Page images
PDF
EPUB

ing our sentiments : namely, we must bring men tuated by chance; and Heraclitus said well that to particulars, and their regular series and order, men search for knowledge in lesser worlds, and and they must for a while renounce their notions not in the greater or common world. and begin to form an acquaintance with things.] 43. There are also idols formed by the recipro

37. Our method and that of the skeptics agree cal intercourse and society of man with man, in some respects at first setting out: but differ which we call idols of the market, from the commost widely and are completely opposed to each merce and association of men with each other. other in their conclusion. For they roundly For men converse by means of language; but assert that nothing can be known; we, that but words are formed at the will of the generality; a small part of nature can be known by the pre- and there arises from a bad and unapt formation sent inethod. Their next step, however, is to de- of words a wonderful obstruction to the mind. stroy the authority of the senses and understand- Nor can the definitions and explanations, with ing, whilst we invent and supply them with which learned men are wont to guard and protect assistance.

themselves in some instances, afford a complete 38. The idols and false notions which have remedy: words still manifestly force the underalready preoccupied the human understanding, standing, throw every thing into confusion, and and are deeply rooted in it, not only to beset lead mankind into vain and innumerable contromen's minds, that they become difficult of access, versies and fallacies. but, even when access is obtained, will again 44. Lastly, there are idols which have crept meet and trouble us in the instauration of the into men's minds from the various dogmas of sciences, unless mankind, when forewarned, peculiar systems of philosophy, and also from the guard themselves with all possible care against perverted rules of demonstration, and these we them.

denominate idols of the theatre. For we regard 39. Four species of idols beset the human all the systems of philosophy hitherto received or mind : to which (for distinction's sake) we have imagined, as so many plays brought out and perassigned names : calling the first idols of the formed, creating fictitious and theatrical worlds. tribe; the second idols of the den; the third Nor do we speak only of the present systems, or idols of the market; the fourth idols of the of the philosophy and sects of the ancients, since theatre,

numerous other plays of a similar nature can be 40. The formation of notions and axioms on still composed and made to agree with each other, the foundation of true induction, is the only fitting the causes of the most opposite errors being generemedy, by which we can ward off and expel rally the same. Nor, again, do we allude merely these idols. It is, however, of great service to to general systems, but also to many elements point them out. For the doctrine of idols bears and axioms of sciences, which have become inthe same relation to the interpretation of nature, veterate by tradition, implicit credence, and nego as that of confutation of sophisms does to com- lect. We must, however, discuss each species mon logic.

of idols more fully and distinctly, in order to guard , 41. The idols of the tribe are inherent in hu- the human understanding against them. man nature, and the very tribe or race of man. 45.* The human understanding, from its pecuFor man's sense is falsely asserted to be the liar nature, easily supposes a greater degree of standard of things. On the contrary, all the per-order and equality in things than it really finds; ceptions, both of the senses and the mind, bear and although many things in nature be sui genereference to man, and not to the universe, and the ris, and most irregular, will yet invent parallels human mind resembles those uneven mirrors, and conjugates, and relatives, where no such thing which impart their own properties to different is. Hence the fiction, that all celestial bodies objects, from which rays are emitted, and distort were in perfect circles, thus rejecting entirely and disfigure them.

spiral and serpentine lines, (except as explanatory 42. The idols of the den are those of each terms.) Hence, also, the element of fire is inindividual. For every body (in addition to the troduced with its peculiar orbit, to keep square errors common to the race of man) has his own with those other three which are objects of our individual den or cavern, which intercepts and senses. The relative rarity of the elements (as corrupts the light of nature ; either from his own they are called) is arbitrarily made to vary in tenpeculiar and singular disposition, or from his fold progression, with many other dreams of education and intercourse with others, or from the like nature. Nor is this folly confined to his reading, and the authority acquired by those theories, but it is to be met with even in simple whom he reverences and admires, or from the notions. different impressions produced on the mind, as it 46. The human understanding, when any probappens to be preoccupied and predisposed, or position has been once laid down, (either from equable and tranquil, and the like: so that the general admission and belief, or from the pleasure spirit of man (according to its several dispositions) is variable, confused, and as it were ac Hence to Aphorism 53 treats of the idols of the tribe

it affords,) forces every thing else to add fresh generalities in nature must be positive, just as support and confirmation; and although more they are found, and in fact not causable, yet, the cogent and abundant instances may exist to the human understanding, incapable of resting, seeks contrary, yet either does not observe or despises for something more intelligible. Thus, however, them, or gets rid of and rejects them by some whilst aiming at further progress, it falls back to distinction, with violent and injurious prejudice, what is actually less advanced, namely, final rather than sacrifice the authority of its first con- causes; for they are clearly more allied to man's clusions. It was well answered by him who was own nature than the system of the universe; shown in a temple the votive tablets suspended and from this source they have wonderfully corby such as had escaped the peril of shipwreck, rupted philosophy. But he would be an unski). and was pressed as to whether he would then ful and shallow philosopher, who should seek recognise the power of the gods, by an inquiry; for causes in the greatest generalities, and not “ But where are the portraits of those who have be anxious to discover them in subordinate obperished in spite of their vows ?" All supersti-jects. tion is much the same, whether it be that of 49. The human understanding resembles not astrology, dreams, omens, retributive judgment, a dry light, but admits a tincture of the will and or the like; in all of which the deluded believers passions, which generate their own system acobserve events which are fulfilled, but neglect cordingly: for man always believes more readily and pass over their failure, though it be much that which he prefers. He, therefore, rejects more common. But this evil insinuates itself difficnlties for want of patience in investigation; still more craftily in philosophy and the sciences; sobriety, because it limits his hope; the depths in which a settled maxim vitiates and governs of nature, from superstition; the light of experievery other circumstance, though the latter be ment, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind much more worthy of confidence. Besides, even should appear to be occupied with common and in the absence of that eagerness and want of varying objects; paradoxes, from a fear of the thought, (which we have mentioned,) it is the opinion of the vulgar; in short, his feelings imbue peculiar and perpetual error of the human under- and corrupt his understanding in innumerable and standing to be more moved and excited by affirma- sometimes imperceptible ways. tives than by negatives, whereas it ought duly 50. But by far the greatest impediment and and regularly to be impartial ; nay, in establishing aberration of the human understanding proceeds any true axiom, the negative instance is the most from the dulness, incompetency, and errors of the powerful

senses : since whatever strikes the senses pre47. The human understanding is most excited ponderates over every thing, however superior

, by that which strikes and enters the mind at once which does not immediately strike them. Hence and suddenly, and by which the imagination is contemplation mostly ceases with sight; and a immediately filled and inflated. It then begins very scanty, or perhaps no regard is paid to inalmost imperceptibly to conceive and suppose visible objects. The entire operation, therefore, that every thing is similar to the few objects of spirits enclosed in tangible bodies is concealed which have taken possession of the mind; whilst and escapes us. All that more delicate change it is very slow and unfit for the transition to the of formation in the parts of coarser substances remote and heterogeneous instances, by which (vulgarly called alteration, but in fact a change axioms are tried as by fire, unless the office be of position in the smallest particles) is equally imposed upon it by severe regulations, and a unknown; and yet, unless the two matters we powerful authority.

have mentioned be explored and brought to light

, 48. The human understanding is active and no great effect can be produced in nature

. Again, cannot halt or rest, but even, though without the very nature of common air, and all bodies of effect, still presses forward. Thus we cannot less density (of which there are many) is almost conceive of any end or external boundary of the unknown. For the senses are weak and erring, world, and it seems necessarily to occur to us, nor can instruments be of great use in extending that there must be something beyond. Nor can their sphere or acuteness; all the better interpre, we imagine how eternity has flowed on down to tations of nature are worked out by instances, and the present day, since the usually received dis- fit and apt experiments, where the senses only tinction of an infinity, a parte ante and a parte judge of the experiment, the experiment of nature post, cannot hold good : for it would thence follow and the thing itself. that one infinity is greater than another, and also

51. The human understanding is, by its owa that infinity is wasting away and tending to an nature, prone to abstraction, and supposes that end. There is the same difficulty in considering which is fluctuating to be fixed. But it is better the infinite divisibility of lines, arising from the to dissect than abstract nature; such was the weakness of our minds, which weakness inter- method employed by the school of Democritus

, feres to still greater disadvantage with the dis- which made greater progress in penetrating nature covery of causes.

For, although the greatest than the rest. It is best to consider matter, its!

conformation, and the changes of that conforma- i cular conjuncture of time, which is uncertain, but tion, its own action, and the law of this action or in the light of nature and experience, which is motion, for forms are a mere fiction of the human eternal. Such factions, therefore, are to be ab- 1 mind, unless you will call the laws of action by jured, and the understanding must not allow them that name. Such are the idols of the tribe, which to hurry it on to assent. arise either from the uniformity of the constitution 57. The contemplation of nature and of bodies of man's spirit, or its prejudices, or its limited in their individual form distracts and weakens the faculties, or restless agitation, or from the inter- understanding: but the contemplation of nature ference of the passions, or the incompetency of and of bodies in their general composition and the senses, or the mode of their impressions. formation stupifies and relaxes it. We have a

53. The idols* of the den derive their origin good instance of this in the school of Leucippus from the peculiar nature of each individual's mind and Democritus compared with others : for they and body; and also from education, habit, and applied themselves so much to particulars as accident. And although they be various and almost to neglect the general structure of things, manifold, yet we will treat of some that require whilst the others were so astounded whilst gazing the greatest caution, and exert the greatest power on the structure, that they did not penetrate the in polluting the understanding.

simplicity of nature. These two species of con54. Some men become attached to particular templation must therefore be interchanged, and sciences and contemplations, either from sup- each employed in its turn, in order to render the posing themselves the authors and inventors of understanding at once penetrating and capacious, them, or from having bestowed the greatest pains and to avoid the inconveniences we have menupon such subjects, and thus become most habitu- tioned, and the idols that result from them. ated to them. If men of this description apply 58. Let such, therefore, be our precautions in themselves to philosophy and contemplations of contemplation, that we may ward off and expel an universal nature, they wrest and corrupt them the idols of the den: which mostly owe their by their preconceived fancies; of which Aristotle birth either to some predominant pursuit; or, affords us a signal instance, who made his natural secondly, to an excess in synthesis and analysis; philosophy completely subservient to his logic, or, thirdly, to a party zeal in favour of certain and thus rendered it little more than useless and ages; or, fourthly, to the extent or narrowness of disputatious. The chymists, again, have formed the subject. In general, he who contemplates a fanciful philosophy with the most confined nature should suspect whatever particularly takes views, from a few experiments of the furnace. and fixes his understanding, and should use so Gilbert, too, having employed himself most assi- much the more caution to preserve it equable and duously in the consideration of the magnet, imme- unprejudiced. diately established a system of philosophy to

59. The idols* of the market are the most coincide with his favourite pursuit.

troublesome of all, those, namely, which have en55. The greatest, and, perhaps, radical distinc- twined themselves round the understanding from tion between different men's dispositions for phi-the associations of words and names.

For men losophy and the sciences is this; that some are imagine that their reason governs words, whilst, more vigorous and active in observing the differ- in fact, words react upon the understanding ; and ences of things, others in observing their resem- this has rendered philosophy and the sciences blances. For a steady and acute disposition can sophistical and inactive. Words are generally fix its thoughts, and dwell upon, and adhere to a formed in a popular sense, and define things by point, through all the refinements of differences; those broad lines which are most obvious to the but those that are sublime and discursive recog- vulgar mind; but when a more acute understandnise and compare even the most delicate and ing, or more diligent observation is anxious to general resemblances. Each of them readily falls vary those lines, and to adapt them more accuinto excess, by catching either at nice distinctions rately to nature, words oppose it. Hence the or shadows of resemblance.

great and solemn disputes of learned men often 56. Some dispositions evince an unbounded terminate in controversies about words and names, admiration of antiquity, others eagerly embrace in regard to which it would be better (imitating novelty; and but few can preserve the just me. the caution of mathematicians) to proceed more dium, so as neither to tear up what the ancients advisedly in the first instance, and to bring such have correctly laid down, nor to despise the just disputes to a regular issue by definitions. Such innovations of the moderns. But this is very definitions, however, cannot remedy the evil in prejudicial to the sciences and philosophy, and, natural and material objects, because they coninstead of a correct judgment, we have but the sist themselves of words, and these words pro factions of the ancients and moderns. Truth is duce others ; so that we must necessarily have not to be sought in the good fortune of any parti- recourse to particular instances, and their regular

* llence to Aphorism 59, treats of the idols of the den.

Hence to Aphorism 61, treats of the idols of the market.

series and arrangement, as we shall mention when depraved rules of demonstration. To attempt

, we come to the mode and scheme of determining however, or undertake their confutation, would Inotions and axioms.

not be consistent with our declarations. For, 60. The idols imposed upon the understanding since we neither agree in our principles nor our by words are of two kinds. They are either the demonstrations, all argument is out of the ques. names of things which have no existence, (for, as tion. And it is fortunate that the ancients are some objects are from inattention left without a left in possession of their honours. We detract name, so names are formed by fanciful imagina- nothing from them, seeing our whole doctrine tions which are without an object,) or they are the relates only to the path to be pursued. The names of actual objects, but confused, badly de- lame (as they say) in the path outstrip the swift, fined, and hastily and irregularly abstracted from who wander from it, and it is clear that the very things. Fortune, the primum mobile, the plane- skill and swiftness of him who runs not in the tary orbits, the element of fire, and the like fic-right direction, must increase his aberration. tions, which owe their birth to futile and false Our method of discovering the sciences is such theories, are instances of the first kind. And this as to leave little to the acuteness and strength of species of idols is removed with greater facility, wit, and indeed rather to level wit and intellect. because it can be exterminated by the constant For, as in the drawing of a straight line or accurefutation or the desuetude of the theories them- rate circle by the hand, much depends upon its selves. The others, which are created by vicious steadiness and practice, but if a ruler or compass and unskilful abstraction, are intricate and deeply be employed there is little occasion for either; so rooted. Take some word for instance, as moist; it is with our method. Although, however, we and let us examine how far the different signifi- enter into no individual confutations, yet a little cations of this word are consistent. It will be must be said, first, of the sects and general divifound that the word moist is nothing but a con- sions of these species of theories ; secondly, fused sign of different actions, admitting of no something further to show that there are external settled and defined uniformity. For it means that signs of their weakness, and, lastly, we must which easily diffuses itself over another body; consider the causes of so great a misfortune, and that which is indeterminable and cannot be so long and general a unanimity in error, that we brought to a consistency; that which yields may thus render the access to truth less diffieasily in every direction; that which is easily cult, and that the human understanding may the divided and dispersed; that which is easily united more readily be purified, and brought to dismiss and collected; that which easily flows and is put its idols. in motion ; that which easily adheres

and wets

62. The idols of the theatre or of theories are another body; that which is easily reduced to a numerous, and may and perhaps will be still liquid state, though previously solid. When, more so. For, unless men's minds had been therefore, you come to predicate or impose this now occupied for many ages in religious and name, in one sense flame is moist, in another air theological considerations, and civil governments is not moist, in another fine powder is moist, in (especially monarchies) had been averse to novelanother glass is moist; so that it is quite clear ties of that nature, even in theory, (so that men that this notion is hastily abstracted from water must apply to them with some risk and injury to only, and common, ordinary liquors, without any their own fortunes, and not only without reward

, due verification of it.

but subject to contumely and envy,) there is no There are, however, different degrees of distor- doubt that many other sects of philosophers and tion and mistake in words. One of the least theorists would have been introduced, like those faulty classes is that of the names of substances, which formerly flourished in such diversified particularly of the less abstract and more defined abundance amongst the Greeks. For, as many species; (those then of chalk and mud are good, of imaginary theories of the heavens can be deduced earth, bad;) words signifying actions are more from the phenomena of the sky, so it is eren faulty, as to generate, to corrupt, to change ; but more easy to found many dogmas upon the phethe most faulty are those denoting qualities, (ex- nomena of philosophy; and the plot of this our cept the immediate objects of sense,) as heavy, theatre resembles those of the poetical, where the light, rare, dense.

Yet in all of these there must plots which are invented for the stage are more be some notions a little better than others, in pro- consistent, elegant, and pleasurable than those portion as a greater or less number of things come taken from real history. before the senses.

In general, men take for the groundwork of 61 The idols of the theatre* are not innate, their philosophy either too much from a few tonur do they introduce themselves secretly into pics, or too little from many; in either case their the understanding; but they are manifestly instil- philosophy is founded on too narrow a basis of led and cherished by the fictions of theories and experiment and natural history, and decides on

too scanty grounds. For the theoretic philosopher • Hence to Aphorism 68, treats of the idols of the theatre. seizes various common circumstances by experi

[ocr errors]

ment, without reducing them to certainty, or poor and superficial, is yet in a manner universal examining and frequently considering them, and and of a general tendency,) but in the confined relies for the rest upon meditation and the activity obscurity of a few experiments. Hence this of his wit.]

species of philosophy appears probable and There are other philosophers who have dili- almost certain to those who are daily practised gently and accurately attended to a few experi- in such experiments, and have thus corrupted ments, and have thence presumed to deduce and their imagination, but incredible and futile to invent systems of philosophy, forming every others. We have a strong instance of this in the thing to conformity with them.

alchymists and their dogmas; it would be diffiA third set, from their faith and religious vene- cult to find another in this age, unless, perhaps, ration, introduce theology and traditions; the in the philosophy of Gilbert. * We could not, absurdity of some amongst them having pro- however, neglect to caution others against this ceeded so far as to seek and derive the sciences school, because we already foresee and augur, from spirits and genii. There are, therefore, that if men be hereafter induced by our exhortathree sources of error and three species of false tions to apply seriously to experiments, (bidding philosophy; the sophistic, empiric, and supersti- farewell to the sophistic doctrines, there will tious.

then be imminent danger from empirics, owing 63. Aristotle affords the most eminent instance to the premature and forward haste of the underof the first; for he corrupted natural philosophy standing, and its jumping or flying to generalities by logic: thus, he formed the world of catego- and the principles of things. We ought, thereries, assigned to the human soul, the noblest of fore, already to meet the evil. substances, a genus determined by words of 65. The corruption of philosophy by the mixing secondary operation, treated of density and rarity of it up with superstition and theology is of a much (by which bodies occupy a greater or lesser space) wider extent, and is most injurious to it, both as a by the frigid distinctions of action and power, whole and in parts. For the human understanding asserted that there was a peculiar and proper mo- is no less exposed to the impressions of fancy, than tion in all bodies, and that if they shared in any to those of vulgar notions. The disputatious and other motion, it was owing to an external moving sophistic school entraps the understanding, whilst cause, and imposed innumerable arbitrary dis- the fanciful, bombastic, and, as it were, poetical tinctions upon the nature of things; being every- school rather flatters it. There is a clear example where more anxious as to definitions in teaching, of this among the Greeks, especially in Pythagoand the accuracy of the wording of his proposi- ras, where, however, the superstition is coarse and tions, than the internal truth of things. And this overcharged, but it is more dangerous and refined is best shown by a comparison of his philosophy in Plato and his school. This evil is found also with the others of greatest repute among the in some branches of other systems of philosophy, Greeks. For the similar parts of Anaxagoras, where it introduces abstracted forms, final and first the atóms of Leucippus and Democritus, the causes, omitting frequently the intermediate, and heaven and earth of Parmenides, the discord and the like. Against it we must use the greatest concord of Empedocles, the resolution of bodies caution; for the apotheosis of error is the greatest into the common nature of fire, and their conden- evil of all, and when folly is worshipped, it is, sation, according to Heraclitus, exhibit some as it were, a plague-spot upon the understanding. sprinkling of natural philosophy, the nature of Yet, some of the moderns have indulged this things, and experiment whilst Aristotle's phy- folly, with such consummate inconsiderateness, sics are mere logical terms, and he remodelled that they have endeavoured to build a system of the same subject in his metaphysics under a more natural philosophy on the first chapter of Genesis, imposing title, and more as a realist than a nomi- the book of Job, and other parts of Scripture; nalist.

Nor is much stress to be laid on his seeking thus the dead amongst the living. And frequent recourse to experiment in his books on this folly is the more to be prevented and reanimals

, his problems, and other treatises ; for he strained, because not only fantastical philosophy had already decided, without having properly but heretical religion spring from the absurd mix. consulted experience as the basis of his decisions ture of matters divine and human. It is, thereand axioms, and after having so decided, he drags fore, most wise soberly to render unto faith the experiment along, as a captive constrained to ac- things that are faith's. commodate herself to his decisions; so that he is 66. Having spoken of the vicious authority of even more to be blamed than his modern followers, the systems founded either on vulgar notions, or (of the scholastic school,) who have deserted her on a few experiments, or on superstition, we must altogether.

now consider the faulty subjects for contempla64. The empiric school produces dogmas of a tion, especially in natural philosophy. The more deformed and monstrous nature than the sophistic or theoretic school : not being founded

* It is thus the Vulcanists and Neptunians have framed their

opposite theories in geology. Phrenology is a modern instance in the light of common notions, (which, however of hasty generalization.

« PreviousContinue »