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that the men on one side of the hedge will die for the affirmative, and the men on the other for the negative? . . . Look narrowly into it, and you will find that the points agreed on, and the points disputed, are not proportionable to the common sense and general reason of mankind. Nature and truth are the same everywhere, and reason shows them everywhere alike. But the accidental and other causes, which give rise and growth to opinions, both in speculation and practice, are of infinite variety; and wherever these opinions are once confirmed by custom and propagated by education, various, inconsistent, contradictory as they are, they all pretend (and all their pretences are backed by pride, by passion, and by interest) to have reason, or revelation, or both, on their side; though neither reason nor revelation can be possibly on the side of more than one and may be possibly on the side of none.
Thus it happens that the people of Thibet are Tartars and idolaters, that they are Turks and Mahometans at Constantinople, Italians and Papists at Rome; and how much soever education may be less confined, and the means of knowledge more attainable, in France and our own country, yet thus it happens in great measure that Frenchmen and Roman Catholics are bred at Paris, and Englishmen and Protestants at London. For men, indeed, properly speaking, are bred nowhere; every one thinks the system, as he speaks the language, of his country. At least there are few that think, and none that act, in any country, according to the dictates of pure unbiased reason; unless they may be said to do so, when reason directs them to speak and act according to the system of their country or sect, at the same time as she leads them to think according to that of nature and truth.
Thus the far greatest part of mankind appears reduced to a lower state than other animals, in that very respect on account of which we claim so great superiority over them; because instinct, that has its due effect, is preferable to reason that has not. I suppose in this place, with philosophers and the vulgar, that which I am in no wise ready to affirm that other animals have no share of human reason; for, let me say by the way it is much more likely other animals should share the human than that man should share the divine reason, which is affirmed But, supposing our monopoly of reason, would not your Lord
ship choose to walk upon four legs, to wear a long tail, and to be called a beast, with the advantage of being determined by irresistible and unerring instinct to those truths that are necessary to your well-being, rather than to walk on two legs, to wear no tail, and to be honored with the title of man, at the expense of deviating from them perpetually? Instinct acts spontaneously whenever its action is necessary, and directs the animal according to the purpose for which it was implanted in him. Reason is a nobler and more extensive faculty, for it extends to the unnecessary as well as to the necessary, and to satisfy our curiosity as well as our wants; but reason must be excited, or she will remain inactive. She must be left free, or she will conduct us wrong, and carry us farther astray from her own precincts than we should go without her help. In the first case we have no sufficient guide; and in the second, the more we employ our reason the more unreasonable we are.
Now if all this be so, if reason has so little, and ignorance, passion, interest, and custom so much to do, in forming our opinions and our habits, and in directing the whole conduct of human life, is it not a thing desirable by every thinking man, to have the opportunity, indulged to so few by the course of accidents, - the opportunity secum esse, et secum vivere, of living some years, at least, to ourselves and for ourselves, in a state of freedom, under the laws of reason, instead of passing our whole time in a state of vassalage under those of authority and custom? Is it not worth our while to contemplate ourselves, and others, and all the things of this world, once before we leave them, through the medium of pure, and if I may say soundefiled reason? Is it not worth our while to approve or condemn, on our own authority, what we receive in the beginning of life on the authority of other men, who were not then better able to judge for us than we are now to judge for ourselves?
All men are taught their opinions, at least on the most important subjects, by rote, and are bred to defend them with obstinacy. They may be taught true opinions; but whether true or false, the same zeal for them, and the same attachment to them, is everywhere inspired alike. The Tartar believes as heartily that the soul of Foe inhabits in his Dairo, as the Christian believes the hypostatic union, or any article in the Athanasian Creed. Now this may answer the ends of society in some
respects, and do well enough for the vulgar of all ranks; but it is not enough for the man who cultivates his reason, who is able to think, and who ought to think, for himself. To such a man, every opinion that he has not himself framed, or examined strictly, and then adopted, will pass for nothing more than what it really is, the opinion of other men, which may be true or false, for aught he knows. And this is a state of uncertainty in which no such man can remain, with any peace of mind, concerning those things that are of greatest importance to us here, and may be so hereafter. He will make them, therefore, the objects of his first and greatest attention. If he has lost time, he will lose no more. And when he has acquired all the knowledge he is capable of acquiring on these subjects, he will be the less concerned whether he has time to acquire any farther. Should he have passed his life in the pleasures or business of the world, whenever he sets about this work, he will soon have the advantage over the learned philosopher. For he will soon have secured what is necessary to his happiness, and may sit down in the peaceful enjoyment of that knowledge, or proceed with greater advantage and satisfaction to the acquisition of new knowledge; whilst the other continues his search after things that are in their nature to say the best of them - hypothetical, precarious, and superfluous. . ..
In short, my lord, he who retires from the world with a resolution of employing his leisure in the first place to re-examine and settle his opinions, is inexcusable if he does not begin with those that are most important to him, and if he does not deal honestly by himself. To deal honestly by himself, he must observe the rule I have insisted upon, and not suffer the delusions of the world to follow him into his retreat. Every man's reason is every man's oracle; this oracle is best consulted in the silence of retirement; and when we have so consulted, whatever the decision be, whether in favor of our prejudices or against them, we must rest satisfied, since nothing can be more certain than this, that he who follows that guide in the search of truth, as that was given him to lead him to it, will have a much better plea to make, whenever or wherever he may be called to account, than he who has resigned himself, either deliberately or inadvertently, to any authority upon earth.
When we have done this, concerning God, ourselves, and
concerning the relations in which we stand to Him and to them, the duties that result from these relations, - and the positive will of the Supreme Being, whether revealed to us in a supernatural, or discovered by the right use of our reason in a natural way, we have done the great business of our lives. Our lives are so sufficient for this, that they afford us time for more, even when we begin late; especially if we proceed in every other inquiry by the same rule. To discover error in axioms, or in first principles grounded on facts, is like the breaking of a charm. The enchanted castle, the steep rock, the burning lake disappear; and the paths that lead to truth, which we imagined to be so long, so embarrassed, and so difficult, show as they are, - short, open, and easy. . . .
A LETTER ADDRESSED TO ALEXANDER POPE ESQ. 1753
To be contented to know things as God has made us capable of knowing them, is then a first principle necessary to secure us from falling into error; and if there is any subject upon which we should be most on our guard against error, it is surely that which I have called here the First Philosophy. God is hid from us in the majesty of His nature, and the little we discover of Him must be discovered by the light that is reflected from His works. Out of this light, therefore, we should never go in our inquiries and reasonings about His nature, His attributes, and the order of His providence. And yet upon these subjects men depart the furthest from it; nay, they who depart the furthest are the best heard by the bulk of mankind. The less men know, the more they believe that they know. Belief passes in their minds for knowledge, and the very circumstances which should beget doubt produce increase of faith. Every glittering apparition that is pointed out to them in the vast wild of imagination, passes for a reality; and the more distant, the more confused, the more incomprehensible it is, the more sublime it is esteemed. He who should attempt to shift these scenes of airy vision for those of real knowledge might expect to be treated with scorn and anger by the whole theological and metaphysical tribe, the
masters and the scholars. He would be despised as a plebeian philosopher, and railed at as an infidel. It would be sounded high that he debased human nature, which has a cognation— so the Reverend and learned Doctor Cudworth calls it - with the divine; that the soul of man, immaterial and immortal by its nature, was made to contemplate higher and nobler objects than this sensible world, and even than itself, since it was made to contemplate God, and to be united to Him. In such clamor as this, the voice of truth and reason would be drowned; and, with both of them on his side, he who opposed it would make many enemies and few converts. Prudence forbids me, therefore, to write as I think to the world, whilst friendship forbids me to write otherwise to you. I have been a martyr of faction in politics, and have no vocation to be so in philosophy.
If the religion we profess contained nothing more than articles of faith and points of doctrine clearly revealed to us in the Gospel, we might be obliged to renounce our natural freedom of thought in favor of this supernatural authority. But since it is notorious that a certain order of men, who call themselves the Church, have been employed to make and propagate a theological system of their own, which they call Christianity, from the days of the apostles, and even from these days inclusively, it is our duty to examine and analyze the whole, that we may distinguish what is divine from what is human,— adhere to the first simplicity, and ascribe to the last no more authority than the word of man deserves.
I neither expect nor desire to see any public revision made of the present system of Christianity. I should fear an attempt to alter the established religion as much as they who have the most bigot attachment to it, and for reasons as good as theirs, though not entirely the same. I speak only of the duty of every private man to examine for himself, which would have an immediate good effect relatively to himself, and might have in time a good effect relatively to the public, since it would dispose the minds of men to a greater indifference about theological disputes, which are the disgrace of Christianity and have been the plagues of the world. . . . He who examines on such principles as these, which are conformable to truth and reason, may lay aside at once the immense volumes of fathers and