Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

come under one denomination. But a dictionary of this fort, containing, as it were, a natural history, requires too many hands, as well as too much time, cost, pains, and fagacity, ever to be hoped for ; and till that be done, we must content ourselves with such definitions of the nanies 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 ùgnification 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 found 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 conversation ; and so a man cannot be supposed wholly ignorant of the ideas which are annexed to words by common 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 fuch a dictionary as I have above mentioned, will requite too much time, cost, and pains, to be hoped for 110 this age, yet mcthinks it is not unreasonable to propose, that words standing for things, which are known and distinguished by their outward shapes, should be exprersed 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 jrue Ggnification

of many terms, especially in languages of remote coun. tries or ages, and settle truer ideas in mens minds of several things, whereof we read the names in ancient authors, than all the large and laborious comments of learned critics. 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 fiftrum, if instead of a 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, tunico, 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, then we have of the faces of the tailors 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. By Constancy in their Signification. FIFTHzr, 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 to instruct or convince another, he should use the same word constantly in the same sense. If this were done (which nobody 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 philoso phers (to mention no other), as well as poets works; might be contained in a nut-shell.

$ 27. When the Variation is to be explained. But aster all, the provision of words is so scanty in respect of that infinite variety of thoughts, that men, wanting 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 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 that is not sufficient to guide the reader, there it concerns the writer to explain his meaning, and show in what sense he there uses that term.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
[blocks in formation]

PRINTED BY AND FOR MUNDELL & SON, ROYAL BANK CLOSE.

« AnteriorContinuar »