Sec 1: Skepticism

SEC. 1: SkEPTICISM WITH REGARD TO REASON

  • In all demonstrative sciences, the rules are certain and infallible.
    • But when we apply them, our fallible, uncertain faculties:
      • depart from them
      • fall into error.
  • In every reasoning, we must:
    • form a new judgment as a check or control on our first judgment or belief
    • enlarge our view to comprehend a kind of history of all the instances wherein our understanding has deceived us, compared with those, wherein its testimony was just and true.
  • Our reason is a kind of cause, of which truth is the natural effect.
    • But the truth is frequently prevented by:
      • the bursting in of other causes
      • the inconstancy of our mental powers.
    • Through this, all knowledge degenerates into probability.
      • This probability is greater or less, according to:
        • our experience of the veracity or deceitfulness of our understanding
        • the simplicity or intricacy of the question.
  • No mathematician will:
    • place an entire confidence in any truth immediately on its discovery, or
    • regard any truth as anything but a probability.
  • His confidence increases:
    • everytime he runs over his proofs.
    • more by his friends’ approbation
    • to perfection by the universal assent and applauses of the learned world.
  • This gradual increase of assurance is:
    • nothing but the addition of new probabilities
    • derived from the constant union of causes and effects, according to past experience and observation.
  • In accounts of any length or importance.
    • Merchants seldom trust the infallible certainty of numbers for their security.
    • They produce a probability beyond what is derived from the accountant’s skill and experience, through the artificial structure of the accounts.
  • The accounts, of itself, is some degree of uncertain and variable probability.
    • The probability depends on:
      • the accountant’s experience
      • length of the account.
  • Our assurance in a long numeration does not exceed probability.
    • There scarce is any numerical proposition which we can have a fuller security of.
    • The simplest equation is the addition of two single numbers.
      • We can easily reduce the longest series of addition to this simple equation by gradually reducing the numbers.
    • Thus, it is impractical to:
      • show the precise limits of knowledge and probability, or
      • discover that number at which one ends and the other begins.
  • But the nature of knowledge and probability are so contrary and disagreeing.
    • They cannot well run insensibly into each other.
    • They must be entirely present or entirely absent because they will not divide.
  • If any single addition were certain, every one would be certain.
    • Consequently, the total sum would be certain, unless the whole can be different from all its parts.
    • I had almost said, that this was certain.
      • But I reflect that it must:
        • reduce itself and every other reasoning
        • degenerate into probability, from knowledge.
  • All knowledge:
    • resolves itself into probability
    • finally becomes of the same nature with that evidence we employ in common life.
  • We must now examine probability and its foundation.
  • In our judgment on probability and knowledge, we should always correct the first judgment derived from the object’s nature with another judgment derived from the nature of the understanding.
  • A man of solid sense and long experience should have a greater assurance in his opinions than a foolish and ignorant man.
    • Our sentiments have different degrees of authority, even with ourselves, proportional to our reason and experience.
  • This authority is never entire in a man of the best sense and longest experience.
    • Since even he must:
      • be conscious of many errors in the past
      • still dread errors in the future.
  • Here then arises a new species of probability to:
    • correct and regulate the first
    • fix its just standard and proportion.
  • Demonstration is subject to the control of probability.
    • Probability is liable to a new correction by the mind’s reflex act.
    • In this reflex, the nature of our understanding and our reasoning from the first probability become our objects.
  • Every probability has the original uncertainty inherent in the subject.
    • We have also found in a new uncertainty derived from the weakness of the understanding.
    • The understanding adjusts the original and new uncertainty together.
    • Our reason obliges us to add a new doubt from the possibility of error in our estimation of the truth of our faculties.
      • This doubt immediately occurs to us.
      • We cannot avoid giving a decision on this doubt if we closely pursue our reason.
  • This decision might be favourable to our preceding judgment.
    • But since it is founded only on probability, it must:
      • further weaken our first evidence
      • itself be weakened by a fourth doubt of the same kind, and so on to infinity.
    • Until finally, nothing remains of the original probability, no matter how:
      • great it may have been
      • small the reduction by every new uncertainty.
  • No finite object can subsist under a decrease repeated to infinity.
    • Even the vastest quantity in the human imagination must be reduced to nothing in this way.
  • Let our first belief be never so strong.
    • It must infallibly perish by passing through so many new examinations.
      • Each examination reduces its force and vigour.
  • When I reflect on my judgment’s natural fallibility, I have less confidence in my opinions, than when I only consider the objects I reason on.
    • When I proceed further and turn the scrutiny against every successive estimation I make of my faculties, all the rules of logic require:
      • a continual reduction
      • finally a total extinction of belief and evidence.
  • The following question is entirely superfluous:
    • I take such pains to inculcate this argument.
      • Do I sincerely assent to it?
    • Am I really one of those skeptics who hold that:
      • all is uncertain
      • our judgment does not have any measures of truth and falsehood?
    • No one was ever sincerely and constantly of that opinion.
  • By an absolute and uncontrollable necessity, Nature has determined us to judge, breathe, and feel.
  • We cannot refrain more from viewing certain objects in a stronger and fuller light from their customary connection with a present impression, than we can hinder ourselves from:
    • thinking while we are awake, or
    • seeing the surrounding bodies, when we look at them.
  • Whoever takes pains to refute the petty objections of this total skepticism, really:
    • disputes without an antagonist
    • tries to establish a faculty which nature has antecedently:
      • implanted in the mind
      • rendered unavoidable.
  • My hypothesis is that:
    • all our reasonings on causes and effects are derived from nothing but custom.
    • belief is more properly an act of the sensitive, than of the meditative part of our natures.
  • My intention in carefully displaying the arguments of that fantastic sect, is only to make the reader sensible of the truth of this hypothesis.
  • I have proved the very same principles which:
    • make us form a decision on any subject
    • correct that decision by the consideration of:
      • our genius and capacity
      • the situation of our mind when we examined that subject.
  • When these principles are carried farther and applied to every new reflex judgment, they must:
    • finally reduce it to nothing, by continually reducing the original evidence
    • utterly subvert all belief and opinion
  • Belief must infallibly destroy itself if it were a simple act of the thought, without:
    • any peculiar manner of conception, or
    • the addition of a force and vivacity
  • In every case, belief must terminate in a total suspense of judgment.
  • Anyone who tries to find an error in the foregoing arguments, will not find any.
    • Yet he still continues to believe, think, and reason as usual.
    • He may safely conclude that his reasoning and belief is some sensation or peculiar manner of conception.
      • It is impossible for mere ideas and reflections to destroy this sensation or conception.
  • But how do these above arguments not produce a total suspense of judgment?
    • How does the mind retain a degree of assurance in any subject?
  • These new probabilities:
    • are founded on the same principles, of thought or sensation, as the primary judgment.
    • perpetually reduce the original evidence through repetition.
  • In either case, these new probabilities must:
    • equally subvert the primary judgement
    • reduce the mind to a total uncertainty, by the opposition of contrary thoughts or sensations.
  • Suppose a question is proposed to me.
    • I feel a stronger and more forcible conception on the one side, than on the other side, after:
      • revolving over the impressions of my memory and senses
      • carrying my thoughts from them to the objects commonly conjoined with them.
    • This strong conception forms my first answer.
  • Suppose afterwards, I examine my judgment itself.
    • I observe that it is sometimes just and sometimes erroneous.
    • I consider it as regulated by contrary principles or causes.
      • Some principles lead to truth, some to error.
      • In balancing these contrary causes, I reduce the assurance of my first decision by a new probability.
  • This new probability is liable to the same reduction as the foregoing, and so on to infinity.
    • Therefore, how can we retain a degree of belief in philosophy or common life, even after all this?
  • I answer that after the first and second decision:
    • the mind’s action becomes forced and unnatural.
    • the ideas become faint and obscure
      • Though the principles of judgment and the balancing of opposite causes is the same as at the very beginning.
      • Yet they do not have an equal:
        • influence on the imagination
        • vigour add or removed from the thought.
  • Where the mind reaches not its objects with easiness and facility, the same principles do not have same effect as in a more natural conception of the ideas.
  • The imagination does not feel a sensation proportional with the sensation arising from its common judgments and opinions.
    • The attention is on the stretch.
    • The posture of the mind is uneasy.
    • The spirits are diverted from their natural course.
      • They are not governed in their movements by the same laws as when they flow in their usual channel.
  • It will not be very difficult to find similar instances if we want them.
    • Metaphysics will supply us abundantly.
  • The same argument which is convincing in a reasoning on history or politics, has little or no influence in these more abstruse subjects.
    • Even though it be perfectly comprehended.
    • A study and an effort of thought is needed for it to be comprehended.
    • This effort of thought disturbs the operation of our sentiments which the belief depends on.
  • The case is the same in other subjects.
    • The straining of the imagination always hinders the regular flowing of the passions and sentiments.
  • A tragic poet who represents his heroes as very ingenious and witty in their misfortunes, would never touch the passions.
    • The soul’s emotions prevent any subtle reasoning and reflection.
    • So reasoning and reflection are equally prejudicial to the emotions.
  • The mind and the body is endowed with a precise degree of force and activity, which it employs in one action at the expense of all the rest.
    • This is more obviously true in actions that have different natures
      • Since in that case the mind’s force is diverted and the mind’s disposition is changed.
      • It renders us incapable of:
        • a sudden transition from one action to the other
        • performing both actions at once.
  • No wonder then, that the conviction arising from a subtle reasoning reduces in proportion to the imagination’s efforts to:
    • enter into the reasoning
    • conceive it in all its parts.
  • Belief is a lively conception.
    • It can never be entire where it is not founded on something natural and easy.
  • This I take to be the true state of the question, and cannot approve of that expeditious way, which some take with the skeptics, to reject at once all their arguments without inquiry or examination.
  • They say that if the skeptical reasonings are:
    • strong, it is a proof that reason may have some force and authority.
    • weak, reason can never be sufficient to invalidate all the conclusions of our understanding.
  • This argument is not just.
    • Because if the skeptical reasonings existed and not destroyed by their subtility, they would be successively strong and weak, according to the mind’s successive dispositions.
  • Reason first appears in possession of the throne, prescribing laws, and imposing maxims, with an absolute sway and authority.
  • Her enemy is obliged to take shelter under her protection,
  • and by making use of rational arguments to prove the fallaciousness and imbecility of reason, produces a patent under her band and seal.
  • This patent initially has an authority proportional to the present and immediate authority of reason, from which it is derived.
  • But as it is contradictory to reason, it gradually reduces the force of reason and its own at the same time.
  • Until finally they both vanish into nothing, by a regular and just reduction.
  • The skeptical and dogmatical reasons are of the same kind.
    • But they are contrary in their operation and tendency.
    • Where the skepticism is strong, it has an enemy of equal force in dogma.
    • Their forces were at first equal.
    • They still continue to be equal as long as either of them subsists.
    • None of them loses any force in the contest, without taking as much from its antagonist.
  • It is happy that nature:
    • breaks the force of all skeptical arguments in time
    • keeps skeptical arguments from having any considerable influence on the understanding.
  • Skeptical arguments never self-destruct.
    • If nature did not break them, they would have:
      • subverted all conviction
      • totally destroyed human reason.

Words: 2195

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