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credit, and contradicted by no one writèr, a man cannot avoid believing it, and can as little doubt of it, as he does of the being and actions of his own acquaintance, whereof he himself is a witness.
and teftimoExperiences nies clashing infinitely vary the de
§. 9. Thus far the matter goes eafy enough. Probability upon fuch grounds carries fo much evidence with it, that it naturally determines the judgment, and leaves us as little liberty to believe, or difbelieve, as a demonstration does, whether we will know, or be ignorant. The difficulty is, when teftimonies contradict common experience, and the reports of history and witneffes clash with the ordinary course of nature, or with one another; there it is, where diligence, attention, and exactnefs are required, to form a right judgment, and to proportion the affent to the different evidence and probability of the thing; which rises and falls, according as thofe two foundations of credibility, viz. common obfervation in like cafes, and particular teftimonies in that particular instance, favour or contradict it. These are liable to fo great variety of contrary observations, circumstances, reports, different qualifications, tempers, defigns, overfights, &c. of the reporters, that it is impoffible to reduce to precife rules the various degrees wherein men give their affent. This only may be faid in general, that as the arguments and proofs pro and con, upon due examination, nicely weighing every particular circumstance, shall to any one appear, upon the whole matter, in a greater or lefs degree, to preponderate on either fide; fo they are fitted to produce in the mind fuch different entertainment, as we call belief, conjecture, guess, doubt, wavering, diftruft, disbelief, &c. S. 10. This is what concerns affent in matters wherein teftimony is made ufe of: concerning which, I think, it may not be amiss to take notice of a rule obferved in the law of England; which is, that though the attefted copy of a record be good proof, yet the copy of a copy ever fo well attefted, and by ever fo credible witneffes, will not be admitted as a proof in
teftimonies, the farther removed, the
judicature. This is fo generally approved as reasonable, and fuited to the wifdom and caution to be used in our inquiry after material truths, that I never yet heard of any one that blamed it. This practice, if it be allowable in the decifions of right and wrong, carries this obfervation along with it, viz. that any teftimony, the farther off it is from the original truth, the lefs force and proof it has. The being and existence of the thing itfelf is what I call the original truth. A credible man vouching his knowledge of it is a good proof: but if another equally credible do witnefs it from his report, the teftimony is weaker; and a third that attefts the hear-fay of an hear-fay, is yet lefs confiderable. So that in traditional truths, each remove weakens the force of the proof: and the more hands the tradition has fucceffively paffed through, the less strength and evidence does it receive from them. This I thought neceffary to be taken notice of, because I find amongft fame men the quite contrary commonly practifed, who look on opinions to gain force by growing older; and what a thousand years fince would not, to a rational man, contemporary with the first voucher, have appeared at all probable, is now urged as certain beyond all queftion, only because feveral have fince, from him, faid it one after another. Upon this ground, propofitions, evidently falfe or doubtful enough in their first beginning, come by an inverted rule of probability to pafs for authentic truths; and thofe which found or deferved little credit from the mouths of their first authors, are thought to grow venerable by age, and are urged as undeniable.
Yet history is of great ufe.
S. 11. I would not be thought here to leffen the credit and ufe of hiftory: it is all the light we have in many cafes, and we receive from it a great part of the ufeful truths we have, with a convincing evidence. I think nothing more valuable than the records of antiquity: I with we had more of them, and more uncorrupted. But this truth itfelf forces me to fay, that no probability can arife higher than its first original. What has no other evidence than the fingle teftimony of one only witnefs, muft ftand or fall by his only teftimony, whether good,
bad, or indifferent; and though cited afterwards by hundreds of others, one after another, is fo far from receiving any ftrength thereby, that it is only the weaker. Paffion, intereft, inadvertency, mistake of his meaning, and a thoufand odd reafons, or capricio's, men's minds are acted by (impoffible to be discovered) may make one man quote another man's words or meaning wrong. He that has but ever fo little examined the citations of writers, cannot doubt how little credit the quotations deferve, where the originals are wanting; and confequently how much lefs quotations of quotations can be relied on. This is certain, that what in one age was affirmed upon flight grounds, can never after come to be more valid in future ages, by being often repeated. But the farther ftill it is from the original, the lefs valid it is, and has always lefs force in the mouth or writing of him that last made ufe of it, than in his from whom he received it.
logy is the great rule of probability.
§. 12. The probabilities we have hitherto mentioned are only fuch as concern matter of fact, and fuch things as are capable of obfervation and teftimony. There remains that other fort, concerning which men entertain opinions with variety of affent, though the things be fuch, that, falling not under the reach of our fenfes, they are not capable of teftimony. Such are, 1. The exiffence, nature, and operations of finite immaterial beings without us; as fpirits, angels, devils, &c. or the existence of material beings; which either for their smallness in themselves, or remoteness from us, our fenfes cannot take notice of; as whether there be any plants, animals, and intelligent inhabitants in the planets, and other manfions of the vaft univerfe. 2. Concerning the manner of operation in most parts of the works of nature: wherein though we fee the fenfible effects, yet their caufes are unknown, and we perceive not the ways and manner how they are produced. We fee animals are generated, nourished, and move; the loadstone draws iron; and the parts of a candle, fucceffively melting, turn into flame, and give us both light and heat. These and the like effects we
fee and know: but the caufes that operate, and the manner they are produced in, we can only guess and probably conjecture. For these and the like, coming not within the fcrutiny of human fenfes, cannot be examined by them, or be attefted by any body; and therefore can appear more or less probable, only as they more or lefs agree to truths that are established in our minds, and as they hold proportion to other parts of our knowledge and obfervation. Analogy in these matters is the only help we have, and it is from that alone we draw all our grounds of probability. Thus obferving that the bare rubbing of two bodies violently one upon another produces heat, and very often fire itself, we have reason to think, that what we call heat and fire confifts in a violent agitation of the imperceptible minute parts of the burning matter: obferving likewife that the different refractions of pellucid bodies produce in our eyes the different appearances of feveral colours; and also that the different ranging and laying the fuperficial parts of feveral bodies, as of velvet, watered filk, &c. does the like, we think it probable that the colour and shining of bodies is in them nothing but the different arrangement and refraction of their minute and infenfible parts. Thus finding in all parts of the creation, that fall under human obfervation, that there is a gradual connexion of one with another, without any great or difcernible gaps between, in all that great variety of things we fee in the world, which are fo clofely linked together, that in the feveral ranks of beings, it is not eafy to discover the bounds betwixt them; we have reafon to be perfuaded, that by fuch gentle fteps things afcend upwards in degrees of perfection. It is a hard matter to fay where fenfible and rational begin, and where infenfible and irrational end: and who is there quick-fighted enough to determine precisely, which is the loweft fpecies of living things, and which the first of those which have no life? Things, as far as we can obferve, leffen and augment, as the quantity does in a regular cone; where though there be a manifeft odds betwixt the bignefs of the diameter at a remote distance, yet the difference between the upper and under, where
they touch one another, is hardly difcernible. The difference is exceeding great between some men, and fome animals; but if we will compare the understanding and abilities of fome men and fome brutes, we fhall find fo little difference, that it will be hard to say, that that of the man is either clearer or larger. Obferving, I fay, fuch gradual and gentle defcents downwards in those parts of the creation that are beneath man, the rule of analogy may make it probable, that it is fo alfo in things above us and our observation; and that there are feveral ranks of intelligent beings, excelling us in feveral degrees of perfection, afcending upwards towards the infinite perfection of the creator, by gentle steps and differences, that are every one at no great diftance from the next to it. This fort of probability, which is the best conduct of rational experiments, and the rife of hypothefis, has also its use and influence; and a wary reafoning from analogy leads us often into the discovery of truths and useful productions, which would otherwise lie concealed.
One cafe where con
trary experience leffens
not the testi
§. 13. Though the common experience and the ordinary course of things have juftly -a mighty influence on the minds of men, to make them give or refufe credit to any thing proposed to their belief; yet there is one cafe, wherein the ftrangeness of the fact leffens not the affent to a fair teftimony given of it. For where fuch fupernatural events are fuitable to ends aimed at by him, who has the power to change the courfe of nature, there, under fuch circumftances, they may be the fitter to procure belief, by how much the more they are beyond, or contrary to ordinary obfervation. This is the proper cafe of miracles, which well attested do not only find credit themselves, but give it alfo to other truths, which need fuch confirmation. §. 14. Befides thofe we have hitherto mentioned, there is one fort of propofitions that challenge the highest degree of our affent upon bare teftimony, whether the thing propofed agree or difagree with common experience, and the ordinary courfe of
The bare teftimony of re
the highest certainty. things, or