Of the nearer and more Immediate Causes of popular Errors, both in the wiser and common sort, Misapprehension, Fallacy, or false deduction, Credulity, Supinity, adherence unto Antiquity, Tradition and Authority.

THE first is a mistake, or a misconception of things, either in their first apprehensions, or secondary relations. So Eve mistook the Commandment, either from the immediate injunction of God, or from the secondary narration of her Husband.[1] So might the Disciples mistake our Saviour, in his answer unto Peter concerning the death of John, as is delivered, John 21: Peter seeing John said unto Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith, If I will, that he tarry till I come, what is that unto thee? Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that Disciple should not die. Thus began the conceit and opinion of the Centaures: that is, in the mistake of the first beholders, as is declared by Servius; when some young Thessalians on horseback were beheld afar off, while their horses watered, that is, while their heads, were depressed, they were conceived by the first Spectators, to be but one animal; and answerable hereunto have their pictures been drawn ever since.[2]

And, as simple mistakes commonly beget fallacies, so men rest not in false apprehensions, without absurd and inconsequent deductions; from fallacious foundations and misapprehended mediums,[3] erecting conclusions no way inferrible from their premises. Now the fallacys whereby men deceive others, and are deceived themselves, the Ancients have divided into Verbal and Real. Of the Verbal, and such as conclude from mistakes of the Word, although there be no less than six, yet are there but two thereof worthy our notation, and unto which the rest may be referred; that is the fallacy of Equivocation and Amphibology[4] which conclude from the ambiguity of some one word, or the ambiguous Syntaxis of many put together. From this fallacy arose that calamitous Error of the Jews, misapprehending the Prophesies of their Messias, and expounding them alwayes unto literal and temporal expectations. By this way many Errors crept in and perverted the Doctrin of Pythagoras, whilst men received his Precepts in a different sense from his intention; converting Metaphors into proprieties, and receiving as literal expressions, obscure and involved truths. Thus when he enjoyned his Disciples an abstinence from Beans, many conceived they were with severity debarred the use of that pulse; which notwithstanding could not be his meaning; for as Aristoxenus, who wrote his life averreth, he delighted much in that kind of food himself. But herein, as Plutarch observeth, he had no other intention than to dissuade men from Magistracy, or undertaking the publick offices of state; for by beans was the Magistrate elected in some parts of Greece; and, after his daies, we read in Thucydides, of the Councel of the bean in Athens.[5] The same word also in Greek doth signifie a Testicle, and hath been thought by some an injunction only of Continency, as Aul. Gellius hath expounded, and as Empedocles may also be interpreted:6 that is, Testiculis miseri dextras subducite; and might be the original intention of Pythagoras; as having a notable hint hereof in Beans, from the natural signature of the venereal organs of both Sexes. Again, his injunction is, not to harbour Swallows in our Houses: Whose advice notwithstanding we do not contemn, who daily admit and cherish them: For herein a caution is only implied, not to entertain ungrateful and thankless persons, which like the Swallow are no way commodious unto us; but having made use of our habitations, and served their own turns, forsake us. So he commands to deface the Print of a Cauldron in the ashes, after it hath boiled. Which strictly to observe were condemnable superstition: But hereby he covertly adviseth us not to persevere in anger; but after our choler hath boiled, to retain no impression thereof. In the like sense are to be received, when he adviseth his Disciples to give the right hand but to few, to put no viands in a Chamber-pot, not to pass over a Balance, not to rake up fire with a Sword, or piss against the Sun. Which ænigmatical deliveries comprehend useful verities, but being mistaken by literal Expositors at the first, they have been mis-understood by most since, and may be occasion of Error to Verbal capacities for ever.

This fallacy in the first delusion Satan put upon Eve, and his whole tentation might be the same continued;[7] so when he said, Ye shall not die, that was, in his equivocation, ye shall not incurr a present death, or a destruction immediately ensuing your transgression. Your eyes shall be opened; that is, not to the enlargement of your knowledg, but discovery of your shame and proper confusion; You shall know good and evil; that is, you shall have knowledge of good by its privation, but cognisance of evil by sense and visible experience. And the same fallacy or way of deceit, so well succeeding in Paradise, he continued in his Oracles through all the World. Which had not men more warily understood, they might have performed many acts inconsistent with his intention. Brutus might have made haste with Tarquine to have kissed his own Mother. The Athenians might have built them woodden walls, or doubled the Altar at Delphos.[8]

The circle of this fallacy is very large; and herein may be comprised all Ironical mistakes, for intended expressions receiving inverted significations; all deductions from Metaphors, Parables, Allegories, unto real and rigid interpretations. Whereby have risen not only popular Errors in Philosophy, but vulgar and senseless Heresies in Divinity; as will be evident unto any that shall examine their foundations, as they stand related by Epiphanius, Austin,9 or Prateolus.

Other waies there are of deceit; which consist not in false apprehensions of Words, that is, Verbal expressions or sentential significations, but fraudulent deductions, or inconsequent illations, from a false conception of things. Of these extradictionary and real fallacies, Aristotle and Logicians make in number six, but we observe that men are most commonly deceived by four thereof: those are Petitio principii, A dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter, A non causa pro causa; And, fallacia consequentis.

The first is, Petitio principii. Which fallacy is committed, when a question is made a medium, or we assume a medium as granted, whereof we remain as unsatisfied as of the question. Briefly, where that is assumed as a Principle to prove another thing, which is not conceded as true it self. By this fallacy was Eve deceived, when she took for granted, a false assertion of the Devil; Ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as Gods.[10] Which was but a bare affirmation of Satan, without proof or probable inducement, contrary unto the command of God, and former belief of her self. And this was the Logick of the Jews when they accused our Saviour unto Pilate; who demanding a reasonable impeachment, or the allegation of some crime worthy of Condemnation, they only replied, If he had not been worthy of Death, we would not have brought Him before thee.[11] Wherein there was neither accusation of the person, nor satisfaction of the Judg; who well understood, a bare accusation was not presumption of guilt, and the clamours of the people no accusation at all. The same Fallacy is sometime used in the dispute, between Job and his friends; they often taking that for granted which afterward he disproveth.

The second is, A dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter, when from that which is but true in a qualified sense, an inconditional and absolute verity is inferred; transferring the special consideration of things unto their general acceptions, or concluding from their strict acception, unto that without all limitation. This fallacy men commit when they argue from a particular to a general; as when we conclude the vices or qualities of a few, upon a whole Nation. Or from a part unto the whole. Thus the Devil argues with our Saviour: and by this, he would perswade Him he might be secure, if he cast himself from the Pinnacle: For, said he, it is written, He shall give his Angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.12 But this illation was fallacious, leaving one part of the Text, He shall keep thee in all thy wayes; that is, in the wayes of righteousness, and not of rash attempts: so he urged a part for the whole, and inferred more in the conclusion, than was contained in the premises. By the same fallacy we proceed, when we conclude from the sign unto the thing signified. By this incroachment, Idolatry first crept in, men converting the symbolical use of Idols into their proper Worship, and receiving the representation of things as the substance and thing it self. So the Statue of Belus at first erected in his memory, was in after-times adored as a Divinity. And so also in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Bread and Wine which were but the signals or visible signs, were made the things signified, and worshipped as the Body of Christ. And hereby generally men are deceived that take things spoken in some Latitude without any at all. Hereby the Jews were deceived concerning the commandment of the Sabbath, accusing our Saviour for healing the sick, and his Disciples for plucking the ears of Corn upon that day. [13] And by this deplorable mistake they were deceived unto destruction, upon the assault of Pompey the great, made upon that day; by whose superstitious observations they could not defend themselves, or perform any labour whatever.[14]

The third is, A non causa pro causa, when that is pretended for a cause which is not, or not in that sense which is inferred. Upon this consequence the law of Mahomet forbids the use of Wine; and his Successors abolished Universities. By this also manny Christians have condemned literature, misunderstanding the councel of Saint Paul,[15] who adviseth no further than to beware of Philosophy. On this Foundation were built the conclusions of Southsayers in their Augurial, and Tripudiary divinations;[16] collecting presages from voice or food of Birds, and conjoyning Events unto causes of no connection. Hereupon also are grounded the gross mistakes, in the cure of many diseases; not only from the last medicine, and sympathetical Receipts, but Amulets, Charms, and all incantatory applications; deriving effects not only from inconcurring causes, but things devoid of all efficiency whatever.

The fourth is, the Fallacy of the Consequent; which if strictly taken, may be a fallacious illation in reference unto antecedency, or consequency; as to conclude from the position of the antecedent to the position of the consequent, or from the remotion of the consequent to the remotion of the antecedent. This is usually committed, when in connexed Propositions the Terms adhere contingently. This is frequent in Oratory illations; and thus the Pharisees, because He conversed with Publicans and Sinners, accused the holiness of Christ. But if this Fallacy be largely taken, it is committed in any vicious illation, offending the rules of good consequence: and so it may be very large, and comprehend all false illations against the setled Laws of Logick: But the most usual inconsequencies are from particulars, from negatives, and from affirmative conclusions in the second figure, wherein indeed offences are most frequent, and their discoveries not difficult.


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}.

1 [As mentioned earlier (in a note to Chapter I), Browne seems here to allow for a more charitable view of Eve's faults.]

2 [Servius on Georg. III.115 . Ross insists that there are such things as centaurs, Arcana Microcosmi II.3.]

3 [mediums, OED: “The middle term of a syllogism; hence, a ground of proof or inference.”]

4 [In classical Latin “amphibolia”. The six verbal fallacies are ambiguity, amphiboly, combination, division of words, accent, form of expression (that is, homonymia {Equivocation}, amphibolia {Amphibology}, compositio, divisio, prosodia sive accentus, and figura dictionis). Aristotle, Sophistici Elenci (“On Sophistical Refutations”), Book I, Part IV]

5 [Thuc. Pelop. VIII.66.1. See also Herodotus VI.109, “κυάμῳ λαχών” translated here “by lot”. Aul. Gellius IV.xi.]

6 πᾶν δεῖλοι κυαμῶν ἀπὸ κεῖρες ἔχεσθε

7 [1646: might be this Elench continued;]

8 [Delphos: sc. Delos. The Delians (not the Athenians) consulted an oracle for a cure to a plague. (The earliest source of the story, Eratosthenes in Theon of Smyrna, merely says that they consulted “the god”; no early source that I’m aware of attributes the oracle directly to Delphi.) The oracle, in any case, advises the Delians to double the altar and then make a sacrifice upon it. Somewhat unreasonably, the Delians take this as an injunction to double all the altar’s measurements — that is, to octuple the altar’s volume. Perplexed, they refer the problem to Plato, who, no doubt with the famous problem of doubling the cube in mind, interprets the oracle as a command to study geometry.

The Athenians consulted the oracle in 480 or 481. They had consulted an oracle (perhaps the same, perhaps another — the Delphic oracle at the time seems to have been answering only one question a month) about the Persian invasion, which oracle told them to flee before the inevitable destruction of their homes and temples. They demanded a second opinion (actually, they demanded a better oracle (!), and said that they wouldn't leave until they had one); whereupon the Pythia, if indeed it was she, answered that Zeus would grant Athena a wooden wall that would be untaken. The Athenian admiral Themistokles correctly interpreted this to mean ships rather than actual walls. (There is some feeling that Themistokles bribed the oracle to give the answer that he wanted.) See also Herodotus (7.169 ff.).

On the story of Brutus and the Tarquins, see Livy: Liber I:56; informed by the oracle that he who first kissed his mother would rule, Brutus fell to the earth and kissed it, “the mother of us all”.]

9 De Hæresibus.

10 [Gen. 3:4-5, which continues “knowing good and evil”.]

11 [John 18:29-30]

12 Psal. 91. [:11-12; Mathew 4:6; Jesus answers “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”.]

13 [Healing the sick on the Sabbath, a direct answer to the criticism of plucking corn on the Sabbath in Mt. 12:1-14; on a following Sabbath, Luke 6:1-7.]

14 [Josephus, Wars of the Jews, I.7.3. Αlthough Jews were allowed to defend themselves on the Sabbath, apparently preventing Romans from filling in defensive ditches is not defense. “But Pompey himself filled up the ditch that was on the north side of the temple, and the entire valley also, the army itself being obliged to carry the materials for that purpose. And indeed it was a hard thing to fill up that valley, by reason of its immense depth, especially as the Jews used all the means possible to repel them from their superior situation; nor had the Romans succeeded in their endeavors, had not Pompey taken notice of the seventh days, on which the Jews abstain from all sorts of work on a religious account, and raised his bank, but restrained his soldiers from fighting on those days; for the Jews only acted defensively on sabbath days. But as soon as Pompey had filled up the valley, he erected high towers upon the bank, and brought those engines which they had fetched from Tyre near to the wall, and tried to batter it down; and the slingers of stones beat off those that stood above them, and drove them away; but the towers on this side of the city made very great resistance, and were indeed extraordinary both for largeness and magnificence.”]

15 [Col. 2:8, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” The only occurrence of the word philosophy in the New Testament, probably referring to theology rather than secular philosophy, and warning against a Pharisaical adherence to strict law and against rabbinical quibbling over theological fine points.]

16 [To my mind, there is a difference between Augurial and Tripudiary divinations, the first involving external signs, the second relying, as it were, on inspiration; but Browne seems, from the following statements, to equate the two. Augurial divinations are defended by, among others, Vitruvius on purely practical grounds; that is, by looking at, say, the livers of local birds, you may be able to tell if the local water is fit for drinking. Mercury in a fish probably means mercury in the water. See for instance Vitruvius I.7.]

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