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$ 5. On each of the Fallacies which have been thus enumerated and distinguished, I propose to offer some more particular remarks; but before I proceed to this, it will be proper to premise two general observations, 1st. on the importance, and 2d. the difficulty, of detecting and describing Fallacies : both have been already slightly alluded to; but it is requisite that they should here be somewhat more fully and distinctly set forth.
1st. It seems by most persons to be taken for granted that a Fallacy is to be dreaded
Importance merely as a weapon fashioned and wielded by Fallacies. a skilful sophist; or if they allow that a man may with honest intentions slide into one unconsciously, in the heat of argument, still they seem to suppose that where there is no dispute, there is no cause to dread Fallacy; whereas there is much danger, even in what may be called solitary reasoning, of sliding unawares into some Fallacy, by which one may be so far deceived as even to act upon the conclusion thus obtained. By solitary reasoning I mean the case in which one is not seeking for arguments to prove a given question, but labouring to elicit from one's previous stock of knowledge some useful inference. * To select one
* See the chapter on “inferring and proving,” (Book IV. Ch. iii.) in the Dissertation on the Province of Reasoning.
from innumerable examples that might be cited, and of which some more will occur in the subsequent part of this essay; it is not improbable that many indifferent sermons have been produced by the ambiguity of the word “plain:” a young divine perceives the truth of the maxim, that “ for the lower orders one's language cannot be too plain:” (i.e. clear and perspicuous, so as to require no learning nor ingenuity to understand it,) and when he proceeds to practise, the word
plain” indistinctly flits before him, as it were, and often checks him in the use of ornaments of style, such as metaphor, epithet, antithesis, 8c., which are opposed to “plainness” in a totally different sense of the word; being by no means necessarily adverse to perspicuity, but rather, in many cases, conducive to it; as may be seen in several of the clearest of our Lord's discourses, which are the very ones that are the most richly adorned with figurative language. So far indeed is an ornamented style from being unfit for the vulgar, that they are pleased with it even in excess.
Yet the desire to be "plain,” combined with that dim and confused notion which the ambiguity of the word produces in such as do not separate in their minds, and set before themselves, the two meanings, often causes them to write in a dry and bald style,
which has no advantage in point of perspicuity, and is least of all suited to the taste of the vulgar. The above instance is not drawn from mere conjecture, but from actual experience of the fact.
Another instance of the strong influence of Influence of words on our ideas may be adduced from a thouglas. widely different subject : most persons feel a certain degree of surprise on first hearing of the result of some late experiments of the Agricultural Chemists, by which they have ascertained that universally what are called heavy soils are specifically the lightest; and vice versa. Whence this surprise ? for no one ever distinctly believed the established names to be used in the literal and primary sense, in consequence of the respective soils having been weighed together; indeed it is obvious on a moment's reflection that tenacious claysoils (as well as muddy roads) are figuratively called heavy, from the difficulty of ploughing, or passing over them, which produces an effect like that of bearing or dragging a heavy weight; yet still the terms “light” and
heavy,” though used figuratively, have most undoubtedly introduced into men's minds something of the ideas expressed by them in their primitive sense. The same words, when applied to articles of diet, have produced important errors; many supposing some article
of food to be light of digestion from its being specifically light. So true is the ingenious observation of Hobbes, that “words are the counters of wise men, and the money of
* " Men imagine,” says Bacon, " that their minds have the command of Language ; but it often happens that Language bears rule over their mind.” Some of the weak and absurd arguments which are often urged against Suicide may be traced to the influence of words on thoughts. When a Christian moralist is called on for a direct Scriptural precept against suicide, instead of replying that the Bible is not meant for a complete code of laws, but for a system of motives and principles, the answer frequently given is “ thou shalt do no murder;" and it is assumed in the arguments drawn from Reason, as well as in those from Revelation, that Suicide is a species of Murder; viz. because it is called self-murder; and thus, deluded by a name, many are led to rest on an unsound argument, which, like all other fallacies, does more harm than good, in the end, to the cause of truth. Suicide, if any one considers the nature and not the name of it, evidently wants the most essential characteristic of murder, viz. the hurt and injury done to one's neighbour, in depriving him of life, as well as to others by the insecurity they are in consequence liable to feel. And since no one can, strictly speaking, do injustice to himself, he cannot, in the literal and primary acceptation of the words, be said either to rob or to murder himself. He who deserts the post to which he is appointed by his great Master, and presumptuously cuts short the state of probation graciously allowed him for working out his salvation, (whether by action or by patient endurance,) is guilty indeed of a grievous sin, but of one not the least analogous in its character to murder. It implies no inhumanity. It is much more closely allied to the sin of wasting life in
More especially deserving of attention is the influence of Analogical Terms in leading men into erroneous notions in Theology ; where the most important terms are analogical; and yet they are continually employed in Reasoning, without due attention (oftener through want of caution than by unfair design) to their analogical nature; and most of the errors into which theologians have fallen may be traced, in part, to this cause. *
In speaking of the importance of refuting Fallacies, (under which name I include, as will be seen, any false assumption employed as a premiss) this consideration ought not to be overlooked; that an unsound Principle, which has been employed to establish some mis
indolence, or in trifling pursuits,--that life which is bestowed as a seed-time for the harvest of immortality. What is called in familiar phrase "killing time," is, in truth, an approach, as far as it goes, to the destruction of one's own life : for " Time is the stuff life is made of."
It is surely wiser and safer to confine ourselves to such arguments as will bear the test of a close examination, than to resort to such as may indeed at the first glance be more specious and appear stronger, but which, when exposed, will too often leave a man a dupe to the fallacies on the opposite side. But it is especially the error of controversialists to urge every thing that can be urged ; to snatch up the first weapon that comes to hand ; (" furor arma ministrat ;") without waiting to consider what is TRUE.
* See the notes to Ch. v. § 1. of the Dissertation subjoined.