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On the law of Association-Its history traced from Aristotle to Hartley
THERE have been men in all ages, who have been impelled as by an instinct to propose their own nature as a problem, and who devote their attempts to its solution. The first step was to construct a table of distinctions, which they seem to have formed on the principle of the absence or presence of the Will. Our various sensations, perceptions, and movements were classed as active. or passive, or as media partaking of both. A still finer distinction was soon established between the voluntary and the spontaneous. In our perceptions we seem to ourselves merely passive to an external power, whether as a mirror reflecting the landscape, or as a blank canvas on which some unknown hand paints it. For it is worthy of notice, that the latter, or the system of Idealism, may be traced to sources equally remote with the former, or Materialism; and Berkeley can boast an ancestry at least as venerable as Gassendi' or Hobbes. These
[Pierre Gassendi, a philosopher whose aim it was to revive, reform, and improve the system of Epicurus, and who wrote against Des Cartes, was born in 1592, at Chantersier in Provence and died at Paris in 1656. S. C.]
2 [Thomas Hobbes was born at Malmesbury, in 1588, died 1679, aged ninety-one. His works, which are philosophical and political, moral and mathematical, and translations, are now first collected and edited by Sir Wm. Molesworth-the Latin works in five vols. 8vo. ; of the English nine vols. 8vo. have appeared. Cousin observes that the speculative philosophy of Hobbes, who was a materialist in doctrine, has not attracted as much attention as the practical. His style is very excellent, condensed, yet with all the ease and freedom of diffuse writing. It is sharp and sparkling as a diamond. Sir James Mackintosh praises it highly in his well known Dissertation on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy. He says of it; "short,
conjectures, however, concerning the mode in which our per ceptions originated, could not alter the natural difference of Things and Thoughts. In the former, the cause appeared wholly external, while in the latter, sometimes our will interfeed as the producing or determining cause, and sometimes our nature seemed to act by a mechanism of its own, without any conscious effort of the will, or even against it. Our inward experiences were thus arranged in three separate classes, the passive sense, or what the School-men call the merely receptive quality of the mind; the voluntary; and the spontaneous, which holds the middle place between both. But it is not in human nature to meditate on any mode of action, without inquiring after the law that governs it; and in the explanation of the spontaneous movements of our being, the metaphysician took the lead of the anatomist and natural philosopher. In Egypt, X Palestine, Greece, and India, the analysis of the mind had reached its noon and manhood, while experimental research was still in its dawn and infancy. For many, very many centuries, it has been difficult to advance a new truth, or even a new error, in the philosophy of the intellect or morals. With regard, however, to the laws that direct the spontaneous movements of thought and the principle of their intellectual mechanism, there exists, it has been asserted, an important exception most honorable to the moderns, and in the merit of which our own country claims the largest share. Sir James Mackintosh-(who, amid the variety of his talents and attainments, is not of less repute for the depth and accuracy of his philosophical inquiries than for the eloquence with which he is said to render their most, difficult results perspicuous, and the driest attractive),—affirmed in the Lectures, delivered by him in Lincoln's Inn Hall, that the law of association as established in the contemporaneity of the original impressions, formed the basis of all true psychology; and that any ontological or metaphysical science, not contained in such (that is, an empirical) psychology, was but a web of abstractions and generalizations. Of this prolific truth, of this clear, precise, pithy, his language never has more than one meaning, which never requires a second thought to find." See his whole character of it at p. 40. S. C.]
great fundamental law, he declared Hobbes to have been the original discoverer, while its full application to the whole intellectual system we owed to Hartley; who stood in the same relation to Hobbes as Newton to Kepler; the law of association being that to the mind, which gravitation is to matter.
Of the former clause in this assertion, as it respects the comparative merits of the ancient metaphysicians, including their commentators, the School-men, and of the modern British and French philosophers from Hobbes to Hume, Hartley, and Condillac, this is not the place to speak. So wide indeed is the chasm between Sir James Mackintosh's philosophical creed and mine, that so far from being able to join hands, we could scarcely make our voices intelligible to each other and to bridge it over would require more time, skill, and power than I believe myself to possess. But the latter clause involves for the greater part a mere question of fact and history, and the accuracy of the statement is to be tried by documents rather than reasoning.
First then, I deny Hobbes's claim in toto: for he had been anticipated by Des Cartes, whose work De Methodo preceded Hobbes's De Natura Humana, by more than a year.' But what
3 [Hobbes's Treatise," Human Nature," written by him in English, was published in 1650, although his dedication of it to the Earl of Newcastle is dated in 1640. Des Cartes (born at La Haye, in Touraine, in 1596) died in Sweden, to which country he had been called by Queen Christina, in 1650. His treatise, De Methodo, was originally written in French, and published in 1637; the Latin version, revised and augmented by Des Cartes himself, appeared in 1644. But neither the one nor the other contains anything upon the subject mentioned in the text. The incident, to which Mr Coleridge afterwards refers, as told in the De Methodo, is to be found in the Principia Philosophiæ, Part IV., s. 196 This latter work was published in 1644. But neither in the Principía is the law of the contemporaneity of impressions stated. In another and posthumous work, however, Tractatus de Homine, Part V., s. 73, Des Cartes certainly does in a short incidental paragraph, mention the fact and the ground of it:"Quinetiam notandum est, quod si tantum aliqua ejusmodi foramina recluderentur, ut A. et B. hoc unum in causa esse posset, ut etiam alia, puta C. et D. eodem tempore recludantur; præcipue si sæpius omnia simul reclusa fuissent, nec solita sint una sine aliis seorsum aperiri. Quod ostendit, quo pacto recordatio rei unius excitari possit per recordationem
is of much more importance, Hobbes builds nothing on the prin ciple which he had announced. He does not even announce it, as differing in any respect from the general laws of material motion and impact: nor was it, indeed, possible for him so to do, compatibly with his system, which was exclusively material and mechanical. Far otherwise is it with Des Cartes; greatly as he too in his after writings (and still more egregiously his followers De la Forge, and others) obscured the truth by their attempts to explain it on the theory of nervous fluids, and material configurations. But, in his interesting work, De Methodo,
alterius, quæ aliquando una cum ea memoriæ impressa fuit. Ut si videam duos oculos cum naso, continuo frontem, et os, omnesque alias faciei partes imaginor, quia assuetus non sum unas sine aliis videre. Et cum video ignem, recordor colorem ejus, quem viso igne percepi aliquando ”
That Hobbes was not the discoverer or first propounder of this law of association is, indeed, clear enough; but it does not appear that he was indebted to Des Cartes for his knowledge of it; and it must, be admitted that he states the rule with distinctness.
"The cause of the coherence or consequence of one conception to another, is their first coherence or consequence at that time when they are produced by sense." H. N., c. iv. 2. See also Leviathan, Pt. I., c. iii.
Neither is it, perhaps, quite correct to say that Hobbes builds nothing on this law. He at least clearly saw its connexion with speech.
"It is the nature almost of every corporal thing, being often moved in one and the same manner, to receive continually a greater and greater -easiness and aptitude to the same motion, insomuch as in time the same becometh so habitual, that to beget it there needs no more than to begin it. The passions of man, as they are the beginning of voluntary motions, so are they the beginning of speech, which is the motion of the tongue. And men desiring to show others the knowledge, opinions, conceptions, and passions, which are in themselves, and to that end having invented language, have by that means transferred all that discursion of their mind mentioned in the former chapter, by the motion of their tongues, into discourse of words: and ratio now is but oratio, for the most part, wherein custom hath so great a power, that the mind suggesteth only the first word; the rest follow habitually, and are not followed by the mind," &c. H. N., c. v. 14. Ed.]
[It inay well be doubted whether Mr. Coleridge is not more indulgent here to Des Cartes than the truth of the case warrants. The Tractatus de Homine is, no doubt, a part of the great Work of which he gives an account in his De Methodo, as being then written; and in it the nervous fluids and material configurations are displayed as precisely, if not as copiously, as by his commentator De la Forge himself. The "animal spirits "
Des Cartes relates the circumstance which first led him to meditate on this subject, and which since then has been often noticed and employed as an instance and illustration of the law. A child who with its eyes bandaged had lost several of his fingers by amputation, continued to complain for many days suecessively of pains, now in this joint and now in that, of the very fingers, which had been cut off. Des Cartes was led by this incident to reflect on the uncertainty with which we attribute any particular place to any inward pain or uneasiness, and proceeded after long consideration to establish it as a general law; that contemporaneous impressions, whether images or sensations, recall each other mechanically. On this principle, as a ground work, he built up the whole system of human language, as one continued process of association. He showed in what sense not only general terms, but generic images,-under the name of abstract ideas,-actually existed, and in what consist their nature and power. As one word may become the general exponent of many, so by association a simple image may represent
move mind and body. See De Hom., P. IV., s. 55, &c. See even in the De Methodo itself. Denique id quod hic super omnia observari meretur, generatio est spirituum animalium, quæ aut instar venti subtilissimi, aut potius flammæ purissimæ ; quæ continue e corde magna copia in cerebrum ascendens, inde per nervos in musculos penetrat, et omnibus membris motum dat, &c. P. 30., edit. 1664. See Spectator, No. 417. And indeed their agency is distinctly recognised in the same part of the Principia, in which the story of the child is related. Ed.]
5 [This story is told by Des Cartes in these words as one of many proofs that animam, non quatenus est in singulis membris, sed tantum quatenus est in cerebro, ea quæ corpori occidunt in singulis membris, nervorum ope sentire.
Cum puellæ cuidam, manum gravi morbo affectam habenti, velarentur oculi, quoties chirurgus accedebat, ne curationis apparatu turbaretur, eique, post aliquot dies brachium ad cubitum usque, ob gangrenam in eo serpentem, fuisset amputatam, et panni in ejus locum ita substituti, ut eo ́se privatam esse plane ignoraret, ipsa interim varios dolores, nunc in uno ejus manus quæ abscissa erat digito, nunc in alio se sentire querebatur. Quod sane aliunde contingere non poterat, quam ex eo, quod nervi, qui prius ex cerebro ad manum descendebant, tuncque in brachio juxta cubitum terminabantur, eodem modo ibi moverentur, ac prius moveri debuissent in manu, ad sensum hujus vel illius, digiti dolentis animæ in cerebro residenti imprimendum. Princ. IV., 196