Scepsis Scientifica - Chap. II.

Chap. II.

            BUT, 'tis a miserable thing to have been happy. And a self-contracted wretchedness, is a double one. Had felicity always been a stranger to our natures, our now misery had been none; and had not ourselves been the authors of our ruins, less, we might have been made unhappy, but since we are miserable we chose it. He that gave them, might have taken from us our other enjoyments, but nothing could have robbed us of innocence but ourselves. That we are below the angels of God is no misery, tis the lot of our natures: but that we have made ourselves like the beasts that perish, is severely so, because the fruit of a voluntary defection. While man was innocent he was likely ignorant of nothing, that imported him to know. But when he had transgressed, the fault that opened his eyes upon his shame, shut them up from most things else, but his newly purchased misery. He saw the nakedness of his soul with that of his body, and the blindness and disarray of his faculties, which his former innocence was a stranger to. And what disclosed this poverty and these disorders, caused them, whether the understanding and affections were the most criminal authors of that unhappy defailance, need not be disputed. And how evils should commence in so blessed a constitution of affairs, and advantageous temper of them both, will perhaps difficultly be determined: merciful heaven having made it easier to know the cure, then the rise of our distempers. This is certain, that our masculine powers are deeply sharers of the consequential mischiefs; and though Eve were the first in the disobedience, yet was Adam a joint partaker of the curse: so that we are not now like the creatures we were made, but have lost both our maker's image, and our own. And possibly the beasts are not more inferior to us, then we are to our ancient selves: a proud affecting to be like gods having made us unlike men. For (to pass the other instances of our degradation which indeed were a plentiful subject, but not so press to my design) our intellectual and highest faculties are deplorable evidence of our ruins. And upon these I shall fix my observations.

            For whereas our ennobled understandings could once take the wings of the morning, to visit the world above us, and had a glorious display of the highest form of created excellencies, they now lie groveling in this lower region, muffled up in mists, and darkness: the curse of the serpent is fallen upon degenerated man, to go on his belly and lick the dust. And as in the Cartesian hypothesis, the planets sometimes lose their light, by the fixing of the impurer scum; so our impaired intellects, which were once as pure light and flame in regard of their vigour and activity, are now darkened by those grosser spots, which disobedience hath contracted. And our now overshadowed souls (to whose beauties stars were foils) may be exactly emblemed, by those crusted globes, whose influential emissions are intercepted, by the interposal of the benighting element, while the purer essence is imprisoned by the gross and impervious matter. For these once glorious lights, which did freely shed abroad their harmless beams, and wantoned in a larger circumference, are now pent up in a few first principles (the naked essentials of our faculties) within the straight confines of a prison. And whereas knowledge dwelt in our undepraved natures, as light in the sun, in as great plenty, as purity; it is now hidden in us like sparks in a flint, both in scarcity and obscurity.

            For, considering the shortness of our intellectual sight, the deceptibility and impositions of our senses, the tumultuary disorders of our passions, the prejudices of our infant educations, and infinite such like (of which an after occasion will befriend us, with a more full and particular recital) I say, by reason of these, we may conclude of the science of the most of men, truly so called, that it may be trussed up in the same room with the Iliads, yea it may be all the certainty of those high pretenders to it, the voluminous schoolmen, and peripatetical dictators, (bating what they have of the first principles and the word of God) may be circumscribed by as small a circle, as the creed, when brachygraphy had confined it within the compass of a penny. And methinks the disputes of those assuming confidents, that think so highly of their attainments, are like the controversy of those in Plato's den, who having never seen but the shadow of an horse trajected against a wall, eagerly contended, whether its neighing proceeded from the appearing mane, or tail, ruffled with the winds. And the dogmatist's are no less at odds in the darker cells of their imaginary principles about the shadows and exuviae of beings; when for the most part they are strangers to the substantial realities. And like children are very busy about the babies of their fancies, while their useless subtleties afford little entertainment to the nobler faculties.

            But many of the most accomplished wits of all ages, whose modesty would not allow them to boast of more then they were owners of, have resolved their knowledge into Socrates his sum total, and after all their pains in quest of science, have sat down in a professed nescience. It is the shallow unimproved intellects that are confident pretenders to certainty; as if contrary to the adage, science had no friend but ignorance. And though their general acknowledgments of the weakness of human understanding, and the narrowness of what we know, look like cold and sceptical discouragements; yet the particular expressions of their sentiments and opinions, are as oracular, as if they were omniscient. To such, as a curb to confidence, and as an evidence of human infirmities even in the noblest parts of man, I shall give the following instances of our intellectual blindness: not that I intend to pose them with those common enigmas of magnetism, fluxes, refluxes, and the like; these are resolved into a confesssed ignorance and I shall not persue them to their old asylum; and yet it may be there is more knowable in these, then in less acknowledged mysteries: but I'll not move beyond ourselves, and the most ordinary and trivial phenomena in nature, in which we shall find enough to shame confidence, and unplume dogmatizing.

 

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