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Initiation Into Philosophy
The English Philosophers of the Eighteenth Century
by Faguet, Émile


Berkeley: Highly Idealist Philosophy which Regarded Matter as Non-existent. David Hume: Sceptical Philosophy. The Scottish School: Common Sense Philosophy.
BERKELEY.--To the "sensualist" Locke succeeded Berkeley, the unrestrained "idealist," like him an Englishman. He began to write when very young, continued to write until he was sixty, and died at sixty-eight. He believed neither in matter nor in the external world. There was the whole of his philosophy. Why did he not believe in them? Because all thinkers are agreed that we cannot know whether we see the external world as it is Then, if we do not know it, why do we affirm that it exists? We know nothing about it. Now we ought to build up the world only with what we know of it, and to do otherwise is not philosophy but yielding to imagination. What is it that we know of the world? Our ideas, and nothing but our ideas. Very well then, let us say: there are only ideas. But whence do these ideas come to us? To explain them as coming from the external world which we have never seen is to explain obscurity by denser darkness. They are spiritual, they come to us without doubt from a spirit, from God. This is possible, it is not illogical, and Berkeley believes it.

This doctrine regarded by the eyes of common sense may appear a mere phantasy; but Berkeley saw in it many things of high importance and great use. If you believe in matter, you can believe in matter only, and that is materialism with its moral consequences, which are immoral; if you believe in matter and in God, you are so hampered by this dualism that you do not know how to separate nature from God, and it therefore comes to pass that you see God in matter, which is called pantheism. In a word, between us and God Berkeley has suppressed matter in order that we should come, as it were, into direct contact with God. He derives much from Malebranche, and it may be said he only pushes his theories to their extreme. Although a bishop, he was not checked, like Descartes, by the idea of God not being able to deceive us, and he answered that God does not deceive us, that He gives us ideas and that it is we who deceive ourselves by attributing them to any other origin than to Him; nor was he checked, like Malebranche, by the authority of Scripture, which in Genesis portrays God creating matter. He saw there, no doubt, only a symbolical sense, a simple way of speaking according to the comprehension of the multitude.

DAVID HUME.--David Hume, a Scotsman, better known, at least in his own times, as the historian of England than as a philosopher, nevertheless well merits consideration in the latter category. David Hume believes in nothing, and, in consequence, it may be said that he is not a philosopher; he has no philosophic system. He has no philosophic system, it is true; but he is a critic of philosophy, and therefore he philosophizes. Matter has no existence; as we know nothing about it, we should not say it exists. But we ourselves, we exist. All that we can know about that is that in us there is a succession of ideas, of representations; but we but I what is that? Of that we know nothing. We are present at a series of pictures, and we may call their totality the ego; but we do not grasp ourselves as a thing of unity, as an individual. We are the spectators of an inward dramatic piece behind which we can see no author. There is no more reason to believe in oneself than in the external world.

INNATE IDEAS.--As for innate ideas, they are simply general ideas, which are general delusions. We believe, for instance, that every effect has a cause, or, to express it more correctly, that everything has a cause. What do we know about it? What do we see? That one thing follows another, succeeds to another. What tells us that the latter proceeds from the former, that the thing B must necessarily come, owing to the thing A existing? We believe it because every time the thing A has been, the thing B has come. Well, let us say that every time A has been (thus far) B has come; and say no more. There are regular successions, but we are completely ignorant whether there are causes for them.

THE LIBERTY AND MORALITY OF HUME.--It results from this that for Hume there is no liberty. Very obviously; for when we believe ourselves free, it is because we believe we can fix upon ourselves as a cause. Now the word "cause" means nothing. We are a succession of phenomena very absolutely determined. The proof is that we foresee and nearly always accurately (and we could always foresee accurately if we completely knew the character of the persons and the influences acting on them) what people we know will do, which would be impossible if they did as they wished. And I, at the very moment when I am absolutely sure I am doing such and such a thing because I desired to, I see my friend smile as he says: "I was sure you would do that. See, I wrote it down on this piece of paper." He understood me as a necessity, when I felt myself to be free. And he, reciprocally, will believe himself free in doing a thing I would have wagered to a certainty that he would not fail to do.

What system of morality can Hume have with these principles? First of all, he protests against those who should deduce from his principles the immorality of his system. Take care, said he wittily (just like Spinoza, by the way), it is the partisans of free-will who are immoral. No doubt! It is when there is liberty that there is no responsibility. I am not responsible for my actions if they have no connection in me with anything durable or constant. I have committed murder. Truly it is by chance, if it was by an entirely isolated determination, entirely detached from the rest of my character, and momentary; and I am only infinitesimally responsible. But if all my actions are linked together, are conditional upon one another, dependent on one another, if I have committed murder it is because I am an assassin at every moment of my life or nearly so, and then, oh! how responsible I am!

Note that this is the line taken up by judges, since they make careful investigation of the antecedents of the accused. They find him all the more culpable if he has always shown bad instincts.--Therefore they find him the more responsible, the more he has been compelled by necessity.--Yes.

Hume then does not believe himself "foreclosed" in morality; he does not believe he is forbidden by his principles to have a system of morality and he has one. It is a morality of sentiment. We have in us the instinct of happiness and we seek happiness; but we have also in us an instinct of goodwill which tends to make us seek the general happiness, and reason tells us that there is conciliation or rather concordance between these two instincts, because it is only in the general happiness that we find our particular happiness.

THE SCOTTISH SCHOOL: REID; STEWART.--The Scottish School (end of the eighteenth century) was pre-eminently a school of men who attached themselves to common sense and were excellent moralists. We must at any rate mention Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart. They were bent especially on opposing the transcendent idealism of Berkeley and the scepticism of David Hume, also in some measure Locke's doctrine of the blank sheet. They reconstituted the human mind and even the world (which had been so to speak driven off in vapour by their predecessors), much as they were in the time of Descartes. Let us believe, they said, in the reality of the external world; let us believe that there are causes and effects; let us believe there is an ego, a human person whom we directly apprehend, and who is a cause; let us believe that we are free and that we are responsible because we are free, etc. They were, pre-eminently, excellent describers of states of the soul, admirable psychological moralists and they were the ancestors of the highly remarkable pleiad of English psychologists of the nineteenth century.

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