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to nature which was much more the effect of use and
To what purpose all this, but to show that the dif-
This being so, that defects and weakness in men's understandings, as well as other faculties, come from want of a right use of their own minds; I am apt to think the fault is generally mislaid upon nature, and there is often a complaint of want of
parts, when the
fault lies in want of a due improvement of them. We see men frequently dexterous and sharp enough in making a bargain, who, if you reason with them about matters of religion, appear perfectly stupid.
§ 5. I will not here, in what relates to Ideas.
the right conduct and improvement of the understanding, repeat again the getting clear and determined ideas, and the employing our thoughts rather about them than about sounds put for them; nor of settling the signification of words, which we use with ourselves in the search of truth, or with others, in discoursing about it. Those hinderances of our understandings in the pursuit of knowledge I have sufficiently enlarged upon in another place; so that nothing more needs here to be said of those matters.
$ 6. There is another fault that stops Principles.
or misleads men in their knowledge, which I have also spoken something of, but yet is necessary to mention here again, that we may examine it to the bottom, and see the root it springs from; and that is a custom of taking up with principles that are not self-evident, and very often not so much as true. It is not unusual to see men rest their opinions upon foundations that have no more certainty and solidity than the propositions built on them, and embraced for their sake. Such foundations are these and the like, viz.the founders or leaders of my party are good men, and therefore their tenets are true;-it is the opinion of a sect that is erroneous, therefore it is false : -it hath been long received in the world, therefore it is true; or- it is new, and therefore false.
These, and many the like, which are by no means the measures of truth and falsehood, the generality of men make the standards by which they accustom their understanding to judge. And thus, they falling into a habit of determining of truth and falsehood by such wrong measures, it is no wonder they should embrace error for certainty, and be very positive in things they hare no ground for,
There is not any, who pretends to the least reason, but, when any of these his false maxims are brought to the test, must acknowledge them to be fallible, and such as he will not allow in those that differ from him; and yet, after he is convinced of this, you shall see him go on in the use of them, and, the very next occasion that offers, argue again upon the same grounds. Would one not be ready to think that men are willing to impose upon themselves and mislead their own understandings, who conduct them by such wrong measures, even after they see they cannot be relied on? But yet they will not appear so blamable as may be thought at first sight; for I think there are a great many that argue thus in earnest, and do it not to impose on themselves or others. They are persuaded of what they say, and think there is weight in it, though in a like case they have been convinced there is none; but men would be intolerable to themselves, and contemptible to others, if they should embrace opinions without any ground, and hold what they could give no manner of reason for. True or false, solid or sandy, the mind must have some foundation to rest itself upon; and, as I have remarked in another place, it no sooner entertains any proposition, but it presently hastens to some hypothesis to bottom it on; till then it is unquiet and unsettled. So much do our own very tempers dispose us to a right use of our understandings, if we would follow, as we should, the inclinations of our nature.
In some matters of concernment, especially those of religion, men are not permitted to be always wavering and uncertain; they must embrace and profess some tenets or other; and it would be a shame, nay a contradiction too heavy for any one's mind to lie constantly under, for him to pretend seriously to be persuaded of the truth of any religion, and yet not to be able to give any reason of his belief, or to say any thing for his preference of this to any other opinion: and therefore they must make use of some principles
or other, and those can be no other than such as they have and can manage; and to say they are not in earnest persuaded by them, and do not rest upon those they make use of, is contrary to experience, and to allege that they are not misled when we complain they are.
If this be so, it will be urged, why then do they not make use of sure and unquestionable principles, rather than rest on such grounds as may deceive them, and will, as is visible, serve to support error as well as truth?
To this I answer, the reason why they do not make use of better and surer principles is because they cannot: but this inability proceeds not from want of natural parts (for those few, whose case that is, are to be excused), but for want of use and exercise. Few men are, from their youth, accustomed to strict reasoning, and to trace the dependence of any truth, in a long train of consequences, to its remotest principles, and to observe its connexion; and he that by frequent practice has not been used to this employment of his understanding, it is no more wonder that he should not, when he is grown into years, be able to bring his mind to it, than that he should not be, on a sudden, able to grave or design, dance on the ropes or write a good hand, who has never practised either of them.
Nay, the most of men are so wholly strangers to this, that they do not so much as perceive their want of it; they despatch the ordinary business of their callings by rote, as we say, as they have learnt it; and if at any time they miss success, they impute it to any thing rather than want of thought or skill; that they conclude (because they know no better) they have in perfection: or, if there be any subject that interest or fancy has recommended to their thoughts, their reasoning about it is still after their own fashion; be it better or worse, it serves their turns, and is the best they are acquainted with; and, therefore, when they are led by it into mistakes, and their business succeeds accordingly, they impute it to any cross accident or default of others, rather than to their own want of understanding; that is what nobody discovers or complains of in himself. Whatsoever made his business to miscarry, it was not want of right thought and judgment in himself: he sees no such defect in himself, but is satisfied that he carries on his designs well enough by his own reasoning, or at least should have done, had it not been for unlucky traverses not in his power. Thus, being content with this short and very imperfect use of his understanding, he never troubles himself to seek out methods of improving his mind, and lives all his life without any notion of close reasoning, in a continued connexion of a long train of consequences from sure foundations, such as is requisite for the making out and clearing most of the speculative truths most men own to believe, and are most concerned in. Not to mention here, what I shall have occasion to insist on, by and by, more fully, viz. that in many cases it is not one series of consequences will serve the turn, but many different aud opposite deductions must be examined and laid together, before a man can come to make a right judgment of the point in question. What then can be expected from men that neither see the want of any such kind of reasoning as this; nor, if they do, know how to set about it, or could perform it? You may as well set a countryman, who scarce knows the figures, and never cast up a sum of three particulars, to state a merchant's long account, and find the true balance of it.
What then should be done in the case ? I answer, we should always remember what I said above, that the faculties of our souls are improved and made useful to us just after the same manner as our bodies
Would you have a man write or paint, dance or fence well, or perform any other manual operation dexterously and with ease; let him have ever so much vigour and activity, suppleness and address na