Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

gree 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) wavla' acos swung xot Evoetelav, 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 leads to a better. How short soever 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 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 exeuse to an idle and untoward servant, who would not attend his business by candlelight, 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 much what as wisely as he, who would not use his legs, but sit still and perish, because he had no wings to fly.

$ 6. When we know our own strength, Knowledne we shall the better know what to under- of our capatake with hopes of success; and when we city, a cure have well surveyed the powers of our own of scepticism minds, and made some estimate what we and idleness. may expect from them, we shall not be inclined either to sit still, and not set our thoughts on work at all, in despair of knowing any thing; or, on the other side, question every thing, and disclaim all knowledge, because some things are not to be understood. It is of great use to the sailor, to know the length of his line, though he cannot with it fathom all the depths of the ocean. It is well he knows, that it is long enough to reach the bottom, at such places as are necessary to direct his voyage, and caution him against running upon shoals that may ruin him. Our business here is not to know all things, but those which concern our conduct. If we can find out those measures, whereby a rational creature, put in that state in which man is in this world, may, and ought to govern his opinions, and actions depending thereon, we need not to be troubled that some other things escape our knowledge.

$ 7. This was that which gave the first Occasion of rise to this essay concerning the under this essay. standing. For I thought that the first step towards satisfying several inquiries the mind of man was very apt to run into, was to take a survey of our own understandings, examine our own powers, and see to what things they were adapted. Till that was done, I suspected we began at the wrong end, and in vain sought for satisfaction in a quiet and sure possession of truths that most concerned us, whilst we let loose our thoughts into the vast ocean of being; as if all that boundless extent were the natural and un

10.

doubted possession of our understandings, wherein there was nothing exempt from its decisions, or that escaped its comprehension. Thus men extending their inquiries beyond their capacities, and letting their thoughts wander into those depths, where they can find no sure footing; it is no wonder, that they raise questions, and multiply disputes, which, never coming to any clear resolution, are proper only to continue and increase their doubts, and to confirm them at last in perfect scepticism. Whereas, were the capacities of our understandings well considered, the extent of our knowledge once discovered, and the horizon found, which sets the bounds between the enlightened and dark parts of things, between 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. What idea

$ 8. Thus much I thought necessary to stands for say concerning the occasion of this in

quiry 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).

I presume it will be easily granted me, that there are such ideas in men's minds : every one is conscious of them in himself, and men's words and actions will satisfy him that they are in others.

Our first inquiry then shall be, how they come into the mind.

i This modest apology of our author could not procure him the free use of the word idea ; but great ollence has been taken at it, and it has been censured as of dangerous consequence; to which you may liere 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 common notions of things, which we must make use of in our reasoning. You (i. e. the author of the Essay concerning Human Understanding) say in that chapter about the existence 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 given that occasion to the enemies of our faith, to take up your new way of ideas, as an effectual battery (as they imagined) against the mysteries of the Christian faith. But you might have enjoyed the satisfaction of your ideas long enough before I had taken notice of them, unless I had found them einployed 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 introducing 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 endeavoured to defend, is because they have been applied to such purposes. And I might (your lordship says) have enjoyed the satisfaction of my ideas long enough before you had taken notice of them, unless your lordship had found them employed in doing mischief. Which, at last, as I humbly conceive, amounts to thus much, and no more ; viz. That your lordship fears ideas, i. e. the term ideas, may, some time or other, prove of very dangerous consequence to what your lordship has endeavoured to defend, because they have been made use of in arguing against it. For I am sure your lordship does not mean, that you apprehend the things, signified by ideas, may be of dangerous consequence to the article of faith your lordship endeavours to defend, because they have been made use of against it: for (besides that your lordship mentions terms) that would be to expect that those who oppose that article, should oppose it without any thoughts; for the things signified by ideas, are nothing but the immediate objects of our minds in thinking: so that unless any one can oppose the article your lordship defends, without thinking on something, he must use the things signified by ideas; for he that thinks, must have some immediate object of his mind in thinking, i. e, must have ideas.

But whether it be the name, or the thing ; idcas in sound, or ideas in signification, that your lordship apprehends may be of dangerous consequence to that article of faith which your lordship endeavours to defend -it seems to me, I will not say a new way of reasoning (for that belongs to me); but were it not your lordship's, I should think it a very extraordinary way of reasoning, to write against a book, wherein your lordship acknowledges they are not used to bad purposes, nor employed to do mischief, only because you find that ideas are, by those who oppose your lordship, employed to do mischief; and so apprehend, they may be of dangerous consequence to the article your lordship has engaged in the defence of. For whether ideas as terms, or ideas as the immediate objects of the mind signified by those terms, may be, in your lordship's apprehension, of dangerous consequence to that article. I do not see how your lord

* Answer to Mr. Locke's First Letter.
+ In his Second Letter to the Bishop of Worcester.

ship's writing against the notion of ideas, as stated in my hook, will at all linder your opposers from employing them in doing mischief, as before.

However, be that as it will, so it is, that your lordship apprehends these new terms, these ideas, with which the world hath, of late, been so strangely amused (though at last they come to be only common notions of things, as your lordship owns), may be of dangerous consequence to that article. - My lord, if any, in answer to your lordship's sermons, and in other pamphlets, wherein your lordship complains they have talked so much of ideas, have been troublesome to your lordship with that term, it is not strange that your lordship should be tired with that sound: but how natural soever it be to our weak constitutions to be offended with any sound wherewith an importunate din hath been made about our ears; yet, my lord, I know your lordship has a better opinion of the articles of our faith, than to think any of them can be overturned, or so much as shaken, with a breath, formed into any sound or term whatsoever. : Names are but the arbitrary marks of conceptions; and so they be sufficiently appropriated to them in their use, I know no other difference any. of them bave in particular, but as they are of easy or difficult pronunciation, and of a more or less pleasant sound; and what particular antipathies there may be in men to some of them, upon that account, is not easy to be foreseen. This I am sure, no term whatsoever in itself bears, one more than another, any opposition to truth of any kind; they are only propositions that do or can oppose the truth of any article or doctrine; and thus no term is privileged for being set in opposition to truth.

There is no word to be found, which may not be brought into a proposition, wherein the most sacred and most evident truths may be opposed ; but that is not a fault in the term, but him that uses it. And therefore I cannot easily persuade myself (whatever your lordship hath said in the heat of your concern that you have bestowed so much pains upon my book, because the word idea is so much used there. For though upon my saying, in my chapter about the existence of God, That I scarce used the word idea in that whole chapter', your lordship wishes, that“ I had done so quite through my book ;" yet I must rather look upon that as a compliment to me, wherein your lordship wished that my book had been all through suited to vulgar readers, not used to that and the like terms, than that your lordship has such an apprehension of the word idca; or that there is any such barm in the use of it, instead of the word notion (with which your lordship seems to take it to agree in signification), that your lordship would think it worth your while to spend any part of your valu. able time and thoughts about my book, for having the word idea so often in it; for this would be to make your loriship to write only against an impropriety of speech. I own to your lordship, it is a great condescension in your lordship to have done it, if that word have such a share in what your lordship lias writ against my book, as some expressions would persuade one; and I would, for the satisfaction of your lordship, change the term of idea for a better, if your lordship, or any one, could help me to it; for, that notion will not so well stand for every immediate object of the mind in thinking, as idea does, I have (as I guess) somewhere given a reason in my book, by showing that the term notion is more peculiarly appropriated to a certain sort of those.objects, which I call mixed modes : and, I think, it would not sound altogether so well, to say, the “ notion of red," and the “notion of a horse;" as the “idea of red," and the “idea of a horse.” But if any one thinks it will, I contend not; for I have no fondness for, nor an antipathy to, any particular articulate sounds ; nor do I think there is any spell or fascination in any of then.

« ZurückWeiter »