Page images
PDF
EPUB

he argues that the idea or sense of a God is so manifest from the visible marks of wisdom and power in creation, that no rational creature could, on reflection, miss the discovery of a Deity. In the second book, Locke follows up this principle or position by tracing the origin of our ideas, simple and complex, which he derives from sensation and reflection. His reasoning on the latter is somewhat indefinite. 'Duration is certainly no mode of thinking, yet the idea of duration is reckoned by Locke among those with which we are furnished by reflection. The same may perhaps be said as to his account of several other ideas, which cannot be deduced from external sensation, nor yet can be reckoned modifications or operations of the soul itself; such as number, power, existence' (Hallam). The third book of the Essay is on language and signs as instruments of truth; and the fourth book is intended to determine the nature, validity, and limits of the understanding. Of the importance of this great work in diffusing a just mode of thinking and inquiry, it is unnecessary to speak. Some passages may appear contradictory, 'but any person reading the Essay carefully through will,' says Mr. Lewes, 'find all clear and coherent. . The style of the work is simple, pure, and expressive; and, as it was designed for general perusal, there is a frequent employment of colloquial phraseology. Locke hated scholastic jargon, and wrote in language intelligible to every man of common-sense. “No one,' says his pupil, Shaftesbury, 'has done more towards the recalling of philosophy from barbarity, into the use and practice of the world, and into the company of the better and politer sort, who might well be ashamed of it in its other dress.

In 1690, Locke published two ‘Treatises on Civil Government,' in defence of the principles of the Revolution against the Tories ; or, as he expresses himself, “ to establish the throne of our great restorer, our present King William ; to make good his title in the consent of the people, which, being the only one of all lawful governments, he has more fully and clearly than any prince in Christendom; and to justify to the world the people of England, whose love of their just and natural rights, with their resolution to preserve them, saved the nation when it was on the very brink of slavery and ruin.' The chief of his other productions are– Thoughts concerning Education '(1693), • The Reasonableness of Christianity' (1695), two · Vindications of that work (1696), and an admirable tract' On the Conduct of the Understanding,' printed after the author's death. A theological controversy in which he engaged with Stillingfleet, bishop of Worcester, has already been mentioned in our account of that prelate. Many letters and miscellaneous pieces of Locke have been published, partly in the beginning of last century, and partly by Lord King in his Life of the philosopher (1829).

In reference to the writings of Locke, Sir James Mackintosh observes, that justly to understand their character, it is necessary to

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

take a deliberate survey of the circumstances in which the writer was placed. •Educated among the English dissenters, during the short period of their political ascendency, he early imbibed that deep piety and ardent spirit of liberty wbich actuated that body of men; and he probably imbibed also in their schools the disposition to metaphy, sical inquiries which has everywhere accompanied the Calvinistic Theology. Sects founded in the right of private judgment, naturally. tend to purify themselves from intolerance, and in time learn to they

ct in others the freedom of thought to the exercise of whichvere bis owe their own existence. By the Independent divines who of me instructors, our philosopher was taught those principiona w liberty which they were the first to disclose to the,

1st to disclose to thed the severe morality inquiry led him to milder dogmas, he retair , which was their honourable singularity, and which continues to distinguish their successors in those communities which have abandoned their rigorous opinions. Iflis professional pursuits afterwards engaged him in the studiedy of the physical sciences, at the moment when the spirit of experiwument and observation was in its youthful fervour, and when a repugnace to scholastic subtleties was the ruling passion of the scientific w orld. Ata more mature age, he was admitted into the society of great wits and ambitious politicians. During the remainder of his life he was often a man of business, and always a man of the world, without muche undisturbed leisure, and probably with that abated relish for merely ali ostract speculation which is the inevitable result of converse with society and experience in affairs. But his political connections agreeing with his early bias, made him a zealous advocate of liberty in opinion and in government; and he gradually limited his zeal and Activity to the illustrations of such general principles as are the guar

lians of these great interests of human society. Almost all his writings, even his Essay itself, were occasional, and intended directly to counteract the enemies of reason and freedom in his own age. The first Letter on Toleration, the most original perhaps of his works, was composed in Holland, in a retirement where he was forced to conceal himself from the tyranny which pursued him into a foreign land; and it was published in England in the year of the Revolution, to vindicate the Toleration Act, of which the author lamented the imperfection. On the continent, the principal works of Locke became extensively known through the medium of translation.

Immediately after the Revolution, employment in the diplomatic su service was offered to Locke, who declined it on the ground of illsə

health. In 1695, having aided government with his advice on the sub788 je ect of the coinage, he was appointed a member of the Board of Trade, w hich office, however, the state of his health also obliged him to re

panna. The last years of his existence were spent at Oates, in Essex, sides: 1 the cheat of Sir Francis Masham, who had invited him to make that n examidon his home. Lady Masham, a daughter of Dr. Cudworth, and tofriminghm Locke was attached by strong ties of friendship, soothed by

SURI

her attention the infirmities of his declining years.* The death of this excellent man took place October 28, 1704, when he had attained the age of seventy-two.

Causes of Weakness in Men's Understandings. There is, it is visible, great variety in men's understandings, and their natural constitutions put so wide a difference between some men in this respect, that art and industry would never be able to master; and their very natures seem to want a founulation to raise on it that which other men easily attain unto. Amongst men of equal education, there is a great inequality of parts. And the woods of America, as well as the schools of Athens, produce men of several abilities in the same kind. Though this be so, yet I imagine most men come very short of what they might attain unto in tliu ir several degrees, by a neglect of their understandings. A few rules of logic are thought sufficient in this case for those who pretend to the highest improvement; whereas I think there are a great many natural defects in the understanding capable of amenukent, which are overlooked and wholly neglected. And it is easy to perceive that men art guilty of a great many faults in the exercise and improvement of this faculty of the mina, which hinder them in their progress, and keep them in ignorance and error all their lives Some of them I shall take notice of, and endeavour to point out proper remedies for in the following discourse.

Besides the want of determined ideas, and of sagacity and exercise in finding out and laying in order intermediate ideas, there are three miscarriages that men are guilty of in reference to their reason, whereby this faculty is hiipdered in them from that service it might do and was designed for. And he that reflecite upon the actions and discourses of mankind, will find their defects in this kind very frequent and very observable.

1. The first is of those who seldom reason at all, but do and think according to the example of others, whether parents, neighbours, ministers, or who else they are pleased to make choice of to have an implicit faith , for the saving of then selves the pains and tronble of thinking and examining for themselves.

2. The second is of those who put passion in the place of reason, and being resolved that shall govern their actions and arguments, neither use their own, por hearken to other people's reason, any further than it suits their humour, interest, gr party; and these, one may observe, commonly content themselves with words which have no distinct ideas to them, though, in other matters, that they come with an un-N biassed indifferency to, they want not abilities to talk and hear reason, where they have no secret inclination that hinders them from being untrar able to it.

3. The third sort is of those who readily and sincerely follow reason, but for want of having that which one may call large, sound, round-about sense, have not a full view of all that relates to the question, and may be of moment to decide it. We are all short-sighted, and very often see but one side of a matter; our views are not extended to all that has a connection with it. From this defect, I think, no man is free. We see but in part, and we know but in part, and therefore it is no wonder we conclude not right from our partial views. This might instruct the proudest esteemer of his own parts how usefnl it is to talk and consult with others, even such as came short with him in capacity, quickness, and penetration ; for, since no one sees all, and we generally have different prospects of the same thing, according to our different, as I may say, positions to it, it is not incongruous to think, nor beneath any man to try, whether another may not have notions of things which have escaped him, and which his reason would make use of if they came into his mind. The faculty of reasoning seldom or never deceives those who trust to it; its consequences from what it builds on are evident and certain ; but that which it oftenest, if not only, misleads us in, is, that the principles from which we conclude, the ground upon which we bottom our reasoning, are but a part; something is left out which should go into the reckoning to make it just and exact

Practice and Habit We are born with faculties and powers capable almost of anything, such at as would carry us further than can be easily imagined; but it is only the exerc those powers which gives us ability and skill in anything, and leads us toward fection.

fe

ob least

se of A middle-aged ploughman will scarce ever be brought to the carriage and language of a gentleman, though his body be as well proportioned, and his joints as supple, and his natural parts not any way inferior. The legs of a dancing-master, and the fingers of a musician, fall, as it were, naturally without thought or pains into regular and admirable.motions. Bid them change their parts, and they will in vain endeavour to produce like motions in the members not used to them, and it will require length of time and long practice to attain but some degrees of a like ability. What incredible and astonishing actions do we find rope-dancers and tumblers bring their bodies to! not but that sundry in almost all manual arts are as wonderful ; but I name those which the world takes notice of for such, because, on that very account. they give money to see them. All these admired motions, beyond the reach, and almost the conception of unpractised spectators, are nothing but the mere effects of use and industry in men, whose bodies have nothing peculiar in them from those of the amazed lookers-on.

1s per

As it is in the body, so it is in the mind; practice makes it what it is; and most even of those excellences which are looked on as natural endowments, will be found, . when examined into more narrowly, to be the product of exercise, and to be raised to that pitch only by repeated actions. Some men are remarked for pleasantness in raillery, others for apologues and apposite diverting stories. This is apt to be taken for the effect of pure nature, and that the rather, because it is not got by rules, and those who excel in either of them, never purposely set themselves to the study of it as an art to be learnt. But yet it is true, that at first some lucky hit which took with somebody, and gained him commendation, encouraged him to try again, inclined his thoughts and endeavours that way, till at last he insensibly got a facility in it without perceiving how; and that is attributed wholly to nature, which was much more the effect of use and practice. I do not deny that natural disposition may often give the first rise to it; but that never carries a man far without use and exercise, and it is practice alone that brings the powers of the mind as well as those of the body to their perfection. Many a good poetic vein is buried under a trade, and never produces anything for want of improvement. We see the ways of discourse and reasoning are very different, even concerning the same matter, at court and in the university. And he that will go but from Westminster Hall to the Exchange, will find a different genius and turn in their ways of talking; and one cannot think that all whose lot fell in the city were born with different parts from those who were bred at the university or inns of court.

To what purpose all this, but to shew that the difference, so observable in men's understandings and parts, does not arise so much from the natural faculties, as acquired habits? He would be laughed at that should go about to make a fine dancer out of a country hedger at past fifty. And he will not have much better success who shall endeavour at that age to make a man reason well, or speak handsomely, who has never been used to it, though you should lay before him a collection of all the best precepts of logic or oratory. Nobody is made anything by hearing of rules, or laying them up in his memory; practice must settle the habit of doing without reflecting on the rule; and you may as well hope to make a good painter or musician, extempore, by a lecture and instruction in the arts of music and painting, as a coherent thinker, or strict reasoner, by a set of rules, shewing him wherein right reason

ing consists. 3 This being so, that defects and weakness in men's understandings, as well as other

faculties, come from want of a right use of their own minds, I am apt to think the I fault is generally mislaid upon nature, and there is often a complaint of want of

parts, when the fault lies in want of a due improvement of them. We see men frequently dexterous and sharp enough in making a bargain, who, if you reason with them about matters of religion, appear perfectly stupid.

Prejudices. Every one is forward to complain of the prejudices that mislead other men or parties, as if he were free, and had none of his own. This being objected on all sides, it is agreed that it is a fault, and a hinderance to knowledge. What, now, is the cure? No other but this-that every man should let alone others' prejudices, and examine his own. Nobody is convinced of his by the accusation of another: he recriminates by the same rule, and is clear. The only way to remove this great cause

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

per

of ignorance and error out of the world, is for every one impartially to examine himself. If others will not deal fairly with their own minds, does that make my errors truths, or ought it to make me in love with them, and willing to impose on myself? If others love cataracts on their eyes, should that hinder me from couching of mine as soon as I could ? Every one declares against blindness, and yet who almost is net fond of that which dims his sight, and keeps the clear light out of his mind, which should lead him into truth and knowledge ? False or doubtful positions, relied upon as unqnestionable maxims, keep those in the dark from truth who build on them. Such are usually the prejudices imbibed from education, party, reverence, fashion, interest, &c. This is the mote which every one sees in his brother's eye, but never regards the beam in his own. For who is there, almost, that is ever brought fairly to examine his own principles, and see whether they are such as will bear the trial ? But yet this should be one of the first things every one should set about, and be scrupulous in, who would rightly conduct his understanding in the search of truth and knowledge

To those who are willing to get rid of this great hinderance of knowledge—for to such only I write-to those who would shake off this great and dangerous impostor Prejudice, who dresses up falsehood in the likeness of truth, and so dexterously hoodwinks men's minds, as to keep them in the dark, with a belief that they are more in the light than any that do not see with their eyes, I shall offer this one mark whereby prejudice may be known. He that is strongly of any opinion, must suppose -unless he be self-condemned--that his persuasion is built upon good grounds, and that his assent is no greater than what the evidence of the truth he holds forces bim to; and that they are arguments, and not inclination or fancy, that make him so confident and positive in his tenets. Now if, after all his profession, he cannot bear any opposition to his opinion, if he cannot so much as give a patient hearing, much less examine and weigh the arguments on the other side, does he not plainly confess it is prejudice governs him? And it is not evidence of truth, but some lazy anticipation, some beloved presumption, that he desires to rest undisturbed in. For if what he holds be as he gives out, well fenced with evidence, and he sees it to be true, what need he fear to put it to the proof? If his opinion be settled upon a firm foundation, if the arguments that support it, and have obtained his assent, be clear, good, and convincing, why should he be shy to have it tried whether they be proof or not? He whose assent goes beyond his evidence, owes this excess of his adherence only to prejudice, and does in effect own it when he refuses iu hear what is offered against it; declaring thereby, that it is not evidence he seeks, but the quiet enjoyment of the opinion he is fond of, with a forward condemnation of all that may stand in opposition to it, unheard and unexamined.

Injudicious Haste in Study. The eagerness and strong bent of the mind after knowledge, if not warily regulated, is often a hinderance to it. It still presses into further discoveries and new objects, and catches at the variety of knowledge, and therefore often stays not long enough on what is before it, to look into it as it should, for haste to pursue what is yet out of sight. He that rides post through a country may be able, from the transient view, to tell in general how the parts lie, and may be able to give some loose description of here a mountain and there a plain, here a morass and there a river ; woodland in one part, and savannahs in another. Such superficial ideas and observations as these he may collect in galloping over it ; but the more useful observations of the soil, plants, animals, and inhabitants, with their several sorts and properties, must necessarily escape him; and it is seldom men ever discover the rich mines without some digging. Nature commonly lodges her treasures and jewels in rocky ground. If the matter be knotty, and the sense lies deep, the mind must stop and buckle to it, and stick upon it with labour and thought, and close contemplation, and not leave it until it has mastered the difficulty and got possession of truth. But here care must be taken to avoid the other extreme: a man must not stick at every useless nicety, and expect mysteries of science in every trivial question or scruple that he may raise. He that will stand to pick up and examine every pebble that comes in his way, is as unlikely to return enriched and laden with jewels, as the other that travelled full speed. Truths are not the better nor the worse for their obviousness

« PreviousContinue »