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thereby that it is not evidence he seeks, but the quiet enjoyment of the opinion he is fond of, with a forward condemnation of all that may stand in opposition to it, unheard and unexamined; which, what is it but prejudice ? qui æquum statuerit, parte inaudità alterå, etiamsi æquum statuerit
, haud æquus fuerit. He that would acquit himself in this case as a lover of truth, not giving way to any pre-occupation or bias that may mislead him, must do two things that are not very common, nor very easy. Indifferency.
$ 11. First, he must not be in love with
any opinion, or wish it to be true, till he knows it to be so, and then he will not need to wish it: for nothing that is false can deserve our good wishes, nor a desire that it should have the place and force of truth; and yet nothing is more frequent than this. Men are fond of certain tenets upon no other evidence but respect and custom, and think they must maintain them, or all is gone; though they have never examined the ground they stand on, nor have ever made them out to themselves, or can make them out to others: we should contend earnestly for the truth, butiwe should first be sure that it is truth, or else we fight against God, who is the God of truth, and do the work of the devil, who is the father and propagator of lies; and our zeal, though ever so warm, will not excuse us, for this is plainly prejudice. Examine.
$ 12. Secondly, he must do that which
he will find himself very averse to, as judging the thing unnecessary, or himself incapable of doing it. He must try whether his principles be certainly true, or not, and how far he may safely rely upon them. This, whether fewer have the heart or the skill to do, I shall not determine; but this, I am sure, is that which every one ought to do, who professes to love truth, and would not impose upon himself; which is a surer way to be made a fool of than by being exposed to the sophistry of others. The disposition to put any cheat upon ourselves works constantly, and we are pleased with it, but are impatient of being bantered or misled by others. The inability I here speak of is not any natural defect that makes men incapable of examining their own principles. To such, rules of conducting their understandings are useless; and that is the case of very few. The great number is of those whom the ill habit of never exerting their thoughts has disabled; the powers of their minds are starved by disuse, and have lost that reach and strength which nature fitted them to receive from exercise. Those who are in a condition to learn the first rules of plain arithmetic, and could be brought to cast up an ordinary sum, are capable of this, if they had but accustomed their minds to reasoning: but they that have wholly neglected the exercise of their understandings in this way, will be very far, at first, from being able to do it, and as unfit for it as one unpractised in figures to cast up a shop-book, and, perhaps, think it as strange to be set about it. And yet it must nevertheless be confessed to be a wrong use of our understandings, to build our tenets (in things where we are concerned to hold the truth) upon principles that may lead us into error. We take our principles at haphazard, upon trust, and without ever having examined them, and then believe a whole system, upon a presumption that they are true and solid; and what is all this, but childish, shameful, senseless credulity?
In these two things, viz. an equal indifferency for all truth; I mean the receiving it, the love of it, as truth, but not loving it for any other reason, before we know it to be true; and in the examination of our principles, and not receiving any for such, nor building on them, till we are fully convinced, as rational creatures, of their solidity, truth, and certainty; consists that freedom of the understanding which is necessary to a rational creature, and without which it is not truly an understanding. It is conceit, fancy, extravagance, any thing rather than understanding, if it must be under the constraint of receiving and holding opinions by the authority of any thing but their own, not fancied, but perceived, evidence. This was rightly called imposition, and is of all other the worst and most dangerous sort of it. For we impose upon ourselves, which is the strongest imposition of all others; and we impose upon ourselves in that part which ought with the greatest care to be kept free from all imposition. The world is apt to cast great blame on those who have an indifferency for opinions, especially in religion. I fear this is the foundation of great error and worse consequences. To be indifferent which of two opinions is true, is the right temper of the mind that preserves it from being imposed on, and disposes it to examine with that indifferency, till it has done its best to find the truth, and this is the only direct and safe way to it. But to be indifferent whether we embrace falsehood or truth, is the great road to error. Those who are not indifferent which opinion is true, are guilty of this; they suppose, without examining, that what they hold is true, and then think they ought to be zealous for it. Those, it is plain by their warmth and eagerness, are not indifferent for their own opinions, but methinks are very indifferent whether they be true or false ; since they cannot endure to have any doubts raised, or objections made against them; and it is visible they never have made any themselves, and so, never having examined them, know not, nor are concerned, as they should be, to know whether they be true or false.
These are the common and most general miscarriages which I think men should avoid, or rectify, in
right conduct of their understandings, and should be particularly taken care of in education. The business whereof, in respect of knowledge, is not, as I think, to perfect a learner in all or any one of the sciences, but to give his mind that freedom, that disposition, and those habits, that may enable him to attain any part of knowledge he shall apply himself to, or stand in need of in the future course of his life. ; This, and this only, is well principling, and not the instilling a reverence and veneration for certain dogmas, under the specious title of principles, which are often so remote from that truth and evidence which belongs to principles, that they ought to be rejected, as false and erroneous; and often cause men so educated, when they come abroad into the world, and find they cannot maintain the principles so taken up and rested in, to cast off all principles, and turn perfect sceptics, regardless of knowledge and virtue.
There are several weaknesses and defects in the understanding, either from the natural temper of the mind, or ill habits taken up, which hinder it in its progress to knowledge. Of these, there are as many, possibly, to be found, if the mind were thoroughly studied, as there are diseases of the body, each whereof clogs and disables the understanding to some degree, and therefore deserves to be looked after and cured. I shall set down some few to excite men, especially those who make knowledge their business, to look into themselves, and observe whether they do not indulge some weaknesses, allow some miscarriages in the management of their intellectual faculty, which is prejudicial to them in the search of truth.
$ 13. Particular matters of fact are the undoubted foundations on which our civil and natural knowledge is built: the benefit the understanding makes of them is to draw from them conclusions, which may be as standing rules of knowledge, and consequently of practice. The mind often makes not that benefit it should of the information it receives from the accounts of civil or natural historians, by being too forward or too slow in making observations on the particular facts recorded in them.
There are those who are very assiduous in reading, and yet do not much advance their knowledge by it. They are delighted with the stories that are told, and perhaps can tell them again, for they make all they read nothing but history to themselves; but not re
flecting on it, not making to themselves observations from what they read, they are very little improved by all that crowd of particulars, that either pass through, or lodge themselves in their understandings. They dream on in a constant course of reading and cramming themselves; but not digesting any thing, it produces nothing but a heap of crudities.
If their memories retain well, one may say, they have the materials of knowledge; but, like those for building, they are of no advantage, if there be no other use made of them but to let them lie heaped up together. Opposite to these, there are others who lose the improvement they should make of matters of fact by a quite contrary conduct. They are apt to draw general conclusions, and raise axioms from every particular they meet with. These make as little true benefit of history as the other; nay, being of forward and active spirits, receive more harm by it; it being of worse consequence to steer one's thoughts by a wrong rule, than to have none at all; error doing to busy men much more harm than ignorance to the slow and sluggish. Between these, those seem to do best, who taking material and useful hints, sometimes from single matters of fact, carry them in their minds to be judged of, by what they shall find in history, to confirm or reverse these imperfect observations; which may be established into rules fit to be relied on, when they are justified by a sufficient and wary induction of particulars. He that makes no such reflections on what he reads, only loads his mind with a rhapsody of tales, fit, in winter-nights, for the entertainment of others: and he that will improve every matter of fact into a maxim, will abound in contrary observations, that can be of no other use but to perplex and pudder him, if he compares them; or else to misguide him, if he gives himself up to the authority of that, which for its novelty, or for some other fancy, best pleases him. Bias.
$ 14. Next to these, we may place those who suffer their own natural tempers and