Transnatural Philosophy – PREFACE

PREFACE, TO THE Sincere Lovers of Truth in both our Learned Universities.

Gentlemen,

I. MANY are the High Encomiums and Glorious Titles which have been given to METAPHYSICKS by those who teach and profess it. They call Her The Queen of Sciences. They tell us that, in regard all other Knowledges do depend for their Certainty and Evidence, on her Sublime Maxims, she is not meerly to be called, in a Common Appellation with the rest, Scientia, a Science; but Sapientia, or Wisdom; which carries a kind of Majesty in its Notion above other Endowments of our Understanding. They pretend that she does not only Demonstrate, which every Petty Inferiour Science must, under Penalty of forfeiting her Name and Dignity; but moreover, that she demonstrates ex Altissimis Causis, by the Highest Mediums or Reasons: In a Word, they make her the Soveraign of all other Sciences; and give her the Prerogative of Superintending over the rest; of Assigning to each of them their Province; of Distributing to each of them their proper Function, and the Matter on which they are to work; and of Enabling them, by her Supreme Direction and Influence, to Perform what she Enjoyns them; and much more to that purpose.

II. I do not at all wonder that Learned Men have adorn’d Metaphysicks with these and such like Singular Commendations: They are no more but her Just Due.What I admire at is, how, these things being True, and she being of so Transcendent a Dignity, it comes to pass that she is strangely sunk into such an Undervalue and Contempt in the World, that no Body seems to regard her. If her Influence be so Universal, and her Evidence so Clear, who would not strive in the first place to cultivate his Mind with such an Unparallell’d Perfection? Why are not Schools and Chairs erected in all Learned Societies meerly to teach Metaphysicks, and large Endowments settled to Encourage the Professors of it? And yet we hear no News of any such. Certainly, it she does, indeed, carry such a high hand over all other sorts of Knowledge, a great Metaphysician should be lookt upon as a Monster of Learning; at least such an Extraordinary Person, that all Mankind would most highly caress and value him; whereas tho’ Beggery be the Badge of Poetry; yet a Metaphysician is in such a mean Repute, that, had he no better Livelihood, he might sue to be Subcizer to a Poetaster, and be glad to feed on his Scraps. Whence we may conclude that there is something very much amiss in the business; and that either the Writers of Metaphysicks have not done her the Right she deserves; or else that, thro’ the Ignorance of the Mob of Half-witted Readers, a General Outery is made against her; whence Men have taken a Toy at her, and made, a wrong Apprehension of her as Insipid, Dry, Steril and Insignificant.

III. There is no doubt but Scepticism also has been a great Enemy, as to all other Sciences, so more especially to Metaphysicks; because she is the most able to shame and confute the pretence that there is no Certainty or Evidence at all. Fancy, which being of a contrary Genius, has a natural Antipathy against her, is Another Adversary of hers; and that a most powerful one; for it is able to bring into the Field a vast Rabble of Nimble-tongu’d Gentlemen, arm’d cap-a-pie with Flouts, Iests and Drollery, which of late have (I know not how) got the Reputation of Wit, and Noise, if finely deliver’d, has a powerful Ascendent over the Generality. It may be fear’d too, that Voluminous School-term-men, whose Productions have been onely Wordish Digladiations and fencing with Distinctions, without any farther Effect, have given, to many, occasion to think that Metaphysicks is nothing but a Mysterious kind of Talk, to make an Exteriour show of Learning, and appear Extraordinary; and that to write Metaphysicks, is to no more purpose than ’tis to plant a Nursery of Bryars to enlarge a Wilderness. For these Men speak as high of Metaphysicks as any: Whence, Men reflecting that these Large Promises vanish into Smoak, and that neither Principles are layd, nor any Useful Demonstrations or Conclusions drawn thence which are found to be Influential to other Sciences; it is natural for Men to revenge the Defeat of their High Expectations, by exposing those Authors, and disgracing Metaphysicks it self, as Chicanerie, and altogether Fruitless; & unable to make good what the Professors of it did, in such Big Words, pretend. But, leaving those Persons to answer for their own Faults, let us see what more Indifferent Men have objected against Metaphysicks, and what Reasons they alledge for their Aversion from her.

IV. First then ’tis objected that Metaphysicks is an Abstruse and Crabbed kind of Study, and scarce Intelligible without Revelation; so that a Man may break his Teeth with cracking the Shell; and, when he has done, he will find never a Kernel. Secondly, that it is Aiery, Superficial, and meerly Wordish; and not handsomely worded neither, but scurvily Barbarous. Thirdly, that it was never yet seen how it influenc’d any other Sciences at all; as is Pretended. Lastly, that it has no Influence at all upon Men’s Manners, nor conduces, in the least, to make them live better. These are the Faults generally imputed to Metaphysicks, which we will consider in their Order. Premising first that I have Reason to hope that whoever pleases to peruse attentively our Ensuing Metaphysicks, will see that they are already answer’d to his hand.

V. The first Objection is so perfectly Groundless, that the Direct Contrary is most Evident. The Object of Metaphysicks is our most Generall Notions, of Ens or Being: Which an easy Reflexion will tell us, are, of all others, the most Clear and Evident. For, an Individual Ens (v. g. Peter) being constituted by such a Complexion of Innumerable Accidents as is found in no other Thing; hence, our Knowledge of it is so Confus’d, that, however we can distinguish it, as far as concerns our Use, by Time, Place, and oft-times by some outward Accidents; yet the Intrinsecal Essence and Texture of that Body is so intricately woven; and comprizes in it the Grounds of such numberless Considerations we may make of it, that ’tis impossible to frame any one Distinct Conception or Notion of it. Homo, has fewer; whence it is more Clear, so that we are now able to frame a Definition of it, which we could not of the Individuum: Yet, because it comprehends in it the Natures or Notions of Animal, Vegetative, Mixt, Body and Ens; ’tis still very Confus’d, and therefore less Clearly Intelligible. Animal is less Confus’d, because it contains fewer Superiour-notions or Natures in it. Vegetative is still less Confus’d than Animal, for the same reason. Mixt is less Confus’d than Vegetable; Body than Mixt. And lastly, Ens is the least Confus’d of any of the Other; and, therefore the Clearest of any of them; as having no Superiour Notion in it at all: Whence all the Composition, and, consiquently, Confusion it has, is that it confound in it the Notions of its own Metaphysical Parts which its Definition [viz. That which is Capable to bee] gives us; which contains onely the Notions of the Power, and of the Act (viz. Existence,) to which it is a Power: The Sense of which Words is so Obvious and Easy,the ’tis impossible the rudest Vulgar should be Ignorant of them.

VI. Still it will be objected that such Abstracted Words as [Power] and [Act] are Unusual to Mankind, and seem to hover in the Air, so that no Man can make any Fancy of them. And; it must be confest they sute not with Fancy at all (for Brutes have none such,) nor ought they to sute with it; for ’tis impossible for us to have any Proper or Express Phantasms of Abstracted Universal Conceptions, because (as they are such) they never enter’d into our Senses, nor have any Being but in our Understanding. But, why are not those Notions or Conceptions of [Power] and [Act] Easy? Can any Man living be ignorant of the Meaning of these Words [such a thing can be, or may be?] ‘Tis impossible; nor was there ever any that came to the use of ordinary Knowledge, but understands them– Now, the Word [can] signifies that which we call Power; and the Word [Bee,] that which is the Act of that Power; only they are put into a manner of Expression Proper to Abstract Words. Nor can this breed any difficulty: For, he who knows what it is to love, cannot but know what the Noun Substantive [Love] means: Nor, was ever any Man who knows what [White] and [Round] mean, so dull as to be pazzled in knowing the meaning of [Whiteness] and [Roundness.] Yet the Reader may observe that the main Body of my Metaphysicks is built on the Self-evident Notions or Meanings of those Words, Powerand Act, or the different Kinds of them. Whence, were I to begin to teach a Philosophy-School, I should think it best to take this Method; viz. that, after my Schollers had perfectly learnt the Doctrine of the Ten Predicaments so as to distinguish exactly our Natural Notions, got knowledge of the necessary Laws of Predicating, and how to place the Terms best in order to conclude evidently, I should begin with teaching Metaphysicks: Not at all doubting but that any Man of a good Natural Mother-wit, would perfectly comprehend it; and, thence, become excellently dispos’d to demonstrate a priori, which is the most Effectual and Best way to attain True Science; and to branch out his Knowledge of Principles to an incomparably greater Number of Particular Conclusions than he could by Demonstrating a posteriori. Besides, all Inferiour Objects would far more easily, and connaturally, open themselves to his View, after he had once taken a Distant Sight of them from the higher Ground of their Causes and Principles.

VII. The Second Objection is grounded on a Gross misunderstanding of the main Fundamental of all True Philosophy; which I most religiously observe in all my Discourses; and which, if neglected or not well attended to, brings every thing into Wrangle and Confusion; which is, that all our Abstracted Conceptions, (without which we cannot possibly Apprehend, nor consequently Discourse of any thing Distinctly and Clearly) are of the Things themselves consider’d according to such or such a Respect. This is the Basis of all the Aristotelian Philosophy; however there be too Few that exactly attend or hold to it. For example. That Great Man, when he was Distinguishing all our Natural Notions into Ten several Heads, call’d the Second τὸ ποσὸν [Note. Greek: “the quantity”] , and the Third τὸ ποιὸν [Note. Greek: “the quality”] , Quantum and Quale: Now these Words being Concretes of a Thing (or Substance) and an Accident, if they be not taken Formally or with a Reduplication, for the Thing as it is Big, or Qualify’d, would Confound Substance and each of those Accidents, into one Compound Notion; which being quite contrary to his Intention, which was to distinguish them, we must conclude that he took those words, as we take our Abstract words Quantitas, & Qualitas, in a meer Formal Sense, for the Thing quatenus Quanta, and Quatenus Qualis or Qualify’d; which word [Quatenus] cuts off that precise Consideration or Notion from any other; which done, their Perfect Distinction is Evident. The Objecter then, may please to reflect that we (following the same Method) do mean, by all those Abstract Words, the very Thing it self, Consider’d or Conceiv’d according to such a precise Respect, and no other: So that, when we speak of Power, Act, Essence, Existence, Ens, Suppositum, Person, Bigness, Quality, Relation, &c. we mean still the Thing, apprehended according to such a Formal Consideration; nor can we, with any Sense mean any thing else. Whence we, building all our Discourses on our Natural Notions, each of which is the Thing it self Conceiv’d thus and not otherwise, do by consequence, ground all our Philosophy on the Things themselves; which being Establisht in their Essences by GOD’S Creative Wisedom, must be acknowledg’d to be the most Solid Ground imaginable. Wherefore there can be no show of Reason in objecting to us that our Discourses, thus Grounded, are Aiery or Superficial; whereas it is an Unanswerable Objection against those who build their Philosophy on Ideas; which they confess not to be the Things, but Distinct from them.

VIII. To give an Instance what Mistakes arise when Writers do not exactly Distinguish their Abstracted Notions, it would not be much a miss to take notice of the famous Controversie between the late Bp. of Worster and Mr. Locke, which might have been prevented, had this Method of Distinguishing our Conceptions been accurately observ’d. The former of these being worthily Sollicitous, lest the Mystery of the B. Trinity (which he was then Explicating) should receive any Prejudice, did check at Mr. Lockes denying he had any Clear Idea of Substance. Now, had Mr. Locke declar’d himself to take the Word [Substance] to signifie the Abstracted Notion or Conception he had of the Thing, as it is Distinct from that of the Modes or Accidents, or declar’d it to signifie the Conception of a Thing as it is Capable of Existing, (which is the First and Proper Notion of a Created Being) he might by depuring it first of its Imperfection, necessarily annext in all Creatures, have Transferr’d it to GOD, and so it had been not Injurious but Serviceable to the Explication of that Mystery:) But he, having in his Eye the words of some Scholasticks, who fail’d of thus Distinguishing it; and, besides, did not explain it Literally, but call’d it in a Metaphorical Expression, Supporter of the Accidents, had good reason to say that such a Notion of Substance, no farther nor better explicated, was very Obscure; especially, if they made it a kind of Entity supporting other feebler Entities, as some of them did.

IX. Now, to supply their defect, and give the Literal Meaning of that Metaphorical Word [Supporting,] the onely good Sense can be made of it is clearly This. The Proper and Precise Notion of Substance as ’tis Distinguish from all other Abstracted or Inadequate Notions we make of a Thing or Individuum, is This, that it is Capable of Existing; which, as ’tis thus Conceiv’d, is its Definition: Whereas, let us Define Quantity, Quality, Relation, &c. We find that they do not at all imply in their Notion, that is, in the precise Signification of those Words, any Capacity of Being at all, as did the Other most expresly; but of Modifying or Determining, after their several Ways, the Thing which is Capable of Being; because in our Mind we must first conceive the Thing Capable to Bee, ere we can conceive it Capable to be Modify’d. Since then we see Accidents are, and yet out of their own precise Notion are not Capable to bee, they must be conceiv’d to Bee, by Virtue of the Notion of Substance, which is of its own Notion, (or as signify’d by that Word) Capable of Being;whence they are said, by a Metaphorical Expression, to be Supported in Being by Substance. Which also is the true Sense of those Sayings [Accidentis Essentia est Inhaerentia; Accidentis Existentia est Inexistentia] and such like; which sutes with the Natural Notions of Substance and Accidents both, if Bad Art does not make Disagreement between them. Whence ’tis to be noted, that this Supporting here explicated, must signifie the Priority and Dependence one Notion has to the other in our Minds, or, (which is the same) which the Thing as thus Conceiv’d, has to the same Thing as otherwise Conceiv’d; there being a Natural Order or Priority of one Notion to Another in our Mind; and, consequently, a Dependence on one another; for to think there is a Priority or Dependence on one another in re, as two Things in Nature, of which one is Stronger, the other Feebler, (which I doubt too many, led by the Sound of Words, imagin) is most ridiculous Nonsence. Unity, or indivision within its self is the Property of every Ens, or Individual Thing; and therefore it remains, as in its self, One or Undivided, till our Understanding comes to divide it, after its Fashion, into more Formal, or (as we call them) Metaphysical Parts, by her Abstractive Way of Conceiving it by Inadequate Notions.

For Answer to the Third Objection, I refer my Reader to the Close of my last Reflexion in Solid Philosophy Asserted; where this Objection is Clear’d even to the Weakest Understanding.

X. Lastly, as to the pretended Uselesness of Metaphysicks, I cannot but admire at the short Speculation of those who object it. Is it of no Use to settle all the First Principles of our Understanding, without which (as I have Demonstrated in my Non ultra) we could know nothing? Is it of no Use to acquaint us with the Essences of all Beings, whence proceed all the Common sorts of their several Operations; And to give us, amongst the rest, the Essence of Man, and, consequently, shew what Actions are becoming or misbecoming a Being of such a Nature? Is it to no Use or Purpose to Demonstrate the Immortality of the Soul, a Tenet upon which all Religion depends; How it will fare with her when she is Separated from the Body; or What Dispositions in her when the Man dies will make her Eternally Happy, or most Miserable? Is it of no Use to Christian Life, or the Good of our Neighbour, to stand up for God’s Honour, and preserve others from the damnable Tenet of Atheism, by Demonstrating that there is a Great GOD who governs the World; who is All-powerful, and Infinitely Just, Good, Merciful, &c. Is it of no Use to demonstrate the Existence, Essence and Operations of Angels; and how, by their Means, and the Virtue of other Second Causes, GOD‘s Wisdom administers the World in the Best and most Providential manner; and that, therefore Things are not Govern’d by Chance, nor by the Stoical Fatality? Lastly, is it of no Use to explicate the Mystery of the most B. Trinity (and other Articles of Christian Faith,) so clearly, as to show they are perfectly Agreeable to our Natural Notions, and to all the Maxims of True Reason; which wipes off the Scandal with which Atheists, Deists, and Anti-trinitatians bespatter them, as Perfect Contradictions, and meer Nonsense; on the Verity of which Tenets (as will be shown) depend all the most Effectual motives to Raise Mankind to Heaven, and dispose them for Eternal Happiness; in Explicating and Defending which Fundamental Articles of Christian Faith Metaphysicks has the Chief Hand? Certainly, if these things be of no Use, it may certainly be concluded, that no part of Knowledge (Theology excepted, which also depends, in great part, on Metaphysicks) is Useful. But, these Objectors discourse as if there were no Use at all to be made of any Science or Art whatever, but of Handicrafts, Agriculture, and such like: As if they had forgot there was any such Thing as Virtue, Truth, Religion, Faith, Soul, Salvation, or even GOD Himself, that deserves to be heeded or regarded. To obviate this Calumny, I have added Meditations at the End of each Chapter; to show (as the Matter would bear) how Applicable and Useful the foregoing Speculations are to the Improvement of our Mind in Virtue. And I hope, I may, without Immodesty, say thus much for my Metaphysicks, that there never was yet any Speculative Piece written, that makes Reason more Subservient to Faith, nor Philosophy more serviceable to True Divinity than it does. I wish the Example may propogate to others.

XI. But, let us suppose that all this which is plainly shewn to the Reader’s Eye, were False; and that there were no other Good in the Study of Metaphysicks, but the Enriching our Minds with Multitudes of High & Solid Truths; would not this Alone be sufficient to make every Considerate Man apply his Thoughts to that Noblest Science, even tho’ it had no farther Effects, nor any Exteriour Use to be made of it? What is there of more Use than the Mathematicks?And yet Plutarch tells us in the Life of Marcellus, that Plato was offended with those who did corrupt and disgrace (as he judged) the Noble and Excellent Science of Geometry, by making it descend to the contriving Engines, in which the Base and Vile Handy-work of Man was to be Employ’d: And that Archimedes himself esteem’d all his Inventions of Engines but Vile, Beggerly and Dross, in comparison of the Speculative Productions and Demonstrations in that Science. So much were those Great Souls, tho’ Heathens, enamour’d with the naked Beauty of TRUTH, for it’s own Sake: So much did they value the Interiour Natural Perfection of their Mind, above the Prospect or Intuitus of any External Use of it, or Profit accruing by it; which yet is so Unpalatable to our Sceptical Age, I could wish those Noble and Learned Gentlemen, our Modern Virtuoso’s, would seriously consider this Temper of those Heroes of Learning in the former World, and think it worthy their Imitation. What excellent Speculative Productions, to the vast Advancement and Progress of True Science, would so many Great wits make in a short time, did they please to think fit to emply their Thoughts in following and carrying on the way of Demonstration. To do which, nothing can more powerfully invite them than to reflect that in so many Years Applying themselves to the way of Induction, they have not been able to establish so much as One Universal Principle in Natural Philosophy, or to gain the Knowledge of any one Scientifical Conclusion: The Impossibility of which by the way of Experiments has been shewn more at large towards the End of the Preface to my Method to Science.

XII. Having thus Defended Metaphysicks against the Calumnies thrown upon her, it remains to inform my Reader of my Conduct hitherto in pursuing the Advancement of TRUTH, the only End I aym’d at. After I had publish’t my METHOD to Science, I discover’d that the Chief Remora which had kept back Learned Men in our last Century, from attaining True Science, was the Doctrine or Way of Ideas; which some very Ingenious Men had taken great pains to set up and improve. I observ’d that, That Way had two Especial Patrons; Cartesius in France, and Mr. John Locke here in England: Both of them were Men of Excellent Parts; so that it seemd hard to determin which of them had the Advantage in Wit. But, as for their Productions in Philosophy, if I may be allow’d to judge between them, Mr. Locke did in very many particulars, make far greater Advancements towards Science, and in many things arriv’d at it. Whereas the whole Fabrick of the Cartesian Hypothesis is Aiery and Fantastick; yet so dextrously Propos’d, and so prettily Compacted within it self (for I cannot at all Commend it for having any Connexion with Principles) that it decoyes his Readers, who do not reflect that nothing is to be held True which Evident Principles do not warrant, into a kind of Complaisant Assent to his Doctrine: Much after the same manner as our Judgment is lull’d, and our Passions are carry’d along, with Reading a Romance; so that we become at unawares highly Concern’d; ’till, our Reason Awaking out of that Pleasing Dream of our Fancy, our Deliberate Judgment recovers it self; and we come to reflect, that it is not a True History, but a meer Fiction contriv’d to amuze our Imagination.

XIII. These two Ingenious Gentlemen did, in proposing to us their Ideas, take several ways in giving us Account of them. That of Mr. Locke is the more Candid, while he calls them Pictures, Similitudes, Pourtraitures, and such like; which plainly acknowledges, they are not the Things themselves. Whereas, the Followers of Cartsius (who, should best know his Mind) shuffle between the two sides of the Contradiction, and seem resolv’d not to be understood. For, sometimes they directly avow they are the very Things themselves Conceiv’d by us, or exsting in our Understanding after a Spiritual Manner; and, sometimes again, they banter and ridicule what Themselves had Granted. Of which more hereafter.

XIV. Wherefore I saw that my very Design did unavoidably oblige me to offer my Reasons against both those Authors; as Persons who did not only oppose many Particular Truths, but even obstructed and damm’d up the Way to arrive at any Truth at all, while they set up and introduc’d this New Way of Ideas, as the Only Method by which any Truth in Philosophy could be attain’d. This I had done formerly, (in part, and briefly,) by laying Grounds to confute them in my METHOD,where I professedly declare against the Way of Spiritual Ideas in our Mind; for, as for Corporeal Ideas in our Fancy, which we call Phantasms, none ever deny’d there were such; nor can, without calling in Question our Constant experience. Mr. Locke was pleas’d to object to me, occasionally, my own Thesis or Conclusion; viz. that I put the Things themselves to be in our Understanding; as if it were so self-evidently Absurd that meerly to name it were enough to confute it. I request I may be represented as not having barely said so, but that I attempted to prove it by many pretended Demonstrations, none of which have yet been Answer’d; this being the true Case. I beg also that my Tenet may be exhibited not rawly, or to the half part, but fully; viz. That I hold that the Things are in our Mind Spiritually, or after the manner of her Objects. In which Sense I believe Mr. Locke‘s Discerning Judgment would agree with me; if he would please to wean it a while from his Customary Addiction to his own Way, and bring it to an Indifferency. For I cannot depart from thinking, that the plainest Signification of Words gives it, that, if no Thing be any way in our Knowledge, (that is, if it be not at all there) ’tis self-evident that We know Nothing. Besides, I think, under favour, that, if his Leasure, Health, and other more pressing Occasions had permitted, some Answer should have been given to my many Arguments produced there in my second Preliminary; which I have enforced here in the 6th Chapter of my Metaphysicks; and, moreover, shown the Reason of that Position, B. 2. Ch. 2. Sect. 7, 8, 9. And, indeed, without farther Examination of the Validity of those Arguments, it will, at first Sight, seem Prodigious, that so many Pretended Demonstrations (for they are near Twenty in number) should be offer’d for any Point that is False; and that, tho’ my whole Discourse, nay all my Philosophical Works, are professedly built on that Thesis, yet not one of them (had it been so Absurd and False) should have receiv’d an Answer from such Acute Adversaries.

XV. Wherefore, setting aside the Silence of my Opposers, which diverse Circumstances might possibly have occasion’d, I still insist upon it, and do farther alledge, that ’tis Absolutely Impossible so many Demonstrations for a Falshood should be Pretended, and yet the Confident Asserter of them should not be Expos’d to Open Shame. Did the Producer of them cloak his Rambling Discourses in Rhetorical Language, Plausible Expressions, or Tricks of Wit; perhaps he might, in such a Case, have scaped for some time, from being utterly Confuted; but, when he solely relies on Rigid and Blunt Reason, or on the Close Connexion of Terms, nothing can be Easier, or which more Provokes others to overthrow him. There needs no more but to shew, that the Connexion he pretends to lies Open, or is Incoherent: For, this done, the Sinows of his Discourse are Slacken’d and Enfeebl’d, and the Arguments he so much presum’d on, lose all their Credit. Truths are so compacted and cimented with one another, that it would be impossible his Reasons should keep up their Repute, when the most Authentick Testimonies of so many Opposite Truths conspire to show their Senseless Vanity. Especially, when those Arguments are pretended to be drawn from the Nature of the several Subjects or Things,there mentioned; v. g. from the Nature of a Spirit, of the Soul, of her Operation of Knowing, of the Object of Knowledge, of Similitudes, of the Nature of Relation, of our Notions, and of Words which are to signifie them; of Predication or the Verification of Propositions, &c. For, in such a Case, each of these Natures having their peculiar Maxims or Principles belonging to them, all which give Light, and are Consonant to one another, all the Art of Mankind could not possibly hinder such a Position from being seen plainly, and held, to be Pure Nonsence. On the other side nothing that I can see has been Objected against this Position, but that their Fancy, to which it is very Unsuitable, is out of Humour at it. Whereas that Faculty (it being perfectly Material, and Common to Us,and Brutes) has nothing at all to do with Spiritual Natures or their Operations; in regard they never enter’d into our Senses, nor, consequently could we have any Phantasms of them; and yet these Gentlemen seem to make their Fancy the Sole Judge in such Matters, of which she is no more able to have any Light, than a Blind man is to see Colours.

XVI. The Cartesian Ideists did, indeed, oppose that Thesis which a Jest or too; but (I thank them) never Answer’d so much as one of my Arguments; as if they held that the Nature of Man did not consist in Rationality, but meerly in Risibility. The rest of their Performances was Railing, Forging and Ridiculous Libelling. What Success they had, may be seen in my several Replies, viz. in my Ideae Cartesianae Expensae, my NONULTRA, or RULE of TRUTH, and my Raillery Defeated by Calm Reason. In which their Philosophy (as they call’d it) was shewn to be quite destitute of any Principles; their Fundamental Positions were confuted by Plainest Demonstrations; nay, their very RULE of Knowing any thing, was manifestly and Unanswerably Prov’d to be most Ridiculous Nonsense. But, that which put them to Silence and Shame was the Fair Offer or Civil Challenge I sent them (Rule of Truth, p. 119. 120, 121.) to bring so much as One Argument which they would vouch to be Conclusive, for any One Point of the Cartesian Doctrine, and it should Conclude the whole Cause: Or, if that were too Troublesome; that they would barely Name any Principle of theirs which they conceiv’d to be the Strongest or most Evident of any they had, and which they judg’d was Influential upon the Cartesian Doctrine; and I would undertake to Demonstrate that either it was, no Principle; or else that it had no force to prove any one Point of their Doctrine True, nor had any Influence upon it. This was so Direct and Honest a Procedure on my part, and so Easy to be comply’d with, on theirs, in case they had, indeed, any one such Principle; and yet (as appear’d of their Non-acceptance of it) so impossible to be done, or comply’d with, that every Intelligent Man could not but see that Cartesius did only talk Wittily in the Air, but had not so much as one Inch of Firm Ground on which he could build the least piece of his Doctrine.

XVII. Hence, the more I consider’d these Unaccountable things call’d Ideas, the more I became Dissatisfy’d with them. For, first, I could not get any Light from the Users of them to guess at, much less know what they are. I saw the Ideists totally build upon them, and divide them into many several sorts; yet none of them were so kind as to acquaint us what Kind or Sort of Things the Ideas themselves were, or what was their Generical Notion; without knowing which all those Particular Sorts of them, and, consequently, their whole Books were utterly Unintelligible. The Cartesians made them several, and Inconsistent things; that is, perfectly and in many Regards, Chimerical. Now they tell us they are the very Things themselves, as conceiv’d by us. Presently after, their Fancy recoiling, they tell us that Vicem gerunt rei, that is, that they stand instead of the Things; which signifies they are not the Things. Can the Thing, stand for, or supply the place of it self? Or can there need any Proxy for what is, it self, Present to the Mind? What can any Man living make of that which neither is the Thing, nor is not the Thing; or rather which at once, both is the Thing, and is not the Thing? Shortly after, as if they meant to split an Indivisible, or to nick the Middle between two Contradictions, they explicate their Ideas to be [quasi res] as if it were the Thing; whereas one should rather think that, if they be not the Thing, they are as if it were Nothing. Afterwards they assure us they are Ipsissima Mentis Operatio, the very Operation or Action of the Mind. Now, this is neither the Thing, which is the Object of our Understanding, (if it knows any Thing) as they sometimes grant; nor what stands for the Object, nor so much as if it were the Object; but is relatively Contradistinct or Opposit to the Object; for the [Operation] and [that on which it Operates] are most clearly such. Again, they tell us ’tis a Representation of the Thing, but not a meer Similitude of it. The latter Words tell us what it is not; and, lest we might hapto understand the former which should tell us distinctly what it is, they quibble in it, and make it ambiguous. The Obvious sense of Representare is to Resemble; but they have found out an odd Sense it may (as a Term of Art) have in some Occasions, and to amuze us, they pretend it must have it here; which is, presentem sistere; that is, to put or set the Thing Present to the Mind. Well then; if it puts or makes the Thing Present to the Mind, Common Sense tells us the Thing it self is in the Mind when ’tis made Present to it, or put there:And if the Thing it self be there, why is it said that only Vicarium Rei, or quasi-Res is there? What Stuff is this! See each of those particulars at large shewn from their own express Words, Ideae Cartesianae Indicatio 3, from p. 116. to p. 124.

XVIII. Mr. Locke’s Candour and Judiciounes set him above this Shuffling Folly. He could not but see it would be expected from him, and was Necessary, to give us some Definition of an Idea, since his whole Essay proceeds upon Ideas; yet his Acute Foresight made him Wary to Venture upon such an Impossible Task. Wherefore he thought it best to hover aloof, without giving us any Particular or Distinct Character of it. Accordingly he tells us, B. 1. Ch. 1. Sect. 8. that He us’d the Word [Idea] to express whatever is meant by Phantasm, Notion, Species, or what ever it is which the Mind can be employ’d about in Thinking. This, I must confess, is very Genteelly and Civilly done, to leave it to the Reader’s Choyce to let that Word signifie as he pleas’d, or to make what he could of it; but it had been a greater Kindness to let him know Distinctly in what Sense Himself took it; without which it was impossible for any Man to understand his following Book; no not so much as the Titles of his Chapters. Indeed, had the Sense of those Words he mentions, been the self – same, and the Word it self Univocal, it had been Indifferent which Word he had pitcht upon, since they had the same Signification: But when the Meanings of some of them is as vastly and widely Different as the two first Species of Ens, [Body and Spirit,] are; in that case to declare his own Indifferency which Word we would use, and leave it to our Choyce in which of those Senses we would understand him; does leave the Readers in perplexity, and utterly in the Dark, what an Idea is; and, besides, exposes him to a possible Mistake of his Mind every step he takes while he peruses his Book. For a Phantasm, which is the Proper Object of the Fancy, is meerly Material, Corporeal, and Common to Brutes as well asto Mankind: And Notions which are the Elements of Cognition, must he above Matter, and of an Intellectual or Spiritual Nature. Wherefore the Confounding thus the Sense of those two Words, hazards to lead the Author and his Readers to confound Corporeal & Spiritual Natures: Which diverse complain of in this Gentleman; and my self, tho’ I much honour his Person, and highly esteem his Excellent Parts, cannot but think this is one of the Greatest Desiderata in his Ingenious Book. Besides, a [Phantasm] is not that about which the Mind is employ’d, (as Notions are;) it being the Proper Object of that Faculty call’d the Fancy or Imagination. And this is that I fear which occasions much Unevenness in his Discourses. Sometimes he builds on Notions or Spiritual Conceptions, taken from Natural Objects, as others do; and then his Productions are very Solid and Judicious; sometimes again, he grounds his Discourses on Roving Conceits suggested by Witty Fancy; and then they are Aiery and Superficial, and impossible to be Reduc’d to any Solid Principle. When he does the one, when the other, is noted in my Reflexions on the several parts of his Essay. To shew this by an Instance; it has been remark’t by my self, as it has been also by others, that, in His Excellent Demonstration of a First Being, no Man can discourse more Clearly or more Solidly: But then, withall, ’tis observable that while he does this, he lays aside his Way of Ideas, and argues in the same manner as one would do who had never heard of them; or as those would go to work who oppose them.

XIX. Not being able to gain any kind of Light from the Ideists themselves, what their so much magnify’d Ideas should mean, or what to make of them; I set my own Thoughts to work, to find out (if I could) what kind of things they might be. Others may be as acutely Ingenious as they please: I, for my part, have but One plain Dunstable way to satisfie my self and others in such a case; which is, to consider to which of those Ten Heads of our Natural Notions (call’d the Ten Predicaments) they might belong. Resting assur’d that (till that Division of all our Notions be Confuted) whatever belongs to none of them, or confounds the Distinction of them, is not any Natural Notion at all, onely which are the Solid Elements of True Knowledge; and, consequently, that it is no more but a Fancy.At first sight, I discern’d they must be of a Spiritual Nature, because they are put to be in the Soul. Next, that they must have a peculiar Entity of their own,distinct from the Soul; because they make them to be her Informers or Intelligencers, which sufficiently tells us they are distinct Things from the Soul which they inform. I proceeded therefore, to find out the Essence of this New Entity, and what it consisted in. In this Quest the Cartesians gave me no Light at all, as has been shown; but Mr. Locke lent me some Assistance, while he constantly characters them to be Similitudes. Now a Thing whose Essence it is to be a Similitude is a Monstrous Chimera. For the Notion of Thing or Entity belongs formally to Substance, and has a Positive or Absolute Sense; and Similitude or Likeness belongs to Relation; which makes the Heads, or Notions of Substance and Relation to be Essentially and Formally the self-same. A Thing may indeed be Related to Another, or like it; but then the Thing to which the Mode of Relation supervenes, must be of its own Nature Positive, for the Relation cannot be with any Sense conceiv’d to be what’s Related. So that this Notion of an Idea seem’d to me to be a meer Hirco-Ceruus, a Positive (or Unrelative) Relative: A Substance which is a Relation, and a Relation which is a Substance; or at once, That which is Related, and That by which ’tis Related. Which makes a Babel of our Inward Speech by our Conceptions, and is purely Chimerical.

XX. I was as much at a loss, to know what these Ideas which they put to be Similitudes, were good for, or to what Use they serv’d. When we have once the Materials of Knowledge into our Mind, our Soul, by her Reflexion, can work upon them and order them well enough. Wherefore, all the Kindness they can do us, is to give us the First Notices of the Thing: But this they cannot do; because the Thing it self must be in our Mind, or else we cannot know that they are even Similitudes; since we cannot see they are Like a Thing, till we know what the Thing it self is, to which they are Like. Otherwise we shall fall into that pretious Nonsense of Bayes, the Conceited Poetaster, in the Rehearsal. [I Gad, says he, I have an Excellent Similitude, if I knew but what to apply it to.] Nor can there be worse Sense, than to say, [‘Tis Like, indeed, but I know not to what ’tis like.] Whence is concluded, that we must have the Thing it self in our Knowledge, before we can know what’s either Like it, or Unlike it. And if the Thing it self, (as being the Original) be in our Knowledge First, what need we any Ideas to make us know it, since to be in a Knowing Power is to be Known.

XXI. I am sure Similitudes are of no use in Metaphysicks, tho’ they serve to good purpose in Mathematicks; for when we come to Universal Notions, such as are Act, Power, Essence, Existence and such like, those Proper & Express Similitudes disappear; and the Ideists must either bid farewell to their Ideas or Resemblances, (which will be very Uncomfortable to them;) or they will find themselves at a great loss. For example; I would ask them what kind of Thing is this Pourtraiture or Idea of Existence? Has it Being, or has it none: If none, ’tis Nothing: If it be such a Thing as has Being in it, it cannot be known without Another Idea; nor That, without Another Idea, and so Endlesly. If it be such a Thing as can be in the Mind, and known there without any Idea of it; why may not Other Things be there too, and known by themselves, or without any Idea as well as it? What even Answer is given, I am confident it will be precarious & alledg’d gratis. Again, is the Essence or Nature of this Idea of Existence such that it is Essentially Existent, or not? If the Former, ’tis a GOD; whose sole Perogative it is to be Essential Existence: If the Later, then ‘its Nature is onely Potential to Existence, and not Actual Existence; and then how should that which is onely Potential to Existence, or onely a Power to Bee, be a Resemblance or Similitude of Existence it self, that is, of Actual Being? Many such Exceptions might be brought against such Ideas which are onely Similitudes of Things in our Minds, and not the Things themselves. Now in our way, how impossible is it to oppose any such Difficulties? We conceive the Thing Inadequately, and make many Abstracted Notions of it; and amongst the rest, since the Thing does Exist, we abstract or cut off This from other Notions of it, by considering it precisely according to This Respect; and thence we come to have in our Mind the true Notion or Nature of Existence.

XXII. And, hence it comes that, since amongst our Natural Abstracted Notions which we have from Bodies (with which onely we converse) either by Direct Impressions or Obvious Reflexion, there are some that are very Imperfect, Potential, and clogg’d with Matter; and Others that are more Universal, and Defaecated from Matter, such as are Act, Ens, Essence, Existent, Subsistent, Person, &c. Those who proceed upon the way of Abstracted Notions of the Thing,can, by discoursing upon those Notions of the Later sort, not onely demonstrate those Beings which are of a Superiour Nature, to which such Notions, stript of their Imperfections, do agree; as we have done in our Metaphysicks: but, moreover, they become hence enabled to explicate the Mysteries of Christian Faith, and shew their Conformity to our Natural Notions, as we have shewn, in our Appendix, that Highest Mystery of the B. Trinity is; which makes the Principles of Nature (and Art too) bear a kind of Secondary Testimony to their Truth. Now, I would gladly know what Assistance the Way of Ideas can afford us in such a case; Similitudes of Angels, and of GOD, and generally of all Spiritual Natures, would be strange Language, and the applying them to such Subjects would look very Extravagant. ‘Tis this Way then, I much fear, which has given occasion to many, either to deny Spiritual Natures, as do the Atheists; or else to apply the worst of Corporeal Attributes to them. Rather, indeed, I may complain, that a right Understanding of Spiritual Nature is so stifled and depraved; that, if care be not taken, it will quickly be lost to Mankind: ‘Tis a strange step to it, or rather the utmost Attempt of quite destroying and Effacing it out of Men’s Minds, when we see it openly maintain’d that GOD himself is Spatium reale, which is the Notion of Quantity. For which reason I have exerted my self in my Metaphysicks to demonstrate & explicate the Nature of a Spirit, & even to force the right Conception of it, in despite of the Reluctancy of Fancy.

XXIII. In a word, since Ideas are both Unintelligible, and altogether Useless, & (I fear) ill Use is made of them, contrary to the Intention of their Authors; it seems but fitting that the Way of Ideas should be lay’d aside; nay, that the very Word [Idea] which has got such a Vogue, should be no longer heard of; unless a good reason may be given why we should use such Words as no Man understands.

Your Faithful Servant, J. S.


Edited by Jonathan Vajda, 2020 (c)