« PreviousContinue »
But though we are not yet come to your lordship’s proof, that the certainty in my proof of a Deity is not placed on ideas, yet I crave leave to consider what your lordship says here concerning certainty; about which one cannot employ too many thoughts to find wherein it is placed. Your lordship says, " That Descartes's certainty was not grounded on the clearness of the perception, but on the plainness of the evidence.” And a little lower; here (i. e. in Descartes's foundation of certainty) it is not the clearness of the idea, but an immediate “act of perception, on which is the true ground of certainty.” And a little lower, that “in things without us, our certainty is not from the ideas, but from the evidence of reason that those ideas are true
Your lordship, I hope, will pardon my dulness, if after your lordship has placed the grounds of certainty of our own existence, sometimes in the plainness of the evidence, in opposition to the clearness of the perception; sometimes in the immediate act of perception, in opposition to the clearness of the idea; and the certainty of other things without us, in the evidence of reason that these ideas are true and just, in opposition to the ideas themselves: I know not, by these rules, wherein to place certainty; and therefore stick to my own plain way, by ideas, delivered in these words: “Wherever we perceive the agreement or disagreement of any of our ideas, there is certain knowledge; and wherever we are sure those ideas agree with the reality of things, there is certain real knowledge. Of which agreement of our ideas with the reality of things, I think I have shown wherein ¡it is that certainty, real certainty, consists *." Whereof more may be seen in chap. yi., in which, if your lordship find any mistakes, I shall take it as a great honour to be set right by you.
Your lordship, as far as I can guess your meaning (for I must own I do not clearly comprehend it), seems to me, in the foregoing passage, to oppose this assertion, that the certainty of the being of any thing might be made out from the idea of that thing. Truly, my lord, I
* B. iv. c. 4. $18.
am so far from saying (or thinking) so, that I never knew any one of that mind but Descartes, and some that have followed him in his proof of a God, from the idea which we have of God in us; which I was so far from thinking a sufficient ground of certainty, that your lordship makes use of my denying or doubting of it against me, as we shall see in the following words:
“ But the idea of an infinite Being has this peculiar to it, that necessary existence is implied in it. This is a clear and distinct idea, and yet it is denied that this doth prove the existence of God. How then can the grounds of our certainty arise from the clear and distinct ideas, when in one of the clearest ideas of our minds, we can come to no certainty by it?”
Your lordship's proof here, as far as I comprehend it, seems to be, that it is confessed, “ That certainty does not arise from clear and distinct ideas, because it is denied that the clear and distinct idea of an infinite being, that implies necessary existence in it, does prove the existence of a God.""
Here your lordship says, it is denied ; and in five lines after you recall that saying, and use these words, “ I do not say that it is denied, to prove it:" which of these two sayings of your lordship’s must I now answer to? If your lordship says it is denied, I fear that will not hold to be so in matter of fact, which made your lordship unsay it; though that being most to your lordship's purpose, occasioned, I suppose, its dropping from your pen. For if it be not denied, I think the whole force of your lordship’s argument fails. But your lordship helps that out as well as the thing will bear, by the words that follow in the sentence, which altogether stands thus: “I do not say, that it is denied, to prove it; but this is said, that it is a doubtful thing, from the different make of men's tempers, and application of their thoughts. What can this mean, unless it be to let us know that even clear and distinct ideas
may lose their effect, by the difference of men's tempers and studies ? So that besides ideas, in order to a right judgment, a due temper and application of the mind is required."
If I meant in those words of mine, quoted here by your lordship, just as your lordship concludes they mean, I know not why I should be ashamed of it; for I never thought that ideas, even the most clear and distinct, would make men certain of what might be demonstrated from them, unless they were of a temper to consider, and would apply their minds to them. There are no ideas more clear and distinct than those of numbers, and yet there are a thousand demonstrations concerning numbers, which millions of men do not know, (and so have not the certainty about them that they might have) for want of application.
I could not avoid here to take this to myself: for this passage of your lordship’s is pinned down upon me so close, by your lordship's citing the 7th sect. of the 10th chapter of my fourth book, that I am forced here to answer for myself; which I shall do, after having first set down my words, as they stand in the place quoted by your lordship: “* How far the idea of a most perfect being, which a man may frame in his mind, does or does not prove the existence of a God, I will not here examine. For in the different make of men's tempers and application of their thoughts, some arguments prevail more on one, and some on another, for the confirmation of the same truth. But yet, I think, this I may say, that it is an ill way of establishing this truth, and silencing atheists, to lay the whole stress of so important a point as this upon that sole foundation, and take some men's having that idea of God in their minds (for it is evident, some men have none, and some a worse than none, and the most very different) for the only proof of a Deity; and, out of an overfondness of that darling invention, cashier, or at least endeavour to invalidate all other arguments, and forbid us to hearken to those proofs, as being weak, or fallacious, which our own existence, and the sensible parts of the universe, offer so clearly and cogently to our thoughts, that I deem it impossible for a considering man to withstand them. For I judge it as certain and clear a truth, as can any where be deli
* B. iv. c. 10 $ 7.
vered, that the invisible things of God are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead."
The meaning of which words of mine was not to deny that the idea of a most perfect being doth prove a God, but to blame those who take it for the only proof, and endeavour to invalidate all others. For the belief of a God being, as I say in the same section, the foundation of all religion and genuine morality, I thought no arguments that are made use of to work the persuasion of a God into men's minds, should be invalidated. And the reason I give why they should all be left to their full strength, and none of them rejected as unfit to be hearkened to, is this : because “in the different make of men's tempers and application of their thoughts, some arguments prevail more on one, and some on another, for the confirmation of the same truth.” So that my meaning here was not, as your lordship supposes, to ground certainty on the different make of men's tempers, and application of their thoughts, in tion to clear and distinct ideas, as is very evident from my words; but to show of what ill consequence it is, to go about to invalidate any argument, which hath a tendency to settle the belief of a God in any one's mind; because, in the difference of men's tempers and application, some arguments prevail more on one, and some on another: so that I speaking of belief, and your lordship, as I take it, speaking in that place of certainty, nothing can (I crave leave to say) be inferred from these words of mine to your lordship's purpose. And that I meant belief, and not certainty, is evident from hence, that I look upon the argument there spoken of, as not conclusive, and so not able to produce certainty in any one, though I did not know how far it might prevail on some men's persuasions, to confirm them in the truth. And since not all, nor the most of those that believe a God, are at the pains, or have the skill, to examine and clearly comprehend the demonstrations of his being, I was unwilling to show the weakness of the argument there spoken of; since possibly by it some men might
be confirmed in the belief of a God, which is enough to preserve in them true sentiments of religion and morality.
Your lordship hereupon asks, “Wherein is this different from what all men of understanding have said ?”
I answer: in nothing that I know; nor did I ever, that I remember, say that it was.
Your lordship goes on to demand,
Why then should these clear and simple ideas be made the sole foundation of reason?”
I answer: that I know not: they must give your lordship a reason for it, who have made clear ideas the sole foundation of reason. Why I have made simple ones the foundation of all knowledge, I have shown. Your lordship goes on:
“One would think by this”-
“That these ideas would presently satisfy men's minds, if they attended to them.”
What those ideas are from which your lordship would expect such present satisfaction, and upon what grounds your lordship expects it, I do not know. But this I will venture to say, that all the satisfaction men's minds can have in their inquiries after truth and certainty, is to be had only from considering, observing, and rightly laying together of ideas, so as to find out their agreement
or disagreement, and no other way. But I do not think ideas have truth and certainty always so ready to satisfy the mind in its inquiries, that there needs no more to be satisfied, than to attend to them as one does to a man, whom one asks a question to be satisfied; which your lordship’s way of expression seems to me to intimate. But they must be considered well, and their habitudes examined; and where their agreement or disagreement cannot be perceived by an immediate comparison, other ideas must be found out to discover the agreement or disagreement of those under consideration, and then all laid in a due order, before the mind can be satisfied in the certainty of that truth, which it is seeking after. This, my lord, requires often a little more time and pains, than attending to a tale