THERE is not a greater number of philosophical reasonings, displayed upon any subject,
than those, which prove the existence of a Deity, and refute the fallacies of Atheists; and yet the most religious philosophers
still dispute whether any man can be so blinded as to be a speculative atheist. How shall we reconcile these contradictions?
The knights errant, who wandered about to clear the world of dragons and giants, never entertained the least doubt with regard
to the existence of these monsters.
The Sceptic is another enemy of religion, who naturally provokes the indignation of all divines
and graver philosophers; though it is certain, that no man ever met with any such absurd creature, or conversed with a man,
who had no opinion or principle concerning any subject, either of action or speculation. This begets a very natural question;
What is meant by a sceptic? And how far it is possible to push these philosophical principles of doubt and uncertainty?
There is a species of scepticism, antecedent to all study and philosophy, which is much inculcated
by Des Cartes and others, as a sovereign preservative against error and precipitate judgement. It recommends an universal
doubt, not only of all our former opinions and principles, but also of our very faculties; of whose veracity, say they, we
must assure ourselves, by a chain of reasoning, deduced from some original principle, which cannot possibly be fallacious
or deceitful. But neither is there any such original principle, which has a prerogative above others, that are self-evident
and convincing: or if there were, could we advance a step beyond it, but by the use of those very faculties, of which we are
supposed to be already diffident. The Cartesian doubt, therefore, were it ever possible to be attained by any human creature
(as it plainly is not) would be entirely incurable; and no reasoning could ever bring us to a state of assurance and conviction
upon any subject.
It must, however, be confessed, that this species of scepticism, when more moderate, may be
understood in a very reasonable sense, and is a necessary preparative to the study of philosophy, by preserving a proper impartiality
in our judgements, and weaning our mind from all those prejudices, which we may have imbibed from education or rash opinion.
To begin with clear and self-evident principles, to advance by timorous and sure steps, to review frequently our conclusions,
and examine accurately all their consequences; though by these means we shall make both a slow and a short progress in our
systems; are the only methods, by which we can ever hope to reach truth, and attain a proper stability and certainty in our