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4. The Principle of Common Sense.
It is manifest that some of the points just touched on are repugnant, as has been already hinted indeed, to the principles of common sense; and yet it is to common sense that Hamilton, in company with Reid, appeals; or it is in the name and interests of common sense that Hamilton, in the same company, works. Obviously, then, our review of the present subject will be only complete when we have carried it up into that complement of principles which constitute, by profession at least, both its motive and its measure.
Now, by its very name, common sense is a common property: it is no man's fee-simple to do with as he will; it is every man's universal privilege; it is no man's particular advantage. The first inference we have to make here, then, is, that no use of the name will justify any departure from the standard, no matter however much he who leaves may praise what he leaves or deny that he leaves.
Now Reid, in a passage which has received the impress of Hamilton himself, describes (Reid's Works, p. 302) the platform of common sense thus:–
We have here a remarkable conflict between two contradictory opinions, wherein all mankind are engaged. On the one side stand all the vulgar who are unpractised in philosophical researches, and guided by the uncorrupted primary instincts of nature. On the other side stand all the philosophers, ancient and modern; every man, without exception, who reflects. In this division, to my great humiliation, I find myself classed with the vulgar.
The court, then, before which Reid—with the express approbation of Hamilton—would arraign philosophy, cannot well be misunderstood; nor more the general situation. As proclaiming the criterion of common sense, Reid stands with ‘the vulgar;' he is “guided by the uncorrupted primary instincts of nature,' to which instincts it is no prejudice that they are “unpractised in philosophical researches;" he finds himself opposed by “all the philosophers, ancient and modern'—by “every man, without exception, who reflects; ' and he has no resource but to appeal from the latter to the former, from the ‘philosophers’ to the “vulgar,'—from every man, without exception, who reflects, to every man—presumably—without exception, who does not reflect.
Before passing specially to Hamilton, we may remark that the contradiction in itself, which destroys this statement, is sufficiently obvious. Reflection, thought, is the single instrument of truth; and we do not usually listen twice to any man who tells us, Reflection unexceptively says A, irreflection unexceptively says B, nevertheless it is irreflection that is right. But Reid not only thus negates himself by his own first word, he equally negates himself by his own first act. No sooner, indeed, has he called to us not to reflect, than he sets himself to reflect. If, alarmed at ‘philosophy,” he had said, Philosophy is naught, let us return to our usual beliefs, that what we taste we taste, and what we touch we touch, and leave reflection, he would have been perfectly consistent with himself, and dispute there could have been none; but, when he proceeded, instead, to open inquiry into these beliefs—then, in an instant, the vulgar had fled, and there was only philosophy again—philosophy at all its old cobwebs—cheerful, hopeful, busy as ever. With Hamilton, too, we can bring the matter to the same short issue. When perception, namely, withdrew from the world without, and transported itself to the nerves within, common sense refused to follow, and Hamilton found himself cut off from it by a chasm as wide and deep as that that, to Reid, separated the ‘philosophers’ from the “vulgar.” But we are not confined to what is indirect here. Hamilton, the very loudest for the sufficiency of common sense, is equally the loudest for its insufficiency also. He says (Reid's Works, p. 752) —
In this country in particular, some of those who opposed it [common sense] to the sceptical conclusions of Hume, did not sufficiently counteract the notion which the name might naturally suggest; they did not emphatically proclaim that it was no appeal to the undeveloped beliefs of the unreflective many; and they did not inculcate that it presupposed a critical analysis of these beliefs by the philosophers
He goes on, indeed, to assert that their language sometimes warranted an opposite conclusion; and he names Beattie, Oswald, and even Reid, as examples.
Now, this is surely very simple, but, at the same time, very equivocal, procedure. Reid says that common sense and philosophy are directly opposed; and he would destroy the latter under the feet of the former. I quite agree with him, says Hamilton; I
cry common sense too, but I practise philosophy all the same. That is, I take the name common sense— it is a good name; then ‘I counteract the notion which it might naturally suggest;’ after that, “I emphatically proclaim that it is no appeal to the undeveloped beliefs of the unreflective many;’ next, “I inculcate that it presupposes a critical analysis of these beliefs by the philosophers themselves; ' lastly, ‘I, as a “philosopher,” still with the name and all the advantages of the position claimed, set on my “critical analysis,” and tell my findings.’ There are other inferences here; but we, for our parts, ask only, In what respect this position differs from that of ‘the ideal system,' from that of ‘Descartes, Malebranche, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume,” to combat and confute which were the reason and the necessity of any resort to common sense at all P In Hamilton's hands, in fact, common sense shows no difference whatever from philosophy, and the conclusion of the whole matter just is, that we are all to reason to the best of our ability, reason itself being sure to pull us up when wrong. Reason, in fact, has no standard but reason; and, with whatever disinclination, no one can refuse to keep his seat, so long as it is reason that drives. The sentence from Hamilton, in truth, is nothing else than the restoration to the judge reason of the chair into which the drudge common sense had been for an instant thrust. Nevertheless, this is a deliberate act of Hamilton, and he will be found (Reid's Works, p. 816) expressly dividing common sense into a ‘philosophical form,' and a “vulgar form'—quite unaware, apparently, that, thereby, he has taken the standard on himself, or that he has transferred that standard to philosophy, or that he has vitiated and undermined the standard, or that he has demonstrated it to be a standard incompetent to him. But the term, common sense, is as yet quite general, and the position abstract; what are the particular principles by which Hamilton would introduce into the latter a concrete filling? These principles—at least, to take the profession of Hamilton—are understood in a word when we describe them as what are known to philosophy as our stock of primary truths. True, it is very difficult to make out what these truths are, if we trust to Hamilton; but not the less does he make words enough about them. The characteristic signs by which he would have us recognise them, he tells us, for instance, may (Reid's Works, p. 754) ‘be reduced to four;-1°, their Incomprehensibility—2°, their Simplicity—3°, their Necessity and absolute Universality—4°, their comparative Evidence and Certainty.' Now, suppose we draw attention here to sign the third first. Well, these two terms, necessary and universal, have, by Kant, been included together in the single word apodictic (written by purists apodeictic); and they concern one of the most important and fertile distinctions in later philosophy. Hume busied himself much with what has proved, not only the fundamen of German philosophy, but the angle of all philosophy else, probably for some time to come—the distinction, namely, between mat