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ideas are objects of the understanding, and the understanding is one of the faculties employed about them.” “ No doubt of it. But you might easily see that by reason, I understood principles of reason, allowed by mankind; which, I think, are very different from ideas. But I perceive reason, in this sense, is a thing you have no idea of; or one as obscure as that of substance."
I imagine, said the gentleman, that if his lordship should be asked, how he perceives you have no idea of reason in that sense, or one as obscure as that of substance ? he would scarce have a reason ready to give for his saying so: and what we say which reason cannot account for, must be ascribed to some other cause.
Now truly, said I, my mistake was so innocent and so unaffected, that if I had had these very words said to me then, which his lordship sounds in my ears now, to awaken
my understanding, viz. “ that the principles of reason are very different from ideas;" I do not yet find how they would have helped me to see what, it seems, was no small fault, that I did not see before. Because, let reason, taken for principles of reason, be as different as it will from ideas; reason, taken as a faculty, is as different from them, in my apprehension: and in both senses of the word reason, either as taken for a faculty, or for the principles of reason allowed by mankind, reason and ideas may consist together.
Certainly, said the gentleman, ideas have something in them, that you do not see; or else such a small mistake, as you made in endeavouring to make them consistent with reason as a faculty, would not have moved so great a man as my lord bishop of Worcester so as to make him tell you,“ that reason, taken for the common principles of reason, is a thing whereof you have no ideas, or one as obscure as that of substance.” For, if I mistake not, you have in your book, in more places than one, spoke, and that pretty largely, of self-evident propositions and maxims : so that, if his lordship has ever read those parts of your Essay, he cannot doubt, but that you have ideas of those common principles of
It may be so, I réplied; but such things are to be borne from great men, who often use them as marks of distinction : though I should less expect them from my lord bishop of Worcester than from almost any one; because he has the solid and interior greatness of learning, as well as that of outward title and dignity. But since he expects it from me, I will do what I can to see what, he says, is his meaning here by reason.
I will repeat it just as his lordship says, “ I might easily have seen what he understood by it." My lord's words immediately following those above taken notice of are: “and so that which is the subject of powers and properties is the nature, whether it be meant of bodily or spiritual substances." And then follow these, which, to be rightly understood, his lordship says must be read thus: “I grant, that by sensation and reflection we come to know the properties of things; but our reason, i. e. the principles of reason allowed by mankind, are satisfied that there must be something beyond these, because it is impossible they should subsist by themselves : so that the nature of things properly belongs to our reason, i. e. to the principles of reason allowed by mankind; and not to mere ideas.”. This explication of it, replied the gentleman, which my lord bishop has given of this passage, makes it more unintelligible to me than it was before; and I know him to be so great a master of sense, that I doubt whether he himself will be better satisfied with this sense of his words, than with that which you understood it in. But let us go on to the two next paragraphs, wherein his lordship is at farther pains to give us clear and distinct apprehensions of nature: and, that we may not mistake, let us first read his words, which run thus:
“ But we must yet proceed farther; for nature may be considered two ways:
1. “As it is in distinct individuals; as the nature of a man is equally in Peter, James, and John; and this is the common nature, with a particular subsistence, proper to each of them. For the nature of a man, as in Peter, is distinct from that same nature, as it is in
James and John; otherwise they would be but one person, as well as have the same nature. And this distinction of persons in them is discerned both by our senses, as to their different accidents; and by our reason, because they have a separate existence; not coming into it at once, and in the same manner.”
2. “Nature may be considered abstractly, without respect to individual persons; and then it makes an entire notion of itself. For, however the same nature may be in different individuals, yet the nature in itself remains one and the same; which appears from this evident reason, that otherwise every individual must make a different kind.”
In these words, said he, having read them, I find the same difficulties you took notice of in your letter. As, first, that it is not declared whether his lordship speaks here of nature, as standing for essential properties, or of nature, standing for substance; which dubiousness casts an obscurity on the whole place. And next, I can no more tell than you, whether it be his lordship's opinion that I ought to think, that one and the same nature is in Peter and John; or, that a nature, distinct from that in John, is in Peter; and that for the same reason which left you at a loss, viz. because I cannot put together one and the same and distinct. But since his lordship, in his answer to you, has said nothing to give us light in these matters, we must be content to be in the dark; and if he has not thought fit to explain it, so as to make himself to be understood by us, we may be sure he has a reason for it. But pray tell me, did you understand the rest of these two paragraphs that you mentioned, only those two difficulties ? For I must profess to you, that I understand so little of either of them, that they contribute nothing at all to give me those clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, which I find, by his lordship, it is necessary to have, before one can have a right understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. Nay, I am so far from gaining by his lordship’s discourse those clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, that what he objects to your new method
of certainty, I found verified in this his clearing the distinction between nature and person, that it left me in more doubt than I was in before.
Truly, sir, replied I, that was just my case; but minding then only what I thought immediately related to the objections in my book, which followed ; I passed by what I might have retorted concerning the obscurity and difficulty in his lordship's doctrine about nature and person, and contented myself to tell his lordship, in as respectful terms as I could find, that I could not understand him: which drew from him that severe reflection, that I obstinately stick to a way that leads to scepticism, which is the way of ideas. But now that, for the vindication of my book, I am showing that his lordship's way, without ideas, does as little (I will not say less) furnish us with clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, as my Essay does; I do not see but that his lordship's Vindication of the Trinity is as much against the doctrine of the Trinity, as my Essay of Human Understanding; and may, with as much reason on that account, be animadverted on by another, who vindicates the doctrine of the Trinity, as my book is by his lordship.
Indeed, said he, if failing of clear and distinct apprehensions, concerning nature and person, render any book obnoxious to one that vindicates the doctrine of the Trinity, and gives him sufficient cause to write against it, as opposite to that doctrine; I know no book of more dangerous consequence to that article of faith, nor more necessary to be writ against by a defender of that article, than that part of his lordship’s Vindication which we are now upon. For, to my thinking, I never met with any thing more unintelligible about that subject, nor that is more remote from clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person. For what more effectual method could there be to confound the notions of nature and person, instead of clearing their distinction, than to discourse of them, without first defining them? Is this a way to give clear and distinct apprehensions of two words, upon a right understanding of which, all our notions of the doctrine of the Trinity
depend; and without which, we must talk unintelligibly about that point ?
His lordship tells us here, nature may be considered two ways. What is it the nearer to be told, nature may be considered two or twenty ways, till we know what that is which is to be considered two ways ? i.e. till he defines the term nature, that we may know what precisely is the thing meant by it.
Ile tells us, “ nature may be considered,
1. His lordship says, “nature may be considered, as in distinct individuals.” It is true, by those that know what nature is. But his lordship having not yet told me what nature is, nor what he here means by it; it is impossible for me to consider nature in or out of individuals, unless I can consider I know not what: so that this consideration is, to me, as good as no consideration; neither does or can it help at all to any clear and distinct apprehensions of nature. Indeed, he says, , Aristotle by nature signified a corporeal substance; and from thence his lordship takes occasion to say, “ that nature and substance are of an equal extent:" though Aristotle, taking nature for a corporeal substance, gave no ground for such a saying, because corporeal substance and substance are not of an equal extent. But to pass by that: if his lordship would have us understand here, that by nature he means substance, this is but substituting one name in the place of another; and, which is worse, a more doubtful and obscure term, in the place of one that is less so; which will, I fear, not give us very clear and distinct apprehensions of nature. His lordship goes on:
“ As the nature of a man is equally in Peter, James, and John; and this is the common nature, with a particular subsistence proper to each of them."
Here his lordship does not tell us what consideration of nature there may be, but actually affirms and teaches something. I wish I had the capacity to learn by it the clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, which is the lesson he is here upon.