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The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.

very general and abstract terms, which is the principal source of all the nonsense that hath been invented by metaphysicians, mystagogues, and theologians.


The extensive usefulness of Perspicuity.

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SECT. I.....When is obscurity apposite, if ever it be apposite, and what kind?

HAVING fully considered the nature of perspicuity, and the various ways in which the laws relating to it may be transgressed, I shall now inquire, whether to be able to transgress with dexterity in any of those ways, by speaking obscurely, ambiguously, or unintelligibly, be not as essential to the perfections of eloquence, as to be able to speak perspicuously?

ELOQUENCE, it may be said, hath been defined to be, that art or talent whereby the discourse is adapt


"hil quod alicujus sit pretii." De Augm. Scien. lib, vi. cap. 2. I shall only observe, that when he calls this art a method of imposture, he appears to mean that it puts an imposition upon the mind, not so much by infusing error instead of truth, as by amusing us with mere words instead of useful knowledge

The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.

ed to produce the effect which the speaker intends it should produce in the hearer *. May not then obscurity, on some occasions, be as conducive to the effect intended, as perspicuity is on other occasions? If the latter is necessary in order to inform, is not the former necessary in order to deceive? If perspicuity be expedient in convincing us of truth, and persuad. ing us to do right, is not its contrary, obscurity, expedient in effecting the contrary; that is, in convincing us of what is false, and in persuading us to do wrong? And may not either of these effects be the aim of the speaker?

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* Book I. Chap. I.

THIS way of arguing is far more plausible than just. To be obscure, or even unintelligible, may, I acknowledge, in some cases, contribute to the design of the orator, yet it doth not follow, that obscurity is as essential to eloquence as the opposite quality. It is the design of the medical art to give health and ease to the patient, not pain and sickness, and that the latter are sometimes the foreseen effects of the medicines employed, doth not invalidate the general truth. Whatever be the real intention of a speaker or writer, whether to satisfy our reason of what is true or of what is untrue, whether to incline our will to what is right or to what is wrong, still he must propose to effect his design, by informing our understanding: nay more, without conveying to our minds some in

Sect. I.

When is obscurity apposite, and what kind?

formation, he might as well attempt to atchieve his purpose by addressing us in an unknown tongue. Generally, therefore, this quality of style, perspicuity, is as requisite in seducing to evil, as in exciting to good, in defending error, as in supporting truth.

I AM sensible that this position must appear to many a perfect paradox. What! say they, is it not as natural to vice and falsehood to sculk in darkness, as it is to truth and virtue to appear in light? Doubtless it is in some sense, but in such a sense as is not in the least repugnant to the doctrine here advanced. That therefore we may be satisfied of the justness of this theory, it will be necessary to consider a little further the nature both of persuasion and of conviction.

WITH regard to the former, it is evident, that the principal scope for employing persuasion, is, when the mind balances, or may be supposed to balance, in determining what choice to make in respect of conduct, whether to do this, or to do that, or at least whether to do, or to forbear. And it is equally evident, that the mind would never balance a moment in choosing, unless there were motives to influence it on each of the opposite sides. In favour of one side perhaps is the love of glory, in favour of the other the love of life. Now, whichever side the orator espouses, there are two things that must carefully be studied by him, as VOL. II. H

The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.

was observed on a former occasion *; the first is, to excite in his hearers that desire or passion which favours his design; the second is, to satisfy their judgments, that there is a connection between the conduct to which he would persuade them, and the gratification of the desire or passion which he excites. The first is effected by communicating natural and lively ideas of the object; the second by arguments from experience, analogy, testimony, or the plurality of chances. To the communication of natural and vivid ideas, the pathetic circumstances formerly enumerated †, are particularly conducive. Now, to the efficacious display of those circumstances, nothing can be more unfriendly than obscurity, whose direct tendency is to confound our ideas, or rather to blot them altogether. And as to the second requisite, the argumentative part, that can never require obscurity, which doth not require even a deviation from truth. It may be as true, and therefore as demonstrable, that my acting in one way will promote my safety, or what I regard as my interest, as that my acting in the contrary way will raise my fame. And even when an orator is under a necessity of replying to what hath been advanced by an antagonist, in order to weaken the impression he hath made, or to lull the passion he hath roused, it is not often that he is obliged to avail

*Book I. Chap. VII. Sect. IV.

Book I. Chap. VII. Sect. V. those circumstances.

See the analysis of persuasion."
The explication and use of

Sect. I.

When is obscurity apposite, and what kinds?

himself of any false or sophistical reasoning, which alone can render obscurity useful. Commonly, on the contrary, he hath only to avail himself of an artful exhibition of every circumstance of the case, that can any way contribute to invalidate or to subvert his adversary's plea, and consequently to support his own. Now, it is a certain fact, that in almost all complicated cases, real circumstances will be found in favour of each side of the question. Whatever side therefore the orator supports, it is his business, in the first place, to select those circumstances that are favourable to to his own plea, or which excite the passion that is directly instrumental in promoting his end; secondly, to select those circumstances that are unfavourable to the plea of his antagonist, and to add to all these such clearness and energy by his eloquence, as will effectually fix the attention of the hearers upon them, and thereby withdraw their regards from those circumstances, equally real, which favour the other side. In short, it is the business of the two antagonists to give different or even opposite directions to the attention of the hearers; but then it is alike the interest of each to set those particular circumstances, to which he would attract their notice, in as clear a light as possible. And it is only by acting thus that he can hope to effectuate his purpose.

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PERHAPS it will be urged, that though, where the end is persuasion, there doth not seem to be an absolute necessity for sophistry and obscurity on either

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