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universal use has established. Learners must at first be believers, and their master's rules having been once made axioms to them, it is no wonder they should keep that dignity, and by the authority they have once got, mislead those who think it sufficient to excuse them, if they go out of their way in a well-beaten track.
§ 29. Words.
I HAVE Copiously enough spoken of the abuse of words in another place, and therefore shall upon this reflection, that the sciences are full of them, warn those that would conduct their understandings right not to take any term, howsoever authorized by the language of the schools, to stand for any thing till they have an idea of it. A word may be of frequent use, and great credit, with several authors, and be by them made use of as if it stood for some real being; but yet, if he that reads cannot frame any distinct idea of that being, it is certainly to him a mere empty sound without a meaning; and he learns no more by all that is said of it, or attributed to it, than if it were affirmed only of that bare empty sound. They who would advance in knowledge, and not deceive and swell themselves with a little articulated air, should lay down this as a fundamental rule, not to take
words for things, nor suppose that names in books signify real entities in nature, till they can frame clear and distinct ideas of those entities. It will not perhaps be allowed, if I should set down "substantial forms" and "intentional species," as such that may justly be suspected to be of this kind of insignificant terms but this I am sure, to one that can form no determined ideas of what they stand for, they signify nothing at all; and all that he thinks he knows about them is to him so much knowledge about nothing, and amounts at most but to a learned ignorance. It is not without all reason supposed that there are many such empty terms to be found in some learned writers, to which they had recourse to etch out their systems, where their understandings could not furnish them with conceptions from things. But yet I believe the supposing of some realities in nature, answering those and the like words, have much perplexed some, and quite misled others in the study of nature. That which in any discourse sig nifies, "I know not what," should be consi] dered "I know not when." Where men have any conceptions, they can, if they are ever so abstruse or abstracted, explain them, and the terms they use for them. For our conceptions being nothing but ideas, which are all made up of simple ones, if they canot give us the ideas their words stand for, it
is plain they have none. To what purpose can it be to hunt after his conceptions who has none, or none distinct? He that knew not what he himself meant by a learned term cannot make us know any thing by his use of it, let us beat our heads about it ever so long. Whether we are able to comprehend all the operations of nature, and the manners of them, it matters not to inquire; but this is certain, that we can comprehend no more of them than we can distinctly conceive; and therefore to obtrude terms where we have no distinct conceptions, as if they did contain or rather conceal something, is but an artifice of learned vanity to cover a defect in a hypothesis or our understandings. Words are not made to conceal, but to declare and show something; where they are by those, who pretend to instruct, otherwise used, they conceal indeed something; but that which they conceal is nothing but the ignorance, error, or sophistry of the talker; for there is, in truth, nothing else under them.
§ 30. Wandering.
THAT there is a constant succession and flux of ideas in our minds, I have observed in the former part of this Essay; and every one may take notice of it in himself. This, I suppose, may deserve some part of our care
in the conduct of our understandings; and I think it may be of great advantage, if we can by use get that power over our minds, as to be able to direct that train of ideas, that so, since there will new ones perpetually come into our thoughts by a constant succession, we may be able by choice so to direct them, that none may come in view but such as are pertinent to our present inquiry, and in such order as may be most useful to the discovery we are upon; or at least, if some foreign and unsought ideas will offer themselves, that yet we might be able to reject them, and keep them from taking off our minds from its present pursuit, and hinder them from running away with our thoughts quite from the subject in hand. This is not, I suspect, so easy to be done as perhaps may be imagined; and yet, for aught I know, this may be, if not the chief, yet one of the great differences that carry some men in their reasoning so far beyond others, where they seem to be naturally of equal parts. A proper and effectual remedy for this wandering of thoughts I would be glad to find. He that shall propose such an one, would do great service to the studious and contemplative part of mankind, and perhaps help unthinking men to become thinking. I must ac knowledge that hitherto I have discovered no other way to keep our thoughts close to their business, but the endeavouring as much as we
can, and by frequent attention and application, getting the habit of attention and application. He that will observe children will find, that even when they endeavour their utmost, they cannot keep their minds from straggling. The way to cure it, I am satisfied, is not angry chiding or beating, for that presently fills their heads with all the ideas that fear, dread, or confusion can offer to them. To bring back gently their wandering thoughts, by leading them into the path, and going before them in the train they should pursue, without any rebuke, or so much as taking notice (where it can be avoided) of their roving, I suppose would sooner reconcile and inure them to attention than all those rougher methods which more distract their thought, and, hindering the application they would promote, introduce a contrary habit.
DISTINCTION and division are (if I mistake not the import of the words) very different things; the one being the perception of a difference that nature has placed in things; the other, our making a division where there is yet none; at least, if I may be permitted to consider them in this sense, I think I may say of them that one of them is the most necessary and conducive to true knowledge