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Sect. 1.

When is obscurity apposite, and wh:t kina?

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.


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 t, 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. See the analysis of persuasion.

+ Book I. Chap. VII. Sect. V. The explication and use of those circumstances.

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, î 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.

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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The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.

side, as there is not on either side an absolute necessity for supporting falsehood; the case is certainly different when the end is to convince the understanding. In this case, whatever is spoken on one side of the question, as it is spoken in support of error, must be sophistical ; and sophistry seems to require a portion of obscurity, to serve her as a veil, that she may escape discovery. Even here, however, the case is not so plain, as at first it may be thought. Sophistry (which hath sometimes been successfully used in support of truth) is not always necessary for the support of error. Error may be supported, and hath been often strenuously supported, by very cogent arguments and just reasoning.

But as this position will probably appear to many very extraordinary, if not irrational, it will be necessary to examine the matter more minutely. It is true, indeed, that in subjects susceptible of demonstrative proof, error cannot be defended but by sophistry; and sophistry, to prevent detection, must shelter herself in obscurity. This results from the nature of scientific evidence, as formerly explained *. This kind of evidence is solely conversant about the invariable relations of number and extension, which relations it evolves by a simple chain of axioms. An assertion, therefore, that is contrary to truth in these matters, is also absurd and inconceivable ; nor is there any scope here for contrariety of proofs. According

* Book I. Chap. V. Sect. II.

Sect. I.

When is obscurity apposite, and what kinds ?

ly, debate and argumentation have no footing here. The case is far otherwise with moral evidence, which is of a complex nature, which admits degrees, which is almost always combated by opposite proofs, and these, though perhaps lower in degree, as truly of the nature of proof and evidence, as those whereby they are opposed. The probability, on the whole, as was shown already *, lies in the proportion which the contrary proofs, upon comparison, bear to one another; a proportion which, in complicated cases, it is often difficult, and sometimes even impossible to ascertain. The speakers, therefore, on the opposite sides, have each real evidence to insist on; and there is here the same scope as in persuasory discourses, for all the arts that can both rivet the hearer's attention on the circumstances of the proof favourable to the speaker's design, and divert his attention from the contrary circumstances. Nor is there in ordinary cases, that is, in all cases really dubious and disputable, any necessity, on either side, for what is properly called sophistry.

The natural place for sophistry is, when a speaker finds himself obliged to attempt the refutation of arguments that are both clear and convincing. For an answerer to overlook such arguments altogether might be dangerous, and to treat them in such a manner as to elude their force, requires the most exquisite address. A little sophistry here will, no doubt, bę

* Book I. Chap. V. Sect. II.

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