صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

cated arguments'; yet it' concerns readers not to be imposed

on by fallacies, and the prevailing ways of insinuation. To do this, the surest and most effectual remedy is to fix in the mind the clear and distinct ideas of the question stripped of words; and so likewise in the train of argumentation, to take up the author's ideas, neglecting his words, observing how they connect or separate those in the question. He that does this will be able to cast off all that is

superfluous; he will see what is pertinent, what coherent, what is direct to, what slides by, the question. This will readily show him all the foreign ideas in the discourse, and where they were brought in; and though they perhaps dazzled the writer, yet he will perceive that they give no light nor strength to his reasonings: This, though it be the shortest and easiest

way

of reading books with profit, and keeping one's self from being misled' by great names or plausible discourses; yet it being hard and tedious to those who have not accustomed themselves to it, it is not to be expected that every one (amongst those few who really pursue truth) should this way guard his understanding from being imposed on by the wilful, or at least undesigned sophistry, which creeps into most of the books of argument. They, that write against their conviction, or that, next to them, are resolved to maintain the tenets of a party they are engaged in, cannot be supposed to reject any arms that may help to defend their cause, and therefore such should be read with the greatest caution. And they, who write for opinions they are sincerely persuaded of, and believe to be true, think they may so far. allow themselves to indulge their laudable affection to truth, as to permit their esteem of it to give it the best colours, and set it off with the best expressions and dress they can, thereby to gain it the easiest entrance into the minds of their readers, and fix it deepest there.

One of those being the state of mind we may justly suppose most writers to be in, it is fit their readers, who apply to them for instruction, should not lay by that caution which becomes a sincere pursuit of truth, and should make them always watchful against whatever might conceal or misrepresent it. If they have not the skill of representing to themselves the author's sense by pure ideas separated from sounds, and thereby divested of the false lights and deceitful ornaments of speech; this yet they should do, they should keep the precise question steadily in their minds, carry it along with them through the whole discourse, and suffer not the least alteration in the terms, either by addition, subtraction, or substituting any other. This every one can do who has a mind to it; and he that has not a mind to it, it is plain, makes his understanding only the warehouse of other men's lumber; I mean false and unconcluding reasonings, rather than a repository of truth for his own use; which will prove substantial, and stand him in stead, when he has occasion for it. And whether such an one deals fairly by his own mind, and conducts his own understanding right, I leave to his own understanding to judge. § 43. The mind of man being very nar

Fundamenrow, and so slow in making acquaintance tal verities. with things, and taking in new truths, that no one man is capable, in a much longer life than ours, to know all truths; it becomes our prùdence, in our search after knowledge, to employ our thoughts about fundamental and material questions, carefully avoiding those that are trifling, and not suffering ourselves to be diverted from our main even purpose, by those that are merely incidental. How much of many young men's time is thrown away in purely logical inquiries, I need not mention. This is no better than if a man, who was to be a painter, should spend all his time in examining the threads of the several cloths he is to paint upon, and counting the hairs of each pencil and brush he intends to use in the laying on of his colours. Nay, it is much worse than for a young painter to spend his apprenticeship in such useless niceties; for he, at the end of all his pains to no purpose, finds that it is not painting, nor any help to it, and so is really to no purpose: whereas men designed for scholars have often their heads so filled and warmed with disputes on logical questions, that they take those airy useless notions for real and substantial knowledge, and think their understandings so well furnished with science, that they need not look any farther into the nature of things, or descend to the mechanical drudgery of experiment and inquiry. This is so obvious a mismanagement of the understanding, and that in the professed way to knowledge, that it could not be passed by; to which might be joined abundance of questions, and the way of handling of them in the schools. What faults in particular of this kind every man is, or may be guilty of, would be infinite to enumerate; it suffices to have shown that superficial and slight discoveries and observations that contain nothing of moment in themselves, nor serve as clues to lead us into farther knowledge, should not be thought worth our searching after.

There are fundamental truths that lie at the bottom, the basis upon which a great many others rest, and in which they have their consistency. These are teeming truths, rich in store, with which they furnish the mind, and, like the lights of heaven, are not only beautiful and entertaining in themselves, but give light and evidence to other things, that without them could not be seen or known. Such is that admirable discovery of Mr. Newton, that all bodies gravitate to one another, which may be counted as the basis of natural philosophy; which, of what use it is to the understanding of the great frame of our solar system, he has to the astonishment of the learned world shown; and how much farther it would guide us in other things, if rightly pursued, is not yet known. Our Saviour's great rule, that " we should love our neighbour as ourselves,” is such a fundamental truth for the regulating human society, that, I think, by that alone, one might without difficulty determine all the cases and doubts in social morality. These and such as these are the truths we should endeavour to find out, and store our minds with. Which leads me to another thing in the conduct of the understanding that is no less necessary, viz.

$44. To accustom ourselves, in any question proposed, to examine and find Bottoming. out upon what it bottoms. Most of the difficulties that come in our way, when well considered and traced, lead us to some proposition, which, known to be true, clears the doubt, and gives an easy solution of the question; whilst topical and superficial arguments, of which there is store to be found on both sides, filling the head with variety of thoughts, and the mouth with copious discourse, serve only to amuse the understanding, and entertain company without coming to the bottom of the question, the only place of rest and stability for an inquisitive mind, whose tendency is only to truth and knowledge.

For example, if it be demanded, whether the grand seignior can lawfully take what he will from

any

of his people? This question cannot be resolved without coming to a certainty, whether all men are naturally equal; for upon that it turns; and that truth weil settled in the understanding, and carried in the mind through the various debates concerning the various rights of men in society, will go a great way in putting an end to them, and showing on which side the truth is.

$ 45. There is scarce any thing more Transferfor the improvement of knowledge, for ring of the ease of

life, and the despatch of bu- thoughts. siness, than for a man to be able to dispose of his own thoughts; and there is scarce any thing harder in the whole conduct of the understanding than to get a full mastery over it. The mind, in a waking man, has always some object that it applies itself to; which,

[ocr errors]

when we are lazy or unconcerned, we can easily change, and at pleasure transfer our thoughts to another, and from thence to a third, which has no relation to either of the former. Hence men forwardly conclude, and frequently say, nothing is so free as thought, and it were well it were so; but the contrary will be found true in several instances; and there are many cases wherein there is nothing more resty and ungovernable than our thoughts: they will not be directed what objects to pursue, nor be taken off from those they have once fixed on; but run away with a man in pursuit of those ideas they have in view, let him do what he can.

I will not here mention again what I have above taken notice of, how hard it is to get the mind, narrowed by a custom of thirty or forty years standing to a scanty collection of obvious and common ideas, to enlarge itself to a more copious stock, and grow into an acquaintance with those that would afford more abundant matter of useful contemplation; it is not of this I am here speaking. The inconveniency I would here represent, and find a remedy for, is the difficulty there is sometimes to transfer our minds from one subject to another, in cases where the ideas are equally familiar to us.

Matters, that are recommended to our thoughts by any of our passions, take possession of our minds with a kind of authority, and will not be kept out or dislodged; but, as if the passion that rules were, for the time, the sheriff of the place, and came with all the posse, the understanding is seized and taken with the object it introduces, as if it had a legal right to be alone considered there. There is scarce any body, I think, of so calm a temper who hath not some time found this tyranny on his understanding, and suffered under the inconvenience of it. Who is there almost, whose mind, at some time or other, love or anger, fear or grief, has not so fastened to some clog, that it could not turn itself to any other object? I call it a

« السابقةمتابعة »