« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
and therefore they make signs till they are so; yet this insignificancy in their words, when they come to reason concerning either their tenets or interest, manifestly fills their discourse with abundance of empty unintelligible noise and jargon ; especially in moral matters, where the words for the most part standing for arbitrary and numerous collections of ideas, not regularly and permanently united in nature, their bare sounds are often only thought on, or at least very obscure and uncertain notions annexed to them. Men take the words they find in use amongst their neighbours; and that they may not seem ignorant what they stand for, use them confidently,without much troubling their heads about a certain fixed meaning: whereby, besides the ease of it, they obtain this advantage ; that as in such discourses they seldom are in the right, so they are as seldom to be convinced that they are in the wrong ; it being all one to go about to draw those men out of their mistakes, who have no settled notions, as to dispossess a vagrant of his habitation, who has no settled abode. This I guess to be so; and every one may observe in himself and others whether it be or no. 2. Unsteady
$ 5. Secondly, another great abuse of application
words is inconstancy in the use of them. of them. It is hard to find a discourse written of
any subject, especially of controversy, wherein one shall not observe, if he read with attention, the same words (and those commonly the most material in the discourse, and upon which the argument turns) used sometimes for one collection of simple ideas, and sometimes for another; which is a perfect abuse of language. Words being intended for signs of my ideas, to make them known to others, not by any natural signification, but by a voluntary imposition-it is plain cheat and abuse, when I make them stand sometimes for one thing and sometimes for another; the wilful doing whereof can be imputed to nothing but great folly, or greater dishonesty: and a man, in his accounts
with another, may, with as much fairness, make the characters of numbers stand sometimes for one and sometimes for another collection of units. (v. g. this character 3 stand sometimes for three, sometimes for four, and sometimes for eight) as in his discourse, or reasoning, make the same words stand for different collections of simple ideas. If men should do so in their reckonings, I wonder who would have to do with them? One who would speak thus, in the affairs and business of the world, and call eight sometimes seven, and sometimes nine, as best served his advantage, would presently have clapped upon him one of the two names men are commonly disgusted with: and yet in arguings and learned contests, the same sort of proceedings passes commonly for wit and learning : but to me it appears a greater dishonesty than the misplacing of counters in the casting up a debt; and the cheat the greater, by how much truth is of greater concernment and value than money.
$ 6. Thirdly, another abuse of language 3. Affected is an affected obscurity, by either applying obscurity by old words to new and unusual significa- wrong aptions, or introducing new and ambiguous plication. terms, without defining either; or else putting them so together, as may confound their ordinary meaning. Though the Peripatetic philosophy has been most eminent in this way, yet other sects have not been wholly clear of it. There are scarce any of them that are not cumbered with some difficulties (such is the imperfection of human knowledge) which they have been fain to cover with obseurity of terms, and to confound the signification of words, which, like a mist before people's eyes, might hinder their weak parts from being discovered. That body and extension, in common use, stand for two distinct ideas, is plain to any one that will but reflect a little: for were their signification precisely the same, it would be proper, and as intelligible to say, the body of an extension, as the extension of a body; and yet there are those who find it necessary to confound their signification. To this abuse, and the mischiefs of confounding the signification of words, logic and the liberal sciences, as they have been handled in the schools, have given reputation; and the admired art of disputing hath added much to the natural imperfection of languages, whilst it has been made use of and fitted to perplex the signification of words, more than to discover the knowledge and truth of things: and he that will look into that sort of learned writings, will find the words there much more obscure, uncertain, and undetermined in their meaning than they are in ordinary conversation. Logic and
$ 7. This is unavoidably to be so, where dispute have men's parts and learning are estimated by much con- their skill in disputing. And if reputation tributed to
and reward shall attend these conquests, this.
which depend mostly on the fineness and niceties of words, it is no wonder if the wit of man, so employed, should perplex, involve, and subtilize the signification of sounds, so as never to want something to say, in opposing or defending any question; the victory being adjudged not to him who had truth on his side, but the last word in the dispute.
$ 8. This, though a very useless skill Calling it
and that which I think the direct opposite subtilty.
to the ways of knowledge, hath yet passed hitherto under the laudable and esteemed names of subtilty and acuteness; and has had the applause of the schools, and encouragement of one part of the learned men of the world. And no wonder; since the philosophers of old (the disputing and wrangling philosophers I mean, such as Lucian wittily and with reason taxes) and the schoolmen since, aiming at glory and esteem for their great and universal knowledge, (easier a great deal to be pretended to than really acquired) found this a good expedient to cover their ignorance with a curious and inexplicable web of perplexed words, and procure to themselves the admiration of others by unintelligible terms, the apter to produce wonder, because they could not be understood : whilst it appears in all history, that these profound doctors were no wiser, nor more useful, than their neighbours; and brought but small advantage to human life, or the societies wherein they lived; unless the coining of new words, where they produced no new things to apply them to, or the perplexing or obscuring the signification of old ones, and so bringing all things into question and dispute, were a thing profitable to the life of inan, or worthy commendation and reward. $ 9. For notwithstanding these learned
This learn disputants, these all-knowing doctors, it ing very was to the unscholastic statesman that the little benegovernments of the world owed their peace,
fits society. defence, and liberties : and from the illiterate and contemned mechanic (a name of disgrace) that they received the improvements of useful arts. Nevertheless, this artificial ignorance and learned gibberish prevailed mightily in these last ages, by the interest and artifice of those who found no easier way to that pitch of authority and dominion they have attained, than by amusing the men of business and ignorant with hard words, or employing the ingenious and idle in intricate disputes about unintelligible terms, and holding them perpetually entangled in that endless labyrinth. Besides, there is no such way to gain admittance, or give defence to strange and absurd doctrines, as to guard them round about with legions of obscure, doubtful, and undefined words : which yet make these retreats more like the dens of robbers, or holes of foxes, than the fortresses of fair warriors; which if it be hard to get them out of, it is not for the strength that is in them, but the briars and thorns, and the obscurity of the thickets they are beset with. For untruth being unacceptable to the mind of man, there is no other defence left for absurdity but obscurity. § 10. Thus learned ignorance, and this
But destroys art of keeping, even inquisitive men, from the instrutrue knowledge, hath been propagated in ments of
the world, and hath much perplexed, whilst and commu- it pretended to inform the understanding. nication.
For we see that other well-meaning and wise men, whose education and parts had not acquired that acuteness, could intelligibly express themselves to one another; and in its plain use make a benefit of language. But though unlearned men well enough understood the words white and black, &c. and had constant notions of the ideas signified by those words; yet there were philosophers found, who had learning and subtilty enough to prove, that snow was black; i. e. to prove that white was black. Whereby they had the advantage to destroy the instruments and means of discourse, conversation, instruction, and society; whilst with great art and subtilty they did no more but perplex and confound the signification of words; and thereby render language less useful than the real defects of it had made it; a gift which the illiterate had not attained to. As useful as
§ 11. These learned men did equally to confound instruct men's understandings, and profit the sound of their lives, as he who should alter the sigthe letters. nification of known characters, and by a subtle device of learning, far surpassing the capacity of the illiterate, dull, and vulgar, should, in his writing, show that he could put A for B, and D for E, &c. to the no small admiration and benefit of his reader: it being as senseless to put black, which is a word agreed on to stand for one sensible idea, to put it, I say, for another, or the contrary idea, i. e. to call snow black, as to put this mark A, which is a character agreed on to stand for one modification of sound, made by a certain motion of the organs of speech, for B; which is agreed on to stand for another modification of sound, made by another certain mode of the organs of speech. This art has
$ 12. Nor hath this mischief stopped in perplexed logical niceties, or curious empty speculareligion and tions; it hath invaded the great concernjustice.
ments of human life and society, obscured