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there are a few remarks in the earliest pieces, which I should now be willing to qualify, or to state with considerable limitations. Study and reflection on such subjects would be profitless, if, after a consider-. able lapse of time, they had produced no modification of opinion. In speculative philosophy, no one should ever cease to be a learner. But on all the important topics, which are here considered, farther labor and inquiry have only confirmed the writer in his views, and slight alterations it seemed hardly advisable to make, when time could not be spared for writing the whole work anew, and digesting it into a regular treatise. These articles, therefore, should be regarded as imperfect essays, -as the fruits of rather desultory studies in a favorite branch of inquiry, which I once hoped to pursue with more care and method, though circumstances have now made it necessary to exchange them for other pursuits.
The first essay was written only five years ago, but some of the anticipations expressed in it are already verified. The exclusive study and admiration of some foreign models, the effect of which was then visible only in the fantastic manner and garb assumed by certain writers, to which the criticism was chiefly directed, have now begun to modify opinions, and to excite controversy on subjects of great interest. Abstract speculations, when confined to the proper objects of philosophical inquiry, do not attract much notice; but they acquire importance, and excite the attention of all reflecting persons, when they are made to bear on the vital principles of moral and religious truth. It becomes a duty, then, not only to watch them in their results, but to trace them to their sources, and to ascertain whether the
fountain is pure, the waters of which are conducted to the homes of men, and must serve either to impart health and strength, or to create and nourish disease. Philosophers have availed themselves of the intimate relation which exists between religious truth and their own objects of study, to gain an audience from persons, who would otherwise feel little interest in their researches. They must not complain, therefore, if the process is reversed; if their own theories are sometimes viewed only in their religious aspect, and are taken or rejected, according as they lead to sound or erroneous opinions in theology. If metaphysics are made a test of the truth of Christianity, it is but equal justice to make Christianity a test of the correctness of metaphysics.
When M. de Tocqueville, in his work upon the influence of democracy on the opinions, manners, and social condition of the people of this country, deemed it necessary to devote one chapter to a consideration of the philosophical method of the Americans, he was obliged to confess, that there was no country in the civilized world, where they cared less about philosophy, than in the United States. The observations on which his remarks were founded, were taken some years since, and at that time, perhaps, the state of opinions justified the assertion to its full extent. It would need to be qualified somewhat at the present day. But the traveller deserves great credit for his sagacity in detecting those features in the social and intellectual condition of the people, which led him to remark on their fondness for general ideas, and their aptitude for embracing a particular system in philosophy, if it should ever be brought to their notice. He might have modified his first remark,
therefore, by anticipating a time when philosophical studies would become a favorite pursuit among a certain class of our countrymen. No attentive observer can be ignorant of the fact, that such studies have acquired favor very rapidly of late, so that it may not appear too sanguine to believe, that a philosophical school will ultimately be established in this country, with a character quite distinctive, as that which belongs to the philosophy of England, France, and Germany. The collegiate course of instruction in metaphysics is improved and enlarged. The latest European writers on the subject are eagerly studied, and translations and reprints of a few of their works are published, and find a ready sale. The effects of the prevalence of such a taste are already perceptible in the conduct of the religious, and some of the political controversies of the day.
We might attribute this philosophical movement, - if we may give it such a name, to local and temporary causes, if there were not some features in the character and condition of the people, which would seem to promise it a great extension and a permanent influence. As M. de Tocqueville has clearly shown, a love of theories and abstract speculations is fostered by the democratic character of our institutions. We are eminently a theorizing people. No traditional opinions, no hereditary prejudices of classes and families can here exist, to fetter the wide range of thought. Each individual is but a unit among a multitude of equals, and the conclusions which he forms for himself, he is tempted to apply to all around him, because none are separated from him by any strongly marked line of station, power, or acquifements. He generalizes rapidly, and his common
discourse often consists in great measure of abstractions. When he thinks most about his own rights, he talks most about the rights of the people. This disposition to take wide and sweeping views, is strengthened by the necessity, which the possession of a vote imposes upon him, of forming some opinion upon nearly all political topics. To reason from facts in matters of legislation and government, to correct the aberrations of theory by the slow inductions of experience, to limit the application of a rule by the particular circumstances of a single case, is a protracted and difficult task. We are too busy and active a people, to give time and labor to such an undertaking. But general principles are soon stated and easily learned. By their aid, the most complicated and difficult questions are quickly settled, and any person will run the risk of applying them, since the consequences of the measure are not to affect him alone, but will fall upon the community, of which he is only a part, and such a small part too, that he fancies his share of the evil will be very small. Hence, there is great readiness among us for the discussion of general principles, and every person feels quite able to settle them for himself; but in the management of his private concerns, he will often ask the advice of another, and in all cases directly affecting an individual, he is slow to form an opinion, and distrustful of his own competency to direct. Few will venture to advise an experienced merchant about the conduct of a particular adventure, or an old farmer about the cultivation of a single field; but all are able to decide questions of legislation, which are to affect the whole commerce and agriculture of the country, because the decision here seems
to depend only on general principles. As all doubts respecting the great subjects of foreign and internal policy may be determined with such facility, by the aid of a few abstract ideas and sweeping generalizations, no wonder that the government itself has silently been altered, and that the legislative power is no longer exercised in the mode contemplated by the founders of the constitution. The theory of a representative government is, that the body of the people, having neither the leisure nor the ability to frame laws for themselves, should delegate this power to a few individuals selected for the purpose, and confide the affairs of state to their wisdom and integrity, always holding them responsible for a breach of the trust. But the temptation to exercise the legislative power directly is so strong, and all doubts respecting the proper policy are so quickly determined by a few general truths, that the real business of the country is now transacted, not in the halls of legislation, but in the primary assemblies of the people. Legislators are chosen, not in respect to their character and talents, but to the soundness of their principles; and they are sent to the capitol, not to debate and decide among themselves, but to register the will of their constituents. At the most, only the details of legislation are confided to their discretion.
It is not extravagant to suppose, that philosophical systems may come to be a favorite object of study among a people, who are so familiar with abstract reasoning and broad generalizations. General principles in politics do not differ so widely from the axioms of the metaphysician, that the transition from the one class to the other is a very difficult one. The habit of mind, which is created by long familiarity