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we often mistake words for things, we mingle and confound one with the other.
2. From our youngest years we have been ever ready to consider things, not so much in their own natures as in their various respects to ourselves, and chicfly to our senses; and we have also joined and mingied the ideas of some things, with many other ideas, to which they are not akin in their own patures.
In order, therefore, to a clear and distinct knowledge of things, we must unclothe them of all these relations and mixtures, that we may contemplate them naked, and in their own natures, and distinguish the subject that we have in view from all other subjects whatsoever: now to perform this well, we must bere consider the definition of words, and the definition of things.
Sect. II.-Of the Definition of Words or Names. If we conceive of things as angels and unbodied spirits do, without involving them in those clouds which words and language throw upon them, we should seldom be in danger of such mistakes as are perpetually committed by us in the present state; and indeed it would be of unknowo advantage to us to accustom ourselves to form ideas of things without words, that we might kuow thein in their own proper natures. But since we must use words, both to learn and to communicate most of our notions, we should do it with just rules of caution. I have already declared in part, how often and by what means our words become the occasions of errors in our conceptious of things. To remedy such inconveniencies, we must get exact definitions of the words we make use of, i. e. we must determine precisely the sense of our words, which is called the definition of the name.
Now a definition of the name being only a declaration in what sense the word is used, or what idea or object we mean by it, this may be expressed by any one or more of the properties, effects, or circumstances of that object which do sufficiently distinguish it from other objects: as if I were to tell what I mean by the word air, I may say it is that thin matter which we breathe in and breathe out continually; or it is that fluid body in which the birds fly a little above the earth; or it is that invisible matter which fills all places near the earth, or which immediately encompasses the globe of earth and water. So if I would tell what I mean by light, I would say it is that medium whereby we see the colours and shapes of things; or it is that which dis. tinguishes the day from the night. If I were asked what I mean by religion, wo
answer, it is a col. lection of all our duties to God, if taken in a strict and limited sense; but if taken in a large sense, it is a collection of all our duties both to God and man. These are called the definitions of the name.
Note, in defining the name, there is no necessity that we should be acquainted with the intimate es. sence or nature of the thing; for any manner of description that will but sufficiently acquaint another person what we mean by such a word, is a sufficient definition for the name. And on this account, a synonymous word, or a mere negation of the contrary, a translation of the word into another tongue, or a grammatical explication of it, is sometimes sufficient for this purpose; as if one would know what I mean by a sphere, I tell him it is a globe; if he ask what is a triangle, it is that which has three angles; or an oval is that which has the shape of an egg. Dark is that which has no light; asthma is a difficulty of breathing; a diaphoretic medicine, or a sudorific, is something that will provoke sweating; and an insolvent is a man that cannot pay his debts.
Since it is the design of logic not only to assist us in learning but in teaching also, it is necessary that we should be furnished with some particular directions relating to the definitions of names, both in teaching and learning. Sect. III.- Directions concerning the Definitions
of Names. Direct. I. Have a care of making use of mere words, instead of ideas, i. e, such words as have no
meaning, no definition belonging to them: do not always imagine that there are ideas wheresoever there are uames : for though mankind hath so many millions of ideas more than they have names, yet so foolish and lavish are we, that too often we use some words in mere waste, and have no ideas for them; or at least, our ideas are so exceedingly scattered and confused, broken and blended, various and upsettled, that they can signify nothing toward the improvement of the understanding. You will find a great deal of reason for this remark, if you read the popish schoolmen, or the mystic divines.
Never rest satisfied therefore with mere words which have not ideas belonging to them, or at least no settled and determinate ideas. Deal not in such empty ware, whether you are a learner or a teacher; for hereby some persons have made themselves rich in words, and learned in their own esteem; whereas in reality their understandings have been poor, and they knew nothing.
Let me give, for instance, some of those writers or talkers, who deal much in the words nature, fate, luck, chance, perfection, power, life, fortune, instinct, &c. and that even in the most calm and instructive parts of their discourse; though neither they themselves, nor their hearers, have any settled meaning under those words; and thus they build up their reasonings, and infer what they please, with an ambition of the name of learning, or of sublime elevations in religion; whereas in truth they do but amuse themselves and their admirers with swelling words of vanity, understanding neither what they say, nor whereof ibey affirm. But this sort of talk was reproved of old by the two chief apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, 1 Tim. i. 7. and 2 Peter ii. 18.
When pretenders to philosophy or good sense grow fond of this sort of learning, they dazzle and confound their weak hearers, but fall under the neglect of the wise. The Epicureans are guilty of this fault, when they ascribe the formation of this world to chance; the Aristotelians, when they say nature abhors a vacuum; the Stoics when they talk of fate, which is su
perior to the gods; and the gamesters when they curse their ill luck, or hope for the favours of fortune. Whereas, if they would tell us, that by the word nature they mean the properties of any being, or the order of things established at the creation; that by the word fate, they intend the decrees of God, or the necessary connexion and influence of second causes and efl-cts; if, by the word luck or chance, they signify the absolute negation of any determinate cause, or only their ignorance of any such cause, we should know how to converse with em, and to assent to, or dissent from, their opinions. But while they flutter in the dark, and make a noise with words which have no fixed ideas, they talk to the wind, and can never profit.
I would make this matter a little plainer still by instances borrowed from the peripatetic philosophy, which was taught once in all the schools. The professor fancies he has assigned the true reason, why all heavy bodies tend downward, why amber will draw feathers or straws, and the loadstone draw iron, when he tells you, that this is done by certain gravitating and attractive qualities, which proceed from the substantial forms of those various bodies. He imagines that he has explained why the loadstone's* north pole shall repei the north end of a inagnetic needle, and attract the south, when he affirms, that this is done by its sympathy with one end of it, and its antipathy against the other end. Whereas in truth, all these names of sympathy, antipathy, substantial forms and qualities, when they are put up for the causes of these effects in bodies, are but hard words, which only express a learned and pompous ignorance of the true cause of natural appearances;. and in this sense they are mere words without ideas.
This will evidently appear, if one ask me, why. concave mirror, or convex glass, will burn wood in the sun-beams, or why a wedge will cleave it? and I should tell him, it is by au istorious quality iu the
* Note. Some writers call that the south pole of a loadstone which attracts the south end of the needlc; bui I choose to fob low those who call it the north pole.
mirror or glass, and by a cleaving power in the wedge, arising from a certain unknown substantial form in them, whence they derive these qualities : or if he should ask me, why a clock strikes, and points to the hour; and I should say, it is by an indicating form and sonorific quality; whereas i ought to tell him how the sun-beams are collected aud united by a burning glass; whence the mechanical force of a wedge is derived; and what are the wheels and springs, the pointer and hammer, and bell, whereby a clock gives notice ofthe time, both to the eye and the
But these ustorious and cleaving powers, sonorous and indicating forms and qualities, do either teach the enquirer nothing at all but what he knew before, or they are mere words without ideas*.
And there is many a man in the vulgar, and in the learned world, who imagines himself deeply skilled in the controversies of divinity, whereas he has only furnished himself with a parcel of scholastic or mystic words, under some of which the authors themselves had no just ideas; and the learner, when he hears, or pronounces them, hath scarce any ideas at all. Such sort of words sometimes have become matters of immortal contention, as though the gospel could not stand without them; and yet the zealot perhaps knows little more of them than he does of Shibboleth, or Higgaion, Selah. Judges xii. 6; Psal. ix. 16.
* It may be objected here, “And what does the modern phi. " losopher, with all his detail of mathematical numbers, and “ diagrams, do more than this toward the solution of these dif“ ficulties does he not describe gravity by a certain unknown “ force, whereby bodies tend dowoward to the centre hath be “ found the certain and mechanical reasons of attraction, mag“ netism, &c.?" I answer, that the moderns bave found a thousand things, by applying mathematics to natural philosophy, which the ancients were ignorant of; and when they use any names of this kind, viz. itation, attraction, &c. they use them only to signify, that there are such effects and such causes, 'with a frequent confession of their ignorance of the true springs of them; they do not pretend to make these words stand for the real causes of things, as though they thereby assigned the true philosophical solution of these difficulties; for in this sense they will still be words without ideas, whether in the mouth of an old philosopher or a new one.