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Of UNIVERSAL TOPICS.
I. Of DEFINITION.
EFINITION fuggefts arguments in all cafes in which a controverfy refts upon afcertaining the precife meaning of words. Thus in order to prove a person, whose actions are well known, to be guilty of any particular crime; as facrilege, burglary, &c. we merely define what those particular crimes are. If the definition be allowed, the proof is complete; as it shews that the action in question and the crime are the fame.
In a great number of metaphysical, moral, and religious controverfies, the disputants appeal to the definition of terms; and could these be agreed upon, the controverfies would be at an end. The unhappiness is, that, in things of an abstruse nature, few perfons affix precisely the fame ideas to the fame terms: from whence it often happens that they fancy they differ, when, in reality, they are agreed, and all the dispute is, at the bottom, about words, and not things.
The greatest attention is neceffary to be paid to this topic by those who write treatifes upon any intire art or fcience; as Grammar, Logic, Oratory, &c. fince definition comprehends the
diftribution of things into their parts, which must be difcuffed in their order. Thus a person who writes a grammar must consider that grammar confifts of Orthography, Etymology, Syntax, and Profody; and difcufs what relates to each of them in their order.
II. Of ADJUNCTS, or the properties of either of the terms of a propofition.
Divines and moralifts argue from this topic when, demonstrating that man ought to obey GOD, they urge that man is an intelligent, dependent, and obliged creature; that GOD is his maker, governor, and judge; and that his laws are reasonable, founded on wisdom and goodness: because each of these adjuncts, or properties of the terms of the propofition, fuggefts an argument
for the truth of it.
Moralifts likewife argue from this fame topic, that the rich ought to relieve the poor; because they are both fellow-creatures, liable to a reverse of fortune, and that the one hath to spare what the other is in want of.
In a very ftrict fenfe, every argument might be referred to the topic of Adjuncts; because every argument we can use must be fuggested by some property, or adjunct, of one or other of the terms of the propofition. But the examples above given show that the term need not be taken in fo ftrict a fenfe, and that an attention to this topic in a looser sense, may afford a diftinct and useful head of arguments; efpecially to divines and moralifts.
III. Of ANTECEDENTS.
It is of service fometimes to look back into what, in the order of nature, preceded either the subject or attribute of the propofition we are demonftrating.
Thus divines prove that Chriftianity is probable, because the circumstances of mankind previous to the publication of it, were such as made a revelation highly expedient and defirable.
Upon this principle Hiftorians argue that the hiftory of Greece, prior to the times of Cyrus the Great, is not much to be depended upon, because writing and records of any kind were not common in Greece before that time.
In political and civil affairs, a people are more easily perfuaded to commit an important trust to a person, when his advocate can show that, in former fituations, he behaved with ability and integrity. And political writers argue against any scheme by showing that it was engaged in from bad principles, that the advocates for it had been bribed, and that their particular previous connexions and fituations obliged them to enter into it: as it is a great argument in favour of any scheme, that the views with which it was undertaken were upright and honourable.
To this topic is alfo to be referred whatever is faid in praise of a person, on the subject of his birth, family, &c.
This topic alfo includes all corollaries or inferences from truths before demonftrated: for a propofition must be admitted as true, if it can be shown to be a neceffary consequence of another acknowledged truth.
IV. Of CONSEQUENTS.
Moralifts argue from this topic when, demonstrating the excellence of virtue, they display the many happy confequences of it on a man's frame, connections and expectations; or when, afferting the evil of vice and wickedness, they paint the frightful confequences of it, both in this, and a future world.
Divines make use of this topic when they prove the being and perfections of God from the frame of nature, and the admirable proportion and uses of its several parts; when they prove that christianity is true, from the miracles that were wrought to prove it, and from the numbers that were actually thereby converted to the faith of Chrift; and who adhered to it under very confiderable temporal disadvantages.
In like manner, mathematicians refute a propofition, by showing that the confequences of it are abfurd.
On this topic, likewise, we declaim against a law, or scheme of policy, by showing the confequences of it to be prejudicial to the state; or plead for it, if the confequences of it be beneficial.
V. Of MEANS.
As arguments may be fuggefted by confidering what is antecedent or confequent to things, or the causes and effects of them, fo it is poffible that the topic of the means whereby causes produce their effects, may be of fome use to the fame purpose.
Thus a divine, demonftrating the regard that the Supreme Being hath for virtue, might expatiate upon the means he hath ufed
used to bring men back to the practice of it after they had apoftatifed from it, in his various interpofitions in the state of the world in favour of virtue and religion, in his commiffion to the prophets to be preachers of righteousness, and in fending Chrift to redeem mankind by his precepts, example, and obedience unto death.
any In confidering the nature and usefulness of scheme of policy, it is of use to examine the means that must be used to bring it about; and from the nature of the means, arguments may be fetched for or against the scheme propofed.
It is an argument against popery, that it is obliged to have recourfe to perfecution, and the horrid inquifition, as the means of bringing men back to the profeffion of that faith, and of keeping them in it.
VI. Of ANALOGY.
This head comprises every thing that is fimilar to what is advanced in a proposition.
Writers in defence of chriftianity make excellent use of this topic when, answering objections against any thing that appears difficult or myfterious in revealed religion, they fhow that the fame difficulty occurs on the subject of natural religion. For example, when it is objected that, in the fcriptures, we meet with frequent inftances of innocent perfons fuffering with the guilty, and sometimes on the account of the guilty, they reply, that the like frequently happens in the course of common providence; as when children fuffer through the extravagance of their parents, who, by more economy, might have made a better provision for them; and when tempefts and earthquakes overwhelm, in undistinguished