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DUGALD STEWART was born at Edinburgh in 1753. He was educated at the High School of that city, where, under the instruction of Dr. Adams, was laid the foundation of those classical tastes and accomplishments which he cherished through life. From the High School Dugald Stewart passed into the University of Edinburgh, where he studied for four Sessions. He next entered the University of Glasgow, partly with a view to obtaining a Snell Exhibition to enable him to pursue his studies at Oxford, but also for the sake of attending the prelections of Dr. Thomas Reid, who was then rising into fame as the inaugurator of a new æra in the history of philosophy. In 1722 he was recalled, when only twenty years of age, to Edinburgh to assist his father, the eminent geometrician, Matthew Stewart, in the duties of the mathematical chair. He conducted the classes with marked ability, and after three years was appointed conjoint Professor of Mathematics in 1775. In the Session of 1778-9 Mr. Stewart lectured to the classes of Moral Philosophy during the absence in America of the Professor. His brilliant appearances in this new capacity obtained much favour from his audience; and on the resignation of Dr. Fergusson, in 1785, he was transferred to the Chair of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, and held that office until 1820, when he formally resigned it, having ceased to lecture for some years previously. He died in 1828.
Dugald Stewart was at one time the most popular and widely read of British philosophical writers, and he is still the typical represen
tative of what is called the Scottish School. In ethics he maintained with Bishop Butler, whose views he did much to illustrate and unfold, the primitive and absolute authority of conscience. In mental philosophy his plan was to distinguish, describe, and analyze the faculties of the mind as they exist in mature and civilized beings; he never attempted, as is done by the psychologists and physiologists of the present day, to 'take the clock to pieces,' to trace back these faculties to their earliest germs, to examine them in connection with their physiological accompaniments, and thus to compare them with analogous manifestations in infants, savages, and brutes. His lectures on Political Economy, which formed a part of his course, are in a somewhat fragmentary condition, as he did not live to revise them for publication. They are founded mainly on the views of Adam Smith. Though perhaps not a very profound, and certainly not an original thinker, he is acute, judicious, and learned, and his style is always elegant and refined. Those who desire, by the study of a single author, to obtain a succinct account of the principal ancient and modern philosophical systems, can hardly be directed to any better source than his lectures on the Active and Moral Powers, and his Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind. A compendium of these lectures, which fill five octavo volumes, is given in an unusually attractive form, considering its brevity, in his Outlines of Moral Philosophy. It has thence become an extremely popular textbook of mental and moral science. His Philosophical Essays appeared in 1810, shortly after he had withdrawn from the active duties of his chair, and are perhaps the ablest and certainly the most interesting of his works.
1. The Rapidity of Thought in Interpreting Language.
WHEN I Consult Johnson's Dictionary, I find many words of which he has enumerated forty, fifty, or even sixty different significations; and, after all the pains he has taken to distinguish these from each other, I am frequently at a loss how
to avail myself of his definitions. Yet, when a word of this kind occurs to me in a book, or even when I hear it pronounced in the rapidity of discourse, I at once select, without the slightest effort of conscious thought, the precise meaning which it was intended to convey. How is this to be explained but by the light thrown upon the problematical term by the general import of the sentence?—a species of interpretation easily conceivable, where I have leisure to study the context deliberately; but which, in the circumstances I have now supposed, implies a quickness in the exercise of the intellectual powers, which, the more it is examined, will appear the more astonishing. It is constant habit alone that keeps these intellectual processes out of view;—giving to the mind such a celerity in its operations, as eludes the utmost vigilance of our attention; and exhibiting to the eyes of common observers, the use of speech, as a much simpler, and less curious phenomenon, than it is in reality.
A still more palpable illustration of the same remark presents itself, when the language we listen to admits of such transpositions in the arrangement of words as are familiar to us in the Latin. In such cases, the artificial structure of the discourse suspends, in a great measure, our conjectures. about the sense, till at the close of the period, the verb in the very instant of its utterance, unriddles the enigma. Previous to this, the former words and phrases resemble those detached and unmeaning patches of different colours, which compose what opticians call an anamorphosis; while the effect of the verb, at the end, may be compared to that of the mirror by which the anamorphosis is reformed, and which combines these apparently fortuitous materials into a beautiful portrait or landscape.
In instances of this sort, it will be generally found, upon an accurate examination, that the intellectual act, as far as
we are able to trace it, is altogether simple, and incapable of analysis; and that the elements into which we flatter ourselves we have resolved it, are nothing more than the grammatical elements of speech;-the logical doctrine about the comparison of ideas bearing a much closer affinity to the task of a school-boy in parsing his lesson, than to the researches of philosophers, able to form a just conception of the mystery to be explained.
These observations are general, and apply to every case in which language is employed. When the subject, however, to which it relates, involves notions which are abstract and complex, the process of interpretation becomes much more complicated and curious; involving, at every step, that species of mental induction which I have already endeavoured to describe. In reading, accordingly, the most perspicuous discussions, in which such notions form the subject of the argument, little instruction is received, till we have made the reasonings our own, by revolving the steps again and again in our thoughts. The fact is, that, in cases of this sort, the function of language is not so much to convey knowledge (according to the common phrase) from one mind to another, as to bring two minds into the same train of thinking; and to confine them, as nearly as possible, to the same track. Many authors have spoken of the wonderful mechanism of speech; but none has hitherto attended to the far more wonderful mechanism which it puts into action behind the scene.--Philosophical Essays.
2. Attention and Memory.
I HAVE only to observe farther, with respect to attention, considered in the relation in which it stands to memory, that although it be a voluntary act, it requires experience to have
it always under command. In the case of objects to which we have been taught to attend at an early period of life, or which are calculated to rouse the curiosity, or to affect any of our passions, the attention fixes itself upon them, as it were spontaneously, and without any effort on our part, of which we are conscious. How perfectly do we remember, and even retain, for a long course of years, the faces and the hand-writings of our acquaintances, although we never took any particular pains to fix them in the memory? On the other hand, if an object does not interest some principle of our nature, we may examine it again and again, with a wish to treasure up the knowledge of it in the mind, without our being able to command that degree of attention which may lead us to recognise it the next time we see it. A person, for example, who has not been accustomed to attend particularly to horses or to cattle, may study for a considerable time the appearance of a horse or of a bullock, without being able a few days afterwards to pronounce on his identity; while a horse-dealer or a grazier recollects many hundreds of that class of animals with which he is conversant, as perfectly as he does the faces of his acquaintances. In order to account for this, I would remark, that although attention be a voluntary act, and although we are always able, when we choose, to make a momentary exertion of it; yet, unless the object to which it is directed be really interesting, in some degree, to the curiosity, the train of our ideas goes on, and we immediately forget our purpose. When we are employed, therefore, in studying such an object, it is not an exclusive and steady attention that we give to it, but we are losing sight of it, and recurring to it every instant; and the painful efforts of which we are conscious, are not, (as we are apt to suppose them to be,) efforts of uncommon attention, but unsuccessful