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PROVERBS xii. 22.
Lying Lips are Abomination to the Lord: but they, that deal truly, are his Delight.
the Advantages of Rea
fon, the Condition of Mankind would be very low, and indeed very unhappy, if we did not alfo excell the reft of the Creatures, which inhabit this Earth, in a greater Power of communicating our Thoughts one to another. They have much fewer Wants: and are taught by Nature, almoft immediately, how to fupply them. But we are purposely formed to need and to give Help in every Thing, through the Whole of our Days: and therefore fome ready and extenfive Method of fignifying mutually whatever paffes within our Minds was peculiarly neceffary for us. Without this, no Perfon would have more Knowledge of any I 4 Thing
Thing than he could attain of himself: or more Affiftance in Diftrefs from his Neighbour, than mere Conjecture would direct him to think needful, and unrequested Goodness incline him to beftow. The Pleasure alfo, as well as the Benefits of Society, would be reduced to a narrow Compass: and Life hang upon our Hands joylefs and uncomfortable. But our gracious Maker hath furnished us with feveral Ways of doing what we find fo requifite. Our Actions and Geftures declare our Meanings, in many Cafes, both clearly and strongly : and our Looks have Significancy, inexpreffible any other Way. The most intelligent of other Animals come not near us in either of these Refpects. But yet articulate Speech, our more distinguishing Property, hath, on the Whole, much greater Pre-eminences belonging to it: and, together with the Improvement built upon it, of marking down Words with Eafe in lafting Characters, hath raised us to a much higher Rank in the Scale of Beings, than we could otherwife have obtained.
Still unhappily, as every Bleffing in the World may be fatally misused, so there is hardly any one bad Purpose, which Language, though granted for the most excellent good Purposes,
Purposes, may not be, and hath not been, perverted to ferve. But it ferves the most such, and the most effectually, by being turned from its original Defign of giving right Information to those, with whom we converse, to the oppofite one of leading them wrong: a Practice fo immoral and mischievous, yet so common; and so often seeming to be not only serviceable to the Deceivers themselves, but defenfible, or however not very blameable, in Respect of such as they deceive; that few Things are of more Importance, than forming juft Notions concerning our Obligations to Veracity. And in doing this, though the principal Point is to restrain Men from taking over-great Liberties, yet they must be guarded also against over-great Scrupuloufnefs: both because every Precept ought to be reprefented fairly; and becaufe, if this be not, fome will be Sufferers by obferving, and others feel Remorfe for tranfgreffing, imaginary Duties; while much larger Numbers, perceiving the Rules given them to be in Part too ftrict, will take Occafion from thence to flight them all.
In order then to state this whole Subject, I shall,
I. Shew, what Things are to be reput ed Lies, and what not.
II. Confider the Pleas, which are made to justify fome Sorts of Lying.
III. Thofe, which are brought to excufe others.
I. The leading Queftion therefore is, what Things are to be reputed Lies, and what not. Now here,
1. Since Actions and Gestures, as well as Words, may be employed to express what we think; they may be alfo employed to exprefs what we do not think: which is the Effence of a Lie. Indeed fome of our Actions are naturally fignificative: whereas few of our Words have any other Import, than arbitrary Confent and Ufage give them; as appears from the different Languages of different Nations. But then we have never confented to make our Actions in general Signs of our Intentions, as we have our Words. And if Perfons interpret an Action of ours to mean this or that, which hath no certain Meaning affixed to it, we deceive them not, but they deceive themselves. Nor are we bound, in Point of Truth, to explain it, in order to prevent this: but in Point of Charity and Humanity we are, if we apprehend,
hend, that they may fuffer any Harm by miftaking, which we can obviate without fuffering proportionable Harm in their Stead, Such Actions therefore, as have no determinate Senfe appropriated to them by Agreement, explicit or implied, can be no Violations of Sincerity but fuch as have, are fubject to just the fame Rules with Words; and we may be guilty of as grofs Falfehoods in the former, as in the latter.
2. Words having acquired their Significations by the mutual Acquiefcence of Mankind, may change them by the fame Method. And not only fingle Words may in Procefs of Time vary their Sense greatly, but Combinations of several Words may come to have Meanings, very different from what the Terms, of which they are compofed, uninterpreted by Practice, would lead one to apprehend. We all know what it is to be humble, and to be a Servant to any one. But a Perfon, who, in the common Acceptation of the Words, taken separately, cannot say he is either, may safely affirm that he is both, when they are joined together into an ufual Declaration of mere Civility. And in general, whatever Form of Speech, though false in its primitive Sense, is