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The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.

side, as there is not on either side an absolute necessity for supporting falsehood; the case is certainly different when the end is to convince the understanding. In this case, whatever is spoken on one side of the question, as it is spoken in support of error, must be sophistical ; and sophistry seems to require a portion of obscurity, to serve her as a veil, that she may escape discovery. Even here, however, the case is not so plain, as at first it may be thought. Sophistry (which hath sometimes been successfully used in support of truth) is not always necessary for the support of error. Error may be supported, and hath

· been often strenuously supported, by very cogent arguments and just reasoning.

But as this position will probably appear to many very extraordinary, if not irrational, it will be necessary to examine the matter more minutely. It is true, indeed, that in subjects susceptible of demonstrative proof, error cannot be defended but by sophistry ; and sophistry, to prevent detection, must shelter herself in obscurity. This results from the nature of scientific evidence, as formerly explained *. This kind of evidence is solely conversant about the invariable relations of number and extension, which relations it evolves by a simple chain of axioms. An assertion, therefore, that is contrary to truth in these matters, is also absurd and inconceivable ; nor is there any scope here for contrariety of proofs. According

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* Book I. Chap. V. Sect. II.

Sect. I.

When is obscurity apposite, and what kinds ?

ly, debate and argumentation have no footing here. The case is far otherwise with moral evidence, which is of a complex nature, which admits degrees, which is almost always combated by opposite proofs, and these, though perhaps lower in degree, as truly of the nature of proof and evidence, as those whereby they are opposed. The probability, on the whole, as was shown already *, lies in the proportion which the contrary proofs, upon comparison, bear to one another; a proportion which, in complicated cases, it is often difficult, and sometimes even impossible to ascertain. The speakers, therefore, on the opposite sides, have each real evidence to insist on; and there is here the same scope as in persuasory discourses, for all the arts that can both rivet the hearer's attention on the circumstances of the proof favourable to the speaker's design, and divert his attention from the contrary circumstances. Nor is there in ordinary cases, that is, in all cases really dubious and disputable, any necessity, on either side, for what is properly called sophistry.

The natural place for sophistry is, when a speaker finds himself obliged to attempt the refutation of arguments that are both clear and convincing. For an answerer to overlook such arguments altogether might be dangerous, and to treat them in such a manner as to elude their force, requires the most exquisite address. A little sophistry here will, no doubt, be

* Book I. Chap. V. Sect. II.

The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.

thought necessary, by one with whom victory hath more charms than truth ; and sophistry, as was hinted above, always implies obscurity; for that a sophism should be mistaken for an argument, can be imputed only to this, that it is not rightly understood,

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As from wliat hath been said, we may learn to distinguish the few cases wherein a violation of the laws of perspicuity may be pertinent to the purpose of the orator, I shall next enquire what kind of violation is in such cases best fitted for answering his design. It is evident it cannot be the first, which for distinction's sake was denominated by the general name Obscurity. When a hearer not only doth not understand, but is himself sensible that he doth not understand what is spoken, it can produce no effect on him, but weariness, suspicion, and disgust, which must be prejudicial to the intention. Although it is not always necessary, that every thing advanced by the 'speaker should convey information to the hearer, it is necessary that he should believe himself informed by what is said, ere he can be convinced or persuaded by it. For the like reason, it is not the second kind of transgression, or any discoverable ambiguity in what is spoken, that is adapted to the end of speaking, This fault, if discovered, though not of so bad consequence as the former, tends to distract the attention of the hearer, and thereby to weaken the impression which the words would otherwise have made. It remains, that it is only the third and last kind above,

Sect. I.

When is obscurity apposite, and what kinds ?

discussed, when what is said, though in itself unintelligible, a hearer may be led to imagine that he understands. When ambiguities can artfully be made to elude discovery, and to conduce to this deception, they may be used with success*. Now, though nothing would seem to be easier than this kind of style, when an author falls into it naturally ; that is, when he deceives himself as well as his reader; nothing is more difficult when attempted of design. It is besides requisite, if this manner must be continued for any time, that it be artfully blended with some glimpses of meaning; else, to persons of discernment, the charm will at last be dissolved, and the nothingness of what hath been spoken will be detected ; nay, even the attention of the unsuspecting multitude, when not relieved by any thing that is level to their comprehension, will infallibly flag. The invocation in the Dunciad admirably suits the orator who is unhappily reduced to the necessity of taking shelter in the unintelligible.

Of darkness visible so much be lent,
As half to show, half veil the deep intent.

There is but one subject in nature (if what is unintelligible can be called a subject) on which the appetite of nonsense is utterly insatiable. The intelligent read

* That they are often successful this way, hath been justly remarked by Aristotle, Των δ' ονομάτων, το μεν σοφις η ομωνυμοιαι χρησιμοί, Tapos

ταυλας γαι κακοίγει. Ρητ. ν.

The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.

er needs not be informed that I mean what is commonly termed mystical theology; a subject whose supposed sublimity serves with its votaries to apologise for its darkness. That here indeed there may be found readers who can, not only with patience but with avidity, not only through pages but through volumes, lose themselves in wandering over a maze of words unenlightened by a single ray of sense, the translation of the works of Jacob Behmen, and our modern Hutchinsonian performances, are lamentable proofs. But this case is particular.

Afrer all, we are not to imagine, that the sophistical and unmeaning, when it may in some sense be said to be proper, or even necessary, are, in respect of the ascendant gained over the mind of the hearer, ever capable of rivaling conclusive arguments perspicuously expressed. The effect of the former is at most only to confound the judgment, and by the confusion it produceth, to silence contradiction; the effect of the latter is, fully to convince the understanding. The impression made by the first can no more be compared in distinctness and vivacity to that effected by the second, than the dreams of a person asleep to his perceptions when awake. Hence we may perceive an eminent disadvantage, which the advocate for error, when compelled to recur to words without meaning, must labour under. The weapons he is obliged to use are of such a nature, that there is much greater difficulty in managing them, than in managing those that

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