« PreviousContinue »
of human testimony, and of the ufual conformity of facts to the report of witneffes. This doctrine is confuted with great elegance and precifion, and with invincible force of argument, in Dr Campbell's Differtation on Miracles. It is, indeed, like moft of Mr HUME's capital doctrines, directly repugnant to matter of fact for our credulity is greatest when our experience is leaft; that is, when we are children; and generally grows less and lefs, in proportion as our experience becomes more and more extenfive: the very contrary of which muft happen, if Mr HUME's doctrine were true.
There is then in man a propensity to believe teftimony antecedent to that experience which Mr HUME fuppofes of the conformity of facts to the report of witneffes. But there is another fort of experience, which may perhaps have some influence in determining children to believe in teftimony. Man is naturally difpofed to speak as he thinks; and most men do fo: for the most egregious liars fpeak truth a hundred times for once that they
*See Dr Reid's Inquiry into the human mind, p. 475.
utter falfehood. It is unnatural for human creatures to falfify; and they never think of departing from the truth, except they have fome end to answer by it. Accordingly children, while their native fimplicity remains uncorrupted, while they have no vice to difguife, no punishment to fear, and no artificial scheme to promote, do generally, if not always, fpeak as they think and fo univerfally is their veracity acknowledged, that it has paffed into a proverb, That children and fools tell truth. Now I am not certain, but this their innate propenfity to fpeak truth, may part account for their readiness to. believe what others fpeak. They do not fufpect the veracity of others, because they are conscious and confident of their own. However, there is nothing abfurd or unphilofophical in fuppofing, that they believe teftimony by one law of their nature, and speak truth by another. I feek not therefore to refolve the former principle into the latter; I mention them for the fake only of obferving, that whether they be different principles, or different effects of the fame principle, our general doctrine is equally clear, namely, That all reafoning
reafoning concerning the evidence of teftimony doth finally terminate in the principles of common fenfe. This is true, as far as our faith in teftimony is refolvible into experimental conviction; because we have already fhown, that all reafoning from experience is refolvible into intuitive principles, either of certain or of probable evidence and furely it is no lefs true, as far as our faith in teftimony is itfelf inftinctive, and fuch as cannot be refolved into any higher principle.
Our faith in testimony doth often, but not always, amount to abfolute certainty. That there is fuch a city as Conftantinople, fuch a country as Lapland, and fuch a mountain as the peak of Teneriffe ; that there were fuch men as Hannibal and Julius Cefar; that England was conquered by William the Norman; and that Charles I. was beheaded; of thefe, and fuch like truths, every perfon acquainted with history and geography accounts himfelf abfolutely certain. When a number of perfons, not acting in concert, having no interest to disguise the truth, and fufficient judges of that to which they bear teftimony, concur in making the fame report,
port, it would be accounted madness not to believe them. Nay, when a number of witneffes, feparately examined, and having had no opportunity to concert a plan beforehand, do all agree in their declarations, we make no fcruple of yielding full faith to their teftimony, even though we have no evidence of their honefty or fkill; nay, though they be notorious both for knavery and folly; beçause the fictions of the human mind being infinite, it is impoffible that each of thefe witneffes fhould, by mere accident, devife the very fame circumstances: if therefore their declarations concur, this is a certain proof, that there is no fiction in the case, and that they all speak from real experience and knowledge. The inference we form on thefe occafions is fupported by arguments drawn from our experience; and all arguments of this fort are refolvible into the principles of common fenfe. In general, it will be found true of all our reafonings concerning testimony, that they are founded, either mediately or immediately, upon instinctive convinction or inftinctive affent; fo that he who has refolved to believe nothing but
but what he can give a reafon for, can never, confiftently with this refolution, believe any thing whatfoever, either as certain or as probable, upon the testimony of other men.
Conclufion of this Chapter.
HE conclufion to which we are led by the above induction, would perhaps be acknowledged by fome to be selfevident, or at leaft to ftand in no great need of illuftration; to others it might have been proved a priori in very few words; but to the greater part of readers, a detail of particulars may be neceffary, in order to produce that steady and wellgrounded conviction which it is our ambition to establish. The argument a priori might be comprehended in the following words. If there be any creatures in human fhape, who deny the diftinction between truth and falfehood, or who are unconfcious of that diftinction, they are far beyond the reach, and below the no