Isaac Watts: A certain uncertainty

This excellent quote by heretic Isaac Watts has relevance to The Tolerant Religionists Handbook which includes information about such topics as Tolerant Calvinism, pseudo-piety/humility, epistemic arrogance/hypocrisy, etc., etc. Pretty much just the usual, customary, oft-regurgitated-same-old-stuff we hear from those who deem it quite “charitable” (among other things) to commit spiritual fornication with the Great Whore described in the book of Revelation.

“The most important question on the subject is this, what is the criterion, or distinguishing mark, of truth? How shall we know when a proposition is really true or false? There are so many disguises of truth in the world, so many false appearances of truth, that some sects have declared there is no possibility of distinguishing truth from falsehood; and therefore they have abandoned all pretences to knowledge, and maintained strenuously that nothing is to be known.

The first men of this humour made themselves famous in Greece by the name of Sceptics, that is, Seekers: they were also called Academics, borrowing their name from Academia, their school or place of study. They taught that all things are uncertain, though they allowed that some are more probable than others. After these arose the sect of Pyrrhonics, named from Pyrrho, their master, who would not allow any proposition to be more probable than another; but professed that all things were equally uncertain. Now all these men (as an ingenious author expresses it) were rather to be called a sect of liars than philosophers; and that censure is just for two reasons:

(1) Because they determined concerning every proposition that it was uncertain, and believed that as a certain truth, while they professed there was nothing certain, and that nothing could be determined concerning truth or falsehood; and thus their very doctrine gave itself the lie.

(2) Because they judged and acted as other men did in the common affairs of life; they would neither run into fire nor water, though they professed ignorance and uncertainty, whether the one would burn or the other drown them.

There have been some in all ages who have too much affected this humour, who dispute against every thing, under pretence that truth has no certain mark to distinguish it” (Isaac Watts, Logic: The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry After Truth, pp. 165-166).

Advertisements