Page images
PDF
EPUB

.

without ideas , lest it lead young persons into a most upbappy babit of talking without a meaning, and boldly determine upon things that are hardly within the reach of human capacity.

Let not obvious and known truths, or some of the most plain and certain propositions be bandied about in a disputation, for a mere trial of skill: for he that opposes them in this manner, will be in danger of contracting a habit of opposing all evidence, will acquire a spirit of contradiction, and pride bimself in a power of resisting the brightest light, and fighting against the strongest proofs : this will insensibly injure the mind, and tends greatly to an universal scepticism. Upon the whole, therefore, the most proper subjects of dispute seem to be those questions, which are not of the very highest importance and certainty, nor of the meanest and trifling kind : but rather the intermediate questions between these twv; and there is a large sufficiency of them in the sciences. But this I put as a mere proposal, to be determin. ed by the more learned and prudent.

4. It would be well if every dispute could be so ordered, as to be a means of searching out iruth, and not to gain a triumph. Then each disputant might come to the work without bias and prejudice, with a desire of truth, and not with ambition of glory and victory. Nor should the aim and design of the respondent be to avoid artfully and escape the difficulties which the opponent offers, but to discuss them thoroughly, and solve them fairly if they are capable of being solved. Again, let the opponent be solicitous not to darken and confound the responses that are given him by fresh subtleties ; but let him bethink himself whether they are not a just answer to the objection, and be honestly ready to perceive and accept thein, and yield to them.

5. For this end, let both the respondent and opponent use the clearest and most distinct and expressive language in which they can clothe their thoughts. Let them seck and practise brevity and perspicuity on both sides, without long declamations, tedious circumlocutions, and rhetorical flourishes. If there happen to be any doubt or obscurity on either side, let neither the one nor the other ever refuse to give a fair explication of the words they use.

6. They should not indulge ridicule, either of persons or things in their disputations. They should abstain from all banter and jest, laughter and merriment. These are things that break in upon that philosophical gravity, sedateness and serenity of temper which ought to be observed in every search after truth. However, an argument on some subjects may be sometimes clothed with a little pleasantry, yet a jest or witticism should never be used instead of an argument, nor should it ever be suffered to pass for a real and solid proof. But especially if the subject be sacred or divine, and having nothing in it comical or

ridiculous, all ludicrous turns and jocose or comical airs should be entirely excluded, lest young minds become tinctured with a silly and profane sort of ridicule, and learn to jest and trifle with the awful solemnities of religion.

7. Nor should sarcasm and reproach, or insolent language azer be used among fair disputanis. Turn not off from things to speak of persons. Leave all noisy contests, all jpmodest clamours, brawling language, and especially all personal scandal and scurrility to the meanest part of the vulgar world. Let your manner be all candor and gentleness, patient and ready to hear, humbly zealous to inform and be informed : you should be free and pleasant in every answer and behaviour, rather like well-bred gentlemen ia polite conversation, than like noisy and contentious wranglers.

8. If the opponent sees victory to incline to his side, let him be content to sbew the force of bis argument to the intelligent part of the company, “ without too importunate and petulent demands of an answer," and without insulting over his aptagonist, or putting the modesty of the respondent to the blush. “Nor let the respondent triumph over the opponent, when he is silent and replies no more.” On which side soever victory declares herself, lei neither of them manage with such unpleasing and insoleut airs, as to awaken those evil passions of pride, anger, shame or resentment on either side, which alienate the mind from truth, render it obstinate in the defence of an error, and never suffer it to part with any of its old opinions. In short, when truth evidently appears on either side, “ let thein learn to yield to conviction." When either party is at a nonplus, let them confess the diffi. culty, and desire present assistance or further time and retirement to consider of the matter, and not rack their present invention to find out little shifts to avoid the force and evidence of truth.

9. Might it not be a safer practice, in order to attain the best ends of disputation, and to avoid some of the ill effects of it, if the opponents were sometimes engaged on the side of truth, and produced their arguments in opposition to error ? And what if the respondent was appointed to support the error, and defend it as well as he could, till he was forced to yield at least to those arguments of the opponent's which appear to be really just and strong and unanswerable ?

In this practice, the thesis of the respondent should only be a fair stating of the question, with some of the chief objections against the truth proposed and solved.

Perhaps this practice might not so easily be perverted and abused to raise a cavilling, disputative, and sceptical temper in the minds of youth.

I confess in this method which I now propose, there would be one among the students, viz. the respondent, always engaged in the support of supposed error : but all the rest would be exercising their talents in arguing for the supposed truth : whereas in the common methods of disputation in the schools, especially where the students are numerous, each single student is perpetually einployed to oppose the truth and vindicate error, except once in a long time when it comes to bis turn to be respondent.

10. Upon the whole, it seems necessary that these methods of disputation should be learnt in the schools, in order to teach students better to defend truth, and to refute error, both in writing and conversation, where the scholastic forms are utterly veglected.

But after all, the advantage which youth may gain by dispu-, tations depends much on the tutor or moderator: he should manage with such prudence both in the disputation and at the end of it, as to make all the disputants know the very point of controversy, wherein it consists; he should manifest the fallacy of sopbistical objections, and confirin the solid arguments and answers. This might teach students how to make the art of disputation useful for the searching out the truth and the defence of it, ibat it may not be learnt and practised only as an art of wrangling which reigned in the schools several hundred years, and divested the growing reasou of youth of its best hopes and improveinents.

CHAP. XIV.-Of Study or Meditation. I. IT has been proved and established in some of the foregoing chapters, that neither our own observations, nor our read. ing the labours of the learned, nor the attendance on the best lectures of instruction, nor enjoying the brightest conversation, can ever make a man truly knowing and wise, without the labours of his own reason in surveying, examining, and judging conceraing all subjects upon the best evidence he can acquire. A good geoius, or sagacity of thought, a happy judgment, a capacious memory, and large opportunities of observation and converse, will do much of themselves towards the cultivation of the mind, where they are well improved : but where to the advantage of learned lectures, living instructions, and well chosen books, diligence and study are superadded, this man has all human aids concurring to raise himn to a superior degree of wisdom and knowledge.

Under the preceding heads of discourse, it has been already declared how our own meditation and reflection should examine, cultivate and improve all other methods and advantages of enriching the understanding. What remains in this chapter is to give some further occasional hints how to employ our own

thoughts, what sort of subjects we should meditate on, and in what manner we should regulate our studies, and how we may improve our judgment, so as in the most effectual and compendiOus way to attain such knowledge as may be most useful for every man in his circumstances of life, and particularly for those of the learned professions.

JI. The first direction for youth is this, learn betimes to distinguish between words and things. Get clear and plain ideas of the things you are set to study. Do not cootept yourselves with mere words and names, lest your laboured improvements only amass a heap of unintelligible phrases, and you feed upon busks instead of kernels. This rule is of unknown use in every science. But the greatest and most common danger is in the sacred science of theology, where settled terms and phrases have been pronounced dicine and orthodor, wbich yet have had no meaniog in thein. The scholastic divinity would furnish us with numerous instances of this folly : and yet for many ages all truth and all heresy bave been determined by such senseless tests, and by words without ideas : such Shibboleths as these bave decided the secular fates of men ; and bishoprics or burning, mitres or faggots have been the rewards of different persons, according as they pronounced these consecrated syllables or not pronounced them. To defend them, was all piety and pomp and triumph ; to despise them, to doubt or deny them, was torture and death. A thousand thank-offerings are due to that providence wbich has delivered our age and our nation from these absurd iniquities? O that every specimen and shadow of this madness were banished from our schools and churches in every shape !

III. Let not young students apply themselves to search out deep, dark and abstruse matters, far above their reach, or spend their labour in any peculiar subjects, for which they liave not the advantages of necessary antecedent learning, or books, or observations. Let them not be too hasty to know things above their present powers, por plunge their enquiries at once into the depths of knowledge nor begin to study any science in the middle of it; this will confound rather than enlighten the understanding : such practices inay happen to discourage and jade the mind by an attempt above its power, it may balk the understanding, and create an aversion to future diligence, and perhaps by despair may forbid the pursuit of that subject for ever afterwards; as a limb overstrained by lifting a weight above its power, may never recover its former agility and vigour; or if it does, the man may be frighted from ever exerting his strength again.

IV. Nor yet let any student on the other hand fright himself at every turn with insurmountable difficulties, nor imagine that the truth is wrapt up in impenetrable darkness. These are

votion.

formidable spectres which the understanding raises sometimes to flatter its own laziness. Those things which in a remote and confused view seen very obscure and perplexed, may be approached by gentle and regular steps, and may then upfold and explain themselves at large to the eye. The hardest problems in geometry, and the most intricate schemes or diagrams may be explicated and understood step 'by step : every great mathematician bears a constant witness to this observation.

V. In learning any new thing, there should be as little as possible first proposed to the mind at once, and that being understood and fully mastered, proceed then to the next adjoining part yet unknown. This is a slow, but safe and sure way to arrive at knowledge. If the mind apply itself at first to easier subjects and things near a-kin to wbat is already kuown, and then advance to the more remote and knotty parts of knowledge by slow degrees, it will be able in this manner to cope with great difficulties, and prevail over them with amazing and happy success.

Mathon happened to dip into the two last chapters of a new book of geometry and mensuration ; as soon as he saw it, and was frighted with the complicated diagrams which he found there, about the Frustums of Cones and Pyramids, &c. and some deep demonstrations among conic sections: he shut the book again in despair, and imagined none but a Sir Isaac Newton was ever fit to read it. But bis tutor happily persuaded him to begin the first pages about lines and angles; and he found such surprising pleasure in three weeks time in the victories he daily obtained, that at last he became one of the chief geometers of his age. . VI. Engage not the mind in the intense pursuit of too many things at once : especially such as have no relation to one another. This will be ready to distract the understanding, and hinder it from attaining perfection in any one subject of study. Such a practice, gives a slight smattering of several sciences without any solid and substantial knowledge of them, and without any real and valuable improvement; and though two or three sorts of study may be usefully carried on at once, to entertain the mind with variety, that it may not be over-tired with one sort of thoughts, yet a multitude of subjects will too much distract the attention, and weaken the application of the mind to any one of them. Where two or three sciences are pursued at the same time, if one of them be dry, abstracted, and unpleasant, as logic, metaphysics, law, languages, let another be more entertaining and agreeable, to secure the mind from weariness and aversion to study. Delight should be intermingled with labour as far as possible, to allure us to bear the fatigue of dry studies the better. Poetry, practical mathematics, history, &c. are generally esteemed entertaining studies, and may be liappily

« PreviousContinue »