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I MPR O V E MENT
M I N D.
DIRECTIONS FOR THE ATTAINMENT OF USEFUL KNOWLEDGE,
No man is obliged to learn and know every thing ; this tan neither be sought nor required, for it is utterly impossible: yet all persons are under some obligation to improve their own understanding, otherwise it will be a barren desert, or a forest overgrown with weeds and brambles. Universal ignorance or infinite errors will overspread the mind which is utterly neglected, and lies without any cultivation.
Skill in the sciences is indeed the business and profession but of a small part of mankind ; but there are many others placed in such an exalted rank in the world, as allows them much leisure and large opportunities to cultivate their reason, and to beautify and enrich their minds with various knowledge. Even the lower orders of men have particular callings in life, wherein they ought to aca quire a just degree of skill, and this is not to be done well without thinking and reasoning about them.
The common duties and benefits of society, which belong to every man living, as we are social creatures, and even our native and necessary "relations to a family, a
neighbourhood, or a government, oblige all persons whatsoever to use their reasoning powers upon a thousand occasions; every hour of life calls for some regular exercise of our judgement as to times and things, persons and actions; without a prudent and discreet determination in matters before us, we shall be plunged into perpetual errors in our conduct. Now that which should always be practised must at some time be learnt.
Besides, every son and daughter of Adam has a most important concern in the affairs of a life to come, and therefore it is a matter of the highest moment for every one to understand, to judge, and to reaso' rightly about the things of religion. It is in vain for any to say, we have no leisure or time for it. The daily intervals of time, and vacancies from necessary labour, together with the one day in seven in the Christian world, allows sufficient time for this, if men would but apply themselves to it with half as much zeal and diligence as they do to the trifles and amusements of this life ; and it would turn to infinitely better account.
Thus it appears to be the necessary duty and the interest of every person living to improve his understanding, to inform his judgement, to treasure up useful knowledge, and to acquire the skill of good reasoning, as far as his station, capacity, and circumstances, furnish him with proper means for it. Our mistakes in judgement may plunge us into much folly and guilt in practice. By acting without thought or reason, we dishonour the God that made us reasonable creatures; we often become injurious to our neighbours, kindred, or friends, and we bring sin and misery upon ourselves : For we are accountable to God, our Judge, for every part of our irregular and mistaken conduct, where he hath given us sufficient advantages to guard against those mistakes.
It is the design of Logic to give this improvement to the mind, and to teach us the right use of reason in the acquirement and communication of all useful knowledge : though the greatest part of writers on that subject have turned it into a composition of hard words, trifles, and subtilties for
the mere use of the schools, and that only to amuse the minds and the ears of men with empty sounds, which flatter their vanity, and puff up their pride with a pompous and glittering shew of false learning : and thus they have perverted the great and valuable design of that science.
A few modern writers have endeavoured to recover the honour of Logic, since that excellent author of the Art of Thinking led the way: Among the rest I have presumed to make an attempt of the same kind, in a treatise published several years ago, wherein it was my constant aim to assist the reasoning powers of every rank and order of men, as well as to keep an eye to the best interest of the schools and the candidates of true learning. There I have endeavoured to shew the mistakes we are exposed to in our conception, judgement, and reasoning, and pointed to the various springs of them. I have also laid down many general and particular rules how to escape error, and attain truth in matters of the civil and religious life, as well as in the sciences.
But there are several other observations very pertinent to this purpose, which have not fallen so directly under any of those heads of discourse, or at least they would have swelled that treatise to an improper size; and therefore I have made a distinct collection of them here out of various authors, as well as from my own observation, and set them down under the following heads.
The learned world, which has done so much unmerited honour to that logical treatise, as to receive it into our two flourishing universities, may possibly admit this' as a second part or supplement to that treatise. And I may venture to persuade myself, that if the common and the busy ranks of mankind, as well as the scholar and the gentleman, would but transcribe such rules into their understanding, and practise them upon all occasions, there would be much more truth and knowledge found among men; and it is reasonable to hope, that justice, virtue, and goodness, would attend as the happy consequents.
General Rules for the improvement of Knowledge
EEPLY possess your mind with the vast importance of a good judgement, and the rich and inestimable advantage of right reasoning. Review the instances of your own misconduct in life; think seriously with yourselves how many follies and sorrows you had escaped, and how much guilt and misery you had prevented, if, from your early years, you
had but taken due pains to judge aright concerning persons, times, and things. This will awaken you with lively vigour to address yourselves to the work of improving your reasoning powers, and seizing every opportunity and advantage for that end.
II. Rule. CONSIDER the weaknesses, frailties, and mistakes of human nature in general, which arise from the very constitution of a soul united to an animal body, and subjected to many inconveniences thereby. Consider the many additional weaknesses, mistakes, and frailties, which are derived from our original apostasy and fall from a state of innocence; how much our powers of understanding are yet more darkened, enfeebled, and imposed upon by our senses, our fancies, and our unruly passions, &c. Consider the depth and difficulty of many truths, and the flattering appearances of falsehood, whence arises an infinite variety of dangers to which we are exposed in our judgement of things. Read with greediness those authors that treat of the doctrine of prejudices, prepossessions, and springs of error, on pur-' pose to make your soul watchful on all sides, that it suffer
* Though the most of these following rules are chiefly addressed to those whom their fortune or their station require to addict themselves to the peculiar improvement of their minds in greater degrees of knowledge, yet everyone who has leisure and opportunity to be acquainted with such writings as these may find something among them for their own use.
not itself as far as possible to be imposed upon by any of them. See more on this subject, Logic, part II. chap. 3. and part III. chap. 3.
III. Rule. A SLIGHT view of things sör komentous is not sufficient. You should therefore contrive and I tactise some proper methods to acquaint yourself with your own ignorance, and to impress your mind with a deep and painful sense of the low and imperfect degrees of your present knowledge, that you may be incited with labour and activity to pursue after greater measures. Among others you may find some such methods as these successful.
1. Take a wide survey now and then of the vast and unlimited regions of learning. Let your meditations run over the names of all the sciences, with their numerous branches, . and innumerable particular themes of knowledge; and then reflect how few of them you are acquainted with in any to. lerable degree. The most learned of mortals will never find occasion to act over again what is fabled of Alexander the Great, that when he had conquered what was called the Eastern World, he wept for want of more worlds to conquer.
The worlds of science are immense and endless. 2. Think what a numberless variety of questions and difficulties there are belonging even to that particular science in which you have made the greatest progress, and how few of them there are in which you have arrived at a final and undoubted certainty ; excepting only those questions in the pure and simple mathematics, whose theorems are demonstrable, and leave scarcely any doubt ; and yet, even in the pursuit of some few of these, mankind have been strangely bewildered.
3. Spend a few thoughts sometimes on the puzzling inquiries concerning vacuums and atoms, the doctrine of inin finites, indivisibles, and incommensurables in geometry, wherein there appear some insolvable difficulties: Do this on purpose to give you a more sensible impression of the poverty of your understanding, and the imperfection of your knowledge. This will teach you what a vain thing it is to