« AnteriorContinuar »
OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING,
BOOK I.--CHAP. I.
ý 1. An Inquiry into the Understanding, pleasant and
useful. CINCE it is the understanding that sets man above
the rest of sensible beings, and gives him all the advantage and dominion which he has over them, it is certainly a subject, even for its nobleness, worth our labour to inquire into. The understanding, like the eye, whilst it makes us fee and perceive all other things, takes no notice of itself; and it requires art and pains to set it at a distance, and make it its own object. But whatever be the difficulties that lie in the way of this inquiry, whatever it be that keeps us so much in the dark to ourselves, sure I am, that all the light we can let in upon our own minds, all the acquaintance we can make with our own understandings, will not only be very pleasant, but bring us great advantage, in directing our thoughts in the search of other things.
§ 2. Defign. This, therefore, being my purpose to inquire into the original, certainty, and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of belief, opinion, and assent, I shall not at present meddle with the physical confideration of the mind, or trouble myself to examine wherein its essence consists, or by what motions of our spirits, or alterations of our bodies, we come to have any sensation by our organs, or any ideas in our understandings; and whether those ideas do, in their formation, any or all of them; depend on matter
or no. These are speculations which, however curious and entertaining, I shall decline, as lying out of my way in the design I am now upon. It shall susfice to my present purpose, to consider the discerning faculties of a man, as they are employed about the objects which they have to do with : And I thall imagine I have not wholly misemployed myself in the thoughts I shall have on this occasion, if, in this historical plain method, I can give any account of the ways whereby our underItandings come to attain those notions of things we have, and can set down any measures of the certainty of our knowledge, or the grounds of those persuasions which are to be found amongst men, so various, different, and wholly contradictory, and yet asserted somewhere or other with such assurance and confidence, that he that shall take a view of the opinions of mankind, obser: their opposition, and at the fame time consider the fondness and devotion wherewith they are embraced, the resolution and eagerness wherewith they are maintained, may perhaps have reason to suspect, that either there is no such thing as truth at all, or that mankind hath no sufficient means to attain a certain knowledge of it. .
| 3. cthail. It is therefore worth while to search out the bound's between opinion and knowledge, and examine by what measures, in things whereof we have no certain knowledge, we ought to regulate our assent, and moderate our persuasions. In order whereunto, I shall pursue this following method:
First, I shall inquire into the original of those ideas, notions, or whatever else you please to call thein, which a man observes, and is conscious to himself he has in his mind, and the ways whereby the understanding comes to be furnished with them.
Secondly, I shall endeavour to show what knowledge the understanding hath by those ideas, and the certainty, evidence, and extent of it.
Thirdly, I shall make some inquiry into the nature and grounds of faith or opinion; whereby I mean that afIent which we give to any proposition as true, of whose
truth yet we have no certain knowledge: And here we thall have occasion to examine the reasons and degrees of affent.
4. Useful to know the Extent of our Comprehension. Ir by this inquiry into the nature of the undertanding I can discover the powers thereof, how far they reach, to what things they are in any degree proportionate, and where they fail us, I suppose it may be of use to prevail with the busy mind of man to be more cautious in meddling with things exceeding its comprehension, to stop when it is at the utmost extent of its tether, and to fit down in a quiet ignorance of those things which, upon examination, are found to be beyond the reach of our capacities. We should not then perhaps be so forward, out of affectation of an universal knowledge, to zaise questions, and perplex ourselves and others with disputes about things to which our understandings are not suited, and of which we cannot frame in our minds any clear or distinct perceptions, or whereof (as it has perhaps too often happened) we have not any notions at all. If we can find out how far the understanding can extend its view, how far it has faculties to attain certainty, and in what cases it can only judge and guess, we may learn to content ourselves with what is attainable by us in this state.
5. Our Capacity suited to our State and Concerns. For though the comprehension of our understandings comes exceeding short of the vast extent of things, yet we shall have cause enough to magnify the bountiful Author of our being for that portion and degree of knowledge he has beitowed on us, so far above all the rest of the inhabitants of this our mansion. Men have reason to be well fatisfied with what God hath thought fit for them, since he has given them (as St. Peter says) πάντα προς ζωής και ευσέβειαν, whatfoever is neceffury for the conveniencies of life and information of virtue, and has put within the reach of their discovery the comfortable provision for this life, and the way that leads to a better. How short foever their knowledge may come of an universal or perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, it yet secures their great concernments, that they have light enough to lead them to the knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties. Men may find matter sufficient to busy their heads, and employ their hands, with variety, delight, and satisfaction, if they will not boldly quarrel with their own conftitution, and throw away the blessings their hands are filled with, because they are not big enough to grasp every thing. We shall not have much reaton to complain of the narrowness of our minds, if we will but employ thein about what may be of use to us, for of that they are very capable; and it will be an unpardonable, as well -as childish peevishness, if we undervalue the advantages of our knowledge, and neglect to improve it to the erds for which it was given us, because there are some things that are set out of the reach of it. It will be no excuse to an idle and untoward servant, who would not attend his business by candle-light, to plead that he had not broad sunshine. The candle that is set up in us fhines bright enough for all our purposes. The discoveries we can make with this ought to fatisfy us; and we shall then use our understandings right, when we entertain all cbjects in that way and proportion that they are suited to our faculties, and upon those grounds they are capable of being proposed to us, and not peremptorily or intemperately require demonftration, and demand certainty, where probability only is to be had, and which is sufficient to govern all our concernments. If we will difbelieve every thing, because we cannot certainly know all things, we shall do much-what as wilely as he who would not use his legs, but fit ftill and pe'rish, because he had no wings to fly. $ 6. Knowlerige of our Capacity, a Cure of Scepticisin
aid ld'enejš.. When we know our own frength, we Dall the better know what to undertake with hopes of success : And when we have well furveyed the powers of our own minds, and made some estimate what we may expect from them, we fall not be inclined either to fit ftill, and not sct our thoughts on work at all, in despair of