From the Introduction to Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690):
First, I shall inquire into the original of those ideas, notions or whatever else you please to call them, which a man observes and is conscious to himself he has in his mind; and the ways whereby the understanding comes to be furnished with them.
Secondly, I shall endeavour to show what knowledge the understanding hath by those ideas: and the certainty, evidence, and extent of it.
Thirdly, I shall make some inquiry into the nature and grounds of faith or opinion: whereby I mean that assent which we give to any proposition as true, of whose truth yet we have no certain knowledge. And here we shall have occasion to examine the reasons and degrees of assent.
If by this inquiry into the nature of the understanding, I can discover the powers thereof; how far they reach; to what things they are in any degree proportionate; and where they fail us, I suppose it may be of use to prevail with the busy mind of man to be more cautious in meddling with things exceeding its comprehension; to stop when it is at the utmost extent of its tether; and to sit down in a quiet ignorance of those things which, upon examination, are found to be beyond the reach of our capacities. We should not then perhaps be so forward, out of an affectation of an universal knowledge, to raise questions, and perplex ourselves and others with disputes about things to which our understandings are not suited; and of which we cannot frame in our minds any clear or distinct conceptions, or whereof (as it has perhaps too often happened) we have not any notions at all. If we can find out how far understanding can extend its view; how far it has faculties to attain certainty; and in what cases it can only judge and guess, we may learn to content ourselves with what is attainble by us in this state.
Which parts of this view of human nature appear in Victorian thinkers?
Which authors would find offensive the idea that "the busy mind of man [should] be more cautious in meddling with things exceeding its comprehension"?
Content last updated: 1995; links last added 17 March 2000