Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Hippias, and others, who were ashamed of appearing not to doubt upon any subject. But the new academy dogmatised in their scepticism, and held it as their tenet. Although this method be more honest than arbitrary decision (for its followers allege that they by no means confound all inquiry, like Pyrrho and his disciples, but hold doctrines which they can follow as probable, though they cannot maintain them to be true), yet when the human mind has once despaired of discovering truth, every thing begins to languish. Hence men turn aside into pleasant controversies and discussions, and into a sort of wandering over subjects, rather than sustain any rigorous investigation. But as we observed at first, we are not to deny the authority of the human senses and understanding, although weak; but rather to furnish them with assistance.

68. We have now treated of each kind of idols, and their qualities; all of which must be abjured and renounced with firm and solemn resolution, and the understanding must be completely freed and cleared of them ; so that the access to the kingdom of man, which is founded on the sciences, may resemble that to the kingdom of heaven, where no admission is conceded except to children.

l

69. Vicious demonstrations are the muniments and support of idols, and those which we possess in logic, merely subject and enslave the world to human thoughts, and thoughts to words. But demonstrations are, in some mairner, themselves systems of philosophy and science. For such as they are, and accordingly as they are regularly or improperly established, such will be the resulting systems of philosophy and contemplation. But those which we employ in the whole process leading from the senses and things to axioms and conclusions, are fallacious and incompetent. This process is fourfold, and the errors are in equal number. In the first place the impressions of the senses are erroneous, for they fail and deceive us. We must supply defects by substitutions, and fallacies by their correction. 2dly. Notions are improperly abstracted from the senses, and indeterminate and confused when they ought to be the reverse. 3dly. The induction that is employed is improper, for it determines the principles of sciences by simple enumeration, without adopting exclusions, and resolutions, or just separations of nature. Lastly, the usual method of discovery and proof by first establishing the most general propositions, then applying and proving the intermediate axioms according to them, is

VOL. XIV.

E

the parent of error and the calamity of every science. But we will treat more fully of that which we now slightly touch upon, when we come to lay down the true way of interpreting nature, after having gone through the above expiatory process and purification of the mind.

70. But experience is by far the best demonstration, provided it adhere to the experiment actually made; for if that experiment be transferred to other subjects apparently similar, unless with proper and methodical caution, it becomes fallacious. The present method of experiment is blind and stupid. Hence men wandering and roaming without any determined course, and consulting mere chance, are hurried about to various points and advance but little; at one time they are happy, at another their attention is distracted, and they always find that they want something further. Men generally make their experiments carelessly, and as it were in sport, making some little variation in a known experiment, and then if they fail, they become disgusted and give up the attempt: nay, if they set to work more seriously, steadily, and assiduously, yet they waste all their time on probing some solitary matter; as Gilbert on the magnet, and the alchymists on gold. But such eonduct shows their method to be no less unskilful than mean. For nobody can successfully investigate the nature of any object by considering that object alone, the inquiry must be more generally extended.

Even when men build any science and theory upon experiment, yet they almost always turn with premature and hasty zeal to practice, not merely on account of the advantage and benefit to be derived from it, but in order to seize upon some security in a new undertaking of their not employing the remainder of their labour unprofitably; and by making themselves conspicuous, to acquire a greater name for their pursuit. Hence, like Atalanta, they leave the course to pick up the golden apple, interrupting their speed, and giving up the victory. But in the true course of experiment, and in extending it to new effects, we should imitate the divine foresight and order. For God, on the first day, only created light, and assigned a whole day to that work, without creating any material substance thereon. In like manner, we must first, by every kind of experiment, elicit the discovery of causes and true axioms, and seek for experiments which may afford light rather than profit. Axioms, when rightly investigated and established, prepare us not for a limited but abundant practice,

and bring in their train whole troops of effects. But we will treat hereafter of the ways of experience which are not less beset and interrupted than those of judgment; having spoken at present of common experience only as a bad species of demonstration, the order of our subject now requires some mention of those external signs of the weakness in practice of the received systems of philosophy and contemplation* which we referred to above, and of the causes of a circumstance at first sight so wonderful and incredible. For the knowledge of these external signs prepares the way for assent, and the explanation of the causes removes the wonder; and these two circumstances are of material use in extirpating more easily and gently the idols from the understanding.

71. The sciences we possess have been principally derived from the Greeks; for the addition of the Roman, Arabic, or more modern writers are but few, and of small importance; and such as they are, are founded on the basis of Greek invention. But the wisdom of the Greeks was professional and disputatious, and thus most adverse to the investigation of truth. The name therefore of sophists, which the contemptuous spirit of those who deemed themselves philosophers, rejected and transferred to the rhetoricians Gorgias, Protagoras, Hippias, Polus, might well suit the whole tribe, such as Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus, Theophrastus, and their successors Chrysippus, Carneades, and the rest. There was only this difference between them, the former were mercenary vagabonds, travelling about to different states, making a show of their wisdom and requiring pay; the latter, more dignified and noble, in possession of fixed habitations, opening schools, and teaching philosophy gratuitously. Both, however (though differing in other respects), were professorial, and reduced every subject to controversy, establishing and defending certain sects and dogmas of philosophy: so that their doctrines were nearly (what Dionysius not unaptly objected to Plato)" the talk of idle old men to ignorant youths." But the more ancient Greeks, as Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Leucippus,Democritus, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Philolaus, and the rest (for I omit Pythagoras as being superstitious), did not (that we are aware) open schools; but betook themselves to the investigation of truth with greater silence, and with more severity and

* See Ax. 61. towards the end.. This subject extends to Ax. 78.

simplicity that is, with less affectation and ostentation. Hence in our opinion they acted more advisedly, however their works may have been eclipsed in course of time by those lighter productions which better correspond with and please the apprehensions and passions of the vulgar: for time, like a river, bears down to us that which is light and inflated, and sinks that which is heavy and solid. Nor were even these more ancient philosophers free from the national defect, but inclined too much to the ambition and vanity of forming a sect, and captivating public opinion; and we must despair of any inquiry after truth, when it condescends to such trifles. Nor must we omit the opinion or rather prophecy of an Egyptian priest with regard to the Greeks, "that they would for ever remain children, without any antiquity of knowledge or knowledge of antiquity." For they certainly have this in common with children, that they are prone to talking and incapable of generation, their wisdom being loquacious, and unproductive of effects. Hence the external signs derived from the origin and birthplace of our present philosophy are not favourable.

72. Nor are those much better which can be deduced from the character of the time and age, than the former from that of the country and nation. For in that age the knowledge both of time and of the world was confined and meagre, which is one of the worst evils for those who rely entirely on experience. They had not a thousand years of history, worthy of that name, but mere fables and ancient traditions. They were acquainted with but a small portion of the regions and countries of the world-for they indiscriminately called all nations situated far towards the north Scythians, all those to the west Celts; they knew nothing of Africa but the nearest part of Ethiopia, or of Asia beyond the Ganges, and had not even heard any sure and clear tradition of the regions of the new world. Besides, a vast number of climates and zones, in which innumerable nations live and breathe, were pronounced by them to be uninhabitable, nay, the travels of Democritus, Plato, and Pythagoras, which were not extensive, but rather mere excursions from home, were considered as something vast. But in our times many parts of the New World, and every extremity of the Old are well known, and the mass of experiments has been infinitely increased. Wherefore if external signs were to be taken from the time of the nativity or procreation (as in astrology), nothing extra

ordinary could be predicted of these early systems of philosophy.

73. Of all signs there is none more certain or worthy than that of the fruits produced-for the fruits and effects are the sureties and vouchers as it were for the truth of philosophy. Now from the systems of the Greeks and their subordinate divisions in particular branches of the sciences during so long a period, scarcely one single experiment can be culled that has a tendency to elevate or assist mankind, and can be fairly set down to the speculations and doctrines of their philosophy. Celsus candidly and wisely-confesses as much, when he observes that experiments were first discovered in medicine, and that men afterwards built their philosophical systems upon them, and searched for and assigned causes, instead of the inverse method of discovering and deriving experiments from philosophy and the knowledge of causes. It is not therefore wonderful that the Egyptians (who bestowed divinity and sacred honours on the authors of new inventions) should have consecrated more images of brutes than of men; for the brutes by their natural instinct made many discoveries, whilst men derived but few from discussion and the conclusions of reason.

[ocr errors]

The industry of the alchymists has produced some effect, by chance however and casualty, or from varying their experiments (as mechanics also do), and not from any regular art or theory; the theory they have imagined rather tending to disturb than to assist experiment. Those too who have occupied themselves with natural magic (as they term it) have made but few discoveries, and those of small import, and bordering on imposture. For which reason in the same manner as we are cautioned by religion to show our faith by our works, we may very properly apply the principle to philosophy, and judge of it by its works; accounting that to be futile which is unproductive, and still more so, if instead of grapes and olives it yield but the thistle and thorns of dispute and contention.

74. Other signs may be selected from the increase and progress of particular systems of philosophy and the sciences. For those which are founded on nature grow and increase, whilst those which are founded on opinion change and increase not. If therefore the theories we have mentioned were not like plants torn up by the roots, but grew in the womb of nature and were nourished by her; that which for the last two thousand years has taken place

« AnteriorContinuar »