— 492 —
Secondly, Unsteady Application of them.
      §5. Secondly, Another great abuse of Words is, Inconstancy in the
use of them. It is hard to find a Discourse written of any Subject,
especially of Controversie, wherein one shall not observe, if he read
with attention, the same Words (and those commonly the most
material in the Discourse, and upon which the Argument turns)
used sometimes for one Collection of simple Ideas, and sometimes for
another, which is a perfect abuse of Language, Words being inten-
ded for signs of my Ideas, to make them known to others, not by any
natural signification, but by a voluntary imposition, ’tis plain cheat
and abuse, when I make them stand sometimes for one thing, and
sometimes for another; the wilful doing whereof, can be imputed to
— 493 —
nothing but great Folly, or greater dishonesty. And a Man, in his
Accompts with another, may, with as much fairness, make the
Characters of Numbers stand sometimes for one, and sometimes for
another Collection of Unites: v.g. this Character 3, stand sometimes
for three, sometimes for four, and sometimes for eight; as in his
Discourse, or Reasoning, make the same Words stand for different
Collections of simple Ideas. If Men should do so in their Reckonings,
I wonder who would have to do with them? One who would speak
thus, in the Affairs and Business of the World, and call 8 sometimes
seven, and sometimes nine, as best served his Advantage, would
presently have clapp’d upon him one of the two Names Men
constantly are disgusted with. And yet in Arguings, and learned
Contests, the same sort of proceeding passes commonly for Wit
and Learning: but to me it appears a greater dishonesty, than the
misplacing of Counters, in the casting up a Debt; and the cheat the
greater, by how much Truth is of greater concernment and value,
than money.
Locke Hum III, 10, §5, pp. 492-493