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Another partiality may be observed, in some to vulgar, in others to heterodox tenets: some are apt to conclude that what is the common opinion cannot but be true; so many men's eyes they think cannot but see right; so many men's understandings of all sorts cannot be deceived; and, therefore, will nct venture to look beyond the received notions of the place and age, nor have so presumptuous a thought as to be wiser than their neighbours. They are content to go with the crowd, and so go easily, which they think is going right, or at least serves them as well. But, however vox populi vox Dei has prevailed as a maxim, yet I do not remember where ever God delivered his oracles by the multitude, or nature truths by the herd. On the other side, some fly all common opinions as either false or frivolous. The title of many-headed beast is a sufficient reason to them to conclude that no truths of weight or consequence can be lodged there. Vulgar opinions are suited to vulgar capacities, and adapted to the ends of those that govern. He that will know the truth of things must leave the common and beaten track, which none but weak and servile minds are satisfied to trudge along continually in. Such nice palates relish nothing but strange notions quite out of the way: whatever is commonly received, has the mark e the beast on it; and they think it a lessen
ing to them to hearken to it, or receive it; their mind runs only after paradoxes; these they seek, these they embrace, these alone they vent; and so, as they think, distinguish themselves from the vulgar. But common or uncommon are not the marks to distinguish truth or falsehood, and therefore should not be any bias to us in our inquiries. We should not judge of things by men's opinions, but of opinions by things. The multitude reason but ill, and therefore may be well suspected, and cannot be relied on, nor should be followed as a sure guide; but philosophers, who have quitted the orthodoxy of the community, and the popular doctrines of their countries, have fallen into as extravagant and as absurd opinions as ever common reception countenanced. It would be madness to refuse to breathe the common air, or quench one's thirst with water, because the rabble use them to these purposes: and if there are conveniences of life which common use reaches not, it is not reason to reject them because they are not grown into the ordinary fashion of the country, and every villager doth not know them.
Truth, whether in or out of fashion, is the measure of knowledge, and the business of the understanding; whatsoever is besides that, however authorized by consent, or re
commended by rarity, is nothing but ignorance, or something worse.
Another sort of partiality there is, whereby men impose upon themselves, and by it make their reading little useful to themselves: I mean the making use of the opinions of writers, and laying stress upon their authorities, wherever they find them to favour their own opinions.
There is nothing almost has done more harm to men dedicated to letters than giving the name of study to reading, and making a man of great reading to be the same with a man of great knowledge, or at least to be a title of honour. All that can be recorded in writing are only facts or reasonings. Facts are of three sorts;
1. Merely of natural agents, observable in the ordinary operations of bodies one upon another, whether in the visible course of things left to themselves, or in experiments made by men, applying agents and patients to one another, after a peculiar and artificial
2. Of voluntary agents, more especially the actions of men in society, which makes civil and moral history.
3. Of opinions.
In these three consists, as it seems to me, that which commonly has the name of learning; to which perhaps some may add a dis
tinct head of critical writings, which indeed at bottom is nothing but matter of fact; and resolves itself into this, that such a man, or set of men, used such a word, or phrase, in such a sense i. e. that they made such sounds the marks of such ideas.
Under reasonings I comprehend all the discoveries of general truths made by human reason, whether found by intuition, demonstration or probable deductions. And this is that which is, if not alone knowledge, (because the truth or probability of particular propositions may be known too) yet is, as may be supposed, most properly, the business of those who pretend to improve their understandings, and make themselves knowing by reading.
Books and reading are looked upon to be the great helps of the understanding, and instruments of knowledge, as it must be allowed that they are; and yet I beg leave to question whether these do not prove a hinderance to many, and keep several bookish men from attaining to solid and true knowledge. This, I think, I may be permitted to say, that there is no part wherein the understanding needs a more careful and wary conduct than in the use of books; without which they will prove rather innocent amusements than profitable employments of our time, and bring but small ad ditions to our knowledge.
There is not seldom to be found, even among those who aim at knowledge, who with an unwearied industry employ their whole time in books, who scarce allow themselves time to eat or sleep, but read, and read, and read on, yet make no great advances in real knowledge, though there be no defect in their intellectual faculties, to which their little progress can be imputed. The mistake here is, that it is usually supposed that by reading, the author's knowledge is transfused into the readers's understanding; and so it is, but not by bare reading, but by reading and understanding what he writ. Whereby I mean, not barely comprehending what is affirmed or denied in each proposition (though that great readers do not always think themselves concerned precisely to do,) but to see and follow the train of reasonings, observe the strength and clearness of their connexion, and examine upon what they bottom. Without this a man may read the discourses of a very rational author, writ in a language, and in propositions, that he very well understands, and yet acquire not one jot of his knowledge; which consisting only in the perceived, certain, or probable connexion of the ideas made use of in his reasonings, the reader's knowledge is no farther increased than he perceives that; so much as he sees of this connexion, so much