Page images
PDF
EPUB

different names allotted to our sensation, and to the cause of it; as, we do not say, pain is in the fire that burns us, or in the knife that cuts and wounds us ; for we call it burning in the fire, cutting in the knife, and pain only when it is in ourselves.

Numerous instances of this kind might be derived frorn the words sweet, sour, loud, shrill, and almost all the sensible qualities, whose real natures we mistake from our very infancy, and we are ready to suppose them to be the same in us, and in the bodies that cause them ; partly because the words which fignify our own fensations are applied also to signify those unknown shapes and motions of the little corpuscles, which excite and cause those sensations. : · Direct. IV. In conversation or reading be diligent to find out the true sense, or distinct idea, which the speaker Br writer afixes to his words; and especially to those words which are the chief fubje&t of his discourse. As far as possible take heed, leit you put more or fewer ideas into one word, than the person did when he wrote or spoke ; and endeavour that your ideas of every word may be the same as his were ; then you will judge better of what he speaks or writes.

It is for want of this that men quarrel in the dark; and that there are so many contentions in the several fciences, and especially in divinity, multitudes of them arise from a mistake of the true sense or complete meaning, in which words are used by the writer or speaker; and hereby some times they seem to agree, when they really differ in their sentiments, and sometimes they seem to differ, when they really agree. Let me give an instance of both.

When one man by the word church shall understand all that believe in Christ; and another by the word church means only the church of Rome; they may both aflent to this proposition, there is no salvation out of the church, and yet their inward sentiments may be widely different.

Again, if one writer shall affirm tkat virtue added to faith is sufficient to make a christian, and another shall as zealously deny this propofition, they seem to differ widely in words, and yet perhaps they may both really agree in sentiment: if by the word virtue, the affirmer intends our whole duty to God and man; and the denier by the word virtue means only courage, or at most our duty towards our neighbour, without including in the idea of it tha duty which we owe to God., • Many such sort of contentions as these are, traced to their original, will be found to be mere logomachines, or strifes and quarrels about names and words, and vain janglings, as the apostle calls them in his first letter 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 fame subjects : we must considerin what sense the same author uses any particular word or phrase, and that when he is discoursing on the same matter, and espe. cially about the same parts or paragraphs of his writing : we must consider whether the word be used in a Itrict and limited, or in a large and general sense; whether in a literal, in a figurative, or in a prophetic sense; whether it has any fecondary 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 connection of that sentence with those that go before it, and thofe which follow it. By these and other methods we are to search out the definition of names, that is, 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 confiderable 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 wherefoever 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 fure always to keep the fame ideas, whenfoever we use the Jame words, unless we give due notice of the change. This will have a very large and happy influence, in securing not only others but ourselves too from confusion and mistake; for even writers and speakers themselves, fot 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 mathematia cians have so happily secured themselves and the scie ences which they have professed, from wrangling and controversy ; because whenfoever in the progress of their treatises they have occafion to use a new and unknown word; they always define it, and tell in what fenfe they shall take it; and in many of their writings you will find a heap of definitions at the very begins ning. Now if the writers of natural philosophy and morality had used the same accuracy and care, they had effectually secluded a multitude of noisy and fruits lefs debates out of their several provinces : nor had that sacred theme of divinity been perplexed with so many intricate disputes, nor the church of Christ been torn to pieces, by so many feets, and factions, if the words grace, faith, righteousness, repentance, justification, worship, church, bishop, prepoyter, &c. had been well defined, and their significations adjusted, as near as poslible, by the use of those words in the New Testament; or at least, if every writer had told us. at first in what fense he would use those words.

Direct. VI. In your own studies, as well as in the com, munication of your thoughts to others, merely for their ina formation, avoid ambiguous and equivocal terms as much as posible. Do not use such words as have two of three definitions of the name belonging to them, that is, 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 express, ing yourselves in figurative language, when there are any proper words that signify the lame 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 ambigu. eus 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 should always keep to the established meaning of them, unless great necessity require the alteration; for when any word has been used to signify an idea, that old idea will recur in the mind, when the word is heard or read, rather than any new idea which we may fasten to it. And this is one rea. son why the received definition of names should be changed as little as poffible.

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 evident necessity, or without present or previous notice, least 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 lefson, he can never excuse himself by saying ; that by the word learning he meant his breakfast, and by the word leffon 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 molt proper sense, as I have done, p. 75. in naming the poles of the loadstone, north or fouth.

And when a word has been used in two or three senses, and has made a great inroad for error upon that account, it is of good service to drop one or two of thote senses, and leave it only one remaining, and affix the other senses or ideas to other words. So the modern philosophers, when they they treat of the human

foul, 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 hint to this accuracy and distinction, when he says of brutes and men,

Indulsit mundi communis conditor illis
Tantum animas; nobis animum quoque.

Sat. xvi. V. 134.

Exception. There is one case, wherein some of these Jast 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 phrale, and long used it to express fome mistaken notion, or to unite some inconsistent ideas ; for then it is sometimes much easier to lead the world into truth by indulging their fondness for a phrase, and by assigning and applying new ideas and notions to their favourite word; and this is much fafer 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 fome words and phrafes which are less proper, may be continued in theology, while 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 there logical directions should gene. rally 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 afsigned to them : and also where one single name has sustained two or three ideas in time past, these new words may remove the

« PreviousContinue »