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always unavoidably follow, that the complex ideas of substances, in men using the same name for them, will be very various; and so the significations of those names very uncertain. : $. 14. Besides, there is scarce any parti
3. Toco-ex. cular thing existing, which, in some of its isting quali. simple ideas, does not communicate with a ties which greater, and in others a less number of par- are known ticular beings : who shall determine in this
this but imper.
o iectly. case which are those that are to make up the precise collection that is to be signified by the specifick name; or can with any just authority prescribe, which obvious or common qualities are to be left out; or which more secret, or more particular, are to be put into the signification of the name of any substance ? All which together seldom or never fail to produce that various and doubtful signification in the names of substances, which causes such uncertainty, disputes, or mistakes, when we come to a philosophical use of them.
$. 15. It is true, as to civil and common conversation, the general names of sub- ; stances, regulated in their ordinary signifi- they may cation by some obvious qualities, (as by the serve for cia shape and figure in things of known seminal vil, but not
well for phir propagation, and in other substances, for the most part by colour, joined with some use. other sensible qualities) do well enough to design the things men would be understood to speak of: and so they usually conceive well enough the substances meant by the word gold, or apple, to distinguish the one from the other. But in philosophical inquiries and debates, where general truths are to be established, and consequences drawn from positions laid down; there the precise signification of the names of substances will be found, not only not to be well established, but also very hard to be so. For example, he that shall make malleableness, or a certain degree of fixedness, a part of his complex idea of gold, may make propositions concerning gold, and draw consequences from them, that will truly and clearly follow from gold, taken in such a signification : but yet such as another man can never be
nents of 1971, whether ysicians, w
forced to admit, nor be convinced of their truth, who makes not malleableness, or the same degree of fixedness, part of that complex idea, that the name gold, in his use of it, stands for. Instance,
$. 16. This is a natural, and almost unliquor. avoidable imperfection in almost all the
names of substances, in all languages whatsoever which men will easily find, when once passing from confused or loose notions, they come to more strict and close inquiries. For then they will be convinced how doubtful and obscure those words are in their sige nification, which in ordinary use appeared very clear and determined. I was once in a meeting of very learned and ingenious physicians, where by chance there arose a question, whether any liquor passed through the filaments of the nerves. The debate having been managed a good while, by variety of arguments on both sides, I (who had been used to suspect, that the greatest part of disputes were more about the signification of words than a real difference in the conception of things) desired, that before they went any farther on in this dispute, they would first examine, and establish amongst them, what the word liquor signified. They at first were a little surprised at the proposal; and had they been persons less ingenious, they might perhaps have taken it for a very frivolous or extravagant one: since there was no one there that thought not himself to understand very perfectly what the word liquor stood for; which I think too none of the most perplexed names of substances. However, they were pleased to comply with my motion, and upon examination found, that the signification of that word was not so settled and certain as they had all imagined; but that each of them made it a sign of a different complex idea. This made them perceive that the main of their dispute was about the signification of that term; and that they differed very little in their opinions, concerning some fluid and subtile matter, passing through the conduits of the nerves; though it was not so easy to agree whether it was to be called liquor, or no, a thing which, when considered, they. thought it not worth the contending about.
: $. 17. How much this is the case, in the instance greatest part of disputes that men are en- gold. gaged so hotly in, Í shall perhaps have an occasion in another place to take notice. Let us only here consider a little more exactly the fore-mentioned instance of the word gold, and we shall see how hard it is precisely to determine its signification. I think all agree to make it stand for a body of a certain yellow shining colour; which being the idea to which children have annexed that name, the shining yellow part of a peacock's tail is properly to them gold. Others finding fusibility joined with that yellow colour in certain parcels of matter, make of that combination a complex idea, to which they give the name gold to denote a sort of substances; and so exclude from being gold all such yellow shining bodies, as by fire will be reduced to ashes; and admit to be of that species, or to be comprehended under that name gold, only such substances .. as having that shining yellow colour will by fire be reduced to fusion, and not to ashes. Another by the same reason adds the weight, which being a quality, as straitly joined with that colour, as its fusibility, he thinks has the same reason to be joined in its idea, and to be signified by its name : and therefore the other made up of body, of such a colour and fusibility, to be imperfect; and so on of all the rest : wherein no one can slow à reason why some of the inseparable qualities, that are always united in nature, should be put into the nominal essence, and others left out: or why the word gold, signifying that sort of body the ring on his finger is made of, should determine that sort rather by its colour, weight, and fusibility, than by its colour, weight, and solubility in aq. regia: since the dissolving it by that liquor is as inseparable from it as the fusion by fire; and they are both of them nothing but the relation which that substance has to two other bodies, which have a power to operate differently upon it. For by what right is it that fusibility comes to be a part of the essence signified by the word gold, and solubility but a property of it? or why is its colour part of the essence, and its malleableness but a property ? That which I mean is R 3
this. That these being all but properties depending on its real constitution, and nothing but powers, either active or passive, in reference to other bodies : no one has authority to determine the signification of the word gold (as referied to such a body existing in nature) more to one collection of ideas to be found in that body than to another: whereby the signification of that name must unavoidably be very uncertain; since, as has been said, seyeral people observe several properties in the same substance; and, I think, I may say no-body at all. And therefore we have but very imperfect descriptions of things, and words have very uncertain significations, The naṁes of
. $. 18. From what has been said, it is
i 18. simple ideas easy to observe what has been before rethe least marked, viz. That the names of simple doubtful. ideas are, of all others, the least liable to mistakes, and that for these reasons. First, because the ideas they stand for, being each but one single percepțion, are much easier got, and more clearly retained, than the niore complex ones, and therefore are not liable to the uncertainty which usually attends those compounded ones of substances and mixed modes, in which the precise number of simple ideas, that make them up, are not easily agreed, and so readily kept in the mind, And secondly, because they are never referred to any other essence, but barely that perception they immediately signify: which reference is that which renders the signification of the names of substances naturally so · perplexed, and gives occasion to so mațiy disputes. Men that do not perversely use their words, or on purpose set themselves to cayil, seldom mistake in any language, which they are acquainted with, the use and significa: tion of the names of simple ideas: white and sweet, yellow and bitter, carry a yery obvious meaning with them, which every one precisely comprehends, or easily perceives he is ignorant of, and seeks to be informed. But what precise collection of simple ideas modesty or frugality stand for in another's use, is not so certainly known. And however we are apt to think we weil enough know what is meant by gold or iron ; yet the precise complex idea, others make them the signs of
is not so certain : and I believe it is very seldom that, in speaker and hearer, they stand for exactly the same collection. Which must needs produce mistakes and disputes, when they are made use of in discourses, wherein men have to do with universal propositions, and would settle in their minds universal truths, and consider the consequences that follow from them. §. 19. By the same rule, the names of
to those of simple And next to simple modes are, next to those of simple
them, simple ideas, least liable to doubt and uncertainty, especially those of figure and number, of which men have so clear and distinct ideas. Who ever, that had a mind to understand them, mistook the ordinary meaning of seven, or a triangle? And in general the least compounded ideas in every kind have the least. dubious names.
§. 20. Mixed modes therefore, that are the most made up but of a few and obvious simple doubtful are " ideas, have usually names of no very uncer
the names of
very com. tain signification. But the names of mixed
pounded modes, which comprehend a great number mixed modes of simple ideas, are commonly of a very and sub. doubtful and undetermined meaning, as has stances. been shown. The names of substances, being annexed to ideas that are neither the real essences nor exact representations of the patterns they are referred to, are liable yet to greater imperfection and uncertainty, especially when we come to a philosophical use of them.
8. & 1. The great disorder that happens Why this im. in our names of substances, proceeding for perfection the most part from our want of knowledge, charged upon and inability to penetrate into their real words. constitutions, it may probably be wondered, why I charge this as an imperfection rather upon our words than understandings. This exception has so much appearance of justice, that I think myself obliged to give a reason why I have followed this method. I must confess then, that when I first began this discourse of the understanding, and a good while after, I had not the least thought that any consideration of words was at all necessary to it. But when having passed over the original and composi