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of that word, but must go a little farther, and inquire into the nature and properties of the things themselvės, and thereby perfect, as much as we can, our ideas of their distinct species; or else learn them from such as are used to that sort of things, and are experienced in them. For since it is intended their names should stand for such collections of simple ideas as do really exist in things themselves, as well as for the complex idea in other men's minds, which in their ordinary acceptation they stand for therefore to define their names right, natural history is to be inquired into ; and their properties are, with care and examination, to be found out. For it is not enough, for the avoiding inconveniencies in discourse and arguings about natural bodies and substantial things, to have learned, from the propriety of the language, the common, but confused, or very imperfect idea, to which each word is applied, and to keep them to that idea in our use of them: but we must, by acquainting ourselves with the history of that sort of things, rectify and settle our complex idea belonging to each specific name; and in discourse with others, (if we find them mistake us) we ought to tell what the complex idea is, that we make such a name stand for. This is the more necessary to be done by all those who search after knowledge and philosophical verity, in that children, being taught words whilst they have but imperfect notions of things, apply them at random, and without much thinking, and seldom frame determined ideas to be signified by them. Which custom (it being easy, and serving well enough for the ordinary affairs of life and conversation) they are apt to continue when they are men and so begin at the wrong end, learning words first and perfectly, but make the notions to which they apply those words afterwards very overtly. By this means it comes to pass, that men speaking the proper language of their country, i. e. according to grammar rules of that language, do yet speak very improperly of things themselves; and, by their arguing one with another, make but small progress in the discoveries of useful truths, and the knowledge of things, As they are to be found in themselves, and not in our
Not easy to
imaginations; and it matters not much, for the improvement of our knowledge, how they are called. §. 25. It were therefore to be wished, be made so. that men, versed in physical inquiries, and acquainted with the several sorts of natural bodies, would set down those simple ideas, wherein they observe the individuals of each sort constantly to agree. This would remedy a great deal of that confusion which comes from several persons applying the same name to a collection of a smaller or greater number of sensible qualities, proportionably as they have been more or less acquainted with, or accurate in examining the quaTities of any sort of things which come under one denomination. But a dictionary of this sort containing, as it were, a natural history, requires too many hands, as well as too much time, cost, pains, and sagacity, ever to be hoped for; and till that be done, we must content ourselves with such definitions of the names of substances as explain the sense men use them in. And it would be well, where there is occasion, if they would afford us so much. This yet is not usually done; but men talk to one another, and dispute in words, whose meaning is not agreed between them, out of a mistake, that the significations of common words are certainly established, and the precise ideas they stand for perfectly known; and that it is a shame to be ignorant of them, Both which suppositions are false: no names of complex ideas having so settled determined significations, that they are constantly used for the same precise ideas. Nor is it a shame for a man not to have a certain knowledge of any thing, but by the necessary ways of attaining it; and so it is no discredit not to know what precise idea* any sound stands for in another man's mind, without he declare it to me by some other way than barely using that sound; there being no other way, without such a declaration, certainly to know it. Indeed the necessity of communication by language brings men to an agreement in the signification of common words, within some tolerable latitude, that may serve for ordinary conver sation and so a man cannot be supposed wholly ignorant of the ideas which are annexed to words by com
mon use, in a language familiar to him. But common use, being but a very uncertain rule, which reduces itself at last to the ideas of particular men, proves often but a very variable standard. But though such a dictionary, as I have above-mentioned, will require too much time, cost, and pains, to be hoped for in this age; yet methinks it is not unreasonable to propose, that words standing for things, which are known and distinguished by their outward shapes, should be expressed by little draughts and prints made of them. A vocabulary made after this fashion would perhaps, with more ease, and in less time, teach the true signification of many terms, especially in languages of remote countries or ages, and settle truer ideas in men's minds of several things, whereof we read the names in antient authors, than all the large and laborious comments of learned criticks. Naturalists, that treat of plants and animals, have found the benefit of this way: and he that has had occasion to consult them, will have reason to confess, that he has a clearer idea of apium or ibex, from a little print of that herb or beast, than he could have from a long definition of the names of either of them. And so no doubt he would have of strigil and sistrum, if in stead of curry-comb and cymbal, which are the English names dictionaries render them by, he could see stamped in the margin small pictures of these instruments, as they were in use amongst the ancients. "Toga, tunica, pallium," are words easily translated by gown, coat, and cloak; but we have thereby no more true ideas of the fashion of those habits amongst the Romans, than we have of the faces of the taylors who made them. Such things as these, which the eye distinguishes by their shapes, would be best let into the mind by draughts made of them, and more determine the signification of such words than any other words set for them, or made use of to define them. But this only by the by.
. 26. Fifthly, if men will not be at the pains to declare the meaning of their words, and definitions of their terms are not to be had; yet this is the least that can be expected, that in all discourses, wherein one man pretends
5. By constancy in their signifi
to instruct or convince another, he should use the same word constantly in the same sense: if this were done (which no body can refuse without great disingenuity) many of the books extant might be spared; many of the controversies in dispute would be at an end; several of those great volumes, swoln with ambiguous words, now used in one sense, and by and by in another, would shrink into a very narrow compass; and many of the philosophers (to mention no other) as well as poets works, might be contained in a nutshell.
When the variation is to be ex
§. 27. But after all, the provision of words is so scanty in respect of that infinite variety of thoughts, that men, wanting plained. terms to suit their precise notions, will, notwithstanding their utmost caution, be forced often to use the same word in somewhat different senses. And though in the continuation of a discourse, or the pursuit of an argument, there can be hardly room to digress into a particular definition, as often as a man varies the signification of any term; yet the import of the discourse will, for the most part, if there be no designed fallacy, sufficiently lead candid and intelligent readers into the true meaning of it: but where there is not suf ficient to guide the reader, there it concerns the writer to explain his meaning, and show in what sense he there uses that term.
Our know. ledgeconver. sant about our ideas.
CHA P. I.
Of Knowledge in General.
INCE the mind, in all its thoughts and reasonings, hath no other im mediate object but its owns ideas, which it alone does or can contemplate; it is evident, that our knowledge is only conversant about them.
§. 2. Knowledge then seems to me to be nothing but the perception of the connexion and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy, of any of our ideas. In this alone it consists. Where this perception is, there is knowledge; and where it is not, there, though we may fancy, guess, or believe, yet we always come short of knowledge. For when we know that white is not black, what do we else but perceive that these two ideas do not agree? When we possess ourselves with the utmost security of the demonstration, that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right ones, what do we more but perceive, that equality to two right ones does necessarily agree to, and is inseparable from the three angles of a triangle *?
Knowledge is the per
ception of the agreement or
of two ideas.
* The placing of certainty, as Mr. Locke does, in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas the bishop of Worcester suspects may be of dangerous consequence to that article of faith which he has endeavoured to defend; to which Mr. Locke answers, + since your lordship hath not, as I remember shown, or gone about to show, how this proposition, viz. that certainty consists in the perception of the agree ment or disagreement of two ideas is opposite or inconsistent with that article of faith which your lordship has endeavoured to defend ; it is piain, it is but your lordship's fear, that it may be of dangerous consequence to it, which, as I humbly conceive, is no proof that it is any way inconsistent with that article.
No body, I think, can blame your lordship, or any one else, for being concerned for any article of the christian faith; but if that concern (as it may, and as we know it has done) makes any one apprehend danger, where no danger is, are we, therefore, to give up and condemn any proposition, because any one, though of the first rank and magnitude, fears it may be of dangerous consequence to any truth of religion, without showing that it is so? If such fears be the measures whereby to judge of truth and falshood, the affirming that there are antipodes would be still a heresy; and the doctrine of the motion of the earth must be rejected, as overthrowing the truth of the scripture; for of that dangerous consequence it has been apprehended to be, by many learned and pious divines, out of their great concern for religion. And yet, notwithstanding those great apprehensions of what dangerous consequence it might be, it is now uni. versally received by learned men, as an undoubted truth; and writ for by some, whose belief of the scripture is not at all questioned; and particu larly, very lately, by a divine of the church of England, with great strength of reason, in his wonderfully ingenious New Theory of the Earth.
In his 2d letter to the bishop of Worcester,