« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
rather than authority. It is upon this foot that every son or daughter among mankind are required to believe that such and such persons are their parents, for they can never be informed of it but by the dictates of others. It is by testimony that we are to believe the laws of our country, and to pay all proper deference to the prince, and to ma. gistrates, in subordinate degrees of authority, though we did not actually see them chosen, crowned, or invested with their title and character. It is by testimony that we are necessitated to believe there is such a city as Canter. bury or York, though perhaps we have never been at ei. ther; that there are such persons as Papists at Paris and Rome, and that there are many sottish and cruel tenets in their religion. It is by testimony we believe that Christianity, and the books of the Bible, have been faithfully delivered down to us through many generations; that there was such a person as Christ our Saviour; that he wrought miracles, and died on the cross; that he rose again, and ascended to heaven.
The authority or testimony of men, if they are wise and honest, if they had full opportunities and capacities of knowing the truth, and are free from all suspicion of de. ceit in relating it, ought to sway our assent, especially when multitudes concur in the same testimony, and when there áre many other attending circumstances that raise the proposition which they dictate to the degree of moral certainty.
But in this very case, even in matters of fact, and affairs of history, we should not too easily give in to all the dictates of tradition, and the pompous pretences to the testimony of men, till we have fairly examined the several things which are necessary to make up a credible testimony, and to lay a just foundation for our belief. There are and have been so many falsehoods imposed upon mankind, with specious pretences of eye and ear witnesses, that should make us wisely cautious and justly suspicious of reports, where the concurrent signs of truth do not fairly appear, and especially where the matter is of considerable import
ance. And the less probable the fact testified is in itself, the greater evidence may we justly demand of the veracity of that testimony on which it claims to be admitted.
III. The last case wherein authority must govern us is, when we are called to believe what persons under inspiration have dictated to us. This is not properly the autho. rity of men, but of God himself; and we are obliged to be. lieve what that authority asserts, though our reason at present may not be able any other way to discover the certainty or evidence of the proposition: It is enough if our faculty of reason, in its best exercise, can discover the divine authority which has proposed it. Where doctrines of divine revelation are plainly published, together with sufficient, proofs of their revelation, all mankind are bound to receive them, though they cannot perfectly understand them ; for we know that God is true, and cannot dictate falsehood.
But if these pretended dictates are directly contrary to the natural faculties of understanding and reason which God has given us, we may be well assured these dictates were never revealed to us by God himself. When persons are really influenced by authority to believe pretended mysteries, in plain opposition to reason, and yet pretend reason for what they believe, this is but a vain amusement:
There is no reason whatsoever that can prove or establish any authority so firmly as to give it power to dictate in matters of belief what is contrary to all the dictates of our reasonable nature. God himself has never given us any such revelations; and I think it may be said, with reverence, he neither can nor will do it, unless he changes our faculties from what they are at present. To tell us we must believe a proposition which is plainly contrary to reason, is to tell us that we must believe two ideas ase joined, while (if we attend to reason) we plainly see and know them to Þe disjoined.
What could ever have established the nonsense of tran. substantiation in the world, if men had been fixed in this great truth, that God gives no revelation contradictory tą
our own reason? Things may be above our reason, that is, reason may have but obscure ideas of them, or reason may not see the connexion of these ideas, or may not know at present the certain and exact manner of reconciling such propositions either with one another, or with other rational truths, as I have explained in some of my logical papers : but when they stand directly and plainly against all sense and reason, as transubstantiation does, no divine authority can be pretended to enforce their belief, and human authority is impudent to pretend to it. Yet this human authority, in the Popish countries, has prevailed over millions of souls, because they have abandoned their reason, they have given up the glory of human nature to be trampled upon by knaves, and so reduced themselves to the condition of brutes.
It is by this amusement of authority (says a certain author), that the horse is taught to obey the words of command, a dog to fetch and carry, and a man to believe inconsistencies and impossibilities. Whips and dungeons, fire and the gibbet, and the solemn terrors of eternal misery after this life, will persuade weak minds to believe against their senses,
and in direct contradiction to all their reasoning powers. A parrot is taught to tell lies with much more ease and more gentle usage ; but none of all these creatures would serve their masters at the expence of their liberty, had they but knowledge, and the just use of reason.
I have mentioned three cases, wherein mankind must or will be determined in their sentiments by authority; that is, the case of children in their minority, in regard of the commands of their parents ; the case of all men with regard to universal, complete, and sufficient testimony of matter of fact ; and the case of every person, with regard to the authority of divine revelation, and of men divinely inspired; and under each of these I have given such limitations and cautions as were necessary.
I proceed now to mention some other cases, wherein we ought to pay a great deference to the authority and sentiments of others, though we are not absolutely concluded and determined by their opinions.
1. When we begin to pass out of our minority, and to judge for ourselves in matters of the civil and religious life, we ought to pay very great deference to the sentiments of our parents, who in the time of our minority were our natural guides and directors in these matters. So in matters of science, an ignorant and unexperienced youth should pay great deference to the opinions of his instructors; and though he may justly suspend his judgement in matters which his tutors dictate, till he perceive sufficient evidence for them, yet neither parents nor tutors should be directiy opposed without great and most evident reasons, such as constrain the understanding or conscience of those concerned.
2. Persons of years and long experience of human affairs, when they give advice in matters of prudence or civil conduct, ought to have a considerable deference paid to their authority by those that are young, and have not seen the world; for it is most probable that the elder persons are in the right.
3. In the affairs of practical godliness, there should be much deference given to persons of long standing in virtue and piety. I confess, in the particular forms and ceremonies of religion, there may be as much bigotry and superstition amongst the old as the young ; but in questions of inward religion, and pure devotion, or virtue, a man who has been long engaged in the sincere practice of those things is justly presumed to know more than a youth with all his ungoverned passions, appetites, and prejudices about him.
4. Men in their several professions and arts, in which they have been educated, and in which they have employed themselves all their days, must be supposed to have greater knowledge and skill than others; and therefore there is due respect to be paid to their judgement in those matters.
5. In matters of fact, where there is not sufficient testimony to constrain our assent, yet there ought to be due deference paid to the narratives of persons wise and sober,
according to the degrees of their honesty, skill, and opportunity to acquaint themselves therewith.
I confess, in many of these cases, where the proposition is a mere matter of speculation, and doth not necessarily draw practice along with it, we may delay our assent till better evidence appear; but where the matter is of a practical nature, and requires us to act one way or another, we ought to pay much deference to authority or testimony, and follow such probabilities where we have no certainty; for this is the best light we have; and surely it is better to follow such sort of guidance, where we can have no better, than to wander and Aluctuate in absolute uncertainty. It is not reasonable to put out our candle, and sit stili in the dark, because we have not the light of sun-beams.
CH A P. V.
Of treating and managing the Prejudices of Men IF
F we had nothing but the reason of men to deal with, and that reason were pure and uncorrupted, it would then be a .matter of no great skill or labour to convince another person of common mistakes, or to persuade him to assent to plain and obvious truths; but alas ! mankind stand wrapt round in errors, and intrenched in prejudices ; and every one of their opinions is supported and guarded by something else beside reason.
A young bright genius, who has furnished himself with a variety of truths and strong arguments, but is yet unacquainted with the world, goes forth from the schools like a knight errant, presuming bravely to vanquish the follies of men, and to scatter light and truth through all his acquaintance, but he meets with huge giants and enchanted castles, strong prepossessions of minds, habits, customs, education, authority, interest, together with all the various passions of men, armed and obstinate to defend their
* For the nature and causes of prejudices, and for the preventing or curing them in ourselves, see the Doctor's System of Logic, part IL chap. ii. Of ihe springs of false judgement, or the doctrine of prejudices.