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BEFORE proceeding to my proper subject, I may be permitted to say something in explanation of the large, and perhaps disproportionate space which I have allotted in these volumes* to the Doctrines of Natural Religion. To account for this I have to observe, that this part of my Work contains the substance of Lectures given in the University of Edinburgh in the year 1792-3, and for almost twenty years afterwards; and that my hearers comprised many individuals, not only from England and the United States of America, but not a few from France, Switzerland, the north of Germany, and other parts of Europe. To those who reflect on the state of the world at that period, and who consider the miscellaneous circumstances and characters of my audience, any further explanation on this head is, I trust, unnecessary.
The danger with which I conceived the youth of this country to be threatened by that inundation of sceptical or rather atheistical publications which were then imported from the Continent, was immensely increased by the enthusiasm which, at the dawn of the French Revolution, was naturally excited in young and generous minds. A supposed connexion between an enlightened zeal for Political Liberty and the reckless boldness of the uncompromising freethinker, operated powerfully with the vain and the ignorant in favor of the publications alluded to.
["The Philosophy of the Active and Moral Powers of Man" was originally published in two volumes.]
Another circumstance concurred with those which have been mentioned in prompting me to a more full and systematical illustration of these doctrines than had been attempted by any of my predecessors. Certain divines in Scotland were pleased, soon after this critical era, to discover a disposition to set at nought the evidences of Natural Religion, with a professed, and, I doubt not, in many cases, with a sincere view to strengthen the cause of Christianity. Some of these writers were probably not aware that they were only repeating the language of Bayle, Hume, Helvetius, and many other modern authors of the same description, who have endeavoured to cover their attacks upon those essential principles on which all religion is founded, under a pretended zeal for the interests of Revelation. It was not thus, I recollected, that Cudworth, and Barrow, and Locke, and Clarke, and Butler reasoned on the subject; nor those enlightened writers of a later date, who have consecrated their learning and talents to the further illustration of the same argument. "He," says Locke, who has forcibly and concisely expressed their common sentiments, "He that takes away Reason to make way for Revelation puts out the light of both, and does much the same as if we would persuade a man to put out his eyes, the better to receive the light of an invisible star by a telescope."
This passage from Locke brought to from Locke brought to my recollection the memorable words of Melancthon, so remarkably distinguished from most of our other Reformers by the mildness of his temper and the liberality of his opinions : "Wherefore our decision is this; that those precepts which learned men have committed to writing, transcribing them from the common reason and common feelings
Essay on the Human Understanding, Book iv. chap. 19, § 4.
of human nature, are to be accounted as not less divine than those contained in the tables given to Moses; and that it could not be the intention of our Maker to supersede, by a law graven upon stone, that which is written with his own finger on the table of the heart."
Strongly impressed with these ideas, I published for the use of my students, in November 1793, a small Manual, under the title of Outlines of Moral Philosophy, which I afterwards used as a text book as long as I continued to give lectures in the University. The second part of this Manual contains the same principles, expressed nearly in the same words, with the present publication, in which these principles are much more fully expanded, illustrated, and defended.
My attention was thus imperatively called to this part of my course in a greater degree than to any other, by the aspect of the times when I entered upon the duties of my office as Professor of Moral Philosophy. And it gives me heartfelt satisfaction to believe, that, in consequence of the more general diffusion of knowledge. among all ranks of people, such discussions are now become much less necessary than they seemed to me to be at that period. In this belief I am confirmed by the eagerness with which the "Library of Useful Knowledge" has been welcomed by that class of readers for whom it is more peculiarly intended. In the admirable Preliminary Treatise on the Objects, Advantages, and Pleasures of Science, it is said, "The highest of all our gratifications in the contemplation of science remains: We are raised by it to an understanding of the infinite wisdom and goodness which the Creator has displayed in all his works. Not a step can we take in any direction without perceiving the most extraordinary traces of design; and the skill every where conspicuous, is calculated in so vast a proportion of instances to promote
the happiness of living creatures, and especially of ourselves, that we can feel no hesitation in concluding, that, if we knew the whole scheme of Providence, every part would be in harmony with a plan of absolute benevolence." The same tone has been caught wherever the subject admitted of it by the authors of the subsequent numbers. It is not often (if ever) that those who do not enjoy the advantages of a liberal education. have been thus addressed; and the promptitude with which the laboring classes have availed themselves of this means of instruction is the best proof how congenial its spirit is to their plain good sense and unperverted feelings; and how well founded is the saying of Cicero, that "the natural food of our minds is the study and contemplation of Nature." +
I cannot conclude this Preface without expressing the satisfaction I have felt in observing among the more liberal writers in France a reviving taste for the Philosophy of the Human Mind. To this no one has contributed more than M. Victor Cousin, so well known, and so honorably distinguished, as the object of Jesuitical persecution; a persecution which appears to have followed him beyond the limits of his own country. To him the learned world is indebted not only for his own very valuable writings, but for a French translation, accompanied with notes, of the whole works of Plato; for an edition of the works of Proclus, the Platonic Philosopher, from a Manuscript in the Royal Library of Paris; ‡ and, last of all, for a complete edition of the works of Descartes, a most important publication in the present
⚫ Page 47.
"Est animorum ingeniorumque nostrorum naturale quoddam quasi pabulum consideratio contemplatioque naturæ." Acad. Quæst. L. iv. 41.
+ Procli Philosophi Platonici Opera, e codd. MSS. Biblioth. Reg. Parisiensis, tum primum edidit, versione Latinâ et Commentariis illustravit Victor Cousin, Professor Philosophie in Acad. Parisiensi.