The Idealistic Argument in Recent British and American Philosophy

The Idealistic Argument in Recent British and American Philosophy

The Idealistic Argument in Recent British and American Philosophy

The Idealistic Argument in Recent British and American Philosophy

Excerpt

The historical period with which this book is primarily concerned begins about the middle of the nineteenth century with the writings of J. F. Ferrier. At the background of Ferrier's thought, however, lies the story of Locke's "way of ideas" and the development it received at the hands of Berkeley and Hume and, later, of Reid and Hamilton. This story is, therefore, relevant to the present undertaking and, despite the fact it has often been told, it must here be told once again. Fortunately, the merest outline is all that is called for in the present context, since only the crucial points are here significant. These introductory remarks, then, will concern themselves only with a very brief sketch of the main results of this development. And we begin with the "way of ideas" itself.

Locke's definition of an 'idea,' it will be recalled, is (i) "Whatever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks." By thinking Locke means perceiving, remembering, imagining, conceiving, in short, the sundry cognitive operations of the mind: and, on this side of its nature, mind is 'understanding.' By being an "object of the understanding" Locke means being presented to, or apprehended by, the understanding. As "an object of the understanding," then, an idea is 'in' mind; it is, as Locke tells us elsewhere, an "immediate" object of the understanding. But (ii) ideas may be divided, Locke teaches, into two basal groups, namely, those of "sensation" and those of "reflexion." By the former is meant the set of ideas which come to us through the senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and the like; by the latter is meant the set of ideas derived by the mind through observation of its own operations, such as willing, feeling, and thinking.

Ideas of the first group are most relevant for our present purpose, and it is very important to notice that (iii) they are not in mind without cause. What is their cause? To this question . . .

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