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and not regarding how each bill is summed up, by those that give them in account; nor what it is he pays for; he advantages himself no more, than if he allowed the account in gross, trusting to every of the accountants' skill and honesty : so also in reasoning of all other things, he that takes up conclusions on the trust of authors, and doth not fetch them from the first items in every reckoning, which are the significations of names settled by definitions, loses his labour ; and does not know anything, but only
believeth. Of error and
When a man reckons without the use of words, absurdity.
which may be done in particular things, as when upon the sight of any one thing, we conjecture what was likely to have preceded, or is likely to follow upon it; if that which he thought likely to follow, follows not, or that which he thought likely to have preceded it, hath not preceded it, this is called error; to which even the most prudent men are subject. But when we reason in words of general signification, and fall upon a general inference which is false, though it be commonly called error, it is indeed an absurdity, or senseless speech. For error is but a deception, in presuming that somewhat is past, or to come; of which, though it were not past, or not to come, yet there was no impossibility discoverable. But when we make a general assertion, unless it be a true one, the possibility of it is inconceivable. And words whereby we conceive nothing but the sound, are those we call absurd, insignificant, and nonsense. And therefore if a man should talk to me of a round quadrangle; or, accidents of bread in cheese; or, immaterial substances; or of a free subject; a free will ; or
any free, but free from being hindered by opposi- Part I. tion, I should not say he were in an error, but that his words were without meaning, that is to say, absurd.
I have said before, in the second chapter, that a man did excel all other animals in this faculty, that when he conceived any thing whatsoever, he was apt to inquire the consequences of it, and what effects he could do with it. And now I add this other degree of the same excellence, that he can by words reduce the consequences he finds to general rules, called theorems, or aphorisms ; that is, he can reason, or reckon, not only in number, but in all other things, whereof one may be added unto, or subtracted from another.
But this privilege is allayed by another; and that is, by the privilege of absurdity ; to which no living creature is subject, but man only. And of men, those are of all most subject to it, that profess philosophy. For it is most true that Cicero saith of them somewhere; that there can be nothing so absurd, but may be found in the books of philosophers. And the reason is manifest. For there is not one of them that begins his ratiocination from the definitions, or explications of the names they are to use; which is a method that hath been used only in geometry; whose conclusions have thereby been made indisputable. 1. The first cause of absurd conclusions I ascribe Causes of
absurdity. to the want of method ; in that they begin not their ratiocination from definitions ; that is, from settled significations of their words : as if they could cast account, without knowing the value of the numeral words, one, two, and three.
And whereas all bodies enter into account upon
divers considerations, which I have mentioned in Causes of the precedent chapter ; these considerations being absurdity.
diversely named, divers absurdities proceed from the confusion, and unfit connexion of their names into assertions. And therefore,
II. The second cause of absurd assertions, I asscribe to the giving of names of bodies to accidents; or of accidents to bodies ; as they do, that say, faith is infused, or inspired; when nothing can be poured, or breathed into anything, but body ; and that, extension is body; that phantasms are spirits, &c.
III. The third I ascribe to the giving of the names of the accidents of bodies without us, to the accidents of our own bodies; as they do that say, the colour is in the body; the sound is in the air, &c.
iv. The fourth, to the giving of the names of bodies to names, or speeches; as they do that say, that there be things universal; that a living creature is genus, or a general thing, &c.
v. The fifth, to the giving of the names of accidents to names and speeches; as they do that say, the nature of a thing is its definition; a man's command is his will ; and the like.
vi. The sixth, to the use of metaphors, tropes, and other rhetorical figures, instead of words proper. For though it be lawful to say, for example, in common speech, the way goeth, or leadeth hither, or thither; the proverb says this or that, whereas ways cannot go, nor proverbs speak; yet in reckoning, and seeking of truth, such speeches are not to be admitted.
VII. The seventh, to names that signify nothing;
but are taken up, and learned by rote from the schools, as hypostatical, transubstantiate, consubstantiate, eternal-now, and the like canting of schoolmen.
To him that can avoid these things it is not easy to fall into any absurdity, unless it be by the length of an account; wherein he may perhaps forget what went before. For all men by nature reason alike, and well, when they have good principles. For who is so stupid, as both to mistake in geometry, and also to persist in it, when another detects his error to him?
By this it appears that reason is not, as sense Science. and memory, born with us; nor gotten by experience only, as prudence is ; but attained by industry; first in apt imposing of names; and secondly by getting a good and orderly method in proceeding from the elements, which are names, to assertions made by connexion of one of them to another; and so to syllogisms, which are the connexions of one assertion to another, till we come to a knowledge of all the consequences of names appertaining to the subject in hand ; and that is it, men call SCIENCE. And whereas sense and memory are but knowledge of fact, which is a thing past and irrevocable. Science is the knowledge of consequences, and dependance of one fact upon another : by which, out of that we can presently do, we know how to do something else when we will, or the like another time; because when we see how any thing comes about, upon what causes, and by what manner; when the like causes come into our power, we see how to make it produce the like effects.
Children therefore are not endued with reason
at all, till they have attained the use of speech ; but are called reasonable creatures, for the possibility apparent of having the use of reason in time to come. And the most part of men, though they have the use of reasoning a little way, as in numbering to some degree; yet it serves them to little use in common life ; in which they govern themselves, some better, some worse, according to their differences of experience, quickness of memory, and inclinations to several ends; but specially according to good or evil fortune, and the errors of one another. For as for science, or certain rules of their actions, they are so far from it, that they know not what it is. Geometry they have thought conjuring : but for other sciences, they who have not been taught the beginnings and some progress in them, that they may see how they be acquired and generated, are in this point like children, that having no thought of generation, are made believe by the women that their brothers and sisters are not born, but found in the garden.
But yet they that have no science, are in better, and nobler condition, with their natural prudence ; than men, that by mis-reasoning, or by trusting them that reason wrong, fall upon false and absurd general rules. For ignorance of causes, and of rules, does not set men so far out of their way, as relying on false rules, and taking for causes of what they aspire to, those that are not so, but rather causes of the contrary.
To conclude, the light of human minds is perspicuous words, but by exact definitions first snuffed, and purged from ambiguity; reason is the pace; increase of science, the way; and the benefit