Page images

When he found indeed that Gassendi, before Hobbes's works were published, had propounded and deduced from

imagination and memory are but one thing, which for divers considerations hath divers names.” (“Leviathan,' part i., ch. ii. With Hobbes's explanation of memory,' compare Descartes's—that "the pores of the brain through which the spirits before took their entrance are more easily opened to the spirits which demand re-entrance, so that, finding those pores, they make their way sooner through them than through others.")

Hobbes proceeded to show how and why “much memory, or memory of many things, is called experience;" and how and why imagination and m ory ay be either simple, as when one imagineth a man or horse which he hath seen before," or compounded, as when, from the sight of a man at one time and of a horse at another, we conceive in our mind a centaur." He pointed out also that dreams are imaginations, or memories, more or less distorted; and that when we see apparitions and visions, “fairies or walking ghosts,” we see them only through some physical disorder that stirs irregularly the organs by which, in a healthy state, true impressions come to us. Finally, “ the imagination that is raised in man or any other creature endued with the faculty of imagination, by words or other voluntary signs, is that we generally call understanding, and is common to man and beast; for a dog, by custom, will understand the call or the rating of his master, and so will many other beasts.” “That understanding which is peculiar to man is the understanding, not only his will, but his conceptions and thoughts, by the sequel and contexture of the names of things into affirmations, negations and other forms of speech.”—Leviathan,' part i., ch. ii.

On his basis of sensation, imagination and memory, Hobbes built up his theory of “the consequence or train of imagination, called, to distinguish it from discourse in words, mental discourse,” which is now known as the association of ideas. This mental discourse is at first unguided ; the thoughts are left to run in any channel that offers itself. “And yet in this wild ranging of the mind a man may ofttimes perceive the way of it, and the dependence of one thought on another. For, in a discourse of our present civil war, what could seem more impertinent than to ask, as one did, what was the value of a Roman penny? Yet the coherence to me was mani. fest enough: for the thought of the war introduced the thought of the delivering up the king to his enemies; the thought of that brought in the thought of the delivering up of Christ; and that again the thought of the

Epicurus many of the doctrines that he had learnt from Hobbes, but in a form much more to his taste, and

thirty pence, which was the price of that treason; and thence easily followed that malicious question. And all this in a moment of time: for thought is quick.” Yet more wonderful is the train of guided thought, which consists either in seeking out the causes of effects that are apparent to us, or in tracing out effects from causes under our control. Therein we use remem. brance as to the past, conjecture as to the future.

These are the limits of human understanding. “Besides sense and thoughts, and the train of thoughts, the mind of man has no other motion, though by the help of speech and method the same faculties may be improved to such a height as to distinguish men from all other living creatures. Whatsoever we imagine is finite. Therefore there is no idea or conception of anything we call infinite. No man can have in his mind an image of infinite magnitude, nor conceive infinite time, or infinite force, or infinite power. When we say anything is infinite, we signify only that we are not able to conceive the ends and bounds of the things named; having no conception of the thing, but of our own inability. And therefore the name of God is used, not to make us conceive him, for he is incomprehensible, and his greatness and power are unconceivable, but that we may honour him.”—Leviathan,' part i., ch. iii.

A few more sentences must be quoted. “ The remembrance of succession of one thing to another, that is, of what was antecedent and what consequent and what concomitant, is called an experiment; whether the same be made by us voluntarily, as when a man putteth anything into the fire to see what effect the fire will produce

or not made by us, as when we remember a fair morning after a red evening. To have had many experiments is what we call experience, which is nothing else but remembrance of what antecedents have been followed by what consequents." “ When a man hath so often observed like antecedents to be followed by like consequents, that when-, soever he seeth the antecedent he looketh again for the consequent, or when he seeth the consequent maketh account there hath been the like antecedent, then he calleth both the antecedent and the consequent signs one of another, as clouds are signs of rain to come, and rain of clouds past.” “The signs are bat conjectural; and, according as they have often or seldom failed, so their assurance is more or less, but never full and evident. Experience concludeth nothing universally."— Human Nature,' ch. iv.

upon it;

separate from the atheism that was always revolting to him, he appears to have repudiated with some unconscious injustice his debt to the first English teacher of the philosophy of experience.

Through at least sixteen years the ' Essay concerning Human Understanding' was growing in Locke's mind and in his note books. Those note books, from which a few characteristic extracts have been given in former pages, show how accurate was his statement that “it was written by incoherent parcels ; ” each new book that he read, each fresh person with whom he conversed, suggesting thoughts that he put on paper, to be afterwards refined or rejected according to the value that, on calm consideration, he found in them. From books he learnt much, from persons more; his purpose being, not to build up a metaphysical theory, but to ascertain by actual observation what were the means and methods by which ordinary people acquired knowledge and developed their thinking faculties. His theory was “imagined" in outline in 1671; he proved and elaborated it by personal observation. It can only have been in the writing out that there were “long intervals of neglect;” and he was evidently more anxious to think out than to write out his work.

Till late in life, when the entreaties of his friends prevailed with him, Locke seems never to have had any design of formally publishing his opinions to the world. He made no secrets of them. While still a young man he wrote elaborate treatises like the Essay concerning Toleration ;' and probably that essay was not the only work that he showed freely to men of influence and in public position, with the distinct purpose of guiding legislation and the national mind. But he preferred to discuss these matters with his friends, to profit by their criticisms, and to make as sure as might be that his views were sound before he ventured to persuade others to accept them. So it was even-we might say especiallywith the “Essay concerning Human Understanding.' Believing that he saw more clearly than his neighbours how the human intellect might be developed, he was anxious to bias no one-least of all ignorant readers who would be apt, if their fancy prompted them, blindly to adopt his arguments without seeing, or being able to see, what real force was in them—till he had probed them to the utmost, and subjected them to the test of experience and the searching judgment of the wisest men whom he knew.

Most persons, when they get hold of a new thought which pleases them, are either so charmed with it themselves that they unconsciously shrink from carefully weighing it by standards that might prove it false and worthless, or so eager for applause that they purposely clothe it in all the specious rhetoric at their command, and glory in the triumph, not in the truth, of their dogma. Locke cannot be placed in either category. “Those who have not thoroughly examined to the bottom all their own tenets,” he said, “must confess they are unfit to prescribe to others, and are unreasonable in imposing that as truth on other men's belief which they themselves have not searched into, nor weighed the arguments of probability on which they should receive or

“There is nobody in the commonwealth of learning,” he also said, “who does not profess himself a lover of truth; and there is not a rational creature that would not take it amiss to be thought otherwise of.

1. Concerning Human Understanding,'b. ., ch. xvi., § 4.

reject it.” 1

[ocr errors]

And yet, for all this, one may truly say that there are very few lovers of truth, for truth's sake, even amongst those who persuade themselves that they are so. How a man may know whether he be so in earnest is worth inquiry; and I think there is one unerring mark of it, namely, the not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant. Whoever goes beyond this measure of assent, it is plain, receives not the truth in the love of it-loves not truth for truth's sake—but for some other bye-end. For the evidence that any proposition is true (except such as are self-evident) lying only in the proof a man has of it, whatsoever degrees of assent he affords it beyond the degrees of that evidence, it is plain that all the surplusage of assurance is due to some other affection, and not to the love of truth; it being as impossible that the love of truth should carry my assent above the evidence there is to me that it is true, as that the love of truth should make me assent to any proposition for the sake of that evidence which it has not that it is true; which is in effect to love it as a truth because it is possible or probable that it may not be true. Whatsoever credit or authority we give to any proposition more than it receives from the principles and proofs it supports itself upon is owing to our inclinations that way, and is so far a derogation from the love of truth as such, which, as it can receive no evidence from our passions or interests, so it should receive no tincture from them. The assuming an authority of dictating to others, and a forwardness to prescribe to them opinions, is a constant concomitant of this bias and corruption of our judgments; for how at most can it be otherwise but that he should be ready to impose on another's belief who has already imposed on his own?

« PreviousContinue »