As a pertinacious Obstinacy in Opinion, and confident Self-Sufficiency, is possibly one of the greatest Vices, as well as Weaknesses, that the human Mind is capable of; so on the contrary a Readiness to give up a loved Opinion, upon due Conviction, is as great a Glory, as well as Happiness, as we are here capable of attaining: For as Solomon justly observes, a wise Man feareth; he, conscious of his own Imperfections, and sensible of the numberless Mistakes and Errors we are here subject and liable to, submits to the Dictates of Truth and Wisdom, where-ever he finds them, and thereby avoids the Evil, and attains the Glory. But the Fool, the self-sufficient Man, who proudly arrogates all Knowledge and Science to himself, rageth at Contradiction, and will not suffer his Knowledge to be questioned; what wonder is it then, if he fall into Evil when he is thusconfident?
It is a just Observation, that a love of Truth and Goodness is not more essential to an honest Man than a Readiness to change his Mind and Practice, upon Conviction that he is in the wrong: And indeed, these two are inseparably connected in our present fallible Condition; possibly those who are arrived at a better State, may get clear of all their Mistakes, as well as their ill Habits immediately, and yet be capable of an endless Improvement in Knowledge, by having their Minds extended still to discover further Objects and new Relations of Things which they had no Notions of before. Upon this Supposition they may receive continual Additions to their Store, and yet have no Occasion to change their former Sentiments, because they were right as far as they went: But I am sure in this Life we find frequent Reason to give up mistaken Opinions, as well as to take in additional Light. We cannot but perceive ourselves liable to innumerable Errors, even when we are most careful to avoid them, either from our Ignorance in the Nature of Things, or in the Use and Meaning of Words. We take up Opinions, or engage in Parties, thro’ the influence of Education, Friendship, and Alliances, or in the Heat of Opposition and Prejudice, which cannot be maintained upon more exact Enquiries, or in cool impartial Thoughts. Prevailing Opinions insensibly gain the Possession of our Minds, and have commonly the Advantage of being Firstcomers: and yet are very often no better than prevailing Falshoods, directly the Reverse of Truth. We are all apt to be misled, where the Safety of our Interest, or Peace with our Neighbours appear to depend upon a particular Sett of Principles, or upon falling in with a Party. A Man can hardly forbear wishing those Things to be true and right, which he apprehends would be for his Conveniency to find so: And many Perswasions, when they are looked into, plainly appear to have no better a Foundation.
It must therefore be highly reasonable, to examine our Sentiments, and always to lie open to Conviction and farther Light upon better Consideration of a Case, and to be willing to profit by the Diligence and Enquiries, as well of other Men, as ourselves. Without this, Reason would be given us in vain, Study and Converse wou’d be useless and unprofitable Things. It would be much happier for us to have no Advantages for better Instruction, or no Capacity to improve by them, if we must necessarily be staked down to those Apprehensions of Things, either in Religion or Politicks, which we have happened to light upon.
That Man only, who is ready to change his Mind upon proper Conviction, is in the Way to come at the Knowledge of Truth. He who is neither ashamed of his own Ignorance, nor unwilling to receive Help from any Quarter towards the better Information of his Mind, or afraid to discard an old and favoured Opinion, upon better Evidence; he, I say, will find Truth kindly open before him, and freely offer it self to him: He will be surprized with the noble Pleasure of a new Discovery, and his Knowledge will be always progressive as long as he lives. But a Man tenacious of his first Thoughts is necessarily concluded in Error, if ever he happens to mistake: For when People once arrive to an Opinion of Infallibility, they can never grow wiser than they already are.
It is an Argument indeed of Levity and Weakness of Mind, to change our Opinion upon every slight Appearance, or to give it up to the Authority of others: But it argues a real Greatness of Soul, to have always a regard for Truth, superiour to every other Consideration, and to feel an undissembled Pleasure upon the Discovery of it.
If Truth is Divine and Eternal, ’tis the natural Homage of a Reasonable Mind to yield to its powerful Light, and embrace its lovely Form wherever it appears; ’tis Superstition to be fond of an old Opinion not supported by it; It is Idolatry to adore the Image and false Appearance of it: But it is open Prophaness, to neglect and contemn it. The only acceptable Sacrifice here, is that of our darling Prejudice, and the Offering of an upright Mind is like the Perfume of Incense.
But a sincere and hearty Lover of Truth will not content himself with a meer Change of his Sentiments upon Conviction, concealed within his own Breast; but will ingenuously acknowledge his Mistake, as freely and as publickly as he avowed it. The same Frankness and Sincerity which make me declare myself of one Opinion at one Time, will oblige me to declare myself of another afterwards, if my Sentiments are really altered. We owe this Justice to Mankind as well as Truth.
The Pennsylvania Gazette, March 27, 1735