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* §. 4. Useful to know the extent of our comprehension.
If, by this enquiry into the nature of the understanding, I can discover the powers thereof; how far they reach; to what things they are in any degree proportionate; and where they fail us: I suppose it may be of use to prevail with the busy mind of nan, to be more cautious in meddling with things exceeding its comprehension; to stop when 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 of ten happened) we bave 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 conLent ourselves with what is attainable by us in this state.
5. Our capacity suited lo our state and concerns. For, though the comprehension of our understandings eomes exceeding short of the vast extent of things; yet we shall have cause enough to magnify the bountiful author 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 thein (as St. Peter says) závra srpès cosa kissoriation whatsoever is necessary for the conveniencies 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 ihem to the knowledge of their maker, and the sight of tbeir 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 ex-, cuse to an idle and untoward servant, who would not attend his business by candle-light, to plead that he had not broad sun-sbine. 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 muchwhat as wisely as he, who would not use his legs, but sit still and perish, because he had no wings to fly. $. 6. Knowledge of our capacity, a cure of scepticism and ed about in thinking; and I could not avoid frequently using it (1).
idleness. When we know our own strength, we shall the better know what to undertake with hopes of success : and when we have well surveyed the powers of our own minds, and made some estimate what we 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. Occasion of this Essay. This was that which gave the first rise to this essay concerning the understanding. For I thought that the first step towards satisfying several enquiries, 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 undoubted possession of our understandings, wherein there was nothing exempt from its decisions, or that escaped its comprehension. Thus men extending their enquiries 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.
(1) This modest apology of nur 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 bere see what he answers. “ The world, saith the * bishop of Wor. “ cester, 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 resasoning. You, (ie, “the author of the Essay concerning Hu nan 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 coinmon " words and expressions. I would you had done so quite through
your book; for then you had never given that occasion to the enew mies of our faith, to take up your new way of ileas, 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 employed about doing mischief.”
To which our authort replies, It is plain, that that which your lord. ship 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 ao apprehersion of idcas, that they may be of dangerous consequence to that article of faith, which your lordship has endcavoured to defend, is because they have been applied to such purposes And I might (your lordship says) have enjoyed the satis faction 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 nu inore, viz. That your lordship fears ideas, i. e. the term idas, may, some time or other, prove of very dangerous consequence to what your lordship has endeavoured to defend, because they bave been macle 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 Jangerous consequence to the article of faith your lord ship 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 inmediate objects of our miods in thinking: so that unless any one can oppose the article your lordship defends, without thinking on some. thing, he must use the things signified by ideas ; for he that thinki, must have some immediate object of his mind in thinking, i.e. must have ideas
But whether it be the name, or the thing; ideas in sound, or ideas in signification, that your lordship apprehends may be of dangerous
Answer to Mr. Locke's First Letter.
I presume it will be easily granted me, that there are such ideas in nien'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 enquiry then shall be, how they come into the mind.
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 extrarodinary way of reasoning, to write against a book, wherein your lordship acknowledges they are not used to had 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 bas engaged in the defence of. For whether ideas as terms, or ideas as the inmediate objects of the mind signified by those terns, may be, in your lord ship's apprehension, of dangerous consequence to ibat article; I do not see how your lordship's writing against the notion of ideas, as s:ated in my book, will at all hinder your opposers from employing them in doing mischief as before.
However, be that as it will, so it is, that your lordship apprehends these " pew terms," these “ ideas, with wbich the world hath, of late, been so strangely amused (though at last they come to be only common wotions of things," as your lordship owns) · may be of dangerous conquence" 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 20 much as shaken, with a breath formed into any sound, or tern what. soever.
Names are but the arbitrary marks of conceptions; and so they be sufficiently appropriated to them in their use, I know no other differe ence any of them have in particular, but as they are of easy or difficult pronunciation, and of a more or less pleasant sound; and what particu• far antipathies there may be in men to some of them, upon that account is not easy to be foreseen. This I am sure, no teria 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 arti. cle or doctrine; and thus no term is privileged for being set in opposi. ron to truth.
There is no word to be found, which may not be brought into a pro. position, wherein the most sacred and most evident cruthis may be op. posed: but that is not a fault in the tern, but him that uses it. And Therefore I cannot easily persuade myself (whatever your lordship balla said jo the heat of your concern) that you have bestowed so mucla prios npon my book, because the word idea is so much used there. For though upon Diy saying, in my chapter about the existence of God,