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chapter 14: The Light of Reason Is a Certain Light - Nathaniel Culverwell, An Elegant and Learned Discourse of the Light of Nature 
An Elegant and Learned Discourse of the Light of Nature, ed. Robert A. Greene and Hugh MacCallum, foreword by Robert A. Greene (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001).
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The Light of Reason Is a Certain Light
’Tis Lumen certum. Lamp-light as ’tis not glorious, so ’tis not deceitful, though it be but a faint and languishing light. Though it be but a limited and restrained light, yet it will discover such objects as are within its own sphere with a sufficient certainty. The letters of Natures law, are so fairly printed, they are so visible and capital, as that you may read them by this Candle-light; yet some weak and perverse beings not fit to be honoured with the name of men, slight all the workings and motions of Reason, upon this account, that they are Rolling and fluctuating, that they are treacherous and unconstant. And they look upon Logick which is nothing else but the just advancement of reason, an Art of Ripening and mellowing reason, an art of Clarifying and refining of the minde, yet they look upon it as an intelectual kinde of jugling, an artificial kinde of cheating and cozening their understanding: Nor were it a wonder if onely the dregs of people, the rude lump of the multitude, if they onely were sunk and degenerated into this folly, But I meet with a famous and ancient sect of Philosophers that delight in the name of Scepticks, who by a strange kinde of Hypocrisy, and in an unusual way of affectation pretend to more ignorance then they have, nay then they are capable of. They quarrel with all Arts and Sciences, and do as much as they can to annihilate all knowledge and certeinty; and professe nothing but a Philosophical kinde of neutrality, and Lukewarmnesse. Socrates did not please them; for he shewed himself but a Semisceptick, one that was too confident in saying that he did hoc tantum scire, se nihil scire[now this much, that he knew nothing]; for they will not allow so much knowledge as that comes to, this they tell you, that they don’t know this, whether they know any thing or no. There was one sort of Academicks, that came very neer them, their motto was, οὐκαταλαμβάνω,1 their meaning was that they could not graspe or comprehend any object. Lucian (that unhappy wit) makes himself very merry with them, and laughs at one of them, that had a servant that prov’d a fugitive and ran away from him, his Master (sayes he) is very unfit to runne after him δραπέτηνμεταδιώκειν; for he will alwayes cry, οὐκαταλαμβὰνω, οὐκαταλαμβὰνω,2 I cannot reach him, I cannot come neer him; yet if these Academicks by their ἀκαταληψία3 [want of apprehension] meant no more then this, that the whole Intelligibility of any entity, could not be exhausted by them,  that they could not perfectly and powerfully pierce into any object as to discover all that was knowable in it, their opinion then was not onely tolerable, but very commendable, and undeniable; for only God himself, doth thus καταλαμβάνειν4 [comprehend]. There is not enough in any created lamp to give such a bright displaying of an object. Nor is there vigour enough in any created eye, so to pierce into the pith and marrow of being, into the depth and secrecy of being. But if their minde was this (as ’tis generally thought to be) that there was nothing in being so visible as that their understanding could pierce it with certainty and satisfaction, such an Error as this was very derogatory to the plenitude and exuberancy of beings that streams out in a cleer cognoscibility, and ’twas very injurious to their own rational capacities, which were not made so strait and narrow-mouth’d as not to receive those notions that continually drop from being: But they were contriv’d and proportion’d for the well-coming and entertaining of truths, that love to spin and thred themselves into a fine continuity, as if they meant to pour themselves into the soul without spilling. But the Scepticks will bid you ἐπέχειν5 [suspend judgment], and will desire you not to believe one word of this. They have no lesse then ten several bridles, ad compescendum & cohibendum assensum6 [for checking and repressing assent]; Sextus Empiricus, that grand Sceptick will give you a sight of them all, from whence they were stil’d οἱἐφετικοὶ7 men that did check and constrain knowledge, that whereas the οἱΔογματικοὶ[Dogmatists] their adversaries ex Diametro[diametrical], did lay down their determinations in a more positive & decretorious manner, these οἱσκεπτικοὶ[Sceptics] would take time to consider, and no lesse then all their life-time. They chose to be so many perpetual Questionists that would pose themselvs, & rub themselves, and stay themselves finally, and would by no means be perswaded to commence or take any degree in knowledge. Πάνταἐστὶνἀόριστα8 [all things are undetermined], that was the summe of all their Philosophy. Their most radical and fundamental principle, if they may be said to have any such, was this, τῳ̑παντὶλόγῳτὸνλόγονἰ̑σονἀντικει̑σθαι,9 that all propositions were in aequilibrio[equilibrium], that there was nothing could encline the Balance this way or that, that there was an ἰσοσθένειαμαχομένηπρὸςπίστινκαὶἀπιστίαν,10 there was an exact equality of reason, for the affirmation or negation of any Proposition. Lucian brings in one of them with a paire of Balances in his hand, crowding three or four Arguments for the affirmative into one scale, and just as many for the negative into the other, and then telling them his meaning in these words, ζυγοστατω̑ἐναὐτοι̑ςτου̑ςλόγουςκαὶπρὸςτὸἰ̑σονἀπευθύνω, καὶἐπειδὰνἀκριβω̑ςὁμοίουςτεκαὶἰσοβαρει̑ςἼδω, τότεδῃἀγνοω̑τὸνἀληθέστερον.11 I have took (saith he) a great deal of pains in weighing of controversies, and yet finde in them such an undistinguishable equipoise as that there is not in me the least inclination to one side more  then the other. This they tearm an Ἀδιαφορία[an indifference], an ἀῤῥεψία12 [equipoise], a speculative kind of ἀπροσωποληψία,13 an impartiality in respect of al things. In morals they call it Ἀπραγμοσύνη[freedom from practical judgments]; for as they would not acknowledg any verum or falsum[truth or falsity], so neither would they trouble themselves about any turpe or honestum[shame or honour], οὐμάλλονοὕτωςἤἐκείνως, ἤοὐδετέρως[never preferring this to that, nor any third thing to either]. They had no better Ethicks then that speech would amount to; yet they had some lawes amongst them, some customes and rules of life, but they did not observe them as τὰβεβαίωςγνωστά, things that were fixt and fit to be establisht, they were farre from being irreversible, like those of the Medes and Persians, but they put them under the head of τὰφαινόμενα[appearances], lawes pro tempore, such shadowes and appearances as they would for the present please themselves in.14 And after all debates, after all their siftings and discussing of affaires, they would conclude no otherwise then this. Ταχὰδῃἐστὶ, ταχὰδῃοὐκἐστιν, ἐνδῃχεταικαὶοὐκἐνδέχεται, Ἔξεστιμῃνεἰ̑ναιἜξεστιδῃμὴεἰ̑ναι15 [perhaps it is, perhaps it is not; possibly it is, possibly it is not; maybe it is, maybe it is not], which were all but so many frigid expressions of their hesitancy and stammering opinion. Yet this they call’d στάσιςδιανοίας16 [mental balance], a judicious pawsing and deliberation which they did farre preferre, or rather seeme to preferre, before the daring rashnesse of others, that were more dogmatical and magisterial, κενεη̑ςοἰήσιοςἜμπλεοιἀσκοί17 (as they call’d them) swelling bladders, empty bottles, that were stopt, and seal’d up as if they had some precious liquor in them, when as they were fill’d with nothing but aire and winde. There was more modesty and lesse ostentation, as they thought, in their ἀπορία[doubt], which they esteem no small temperance and sobriety in knowledge. An intellectual kinde of continence and virginity to keep their minde pure and untoucht, when as other understandings were ravisht & deflower’d with the violence of every wanton opinion. Whereas demonstrations did not move these men at all, for as they tell you, they alwayes run, either εἰςτὸνδιὰλληλον or εἰςτόνἄπειροντρόπον18 [into circular reasoning or endlessly to infinity], they either rest in a medium equally obscure, which must needs be invalid and inefficacious, or else there will be no period at all, but a processus in infinitum; if you expect that they should acquiesce and rest contented with first principles, they know no such things, they tell you they are only some artificial pillars, which some faint and tired understandings have set up for themselves to lean upon, they won’t be fetter’d with an Axiome, nor chained to a first principle, nor captivated by a common notion. As they break the most binding cords of demonstrations asunder, so they threaten to make these pillars of truth to tremble; to prove by a first principle (say they) ’tis but petitio principii,’tis τὸζητούμενονσυναρπάζειν, ’tis to beg a truth, not to  evince it. If you tell them that these common notions shine with their native light, with their own proper beams; all that they return will be this, that perhaps you think so, but they do not. Yet that they might the better communicate their mindes, they allow’d their schollers to take some things for granted, for a while upon this condition, that they would distrust them afterwards. But these doubters, these Scepticks were never so much convinc’d, as when they were quickened and awaked by sensitive impressions. This made some laugh at Pyrrhon, though not the Author, (as is falsely supposed by some) yet a principal amplifier and maintainer of this Sect, (whence they had their name of οἱΠυῤῥώνειοι[Pyrrhonists],) who when a dog was ready to bite him, he beat him away, and ran as fast as he could from him; Some that took notice of it, gave him a smiling reproof, for his apostatizing from Scepticisme, but he returns him this grave answer, ὥςχαλεπὸνεἼῃὁλοσχερω̑ςἐκδυ̑ναιἄνθρωπον19 [that it was difficult to strip oneself entirely of human nature]; Where he spoke truth before he was aware, for his words are Πυῤῥωνείαςὑποτύπωσις, (as I may so phrase them) a brief description of the whole drift and intention of that Sect, which was ἐκδυ̑ναιἄνθρωπον[to strip off human nature], for they had sufficiently put off Reason, and they did endeavour indeed to put off Sense as much as they could: Yet the Sceptical writer Sextus Empiricus confesses, that the ἀνάγκητω̑νπαθω̑ν, the vehemency & importunity of sensitives, ἀβουλήτουςἡμα̑ςἄγουσινεἰςσυγκατάθεσιν,20 they are (saith he) so urgent and cogent, as that they do extort some kinde of assent from us, λιμὸςμῃνἐπὶτροφὴνἡμα̑ςὁδηγει̑, δίψοςδῃἐπὶπόμα,21 when we seem to be hungry (saith he) perhaps we go to our meat, and when we have made a shew of eating, at length we seem to be satisfied, all such matters of sense they resolve into their τὰφαινόμενα, into some kinde of appearances that do for the present affect them.22 Φαίνεταιἡμι̑νγλυκάζειντὸμέλι,23 honey seems to be pretty sweet and pleasant to them, but whether it do not dissemble, whether it be as it seems to be, that they question. I finde that Pyrrhon the great promoter and propagator of this Sect was at first a Painter by his trade, and it seems he was very loath ab arte sua recedere24 [to abandon his art], for he looks upon every being as a picture and colour, a shadow, a rude draught and portraicture, a meere representation, that hath nothing of solidity or reality. These pictures of his drawing enamor’d many others, for this Sect was patroniz’d by men of acutenesse and subtilty, the wits of the age, magna ingenia, sed non sine mixtura dementiae,25mala punica, sed non sine grano putrido[great geniuses, but not without a touch of madness; pomegranates, but with rotten seed], I could name you Authors of good worth and credit, who tell you that Homer and Archilochus and Euripides, and the Wise men of Greece were all Scepticks, yet those proofs which they bring to evidence and evince it, are not so pregnant and satisfying, but that you may very lawfully doubt of it, and yet be  no Scepticks neither. But Francis Mirandula reckons many very learned men that were deeply engaged in this Sect, and some others that did very neere border upon it.26Protagoras among the rest, whom Plato frequently mentions, and whom Aristotle confutes, who was of this minde that all opinions were true, Sextus Empericus passes this censure upon him, that he was too positive and dogmatical in asserting this;27 but if he had only question’d and deliberated upon it, whether all opinions were not true, he had then been a rare and compleat Sceptick. The ground that Protagoras went upon, was this, Πάντωνπραγμάτωνμέτρονεἰ̑ναιτὸνἄνθρωπον28 [man is the measure of all things]. By μέτρον[measure] he meant nothing else but κριτήριον[criterion], and Aristotle thus explains the words, ὁποι̑αγὰρἑκάστῳφαίνεταιπράγματατοιαυ̑τακαὶεἰ̑ναι,29 for he made appearance of the whole essence & formality of truth. So that according to him severall opinions were but the various discoveries and manifestations of truth. There was one verum quod ad te pertinet[truth relative to you], and another verum quod ad illum pertinet[truth relative to him]. Honey was as truly bitter to a feaverish palate, as it was sweet and delicious to an ordinary taste. Snow was as truly black, in respect of Anaxagoras, as it was white in the eye and esteem of another.30 Thus saith he,31 mad men, wise men, children, old men, men in a dream, and men awake, they are all competent Judges of these things that belong to their several conditions; for (as he tells us) truth varies according to several circumstances, that’s true to day, which is not true to morrow, and that’s true at Rome, that’s not true at Athens; that’s true in this age, that’s not true in the next: That’s true to one man, that’s not true to another. There’s none of you but can spie out such a weak fallacy as this is; and if he meant to have spoken truth, he would have said no more then this, that every man thinks his own opinion true. For as the will cannot embrace an object unlesse it be presented sub umbra boni[as a good], so neither can the understanding close and comply with any opinion, unlesse it be disguised, sub apparentia veri[under the appearance of truth]; But to make appearance the very essence of truth, is to make a shadow the essence of the Sun, ’tis to make a picture the essence of a man. I shall say no more to Protagoras then this, that if any opinion be false, his cannot be true, but must needs be the falsest of all the rest. Yet the end that these Scepticks propound to themselves, was (if you will believe him,) ἀταραξίακαὶμετριοπάθεια,32 a freedom from jarres and discords, from Heresie and Obstinacy, to have a minde unprejudic’d, unprepossest, the avoiding of perturbations, a milky whitenesse and serenity of soul; a fair marke indeed, but how a roving Sceptick should ever hit it, is not easily imaginable, for what Philosophy more wavering and voluble? was there ever a more reeling and staggering company? was there ever a more tumbling and tossing generation? What shall I say to these old Seekers,33 to this wanton  and lascivious Sect, that will espouse themselves to no one opinion, that they may the more securely go a whoring after all? If they be resolv’d to deny all things (as they can do it very easily, and have seem’d to do it very compendiously) truly then they have took a very sure way to prevent all such arguments as can be brought against them; yet because they seem to grant appearances, we will at least present them with a few φαινόμενα[appearances], and we will see how they will move them and affect them. ’Twere well then if Pyrrhon, the fore-mentioned Painter, would but tell us, whether a picture would be all one with a face, whether an appearance be all one with a reality, whether he can paint a non-entity or no, whether there can be an appearance where there is no foundation for it, whether all pictures do equally represent the face, whether none can paint a little better then he used to do, whether all appearances do equally represent being? whether there are not some false and counterfeit appearances of things? If so, then his ἀδιαφορία34 [indifference], must needs be took away, or if there be alwayes true and certain appearances of things, then his doubting and ἀπορία35 [uncertainty] must needs vanish. When he is thirsty, and chooses rather to drink then abstaine, what then becomes of his ἀδιαφορία[indifference]? if he be sure that he is athirst, and if he be sure that he seems to be athirst, what then becomes of his ἀπορία[uncertainty]? When the dog was ready to bite him, if he was indifferent, why did he run away? if it were an appearance, why did he flee from a shadow? why was the Painter afraid of colours? If his sense was only affected, not his understanding, how then did he differ from the sensitive creature? from the creature that was ready to bite him? if he tels us that he was the hansomer picture of the two who was it then that drew him so fairly, was it an appearance also? Doth one picture use to draw another? when he perswades men to encline to his Scepticisme, what then becomes of his ἀδιαφορία[indifference]? when he makes no doubt nor scruple of denying certainty, what then becomes of his ἀπορία[uncertainty]? but not to disquiet this same Pyrrhon any longer, I shall choose more really to scatter those empty fancies by discovering the true original and foundation, the right progresse and method of all certainty.
Now God himself, that eternal and immutable being, that fixt, and unshaken Entity, that τὸὌντωςὂνκαὶτὸβεβαίωςὌν,36 must needs be the fountaine of certainty, as of all other perfections; and if other things be compared to him, they may in this sense, without any injury to them, be stiled τὰφαινόμενα[appearances], in respect of the infinite reality and weighty and massy solidity, that is in his most glorious being, by vertue of which, as himself hath everlastingly the same invariable knowledge of all things, so he is also the most knowable and intelligible object, a sunne that sees all things, and is in it selfe most visible. An Atheist must needs be a Sceptick; for God himself is the onely  immoveable verity upon which the soul must fix and anchor. Created beings, shew their face a while, then hide it again, their colour goes and comes, they are in motu & fluxu[in motion and flux], God is the onely durable object of the soul. Now that the soul may have a satisfactory enjoyment of its God, and that it may be accurately made according to his image, God stamps and prints as resemblances of his other perfections, so this also of certainty upon it; How else should it know the minde of its God? how should it know to please him, to believe him, to obey him? with what confidence could it approach unto him, if it had onely weak & wavering conjectures? Nay God lets the soul have some certaine acquaintance with other beings for his own sake, and in order to his own glory. Nor is it a small expression of his wisdome and power, to lay the beginnings of mans certainty so low, even as low as sense; for by means of such an humble foundation the structure proves the surer and the taller. ’Tis true there is a purer and nobler Certainty in such beings as are above sense, as appeares by the Certainty of Angelical knowledge, and the knowledge of God himself; yet so much certainty as is requisite for such a rational nature as man is, may well have its rising and springings out of sense, though it have more refinings and purifyings from the understanding. This is the right proportioning of his certainty to his being; for as his being results out of the mysterious union of matter, to immateriality: so likewise his knowledge and the certainty of his knowledge (I speake of naturall knowledge) first peeps out in sense, and shines more brightly in the understanding. The first dawnings of certainty are in the sense, the noon-day-glory of it is in the Intellectuals. There are indeed frequent errours in this first Edition of knowledge set out by sense; but ’tis then onely when the due conditions are wanting, and the understanding (as some printers use to do) Corrects the old Errata of the first Edition, and makes some new Errours in its owne. And I need not tell you, that ’tis the same soul that moves both in the sense and in the understanding, for νου̑ςὁρᾳ̑&νου̑ςἀκούει37 [it is the mind that sees, the mind that hears], and as it is not priviledged from failings in the motions of the sense, so neither is it in all its intellectual operations, though it have an unquestionable certainty of some, in both. The certainty of sense is so great as that an Oath, that high expression of certainty, is usually and may very safely be built upon it. Mathematical demonstrations chuse to present themselves to the sense, and thus become Ocular and visible. The Scepticks that were the known enemies of certainty, yet would grant more shadow and appearance of it in sense, then any where else, though erroneously. But sense, that rackt them sometimes, and extorted some confessions from them, which speculative principles could never do. Away then with that humour of Heraclitus that tells us κακοὶμάρτυρεςἀνθρώποισινὀφθαλμοὶ,38 mens eyes (sayes he) are but weak and deceitful witnesses. Surely he speaks onely of his owne watery and  weeping eyes, that were so dull’d and blur’d, as that they could not clearly discerne an object. But he might have given others leave to have seen more then he did. Nor can I tell how to excuse Plato for too much scorning and sleighting these outward senses, when that he trusted too much inwardly to his owne fancy. Sextus Empiricus propounds the question, whether he were not a Sceptick,39 but he onely shew’d himself a Sceptick by this, for which he mov’d such a question. ’Tis sure that Plato was sufficiently dogmatical in all his assertions, though this indeed must be granted, that some of his principles strike at certainty, and much indanger it; for being too fantastical and Poetical in his Philosophy, he plac’t all his security in some uncertaine airy and imaginary Castles of his own contriving and building and fortifyng. His connate Ideas (I mean) which Aristotle could not at all confide in, but blowed them away presently; and perceiving the proud emptinesse, the swelling frothinesse of such Platonical bubles, he was faine to search for certainty somewhere else, and casting his eye upon the ground he spyed the bottome of it, lying in sense, and laid there by the wise dispensation of God himself, from thence he lookt up to the highest top and Apex, to the πτερύγιον and pinacle of certainty plac’t in the understanding. The first rudiments of certainty were drawn by sense, the compleating and consummating of it was in the understanding. The certainty of sense is more grosse and palpable, the certainty of intellectuals, ’tis more cleere and Crystalline, more pure and spiritual. To put all certainty or the chiefest certainty in sense, would be excessively injurious to reason, and would advance some sensitive creatures above men, for they have some quicker senses then men have; sense ’tis but the gate of certainty, (I speak all this while but of humane certainty) the understanding ’tis the throne of it. Des-Cartes the French Philosopher resolves all his assurance, into thinking that he thinks,40 why not into thinking that he sees? and why may he not be deceived in that as in any other operations? And if there be such a virtue in reflecting and reduplicating of it, then there will be more certainty in a super-reflection, in thinking that he thinks that he thinks, and so if he run in infinitum, according to his conceit he will still have more certainty, though in reality he will have none at all, but will be fain to stop and stay in Sceptisme, so that these refuges of lyes being scatter’d, first principles and common notions with those demonstrations that stream from them, they onely remaine, as the nerves of this assurance, as the souls of natural Plerophory;41 and he that will not cast Anchor upon these, condemnes himself to perpetual Sceptisme; which makes me wonder at a passage of a Right honourable of our own;42 Though whether he be the Authour of the passage, you may take time to consider it: But this it is, (the sense of it I mean) That absolute contradictions may meet together, in the same respect Esse & non esse[being and non-being] it seemes are espoused in a most neer and conjugal union, and live together very  affectionately and imbracingly; O rare and compendious Synopsis of all Sceptism! O the quintessence of Sextus Empiricus and the Pyrrhonian ὑποτύπωσις[Outlines] of all their ἐποχὴ[suspension of judgment] and ἀπορία[uncertainty] of their ἀφασία[non-assertion] and ἀοριστία43 [indefiniteness], that which is the most paradoxical of all; you have all this in a book that calls it self by the name of truth: yet let none be so vaine as to imagine that this is in the least measure spoken to the disesteem of that noble Lord, who was well known to be of bright and sparkling intellectuals, and of such singular and incomparable ingenuity, as that if he had liv’d till this time, we cannot doubt but he would have retracted it, or at least better explain’d it before this time. However I could not but take notice of so black an Error that did crush and break all these first principles, and had an irreconcileable Antipathy against reason and certainty, though it hid it self under the protection of so good and so great a name. Certainty ’tis so precious and desirable, as where God hath given it, ’tis to be kept sacred and untoucht; and men are to be thankful for these Candles of the Lord, for this Lumen certum, set up, not to mock and delude them, but to deal truly and faithfully with them.