صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

little bene

terms, the apter to produce wonder, because they could not be understood: whilst it appears in all history, that these profound doctors were no wiser, nor more useful, than their neighbours; and brought but small advantage to human life, or the societies wherein they lived; unless the coining of new words, where they produced no new things to apply them to, or the perplexing or obscuring the signification of old ones, and so bringing all things into question and dispute, were a thing profitable to the life of man, or worthy commendation and reward.

$ 9. For notwithstanding these learned This learndisputants, these all-knowing doctors, iting very was to the unscholastic statesman that the

fits society. governments of the worldowed their peace, defence, and liberties; and from the illiterate and contemned mechanic (a name of disgrace) that they received the improvements of useful arts. Nevertheless, this artificial ignorance and learned gibberish prevailed mightily in these last ages, by the interest and artifice of those who found no easier way to that pitch of authority and dominion they have attained, than by amusing the men of business and ignorant with hard words, or employing the ingenious and idle in intricate disputes about unintelligible terms, and holding them perpetually entangled in that endless labyrinth. Besides, there is no such way to gain admittance, or give defence to strange and absurd doctrines, as to guard them round about with legions of obscure, doubtful, and undefined words: which yet make these retreats more like the dens of robbers, or holes of foxes, than the fortresses of fair warriors; which if it be hard to get them out of, it is not for the strength that is in them, but the briars and thorns, and the obscurity of the thickets they are beset with. For untruth being unacceptable to the mind of man, there is no other defence left for absurdity but obscurity.

§ 10. Thus learned ignorance, and this Butdestroys art of keeping, even inquisitive men, from the instrutrue knowledge, hath been propagated in

ments of

VOL. II.

т

knowledge the world, and hath much perplexed, whilst and commu

it pretended to inform the understanding. nication.

For we see that other well-meaning and wise men, whose education and parts had not acquired that acuteness, could intelligibly express themselves to one another; and in its plain use make a benefit of language. But though unlearned men well enough understood the words white and black, &c. and had constant notions of the ideas signified by those words; yet there were philosophers found, who had learning and subtilty enough to prove, that snow was black; i.e. to prove that white was black. Whereby they had the advantage to destroy the instruments and means of discourse, conversation, instruction, and society; whilst with great art and subtilty they did no more but perplex and confound the signification of words; and thereby render language less useful than the real defects of it had made it; a gift, which the illiterate had not attained to. As useful as

$ 11. These learned men did equally to confound instruct men's understandings, and profit the sound of their lives, as he who should alter the sig

nification of known characters, and by a subtle device of learning, far surpassing the capacity of the illiterate, dull, and vulgar, should, in his writing, show that he could put A for B, and D for E, &c. to the no small admiration and benefit of his reader: it being as senseless to put black, which is a word agreed on to stand for one sensible idea, to put it, I say, for another, or the contrary idea, i.e. to call snow black, as to put this mark A, which is a character agreed on to stand for one modification of sound, made by a certain motion of the organs of speech, for B; which is agreed on to stand for another modification of sound, made by another certain mode of the organs of speech. This art has

$ 12. Nor hath this mischief stopped in perplexed logical niceties, or curious empty speculareligion and tions; it hath invaded the great concernjustice.

ments of human life and society, obscured

the letters.

and perplexed the material truths of law and divinity; þrought confusion, disorder, and uncertainty into the affairs of mankind; and if not destroyed, yet in a great measurerendered useless, these two great rules, religion and justice. What have the greatest part of the comments and disputes upon the laws of God and man served for, but to make the meaning more doubtful, and perplex the sense ? What have been the effect of those multiplied curious distinctions and acute niceties, but obscurity and uncertainty, leaving the words more unintelligible, and the reader more at a loss? How else comes it to pass that princes, speaking or writing to their servants, in their ordinary commands, are easily understood; speaking to their people, in their laws, are not so? And, as I remarked before, doth it not often happen, that a man of an ordinary capacity very well understands a text or a law that he reads, till he consults an expositor, or goes to counsel; who, by that time he hath done explaining them, makes the words signify either nothing at all, or what he pleases.

$ 13. Whether any by-interests of these And ought professions have occasioned this, I will not

not to pass here examine; but I leave it to be consi- for learning. dered, whether it would not be well for mankind, whose concernment it is to know things as they are, and to do what they ought, and not to spend their lives in talking about them, or tossing words to and fro; whether it would not be well, I say, that the use of words were made plain and direct, and that language, which was given us for the improvement of knowledge and bond of society, should not be employed to darken truth, and unsettle people's rights; to raise mists, and render unintelligible both morality and religion? Or that at least, if this will happen, it should not be thought learning or knowledge to do so ?

§ 14. Fourthly, another great abuse of 4. Taking words is the taking them for things. This, them for though it in some degree concerns all names things. in general, yet more particularly affects those of substances. To this abuse those men are most subject who most confine their thoughts to any one system, and give themselves up into a firm belief of the perfection of any received hypothesis; whereby they come to be persuaded, that the terms of that sect are so suited to the nature of things, that they perfectly correspond with their real existence. Who is there, that has been bred up in the Peripatetic philosophy, who does not think the ten names, under which are ranked the ten predicaments, to be exactly conformable to the nature of things ? Who is there of that school that is not persuaded, that substantial forms, vegetative souls, abhorrence of a vacuum, intentional species, &c. are something real? These words men have learned from their

very entrance upon knowledge, and have found their masters and systems lay great stress upon them; and therefore they cannot quit the opinion, that they are conformable to nature, and are the representations of something that really exists. The Platonists have their soul of the world, and the Epicureans their endeavour towards motion in their atoms, when at rest. There is scarce any sect in philosophy has not a distinct set of terms, that others understand not; but yet this gibberish, which, in the weakness of human understanding, serves so well to palliate men’s ignorance, and cover their errors, comes, by familiar use amongst those of the same tribe, to seem the most important part of language, and of all other the terms the most significant. And should aerial and ætherial vehicles come once, by the prevalency of that doctrine, to be generally received any where, no doubt those terms would make impressions on men's minds, so as to establish them in the persuasion of the reality of such things, as much as Peripatetic forms and intentional species have heretofore done.

$ 15. How much names taken for things Instance, in

are apt to mislead the understanding, the

attentive reading of philosophical writers would abundantly discover; and that, perhaps, in words

matter.

little suspected of any such misuse. I shall instance in one only, and that a very familiar one: how many intricate disputes have there been about matter, as if there were some such thing really in nature, distinct from body; as it is evident the word matter stands for an idea distinct from the idea of body! For if the ideas these two terms stood for were precisely the same, they might indifferently, in all places, be put for one another. But we see, that though it be proper to say, there is one matter of all bodies, one cannot say there is one body of all matters: we familiarly say,one body is bigger than another; but it sounds harsh (and I think is never used) to say,one matter is bigger than another. Whence comes this then? viz. from hence, that though matter and body be not really distinct, but wherever there is the one there is the other; yet matter and body stand for two different conceptions, whereof the one is incomplete, and but a part of the other. For body stands for a solid extended figured substance, whereof matter is but a partial and more confused conception, it seeming to me to be used for the substance and solidity of body, without taking in its extension and figure: and therefore it is that speaking of matter, we speak of it always as one, because in truth it expressly contains nothing but the idea of a solid substance, which is every where the same, every where uniform. This being our idea of matter, we no more conceive or speak of different matters in the world than we do of different solidities; though we both conceive and speak of different bodies, because extension and figure are capable of variation. But since solidity cannot exist without extension and figure, the taking matter to be the name of something really existing under that precision has no doubt produced those obscure and unintelligible discourses and disputes, which have filled the heads and books of philosophers, concerning materia prima ; which imperfection or abuse, how far it may concern a great many other general terms, I leave to be considered. This, I think, I may at least say, that we should have

« السابقةمتابعة »