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that millions of men do now exist, yet, whilst I am alone writing this, I have not that certainty of it which we strictly call knowledge; though the great likelihood of it puts me past doubt, and it be reasonable for me to do several things upon the confidence that there are men (and men also of my acquaintance, with whom I have to do now in the world: but this is but probability, not knowledge.
§ 10. Whereby yet we may observe, Folly to exhow foolish and vain a thing it is for a
pect demonman of a narrow knowledge, who having stration in reason given him to judge of the dif- every thing. ferent evidence and probability of things, and to be swayed accordingly, --how vain, I say, it is to expect demonstration and certainty in things not capable of it, and refuse assent to very rational propositions, and act contrary to very plain and clear truths, because they cannot be made out so evident as to surmount every the least (I will not say reason but) pretence of doubting. He that in the ordinary affairs of life would admit of nothing but direct plain demonstration, would be sure of nothing in this world, büt of perishing quickly. The wholesomeness of his meat or drink would not give him reason to venture on it: and I would fain know, what it is he could do upon such grounds as are capable of no doubt, no objection.
§ 11. As when our senses are actually Past existemployed about any object, we do know that it does exist; so by our memory we
known by may be assured, that heretofore things memory. . that affected our senses have existed. And thus we have knowledge of the past existence of several things whereof, our senses having informed us, our memories still retain the ideas; and of this we are past all doubt, so long as we remember well. But this knowledge also reaches no farther than our senses have formerly assured us. Thus seeing water at this instant, it is an unquestionable truth to me that water doth exist: and remembering that I saw it yesterday, it will also be
always true, and, as long as my memory retains it,
$ 12. What ideas we have of spirits,
and how we come by them, I have already spirits not
shown. But though we have those ideas knowable.
in our minds, and know we have them there, the having the ideas of spirits does not make us know that any such things do exist without us, or that there are any finite spirits, or any other spiritual beings but the eternal God. We have ground from revelation, and several other reasons, to believe with assurance that there are such creatures: but, our senses not being able to discover them, we want the means of knowing their particular existences. For we can no more know, that there are finite spirits really existing, by the idea we have of such beings in our minds, than by the ideas any one has of fairies, or centaurs, he can come to know that things answering those ideas do really exist.
And therefore concerning the existence of finite spirits, as well as several other things, we must content ourselves with the evidence of faith; but universal certain propositions concerning this matter are beyond our reach. For however true it may be, v. g; that all the intelligent spirits that God ever created do still exist; yet it can never make a part of our
certain knowledge. These and the like propositions we may assent to as highly probable, but are not, I fear, in this state capable of knowing. We are not then to put others upon demonstrating, nor ourselves upon search of universal certainty, in all those matters, wherein we are not capable of any other knowledge, but what our senses give us in this or that particular. $ 13. By which it appears, that there
Particular are two sorts of propositions, 1. There is
propositions one sort of propositions concerning the concerning existence of any thing answerable to such
existence an idea : as having the idea of an elephant,
are knowphoenix, motion, or an angel, in my mind, the first and natural inquiry is, Whether such a thing does any where exist? And this knowledge is only of particulars. No existence of any thing without us, but only of God, can certainly be known farther than our senses inform us. 2. There is another sort of propositions, wherein is expressed the agreement or disagreement of our abstract ideas, and their dependence on one another. Such propositions may be universal and certain. So having the idea of God and myself, of fear and obedience, I cannot but be sure that God is to be feared and obeyed by me: and this proposition will be certain, concerning man in general, if I have made an abstract idea of such a species, whereof I am one particular. But yet this proposition, how certain soever, that men ought to fear and obey God, proves not to me the existence of men in the world, but will be true of all such creatures, whenever they do exist: which certainty of such general propositions depends on the agreement or disagreement to be discovered in those abstract ideas. $ 14. In the former case, our know
And general ledge is the consequence of the existence
propositions of things producing ideas in our minds concerning by our senses : in the latter, knowledge is
abstract the consequence of the ideas (be they
what they will) that are in our minds producing there general certain propositions. Many of these are called æternæ veritates, and all of them indeed are so; not from being written all or any of them in the minds of all men, or that they were any of them propositions in one's mind till he, having got the abstract ideas, joined or separated them by affirmation or négation. But wheresoever we can suppose such a creature as man is, endowed with such faculties, and thereby furnished with such ideas as we have, we must conclude, he must needs, when he applies his thoughts to the consideration of his ideas, know the truth of certain propositions, that will arise from the agreement or disagreement which he will perceive in his own ideas. Such propositions are therefore called eternal truths, not because they are eternal propositions actually formed, and antecedent to the understanding, that at any time makes them; nor because they are imprinted on the mind from any patterns, that are any where out of the mind, and existed before: but because being once made about abstract ideas, so as to be true, they will, whenever they can be supposed to be made again at any time past or to come, by a mind having those ideas, always actually be true. For names being supposed to stand perpetually for the same ideas, and the same ideas having immutably the same habitudes one to another; propositions concerning any abstract ideas, that are once true, must needs be eternal verities.
Of the Improvement of our Knowledge.
Knowledge is not from maxims.
§ 1. It having been the common received opinion amongst men of letters, that maxims were the foundation of all
sion of that
knowledge; and that the sciences were each of them built upon certain præcognita, from whence the understanding was to take its rise, and by which it was to conduct itself, in its inquiries into the matters belonging to that science; the beaten road of the schools has been, to lay down in the beginning one or more general propositions, as foundations whereon to build the knowledge that was to be had of that subject. These doctrines, thus laid down for foundations of any science, were called principles, as the beginnings from which we must set out, and look no farther backwards in our inquiries, as we have already observed.
§ 2. One thing which might probably give an occasion to this way of proceeding (The occain other sciences, was (as I suppose) the
opinion.) good success it seemed to have in mathematics, wherein men being obseryed to attain a great certainty of knowledge, these sciences came by preeminence to be called Mæbýjala, and Mádrous, learning, or things learned, thoroughly learned, as having of all others the greatest certainty, clearness, and evidence in them. § 3. But if any one will consider, he
But from the will (I guess) find, that the great ad. comparing vancement and certainty of real know- clear and ledge, which men arrived to in these
ideas. sciences, was not owing to the influence of these principles, nor derived from any peculiar advantage they received from two or three general maxims, laid down in the beginning; but from the clear, distinct, complete ideas their thoughts were employed about, and the relation of equality and excess so clear between some of them, that they had an intuitive knowledge, and by that a way to discover it in others, and this without the help of those maxims. For I ask, is it not possible for a young lad to know, that his whole body is bigger than his little finger, but by virtue of this axiom, that the whole is bigger