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Besides all this, there is a fashion in opinions, ibere is a fashion in writing and printing, in style and language... In our day it is the vogue of the nation, that parliaments may settle the
succession of the crown, and that a people can make a king, in the last age this was a doctrine a-kin to treason. Citations from the Latin
poets were an embellishment of style in the last century, and whole pages in that day, were covered with them; it is now forbidden by custom, and exposed by the name of pedantry; whereas in truth both these are extremes. Sometimes our.printed books shall abound in capitals, and sometimes reject them all. Now we deal much in essays, and most unreasonably despise systematic learning, whereas our fathers had a jast value for regularity and systems; then folios and quartos were the fashionable sizes, as volumes in octavo are now. We are ever ready to run into extremes, and yet custom still persuades us that reason and pature are on our side.
This business of the fashion has a most powerful influence on our judgments; for it employs those two strong engines of fear and shame to operate upon our understandings with unhappy success. We are ashamed to believe or profess an unfashionable opinion in philosophy, and a cowardly soul dares not so much as indulge a thought contrary to the established or fashionable faith, nor act in opposition to custom, though it be according to the dictates of reason. I confess, there is a respect due to mankind, which should incline even the wisest of men to follow the innocent customs of their country in the outward practices of civil life, and in some measure to submit to fashion in all indifferent affairs, where reason and scripture make no remonstrances against it. But the judgments of the mind ought to be for ever free, and not biassed by the customs and fashions of any age or nation whatsoever.
To deliver our understandings from this danger and slavery, we should consider these three things :-
1. That the greatest part of the civil customs of any particular pation or age, spring from humour rather than reason.Sometimes the bumour of the prince prevails, and sometimes the humour of the people. It is either the great or she many who dictate the fashion, and these have not always the highest reason on their side.
2. Consider also that the customs of the same nation in different ages, the customs of different nations in the same age, and the customs of different towns and villages in the same nation, are very various and contrary to each other. The fushionable learning, language, sentiments, and rules of politeness, differ greatly in different countries and ages of mankind, but truth and reason are of a more uniforın and steady nature, and do not change with the fashion. Upon this account tu cure the prepossessions which arise from custom, it is of excellent use to travel, and see the customs of various countries, and to read the travels of other men, and the bistory of past ages, that every thing may not seem strange and unrouth which is not practised within the limits of our own parish, or in the narrow space of our own lifetime.
3. Consider yet again, how often we ourselves have changed our own opinions concerning the decency, propriety, or cougruity of several modes or practices in the world, especially if we have lived to the age of thirty or forty. Custoin or fashion, even in all its changes, has been ready to have some degree of ascendency over our understandings, and what at one time seeined decent, appears obsolete and disagreeable afterward, when the fashion changes. Let us learn therefore to abstract az much as possible from custom and fashion, when we woulu pass a judgment concerning the real value and intrinsic nature of things.
III. The authority of men, is the spring of another rank of prejudices.
Among these, the authority of our forefathers and ancient authors is most remarkable. We pay deference to the opinion of others, merely because they lived a thousand years before us; and even the trisses and impertinencies that have a mark of antiquity upon them are reverenced for this reason, because they came from the ancients. It is granted that the ancients had many wise and great men among them, and some of their writings, which time had delivered down to us, are truly valuable ; but those writers lived rather in the infant state of the world ; and the philosopliers, as well as the polite authors of our age, are properly the elders, who have seen the mistakes of the younger ages of mankind, and corrected them by observation and experience. Some borrow all their religion from the fathers of the Christian church; or froin their synods or councils; but he that will read Monsieur Daille on the use of the fathers, will find many reasons why they are by no means fit to dictate our faith, since we have the gospel of Christ, and the writings of the Apostles and Prophets in our own hands.
Some persons believe every thing that their kindred, their parents, and their tutors believe. The veneration and the love which they have for their ancestors, incline them to swallow down all their opinions at once, without examining what truth or falsehood there is in them. Men take up their principles by inheritance, and defend them as they would their estates, because they are born heirs to them. I freely grayt, that parents are appointed by God and nature to teach us all the sentiments and practices of our younger years; and happy are those whose parents lead them into the paths of wisdom and truth! I grant farther, that when persons come to years of discretion, and judge for themselves, they ought to examine the opinions of their parents, with the greatest modesty, and with an humble deference to their superior character ; they ought, in matters perfectly du: bious, to give the preference to their parents' advice, and always to pay them the first respect, nor ever depart from their opinions and practice, till reason and conscience make it necessary. But after all, it is possible that parents may be mistaken, and therefore reason and scripture ought to be our final rules of determination in matters that relate to this world, and that which is to come.
Sometimes a favourite author, or a writer of great name; drags a thousand followers after bim into his own mistakes, merely by the authority of his name and character. The sentiments of Aristotle were imbibed and maintained by all the schools in Europe for several centuries; and a citation from his writings was thought a sufficient proof of any proposition. The great Descartes had also too many implicit believers in the last age, though he himself, in his philosophy, disclaims all such influence over the minds of his readers. Calvin and Luther, in the days of reformation from Popery, were learned and pious men, and there have been a succession of their disciples even to this day, who pay too much reverence to the words of their masters. There are others who renounce their authority, but give themselves up in too servile a manner to the opinion and authority of other masters, and follow as bad or worse guides in religion.
If only learned, and wise, and good men har influence on the sentiments of others, it would be at least a more excusable sort of prejudice, and there would be some colour and shadow of reason for it; but that riches, honours, and outward splendour should set up persons for dictators to all the rest of mankind; this is a most shameful invasion of the right of our understandings on the one hand, and as shameful a slavery of the soul on the other. The poor man, or the labourer, too often believes such a principle in politics, or in morality, and judges concerning the rights of the king and the people, just as his wealthy neighbour does. Half the parish follows the opinion of the Esquire, and the tenants of a manor fall into the sentiments, of their Lord, especially if he lives amongst them. How unreasonable and yet low common is this !
As for principles of religion, we frequently find how they are taken up and forsaken, changed and resumed by the influence of princes.' In all nations the priests have much power also in dictating the religion of the people, but the princes dictate 10 them; and where there is a great pomp and grandeur attending the pricsthood in any religion whatsoever, with so much the more
reverence and stronger faith do the people believe whatever they teach them; yet it is too often evident, that riches, and dominions, and high titles in church or state, have no manner of pretence to truth and certainty, wisdom and goodness, above the rest of mortals, because these superiorities in this world are not always conferred according to merit.
I confess, where a man of wisdom and years, of observation and experience, gives us his opinion and advice in matters of the civil or the moral life ; reason tells us we should pay a great attention to him, and it is probable he may be in the right. Where a man of long exercise in piety speaks of practical religion, there is a due deference to be paid to his sentiments; and the same wc may say concerning an ingenious man long versed in any art or science, he may justly expect due regard when he speaks of his own affairs and proper business. But in other things each of these may be ignorant enough, notwithstanding all their piety and years, and particular skill; nor even in their own proper province are they to be believed in every thing without reserve, and without examination.
To free ourselves from these prejudices, it is sufficient to remember, that there is no rank nor character among mankind, which has any just pretence to sway the judgments of other men by their authority; for there have been persons of the saine rank and character who have maintained different and contrary sentiments; but all these can never be true, and therefore the mere name or reputation that any of them possesses, is not a sufficient evidence of truth.
Shall we believe the ancients in philosophy? But some of the ancients were Stoics, some Peripatetics, some Platonics, and some Epicureans, some Cynics, and some Sceptics. Shall we judge of matters of the Christian faith by the fathers, or primitive writers, for three or four bundred years after Christ But they often contradicted one another, and themselves too; and what is worse, they sometimes contradicted the scripture itself. Now among all these different and contrary sentiments in philosophy and religion, which of the ancients must we believe, for we cannot believe them all?
Again, To believe in all things as our predecessors did, is the ready way to keep mankind in an everlasting state of infancy, and to lay an eternal bar against all the improveinents of our reason and our happiness. Had the present age of philosophers satisfied themselves with the substantial forms and occult qualities of Aristotle, with the solid spheres, eccentrics, and epicycles of Ptolemy, and the ancient astronomers; then the great Lord Bacon, Copernicus, and Descartes, with the greater Sir Isaac Newton, Mr. Locke, and Mr. Boyle, had risen in our world in vain, We must have blundered on still in successi ve ge
nerations among absurdities and thick darkness, and a hundred useful inventions for the happiness of human life had never been known.
Thus it is in maiters of philosophy and science. But you will say shall not our own ancestors determine our judgment in matters of civil or religious concernment? If they must, then the child of a heuthen must believe that heathenism is truth; the son of a Papist must assent to all the absurdities of Popery : the posterity of the Jews and Socinians must for ever be Socinians and Jews: and a man whose father was of republican principles, must make a succession of republicans in his family to the end of the world. If we ought always to believe whatsoever our parents, or our priests, or our privces believe, the inliabitants of China ought to worship their own idols, and the savages of Africa ought to believe all the nonsense, and practise the idolatry of their negro fathers and kings. The British nation, when it was heathen, could never have become christian; and 'when it was a slave to Rome, it could never have been reforined.
Besides, let us consider, that the great God, our common Maker, has never given one man's understanding a legal and rightful sovereignty to determine truths for others, at least after they are past the state of childhood or minority. No single persons, how learned and wise, and great soever, or whatsoever natural, or ciril, or ecclesiastical relation he may have to us, can claim this dominion over our faith. St. Paul the Apostle, in his private capacity, would not do it; nor hath an inspired man any such authority, until he makes his divine commission appear. Our Saviour himself tells the Jews, that if he had not done such wondrous works among them they had not sinned in disbelieving his doctrines, and refusing him for the Messiah. No bishop, or presbyter, no synod, or council, no church or assembly of men, since the days of inspiration, hath power derived to them from God, to make creeds or articles of faith for us, and impose them upon our understandings. We must all act according io the best of our own light, and the judgment of our own consciences, using the best advantages which Providence hath given us, with an honest and impartial diligence to enquire and search out the truth: for every one of us must give an account of himself to God. 'To believe as the church, or the court believes, is but a sorry and a dangerous faith : this principle would make more heathens than Christians, and more Papists than Protestants; and perhaps lead more souls to hell than to heaven; for our Saviour himself has plainly told us, that if the blind will be led by the blind they must both fall into the ditch.
Though there may be so much danger of error arising from the three prejudices last mentioned, yet before I disiniss this head, I thiuk it proper to take notice, that as education, custom,