« ForrigeFortsæt »
Prejudices, or idols of this kind, are not, however, confined to what may be reckoned the pagan-age of philosophy. Not many years ago, an attempt was made to account for the phenemenon of gravitation, and the laws of vegetable and animal life, by means of galvanism and electricity. Truly it is a wise precept which Bacon delivers, that he who studies nature should distrust those things which he is accustomed to contemplate with delight.*
3. The Idols of the Forum or marketplace are considered, by Bacon, the most troublesome of all, being those prejudices which are imposed upon us by words. • In human life, or conversation,' says South, in one of his admirable discourses on this subject, 'Words stand for things; the common business of the world not being capable of being managed otherwise. For by these, men come to know one another's minds. By these, they covenant and confederate, they deal and traffick.'* If, therefore, words do not accurately express the things of which they are the signs, and men cannot be brought to agree about their meanings, all controversies will end where they ought to have begun—in questions and differences about words. If divines and moralists had first detected and exposed the ambiguity of such words as 'certain,' election,' "experience,' 'impossibility,' 'necessary,' 'person,' 'regeneration, and the like,t before they engaged in those discussions in which these terms are so often used, we should never have heard of so much wrangling and disputation-of so many sects and schisms.
* Novum Organum, Lib. 1, aph, 58.
* South, vol. 2, p. 334.
# For an able exposition of these and some other ambiguous terms, see Dr. Whately’s Logic, App. No. 1. A systematic work on this subject was suggested by Dr. Copleston to the late Dr. Parr, as one which his vast stores of erudition, and ready command of them, peculiarly fitted him to execute. This task, however, he never undertook. A hope has been held out that Dr. Copleston himself will employ his great talents and learning in this service. See his letter to Dr. Parr.Parr's Works, vol. 7, p. 66, and the Preface to his Discourses, xvi. How well he is qualified for such a task, his admirable Dissertation on Analogy abundantly shows.
As a remedy against this abuse of words, Bacon recommends that in all disputes, we should imitate the wisdom of mathematicians in defining our terms; so that others may know how we understand them, and whether they concur with us or no. Nevertheless,' he says, “these definitions cannot cure the evil; for definitions themselves consist of words, and words breed words; so that we must still have recourse to particular instances.'
Besides, it might be added, that the very circumstance of having, in the first place, defined our terms, is of itself calculated to engender an unimagined error. Thus, when a writer, in entering upon any discussion on the subject of political economy, for instance, begins by laying down an exact definition of such terms as 'value,' wealth,' labour,' and the like,—this is likely to beget a false security in his mind, that as he rightly defined his terms in the outset, so they will be properly used by him throughout; whereas, if his definitions do not correspond with the writer's ordinary use of the terms defined, but are rather the result of recent reflection, he will be continually liable, as he becomes interested in the discussion, to forget his definitions, and to recur to his former usage: just as a person when conversing in a foreign language with which he is not very familiar, will, when his passions are roused, unconsciously express himself in his vernacular tongue.
* Hobbes's remarks on this subject in his Leviathan, Part 1, chap. 4 and 5, coincide with those of his illustrious patron and friend; but the philosopher of Malmesbury enters more deeply into the discussion.
4. The Idols of the Theatre are the fourth and last class enumerated by Bacon; and are those deceptions or fallacies of the mind which have arisen from the dogmas or theories of different schools of philosophy. He gives to them this somewhat fanciful name, because, in his opinion, such theories are so many stage-plays, exhibiting only theatrical or imaginary views of nature. Convinced, as Bacon firmly was, that • Man, as the minister and interpreter of nature, is limited in act and understanding by his observation of the order of nature; and that neither his knowledge nor his power extends farther,'*—he at once rejects all systems whose foundations are not bottomed in experience; for though they may show much subtilty of speculation, yet, in practice, such fabrics of philosophy are of no substance or profit. These systems, says Bacon, are either sophistical, empirical, or superstitious:--sophistical, when experience having been but partially and carelessly consulted, they are principally built up with the untempered mortar of the mind ;-empirical,