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OF REASON, AND THE EXTREMES OF OPINION RESPECTING IT-ITS EXTENT OR USES, AND LIMITATION OR INSUFFICIENCY.
Of Reason, and the extremes of opinion respecting it.
REASON is a term, as I before remarked, comprehensive in its meaning; and when we consider it as including the whole rational and moral powers which distinguish man from the brute, it takes in more than can strictly be allowed.* It may be proper, therefore, to show, not only, positively, what Reason, in its fair legitimate acceptation, can do; but negatively, what it can not do. In this way we shall have a more distinct notion, both of its value and its insufficiency,in other words, of its extent and its limitation.
It is a fact to be lamented, that some assertors of its dignity or usefulness, have given it all power and
"Man is more distinguished by devotion than by reason, as several brute crcatures discover something like reason, though they betray not any thing that bears the least affinity to devotion."
supremacy in the human mind; and, on the contrary, some assertors of its insufficiency have spoken of the necessity of putting out its light, in order that a better might be substituted in its place.
Now, it is clear, that both these extremes may lead to error. We cannot consistently imagine that it is possible for Reason to inform us, what is done in Heaven; nor that a divine principle, governing our eternal interests, should supersede our temporal faculties and wants on earth.
If Reason, therefore, cannot do all that its professed advocates would have it do, let us not underrate its powers, and overlook its, real uses: if it can do more than the apostles of a wild fanaticism and bigotry will admit, we must not bring down, as from its holy seat in the temple of the heart, into every secular act appointed to reason and sense, a superior principle designed for the highest spiritual offices of an immortal soul.
To favour the one class, we must not exalt too high the faculty of reason, by deprecating the necessity and ridiculing the supposition of superior help to so frail a being as man: nor must we depress it too low, by claiming the immediate guardianship of Heaven, the pointings of the divine finger, in every step we are to take in the daily walks of life. How needful it is that the golden mean should be preserved! Whoever presumes that he may direct his own steps, and that he has no need of Providence for his guide, is in danger of the precipice that lies in the way of high
minded arrogance and short-sighted practical impiety: whoever closes his outward senses when he may perceive, and refuses to exercise the rational powers his Maker has given him, when he may understand, (in expectation that, in this passive state, miracles will be wrought for his deliverance) like one wilfully blindfolded, may also fall into the snare of temptation. For he also presumes on the other side, tempting Providence and resting on divine protection, whilst he is neglecting earthly concerns, as if already translated to Heaven.
Let the errors of the one preserve us from a wayward enthusiasm, in which reason is taken captive in wild delusions; and the errors of the other equally guard us from the dark counsels which lead to the desolating abyss of scepticism. There surely is a mean a safe and middle path. And, because human nature is liable to the first error, let us not therefore slide into the second; nor, because we are liable to the second, let us too rashly conclude, that man is left wholly to himself, and suppose that an instinctive, unflattering, superior, and supernatural Guide, leading into paths of moderation and sound discretion, is nothing but a chimæra of the brain, the offspring of bewildered fancies, and, never, in this day of reason's boasted ascendancy, vouchsafed to the human mind.
Uses of Reason.
Let us now proceed to follow up the inquiry respecting the immediate uses to which reason exclusively is subservient.
And I may premise that we may place it at the head of all those intellectual powers that take cognizance of outward events, and suppose their cooperation, as perception, attention, memory, association,* &c. We may lawfully admit that by this noble faculty, which, according to the exercise we give it, determines our several stations, not to say our destiny in life, and fixes our allotments, as it were, for ourselves, man is enabled to treasure up knowledge of the past and to profit by the lights of experience. It enables him, by art and skill, to combine means with wonderful precision, for the attainment of certain ends; to provide with sagacious foresight for the
"For know that in the soul
future by observation of the past; and to adapt his conduct to climate and season, and to endless changes in his outward situation. It enables him to subject even the elements to his use,-fire, air, water, minerals, and metals; to discover their properties and various relations; and even to ascertain with mathematical certainty the laws and complicated movements of some of the heavenly bodies. By Reason also he tames the natural fierceness of brutes, and makes them obedient to his service.
Moreover, by the native strength and unassisted light of Reason, man may be enabled to discover the rules of a wise and consistent conduct; because experience proves that immorality entails misery and disgrace both to individuals and to society; and nothing is more certain than that the devoted slave of appetite and passion is degraded below the brute.. Reason, unquestionably, must be considered that instrument of the understanding, without which the knowledge of external relations could never be obtained, except by inspiration. For, though the outward senses might discover the qualities of things as they do to brute animals; and though they are necessary ministers to reason; yet the latter alone can search into, and compare; trace analogies, and arrange; observe the consequences of actions; and deduce the laws and principles of events. Hence it must be considered the founder and builder of human knowledge. For, no other power can lay the materials in order, select, and fit them in their places,