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Human Understanding.





derftanding, pleasant and useful.

INCE it is the Understanding that fets Man above the An Inquiry rest of fenfible Beings, and gives him all the Advan- into the Untage and Dominion which he has over them; it is certainly a Subject, even for its Noblenefs, worth our Labour to enquire into.. The Understanding, like the Eye, whilft it makes us fee, and perceive all other Things, takes no notice of itself: And it requires Art and Pains to fet it a diftance, and make it its own Object. But whatever be the Difficulties that lie in the way of this Enquiry; whatever it be that keeps us fo much in the Dark to our felves; fure I am, that all the Light we can let in upon our own Minds, all the Acquaintance we can make with our own Understandings, will not only be very pleasant, but bring us great Advantage, in directing our Thoughts in the fearch of other Things.

§. 2. This therefore, being my Purpofe to enquire into the Original, Cer- Design. tainty, and Extent of Human Knowledg; together, with the Grounds and Degrees of Belief, Opinion and Affent: I fhall not at prefent meddle with the Phyfical Confideration of the Mind, or trouble my felf to examine, wherein its Effence confifts, or by what Motions of our Spirits, or Alterations of our Bodies, we come to have any Senfation by our Organs, or any Ideas in our Underftandings; and whether thofe Ideas do in their Formation, any, or all of them, depend on Matter or no. These are Speculations, which however curious and entertaining, I fhall decline, as lying out of my way, in the Design I am now upon. It fhall fuffice to my prefent Purpofe, to confider the difcerning Faculties of a Man, as they are employ'd about the Objects which they have to do with And I fhall imagine I have not wholly mifemploy'd my felf in the Thoughts I shall have on this Occafion, if in this hiftorical, plain Method, I can give any account of the Ways whereby our Understandings come to attain thofe Notions of Things we have, and can fet down any Measures of the Certainty of our Knowledg, or the Grounds of thofe Perfuafions which are to be found amongst Men, fo various, different, and wholly contradictory; and yet afferted fomewhere or other with fuch Affurance and Confidence, that he that fhall take a view of the Opinions of Mankind, obferve their Oppofition, and at the fame time confider the Fondness and Devotion wherewith they are embrac'd, the Refolution and Eagerness wherewith they are maintain'd; may perhaps have Reafon to fufpect, that either there is no fuch Thing as Truth at Vol. I.




Ufeful to know

ail; or that Mankind hath no fufficient Means to attain a certain Knowledg

of it.

§. 3. It is therefore worth while to fearch out the Bounds between Opinion and Knowledg; and examine by what Measures, in things whereof we have no certain Knowledg, we ought to regulate our Affent, and moderate our Perfuafions. In order whereunto, I fhall purfue this following Method.

First, I fhall enquire into the Original of those Ideas, Notions, or whatever elfe you please to call them, which a Man obferves, and is conscious to himself he has in his Mind; and the Ways whereby the Understanding comes to be furnish'd with them.

Secondly, I fhall endeavour to fhew, what Knowledg the Understanding hath by those Ideas; and the Certainty, Evidence, and Extent of it.

Thirdly, I shall make fome Enquiry into the Nature and Grounds of Faith or Opinion; whereby I mean that Affent which we give to any Propofition as true, of whose Truth yet we have no certain Knowledg: And here we thall have occafion to examine the Reasons and Degrees of Affent.

§. 4. If by this Enquiry into the Nature of the Understanding, I can difcover the extent of the Powers thereof; how far they reach, to what things they are in any deour Compregree proportionate, and where they fail us; I fuppofe it may be of ufe to prebenfion. vail with the bufy Mind of Man, to be more cautious in meddling with things exceeding its Comprehenfion; to ftop, when it is at the utmoft extent of its Tether; and to fit down in a quiet Ignorance of thofe Things, which, upon Examination, are found to be beyond the reach of our Capacities. We fhould not then perhaps be fo forward, out of Affectation of an univerfal Knowledg, to raise Questions, and perplex our felves and others with Difputes about Things, to which our Understandings are not fuited; and of which we cannot frame in our Minds any clear or diftin& Perceptions, or whereof (as it has perhaps too often happen'd) 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 Cafes it can only judg and guess, we may learn to content our felves with what is attainable by us in this State.

Our Capacity fuited to our

State and

§. 5. For tho' the Comprehenfion of our Understandings comes exceeding fhort of the vaft extent of Things; yet we fhall have caufe enough to magnify the bountiful Author of our Being, for that Portion and Degree of Knowledg he has bestowed on us, fo far above all the reft of the Inhabitants of this our Manfion. Men have reafon to be well fatisfy'd with what God hath thought fit for them, fince he has given them (as St. Peter fays) wavтα oρòs (wiν évoéleαv, ἐυσέβειαν, whatsoever is neceffary for the Conveniences of Life, and Information of Vertue; and has put within the reach of their Discovery, the comfortable Provifion for this Life, and the Way that leads to a better. How fhort foever their Knowledg may come of an univerfal or perfe& Comprehenfion of whatsoever is, it yet fecures their great Concernments, that they have Light enough to lead them to the Knowledg of their Maker, and the fight of their own Duties. Men may find Matter fufficient to bufy 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 Bleffings their Hands are fill'd with, because they are not big enough to grafp 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 Ufe to us; for of that they are very capable: And it will be an unpardonable, as well as childish Peevifhnefs, if we undervalue the Advantages of our Knowledg, and neglect to improve it to the Ends for which it was given us, because there are fome Things that are fet out of the reach of it. It will be no Excufe to an idle and untoward Servant, who would not attend his Bufinefs by Candle-light, to plead that he had not broad Sun-fhine. The Candle that is fet-up in us, fhines bright enough for all our Purposes. The Discoveries we can make with this, ought to fatisfy us: And we fhall then ufe our Understandings right, when we entertain all Objects in that Way and Proportion that they are fuited to our Faculties; and upon thofe Grounds they are capable of being propos'd to us; and not peremptorily, or intemperately require Demonftration, and demand Certainty, where Probability only is to be had, and which is fufficient to govern all our Concernments. If we will dif


believe every thing, because we cannot certainly know all things; we shall do much-what as wifely as he, who would not use his Legs, but fit ftill and perifh, because he had no Wings to fly.

§. 6. When we know our own Strength, we fhall the better know what to un- Knowledg of dertake with hopes of Succefs: And when we have well furvey'd the Powers of our Capacity, a our own Minds, and made fome Eftimate what we may expect from them, we ticism and 1Cure of ScepIfhall not be inclin'd either to fit ftill, and not fet our Thoughts on work at all, dleness. in despair of knowing any thing; or on the other fide, queftion every thing, and disclaim all Knowledg, becaufe fome Things are not to be understood. 'Tis of great Ufe to the Sailor to know the length of his Line, tho' he cannot with it fathom all the Depths of the Ocean. 'Tis well he knows that it is long enough to reach the Bottom at fuch Places as are neceffary to direct his Voyage, and caution him against running upon Shoals that may ruin him. Our Bulinefs here is not to know all Things, but thofe which concern our Conduct. If we can find out those Measures, whereby a Rational Creature, put in that State which Man is in this World, may, and ought to govern his Opinions and Actions depending thereon, we need not to be troubled that fome other things escape our Knowledg.

§. 7. This was that which gave the first Rife to this Efay concerning the Un- Occafion of derstanding. For I thought that the firft Step towards fatisfying feveral En- this Ellay. quiries the Mind of Man was very apt to run into, was, to take a Survey of our own Understandings, examine our own Powers, and fee to what things they were adapted. Till that was done, I fufpected we began at the wrong end, and in vain fought for Satisfaction in a quiet and fure poffeffion of Truths that most concern'd us, whilft we let loofe our Thoughts into the vast Ocean of Being; as it all that boundlefs Extent were the natural and undoubted poffeffion of our Understandings, wherein there was nothing exempt from its Decifions, or that efcap'd its Comprehenfion. Thus Men extending their Enquiries beyond their Capacities, and letting their Thoughts wander into thofe Depths where they can find no fure footing; 'tis no wonder that they raise Queftions, and multiply Difputes, which never coming to any clear Refolution, are proper only to continue and increase their Doubts, and to confirm them at laft in perfect Scepticifm. Whereas were the Capacities of our Understandings well confider'd, the Extent of our Knowledg once difcover'd, and the Horizon found, which fets the Bounds between the enlighten'd and dark Parts of Things, between what is, and what is not comprehenfible by us; Men would perhaps with lefs Scruple, acquiefce in the avow'd Ignorance of the one, and imploy their Thoughts and Discourse with more Advantage and Satisfaction in the other.

§. 8. Thus much I thought neceffary to say concerning the Occafion of this what Idea Enquiry into Human Understanding. But before I proceed-on to what I have ftands for. thought on this Subject, I muft here in the entrance beg pardon of my Reader for the frequent ufe of the word Idea, which he will find in the following Treatife. It being that Term which, I think, ferves beft to ftand for whatsoever is the Object of the Understanding, when a Man thinks, I have us'd it to exprefs whatever is meant by Phantafm, Notion, Species, or whatever it is which the Mind can be employ'd about in thinking; and I could not avoid frequently ufing it.

I prefume it will be eafily granted me, that there are fuch Ideas in Mens Minds; every one is conscious of them in himself, and Mens Words and Actions will fatisfy him, that they are in others.

Our firft Enquiry then shall be, How they come into the Mind.



No Innate Principles in the Mind.

§. I. T is an establish'd Opinion amongst fome Men, That there are in the The way shown Understanding certain Innate Principles; fome primary Notions, Kowal how we come Evolat, Characters, as it were ftamp'd upon the Mind of Man, which the Souly any Knowreceives in its very firft Being, and brings into the World with it. It would to prove it not

Vol. I.

B 2

ledg, fufficient be Innate.

be fufficient to convince unprejudic'd Readers of the Falfenefs of this Suppofition, if I fhould only fhew (as I hope I fhall in the following Parts of this Difcourfe) how Men, barely by the ufe of their Natural Faculties, may attain. to all the Knowledg they have, without the help of any Innate Impreffions; and may arrive at Certainty, without any fuch Original Notions or Principles. For I imagine any one will eafily grant, That it would be impertinent to fuppofe, the Ideas of Colours Innate in a Creature, to whom God hath given Sight, and a Power to receive them by the Eyes, from External Objects: And no less unreasonable would it be to attribute feveral Truths to the Impreffions of Nature, and Innate Characters, when we may obferve in our felves Faculties, fit to attain as eafy and certain Knowledg of them, as if they were originally imprinted on the Mind.

But because a Man is not permitted without Cenfure to follow his own Thoughts in the fearch of Truth, when they lead him ever fo little out of the common Road; I fhall fet down the Reasons that made me doubt of the Truth of that Opinion, as an Excufe for my Mistake, if I be in one: which I leave to be confider'd by thofe, who, with me, difpofe themselves to embrace Truth wherever they find it.

General Af §. 2. There is nothing more commonly taken for granted, than that there fent the great are certain Principles both Speculative and Practical (for they fpeak of both) Argument. univerfally agreed upon by all Mankind; which therefore they argue, must needs be conftant Impreffions, which the Souls of Men receive in their firft Beings, and which they bring into the World with them, as neceffarily and really as they do any of their inherent Faculties.


5.3. This Argument, drawn from Univerfal Confent, has this Misfortune in Confent proves it, that if it were true in Matter of Fact, That there were certain Truths, nothing Inwherein all Mankind agreed, it would not prove them Innate, if there can be any other way fhewn, how Men may come to that Universal Agreement in the things they do confent in; which I prefume may be done.


What is, is;

and 'tis impoffible for the fame

§. 4. But, which is worse, this Argument of Universal Confent, which is made ufe of to prove Innate Principles, feems to me a Demonftration that there are none fuch; because there are none to which all Mankind give an unithing to be, verfal Affent. I fhall begin with the Speculative, and inftance in those magniand not to be, fy'd Principles of Demonftration: What foever is, is; and 'tis impoffible for the net univerfal- fame thing to be, and not to be; which of all others, I think, have the moft allow'd ly affented to. Title to Innate. Thefe have fo fettled a Reputation of Maxims univerfally re

Not on the

ed, because

ceiv'd, that 'twill, no doubt, be thought ftrange, if any one fhould feem to queftion it. But yet I take liberty to lay, that thefe Propofitions are fo far from having an Universal Affent, that there are a great Part of Mankind, to whom they are not so much as known.

S. 5. For, firft 'tis evident, that all Children and Idiots have not the leaft Mind natu- Apprehenfion or Thought of them; and the want of that is enough to deftroy rally imprint- that Universal Affent, which muft needs be the neceffary Concomitant of all Innot known to nate Truths: It feeming to me near a Contradiction, to fay, that there are Children, Idi- Truths imprinted on the Soul, which it perceives or understands not; Imprintets, &c. ing, if it fignify any thing, being nothing elfe, but the making certain Truths to be perceiv'd. For to imprint any thing on the Mind, without the Mind's perceiving it, seems to me hardly intelligible. If therefore Children and Idicts have Souls, have Minds, with thofe Impreffions upon them, they muft unavoidably perceive them, and neceffarily know and affent to thefe Truths, which fince they do not, it is evident that there are no fuch Impreffions. For if they are not Notions naturally imprinted, how can they be Innate? And if they are Notions imprinted, how can they be unknown? To fay a Notion is imprinted on the Mind, and yet at the fame time to fay, that the Mind is ignorant of it, and never yet took notice of it, is to make this Impreffion nothing. No Propofition can be faid to be in the Mind, which it never yet knew, which it was never yet confcious of. For if any one may; then by the fame Reason, all Propofitions that are true, and the Mind is capable ever of affenting to, may be faid to be in the Mind, and to be imprinted : Since if any one can be faid to be in the Mind, which it never yet knew, it must be only because it is capable of knowing it; and fo the Mind is of all Truths it ever fhall know. Nay, thus


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