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ON PREJUDICE.

It is to speculative people, fond of novel doctrines, and who, by accustoming themselves to make the most fundamental truths the subject of discussion, have divested their minds of that reverence which is generally felt for opinions and practices of long standing, that the world is ever to look for its improvement or reformation. But it is also these speculatists who introduce into it absurdities and errors, more gross than any

which have been established by that common consent of numerous individuals, which opinions long acted upon must have required for their basis. For systems of the latter class must at least possess one property,—that of being practicable; and there is likewise a presumption that they are, or at least originally were, useful; whereas the opinions of the speculatist may turn out to be utterly incongruous and eccentric. The speculatist may. invent machines which it is impossible to put in action, or which, when put in action, may possess the tremendous power of tearing up society by the roots. Like the chemist; he is not sure in the

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moment of projection whether he shall blow up his own dwelling and that of his neighbour, or whether he shall be rewarded with a discovery which will secure the health and prolong the existence of future generations. It becomes us, therefore, to examine with peculiar care those maxims which, under the appearance of following a closer train of reasoning, militate against the usual practices or genuine feelings of mankind. No subject has been more canvassed than education. With regard to that important object, there is a maxim avowed by many sensible people, which seems to me to deserve particular investi

gation “Give your child,” it is said, “no prejudices : let reason be the only foundation of his opinions; where he cannot reason, let him suspend his belief. Let your great care be, that as he grows up he has nothing to unlearn; and never make use of authority in matters of opinion, for authority is no test of truth.” The maxim sounds well, and flatters perhaps the secret pride of man, in supposing him more the creature of reason than he really is; but, I suspect, on examination we shall find it exceedingly fallacious. We must first consider what a prejudice is. A prejudice is a sentiment in favour or disfavour of any person, practice, or opinion, previous to and independent of examining their merits by reason and investigation. Prejudice is pre-judging; that

is, judging previously to evidence. It is therefore sufficiently apparent, that no philosophical belief can be founded on mere prejudice; because it is the business of philosophy to go deep into the nature and properties of things : nor can it be allowable for those to indulge prejudice who aspire to lead the public opinion; those to whom the high office is appointed of sifting truth from error, of canvassing the claims of different systems, of exploding old and introducing new tenets. These must investigate with a kind of audacious boldness every subject that comes before them; these, neither imprest with awe for all that mankind have been taught to reverence, nor swayed by affection for whatever the sympathies of our nature incline us to love, must hold the balance with a severe and steady hand, while they are weighing the doubtful scale of probabilities; and with a stoical apathy of mind, yield their assent to nothing but a preponderancy of evidence. But is this an office for a child ? Is it an office for more than one or two men in a century? And is it desirable that a child should grow up without opinions to regulate his conduct, till he is able to form them fairly by the exercise of his own abilities? Such an exercise requires at least the sober period of matured reason : reason not only sharpened by argumentative discussion, but informed by experience. The most sprightly child

can only possess the former; for let it be remem bered, that though the reasoning powers put forth pretty early in life, the faculty of using them to effect does not come till much later. The first efforts of a child in reasoning resemble those quick and desultory motions by which he gains the play of his limbs; they show agility and grace, they are pleasing to look at, and necessary for the gradual acquirement of his bodily powers; but his joints must be knit into more firmness, and his movements regulated with more precision, before he is capable of useful labour and manly exertion. A reasoning child is not yet a reasonable being. There is great propriety in the legal phraseology which expresses maturity, not by having arrived at the possession of reason, but of that power, the late result of information, thought, and experience -discretion, which alone teaches, with regard to reason, its powers, its limits, and its use. This the child of the most sprightly parts cannot have; and therefore his attempts at reasoning, whatever acuteness they may show, and how much soever they may please a parent with the early promise of future excellence, are of no account whatever in the sober search after truth. Besides, taking it for granted (which however is utterly impossible) that a youth could be brought up to the age of fifteen or sixteen without prejudice in favour of any opinions whatever, and that he is then set to

examine for himself some important proposition, -how is he to set about it? Who is to recommend books to him? Who is to give him the previous information necessary to comprehend the question? Who is to tell him whether or no it is important? - Whoever does these will infallibly lay a bias upon his mind according to the ideas he himself has received upon the subject. Let us 'suppose the point in debate was the preference between the Roman catholic and protestant modes of religion. Can a youth in a protestant country, born of protestant parents, with access, probably, to hardly a single controversial book on the Roman catholic side of the question,-can such a one study the subject without prejudice? His knowledge of history, if he has such knowledge, must, according to the books he has read, have already given him a prejudice on the one side or the other; so must the occasional conversation he has been witness to, the appellations he has heard used, the tone of voice with which he has heard the words monk or priest pronounced, and a thousand other evanescent circumstances. It is likewise to be observed, that every question of any weight and importance has numerous dependencies and points of connexion with other subjects, which make it impossible to enter upon the consideration of it without a great variety of previous knowledge. There is no object of investi

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