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that can be; the other, when too much made use of, serves only to puzzle and confound the understanding. To observe every the least difference that is in things argues a quick and clear sight; and this keeps the understanding steady, and right in its way to knowledge. But though it be useful to discern every variety that is to be found in nature, yet it is not convenient to consider every difference that is in things, and divide them into distinct classes under every such difference. This will run us, if followed, into particulars (for every individual has something that differences it from another,) and we shall be able to establish no general truths, or else at least shall be apt to perplex the mind about them. The collection of several things into several classes, gives the mind more general and larger views; but we must take care to unite them only in that, and so far as they do agree; for so far they may be united under the consideration : for entity itself, that comprehends all things, as general as it is, may afford us clear and rational conceptions. If we would weigh and keep in our minds what it is we are considering, that would best instruct us when we should, or should not branch into farther distinctions, which are to be taken only from a due contemplation of things; to which there is nothing more oppo
site than the art of verbal distinctions, made at pleasure in learned and arbitrarily invented terms, to be applied at a venture, without comprehending or conveying any distinct notions, and so altogether fitted to artificial talk, or empty noise in dispute, without any clearing of difficulties, or advance in knowledge. Whatsoever subject we examine and would get knowledge in, we should, I think, make as general and as large as it will bear; nor can there be any danger of this, if the idea of it be settled and determined: for if that be so, we shall easily distinguish it from any other idea, though comprehended under the same name. For it is to fence against the entanglements of equivocal words, and the great art of sophistry which lies in them, that distinctions have been multiplied, and their use thought so necessary. But had every distinct abstract idea a distinct known name, there would be little need of these multiplied scholastic distinctions, though there would be nevertheless as much need still of the mind's observing the differences that are in things, and discriminating them thereby one from anothIt is not, therefore, the right way to knowledge, to hunt after, and fill the head with abundance of artificial and scholastic distinctions, wherewith learned men's writings are often filled; we sometimes find what they treat of so divided and subdivided, that the
mind of the most attentive reader loses the sight of it, as it is more than probable the writer himself did; for in things crumbled into dust, it is in vain to affect or pretend order, or expect clearness. To avoid confusion by too few or too many divisions, is a great skill in thinking as well as writing, which is but the copying our thoughts; but what are the boundaries of the mean between the two vicious excesses on both hands, I think is hard to set down in words: clear and distinct ideas is all that I yet know able to regulate it. But as to verbal distinctions received and applied to common terms, i. e. equivocal words; they are more properly, I think, the business of criticisms and dictionaries than of real knowledge and philosophy, since they, for the most part, explain the meaning of words, and give us their several significations. The dexterous management of terms, and being able to fend and prove with them, I know has, and does pass in the world for a great part of learning; but it is learning distinct from knowledge; for knowledge consists only in perceiving the habitudes and relations of ideas one to another, which is done without words; the intervention of a sound helps nothing to it. And hence we see that there is least use of distinctions where there is most knowledge; I mean in mathematics, where men have determined ideas without known names to them; and
there being no room for equivocations, there is no need of distinctions. In arguing, the opponent uses as comprehensive and equivocal terms as he can to involve his adversary in the doubtfulness of his expressions: this is expected, and therefore the answer on his side makes it his play to distinguish as much as he can, and thinks he can never do it too much; nor can he indeed in that way wherein victory may be had without truth and without knowledge. This seems to me to be the art of disputing. Use your words as captiously as you can in your arguing on one side, and apply distinctions as much as you can on the other side to every term, to nonplus your opponent; so that in this sort of scholarship, there being no bounds set to distinguishing, some men have thought all acuteness to have lain in it and therefore in all they have read or thought on, their great business has been to amuse themselves with distinctions, and multiply to themselves divisions, at least, more than the nature of the thing required. There seems to me, as I said, to be no other rule for this, but a due and right consideration of things as they are in themselves. He that has settled in his mind determined ideas, with names affixed to them, will be able both to discern their differences one from another, which is really distinguishing; and, where the penury of words affords not terms answering every
distinct idea, will be able to apply proper distinguishing terms to the comprehensive and equivocal names he is forced to make use of. This is all the need I know of distinguishing terms; and in such verbal distinctions, each term of the distinction, joined to that whose signification it distinguishes, is but a distinct name for a distinct idea. Where they are so, and men have clear and distinct conceptions that answer their verbal distinctions, they are right, and are pertinent as far as they serve to clear any thing in the subject under consideration. And this is that which seems to me the proper and only measure of distinctions and divisions; which he that will conduct his understanding right, must not look for in the acuteness of invention, nor the authority of writers, but will find only in the consideration of things themselves, whether he is led into it by his own meditations, or the information of books.
An aptness to jumble things together, wherein can be found any likeness, is a fault in the understanding on the other side, which will not fail to mislead it, and by thus lumping of things, hinder the mind from distinct and accurate conceptions of them.