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converfation is the most unpleasant, and the most unprofitable; or vain polemical difputation, which cannot be carried on without waste of time, and prostitution of talents; or fcepticifm, which tends to make a man uncomfortable in himself, and unferviceable to others: then I muft affirm, that all fuch controverfies are both ufelefs and mischievous; and that the world would be more wife, more virtuous, and more happy, without them.—But it is faid, that they improve the understanding, and render it more capable of discovering truth, and detecting error.- Be it fo:- but though bars and locks render our houses fecure, and though acuteness of hearing and feeling be a valuable endowment, it will not follow, that thieves are a public bleffing; or that a man is intitled to my gratitude, who quickens my touch and hearing, by putting out my eyes.
It is further faid, that fuch controver fies make us fenfible of the weakness of human reason, and the imperfection of human knowledge; and for the fanguinary principles of bigotry and enthusiasm, fubftitute the milky ones of fcepticism and
and moderation. And this is conceived to be of prodigious emolument to man⇒ kind; because a firm attachment to religion, which a man may call bigotry if he pleases, doth often give rife to a perfecuting fpirit; whereas a perfect indifference about it, which fome men are goodnatured enough to call moderation, is a principle of great good-breeding, and gives no fort of disturbance, either in private or public life. This is a plea on which fome of our modern fceptics feem to plume themselves not a little. And who will venture to arraign the virtue or the fagacity of these projectors? To accomplish fo great effects by means fo fimple, to prevent fuch dreadful calamities by fo innocent an artifice, doth it not difplay the perfection of benevolence and wifdom? Truly I can hardly imagine fuch another fcheme, except perhaps the following. Suppofe a physician of the Sangrado fchool, out of zeal for the intereft of the faculty, and the public good, to prepare a bill to be laid before the parliament, in these words: "That whereas good health, efpe"cially when of long ftanding, hath a "tendency to prepare the human frame for
“for acute and inflammatory distempers, "which have been known to give extreme pain to the unhappy patient, and "fometimes even to bring him to the grave; and whereas the said health, by making us brifk, and hearty, and happy, is apt alfo, on fome occafions, to make us diforderly and licentious, to 66 the great detriment of glass windows, "lanthorns, and watchmen: Be it there"fore enacted, That all the inhabitants "of thefe realms, for the peace of government, and the repofe of the subject, be "compelled, on pain of death, to bring "their bodies down to a confumptive ha"bit; and that henceforth no perfon pre"fume to walk abroad with a cane, on sc pain of having his head broke with it, "and being fet in the ftocks for fix "months; nor to walk at all, except "with crutches, to be delivered at the "public charge to each person who makes "affidavit, that he is no longer able to "walk without them," &c.- He who can eradicate conviction from the human heart, may doubtless prevent all the fatal effects of enthufiafm and bigotry; and if -all human bodies were thrown into a conU fumption,
fumption, I believe there would be an end of riot, as well as of inflammatory diseafes. Whether the inconveniencies, or the remedies, be the greater grievance, might perhaps bear a question. Bigotry, enthufiafin, and a perfecuting fpirit, are very dangerous and deftructive; univerfal fcepticifm would, I am fure, be equally fo, if it were to infect the generality of mankind. But what has religion and rational conviction to do with either? Nothing more than good health has to do with acute distempers, and rebellious infurrections; or than the peace of government, and tranquillity of the subject, have to do with a gradual decay of our muscular fleih. True religion tends to make men great, and good, and happy; and if so, its doctrines can never be too firmly believed, nor held in too high veneration. And if truth be at all attainable in philosophy, I cannot fee why we should scruple to receive it as fuch, when we have attained it; nor how it can promote candour, good-breeding, and humanity, to pretend to doubt what we do and muft believe, to profess to maintain doctrines of which we are conscious that they shock
our understanding, to differ in judgement from all the world except a few metaphyfical pedants, and to queftion the evidence of those principles which all other men think the most unquestionable, and most facred. Conviction, and steadiness of principle, is that which gives dignity, uniformity, and fpirit, to human conduct, and without which our happiness can nei ther be lafting nor fincere. It constitutes, as it were, the vital stamina of a great and manly character; whereas fcepticism betrays a weak and fickly understanding, and a levity of mind, from which nothing can be expected but inconsistence and folly. In conjunction with ill-nature, bad taste, and a hard heart, steadiness and ftrong conviction will doubtlefs make a bad man, and fcepticism will make a worfe but good-nature, elegant taste, and fenfibility of heart, when united with firmnefs of mind, become doubly refpectable and lovely; whereas no man can act on the principles of fcepticifm, without incurring univerfal contempt. But to
Mathematicians, and natural philofophers, do. in effect admit the distinction