How much the imperfectionof accurately discriminating ideas one from another lies, either inthe dulness or faults of the organs of sense; or want of acuteness,exercise, or attention in the understanding; or hastiness andprecipitancy, natural to some tempers, I will not here examine: itsuffices to take notice, that this is one of the operations that themind may reflect on and observe in itself It is of that consequence toits other knowledge, that so far as this faculty is in itself dull, ornot rightly made use of, for the distinguishing one thing fromanother,- so far our notions are confused, and our reason and judgmentdisturbed or misled.
This is a way of proceedingquite contrary to metaphor and allusion; wherein for the most partlies that entertainment and pleasantry of wit, which strikes so livelyon the fancy, and therefore is so acceptable to all people, becauseits beauty appears at first sight, and there is required no labor ofthought to examine what truth or reason there is in it.
Christians as well as Turks have had whole sects owning and contendingearnestly for it,- that the Deity was corporeal, and of human shape:and though we find few now amongst us who profess themselvesAnthropomorphites, (though some I have met with that own it,) yet Ibelieve he that will make it his business may find amongst theignorant and uninstructed Christians many of that opinion.
There wasnever any rational creature that set himself sincerely to examinethe truth of these propositions that could fail to assent to them;though yet it be past doubt that there are many men, who, having notapplied their thoughts that way, are ignorant both of the one andthe other.
Whilst some (and those the most) taking thingsupon trust, misemploy their power of assent, by lazily enslaving theirminds to the dictates and dominion of others, in doctrines which it istheir duty carefully to examine, and not blindly, with an implicitfaith, to swallow; others, employing their thoughts only about somefew things, grow acquainted sufficiently with them, attain greatdegrees of knowledge in them, and are ignorant of all other, havingnever let their thoughts loose in the search of other inquiries.
Though the examiningand judging of ideas by themselves, their names being quite laidaside, be the best and surest way to clear and distinct knowledge:yet, through the prevailing custom of using sounds for ideas, Ithink it is very seldom practised.
was an inquiry many ages since; andit being that which all mankind either do, or pretend to search after,it cannot but be worth our while carefully to examine wherein itconsists, and so acquaint ourselves with the nature of it, as toobserve how the mind distinguishes it from falsehood.
So necessary is it to quit the common notion ofspecies and essences, if we will truly look into the nature of things,and examine them by what our faculties can discover in them as theyexist, and not by groundless fancies that have been taken up aboutthem.
Some confused orobscure notions have served their turns; and many who talk very muchof religion and conscience, of church and faith, of power and right,of obstructions and humours, melancholy and choler, would perhaps havelittle left in their thoughts and meditations if one should desirethem to think only of the things themselves and lay by those wordswith which they so often confound others, and not seldom themselvesalso.
It may suffice us, that He hath madeknown to all those who are capable of instruction, discoursing, andreasoning, that they shall come to an account, and receive accordingto what they have done in this body.
Nor let it be wondered, that Iplace the certainty of our knowledge in the consideration of ourideas, with so little care and regard (as it may seem) to the realexistence of things: since most of those discourses which take upthe thoughts and engage the disputes of those who pretend to make ittheir business to inquire after truth and certainty, will, Ipresume, upon examination, be found to be general propositions, andnotions in which existence is not at all concerned.
Every one may observe how common itis for names to be made use of, instead of the ideas themselves,even when men think and reason within their own breasts; especially ifthe ideas be very complex, and made up of a great collection of simpleones.
Sothat as to all general knowledge we must search and find it only inour minds; and it is only the examining of our own ideas thatfurnisheth us with that.
And thus many are ignorantof mathematical truths, not out of any imperfection of theirfaculties, or uncertainty in the things themselves, but for want ofapplication in acquiring, examining, and by due ways comparing thoseideas.