The Elements of Law/Part I/Chapter 5

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Chapter 5: Of Names, Reasoning, and Discourse of the Tongue[edit]

1. Seeing the succession of conceptions in the mind are caused (as hath been said before) by the succession they had one to another when they were produced by the senses; and that there is no conception that hath not been produced immediately before or after innumerable others, by the innumerable acts of sense; it must needs follow, that one conception followeth not another, according to our election, and the need we have of them, but as it chanceth us to hear or see such things as shall bring them to our mind. The experience we have hereof, is in such brute beasts, which, having the providence to hide the remains and superfluity of their meat, do nevertheless want the remembrance of the place where they hid it, and thereby make no benefit thereof in their hunger. But man, who in this point beginneth to advance himself above the nature of beasts, hath observed and remembered the cause of this defect, and to amend the same, hath imagined and devised to set up a visible or other sensible mark, the which when he seeth again, may bring to his mind the thought he had when he set it up. A MARK therefore is a sensible object which a man erecteth voluntarily to himself, to the end to remember thereby somewhat past, when the same is objected to his sense again. As men that have passed by a rock at sea, set up some mark, whereby to remember their former danger, and avoid it.

2. In the number of these marks, are those human voices (which we call the names or appellations of things) sensible to the ear, by which we recall into our mind some conceptions of the things to which we give those names or appellations. As the appellation white bringeth to remembrance the quality of such objects as produce that colour or conception in us. A NAME or APPELLATION therefore is the voice of a man, arbitrarily imposed, for a mark to bring to his mind some conception concerning the thing on which it is imposed.

3. Things named, are either the objects themselves, as man; or the conception itself that we have of man, as shape or motion; or some privation, which is when we conceive that there is something which we conceive, not in him. As when we conceive he is not just, not finite, we give him the name of unjust and infinite, which signify privation or defect either in the thing named, or in us that give the name. And to the privations themselves we give the names injustice and infiniteness. So that here be two sorts of names: one of things, in which we conceive something, or of the conceptions themselves, which are called POSITIVE; the other of things wherein we conceive privation or defect, and those names are called PRIVATIVE.

4. By the advantage of names it is that we are capable of science, which beasts, for want of them, are not; nor man, without the use of them: for as a beast misseth not one or two out of her many young ones, for want of those names of order, one, two, three, &c., which we call number; so neither would a man, without repeating orally, or mentally, the words of number, know how many pieces of money or other things lie before him.

5. Seeing there be many conceptions of one and the same thing, and for every several conception we give it a several name; it followeth that for one and the same thing, we have many names or attributes; as to the same man we give the appellations of just, valiant, &c., for divers virtues, and of strong, comely, &c., for divers qualities of the body. And again, because from divers things we receive like conceptions, many things must needs have the same appellation. As to all things we see, we give the same name of visible; and to all things we see moved, we give the appellation of moveable. And those names we give to many, are called UNIVERSAL to them all; as the name man to every particular of mankind: such appellations as we give to one only thing, are called individual, or SINGULAR; as Socrates, and other proper names; or, by circumlocution, as: he that writ the Iliad, for Homer.

6. This universality of one name to many things, hath been the cause that men think that the things themselves are universal. And do seriously contend, that besides Peter and John, and all the rest of the men that are, have been, or shall be in the world, there is yet somewhat else that we call man, (viz.) man in general, deceiving themselves by taking the universal, or general appellation, for the thing it signifieth. For if one should desire the painter to make him the picture of a man, which is as much as to say, of a man in general; he meaneth no more, but that the painter shall choose what man he pleaseth to draw, which must needs be some of them that are, have been, or may be, none of which are universal. But when he would have him to draw the picture of the king, or any particular person, he limiteth the painter to that one person himself chooseth. It is plain therefore, that there is nothing universal but names; which are therefore also called indefinite; because we limit them not ourselves, but leave them to be applied by the hearer: whereas a singular name is limited or restrained to one of the many things it signifieth; as when we say, this man, pointing to him, or giving him his proper name, or by some such other way.

7. The appellations that be universal, and common to many things, are not always given to all the particulars, (as they ought to be) for like conceptions and considerations in them all; which is the cause that many of them are not of constant signification, but bring into our minds other thoughts than those for which they were ordained. And these are called EQUIVOCAL. As for example, the word faith sometimes signifieth the same with belief; sometimes it signifieth particularly that belief which maketh a Christian; and sometimes it signifieth the keeping of a promise. Also all metaphors are (by profession) equivocal. And there is scarce any word that is not made equivocal by divers contextures of speech, or by diversity of pronunciation and gesture.

8. This equivocation of names maketh it difficult to recover those conceptions for which the name was ordained; and that not only in the language of other men, wherein we are to consider the drift, and occasion, and contexture of the speech, as well as the words themselves; but also in our own discourse, which being derived from the custom and common use of speech, representeth not unto us our own conceptions. It is therefore a great ability in a man, out of the words, contexture, and other circumstances of language, to deliver himself from equivocation, and to find out the true meaning of what is said: and this is it we call UNDERSTANDING.

9. Of two appellations, by the help of this little verb is, or something equivalent, we make an AFFIRMATION or NEGATION, either of which in the Schools we call also a proposition, and consisteth of two appellations joined together by the said verb is: as for example, this is a proposition: man is a living creature; or this: man is not righteous; whereof the former is called an affirmation, because the appellation living creature is positive; the latter a negation, because not righteous is privative.

10. In every proposition, be it affirmative or negative, the latter appellation either comprehendeth the former, as in this proposition, charity is a virtue, the name of virtue comprehendeth the name of charity (and many other virtues besides), and then is the proposition said to be TRUE or TRUTH: for, truth, and a true proposition, is all one. Or else the latter appellation comprehendeth not the former; as in this proposition, every man is just, the name of just comprehendeth not every man; for unjust is the name of the far greater part of men. And then the proposition is said to be FALSE, or falsity: falsity and a false proposition being the same thing.

11. In what manner of two propositions, whether both affirmative, or one affirmative, the other negative, is made a SYLLOGISM, I forbear to write. All this that hath been said of names or propositions, though necessary, is but dry discourse: and this place is not for the whole art of logic, which if I enter further into, I ought to pursue: besides, it is not needful; for there be few men which have not so much natural logic, as thereby to discern well enough, whether any conclusion I shall hereafter make, in this discourse, be well or ill collected: only thus much I say in this place, that making of syllogisms is that we call RATIOCINATION or reasoning.

12. Now when a man reasoneth from principles that are found indubitable by experience, all deceptions of sense and equivocation of words avoided, the conclusion he maketh is said to be according to right reason; but when from his conclusion a man may, by good ratiocination, derive that which is contradictory to any evident truth whatsoever, then is he said to have concluded against reason: and such a conclusion is called absurdity.

13. As the invention of names hath been necessary for the drawing of men out of ignorance, by calling to their remembrance the necessary coherence of one conception to another; so also hath it on the other side precipitated men into error: insomuch, that whereas by the benefit of words and ratiocination they exceed brute beasts in knowledge; by the incommodities that accompany the same they exceed them also in errors. For true and false are things not incident to beasts, because they adhere to propositions and language; nor have they ratiocination, whereby to multiply one untruth by another.. as men have.

14. It is the nature almost of every corporeal thing, being often moved in one and the same manner, to receive continually a greater and greater easiness and aptitude to the same motion; insomuch as in time the same becometh so habitual, that to beget it, there needs no more than to begin it. The passions of man, as they are the beginning of all his voluntary motions, so are they the beginning of speech, which is the motion of his tongue. And men desiring to shew others the knowledge, opinions, conceptions, and passions which are within themselves, and to that end. having invented language, have by that means transferred all that discursion of their mind mentioned in the former chapter, by the motion of their tongues, into discourse of words; and ratio, now, is but oratio, for the most part, wherein custom hath so great a power, that the mind suggesteth only the first word, the rest follow habitually, and are not followed by the mind. As it is with beggars, when they say their paternoster, putting together such words, and in such manner, as in their education they have learned from their nurses, from their companions, or from their teachers, having no images or conceptions in their minds answering to the words they speak. And as they have learned themselves, so they teach posterity. Now, if we consider the power of those deceptions of sense, mentioned chapter 11 section 10, and also how unconstantly names have been settled, and how subject they are to equivocation, and how diversified by passion, (scarce two men agreeing what is to be called good, and what evil; what liberality, what prodigality; what valour, what temerity) and how subject men are to paralogism or fallacy in reasoning, I may in a manner conclude, that it is impossible to rectify so many errors of any one man, as must needs proceed from those causes, without beginning anew from the very first grounds of all our knowledge, sense; and, instead of books, reading over orderly one's own conceptions: in which meaning I take nosce teipsum for a precept worthy the reputation it hath gotten.