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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 forination, 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 suffice 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 shall 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 understandings 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, observe their opposition, and at the same 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. Method.
$. 3. It is, therefore, worth while to search
out the bounds 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 enquire 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 shew what knowledge the understanding hath by those ideas; and the certainty, evidence, and extent of it.. . .
Thirdly, I shall make some enquiry into the nature and grounds of faith, or opinion; whereby I mean that assent, which we give to any proposition as true, of whose truth yeť we have no certain knowledge: and here we shall have occasion to examine the reasons and degrees of assent.
$. 4. If, by this enquiry into the nature Useful to of the understanding, I can discover the
on discover the know the ex.
tent of our powers thereof; how far they reach; to comprehen: what things they are in any degree propor- sion. tionate; 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 wlien it is at the utmost extent of its tether; and to sit 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 an affectation of an universal knowledge, to raise 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.
S. 5. For, though the comprehension of Our capacity our understandings comes exceeding short of suited to our the vast extent of things ; yet we shall have state and cause enough to magnity the bountiful au- concerns. thor of our being, for that proportion and degree of knowledge he has bestowed on us, so far above all the rest of the inhabitants of this our mansion. Men have reason to be well satisfied with what God hath thought fit for them, since he hath given them (as St. Peter says) havia topòs (why my surélerzv, whatsoever is necessary for the conveniences 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 B2
y are embraced
they are main pect, that either or that mankind tain knowledge
while to search zion and know i things, where ight to regulat Ons. In orde method.
of those ideas all them, whic:
mself he has i
what knowledge od the certainty
leads to a better. How short soever their knowledge may coine 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 boldlý quarrel with their own constitution, 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 reason to complain of the narrowness of our minds, if we will but employ them 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 ends 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 sun-shine. The candle, that is set up in us, shines bright enough for all our purposes. The discoveries we can make with this, ought to satisfy us; and we shall then use our understandings right, when we entertain all objects 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 demonstration, and demand certainty, where probability only is to be had, and which is sufficient to govern all our concernments. If we will disbelieve every thing, because we cannot certainly know all things; we shall do inuchwhat as wisely as he, who would not use his leys, but sit still and perish, because he had no wings to fly.
§. 6. When we know our own strength, of our cada. we shall the better know what to undertake city, a cure with hopes of success : and when we have of scepticism well surveyed the powers of our own ininds, and idleness.
SS. and made some estimate what we may expect from them, we shall not be inclined either to sit edge on of
each of it
servang --light, le candle, or all our with this vur undercts in that : faculties
still, and not set our thoughts on work at all, in despair
Mperate! ty, where ufficient i lieve even
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undertale n we have pun inind ve may est
what is, and what is not comprehensible by us; men would perhaps with less scruple acquiesce in the avowed ignorance of the one, and employ their thoughts and discourse with more advantage and satisfaction in the other,
§. 8. Thus much I thought necessary to What idea stands for say concerning the occasion of this enquiry
into human understanding. But, before I proceed on to what I have thought on this subject, I must here in the entrance beg pardon of my reader for the frequent use of the word “idea,” which he will find in the following treatise. It being that term, which, I think, serves best to stand for whatsoever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks; I have used it to express whatever is meant by phantasm, notion, species, or whatever it is which the mind can be employed about in thinking; and I could not avoid frequently using it (1).
(1) This modest apology of our author could not procure him the free use of the word idea; but great offence has been taken at it, and it has been censured as of dangerous consequence: to which you may here see what he answers. "The world, saith the * bishop of Worcester, hath • been strangely amused with ideas of late ; and we have been told, that • strange things might be done by the help of ideas; and yet these ideas,
at last, come to be only comnion notions of things, which we must I make use of in our reasoning. You, (i, e. the author of the Essay con.
cerning Human Understanding) say in that chapter, about the existence r of God, you thought it most proper to express yourself, in the most (usual and familiar way, by common words and expressions. I would " you had done so quite through your book ; for then you had never I given that occasion to the enemies of our faith, to take up your new I way of ideas, as an effectual battery (as they imagined) against the & mysteries of the Christian faith. But you inight have enjoyed the ( satisfaction of your ideas long enough before I had taken notice of • them, unless I had found them employed about doing mischief,'
To which our author + replies, It is plain, that that which your lordship apprehends, in my book, may be of dangerous consequence to the article which your lordship has endeavoured to defend, is my intro. ducing new terms ; and that which your lordship instances in, is that of ideas. And the reason your lordship gives in every of these places, why your lordship has such an apprehension of ideas, that they may be of dangerous consequence to that article of faith, which your lordship has
* Answer to Mr. Locke's First Letter.