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to their original, will be found to be mere logomachies, or strifes and quarrels about names and words, and vain janglings, as the apostle calls them in his first letters of advice to Timothy.
In order, therefore, to attain clear and distinct ideas of what we read or hear, we must search the sense of words: we must consider what is their original and derivation in our own or foreign languages; what is their common sense amongst mankind, or in other authors, especially such as wrote in the same century, in the same age, about the same time, and upon the same subjects: we must consider in what sense the same author uses any particular word or phrase, and that when he is discoursing on the same matter, and especially about the same parts or paragraphs of his writing: we must consider w bether the word be used in a strict and limited, or in a large and general sense; whetber in a literal, in a figurative, or in a prophetic sense; whether it has any secondary idea annexed to it besides the primary or chief sense. We must enquire farther what is the scope and design of the writer; and what is the connexion of that sentence with those that go before it, and those which follow it. By these and other methods we are to search out the definition of names, i. e. the true sense and meaning in which any author or speaker uses any word, which may be the chief subject of discourse, or may carry any considerable importance in it.
Direct. V. When we communicate our notions to others, merely with a design to inform and improve their knowledge, let us, in the beginning of our discourse, take care to adjust the definitions of names, wheresoever.there is need of it; that is, to determine plainly what we mean by the chief words which are the subject of our discourse; and be sure always to keep the same ideas, whensoever we use the same words, unless we give due notice of the change. This will have a very large and happy influence in secaring, not only others but ourselves too, from confusion and mistake: for even writers and speakers themselves, for want of due watchfulness, are ready to affix different ideas to their own words, in different
parts of their discourses, and hereby bring perplexity into their own reasonings, and confound their hearers.
It is by an observation of this rule that mathematicians have so happily secured themselves, and the sciences which they bave professed, from wrangling and controversy; because whensoever in tbe progress of their treatises they have occasion to use a new and unknown word, they always define it, and tell in wbat sense they shall take it; and in many of their writings you will find a heap of definitions at the very beginning. Now if the writers of natural philosophy and morality had used the same accuracy and care, they bad effectually secluded a multitude of noisy and fruitless debates out of their several provinces : nor had that sacred thenie of divinity been perplexed with so many intricate disputes, nor the cburch of Christ been torn to pieces by so many sects and factions, if the words grace, faith, righteousness, repentance, justification, worship, church, bishop, presbyter, &c. bad been well defined, and their significations adjusted, as near as possible, by the use of those words in the New Testament; or, at least, if every writer had told us at first in what sense he would use those words.
Direct. VI. In your own studies, as well as in the communication of your thoughts to others, merely for their information, avoid ambiguous and equivocal terms as much as possible. Do not use such words as have two or three definitions of the name belonging to them, i.e. such words as have two or three senses, where there is any danger of mistake. Where your chief business is to inform the judgment, and to explain a matter, rather than to persuade or affect, be not fond of expressing yourselves in figurative language, when there are any proper words that signify the same idea in their literal sense. It is the ambiguity of names, as we have often said, that brings almost infinite confusion into our conceptions of things.
But where there is a necessity of using an ambi. guous word, there let double care be used in defining That word, and declaring in what sense you take it.
And be sure to suffer no ambiguous word ever to come into your definitions.
Direct. VII. In communicating your notions, use every word as near as possible in the same sense in which mankind commonly uses it; or which writers that have gone before you have usually affixed to it, upon condition that it is free from ambiguity. Though names are in their original merely arbitrary, yet we sbould always keep to the established meaning of them, unless great necessity require the alteration; for when any word bas been used to signify an idea, that old idea will recur in the mind, when the word is beard or read, rather than any new idea which we may fasten to it. And this is one reason why the received definition of names should be changed as little as possible.
But I add farther, that though a word entirely new, introduced into a language, may be affixed to what idea you please, yet an old word ought never to be fixed to an unaccustomed idea, without just and evideut necessity, or without present or previous notice, Jest we introduce thereby a licence for all manner of pernicious equivocations and falsehoods: as for instance, when an idle boy, who has not seen his book all the morning, shall tell his master that he has learned his lesson, he can never excuse bimself by saying, that by the word learning he meant his breakfast, and by the word lesson he meant eating; surely this would be construed a downright lie, and his fancied wit would hardly procure his pardon.
In using any ambiguous word, which has been used in different senses, we may choose what we think the most proper sense, as I bave done, p. 72, in naming the poles of the loadstone, north or south.
And when a word has been used in two or three sepses, and has made a great inroad for error upun that account, it is of good service to drop one or two of those senses, and leave it only one remaining, and affix the other senses or ideas to other words. So the modern philosophers, when they treat of the human soul, they call it the mind, or mens humana, and leave the word anima, or soul, to signify the principle of life and motion in mere animal beings.
The poet Juvenal has, long ago, given us a bint to tbis accuracy and distinction, when he says of brutes and men,
Indulsit mundi communis conditor illis
Sat. xvi. v. 134.
Exception. There is one case, wherein some of these last rules concerning the definition of words, may be in some measure dispensed with; and that is, when strong and rooted prejudice hath established some favourite word or phrase, and long used it to express some mistaken notion, or to unite some juconsistent ideas; for then it is sometimes much easier to lead the world into truth, by indulging their fond. ness for a phrase, and hy assigning and applying new ideas and notions to their favourite word; and this is much safer also than to awaken all their passions by rejecting both their old words, and phrases, and notions, and introducing all new at once: therefore we continue to say, there is heat in the fire, there is coldness in ice, rather than invent new words to express the powers which are in fire or ice to excite the sensations of heat or cold in us. For the same reason some words and phrases which are less proper, may be continued in theology, wbile people are led into clearer ideas with much more ease and success, than if an attempt were made to change all their beloved forms of speech.
In other cases these logical directions should generally be observed, and different names affixed to different ideas.
Here I cannot but take occasion to remark, that it is a.considerable advantage to any language to have a variety of new words introduced into it, that when in course of time new objects and new ideas arise, there may be new words and names assighed to them ; and also where one single name has sustained two or three ideas in time past, these new words may remove the ambiguity by being affixed to some of those ideas, This practice would by degrees take away part of the uncertainty of language. And for this reason I can. not but congratulate our English tongue, that it has been abundantly enriched with the translation of words from all our neighbour nations, as well as from ancient languages, and these words have been as it were enfranchised amongst us; for French, Latin, Greek, and German names will signify English ideas, as well as words that are anciently and entirely English.
It may not be amiss to mentiou in this place, that as the determination of the particular sense in which any word is used, is called the definition of the name, so the enumeration of the various senses of an equi. vocal word, is sometimes called the division or distinction of the name; and for this purpose good dictionaries are of excellent use.
This distinction of the name or word is greatly necessary in argumentation or dispute; when a fallacious argument is used, he that answers it distinguishes the several senses of some word or phrase in it, and shews in what sense it is true, and in what sense it is as evidently false.
Sect. IV.-Of the Definition of Things. As there is much confusion introduced into our ideas, by the means of those words to which they are affixed, so the mingling our ideas with each other without caution is a farther occasion whereby they become confused. A court lady, born and bred up amongst pomp and equipage, and the vain notions of birth and quality, constantly joins and mixes all these with the idea of herself, and she imagines these to be essential to her nature, and as it were necessary to her being; thence she is tempted to look upon menial servants and the lowest rank of inankind, as another species of beings quite distinct from herself. A ploughboy that has never travelled beyond his own village, and has seen nothing but thatched houses and his parish-church, is naturally led to imagine