Thin book makes no pretence of giving to the world a new theory of the intellectual operations. Its claim to attention, if it possess any, is grounded on the fact that it is an attempt not to supersede, but to embody and systematise, the best ideas which have been either promulgated on its subject by speculative writers, or conformed to by accurate thinkers in their scientific inquiries.
To cement together the detached fragments of a subject never yet treated as a whole; to harmonise the true portions of discordant theories, by supplying the links of thought necessary to connect them, and by disentangling them from the errors with which they are always more or less interwoven; must necessarily require a considerable amount of original speculation. To other originality than this, the present work lays no claim. In the existing state of the cultivation of the sciences, there would be a very strong presumption against any one who should imagine that he had effected a revolution in the theory of the investigation of truth, or added any fundamentally new process to the practice of it The improvement which remains to be effected in the methods of philosophising (and the, author believes that they have much need of improvement) can only consist in performing more systematically and accurately operation with which, at least in their elementary form, the human intellect in some one or other of its employments is already familiar.
In the portion of the work which treats of Ratiocination, the author has not deemed it necessary to enter into technical details which may be obtained in so perfect a shape from the existing treatises on what is termed the Logic of the Schools. In the contempt entertained by many modern philosophers for the syllogistic art, it will be seen that he by no means participates; though the scientific theory on which its defence is usually rested appears to him erroneous: and the view which he has suggested of the nature and functions of the Syllogism may, perhaps, afford the means of conciliating the principles of the art with as much as is well grounded in the doctrines and objections of its assailants.
The same abstinence from details could not be observed in the First Book, on Names and Propositions, because many useful principles and distinctions which were contained in the old Logic have been gradually omitted from the writings of its later teachers; and it appeared desirable both to revive these, and to reform and rationalise the philosophical foundation on which they stood. The earlier chapters of this preliminary Book will consequently appear, to some readers, needlessly elementary and scholastic. But those who know in what darkness the nature of our knowledge, and of the processes by which it is obtained, is often involved by a confused apprehension of the import of the different classes of Words and Assertions, will not regard these discussions as either frivolous or irrelevant to the topics considered in the latter Books.
On the subject of Induction, the task to be performed was that of generalising the modes of investigating truth and estimating evidence, by which so many important and recondite laws of nature have, in the various sciences, been aggregated to the stock of human knowledge. That this is not a task free from difficulty may be presumed from the fact, that even at a very recent period, eminent writers (among whom it is sufficient to name Archbishop Whately, and the author of a celebrated article on Bacon in the Edinburgh Review) have not scrupled to pronounce it impossible. The author has endeavoured to combat their theory in the manner in which Diogenes confuted the sceptical reasonings against the possibility of motion; remembering that Diogenes' argument would have been equally conclusive, though his individual perambulations might not have extended beyond the circuit of his own tub.
Whatever may be the value of what the author bas succeeded in effecting on this branch of his subject, it is a duty to acknowledge that for much of it he has been indebted to several important treatises, partly historical and partly philosophical, on the generalities and processes of physical science, which have been published within the last few years. To these treatises, and to their authors, he has endeavoured to do justice in the body of the work. But as with one of these writers, Dr. Whewell, he has occasion frequently to express differences of opinion, it is more particularly incumbent on him in this place to declare, that without the aid derived from the facts and ideas contained in that gentleman's History of the Inductive Sciences, the corresponding portion of this work would probably not have been written.The concluding Book is an attempt to contribute towards the solution of a question, which the decay of old opinions, and the agitation that disturbs European society to its inmost depths, render as important in the present clay to the practical interest of human life, as it must at all times be to the completeness of our speculative knowledge: viz. Whether moral and social phenomena are really exceptions to the general certainty and uniformity of the course of nature; and how far the methods, by which so many of the laws of the physical world have been numbered among truths irrevocably acquired and universally assented to, can be made instrumental to the formation of a similar body of received doctrine in moral and political science. [Forward to:]