Scepsis Scientifica - Chap. XXVII.

Chap. XXVII.

            I expect but little success of all this upon the dogmatist; his opinioned assurance is paramount to argument, and 'tis almost as easy to reason him out of a fever, as out of this disease of the mind. I hope for better fruit from the more generous vertuosi, to such I appeal against dogmatizing, in the following considerations. That's well spent upon impartial ingenuity, which is lost upon resolved prejudice.

            (1.) Opinionative confidence is the effect of ignorance, and were the sciolist persuaded so, I might spare my further reasons against it: 'tis affectation of knowledge, that makes him confident he hath it; and his confidence is counter-evidence to his pretensions to knowledge. He is the greatest ignorant, that knows not that he is so: for 'tis a good degree of science, to be sensible that we want it. He that knows most of himself, knows least of his knowledge, and the exercised understanding is conscious of its disability. Now he that is so, will not lean too assuredly on that, which hath so frequently deceived him, nor build the castle of his intellectual security, in the air of opinions. But for the shallow passive intellects, that were never engaged in a thorough search of verity, 'tis such are the confidents that engage their irrepealable assents to every slight appearance. Thus mere sensible conceivers make every thing they hold a sacrament, and the silly vulgar are sure of all things. There was no theorem in the mathematics more certain to Archimedes, than the Earth's immovable quiescence seems to the multitude: nor than did the impossibility of antipodes, to antique ages. And if great philosophers doubt of many things, which popular dijudicants hold as certain as their creeds, I suppose ignorance itself will not say, it is because they are more ignorant. Superficial pedants will swear their controversal uncertainties, while wiser heads stand in bivio. Opinions are the rattles of immature intellects, but the advanced reasons have outgrown them. True knowledge is modest and wary; 'tis ignorance that is so bold, and presuming. Thus those that never travailed beyond one horizon, will not be persuaded that the world hath any country better than their own: while they that have had a view of other regions, are not so confidently persuaded of the precedency of that they were bred in, but speak more indifferently of the laws, manners, commodities, and customs of their native soil: so they that never peeped beyond the common belief in which their easy understandings were at first indoctrinated, are strongly assured of the truth, and comparative excellency of their receptions while the larger souls, that have travelled the divers climates of opinions, are more cautious in their resolves, and more sparing to determine. And let the most confirmed dogmatist profound far into his endeared opinions, and I'll warrant him 'twill be an effectual cure of confidence.

            (2.) Confidence in opinions evermore dwells with untamed passions, and is maintained upon the depraved obstinacy of an ungoverned spirit. He's but a novice in the art of autocracy, that cannot castigate his passions in reference to those presumptions, and will come as far short of wisdom as science: for the judgement being the leading power, and director of action, if it be swayed by the over-bearings of passion, and stored with lubricous opinions instead of clearly conceived truths, and be peremptorily resolved in them, the practice will be as irregular, as the conceptions erroneous. Opinions hold the stirrup, while vice mounts into the saddle.

            (3.) Dogmatizing is the great disturber both of ourselves and the world without us: for while we wed an opinion, we resolvedly engage against every one that opposeth it. Thus every man, being in some of his opinionative apprehensions singular, must be at variance with all men. Now every opposition of our espoused opinions furrows the sea within us, and discomposeth the mind's serenity. And what happiness is there in a storm of passions? On this account the skeptics affected an indifferent a quipondious neutrality as the only means to their ataraxia, and freedom from passionate disturbances. Nor were they altogether mistaken in the way, to their designed felicity, but came short on't, by going beyond it: for if there be a repose naturally attainable this side the stars, there is no way we can more hopefully seek it in. We can never be at rest, while our quiet can be taken from us by every thwarting our opinions: nor is that content an happiness, which every one can rob us of. There is no felicity, but in a fixed stability. Nor can genuine constancy be built upon rowling foundations. 'Tis true staidness of mind, to look with an equal regard on all things; and this unmoved apathy in opinionative uncertainties, is a warrantable piece of stoicism.

            Besides, this immodest obstinacy in opinions, hath made the world a Babel; and given birth to disorders, like those of the chaos. The primitive fight of elements doth fitly emblem that of opinions, and those proverbial contrarieties may be reconciled, as soon as peremptory contenders. That hence grow schisms, heresies, and anomalies beyond arithmetic, I could wish were more difficult to be proved. 'Twere happy for a distempered church, if evidence were not so near us. 'Tis zeal for opinions that hath filled our hemisphere with smoke and darkness, and by a dear experience we know the fury of those flames it hath kindled. 'Tis lamentable that homo homini daemon, should be a proverb among the professors of the cross; and yet I fear it is as verifiable among them, as of those without the pale of visible Christianity. I doubt we have lost St. John's sign of regeneration: "By this we know that we are passed from death to life, that we love one another," is I fear, to few a sign of their spiritual resurrection. If our returning Lord, shall scarce find faith on earth, where will he look for charity? It is a stranger this side the region of love, and blessedness; bitter zeal for opinions hath consumed it. Mutual agreement and endearments was the badge of primitive believers, but we may be known by the contrary criterion. The union of a sect within itself, is a pitiful charity: it's no concord of Christians, but a conspiracy against Christ; and they that love one another, for their opinionative concurrencies, love for their own sakes, not their Lord's: not because they have his image, but because they bear one another's. What a stir is there for mint, anise, and cummin controversies, while the great practical fundamentals are unstudied, unobserved? What eagerness in the prosecution of disciplinarian uncertainties, when the love of God and our neighbour, those evangelical unquestionables, are neglected? 'Tis this hath consumed the nutriment of the great and more necessary verities, and bred differences that are past any accommodation, but that of the last days decisions. The sight of that day will resolve us, and make us ashamed of our petty quarrels.

            Thus opinions have rent the world asunder, and divided it almost into indivisibles. Had Heraclitus lived now, he had wept himself into marble, and Democritus would have broke his spleen. Who can speak of such fooleries without a satire, to see aged infants so quarrel at putpin, and the doting world grown child again? How fond are men of a bundle of opinions, which are no better than a bag of cherrystones? How do they scramble for their nuts, and apples, and how zealous for their petty victories? Methinks those grave contenders about opinionative trifles, look like aged Socrates upon his boy's hobbyhorse, or like something more ludicrous: since they make things their seria, which are scarce tolerable in their sportful intervals.

            (4.) To be confident in opinions is ill manners and immodesty; and while we are peremptory in our persuasions, we accuse all of ignorance and error, that subscribe not our assertions. The dogmatist gives the lie to all dissenting apprehenders, and proclaims his judgement fittest, to be the intellectual standard. This is that spirit of immorality, that saith unto dissenters, stand off, I am more orthodox than thou art: a vanity more capital than error. And he that affirms that things must needs be as he apprehends them, implies that none can be right till they submit to his opinions, and take him for their director.

            (5.) Obstinacy in opinions holds the dogmatist in the chains of error, without hope of emancipation. While we are confident of all things, we are fatally deceived in most. He that assures himself he never errs, will always err; and his presumptions will render all attempts to inform him, ineffective. We use not to seek further for what we think we are possessed of; and when falsehood is without suspicion embraced in the stead of truth, and with confidence retained, verity will be rejected as a supposed error, and irreconcilably be hated, because it opposeth what is truly so.

            (6.) It betrays a poverty and narrowness of spirit, in the dogmatical assertors. There are a set of pedants that are born to slavery. But the more generous spirit preserves the liberty of his judgement, and will not pen it up in an opinionative dungeon; with an equal respect he examines all things, and judgeth as impartially as Rhadamanth: when as the pedant can hear nothing but in favour of the conceits he is amorous of; and cannot see, but out of the grates of his prison; the determinations of the nobler mind, are but temporary, and he holds them, but till better evidence repeal his former apprehensions. He won't defile his assent by prostituting it to every conjecture, or stuff his belief; with the luggage of uncertainties. The modesty of his expression renders him infallible; and while he only saith, he thinks so, he cannot be deceived, or ever assert a falsehood. But the wise Monsieur Charron hath fully discoursed of this universal liberty, and saved me the labour of enlarging. Upon the review of my former considerations, I cannot quarrel with his motto: in a sense je ne sais, is a justifiable skepticism, and not misbecoming a candidate of wisdom. Socrates in the judgement of the oracle knew more than all men, who in his own knew the least of all.


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