Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Ridicule as a Test of Faith
By Joseph Priestley (17331804)
From Remarks on Dr. Beatties Essay
HAD I been acquainted with these new principles, I might have saved myself a good deal of trouble; but I am apprehensive that I should hardly have escaped a great deal of ridicule; and we ought not to forget that ridicule has been deemed the test of truth as well as this new common sense. I think with equal reason, and I flatter myself that the reign of this new usurper will not be much longer than that of his predecessor, to whom he is very nearly related.
In this some may think that I only mean to be jocular, but really I am serious. Why was ridicule ever thought to be the test of truth, but because the things at which we can laugh were supposed to be so absurd, that their falsehood was self-evident; so that there was no occasion to examine any further? We were supposed to feel them to be false; and what is a feeling but the affection of a sense? In reality, therefore, this new doctrine of common sense being the standard of truth is no other than ridicule being the standard of truth. The words are different but not the things. I should be glad to see so acute a metaphysician as Dr. Reid, so fine a writer as Dr. Beattie, and, to adopt Dr. Beatties compliment, so elegant an author as Dr. Oswald separately employed to ascertain the precise difference between these two schemes.
In my opinion the chief difference, besides what I have said above, consists in this, that the one may be called the sense of truth, and the other the sense of falsehood. There is also some doubt whether Shaftesbury was really in earnest in proposing ridicule as the test of truth. Many think that he could never be so absurd. Whereas there can be no doubt but that this triumvirate of authors are perfectly serious. There is however another difference that will strongly recommend the claims of common sense in preference to those of ridicule, which is, that this was advanced in support of infidelity, but that in support of religion. But I should think that the greater weight we have to support, the stronger buttresses we should use.