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Of Authority, of the Abuse of it, and
of its real and proper Use and Service.
HE Influence which other Persons
have upon our Opinions is usually called Authority. The Power of it is so great and widely extensive, that there is scarce any Person in the World entirely free from the Impression of it, even after their utmost Watchfulness and Care to avoid it, Our Parents and Tutors, yea our very Nurses determine a Multitude of our Sentiments; our Friends, 'our Neighbours, the Custom of the Country where we dwell, and the established Opinions of Mankind, form our Belief; The Great, the Pious, the Learned, and the Ancient, the King, the Priest, and the Philosopher, are Characters of mighty Efficacy to perswade us to receive what they dictate. These may be ranked under different Heads of Prejudice, but they are
Openings of Truth, against which the Minds of their Disciples were strongly prejudiced, may not only recure such an Address from the Imputation of dishonest Craft, but may demonstrate the Expediency, and in some Cases the Neceffity, of attendingto it.
all of a kindred Nature, and may be reduced to this one Spring or Head of Authority.
I HAVE treated of these particularly in Logic, Part IId. Chap. IIld. Sec, 4th. Yet a few other Remarks occurring among my Papers, I thought it not improper to let them find a Place here.
CICERO was well acquainted with the unhappy Influences of Authority, and complains of it in his first Book De Natura Deorum. “In Disputes and Controversies
(says he) it is not so much the Author, " or Patrons of any Opinion, as the Weight “ and Force of Argument, which should In“ Auence the Mind. The Authority of those “ who teach is a frequent Hindrance to those « who learn, because they utterly neglect to “ exercise their own Judgment, taking for “ granted whatsoever others whom they re“ verence have judged for them. I can by “ no Means approve, what we learn from " the Pythagoreans, that if any Thing al“ serted in Disputation was questioned, they
were wont to answer, Ipfe dixit, i.e. He bimself said so, meaning Pythagoras. So “ far did Prejudice prevail, that Authority " without Reason was sufficient to determine
Disputes and to eltablish Truth.”
All human Authority though it be never so ancient, though it hath had universal Sovereignty, and sway'd all the learned and the
vulgar vulgar World for some thousands of years, yet has no certain and undoubted Claim to Truth: Nor is it any Violation of good Manners to enter a Caveat with due Decency against its pretended Dominion. What is there among all the Sciences that has been longer established and more universally received ever since the Days of Aristotle, and perhaps for Ages before he lived, than this, that all heavy Bodies whatsoever tend toward the Center of the Earth? But Sir Isaac Newton has found that those bulky and weighty Bodies, the Earth and all the Planets, tend toward the Centre of the Sun, whereby the Authority of near three thousand Years or more is not only called in Question, but actually refuted and renounced.
AGAIN, Was ever any thing more universally agreed among the Nation of the Poets and Critics than that Homer and Virgil are inimitable Writers of heroic Poems? And whoever presumed to attack their Writings or their Reputation, was either condeinned for his Malice or derided for his Folly. These ancient Authors have been supposed to derive peculiar Advantages to aggrandize their Verses from the Heathen Thcology, and that Variety of Appearances in which they could represent their Gods, and mingle them with Affairs of Men : Yet within these few Years Sir Richard Blackmore, (whose Prefaces are universally esteem
ed fuperior in their kind to any of his Poems) has ventured to pronounce some noble Truths in that excellent Preface to his Poem called Alfred, and has bravely demonstrated there, beyond all possible Exception, that both Virgil and Homer are often guilty of very gross Blunders, Indecencies and Thameful Improprieties ; and that they were so far from deriving any Advantage from the Rabble of Heathen Gods, that their Theology almost unavoidably exposed them to many of those Blunders; and that it is not possible upon the Foot of Gentile Superstition to write a perfect Epic Poem: Whereas the sacred Religion of the Bible would furnish a Poem with much more just and glorious Scenes and a nobler Machinery.
MR. DENNIS also had made it appear in his Esays some Years before, that there were no Images so sublime in the brightest of the Heathen Writers as those with which we are furnished in the Poetic Parts of the Holy Scripture; and Rapin the French Critic dar'd to profess the same Sentiments, notwithstanding the World of Poets and Critics had so universally and unanimolly exalted the heathen Writers to the Sovereignty for so many Ages. If we would find out the Truth in many Cafes, we must dare to deviate from the long-beaten Track, and venture to think with a juft and unbiast Liberty.
Of Authority, and of Part. II. Tho' it be necessary to guard against the evil Influences of Authority, and the Prejudices derived thence, because it has introduced thousands of Errors and Mischiefs into the World, yet there are three eminent and remarkable Cases wherein Authority, or the Sentiments of other Persons must or will determine the Judgments and Practice of Mankind.
I. PARENTS are appointed to judge for their Children in their younger Years, and to instruct them what they should believe and what they should Practise in the civil and religious Life. This is a Dietate of Nature, and doubtless it would have been fo in a State of Innocence. It is impoflible that Children should be capable of judging for themselves, before their Minds are furnished with a competent Number of Ideas, before they are acquainted with any Principles and Rules of just Judgment, and before their Reason is grown up to any Degrees of Maturity and proper Exercises upon such Subjects.
I will not say, that a Child ought to believe Nonsense and Imposibility, because his Father bids him ; for so far as the Impoffibility appears he cannot believe : it nor will I say, he ought to assent to all the false Opinions of his Parents, or to practise Idolatry and Murder, or Mischief at their command; yet a Child knows not any better way to find