A Treatise of Human Nature HTML version

Nothing is more usual and more natural for those, who pretend to discover anything new
to the world in philosophy and the sciences, than to insinuate the praises of their own
systems, by decrying all those, which have been advanced before them. And indeed were
they content with lamenting that ignorance, which we still lie under in the most important
questions, that can come before the tribunal of human reason, there are few, who have an
acquaintance with the sciences, that would not readily agree with them. It is easy for one
of judgment and learning, to perceive the weak foundation even of those systems, which
have obtained the greatest credit, and have carried their pretensions highest to accurate
and profound reasoning. Principles taken upon trust, consequences lamely deduced from
them, want of coherence in the parts, and of evidence in the whole, these are every where
to be met with in the systems of the most eminent philosophers, and seem to have drawn
disgrace upon philosophy itself.
Nor is there required such profound knowledge to discover the present imperfect
condition of the sciences, but even the rabble without doors may, judge from the noise
and clamour, which they hear, that all goes not well within. There is nothing which is not
the subject of debate, and in which men of learning are not of contrary opinions. The
most trivial question escapes not our controversy, and in the most momentous we are not
able to give any certain decision. Disputes are multiplied, as if every thing was uncertain;
and these disputes are managed with the greatest warmth, as if every thing was certain.
Amidst all this bustle it is not reason, which carries the prize, but eloquence; and no man
needs ever despair of gaining proselytes to the most extravagant hypothesis, who has art
enough to represent it in any favourable colours. The victory is not gained by the men at
arms, who manage the pike and the sword; but by the trumpeters, drummers, and
musicians of the army.
From hence in my opinion arises that common prejudice against metaphysical reasonings
of all kinds, even amongst those, who profess themselves scholars, and have a just value
for every other part of literature. By metaphysical reasonings, they do not understand
those on any particular branch of science, but every kind of argument, which is any way
abstruse, and requires some attention to be comprehended. We have so often lost our
labour in such researches, that we commonly reject them without hesitation, and resolve,
if we must for ever be a prey to errors and delusions, that they shall at least be natural and
entertaining. And indeed nothing but the most determined scepticism, along with a great
degree of indolence, can justify this aversion to metaphysics. For if truth be at all within
the reach of human capacity, it is certain it must lie very deep and abstruse: and to hope
we shall arrive at it without pains, while the greatest geniuses have failed with the utmost
pains, must certainly be esteemed sufficiently vain and presumptuous. I pretend to no
such advantage in the philosophy I am going to unfold, and would esteem it a strong
presumption against it, were it so very easy and obvious.