Isaac Watts.

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determination, what should xvo first ! Mtmn'm'i of utisearchahle 7

consider? J If we liiid we can probably deter-

Meaning of AKo?cnJ/e ? \ mine the point, what farther in-

What niuy be the u^jif uf pavinj; a \ quires should we then make 1


of preacliing, or disputes about church discipline, are pro-
per for a theological student, in the end of his academical
studies, but not at the beginning. To pursue mathematical
studies very largely may be useful for a professor of phi-
losophy, but not for a divme.

III. Consider, whether the subject of your inquiry be
easy or difficult ; whether you have sufficient foundation or
skill, furniture and advantages for pursuing it. It would
be madness for a young statuary to attempt at first, to carve
a Venus or a Mercury, and especially without proper tools.
And it is equal folly for a man to pretend to make great
improvements in natural philosophy, without due experi-

IV. Consider, whether the subject be in any way, use-
ful or not, before yon engage in the study of it. Otlen put
this question to yourselves, Cui bono? To tvhat purpose ?
What end will it attain ? Is it for the glory of God ? for
the good of men ? for your own advantage ? for the removal
of any natural or moral evil ? for the attainment of any
natural or moral good .' Will the profit be equal to the
labor .^ There arc many subtle impertinencies learnt in the
schools, many painful trifles even among the mathematical
theorems and problems, many laborious follies of various
kinds, which some ingenious men have been engaged in.
A due reflection upon tliese, will call tlie mind away'from
vain amusements, and save much time.

V. Consider, what tendency it has to make you wiser
and better, as well as to make you more learned. Tliosn

Suestions, which tend to wisdom and prudence in our con-
uct iimong men, as well as piety toward God, arc doubt-
less more "important, than ail tliosn inquiries, which only
improve our knowledge in mere speculations.

V'l. If the question appears to be well worth your dili-
gent n|)pli(riiion, and you are furmslied with the necessary
requisites to pursue it, tlien consider, whether it be drest
up and entangled in more words, th:in are needful, and con-
tain or include more complicated ideas, than are necessary.
If so, endeavor to reduce it to a greater simplicity and
plainness ; which will make tlie inquiry and argument easier
and plainer all the way.
■ VII. If it be staled in an improper, obscure or ifregular

If the subject appears wortliy of | WImt if the question contain*

our attention, what ghoutd we next | neeilieRS words and ideas 1

Inqiiiie ' ! U'liul if it ia ubitcure 1

Next inquiry 1 j


form, It may be meliorated by changing the phrase, or
transposing the parts. But be careful always to keep the
grand and important point of inquiry the same in your new
stating of the question. Little tricks and d^eits of sophis-
try, by sliding in, or leaving out, such words as entirely
change the question, should be abandoned.

Stating a question 'ivith clearness and correctness, often
goes" a great way toward answering it. The greatest part
of true knowledge lies in a distinct perception of tilings,
which are in themselves distinct ; and some men give more
light and knowledge by the bare stating of the question,
than otiiers do, by talking of it in gross confusion, for whole
hours together. To state a question is but to separate and
disentangle the parts from one another, as well as from
every thing, wliicii does not concern the question, and then
to lay the disentangled parts of the question in due order
and method. Oftentimes witiiout more ado, this fully re-
solves the doubt, and shews the mind, where the truth lies,
without argument or dispute.

VIII. If the question relate to an axiom or first principle
of truth, remember, that a long train of consequences may
depend upon it. It should therefore, not be suddenly ad-

It is not enouglj to determine the truth of a proposition,
much less to raise it to the honor of an axiom or first prin-
ciple, to say, that it has been believed through many ages,
that it has been received by many nations, that it is almost
universally acknowledged, or nobody denies it, that it is
established by human laws, or that temporal penalties or
reproaches will attend the disbelief of it.

IX. Nor is it enough to forbid any proposition the title
of an axiom, because it has been denied by some persons,
and doubted by others ; for some persons have been un-
reasonably sceptical. Then only should a proposition be
called an axiom, or a self-evident truth, when by a moderate
attention to the subject and predicate, their connection ap-
pears in so plain a lio'ht, and so clear an evidence, as needs
no third idea or middle term, to prove them to be connected.

X. While you are in search after truth in questions of a
doubtful nature, or such as you have not yet thorougiily

To wli;U, dcies tile clear statement j to entitle a proposition to be regard-

of the qiiestJDii very iniicli conduce? | ed as an axjoni ?

Wliat IC llie (juestion relatetJ to an ; To exclude it 1

axiom 1 — Mc:iMiii2 of uriom? | What should we most ardently

What is mentioned as insuflicient j desire in our investigations 1


examined, keep up a just indifference to each side of the
question, if you would be led honestly into the truth ; for a
desire or intJipation leaning to eitiier side, biasses the
judo-ment strangely. Whereas by this indifference for
every thing but truth, you will be excited to examine fairly,
instead of presuming ; and your assent will be secured from
goin^ beyond your evidence.

XL For the most part, people are born to their opinions,
and never question the truth of what their family or their
party profess. They clothe their minds, as they do their
bodies, after the fashion ; not one of a hundred ever exam-
ines his principles. We shall be suspected of lukewarm-
ncss, if v/e suppose examination necessary ; and be charged
as tending to apostacy, if we attempt to examine them.
Persons are applauded for presuming, they are in the right;
and, as Mr. Locke says, he that considers and inquires into
the reasons of things, is counted a foe to orthodoxy ; be-
cause possibly he may deviate from some of the received
doctrines. And thus men without any industry or acquisi-
tion of their own, lazy and idle as they are, inherit local
truths, th:it is, the trutiis of that place, where they live, and
are inured to assent without'cvidence.

This has a long and unhappy influence ; for if a man
bring his mind once to be positive and fierce for proposi-
tions, whoso evidence he has never examined, and that in
matters of the greatest concernment, he will naturally fol-
low tills short and easy way of judging and believing in
cases of less moment, and build all his ojiinions upon in-
sufficient grounds.

XII. In determining a question, especially when it i.s a
matter of difHci'.lty and importance, do not take up with
partial examination ; but turn your thoughts on all sides to
gather in all tiie ligiit you can, toward the solution. Take
time, and use all the helps that are to be obtained, before
you fully determine, except only where present necessity
of .'K'tioii calls for speedy determination.

If yo'i would knov/ what may be called a partial exami-
nation, take these instances, namely.

When you exaiHino an object of sense, or inquire into

lldw ilo inoHt pci)|ili; ciiriii> by their t port.itit qiirfition, how should we

opinions.' j prni'rnliy ptocoeii 1

Ifa purmm con'^idcrs iiMil InqiiircB i WhiMi we proceed ofher-

liilo (III; riviMon of lliin(:-<, tu wjial is ! winu?

he snniriinuM coMsiilcrml .iM n I'lif 1 j Can yon inpiition i>nmn instancM

III duturiiiining n dillicult and im- J of imperfect exaiiiinntion 1


some matter of sensation at too great a distance from the
object, or in an inconvenient situation of it, or under any
indisposition of the organs, or any disguise jvhatsoevcr re-
lating to the medium or the organ of the object itself; or
when you examine it by one sense only, where otliers
might be employed ; or when you inquire into it by sense
only, without the use of the understanding and judgment
ancl reason.

If it be a question which is to be determined by reason
and argument, than your examination is partial, when you
turn tlie question only in one light, and do not turn it on all
sides ; when you look upon it only in its relations and as-
pects to one sort of object and not to another ; when you
consider only the advantages of it and the reasons for it,
and neglect to think of the reasons against it, and never
survey its inconveniencies tno ; when you determine on a
sudden, before you have given yourself a due time for
weighing all circumstances, &c.

Again, If it be a question of fact, depending up the re-
port or testimony of men, your examination is but partial,
when you inquire only, what one man or a few say, and
avoid the testimony of others ; when you only ask, what
those report, who were not eye or ear-witnesses, and neglect
those, who saw and heard it ;'when you content yourself with
mere loose and gcrveral talk about it, and never enter into
particulars ; or when there are many who deny tlie fact,
and you never concern yourself about their reasons for
denymg it, but resolve to believe only those who affirm it.

There is yet a further fault in your partial examination
of any question, when you resolve to determine it by natural
reason only, where you miglit be assisted by revelation ;
or when you decide the point by some word or sentence,
or by some part of revelation, without comparing it with
other parts, which might give fuitlier light, and better help
to determine the meaning.

It is also a culpable partiality, if you examine some
doubtful or pretended vision or revelation, without the use
of reason: or without the use of that revelation, which is
undoubted, and sufficiently proved to be divine. These
are all instances of imperfect examination ; and we should
never determine a question by one or two lights, when we
may have the advantage of three or four.

What caution does lie pive, re- i Meaning o{ hypot/uses'!
spectiii^ favoiile liypoIhe.ses1 {



XIII. Take heed lest some darling notion, some favorite
hypothesis, some beloved doctrine, or some common but
unexamined opinion, be made a test of the truth or false-
hood of all other propositions about the SMme subject. Dare
not build much upon such a notion or doctrine, till it be
very fully examined, accurately adjusted, and sufficiently
confirmed. Some persons, by indulging sucji a practice,
have been led into long ranks of errors ; they have found
themselves involved in a train of mistakes, by taking up
some petty hypothesis or principle, either in philosophy,
politics or religion, upon slight and insufficient grounds, and
establishing that as a test and rule, by which to judge of
all other thmgs.

XIV. For the same reason, have a care of suddenly
determining any one question, on which, the determination
of any kindred or parallel cases will easily or naturally
follow. Take heed of receiving any wrong turn in your
early judgment of things; be watchful, as far as possible,
against any false bias, whic'h may bo given to the under-
standing, especially in younger years. The indulgence of
some one silly opinion, or the giving credit to one f()olish
fable, lays the mind open to ue imposed upon by many.
The ancient Romans were taught to helieve that Ronnilus
and Remus, the founders of their state and empire, were ex-
posed in the woods, and nursed by a wolf '1 liis story pre-
pared their minds for the rccejjtion of any tales of the like
nature relating to other countries. Trogus Pompcius
would enforce the belief, that one of the ancient kings of
Spain was also nursed and suckled by a hart, from the fable
of Romulus and Remus. It was by the same influence,
they learned to give up their hopes and fears to omens and
sootli-saying, when thr-y were once persuaded, that the
greatness of their empire and the glory of Romulus their
founder, were predicted by the happy omen of twelve vul-
tures appearing to him, when he souglit where to build the
city. They readily received all tlio following legends of
prodigies, auguries and prognostics, for many ages together,
with which Livy has furnislicd his huge history.

Into what, have nomc liecn led liy
tndiilKing xui li n I'rnctice 1

Wlint i|ii(;Nti(ins slumlil \vr Iik pnr-
(iciil.-irly cniitioiifi in ilclern'iniiid?

In what Blapc o( liTc, Khnnlil |ic-r
HiMiH he etipecially i:autioii8 of wriini;
liiaHHca 1

What (ahulous account did tlie

Romnns helieve rem)ecting Itoniulus
and Keiniia?

Kor what, did this story prepare
their minds 1

llnw did Ihe Romans lenrii to give
up ihcir hopes and fears looiiieiii7
— M culling v( omen.


So the child, who is once taught to believe any one oc-
currence to be a good or, evil, omen, or any day of the month
or week to be lucky or unlucky, has a wide inroad made on
the soundness of his understanding in the following judg-
ments of his life. He lies ever open to all the silly impres-
sions and idle tales of nurses ; and imbibes many a foolish
story with greediness, which he must unlearn, if ever he
become acquainted with truth and wisdom.

XV. Have a care of interesting your warm and religious
zeal in those matters, which are not sufficiently evident in
themselves, or Avhich are not fully proved ; for this zeal,
whether right or wrong, when it is once engaged, will have
a powerful influence to establish your own minds in those
doctrines which are really doubtful, and to stop up all the
avenues of further light. This will brings upon the soul a
sort of sacred awe and dread of heresy ; with a concern to
maintain whatever you have espoused as divine, though
perhaps you have espoused it, without any just evidence,
and ought to have renounced it, as false and pernicious.

We ought to be zealous for the most important points
of our religion, and to contend earnestly for the faith once
delivered to the saints ; but we ought not to employ this
sacred fervor of spirit in the service of any article, till we
have seen it made out v/ith plain and strong conviction,

If a child has been taught to be- ! k.c. what must he do, in order to
lievo in omens, or in lucky or un- | become truly wisel
lucky days, on what has this made a \ How can he unlearn them .' By
wide inroad 1 — Meaning of inroad7 j learning, that they are mere fictions.
— of luck? — oflacky?' ! For what points, does he say, W9

Of the words luck and lucky, \ should not indulge religious zeal 1
which is the primitive word 1 — the | What will such zeal tend to pre-
derivative? | vent 1

Meaning of prtmitii-e ? — of deriva- \ What sacred awe and dread will
live 1 i it be likely to bring upon the soul 1

What important idea is implied j For what points, should we be
in lucky, that is not implied in luck ? ! zealous 1

Can you think of any other de- | For wliat, sliould we earnestly
rivative, essentially different in j contend 1

meaning, from its English primi- j Meaning of /uftA here 1 The doc-
tivel* j trines of the bible, believed by

First intrence contained in the 5 faith.
note 1 — Second 1 j What caution does he give, with

If a cliild believes in lucky days, | regard to this sacred fervor.'

* Enslisli words generally differ, and often very greatly, from iheir primi-
tives of other liingiiages. Hence, we can scarcely ever know the exact
meaning of an English word, by knowing its derivation from another lan-
guage. Hence too, persons sometimes use Knalish words improperly, by
adliering too closely to their etymological signification ; as the phrase aocr**
from, instead of averse to.


that it is a necessary or important point of faitli or practice,
and is either an evident dictate of tlie light of nature, or an
assured article of revelation. Zeal must not reign over the
powers of our understanding, but obey them. God is the
God of light and truth, a God of reason and order, and he
never requires mankind to use their natural faculties amiss
for the support of his cause. Even the. most mysterious
and sublime doctrines of revelation, are not to be believed
witliout just reason ; nor should, our pious affections be
engitged in the defence of them, till we have plain and
convincing proof, that they are certainly revealed, though
perhaps we may never in this world attain to such clear
and distinct ideas of them, as we desire.

XVI. As a warm zeal ought never to be employed in
the defence of apy revealed truth, till our reason be well
convinced of the revelation; so neither should wit and
banter, jest and ridicule, ever be indulf^^ed to oppose or
assault any doctrines of professed reveuition, till reason
has proved, they are not really revealed. And even then,
tlieso methods should be used very seldom, and with the
utmost caution and prudence. Raillery and wit were never
made to answer our inquiries after truth, nor to determine
a question of rational controversy ; though they may some-
times he serviceable to expose to contem|)t, those incon-
sistent follies, wliich have been first abundantly refuted by
argument. Tliey serve indeed only to cover nonsense witn
shame, when reason lias first proved it to be mere nonsense.

It is therefore a silly nnd most unreasonable test, which
some of our Deists have introduced, to jiidge of divine re-
velation, namely, to try, if it will bear ridicule and laughter.
They are enoctually beaten in all their combats at the
weapons of men, that is, reason and argument ; and it would
not be unjust, though it is a little uncourtly, to say, that
they would now attack our ndigion with the talents of a
vile animal, tiiat is, grin and grimace.

I cannot tliink that a jester or a monkey, a droll or a pup-
pet, can 1)0 a proper judge or decider of controversy. ThaL
which dresses up all things in disguise, is not likely to leaa
us into any just sentiments aiiout them. Plato or Socrates,
Cesar or Alexander, might have a fool's coat clapt upon

Hliould\ Qnvern or obey the i iinrR^iHoniilily ronKidertMl ns the test

undcrHlnnrtins 1 j uf Iriilli 1— MennliiK of (m«,7

Frnin what iliiir.iiRsionM, ilioiild ! VVlin, dues \w sny, nre not proper

wit anil liaiilcr hn excluded 1 [ ducidors ofcoiilioveMy '

What have loiiie iiilideU nioRl j


him ; and perhaps in this disguise, neitlier the wisdom of
the one, nor the majesty of the other, would secure him
from a sneer. This treatment wouhl never inform us,
whetlier they were kin^s or slaves, whether they were
fools or philosophers. The strongest reasoning, the best
sense and the politest thoughts may be set in a most
ridiculous light by this grinning faculty. The most obvious
axioms of eternal truth may be drest in a very foolish form,
and wrapt up in artful absurdities by this talent ; but they
are truth and reason and good sense still. Euclid, with all
his demonstrations, might be so covered and overwhelmed
with banter, that a beginner in the mathematics might be
tempted to doubt, whether his theorems were true or not,
and to imagine, they could never be useful. So weaker
minds might be easily prejudiced against the noblest prin-
ciple of truth and goodness ; and the younger part of man-
kind might be beat off from the belief of the most serious,
the most rational and important points even of natural reli-
gion, by the impudent jests of a profane wit. The moral
duties of the civil life, as well as the articles of Christianity,
may be painted over with the colors of folly, and exposed
upon a stage, so as to ruin all social and personal virtue
among the gay and thoughtless part of the world.

XVII. It should be observed also, that these very men
cry out loudly against the use of all severe raijing and re-
proach in debates, and all penalties and persecutions of the
state, in order to convince the minds and consciences of
men, and determine points of truth and error. Now I re-
nounce these penal and smarting methods of conviction, as
much as they do ; and yet I think still, these are every whit
as wise, as just and as good for this purpose, as banter and
ridicule. Why should public mockery in print, or a merry
joke upon a stage, be a better test of truth, than severe
railing, sarcasms, and public persecutions and penalties ?
Why should more light be derived to the understanding,
by a song of scurrilous mirth or a witty ballad, than there
is by a rude cudgel ? When a professor of any religion is
set up to be laughed at, I cannot see, how this should help

By wliat faculty, mny the strong- j that ridicule may sometimes be used

est reasoning and most excellent j in such cases'! Answer a fool ac-

thotights be set in a most ridiculous i cording to his folly.

light 1 I Against what method of convic-

Should ridicule ever be used in I tion, do infidels loudly exclaim?

dtscussions? Rarely, and never in j What method of theirs appear* U>

opposition to argument. i be no better 1

What scripture seems to imply, |



US to judge of the truth of his faith any better, than if he
were scourged. The jeers of a theatre, the pillory and the
whipping-post, are very near akin. When the person or
his opinion is made the jest of the mob, or his back the
shambles of the executioner, I think, there is no more con-
viction in the one, that in the other.

XVIII. Besides, supposing it is but barely possible, that
the great God should reveal his mind and will to men by
miracle, vision or inspiration, it is a piece of contempt and
profane insolence, to treat any tolerable or rational appear-
ance of such a revelation M'itn jest and laughter, in order to
find, whether it be divine or not. And yet, if this be a pro-
per test of revelation, it may be properly applied to the
true, as well as the false, in order to distinguish it. Sup-
pose, a royal proclamation were sent to a distant part of
the kingdom, and some of the subjects should doubt whether
it came from the king or not. Is it possible, that wit and
ridicule should ever decide the point ? or would the prince
ever think himself treated with just honor, to have his
proclamation canvassed in this manner, on a public stage,
and become the sport of buffoons, in order to determine the
question, Whetlier it is the word of a king or not .'

Let such sort of writers go on at their peril, and sport
themselves in their own deceivings ; let them nt their peril,
make a jest of the Bible, and treat the sacred articles of
Christianity with scoff and merriment. But then let them
lay aside all their pretences to reason, as well as to reli-
mon ; and as they expose themselves by such writings, to
uie neglect and contempt of men, so let thera prepare to
meet the majesty and indignation of God.

XIX. In reading philosophical, moral or religious con-
troversies, never raise your esteem of any opinion, by the
assurance and zeal, wliercwith the author assorts it, nor by
the highest praises, he bestows upon it. Nor on the other
hand, let your esteem of an opinion bo abated, nor your
aversion to it raised, by the supercillions contempt, cast
upon it by a Avarm writer, nor by tlie sovereign airs, with
which he condemns it. Lot the force of argument alone
influence your assent or dissent. Take cure, tiiat your
soul be not warped or biassed on one side or the other, b^
any strains of nattering or abusive language ; for there is

To whnt, uliould scofTerR nt Uio 1 prnise or lil.imo enat upon It 1

Bible, liiy nHidc ;ill proteiir.c ? j (Inly lliiriK, thiit dhould InHuenc*

How dhoiilil (lur (ipiriion of niiy | our assuiit or ilisHeiit '1

work bu alTcctuil by the viiry liigii j


no question whatsoever, but has some defenders or op-
posers. Leave those writers to their own follies, who prac-
tise thus upon the weakness of their readers, without argu-
ment. ]-ieave them to triuinph in their own fancied pos-
sessions and victories. It is oftentimes found, that their
possessions are but a heap of errors, and their boasted vic-
tories are but overbearing noise and clamor, to silence the
voice of truth.

In philosophy and religion, the bigots of all parties are
generally the most positive, and deal much in this sort of

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Online LibraryIsaac WattsThe improvement of the mind → online text (page 21 of 27)