Lectures on Metaphysics

By SIR WILLIAM HAMILTON, BART., Professor of Logic and Metaphysics in the University of Edinburgh. Edited by the Rev. Henry Longueville Mansel, B. D., Oxford, and John Veitch, M. A., Edinburgh. Boston ; Gould & Lincoln. 8vo.

Few persons, with any pretensions to a knowledge of the metaphysicians of the century, are unacquainted with Sir William Hamilton. His articles in the “ Edinburgh Review ” on Cousin and Dr. Brown, and his Dissertations on Reid, are the most important contributions to philosophy made in Great Britain for many years. The present volume contains his Course of Lectures, forty-six in number, which he delivered as Professor of Metaphysics; and being intended for young students, they are, as compared with his other works, more comprehensible without being less comprehensive. The most conclusive proof of the excellence of these Lectures is to be found in their influence on the successive classes of students before whom they were pronounced. The universal testimony of the young men who were fortunate enough to listen to Hamilton has been, that his teaching not only inspired them with an enthusiasm for the science, and gave them clear ideas and accurate information, but directly aided them in the discipline of their minds. Some of his students became, later in life, champions of his system ; others became its opponents ; but opponents as well as champions warmly professed their obligations to their instructor, and dated their interest in philosophy from the period when they were brought by these Lectures within the contagious sphere of his powerful intellect. So numerous were these testimonials, that they gradually roused public curiosity to see and road what was so effective as spoken. That curiosity has now an opportunity of being gratified, and we do not doubt that these Lectures will have a greater popularity than usually attends philosophical publications. The American publishers deserve thanks for the cheap, compact, and elegant form of their reprint.

We have no space to present here an exposition of Hamilton’s system, or to discuss any of its leading principles. We can merely allude to some characteristics of his mode of thinking and writing which make his Lectures of especial value to those who propose to begin the study of metaphysics, or whose knowledge of the science is superficial. Hamilton has the immense advantage of being a scholar in that large sense which implies the exercise, not merely of attention and memory, but of every faculty of the mind, in the acquisition and arrangement of knowledge. His erudition is great, but it is also critical and interpretative. He knows intimately every philosophical writer from the dawn of speculation to the last German thinker, including the somewhat neglected Schoolmen of the Middle Ages ; and in this volume, every important question that arises is historically as well as analytically treated, and the names are given of the thinkers on both sides. In the course of one or two sentences, he often places the reader in a position to view a principle, not only in itself, but in relation to the controversies which have raged round it for two thousand years. Hamilton’s erudition is also displayed in the quotations with which his pages are sprinkled, — fragrant sentences, which came originally from the imagination or character of the writers he quotes, and which relieve his own abstract propositions and reasonings with concrete beauty or truth. Most of these quotations will be novel even to advanced students.

Hamilton is also admirable in statement. Confusion, vacillation, obscurity, uncertainty, are as foreign to his style as to his mind. He is almost rigid in his precision. Every word has its meaning, and every idea its stern, sure, decisive statement. His masterly powers of analysis, of reasoning, of generalization, are always adequately exhibited by a corresponding mastery of expression. The study of such a volume as the present is itself an education in statement and logic ; and that it will be studied by thousands, in the colleges and out of the colleges of the country, we cannot but hope.