Scepsis Scientifica - The Preface.

The Preface.

            To complain in print of the multitude of books, seems to me a self-accusing vanity, whilst the querulous reprehenders add to the cause of complaint, and transgress themselves in that, which they seem to wish amended. 'Tis true, the births of the press are numerous, nor is there less variety in the humors, and fancies of perusers, and while the number of the one, exceeds not the diversity of the other, some will not think that too much, which others judge superfluous. The genius of one approves, what another disregardeth. And were nothing to pass the press, but what were suited to the universal gusto; farewell typography! Were I to be judge, and no other to be gratified, I think I should silence whole libraries of authors, and reduce the world of books into a fardle: whereas were another to sit censor, it may be all those I had spared, would be condemned to darkness, and obtain no exemption from those ruins, and were all to be suppressed, which some think unworthy light; no more would be left, than were before Moses, and Trismegistus. Therefore, I seek no applause from the disgrace of others, nor will I hucksterlike discredit any man's ware, to recommend mine own. I am not angry that there are so many books already, (bating only the anomalies of impiety and irreligion) nor will I plead the necessity of publishing mine from feigned importunities. Those that are taken up with others, are at their liberty to avoid the divertisement of its perusal: and those, to whom 'tis not importunate will not expect an apology for its publication. What quarter the world will give it, is above my conjecture. If it be but indifferently dealt with, I am not disappointed. To print, is to run the gauntlet, and to expose oneself to the tongue-strappado.  If the more generous spirits favour me, let pedants do their worst: there's no smart in their censure, yea, their very approbation is a scandal.

            For the design of this discourse, the title speaks it. It is levied against dogmatizing, and attempts upon a daring enemy, confidence in opinions. The knowledge I teach, is ignorance: and methinks the theory of our own natures, should be enough to learn it us. We came into the world, and we know not how; nn live in't in a self-nescience, and go hence again and are as ignorant of our recess. We grow, we live, we move at first in a microcosm, and can give no more scientifical account of the state of our three quarters confinement, than if we had never been extant in the greater world, but had expired in an abortion; we are enlarged from the prison of the womb, we live, we grow, and give being to our like: we see, we hear, and outward objects affect our other senses: we underhand, we will, we imagine, and remember: and yet know no more of the immediate reason of most of these common functions, than those little embryo anchorites: we breathe, we talk, we move, while we are ignorant of the manner of these vital performances. The dogmatist knows not how he moves his finger; nor by what art or method he turns his tongue in vocal expressions. New parts added to our substance, to supply uur continual decayings, and as we die we are born daily; nor can we give a certain account, how the aliment is so prepared for nutrition, or by what mechanism it is so regularly distributed; the turning of it into chyle, by the stomach's heat, is a general, and unsatisfying solution. We love, we hate, we joy, we grieve: passions annoy us, and our minds are disturbed by those corporal aestuations. Nor yet can we tell how there should reach our unbodied selves, or how the soul should be affected by these heterogeneous agitations. We lay us down, to sleep away our diurnal cares; night shuts up the senses' windows, the mind contracts into the brain's centre. We live in death, and lie as in the grave. Now we know nothing, nor can our waking thoughts inform us, who is Morpheus, and what that leaden key, that locks us up within our senseless cells: there's a difficulty that pincheth, nor will it easily be resolved. The soul is awake, and solicited by external motions, for some of them reach the perceptive region in the most silent repose, and obscurity of night. What is't then that prevents our sensations; or if we do perceive, how is't, That we know it not? But we dream, see visions, converse with Chimera's, the one half of our lives is a romance, a fiction. We retain a catch of those pretty stories, and our awakened imagination smiles in the recollection. Nor yet can our most severe inquiries find what did so abuse us, or show the nature, and manner of these nocturnal illusions: when we puzzle our selves in the disquisition, we do but dream, and every hypothesis is a fancy. Our most industrious conceits are but like their object, and as uncertain as those of midnight. Thus when some days, and nights have gone over us , the stroke of fate concludes the number of our pulses ; we take our leave of the Sun and Moon, and bid mortality adieu. The vital flame is extinct , the soul retires into another world , and the body to dwell with dust. Nor doth the last scene yield us any more satisfaction in our autography; for we are as ignorant how the soul leaves the light, as how it first came into it; we know as little how the union is dissolved, that is , the chain of the so differing subsistencies, that compound us, as how it first commenced. This then is the creature that so pretends to knowledge , and that makes such a noise, and bustle for Opinions. The instruction of Delphos may flame such confidents into modesty ; and till we have learn't that honest adviso, though from hell, ΓΝΩΘΙ ΣΕΑΥΤΟΝ [Greek: GEOTHI SEAYTON]; confidence is arrogance, and Dogmatizing unreasonable presuming. I doubt not but the opinionative resolver, thinks all these easy knowables , and the theories here accounted Mysteries, are to him Revelations. But let him suspend that conclusion till he hath weigh'd the considerations hereof, which the Discourse itself will present him with; and if he can untie those knots, he is able to teach all humanity, and will do well to oblige mankind by his informations.

            I had thought here to have shut up my Preface, being sensible of the tedium of long preliminaries. But lest the ingenious rumble at my threshold, and take offence at the seemingly disproportionate excess, which I ascribe to Adam's senses: I'll subjoin a word to prevent the scruple. First then, for those that go the way of the allegoric, and assert pre-existence; I'm secure enough from their dissatisfaction. For, that the ethereal Adam could easily sense the most tender touches Upon his passive vehicle, and so had a clear and full perception of objects, which we since plunged into the grosser hyle are not at all, or but a little aware of; can be no doubt in their hypothesis. Nor can there as great a difference be supposed between the senses of eighty, and those of twenty, between the opticks  of the blind bat and peripicacious eagle, as there was between those pure uneclipsed sensations, and aide of our now-embodyed, muddied sensitive. Now that the pr-existent Adam could so advantageously form his vehicle, as to receive better information from the distant objects, than we by the most helpful telescopes; will be no difficult admission to the friends of the allegory. So that what may seem a mere hyperbolical, and fanciful display to the sons of the letter; to the allegorists will be but a defective representation of literal realities. And I cannot be obnoxious to their censure, but for my coming short in the description.

            But I am like more dangerously to be beset by them that go the way of the plain: and 'twill be thought somewhat hard, to verify my hypothesis of the literal Adam. indeed, there is difficulty in the mechanical defence; and Dioptrical impugnations are somewhat formidable. For unless the constitution of Adam's organs was diverse from ours, and from those of his fallen self, it will to come seem impossible, that he could command distant objects by natural, as we do by artificial advantages. Since those removed bodies of sun and stars (in which I instance) could form but minute angles in Adam's retina, and such as were vastly different from those they form in ours assisted by a telescope. So that granting Adam's eye had no greater diametrical wideness of the pupil, no greater distance from the cornea to the retiformis, and no more filaments of the optic nerves of which the tunica retina is woven, than we: the unmeasurable odds of sensitive perfections which I assign him; will be conceived mechanically impossible. These difficulties may seem irresistibly pressing, and incapable of a satisfactory solution.

            But I propound it to the consideration of the ingenious objectors, whether these supposed organical defects might not have been supplied in our unfallen protoplast by the vast perfections of his animadversive, and some other advantageous circumstances: so that though it be granted, that an object at the distance of the stars could not form in the eye of Adam any angles, as wide as those it forms by the help of a tube; yet I think my hypothesis may stand unshaken. For suppose two eyes of an equal and like figure, in the same distance from an object; so that it forms equal angles in both: it may come to pass by other reasons, that one of these eyes shall see this object bigger than the other: yea, if the difference of the reasons on both sides be so much greater, one eye shall see it clearly, and the other not at all: for let one of these eyes be placed in an old body, or in a body deprived quite, or in a great measure of those spirits which are allowed the instruments Of sight, or of the due egress and regress of them, in their natural courses and channels; and let the other have a body of a clean contrary quality; or let the soul that actuates one of the said eyes, be indued with an higher faculty of animadversion (I mean with a greater degree of the animadversive ability) than the soul hath, that actuates the other. In either of there cases, the forementioned difformity of vision, will fall out in the same uniform case of dioptrical advantages. For a little angle made in the eye, will make as discernible an impression to a soul of a greater animadversive power, and assisted by more and meeter instruments of sight; as a greater angle can make to a soul of a less power, and destitute of those other instruments, which are as necessary to sight as those dioptrical conveniencies. So that grant that the object set at the same distance made angles in the eye of Adam, no wider than those it forms in ours; yet that which we discern not, might have been seen by him having more and better spirits, and being endued with a stronger animadversive, according to mine hypothesis. For there is the same proportion between a great power, and a little help, or a little angle which is between a small power, and a great help, or a great angle.

            If all this satisfy not, I beg from the ingenious the favour of this consideration: that some grains must be allowed to a rhetorical display, which will not bear the rigour of a critical severity. But whether this mine hypothesis stand or fall, my discourse is not at all concerned. And I am not so fond of my conjectures, but that I can lay them down at the feet of a convictive opposition.


Prev Next

Back to Introduction