimental passion.” The remark is strikingly applicable to some of the most popular novels and dramas of Germany; and something very similar to it will be found to hold with respect to those speculative extravagancies which, in the German systems of philosophy, are elevated or disguised by the imposing cant of moral enthusiasm.

In one of Leibnitz's controversial discussions with Dr. Clarke, there is a passage which throws some light on his taste, not only in matters of science, but in judging of works of imagination. “ Du temps de M. Boyle, et d'autres excellens hommes qui fleurissoient en Angleterre sous Charles II., on n'auroit pas osé nous debiter des notions si creuses. (The notions here alluded to are those of Newton concerning the law of gravitation.) J'espère que le beau-temps reviendra sous un aussi bon gouvernement que celui d'à présent. Le capital de M. Boyle étoit d'inculquer que tout se faisoit méchaniquement dans la physique. Mais c'est un malheur des hommes, de se dégouter enfin de la raison même, et de s'ennuyer de la lumière. Les chimères commencent à revenir, et plaisent parce qu'elles ont quelque chose de merveilleux. Il arrive dans le pays philosophique ce qui est arrivé dans le pays poétique. On s'est lassé des Romans raisonnables, tel que la Clélie Françoise ou l'Aramène Allemande ; et on est revenu depuis quelque temps aux Contes des Fées." (Cinquième Ecrit de M. Leibnitz, p. 266.)

From this passage it would seem, that Leibnitz looked forward to the period, when the dreams of the Newtonian philosophy would give way to some of the exploded mechanical theories of the Universe; and when the Fairy-tales then in fashion (among which number must have been included those of Count Anthony Hamilton) would be supplanted by the revival of such reasonable Romances as the Grand Clelia. In neither of these instances does there seem to be much probability at present, that his prediction will be ever verified.

The German writers, who, of late years, have made the greatest noise among the sciolists of this country, will be found less indebted for their fame to the new lights which they have struck out, than to the unexpected and grotesque forms in which they have combined together the materials supplied by the invention of former ages, and of other nations. It is this coinbination of truth and error in their philosophical systems, and of right and wrong in their works of fiction, which has enabled them to perplex the understandings, and to unsettle the principles of so many, both in Metaphysics and Ethics. In point of profound and extensive erudition, the scholars of Germany still continue to maintain their long established superiority over the rest of

Europe.

« PoprzedniaDalej »