A chain without a staple, from which all the links derived their stability, or a series without a first, has been not inaptly allegorized, as a string of blind men, each holding the skirt of the man before him, reaching far out of sight, but all moving without the least deviation in one straight line. It would be naturally taken for granted, that there was a guide at the head of the file: what if it were answered, No! Sir, the men are without number, and infinite blindness supplies the place of sight?'...has been not inaptly allegorized...' But by whom? Nobody knows. Except me:
This is from William Wollaston’s The Religion of Nature Delineated (2nd ed., 1724), 67: discussing whether the universe must have a divine first-cause, or whether it might not be a series that extends infinitely. ‘Suppose a chain, hung down out of the heavens from an unknown height, and tho every link of it gravitated toward the earth, and what it hung upon was not visible, yet it did not descend, but kept its situation; and upon this a question should arise, What supported or kept up this chain: would it be a sufficient answer to say, that the first (or lowest) link hung upon the second (or that next above it), the second or rather the first and second together upon the third, and so on ad infinitum? For what holds up the whole? A chain of ten links would fall down, unless something able to bear it hinderd: one of twenty, is not staid by something of a yet greater strength, in proportion to the increase of weight: and therefore one of infinite links certainly, if not sustaind by something infinitely strong, and capable to bear up an infinite weight.’ In a footnote to this passage, he goes on: ‘This matter might be illustrated by other similitudes … but I shall set down but one more: and in that indeed the motion is inverted, but the thing is the same taken either way. … Suppose a row of blind men, of which the last laid his hand upon the shoulder of the man next before him, he on the shoulder of the next before him, and so on till the foremost grew to be quite out of sight; and some body asking, what guide this string of blind men had at the head of them, it should be answerd, that they had no guide, nor any head, but one held by another, and so went on, ad infin. would any rational creature accept this for a just answer? Is it not to say, that infinite blindness (or blindness, if it be infinite) supplies the place of sight, or of a guide?'