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uniting them without any rule or pattern, it cannot be but that the fignification of the name that stands for fuch voluntary collections fhould be often various in the minds of different men, who have scarce any standing rule to regulate themselves and their notions by, in fuch arbitrary ideas.
Propriety not a fufficient remedy.
§. 8. It is true, common use, that is the rule of propriety, may be supposed here to afford fomeaid,to fettle the fignification of language; and it cannot be denied, but that in fome meafure it does. Common use regulates the meaning of words pretty well for common conversation; but no-body having an authority to eftablish the precife fignification of words, nor determined to what ideas any one fhall annex them, common ufe is not fufficient to adjust them to philofophical discourses; there being scarce any name of any very complex idea (to say nothing of others) which in common use has not a great latitude, and which keeping within the bounds of propriety, may not be made the fign of far different ideas. Befides, the rule and measure of propriety itself being no where established, it is often matter of difpute whether this or that way of ufing a word be propriety of fpeech or no. From all which it is evident, that the names of fuch kind of very complex ideas are naturally liable to this imperfection, to be of doubtful and uncertain fignification; and even in men that have a mind to understand one another, do not always stand for the fame idea in speaker and hearer. Though the names glory and gratitude be the fame in every man's mouth through a whole country, yet the complex collective idea, which every one thinks on, or intends by that name, is apparently very different in men ufing the fame language.
The way of learning thefe names contributes alfo to their doubtfulness.
§. 9. The way also wherein the names of mixed modes are ordinarily learned, does not a little contribute to the doubtfulness of their fignification. For if we will obferve how children learn languages, we fhall find that to make them understand what the names of fimple ideas, or fubftances, ftand for, people ordinarily fhow them the thing, whereof they would
have them have the idea; and then repeat to them the name that stands for it, as white, fweet, milk, sugar, cat, dog. But as for mixed modes, especially the most material of them, moral words, the founds are usually learned firft; and then to know what complex ideas they stand for, they are either beholden to the explication of others, or (which happens for the most part) are left to their own obfervation and induftry; which being little laid out in the fearch of the true and precife meaning of names, thefe moral words are in most men's mouths little more than bare sounds; or when they have any, it is for the most part but a very loofe and undetermined, and confequently obfcure and confused signification. And even those themselves, who have with more attention settled their notions, do yet hardly avoid the inconvenience, to have them ftand for complex ideas, different from those which other, even intelligent and studious men, make them the figns of. Where shall one find any, either controverfial debate, or familiar difcourfe, concerning honour, faith, grace, religion, church, &c. wherein it is not easy to obferve the different notions men have of them? which is nothing but this, that they are not agreed in the fignification of those words, nor have in their minds the fame complex ideas which they make them stand for: and so all the contests that follow thereupon, are only about the meaning of a found. And hence we fee, that in the interpretation of laws, whether divine or human, there is no end; comments beget comments, and explications make new matter for explications; and of limiting, distinguishing, varying the fignification of these moral words, there is no end. These ideas of men's making are, by men still having the fame power, multiplied in infinitum. Many a man who was pretty well fatisfied of the meaning of a text of fcripture, or claufe in the code at first reading, has by confulting commentators quite loft the fenfe of it, and by these elucidations given rife or increase to his doubts, and drawn obfcurity upon the place. I fay not this, that I think commentaries needlefs; but to fhow how uncertain the names of mixed modes naturally are, even in the mouths of those who had both the intention
and the faculty of fpeaking as clearly as language was capable to exprefs their thoughts.
Hence unavoidable obfcurity in ancient authors.
§. 1o. What obfcurity this has unavoidably brought upon the writings of men, who have lived in remote ages and different countries, it will be needless to take notice; fince the numerous volumes of learned men, employing their thoughts that way, are proofs more than enough to show what attention, study, fagacity, and rcafoning are required, to find out the true meaning of ancient authors. But there being no writings we have any great concernment to be very folicitous about the meaning of, but thofe that contain either truths we are required to believe, or laws we are to obey, and draw inconveniencies on us when we millake or tranfgrefs; we may be lefs anxious about the fenfe of other authors; who writing but their own opinions, we are under no greater neceffity to know them, than they to know ours. Our good or evil depending not on their decrees, we may fafely be ignorant of their notions: and therefore, in the reading of them, if they do not ufe their words with a due clearnefs and perfpicuity, we may lay them afide, and, without any injury done them, refolve thus with ourselves,
"Si non vis intelligi, debés negligi.
Names of fubftances of doubtful fignification,
§. 11. If the fignification of the names of mixed modes are uncertain, because there be no real standards exifting in nature, to which those ideas are referred, and by which they may be adjufted; the names of fubftances are of a doubtful fignification, for a contrary reason, viz. because the ideas they stand for are fuppofed conformable to the reality of things, and are referred to ftandards made by nature. In our ideas of fubftances we have not the liberty, as in mixed modes, to frame what combinations we think fit, to be the characteristical notes to rank and denominate things by. In thefe we must follow nature, fuit our complex ideas to real existences, and regulate the fignification of their names by the things themselves, if we will have our names to be figns of them, and stand for them. Here, it is true, we have patterns to follow;
but patterns that will make the fignification of their names very uncertain: for names must be of a very unfteady and various meaning, if the ideas they stand for be referred to ftandards without us, that either cannot be known at all, or can be known but imperfectly and uncertainly.
§. 12. The names of substances have, as has been shown, a double reference in their ordinary use.
2. To co-existing qualities, which
First, fometimes they are made to stand for, and fo their fignification is fuppofed to agree to, the real conftitution of things, from which all their properties flow, and in which they all centre. But this real conftitution, or (as it is apt to be called) effence, being utterly unknown 10 us, any found that is put to ftand for it, must be very uncertain in its application; and it will be impoffible to know what things are, or ought to be called an horse, or anatomy, when thofe words are put for real effences, that we have no ideas of at all. And therefore, in this fuppofition, the names of fubftances being referred to standards that cannot be known, their fignifications can never be adjusted and established by thofe ftandards. $. 13. Secondly, the fimple ideas that are found to co-exift in fubftances being that which their names immediately fignify, thefe, as united in the feveral forts of things, are the proper ftandards to which their names are referred, and by which their fignifications may be beft rectified. But neither will these archetypes fo well ferve to this purpofe, as to leave thefe names without very various and uncertain fignifications. Because these simple ideas that co-exift, and are united in the fame fubject, being very numerous, and having all an equal right to go into the complex specifick idea, which the fpecifick name is to ftand for; men, though they propofe to themfelves the very fame fubject to confider, yet frame very different ideas about it; and fo the name they ufe for it unavoidably comes to have, in feveral men, very different fignifications. The fimple qualities which make up the complex ideas being moft
of them powers, in relation to changes, which they are apt to make in, or receive from other bodies, are almost infinite. He that fhall but obferve what a great variety of alterations any one of the bafer metals is apt to receive from the different application only of fire; and how much a greater number of changes any of them will receive in the hands of a chymift, by the application of other bodies; will not think it strange that I count the properties of any fort of bodies not eafy to be collected, and completely known by the ways of inquiry, which our faculties are capable of. They being therefore at least so many, that no man can know the precife and definite number, they are differently discovered by dif ferent men, according to their various fkill, attention, and ways of handling; who therefore cannot choose but have different ideas of the fame substance, and therefore make the fignification of its common name very various and uncertain. For the complex ideas of fubftances being made up of fuch fimple ones as are fupposed to co-exist in nature, every one has a right to put into his complex idea those qualities he has found to be united together. For though in the fubftance of gold one fatisfies himself with colour and weight, yet another thinks folubility in aq. regia as neceffary to be joined with that colour in his idea of gold, as any one does its fufibility; folubility in aq. regia being a quality as conftantly joined with its colour and weight, as fufibility, or any other; others put in its ductility or fixednefs, &c. as they have been taught by tradition or experience. Who of all these has established the right fignification of the word gold? or who fhall be the judge to determine? Each has its standard in nature, which he appeals to, and with reason thinks he has the fame right to put into his complex idea, fignified by the word gold, thofe qualities which upon trial he has found united; as another, who has not fo well examined, has to leave them out; or a third, who has made other trials, has to put in others. For the union in nature of these qualities being the true ground of their union in one complex idea, who can fay, one of them has more reason to be put in, or left out, than another? From hence it will