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polite conversation, than like noisy and contentious wranglers.
8. If the opponent sees victory to incline to his side, let him be content to shew the force of his argument to the intelligent part of the company, without too importunate and petulant demands of an answer, and without insulting over his antagonist, or putting the modesty of the respondent to the blush. Nor let the respondent triumph over the opponent, when he is silent, and replies no more. On which side soever victory declares herself, let neither of them
manage with such unpleasing and insolent airs, as to awaken those evil passions of pride, anger, shame, or resentment on either side, which alienate the mind from truth, render it obstinate in the defence of an error, and never suffer it to part with any of its old opinions..
In short, when truth evidently appears on either side, let them learn to yield to conviction. When either party is at a nonplus, let them confess the difficulty, and desire present assistance, or further time and retirement to consider of the matter, and not rack their present invention to find out little shifts to avoid the force and evidence of truth.
9. Might it not be a safer practice, in order to attain the best ends of disputation, and to avoid some of the ill effects of it, if the opponents were sometimes engaged on the side of truth, and produced their arguments in opposition to error ? And what if the respondent was appointed to sup
error, and defend it as well as he could, till he was forced to yield, at least to those arguments of the opponents, which appear to be really just, and strong, and unanswerable ?
In this practice, the thesis of the respondent should only be a fair stating of the question, with some of the chief objections against the truth proposed and solved.
Perhaps this practice might not so easily be perverted and abused to raise a cavilling, disputative, and sceptical temper in the minds of youth. I confess, in this method which I now propose, there
would be one among the students, viz. the respondent, always engaged in the support of supposed error ; but all the rest would be exercising their talents in arguing for the supposed truth : whereas, in the common methods of disputation in the schools, especially where the students are numerous, each single student is perpetually employed to oppose the truth, and vindicate error, except once in a long time, when it comes to his turn to be respondent.
10. Upon the whole, it seems necessary that these méthods of disputation should be learnt in the schools, in order to teach students better to defend truth, and to refute error, both in writing and conversation, where the scholastic forms are utterly neglected. . But after all, the advantage which youth may gain by disputations depends much on the tutor or moderator: he should manage with such prudence, both in the disputation, and at the end of it, as to make all the disputants know the very point of controversy wherein it consists; he should manifest the fallacy of sophistical objections, and confirm the solid arguments and answers. This might teach students how to make the art of disputation useful for the searching out the truth, and the defence of it, that it may not be learnt and practised only as an art of wrangling, which reigned in the schools several hundred years, and divested the growing reason of youth of its best hopes and improvements.
I. It has been proved and established in some of the foregoing chapters, that neither our own observations, nor our read. ing the labours of the learned, nor the attendance on the best lectures of instruction, nor enjoying the brightest conversation, can ever make a man truly knowing and wise, without the labours of his own reason in surveying, exa
mining, and judging concerning all subjects upon the best evidence he can acquire. A good genius, or sagacity of thought, a happy judgement, a capacious memory, and large opportunities of observation and converse, will do much of themselves towards the cultivation of the mind, where they are well improved : but where, to the advantage of learned lectures, living instructions, and well chosen books diligence and study are superadded, this man has all human aids concurring to raise him to a superior degree of wisdom and knowledge.
Under the preceding heads of discourse, it has been already declared how.our own meditation and reflection should examine, cultivate, and improve all other methods and advantages of enriching the understanding. What remains in this chapter is to give some further occasional hints how to employ our own thoughts, what sort of subjects we should meditate on, and in what manner we should regulate our studies, and how we may improve our judgement, so as in the most effectual and compendious way to attain such knowledge as may be most useful for every man in his circumstances of life, and particularly for those of the learned professions.
II. The first direction for youth is this, learn betimes to distinguish between words and things. Get clear and plain ideas of the things you are set to study. Do not content yourselves with mere words and names, lest your laboured improvements only amass a heap of unintelligible phrases, and you feed upon husks instead of kernels. This rule is of infinite use in every science.
But the greatest and most common danger is in the sacred science of theology, where settled terms and phrases have been pronounced divine and orthodox, which yet have had no meaning in them. The scholastic divinity would furnish us with numerous instances of this folly : and yet for many ages, all truth and all heresy have been determined by such senseless tests, and by words without ideas; such shibboleths as these have decided the secular fates of
men ; and bishoprics, or burning mitres, or faggots, have been the rewards of different persons, according as they pronounced these consecrated syllables, or not pronounced them. To defend them, was all piety, and pomp, and triumph; to despise them, to doubt or deny them, was torture and death. A thousand thank-offerings are due to that Providence which has delivered our age and our nation from these absurd iniquities ! O that every specimen and shadow of this madness were banished from our schools and churches in every shape!
III. LET not young students apply themselves to search out deep, dark, and abstruse matters, far above their reach, or spend their labour on any peculiar subjects, for which they have not the advantages of necessary antecedent learning, or books, or observations. Let them not be too hasty to know things above their present powers, nor plunge their inquiries at once into the depths of knowledge, nor begin to study any science in the middle of it; this will confound rather than enlighten the understanding : such practices may happen to discourage and jade the mind by an attempt above its power, it may balk the understanding : and create an aversion to future diligence, and perhaps, by despair, may forbid the pursuit of that subject for ever afterwards ; as a limb overstrained by lifting a weight above its power may never recover its former agility and vigour, or if it does, the man may be frightened from ever exerting his strength again.
IV. Nor yet let any student on the other hand frighten himself at every turn with insurmountable difficulties, nor imagine that the truth is wrapt up in impenetrable darkness. These are formidable spectres which the understanding raises sometimes to flatter its own laziness. Those things which, in a remote and confused view, seem very obscure and perplexed, may be approached by gentle and regular steps, and may then unfold and explain themselves at large to the eye. The hardest problems in geometry, and the most intricate schemes or diagrams, may be explicated and
understood step by step: every great mathematician bears a
V. In learning any new thing, there should be as little as
Mathon happened to dip into the two last chapters of a new book of geometry and mensurations ; as soon as he saw it, and was frightened with the complicated diagrams which he found there, about the frustums of cones and pyramids, &c. and some deep demonstrations among conic sections, he shut the book again in despair, and imagined none but Sir Isaac Newton was ever fit to read it. But his tutor happily persuaded him to begin the first pages about lines and angles; and he found such surprising pleasure in three weeks time in the victories he daily obtained, that at last he became one of the chief geometers of his age.
VI. ENGAGE not the mind in the intense pursuit of too many things at once, especially such as have no relation to one another. This will be ready to distract the understanding, and hinder it from attaining perfection in any one subject of study. Such a practice gives a slight smattering of several sciences, without any solid and substantial knowledge of them, and without any real and valuable improvement; and though two or three sorts of study may be usually carried on at once, to entertain the mind with varie. ty, that it may not be over-tired with one sort of thoughts, yet a multitude of subjects will too much distract the at. tention, and weaken the application of the mind to any one of them,