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§ 32. Similes.
To which let me here add another near of kin to this, at least in name, and that is letting the mind upon the suggestion of any new notion, run immediately after similes to make it the clearer to itself; which, though it may be a good way, and useful in the explaining our thoughts to others; yet it is by no means a right method to settle true notions of any thing in ourselves, because similes always fail in some part, and come short of that exactness which our conceptions should have to things, if we would think aright. This indeed makes men plausible talkers; for those are always most acceptable in discourse who have the way to let their thoughts into other men's minds with the greatest ease and facility; whether those thoughts are well formed and correspond with things, matters not; few men care to be instructed but at an easy rate. They, who in their discourse strike the fancy, and take the hearer's conceptions along with them as fast as their words flow, are the applauded talkers, and go for the only men of clear thoughts. Nothing contributes so much to this as similes, whereby men think they themselves understand better, because they are the better understood. But it is one thing to think right, and another thing to know the
right way to lay our thoughts before others with advantage and clearness, be they right or wrong. Well chosen similes, metaphors, and allegories, with method and order, do this the best of any thing, because being taken from objects already known, and familiar to the understanding, they are conceived as fast as spoken; and the correspondence being concluded, the thing they are brought to explain and elucidate is thought to be understood too. Thus fancy passes for knowledge, and what is prettily said is mistaken for solid. I say not this to decry metaphor, or with design to take away that ornament of speech; my business here is not with rhetoricians and orators, but with philosophers and lovers of truth; to whom I would beg leave to give this one rule whereby to try whether, in the application of their thoughts to any thing for the improvement of their knowledge, they do in truth comprehend the matter before them really such as it is in itself. The way to discover this is to observe, whether in the laying it before themselves or others, they make use only of borrowed representations and ideas foreign to the things which are applied to it by way of accommodation, as bearing some proportion or imagined likeness to the subject under consideration. Figured and metaphorical expressions do well to illustrate more abstruse and unfamiliar ideas which
the mind is not yet thoroughly accustomed to: but then they must be made use of to illustrate ideas that we already have, not to paint to us those which we yet haye not. Such borrowed and allusive ideas may follow real and solid truth, to set it off when found, but must by no means be set in its place, and taken for it. If all our search has yet reached no farther than simile and inetaphor, we may assure ourselves we rather fancy than know, and are not yet penetrated into the inside and reality of the thing, be it what it will, but content ourselves with what our imaginations, not things themselves, furnish us with.
IN the whole conduct of the understanding, there is nothing of more moment than to know when and where, and how far to give assent, and possibly there is nothing harder. It is very easily said and nobody questions it, that giving and with-holding our assent, and the degrees of it, should be regulated by the evidence which things carry with them; and yet we see men are not the better for this rule; some firmly embrace doctrines upon slight grounds, some upon no grounds, and some contrary to appearance: some admit of certainty, and are not to be moved in what they hold: others waver in every thing, and there want not
those that reject all as uncertain. What then shall a novice, an inquirer, a stranger do in the case I answer, use his eyes. There is a correspondence in things, and agreement and disagreement in ideas, discernible in very different degrees, and there are eyes in men to see them if they please, only their eyes may be dimmed or dazzled, and the discerning sight in them impaired or lost. Interest and passion dazzles; the custom of arguing on any side, even against our persuasions, dims the understanding, and makes it by degrees lose the faculty of discerning clearly between truth and falsehood, and so of adhering to the right side. It is not safe to play with error, and dress it up to ourselves or others in the shape of truth. The mind by degrees loses its natural relish of real solid truth, is reconciled insensibly to any thing that can be dressed up into any faint appearance of it; and if the fancy be allowed the place of judgment at first in sport, it afterwards comes by use to usurp it, and what is recommended by this flatterer (that studies but to please) is received for good. There are so manyways of fallacy, such arts of giving colours, appearances, and resemblances by this court-dresser, the fancy, that he who is not wary to admit nothing but truth itself, very careful not to make his mind subservient to any thing else, cannot but be caught. He that has a mind to believe, has half assent
ed already; and he that, by often arguing against his own sense, imposes falsehood on others, is not far from believing himself. This takes away the great distance there is betwixt truth and falsehood; it brings them almost together, and makes it no great odds, in things that approach so near, which you take; and when things are brought to that pass, passion or interest, &c. easily and without being perceived, determine which shall be the right.
I have said above, that we should keep a perfect indifferency for all opinions, not wish any of them true, or try to make them appear so; but being indifferent, receive and embrace them according as evidence, and that alone gives the attestation of truth. They that do thus, i. e. keep their minds indifferent to opinions, to be determined only by evidence, will always find the understanding has perception enough to distinguish between evidence and no evidence, betwixt plain and doubtful; and if they neither give nor refuse their assent but by that measure, they will be safe in the pinions they have. Which being perhaps but few, this caution will have also this good in it, that it will put them upon considering, and teach them the necessity of examining more than they do; without which