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27. Reviews and literary journals. Transactions of learned societies.
Publications appearing in a series or set. Encyclopædias

28. The powers of literary judgment ought to be impartially exercised 247

29. Classes of subjects upon which the general diffusion of sound opinions

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1. Aristocracy is usually defined to be a government of the minority, and
democracy to be a government of the majority of the people

2. The distinction between these two forms of government is a distinction,
not of kind, but of degree

3. Necessity of caution in laying down general propositions respecting
aristocratic and democratic government

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P. 54, line 14 from foot, for to extend read of extending.

P. 108, last line, for septengintos read septingentos.







§ 1. As the ensuing Essay relates to matters of opinion, it will be necessary for me, at the outset, without entering upon disputed questions of mental philosophy, to explain briefly what portion of the subjects of belief is understood to be included under this appellation, and what is the meaning of the generally received distinction between matters of opinion and matters of fact; a distinction which, though not scientifically precise, is, with a little explanation, sufficiently intelligible for the purposes of the present inquiry, and which marks, with tolerable accuracy, a distinction leading to important practical consequences.

By a Matter of Fact I understand anything of which we obtain a conviction from our internal consciousness, or any individual event or phenomenon which is the object of sensation. It is true that even the simplest sensations involve some judgment: when a witness reports that he saw an object of a certain shape and size, or at a certain distance, he describes something more than a mere impression on his sense of sight, and his statement implies a theory and explanation of the bare phenomenon. When, however, this judgment is of so simple a kind as to become wholly unconscious, and the interpretation of the appearances is a matter of general agreement, the object of sensation may, for our present purpose, be considered a fact. A fact, as so defined, must be


limited to individual sensible objects, and not extended to general expressions or formulas, descriptive of classes of facts, or sequences of phenomena, such as that the blood circulates, the sun attracts the planets, and the like.' Propositions of this sort, though descriptive of realities, and therefore, in one sense, of matters of fact, relate to large classes of phenomena, which cannot be grasped by a single sensation, which can only be determined by a long series of observations, and are established by a process of intricate reasoning.

Taken in this sense, matters of fact are decided by an appeal to our own consciousness or sensation, or to the testimony, direct or indirect, of the original and percipient witnesses. Doubts, indeed, frequently arise as to the existence of a matter of fact, in consequence of the diversity of the reports made by the original witnesses, or the suspiciousness of their testimony. A matter of fact may again be doubtful, in consequence of the different constructions which may be put upon admitted facts and appearances, in a case of proof by (what is termed) circumstantial evidence. Whenever such doubts exist they cannot be settled by a direct appeal to testimony, and can only be resolved by reasoning; instances of which are afforded by the pleadings of lawyers and the disquisitions of historians upon contested facts. When an individual fact is doubted upon reasonable grounds, its existence becomes a matter of opinion. The existence of such a fact, however, is not a general or scientific truth, but a question to be decided by a consideration of the testimony of witnesses.

§ 2. Matters of Opinion, not being disputed questions of fact, are general propositions or theorems relating to laws of nature or mind, principles and rules of human conduct, future probabilities, deductions from hypotheses, and the like, about which a doubt may reasonably exist. All doubtful questions, whether of speculation or practice, are matters of opinion. With regard to these, the ultimate source of our belief is always a process of reasoning.2

The proper mode of conducting this process, of guarding

1 See Whewell's Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, B. I. c. i., B. VIII. c. i., and B. XI. C. iii.

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2 I remember it was with extreme difficulty that I could bring my master to understand the meaning of the word opinion, or how a point could be disputable; because reason taught us to affirm or deny only where we are certain, and beyond our knowledge we cannot do either. So that controversies, wranglings, disputes, and

against errors of induction and deduction, of testing the soundness of existing arguments, and of establishing new truths by ratiocination; is the province of logical science. The science of logic, having been created by the inventive and penetrating genius of Aristotle, and afterwards systematised by the Schoolmen, was enlarged by the sagacious divinations of Bacon, who indicated its applications to natural philosophy, and freed it from much of the needless subtlety of the schools. Since the publication of the Novum Organon, the fundamental processes of thought connected with reasoning have been explored by Locke, Leibnitz, and the metaphysicians who have followed in their steps: and of late years, logical science has, in this country, received much illustration and improvement, from the writings of Archbishop Whately, Dr. Whewell, and Mr. John Mill: of whom, the first has improved the form of the scholastic logic, and adapted it to the wants of modern students; the second has expounded the philosophy of induction, and of its subsidiary processes, as applied to the whole field of the physical sciences; while the latter has determined the province of logic with precision, has established its first principles on a sound basis, and has systematised the methods of observation and deduction, for all the subjects of scientific research.

Upon the field of logical science, as defined by the writers whom I have referred to, I do not propose to encroach. The

positiveness in false or dubious propositions, are evils unknown among the Houyhnhnms.'-SWIFT.

The essential idea of opinion seems to be that it is a matter about which doubt can reasonably exist, as to which two persons can without absurdity.think differently. The existence of an object before the eyes of two persons would not be a matter of opinion, nor would it be a matter of opinion that twice two are four. But when testimony is divided, or uncertain, the existence of a fact may become doubtful, and, therefore, a matter of opinion. For example, it may be a matter of opinion whether there was a war of Troy, whether Romulus lived, who was the man in the iron mask, who wrote Junius, &c. So the tendency of a law or form of government, or social institution, the probability of a future event, the quality of an action or the character of an historical personage, may be a matter of opinion.

Any proposition, the contradictory of which can be maintained with probability, is a matter of opinion.

The distinction between matters of fact and matters of opinion is recognised by Bacon, Advancement of Learning, vol. ii. p. 42, ed. Montagu. See also Locke, Essay on the Understanding, B. IV. c. xvi. § 5; On the Conduct of the Understanding, § 24; and Whately, Rhetoric, Part I. c. iii. § 3.

In the language of jurists, questions of fact are opposed to questions of law. Hence the maxim of our law: De jure respondent judices, de facto jurati.' On this subject, see Bentham On Judicial Evidence by Dumont, B. I. c. v.

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