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BRITISH AND FOREIGN
ART. I.-1. The Works of Thomas Reid, D.D. Preface, Notes, and Supplementary Dissertations. By SIR WILLIAM HAMILTON, Bart. Edinburgh: 1846.
2. Discussions on Philosophy and Literature, Education and University Reform. By Sir WILLIAM HAMILTON, Bart. Second Edition, enlarged. London: 1853.
THOUGH of Lord Bacon it was said, by his friend Dr Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, "He writes philosophy like a Lord Chancellor," it must be admitted Sir William Hamilton writes it like a philosopher; for he both thinks and writes more like a pure intelligence than any man in the history of speculation. In the first place, his diction is the most concise, the most accurate, the most direct, the most compact, and the most vigorous, ever used by any writer on philosophy. Familiar with all systems of philosophy ever proposed, and their criticisms, expository, supplementary, and adverse, and a master of the languages in which both the philosophies and the criticisms have been written, he has discovered how much of their error can be ascribed to the deficiencies of language, both as an instrument and as a vehicle of philosophical thought; and he has, accordingly, formed a language for himself, adequate to the exigencies of the highest thinking in the new career of philosophy which he has inaugurated. And his learning, in every department of knowledge, supplementary of philosophy or auxiliary to it, is so abundant, that there seems to be not even a random thought of any value, which has been dropped along any, even obscure, VOL V.-NO. XV.
path of mental activity, in any age or country, that his diligence has not recovered, his sagacity appreciated, and his judgment husbanded in the stores of his knowledge. And, in discussing any question of philosophy, his ample learning enables him to classify all the different theories which have, at successive periods, been invented to explain it; and generally, indeed we may say always, he discovers, by the light reciprocally shed from the theories, ideas involved in them which their respective advocates had not discriminated, thereby giving greater accuracy to the theories than they had before. By this mode of discussion, we have the history of doctrines concentrated into a focus of elucidation. And the uses of words, and the mutations in their meaning, in different languages, are articulately set forth; thereby enhancing the accuracy and certainty of our footsteps on the slippery paths of speculation. And his own genius for original research is such, that no subtilty of our intelligent nature however evasive, no relation however indirect or remote, no manifestation however ambiguous or obscure, can escape or elude his critical diagnosis. Add to all this, his moral constitution, both by nature and by education, is harmonious with his intellectual, imparting to his faculties the energy of a well-directed will, and the wisdom of a pure love of truth. Therefore it is, that, in the writings of Sir William Hamilton, there is nothing of that vacillation in doctrine which results from unbalanced faculties. He has built upon the same foundation from the beginning. Another notable characteristic is his extraordinary individuality. He seems in no degree under the influence of what is called the doctrine of the historical development of human intelligence. He confronts the whole history of doctrines, and with a cold, critical eye surveys them as the products of individual minds, and not as the evolutions of a total humanity. Of Eclecticism there is in his creed not the smallest taint. Truth seems to him the same everywhere, unmodified by times. Such is the marvellous man of whose philosophy we propose to give some
The history of philosophy seems, to the superficial observer, but the recurrence of successive cycles of the same problems, the same discussions, and the same opinions. He sees, in modern philosophy, only the repetition of the dreams of the earliest Greek speculators. Philosophy is to him but labour upon an insoluble problem. To the competent critic, however, it presents a far different view. He sees, in each cycle, new aspects of the problems, new relations in the discussions, and new modes in the opinions,-all indicating an advancement, however unequal and halting at times, towards the truth. Here, then, is at once evinced the supreme importance
of an enlightened philosophical criticism. It is the preparative and precursor of farther progress. The different doctrines which, in successive ages, have been elicited, are so many experiments, furnishing, to the enlightened critic, indications more or less obvious of the true solutions of the problems of philosophy.
Sir William Hamilton is the prince of critics in philosophy. In him philosophical criticism has compassed its widest scope, and reached its highest attainments. He is the critic of all ages, equally at home in all. He has sifted all of ancient, all of mediæval, and all of modern thought, with the most delicate sieve ever used by any critic; and while he has winnowed away the chaff, he has lost not a grain of truth. The barriers of different languages have not excluded him from a single field : he unlocked the gates of one as easily as another, and entered where he listed. With principles of criticism as broad as nature; with learning as extensive as the whole of what has been written on philosophy; with a knowledge of words, and of the things which they denote or are intended to denote, marvellously accurate and co-extensive with the whole literature of speculation; with a logic both in its pure theory and modified applications adequate to every need of intelligence, whether in detecting the fallacies or expounding the truths of doctrine; and with a genius exactly suited to use with the greatest effect these manifold accomplishments, he stands pre-eminent amongst the critics of philosophy. As we have seen how he unravels the net-work of entangled discussions, discriminating the confusions by purifying the doctrines through a more adequate conception and expression of them, often correcting the text of the Greek writer, which for centuries had baffled the grammarians, by the light of the doctrine of the author, and in the sequel making the truth educed the starting-point for new development of doctrine, we have admired the matchless abilities of the critic, until we should have been exhausted in being dragged along the labyrinths of his mighty ratiocination, had we not been refreshed at every turn by the new light of truth disclosed by the master who was conducting the marvellous enterprise of thought. Bentley did not do more to enlarge the scope and enrich the learning of British literary criticism, when, by his dissertations on the Epistles of Phalaris, he raised it from the platitudes of the grammarian and rhetorician to the compass, the life, the interest, and the dignity, of philological and historical disquisition, than Sir William Hamilton has done to give profundity, subtilty, comprehensiveness, and erudition, to British philosophical criticism, by his contributions to the Edinburgh Review. These articles mark an era, not only in British but in European criticism, in
every department of philosophy-metaphysics, psychology, and logic. They were translated into the languages of the continent, and their stupendous learning, matchless subtilty, and ruthless ratiocination, received everywhere unbounded admiration. The very first article, the one on the doctrine of the infinito-absolute of Cousin, utterly subverted the fundamentals of the proud speculations of Germany, and fully exposed the absurdity of the attempt of Cousin to conciliate them with the humble Scottish philosophy of common sense. The continental philosophers saw that a critic had arisen, who, by the might and the majesty of his intellect, and the vastness of his erudition, gave dignity to the humble doctrine which he advocated, and they had all along despised. They began to feel,
"A chiel's amang us takin notes,
And faith he'll prent it."
But Sir William Hamilton the critic is only the precursor of Sir William Hamilton the philosopher. His criticism is but the preparative of his philosophy. They, however, move on together. The state of the philosophy of the world made this necessary. The calling of Socrates was not more determined by the condition of thought in his time, than the labours of Sir William Hamilton are by the philosophical needs of this age. His erudition and critical skill are as much needed as his matchless genius for original speculation. Either without the other would have been comparatively barren of results. And his preference, like Aristotle, for logic rather than the other branches of philosophy, is the very affection that is desiderated in the great thinker of this age. It seems to be supposed by some, who even pretend to have studied the philosophy of Sir William Hamilton, that he has merely rehabilitated the doctrines of Reid and Stewart. It might with much more show of truth be said that Newton only reproduced the discoveries of Copernicus and Kepler; for the philosophy of Sir William Hamilton is a greater stride beyond that of his Scottish predecessors than the discoveries and deductions of Newton are beyond those of Copernicus and Kepler. Let us then, as far as his published writings and our limits will permit, show what Sir William has done directly to advance philosophy.
With Bacon began a movement in modern philosophy which parallels that begun by Aristotle in ancient. * Aristotle
*When we say that Bacon and Aristotle began these respective movements, we do not mean literally that the movements originated with them, but only that like Luther's in the Reformation, their labours were so signal and paramount in these movements as to be associated pre-eminently with them. No great change ever originates with the person who becomes the most conspicuous in it, in the great spectacle of history. It always has antecedents, produced by the agency of inferior persons. We therefore beg that everywhere, in this article, the principle of this note may qualify our general remarks, even in regard to the claims of originality which we prefer for Sir William Hamilton, unless our remarks preclude qualification.
inaugurated the deductive process; Bacon inaugurated the inductive. These are the distinctive features of those systems of philosophy which they advocated; and they are in accordance with the spirit of philosophising in the respective eras to which they belonged. Ancient philosophy was more a deduction from principles; modern philosophy is more an inquiry into principles themselves. Aristotle and Bacon both make logic the paramount branch of philosophy, and the forms of the understanding the limits of the knowable. Sir William Hamilton's philosophy is a preparative and an initial towards the conciliation of the systems of Aristotle and Bacon. Logic, with him, as with them, is the paramount branch of philosophy; and his labours all tend to reconcile induction with deduction, and unify in one method these two great processes of thought. His philosophy is, in fact, a climacteric reclamation, vindication, and development of the one perennial philosophy of common sense, which, like the one true faith, is preserved amidst all schismatic aberrations, and vindicated as the only true philosophy. It is in the essential unity of human reason returning again and again, from temporary aberrations in different ages, into the same discernments and convictions, that we have the means of verifying the true catholic philosophy. Though there may be nothing in the mutual relations of men at any given time, nor in the mutual relations of successive generations, that necessarily determines an uninterrupted advance towards truth, yet, notwithstanding the occasional wide-spread and long-protracted prevalence of error, the reason of man has hitherto vindicated itself in the long run, and proved that, though the newest phase of thought may not, at all times, be the truest, yet the truest will prevail at last, and come out at the goal of human destiny, triumphant over all errors. This is the drift of the history of human opinion as interpreted by enlightened criticism. Sometimes scepticism, recognising no criterion of truth; sometimes idealism, knowing nothing but images in ceaseless change; sometimes pantheism, dissolving all individuality, both material and spiritual, in the tides of universal being; sometimes materialism, believing nothing beyond material nature, and that man is only a more perfect species of mammalia, and human affairs but the highest branch of natural history; and other forms of error, each with its peculiar momenta and criteria of knowledge, have in reiterated succession, in different ages of the world, prevailed as systems of philosophy; yet the reason of man has, nevertheless, under the guidance of some master mind, returned to the one perennial philosophy of common sense, and reposed in the natural conviction of mankind, that an external world exists as the senses testify, and that there is in man an element which lifts