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Thirdly, I shall make some enquiry into the nature and grounds of faith, or opinion ; whereby I mean that assent, which we give to any proposition as true, of whose truth yet we have no certain knowledge: and here we shall have occasion to examine the reasons and degrees of assent.
§. 4. If, by this enquiry into the nature Useful to of the understanding, I can discover the knowtheexpowers thereof; how far they reach; to comprehenwhat things they are in any degree propor- sion. tionate; and where they fail us: I suppose it may be of use to prevail with the busy mind of man, 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 often happened) we have 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 content ourselves with what is attainable by us in this state.
§. 5. For, though the comprehension of 0ur capa_ our understandings comes exceeding short of citysuitedto the vast extent of things; yet we shall have ourstateand cause enough to magnify the bountiful au- concerns, thor 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 them (as St. Peter says) Vsmio. apos SanjV ^ svtriUmv, whatsoever is necessary for the conveniencies of life, and information of virtue j 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 excuse to an idle and untoward servant, who would not attend his business by candle-light, 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 muchwhat as wisely as he, who would not use his legs, but sit still and perish, because he had no wings to fly.
Knowled §' ^' When we know our own strength, we of our capa- snah* tne better know what to undertake with city, a cure hopes of success : and when we have well surof sceptic- veyed the powers of our own minds, and made new. * 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. This was that which gave the first rise to this essay concerning the understand- ^casi0n of ing. For I thought that the first step to- 18 essay' wards 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.
What idea §' 8. Thus much I thought necessary to stands for. say concerning the occasion of this enquiry 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.)
(1) Thismodest apology of our 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 here 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 con'cerning 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 employed about doing mischief.'
To which our authorf 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 everyof 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
* Answer to Mr. Locke's First Letter.
t In his Second Letter to the Bishop of Worcester.
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 enquiry then shall be, how they come into the mind.
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; ideas in sound, or ideas in signification; that yourlordship apprehends may be of dangerous consequence to that article of faith, whichyuur 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; 1 do not see how your lordship's writing against the notion of ideas, as stated 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 new terms, these ideas, with which the world hath, of late, been so strangely amused (though at last they come lobe 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