Scottish Philosopher and Mathematician
Scottish Philosopher and Mathematician
An uncommon degree of imagination constitutes poetical genius.
Casuistry is the department of ethics, the great object of which is to lay down rules or canons for directing how to act wherever there is any room for doubt or hesitation.
For the attainment of correctness and purity in the use of words, the rules of grammarians and critics may be a sufficient guide; but it is not in the works of this class of authors that the higher beauties of style are to be studied. As the air and manner of a gentleman can be acquired only by living habitually in the best society, so grace in composition must be attained by an habitual acquaintance with classical writers. It is, indeed, necessary for our information that we should peruse occasionally many books which have no merit in point of expression; but I believe it to be extremely useful to all literary men to counteract the effect of this miscellaneous reading by maintaining a constant and familiar acquaintance with a few of the most faultless models which the language affords. For want of some standard of this sort we frequently see an authorâ€™s taste in writing alter much to the worse, in the course of his life; and his later productions fall below the level of his early essays. Dâ€™Alembert tells us that Voltaire had always lying on his table the Petit CarÃ©me of Massillon and the tragedies of Racine; the former to fix his taste in prose composition, and the latter in poetry.
Inclination is another word with which will is frequently confounded. Thus, when the apothecary says, in Romeo and Juliet,â€” â€œMy poverty, but not my will, consents; Take this and drink it off; the work is done.â€ the word will is plainly used as synonymous with inclination; not in the strict logical sense, as the immediate antecedent of action. It is with the same latitude that the word is used in common conversation, when we think of doing a thing which duty prescribes, against oneâ€™s own will; or when we speak of doing a thing willingly or unwillingly.
It appears, therefore, that improvements in the arts are properly called inventions.
It is commonly supposed that genius is seldom united with a very tenacious memory. So far, however, as my own observation has reached, I can scarcely recollect one person who possesses the former of these qualities, without a more than ordinary share of the latter. On a superficial view of the subject, indeed, the common opinion has some appearance of truth; for we are naturally led, in consequence of the topics about which conversation is usually employed, to estimate the extent of memory by the impression which trivial occurrences make upon it; and these in general escape the recollection of a man of ability, not because he is unable to retain them, but because he does not attend to them.
It is necessary to form a distinct notion of what is meant by the word volition in order to understand the import of the word will; for this last word expresses the power of mind of which volition is the act.
It ought not to be the leading object of any one to become an eminent metaphysician, mathematician, or poet, but to render himself happy as an individual, and an agreeable, a respectable, and a useful member of society.
Mr. Hume sometimes employs (after the manner of the French metaphysicians) sentiment as synonymous with feeling,â€”a use of the word quite unprecedented in our tongue.
That the principle of self-love (or, in other words, the desire of happiness) is neither an object of approbation nor of blame is sufficiently obvious. It is inseparable from the nature of man as a rational and a sensitive being.
The business of conception is to present us with an exact transcript of what we have felt or perceived. But we have, moreover, a power of modifying our conceptions, by combining the parts of different ones together, so as to form new wholes of our own creation. I shall employ the word imagination to express this power, and I apprehend that this is the proper sense of the word, if imagination be the power which gives birth to the productions of the poet and the painter. The operations of imagination are by no means confined to the materials which conception furnishes, but may be equally employed about all the subjects of our knowledge.
The consequence has been (in too many physical systems), to level the study of nature, in point of moral interest, with the investigations of the algebraist.
The word sentiment, agreeably to the use made of the word by our best English writers, expresses, in my own opinion, very happily, those complex determinations of the mind which result from the co-operation of our entire rational powers and of our moral feelings.
The word will, however, is not always used in this its proper acceptation, but is frequently substituted for volition, as when I say that my hand moves in obedience to my will.
When by comparing a number of cases agreeing in some circumstances, but differing in others, and all attended with the same result, a philosopher connects, as a general law of nature, the event with its physical cause, he is said to proceed according to the method of induction.
The word reason itself is far from being precise in its meaning. In common and popular discourse it denotes the power by which we distinguish truth from falsehood, and right from wrong, and by which we are enabled to combine means for the attainment of particular ends…. Reason is sometimes used to express the whole of those powers which elevate man above the brutes, and constitute his rational nature, more especially, perhaps, his intellectual powers; sometimes to express the power of deduction or argumentation.
Nothing, in truth, has such a tendency to weaken not only the powers of invention, but the intellectual powers in general, as a habit of extensive and various reading without reflection. The activity and force of mind are gradually impaired in consequence of disuse; and, not infrequently, all our principles and opinions come to be lost in the infinite multiplicity and discordancy of our acquired ideas.
The faculty of imagination is the great spring of human activity, and the principal source of human improvement. As it delights in presenting to the mind scenes and characters more perfect than those which we are acquainted with, it prevents us from ever being completely satisfied with our present condition or with our past attainments, and engages us continually in the pursuit of some untried enjoyment, or of some ideal excellence. Hence the ardour of the selfish to better their fortunes, and to add to their personal accomplishments; and hence the zeal of the patriot and philosopher to advance the virtue and the happiness of the human race. Destroy this faculty, and the condition of man will become as stationary as that of the brutes.
What we call good sense in the conduct of life consists chiefly in that temper of mind which enables its possessor to view at all times, with perfect coolness and accuracy, all the various circumstances of his situation: so that each of them may produce its due impression on him, without any exaggeration arising from his own peculiar habits. But to a man of an ill-regulated imagination, external circumstances only serve as hints to excite his own thoughts, and the conduct he pursues has in general far less reference to his real situation than to some imaginary one in which he conceives himself to be placed: in consequence of which, while he appears to himself to be acting with the most perfect wisdom and consistency, he may frequently exhibit to others all the appearances of folly.
Every breach of veracity indicates some latent vice, or some criminal intention, which the individual is ashamed to avow.
Every man has some peculiar train of thought which he falls back upon when he is alone. This, to a great degree, moulds the man.
There are very few original thinkers in the world; the greatest part of those who are called philosophers have adopted the opinions of some who went before them.
The faculty of imagination is the great spring of human activity, and the principal source of human improvement. As it delights in presenting to the mind scenes and characters more perfect than those which we are acquainted with, it prevents us from ever being completely satisfied with our present condition, or with our past attainments, and engages us continually in the pursuit of some untried enjoyment, or of some ideal excellence. Destroy this faculty, and the condition of man will become as stationary as that of the brutes.