The Advancement of Learning

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(1) In the entrance to the former of these — to clear the way and, as it were, to make silence, to have the true testimonies concerning the dignity of learning to be better heard, without the interruption of tacit objections — I think good to deliver it from the discredits and disgraces which it hath received, all from ignorance, but ignorance severally disguised; appearing sometimes in the zeal and jealousy of divines, sometimes in the severity and arrogancy of politics, and sometimes in the errors and imperfections of learned men themselves.

(2) I hear the former sort say that knowledge is of those things which are to be accepted of with great limitation and caution; that the aspiring to overmuch knowledge was the original temptation and sin whereupon ensued the fall of man; that knowledge hath in it somewhat of the serpent, and, therefore, where it entereth into a man it makes him swell; Scientia inflat; that Solomon gives a censure, “That there is no end of making books, and that much reading is weariness of the flesh;” and again in another place, “That in spacious knowledge there is much contristation, and that he that increaseth knowledge increaseth anxiety;” that Saint Paul gives a caveat, “That we be not spoiled through vain philosophy;” that experience demonstrates how learned men have been arch-heretics, how learned times have been inclined to atheism, and how the contemplation of second causes doth derogate from our dependence upon God, who is the first cause.

(3) To discover, then, the ignorance and error of this opinion, and the misunderstanding in the grounds thereof, it may well appear these men do not observe or consider that it was not the pure knowledge of Nature and universality, a knowledge by the light whereof man did give names unto other creatures in Paradise as they were brought before him according unto their proprieties, which gave the occasion to the fall; but it was the proud knowledge of good and evil, with an intent in man to...
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