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CHAPTER III - George Turnbull, The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 1: The Principles of Moral Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 1: The Principles of Moral Philosophy, ed. and with an Introduction by Alexander Broadie (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
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A third class of laws.Let us proceed to consider the laws of our nature relative to the association of ideas, and the formation of habits.
These relative to the association of ideas and habits.There are two things very remarkable in our nature; “The association of ideas, or the difficulty with which ideas that have been often presented to the mind together are afterwards disjoined;” and, “The formation of habits by repeated acts; or a facility in doing, and a propension to reiterate the same action contracted by frequent doing it.”
Both these take their rise from one principle.These two effects are very similar or like: they both include in their nature a certain kind of cohesion with the mind, formed by reiterated con-junction or co-existence between objects really separate and distinct from one another; i.e. that do not necessarily co-exist, or are not naturally parts of one<82> whole. And as they are like to one another, so they must go together; or neither of them can take place in a mind without the other. If habits are contracted by repeated acts, ideas will be joined or mixed by repeated concurrence: and reciprocally, if ideas contract a sort of coherence by being often joined, habits must be formed by frequent repetition of acts. This is plain. For,
I. Unless the mind were so framed, that ideas frequently presented together to it, should afterwards naturally continue to recal one another, to blend or return together, habits could not be contracted.They must both go together. Thus, for instance, the habit of taking snuff, could not take place, did not the returns of certain perceptions recal the idea and desire of snuff. And the case must be the same with regard to all other habits; for all habits, of whatever kind, operate the same way. The reason is, because all actions of the mind are excited by and employed about ideas; and an action cannot be reiterated, unless its object and motive be revived. A propension to any action is nothing else but the frequent return of a certain desire, which necessarily supposes the equally frequent returns of the ideas which excite it, and are the subject of it: and facility in acting, in like manner, supposes the easy and quick return of the ideas that induce to the action, and are its subject. The formation of habits therefore supposes the association of ideas to take place. But,
II. If association of ideas take place, habits must necessarily be formed by repeated acts. For, if we attend to the matter strictly, we shall immediately find, that the whole course of what is called action, or a series of action, (the wills to act or make efforts to act alone excepted) is nothing but a train of passive perceptions or ideas. But ideas, as often as they return, must excite certain affections, and the<83> affections which lead to action, must, as often as they are revived, dispose and excite to act; or, in other words, produce will to act. And if will to act be successful, the train of perceptions called action, must succeed; and, by frequently succeeding in this manner, cohesion or association must be formed of this kind, that is, associations that terminate in action must be contracted.
Those effects called the association of ideas and formation of habits, do therefore resolve themselves into the same general law or principle in our nature, which may be called thealaw of custom.
But whatever the cause be, one or more, these effects are certain.But, whether they are reduced to one or different principles, nothing can be more certain; than that ideas are associated by being frequently conjoined, in such a manner, that it is not easy to prevent their mixing so together as to make one perception, or, at least, their coherence and joint return to the mind; and that habits are formed by repeated acts. Now, nothing can be of greater use in our frames, than the principle or principles from which these effects arise.Both proceed from a most useful principle. For, what can be more evident, than that were we not so constituted, we could not attain to perfection in any science, art, or virtue? It<84> would not be in our power to join and unite ideas at our pleasure, to recal past ones, or to lay up a stock of knowledge in our minds to which we could have recourse upon any occasion, and bring forth, as it were, ready money for present use. Nor would it be in our power by all our reiterated acts to become more ready, alert, and expeditious in performing any operation than at our first attempt; but, in every thing, and on every emergence, after ever so much past labour, all our work would constantly be to begin again. In one word, habits are perfected faculties: or faculties perfected by exercise are habits.A principle that may justly be called the law of perfection. So that the law of habits is really the law of improvement to perfection; and is therefore a most excellent, a most useful law.
All this is very obvious. But so extremely, so universally useful is this part of our frame, that its well worth while to examine it more fully, and take a larger view of its effects. We shall therefore first consider some of the principal phenomena belonging to the association of ideas.
I. And, in order to proceed distinctly, let us be sure that we carry along with us a clear idea of the thing itself.
Associated ideas defined, and distinguished from complex ideas, &c.Sensible ideas or qualities, which by their co-existence make the same object, (as, for instance, it is a particular shape, size, colour, taste, and other combined qualities in the same subject that make a peach) are not said to be associated, because they naturally and really co-exist, or naturally and really make the same object.a
Nor is the complex idea which we have of a peach, after having tasted several, that is immediately excited in us by the sight of it, before we touch or taste it, called an associated idea; tho’ the greater part of it consists of ideas not perceived, but imagined;<85> because the qualities imagined do really belong to the peach. We are much indebted to the wonderful quickness of our fancy, in adding several qualities on such occasions to those really perceived, to compleat our ideas. But such supplies, by the imagination to any of our sensible ideas, as intimately as they unite and blend with them, are not called ideas of association, because whatever is thus added by the imagination to the perceptions of sense, is a copy of a sensible quality really appertaining to the object perceived.
But, if a peach having been often presented to us on agreeable occasions, should become ever afterwards exceedingly more desireable than before, by recalling to our mind these agreeable circumstances; then is the whole idea of a peach that thus excites our desire and greatly pleases us, compounded of the real qualities of a peach, and of these other delightful ideas not belonging to it, but suggested to, or excited in our imagination by it. Or contrariwise, if a peach which was formerly very agreeable, having been frequently presented to us on melancholly occasions, shall ever afterwards recal to our minds these disagreeable circumstances, and so become hateful to us; then the idea of a peach is compounded of uneasy ideas that overballance all its good and formerly desireable qualities, or that so entirely possess the mind, that there is no room for these qualities to enter into it.
Almost all our ideas have something in them of the associated kind.In both these and all such cases our ideas are made up of real and associated ingredients, or compounded of parts, some of which do really belong to the object, and others do not, but are added by the mind itself: they are made up of ingredients that have no natural or necessary coherence, but that cohere or are mixed by customary association.
III. The instances that have been given, in order to determine the meaning of association, are indeed<86> but trifling and of little moment. But the thing itself in its full extent is of the greatest consequence. For if we consider our ideas with due attention, and take the trouble to analyse them, we shall find that very few, if any of the ideas, that excite our warmest and keenest affections, are quite free from associated parts. The greater number of our perceptions, however agreeable or disagreeable, are of the associated kind in some degree. How many, how very many of them are like the peaches we have mentioned, chiefly agreeable or disagreeable in consequence of some things united with them, that do not belong to them? We can scarcely name any one that offers itself quite pure and unmixed; or which has no constituent parts of the kind we are now speaking of. But affections, that is, desires or aversions, will always be proportioned to the good or evil qualities comprehended in the ideas by which they are excited.
Where this necessarily happens.That few or none of our ideas can escape some mixture by association, if we are not continually upon our guard to prevent it, is obvious. For where the law of association takes place, the concomitant circumstances in which ideas have frequently occurred to the mind, must become constant parts or attendants of these ideas, if we are not assiduously upon the watch against such association. This is the natural result, or rather the direct meaning of the law. But, what is the whole frame and course of nature, or what else indeed can it be but a constant occasion to us of association, i.e. of mixture or coherence of ideas? It cannot but be so, because no idea can be presented to the mind singly, that is, without preceeding, concomitant and succeeding circumstances; and in a world governed by uniform laws, and filled with beings of analogous natures and employments, no idea can fail of being often presented to the mind in the same or like circumstances.It is the necessary effect of the world’s being governed by general uniform laws. There are many associations that are entirely of our own<87> making; but, suppose we made none, it would be sufficient employment for us, either in order to have true knowledge or well proportioned affections, to be incessantly upon our guard to prevent the blendings and cohesions of ideas, that the regular course of things in the world naturally tends, in consequence of the law of association, to form or engender in our minds. Every one who is acquainted with philosophy, knows, that the great difficulty in attaining to the true knowledge of things,Natural philosophy consists in a great measure, in separating associations which the order of nature necessarily produces in our minds. take its rise from the difficulty of separating ideas into the parts that naturally belong to one another, and those which are added by association. For without such analysis, no object can be defined, distinguished, nor consequently examined, and so understood. And yet ideas, in consequence of the law of association, must, from the very beginning of our existence, so blend and mix with others totally and essentially distinct from them, that it must become extreamly difficult not to confound together qualities that being different, can never be philosophised about, till we are not only able to distinguish them, but to keep them before the mind without intermingling and quite separate. In reality, the greater part of philosophy consists in separating ideas, that the natural course of things, in consequence of the law of association, hath conjoined, or rather confounded. Many instances might be given to prove this, were it at all necessary. The jangling about beauty among philosophers, whether it is distinct or not from utility, is a sufficient proof of it; and yet into what science does not this dispute necessarily enter? There is no reasoning about poetry, painting, or any of the polite arts, or indeed about morality, without being led into it. But what sufficiently proves it, is the difficulty most persons find in their entrance upon philosophy in distinguishing the qualities perceived by any one sense from those perceived by any other. How few, not very much accustomed to philosophy, are not startled to hear that<88> distance is not an idea of sight, but an idea of touch suggested by ideas of sight! And yet, till this is clearly understood, and the difference is become familiar to the mind, it is impossible to have a clear notion of very many important truths in perspective and optics. But if philosophers find a difficulty arising from the effect of the law of association in analysing ideas; we all find a much greater one from the same source in the conduct of the passions. For here, how difficult, how extreamly difficult is it to separate associations early made and long unquestioned?Separating associations one great business in moral philosophy. Or, what indeed is the whole of our labour in regulating the passions; in correcting, reforming, or directing them; but an endeavour to render our passions suitable and proportioned to the natures of things, as they are in themselves distinguished from all wrong associations? What else is discipline or government with respect to the love of wealth, of power, of show, of fame; or any one of our desires private or public, but an effort to have just opinions of objects; and so to have affections suitable to their true values? But, how can we have suitable affections till their true values are known ? And, how can the true values of objects be ascertained, till the ideas of them are scrutinized, and every superadded ingredient by association is separated from the qualities that belong to the thing itself? Then only can the objects themselves be understood, or their moments be measured either with respect to quantity or duration.
This must needs be the effect of general laws upon minds made likewise to associate ideas.Now, I say, a great number of those associations, which it is of such importance either in philosophy or moral conduct to be able to distinguish to be such, are the necessary effects of the law of association, in consequence of the natural course of things, which we cannot alter. And it is no otherwise therefore in our power to prevent them, than by constant attendance to the manner in which ideas enter, and so are apt to mix or cohere; or by assiduous practice<89> in examining our ideas daily received. For the circumstances in which ideas are presented to us, are in many instances absolutely independent of us. And yet such is the nature of the law of association, that ideas, ever so few times offered to us in certain circumstances, have a tendency as often as they return, whether by being recalled by our own will, or without being so recalled, to return with more or fewer of the circumstances with which they had formerly occurred. But a late excellent author hath so fully treated of association, so far especially as the conduct of the passions is concerned, that I need not be more particular.a
These difficulties arising from the law of association, are no objections against its fitness.IV. But perhaps it will be said, that what hath hitherto been suggested, is rather an objection against the law under consideration, than a defence of it. For are not all the difficulties it necessarily involves us in, so many evils or inconveniencies arising from it?
But let us observe the concatenation of things with regard to the human make, or how the several laws of the moral world hang and must hang together. Knowledge must, in the nature of things, be progressive; and our excellence consists in its being acquirable gradually by our own industry to improve in it. The laws of nature make it necessary that we should come into the world with infant bodies; and the law of progressiveness makes it necessary that we should enter into the world with infant minds; and in this respect, the laws of matter and motion, and the laws of the moral world, are admirably adjusted one to another. But if the law of association likewise take place with these other laws; then, in consequence of all these laws operating together, it is impossible but several associations of ideas must be formed in our minds, before reason is grown up by culture, and we are able to attend to the entrance of our ideas, and the manner<90> in which they associate; that is, mix, join and cohere. The course of nature’s laws with respect to the material world, is found, upon enquiry, to be very regular, beautiful and good, the best that can be conceived. But any uniform course of things must produce associations of ideas, in minds where that aptitude called the associating one obtains. Now that the law of association is an excellent law, has been already proved: it is The law of improvement to perfection.
But its fitness and goodness will yet more fully appear from the following considerations.
Several good effects of this law.I. It is plainly in consequence of this law, that we so quickly learn the connexions established by nature between the ideas of different senses, those of the sight and touch, for instance; so as that we are very soon able, even in our infant state, to judge of such appearances and connexions with great facility, ease and quickness, and with as great accuracy as the exigencies of our life require. Those connexions and appearances, by which we judge immediately of magnitudes, distances, forms, and other qualities, may be called the language of nature, signifying these qualities. And it is by means of the law of association, that appearances, found by repeated experience to be connected with effects, do recal those effects to our minds, with which they have been found to be connected, so soon as they recur, or are re-perceived.Without it we could never become acquainted with the course of nature; every thing would for ever be new to us. It is, indeed, in consequence of the law of association, that we learn any of the connexions of nature; or that any appearance with its effects, is not as new to us at all times as at first; that is, as unfamiliar to our mind. It is owing to it that any appearance immediately suggests its concomitants and subsequents to us; and that we thus become acquainted with nature, in proportion to the attention we give to the course of<91> things in it; and so are able, by means of one or more perceptions, to recal a great many connected with it, before they appear; or while they are yet at a distance from us, and to be brought about by many intermediate steps. But what could we do, how miserable, how ignorant would we be, without this faculty? without it we would plainly continue to be in old age, as great novices to the world as we are in our infancy; as incapable to foresee, and consequently as incapable to direct our conduct.
Unravelling ideas of association is a very agreeable employment.But, secondly, The examination of our ideas when we are grown up, is a very pleasant employment to us. What can be more entertaining, than to trace our ideas, as far as we can, to their origine; to the various manners of their entrance into our minds; and to resolve them into their constituent parts; and so separate the associated ones from those which by natural and essential coexistence make an object itself. A regular course of things will necessarily produce associations of ideas in minds so formed as to have an associating quality or aptitude. But one of the pleasantest and noblest employments of reasonable beings must consist in studying nature. And studying nature must in a great measure consist in separating our ideas received from experience, into those that are ideas of qualities making particular objects by their co-existence or real combination; and those that are compounded, partly of such really coexisting qualities, and partly of other ideas blended or cohering with them, in consequence of associations formed by their having been often presented to the mind at the same time with other really coexistent qualities. For thus alone can we distinguish connexions in nature that are really inseparable, and make a fixed, regular course or succession of causes and effects, from every thing that does not appertain to such connexions; but however it may be<92> joined to any such in our minds by custom, is no part of them; but is, with respect to them, wholly accidental.
It is in consequence of the law of association, that we are capable of strengthening or diminishing our desires, of adding to our pleasures, and of alleviating our pains.III. Which is yet of greater moment to us; it is by means of the law of association, or of our associating power, that we are able to strengthen or diminish our desires; and to encrease our pleasures, or diminish our pains. For the aggregate of pleasure or pain an idea gives us, will be in proportion to the quantity of pleasure or pain it contains: that is, it is the sum of the pleasures or pains which are its component parts: and our desires or aversions will be stronger or weaker, according as the ideas exciting them are more or less agreeable or disagreeable. Now pleasures associated to an idea will encrease the quantity of agreeableness in that whole complex, blended or mixt idea. And in like manner, pains associated to an idea will encrease the quantity of disagreeableness or uneasiness arising from that whole complex, blended or mixt idea; as parts make up a whole: so that had we not the power of adding to, or taking from our ideas, we could have no power over our affections or desires: for these must always be according to our ideas; but all the power we can have over ideas is by compounding, associating, and separating.Because desires are excited by ideas, and our power over ideas lies chiefly in associating and separating. And how great power we have in these respects, almost every virtuous or vicious affection amongst mankind is a proof. For what, on the one hand, are luxurious fancies, excessive love of splendor, voluptuousness, romantic love, and the immoderate lust of power, but extravagant desires, excited by ideas of grandeur and happiness, somehow blended with natural pleasures, and the desires these excite? Or what, on the other hand, are patience, magnanimity, a contented mind, and other such vertues, but affections towards certain natural objects, duly moderated by the consideration of their intrinsic values, and of the strength of desire proportioned to them; by separating<93> from them all ideas that tend to encrease desire beyond that due proportion; and by associating to them all the ideas, opinions and judgments, that tend to maintain and preserve desire in a just tone and ballance, with relation to true happiness? How does patience work? How can it work, but by alleviating considerations? And what is it, for instance, makes poverty doubly painful to one, and to another a very supportable state, but different ideas in their minds, connected with mediocrity of circumstances in respect of outward enjoyments, by means of different associations? But indeed Mr. Hutcheson hath quite exhausted this subject.35 We shall therefore only observe further on this head,
Another circumstance with respect to association.IV. That as associations of various sorts must necessarily be formed in the mind, by the natural course of things, absolutely independent of us; so various associations must produce various tempers and dispositions of mind; since every idea, as often as it is repeated, must move the affection it naturally tends to excite; and ideas, with their correspondent affections, often returning, must naturally form inclinations, propensions, or tempers; for temper means nothing else. But with respect to the law of association, there is a circumstance which we have not hitherto taken notice of; (because association strictly considered, is no more but a league, or cohesion, formed by frequent conjunction in the mind) which is very contributive to the formation of various genius’s and tempers among mankind; and that circumstance is likeness or resemblance of ideas. Though frequent concurrence be sufficient, as has been observed, to produce the effect called association, yet nothing is more certain, than that association is more easily engendered between ideas that have some affinity or likeness, than between those which have no kindred, no resemblance; as we may feel in a thousand instances.Like ideas are easily associated. Now if we carefully attend to the human mind, we shall find, that the aptitude to associate<94> like ideas which have the smallest resemblances; and the aptitude to separate ideas which have the minutest differences, not only make a very great diversity in minds with respect to genius; but likewise with regard to moral temper.Wit and judgment defined. Wit is justly defined to consist in the quick and ready assemblage of such ideas as have any analogy, likeness, or resemblance, especially in those circumstances which are not commonly attended to, so that the resemblance, when it is pointed out, at once strikes by its evidence, and surprizes by its uncommonness. Judgment, on the other hand, is rightly said to lie in nicely distinguishing the disagreements and variances or differences of ideas; those especially which lie more remote from common observation, and are not generally adverted to.But suppose the law of association to take place. The witty person may therefore be said to be one, who hath an aptitude of mind to associate ideas which have any affinity, or rather a ready discernment of the resemblances of ideas, in respects not absolutely glaring to all persons, and yet evident and pleasing to all, when pointed out to their observation by such a quick and acute discerner of likenesses. On the other hand, the man of judgment or discretion (for so discretion properly signifies) may be defined to be one who has a particular aptitude to discry differences of all kinds between objects, even the most hidden and remote from vulgar eyes. Now however these different aptitudes may be acquired, or in whatever respects they may be original, cogenial or unacquired; it is manifest that they make a very real difference in character or genius.It is therefore in consequence of the law of association that there are different genius’s. They have very different effects, and produce very different works; and they presuppose the law of association. The improvement of the one, certainly very much depends upon accustomance to assemble and join; and the improvement of the other upon accustomance to disunite, break and separate.
But there is in respect of moral character a parallel variety; some here also are propense to associating, and others to disjoining. Nay as the great variety of genius’s<95> may be in general divided into the aptitude to associate, and the aptitude to dissociate: so, perhaps, almost all the different moral characters among mankind may be reduced to the like general division, that is, to the associating and dissociating aptitude. For as a turn to assemble resemblances of different kinds (suppose of the soft and tender, or of the horrible and violent, the serious or ridiculous) makes different species of genius, the epic, comic, tragic, humorous, &c. so dispositions to conjoin ideas of different kinds, will necessarily make an equal variety of moral tempers and characters; the chearful, the melancholy, the cowardly and timorous, or the daring and adventurous, and so forth.It gives rise to an equal diversity of moral characters. But one who naturally delights, or by usage comes to delight, in any one kind of assemblages, will be averse to its opposites: and excessive delight in any one, will become a particular extravagance to be guarded against. In like manner, a turn or propension to disunite ideas admits of as great variety as there is variety of differences to be discerned, and consequently there may be as great a diversity of minds each bent towards distinguishing, as there are separations of various sorts to be made. And every one of these separating propensions, may by over-indulgence run into extravagance; and often does.But so far as temper depends on association, it depends on ourselves. By pursuing this reflexion, we may see how far variety of tempers and genius’s among mankind depends upon, and may take its rise from the associating power natural to the mind, in consequence of different circumstances calling it forth, or employing it in different ways, or contrariwise, checking it, disappointing and thwarting it, and thus obliging the mind to make frequent dissociations; and so using it to the separating practice, till it comes to take delight in it, insomuch that it is ever disposed to act that part, and rather chuses to distinguish than to join, on every occasion. But not to stay longer on this observation, let me only add, that on<96> the one hand, from what has been said of wit, it is plain, that it could not take place, were it not for the associating power of the mind. And how, indeed, do poetry or oratory entertain or agitate, or wherein does their chief excellence consist, whether with respect to soothing and extending the imagination, or bestirring and moving the passions, but in associating the ideas, which being assembled together make agreeable, pleasant, charming, well suited company; in associating ideas which enlighten and set off one another, and by being fitly and closely joined, create great warmth in the mind, or put it into agreeable motion.Metaphor and simile are associations.Simile is likeness of ideas, pointed out, as it were, by the finger: and metaphor is a resemblance of ideas, that presents itself to the mind without any forewarning, and is doubly agreeable, like good company, by surprizing.Philosophy is separating work. On the other hand, from what hath been said of judgment, it is evident that its work supposes likewise the law of association, because it consists in separating; and the philosophical turn being towards scanning, sifting and distinguishing, when carried to excess, must become an enemy to all joining and uniting, as ordinarily happens.Both may run into extravagances.
But whatever be as to these things, it is certain from the nature of the law now under consideration,
Practical philosophy, or the conduct of the affections, consists in the assiduous examination of our ideas, fancies and opinions.I. That true practical philosophy consistsa in what it was placed by the ancients: in the assiduous examination of our fancies, ideas or opinions. For<97> by these our desires are guided or influenced: all our desires, whether those which are properly called appetites, having a previous, painful or uneasy sensation, antecedently to any opinion of good in the object; or those which necessarily presuppose an opinion of good and evil in their objects; all our desires, whether after external pleasures, pleasures of the imagination, or pleasures of the public and social sense. For this must hold in general concerning all our desires and aversions, that according to the opinion or apprehension of good or evil, the desire or aversion is increased or diminished. Now if this be true, our great interest and concern lies in taking care of our opinions, that they be true and just. This ought to be the whole business of our life; our continual, our daily employment: otherwise we cannot be masters of our desires, or keep them in just and proportionate order.Education ought to establish that habit of self-examination. And how happy would it be for men, if education was rightly managed, so as to give us early just notions of things, as far as life is concerned; or but even to establish early in our minds the habit of calling our ideas and opinions daily to a strict account! But all this, it is obvious, supposes a reasonableness and unreasonableness in associations; or a rule and standard for associating and dissociating. And if it is asked what this rule or standard may be? the answer is, It is the faculty by which we are able to judge both of our happiness, and of what is becoming us, of which we are afterwards to treat, and where it shall be shewn, “That these two, happiness or interest, and becoming or virtue, are the same, or at least inseparably connected.” We are to associate and dissociate, join and separate according to that rule; or as our happiness and dignity require.
Associations cannot be broken by mere confutation of false opinions.II. But, secondly, let it be observed, an association is made by joining ideas with one another frequently, and by accustoming ourselves to contemplate<98> them so joined and united. But the confutation of false opinions is not sufficient to break an association, so that the desire or passion shall not continue after our understanding has suggested to us that the object is not good, or not proportioned to the strength of the desire. Thus we may observe, that persons who by reasoning have laid aside all opinion of spirits being in the dark more than in the light, are still uneasy to be alone in the dark. And it is so in general, with respect to all associations: we must first, indeed, correct the false opinion, from which the unreasonable desire or aversion proceeds: but this is not enough: the association cannot be broken in any case, but, as in that instance just mentioned; by accustoming ourselves to walk in the dark, with the absurdity of the opinion upon which our aversion or fear was formerly founded present to our mind.But by contrary practice. Ideas which have been long associated, can only be disjoined by frequently acting in opposition to the unreasonable association. Now if it should be enquired why, whereas associations are so easily formed merely by ideas being frequently presented conjunctly to the mind; dissociations however are not brought about without great struggle and difficulty.Why it is so. The reply to this is at hand: were not this the case, the law of association would not gain its end: for it is the difficulty of breaking the association, which is the very end of the law, or produces all its good effects.
Of active habits properly so called.I now proceed to consider some effects, which though habits and association of ideas are really one and the same thing, and really resolve into one principle; yet are in common language called active habits. For by that name are all associations of ideas called, which terminate in what is termed action either of the mind or of the body. Now provided, on this head, we make mention of the most remarkable phenomena belonging to it, it is but of<99> little consequence in what order effects so nearly related to one another are proposed.
Hence memory, habitual knowledge.I. It is in consequence of a propension to do, and a facility and readiness in doing, acquired by repeated exercise called the Law of habits, that we have memory and habitual knowledge, learn languages with tolerable ease, attain to grace of body, as in dancing; to a good ear in music, a Taste of every kind.good eye in painting or architecture, and a good taste of any ingenious composition, as in oratory or poetry. For what else is memory, but the power of recalling with facility and quickness ideas and truths we had formerly discovered or perceived? and how is it strengthened or improved but by exercise? Without memory there can be no invention, judgment, nor wit, because without memory ideas cannot be readily and quickly laid together, in order to be compared, that their agreements and resemblances, or disagreements and differences, may be discerned. And what is taste, but the power of judging truly with quickness acquired by frequent consideration and practice: that is, confirmed into habit by repeated acts?And perfection of whatever faculty. In fine, it is in consequence of this law, or formation of our mind, that the reiterated exercises of any of our faculties are not lost labour, but produce perfection. Attention, judging, reasoning, writing, speaking, composing, in one word, all our powers and actions in their perfection are so many respective habits: and therefore, to ask why the mind is so framed, is to ask, why perfection of any kind is attainable by us, or within our power.Instruction and education presuppose the power of habit. Instruction and education presuppose this frame of mind in the rules laid down with regard to them: and the effect of education, or early accustomance is well expressed by the common proverb, which calls it, A second nature. To exemplify this observation, and at the same time to shew what true logic ought to be, and really was among the<100> ancients, I shall just mention two observations of Cicero,a with regard to the improvement of memory by due exercise. 1. The way, says he, to be able to retain ideas and judgments, so as to have the use of them always at our command, is to accustom ourselves to attend to things with great closeness and stedfastness; and to ask ourselves before we quit the consideration of any object, whether it is not worth while to store it up in the mind.An observation on memory to illustrate this. And if it be, we ought (says he) as it were, formally to charge our memory with the custody of it, for certain particular reasons and uses, to be at the same time laid up in the mind with it. Did we take this method, we should have but little reason to complain of the slipperiness and treachery of memory. But we, it seems, expect it should be strong and perfect, without our taking pains to improve it: that is, we expect a habit to be formed, otherwise than by repeated exercise. 2. What would be of great help to memory, according to the same author, is, not letting any object of importance pass, till we have considered its analogies, relations, and oppositions, with respect to several other objects or truths already of our acquaintance. For by so doing, there necessarily would be, in consequence of the law of habits and association of ideas, various securities for our being able to recal it, in proportion to the variety of analogies, relations, agreements, differences and oppositions to other objects we had observed in it. Technical rules for assisting<101> and improving memory, are founded upon the same principle, viz. the law of habits. But there is this manifest difference between them, and those rules of Cicero: That while, in order to help memory, we are imployed in considering many real analogies and oppositions, we really are at the same time increasing our stock of useful knowledge, and improving our inventive faculty. For does not a great part of science consist in the knowledge of analogies and oppositions among objects? What else is knowledge? And wherein does the perfection of the inventive faculty consist, but in being able to assemble ideas together into proper order, with great facility and quickness, in order to discover hitherto unobserved relations of ideas, by seeing them in new positions?
We are imitative creatures, but it is in consequence of the law of habits, that imitation hath its effect.II. It is in consequence of the law of habits, that imitation passes into custom, and that example has such powerful influence upon our temper and behaviour. Nature hath wisely made us imitative creatures, apes, if I may so speak. But our disposition to imitate would be of no use to us, did not repeated imitations produce habitual conformity to what we imitate. Quintilian gives an excellent advice with regard to imitation, when speaking of stage-actors he tells us, that among them it frequently happens, “imitatio in mores transit.”36 He on this occasion sagely advises, for that reason to be extremely cautious, and to take good heed what we allow ourselves to imitate or copy after,And that example hath influence. in writing or style for instance, but above all in life and manners.
Habit renders that agreeable which was formerly disagreeable.It is a very remarkable effect of the law of habits, that what is at first very uneasy and disagreeable, becomes by use, or association of ideas and habit, exceeding pleasant and agreeable. Hence it is that we come to like the train of business we have been for some time inured to, however disagreeable<102> it might have been at first. Upon this is founded the ancient sage advice to young people about the choice of a profession in life, “To chuse that which is likeliest to be most advantageous to them, provided they have abilities for it, even though they should have preconceived some prejudice against it, or aversion to it, because custom will make it agreeable.”a It is owing in some measure to this law of habits, that people of the same business in life, or of the same rank and station, do so readily associate together. It is very fit it should be so on many accounts; but chiefly because people of the same profession will by conversation about their common art, which will naturally be the subject of their discourse, mutually learn from one another, and mutually excite emulation one in another. And so true is the fact, that it is become an universal proverb, Birds of a feather flock together.
It ballances our natural desire after novelty.We observed before, that a fondness after novelty is necessary in our nature,a to spur us to seek after new objects, and new knowledge; but that this desire of novelty is ballanced in our frame by the liking contracted to an object by habitual commerce with it, lest our itch after novelty should render us too unsteady, too desultory, and consequently too superficial and heedless in our attention to an object, to be able to attain to the full knowledge of it. Now it is in consequence of the law of habits, that this liking to an object is formed. By long or frequent conversation with an object, we become more pleased with it: the more narrowly and attentively we have considered it, the more we delight in it; for we find by frequently reasoning about the same object, that it is not new objects only that can afford us fresh entertainment; but that<103> every object is an endless fund of new discoveries: and we at the same time experience, that the more we employ ourselves about the same object, the more easy it becomes to us to make progress in new discoveries about it; and thus a fondness for the same object, or the same train of study, is contracted, so that we are not easily prevailed upon, even by quite new ones, to desert it: or if we are, yet we return to it again with such a relish, as one renews conversation with an old acquaintance he had not seen for some time.How it does so.
By the law of habit passive impressions grow weaker, in proportion as practical habits are strengthned.III. But one of the most remarkable advantages of the law of habits is, (I shall give it in the words of an excellent author),b a power with regard to pleasure and pain in respect of practical habits. As practical habits are formed and strengthned by repeated acts; so passive impressions are found to grow weaker by being repeated on us. Whence it must follow, that active habits may be gradually forming and strengthning by a course of acting upon such and such motives; while excitements themselves are proportionably by degrees becoming less sensible, that is, are continually less and less felt, as the active habits strengthen. Experience confirms this. For active principles at the very time they are less lively in perception than they were, are found to be somehow wrought into character and temper, and become more powerful in influencing our practice.Instances. Thus perception of danger is a natural excitement of passive fear, and active caution: and by being inured to danger, habits of the latter are gradually wrought, at the same time that the former gradually lessens. Perception of distress is a natural excitement, passively to pity, and actively to relieve it. But let a man set himself to attend to, enquire out and relieve distressed persons, and he<104> cannot but be less and less affected with the various miseries of human life, with which he must become acquainted: but yet, at the same time, benevolence considered, not as a passion, but as a practical principle of action will strengthen; and whilst he passionately compassionates the distressed less, he will acquire a greater aptitude actively to assist and befriend them. It is the same with all other affections which may be worked by exercise into active principles, and being settled and established as such in the mind, constitute a habitual character or temper that exerts itself calmly and regularly.
’Tis in conseqence of the law of habits that temper is formed.IV. It is indeed, in consequence of the law of habits that temper or character is formed, for tho all the affections of mankind be, and must be originally from nature; and art, or exercise, cannot create, but can only make some change to the better or worse upon what nature hath implanted in our breasts; yet habit is the nurse of all affections: it is by repeated acts that any one is wrought into temper or becomes habitual. Whatever temper we would form, we must do it not merely by enforcing upon our minds, a strong conviction of its usefulness and reasonableness; but chiefly by exerting ourselves to call forth into action the affections which constitute it; by exercising them frequently, or by various acts; and that without intermission till the point is gained; that is, till these affections are become strong, ready to go out into action on any proper occasion; and we have contracted a propension to exert them.In consequence of that law, we are able to form and establish in our minds the deliberative habit. This is the way temper or character is formed. And by this means, it is in our power to change any temper we may have contracted, and to form ourselves to any desireable one. And this leads me to observe, that the chief benefit of the law of habits, is our being able in consequence of it to acquire the deliberative temper or habit: that is, the habitual power of enquiring and judging before we choose or<105> act; the opposite to which is the habit of acting precipitately, and in blind, slavish obedience to every fancy or appetite that assails us. Whatever metaphysical janglings there have been about the freedom of our will; our moral dominion, liberty, and mastership of ourselves certainly consist in the established habit of thinking well before we act; insomuch as to be sure of ourselves, that no fancy or appetite shall be able to hurry us away into action, till reason and moral conscience have pronounced an impartial sentence about them.Which is self-command and true moral liberty. It is this command over ourselves, this empire over our passions, which enables us to put trust or confidence in ourselves, and renders us sure and trust-worthy in society to others. In it do true wisdom and freedom lie. And as it ought to be the chief business of education to form early this deliberative habit and temper in young minds; and the constant employment of every man to preserve and maintain it in due strength; so the only way to attain to it, or uphold it, is, 1.How it is established or formed and strengthened. By inculcating upon ourselves the excellence and usefulness of it, and the manifold disadvantages that redound from the want or weakness of it. And, 2. by practicing ourselves in choosing and acting after the deliberative judicious manner; in habituating ourselves to call all sorts of ideas, fancies, and motives to a strict account; or in accustoming whatever opinion or desire claims our pursuit, to give in its reasons at the bar of reason, and to wait patiently its examination and sentence. Thus alone is the right moral temper formed. And these two exercises will be the constant employment of every one, who aims at the improvement and perfection of his mind; or at acting like a rational creature, and with true inward liberty and self-dominion, which, like every other habit, can only be acquired by practice and custom. ’Tis no matter as to the present case, how the will is determined, by motives or by desires, by the last act of the judgment, or by the mind itself, that is,<106> by its own self-motive power. For whatever be the meaning of such phrases, ’tis as certain, that command over ourselves is liberty, as that being so enthralled by any appetite, as not to be able so much as to examine its pretensions before we yield to it; or being so habituated to desultoriness and thoughtlessness, and blind rash choice, as not to have it in our power to think or judge before we act, is vile slavery and impotence.
It is therefore this law of our nature that renders us capable of liberty or of being free moral agents.Thus therefore it is really in consequence of the law of habits, that we are capable of liberty, or are free agents.a
Now, I think from what has been said of the association of ideas and of habits, we may justly conclude, “That the laws relating to them are of great use in our nature, either necessary, or fitly chosen. And consequently, that no effects which take their rise from them, are evils absolutely considered, or with regard to the whole frame and constitution of the human mind.”Conclusion from the whole.
A useful corolary.But there is a truth, which necessarily results from what hath been laid down, that may justly be added to this article, by way of corolary; and it is this, “That even in an absolutely perfect constitution of things, where the law of habit and association takes place, if knowledge be progressive, and gradually acquireable in proportion to application to improve in it, and consequently minds must be in an infant state at their entrance upon the world; some associations and habits must be early formed by minds in such a state<107> of things, which ought to be broken, and yet which cannot be broken or dissolved by reason without difficulty and struggling. For it is impossible, but some ideas, by being frequently presented to the mind conjointly must associate, which ought not to be associated; or the association of which is contrary to happiness and reason.” But this observation, so plainly follows from what has been proved, that it is needless to dwell longer upon it. I shall therefore but just add, that if any one will pursue it in his own mind through all its consequences, he shall find a solution arising from it to many objections made against the present state of mankind; to those especially which are taken from the prevalence of vice in the world: for wrong opinions must produce wrong choice and action: and yet of most wrong choices, it may be said, Decipimur specie recti.37
[a. ]Thus, for instance, in the whole action of taking snuff, what is there that is active, besides the first will to take it, and the other intermingling volitions to move the hand, open the box, &c? The perception, uneasiness, itch, or whatever it is that excites the will to take it, and the moving the hand, opening the box, taking snuff between the fingers, putting it to the nose, drawing it up, and being irritated or pung’d by it; what is there in all these but mere sensation or passion? The whole effect, the volitions to take it, open the box, &c. excepted, is but a succession of passive sensations. And it is so with respect to every other active habit, because it is so with respect to every action. There is nothing in any one action besides volition, but sensation or impression. Volition is all that can be called active: and action therefore is nothing else but a train of ideas, subsequent to, or brought into existence by a series of volitions. But volitions are excited or moved by ideas: and therefore associations of ideas exciting volitions, are active habits.
[a. ]See Locke on the human understanding. The Chapter on the association of ideas. [Locke, Essay, bk. 2, ch. 33, §5.]
[a. ]See Hutcheson on the nature and conduct of the passions. [Hutcheson, Passions, I.iv.]
[35. ]Hutcheson, Passions, I.iv.
[a. ]See Epicteti enchiridion, and Arrian and Simplicius upon him, and Marcus Antoninus’s meditations, or self-conversation. This is the self-examination recommended to us even by the poets, as absolutely necessary to self-command, and true wisdom, or good conduct. So Horace, Lib. 1. Satyr. 4. And, again, Epist. 2. Lib. 2. Quocirca mecum loquor, &c. See Cicero, Tuscul. quest. Lib. 3. Est igitur causa omnis in opinione, nec vero aegritudinis solum, sed etiam reliquarum perturbationum, &c. [For Epictetus, see page 62, note a; for Marcus Antoninus, see The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, trans. A. S. L. Farquharson. . .(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989). Horace, Epistles, II.ii.45: “I talk thus to myself.” Horace, Satires, Epistles and Ars poetica, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam, 1926). Cicero, Tusculanae disputationes, III.xi.24: “It is then wholly in an idea that we find the cause not merely indeed of distress but of all other disturbances as well, etc.” Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, trans. J. E. King, Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam, 1927).]
[a. ]Cicero de inventione rhetorica. De oratore, &c. There is a fine passage to the same purpose, in the Dissertationes incerti cujusdam pythagorei dorico sermone conscriptae. Published in a collection of Greek tracts, by Mr. Gale. Dissertation 5. An virtus & sapientia doceri possent. Sed optimum fuit, & in vitae commoda pulcherrimum inventum memoriae artificium, ad omnia utile.—Hoc autem in eo consistit, primo si animum admodum advertas.—Secundo si mediteris quaecunque audieris.—Tertio si rerum quas audis, imagines reponere noveris, &c. [There is a discussion of exercises for improving memory in Cicero, De oratore, II.350–67. Cicero, De oratore, Books I and II, trans. E. W. Sutton, completed by H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press; London: Heinemann, 1942). Dissertationes incerti cuiusdam pythagorei dorico sermone conscriptae: “Can virtue and wisdom be taught? But the best thing was the art of memory, a very fine device that contributed to the conveniences of life and was useful for everything. The art consists in this, first you concentrate hard, secondly you think about what you’ve heard, and thirdly you try to form images of what you have been hearing about.” In Gale, ed., Opuscula mythologica, physica et ethica. Graece et Latine. . . . (Amsterdam, 1688), 731.]
[36. ]Quintilian, Institutio oratoria, I.xi.1: “Frequent imitation develops into habit.” Quintilian, The Orator’s Education, ed. and trans. Donald A. Russell, 5 vols., Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2001).
[a. ]Plutarch de sanitate tuenda. [The passage is in Plutarch’s De sanitate tuenda, 123C; see also his De tranquillitate animi, 466F; and De exilio, 602B. Plutarch, Omnia quae extant opera, 2 vols. (Paris, 1624).]
[a. ]In the first chapter, upon our furniture for progress in knowledge.
[b. ]Dr. Butler (the Bishop of Bristol) upon analogy. [Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature (1736), I.V.ii.]
[a. ]So the ancients define liberty. Soli enim hi vivunt ut volunt, qui quid velle debeant didicerunt. Ineruditae autem & rationis expertes animi incitationes atque actiones exilem quandam ignobilemque voluntatis libertatem multa cum poenitentia conjunctam habent, &c. Plutarch de auditione libellus. So Cicero, paradox. 5. Quid est enim libertas? potestas vivendi ut velis. Quis igitur vivit, ut vult? nisi qui recta sequitur, qui officio gaudet, cui vivendi via considerata atque provisa est, &c. See a fine description of this moral freedom by Persius, Satyr. 5. Libertate opus est, &c. [Plutarch, De auditione, 37E: “For only those live as they wish who have learned what they ought to wish. But ignorant and irrational impulses and acts involve a rather meagre and ignoble freedom of will that is conjoined with a good deal of repenting.”
[37. ]Horace, Ars poetica, 25: “[We] deceive ourselves by semblance of truth.” Horace, Satires, Epistles and Ars poetica, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam, 1926).