Sec. 7: Conclusion

Section 7: Conclusion of Book 1

  • I ponder my philosophical voyage.
  • It requires the utmost art and industry to be concluded happily.
    • I am like a man who:
      • has struck on many shoals,
      • has narrowly escaped shipwreck in passing a small frith,
      • has the audacity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel,
      • is ambitious enough to think of circling the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances.
  • My memory of past errors and perplexities makes me diffident for the future.
    • I must employ the wretched condition, weakness, and disorder of the faculties in my inquiries.
      • It increases my apprehensions.
  • The impossibility of amending or correcting these faculties, reduces me almost to despair.
    • It makes me resolve to perish on the barren rock where I am at present, rather than venture on that boundless ocean.
    • This sudden view of my danger strikes me with melancholy.
      • Melancholy usually indulges itself.
      • I cannot forbear feeding my despair with all those desponding reflections, which the present subject abundantly gives me.
  • I am first frightened and confounded with that forlorn solitude which my philosophy places me in.
    • I fancy myself as some strange uncouth monster:
      • unable to mingle and unite in society
      • expelled by all human commerce
      • left abandoned and disconsolate.
  • I would gladly run into the crowd for shelter and warmth.
    • But I cannot do so with such a deformity.
  • I call on others to join me to make a separate company.
    • But no one will listen to me.
    • Everyone keeps at a distance and dreads that storm, which beats on me from every side.
  • I have exposed myself to the enmity of all metaphysicians, logicians, mathematicians, and even theologians.
    • Can I wonder at the insults I must suffer?
    • I have declared my disapprobation of their systems.
      • Can I be surprised, if they would hate me and my system?
    • I see dispute, contradiction, anger, calumny and detraction on every side.
    • When I look inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance.
  • All the world conspires to oppose and contradict me.
    • Such is my weakness, that I feel all my opinions loosen and fall of themselves, when unsupported by the approbation of others.
  • I take every step with hesitation.
    • Every new reflection makes me dread an error and absurdity in my reasoning.
  • How confident can I be on such bold enterprises, when there are so many infirmities in me and in human nature?
    • Can I be sure that I am following truth?
    • By what criterion shall I distinguish her, even if fortune should at last guide me on her footsteps?
  • After the most accurate and exact of my reasonings, I can give no reason why I should assent to it.
    • I feel only a strong propensity to consider objects strongly in my view.
  • Experience is a principle which instructs me in the several conjunctions of objects for the past.
  • Habit is another principle, which determines me to expect the same for the future.
    • Both of them conspire to operate on the imagination.
    • They make me form certain ideas in a more intense and lively manner, than others which do not have the same advantages.
      • This quality lets the mind enliven some ideas beyond other ideas.
        • Those other ideas:
          • seem so trivial, and
          • are not so founded on reason
      • Without this quality, we could never:
        • assent to any argument
        • carry our view beyond those few objects:
          • present to our senses, and
          • which could only exist because of the senses
  • We must comprehend such objects entirely in that succession of perceptions constituting our self.
    • We could only admit of those perceptions immediately present to our consciousness.
    • Those lively images presented by our memory could never be received as true pictures of past perceptions.
  • Therefore, the memory, senses, and understanding are all founded on the imagination, or the vivacity of our ideas.
  • When implicitly followed (as it must be) in all its variations, this principle is so inconstant and fallacious that is should lead us into errors.
    • This principle makes us reason from causes and effects.
    • It is the same principle which convinces us of the continued existence of external objects, when absent from the senses.
  • These two operations are equally natural and necessary in the human mind, yet in some circumstances they are [Sect. 4.] directly contrary.
    • It is impossible for us to:
      • reason justly and regularly from causes and effects.
      • believe the continued existence of matter at the same time.
  • How shall we adjust those principles together?
    • Which of them shall we prefer?
  • Philosophers usually prefer none of them and assent to both.
    • If we do that, how confident are we in usurping that glorious title, when we knowingly embrace a manifest contradiction?
  • This contradiction (Part 3, Sect 14) would be more excusable, were it compensated by any degree of solidity and satisfaction in the other parts of our reasoning.
    • But the case is quite contrary.
  • When we trace up the human understanding to its first principles, we find it to lead us into such sentiments which:
    • ridicule all our past pains and industry
    • discourage us from future enquiries.
  • The causes of every phenomenon is most curiously enquired after by the human mind.
    • We are not content with knowing the immediate causes.
    • We push on our enquiries, until we arrive at the original and ultimate principle.
    • We would not stop before we know that energy in the cause.
      • This energy operates on its effect.
      • It connects cause and effect and is dependent on their connection.
  • This is our aim in all our studies and reflections:
  • How must we be disappointed, when we learn that this connection, tie, or energy:
    • lies merely in ourselves.
    • is just the mind’s determination which is acquired by custom?
      • It causes us to transition:
        • from an object to its usual attendant, and
        • from the impression of one to the lively idea of the other
    • Such a discovery:
      • cuts off hope of ever being satisfied
      • prevents our very wishes
    • When we say we want to know the ultimate and operating principle as something residing in the external object, we contradict ourselves or talk without a meaning.

 

  • This deficiency in our ideas is not perceived in common life.
    • We do not see that we are as ignorant of the ultimate principle which binds cause and effect together.
    • This proceeds merely from an illusion of the imagination.
  • The question is: how far we should yield to these illusions?
    • This question is very difficult.
    • It reduces us to a very dangerous dilemma, no matter how we answer it.
  • If we assent to every trivial suggestion of the fancy, they would lead us into errors, absurdities, and obscurities.
    • We must at last become ashamed of our credulity.
  • The flights of the imagination are most dangerous to reason.
    • This has been the biggest cause of the mistakes among philosophers.
    • Men of bright fancies may be compared to those angels covering their eyes with their wings.
      • We will not dwell on this because it has happened so often.
  • On the other hand, it would be dangerous and fatal if we steadily reject all the trivial suggestions of the fancy.
    • I have already shown (Sec. 1) that the understanding entirely subverts itself, when it acts alone to its most general principles.
      • It does not leave any evidence in any proposition in philosophy or common life.
  • We only save ourselves from this total skepticism through that singular and seemingly trivial property of the fancy.
    • This property lets us enter with difficulty into the remote views of things.
      • We are not able to accompany them with so sensible an impression, as we do those, which are more easy and natural.
  • Shall we then establish as a general maxim, that no refined or elaborate reasoning is ever to be received?
    • By this, you cut off entirely all science and philosophy.
    • You:
      • proceed on one singular quality of the imagination
      • must embrace all of them by a parity of reason.
  • You expressly contradict yourself, since this maxim must be built on the preceding reasoning which is sufficiently refined and metaphysical.
    • What party then, shall we choose among these difficulties?
  • If we embrace this principle and condemn all refined reasoning, we run into the most manifest absurdities.
    • If we reject it in favour of these reasonings, we subvert entirely the human understanding.
    • We therefore have no choice between a false reason and none at all.
  • I do not know what should be done in this case.
    • This difficulty is seldom or never thought of.
      • It is quickly forgotten even when it has been thought of.
      • It leaves but a small impression behind it.
  • Very refined reflections have little or no influence on us.
    • Yet we cannot establish it as a rule that they should not have any influence.
      • This would imply a manifest contradiction.
  • But what have I here said, that very refined and metaphysical reflections have little or no influence on us?
    • I cannot forbear:
      • retracting this opinion
      • condemning it from my present feeling and experience.
    • The intense view of these contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so heated my brain.
      • I am ready to:
        • reject all belief and reasoning
        • look on no opinion even as more probable or likely than another.
  • Where am I, or what am I?
    • From what causes do I derive my existence?
    • To what condition shall I return?
    • Whose favour shall I court?
    • Whose anger must I dread?
    • What beings surround me?
    • Whom have, I any influence, or who have any influence on me?
  • I am confounded with all these questions.
  • I begin to fancy myself:
    • in the most deplorable condition imaginable
    • surrounded with the deepest darkness
    • utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.
  • Fortunately, since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose.
    • It cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium by:
      • relaxing this bent of mind, or
      • some avocation and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras.
  • I dine, I play backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends.
    • When after three or four hours’ amusement, I return to these speculations, they appear so cold, strained, and ridiculous.
      • I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.
  • I find myself absolutely and necessarily determined to live, talk, and act like other people.
    • However, I still feel perplexed because of:
      • my natural propensity
      • my animal spirits and passions.
    • These reduce me to this indolent belief in the general maxims of the world.
      • I am ready to:
        • throw all my books and papers into the fire
        • resolve never to renounce the pleasures of life for the sake of reasoning and philosophy.
  • That is how I feel now.
    • I must yield to the current of nature, in submitting to my senses and understanding.
    • In this blind submission, I show most perfectly my sceptical disposition and principles.
  • Does it follow that I must:
    • strive against the current of nature?
      • It would lead me to indolence and pleasure
    • seclude myself from the commerce and society of men>
      • These are so agreeable
    • torture my brains with subtilities and sophistries, when:
      • I cannot be happy on the reasonableness of so painful an application
      • I cannot arrive at the truth from them?
  • Why do I have to waste my time?
    • How can it help me or mankind?
  • All those who reason or believe anything certainly are fools
    • If I must be a fool, at least my follies shall be natural and agreeable.
    • Where I strive against my inclination, I shall have a good reason for my resistance.
    • I will no longer wander into these dreary solitudes and rough passages.
  • This is how I feel.
    • I confess that philosophy cannot oppose them.
    • Philosophy expects a victory more from the returns of a serious good-humoured disposition, than from the force of reason and conviction.
    • We should always preserve our skepticism.
  • We believe that fire warms or water refreshes because it costs us too much pains to think otherwise.
    • Philosophers should only operate on skeptical principles and only because they are inclined to do so.
    • Where reason is lively and mixes itself with some propensity, it should be assented to.
      • Where it does not, it can never operate on us.
  • When I am tired with amusement and company, and have returned to my room or to a solitary walk by a riverside, I feel my mind all collected within itself.
    • I am naturally inclined to think of all those subjects which I have had disputes in my reading and conversation.
  • I am not curious about:
    • the principles of moral good and evil
    • the nature and foundation of government
    • the cause of those several passions and inclinations, which actuate and govern me.
  • I am uneasy to think that I:
    • approve of one object and disapprove of another
    • call one thing beautiful and another deformed
    • decide on truth and falsehood, reason and folly, without knowing on what principles I proceed.
  • I am concerned for the condition of the learned world.
    • It is ignorant of all these particulars.
    • I feel an ambition to:
      • teach mankind, and
      • making a name by my inventions and discoveries.
    • Should I try to banish this feeling by doing something else, I feel that I would lose out on pleasure.
      • This is the origin of my philosophy.
  • If this curiosity and ambition does not make me speculate outside of common life, my inquiries would come from my very weakness.
    • Superstition is much bolder in its systems and hypotheses than philosophy.
    • Philosophy contents itself with assigning new causes and principles to the phenomena in the visible world.
    • But superstition opens a world of its own.
      • It presents us with new scenes, beings, and objects.
  • Like the minds of animals, it is almost impossible for man’s mind to rest in that narrow circle of objects which are the subject of daily conversation and action.
    • Therefore, we should:
      • only deliberate on the choice of our guide
      • prefer the guide which is safest and most agreeable.
  • I boldly recommend philosophy.
    • I prefer philosophy to all kinds of superstition.
  • Superstition arises naturally and easily from mankind’s popular opinions.
    • It seizes more strongly on the mind.
    • It is often able to disturb us in our lives and actions.
  • On the contrary, if philosophy is just, it can present us only with mild and moderate sentiments.
    • If false and extravagant, its opinions are merely the objects of a cold and general speculation.
      • They seldom go so far as to interrupt the course of our natural propensities.
  • The cynics are an extraordinary instance of philosophers.
    • From purely philosophical reasonings, they run into great extravagancies of conduct as any monk.
  • Generally, the errors in religion are dangerous.
    • Errors in philosophy are only ridiculous.
  • These two cases of the strength and weakness of the mind will not comprehend all mankind.
    • There are many honest gentlemen in England who have carried their thoughts little beyond those everyday objects.
    • I pretend not to make them philosophers.
    • I do not expect them to be:
      • associates in these researches, or
      • auditors of these discoveries.
    • They do well to keep themselves in their present situation.
  • Instead of refining them into philosophers, I wish we could communicate to our founders of systems, a share of this gross earthy mixture.
    • This mixture is an ingredient they need to temper those fiery particles they are composed of.
  • A warm imagination can enter into philosophy.
    • Hypotheses can be embraced merely for being specious and agreeable.
  • But we can never have any steady principles nor sentiments which will suit common practice and experience.
    • If these hypotheses are removed, we might hope to establish a system or set of opinions might:
      • at least be satisfactory to the human mind
      • stand the test of the most critical examination.
  • We should not despair of reaching this goal.
    • Many chimerical systems have arisen and decayed away.
    • This leads us to consider the shortness of that time when these questions have been the subjects of inquiry and reasoning.
    • 2,000 years, with such long interruptions and under such mighty discouragements, is a short span of time to give any tolerable perfection to the sciences.
    • Perhaps we are still in too early an age to discover any principles which will bear the examination of the latest posterity.
  • My only hope is that I may contribute a little to the advancement of knowledge, by:
    • giving a different turn to the speculations of philosophers, and
    • pointing out to them more distinctly those subjects, where alone they can expect assurance and conviction.
  • Human Nature is the only science of man.
    • Yet has been the most neglected.
  • It will be sufficient for me, if I can bring it a little more into fashion.
    • This hope:
      • composes my temper from that spleen, and
      • invigorates it from that indolence, which sometimes prevails in me.
  • If the reader has the same easy disposition, let him follow me in my future speculations.
    • If not, let him:
      • follow his inclination, and
      • wait the returns of application and good humour.
  • A man who studies philosophy in this careless way is more truly skeptical than the man who feels an inclination to it, but is so overwhelmed with doubts and scruples, as totally to reject it.
    • A true skeptic will be diffident of his philosophical doubts and conviction.
    • He will never refuse any innocent satisfaction which offers itself, on account of either of them.
  • We should:
    • indulge our inclination in the most elaborate philosophical researches, despite our sceptical principles, and
    • yield to that propensity which inclines us to be positive and certain in particular points, according to how we survey them in any particular instant.
  • It is easier to:
    • forbear all examination and enquiry than to check ourselves in so natural a propensity, and
    • guard against that assurance, which always arises from an exact and full survey of an object.
  • On such times, we often forget our scepticism and modesty.
    • We use terms such as:
      • ‘it is evident’
      • ‘it is certain’
      • ‘it is undeniable’.
    • A due deference to the public should perhaps prevent these.
  • I may have made this mistake after the example of others.
    • But I warn here against objections:
      • My expressions come from my present views.
      • They imply:
        • no dogmatical spirit,
        • no conceited idea of my own judgment.
          • These are my skeptical feelings alone

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