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Of Authority, of the Abuse of it, and of its real and proper Ufe and Service.


HE Influence which other Perfons

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have upon our Opinions is ufually called Authority. The Power of it is fo great and widely extenfive, that there is scarce any Perfon in the World entirely free from the Impreffion of it, even after their utmost Watchfulness and Care to avoid it. Our Parents and Tutors, yea our very Nurfes determine a Multitude of our Sentiments; our Friends, our Neighbours, the Cuftom 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 Philofopher, are Characters of mighty Efficacy to perfwade us to receive what they dictate. Thefe may be ranked under different Heads of Prejudice, but they are


Openings of Truth, against which the Minds of their Difciples were ftrongly prejudiced, may not only fecure fuch an Addrefs from the Imputation of dishonest Craft, but may demonftrate the Expediency, and in fome Cafes 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 thefe particularly in Logic, Part IId. Chap. IIId. 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 Difputes and Controverfies

(fays he) it is not fo much the Author,

or Patrons of any Opinion, as the Weight "and Force of Argument, which should In"fluence the Mind. The Authority of thofe "who teach is a frequent Hindrance to those "who learn, becaufe they utterly neglect to "exercife 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 af "ferted in Difputation was queftioned, they were wont to anfwer, Ipfe dixit, i. e. He himfelf faid fo, meaning Pythagoras. So far did Prejudice prevail, that Authority "without Reafon was fufficient to determine Difputes and to establish Truth."

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ALL human Authority though it be never fo ancient, though it hath had univerfal Sovereignty, and fway'd all the learned and the D 2 vulgar

vulgar World for fome. 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 eftablished and more univerfally received ever fince the Days of Aristotle, and perhaps for Ages before he lived, than this, that all heavy Bodies whatfoever tend toward the Center of the Earth? But Sir Isaac Newton has found that thofe bulky and weighty Bodies, the Earth and all the Planets, tend toward the Centre of the Sun, whereby the Authority of near three thoufand Years or more is not only called in Question, but actually refuted and renounced.

AGAIN, Was ever any thing more univerfally agreed among the Nation of the Poets and Critics than that Homer and Virgil are inimitable Writers of heroic Poems? And whoever prefumed to attack their Writings or their Reputation, was either condemned for his Malice or derided for his Folly. Thefe ancient Authors have been fuppofed to derive peculiar Advantages to aggrandize their Verfes from the Heathen Theology, and that Variety of Appearances in which they could reprefent their Gods, and mingle them with Affairs of Men: Yet within thete few Years Sir Richard Blackmore, (whole Prefaces are univerfally esteem


ed fuperior in their kind to any of his Poems) has ventured to pronounce fome noble Truths. in that excellent Preface to his Poem called Alfred, and has bravely demonftrated there, beyond all poffible Exception, that both Virgil and Homer are often guilty of very grofs Blunders, Indecencies and fhameful Improprieties; and that they were fo far from deriving any Advantage from the Rabble of. Heathen Gods, that their Theology almost unavoidably expofed them to many of those Blunders; and that it is not poffible upon the Foot of Gentile Superftition to write a perfect Epic Poem: Whereas the facred Religion of the Bible would furnish a Poem with much more juft and glorious Scenes and a nobler Machinery.

MR. DENNIS alfo had made it appear in his Eays fome Years before, that there were no Images fo fublime in the brightest of the Heathen Writers as thofe with which we are furnished in the Poetic Parts of the Holy Scripture; and Rapin the French Critic dar'd to profefs the fame Sentiments, notwithstanding the World of Poets and Critics had fo univerfally and unanimofly exalted the heathen Writers to the Sovereignty for fo 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 unbiaft Liberty.

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THO' it be neceffary to guard against the evil Influences of Authority, and the Prejudices derived thence, because it has introduced thousands of Errors and Mifchiefs into the World, yet there are three eminent and remarkable Cafes wherein Authority, or the Sentiments of other Perfons muft or will determine the Judgments and Practice of Mankind.

I. PARENTS are appointed to judge for their Children in their younger Years, and to inftruct them what they fhould believe and what they fhould Practife in the civil and religious Life. This is a Dictate of Nature, and doubtless it would have been fo in a State of Innocence. It is impoffible that Children fhould 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 juft Judgment, and before their Reason is grown up to any Degrees of Maturity and proper Exercises upon fuch Subjects.

I WILL not fay, that a Child ought to believe Nonfenfe and Impoffibility, because his Father bids him; for fo far as the Impoffibility appears he cannot believe: it nor will I say, he ought to affent to all the falfe Opinions of his Parents, or to practife Idolatry and Murder, or Mischief at their command; yet a Child knows not any better way to find

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