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particulars, that either pass through, or lodge themselves in, their understandings. They dream on in a constant course of reading and cramping themselves, but not digesting any thing, it produces nothing but a heap of crudities.
If their memories retain well, one may say they have the materials of knowledge, but like those for building, they are of no advantage, if there be no other use made of them but to let them lie heaped up together.-Opposite to these there are others who lose the improvement they should make of matters of fact by a quite contrary conduct. They are apt to draw general conclusions, and raise axioms from every particular they may meet with. These make as little true benefit of history as the other; nay, being of forward and active spirits, receive more harm by it; it being of worse consequence to steer one's thoughts by a wrong rule, than to have none at all; error doing to busy men much more harm than ignorance to the slow and sluggish. Between these, those seem to do best, who taking material and useful hints, sometimes from single matters of fact, carry them into their minds to be judged of, by what they shall find in history to confirm or reverse these imperfect observations; which may be established into rules fit to be relied on, when they are justified by a sufficient and wary induction
of particulars. He that makes no such re flections on what he reads, only loads his mind with a rhapsody of tales fit in winter nights for the entertainment of others and he that
will improve every matter of fact into a maxim, will abound in contrary observations, that can be of no other use but to perplex and pudder him if he compares them; or else to misguide him, if he gives himself up to the authority of that, which for its novelty, or for some other fancy, best pleases him.
NEXT to these, we may place those, who suffer their own natural tempers and passions they are possessed with to influence their judgments, especially of men and things that may any way relate to their present circumstances and interest. Truth is all simple, all pure, will bear no mixture of any thing else with it. It is rigid and inflexible to any bye interests; and so should the understanding be, whose use and excellency lies in conforming itself to it. To think of every thing just as it is in itself, is the proper business of the understanding, though it be not that which men always employ it to. This all men, at first hearing, allow is the right use every one should make of his understanding. Nobody will be at such an open defiance with common sense, as to pro
fess that we should not endeavour to know, and think of things as they are in themselves, and yet there is nothing more frequent than to do the contrary; and men are apt to excuse themselves, and think they have reason to do so, if they have but a pretence that it is for God, or a good cause; that is, in effect for themselves, their own persuasion or party; for to those in their turns the several sects of men especially in matters of religion, entitle God and a good cause. But God requires not men to wrong or misuse their faculties for him, nor to lie to others or themselves for his sake: which they purposely do, who will not suffer their understandings to have right conceptions of the things proposed to them, and designedly restrain themselves from having just thoughts of every thing, as far as they are concerned to inquire. And as for a good cause, that needs not such ill helps; if it be good, truth will support it, and it has no need of fallacy or falsehood.
VERY much of kin to this is the hunting after arguments to make good one side of a question, and wholly to neglect and refuse those which favour the other side. What is this but wilfully to misguide the understanding, and is so far from giving truth its due value,
that it wholly debases it espouse opinions that best comport with their power, profit, or credit, and then seek arguments to support them? Truth lit upon this way is of no more avail to us than error; for what is so taken up by us may be false as well as true, and he has not done his duty who has thus stumbled upon truth in his way to preferment.
There is another but more innocent way of collecting arguments, very familiar among bookish men, which is to furnish themselves with the arguments they meet with pro and con in the questions they study. This helps them not to judge right, nor argue strongly, but only to talk copiously on either side, without being steady and settled in their own judgments for such arguments gathered from other men's thoughts, floating only in the memory, are there ready indeed to supply copious talk with some appearance of reason, but are far from helping us to judge right.
Such variety of arguments only distract the understanding that relies on them, unless it has gone farther than such a superficial way of examining this is to quit truth for appearance, only to serve our vanity. The sure and only way to get true knowledge, is to form in our minds clear settled notions of things, with names annexed to those determined ideas. These we are to consider, with their several relations and habitudes, and not amuse ourselves with
floating names, and words of indetermined signification, which we can use in several senses to serve a turn. It is in the perception of the habitudes and respects our ideas have one to another, that real knowledge consists; and when a man once perceives how far they agree or disagree one with another, he will be able to judge of what other people say, and will not need to be led by the arguments of others, which are many of them nothing but plausible sophistry. This will teach him to state the question right, and see whereon it turùs s; and thus he will stand upon his own legs, and know by his own understanding, whereas by collecting and learning arguments by heart, he will be but a retainer to others; and when any one questions the foundations they are built upon, he will be at a nonplus, and be fain to give up his implicit knowledge.
LABOUR for labour-sake is against nature. The understanding, as well as all the other faculties, chooses always the shortest way to its end, would presently obtain the knowledge it is about, and then set upon some new inquiry. But this, whether laziness or haste, often misleads it, and makes it content itself with improper ways of search, and such as will not serve the turn: sometimes it rests