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fing, that they believe teftimony by one law of their nature, and fpeak truth by another. I feek not therefore to refolve the former principle into the latter; I mention them for the fake only of observing, that whether they be allowed to be different principles, or different effects of the fame principle, our general doctrine remains equally clear, namely, That all reafoning concerning the evidence of teftimony does finally terminate in the principles of common fenfe. This is true, as far as our faith in teftimony is refolvable into experimental conviction; because we have already fhown, that all reasoning from experience is refolvable into intuitive principles, either of certain or of probable evidence: and furely it is no lefs true, as far as our faith in teftimony is itself inftinctive, and fuch as cannot be refolved into any higher principle.
Our faith in teftimony does often, but not always, amount to abfolute certainty. That there is fuch a city as Conftantinople, fuch a country as Lapland, and fuch a mountain as the peak of Teneriffe; that there were such men as Hannibal and Julius Cefar; that England was conquered by William the Norman; that Charles I. was beheaded of thefe, and fuch like truths, every perfon acquainted with history and geography accounts himfelf abfolutely certain. When a number of perfons, not acting in concert, having no intereft to difguife the truth, and fufficient
judges of that to which they bear teftimony, concur in making the fame report, it would be accounted madness not to believe them. Nay, when a number of witnesses, separately examined, and having had no opportunity to concert a plan beforehand, do all agree in their declarations, we make no fcruple of yielding full faith to their testimony, even though we have no evidence of their honesty or fkill; nay, though they be notorious both for knavery and folly: because the fictions of the human mind being infinite, it is impoffible that each of thefe witneffes fhould, by mere accident, devife the very fame circumstances; if therefore their declarations concur, this is a proof, that there is no fiction in the cafe, and that they all speak from real experience and knowledge. The inference we form on these occafions is fupported by arguments drawn from our experience; and all arguments of this fort are refolvable into the principles of common fenfe. In general, it will be found true of all our reafonings concerning teftimony, that they are founded, either mediately or immediately, upon instinctive conviction or instinctive affent; fo that he who has refolved to believe nothing but what he can give a reason for, can never, confiftently with this refolution, believe any thing, either as certain or as probable, upon the testimony of other men.
THE conclufion to which we are led by the above induction, would perhaps be admitted by fome to be felf-evident, or at least to stand in no great need of illustration; to others it might have been proved a priori very few words; but to the greater part of readers, a detail of particulars may be neceffary, in order to produce that fteady and well-grounded conviction which it is my ambition to establish.
The argument a priori might be comprehended in the following words. If there be any creatures in human fhape, who deny the diftinction between truth and falfehood, or who are unconscious of that distinction, they are far beyond the reach, and below the notice, of philofophy, and therefore have no concern in this inquiry. Whoever is fenfible of that distinction, and is willing to acknowledge it, muft confefs, that truth is fomething fixed and determinate, depending not upon man, but upon the Author of nature. The fundamental principles of truth muft therefore rest upon their own evidence, perceived intuitively by the understanding. If
they did not, if reafoning were necessary to enforce them, they must be expofed to perpetual viciffitude, and appear under a different form in every individual, according to the peculiar turn and character of his reafoning powers. Were this the case, no man could know, of any propofition, whether it were true or falfe, till after he had heard all the arguments that had been urged for and against it; and, even then, he could not know with certainty, whether he had heard all that could be urged: future difputants might overturn the former arguments, and produce new ones, to continue unanswered for a while, and then fubmit, in their turn, to their fucceffors. Were this the cafe, there could be no fuch thing as an appeal to the common sense of mankind, even as in a state of nature there can be no appeal to the law; every man would be "a law unto himself," not in morals only, but in science of every kind.
We fometimes repine at the narrow limits prescribed to human capacity. Hitherto fhalt thou come, and no further, feems a hard prohibition, when applied to the operations of mind. But as, in the material world, it is to this prohibition man owes his fecurity and existence; fo, in the immaterial fyftem, it is to this we owe our dignity, our virtue, and our happiness. A beacon blazing from a well-known promontory is a welcome object to the bewildered mariner; who is fo far from repining that he has not the beneficial light VOL. I. e in
in his own keeping, that he is fenfible its utility depends on its being placed on the firm land, and committed to the care of others.
We have now proved, that “ except we be"lieve many things without proof, we neSc ver can believe any thing at all; for that "all found reafoning must ultimately rest on the principles of common fenfe, that is, on principles intuitively certain, or intui"tively probable; and, confequently, that Sc common sense is the ultimate judge of "truth, to which reafon muft continually "act in fubordination*." To common fenfe, therefore, all truth must be conformable; this is its fixed and invariable standard. And whatever contradicts common fenfe, or is inconfiftent with that ftandard, though fupported by arguments that are deemed unanfwerable, and by names that are celebrated by all the critics, academies, and potentates on earth, is not truth but falfehood. In a word, the dictates of common fense are, in respect to human knowledge in general, what the axioms of geometry are in respect to mathematics on the fuppofition that those axioms are falfe or dubious, all mathematical reafoning falls to the ground; and on the fuppofition that the dictates of common sense are erroneous or deceitful, all science, truth, and virtue, are vain.
I know not but it may be urged as an ob
*See part 1. chap. 1. fub. fin.