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ON SOME OF THE FIRST PRINCIPLES
METAPHYSICES, ETHICKS, AND TEOLOGY.
BY ASA BURTON, D. D.
PASTOR OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN THETFORD, VERMONT
PRINTED BY ARTHUR SHIRLEY.
District of Vermont, To wit :
BE IT REMEMBERED, that on the twenty-third day of February,
in the forty-eighth year of the Independence of the United States of L.S. America, the
REV. ASA BURTON, 8888888 of the said District, hath deposited in this office, the title of a book, the right whersof he claims as author, in the words following, to wit :
Essays on some of the first principles of Metaphysicks, Ethicks, and Theology. “By Asa Burton, D. D. Pastor of the Church in Thetford, Vermont.”
In conformity to the act of the Congress of the United States, entitled “ An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of maps, charts, and books to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned."
Clerk of the District Court of Vermont. A true copy of record, examined and sealed by me,
J. GOVE, Clerk,
Tappen Presb, Ass 1 - 23- 1932
THE AUTHOR of the following essays, when he first entered on the study of theology, felt the importance of forming a just and true theory of the human mind. This feeling prompted him to read with attention all the most noted and distinguished authors, he could find, on the subject of pneumatology.—He expected, by studying them, to digest a true system. This course he' pursued for several years. When he had carefully attended to English, Scotch, French and German authors, instead of finding increased light, his mind was more darkened and perplexed with respect to several parts of this very important subject. Failing of success in this way, he determined to lay aside reading authors, except occasionally, and make an attempt by an exertion of his own powers, to arrange his thoughts systematically on the principles and operations of the human mind. In this way, he has succeeded, in some good measure, to his own satisfaction.That theory of the mind, which was the result of much study, and which he had taught students in divinity under his care; which was generally approved by them, and which they frequently urged him to publish, it is the object of these essays to illustrate and explain. In doing this, he determined not to adopt the plan or theory of any author he had ever read, for this reason; he does not agree, except in part, with the system or plan of any preceding author. He, however, approves many things they have advanced, and views them as having reflected much light on this science. He feels himself much indebted to them, for a number of important suggestions, which have afforded him much assistance in the work before him.
As it is not his design to follow others by adopting their theories ; so he does not write in opposition to them, any further than is necessa
ry to support his own opinions. His object is to illustrate, as far as he proceeds, the true theory of the human mind; and avoid all disputation, as far as can be done consistently.
In the essays on the mind, he means to take facts, experience, and common sense for his guides. He does not design to form a system on any other principles, than those which are self-evident, or capable of demonstration. Whatever opinions respecting the mind he may advance, which do not agree with experience, with facts, and the word of God, are to be rejected. For principles, which contradict daily experience, cannot be true. Principles, which do not agree with the lives, and conduct of mankind, are not to be received. And if they do not accord with what the word of God teaches us concerning the characters of sinners and saints, they are false. All the external, visible actions of mankind, whether virtuous or vicious, may be traced back to first principles in the mind. By these principles we can account for the conduct of all men, or for the events which take place in the moral world, as well as we can explain the phenomena of nature, by the first principles in natural philosophy. Hence no hypothesis is to be admitted as true, which does not agree with experience, with facts respecting our visible conduct, and with the word of Jehovah.
Again. As every science is founded on what may be justly termed first principles, so this is especially true with respect to the science of theology. And no person can be considered as understanding systematically any science, if he is unacquainted with its first principles. And whosoever will examine the subject carefully, and candidly, will find that intelligent existence contains the first principles of divinity. It is generally granted, that if a person does not understand the subjects of moral agency, and liberty, there are many other subjects connected with these, of which he cannot have a consistent view, and which he cannot satisfactorily explain. Of course he is not a systematic, or good divine. But a knowledge of moral agency and liberty involves a knowledge of the principles and operations of the mind. Hence these principles and operations are the foundation of divinity. Without a knowledge of these, a person is not acquainted with the foundation on which divinity, considered as a superstructure, rests. This slows the importance of a thorough acquaintance with the first principles, and the operations of the mind.
These essays therefore, are designed as an introduction to divinity. The author's great object, in explaining what appears to him to be the true theory of the mind, is, to assist the student in acquiring a systematic and consistent knowledge of divinity. He does not purpose to attend to any questions, or disquisitions relative to the mind, which are not necessary to answer this end. Whatsoever will not, in his view, serve to reflect light on subjects in theology, does not come within the compass and design of his plan.
It has been found by experience, that the classing of objects assists the memory, and renders the acquisition of knowledge more easy, and rapid. This is the plan the author designs to adopt with respect to operations of the mind. If certain qualities are found to belong to a number of individual existences, they are classed together, and denominated by some general name. For instance: We find many individuals are endued with life and motion ; they are formed into a class, and called animals. Though these properties are common to them all, yet some of these individuals possess properties, which others do not ; for this reason a general class is divided into a number, called species. Man is one species of animals ; beast, bird, and so on, are other species. Hence, among individual existences, according to the various qualities with which they are endued, there is a generic and a specific difference. In like manner, the operations of the mind are not all of one kind, but they differ from each other ; for which reason they ought to be formed into distinct, general classes; and these general classes may be divided, according to their specific differences. This method will give a systematic arrangement to the several divisions of mental operations. It will greatly assist the memory; and help the student in acquiring a clear, and distinct knowledge of the principles and operations of spiritual substances.
Authors have pursued different plans in the study of the human mind. Some have not only attended to its faculties and operations, but have in connexion with them attended to all the objects with which the mind is ever conversant. This leads them into a very extensive field, in which a student is in danger of being lost. In these essays, the author has pursued a different course. He has attended, as far as possible consistent with perspicuity, to the faculties of the mind, and their operations, without describing the numerous objects of perception and choice.