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An Examination of Bolingbroke's Philosophical Works, continued. His own System.-The Immortality of the Soul.
CHAP. WE have selected some specimens from the objecX. tions by which Bolingbroke proposed to remove A.D. 1725 Christianity. Let us now attempt to discover the nature of the system he proposed to raise in its stead.
The systems of deism are as numerous as there are authors who have transmitted their tenets to posterity; and their conclusions are often as repugnant to each other as they are visionary and uncertain. The light of nature guides the deist with certainty to the knowledge of a Deity, and expires: the region beyond that point is to him all dark and dubious. What wonder then, that in attempting to explore the maze without light or guide, each adventurer should follow an eccentric path? what wonder, that each should return to the point whence he set out, and declare the only result of his discoveries to be that beyond that nothing certain can be known? The shame of defeat is commonly disguised by an affectation of modesty; and the humbled dependant
upon reason is ready to retort the charge of blas- CHAP. phemy with which he himself is so often followed. In constructing a religion of his own, he claims for A.D. 1725 himself the advantage he had denied to others; and the imperfection of man's reason is often the foundation of his scheme. He raises a fabric composed only of mere possibilities; and when his materials are questioned, he has recourse to this imperfection to prove that nothing more can be obtained: like the ancient academicians, each is powerful to destroy, each is impotent to build.
Bolingbroke was bewildered in all the uncertainty of his school. Like his predecessors in the same task, he had brought back from his wanderings in the regions of metaphysics nothing but a cargo of doubts and crudities. The former were confirmed by the contradictions into which he was continually betrayed; the latter were destroyed by the first application of the touchstone of reason.
Among the most important of these doubts was that which involved the immortality of the soul; a truth which Bolingbroke found his reason insufficient to establish, and which he therefore consistently abandoned. Nor is the rejection of this great truth any reproach to the understanding of Bolingbroke. It is a position which the ancient philosophers rather wished to believe than succeeded in proving. In the pursuit of it they were betrayed into a maze of absurdity, through which the most vigorous intellect toiled in vain. Seeing their failures, and possessing
CHAP. no other guide than that whose inadequacy they had so fully proved, it argued rather a strength than a weakness of mind in Bolingbroke, that he was able to apply the test he had chosen even to the hope which, of all others, mankind most ardently cherish. Whether the idea of the soul's immortality was a remnant of original revelation which had been imperfectly preserved amid the corruption or loss of every other principle of religion, or whether it was suggested by the abhorrence which humanity has always felt to the idea of absolute annihilation, is a question which has been disputed with little success. Whatever its origin, it is a problem which has employed the strenuous exertion of the mightiest of all uninspired minds. It has been followed with indefatigable industry, and traced through every difficulty.
But whether the uncertain testimony of tradition or the inward workings of the mind suggested the conclusion, it was the latter which pointed out the path which was pursued in order to demonstrate its truth. The powers of thought and volition were so utterly unaccountable-so entirely without analogy in the material creation around-so incomprehensible to the senses, that reflection could only teach men to infer that the soul, which was composed of them, must be of a nature altogether different from everything subject to the observation of the senses. When they learned that there was an existence imperceptible to sense, that they might argue from its immaterial nature some of its probable properties.
The absolute creation of anything from nothing CHAP. was an idea that to the ancients appeared so absurd, that the first principle of their philosophy was a denial of its possibility. The partiality of the moderns, who have derived a contrary idea from the declaration of revelation and the omnipotence of the Deity, has attempted in vain to disprove this fact ; and Plato has been sometimes praised for making an admission which he has plainly and positively denied. Perhaps Aristotle is the philosopher who has stated this dogma more distinctly. He says, speaking of Empedocles, that that philosopher agreed with all others in admitting, that it is impossible that anything can come from nothing, or can perish into nothing.
This maxim is certainly in accordance with all our experience. Matter we see decomposed, but never annihilated: the parts are separated, but they are still in existence; they enter into new combinations and form a new whole, but their individual existence has never been for a moment suspended.
Since, then, annihilation was held to be impossible, and since the destruction of material bodies was found to be occasioned only by the dissolution of their parts, the indivisible parts of matter were eternal and unchangeable. This was indeed a conclusion which experience could never verify, because the point of indivisibility was admitted to be unattainable by the senses; but it was a conclusion necessarily resulting from the premises which observation supplied.
As nothing was considered to be subject to annihilation, and nothing indivisible subject to change, and A.D. 1725 as every being composed of discordant* parts must to 1735. be formed of matter; whatever is immaterial must be without discordant parts, and consequently unchangeable, and thence consequently eternal.
Such was the reasoning by which the soul's immortality was concluded by the ancients;-a chain of reasoning entirely resting upon these four assumptions 1. that annihilation is impossible; 2. that nothing which is not material consists of discordant parts; 3. that the soul is not material; 4. that nothing but that which consists of discordant parts can change. The inference from these premises is of course necessary, that the soul is unchangeable in its nature, and therefore eternal.
But for the sake of establishing the conclusion, they had been obliged to encumber themselves with assumptions which could not be thrown aside when their office was performed. The dictum that nothing could be made to perish into nothing, involved also the further dictum that nothing could be created out of nothing; and this rendered necessary the embarrassing doctrine of the eternal pre-existence of the soul. When this was admitted, its immate
* By discordant parts are meant parts of different qualities, which, by their action upon one another in combination, form a substance differing from each. A substance A substance consisting of parts, all having
the same qualities, would suffer by their separation no alteration except a diminution in bulk. Thus the ancients do not offend against their own definition, when they make the soul a part of the Deity.