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of the Common Law. By William Sampson, Esq.
NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
NEW SERIES, NO. XIX.
ART. I.-Sketch of a System of the Philosophy of the Human Mind. Part I. Comprehending the Physiology of the Mind. BY THOMAS BROWN, M. D. Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh.
294. Edinburgh. 1820.
It cannot be regarded as a proof of the superiority of the present age, that comparatively so little attention is bestowed on intellectual philosophy. In spite of the occasional fluctuations of public taste, we are persuaded, that the science of mind is still destined to take the precedence of all others.
The flippant and superficial remark has been made, and that too by very high authority, that the philosophy of the mind is a useless pursuit, because every one may become his own mental philosopher; that one has only to look within, and he will there find all that the profoundest thinker can acquaint him with. Never was hazarded a bolder or more assailable error than this. Is botany a useless science, because herbs and flowers, enough to fill whole catalogues, may be found within a mile from the cottage of every hard working farmer? Is astronomy a vain pursuit, because every sailor on the watch, by only turning his head upwards, can count the stars moving over him, and mark the courses which they take? Has one man in a thousand the ability to fasten his attention on the operations of his own mind; and do not the occupations, habits, passions, and characters of a large majority of
mankind lead their thoughts away from themselves, and fix them on external things?
Such being the universal and inevitable lot of humanity, we cannot conceive of a more useful, or directly practical employment, than for those individuals, whose opportunities and powers of contemplation permit, to sit in the seclusion of study apart from active engagements, and there to fix their thoughts exclusively on the constitution of the mind; to trace action up to its central sources; to take a full survey of the mental phenomena; to estimate especially the extent of the human powers; to analyse, to describe, to classify every internal property and faculty; to suggest modes of applying them in their proper directions and to their proper objects; in one word, to unfold before the sight of their fellow beings, that which so very few know, what they are, and what they can become.
Now, though there are not many men capable of originating these comprehensive, self inspecting surveys and estimates, yet, after they are made, there are large numbers who can read them with enjoyment and profit. It is no small thing to direct a man's attention to himself; yet this is effected by the very sight of a book on the mind. The soul for a moment swells before it with the consciousness of its untried and indefinite powers. The contents of most libraries lead one away from one's self. But take such a work as Cogan on the Passions, though it is rather a dull book, and the author was not equal to his task, which abler hands might have wrought into a treatise almost unequalled in interest and utility, we think that any common man, who reads this book, will become wiser, better, greater, and happier, and will particularly be convinced that every one cannot be his own intellectual philosopher. Passion, habit, prejudice, wild imagination, unprofitable reverie, wrong directions, and mistaken objects of thought, all which, by stealing encroachments or violent incursions, may be fast wearing away the character, are liable to be arrested in their progress even by a prosing treatise, which shall subject them to a cool analysis, and make the mind familiar with comprehensive descriptions and classifications of them.
We feel justified, on the whole, in laying down the following general results, which may be expected from good treatises
on mental philosophy. Not to enumerate several advantages, of comparatively subordinate value, such as the mental discipline acquired by the prosecution of the study itself, the very dignity of the subject as a theme of speculation, the accession of a mere appropriate accomplishment, if nothing more, to a well furnished mind, and the like; the first unquestionably great advantage is, to make us revolve upon and feel habitually conscious of our powers; a state of mind which necessarily precedes all wise and energetic action. The second good result proceeding from this study is, that philosophical self examination smoothes the way directly to moral self examination, which is the nurse of virtue. A third effect is to excite sentiments of piety by the contemplation of the most excellent and wonderful of the known works of God.
Such, we maintain, are the general tendencies of this study. But it may be objected that these are too indefinite and untangible, being subjects rather of speculation than of clear demonstration. We may be asked to point out the express and particular achievements of the science of the mind, and to enumerate any newly discovered intellectual instruments, so to speak, which have visibly blessed and gladdened the prospects of the species, like the mariner's compass, the chronometer, the safety lamp, the vaccine virus, the steam engine; or any, which have given new power and stimulus to scientific researches, like some of Newton's theorems, the Galvanic battery, or the blow pipe. The inductive method of Lord Bacon will, of course, suggest itself here to every reader at all acquainted with our subject; and intellectual philosophers, with the author before us among the number, claim for it the magnificent merit of introducing a revolution not only in their own science, but in every other, and of almost changing the face of the modern earth. But to be candid, we must make a distinction between the inductive method itself, and Bacon's verbal interpretation and proclamation of it. It is the interpretation and proclamation only that truly belong to the science of the mind; the method itself has been more or less operative in all men from time immemorial. It did not depend on a promulgation by Bacon or any one else, whether a right mode of reasoning and philosophising should, in spite of ancient trammels, occasionally