Of Things Doubtful.
SOME years past I perceived how MANY Falsities I admitted off as Truths in my Younger years, and how Dubious those things were which I raised from thence; and therefore I thought it requisite (if I had a designe to establish any thing that should prove firme and permanent in sci∣ences) that once in my life I should clear∣ly cast aside all my former opinions, and begin a new from some First principles. But this seemed a great Task, and I still Page 2 expected that maturity of years, then which none could be more apt to receive Learning; upon which account I waited so long, that at last I should deservedly be blamed had I spent that time in Deli∣beration which remain'd only for Action.
This day therefore I conveniently re∣leased my mind from all cares, I pro∣cured to my self a Time Quiet, and free from all Business, I retired my self Alone; and now at length will I freely and serioulsy apply my self to the General over∣throw of all my former Opinions.
To the Accomplishment of Which, it will not be necessary for me to prove them all false (for that perhaps I shall never atcheive) But because my reason perswades me, that I must withdraw my assent no less from those opinions which seem not so very certain and undoubted, then I should from those that are Apparent∣ly false, it will be sufficient if I reject all those wherein I find any Occasion of doubt.
Neither to effect this is it necessary, that they all should be run over particul∣arly (which would be an endles trouble) but because the Foundation being once Page 3 undermin'd, whether is built ther on will of its own accord come to the ground, I shall therefore immediately as∣sault the vey principle, on which whate∣ver I have believed was grounded. Viz.
Whatever I have hitherto admitted as most true, that I received either from, or by my Senses; but these I have often found to deceive me, and 'tis prudence never certainly to trust those that have (tho but once) deceived us.
1 Doubt. But tho sometimes the senses deceive us being exercised about remote or small objects, y•t there are many o∣ther things of which we cannot doubt tho we know them only by the senses? as that at present I am in this place, that I am sitting by a fire, that I have a Win∣ter gown on me, that I feel this Paper with my hands; But how can it be de∣nied that these hands or this body is mine; Unless I should compare my self to those mad men, whose brains are disturbed by such a disorderly melancholick vapour, that makes them continually profess them∣selves to be Kings, tho they are very poor, or fancy themselves cloathed in Purple Robes, tho they are naked, or that their Page 4 heads are made of Clay as a bottle, or of glass, &c. But these are mad men, and I should be as mad as they in following their example by fancying these things as they do.
1 Solution. This truly would seem ve∣ry clear to those that never sleep, and suf∣fer the same things (and sometimes more unlikely) in their repose, then these mad men do whilst they are awake; for how often am I perswaded in a Dream of these usual occurrences, that I am in this place, that I have a Gown on me, that I am sit∣ting by a fire, &c. Tho all the while I am lying naked between the Sheets.
But now I am certain that I am awake and look upon this Paper, neither is this head which I shake asleep, I knowingly and willingly stretch out this hand, and am sensible that things so distinct could not happen to one that sleeps. As if I could not remember my self to have been deceived formerly in my sleep by the like thoughts; which while I consider more attentively I am so far convinced of the difficulty of distinguishing sleep from wa∣king that I am amazed, and this very a∣mazement almost perswades me that I am asl•ep.
Page 52. Doubt. Wherefore let us suppose our selves asleep, and that these things are not true, viz. that we open our eyes, move our heads, stretch our hands, and perhaps that we have no such things as hands or a body. Yet we must confess, that what we see in a Dream is (as it were) a painted Picture, which cannot be devised but after the likeness of some real things; and that therefore these Generals at least, viz. eyes, head, hands, and the whole body are things really existent and not imaginary; For Painters themselves, (even then when they design Mermaids and Satyrs in the most unusual shapes) do not give them natures altogether new, but only add the divers Parts of different Animals toge∣ther; And if by chance they invent any thing so new that nothing was ever seen like it, so that 'tis wholy fictitious and false, yet the colours at least of which, they make it must be true Colours; soupon the same account, tho these General things as eyes, head, hands, &c. may be imagi∣nary; yet nevertheless we must of neces∣sity confess the more simple and universal things to be True, of which (as of true Colours) these Images of things (whether Page 6true or false) which are in our minds are made; such as are the nature of a body in General, and its Extension, also the shape of things extended, with the quan∣tity or bigness of them, their number al∣so, and place wherein they are, the time in which they continue, and the like, and therefore from hence we make no bad con∣clusion, that Physick, both Natural, and Medicinal, Astronomy, and all other •cien∣ces, which depend on the consideration of compound things, are Doubtful.•ut that Arithmetick, Geometry, and the •ille (which treat only of the most simple, and General things not regarding whether they really are or not) have in them something certain and undoubted; for whether I sleep or wake, two and three added make five; a square has no more sides then four, &c. neither seems it possible that such pla•• truths can be doubted off.
2. Solution. But all this While there is rooted in my mind a certain old opinion of the being of an Omnipotent God, by whom I am created in the state I am in; and how know I but he caused that there should be no Earth, no Heaven, no Bo∣dy, no Figure, no Magnitude, no Place, Page 7 and yet that all these things should seem to me to be as now they are? And as I very often judge others to Erre about those things which they think they Throughly understand, so why may not I be deceived, whenever I add two and three, or count the sides of a Square, or what∣ever other easy Matter can be thought of?
3. Doubt. But perhaps God wills not that I should be deceived, for he is said to be Infinitely Good.
3. Solution. Yet if it were Repugnant to his Goodness to create me so that I should be always deceived, it seems also unagre∣able to his Goodness to permit me to be deceived at any time; Which last no one will affirme: Some there are truely who had rather deny Gods O•nipotence, then be∣leive all things uncertain; but these at pre∣sent we may not contradict. And we will suppose all this of God to be false; yet whether they will suppose me to be∣come what I am by Fate, by Chance, by a continued chain of ca•ses, or any other way, because to erre is an Imperfetion, by how much the less power they will Assigne to the Author of my Being, so much the Page 8••re Probable it will be, that I am so Imperfect as to be alwayes deceived.
To which Arguments I know not what to answer but am forced to confess, that there is nothing of all those things which I formerly received as Truths, whereof at present I may not doubt; and this doubt shall not be grounded on inadvertency or Levity, but upon strong and premeditating reasons; and there∣fore I must hereafter (if I designe to dis∣cover any truths) withdraw my assent from them so less then from apparent fal∣shood.
But 'tis not sufficient to think only Transiently on these things, but I must take care to remember them; for dayly my old opinion returne upon me, and much against my Will almost possesse my Beleife tyed to them, as it were by a con∣tinued use and Right of Familiarity; nei∣ther shall I ever cease to assent and trust in them, whilst I suppose them as in them∣selves they really are, that is to say, some∣thing doubtful (as now I have proved) yet notwithstanding highly Probable, which it is much more Reasonable to beleive then disbeleive.
Page 9Wherefore I conceive I should not do amiss, if (with my mind bent clearly to the contrary side) I should deceive my self, and suppose them for a While alto∣gether false and Imaginary; till at length the Weights of prejudice being equal in each scale, no ill custome may any more Draw my Judgement from the true Con∣ception of things, for I know from hence will follow no dangerous Error, and I can't too immoderately pamper my own Incredulity, seeing What I am about, concernes not Practice•ut Speculation.
To Which end I will suppose, not an Infinitely perfect God, the Fountain of truth, but that some Evil Spirit which is very Powerful and crafty has used all his endeavours to deceive me; I will conceive, the Heavens, Air, Eearth, Colours, Fi∣gures, Sounds, and all outward things are nothing else but the delusions of Dreams, by which he has laid snares to catch my easy beleif; I will consider my self as not having hands, Eyes, Flesh, Blood, or Sences, but that I falsely think that I have all these. I will continue firm∣ly in this Meditation; and tho it lyes not in my power to discover any truth, yet Page 10 this is in my power, not to assent to Fal∣sities, and with a strong resolution take care that the Mighty deceiver (tho never so powerful or cunning) impose not any thing on my beleife.
But this is a laborious intention, and a certain sloth reduces me to the usual course of life, and like a Prisoner who in his sleep perhaps enjoy'd an imaginary li∣berty, and when he begins to suppose that he is asleep is afraid to waken, but is will∣ing to be deceived by the Pleasant delu∣sion; so I willingly fall into my old opini∣ons, and am afraid to be Roused, least a toilsome waking succeeding a pleasant rest I may hereafter live not in the light, but in the confused darkness of the doubts now raised.