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But a tribunal more awful and decisive than that Venerable House, is yet awaiting the authors of this complicated mischief. They are now dragged to the bar of the public. At that bar I stand as their accuser; nor will I quit it, till they receive their doom. et judex tacet, et adversarius obstrepit, et nihil temere dictum perit : et si quid tibi ipse sumas probandum est : et omisso magna semper flandi tumore, in quibusdam causis loquendum est." *
I am not conscious that in any thing contained in the foregoing pages I have expressed myself with a warmth or an asperity which the subject did not merely justify, but imperiously demand. I have confined myself, as far as I was able, to facts and to reasonings, and have often struggled hard to suppress the indignant emotions which I felt rising within me. But if, in any instance, I have unconsciously stepped beyond those limits which it was my earnest wish not to transgress, let Mr. Leslie's accusers reflect on the circumstances of their own conduct on the morning of his election. Let them remember, that it was at the critical moment when this gentleman,-a person who had never offended them, or at least whose only conceivable offence was his competition with one of their colleagues,—when he was flattering himself with the confident hope of obtaining, at length, the reward of a virtuous and laborious life, devoted from his earliest years to the pursuits of science, and not many days after the suffrages of the Royal Society of London had entitled him to lift up his head in this metropolis, as a man who had done honor to his native land; -it was at this moment, that all his future prospects were to be blasted for ever; the well-earned prize which he was about to receive, snatched from his grasp ; and he himself—stigmatized as a disgrace to his parent church, proclaimed to be unworthy of belonging to any other, and pointed out to the scorn and execration of the wise and good in every quarter of the globe. Let me remind them, in the last place, that this charge of
*Quinct. Lib. 12. Cap. 6.
Atheism was deliberately and publicly preferred, with all the imposing solemnity of legal forms, within a few hours of the time when Mr. Leslie's explanatory letter had been read in their hearing; and that, in the act of presenting their written remonstrance to the patrons of the university, the letter was not only suppressed, but no intimation was given that such a letter existed.
Of the spirit and temper with which the opposition to Mr. Leslie has been conducted, no better specimen can be given than the two following papers, one of which appeared lately in the public prints of this city, and the other has been for some time circulated in manuscript, not only here, but in different parts of the country. To the authors of such anonymous and clandestine attempts to influence extrajudicially the opinions of those who are afterwards to sit as judges on the question to which they relate, ample justice will, I doubt not, be done in due time and place. At present, I shall confine myself to a few notes on their contents.
It is indeed with no small mortification that I thus descend to the humble task of commenting on the anonymous speculations of a newspaper metaphysician. With such an adversary, I am fully sensible that I am by no means on equal ground, having formed a resolution in early life, from which nothing, I trust, shall tempt me to depart, never to publish a single sentence on any subject whatever, without the sanction of my name.
From the Edinburgh Evening Courant, Thursday, May 2,
WE ARE AUTHORISED to insert the following observations,
Edinburgh, 1st May, 1805. As there appeared, in the different newspapers of last week, a copy of a letter from Mr. John Leslie, who was lately elected Professor of mathematics in the
University of this city, containing a defence of himself against objections that have been stated to his doctrine upon the subject of the relation between cause and effect; and as it was formerly intimated, in the same public manner, that the letter, when originally received and laid before the ministers of Edinburgh, had satisfied Dr. Hunter, and a considerable number of his brethren; it seems, at length, indispensable, that the public should also know the reasons why that letter afforded no satisfaction to others. For, upon the mind of those who have not read Mr. Leslie's book, the assertions contained in his letter might otherwise make an impression very unfavorable to their candor and justice.
The object of Mr Leslie's letter is an unqualified defence of both himself and his doctrine. So far from renouncing any thing that he had asserted in the publication objected to, he charges the objectors with gross and injurious misrepresentation, and only dreads the effect of their calumny on the mind of strangers. And in these circumstances, it is obvious, that any satisfaction to be derived from the letter must depend entirely upon the defence of the doctrine being just and valid. For though Mr. Leslie does, at the same time, disavow every inference from his doctrine to the prejudice of religion, this disavowal cannot justify his continuing to publish that doctrine, if, upon examination, it shall still be found subversive of all religion.
Mr Leslie rests his defence upon an assertion, “ that the note in question refers entirely to the relation between cause and effect, considered as an object of physical examination.” Let this assertion be compared with the language of his note, and let the question be thereby determined.
This long and elaborate note commences with these very remarkable words: “Mr. Hume is the first, as far as I know, who has treated of causation in a truly philosophic manner. His Essay on Necessary Connexion seems a model of clear and accurate reasoning. But it was only wanted to dispel the cloud of mystery which had so long darkened that important subject. The unsophisticated sentiments of mankind are in perfect unison with the deductions of logic, and imply nothing more at bottom, in the relation of cause and effect, than a constant and invariable sequence.”
* Mr. Leslie's letter had been read publicly in the Presbytery; and therefore it is not easy to see how its insertion in the newspapers, where, if I recollect right, it was not accompanied with the slightest comment, could furnish any pretence for the publication, in a similar manner, of a set of critical observations, so little adapted to the comprehension of general readers. But it is not surprising, that some persons should feel a little sore on the subject of this letter. If it was judged to be prudent, on the day of Mr. Leslie's election, to withhold it from the magistrates, it could not fail to appear of still greater importance, that it should not be suffered to meet the public eye without a suitable antidote.
There is not, in the passage here quoted, a single ambiguous expression : * and it is evident, that, in the concluding sentence, the author expresses himself in terms of such unlimited import, as it is impossible to avoid ap
* And yet that passage, short as it is, contains the words, Necessary Connexion, Cause, and Effect. For the various meanings of which the first phrase is susceptible, the writer of the above article is referred to Dr. Gregory's Philosophical Essays, Vol. I, p. 22. (where the subject employs a good many pages). As for the word cause, he will allow me to remind him of the following remarks by an author, whom, in a subsequent paragraph, he professes to have read.
“ Our natural desire to know the causes of the phenomena of nature, our inability to discover them, and the vain theories of philosophers employed in this search, bave made the word cause and the related words so ambiguous, and to signify so many things of different natures, that they have in a manner lost their proper and original meaning, and yet we have no other words to express it.”—Dr. Reid's Essays on the Active Powers, p. 288.
“ Aristotle, and the Schoolmen after him, distinguished four kinds of causes, the efficient, the material, the formal, and the final. This, like many of Aristotle's distinctions, is only a distinction of the various ineanings of an ambiguous word; for the efficient, the matter, the form, and the end, have nothing common in their nature, by which they may be accounted species of the same genus; but the Greek word which we translate cause had these four different meanings in Aristotle's days, and we have added other meanings. We do not indeed call the matter or the form of a thing its cause, but we have final causes, instrumental causes, and I know not how many others.
“ Thus the word cause has been so hackneyed, and made to have so many meanings, in the writings of philosophers, and in the discourse of the vulgar, that its original and proper meaning is lost in the crowd.” Ibid. p. 44.
So much for the assertion, that in the first paragraph of Mr. Leslie's note there is not a single ambiguous expression.
But farther, if it were to be admitted that there was really no ambiguous expression in that paragraph, it would follow as a self-evident consequence, that the distinction formerly stated (see p. 325.) between physical and efficient causes is completely unfounded; or, in other words, that physical and efficient causes are one and the same ; a conclusion which, as I before remarked, is the very essence of Spi. nozism.
If this is not demonstration, I do not know what deserves the name, here indeed justly borrow the language which this writer has himself so rashly and unwarrantably applied to another. “The application of this doctrine does not remain a matter of choice. If the principle be admitted, the conclusion is irresisti. ble.” I would be far, however, after all, from being understood to charge even this anonymous metaphysician with any leaning to so monstrous a system. The truth probably was, that, in his zeal to convict Mr. Leslie of Atheism, he neglected to weigh very accurately the import of his own averments. VOL. VII.