Scepsis Scientifica - Chap. XIX.

Chap. XIX.

            But (2.) This philosophy is litigious, the very spawn of disputations and controversies as undecisive as needless. This is the natural result of the former: storms are the products of vapours. For where words are imposed arbitrariously, having no stated real meaning; or else distorted from their common use, and known significations; the mind must needs be led into confusion and misprision; and so things plain and easy in their naked natures, made full of intricacy and disputable uncertainty. For we cannot conclude with assurance, but from clearly apprehended premises; and these cannot be so conceived, but by a distinct comprehension of the words out of which they are elemented. So that, where these are unfixed or ambiguous; our propositions must be so, and our deductions can be no better. One reason therefore of the uncontroverted certainty of mathematical science is; because 'tis built upon clear and settled significations of names, which admit of no ambiguity or insignificant obscurity. But in the Aristotelian philosophy it's quite otherwise: words being here carelesly and abusively admitted, and as inconstantly retained; it must needs come to pass, that they will be diversly apprehended by contenders, and so made the subject of controversies, that are endless both for use and number. And thus being at their first step out of the way to science, by mistaking in simple terms; in the progress of their enquiries they must needs lose both themselves, and the truth, in a verbal labyrinth. And now the entangled disputants, as master Hobbes ingeniously observeth, like birds that came down the chimney; betake them to the false light, seldom suspecting the way they entered: but attempting by vain, impertinent, and coincident distinctions, to escape the absurdity that pursues them; do but weary themselves with as little success, as the silly bird attempts the window. The mis-stated words are the original mistake; and every other essay is a new one.

            Now these canting contests, the usual entertainment of the Peripatum, are not only the accidental vitiosities of the philosophers; but the genuine issues of the philosophy itself. And Aristotle seems purposely to intend the cherishing of controversal digladiations, by his own affectation of an intricate obscurity. Himself acknowledged, when he said; his physics were published, and not so: and by that double advice in his topics 'tis as clear as light. In one place, he adviseth his sectators in disputations to be ambiguous: and in another, to bring forth anything that occurs, rather than give way to their adversary: counsel very well becoming an enquirer into truth and nature. Nor did he here advise them to anything, but what he followeth himself, and exactly copies out in his practice: the multitudes of the lame, abrupt, equivocal, self-contradicting expressions, will evidence it as to the first part: which who considers, may be satisfied in this; that if Aristotle found nature's face under covert of a veil, he hath not removed the old, but made her a new one. And for the latter, his frequent slightness in arguing doth abundantly make it good. To instance:

            He proves the world to be perfect, because it consists of bodies; and that bodies are so, because they consist of a triple dimension; and that a triple dimension is perfect, because three are all; and that three are all, because when 'tis but one or two, we can't say all, but when 'tis three, we may: is not this an absolute demonstration? We can say all at the number three: therefore the world is perfect. Tobit went forth and his dog followed him; therefore there's a world in the Moon, were an argument as apodictical. In another place (2.) He proves the world to be but one: for were there another, our Earth would fall unto it. Which is but a pitiful deduction, from the mere prejudice of sense; and not unlike theirs, who thought, if there were antipodes, they must needs (as it's said of Erasmus) in coelum descendere. As if, were there more worlds, each of them would not have its proper centre. Elsewhere (3.) Showing, why the heavens move this way rather than another, he gives this for a reason: because they move to the more honourable; and before is more honourable than after. This is like the gallant, who sent his man to buy an hat, that would turn up behind. As if, had the heavens moved the other way; that term had not been then before, which is now the contrary. This inference is founded upon a very weak supposition, viz. That those alterable respects are realities in nature; which will never be admitted by a considerate discerner. Thus Aristotle acted his own instructions; and his obsequious sectators have supererogated in observance. They have so disguised his philosophy by obscuring comments, that his revived self would not own it: and were he to act another part with mortals, heed be but a pitiful Peripatetic; every sophister would out-talk him.

            Now the disputing way of enquiry is so far from advancing science; that 'tis no inconsiderable retarder: for in scientifical discoveries many things must be considered, which the hurry of a dispute indisposeth for; and there is no way to truth, but by the most clear comprehension of simple notions, and as wary an accuracy in deductions. If the fountain be disturbed, there's no seeing to the bottom; and here's an exception to the proverb, 'tis no good fishing for verity in troubled waters. One mistake of either simple apprehension, or connection, makes an erroneous conclusion. So that the precipitancy of disputation, and the stir and noise of passions, that usually attend it, must needs be prejudicial to verity: its calm insinuations can no more be heard in such a bustle, than a whisper among a crowd of sailors in a storm. Nor do the eager clamours of contending disputants, yield any more relief to eclipsed truth; than did the sounding brass of old to the labouring moon. When it's under question, 'twere as good slip cross and pile, as to dispute for't: and to play a game at chess for an opinion in philosophy (as myself and an ingenious friend have sometimes sported) is as likely a way to determine. Thus the Peripatetic procedure is inept for philosophical solutions: the lot were as equitable a decision, as their empty loquacities.

            'Tis these ungracious disputations that have been the great hindrance to the more improvable parts of learning: and the modern retainers to the Stagirite have spent their sweat and pains upon the most litigious parts of his philosophy; while those, that find less play for the contending genius, are incultivate. Thus logic, physics, and metaphysics, are the burden of volumes, and the daily entertainment of the disputing schools: while the more profitable doctrines of the heavens, meteors, minerals, animals; as also the more practical ones of politics, and economics, are scarce so much as glanced at. And the indisputable mathematics, the only science heaven hath yet vouchsafed humanity, have but few votaries among the slaves of the Stagirite. What, the late promoters of the Aristotelian philosophy, have writ on all these so fertile subjects, can scarce compare with the single disputes about Materia prima.

            Nor hath human science monopolized the damage, that hath sprung from this root of evils: theology hath been as deep a sharer. The volumes of the schoolmen, are deplorable evidence of Peripatetic depravations: and Luther's censure of that divinity, quam primum apparuit theologia scholastica, evanuit theologia crucis, is neither uncharitable, nor unjust. This hath mudded the fountain of certainty with notional and ethnic admixtions, and plaited the head of evangelical truth, as the Jews did its author's, with a crown of thorns: here, the most obvious verity is subtleized into niceties, and spun into a thread indiscernible by common optics, but through the spectacles of the adored heathen. This hath robbed the Christian world of its unity and peace, and made the church, the stage of everlasting contentions: and while Aristotle is made the center of truth, and unity, what hope of reconciling? And yet most of these scholastic controversies are ultimately resolved into the subtleties of his philosophy: whereas methinks an athenian should not be the best guide to the ΘΕΣ ΑΓΝΩΣΤΩΣ[Greek: THEOS AGNOSTOS]; nor an idolater to that God he neither knew nor owned. When I read the eager contests of those notional theologues, about things that are not; I cannot but think of that pair of wise ones, that fought for the middle: and methinks many of their controversies are such, as if we and our antipodes, should strive who were uppermost; their title to truth is equal. He that divided his text into one part; did but imitate the schoolmen in their coincident distinctions: and the best of their curiosities are but like paint on glass, which intercepts and dyes the light the more desirable splendor. I cannot look upon their elaborate trifles, but with a sad reflexion on the degenerate state of our lapsed intellects; and as deep a resentment, of the mischiefs of this school-philosophy.


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