« PreviousContinue »
ticism. To do good to mankind, by enforcing virtue, illustrating truth, and vindicating liberty, was his sincere purpose: and he did not labour in vain. But candour obliges me to remark, that some of his tenets seem to be too rashly admitted, for the sake of a favourite hypothesis. That some of them have promoted scepticism is undeniable. He seems, indeed to have been sensible that there were inaccuracies in his work.”—" The first book of his Essay, which with submission, I think the worst, tends to establish this dangerous doctrine, that the human mind, previous to education and habit, is as susceptible of any one impression as of any other; a doctrine which if true, would go near to prove that truth and virtue are no better than human contrivances; or at least that they have nothing permanent in their nature, but may be as changeable as the inclinations and capacities of men. Surely this is not the doctrine that Locke meant to establish; but his zeal against innate ideas, and innate principles, put him off his guard, and made him allow too little to instinct for fear of allowing too much.*
"Sensation and Reflexion," in the words of Dr. Price," have been commonly reckoned the sources of all our ideas; and Mr. Locke has taken no small
* Essay on Truth, part 2, chap. 2, p. 137.
Beattie adds," Locke's discourse against innate ideas and principles, is too metaphysical. Some of his notions on that subject are, I believe, right; but he has not explained them with his wonted precision; and most of his arguments are founded in an ambiguous acceptation of the words idea and innate."+
+ Essay on Truth, part 3 chap. 2, p. 247.
pains to prove this. How much, soever, on the whole, I admire his excellent Essay, I cannot think him sufficiently clear or explicit on this head." "Nor does there seem to be any thing necessary to convince a person, that all our ideas are not deducible from sensation and reflexion-except taken in a very large and comprehensive sense, besides considering, how Mr. Locke derives from them our moral ideas." "It is undoubted that this great man would have detested the consequences (deducible from this system); and, indeed it is sufficiently evident, that he was strangely embarrassed, and inconsistent in his notions on this, as well as some other subjects."+
In regard to the question of a moral faculty, on which he dissents from Locke, Dr. Rush modestly states; "The only apology I shall make for presuming to differ from that justly celebrated oracle Mr. Locke (who has confounded the moral principle with Reason) shall be, that the eagle-eye of Genius often darts its views beyond the notice of facts, which are accommodated to the slender organs of percep tion of men, who possess no other talent than that of observation."+
Review of the principal questions in Morals, by Dr. Price, p. 18. + Ibid. p. 63.
See Influence of physical causes on the Moral Faculty. Bishop Berkley observes that "if any one were able to introduce the general idea of a triangle into the mind, it would be the author of the Essay on Human Understanding. He who has so far distinguished himself from the generality of writers by the clearness and significancy of what he says. But that it is made up of manifest staring contradic
It will be generally admitted that Dr. Watts was distinguished for exemplary moderation in all that he wrote on controversial subjects. This candid and judicious author states-" There has been a great controversy about the origin of ideas, namely, whether of our ideas are innate or no, that is, born with us, and naturally belonging to our minds. Mr. Locke utterly denies it; others as positively affirm it." Dr. Watts implies that "the controversy may be compromised, by allowing that there is a sense, wherein our first ideas of some things may be said to be innate;" and he adds, "though Mr. Locke supposes sensation and reflexion to be the only two springs of all ideas; yet abstraction is certainly a different act of the mind. Nor can I think Mr. Locke himself would deny my representation of the original of abstracted ideas, nor forbid them to stand for a distinct species."*
In his philosophical Essays Dr. Watts thus expresses himself, "There are many admirable chapters in the Essay of Human Understanding, and many truths in them, which are worthy of letters of gold. But there are some opinions in his philosophy especially relating to intelligent beings, their powers operations, which have not gained my assent."..."His writings relating to Christianity have some excellent
tions." He adds, "That a man who thought so much, and laid so great stress on clear and determinate ideas, should nevertheless talk at this rate, seems very surprising." New Theory of Vision.
* See Logic, part 1, chap. 3, sect. 1.
thoughts in them, though 1 fear he has sunk some of the divine themes and glories of that dispensation too much below their original design."
In reference to the last remark I may add, that amongst thinking men, the most ready and effectual way to acquire the submission of Faith has generally been by a smooth and easy passage from the outworks of Reason. If Faith imposes nothing more than what may be ingeniously reconciled to the outward views of Reason, the assent of the latter is easily gained; but when many difficulties are started, and a formidable barrier is thus raised between them, the contest is long and arduous; even miracles themselves are slighted, and the strong hold of Reason seldom is abandoned. On the other hand, if "the wise and prudent of this world" can please them selves with the notion that what are mysteries to the common mass are brought down to their own comprehension; and mountains are removed and crooked things made straight by their Reason not their Faith; then Reason and Revelation are said to go hand in hand; and the natural pride of the human understanding is made to agree (if it be possible for it to agree) with the simplicity and meekness of Revealed Truth.
A system, therefore, like that of Locke, which attempts to exalt the human mind to an adequate comprehension of divine mysteries, and to bring them down, as it were, to its own level, must needs have
* Philosophical Essays by Dr. Watts.
ready access to the closet of the speculative Christian. If Reason is rightly proclaimed to be "our last judge and guide in every thing," whatever there be of faith and doctrine and mystery, difficult to be understood, must undergo narrow scrutiny; and they who know how jealously Reason maintains its authority against every thing short of formal demonstration, will be at no loss to determine how such difficulties are likely to be settled. We must indeed admit, that, seeing mankind are prone to extremes, and the best things liable to abuse, therefore a check ought to be devised, by which extravagance and error may be prevented. It must also be admitted, that the system of Locke is well calculated to repress the wildness of enthusiasm ; and at the time he wrote, there were many pretenders to divine illumination. But it is equally clear, that what checks exuberance may also check the kindly growth of what is good. And there is cause to fear that some of Locke's principles have had the latter effect. He that plucks up the tares should take heed that he root not up the grain likewise.