The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought


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In a , the friend that forms service within this impact voyages not is. So that this parent stock of errors — this false philosophy — is of three kinds: the Sophistical, the Empirical, and the Superstitious. The most conspicuous example of the first class was Aristotle, who corrupted natural philosophy by his logic: fashioning the world out of categories; assigning to the human soul, the noblest of substances, a genus from words of the second intention; doing the business of density and rarity which is to make bodies of greater or less dimensions, that is, occupy greater or less spaces , by the frigid distinction of act and power; asserting that single bodies have each a single and proper motion, and that if they participate in any other, then this results from an external cause; and imposing countless other arbitrary restrictions on the nature of things; being always more solicitous to provide an answer to the question and affirm something positive in words, than about the inner truth of things; a failing best shown when his philosophy is compared with other systems of note among the Greeks.

For the homoeomera of Anaxagoras; the Atoms of Leucippus and Democritus; the Heaven and Earth of Parmenides; the Strife and Friendship of Empedocles; Heraclitus' doctrine how bodies are resolved into the indifferent nature of fire, and remolded into solids, have all of them some taste of the natural philosopher — some savor of the nature of things, and experience, and bodies; whereas in the physics of Aristotle you hear hardly anything but the words of logic, which in his metaphysics also, under a more imposing name, and more forsooth as a realist than a nominalist, he has handled over again.

Nor let any weight be given to the fact that in his books on animals and his problems, and other of his treatises, there is frequent dealing with experiments.

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For he had come to his conclusion before; he did not consult experience, as he should have done, for the purpose of framing his decisions and axioms, but having first determined the question according to his will, he then resorts to experience, and bending her into conformity with his placets, leads her about like a captive in a procession.

So that even on this count he is more guilty than his modern followers, the schoolmen, who have abandoned experience altogether. But the Empirical school of philosophy gives birth to dogmas more deformed and monstrous than the Sophistical or Rational school. For it has its foundations not in the light of common notions which though it be a faint and superficial light, is yet in a manner universal, and has reference to many things , but in the narrowness and darkness of a few experiments.

To those therefore who are daily busied with these experiments and have infected their imagination with them, such a philosophy seems probable and all but certain; to all men else incredible and vain. Of this there is a notable instance in the alchemists and their dogmas, though it is hardly to be found elsewhere in these times, except perhaps in the philosophy of Gilbert. Nevertheless, with regard to philosophies of this kind there is one caution not to be omitted; for I foresee that if ever men are roused by my admonitions to betake themselves seriously to experiment and bid farewell to sophistical doctrines, then indeed through the premature hurry of the understanding to leap or fly to universals and principles of things, great danger may be apprehended from philosophies of this kind, against which evil we ought even now to prepare.

But the corruption of philosophy by superstition and an admixture of theology is far more widely spread, and does the greatest harm, whether to entire systems or to their parts. For the human understanding is obnoxious to the influence of the imagination no less than to the influence of common notions.

For the contentious and sophistical kind of philosophy ensnares the understanding; but this kind, being fanciful and tumid and half poetical, misleads it more by flattery. For there is in man an ambition of the understanding, no less than of the will, especially in high and lofty spirits. Of this kind we have among the Greeks a striking example in Pythagoras, though he united with it a coarser and more cumbrous superstition; another in Plato and his school, more dangerous and subtle.

It shows itself likewise in parts of other philosophies, in the introduction of abstract forms and final causes and first causes, with the omission in most cases of causes intermediate, and the like. Upon this point the greatest caution should be used. For nothing is so mischievous as the apotheosis of error; and it is a very plague of the understanding for vanity to become the object of veneration. Yet in this vanity some of the moderns have with extreme levity indulged so far as to attempt to found a system of natural philosophy on the first chapter of Genesis, on the book of Job, and other parts of the sacred writings, seeking for the dead among the living; which also makes the inhibition and repression of it the more important, because from this unwholesome mixture of things human and divine there arises not only a fantastic philosophy but also a heretical religion.

Very meet it is therefore that we be sober-minded, and give to faith that only which is faith's.

So much, then, for the mischievous authorities of systems, which are founded either on common notions, or on a few experiments, or on superstition. It remains to speak of the faulty subject matter of contemplations, especially in natural philosophy.

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Now the human understanding is infected by the sight of what takes place in the mechanical arts, in which the alteration of bodies proceeds chiefly by composition or separation, and so imagines that something similar goes on in the universal nature of things. From this source has flowed the fiction of elements, and of their concourse for the formation of natural bodies.

Again, when man contemplates nature working freely, he meets with different species of things, of animals, of plants, of minerals; whence he readily passes into the opinion that there are in nature certain primary forms which nature intends to educe, and that the remaining variety proceeds from hindrances and aberrations of nature in the fulfillment of her work, or from the collision of different species and the transplanting of one into another.

To the first of these speculations we owe our primary qualities of the elements; to the other our occult properties and specific virtues; and both of them belong to those empty compendia of thought wherein the mind rests, and whereby it is diverted from more solid pursuits. It is to better purpose that the physicians bestow their labor on the secondary qualities of matter, and the operations of attraction, repulsion, attenuation, conspissation, 1 dilatation, astriction, dissipation, maturation, and the like; and were it not that by those two compendia which I have mentioned elementary qualities, to wit, and specific virtues they corrupted their correct observations in these other matters — either reducing them to first qualities and their subtle and incommensurable mixtures, or not following them out with greater and more diligent observations to third and fourth qualities, but breaking off the scrutiny prematurely — they would have made much greater progress.

Nor are powers of this kind I do not say the same, but similar to be sought for only in the medicines of the human body, but also in the changes of all other bodies. But it is a far greater evil that they make the quiescent principles, wherefrom , and not the moving principles, whereby , things are produced, the object of their contemplation and inquiry.

For the former tend to discourse, the latter to works. Nor is there any value in those vulgar distinctions of motion which are observed in the received system of natural philosophy, as generation, corruption, augmentation, diminution, alteration, and local motion. What they mean no doubt is this: if a body in other respects not changed be moved from its place, this is local motion ; if without change of place or essence, it be changed in quality, this is alteration ; if by reason of the change the mass and quantity of the body do not remain the same, this is augmentation or diminution ; if they be changed to such a degree that they change their very essence and substance and turn to something else, this is generation and corruption.

But all this is merely popular, and does not at all go deep into nature; for these are only measures and limits, not kinds of motion. What they intimate is how far , not by what means , or from what source. For they do not suggest anything with regard either to the desires of bodies or to the development of their parts. It is only when that motion presents the thing grossly and palpably to the sense as different from what it was that they begin to mark the division. Even when they wish to suggest something with regard to the causes of motion, and to establish a division with reference to them, they introduce with the greatest negligence a distinction between motion natural and violent, a distinction which is itself drawn entirely from a vulgar notion, since all violent motion is also in fact natural; the external efficient simply setting nature working otherwise than it was before.

But if, leaving all this, anyone shall observe for instance that there is in bodies a desire of mutual contact, so as not to suffer the unity of nature to be quite separated or broken and a vacuum thus made; or if anyone say that there is in bodies a desire of resuming their natural dimensions or tension, so that if compressed within or extended beyond them, they immediately strive to recover themselves, and fall back to their old volume and extent; or if anyone say that there is in bodies a desire of congregating toward masses of kindred nature — of dense bodies, for instance, toward the globe of the earth, of thin and rare bodies toward the compass of the sky; all these and the like are truly physical kinds of motion — but those others are entirely logical and scholastic, as is abundantly manifest from this comparison.

Nor again is it a lesser evil that in their philosophies and contemplations their labor is spent in investigating and handling the first principles of things and the highest generalities of nature; whereas utility and the means of working result entirely from things intermediate. Hence it is that men cease not from abstracting nature till they come to potential and uninformed matter, nor on the other hand from dissecting nature till they reach the atom; things which, even if true, can do but little for the welfare of mankind.

A caution must also be given to the understanding against the intemperance which systems of philosophy manifest in giving or withholding assent, because intemperance of this kind seems to establish idols and in some sort to perpetuate them, leaving no way open to reach and dislodge them. This excess is of two kinds: the first being manifest in those who are ready in deciding, and render sciences dogmatic and magisterial; the other in those who deny that we can know anything, and so introduce a wandering kind of inquiry that leads to nothing; of which kinds the former subdues, the latter weakens the understanding.

For the philosophy of Aristotle, after having by hostile confutations destroyed all the rest as the Ottomans serve their brothers , has laid down the law on all points; which done, he proceeds himself to raise new questions of his own suggestion, and dispose of them likewise, so that nothing may remain that is not certain and decided; a practice which holds and is in use among his successors.

The school of Plato, on the other hand, introduced Acatalepsia , at first in jest and irony, and in disdain of the older sophists, Protagoras, Hippias, and the rest, who were of nothing else so much ashamed as of seeming to doubt about anything. But the New Academy made a dogma of it, and held it as a tenet.

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And though theirs is a fairer seeming way than arbitrary decisions, since they say that they by no means destroy all investigation, like Pyrrho and his Refrainers, but allow of some things to be followed as probable, though of none to be maintained as true; yet still when the human mind has once despaired of finding truth, its interest in all things grows fainter, and the result is that men turn aside to pleasant disputations and discourses and roam as it were from object to object, rather than keep on a course of severe inquisition. But, as I said at the beginning and am ever urging, the human senses and understanding, weak as they are, are not to be deprived of their authority, but to be supplied with helps.

So much concerning the several classes of Idols and their equipage; all of which must be renounced and put away with a fixed and solemn determination, and the understanding thoroughly freed and cleansed; the entrance into the kingdom of man, founded on the sciences, being not much other than the entrance into the kingdom of heaven, whereinto none may enter except as a little child. But vicious demonstrations are as the strongholds and defenses of idols; and those we have in logic do little else than make the world the bondslave of human thought, and human thought the bondslave of words.

Demonstrations truly are in effect the philosophies themselves and the sciences. For such as they are, well or ill established, such are the systems of philosophy and the contemplations which follow. Now in the whole of the process which leads from the sense and objects to axioms and conclusions, the demonstrations which we use are deceptive and incompetent. This process consists of four parts, and has as many faults. In the first place, the impressions of the sense itself are faulty; for the sense both fails us and deceives us.

But its shortcomings are to be supplied, and its deceptions to be corrected. Secondly, notions are ill-drawn from the impressions of the senses, and are indefinite and confused, whereas they should be definite and distinctly bounded. Thirdly, the induction is amiss which infers the principles of sciences by simple enumeration, and does not, as it ought, employ exclusions and solutions or separations of nature.


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Lastly, that method of discovery and proof according to which the most general principles are first established, and then intermediate axioms are tried and proved by them, is the parent of error and the curse of all science. Of these things, however, which now I do but touch upon, I will speak more largely when, having performed these expiations and purgings of the mind, I come to set forth the true way for the interpretation of nature.


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But the best demonstration by far is experience, if it go not beyond the actual experiment. For if it be transferred to other cases which are deemed similar, unless such transfer be made by a just and orderly process, it is a fallacious thing. But the manner of making experiments which men now use is blind and stupid. And therefore, wandering and straying as they do with no settled course, and taking counsel only from things as they fall out, they fetch a wide circuit and meet with many matters, but make little progress; and sometimes are full of hope, sometimes are distracted; and always find that there is something beyond to be sought.

For it generally happens that men make their trials carelessly, and as it were in play; slightly varying experiments already known, and, if the thing does not answer, growing weary and abandoning the attempt. And even if they apply themselves to experiments more seriously and earnestly and laboriously, still they spend their labor in working out some one experiment, as Gilbert with the magnet, and the chemists with gold; a course of proceeding not less unskillful in the design than small in the attempt.

For no one successfully investigates the nature of a thing in the thing itself; the inquiry must be enlarged so as to become more general. And even when they seek to educe some science or theory from their experiments, they nevertheless almost always turn aside with overhasty and unseasonable eagerness to practice; not only for the sake of the uses and fruits of the practice, but from impatience to obtain in the shape of some new work an assurance for themselves that it is worth their while to go on; and also to show themselves off to the world, and so raise the credit of the business in which they are engaged.

Thus, like Atalanta, they go aside to pick up the golden apple, but meanwhile they interrupt their course, and let the victory escape them. But in the true course of experience, and in carrying it on to the effecting of new works, the divine wisdom and order must be our pattern. Now God on the first day of creation created light only, giving to that work an entire day, in which no material substance was created.

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So must we likewise from experience of every kind first endeavor to discover true causes and axioms; and seek for experiments of Light, not for experiments of Fruit. For axioms rightly discovered and established supply practice with its instruments, not one by one, but in clusters, and draw after them trains and troops of works. Of the paths, however, of experience, which no less than the paths of judgment are impeded and beset, I will speak hereafter; here I have only mentioned ordinary experimental research as a bad kind of demonstration.

But now the order of the matter in hand leads me to add something both as to those signs which I lately mentioned signs that the systems of philosophy and contemplation in use are in a bad condition , and also as to the causes of what seems at first so strange and incredible. For a knowledge of the signs prepares assent; an explanation of the causes removes the marvel — which two things will do much to render the extirpation of idols from the understanding more easy and gentle. The sciences which we possess come for the most part from the Greeks. For what has been added by Roman, Arabic, or later writers is not much nor of much importance; and whatever it is, it is built on the foundation of Greek discoveries.

Now the wisdom of the Greeks was professorial and much given to disputations, a kind of wisdom most adverse to the inquisition of truth. Thus that name of Sophists, which by those who would be thought philosophers was in contempt cast back upon and so transferred to the ancient rhetoricians, Gorgias, Protagoras, Hippias, Polus, does indeed suit the entire class: Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus, Theophrastus, and their successors Chrysippus, Carneades, and the rest.

There was this difference only, that the former class was wandering and mercenary, going about from town to town, putting up their wisdom to sale, and taking a price for it, while the latter was more pompous and dignified, as composed of men who had fixed abodes, and who opened schools and taught their philosophy without reward.

The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought
The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought
The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought
The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought
The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought
The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought
The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought
The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought
The Intelligent Mind: On the Genesis and Constitution of Discursive Thought

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