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pursuit of knowledge. But upon a careful perusal of this history, I found it a vast magazine of important facts, collected with indefatigable industry, digested with admirable perspicuity of method, and written with every appearance of candour and impartiality. I regretted that so valuable a fund of information should be accessible only to those, who had learning, leisure, and perseverance sufficient, to read in Latin six closely printed quarto volumes, containing on the average about a thousand pages each. I thought I could not render my countrymen better service, than by taking upon myself to become, in this instance, their reader; and determined to undertake the task of communicating to them, in their vernacular tongue, the substance of this great, and, as it appeared to me, valuable work.
The task was not without difficulties. Having neither leisure, nor in many cases opportunity, to compare the history with the numerous authorities to which it refers, I was obliged, for the most part, to give my author implicit credit for fidelity and accuracy. This, however, I thought myself justified in doing, partly because, wherever I have consulted the originals, I have found the quotations and references sufficiently correct; but chiefly, on account of the high reputation which the author has obtained upon the continent. I have, nevertheless, thought it right to give his references, as far as my plan would permit, that they may be. consulted by such readers as may wish to compare them with the work. In the selection of materials, I had no resource, but to rely upon my own judgment. The only rule I have followed has been, to choose such particulars as were most likely to be generally interesting. Those who are inclined to enter into more minute inquiries, will of course consult the original authors; and for their convenience, a general list of references is given at the close of each chapter, or section. In regard to language, I have found it wholly impracticable to follow my author. His style is so exceedingly verbose, that it would have been impossible to have made these voiumes a translation of select parts, without omitting others equally important, and without at the same time rendering the work tedious to an English reader. Instead of translating the original, I have, therefore, endeavoured to give a faithful representation of its general meaning and spirit. To express these with per
spicuity and precision, has been, as far as respects stylę, my utmost aim.
Of the author's Abridgment of his great work, published, in a large octavo volume,* under the title of Institutiones Historic Philosophica Usui Academica Juventutes adornatæ, I have made as much use, as was consistent with the different views with which that abstract and this history were drawn up. The former appears to have been written almost entirely for the sake of academic students, and rather to assist their recollection in studying the subject, than to supersede the use of the larger history. The latter is designed to give those, who may not have leisure or opportunity to peruse the original, an idea of its contents, sufficiently complete to answer every purpose of interesting or useful information. If it be asked, whether the trouble of drawing up this history from the larger work, might not have been spared, by translating the author's own abridgment? my answer is, that such a translation would only have furnished the English reader with a dry sketch of leading incidents and opinions; whereas, in this 'work it is intended, not only to communicate information by a detail of facts, but to enliven the detail by anecdotes and reflections of various kinds. Few persons, I apprehend, would prefer the bare outline of a portrait, though sketched in full size by the hand of a master, to a miniature picture, which, at the same time that it sufficiently preserves the likeness, copies in some measure the expression and colouring of the original.
For any occasional mistakes which the learned reader may detect in the course of this history, I have no other apology to make, than that I have endeavoured to render it as correct as I was able. With regard to the errors which may be charged upon my author, I am inclined to speak with less diffidence. His work bears throughout such evident marks of diligent attention, cool judgment, and freedom from prejudice, as justly to entitle even his opinions to no small degree of respect; but as far as concerns facts, perhaps no historian ever had a better claim to confidence. No candid reader will, without the most careful inquiry, pronounce that statement of facts erroneous, which was the
result of a course of investigation, in which the life of an industrious student was principally occupied for the long term of fifty years.*
The uses which may be made of the history of philosophy, are so fully enumerated in the author's preliminary observations, as to leave me little to add upon the subject. I must not, however, omit to mention certain applications of this branch of knowledge, which, from causes into which it is of little consequence to inquire, BRUCKER has either barely hinted at, or wholly overlooked.
Experience is universally acknowledged to be the best preceptor. The history of philosophy is a register of experiments to ascertain the strength of the human understanding. As far as they have been successful, they at once serve to guide and to encourage our future researches. And even those which have been unsuccessful, may perhaps prove of equal use in preventing the repetition of unprofitable labours. To infer from the diversity of opinions on metaphysical subjects, which, after ages of disputation, has subsisted, and still continues among philosophers, that the whole field of metaphysics ought to be abandoned as barren ground, would be a rash and precipitate conclusion. But the dialectic combatants of the Grecian, Alexandrian, Arabian, and Christian schools, have lived to little purpose, if they have not convinced the world, that by far the greater part of their ingenuity and industry was employed, either upon mere words, or upon nuga difficiles, which have never yielded, and are never likely to yield, any substantial benefit to mankind.
With respect to those more important inquiries, which have been always interwoven with scholastic logomachies, such as concern, for example, the origin of things, the na ture of the Supreme Being, the distinct existence and dura、 tion of the human soul, the foundation of morals, and other similar subjects, although the different systems, which are embraced with equal confidence by dogmatists of every seet, ought not to be pleaded as an argument for abandoning the search after truth, as altogether a hopeless pursuit, they ought, unquestionably, to teach every inquirer caution and diffidence, and every disputant candour and modera
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tion. Perhaps, too, men's researches into these subjects; have now been carried to such extent, and every argument upon them has been so thoroughly discussed, that it may be possible to determine, with sufficient precision, how far it is possible for the human faculties to proceed in the investigation of truth, and why it can proceed no further. Possibly the time may not be far distant, when an end will be put to fruitless controversy, by distinctly ascertaining the limits of the human understanding. If this desirable point be ever attained, it is obvious that one of the means of accomplishing it must be, an accurate attention to the manner in which different sects in philosophy and religion have, from time to time, arisen, and to the various causes of diversity of opinion.
But, among the advantages which may be expected from a comparison of the history of philosophy with the present state of opinions, one of the principal is, that it will lead to the full discovery of the origin of many notions and practices, which have no other support than their antiquity, and consequently to much important reformation and improvement. The doctrines, the forms, and even the technical language of our public schools, may be easily traced back to the Scholastic Age, and through this to the ancient Grecian sects, particularly to the Peripatetic school. It is impossible that the present state of knowledge should be fairly compared with ancient wisdom, without discovering the absolute necessity of enlarging the field of education beyond the utmost limits prescribed by our most enlightened ancestors. From the same comparison, similar effects may be confidently expected, with respect to religious tenets and institutions. When it is clearly understood (as from the present free discussion of these subjects it is likely soon to be) that many of the doctrines commonly received as of divine authority, originated in the Pagan schools, and were thence transplanted at a very early period, into the Christian church; more particularly when it is generally known (and it is impossible it can be long concealed even from the lowest classes of the people) that the fundamental doctrine of the unity of the Divine Nature has undergone corruptions, from which no established church in Christendom has ever yet been purged; it cannot fail to become an object of general attention, to produce such a reform in
religion, as shall free its public institutions from the incumbrance of scholastic subtleties, and to render religion itself more interesting and efficacious, by making its forms more simple and intelligible.
It has not been without the hope of contributing, in some degree, towards the abolition of ancient errors, and the extension of useful knowledge, that I have drawn up this history of philosophy.
Norwich, June, 1791.