"UNDERSTANDING is a power of the soul, by which we perceive, know, remember, and judge as well singulars, as universals, having certain innate notices or beginnings of arts, a reflecting action, by which it judgeth of his own doings. and examines them." Out of this definition (besides his chief office, which is to apprehend, judge all that he performs, without the help of any instruments or organs) three differences appear betwixt a man and a beast. As first, the sense only comprehends singularities, the understanding universalities. Secondly, the sense hath no innate notions. Thirdly, brutes cannot reflect upon themselves. Bees indeed make neat and curious works, and many other creatures besides; but when they have done, they cannot judge of them. His object is God, Ens, all nature, and whatsoever is to be understood: which successively it apprehends. The object first moving the understanding, is some sensible thing; after by discoursing, the mind finds out the corporeal substance, and from thence the spiritual. His actions (some say) are apprehension, composition, division, discoursing, reasoning, memory, which some include in invention, and judgment. The common divisions are of the understanding, agent, and patient; speculative, and practical; in habit, or in act; simple, or compound. The agent is that which is called the wit of man, acumen or subtilty, sharpness of invention, when he doth invent of himself without a teacher, or learns anew, which abstracts those intelligible species from the phantasy, and transfers them to the passive understanding, "because there is nothing in the understanding, which was not first in the sense." That which the imagination hath taken from the sense, this agent judgeth of whether it be true or false; and being so judged he commits it to the passible to be kept. The agent is a doctor or teacher, the passive a scholar; and his office is to keep and further judge of such things as are committed to his charge; as a bare and rased table at first, capable of all forms and notions. Now these notions are two-fold, actions or habits: actions, by which we take notions of, and perceive things; habits, which are durable lights and notions, which we may use when we will. Some reckon up eight kinds of them, sense, experience, intelligence, faith, suspicion, error, opinion, science; to which are added art, prudency, wisdom: as also syntertesis, dictamen rationis, conscience; so that in all there be fourteen species of the understanding, of which some are innate, as the three last mentioned: the other are gotten by doctrine, learning, and use. Plato will have all to be innate: Aristotle reckons up but five inteiectual habits; two practical, as prudency, whose end is to practise; to fabricate; wisdom to comprehend the use and experiments of all notions, and habits whatsoever. Which division of Aristotle (if it be considered aright) is all one with the precedent; for three being innate, and five acquisite, the rest are improper, imperfect, and in a more strict examination excluded. Of all these I should more amply dilate, but my subject will not permit. Three of them I will only point at, as more necessary to my following discourse.
Synteresis, or the purer part of the conscience, is an innate habit, and doth signify "a conversation of the knowledge of the law of God and Nature, to know good or evil." And (as our divines hold) it is rather in the understanding than in the will. This makes the major proposition in a practical syllogism. The dictamen rationis is that which doth admonish us to do good or evil, and is the minor in the syllogism. The conscience is that which approves good or evil, justifying or condemning our actions, and is the conclusion of the syllogism: as in that familiar example of Regulus the Roman, taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, and suffered to go to Rome, on that condition he should return again, or pay so much for his ransom. The synteresis proposeth the question; his word, oath, promise, is to be religiously kept, although to his enemy, and that by the law of nature. "Do not that to another which thou wouldest not have done to thyself." Dictamen applies it to him, and dictates this or the like: Regulus, thou wouldst not another man should falsify his oath, or break promise with thee: conscience concludes, therefore, Regulus, thou dost well to perform thy promise, and oughtest to keep thine oath. More of this in Religious Melancholy.