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that a horse; this justice, that cruelty; this a watch, that a jack; what do we else but rank things under different specific names, as agreeing to those abstract ideas, of which we have made those names the signs? And what are the essences of those species set out and marked by names, but those abstract ideas in the mind; which are as it were the bonds between particular things that exist and the names they are to be ranked under? And when general names have any connexion with particular beings, these abstract ideas are the medium that unites them: so that the essences of species, as distinguished and denominated by us, neither are nor can be any thing but those precise abstract ideas we have in our minds. And therefore the supposed real essences of substances, if different from our abstract ideas, cannot be the essences of the species we rank things into. For two species may be one as rationally, as two different essences be the essence of one species: and I demand what are the alterations may or may not be in a horse or lead, without making either of them to be of another species? In determining the species of things by our abstract ideas, this is easy to resolve: but if any one will regulate himself herein by supposed real essences, he will, I suppose, be at a loss; and he will never be able to know when any thing precisely ceases to be of the species of a horse or lead.

§ 14. Nor will any one wonder, that I say these essences, or abstract ideas (which are the measures of name, and the boundaries of species), are the workmanship of the understanding, who considers, that at least the complex ones, are often, in several men, different collections of simple ideas: and therefore that is covetousness to one man, which is not so to another. Nay, even in substances, where their abstract ideas seem to be taken from the things themselves, they are not constantly the same; no not in that species which is most familiar to us, and with

Each distinct abstract idea

is a distinct


which we have the most intimate acquaintance: it having been more than once doubted, whether the foetus born of a woman were a man; even so far, as that it hath been debated, whether it were or were not to be nourished and baptized: which could not be, if the abstract idea of essence, to which the name man belonged, were of nature's making; and were not the uncertain and various collection of simple ideas, which the understanding put together, and then abstracting it, affixed a name to it. So that in truth every distinct abstract idea is a distinct essence and the names that stand for such distinct ideas are the names of things essentially different. Thus a circle is as essentially different from an oval as a sheep from a goat; and rain is as essentially different from snow as water from earth; that abstract idea which is the essence of one being impossible to be communicated to the other. And thus any two abstract ideas, that in any part vary one from another, with two distinct names annexed to them, constitute two distinct sorts, or, if you please, species, as essentially different as any two of the most remote or opposite in the world. 15. But since the essences of things Real and are thought by some (and not without nominal esreason) to be wholly unknown, it may not be amiss to consider the several significations of the word essence.


First, essence may be taken for the being of any thing, whereby it is what it is. And thus the real internal, but generally, in substances, unknown constitution of things, whereon their discoverable qualities depend, may be called their essence. This is the proper original signification of the word, as is evident from the formation of it; essentia, in its primary notation, signifying properly being. And in this sense it is still used, when we speak of the essence of particular things, without giving them any name.

Secondly, the learning and disputes of the schools having been much busied about genus and species, the

word essence has almost lost its primary signification; and instead of the real constitution of things, has been almost wholly applied to the artificial constitution of genus and species. It is true, there is ordinarily supposed a real constitution of the sorts of things; and it is past doubt, there must be some real constitution on which any collection of simple ideas co-existing must depend. But it being evident that things are ranked under names into sorts or species, only as they agree to certain abstract ideas to which we have annexed those names, the essence of each genus or sort comes to be nothing but that abstract idea which the general or sortal (if I may have leave so to call it from sort, as I do general from genus) name stands for. And this we shall find to be that which the word essence imports in its most familiar use. These two sorts of essences, I suppose, may not unfitly be termed, the one the real, the other the nominal essence.



§ 16. Between the nominal essence and the name there is so near a connexion, between the that the name of any sort of things cannot be attributed to any particular being but what has this essence, whereby it answers that abstract idea, whereof that

name and

nominal es


name is the sign.

§ 17. Concerning the real essences of corporeal substances (to mention these only), there are, if I mistake not, two opinions. The one is of those, who, using the word essence for they know not what, suppose a certain number of those essences, according to which all natural things are made, and wherein they do exactly every one of them partake, and so become of this or that species. The other and more rational opinion is, of those who look on all natural things to have a real, but unknown constitution of their insensible parts; from which flow those sensible qualities which serve us to distinguish them one from another, according as we have occasion


that species are distinguished by their real

essences, useless.

to rank them into sorts under common denominations. The former of these opinions, which supposes these essences as a certain number of forms or moulds, wherein all natural things that exist are cast and do equally partake, has, I imagine, very much perplexed the knowledge of natural things. The frequent productions of monsters, in all the species of animals, and of changelings, and other strange issues of human birth, carry with them difficulties not possible to consist with this hypothesis: since it is as impossible that two things, partaking exactly of the same real essence, should have different properties, as that two figures partaking of the same real essence of a circle should have different properties. But were there no other reason against it, yet the supposition of essences that cannot be known, and the making of them nevertheless to be that which distinguishes the species of things, is so wholly useless and unserviceable to any part of our knowledge, that that alone were sufficient to make us lay it by, and content ourselves with such essences of the sorts or species of things as come within the reach of our knowledge: which, when seriously considered, will be found, as I have said, to be nothing else but those abstract complex ideas to which we have annexed distinct general names.

§ 18. Essences being thus distinguished into nominal and real, we may farther observe, that in the species of simple ideas and modes, they are always the same, but in substances always quite different. Thus a figure, including a space between three lines, is the real as well as nominal essence of a triangle; it being not only the abstract idea to which the general name is annexed, but the very essentia or being of the thing itself, that foundation from which all its properties flow, and to which they are all inseparably annexed. But it is far otherwise concerning that parcel of matter which

Real and nominal es

sence the same in simple ideas and modes, different in


makes the ring on my finger, wherein these two essences are apparently different. For it is the real constitution of its insensible parts on which depend all those properties of colour, weight, fusibility, fixedness, &c. which are to be found in it, which constitution we know not, and so having no particular idea of, have no name that is the sign of it. But yet it is its colour, weight, fusibility, fixedness, &c. which makes it to be gold, or gives it a right to that name, which is therefore its nominal essence: since nothing can be called gold but what has a conformity of qualities to that abstract complex idea, to which that name is annexed. But this distinction of essences belonging particularly to substances, we shall, when we come to consider their names, have an occasion to treat of more fully.

§ 19. That such abstract ideas, with Essences ingenerable names to them, as we have been speaking and incor- of, are essences, may farther appear by ruptible. what we are told concerning essences, viz. that they are all ingenerable and incorruptible : which cannot be true of the real constitutions of things which begin and perish with them. All things that exist, besides their author, are all liable to change; especially those things we are acquainted with, and have ranked into bands under distinct names or ensigns. Thus that which was grass to-day, is to-morrow the flesh of a sheep, and within a few days after becomes part of a man: in all which, and the like changes, it is evident their real essence, i. e. that constitution, whereon the properties of these several things depended, is destroyed, and perishes with them. But essences being taken for ideas, established in the mind, with names annexed to them, they are supposed to remain steadily the same, whatever mutations the particular substances are liable to. For whatever becomes of Alexander and Bucephalus, the ideas to which man and horse are annexed are supposed

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