Scepsis Scientifica - Chap. XIII.

Chap. XIII.

            Fourthly, we err and come short of science, because we are so frequently mislead by the evil conduct of our imaginations; whose irregular strength and importunity doth almost perpetually abuse us. Now to make a full and clear discovery of our fancy's deceptions; 'twill be requisite to look into the nature of that mysterious faculty. In which survey we must trace the soul in the ways of her intellectual actions; whereby we may come to the distinct knowledge of what is meant by imagination, in contradistinction to some other powers. But first premising, that the soul's nature (at least as far as concerns our inquiry) consists in intelligibility: and secondly, that when we speak of powers and faculties of the soul, we intend not to assert with the schools, their real distinction from it, or each other, but only a modal diversity. Therefore I shall distribute intellectual operations according to the known triple division, though with some difference of representation.

            The first is simple apprehension, which denotes no more, than the soul's naked intellection of an object, without either composition or deduction. The foundation of this act, as to materials, is sensitive preception. Now our simple apprehension of corporal objects, if present, we call sense; if absent, we properly name it imagination. When we would conceive a material object, our fancies present us with its idea. But in our notion of spirituals, we, as much as we can, strip them of all material phantasmes; and thus they become the object of our intellects, properly so calledi all this while the soul is, as it were, silent; and in a more passive way of reception.

            But the second act advanceth propositions from simple intellections: and hereby we have the knowledge of the distinctions or identities of objects. Now here, as in the former, where they are purely material; the judgment is made by the imagination: if otherwise, we refer it to the understanding.

            The third act, is that which connects propositions and deduceth conclusions from them: and this the schools call discourse; and we shall not miscall it, if we name it, reason. This as it supposeth the two former, so is it grounded on certain congenite propositions; which I conceive to be the very essentials of rationality. Such are, quodlibet est, vel non est; impossibile est idem esse, non esse; non entis nulla sunt predicata, and such like. Not that every one hath naturally a formal and explicit notion of these principles: for the vulgar use them, without knowledge of them, under any such express consideration; but yet there was never any born to reason without them. Now when the conclusion is deduced from the unerring dictates of our faculties; we say the inference is rational: but when from misapprehended, or ill-compounded phantasms; we ascribe it to the imagination. So we see, there is a triple operation of the fancy as well as intellect; and these powers are only circumstantially different. In this method we intend a distinct, though short account, how the imagination deceives us.

            First then, the imagination, which is of simple perception, doth never of itself and directly mislead us; as is at large declared in our former discourse of sense. Yet is it the almost fatal means of our deception, through the unwarrantable compositions, divisions, and applications, which it occasions the second act to make of the simple images. Hence we may derive the visions, voices, revelations of the enthusiast: the strong idea's of which, being conjured up into the imagination by the heat of the melancholized brain, are judged exterior realities; when as they are but motions within the cranium. Hence story is full of the wonders, it works upon hypochondriacal imaginants; to whom the grossest absurdities are infallible certainties, and free reason an impostor. That groom, that conceited himself an emperor, thought all as irrational as disloyal, that did not acknowledge him: and he, that supposed himself made of glass, thought them all mad, that disbelieved him. But we pity, or laugh at those fatuous extravagants; while yet ourselves have a considerable dose of what makes them so: and more sober heads have a set of misconceits, which are as absurd to an unpassionated reason, as those to our unabused senses. And as the greatest counter-evidence to those distempered fancies is none: so in the more ordinary deceits, in which our imaginations insensibly engage us, we give but little credit to the uncorrupted suggestions of the faculty, that should disabuse us.

            That the soul and angels are devoid of quantity and dimension, hath the suffrage of the most; and that they have nothing to do with grosser locality, is as generally opinioned: but who is it, that retains not a great part of the imposture, by allowing them a definitive Ubi, which is still but imagination? He that said, a thousand might dance on the point of a needle, spake but grossly; and we may as well suppose them to have wings, as a proper Ubi. We say, spirits are where they operate: but strictly to be in a place, or Ubi, it may be is a material attribute, and incompatible with so pure a nature. We ask not, in what place a thought is, nor are we solicitous for the Ubi of virtue, or any other immaterial accidents. Relations, ubications, duration, the vulgar philosophy admits to be something; and yet to enquire in what place they are, were gross and incongruous. So that, if to be, and to be in a place be not reciprocal; I know not why spirits may not be exempted, having as much to plead from the purity of their essence, as anything in nature. And yet imagination stands so strongly against the notion, that it cannot look for the favour of a very diffusive entertainment.

            But we are more dangerously deceived, when judging the infinite essence by our narrow selves; we ascribe intellections, volitions, decrees, purposes, and such like immanent actions to that nature, which hath nothing in common with us, as being infinitely above us. Now to use these as hypotheses, as himself in his word, is pleased to low himself to our capacities, is allowable: but a strict and rigorous imputation is derogatory to him, and arrogant in us. To say, that God doth eminently contain all those effects in His glorious simple essence, that the creature can produce or act by such a faculty, power, or affection; is to affirm him to be what He is, infinite. Thus, to conceive that He can do all those things in the most perfect manner, which we do upon understanding, willing, and decreeing; is an apprehension suteable to His idea: but to fix on Him the formality of faculties, or affections; is the imposture of our fancies, and contradictory to His divinity. 'Tis this deception misleads the contending world; and is the author of most of that darkness and confusion, that is upon the face of the controversies of dart. We being then thus obnoxious to fallacy in our apprehensions and judgments, and so often imposed upon by these deceptions; our inferences and deductions must needs be as unwarrantable, as our simple and compound thoughts are deceitful. So that the reason of the far greatest part of mankind, is but an aggregate of mistaken phantasms; and in things not sensible, a constant delusion. Yea the highest and most improved spirits, are frequently caught in the entanglements of a tenacious imagination; and submit to its obstinate, but delusory suggestions. Thus we are involved in inextricable perplexities about the divine nature, and attributes; and in our reasonings about those sublimities are puzled with contradictions, which are but the toyings of our fancies, no absurdities to our more defecate faculties. What work do our imaginations make with eternity and immensity? And how are we gravelled by their cutting dilemmas? I'm confident many have thus imagined themselves out of their religion; and run a ground on that more desperate absurdity, atheism. To say, reason opposeth faith, is to scandalize both: 'tis imagination is the rebel; reason contradicts its impious suggestions. Nor is our reason any more accountable for the errours of our opinions; than our holiness for the immoralities of our lives: and we may as well say, that the sun is the cause of the shadow, which is the effect of the intercepting opacity, as either. Reasom and faith are at perfect unisons: the disharmony is in the fancy. Το λογικον εστι θειον [Greek: To logikon esti theion],  is a saying of Plato's; and well worthy a Christian subscription, reason being the image of the creator's wisdom copied out in the creature. Though indeed, as 'tis now in the subject, 'tis but an amassment of imaginary conceptions, prejudices, ungrounded opinions, and infinite impostures; and 'tis no wonder, if these are at odds with the principles of our belief: but all this is but apish sophistry, and to give it a name so divine and excellent, is abusive and unjust.

            There is yet another as deplorable a deceit of our imaginations, as any: which is, its impressing a strong persuasion of the truth of an opinion, where there is no evidence to support it. And if it be such, as we never heard questioned or contradicted, 'tis then unsuspected. The most of mankind is led by opinionative impulse, and imagination is predominant. An ungrounded credulity is cried up for faith; and the more vigorous impressions of pliancy, for the spirit's motions. These are the grand delusions of our age, and the highest evidence of the imaginations deceptions. This is the spirit, that works in the children of fancy; and we need not seek to remoter resolutions. But the excellent Dr. H. More hath followed enthusiastic effects to their proper origin, and prevented our endeavours of attempting it. His discourse of enthusiasm completely makes good the title; and 'tis as well a victory, as a triumph.


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