An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding HTML version

our passions, the vehemence of our affections, dissipate all its conclusions, and reduce
the profound philosopher to a mere plebeian.
4. This also must be confessed, that the most durable, as well as justest fame, has been
acquired by the easy philosophy, and that abstract reasoners seem hitherto to have
enjoyed only a momentary reputation, from the caprice or ignorance of their own age, but
have not been able to support their renown with more equitable posterity. It is easy for a
profound philosopher to commit a mistake in his subtile reasonings; and one mistake is
the necessary parent of another, while he pushes on his consequences, and is not deterred
from embracing any conclusion, by its unusual appearance, or its contradiction to popular
opinion. But a philosopher, who purposes only to represent the common sense of
mankind in more beautiful and more engaging colours, if by accident he falls into error,
goes no farther; but renewing his appeal to common sense, and the natural sentiments of
the mind, returns into the right path, and secures himself from any dangerous illusions.
The fame of Cicero flourishes at present; but that of Aristotle is utterly decayed. La
Bruyere passes the seas, and still maintains his reputation: But the glory of Malebranche
is confined to his own nation, and to his own age. And Addison, perhaps, will be read
with pleasure, when Locke shall be entirely forgotten.
The mere philosopher is a character, which is commonly but little acceptable in the
world, as being supposed to contribute nothing either to the advantage or pleasure of
society; while he lives remote from communication with mankind, and is wrapped up in
principles and notions equally remote from their comprehension. On the other hand, the
mere ignorant is still more despised; nor is any thing deemed a surer sign of an illiberal
genius in an age and nation where the sciences flourish, than to be entirely destitute of all
relish for those noble entertainments. The most perfect character is supposed to lie
between those extremes; retaining an equal ability and taste for books, company, and
business; preserving in conversation that discernment and delicacy which arise from
polite letters; and in business, that probity and accuracy which are the natural result of a
just philosophy. In order to diffuse and cultivate so accomplished a character, nothing can
be more useful than compositions of the easy style and manner, which draw not too much
from life, require no deep application or retreat to be comprehended, and send back the
student among mankind full of noble sentiments and wise precepts, applicable to every
exigence of human life. By means of such compositions, virtue becomes amiable, science
agreeable, company instructive, and retirement entertaining.
Man is a reasonable being; and as such, receives from science his proper food and
nourishment: But so narrow are the bounds of human understanding, that little
satisfaction can be hoped for in this particular, either from the extent of security or his
acquisitions. Man is a sociable, no less than a reasonable being: But neither can he
always enjoy company agreeable and amusing, or preserve the proper relish for them.
Man is also an active being; and from that disposition, as well as from the various
necessities of human life, must submit to business and occupation: But the mind requires
some relaxation, and cannot always support its bent to care and industry. It seems, then,
that nature has pointed out a mixed kind of life as most suitable to the human race, and
secretly admonished them to allow none of these biasses to draw too much, so as to
incapacitate them for other occupations and entertainments. Indulge your passion for