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dence. I. Truths are known through the medium of our senses; II. By quick. perceptions without conscious reasoning; III. By observation and experience; IV. By human testimony; V. Through the medium of memory, by which they are recalled; VI. By reasoning or logical deductions; VII. By mathematical evidence.” p. 6. He informs us that all evidence respects truth, and truth respects the existence of things, their specific natures, attributes, or the qualities which are essential to their being what they are, their relations to other substances, and their influence upon them. From its extreme simplicity it is difficult to define truth. Definitions respect the peculiar properties, by which one subject is discrimi. nated from another. Truth can be distinguished from nothing but its direct opposite, error; but the distinction cannot be made, until each be precisely known. Whatever has been, is, or will be, is entitled to the denomination of a truth. Error is merely a thought, an opinion, a phantom of the imagination, or a voluntary deception of a depraved mind, and can be substantiated no where."
These notions of truth seem to have been taken from Dr. Beattie's Essay on Truth, while our author differs widely from that Essay on the means of ascertaining what is truth. Had either one or the other of these distinguished men settled the meaning of the words true and truth, the controversy between them might soon have been terminated. Both of them assert that “truth is something fixed, unchangeable and eternal;” but neither distinctly informs us what it is. J. H. Tooke tells us, that truth is derived from trew the past of trow, which signifies to think.“ True, as we now write it; or TREW, as it was formerly written; mearis simply and merelythat which is trowed.” “ There is therefore no such thing as eternal, immutable, everlasting TRUTH; unless mankind such as they are at present, be also eternal, immutable and everlasting. Two persons may contradict each other, and yet both speak truth: for the truth (the troweth] of one person may be opposite to the truth of another.” Diver. of Purley, vol. II. p. 339. The Rev. Mr. Saurin says, “if there be an equivocal word in the
world, either in regard to human sciences, or in regard to religion, it is this word truth.” He finally says, by truth, then, we mean an agreement between an object and our idea of it." This French divine comes nearer to the truth than any of the other philosophers. We have something, however, to object to these representations. "All evidence" does not respect truth; for we have evi. dence of falsehood as well as of truth. “ Truth respects the existence of things,” it is true, but it equally respects the non-existence of things, and the absence, as well as presence of " the qualities which are essential to their being what they are.” Truth may be distinguished from faith, love, testimony, and a thousand other things as much as from " its direct opposite, error:” and we may distinguish the meaning of the word truth from every thing else, without precisely knowing every thing from which it is distinguished. A FAISEHOOD has been, another now is, and a third will be, without being “entitled to the denomination of a truth.” So that whatever has been, is, or will be, is not to be called a truth. Rocks have been, now are, and will be; but Mr. Cogan will not call them truths. If “error is merely a thought,” and truth its direct opposite, then truth must be not a thought.
With the ingenious philologist, Tooke, we agree that the thought, or opinion, of one man may directly oppose the thought of another; but who ever thought of calling every opinion of every intelligent being true? In what language would each ofthe assertions, " there is a God," and " there is not a God," be denominated a truth? If every thought of a man is a truth, then the attempt to distinguish truth from error is useless and absurd. Had Surin said, “ truth implies an agreement between an object and any predicate concerning that object,” he would have uttered a truth.
What is truth? may still be an interesting enquiry. We shall venture to give our opinion, that the expression“ it is a truth,” always refers to some proposition, statement, or assertion. Any proposition in which is predicated any thing which was, is, or will be, in relation to an object, is a truth. On the other hand, that proposition in which Vol. I.
any thing is predicated of an object which neither was, nor is, nor will be, is a falsehood. The adjective true denotes something pertaining to truth. A true proposition is a truth: and that proposition is true, in which the object is represented as it was, is, or will be. Hence he is said to be a man of truth, who makes statements of facts, who represents things as they are, or were, or will be. Were there no language in the universe there could be neither truth nor untruth; but so soon as any assertion was made by any being, that assertion was either a truth or a falsehood.
Mr. Cogan very correctly censures Dr. Beattie's pretended discrimination between a probable and a certain truth. “ Truths,” says the latter, "are of different kinds: some are certain, others only probable.” “We may, without absurdity, speak of probable truth, as well as of certain truth.” Essay on Truth, Ch. I. We may indeed say, that a proposition is probably true, or that it is certainly true, according to the evidence presented to our minds; but that a proposition should be neither true nor untrue is inconceiveable, unless that should improperly be called a proposition which predicates nothing of any object. If any man speaks of a fact, it is, or it is not as the man states it to be. But hear the professor of Aberdeen:-“We ought not to call that act of the mind which attends the perception of certainty, and that which attends the perception of probability, by one and the same name. Some have called the former conviction, and the latter assent: but assent admits of different degrees, from moral certainty, which is the highest degree, downward, through the several stages of opinion, to that suspense of judg. ment which is called doubt.” “Whatever a rational being is determined, by the constitution of his nature, to admit as probable may be called probable truth.” There are as many kinds of truths our American philosophy will ad. mit, as there are kinds of true propositions; and we affirm that perception is perception still, however varied may be the objects of perception. Hear Cogan on this subject: “a merchant freights a vessel for the West Indies. He thnks that the speculation will be advantageous. The probabilities are, that it will sail with the first fair wind, proceed immediately to the destined port, and make a prosperous voyage. Here, then, according to the Doctor's system, are three probable truths." No, Sir, you wrong the Doctor, for the merchant is not "determined, by the constitution of his nature" to admit these three things as probable truths. With this exception you are correct; and might have laid it down as a rule, that any proposition which the constitution of our nature determines us to judge to be true, is a certain truth. Our author proceeds; "the captain, however, knows that the first probable truth will be a falsehood; for he determines to sail to the coast of Guinea, to purchase a few slaves. The probable truth with him is, that he shall sell them advantageously. A storm arises, which endangers the vessel to such a degree, that the probable truth now is that the vessel will sink, and the crew perish. There is, however, a possible truth that they will escape. They do escape, and, to the surprise and joy of every one, the possible truth triumphs over the probable. But in approaching the American coast, the vessel is taken by a privateer and carried into Baltimore. The certain truth is, that all the expected advantages, notwithstanding they were all of them truths in their turns, are lost to the parties primarily concerned; and they lament to find that all their probable truths were errant deceptions, being destitute of the cardinal stamp of conviction." p. 200.
Before we examine our author's sources of truth, we must express our regret that he should consider truth as synonymous with knowledge. We certainly have knowledge of error as well as of truth; of fiction as much as of realities; of imaginations not less than of the nature of things. He might at once have told us, what he deems to be the sources of all our knowledge. This would have rendered his statenients correct, for we have knowledge "through the medium of our senses.” He says, however, that “truths are known through the medium of our senses.” By them we have perceptions of external things; and concerning the objects thus perceived we frame propositions, which the faculty of judgment decides to be true; so that ULTIMATELY, but not IMMEDIATELY, truths are known through the senses. That the objects
perceived have a real existence without our minds, is itself a truth known only by the judgment. We apprehend, we understand the truth of a proposition, which proposi. tion we judge to be true; but strictly speaking, we do not perceive by the senses the truth of any proposition. We conceive of the meaning of the word truth, and know it to be an attribute of a proposition, but of this attribute the senses take no cognizance. He asserts, secondly, that truths are known by quick perceptions, without conscious reasoning. If by quick perceptions he intends instantaneous, constitutional judgments, then we admit that by them we have knowledge of many truths; which would exactly suit the views of Dr. Beattie's philosophy: but if he designs any thing else, we affirm that no truth is discoverable by perception alone, however quick it may be. The addition of the clause, with. out conscious reasoning, does not help the matter; for no one ever reasoned without being conscious of it. An act of consciousness follows every other mental operation. By our author's elucidation of this topic we learn, that our instincts occasion various quick perceptions, which subsequently become the objects of attention, and sources of truth.
Thirdly, truths are known, he says, by observation and experience. We observe no truth; we experience no truth; but observation includes all those perceptions which follow our volition to perceive what may be perceptible in any object; and experience contains in its wide embrace all our perceptions, apprehensions, feelings, and agency. All these may furnish subjects for propositions, which we may judge to be true, and in this sense alone are observation and experience sources of truth. To his fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh sources of truth we give our approbation, for we certainly come to the judgment that propositions are true, (that is, truths are known) through testimony, DIVINE as well as human; through the memory, by reasoning, and by mathematical demon. stration. Let it be remembered, at the same time, that we have knowledge of falsehood no less than of truth, through the instrumentality of testimony, memory, reasoning, and mathematical demonstration.