Page images
PDF
EPUB

taken up much of our time, will nevertheless, I hope, prove a saving of time in the progress of our work. Imperfect as it is, it will enable us to guard against certain mistakes very common in the Science of Religion. We have established certain broad lines of division in language and religion, and we shall hear no more of what used to be called the religion of savages, or barbarians, or black men, or red men, or Africans, or Americans. The student of religion knows no savages, no barbarians. Some of the races who are called savage or barbarous possess the purest, simplest, and truest views of religion, while some nations who consider themselves in the very van of civilisation, profess religious dogmas of the most degraded and degrading character. The African Zulu who was a match for Bishop Colenso, cannot be classed as an African or black man together with the royal butchers of Dahomey; and the Inca philosopher who searched for something more divine than the sun, cannot be placed by the side of the Blackfoot performing the sun-dance 1. .

Progress in the Science of Religion means at present discrimination, both with regard to the subject and the object of religious faith. As we speak no longer of the believers in a religion as either savages or barbarians, black men or red men, Africans or Americans, the idea also that we can truly characterise any religion by such general terms as fetishism, totemism, animism, solarism, shamanism, etc., has long been surrendered by all critical students. In

i The Blackfoot Sun-Dance, by Rev. John McLean, in the Pro: ceedings of the Canadian Institute, No. 151 ; 1889. Notes bearing on the use of ordure in rites of a religious character, by John G. Bourke, Washington, 1888.

gredients of all these isms may be found in most religions, but not one of them can be fully defined by such vague terms. Religions are everywhere the result of a long historical growth, and, like languages, they retain even in their latest forms traces of the stages through which they have passed. There is fetishism in some forms of Christianity; there is spiritualism in the creed of some so-called worshippers of fetishes. Generalisation will come in time, but generalisation without a thorough knowledge of particulars is the ruin of all sciences, and has hitherto proved the greatest danger to the Science of Religion.

LECTURE XIV.

LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT.

What should we be without Language ? A FTER we have finished our survey of the lanA guages which are spoken at present over the civilised world, and which have been spoken there so long as we know anything of the presence of the human race on this planet of ours, it is time to ask the question, what language really is.

Now I ask, Do you know anything in the whole world more wonderful than language ?

No doubt, even if we were not able to speak, we should still be able to see, to hear, to taste, to smell, and to feel

We could taste what is sweet and like it, and taste what is bitter and dislike it. We might run away from the fire, because it burns, and turn towards the water, because it is cool, or because it quenches our thirst; but we should have no words to distinguish fire from water, or hot from cold, or sweet from bitter. We should be like children who have burnt their fingers and cry, who have tasted sugar and smile, who have swallowed vinegar and howl. Some people might call this running away from what hurts, and turning towards what is pleasant, rational, just as they say that a dog is rational because he runs away from his master when he raises his stick, and jumps up at him when he holds out a piece of meat.

If by a bold metaphor this is to be called reason, we need not object, if only we distinguish between conscious and unconscious, between worded and unworded reason, and if we remember that, by using reason in that very enlarged sense, we may be driven in the end to call even the shutting of our eyes at the approach of a blow an act of reasoning.

However, with or without language, we might certainly do all this, and a great deal more. We might fight and kill, we might love and protect. We might, if we were very clever, accumulate dispositions and habits which by repeated inheritance would enable our descendants to build nests, or warrens, or beehive huts. The strongest might possibly learn to act as sentinels and make themselves obeyed; the weaker sex might even invent signals of danger and other signs of communication.

I doubt not that chivalrous and unchivalrous feelings also might be aroused in our breast, such as we see among the higher animals, and that jealousy and revenge as well as friendship and love might influence our actions.

But with all this, imagine that we were sitting here, looking at one another with a kind of goodnatured bovine stare, but without a single word, not only on our lips, but in our minds ; our mind being in fact a mere negative plate, without our being able to lay hold of any of the outlines drawn on it, by saying this is this, and this is that!

Definition of Thinking. Some philosophers, as you know, hold that men, like animals, though they possessed no language,

Define

might still sit silent and think. Unfortunately they do not tell us what they mean and what they do not mean by thinking, but it seems clear that they use thinking as synonymous with every kind of mental activity. Des Cartes, when discussing his fundamental principle, Cogito ergo sum, did the same; but, as an honest philosopher, he warned us that he used cogitare in that widest sense ', so as to include sensation, perception, memory, imagination, and all the rest. If the meaning of to think is avowedly stretched to that extent, no one would dream of denying that animals, though speechless, can think, and that we also could think without language, that is to say, without ever having possessed language, without knowing one word from another.

What are we thinking of ? But now let us ask those philosophers the simple question, If we can think without language, what are we thinking of? What indeed ? I do not wish to lay a trap, like a cross-examining lawyer. Of course, if you told me what you were thinking of, you could do it only by using a word. Nor do I claim to be a thought-reader, and tell you, without your having told me, what you are thinking off, for that, of course, I could only do by using a word. But I ask you to ask yourselves, what you are thinking of, if you are thinking of anything, and I shall join myself in that experiment. Suppose we were all thinking, as we call it, of a dog, then as soon as we attempt to answer to ourselves the question, What are we think

1 Des Cartes, Méditations, ed. Cousin, vol. i. p. 253'; Qu'est ce qu'une chose qui pense ? C'est une chose qui doute, qui entend, qui conçoit, qui affirme, qui nie, qui veut, qui ne veut pas, qui imagine aussi, et qui sent.'

A a

« PreviousContinue »