Front Page Titles (by Subject) MR. LOCKE'S REPLY TO THE RIGHT REVEREND THE LORD BISHOP OF WORCESTER'S ANSWER TO HIS LETTER, CONCERNING SOME PASSAGES RELATING TO MR. LOCKE'S ESSAY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING: IN A LATE DISCOURSE OF HIS LORDSHIP'S, IN VINDICATION OF THE TRINITY. - Works of John Locke, vol. 3
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MR. LOCKE’S REPLY TO THE RIGHT REVEREND THE LORD BISHOP OF WORCESTER’S ANSWER TO HIS LETTER, CONCERNING SOME PASSAGES RELATING TO MR. LOCKE’S ESSAY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING: IN A LATE DISCOURSE OF HIS LORDSHIP’S, IN VINDICATION OF THE TRINITY. - John Locke, Works of John Locke, vol. 3 
The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, (London: Rivington, 1824 12th ed.). Vol. 3.
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MR. LOCKE’S REPLY TO THE RIGHT REVEREND THE LORD BISHOP OF WORCESTER’S ANSWER TO HIS LETTER, CONCERNING SOME PASSAGES RELATING TO MR. LOCKE’S ESSAY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING:
Your lordship having done my letter the honour to think it worth your reply, I think myself bound in good manners publicly to acknowledge the favour, and to give your lordship an account of the effect it has had upon me, and the grounds upon which I yet differ from you in those points, wherein I am still under the mortification of not being able to bring my sentiments wholly to agree with your lordship’s. And this I the more readily do, because it seems to me, that that wherein the great difference now lies between us, is founded only on your fears; which, I conclude, upon a sedate review, your lordship will either part with, or else give me other reasons, besides your apprehensions, to convince me of mistakes in my book, which your lordship thinks may be of consequence even in matters of religion.
Your lordship makes my letter to consist of two parts; my complaint to your lordship, and my vindication of myself. You begin with my complaint; one part whereof was, that I was brought into a controversy, wherein I had never meddled, nor knew how I came to be concerned in. To this your lordship is pleased to promise me satisfaction.
Since your lordship has condescended so far, as to be at the pains to give me and others satisfaction in this matter, I crave leave to second your design herein, and to premise a remark or two for the clearer understanding the nature of my complaint, which is the only way to satisfaction in it.
1. Then it is to be observed, that the proposition which you dispute against, as opposite to the doctrine of the Trinity, is this, that clear and distinct ideas are necessary to certainty. This is evident not only from what your lordship subjoins to the account of reason, given by the author of Christianity not mysterious; but also by what your lordship says here again in your answer to me, in these words: “to lay all foundation of certainty, as to matters of faith, upon clear and distinct ideas, was the opinion I opposed.”
2. It is to be observed, that this you call a new way of reasoning; and those that build upon it, gentlemen of this new way of reasoning.
3. It is to be observed, that a great part of my complaint was, that I was made one of the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning, without any reason at all.
To this complaint of mine, your lordship has had the goodness to make this answer:
“Now to give you, and others, satisfaction as to this matter, I shall first give an account of the occasion of it; and then show what care I took to prevent misunderstanding about it.”
The first part of the satisfaction your lordship is pleased to offer, is contained in these words:
“The occasion was this: being to answer the objections in point of reason, (which had not been answered before) the first I mentioned was: That it was above reason, and therefore not to be believed. In answer to this, I proposed two things to be considered: 1. What we understand by reason. 2. What ground in reason there is to reject any doctrine above it, when it is proposed as a matter of faith.”
“As to the former I observed, that the unitarians, in their late pamphlets, talked very much about clear and distinct ideas and perceptions, and that the mysteries of faith were repugnant to them; but never went about to state the nature and bounds of reason, in such a manner as they ought to have done, who make it the rule and standard of what they are to believe. But I added, that a late author, in a book called Christianity not mysterious, had taken upon him to clear this matter, whom for that cause I was bound to consider: the design of this discourse related wholly to matters of faith, and not to philosophical speculations; so that there can be no dispute about his application of these he calls principles of reason and certainty.”
“When the mind makes use of intermediate ideas to discover the agreement or disagreement of the ideas received into them; this method of knowledge, he saith, is properly called reason or demonstration.
“The mind, as he goes on, receives ideas two ways.
“1. By intromission of the senses.
“2. By considering its own operations.
“And these simple and distinct ideas are the sole matter and foundation of all our reasoning.”
And so all our certainty is resolved into two things, either “immediate perception, which is self-evidence; or the use of intermediate ideas, which discover the certainty of any thing dubious: which is what he calls reason.
“Now this, I said, did suppose, that we must have clear and distinct ideas of whatever we pretend to any certainty of in our minds (by reason) and that the only way to attain this certainty, is by comparing these ideas together; which excludes all certainty of faith or reason, where we cannot have such clear and distinct ideas.
“From hence I proceeded to show, that we could not have such clear and distinct ideas as were necessary in the present debate, either by sensation or reflection, and consequently we could not attain to any certainty about it; for which I instanced in the nature of substance and person, and the distinction between them.
“And by virtue of these principles, I said, that I did not wonder that the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning had almost discarded substance out of the reasonable part of the world.”
This is all your lordship says here, to give me, and others, satisfaction, as to the matters of my complaint. For what follows of your answer, is nothing but your lordship’s arguing against what I have said concerning substance.
In these words therefore, above quoted, I am to find the satisfaction your lordship has promised, as to the occasion why your lordship made me one of the gentlemen of the new way of reasoning, and in that joined me with the unitarians, and the author of Christianity not mysterious. But I crave leave to represent to your lordship, wherein the words above quoted come short of giving me satisfaction.
In the first place, it is plain they were intended for a short narrative of what was contained in the tenth chapter of your Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity, relating to this matter. But how could your lordship think, that the repeating the same things over again could give me or any body else satisfaction, as to my being made one of the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning?
Indeed I cannot say it is an exact repetition of what is to be found in the beginning of that tenth chapter; because your lordship said, in that tenth chapter, that “the author of Christianity not mysterious gives an account of reason, which supposes that we must have clear and distinct ideas of whatever we pretend to a certainty of in our minds.” But here, in the passage above set down, out of your answer to my letter, I find it is not to his account of reason, but to something taken out of that, and something borrowed by him out of my book, to which your lordship annexes this supposition. For your lordship says, “now this, I said, did suppose that we must have clear and distinct ideas of whatever we pretend to any certainty of in our minds (by reason.)”
If your lordship did say so in your Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity, your printer did your lordship two manifest injuries. The one is, that he omitted these words [by reason]: and the other, that he annexed your lordship’s words to the account of reason, there given by the author of Christianity not mysterious; and not to those words your lordship here says you annexed them to. For this here refers to other words, and not barely to that author’s account of reason; as any one may satisfy himself, who will but compare these two places together.
One thing more seems to me very remarkable in this matter, and that is, that “the laying all foundation of certainty, as to matters of faith, upon clear and distinct ideas, should be the opinion which you oppose,” as your lordship declares; and that this should be it for which the unitarian, the author of Christianity not mysterious, and I, are jointly brought on the stage, under the title of the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning: and yet no one quotation be brought out of the unitarians, to show it to be their opinion: nor any thing alleged out of the author of Christianity not mysterious, to show it to be his; but only some things quoted out of him, which are said to suppose all foundation of certainty to be laid upon clear and distinct ideas: which that they do suppose it, is not, I think, self-evident, nor yet proved. But this I am sure, as to myself, I do no where lay all foundation of certainty in clear and distinct ideas; and therefore am still at a loss, why I was made one of the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning.
Another thing wherein your lordship’s narrative, intended for my satisfaction, comes short of giving it me, is this; that at most it gives but an account of the occasion why the unitarians, and the author of Christianity not mysterious, were made by your lordship the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning. But it pretends not to say a word why I was made one of them; which was the thing wherein I needed satisfaction. For your lordship breaks off your report of the matter of fact, just when you were come to the matter of my complaint; which you pass over in silence, and turn your discourse to what I have said in my letter: for your lordship ends the account of the occasion, in these words: “the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning had almost discarded substance out of the reasonable part of the world.” And there your lordship stops. Whereas it is in the words that immediately follow, that I am brought in as one of those gentlemen, of which I would have been glad to have known the occasion; and it is in this that I needed satisfaction. For that which concerns the others, I meddle not with; I only desire to know upon what occasion, or why, I was brought into this dispute of the Trinity. But of that, in this account of the occasion, I do not see that your lordship says any thing.
I have been forced therefore to look again a little closer into this whole matter: and, upon a fresh examination of what your lordship has said, in your Vindication of the doctrine of the Trinity, and in your answer to my letter, I come now to see a little clearer, that the matter, in short, stands thus: The author of Christianity not mysterious was one of the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning, because he had laid down a doctrine concerning reason, which supposed clear and distinct ideas necessary to certainty. But that doctrine of his tied me not at all to him, as may be seen by comparing his account of reason with what I have said of reason in my essay, which your lordship accuses of no such supposition; and so I stood clear from his account of reason or any thing it supposes. But he having given an account of the original of our ideas, and having said something about them conformable to what is in my essay, that has tied him and me so close together, that by this sort of connexion I came to be one of the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning, which consists in making clear and distinct ideas necessary to certainty; though I no where say, or suppose, clear and distinct ideas necessary to certainty.
How your lordship came to join me with the author of Christianity not mysterious, I think is now evident. And he being the link whereby your lordship joins me to the unitarians, in Objections against the Trinity in point of Reason answered; give me leave, my lord, a little to examine the connexion of this link on that side also, i. e. what has made your lordship join him and the unitarians in this point, viz. making clear and distinct ideas necessary to certainty; that great battery, it seems, which they make use of against the doctrine of the Trinity in point of reason.
Now as to this, your lordship says, “that the unitarians having not explained the nature and bounds of reason as they ought; the author of Christianity not mysterious hath endeavoured to make amends for this, and takes upon him to make this matter clear.” And then your lordship sets down his account of reason at large.
I will not examine how it appears, that the author of Christianity not mysterious gave this account of reason, to supply the defect of the unitarians herein, or to make amends for their not having done it. Your lordship does not quote any thing out of him, to show that it was to make amends for what the unitarians had neglected. I only look to see how the unitarians and he come to be united, in this dangerous principle of the necessity of clear and distinct ideas to certainty: which is that which makes him a gentleman of this new and dangerous way of reasoning; and consequently me too, because he agrees in some particulars with my essay.
Now, my lord, having looked over his account of reason, as set down by your lordship; give me leave to say, that he that shall compare that account of reason with your lordship’s animadversion annexed to it, in these words, “this is offered to the world as an account of reason; but to show how very loose and unsatisfactory it is, I desire it may be considered, that this doctrine supposes that we must have clear and distinct ideas of whatever we pretend to any certainty of in our minds; and that the only way to attain this certainty, is by comparing these ideas together; which excludes all certainty of faith or reason, where we cannot have such clear and distinct ideas:” will, I fear, hardly defend himself from wondering at the way your lordship has taken to show, how loose and unsatisfactory an account of reason his is; but by imagining that your lordship had a great mind to say something against clear and distinct ideas, as necessary to certainty: or that your lordship had some reason for bringing them in, that does not appear in that account of reason; since in it, from one end to the other, there is not the least mention of clear and distinct ideas. Nor does he (that I see) say any thing that supposes that we must have clear and distinct ideas of whatever we pretend to any certainty of in our minds.
But whether he and the unitarians do, or do not, lay all foundation of certainty, as to matters of faith, upon clear and distinct ideas, I concern not myself; all my inquiry is, how he and I and the unitarians come to be joined together, as gentlemen of this new way of reasoning? Which, in short, as far as I can trace and observe the connexion, is only thus:
The unitarians are the men of this new way of reasoning, because they speak of clear and distinct perceptions, in their answer to your lordship’s sermon, as your lordship says. The author of Christianity not mysterious is joined to the unitarians, as a gentleman of this new way of reasoning, because his doctrine, concerning reason, supposes we must have clear and distinct ideas of whatever we pretend to any certainty of in our minds: and I am joined to that author, because he says, “that the using of intermediate ideas to discover the agreement or disagreement of the ideas received into our minds, is reason; and that the mind receives ideas by the intromission of the senses, and by considering its own operations. And these simple and distinct ideas are the sole matter and foundation of all our reasoning.” This, because it seems to be borrowed out of my book, is that which unites me to him, and by him consequently to the unitarians.
And thus I am come to the end of the thread of your lordship’s discourse, whereby I am brought into the company of the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning, and thereby bound up in the bundle and cause of the unitarians arguing against the doctrine of the Trinity, by objections in point of reason.
I have been longer upon this, than I thought I should be; but the thread that ties me to the unitarians being spun very fine and subtile, is, as it naturally falls out, the longer for it, and the harder to be followed, so as to discover the connexion every where. As for example; the thread that ties me to the author of Christianity not mysterious, is so fine and delicate, that without laying my eyes close to it, and poring a good while, I can hardly perceive how it hangs together; that because he says what your lordship charges him to say, in your Vindication, &c. and because I say what your lordship quotes out of my Essay, that therefore I am one of the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning, which your lordship opposes in the unitarians, as dangerous to the doctrine of the Trinity. This connexion of me with the author of Christianity not mysterious; and by him, with the unitarians; (being in a point wherein I agree with your lordship, and not with them, if they do lay all the foundation of knowledge in clear and distinct ideas) is, I say, pretty hard for me clearly to perceive now, though your lordship has given me, in your letter, that end of the clue which was to lead me to it, for my satisfaction; but was impossible for me, or (as I think) any body else to discover, while it stood as it does in your lordship’s Vindication, &c.
And now, my lord, it is time I ask your lordship’s pardon, for saying in my first letter, “that I hoped I might say, you had gone a little out of your way to do me a kindness;” which your lordship, by so often repeating of it, seems to be displeased with. For, besides that there is nothing out of the way to a willing mind, I have now the satisfaction to be joined to the author of Christianity not mysterious, for his agreeing with me in the original of our ideas and the materials of our knowledge (though I agree not with him, or any body else, in laying all foundation of certainty in matters of faith, in clear and distinct ideas); and his being joined with the unitarians, by giving an account of reason, which supposes clear and distinct ideas, as necessary to all knowledge and certainty: I have now, I say, the satisfaction to see how I lay directly in your lordship’s way, in opposing these gentlemen, who lay all foundation of certainty, as to matters of faith, upon clear and distinct ideas; i. e. the unitarians, the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning; so dangerous to the doctrine of the Trinity. For the author of Christianity not mysterious agreeing with them in some things, and with me in others; he being joined to them on one side by an account of reason, that supposes clear and distinct ideas necessary to certainty; and to me on the other side, by saying, “the mind has its ideas from sensation and reflection, and that those are the materials and foundations of all our knowledge, &c.” who can deny, but so ranged in a row, your lordship may place yourself so, that we may seem but one object, and so one shot be aimed at us altogether? Though, if your lordship would be at the pains to change your station a little, and view us on the other side, we should visibly appear to be very far asunder; and I, in particular, be found, in the matter controverted, to be nearer to your lordship, than to either of them, or any body else, who lay all foundation of certainty, as to matters of faith, upon clear and distinct ideas. For I perfectly assent to what your lordship saith, “that there are many things of which we may be certain, and yet can have no clear and distinct ideas of them.”
Besides this account of the occasion of bringing me into your lordship’s chapter, wherein objections against the Trinity in point of reason are answered, which we have considered; your lordship promises “to show what care you took to prevent being misunderstood about it, to give me and others satisfaction, as to this matter:” which I find about the end of the first quarter of your lordship’s answer to me. All the pages between, being taken up in a dispute against what I have said about substance, and our idea of it, that I think has now no more to do with the question, whether I ought to have been made one of the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning, or with my complaint about it; though there be many things in it that I ought to consider apart, to show the reason why I am not yet brought to your lordship’s sentiments, by what you have there said. To return therefore to the business in hand.
Your lordship says, “I come therefore now to show the care I took to prevent being misunderstood; which will best appear by my own words, viz. I must do that right to the ingenious author of the Essay of Human Understanding (from whence these notions are borrowed, to serve other purposes than he intended them) that he makes the cases of spiritual and corporeal substances to be alike.”
These words, my lord, which you have quoted out of your Vindication, &c. I, with acknowledgment, own, will keep your lordship from being misunderstood, if any one should be in danger to be so foolishly mistaken, as to think your lordship could not treat me with great civility when you pleased; or that you did not here make me a great compliment, in the epithet which you here bestow upon me. These words also of your lordship, will certainly prevent your lordship’s being misunderstood, in allowing me to have made the case of spiritual and corporeal substances to be alike. But this was not what I complained of: my complaint was, that I was brought into a controversy, wherein what I had written had nothing more to do, than in any other controversy whatsoever; and that I was made a party on one side of a question, though what I said in my book made me not more on the one side of that question, than the other. And that your lordship had so mixed me, in many places, with those gentlemen, whose objections against the Trinity in point of reason your lordship was answering, that the reader could not but take me to be one of them that had objected against the Trinity in point of reason. As for example; where your lordship first introduces me, your lordship says, “That the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning have almost discarded substance out of the reasonable part of the world. For they not only tell us, that we can have no idea of it by sensation and reflection; but that nothing is signified by it, only an uncertain supposition of we know not what.” And for these words, B. i. ch. 4. § 18. of my Essay is quoted.
Now, my lord, what care is there taken? what provision is there made, in the words above alleged by your lordship, to prevent your being misunderstood, if you meant not that I was one of the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning? And if you did mean that I was, your lordship did me a manifest injury. For I no-where make clear and distinct ideas necessary to certainty; which is the new way of reasoning which your lordship opposes in the unitarians, as contrary to the doctrine of the Trinity. Your lordship says, you took care not to be misunderstood. And the words wherein you took that care, are these: “I must do that right to the ingenious author of the Essay of Human Understanding (from whence these notions are borrowed, to serve other purposes than he intended them), that he makes the case of spiritual and corporeal substances to be alike.” But which of these words are they, my lord, I beseech you, which are to hinder people from taking me to be one of the gentlemen of that new way of reasoning, wherewith they overturn the doctrine of the Trinity? I confess, my lord, I cannot see any of them that do: and that I did not see any of them that could hinder men from that mistake, I showed your lordship, in my first letter to your lordship, where I take notice of that passage in your lordship’s book. My words are: “I return my acknowledgment to your lordship, for the good opinion you are here pleased to express of the author of the Essay of Human Understanding; and that you do not impute to him the ill use some may have made of his notions. But he craves leave to say, that he should have been better preserved from the hard and sinister thoughts which some men are always ready for; if, in what you have here published, your lordship had been pleased to have shown where you directed your discourse against him, and where against others. Nothing but my words and my book being quoted, the world will be apt to think that I am the person who argue against the Trinity and deny mysteries, against whom your lordship directs those pages. And indeed, my lord, though I have read them over with great attention, yet, in many places, I cannot discern whether it be against me, or any body else, that your lordship is arguing. That which often makes the difficulty, is, that I do not see how what I say does at all concern the controversy your lordship is engaged in, and yet I alone am quoted.” To which complaint of mine your lordship returns no other answer, but refers me to the same passage again for satisfaction; and tells me, that therein you took care not to be misunderstood. Your lordship might see that those words did not satisfy me in that point, when I did myself the honour to write to your lordship; and how your lordship should think the repetition of them in your answer should satisfy me better, I confess I cannot tell.
I make the like complaint in these words: “This paragraph, which continues to prove, that we may have certainty without clear and distinct ideas, I would flatter myself is not meant against me, because it opposes nothing that I have said, and so shall not say any thing to it; but only set it down to do your lordship right, that the reader may judge. Though I do not find how he will easily overlook me, and think I am not at all concerned in it, since my words alone are quoted in several pages immediately preceding and following: and in the very next paragraph it is said, how they come to know; which word, they, must signify somebody besides the author of Christianity not mysterious; and then, I think, by the whole tenour of your lordship’s discourse, nobody will be left but me, possible to be taken to be the other; for in the same paragraph your lordship says, the same persons say, that, notwithstanding their ideas, it is possible for matter to think.”
“I know not what other person says so but I; but if any one does, I am sure no person but I say so in my book, which your lordship has quoted for them, viz. Human Understanding, B. iv. ch. 3. This, which is a riddle to me, the more amazes me, because I find it in a treatise of your lordship’s, who so perfectly understands the rules and methods of writing, whether in controversy or any other way: but this, which seems wholly new to me, I shall better understand, when your lordship pleases to explain it. In the mean time, I mention it as an apology for myself, if sometimes I mistake your lordship’s aim, and so misapply my answer.”
To this also your lordship answers nothing, but for satisfaction refers me to the care you took to prevent being misunderstood; which, you say, appears by those words of yours above-recited. But what there is in those words that can prevent the mistake I complained I was exposed to; what there is in them, that can hinder any one from thinking that I am one of the they and them that oppose the doctrine of the Trinity, with arguments in point of reason; that I must confess, my lord, I cannot see, though I have read them over and over again to find it out.
The like might be said in respect of all those other passages, where I make the like complaint, which your lordship takes notice I was frequent in; nor could I avoid it, being almost every leaf perplexed to know whether I was concerned, and how far, in what your lordship said, since my words were quoted, and others argued against. And for satisfaction herein, I am sent to a compliment of your lordship’s. I say not this my lord, that I do not highly value the civility and good opinion your lordship has expressed of me therein; but to let your lordship see, that I was not so rude as to complain of want of civility in your lordship: but my complaint was of something else; and therefore it was something else wherein I wanted satisfaction.
Indeed your lordship says, in that passage; “from the author of the Essay of Human Understanding, these notions are borrowed, to serve other purposes than he intended them.” But, my lord, how this helps in the case to prevent my being mistaken to be one of those whom your lordship had to do with in this chapter, in answering objections in point of reason against the Trinity, I must own, I do not yet perceive: for these notions, which your lordship is there arguing against, are all taken out of my book, and made use of by nobody that I know, but your lordship, or myself: and which of us two it is, that hath borrowed them to serve other purposes than I intended them, I must leave to your lordship to determine. I, and I think every body else with me, will be at a loss to know who they are, till their words, and not mine, are produced to prove, that they do use those notions of mine, which your lordship there calls these notions, to purposes to which I intended them not.
But to those words in your lordship’s Vindication of the doctrine of the Trinity you, in your answer to my letter, for farther satisfaction, add as followeth: “it was too plain that the bold writer against the mysteries of our faith took his notions and expressions from thence: and what could be said more for your vindication, than that he turned them into other purposes than the author intended them?”
With submission, my lord, it is as plain as print can make it, that whatever notions and expressions that writer took from my book; those in question, which your lordship there calls these notions, my book is only quoted for; nor does it appear, that your lordship knew that that writer had any where made use of them: or, if your lordship knew them to be any where in his writings, the matter of astonishment and complaint is still the greater, that your lordship should know where they were in his writings used to serve other purposes than I intended them; and yet your lordship should quote only my book, where they were used to serve only those purposes I intended them.
How much this is for my vindication, we shall presently see: but what it can do to give satisfaction to me or others, as to the matters of my complaint, for which it is brought by your lordship, that I confess I do not see. For my complaint was not against those gentlemen, that they had cast any aspersions upon my book, against which I desired your lordship to vindicate me; but my complaint was of your lordship, that you had brought me into a controversy, and so joined me with those against whom you were disputing in defence of the Trinity, that those who read your lordship’s book, would be apt to mistake me for one of them.
But your lordship asks, “what could be said more for my vindication?” My lord, I shall always take it for a very great honour, to be vindicated by your lordship against others. But in the present case, I wanted no vindication against others: if my book or notions had need of any vindication, it was only against your lordship; for it was your lordship, and not others, who had in your book disputed against passages quoted out of mine, for several pages together.
Nevertheless, my lord, I gratefully acknowledge the favour you have done for me, for being guarantee for my intentions, which you have no reason to repent of. For as it was not in my intention to write any thing against truth, much less against any of the sacred truths contained in the scriptures; so I will be answerable for it, that there is nothing in my book, which can be made use of to other purposes, but what may be turned upon them, who so use it, to show their mistake and errour. Nobody can hinder but that syllogism, which was intended for the service of truth, will sometimes be made use of against it. But it is nevertheless of truth’s side, and always turns upon the adversaries of it.
Your lordship adds, “and the true reason why the plural number was so often used by me, was, because he [i. e. the author of Christianity not mysterious] built upon those, which he imagined had been your grounds.”
Whether it was your lordship, or he, that imagined those to be my grounds, which were not my grounds, I will not pretend to say. Be that as it will; it is plain from what your lordship here says, that all the foundation of your lordship’s so positively, and in so many places, making me one of the gentlemen of the new way of reasoning, was but an imagination of an imagination. Your lordship says, “he built upon those, which he imagined had been my grounds;” but it is but an imagination in your lordship, that he did so imagine; and with all due respect, give me leave to say, a very ill-grounded imagination too. For it appears to me no foundation to think, that because he or any body agrees with me in things that are in my book, and so appears to be of my opinion; therefore he imagines he agrees with me in other things, which are not in my book, and are not my opinion. As in the matter before us; what reason is there to imagine, that the author of Christianity not mysterious imagined, that he built on my grounds, in laying all foundation of certainty in clear and distinct ideas, (if he does so) which is no-where laid down in my book; because he builds on my grounds, concerning the original of our ideas, or any thing else he finds in my book, or quotes out of it? For this is all that the author of Christianity not mysterious has done in this case, or can be brought to support such an imagination.
But supposing it true, that he imagined he built upon my grounds; what reason, I beseech your lordship, is that for using the plural number, in quoting words which I alone spoke, and he no-where makes use of? To this your lordship says, “that he imagined he built upon my grounds; and your lordship’s business was to show those expressions of mine, which seemed most to countenance his method of proceeding, could not give any reasonable satisfaction:” which, as I humbly conceive, amounts to thus much: the author of Christianity not mysterious writes something which your lordship disapproves: your lordship imagines he builds upon my grounds; and then your lordship picks out some expressions of mine, which you imagine do most countenance his method of proceeding, and quote them, as belonging in common to us both; though it be certain he no-where used them. And this your lordship tells me (to give me satisfaction, what care you took not to be misunderstood) was the true reason, why you so often used the plural number: which with submission, my lord, seems to me to be no reason at all: unless it can be a reason to ascribe my words to another man, and me together, which he never said; because your lordship imagines he might, if he would, have said them. And ought not this, my lord, to satisfy me of the care you took, not to be misunderstood?
Your lordship goes on to show your care to prevent your being misunderstood: your words are, “but you [i. e. the author of the letter to your lordship] say, you do not place certainty only in clear and distinct ideas, but in the clear and visible connexion of any of our ideas. And certainty of knowledge, you tell us, is to perceive the agreement or disagreement of ideas, as expressed in any proposition. Whether this be a true account of the certainty of knowledge, or not, will be presently considered. But it is very possible he might mistake, or misapply your notions; but there is too much reason to believe he thought them the same; and we have no reason to be sorry, that he hath given you this occasion for explaining your meaning, and for the vindication of yourself, in the matters you apprehend I had charged you with.”
Your lordship herein says, it is very possible the author of Christianity not mysterious might mistake, or misapply my notions. I find it indeed very possible, that my notions may be mistaken and misapplied; if by misapplied, be meant drawing inferences from thence, which belong not to them. But if that possibility be reason enough to join me in the plural number with the author of Christianity not mysterious, or with the unitarians; it is as much a reason to join me in the plural number with the papists, when your lordship has an occasion to write against them next; or with the lutherans, or quakers, &c. for it is possible, that any of these may mistake, or in that sense misapply my notions. But if mistaking, or misapplying my notions, actually join me to any body, I know nobody that I am so strictly joined to, as your lordship: for, as I humbly conceive, nobody has so much mistaken and misapplied my notions, as your lordship. I should not take the liberty to say this, were not my thinking so, the very reason and excuse for my troubling your lordship with this second letter. For, my lord, I do not so well love controversy, especially with so great and so learned a man as your lordship, as to say a word more; had I not hopes to show, for my excuse, that it is my misfortune to have my notions to be mistaken or misapplied by your lordship.
Your lordship adds, “but there is too much reason to believe, that he thought them the same;” i. e. that the author of Christianity not mysterious thought that I had laid all foundation of certainty in clear and distinct ideas, as well as he did; for that is it, upon which all this dispute is raised. Whether he himself laid all foundation of certainty in clear and distinct ideas, is more than I know. But what that “too much reason to believe, that he thought” that I did, is, I am sure, hard for me to guess, till your lordship is pleased to name it. For that there is not any such thing in my book, to give him, or any body else, reason to think so, I suppose your lordship is now satisfied: and I would not willingly suppose the reason to be, that unless he, or somebody else thought so, my book could not be brought into the dispute; though it be not easy to find any other. It follows in your lordship’s letter:
“And we have no reason to be sorry, that he hath given you this occasion for the explaining your meaning, and for the vindication of yourself in the matter you apprehended I had charged you with.”
My lord, I know not any occasion he has given me of vindicating myself: your lordship was pleased to join me with the gentlemen of the new way of reasoning, who laid all foundation of certainty in clear and distinct ideas. All the vindication I make, or need to make in the case, is, that I lay not all foundation of certainty in clear and distinct ideas; and so there was no reason to join me with those that do. And for this vindication of myself, your lordship alone gives me occasion: but whether your lordship has reason to be sorry, or not sorry, your lordship best knows.
Your lordship goes on, in what is designed for my satisfaction, as followeth:
“And if your answer doth not come fully up in all things to what I could wish; yet I am glad to find that in general you own the mysteries of the christian faith, and the scriptures to be the rule and foundation of it.”
Which words, my lord, seem to me rather to show, that your lordship is not willing to be satisfied with my book, than to show any care your lordship took to prevent people’s being led by your lordship’s book into a mistake, that I was one of the gentlemen of that new way of reasoning, who argued against the doctrine of the Trinity.
The gentlemen of the new way of reasoning, whom your lordship sets yourself to answer in that 10th chapter of your Vindication of the doctrine of the Trinity, are those who lay all foundation of certainty in clear and distinct ideas; and from that foundation raise objections against the Trinity, in point of reason. Your lordship joins me with these gentlemen in that chapter, and calls me one of them. Of this I complain; and tell your lordship, in the place and words you have quoted out of my letter, “that I do not place certainty only in clear and distinct ideas.” I expected upon this, that your lordship would have assoiled me, and said, that then I was none of them; nor should have been joined with them. But instead of that your lordship tells me, “my answer doth not come fully up in all things, to what your lordship could wish.” The question is, whether I ought to be listed with these, and ranked on their side, who place certainty only in clear and distinct ideas? What more direct and categorical answer could your lordship wish for, to decide this question, than that which I give? To which nothing can be replied, but that it is not true: but that your lordship does not object to it; but says, “it does not come fully up in all things to what your lordship could wish.” What other things there can be wished for in an answer, which, if it be true, decides the matter, and which is not doubted to be true, comes not within my guess. But though my answer be an unexceptionable answer, as to the point in question, yet, it seems, my book is not an unexceptionable book, because, I own, that in it I say, “that certainty of knowledge is to perceive the agreement or disagreement of any ideas, as expressed in any proposition.” Whether it be true, that certainty of knowledge lies in such a perception, is nothing to the question here; that, perhaps, we may have an occasion to examine in another place. The question here is, whether I ought to have been ranked with those, who lay all foundation of certainty in clear and distinct ideas? And to that, I think, my answer is a full and decisive answer; and there is nothing wanting in it, which your lordship could wish for, to make it fuller.
But it is natural the book should be found fault with, when the author, it seems, has had the ill luck to be under your lordship’s ill opinion. This I could not but be surprised to find in a paragraph, which your lordship declares was designed to give me satisfaction. Your lordship says, “though my answer doth not come up in all things to what you could wish; yet you are glad to find, that in general I own the mysteries of the christian faith, and the scriptures to be the foundation and rule of it.”
My lord, I do not remember that ever I declared to your lordship, or any body else, that I did not own all the doctrines of the christian faith, and the scriptures to be the sole rule and foundation of it. And therefore I know no more reason your lordship had to say, that you are glad to find, that in general I own, &c. than I have reason to say, “that I am glad to find, that in general your lordship owns the mysteries of the christian faith, and the scriptures to be the foundation and rule of it.” Unless it be taken for granted, that those who do not write and appear in print, in controversies of religion, do not own the christian faith, and the scriptures as the rule of it.
I know, my lord, of what weight a commendation from your lordship’s pen is in the world: and I perceive your lordship knows the value of it, which has made your lordship temper yours of me with so large an alloy, for fear possibly lest it should work too strongly on my vanity. For whether I consider where these words stand, or how they are brought in, or what intimation they carry with them; which way soever I turn them, I do not find they were intended to puff me up, though they are in a paragraph purposely written to give me satisfaction; and grounded on words of mine, which seem to be approved by your lordship before any in my letter; but which yet have nothing to do in this place (whither your lordship has been at the pains to fetch them from my postscript) unless it be to give vent to so extraordinary a sort of compliment: for they are, I think, in their subject, as well as place, the remotest of any in my letter, from the argument your lordship was then upon; which was to show what care you had taken not to be misunderstood to my prejudice. For what, I beseech you, my lord, would you think of him, who from some words of your lordship’s, that seemed to express much of a christian spirit and temper (for so your lordship is pleased to say of these of mine) should seek occasion to tell your lordship, and the world, that he was glad to find that your lordship was a christian, and that you believe the Bible? For this, common humanity, as well as christian charity, obliges us to believe of every one, who calls himself a christian, till he manifests the contrary. Whereas the saying, I am glad to find such an one believes the scripture, is understood to intimate, that I knew the time when he did not; or, at least, when I suspected he did not. But perhaps your lordship had some other meaning in it, which I do not see. The largeness of your lordship’s mind, and the charity of a father of our church, makes me hope that I passed not in your lordship’s opinion for a heathen, till your lordship read that passage in the postscript of my late letter to you.
But to return to the satisfaction your lordship is giving me. To those words quoted out of my postscript, your lordship subjoins: “which words seem to express so much of a christian spirit and temper, that I cannot believe you intended to give any advantage to the enemies of the christian faith; but whether there hath not been too just occasion for them to apply them in that manner, is a thing very fit for you to consider.”
Your lordship here again expresses a favourable opinion of my intentions, which I gratefully acknowledge: but you add, “that it is fit for me to consider, whether there hath not been too just occasion for them to apply them in that manner.” My lord, I shall do what your lordship thinks is fit for me to do, when your lordship does me the favour to tell me, who those enemies of the faith are, who have applied those words of my postscript, (for to those alone, by any kind of construction, can I make your lordship’s word, “them,” refer) and the manner which they have applied them in, and the too just occasion they have had so to apply them. For I confess, my lord, I am at a loss as to all these; and thereby unable to obey your lordship’s commands, till your lordship does me the favour to make me understand all these particulars better.
But if by any new way of construction, unintelligible to me, the word, them, here shall be applied to any passages of my Essay of Human Understanding; I must humbly crave leave to observe this one thing, in the whole course of what your lordship has designed for my satisfaction, that though my complaint be of your lordship’s manner of applying what I had published in my Essay, so as to interest me in a controversy wherein I meddled not; your lordship all along tells me of others, that have misapplied I know not what words in my book, after I know not what manner. Now as to this matter, I beseech your lordship to believe, that when any one, in such a manner, applies my words contrary to what I intended them, so as to make them opposite to the doctrine of the Trinity, and me a party in that controversy against the Trinity, as your lordship knows I complain your lordship has done, I shall complain of them too; and consider, as well as I can, what satisfaction they give me and others in it.
Your lordship’s next words are: “for in an age, wherein the mysteries of faith are so much exposed, by the promoters of scepticism and infidelity; it is a thing of dangerous consequence to start such new methods of certainty, as are apt to leave men’s minds more doubtful than before; as will soon appear from your concessions.”
These words contain a further accusation of my book, which shall be considered in its due place. What I am now upon is the satisfaction your lordship is giving me, in reference to my complaint. And as to that, what follows is brought only to show that your lordship had reason to say, “that my notions were carried beyond my intentions;” for in these words your lordship winds up all the following eight or nine pages, viz. “thus far I have endeavoured, with all possible brevity and clearness, to lay down your sense about this matter; by which it is sufficiently proved, that I had reason to say, that your notions were carried beyond your intentions.”
I beg leave to remind your lordship, that my complaint was not that your lordship said, “that my notions were carried beyond my intentions.” I was not so absurd, as to turn what was matter of acknowledgement into matter of complaint. And therefore, in showing the care you had taken of me for my satisfaction, your lordship needed not to have been at so much pains, in so long a deduction, to prove to me, that you had reason for saying what was so manifestly in my favour, whether you had reason for saying it or no. But my complaint was, that the new way of reasoning, accused by your lordship, as opposite to the doctrine of the Trinity, being in laying all foundation of certainty in clear and distinct ideas, your lordship ranked me amongst the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning, though I laid not all foundation of certainty in clear and distinct ideas. And this being my complaint, it is for this that there needs a reason. Your lordship subjoins.
“But you still seem concerned that I quote your words; although I declare they were used to other purposes than you intended them. I do confess to you, that the reason of it was, that I found your notions, as to certainty by ideas, was the main foundation which the author of Christianity not mysterious went upon; and that he had nothing which looked like reason, if that principle were removed; which made me so much endeavour to show that it would not hold. And so, I suppose, the reason of my mentioning your words so often, is no longer a riddle to you.”
My lord, he that will give himself the trouble to look into that part of my former letter, where I speak of your lordship’s way of proceeding as a riddle to me; or to that, which your lordship here quoted, for my seeming concerned at it; will find my complaint, in both places, as well as several others, was, that I was so every-where joined with others under the comprehensive words of they and them, &c. though my book alone was every where quoted, “that the world would be apt to think I was the person who argued against the Trinity, and denied mysteries;” against whom your lordship directed these very pages. For so I express myself in that part, which your lordship here quotes. And as to this, your lordship’s way of writing (which is the subject of my complaint) is (for any thing your lordship has in your answer said to give me satisfaction) as much still a riddle to me as ever.
For that which your lordship here says, and is the only thing I can find your lordship has said to clear it, seems to me to do nothing towards it. Your lordship says, “the reason of it was, that you found my notions, as to certainty by ideas, was the main foundation which the author of Christianity not mysterious went upon,” &c.
With submission, I thought your lordship had found, that the foundation, which the author of Christianity not mysterious went upon, and for which he was made one of the gentlemen of the new way of reasoning, opposite to the doctrine of the Trinity, was, that he made, or supposed, clear and distinct ideas necessary to certainty; but that is not my notion, as to certainty by ideas. My notion of certainty by ideas is, that certainty consists in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of ideas such as we have, whether they be in all their parts perfectly clear and distinct or no: nor have I any notions of certainty more than this one. And if your lordship had for this called me a gentleman of a new way of reasoning, or made me one of the opposers of the doctrine of the Trinity, I should perhaps have wondered; but should not at all have complained of your lordship, for directly questioning this or any of my opinions: I should only have examined what your lordship had said to support, or have desired you to make out, that charge against me; which is what I shall do by and by, when I come to examine what your lordship now charges this opinion with: but I shall not add any complaints to my defence.
That which I complained of, was, that I was made one of the gentlemen of the new way of reasoning, without being guilty of what made them so; and so was brought into a chapter, wherein I thought myself not concerned: which was managed so, that my book was all along quoted, and others argued against; others were entitled to what I had said, and I to what others said, without knowing why, or how. Nor am I yet, I must own, much enlightened in the reason of it: that was the cause why I then thought it a new way of writing; and that must be my apology for thinking so still, till I light upon, or am directed to, some author who has ever writ thus before.
And thus I come to the end of what your lordship has said, to that part of my letter which your lordship calls my complaint; wherein I think I have omitted nothing which your lordship has alleged for the satisfaction of others, or myself, under those two heads, of the occasion of your lordship’s way of writing as you did, and the care you took not to be misunderstood. And if, my lord, as to me, it has not possibly had all the success your lordship proposed, I beg your lordship to attribute it to my dulness, or any thing rather than an unwillingness to be satisfied.
My lord, I so little love controversy, that I never began a dispute with any body; nor shall ever continue it, where others begin with me, any longer than the appearance of truth, which first made me write, obliges me not to quit it. But least of all, would I have any controversy with your lordship, if I had any design in writing, but the defence of truth. I do not know my own weakness, or your lordship’s strength so little, as to enter the lists with your lordship only for a trial of skill, or the vain and ridiculous hopes of victory. Nothing, I know, but truth on my side, can support me against so great a man; whose very name in writing and authority, in the learned world, is of weight enough to crush and sink whatever opinion has not that solid basis to bear it up.
There are men that enter into disputes to get a name in controversy, or for some little by-ends of a party: your lordship has been so long in the first rank of the men of letters, and by common consent settled at the top of this learned age, that it must pass for the utmost folly, not to think, that if your lordship condescended so far, as to meddle with any of the opinions of so inconsiderable a man as I am, it was with a design to convince me of my errours, and not to gain reputation on one so infinitely below your match. It is upon this ground that I still continue to offer my doubts to your lordship, in those parts wherein I am not yet so happy as to be convinced; and it is with this satisfaction I return this answer to your lordship, that if I am in a mistake, your lordship will certainly detect it, and lead me into the truth; which I shall embrace, with the acknowledgment of the benefit I have received from your lordship’s instructions. And that your lordship, in the mean time, will have the goodness to allow me, as becomes a scholar, willing to profit by the favour you do me, to show your lordship where I stick, and in what points your lordship’s arguments have failed to work upon me. For, as on the one side it would not become one that would learn of your lordship to acknowledge himself convinced, before he is convinced; and I know your lordship would blame me for it, if I should do so: so on the other side, to continue to dissent from your lordship, where you have done me the honour to take pains with me, without giving you my reasons for it, would, I think, be an ungrateful and unmannerly sullenness.
Your lordship has had the goodness to write several leaves, to give me satisfaction as to the matter of my complaints. I return your lordship my most humble thanks for this great condescension; which I take as a pledge, that you will bear with the representation of my doubts, in other points, wherein I am so unlucky as not to be yet thoroughly enlightened by your lordship. And so I go on to the remaining parts of your letter, which, I think, may be comprehended under these two, viz. those things in my Essay, which your lordship now charges, as concerned in the controversy of the Trinity; and others, as faulty in themselves, whether we consider them with respect to any doctrines of religion or no.
In the close of your lordship’s letter, after some other expressions of civility to me, for which I return your lordship my thanks, I find these words: “I do assure you, that it is out of no disrespect, or the least ill-will to you, that I have again considered this matter; but because I am further convinced, that as you have stated your notion of ideas, it may be of dangerous consequence to that article of the christian faith, which I endeavour to defend.”
This now is a direct charge against my book; and I must own it a great satisfaction to me, that I shall now be no longer at a loss, who it is your lordship means: that I shall stand by myself, and myself answer for my own faults, and not be so placed in such an association with others, that will hinder me from knowing what is my particular guilt and share in the accusation. Had your lordship done me the favour to have treated me so before, you had heard nothing of all those complaints which have been so troublesome to your lordship.
To take now a right view of this matter, it is fit to consider the beginning and progress of it: your lordship had a controversy with the unitarians; they, in their answer to your lordship’s sermons, and elsewhere, talk of ideas; the author of Christianity not mysterious, whether an unitarian or no, your lordship says not, neither do I inquire, gives an account of reason, which, as your lordship says, supposes certainty to consist only in clear and distinct ideas; and because he expresses himself in some other things conformable to what I had said in my book, my book is brought into the controversy, though there be no such opinion in it, as your lordship opposed. For what that was, is plain both from what has been observed out of the beginning of the tenth chapter of your Vindication of the Trinity, and also in your letter, viz. this proposition, “that certainty, as to matters of faith, is founded upon clear and distinct ideas;” but my book not having that proposition in it, which your lordship then opposed, as overthrowing mysteries of faith, at that time, fell, by I know not what chance and misfortune, into the unitarian controversy.
Upon examination, my book being not found guilty of that proposition, which your lordship, in your Vindication of the doctrine of the Trinity, opposed, because it overthrows the mysteries of faith; I thought it acquitted, and clear from that controversy. No, it must not escape so: your lordship having again considered this matter, has found new matter of accusation, and a new charge is brought against my book; and what now is it? even this, “That as I have stated the notion of ideas, it may be of dangerous consequence to that article of the christian faith, which your lordship has endeavoured to defend.”
The accusation then, as it now stands, is, that my notion of ideas may be of dangerous consequence, &c.
Such an accusation as this brought in any court in England, would, no doubt, be thought to show a great inclination to have the accused be suspected, rather than any evidence of being guilty of any thing; and so would immediately be dismissed, without hearing any plea to it. But in controversies in print, wherein an appeal is made to the judgment of mankind, the strict rules of proceeding in justice are not always thought necessary to be observed; and the sentence of those who are appealed to being never formally pronounced, a cause can never be dismissed as long as the prosecutor is pleased to continue or renew his charge.
As to the matter in hand, though what your lordship says here against my book, be nothing but your apprehension of what may be; yet nobody will think it strange, or unsuitable to your lordship’s character and station, to be watchful over any article of the christian faith, especially one that you have endeavoured to defend; and to warn the world of any thing your lordship may suspect to be of dangerous consequence to it, as far as you can espy it. And to this give me leave, my lord, to attribute the trouble your lordship has been at, to write again in this matter.
Another thing I must take notice of, in this your lordship’s new charge against my book, that it is against my notion of ideas, as I have stated it. This containing all that I have said in my Essay concerning ideas, which, as your lordship takes notice, is not a little; your lordship, I know, would not be thought to leave so general an accusation upon my book, as you could receive no answer to: and therefore though your lordship has not been pleased plainly to specify here the particulars of my notion of ideas, which your lordship apprehends to be of dangerous consequence to that article which your lordship has defended; I shall endeavour to find them, in other parts of your letter.
Your lordship’s words, in the immediately preceding page, run thus: “I can easily bear the putting of philosophical notions into a modern and fashionable dress.”
“Let men express their minds by ideas, if they please; and take pleasure in sorting, and comparing, and connecting of them, I am not forward to condemn them: for every age must have its new modes; and it is very well, if truth and reason be received in any garb. I was therefore far enough from condemning your way of ideas, till I found it made the only ground of certainty, and made use of to overthrow the mysteries of our faith, as I told you in the beginning.”
These words, leading to your lordship’s accusation, I thought the likeliest to show me what it was in my book, that your lordship now declared against, as what might be of dangerous consequence to that article you have defended; and that seemed to me to lie in those two particulars, viz. the making so much use of the word ideas; and my placing, as I do, certainty in ideas, i. e. in the things signified by them. And these two seem here to be the particulars which your lordship comprehends under my way by ideas. But that I might not be led into mistake by this passage, which seemed a little more obscure and doubtful to me, than I could have wished; I consulted those other places, wherein your lordship seemed to express, what it was that your lordship now accused in my book, in reference to the unitarian controversy; and which your lordship apprehends may be of dangerous consequence to that article.
Your lordship, in the close of the words above quoted out of your answer, tells me: “you were far enough from condemning my way of ideas, till your lordship found it made the only ground of certainty, and made use of to overthrow the mysteries of our faith, as you told me in the beginning.”
My lord, the way of ideas which your lordship opposed at first, was the way of certainty only by clear and distinct ideas; as appears by your words above quoted: but that, your lordship now knows, was not my way of certainty by ideas, and therefore that, and all the use can be made of it to overthrow the mysteries of our faith, be that as it will, cannot any more be charged on my book, but is quite out of doors: and therefore what you said in the beginning, gave me no light into what was your lordship’s present accusation.
But a little farther on I found these words: “when new terms are made use of, by ill men, to promote scepticism and infidelity, and to overthrow the mysteries of our faith, we have then reason to inquire into them, and to examine the foundation and tendency of them. And this was the true and only reason of my looking into this way of certainty, by ideas, because I found it applied to such purposes.”
Here, my lord, your lordship seems to lay your accusation wholly against new terms and their tendency.
And in another place your lordship has these words:
“The world hath been strangely amused with ideas of late; and we have been told, that strange things might be done by the help of ideas; and yet these ideas, at last, come to be only common notions of things, which we must make use of in our reasoning. You [i. e. the author of the Essay concerning Human Understanding] say in that chapter, about the existence of God, you thought it most proper to express yourself, in the most usual and familiar way, by common words and expressions. I would you had done so quite through your book: for then you had never given that occasion to the enemies of our faith to take up your new way of ideas, as an effectual battery (as they imagined) against the mysteries of the christian faith. But you might have enjoyed the satisfaction of your ideas long enough, before I had taken notice of them, unless I had found them employed about doing mischief.”
By which places it is plain, that that which your lordship apprehends in my book, “may be of dangerous consequence to the article which your lordship has endeavoured to defend,” is my introducing new terms; and that which your lordship instances in, is that of ideas. And the reason your lordship gives, in every of these places, why your lordship has such an apprehension of ideas, as “that they may be of dangerous consequence to that article of faith, which your lordship has endeavoured to defend, is, because they have been applied to such purposes. And I might (your lordship says) have enjoyed the satisfaction of my ideas long enough, before you had taken notice of them, unless your lordship had found them employed in doing mischief.” Which, at last, as I humbly conceive, amounts to thus much, and no more, viz. that your lordship fears ideas, i. e. the term ideas, may, some time or other, prove of very dangerous consequence to what your lordship has endeavoured to defend, because they have been made use of in arguing against it. For I am sure your lordship does not mean, that you apprehend the things, signified by ideas, “may be of dangerous consequence to the article of faith your lordship endeavours to defend,” because they have been made use of against it: for (besides that your lordship mentions terms) that would be to expect that those who oppose that article, should oppose it without any thoughts; for the thing signified by ideas, is nothing but the immediate objects of our minds in thinking: so that unless any one can oppose the article your lordship defends, without thinking on something, he must use the things signified by ideas: for he that thinks, must have some immediate object of his mind in thinking, i. e. must have ideas.
But whether it be the name or the thing, ideas in sound, or ideas in signification, that your lordship apprehends may be of dangerous consequence to that article of faith, which your lordship endeavours to defend, it seems to me, I will not say a new way of reasoning (for that belongs to me) but were it not your lordship’s, I should think it a very extraordinary way of reasoning, to write against a book, wherein your lordship acknowledges they are not used to bad purposes, nor employed to do mischief: only because that you find that ideas are, by those who oppose your lordship, employed to do mischief; and so apprehend they may be of dangerous consequence to the article your lordship has engaged in the defence of. For whether ideas as terms, or ideas as the immediate objects of the mind signified by those terms, may be, in your lordship’s apprehension, of dangerous consequence to that article; I do not see how your lordship’s writing against the notion of ideas, as stated in my book, will at all hinder your opposers from employing them in doing mischief, as before.
However, be that as it will, so it is, that your lordship apprehends these “new terms, these ideas, with which the world hath, of late, been so strangely amused (though at last they come to be only common notions of things, as your lordship owns) may be of dangerous consequence to that article.”
My lord, if any in their answer to your lordship’s sermons, and in their other pamphlets, wherein your lordship complains they have talked so much of ideas, have been troublesome to your lordship with that term; it is not strange that your lordship should be tired with that sound: but how natural soever it be to our weak constitutions to be offended with any sound, wherewith an importunate din hath been made about our ears; yet, my lord, I know your lordship has a better opinion of the articles of our faith, than to think any of them can be overturned, or so much as shaken with a breath, formed into any sound or term whatsoever.
Names are but the arbitrary marks of conceptions; and so they be sufficiently appropriated to them in their use, I know no other difference any of them have in particular, but as they are of easy or difficult pronunciation, and of a more or less pleasant sound: and what particular antipathies there may be in men, to some of them upon that account, is not easy to be foreseen. This I am sure, no term whatesoever in itself bears, one more than another, any opposition to truth of any kind; they are only propositions that do, or can oppose the truth of any article or doctrine: and thus no term is privileged from being set in opposition to truth.
There is no word to be found, which may not be brought into a proposition, wherein the most sacred and most evident truths may be opposed; but that is not a fault in the term, but him that uses it. And therefore I cannot easily persuade myself (whatever your lordship hath said in the heat of your concern) that you have bestowed so much pains upon my book, because the word idea is so much used there. For though upon my saying, in my chapter about the existence of God, “that I scarce used the word idea in that whole chapter; your lordship wishes, that I had done so quite through my book;” yet I must rather look upon that as a compliment to me, wherein your lordship wished, that my book had been all through suited to vulgar readers, not used to that and the like terms, than that your lordship has such an apprehension of the word idea; or that there is any such harm in the use of it, instead of the word notion (with which your lordship seems to take it to agree in signification) that your lordship would think it worth your while to spend any part of your valuable time and thoughts about my book, for having the word idea so often in it: for this would be to make your lordship to write only against an impropriety of speech. I own to your lordship, it is a great condescension in your lordship to have done it, if that word have such a share in what your lordship has writ against my book, as some expressions would persuade one; and I would, for the satisfaction of your lordship, change the term of idea for a better, if your lordship, or any one, could help me to it. For, that notion will not so well stand for every immediate object of the mind in thinking, as idea does, I have (as I guess) somewhere given a reason in my book; by showing that the term notion is more peculiarly appropriated to a certain sort of those objects, which I called mixed modes; and, I think, it would not sound altogether so well, to say the notion of red, and the notion of a horse; as the idea of red, and the idea of a horse. But if any one thinks it will, I contend not; for I have no fondness for, nor antipathy to, any particular articulate sounds: nor do I think there is any spell or fascination in any of them.
But be the word idea proper or improper, I do not see how it is the better or worse, because ill men have made use of it, or because it has been made use of to bad purposes; for if that be a reason to condemn, or lay it by, we must lay by the terms of scripture, reason, perception, distinct, clear, &c. nay, the name of God himself will not escape: for I do not think any one of these, or any other term, can be produced, which has not been made use of by such men, and to such purposes. And therefore, “if the unitarians, in their late pamphlets, have talked very much of, and strangely amused the world with ideas;” I cannot believe your lordship will think that word one jot the worse, or the more dangerous, because they use it; any more than, for their use of them, you will think reason or scripture terms ill or dangerous. And therefore what your lordship says; that “I might have enjoyed the satisfaction of my ideas long enough, before your lordship had taken notice of them, unless you had found them employed in doing mischief;” will, I presume, when your lordship has considered again of this matter, prevail with your lordship to let me enjoy still the satisfaction I take in my ideas, i. e. as much satisfaction as I can take in so small a matter, as is the using of a proper term, notwithstanding it should be employed by others in doing mischief.
For, my lord, if I should leave it wholly out of my book, and substitute the word notion every where in the room of it; and every body else do so too (though your lordship does not, I suppose, suspect that I have the vanity to think they would follow my example) my book would, it seems, be the more to your lordship’s liking: but I do not see how this would one jot abate the mischief your lordship complains of. For the unitarians might as much employ notions, as they do now ideas, to do mischief: unless they are such fools as to think they can conjure with this notable word idea; and that the force of what they say lies in the sound, and not in the signification of their terms.
This I am sure of, that the truths of the christian religion can be no more battered by one word than another; nor can they be beaten down or endangered, by any sound whatsoever. And I am apt to flatter myself, that your lordship is satisfied there is no harm in the word ideas, because you say you should not have taken any notice of my ideas, “if the enemies of our faith had not taken up my new way of ideas, as an effectual battery against the mysteries of the christian faith.” In which place, by new way of ideas, nothing, I think, can be construed to be meant, but my expressing myself by that of ideas; and not by other more common words, and of ancienter standing in the English language.
My new way by ideas, or my way by ideas, which often occurs in your lordship’s letter, is, I confess, a very large and doubtful expression: and may, in the full latitude, comprehend my whole Essay: because treating in it of the understanding, which is nothing but the faculty of thinking, I could not well treat of that faculty of the mind, which consists in thinking, without considering the immediate objects of the mind in thinking, which I call ideas: and therefore in treating of the understanding, I guess it will not be thought strange, that the greatest part of my book has been taken up, in considering what these objects of the mind, in thinking, are; whence they come; what use the mind makes of them, in its several ways of thinking; and what are the outward marks whereby it signifies them to others, or records them for its own use. And this, in short, is my way by ideas, that which your lordship calls my new ways by ideas: which, my lord, if it be new, it is but a new history of an old thing. For I think it will not be doubted, that men always performed the actions of thinking, reasoning, believing, and knowing, just after the same manner that they do now: though whether the same account has heretofore been given of the way how they performed these actions, or wherein they consisted, I do not know. Were I as well read as your lordship, I should have been safe from that gentle reprimand of your lordship’s, for “thinking my way of ideas new, for want of looking into other men’s thoughts, which appear in their books.”
Your lordship’s words, as an acknowledgment of your instructions in the case, and as a warning to others, who will be so bold adventurers as to spin any thing barely out of their own thoughts, I shall set down at large: and they run thus: “whether you took this way of ideas from the modern philosopher, mentioned by you, is not at all material; but I intended no reflection upon you in it (for that you mean by my commending you as a scholar of so great a master) I never meant to take from you the honour of your own inventions: and I do believe you, when you say, that you wrote from your own thoughts, and the ideas you had there. But many things may seem new to one, who converses only with his own thoughts, which really are not so; as he may find, when he looks into the thoughts of other men, which appear in their books. And therefore, although I have a just esteem for the invention of such, who can spin volumes barely out of their own thoughts; yet I am apt to think they would oblige the world more, if, after they have thought so much of themselves, they would examine what thoughts others have had before them, concerning the same things: that so those may not be thought their own inventions, which are common to themselves and others. If a man should try all the magnetical experiments himself, and publish them as his own thoughts, he might take himself to be the inventor of them: but he that examines and compares with them what Gilbert and others have done before him, will not diminish the praise of his diligence, but may wish he had compared his thoughts with other men’s; by which the world would receive greater advantage, although he lost the honour of being an original.”
To alleviate my fault herein, I agree with your lordship, “that many things may seem new to one that converses only with his own thoughts, which really are not so:” but I must crave leave to suggest to your lordship, that if, in the spinning them out of his own thoughts, they seem new to him, he is certainly the inventor of them; and they may as justly be thought his own invention, as any one’s; and he is as certainly the inventor of them, as any one who thought on them before him: the distinction of invention, or not invention, lying not in thinking first or not first, but in borrowing or not borrowing your thoughts from another: and he to whom spinning them out of his own thoughts, they seem new, could not certainly borrow them from another. So he truly invented printing in Europe, who, without any communication with the Chinese, spun it out of his own thoughts; though it were ever so true, that the Chinese had the use of printing, nay, of printing in the very same way, among them, many ages before him. So that he that spins any thing out of his own thoughts, that seems new to him, cannot cease to think it his own invention, should he examine ever so far what thoughts others have had before him, concerning the same thing; and should find, by examining, that they had the same thoughts too.
But what great obligation this would be to the world, or weighty cause of turning over and looking into books, I confess I do not see. The great end to me, in conversing with my own or other men’s thoughts in matters of speculation, is to find truth, without being much concerned whether my own spinning of it out of mine, or their spinning of it out of their own thoughts, helps me to it. And how little I affect the honour of an original, may be seen in that place of my book, where, if any where, that itch of vain-glory was likeliest to have shown itself, had I been so over-run with it, as to need a cure. It is where I speak of certainty, in these following words, taken notice of by your lordship in another place: “I think I have shown wherein it is that certainty, real certainty, consists; which, whatever it was to others, was, I confess, to me heretofore one of those desiderata, which I found great want of.”
Here, my lord, however new this seemed to me, and the more so because possibly I had in vain hunted for it in the books of others; yet I spoke of it as new, only to myself; leaving others in the undisturbed possession of what either by invention or reading was theirs before; without assuming to myself any other honour, but that of my own ignorance till that time, if others before had shown wherein certainty lay. And yet, my lord, if I had upon this occasion been forward to assume to myself the honour of an original, I think I had been pretty safe in it; since I should have had your lordship for my guarantee and vindicator in that point, who are pleased to call it new; and, as such, to write against it.
And truly, my lord, in this respect my book has had very unlucky stars, since it hath had the misfortune to displease your lordship, with many things in it, for their novelty; as “new way of reasoning; new hypothesis about reason; new sort of certainty; new terms; new way of ideas; new method of certainty,” &c. and yet in other places your lordship seems to think it worthy in me of your lordship’s reflection, for saying but what others have said before. As where I say, “in the different make of men’s tempers and application of their thoughts, some arguments prevail more on one, and some on another, for the confirmation of the same truth:” your lordship asks, “what is this different from what all men of understanding have said?” Again, I take it your lordship meant not these words for a commendation of my book, where you say; “but if no more be meant by the simple ideas that come in by sensation or reflection, and their being the foundation of our knowledge;” but that our notions of things come in, either from our senses, or the exercise of our minds: as there is nothing extraordinary in the discovery, so your lordship is far enough from opposing that, wherein you think all mankind are agreed.
And again, “but what need all this great noise about ideas and certainty, true and real certainty by ideas; if, after all, it comes only to this, that our ideas only represent to us such things, from whence we bring arguments to prove the truth of things?”
And “the world hath been strangely amused with ideas of late; and we have been told, that strange things might be done by the help of ideas; yet these ideas, at last, come to be only common notions of things, which we must make use of in our reasoning.” And to the like purpose in other places.
Whether therefore at last your lordship will resolve, that it is new or no, or more faulty by its being new, must be left to your lordship. This I find by it, that my book cannot avoid being condemned on the one side or the other; nor do I see a possibility to help it. If there be readers that like only new thoughts; or, on the other side, others that can bear nothing but what can be justified by received authorities in print; I must desire them to make themselves amends in that part which they like, for the displeasure they receive in the other: but if many should be so exact as to find fault with both, truly I know not well what to say to them. The case is a plain case, the book is all over naught, and there is not a sentence in it that is not, either for its antiquity or novelty, to be condemned; and so there is a short end of it. From your lordship indeed in particular, I can hope for something better; for your lordship thinks the general design of it is so good, that that, I flatter myself, would prevail on your lordship to preserve it from the fire.
But as to the way your lordship thinks I should have taken to prevent the having it thought my invention, when it was common to me with others; it unluckily so fell out, in the subject of my Essay of Human Understanding, that I could not look into the thoughts of other men to inform myself. For my design being, as well as I could, to copy nature, and to give an account of the operations of the mind in thinking, I could look into nobody’s understanding but my own, to see how it wrought; nor have a prospect into other men’s minds to view their thoughts there, and observe what steps and motions they took, and by what gradations they proceeded in their acquainting themselves with truth, and their advance to knowledge. What we find of their thoughts in books, is but the result of this, and not the progress and working of their minds, in coming to the opinions or conclusions they set down and published.
All therefore that I can say of my book is, that it is a copy of my own mind, in its several ways of operation. And all that I can say for the publishing of it, is, that I think the intellectual faculties are made, and operate alike in most men; and that some that I showed it to before I published it, liked it so well that I was confirmed in that opinion. And therefore if it should happen, that it should not be so, but that some men should have ways of thinking, reasoning, or arriving at certainty, different from others, and above those that I find my mind to use and acquiesce in, I do not see of what use my book can be to them. I can only make it my humble request, in my own name, and in the name of those that are of my size, who find their minds work, reason, and know, in the same low way that mine does, that those men of a more happy genius would show us the way of their nobler flights; and particularly would discover to us their shorter or surer way to certainty, than by ideas, and the observing their agreement or disagreement.
In the mean time, I must acknowledge, that, if I had been guilty of affecting to be thought an original, a correction could not have come from any body so disinterested in the case, as your lordship; since your lordship so much declines being thought an original, for writing in a way wherein it is hard to avoid thinking that you are the first, till some other can be produced that writ so before you.
But to return to your lordship’s present charge against my book: in your lordship’s answer, I find these words: “in an age, wherein the mysteries of faith are so much exposed, by the promoters of scepticism and infidelity; it is a thing of dangerous consequence, to start such new methods of certainty, as are apt to leave men’s minds more doubtful than before.”
By which passage, and some expressions that seem to look that way, in the places above-quoted, I take it for granted, that another particular in my book, which your lordship suspects may be of dangerous consequence to that article of faith which your lordship has endeavoured to defend, is my placing of certainty as I do, in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas.
Though I cannot conceive how any term, new or old, idea or not idea, can have any opposition or danger in it, to any article of faith, or any truth whatsoever; yet I easily grant, that propositions are capable of being opposite to propositions, and may be such as, if granted, may overthrow articles of faith, or any other truth they are opposite to. But your lordship not having, as I remember, shown, or gone about to show, how this proposition, viz. that certainty consists in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of two ideas, is opposite or inconsistent with that article of faith which your lordship has endeavoured to defend: it is plain, it is but your lordship’s fear, that it may be of dangerous consequence to it; which, as I humbly conceive, is no proof that it is any way inconsistent with that article.
Nobody, I think, can blame your lordship, or any one else, for being concerned for any article of the christian faith: but if that concern (as it may, and as we know it has done) makes any one apprehend danger, where no danger is; are we therefore to give up and condemn any proposition, because any one, though of the first rank and magnitude, fears it may be of dangerous consequence to any truth of religion, without saying that it is so? If such fears be the measures whereby to judge of truth and falsehood, the affirming that there are antipodes would be still a heresy; and the doctrine of the motion of the earth must be rejected, as overthrowing the truth of the scripture; for of that dangerous consequence it has been apprehended to be, by many learned and pious divines, out of their great concern for religion. And yet, notwithstanding those great apprehensions of what dangerous consequence it might be, it is now universally received by learned men, as an undoubted truth; and writ for by some, whose belief of the scriptures is not at all questioned; and particularly, very lately, by a divine of the church of England, with great strength of reason, in his wonderfully ingenious New Theory of the earth.
The reason your lordship gives of your fears, that it may be of such dangerous consequence to that article of faith which your lordship endeavours to defend, though it occurs in many more places than one, is only this, viz. that it is made use of by ill men to do mischief, i. e. to oppose that article of faith, which your lordship has endeavoured to defend. But, my lord, if it be a reason to lay by any thing as bad, because it is, or may be used to an ill purpose; I know not what will be innocent enough to be kept. Arms, which were made for our defence, are sometimes made use of to do mischief; and yet they are not thought of dangerous consequence for all that. Nobody lays by his sword and pistols, or thinks them of such dangerous consequence as to be neglected, or thrown away, because robbers and the worst of men sometimes make use of them to take away honest men’s lives or goods. And the reason is, because they were designed, and will serve to preserve them. And who knows but this may be the present case? If your lordship thinks that placing of certainty in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of ideas be to be rejected as false, because you apprehend it may be of dangerous consequence to that article of faith; on the other side, perhaps others, with me, may think it a defence against errour, and so (as being of good use) to be received and adhered to.
I would not, my lord, be hereby thought to set up my own, or any one’s judgment against your lordship’s; but I have said this only to show, while the argument lies for or against the truth of any proposition, barely in an imagination, that it may be of consequence to the supporting or overthrowing of any remote truth; it will be impossible, that way, to determine of the truth or falsehood of that proposition. For imagination will be set up against imagination, and the stronger probably will be against your lordship; the strongest imaginations being usually in the weakest heads. The only way, in this case, to put it past doubt, is to show the inconsistency of the two propositions; and then it will be seen, that one overthrows the other; the true the false one.
Your lordship says indeed, this is a new method of certainty. I will not say so myself, for fear of deserving a second reproof from your lordship, for being too forward to assume to myself the honour of being an original. But this, I think, gives me occasion, and will excuse me from being thought impertinent, if I ask your lordship whether there be any other or older method of certainty? and what it is? For if there be no other, nor older than this, either this was always the method of certainty, and so mine is no new one; or else the world is obliged to me for this new one, after having been so long in the want of so necessary a thing, as a method of certainty. If there be an older, I am sure your lordship cannot but know it; your condemning mine as new, as well as your thorough insight into antiquity, cannot but satisfy every body that you do. And therefore to set the world right in a thing of that great concernment, and to overthrow mine, and thereby prevent the dangerous consequence there is in my having unseasonably started it, will not, I humbly conceive, misbecome your lordship’s care of that article you have endeavoured to defend, nor the good-will you bear to truth in general. For I will be answerable for myself, that I shall; and I think I may be for all others, that they all will give off the placing of certainty in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of ideas, if your lordship will be pleased to show that it lies in any thing else.
But truly, and not to ascribe to myself an invention of what has been as old as knowledge is in the world, I must own, I am not guilty of what your lordship is pleased to call starting new methods of certainty. Knowledge, ever since there has been any in the world, has consisted in one particular action of the mind; and so, I conceive, will continue to do to the end of it: and to start new methods of knowledge and certainty, (for they are to me the same thing) i. e. to find out and propose new methods of attaining knowledge, either with more ease and quickness, or in things yet unknown, is what I think nobody could blame: but this is not that which your lordship here means by new methods of certainty. Your lordship, I think, means by it the placing of certainty in something, wherein either it does not consist, or else wherein it was not placed before now; if this be to be called a new method of certainty. As to the latter of these, I shall know whether I am guilty or no, when your lordship will do me the favour to tell me, wherein it was placed before: which your lordship knows I professed myself ignorant of, when I writ my book, and so am still. But if starting of new methods of certainty, be the placing of certainty in something wherein it does not consist; whether I have done that or no, I must appeal to the experience of mankind.
There are several actions of men’s minds that they are conscious to themselves of performing, as willing, believing, knowing, &c. which they have so particular a sense of, that they can distinguish them one from another; or else they could not say when they willed, when they believed, and when they knew any thing. But though these actions were different enough from one another, not to be confounded by those who spoke of them; yet nobody, that I had met with, had, in their writings, particularly set down wherein the act of knowing precisely consisted.
To this reflection upon the actions of my own mind, the subject of my Essay concerning Human Understanding naturally led me; wherein, if I have done any thing new, it has been to describe to others more particularly than had been done before, what it is their minds do, when they perform that action which they call knowing: and if, upon examination, they observe I have given a true account of that action of their minds in all the parts of it; I suppose it will be in vain to dispute against what they find and feel in themselves. And if I have not told them right, and exactly what they find and feel in themselves, when their minds perform the act of knowing, what I have said will be all in vain; men will not be persuaded against their senses. Knowledge is an internal perception of their minds; and if, when they reflect on it, they find it is not what I have said it is, my groundless conceit will not be hearkened to, but exploded by every body, and die of itself; and nobody need to be at any pains to drive it out of the world. So impossible is it to find out, or start new methods of certainty, or to have them received, if any one places it in any thing but in that wherein it really consists: much less can any one be in danger to be misled into errour, by any such new, and to every one visibly senseless project. Can it be supposed, that any one could start a new method of seeing, and persuade men thereby, that they do not see what they do see? Is it to be feared, that any one can cast such a mist over their eyes that they should not know when they see, and so be led out of their way by it?
Knowledge, I find, in myself; and, I conceive, in others; consists in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of the immediate objects of the mind in thinking, which I call ideas: but whether it does so in others or no, must be determined by their own experience, reflecting upon the action of their mind in knowing; for that I cannot alter, nor I think they themselves. But whether they will call those immediate objects of their mind in thinking ideas or no, is perfectly in their own choice. If they dislike that name, they may call them notions or conceptions, or how they please; it matters not, if they use them so as to avoid obscurity and confusion. If they are constantly used in the same and a known sense, every one has the liberty to please himself in his terms; there lies neither truth, nor errour, nor science, in that; though those that take them for things, and not for what they are, bare arbitrary signs of our ideas, make a great deal of ado often about them, as if some great matter lay in the use of this or that sound. All that I know or can imagine of difference about them, is, that those words are always best, whose significations are best known in the sense they are used; and so are least apt to breed confusion.
My lord, your lordship has been pleased to find fault with my use of the new term, ideas, without telling me a better name for the immediate objects of the mind in thinking. Your lordship has also been pleased to find fault with my definition of knowledge, without doing me the favour to give me a better. For it is only about my definition of knowledge, that all this stir, concerning certainty, is made. For with me, to know and be certain, is the same thing; what I know, that I am certain of; and what I am certain of, that I know. What reaches to knowledge, I think may be called certainty; and what comes short of certainty, I think cannot be called knowledge; as your lordship could not but observe in § 18. of ch. iv. of my fourth book, which you have quoted.
My definition of knowledge, in the beginning of the fourth book of my Essay, stands thus: “knowledge seems to me to be nothing but the perception of the connexion and agreement or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our ideas.” This definition your lordship dislikes, and apprehends, “it may be of dangerous consequence as to that article of christian faith which your lordship has endeavoured to defend.” For this there is a very easy remedy; it is but for your lordship to set aside this definition of knowledge by giving us a better, and this danger is over. But your lordship chooses rather to have a controversy with my book, for having it in it, and to put me upon the defence of it; for which I must acknowledge myself obliged to your lordship, for affording me so much of your time, and for allowing me the honour of conversing so much with one so far above me in all respects.
Your lordship says, “it may be of dangerous consequence to that article of christian faith, which you have endeavoured to defend.” Though the laws of disputing allow bare denial as a sufficient answer to sayings, without any offer of a proof; yet, my lord, to show how willing I am to give your lordship all satisfaction, in what you apprehend may be of dangerous consequence in my book, as to that article, I shall not stand still sullenly, and put your lordship upon the difficulty of showing wherein that danger lies; but shall, on the other side, endeavour to show your lordship that that definition of mine, whether true or false, right or wrong, can be of no dangerous consequence to that article of faith. The reason which I shall offer for it, is this; because it can be of no consequence to it at all.
That which your lordship is afraid it may be dangerous to, is an article of faith: that which your lordship labours and is concerned for, is the certainty of faith. Now, my lord, I humbly conceive the certainty of faith, if your lordship thinks fit to call it so, has nothing to do with the certainty of knowledge. And to talk of the certainty of faith, seems all one to me, as to talk of the knowledge of believing; a way of speaking not easy to me to understand.
Place knowledge in what you will, “start what new methods of certainty you please, that are apt to leave men’s minds more doubtful than before;” place certainty on such grounds as will leave little or no knowledge in the world; (for these are the arguments your lordship uses against my definition of knowledge) this shakes not at all, nor in the least concerns the assurance of faith; that is quite distinct from it, neither stands nor falls with knowledge.
Faith stands by itself, and upon grounds of its own; nor can be removed from them, and placed on those of knowledge. Their grounds are so far from being the same, or having any thing common, that when it is brought to certainty, faith is destroyed; it is knowledge then, and faith no longer.
With what assurance soever of believing, I assent to any article of faith, so that I steadfastly venture my all upon it, it is still but believing. Bring it to certainty, and it ceases to be faith. I believe, that Jesus Christ was crucified, dead and buried, rose again the third day from the dead, and ascended into heaven; let now such methods of knowledge or certainty be started, as leave men’s minds more doubtful than before: let the grounds of knowledge be resolved into what any one pleases, it touches not my faith: the foundation of that stands as sure as before, and cannot be at all shaken by it: and one may as well say, that any thing that weakens the sight, or casts a mist before the eyes, endangers the hearing; as that any thing which alters the nature of knowledge (if that could be done) should be of dangerous consequence to an article of faith.
Whether then I am or am not mistaken, in the placing certainty in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of ideas; whether this account of knowledge be true or false, enlarges or straitens the bounds of it more than it should; faith still stands upon its own basis, which is not at all altered by it; and every article of that has just the same unmoved foundation, and the very same credibility that it had before. So that, my lord, whatever I have said about certainty, and how much soever I may be out in it; if I am mistaken, your lordship has no reason to apprehend any danger, to any article of faith, from thence; every one of them stands upon the same bottom it did before, out of the reach of what belongs to knowledge and certainty. And thus much out of my way of certainty by ideas; which, I hope, will satisfy your lordship, how far it is from being dangerous to any article of the christian faith whatsoever.
I find one thing more your lordship charges on me, in reference to the unitarian controversy; and that is, where your lordship says, that “if these [i. e. my notions of nature and person] hold, your lordship does not see how it is possible to defend the doctrine of the Trinity.”
My lord, since I have a great opinion that your lordship sees as far as any one, and I shall be justified to the world, in relying upon your lordship’s foresight more than on any one’s; these discomforting words of your lordship’s would dishearten me so, that I should be ready to give up what your lordship confesses so untenable; with this acknowledgment however to your lordship, as its great defender:
This, I say, after such a declaration of your lordship’s, I should think out of a due value for your lordship’s great penetration and judgment, I had reason to do, were it in any other cause but that of an article of the christian faith. For these, I am sure, shall all be defended and stand firm to the world’s end: though we are not always sure, what hand shall defend them. I know as much may be expected from your lordship’s in the case, as any body’s; and therefore I conclude, when you have taken a view of this matter again, out of the heat of dispute, you will have a better opinion of the articles of the christian faith, and of your own ability to defend them, than to pronounce, that “if my notions of nature and person hold, your lordship cannot see how it is possible to defend that article of the christian faith, which your lordship has endeavoured to defend.” For it is, methinks, to put that article upon a very ticklish issue, and to render it as suspected and as doubtful as is possible to men’s minds, that your lordship should declare it not possible to be defended, if my notions of nature and person hold; when all that I can find that your lordship excepts against, in my notions of nature and person, is nothing but this, viz. that these are two sounds, which in themselves signify nothing.
But before I come to examine how by nature and person your lordship, at present in your answer, engages me in the unitarian controversy; it will not be beside the matter to consider, how by them your lordship at first brought my book into it.
In your Vindication of the doctrine of the Trinity, your lordship says, “the next thing to be cleared in this dispute, is the distinction between nature and person. And of this we have no clear and distinct idea from sensation or reflection: and yet all our notions of the doctrine of the Trinity depend upon the right understanding of it. For we must talk unintelligibly, about this point, unless we have clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, and the grounds of identity and distinction: but these come not into our minds by these simple ideas of sensation and reflection.”
To this I replied, “if it be so, the inference, I should draw from thence, (if it were fit for me to draw any) would be this; that it concerns those, who write on that subject, to have themselves, and to lay down to others, clear and distinct apprehensions, or notions, or ideas (call them what you please) of what they mean by nature and person, and of the grounds of identity and distinction.
“This appears to me the natural conclusion flowing from your lordship’s words; which seem here to suppose clear and distinct apprehensions (something like clear and distinct ideas) necessary for the avoiding unintelligible talk in the doctrine of the Trinity. But I do not see how your lordship can, from the necessity of clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, &c. in the dispute of the Trinity, bring in one, who has perhaps mistaken the way to clear and distinct notions concerning nature and person, &c. as fit to be answered among those who bring objections against the Trinity in point of reason. I do not see why an unitarian may not as well bring him in, and argue against his Essay, in a chapter that he should write, to answer objections against the unity of God, in point of reason or revelation: for upon what ground soever any one writes, in this dispute or any other, it is not tolerable to talk unintelligibly on either side.
“If by the way of ideas, which is that of the author of the Essay of Human Understanding, a man cannot come to clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person; if, as he proposes, from the simple ideas of sensation and reflection, such apprehensions cannot be got; it will follow from thence that he is a mistaken philosopher: but it will not follow from thence, that he is not an orthodox christian; for he might (as he did) write his Essay of Human Understanding, without any thought of the controversy between the trinitarians and the unitarians. Nay, a man might have writ all that is in his book, that never heard one word of any such dispute.
“There is in the world a great and fierce contest about nature and grace: it would be very hard for me, if I must be brought in as a party on either side, because a disputant in that controversy should think the clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and grace come not into our minds by these simple ideas of sensation and reflection. If this be so, I may be reckoned among the objectors against all sorts and points of orthodoxy, whenever any one pleases: I may be called to account as one heterodox, in the points of free-grace, free-will, predestination, original sin, justification by faith, transubstantiation, the pope’s supremacy, and what not? as well as in the doctrine of the Trinity; and all because they cannot be furnished with clear and distinct notions of grace, free-will, transubstantiation, &c. by sensation or reflection. For in all these, as in other points, I do not see but there may be a complaint made, that they have not always a right understanding and clear notions of those things, on which the doctrine they dispute of depends. And it is not altogether unusual for men to talk unintelligibly to themselves, and others, in these and other points of controversy, for want of clear and distinct apprehensions, or (as I would call them, did not your lordship dislike it) ideas: for all which unintelligible talking, I do not think myself accountable, though it should so fall out, that my way by ideas would not help them to what it seems is wanting, clear and distinct notions. If my way be ineffectual to that purpose, they may, for all me, make use of any other more successful; and leave me out of the controversy, as one useless to either party, for deciding of the question.
“Supposing, as your lordship says, and as you have undertaken to make appear, that the clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, and the grounds of identity and distinction, should not come into the mind by simple ideas of sensation and reflection; what, I beseech your lordship, is this to the dispute concerning the Trinity, on either side? And if, after your lordship has endeavoured to give clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, the disputants in this controversy should still talk unintelligibly about this point, for want of clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person; ought your lordship to be brought in among the partisans on the other side, by any one who writ a Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity? In good earnest, my lord, I do not see how the clear and distinct notions of nature and person, not coming into the mind by the simple ideas of sensation and reflection, any more contains any objection against the doctrine of the Trinity, than the clear and distinct apprehensions of original sin, justification, or transubstantiation, not coming into the mind by the simple ideas of sensation and reflection, contains any objection against the doctrine of original sin, justification, or transubstantiation; and so of all the rest of the terms used in any controversy in religion.”
All that your lordship answers to this is in these words: “The next thing I undertook to show, was, that we can have no clear and distinct idea of nature and person, from sensation of reflection. Here you spend many pages to show, that this doth not concern you. Let it be so. But it concerns the matter I was upon; which was to show, that we must have ideas [I think, my lord, it should be clear and distinct ideas] of these things, which we cannot come to by sensation and reflection.”
But be that as it will; I have troubled your lordship here with this large repetition out of my former letter, because I think it clearly shows, that my book is no more concerned in the controversy about the Trinity, than any other controversy extant: nor any more opposite to that side of the question that your lordship has endeavoured to defend, than to the contrary: and also because, by your lordship’s answer to it in these words, “let it be so,” I thought you had not only agreed to all that I have said, but that by it I had been dismissed out of that controversy.
It is an observation I have somewhere met with, “That whoever is once got into the inquisition, guilty or not guilty, seldom ever gets clear out again.” I think your lordship is satisfied there is no heresy in my book. The suspicion it was brought into, upon the account of placing certainty only upon clear and distinct ideas, is found groundless, there being no such thing in my book; and yet it is not dismissed out of the controversy. It is alleged still, that “my notion of ideas, as I have stated it, may be of dangerous consequence as to that article of the christian faith, which your lordship has endeavoured to defend;” and so I am bound over to another trial. “Clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, and the grounds of identity and distinction, so necessary in the dispute of the Trinity, cannot be had from sensation and reflection;” was another accusation. To this, whether true or false, I pleaded, that it makes me no party in this dispute of the Trinity, more than in any dispute that can arise; nor of one side of the question more than another. My plea is allowed, “let it be so;” and yet nature and person are made use of again, to hook me into the heretical side of the dispute: and what is now the charge against me, in reference to the unitarian controversy, upon the account of nature and person? even this new one, viz. that “if my notions of nature and person hold, your lordship does not see how it is possible to defend the doctrine of the Trinity.” How is this new charge proved? even thus, in these words annexed to it: “For if these terms really signify nothing in themselves, but are only abstract and complex ideas, which the common use of language hath appropriated to be the signs of two ideas; then it is plain, that they are only notions of the mind, as all abstracted and complex ideas are; and so one nature and three persons can be no more.”
My lord, I am not so conceited of my notions, as to think that they deserve that your lordship should dwell long upon the consideration of them. But pardon me, my lord, if I say, that it seems to me that this representation which your lordship here makes to yourself, of my notions of nature and person, and the inference from it, were made a little in haste: and that if it had not been so, your lordship would not, from the preceding words, have drawn this conclusion; “and so one nature and three persons can be no more;” nor charged it upon me.
For as to that part of your lordship’s representation of my notions of nature and person, wherein it is said, “if these terms in themselves signify nothing;” though I grant that to be my notion of the terms nature and person, that they are two sounds that naturally signify not one thing more than another, nor in themselves signify any thing at all, but have the signification which they have, barely by imposition: yet, in this my notion of them, give me leave to presume, that upon more leisurely thoughts I shall have your lordship, as well as the rest of mankind that ever thought of this matter, concurring with me. So that if your lordship continues positive in it, “that you cannot see how it is possible to defend the doctrine of the Trinity, if this my notion of nature and person hold;” I, as far as my eyesight will reach in the case (which possibly is but a little way) cannot see, but it will be plain to all mankind, that your lordship gives up the doctrine of the Trinity; since this notion of nature and person that they are two words that signify by imposition, is what will hold in the common sense of all mankind. And then, my lord, all those who think well of your lordship’s ability to defend it, and believe that you see as far in that question as any body (which I take to be the common sentiment of all the learned world, especially of those of our country and church) will be in great danger to have an ill opinion of the evidence of that article: since, I imagine, there is scarce one of them, who does not think this notion will hold, viz. that these terms nature and person signify what they do signify by imposition, and not by nature.
Though, if the contrary were true, that these two words, nature and person, had this particular privilege, above other names of things, that they did naturally and in themselves signify what they do signify, and that they received not their significations from the arbitrary imposition of men, I do not see how the defence of the doctrine of the Trinity should depend hereon; unless your lordship concludes, that it is necessary to the defence of the doctrine of the Trinity, that these two articulate sounds should have natural significations; and that unless they are used in those significations, it were impossible to defend the doctrine of the Trinity. Which is in effect to say, that where these two words are not in use and in their natural signification, the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be defended. And if this be so, I grant your lordship had reason to say, that if it hold, that the terms nature and person signify by imposition, your lordship does not see how it is possible to defend the doctrine of the Trinity. But then, my lord, I beg your lordship to consider, whether this be not mightily to prejudice that doctrine, and to undermine the belief of that article of faith, to make so extraordinary a supposition necessary to the defence of it; and of more dangerous consequence to it, than any thing your lordship can imagine deducible from my book?
As to the remaining part of what your lordship has, in the foregoing passage, set down as some of my notions of nature and person, viz. that these terms are only abstract or complex ideas: I crave leave to plead, that I never said any such thing; and I should be ashamed if I ever had said, that these, or any other terms, were ideas; which is all one as to say, that the sign is the thing signified. Much less did I ever say, “That these terms are only abstract and complex ideas, which the common use of language hath appropriated to be the signs of two ideas.” For to say, “that the common use of language has appropriated abstract and complex ideas to be the signs of ideas,” seems to me so extraordinary a way of talking, that I can scarce persuade myself it would be of credit to your lordship, to think it worth your while to answer a man, whom you could suppose to vent such gross jargon.
This therefore containing none of my notions of nature and person, nor indeed any thing that I understand; whether your lordship rightly deduces from it this consequence, viz. “and so one nature and three persons can be no more;” is what I neither know nor am concerned to examine.
Your lordship has been pleased to take my Essay of Human Understanding to task, in your Vindication of the doctrine of the Trinity: because the doctrine of it will not furnish your lordship “with clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, and the grounds of identity and distinction. For, says your lordship, we must talk unintelliglbly about this point [of the Trinity] unless we have clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person,” &c.
Whether, by my way of ideas, one can have clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, I shall not now dispute, how much soever I am of the mind one may. Nor shall I question the reasonableness of this principle your lordship goes upon, viz. that my book is to be disputed against, as opposite to the doctrine of the Trinity, because it fails to furnish your lordship “with clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, and the distinction between them;” though I promised no such clear and distinct apprehensions, nor have treated in my book any where of nature at all. But upon this occasion I cannot but observe, that your lordship yourself, in that place, makes “clear and distinct ideas necessary to that certainty of faith,” which your lordship thinks requisite, though it be that very thing for which you blame the men of the new way of reasoning, and is the very ground of your disputing against the unitarians, the author of Christianity not mysterious, and me, jointly under that title.
Your lordship, to supply that defect in my book of clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, for the vindication of the doctrine of the Trinity, without which it cannot be talked of intelligibly nor defended, undertook to clear the distinction between nature and person. This, I told your lordship, gave me hopes of getting farther insight into these matters, and more clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, than was to be had by ideas; but that after all the attention and application I could use, in reading what your lordship had writ of it, I found myself so little enlightened concerning nature and person, by what your lordship had said, that I found no other remedy, but that I must be content with the condemned way by ideas.
This, which I thought not only an innocent, but a respectful answer, to what your lordship had said about nature and person, has drawn upon me a more severe reflection than I thought it deserved. Scepticism is a pretty hard word, which I find dropt in more places than one; but I shall refer the consideration of that to another place. All that I shall do now, shall be to mark out (since your lordship forces me to it) more particularly than I did before, what I think very hard to be understood, in that which your lordship has said to clear the distinction between nature and person; which I shall do, for these two ends:
First, as an excuse for my saying, “that I had learnt nothing out of your lordship’s elaborate discourse of them, but this; that I must content myself with my condemned way by ideas.”
And next to show, why not only I, but several others, think that if my book deserved to be brought in, and taken notice of among the anti-trinitarian writers, for want of clear and distinct ideas of nature and person; what your lordship has said upon these subjects will more justly deserve, by him that writes next in defence of the doctrine of the Trinity, to be brought in among the opposers of the doctrine of the Trinity, as of dangerous consequence to it; for want of giving clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person; unless the same thing ranks one man among the unitarians, and another amongst the trinitarians.
What your lordship had said, for clearing of the distinction of nature and person, having surpassed my understanding, as I told your lordship in my former letter; I was resolved not to incur your lordship’s displeasure a second time, by confessing I found not myself enlightened by it, till I had taken all the help I could imagine, to find out these clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, which your lordship had so much declared for. To this purpose, I consulted others upon what you had said; and desired to find somebody, who, understanding it himself, would help me out, where my own application and endeavours had been used to no purpose. But my misfortune has been, my lord, that among several whom I have desired to tell me their sense of what your lordship has said, for clearing the notions of nature and person, there has not been one who owned, that he understood your lordship’s meaning; but confessed, the farther he looked into what your lordship had there said about nature and person, the more he was at a loss about them.
One said, your lordship began with giving two significations of the word nature. One of them, as it stood for properties, he said he understood: but the other, wherein “nature was taken for the thing itself, wherein those properties were,” he said, he did not understand. But that, he added, I was not to wonder at, in a man that was not very well acquainted with Greek; and therefore might well be allowed not to have learning enough not to understand an English word, that Aristotle was brought to explain and settle the sense of. Besides, he added, that which puzzled him the more in it, was the very explication which was brought of it out of Aristotle, viz. that “nature was a corporeal substance, which had the principles of motion in itself;” because he could not conceive a corporeal substance, having the principles of motion in itself. And if nature were a corporeal substance, having the principles of motion in itself; it must be good sense to say, that a corporeal substance, or, which is the same thing, a body having the principles of motion in itself, is nature; which he confessed, if any body should say to him, he could not understand.
Another thing, he said, that perplexed him in this explication of nature, was, that if “nature was a corporeal substance, which had the principles of motion in itself,” he thought it might happen that there might be no nature at all. For corporeal substances having all equally principles, or no principles of motion in themselves; and all men who do not make matter and motion eternal, being positive in it, that a body, at rest, has no principle of motion in it; must conclude, that corporeal substance has no principle of motion in itself: from hence it will follow, that to all those who admit not matter and motion to be eternal, no nature, in that sense, will be left at all, since nature is said to be a corporeal substance, which hath the principles of motion in itself: but such a sort of corporeal substance those men have no notion of at all, and consequently none of nature, which is such a corporeal substance.
Now, said he, if this be that clear and distinct apprehension of nature, which is so necessary to the doctrine of the Trinity; they who have found it out for that purpose, and find it clear and distinct, have reason to be satisfied with it upon that account: but how they will reconcile it to the creation of matter, I cannot tell. I, for my part, said he, can make it consist neither with the creation of the world, nor with any other notions; and so, plainly, cannot understand it.
He farther said, in the following words, which are these, “but nature and substance are of an equal extent; and so that which is the subject of powers and properties is nature, whether it be meant of bodily or spiritual substances;” he neither understood the connexion nor sense. First, he understood not, he said, that “nature and substance were of the same extent.” Nature, he said, in his notion of it, extended to things that were not substances; as he thought it might properly be said, the nature of a rectangular triangle was, that the square of the hypothenuse was equal to the square of the two other sides; or, it is the nature of sin to offend God: though it be certain, that neither sin nor a rectangular triangle, to which nature is attributed in these propositions, are either of them substances.
Farther, he said, that he did not see how the particle “but” connects this to the preceding words. But least of all, could he comprehend the inference from hence: “and so that which is the subject of powers and properties is nature, whether it be meant of bodily or spiritual substances.” Which deduction, said he, stands thus: “Aristotle takes nature for a corporeal substance, which has the principle of motion in itself; therefore nature and substance are of an equal extent, and so both corporeal and incorporeal substances are nature.” This is the very connexion, said he, of the whole deduction in the foregoing words: which I understand not, if I understand the words: and if I understand not the words, I am yet farther from understanding any thing of this explication of nature, whereby we are to come to clear and distinct apprehensions of it.
Methinks, said he, going on, I understand how by making nature and substance one and the same thing, that may serve to bring substance into this dispute; but for all that, I cannot, for my life, understand nature to be substance, nor substance to be nature.
There is another inference, said he, in the close of this paragraph, which both for its connexion and expression seems, to me, very hard to be understood, it being set down in these words: “so that the nature of things properly belongs to our reason, and not to mere ideas.” For when a man knows what it is for the nature of things properly to belong to reason, and not to mere ideas, there will, I guess, some difficulty remain, in what sense soever he shall understand that expression, to deduce this proposition as an inference from the foregoing words, which are these: “I grant, that by sensation and reflection, we come to know the powers and properties of things; but our reason is satisfied that there must be something beyond those, because it is impossible that they should subsist by themselves: so that the nature of things properly belongs to our reason, and not to mere ideas.”
It is true, said I; but his lordship, upon my taking reason in that place for the power of reasoning, hath, in his answer, with a little kind of warmth, corrected my mistake, in these words: “still you are at it, that you can find no opposition between ideas and reason: but ideas are objects of the understanding, and the understanding is one of the faculties employed about them.” “No doubt of it. But you might easily see that by reason, I understood principles of reason, allowed by mankind; which, I think, are very different from ideas. But I perceive reason, in this sense, is a thing you have no idea of; or one as obscure as that of substance.”
I imagine, said the gentleman, that if his lordship should be asked, how he perceives you have no idea of reason in that sense, or one as obscure as that of substance? he would scarce have a reason ready to give for his saying so: and what we say which reason cannot account for, must be ascribed to some other cause.
Now truly, said I, my mistake was so innocent and so unaffected, that if I had had these very words said to me then, which his lordship sounds in my ears now, to awaken my understanding, viz. “that the principles of reason are very different from ideas;” I do not yet find how they would have helped me to see what, it seems, was no small fault, that I did not see before. Because, let reason, taken for principles of reason, be as different as it will from ideas; reason, taken as a faculty, is as different from them, in my apprehension: and in both senses of the word reason, either as taken for a faculty, or for the principles of reason allowed by mankind, reason and ideas may consist together.
Certainly, said the gentlemen, ideas have something in them, that you do not see; or else such a small mistake, as you made in endeavouring to make them consistent with reason as a faculty, would not have moved so great a man as my lord bishop of Worcester so as to make him tell you, “that reason, taken for the common principles of reason, is a thing whereof you have no ideas, or one as obscure as that of substance.” For, if I mistake not, you have in your book, in more places than one, spoke, and that pretty largely, of self-evident propositions and maxims: so that, if his lordship has ever read those parts of your Essay, he cannot doubt, but that you have ideas of those common principles of reason.
It may be so, I replied, but such things are to be borne from great men, who often use them as marks of distinction: though I should less expect them from my lord bishop of Worcester than from almost any one; because he has the solid and interior greatness of learning, as well as that of outward title and dignity. But since he expects it from me, I will do what I can to see what, he says, is his meaning here by reason. I will repeat it just as his lordship says, “I might easily have seen what he understood by it.” My lord’s words immediately following those above taken notice of, are: “and so that which is the subject of powers and properties is the nature, whether it be meant of bodily or spiritual substances.” And then follow these, which to be rightly understood, his lordship says must be read thus: “I grant, that by sensation and reflection we come to know the properties of things; but our reason, i. e. the principles of reason allowed by mankind, are satisfied that there must be something beyond these, because it is impossible they should subsist by themselves; so that the nature of things properly belongs to our reason, i. e. to the principles of reason allowed by mankind; and not to mere ideas.” This explication of it, replied the gentleman, which my lord bishop has given of this passage, makes it more unintelligible to me than it was before; and I know him to be so great a master of sense, that I doubt whether he himself will be better satisfied with this sense of his words, than with that which you understood in it. But let us go on to the two next paragraphs, wherein his lordship is at farther pains to give us clear and distinct apprehensions of nature: and that we may not mistake let us first read his words, which run thus:
“But we must yet proceed farther; for nature may be considered two ways:”
1. “As it is in distinct individuals; as the nature of a man is equally in Peter, James, and John; and this is the common nature, with a particular subsistence, proper to each of them. For the nature of a man, as in Peter, is distinct from that same nature, as it is in James and John; otherwise they would be but one person, as well as have the same nature. And this distinction of persons in them is discerned both by our senses, as to their different accidents; and by our reason, because they have a separate existence; not coming into it at once, and in the same manner.”
2. “Nature may be considered abstractly, without respect to individual persons; and then it makes an entire notion of itself. For, however the same nature may be in different individuals, yet the nature in itself remains one and the same; which appears from this evident reason, that otherwise every individual must make a different kind.”
In these words, said he, having read them, I find the same difficulties you took notice of in your letter. As first, that it is not declared whether his lordship speaks here of nature, as standing for essential properties, or of nature, standing for substance; which dubiousness casts an obscurity on the whole place. And next, I can no more tell than you, whether it be his lordship’s opinion that I ought to think, that one and the same nature is in Peter and John; or, that a nature, distinct from that in John, is in Peter; and that for the same reason which left you at a loss, viz. because I cannot put together one and the same and distinct. But since his lordship, in his answer to you, has said nothing to give us light in these matters, we must be content to be in the dark; and if he has not thought fit to explain it, so as to make himself to be understood by us, we may be sure he has a reason for it. But pray tell me, did you understand the rest of these two paragraphs that you mentioned, only those two difficulties? For I must profess to you, that I understand so little of either of them, that they contribute nothing at all to give me those clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, which I find, by his lordship, it is necessary to have, before one can have a right understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. Nay, I am so far from gaining by his lordship’s discourse those clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, that what he objects to your new method of certainty, I found verified in this his clearing the distinction between nature and person, that it left me in more doubt than I was in before.
Truly, sir, replied I, that was just my case; but minding then only what I thought immediately related to the objections to my book, which followed; I passed by what I might have retorted concerning the obscurity and difficulty in his lordship’s doctrine about nature and person, and contented myself to tell his lordship, in as respectful terms as I could find, that I could not understand him: which drew from him that severe reflection, that I obstinately stick to a way that leads to scepticism, which is the way of ideas. But now that, for the vindication of my book, I am showing that his lordship’s way, without ideas, does as little (I will not say less) furnish us with clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, as my Essay does; I do not see but that his lordship’s Vindication of the Trinity, is as much against the doctrine of the Trinity, as my Essay of Human Understanding; and may, with as much reason on that account, be animadverted on by another, who vindicates the doctrine of the Trinity, as my book is by his lordship.
Indeed, said he, if failing of clear and distinct apprehensions, concerning nature and person, render any book obnoxious to one that vindicates the doctrine of the Trinity, and gives him sufficient cause to write against it, as opposite to that doctrine; I know no book of more dangerous consequence to that article of faith, nor more necessary to be writ against by a defender of that article, than that part of his lordship’s Vindication, which we are now upon. For to my thinking, I never met with any thing more unintelligible about that subject, nor that is more remote from clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person. For what more effectual method could there be to confound the notions of nature and person, instead of clearing their distinction, than to discourse of them without first defining them? Is this a way to give clear and distinct apprehensions of two words, upon a right understanding of which, all our notions of the doctrine of the Trinity depend; and without which, we must talk unintelligibly about that point?
His lordship tells us here, nature may be considered two ways. What is it the nearer to be told, nature may be considered two or twenty ways, till we know what that is which is to be considered two ways? i. e. till he defines the term nature, that we may know what precisely is the thing meant by it.
He tells us, “nature may be considered,
“1. As it is in individuals.
1. His lordship says, “nature may be considered, as in distinct individuals.” It is true, by those that know what nature is. But his lordship having not yet told me what nature is, nor what he here means by it; it is impossible for me to consider nature in or out of individuals, unless I can consider I know not what: so that this consideration is, to me, as good as no consideration; neither does or can it help at all to any clear and distinct apprehensions of nature. Indeed he says, Aristotle by nature signified a corporeal substance; and from thence his lordship takes occasion to say, “that nature and substance are of an equal extent;” though Aristotle, taking nature for a corporeal substance, gave no ground for such a saying, because corporeal substance and substance are not of an equal extent. But to pass by that: if his lordship would have us understand here, that by nature he means substance, this is but substituting one name in the place of another; and, which is worse, a more doubtful and obscure term, in the place of one that is less so; which will, I fear, not give us very clear and distinct apprehensions of nature. His lordship goes on:
“As the nature of a man is equally in Peter, James, and John; and this is the common nature, with a particular subsistence proper to each of them.”
Here his lordship does not tell us what consideration of nature there may be, but actually affirms and teaches something. I wish I had the capacity to learn by it the clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, which is the lesson he is here upon. He says, “that the nature of a man is equally in Peter, James, and John.” That is more than I know: because I do not know what things Peter, James, and John are. They may be drills, or horses, for aught I know; as well as Weweena, Cuchipe, and Cousheda, may be drills, as his lordship says, for aught he knows. For I know no law of speech that more necessarily makes these three sounds, Peter, James, and John, stand for three men; than Weweena, Cuchipe, and Cousheda, stand for three men: for I knew a horse that was called Peter; and I do not know but the master of the same team might call other of his horses James and John. Indeed if Peter, James, and John, are supposed to be the names only of men, it cannot be questioned but the nature of man is equally in them; unless one can suppose each of them to be a man, without having the nature of a man in him: that is, suppose him to be a man, without being a man. But then this to me, I confess, gives no manner of clear or distinct apprehensions concerning nature in general, or the nature of man in particular; it seeming to me to say no more but this, that a man is a man, and a drill is a drill, and a horse is a horse: or, which is all one, what has the nature of a man, has the nature of a man, or is a man; and what has the nature of a drill, has the nature of a drill, or is a drill; and what has the nature of a horse, has the nature of a horse, or is a horse; whether it be called Peter, or not called Peter. But if any one should repeat this a thousand times to me, and go over all the species of creatures, with such an unquestionable assertion to every one of them; I do not find, that thereby I should get one jot clearer or distincter apprehensions either of nature in general, or of the nature of a man, a horse, or a drill, &c. in particular.
His lordship adds, “and this is the common nature, with a particular subsistence, proper to each of them.” I do not doubt but his lordship set down these words with a very good meaning; but such is my misfortune, that I, for my life, cannot find it out. I have repeated “and this” twenty times to myself; and my weak understanding always rejolts, and what? To which I am always ready to answer, the nature of a man in Peter, and the nature of a man in James, and the nature of a man in John, is the common nature; and there I stop, and can go no farther to make it coherent to myself, till I add of man; and then it must be read thus; “the nature of man in Peter is the common nature of man, with a particular subsistence proper to Peter.” That the nature of man in Peter, is the nature of a man, if Peter be supposed to be a man, I certainly know, let the nature of man be what it will, of which I yet know nothing; but if Peter be not supposed to be the name of a man, but be the name of a horse, all that knowledge vanishes, and I know nothing. But let Peter be ever so much a man, and let it be impossible to give that name to a horse, yet I cannot understand these words, that the common nature of man is in Peter; for whatsoever is in Peter, exists in Peter; and whatever exists in Peter, is particular: but the common nature of man, is the general nature of man, or else I understand not what is meant by common nature. And it confounds my understanding, to make a general a particular.
But to help me to conceive this matter, I am told, “it is the common nature with a particular subsistence proper to Peter.” But this helps not my understanding in the case: for first, I do not understand what subsistence is, if it signify any thing different from existence; and if it be the same with existence, then it is so far from loosening the knot, that it leaves it just as it was, only covered with the obscure and less known term, subsistence. For the difficulty to me, is, to conceive an universal nature, or universal any thing, to exist; which would be, in my mind, to make an universal a particular: which, to me, is impossible.
No, said another who was by, it is but using the word subsistence instead of existence, and there is nothing easier; if one will consider this common or universal nature, with a particular existence, under the name of subsistence, the business is done.
Just as easy, replied the former, I find it in myself, as to consider the nature of a circle with four angles; for to consider a circle with four angles, is no more impossible to me, than to consider an universal with a particular existence; which is to consider an universa really existing, and in effect a particular. But the words, “proper to each of them,” follow to help me out. I hoped so, till I considered them; and then I found I understood them as little as all the rest. For I know not what is a subsistence proper to Peter, more than to James or John, till I know Peter himself; and then indeed my senses will discern him from James or John, or any man living.
His lordship goes on: “for the nature of man, as in Peter, is distinct from that same nature as it is in James and John; otherwise they would be but one person, as well as have the same nature.” These words, by the casual particle for, which introduces them, should be a proof of something that goes before: but what they are meant for a proof of, I confess I understand not. For the proposition preceding, as far as I can make any thing of it, is this, that the general nature of a man has a particular existence in each of the three, Peter, James, and John. But then how the saying, that “the nature of man, as in Peter, is distinct from the same nature as it is in James and John,” does prove that the general nature of man does or can exist in either of them, I cannot see.
The words which follow, “otherwise they would be one person, as well as have the same nature,” I see the connexion of; for it is visible they were brought to prove, that the nature in Peter is distinct from the nature in James and John. But with all that, I do not see of what use or significancy they are here: because, to me, they are more obscure and doubtful, than the proposition they are brought to prove. For I scarce think there can be a clearer proposition than this, viz. that three natures, that have three distinct existences in three men, are, as his lordship says, three distinct natures, and so needs no proof. But to prove it by this, that “otherwise they could not be three persons,” is to prove it by a proposition unintelligible to me; because his lordship has not yet told me, what the clear and distinct apprehension of person is, which I ought to have. For his lordship supposing it, as he does, to be a term, which has in itself a certain signification; I, who have no such conception of it, should in vain look for it in the propriety of our language, which is established upon arbitrary imposition; and so can, by no means, imagine what person here signifies, till his lordship shall do me the favour to tell me.
To this I replied, that six pages farther on, your lordship explains the notion of person.
To which the gentleman answered, whether I can get clear and distinct apprehensions of person, by what his lordship says there of person, I shall see when I come to it. But this, in the mean time, must be confessed, that person comes in here six pages too soon, for those who want his lordship’s explication of it, to make them have clear and distinct apprehensions of what he means, when he uses it.
For we must certainly talk unintelligibly about nature and person, as well as about the doctrine of the Trinity, unless we have clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person; as his lordship says, in the foregoing page.
It follows, “and this distinction of persons in them, is discerned both by our senses, as to their different accidents; and by our reason, because they have a separate existence; not coming into it at once and in the same manner.”
These words, said he, which conclude this paragraph, tell us how persons are distinguished; but, as far as I can see, serve not at all to give us any clear and distinct apprehensions of nature, by considering it in distinct individuals: which was the business of this paragraph.
His lordship says, we may consider nature as in distinct individuals: and so I do as much, when I consider it in three distinct physical atoms or particles of the air or æther, as when I consider it in Peter, James, and John. For three distinct physical atoms are three distinct individuals, and have three distinct natures in them, as certainly as three distinct men; though I cannot discern the distinction between them by my senses, as to their different accidents; nor is their separate existence discernible to my reason, by their not coming into it at once and in the same manner: for they did, for aught I know, or at least might, come into existence at once and in the same manner, which was by creation. I think it will be allowed, that God did, or might, create more than one physical atom of matter at once: so that here nature may be considered in distinct individuals, without any of those ways of distinction which his lordship here speaks of: and so I cannot see how these last words contribute aught, to give us clear and distinct apprehensions of nature, by considering nature in distinct individuals.
But to try what clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature, his lordship’s way of considering nature in this paragraph carries in it; let me repeat his lordship’s discourse to you here, only changing one common nature for another, viz. putting the common nature of animal, for the common nature of man, which his lordship has chose to instance in; and then his lordship’s words would run thus: “nature may be considered two ways; first, as it is in distinct individuals; as the nature of an animal is equally in Alexander, Bucephalus, and Podargus; and this is the common nature, with a particular subsistence, proper to each of them. For the nature of animal, as in Bucephalus, is distinct from the same nature as in Podargus and Alexander; otherwise they would be but one person, as well as have the same nature. And this distinction of persons in them is discerned both by our senses, as to their different accidents; and by our reason, because they have a separate existence, not coming into it at once and in the same manner.”
To this I said, I thought he did violence to your lordship’s sense, in applying the word person, which signifies an intelligent individual, to Bucephalus and Podargus, which were two irrational animals.
To which the gentleman replied, that he fell into this mistake, by his thinking your lordship had somewhere spoken, as if an individual intelligent substance were not the proper definition of person. But, continued he, I lay no stress on the word person, in the instance wherein I have used his lordship’s words, and therefore, if you please, put individual for it; and then reading it so, let me ask you whether that way of considering it contributes any thing to the giving you clear and distinct apprehensions of nature? which it ought to do, if his lordship’s way of considering nature, in that paragraph, were of any use to that purpose: since the common nature of animal is as much the same; or, as his lordship says in the next paragraph, as much an entire notion of itself, as the common nature of man. And the common nature of animal is as equally in Alexander, Bucephalus, and Podargus, with a particular subsistence proper to each of them; as the common nature of man is equally in Peter, James, and John, with a particular subsistence to each of them, &c. But pray what does all this do towards the giving you clear and distinct apprehensions of nature?
I replied, truly neither the consideration of nature, as in his lordship’s distinct individuals, viz. in Peter, James, and John; nor the consideration of nature, as in your distinct individuals, viz. in Alexander, Bucephalus, and Podargus; did any thing towards the giving me clear and distinct apprehensions of nature. Nay, they were so far from it, that, after having gone over both the one and the other several times in my thoughts, I seem to have less clear and distinct apprehensions of nature than I had before. But whether it will be so with other people, as I perceive it is with you, and me, and some others, none of the dullest, whom I have talked with upon this subject, that must be left to experience; and if there be others that do hereby get such clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature, which may help them in their notions of the Trinity, that cannot be denied them.
That is true, said he: but if that be so, I must necessarily conclude, that the notionists and the ideists have their apprehensive faculties very differently turned; since in their explaining themselves (which they on both sides think clear and intelligible) they cannot understand one another.
But let us go on to nature, considered abstractly, in the next words.
Secondly, nature may be considered, says his lordship abstractly, without respect to individual persons.
I do not see, said he, what persons do here, more than any other individuals. For nature, considered abstractly, has no more respect to persons, than any other sort of individuals.
And then, says his lordship, it makes an entire notion of itself. To make an entire notion of itself, being an expression I never met with before, I shall not, I think, be much blamed if I be not confident, that I perfectly understand it. To guess therefore, as well as I can, what can be meant by it, I consider, that whatever the mind makes an object of its contemplation at any time, may be called one notion, or, as you perhaps will call it, one idea; which may be an entire notion or idea, though it be but the half of what is the object of the mind at another time. For methinks the number five is as much an entire notion of itself, when the mind contemplates the number five by itself: as the number ten is an entire notion by itself, when the mind contemplates that alone and its properties: and in this sense I can understand an entire notion by itself. But if it mean any thing else, I confess, I do not understand it. But then the difficulty remains; for I cannot see how in this sense, nature abstractly considered makes an entire notion, more than the nature of Peter makes an entire notion. For if the nature in Peter be considered by itself, or if the abstract nature of man be considered by itself, or if the nature of animal (which is yet more abstract) be considered by itself; every one of these being made the whole object, that the mind at any time contemplates, seems to me as much an entire notion, as either of the other.
But farther, what the calling nature, abstractly considered, an entire notion in itself, contributes to our having or not having clear and distinct apprehensions of nature, is yet more remote from my comprehension.
His lordship’s next words are; “for however the same nature may be in different individuals, yet the nature in itself remains one and the same; which appears from this evident reason, that otherwise every individual must make a different kind.”
The coherence of which discourse, continued he, tending, as it seems, to prove, that nature, considered abstractly, makes an entire notion of itself; stands, as far as I can comprehend it, thus: “because every individual must not make a different kind; therefore nature, however it be in different individuals, yet in itself it remains one and the same. And because nature, however it be in different individuals, yet in itself remains one and the same; therefore, considered abstractly, it makes an entire notion of itself.” This is the argument of this paragraph; and the connexion of it, if I understand the connecting words, “for, and from this evident reason.” But if they are used for any thing else but to tie those propositions together, as the proofs one of another, in that way I have mentioned; I confess, I understand them not, nor any thing that is meant by this whole paragraph. And in that sense I understand it in, what it does towards the giving us clear and distinct apprehensions of nature, I must confess, I do not see at all.
Thus far, said he, we have considered his lordship’s explication of nature; and my understanding what his lordship has discoursed upon it, under several heads, for the giving us clear and distinct apprehensions concerning it.
Let us now read what his lordship has said concerning person; that I may, since you desire it of me, let you see how far I have got any clear and distinct apprehension of person, from his lordship’s explication of that. His lordship’s words are; “let us now come to the idea of a person. For although the common nature of mankind be the same, yet we see a difference in the several individuals from one another: so that Peter, and James, and John, are all of the same kind; yet Peter is not James, and James is not John. But what is this distinction founded upon? they may be distinguished from each other by our senses, as to difference of features, distance of place, &c. but that is not all; for supposing there were no external difference, yet there is a difference between them, as several individuals in the same common nature. And here lies the true idea of a person, which arises from the manner of subsistence, which is in one individual, and is not communicable to another. An individual intelligent substance is rather supposed to the making of a person, than a proper definition of it; for a person relates to something which doth distinguish it from another intelligent substance in the same nature; and therefore the foundation of it lies in the peculiar manner of subsistence, which agrees to one, and to none else, of the same kind: and this it is which is called personality.”
In these words, this I understand very well, that supposing Peter, James, and John to be all three men; and man being a name for one kind of animals; they are all of the same kind. I understand too very well, that Peter is not James, and James is not John, but that there is a difference in these several individuals. I understand also, that they may be distinguished from each other by our senses, as to different features and distance of place, &c. But what follows, I do confess, I do not understand, where his lordship says, “but that is not all; “for supposing there were no such external difference, yet there is a difference between them, as several individuals in the same nature.” For first, whatever willingness I have to gratify his lordship in whatever he would have me suppose, yet I cannot, I find, suppose, that there is no such external difference between Peter and James, as difference of place; for I cannot suppose a contradiction; and it seems to me to imply a contradiction to say, Peter and James are not in different places. The next thing I do not understand, is what his lordship says in these words: “for supposing there were no such external difference, yet there is a difference between them, as several individuals in the same nature.” For these words being here to show what the distinction of Peter, James, and John, is founded upon, I do not understand how they at all do it.
His lordship says, “Peter is not James, and James is not John.” He then asks, “but what is this distinction founded upon?” And to resolve that, he answers, “not by difference of features, or distance of place,” with an &c. because, “supposing there were no such external difference, yet there is a difference between them.” In which passage, by these words, such external difference, must be meant all other difference but what his lordship, in the next words, is going to name; or else I do not see how his lordship shows what this distinction is founded upon. For, if, supposing such external differences away, there may be other differences on which to found their distinction, besides that other which his lordship subjoins, viz. “the difference that is between them, as several individuals in the same nature.” I cannot see that his lordship has said any thing to show what the distinction between those individuals is founded on; because if he has not, under the terms external difference, comprized all the differences besides that his chief and fundamental one, viz. “the difference between them as several individuals, in the same common nature;” it may be founded on what his lordship has not mentioned. I conclude then it is his lordship’s meaning, (or else I can see no meaning in his words) that supposing no difference between them, of features or distance of place, &c. i. e. no other difference between them, yet there would be still the true ground of distinction, in the difference between them, as several individuals in the same common nature.
Let us then understand, if we can, what is the difference between things, barely as several individuals in the same common nature, all other differences laid aside.
Truly, said I, that I cannot conceive.
Nor I neither, replied the gentleman: for considering them as several individuals, was what his lordship did, when he said, Peter was not James, and James was not John; and if that were enough to show on what the distinction between them was founded, his lordship need have gone no farther in his inquiry after that, for that he had found already: and yet methinks thither are we at last come again, as to the foundation of the distinction between them, viz. that they are several individuals in the same common nature. Nor can I here see any other ground of the distinction between those, that are several individuals in the same common nature, but this, that they are several individuals in the same common nature. Either this is all the meaning that his lordship’s words, when considered, carry in them; or else I do not understand what they mean: and either way, I must own, they do not much towards the giving me clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person.
One thing more I must remark to you, in his lordship’s way of expressing himself here; and that is, in the former part of the words last read, he speaks, as he does all along, of the same common nature being in mankind, or in the several individuals: and, in the latter part of them, he speaks of several individuals being in the same common nature. I do by no means find fault with such figurative and common ways of speaking, in popular and ordinary discourses, where inaccurate thoughts allow inaccurate ways of speaking; but I think I may say, that metaphorical expressions (which seldom terminate in precise truth) should be as much as possible avoided, when men undertake to deliver clear and distinct apprehensions, and exact notions of things; because, being taken strictly and according to the letter, (as we find they are apt to be) they always puzzle and mislead, rather than enlighten and instruct.
I do not say this (continued he) with an intention to accuse his lordship of inaccurate notions; but yet, I think, his sticking so close all along to that vulgar way of speaking of the same common nature, being in several individuals, has made him less easy to be understood. For to speak truly and precisely of this matter, as in reality it is, there is no such thing as one and the same common nature in several individuals: for all, that in truth is in them, is particular, and can be nothing but particular. But the true meaning (when it has any) of that metaphorical and popular phrase, I take to be this, and no more, that every particular individual man or horse, &c. has such a nature or constitution, as agrees and is conformable to that idea, which that general name stands for.
His lordship’s next words are: “and here lies the true idea of a person, which arises from that manner of subsistence which is in one individual, and is not communicable to another.” The reading of these words, said he, makes me wish, that we had some other way of communicating our thoughts, than by words; for, no doubt, it would have been as much a pleasure to have seen what his lordship’s thoughts were when he writ this, as it is now an uneasiness to pudder in words and expressions, whose meaning one does not comprehend. But let us do the best we can. “And here,” says his lordship, “lies the true idea of person.”
Person being a dis-syllable, that in itself signifies nothing; what is meant by the true idea of it (it having no idea, one more than another, that belongs to it, but the idea of the articulate sound, that those two syllables make in pronouncing) I do not understand. If by true idea be meant true signification, then these words will run thus; here lies the true signification of the word person: and then, to make it more intelligible, we must change here into herein, and then the whole comma will stand thus; herein lies the true signification of the word person: which reading, herein, must refer to the preceding words. And then the meaning of these words will be, the true signification of person lies in this, that “supposing there were no other difference in the several individuals of the same kind, yet there is a difference between them, as several individuals in the same common nature.” Now, if in this lies the true signification of the word person, he must find it here that can. For if he does find it in these words, he must find it to be such a signification as will make the word person agree as well to Bucephalus and Podargus, as to Alexander: for let the difference between Bucephalus and Podargus, as several individuals in the same common nature, be what it will; it is certain, it will always be as great, as the difference between Alexander and Hector, as several individuals in the same common nature. So that, if the true signification of person lies in that difference, it will belong to Bucephalus and Podargus, as well as to Alexander and Hector. But let any one reason ever so subtilly or profoundly about the true idea, or the signification of the term person, he will never be able to make me understand, that Bucephalus and Podargus are persons, in the true signification of the word person, as commonly used in the English tongue.
But that which more certainly and for ever will hinder me from finding the true signification of person, lying in the foregoing words, is, that they require me to do what I find is impossible for me to do, i. e. find a difference between two individuals, as several individuals in the same common nature, without any other difference. For if I never find any other difference, I should never find two individuals. For first, we find some difference, and by that we find they are two or several individuals; but in this way we are bid to find two individuals, without any difference: but that, I find, is too subtile and sublime for my weak capacity. But when by any difference of time, or place, or any thing else, I have once found them to be two, or several, I cannot for ever after consider them but as several. They being once, by some difference, found to be two, it is unavoidable for me, from thenceforth, to consider them as two. But to find several where I find no difference; or, as his lordship is pleased to call it, external difference at all; is, I confess, too hard for me.
This his lordship farther tells us, in these words which follow; “which arises from the manner of subsistence, which is in one individual, which is not communicable to another:” which is, I own, a learned way of speaking, and is supposed to contain some refined philosophic notion of it, which to me is either wholly incomprehensible, or else may be expressed in these plain and common words, viz. that every thing that exists has, in the time or place, or other perceivable differences of its existence, something incommunicable to all those of its own kind, whereby it will externally be kept several from all the rest. This, I think, is that which the learned have been pleased to term a peculiar manner of subsistence; but if this manner of subsistence be any thing else, it will need some farther explication to make me understand it.
His lordship’s next words which follow, I must acknowledge, are also wholly incomprehensible to me: they are, “an individual intelligent substance is rather supposed to the making of a person, than the proper definition of it.”
Person is a word; and the idea that word stands for, or the proper signification of that word, is what I take his lordship is here giving us. Now what is meant by saying, “an individual intelligent substance is rather supposed to the making the signification of the word person, than the proper definition of it,” is beyond my reach. And the reason his lordship adjoins, puts it in that, or any other sense, farther from my comprehension. “For a person relates to something, which does distinguish it from another intelligent substance in the same nature; and therefore the foundation of it lies in the peculiar manner of subsistence, which agrees to one, and none else of the kind: and this is that which is called personality.”
These words, if nothing else, convince me, that I am Davus, and not Oedipus; and so I must leave them.
His lordship, at last, gives us what, I think, he intends for a definition of person, in these words; “therefore a person is a complete intelligent substance, with a peculiar manner of subsistence.” Where I cannot but observe, that what was, as I think, denied or half denied to be the proper definition of person, in saying, “it was rather supposed to the making of a person, than the proper definition of it,” is yet here got into his lordship’s definition of person; which I cannot suppose but his lordship takes to be a proper definition. There is only one word changed in it; and, instead of “individual intelligent substance,” his lordship has put it “complete intelligent substance:” which, whether it makes his the more proper definition, I leave to others; since possibly some will be apt to think, that a proper definition of person cannot be well made, without the term individual, or an equivalent. But his lordship has, as appears by the place, put in complete, to exclude the soul from being a person; which, whether it does it or no, to me seems doubtful: because possibly many may think, that the soul is a complete intelligent substance by itself, whether in the body or out of the body; because every substance, that has a being, is a complete substance, whether joined or not joined to another. And as to the soul’s being intelligent, nobody, I guess, thinks, that the soul is completed in that, by its union with the body; for then it would follow, that it would not be equally intelligent out of the body; which, I think, nobody will say.
And thus I have, at your request, gone over all that his lordship has said, to give us clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, which are so necessary to the understanding the doctrine of the Trinity, and talking intelligibly about it. And if I should judge of others by my own dulness, I should fear that by his lordship’s discourse few would be helped to think or talk intelligibly about it. But I measure not others by my narrow capacity: I wish others may profit by his lordship’s explication of nature and person, more than I have done. And so the conversation ended.
My lord, I should not have troubled your lordship with a dialogue of this kind, had not your lordship forced me to it in my own defence. Your lordship, at the end of your above-mentioned explication of nature, has these words: “let us now see how far these things can come from our ideas, by sensation and reflection.” And to the like purpose, in the close of your explication of person, your lordship says; “but how do our simple ideas help us out in this matter? Can we learn from them the difference of nature and person?” Your lordship concludes we cannot. But you say, what makes a person must be understood some other way. And hereupon, my lord, my book is thought worthy by your lordship to be brought into the controversy, and argued against, in your Vindication of the doctrine of the Trinity; because, as your lordship conceives, clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person cannot be had from it.
I humbly crave leave to represent to your lordship, that if want of affording clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, make any book anti-trinitarian, and, as such, fit to be writ against by your lordship; your lordship ought, in the opinion of a great many men, in the first place, to write against your own Vindication of the doctrine of the Trinity: since, among the many I have consulted concerning your lordship’s notions of nature and person, I do not find any one that understands them better, or has got from them any clearer or more distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, than I myself, which indeed is none at all.
The owning of this to your lordship in my former letter, I find, displeased your lordship: I have therefore here laid before your lordship some part of those difficulties which appear to me, and others, in your lordship’s explication of nature and person, as my apology for saying, I had not learned any thing by it. And to make it evident, that if want of clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person involve any treatise in the unitarian controversy; your lordship’s, upon that account, is, I humbly conceive, as guilty as mine; and may be reckoned one of the first that ought to be charged with that offence, against the doctrine of the Trinity.
This, my lord, I cannot help thinking, till I understand better. Whether the not being able to get clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, from what your lordship has said of them, be the want of capacity in my understanding, or want of clearness in that which I have endeavoured to understand, I shall not presume to say; of that the world must judge. If it be my dulness (as I cannot presume much upon my own quickness, having every day experienced how short-sighted I am) I have this yet to defend me from any very severe censure in the case, that I have as much endeavoured to understand your lordship, as I ever did to understand any body. And if your lordship’s notions, laid down about nature and person, are plain and intelligible, there are a great many others, whose parts lie under no blemish in the world, who find them neither plain nor intelligible.
Pardon me therefore, I beseech you, my lord, if I return your lordship’s question, “how do your lordship’s notions help us out in this matter? Can we learn from them clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person, and the grounds of identity and distinction?” To which the answer will stand, no; till your lordship has explained your notions of them a little clearer, and shown what ultimately they are founded on and made up of, if they are not ultimately founded on and made up of our simple ideas, received from sensation and reflection; which is that for which, in this point, you except against my book: and yet, though your lordship sets yourself to prove, that they cannot be had from our simple ideas by sensation and reflection; though your lordship lays down several heads about them, yet you do not, that I see, offer any thing to instruct us from what other original they come, or whence they are to be had.
But perhaps this may be my want of understanding what your lordship has said about them: and, possibly from the same cause it is, that I do not see how the four passages your lordship subjoins, as out of my book (though there be no such passages in my book, as, I think, your lordship acknowledges, since your lordship answers nothing to what I said thereupon;) the two things your lordship says are granted, that tend to the clearing this matter, and the four inferences your lordship makes; are all, or any of them, applied by your lordship, to show that clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person cannot be had upon my principles; at least as clear as can be had upon your lordship’s, when you please to let us know them.
Hitherto, my lord, I have considered only what is charged upon my book by your lordship, in reference to the unitarian controversy, viz. the manner and grounds on which my book has been, by your lordship, endeavoured to be brought into the controversy concerning the Trinity, with which it hath nothing to do: nor has your lordship, as I humbly conceive, yet showed that it has.
There remain to be considered several things, which your lordship thinks faulty in my book; which, whether they have any thing to do or no with the doctrine of the Trinity, I think myself obliged to give your lordship satisfaction in, either by acknowledging my errours, or giving your lordship an account wherein your lordship’s discourse comes short of convincing me of them. But these papers being already grown to a bulk that exceeds the ordinary size of a letter, I shall respite your lordship’s farther trouble in this matter for the present, with this promise, that I shall not fail to return my acknowledgments to your lordship, for those other parts of the letter you have honoured me with.
Before I conclude, it is fit, with due acknowledgment, I take notice of these words, in the close of your lordship’s letter: “I hope, that, in the managing this debate, I have not either transgressed the rules of civility, or mistaken your meaning; both which I have endeavoured to avoid. And I return you thanks for the civilities you have expressed to me, through your letter: and I do assure you, that it is out of no disrespect, or the least ill-will to you, that I have again considered this matter,” &c.
Your lordship hopes you have not mistaken my meaning: and I, my lord, hope that where you have (as I humbly conceive I shall make it appear you have) mistaken my meaning, I may, without offence, lay it before your lordship. And I the more confidently ground that hope upon this expression of your lordship here, which I take to be intended to that purpose; since, in those several instances I gave, in my former letter, of your lordship’s mistaking not only my meaning, but the very words of my book which you quoted, your lordship has had the goodness to bear with me, without any manner of reply.
Your lordship assures me, “that it is out of no disrespect or the least ill-will to me, that you have again considered this matter.”
My lord, my never having, by any act of mine, deserved otherwise of your lordship, is a strong reason to keep me from questioning what your lordship says. And, I hope, my part in the controversy has been such, that I may be excused from making any such profession, in reference to what I write to your lordship. And I shall take care to continue to defend myself so, in this controversy, which your lordship is pleased to have with me, that I shall not come within the need of any apology, that what I say is out of no disrespect or the least ill-will to your lordship. But this must not hinder me any where, from laying the argument in its due light, for the advantage of truth.
This, my lord, I say not to your lordship, who proposing to yourself, as you say in this very page, nothing but truth, will not, I know, take it amiss, that I endeavour to make every thing as plain and as clear as I can: but this I say, upon occasion of some exceptions of this kind, which I have heard others have made against the former letter I did myself the honour to write to your lordship, as if I did therein bear too hard upon your lordship. Though your lordship, who knows very well the end of arguing, as well as rules of civility, finds nothing to blame in my way of writing; and I should be very sorry it should deserve any other character, than what your lordship has been pleased to give it in the beginning of your postscript. It is my misfortune to have any controversy with your lordship; but since the concern of truth alone engages me in it, as I know your lordship will expect that I should omit nothing that should make for truth, for that is the end we both profess to aim at; so I shall take care to avoid all foreign, passionate, and unmannerly mixtures, which do no way become a lover of truth in any debate, especially with one of your lordship’s character and dignity.
My lord, the imputation of a tendency to scepticism, and to the overthrowing any article of the christian faith, are no small charges; and all censures of that high nature, I humbly conceive, are with the more caution to be passed, the greater the authority is of the person they come from. But whether to pronounce so hardly of the book, merely upon surmises, be to be taken for a mark of good-will to the author, I must leave to your lordship. This I am sure, I find the world thinks me obliged to vindicate myself. I have taken leave to say, merely upon surmises, because I cannot see any argument your lordship has any where brought, to show its tendency to scepticism, beyond what your lordship has in these words in the same page, viz. that it is your lordship’s great prejudice against it that it leads to scepticism; or, that your lordship can find no way to attain to certainty in it, upon my grounds.
I confess, my lord, I think that there is a great part of the visible, and a great deal more of the yet much larger intellectual world, wherein our poor and weak understandings, in this state, are not capable of knowledge; and this, I think, a great part of mankind agrees with me in. But whether or no my way of certainty by ideas comes short of what it should, on your lordship’s way, with or without ideas, will carry us to clearer and larger degrees of certainty; we shall see, when your lordship pleases to let us know wherein your way of certainty consists. Till then, I think, to avoid scepticism, it is better to have some way of certainty (though it will not lead us to it in every thing) than no way at all.
The necessity your lordship has put upon me of vindicating myself, must be my apology for giving your lordship this second trouble; which, I assure myself, you will not take amiss, since your lordship was so much concerned for my vindication, as to declare, you had no reason to be sorry, that the author of Christianity not mysterious had given me occasion to vindicate myself. I return your lordship my humble thanks, for affording me this second opportunity to do it; and am, with the utmost respect,
29 June, 1697.