Scepsis Scientifica - Chap. IX.

Chap. IX.

The disease of our intellectuals is too great, not to be its own evidence: and they that feel it not, are not less sick, but stupidly so. The weakness of human understanding, all will confess: yet the confidence of most in their own reasonings, practically disowns it: and 'tis easier to persuade them it from others lapses than their own; so that while all complain of our ignorance and error, every one exempts himself. It is acknowledged by all, while every one denies it. If the foregoing part of this discourse have not universally concluded our weakness I have one item more of mine. If knowledge can be found in the particulars mentioned; I must lose that, which I thought I had, that there is none. But however, though some should pick a quarrel with the instances I alleged; yet the conclusion must be owned in others. And therefore beside the general reaton I gave of our intellectual disabilities, the fall; it will be worth our labour to descend to a more particular account: since it is a good degree of knowledge to be acquainted with the causes of our ignorance. And what we have to say under this head, will equally concern our misapprehensions and errors. And the particulars I intend are causes and evidences of both.

. I. (1) Then we owe much of our ignorance to the depth of knowledge; which is not the acquist of superficials and supine enquirers. Democritus his well hath a Βαθος [Greek; Bathos], and truth floats not. The useless froth swims on the surface; but the pearl lies covered with a mass of waters. Verisimilitude and opinion are an easy purchase: But true Knowledge is dear and difficult. Like a point or line, it requires an acuteness and intention to its discovery ; while verisimility, like the expanded superficies, is an obvious sensible, and affords a large and easie field for loose inquiry. And 'tis the more difficult to find out Truth, because it is in such inconsiderable proportions scattered in a mass of opinionative uncertainties; like the Silver in Hiero's Crown of Gold : And it is no easie piece of Chemistry to reduce these minutes to their unmixed selves. The Elements are nowhere pure in these lower Regions ; and if there is any free from the admixtion of another, sure 'tis above the concave of the Moon: Neither can any boast a knowledge depurate from the defilement of a contrary, within this atmosphere of flesh ; it dwels nowhere in unblended proportions, on this side the Empyreum. All Opinions have their Truth, and all have what is not so; and to say all are true and none, is no absurdity. So that to crown ourselves with sparks, which are almost lost in such a world of heterogeneous natures, is as difficult as desirable. Besides, Truth is never single; to know one will require the knowledge of many. They hang together in a chain of mutual dependence; you cannot draw one link without attracting others. Such an harmony cannot commence from a single string; diversity of strokes makes it. The beauty of a face is not known by the eye, or nose; it consists in a symmetry, and 'tis the comparative faculty which votes it: thus is truth relative, and little considerable can be obtained by catches. The painter cannot transcribe a face upon a transient view; it requires the information of a fixed and observant eye: and before we can reach an exact sight of truth's uniform perfections, this fleeting transitory our life, is gone. So that we see the face of truth, but as we do one another's, when we walk the streets, in a careless pass-by; and the most diligent observers, view but the back-side o' th' hangings; the right one is on the other side the grave: and our knowledge is but like those broken ends; at best a most confused adumbration. Nature, that was veiled to Aristotle, hath not yet uncovered, in almost two thousand years. What he sought on the other side of Euripus, we must not look for on this side immortality. In easy disquisitions we are often left to the uncerainty of a guess: yea after we have triumphed in a supposed Ευρηκα [Greek: Eureka]; a new-sprung difficulty mars our ovations, and exposeth us to the torment of a disappointment: so that even the great master of dogmatists himself concludes the scene with an Anxius vixi, dubius morior.

.2 Another reason of our ignorance and the narrowness of our apprehensions is; that we cannot perceive the manner of any of nature's operations, but by proportion to our senses, and return to material phantasms. A blind man conceives not colours, but under the notion of some other sensible; and more perfect apprehenders as grosly misconceive immaterials our imaginations painting souls and angels in as little agreeing a resemblace. And had there not been any night, shadow, or opacity; we should never have had any determinate conceit of darkness; that would have been as inconceivable to us, as its contrary is to him that never saw it.

But now our senses being scant and limited, and natures operations subtle and various; they must needs transcend, and out-run our faculties. They are only natures grosser ways of working, which are sensible;

Her finer threads are out of the reach of our dull percipient. Yea questionless she hath many hidden energies, no ways imitated in her obvious pieces: and therefore it is no wonder that we are so often at a loss; an infirmity beyond prevention, except we could step by step follow the tracks and methods of infinite wisdom, which cannot be done but by him that owns it.

 

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