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THE UTILITY OF MENTAL PHILOSOPHY. PHILOSOPHY, in the strict and highest sense, is the study of universal and fundamental principles : those primary truths which extend to all branches of knowledge ; and constitute our principles of belief, or laws of thought in the acquisition of knowledge, and grounds of obligation in the fulfilment of duty. And this explains why philosophy deals primarily with mind, and is often called mental philosophy, sometimes metaphysics, the science of first truths, and fundamental principles,)—the reason for the name mental philosophy, being, that all knowledge is related to the instrument, on the knowing mind; and hence this science is the widest and most elevated, comprehending general truths, in their relation to human nature.
It is a desecration of the term philosophy, to apply it to natural science, which forms but a narrow department of knowledge; and the same desecration is perpetrated, in the ambitious name applied to some institutions, -"Philosophical Society," when they are only homeopathic imitations of the “ British Association” for the advance of science.
We may here notice some objections to the utility of philosophy, in the sense now generally intimated. Including the laws of our mental constitution, and the general principles on which the sciences are constructed. There are two classes of phenomena, on which it has been observed, “the first are those which can be made the subject of experiment, where the substances are actually in our power, and the judgment and artifice of the enquirer, can be effectually employed to arrange and combine them, in such a way as to disclose their hidden properties and relations. The other class of phenomena, are those that occur in substances altogether beyond our reach, the order and succession of which we are generally unable to control, and as to which we can do little more than collect and record the laws by which they appear to be governed. These substances, are not the subjects of EXPERIMENT, but of OBSERVATION.
-“ It is evident indeed, that there is no direct utility, in the mere accurate observation of occurrences, which we cannot control; and that for the uses to which such observations may afterwards be applied, we are indebted, not so much to the observer, as to the person who discovered the application :” and “in the art of observation itself, no very great or fundamental improvement can be expected."
This is an attempt to shew, that mind, being a subject of observation, and not of experiment, the philosophy of mind, can not advance rapidly, nor be of much service. But first, if we admit a radical distinction, between observation and experiment; experiments themselves, are of no value, without correct observation of them, and deductions from them: and though the art of observation may not receive much improvement in mere exercise or practice, it may receive much improvement by a science of observation,-laying down those principles of evidence, and methods of discovery, which constitute thé Logic of the Inductive
* Edinburgh Review, Vol. iji.
Sciences. (As for instance, in Mill's Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive.) Secondly, though observations, may not always be directly applicable to practice; they are not of less utility; since he who next applies a principle, could not have done it, until that principle had been discovered.
Thirdly, it is a fallacy to suppose, that we gain no new power, by observing agents and laws, which we cannot control ; for we can take advantage of what is beyond our control, and make it useful, by so adapting circumstances, as that these laws shall operate in our favour. A sailor cannot raise the wind, but the observation, that certain winds arise on certain occasions, or in certain latitudes, may enable him to take advantage of these, as the trade winds, which combine observation and utility.
The same may be said of those observations, which enable us to predict a storm,—to be forewarned is to be fore armed.
So the observations of weather and climate, teach the farmer, when and what to sow; he cannot control the seasons, but can take advantage of them.
And, indeed the same is true of laws of thought; we can control no lares, but by knowing them, may use them. We do not control the heavens, but our astronomy, is the result of observation ; and the experiments in connexion therewith, have only given greater facilities of observing;
It has been further asserted, that “though our power can in no case be directly increased by observation, our knowledge may very often, be greatly extended by it. In the science of mind, however, we are inclined to suspect that this is not the case :” “all men are practically familiar with all the functions and qualities of their minds :"*" even those laws of thought, that are not so commonly stated in words, are found to regulate the practice of those who never thought of enouncing them, in an abstract proposition.” “A groom, who never heard of the association of ideas, feeds the young war-horse, to the sound of the drum; and the unphilosophical artists that tame elephants, and train dancing dogs, proceed
upon the same obvious and admitted principle.” But this does not prove that the principle is clearly understood without reflection; nor that as the result of a scientific enquiry into our nature, it may not be better known and more usefully employed.
All art precedes science; men act upon certain principles to some extent, without being aware of their nature, or of their further application. But this is never considered an objection to a science, that shall develope more fully the nature of the principles on which the art proceeds, and by which it may be improved.
A practical mechanician would receive much advantage from the science of mechanics, a deeper study of the law of forces, and their possible application : from this many improvements arise.
savage may exchange a skin for a knife, and thus exhibit a practical acquaintance with bartering; but will have made some advance, when civilization has taught him the higher principles and practices of commerce.
Political economy, explains principles on which all men act, and yet it js a real addition to knowledge; and though founded on observation of laws that everywhere occur, it is nevertheless useful, in pointing out where men by a course of regulations, go against these laws, and so incur
the penalty. No control attempted over the natural current of commerce, but teaching men how to act always in accordance with laws, which without being controlled, help those who obey them.
Indeed, we must not imagine that they who in fundamentals, admit certain truths, do always see their full applications: they often violate in the detail, what they admit in the gross.
Every man admits the law of appropriation or property, as applied to himself; but many require some further initiation into this' “ obvious and admitted principle," so far as it relates to others.
Therefore, common sense, notwithstanding it goes to a certain extent, upon the principles which found any science, may be improved and enlarged, by a more systematio view of universally admitted principles.
speaking of the decay of mental studies, it has been said," the principles of association in education, and the generation and consequences of habits in all periods of life, have been rendered so clear and familiar, as rules of practical utility, that few persons think it necessary to examine minutely into that fine philosophy, by which they may have been at first suggested or brought into notice."*
Here then it appears, that even the doctrine of association, which it was so needless to teach the bear dancer, is by this same useless philosophy of observation, brought out clearly, and applied to the business of education. And if it can affect education, it must affect the whole circle of human advancement. Nor is mental philosophy the only subject with the results of which, many are satisfied, whilst they decry the enquiry itself.
It is further asserted, “ that all the principles of our nature, which are capable of any useful application, have forced themselves on general observation, many years ago, and can now receive little more than technical nomenclature and description, from the best efforts of philosophy.”
We have already seen, that in this empirical way, principles are known and noticed, but very imperfectly: and require a scientific treatment, for further development and use. "And even this additional objection, that philosophy can only fix names and definitions; this is a great advance in knowledge, or a facility for advancing; since names or words are vehicles of thought, and help to give fixedness and definiteness to our ideas; they are like handles, by which we can take hold of things readily, and use them with more ease : and thus the words CONSCIENCE, IMAGINATION, REASON, convey definite knowledge, and give prominence to certain parts of our mental constitution. Without these technical names, we should find a difficulty in thinking, and an impossibility in speaking of mind.
Wipe out all the names from botany, and see what science would be left: or blot out human language, and how much knowledge should we have? Words and names, (language in general,) stand in the same relation to knowledge, as money, or a circulating medium to property. And therefore, false names, are as dangerous as base coin.
Finally, it is asserted, that philosophy has made no progress,--that whilst the natural science of antiquity is mere childishness and dotage” _"their logicians, metaphysicians and moralists, are very nearly on a
* Ed, Review, Vol. xvii.
level with those of the present day.” And yet the same anthority, gives as a reason for the decline of mental philosophy, the following. destruction of ancient errors, has hitherto constituted so large a part of the task of modern philosophers, that they may be said to have been employed rather in throwing down than in building up." How then can they be on a level with the ancients, until they are thrown down themselves ?
Nay, the same writer admits, that by the aid of philosophy, Mr. Stewart in his Philosophical Essays, has refuted the errors of Horne Tooke, who founded on philology, certain theories, looking for truth in language, etymologically analyzed. “In exposing and refuting the manifold errors, that are implied in these positions, Mr. Stewart has presented us with the finest specimens we have anywhere met with,-of clear and profound reasoning, --full and satisfactory elucidation."
Nay, further, we may retort this charge of barrenness, and want of progress; by the assertion, that the progress of physics, has resulted from improved metaphysics,--from bringing the philosophy of mind to bear on questions of natural science :-improving the methods of enquiry.
Bacon, the founder of modern improvements in natural science, began by improving the mental science of those who make such enquiries their pursuit. “Before laying down the rules to be observed in this inductive process," says Playfair in his Dissertation of Mathematical and Physical Science, “ Bacon proceeds to enumerate the causes of error,—the Idols as he terms them, in his figurative language, or false divinities, to which the mind had so long been accustomed to bow. He considered this enumeration as the more necessary (because) that the same idols were likely to return, even after the reformation of science, and avail themselves of the real discoveries that might have been made, for giving a colour to their deceptions.
These Idols he divides into four classes, to which he gives names, fantastical no doubt, but at the same time abundantly significant.
1. Idola Tribus, Idols of the Tribe ;
1st. Those common misapprehensions to which the race of man is liable; the mind being “not like a plain mirror, which reflects the images of things exactly as they are; but one of an uneven surface, which combines its own figure with that of the object it represents." This is Bacon's illustration of the first wrong tendency: and under this, is generally placed, the disposition to jump at conclusions, from hasty generalizations; called sometimes the spirit of the system.
2. The Idols of the Den; questionable tendencies, arising from the peculiarity of individual tastes and pursuits.
3. Idols of the Forum, or Market-place; arising from association, and the misapplications of figurative words.
4. Idols of the Theatre; arising from the warping influence of theories already on the stage. Thus improvements in natural science, have resulted from improvents in mental philosophy, on which the principles of investigation are founded.
Health Made Easy for the People; or, Physical Training, to make their lives in
this world, long and happy. By JOSEPH BENTLEY. London : Simpkin, Mar
shall & Co. This work has enjoyed much popular favour, this being the sixth five thousand-edition. It is simple and popular in style, and practical in its character; and succeeds in making plain to the simplest understanding, the science of diet, air, exercise, and cleanliness. In explaining the mechanism of the human frame, it constantly recognizes the Being by whom we are fearfully and wonderfully made. One part of the work, however, we could wish had not been written, or written on somewhat different principles : we refer to the confusion of physical and mental training, as though they were identical. Undoubtedly bodily weakness, lassitude, and pain, tend to incommode and impede the mind; yet the health of the one, is not necessarily the health of the other. But the writer shall speak for himself.
“On the improvability of our Mental and Moral powers, lesson xviii." he observes to the readers :-“You see here, how necessary it is for the moral sense of right and wrong to step in and forbid such indulgences, with most resolute firmness : keep constantly in mind, the fact, that every time you indulge these feelings, they become more difficult to subdue, for two reasons depending on the same law. The passions become stronger, from the exercise you give them ; while the moral power which should keep them in check is weaker from not being duly exercised.
You will be able to form a more clear idea of the growing, and strengthening of the brain, and the wise provision that is made to admit of this being done to a very great extent in youth, if you work it well in school, and during divine service, by looking at Fig. 14, which shows the back part of the cranium or skull. The jagged lines or sutures, mark its three divisions during infancy, childhood, and youth; and you may see some of the divisions in the brow, by looking at Fig. 9, page 56.
When the whole powers of the mind and brain of a child, or young person, are duly and properly exercised constantly, to the extent its constitution will bear, a vigorous, healthy flow of blood ascends to aid the action of the brain, and its several parts, and promote their growth. This swelling out, so to speak of the brain, causes it to press the inner sides of the skull ; which being, as you see, in three parts, can yield to this pressure from within ; and growing larger at the edges, as well as in other parts, can easily accommodate self to your comm ds, either 'to enlarge very fast or very slowly, during youth.
But in after life, all those divisions join, and the eight pieces of the skull become one bone ; when it is with very great difficulty any further growth of the BRAIN takes place; though the activity and vigour of our mental faculties may be greatly increased by persevering culture, during the middle period of life. If you duly develope the whole brain while you are young, by a constant exercise of the intellectual, moral, and spiritual powers, and keep the animal feelings and passions under the control and guidance of those highest faculties, you do well.
If, on the contrary, you should unfortunately not do this, or what is worse, indulge your animal feelings and passions to excess, and neglect all the high and delight-giving endowments of your mind, your case will be bad indeed, when you are grown up.”
Without entering into the controversy suggested by these observations, we would simply enquire of Mr. Bentley, what advantage, in force and clearness, is gained by a reference to the head at all? Has the learner any better idea of the fact, that conscience and reason and memory become more efficient by exercise, from looking at the open sutures of the skull? Is not the fact known, without such reference, and would not the mind improve by its proper exercise, if the skull were never thought of ? Instead, therefore, of describing the flow of blood to the brain, increasing its growth, might he