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sign for the same idea; for then he cannot fail of having his meaning understood, wherein consists the right use and perfection of language. 3. Secondly, as to communication of
Communiwords, that too has a double use.
cation by 1. Civil.
words civil II. Philosophical
or philosoFirst, by their civil use, I mean such a communication of thoughts and ideas by words, as may serve for the upholding common conversation and commerce, about the ordinary affairs and conveniencies of civil life, in the societies of men one amongst another.
Secondly, by the philosophical use of words, I mean such an use of them, as may serve to convey the precise notions of things, and to express, in general propositions, certain and undoubted truths, which the mind may rest upon, and be satisfied with, in its search after true knowledge. These two uses are very distinct; and a great deal less exactness will serve in the one than in the other, as we shall see in what follows. § 4. The chief end of language in com
The impermunication being to be understood, words fection of serve not well for that end, neither in civil words is the nor philosophical discourse, when any word doubtfulness does not excite in the hearer the same idea of their sig
nification. which it stands for in the mind of the speaker. Now since sounds have no natural connexion with our ideas, but have all their signification from the arbitrary imposition of men, the doubtfulness and uncertainty of their signification, which is the imperfection we here are speaking of, has its cause more in the ideas they stand for, than in any incapacity there is in one sound more than in another, to signify any idea: for in that regard they are all equally perfect.
That then which makes doubtfulness and uncertainty in the signification of some more than other words, is the difference of ideas they stand for.
§ 5. Words having naturally no signification, the idea which each stands for must be Causes of learned and retained by those who would their imper
fection. exchange thoughts, and hold intelligible dis
course with others in any language. But this is hardest to be done, where,
First, the ideas they stand for are very complex, and made up of a great number of ideas put together.
Secondly, where the ideas they stand for have no certain connexion in nature; and so no settled standard, any where in nature existing to rectify and adjust them by.
Thirdly, when the signification of the word is referred to a standard, which standard is not easy to be known.
Fourthly, where the signification of the word, and the real essence of the thing, are not exactly the same.
These are difficulties that attend the signification of several words that are intelligible. Those which are not intelligible at all, such as names standing for any simple ideas, which another has not organs or faculties to attain; as the names of colours to a blind man, or sounds to a deaf man: need not here be mentioned.
In all these cases we shall find an imperfection in words, which I shall more at large explain, in their particular application to our several sorts of ideas : for if we examine them, we shall find that the names of mixed modes are most liable to doubtfulness and imperfection, for the two first of these reasons; and the names of substances chiefly for the two latter. The names
§ 6. First the names of mixed modes are of mixed many of them liable to great uncertainty and modes doubt- obscurity in their signification. ful. First,
I. Because of that great composition these because the ideas they
complex ideas are often made up of. To stand for are make words serviceable to the end of comso complex. munication, it is necessary (as has been said) that they excite in the hearer exactly the same idea they stand for in the mind of the speaker. Without this, men fill one another's heads with noise and sounds; but convey not thereby their thoughts, and lay not before one another their ideas, which is the end of discourse and language. But when a word stands for a very complex idea that is compounded and decompounded, it is not easy for men to form and retain that idea so exactly,
as to make the name in common use stand for the same precise idea, without any the least variation. Hence it comes to pass that men's names of very compound ideas, such as for the most part are moral words, have seldom, in two different men, the same precise signification; since one man's complex idea seldom agrees with another's, and often differs from his own, from that which he had yesterday, or will have to-morrow.
87. II. Because the names of mixed Secondly, bemodes, for the most part, want standards in cause they nature, whereby men may rectify and adjust have no
standards. their significations; therefore they are very various and doubtful. They are assemblages of ideas put together at the pleasure of the mind, pursuing its own ends of discourse, and suited to its own notions
; whereby it designs not to copy any thing really existing, but to denominate and rank things, as they come to agree with those archetypes or forms it has made. He that first brought the word sham, or wheedle, or banter, in use, put together, as he thought fit, those ideas he made it stand for : and as it is with any new names of modes, that are now brought into any language; so it was with the old ones, when they were first made use of. Names therefore that stand for collections of ideas which the mind makes at pleasure, must needs be of doubtful signification, when such collections are no where to be found constantly united in nature, nor any patterns to be shown whereby men may adjust them. What the word murder, or sacrilege, &c. signifies, can never be known from things themselves: there be many of the parts of those complex ideas, which are not visi. ble in the action itself; the intention of the mind, or the relation of holy things, which make a part of murder or sacrilege, have no necessary connexion with the outward and visible action of him that commits either : and the pulling the trigger of the gun, with which the murder is committed, and is all the action that perhaps is visible, has no natural connexion with those other ideas that make up the complex one, named murder. They have their union and combination only from the understanding, which unites them under one name: but
uniting them without any rule or pattern, it cannot be but that the signification of the name that stands for such voluntary collections should be often various in the minds of different men, who have scarce any standing rule to regulate themselves and their notions by, in such arbitrary ideas. Propriety not
8. It is true, common use, that is the a sufficient
rule of propriety, may be supposed here to remedy.
afford some aid, to settle the signification of language; and it cannot be denied, but that in some measure it does. Common use regulates the meaning of words pretty well for common conversation ; but nobody having an authority to establish the precise signification of words, nor determined to what ideas any one shall annex them, common use is not sufficient to adjust them to philosophical discourses; there being scarce any name of any very complex idea (to say nothing of others) which in common use has not a great latitude, and which keeping within the bounds of propriety, may not be made the sign of far different ideas. Besides, the rule and measure of propriety itself being no where established, it is often matter of dispute whether this or that way
of using a word be propriety of speech or no. From all which it is evident, that the names of such kind of very complex ideas are naturally liable to this imperfection, to be of doubtful and uncertain signification; and even in men that have a mind to understand one another, do not always stand for the same idea in speaker and hearer. Though the names glory and gratitude be the same in every man's mouth through a whole country, yet the complex collective idea, which every one thinks on, or intends by that name, is apparently very different in men using the same language.
N 9. The way also wherein the names of The of learning
mixed modes are ordinarily learned, does these names not a little contribute to the doubtfulness of contributes
their signification. For if we will observe also to their how children learn languages, we shall find doubtfulness.
that to make them understand what the names of simple ideas, or substances, stand for, people ordinarily show them the thing, whereof they would
have them have the idea ; and then repeat to them the name that stands for it, as white, sweet, milk, sugar, cat, dog. But as for mixed modes, especially the most material of them, moral words, the sounds are usually learned first; and then to know what complex ideas they stand for, they are either beholden to the explication of others, or (which happens for the most part) are left to their own observation and industry ; which being little laid out in the search of the true and precise meaning of names, these moral words are in most men's mouths little more than bare sounds; or when they have any, it is for the most part but a very loose and undetermined, and consequently obscure and confused signification. And even those themselves who have with more attention settled their notions, do yet hardly avoid the inconvenience, to have them stand for complex ideas, different from those which other, even intelligent and studious men, make them the signs of. Where shall one find any, either controversial debate, or familiar discourse, concerning honour, faith, grace, religion, church, &c. wherein it is not easy to observe the different notions men have of them ? which is nothing but this, that they are not agreed in the signification of those words, nor have in their minds the same complex ideas which they make them stand for: and so all the contests that follow thereupon, are only about the meaning of a sound. And hence we see, that in the interpretation of laws, whether divine or human, there is no end ; comments beget comments, and explications make new matter for explications; and of limiting, distinguishing, varying the signification of these moral words, there is no end. These ideas of men's making are, by men still having the same power, multiplied in infinitum. Many a man who was pretty well satisfied of the meaning of a text of scripture, or clause in the code at first reading, has by consulting commentators quite lost the sense of it, and by these elucidations given rise or increase to his doubts, and drawn obscurity upon the place. I say not this, that I think commentaries needless ; but to show how uncertain the names of mixed modes naturally are, even in the mouths of those who had both the intention