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Joseph Glanvill – The philosophy of the Royal Society

March 19, 2015

“The Philosophy that must signifie either for Light or Use, must not be the work of the Mind turned in upon it self, and only conversing with its own Ideas; but It must be raised from the Observations and Applications of Sense, and take its Accounts from Things as they are in the sensible world. The Illustrious Lord Bacon hath noted this as the chief cause of the unprofitableness of the former Methods of Knowledge, viz. That they were but the Exercises of the Mind, making Conclusions, and spinning out Notions from its own native store; from which way of proceeding, nothing but Dispute and Air could be expected. ‘Twas the fault that Great Man found in the Ancients, That they flew presently to general Propositions, without staying for a due information from Particulars, and so gradually advancing to Axioms: Whereas the Knowledge from which any thing is to be hoped, must be laid in Sense, and raised not only from some few of its ordinary Informations; but Instances must be aggregated, compared, and critically inspected, and examined singly and in consort. In order to which Performances, our Senses must be aided; for of themselves they are too narrow for the vastness of things, and too short for deep Researches: They make us very defective and unaccurate Reports, and many times very deceitful and fallacious ones. I say therefore, they must be assisted with Instruments that may strengthen and rectifie their Operations. And in these we have mighty advantages over Aristotle and the Ancients; so that much greater things may well be expected from our Philosophy, than could ever have been performed by theirs, though we should grant them all the Superiority of Wit and Understanding their fondest Admirers would ascribe to those Sages. For a weak hand can move more weight by the help of Springs, Wheels, Leavers, and other Mechanick Powers, than the strongest could do without them.”

(from Plus Ultra, or, The Progress and Advancement of Knowledge Since the Days of Aristotle in an Account of Some of the Most Remarkable Late Improvements of Practical, Useful Learning, to Encourage Philosophical Endeavours [1668])


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