Principles of Human Knowledge HTML version

1. Philosophy being nothing else but THE STUDY OF WISDOM AND TRUTH, it may with
reason be expected that those who have spent most time and pains in it should enjoy a greater
calm and serenity of mind, a greater clearness and evidence of knowledge, and be less
disturbed with doubts and difficulties than other men. Yet so it is, we see the illiterate bulk of
mankind that walk the high-road of plain common sense, and are governed by the dictates of
nature, for the most part easy and undisturbed. To them nothing THAT IS FAMILIAR appears
unaccountable or difficult to comprehend. They complain not of any want of evidence in their
senses, and are out of all danger of becoming SCEPTICS. But no sooner do we depart from
sense and instinct to follow the light of a superior principle, to reason, meditate, and reflect on
the nature of things, but a thousand scruples spring up in our minds concerning those things
which before we seemed fully to comprehend. Prejudices and errors of sense do from all parts
discover themselves to our view; and, endeavouring to correct these by reason, we are
insensibly drawn into uncouth paradoxes, difficulties, and inconsistencies, which multiply and
grow upon us as we advance in speculation, till at length, having wandered through many
intricate mazes, we find ourselves just where we were, or, which is worse, sit down in a forlorn
2. The cause of this is thought to be the obscurity of things, or the natural weakness and
imperfection of our understandings. It is said, the faculties we have are few, and those designed
by nature for the SUPPORT and comfort of life, and not to penetrate into the INWARD
ESSENCE and constitution of things. Besides, the mind of man being finite, when it treats of
things which partake of infinity, it is not to be wondered at if it run into absurdities and
contradictions, out of which it is impossible it should ever extricate itself, it being of the nature of
infinite not to be comprehended by that which is finite.
3. But, perhaps, we may be too partial to ourselves in placing the fault originally in our faculties,
and not rather in the wrong use we make of them. IT IS A HARD THING TO SUPPOSE THAT
WHICH CANNOT BE MAINTAINED or made consistent. We should believe that God has dealt
more bountifully with the sons of men than to give them a strong desire for that knowledge
which he had placed quite out of their reach. This were not agreeable to the wonted indulgent
methods of Providence, which, whatever appetites it may have implanted in the creatures, doth
usually furnish them with such means as, if rightly made use of, will not fail to satisfy them.
Upon the whole, I am inclined to think that the far greater part, if not all, of those difficulties
which have hitherto amused philosophers, and blocked up the way to knowledge, are entirely
owing to ourselves--that we have first raised a dust and then complain we cannot see.
4. My purpose therefore is, to try if I can discover what those Principles are which have
introduced all that doubtfulness and uncertainty, those absurdities and contradictions, into the
several sects of philosophy; insomuch that the wisest men have thought our ignorance
incurable, conceiving it to arise from the natural dulness and limitation of our faculties. And
surely it is a work well deserving our pains to make a strict inquiry concerning the First
Principles of Human Knowledge, to sift and examine them on all sides, especially since there
may be some grounds to suspect that those lets and difficulties, which stay and embarrass the
mind in its search after truth, do not spring from any darkness and intricacy in the objects, or