« PoprzedniaDalej »
uniting them without any rule or pattern, it cannot be but that the signification of the name that stands for such voluntary collections should be often various in the minds of different men, who have scarce any standing rule to regulate themselves and their notions by, in such arbitrary ideas.
§. 8. It is true, common use, that is the rule Propriety not a sufficient
of propriety, may be supposed here to afford remedy. some aid, to settle the signification of language;
and it cannot be denied, but that in some measure it does. Common use regulates the meaning of words pretty well for common conversation; but no-body having an authority to establish the precise signification of words, nor determined to what ideas any one shall annex them, common use is not sufficient to adjust them to philosophical discourses; there being scarce any name of any very complex idea (to say nothing of others) which in common use has not a great latitude, and which keeping within the bounds of propriety, may not be made the sign of far different ideas. Besides, the rule and measure of propriety itself being no where established, it is often matter of dispute whether this or that way of using a word be propriety of speech or no. From all which it is evident, that the names of such kind of very complex ideas are naturally liable to this imperfection, to be of doubtful and uncertain signification, and even in men that have a mind to understand one another, do not always stand for the same idea in speaker and hearer. Though the names glory and gratitude be the same in every man's mouth through a whole country, yet the complex collective idea, which every one thinks on, or intends by that name, is apparently very different in men using the same language. The way of
§. 9. The way also wherein the names of learning
mixed modes are ordinarily learned, does these names
not a little contribute to the doubtfulness of contributes
their signification. For if we will observe doubtfulness.
how children learn languages, we shall find
that to make them understand what the names of simple ideas, or substances, stand for, people ordinarily show them the thing, whereof they would
also to their
have them have the idea; and then repeat to them the name that stands for it, as white, sweet, milk, sugar, cat, dog. But as for mixed modes, especially the most material of them, moral words, the sounds are usually learned first; and then to know what complex ideas they stand for, they are either beholden to the explication of others, or (which happens for the most part) are left to their own observation and industry; which being little laid out in the search of the true and precise meaning of names, these inoral words are in most men's mouths little more than bare sounds; or when they have any, it is for the most part but a very loose and undetermined, and consequently obscure and confused signification. And even those themselves, who have with more attention settled their notions, do yet hardly avoid the inconvenience, to have them stand for complex ideas, different from those which other, even intelligent and studious men, make them the signs of. Where shall one find any, either controversial debate, or familiar discourse, concerning honour, faith, grace, religion, church, &c. wherein it is not easy to observe the different'notions men have of them ? which is nothing but this, that they are not agreed in the signification of those words, nor have in their minds the same complex ideas which they make them stand for: and so all the contests that follow thereupon, are only about the meaning of a sound. And hence we see, that in the interpretation of laws, whether divine or human, there is no end; comments beget comments, and explications make new matter for explications; and of limiting, distinguishing, varying the signification of these moral words, there is
These ideas of men's making are, by men still having the same power, multiplied in infinitum. Many a man who was pretty well satisfied of the meaning of a text of scripture, or clause in the code at first reading, has by consulting commentators quite lost the sense of it, and by these elucidations given risę or increase to his doubts, and drawn obscurity upon the place. I say this, that I think commentaries needless; but to show how uncertain the names of mixed modes naturally are, even in the mouths of those who had both the intention
and the faculty of speaking as clearly as language was capable to express their thoughts. Hence una.
$. 10. What obscurity this has unavoidvoidable ob- ably brought upon the writings of men, who scurity in have lived in remote ages and different ancient au- countries, it will be needless to take notice; thors.
since the numerous volumes of learned men, employing their thoughts that way, are proofs more than enough to show what attention, ftudy, sagacity, and reasoning are required, to find out the true meaning of ancient authors. But there being no writivgs we have any great concernment to be very solicitous about the meaning of, but those that contain either truths we are required to believe, or laws we are to obey, and draw inconveniencies on us when we mistake or transgress ; we may be less anxious about the sense of other authors; who writing but their own opinions, we are under no greater necessity to know them, than they to know ours. Our good or evil depending not on their decrees, we may safely be ignorant of their notions: and therefore, in ihe reading of them, if they do not use their words with a due clearness and perspicuity, we may lay them aside, and, without any injury done them, resolve thus with ourselves,
“ Si non vis intelligi, debes negligi.” Names of
§. 11. If the signification of the names substances of of mixed modes are uncertain, because there doubtful sig. be no real standards existing in nature, to nification.
which those ideas are referred, and by which they may be adjusted; the names of substances are of a doubtful signification, for a contrary reason, viz. because the ideas they stand for are supposed conformable to the reality of things, and are referred to standards made by nature. In our ideas of substances we have not the liberty, as in mixed modes, to frame what combinations we think fit, to be the characteristical notes to rank and denominate things by. In these we must follow nature, suit our complex ideas to real existences, and regulate the signification of their names by the things themselves, if we will have our names to be signs of them, and stand for them. Here, it is true, we have patterns to follow;
but patterns that will make the signification of their names very uncertain : for names must be of a very unsteady and various meaning, if the ideas they stand for be referred to standards without us, that either cannot be known at all, or can be known but imperfectly and uncertainly. 9. 12. The names of substances have, as
Names of has been shown, a double reference in their substances ordinary use.
1 First, sometimes they are made to stand
1. To real
essences that for, and so their signification is supposed to agree to, the real constitution of things, known. from which all their properties flow, and in which they all centre. But this real constitution, or (as it is apt to be called) essence, being utterly unknown to us, any sound that is put to stand for it, must be very uncertain in its application; and it will be impossible to know what things are, or ought to be called an horse, or anatomy, when those words are put for real essences, that we have no ideas of at all. And therefore, in this supposition, the names of substances being referred to standards that cannot be known, their significations can never be adjusted and established by those standards. §. 13. Secondly, the simple ideas that are
2. To co-ex. found to co-exist in substances being that isting quali. which their names immediately signify, these, ties, which as united in the several sorts of things, are
but imper the proper standards to which their names
fectly. are referred, and by which their significations may
be best rectified. But neither will these archetypes so well serve to this purpose, as to leave these names without very various and uncertain significations. Because these simple ideas that co-exist, and are united in the same subject, being very numerous, and having all an equal right to go into the complex specifick idea, which the specifick name is to stand for; men, though they propose to themselves the very same subject to consider, yet frame very different ideas about it; and so the name they use for it unavoidably comes to have, in several men, very different significations. The simple qualities which make up the complex ideas being most VOL. II. R
of them powers, in relation to changes, which they are apt to make in, or receive from other bodies, are almost infinite. He that shall but observe what a great variety of alterations any one of the baser metals is apt to receive from the different application only of fire; and how much a greater number of changes any of them will receive in the hands of a chymist, by the application of other bodies ; will not think it strange that I count the properties of any sort of bodies not easy to be collected, and completely known by the ways of inquiry, which our faculties are capable of. They being therefore at least so many, that no man can know the precise and definite number, they are differently discovered by different men, according to their various skill, attention, and ways of handling; who therefore cannot choose but have different ideas of the same substance, and therefore make the signification of its common name very various and uncertain. For the complex ideas of substances being made up of such simple ones as are supposed to co-exist in nature, every one has a right to put into his complex idea those qualities he has found to be united together. For though in the substance of gold one satisfies himself with colour and weight, yet another thinks solubility in aq. regia as necessary to be joined with that colour in his idea of gold, as any one does its fusibility; solubility in aq. regia being å quality as constantly joined with its colour and weight, as fusibility, or any other; others put in its ductility or fixedness, &c. as they have been taught by tradition or experience. Who of all these has established the right signification of the word gold? or who shall be the judge to determine? Each has its standard in nature, which he appeals to, and with reason thinks he has the same right to put into his complex idea, signified by the word gold, those qualities which upon trial he has found united; as another, who has not so well examined, has to leave them out; or a third, who has made other trials, has to put in others. For the union in nature of these qualities being the true ground of their union in one complex idea, who can say, one of them has more reason to be put in, or left out, than another? From hence it will