« PreviousContinue »
ral fcience in his own breaft, it is not to be fuppofed, that the generality of mankind will, for any length of time, persist in an error, which their own daily expe rience, if attended to without prejudice, could not fail to rectify. Let, therefore, the evidence of the new tenet be carefully examined, and attended to. If it produce
a full and clear conviction in the intelligent mind, and at the fame time ferve to explain the causes of the universality and long continuance of the old erroneous opinion, the new one ought certainly to be received as true. But if the affent produced by the new doctrine be vague, indefinite, and unfatisfying; if nature and common fenfe reclaim against it; if it recommend modes of thought that are inconceivable, or modes of action that are impracticable; it is not, it cannot be, true, however plaufible its evidence may appear.
Some will think, perhaps, that a ftraighter and shorter courfe might have brought me fooner, and with equal fecurity, to this conclufion. I acknowledge I have taken a pretty wide circuit. This was owing in part to my love of perfpicuity, which
in thefe fubjects hath not always been ftudied fo much as it ought to have been; and partly, and chiefly, to my defire of confuting, on this occafion, (as I wish to have done with metaphyfical controverfy. for ever), as many of the most pernicious: tenets of modern fcepticifin as could be brought within my prefent plan. But thet reader will perceive, that I have endeavoured to conduct all my digreffions in fuch a manner, as that they might ferve for illuftrations of the principal fubject.
To teach men to diftinguifh by intuition a dictate of common fenfe from an acquired prejudice, is a work which nature only can accomplish. We fhall ever be more or lefs fagacious in this respect, according as Heaven hath endued us with greater or less strength of mind, vivacity of perception, and folidity of judgement. The method here recommended is more laborious, and much lefs expeditious. Yet this method, if I am not greatly miftaken, may be of confiderable ufe to enable us to form a proper eftimate of those reafonings, which, by violating common. fenfe, tend to fubvert every principle of rational belief, to fap the foundations of
truth and science, and to leave the mind exposed to all the horrors of fcepticism. To be puzzled by fuch reasonings, is neither criminal nor difhonourable; though in many cafes it may be both dishonourable and criminal to fuffer ourfelves to be deluded by them. For is not this to prefer the equivocal voice of a vain, selfish, and enfnaring wrangler, to the clear, the benevolent, the infallible dictates of nature? Is not this to bely our fentiments, to violate our conftitution, to fin against our own foul? Is not this "to forfake the "fountains of living water, and to hew σε out unto ourselves broken cifterns that can hold no water?"
HEY who confider virtue as a subject of mere curiofity, and think that the principles of morals and properties of conic fections ought to be explained with the fame degree of apathy and indifference, will find abundant matter for cenfure in the preceding obfervations. As the author is not very ambitious of the good opinion of fuch theorifts, he will not give himself much trouble in multiplying apologies for what, to them, may have the appearance of keennefs or severity in the animadverfions he has hitherto made, or may hereafter make, on the principles of certain noted philofophers. He confiders happiness as the end and aim of our being; and he thinks philofophy valuable only fo far as it may be conducive to this end. Human happiness feemeth to him wholly unattainable, except by the means which virtue and religion provide. He is therefore perfuaded,
that while employed in pleading the cause of virtue, and of true science, its best auxiliary, he supports, in fome measure, the character of a friend to humankind; and he would think his right to that glorious appellation extremely questionable, if the warmth of his zeal did not bear fome proportion to the importance of his caufe. However fufpicious he may be of his ability to vindicate the rights of his fellowcreatures, he is not fufpicious of his inclination. He feels, that on fuch a fubject, he must speak from the heart, or not speak at all. For the spirit and manner of his difcourfe he has no other apology to offer.
As to the principles and matter of it, he is lefs confident. Thefe, though neither visionary nor unimportant, may poffibly be misunderstood. He therefore begs leave to urge a few things, for the further vindication and illuftration of them. To his own mind they are fully fatisfactory; he hopes to render them equally so to every candid reader. Happy! if he should be as fuccefsful in establishing conviction, as others have been in fubverting it.