University What It Is

That which is now called an University, is a Joyning together, and an Incorporation under one Government of many Publique Schools, in one and the same Town or City. In which, the principal Schools were ordained for the three Professions, that is to say, of the Romane Religion, of the Romane Law, and of the Art of Medicine. And for the study of Philosophy it hath no otherwise place, then as a handmaid to the Romane Religion: And since the Authority of Aristotle is onely current there, that study is not properly Philosophy, (the nature whereof dependeth not on Authors,) but Aristotelity.

And for Geometry, till of very late times it had no place at all; as being subservient to nothing but rigide Truth. And if any man by the ingenuity of his owne nature, had attained to any degree of perfection therein, hee was commonly thought a Magician, and his Art Diabolicall.

Now to descend to the particular Tenets of Vain Philosophy, derived to the Universities, and thence into the Church, partly from Aristotle, partly from Blindnesse of understanding; I shall first consider their Principles.

There is a certain Philosophia Prima, on which all other Philosophy ought to depend; and consisteth principally, in right limiting of the significations of such Appellations, or Names, as are of all others the most Universall: Which Limitations serve to avoid ambiguity, and aequivocation in Reasoning; and are commonly called Definitions; such as are the Definitions of Body, Time, Place, Matter, Forme, Essence, Subject, Substance, Accident, Power, Act, Finite, Infinite, Quantity, Quality, Motion, Action, Passion, and divers others, necessary to the explaining of a mans Conceptions concerning the Nature and Generation of Bodies. The Explication (that is, the setling of the meaning) of which, and the like Terms, is commonly in the Schools called Metaphysiques; as being a part of the Philosophy of Aristotle, which hath that for title: but it is in another sense; for there it signifieth as much, as “Books written, or placed after his naturall Philosophy:”

But the Schools take them for Books Of Supernaturall Philosophy: for the word Metaphysiques will bear both these senses. And indeed that which is there written, is for the most part so far from the possibility of being understood, and so repugnant to naturall Reason, that whosoever thinketh there is any thing to bee understood by it, must needs think it supernaturall.


Then for Physiques, that is, the knowledge of the subordinate, and secundary causes of naturall events; they render none at all, but empty words. If you desire to know why some kind of bodies sink naturally downwards toward the Earth, and others goe naturally from it; The Schools will tell you out of Aristotle, that the bodies that sink downwards, are Heavy; and that this Heavinesse is it that causes them to descend: But if you ask what they mean by Heavinesse, they will define it to bee an endeavour to goe to the center of the Earth: so that the cause why things sink downward, is an Endeavour to be below: which is as much as to say, that bodies descend, or ascend, because they doe. Or they will tell you the center of the Earth is the place of Rest, and Conservation for Heavy things; and therefore they endeavour to be there: As if Stones, and Metalls had a desire, or could discern the place they would bee at, as Man does; or loved Rest, as Man does not; or that a peece of Glasse were lesse safe in the Window, than falling into the Street.

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To the Antiquity itself I think nothing due

Last night I was about to post a long quote from Aristotle that I thought relevant to today’s political controversies, but I first found the full context to be in discussion of a Platonic proposition found quite distasteful in our day (though not so far removed from certain ideas promoted on the Left). I was then sharply reminded that Aristotle is not to be approved as a philosopher.

Aristotle was without doubt a wise man in the limitations of his day, but he was a heathen, his philosophy based on false premises. He also came out that Greek tradition of ideas which looked at the actions and characters of men and treated them, in some extreme as Plato did, as being capable of exact classification and of mechanical manipulation – a clockwork orange – (which again is not far from the ideas current on the Left).

Hobbes condemned philosophers and theologians who swallowed the ideas of fallible, heathen Aristotle, ignoring two thousand years of advance. He wrote:

There is nothing I distrust more than my Elocution; which neverthelesse I am confident (excepting the Mischances of the Presse) is not obscure.

That I have neglected the Ornament of quoting ancient Poets, Orators, and Philosophers, contrary to the custome of late time, (whether I have done well or ill in it,) proceedeth from my judgment, grounded on many reasons.

  • For first, all Truth of Doctrine dependeth either upon Reason, or upon Scripture; both which give credit to many, but never receive it from any Writer.
  • Secondly, the matters in question are not of Fact, but of Right, wherein there is no place for Witnesses.
  • There is scarce any of those old Writers, that contradicteth not sometimes both himself, and others; which makes their Testimonies insufficient.
  • Fourthly, such Opinions as are taken onely upon Credit of Antiquity, are not intrinsically the Judgment of those that cite them, but Words that passe (like gaping) from mouth to mouth.
  • Fiftly, it is many times with a fraudulent Designe that men stick their corrupt Doctrine with the Cloves of other mens Wit.
  • Sixtly, I find not that the Ancients they cite, took it for an Ornament, to doe the like with those that wrote before them.
  • Seventhly, it is an argument of Indigestion, when Greek and Latine Sentences unchewed come up again, as they use to doe, unchanged.

Lastly, though I reverence those men of Ancient time, that either have written Truth perspicuously, or set us in a better way to find it out our selves; yet to the Antiquity itself I think nothing due: For if we will reverence the Age, the Present is the Oldest. If the Antiquity of the Writer, I am not sure, that generally they to whom such honor is given, were more Ancient when they wrote, than I am that am Writing: But if it bee well considered, the praise of Ancient Authors, proceeds not from the reverence of the Dead, but from the competition, and mutuall envy of the Living.

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