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They fhow the difference
of our ideas.
and in fubftances, the most frequent are of powers; v. g. “a man is white," fignifies, that the thing that has the effence of a man, has alfo in it the offence of whitenefs, which is nothing but a power to produce the idea of whiteness in one, whofe eyes can discover ordinary objects; or "a man is rational," fignifies that the fame thing that hath the effence of a man, hath alfo in it the effence of rationality, i. e. a power of reasoning. §. 2. This diftinction of names fhows us alfo the difference of our ideas: for if we observe them, we fhall find that our fimple ideas have all abftract, as well as concrete names; the one whereof is (to speak the language of grammarians) a fubftantive, the other an adjective; as whitenefs, white, fweetnefs, fweet. The like alfo holds in our ideas of modes and relations; as juftice, juft; equality, equal; only with this difference, that fome of the concrete names of relations, amongst men chiefly, are substantives; as paternitas, pater; whereof it were eafy to render a reafon. But as to our ideas. of subftances, we have very few or no abftract names at all. For though the schools have introduced animalitas, humanitas, corporietas, and some others; yet they hold no proportion with that infinite number of names of fubftances, to which they never were ridiculous enough to attempt the coining of abftract ones: and thofe few that the schools forged, and put into the mouths of their scholars, could never yet get admittance into common ufe, or obtain the licence of public approbation. Which seems to me at least to intimate the confeffion of all mankind, that they have no ideas of the real effences of fubftances, since they have not names for fuch ideas: which no doubt they would have had, had not their consciousness to themfelves of their ignorance of them kept them from fo idle an attempt. And therefore though they had ideas enough to diftinguish gold from a ftone, and metal from wood; yet they but timorously ventured on fuch terms, as aurietas and faxietas, metallietas and lignietas, or the like names, which fhould pretend to fignify the real effences of thofe fubftances, whereof they knew they had no ideas. And indeed it
was only the doctrine of substantial forms, and the confidence of mistaken pretenders to a knowledge that they had not, which first coined, and then introduced animalitas, and humanitas, and the like; which yet went very little farther than their own schools, and could never get to be current amongst understanding men. Indeed, humanitas was a word familiar amongst the Romans, but in a far different fenfe, and stood not for the abstract effence of any fubftance; but was the abftracted name of a mode, and its concrete humanus, not homo.
Words are used for recording and communicating our thoughts.
CHA P. IX.
Of the Imperfection of Words,
ROM what has been faid in the foregoing chapters, it is easy to perceive what imperfection there is in language, and how the very nature of words makes it almost unavoidable for many of them to be doubtful and uncertain in their fignifications. To examine the perfection or imperfection of words, it is neceffary first to confider their use and end for as they are more or lefs fitted to attain that, fo are they more or lefs perfect. We have, in the former part of this difcourfe, often upon occafion mentioned a double ufe of words.
First, one for the recording of our own thoughts. Secondly, the other for the communicating of our thoughts to others.
S. 2. As to the first of thefe, for the rewill ferve for cording our own thoughts for the help of our own memories, whereby, as it were, we talk to ourselves, any words will ferve the For fince founds are voluntary and indifferent figns of any ideas, a man may use what words he pleases, to fignify his own ideas to himself: and there will be no imperfection in them, if he conftantly use the fame
fign for the fame idea; for then he cannot fail of having his meaning understood, wherein confifts the right ufe and perfection of language:
§. 3. Secondly, as to communication of words, that too has a double ufe.
Communi cation by words civil or philofophical.
First, by their civil ufe, I mean fuch a communication of thoughts and ideas by words, as may ferve for the upholding common converfation and commerce, about the ordinary affairs and conveniencies of civil life, in the focieties of men one amongst another.
Secondly, by the philofophical ufe of words, I mean fuch an use of them, as may serve to convey the precife notions of things, and to exprefs, in general propofitions, certain and undoubted truths, which the mind. may reft upon, and be satisfied with, in its fearch after true knowledge. These two uses are very distinct; and a great deal lefs exactnefs will ferve in the one than in the other, as we fhall fee in what follows.
The imper fection of words is the doubtfulness of their fignification.
§. 4. The chief end of language in communication being to be understood, words serve not well for that end, neither in civil nor philofophical discourse, when any word does not excite in the hearer the fame idea which it ftands for in the mind of the fpeaker. Now fince founds have no natural connexion with our ideas, but have all their fignification from the arbitrary impofition of men, the doubtfulhefs and uncertainty of their fignification, which is the imperfection we here are speaking of, has its caufe more in the ideas they stand for, than in any incapacity there is in one found more than in another, to fignify any idea: for in that regard they are all equally perfect.
That then which makes doubtfulness and uncertainty in the fignification of fome more than other words, is the difference of ideas they ftand for.
§. 5. Words having naturally no fignification, the idea which each ftands for muft be learned and retained by those who would exchange thoughts, and hold intelligible B 4
difcourfe with others in any language. But this is hardeft 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 fo no fettled standard, any where in nature exifting, to rectify and adjust them by.
Thirdly, when the fignification of the word is referred to a ftandard, which ftandard is not eafy to be known.
Fourthly, where the fignification of the word, and the real effence of the thing, are not exactly the same.
Thefe are difficulties that attend the fignification of feveral words that are intelligible. Thofe which are not intelligible at all, fuch as names ftanding for any fimple ideas, which another has not organs or faculties to attain; as the names of colours to a blind man, or founds to a deaf man; need not here be mentioned.
In all these cafes we fhall find an imperfection in words, which I fhall more at large explain, in their particular application to our feveral forts of ideas: for if we examine them, we fhall 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 fubftances chiefly for the two latter.
§. 6. Firft the names of mixed modes are many of them liable to great uncertainty modes doubt and obfcurity in their fignification.
ful. First, because the ideas they
ftand for are fo complex.
I. Because of that great compofition these complex ideas are often made up of. To make words ferviceable to the end of com
munication, it is neceffary (as has been faid) that they excite in the hearer exactly the fame idea they ftand for in the mind of the fpeaker. Without this, men fill one another's heads with noife and founds; but convey not thereby their thoughts, and lay not before one another their ideas, which is the end of difcourfe and language. But when a word ftands for a very complex idea that is compounded and decompounded, it is not eafy for men to form and retain that idea fo exactly,
Secondly, because they have no ftan
as to make the name in common ufe ftand for the fame precife idea, without any the leaft variation. Hence it comes to pass, that men's names of very compound ideas, fuch as for the most part are moral words, have feldom, in two different men, the fame precife fignification; fince one man's complex idea feldom agrees with another's, and often differs from his own, from that which he had yesterday, or will have to-morrow. §. 7. II. Because the names of mixedmodes, for the most part, want ftandards in nature, whereby men may rectify and adjust their fignifications; therefore they are very various and doubtful. They are affemblages of ideas put together at the pleasure of the mind, purfuing its own ends of difcourfe, and fuited to its own notions; whereby it defigns 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 fham, or wheedle, or banter, in ufe, put together, as he thought fit, thofe ideas he made it ftand for: and as it is with any new names of modes, that are now brought into any language; fo it was with the old ones, when they were firft made ufe of. Names therefore that ftand for collections of ideas which the mind makes at pleasure, must needs be of doubtful fignification, when fuch collections are no where to be found conftantly united in nature, nor any patterns to be shown whereby men may adjust them. What the word murder, or facrilege, &c. fignifies, can never be known from things themselves: there be many of the parts of those complex ideas, which are not vifible in the action itself; the intention of the mind, or the relation of holy things, which make a part of murder or facrilege, have no neceffary connection with the outward and vifible 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 thofe 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