Page images
PDF
EPUB

His discovery was, that as we can not think upon any

upon any abstract subject, without the use of abstract terms; and as in general we substitute the terms themselves, in thinking, as well as speaking, in the room of the complex ideas for which they stand; it is impossible we can think with precifion, till we first examine whether we have precise ideas annexed to such terms: and it is equally impossible to communicate our thoughts to others with exactness, unless we are first agreed in the exact meaning of our words.

,

ACCORDINGLY, this acute philosopher, entered into a fcrupulous examination of all the terms he used, for his own purpose, in private meditation ; and afterwards gave clear definitions of those terms, for the benefit of others, in communicating to them his thoughts. His labours were attended with success. It must be evidenţ to all who examine his works with care, that he has treated his subject with the utmost precision, and perspicuity; and that all who are properly qualified to read his effay, will, with due attention, agree in comprehending his meaning exactly in the same way.

But in this age of speculative philosophy, they who turn their thoughts to writings of that fort, seem to have no other object in view than that of merely acquiring knowlege; without once confidering how that knowlege may be rendered useful to society. From the mastery of one speculative point, they run to another, with the same kind of avidity, that misers pursue the accumulation of wealth; and much to the same end : the one, rejoicing in his hoard of concealed knowlege ; the other, in his heaps of hidden gold; tho' both are equally useless to themselves, and to the world.

Even Mr. Locke himself seems to have been so totally absorbed in pursuits of that fort, that he has not in any part of his works

8

pointed

pointed out to us, how his discoveries might turn out to the benefit of mankind, by any practical plan to try their effects. And accordingly, little or no advantage has hitherto resulted from them, excepting the satisfaction they have given, to men of a speculative turn.

AFTER having shewn that most errours in thinking arose from an abuse of words; and that most controversies and disputes, which have been carried on without coming to any conclusion, were owing to the want of clear and precise ideas being affixed to the terms used by the disputants ; the only remedy Mr. Locke suggests, is, that men should carefully examine the meaning of each word, and use it steadily in one sense. And that upon any difference of opinion, the parties should define such terms as are capable of ambiguity, or are of most importance in the argument.

But he might have judged from the great difficulty which he himself found in accomplishing this point, and from his own experience of the great care and pains it cost, to separate ideas from words to which they were early associated, and cemented by long use; that this was a task not likely to be performed by many. One would imagine that a philosopher, before he prescribed a cure, would have traced the disorder to its source. Nor had he far to seek for the source of our impropriety in the use of words, when he should reflect that the study of our own language, has never been made part of the education of our youth. Consequently the use of words is got wholly by chance, according to the company that we keep, or the books that we read. And if neither the companions with whom we converse, nor the authors whom we consult, are exact in the use of their words, I can not see how it is to be expected that we should arrive at any precision in that respect.

IF

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

IF then irregularity and disorder, in this case, as in all others, must necessarily follow from neglect, and leaving things to chance; regularity and order, as in all other cases, can proceed only from care and method. The way to have clear and precise ideas affixed to the use of words, would be to have mankind taught from their early days, by proper masters, the precise meaning of all the words

they use.

[ocr errors]

The rising generation, so instructed, would be uniform in the use of words, and would be able to communicate their ideas to each other, with ease and perspicuity. Nor would their understandings be clouded, in private meditation, by the mists of obscurity; nor their sentiments, when delivered in conversation, perplexed by the intanglements of verbal disputation. And this might easily be effected, if only a fourth part of that time were dedicated to the study of our own tongue, which is now wasted in acquiring a smattering in two dead languages, without proving either of use or ornament to one in a hundred so instructed.

It is true, Mr. Locke, in his Essay on Education, grievously
complains of our neglect of studying our mother-tongue. But he
lays the fault at the wrong door, when he imputes this neglect to
the masters of grammar schools, and tutors at the universities. This
is not part of their province. They neither profess to teach it, nor
do they know how. Nothing effectual can be done, without making
that a distinct branch of education, and encouraging proper masters
to follow it as their sole einployment, in the same way as the several
masters in the other branches do. And certainly whether we con-
sider the difficulty of the thing, or the great ends which might be
answered by it, the masters in that branch, ought to meet with as
great encouragement, as those in

any
other.

То

To the want of an institution of this sort is it owing, that Locke's noble Effay on the Human Understanding, has hitherto proved of so little benefit to the world. It has indeed afforded such a gratification to men of a speculative turn, as mathematical studies do to those, whose enjoyment is bounded by the mere contemplation of truth. But do, men think, or reason more clearly, than they did before the publication of that book ? Have we a more precise use of language, or are the number of verbal disputes leffened? Let those who have examined the many controversial writings fince published, say, whether the chief cause of these endless disputes be not still the same,an abuse of words.?

Upon the closest examination, indeed, it would appear, that little. or no benefit in point of practice, has resulted from a display in theory, of the only part of the human mind, which has hitherto been laid open with accuracy, upon principles of true philosophy.

But still there are two other parts of the human mind, with regard to which the world is at this day, as much in the dark, as they were with respect to the whole, previous to the publication of Mr. Locke's essay: The one, the seat of the passions; for which we have no name as existing in the mind, unphilosophically referring it to the organ

of sensation, the heart: the other, the seat of the fancy; which is called the imagination.

Upon a right regulation of these parts of the mind, and the faculties belonging to them, all that is noble and praise worthy, all that is elegant and delightful, in man, considered as a social being, chiefly depends. Yet so far are we from having any just view presented to us of those important parts of our internal frame; or any wellfounded knowlege of the principles by which the faculties belonging

[blocks in formation]

to them ought to be regulated ; that every day we see some new hypothesis advanced upon that subject, designed to overturn all that went before, and laying in the same claim, which all that preceded it had done, that of being the only right one.

[ocr errors]

The variety of treatises which have lately been published on the passions, and the number of essays on taste; in which the writers widely differ from each other in their principles, and are far from agreeing in their definitions or descriptions of them ; sufficiently Thew, how far we are still, from having any certain knowlege of that

part of our nature, to which these belong. And in this state must the world for ever continue, whilst the vanity of ingenious men shall prompt them to think, that they can do that by writing, which is beyond the power of writing to accomplish ; and whilst readers shall continue to search for that in books, which it is beyond the

power of books to teach. Nor are the writers of such treatises employed about a work less absurd, than would be that of endeavouring to communicate new simple ideas by definitions; or that of attempting to paint sounds.

All writers seem to be under the influence of one common delusion, that by the help of words alone, they can communicate all that paffus in their minds. They forget that the passions and the fancy have a language of their own, utterly independent of words, by which only their exertions can be manifested and communicated. Now if this language be wholly neglected by us; if we have taken no care to regulate its marks, or settle the use of them with any precision; it will follow that the difficulty will at least be as great, to treat with

accuracy
of those

parts

of the mind to which that language belongs, as it was of the understanding, previous to the

proper adjustment of words. But when added to this, it is considered that

« PreviousContinue »