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PART II - Henry Home, Lord Kames, Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion 
Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, Corrected and Improved, in a Third Edition. Several Essays Added Concerning the Proof of a Deity, Edited and with an Introduction by Mary Catherine Moran (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
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Desiring, wishing, resolving, willing, believing, signify all of them simple mental acts that cannot be defined; and yet are understood by all the world, every man being familiarly acquainted with them passing daily in his own mind. When I say that I believe Caesar was murdered in the senate-house, that Ganganelli was a good Pope, or that the King of Britain has thirteen children, no person has any difficulty to comprehend my meaning: as little on the other hand, when I say that I do not believe in the Patagonians, nor in Mahomet’s tomb being suspended in the air between two loadstones. Hence it is that no writer has thought it necessary to analyse belief, the author of the treatise on human nature excepted. He lays down two propositions, First, “that belief is not any separate action or perception of the mind, but only a certain manner of conceiving propositions.” Next, “that belief making no alteration on the conception as to its parts and composition, must consist in the liveliness of the conception.”1 As every particular concerning the human mind, is of importance to those who are studious of human nature, these propositions shall be put upon trial. The first holds true in some instances, but far from holding true in all. This will appear by induction. I see a bird in the air, which I believe to be an eagle. My belief enters into my perception of the bird, and is not a separate actor perception. Take an opposite example. I see a horse feeding at a distance in an inclosure. My belief that the horse exists, enters into my perception of him. I also believe him to be the same that gained the King’s plate at New market a month ago. My belief of that fact rests entirely on memory, and makes no part of my perception of the horse.
With respect to propositions, the same difference obtains. Take the following example, that any two sides of a triangle are longer than the third. My conception of this proposition, includes my belief, or more properly, knowledge of its truth. The same will hold in all self-evident propositions; but not in propositions that require evidence. Take for example the following proposition, that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles. My knowledge of the truth of that proposition, cannot make a part of my conception of the proposition; because my knowledge comes after, upon perusing the demonstration.
The same difference appears in belief founded on testimony. An improbable fact is affirmed by one whose veracity is suspected: I believe not a word of it. The truth of the fact is afterward ascertained by undoubted evidence; and I believe it firmly. Yet my conception of the fact is precisely the same in both cases; and therefore my belief in the one case, and disbelief in the other, can neither of them make a part of my conception of the fact.
I have taken the more pains to analyse this proposition, not only as accurate definitions and descriptions are of great moment in philosophy, but as tending to cut down the second proposition, that which our author chiefly insists on as the foundation of his theory. It must be evident, that where belief is separate from the conception of the proposition, it cannot consist in the liveliness of that conception. But even where belief makes a part of the conception of the proposition, his argument appears extremely lame. Belief, he observes, making no alteration upon the conception as to its parts and composition, must consist in the liveliness of the conception. But why must it consist in liveliness, which is but one modification of the conception? Would not the argument conclude as justly, that it consists in a faint conception, or in any other modification? The argument has not a foot to stand on. Belief in reality differs as widely from liveliness of conception, as colour does from sound. Belief is relative to truth and falsehood, and makes a branch of knowledge: liveliness of conception has not the slightest relation to either. This is so evident that I am tempted to apply to our author the story of the blind man, who being asked his notion of colour, said that it resembled the sound of a trumpet. He is less excusable than the blind man, as belief ought to have been as well known to him, as colour to one who sees. But he had a system to defend; and nothing is more common among philosophers, than to sacrifice even common sense to a favourite system.
To distinguish reality from fiction, and truth from falsehood, is of the utmost importance to every human being. The means for making this distinction, are put into the hands of every person, though it requires a degree of understanding to apply the means for preventing error. Now, if by reducing belief to be merely a conception, whether lively or languid, man be rendered incapable of making the distinction, what better is he than a ship tossed about by every wind, without a pilot and without a rudder? But our author’s doctrine carries him a great way farther. He must banish veracity along with belief; for laying aside either, the other is of no use. One great advantage of society is the communication of knowledge; by which every one may acquire the knowledge of all. But this source of knowledge would be entirely dried up, if men were not made by nature to believe what is reported to them by others. With what coolness and intrepidity do some writers lay violent hands upon that noble fabric the human mind!
In a system deviating so widely from truth, no just reasoning is to be expected, nor true delineation of human nature. It is urged by this author, that true history takes fast hold of the mind, and presents its objects in a more lively manner than any fabulous narration can do. Every man must judge for himself: I cannot admit this to be my case. History, no doubt, takes faster hold of the mind, than any fiction told in the plain historical stile. But can any man doubt who has taste, that poetry makes a stronger impression than history? Let a man of feeling attend the celebrated Garrick2 in the character of Richard, or in that of King Lear; and he will find, that dramatic representations make strong and lively impressions, which history seldom comes up to. But let it be supposed, that history presents its objects in a more lively manner than can be done by dramatic or epic poetry; it will not therefore follow, that a lively idea is the same with belief. I read a passage in Virgil: let it be the episode of Nisus and Euryalus. I read a passage in Livy, namely the sacking of Rome by the Gauls.3 If I have a more lively idea of the latter story, I put it to my author to point out the cause of this effect. He surely will not affirm, that it is the force of expression or harmony of numbers: for in these particulars, the historian must yield to the poet. It is evident that no satisfactory account can be given, but that Livy’s superior influence upon the conception, is the effect of his being a true historian. The most then that our author can make of his observation, supposing it to hold true, is, that the authority of the historian produceth belief, and that belief produceth a more lively idea than any fabulous narration can do. Truth indeed bestows a certain degree of vivacity upon our ideas. I cannot however admit, that history exceeds dramatic or epic poetry, in conveying a lively conception of facts; because it appears evident, that, in works of imagination, the want of truth is more than compensated by sentiment and language. Yet it is certain, that in an epic poem or in a tragedy intended merely for amusement, the finest descriptions, the most picturesque images, the most nervous expressions of the poet, or the most lively conceptions of the reader, will not on the whole contribute to produce belief.
Sometimes indeed, belief is the result of a lively impression. A dramatic representation is one instance, when it affects us so much as to draw off our attention from every other object, and even from our selves. In this state, we do not consider the actor, but conceive him to be the very man whose character he assumes. We have that very man before our eyes. We perceive him as existing and acting, and believe him to be existing and acting. This belief however is but momentary. It vanisheth like a dream, as soon as we are roused to a consciousness of ourselves, and of the place we occupy. Nor is the lively impression, even in this case, the cause of belief, but only the occasion of it, by diverting the attention of the mind from itself and its situation. It is in some such manner, that the idea of a spectre in the dark, which fills the mind and diverts it from itself, is, by the force of imagination, converted into a reality. We think we see and hear it: we are convinced of it, and believe the matter to be so.
With regard to the evidence of my own senses, though I am far from admitting, that the essence of belief consists in the vivacity of the impression, I so far agree with our author, that vivacity and belief, in this case, are always conjoined. A mountain I have once seen, I believe to be existing, though I am a thousand miles from it; and the image or idea I have of that mountain, is more lively and more distinct, than of any I can form merely by the force of imagination. But this is far from being the case, as above observed, of ideas raised in my mind by the force of language.
Belief arising from the evidence of others, rests upon a different foundation. Veracity, and a disposition to believe, are corresponding principles in the nature of man; and, in the main, these principles are so adjusted, that men are not often deceived. The disposition we have to believe, is qualified by the opinion we have of the witness, and the nature of the story he relates. But supposing a concurrence of all other circumstances to prompt our belief, yet if the speaker pretend only to amuse, without confining himself to truth, his narration will not, in the smallest degree, prompt our belief, let him enliven it with the strongest colours that poetry is master of.
I shall only add, that though our own senses and the testimony of others, are the proper causes of belief; yet that these causes are more or less efficacious, according to our present temper of mind. Hope and fear are influenced by passion: so is belief. Hope and fear relate to future events. If the event be agreeable, and the probability of its existence be great, our conception of its existence takes on a modification which is called hope. If the event be extremely agreeable, and the probability of its existing do greatly preponderate, our hope is increased proportionally, and sometimes is converted into a firm belief, that it will really happen. Upon weak minds, the delightfulness of the expected event will, of itself, have that effect. The imagination, fired with the prospect, augments the probability, till it convert it to a firm persuasion or belief. On the other hand, if fear get the ascendant, by a conceived improbability of the existence of the event, the mind desponds, and fear is converted into a firm belief that the event will not happen. The operations of the mind are quite similar, where the event in view is disagreeable.
I conclude this Essay with observing, that tho’ our own senses and the testimony of others are the causes of belief, yet that the efficacy of these causes depends considerably on the present tone of mind. My belief that an agreeable event has happened, or will happen, rises above the probability when I am in high spirits. In low spirits my belief falls below it. Where the event is disagreeable, my belief rises above the probability if my spirits be low; and my belief falls below it, if my spirits be high.
Passion has still a stronger influence upon belief. As to which see Elements of Criticism chap. 2. part 5.4
An internal sense informs us of things passing within the mind, inclining, resolving, willing, reflecting, &c. By several external senses we discover things external. The latter is our present theme, as far as may tend to enforce the proof of a Deity.
For the sake of perspicuity, this Essay is divided into several sections. First, perceptions of the different external senses. Second, substance and qualities. Third, primary and secondary qualities. Fourth, veracity of the external senses.i
Perceptions of External Senseii
The perceptions of the external senses differ widely one from another. I begin with the perceptions of touch and sight as the simplest. I close my eyes and lay a hand on my writing desk. I feel my hand resisted by a hard smooth body, of a certain figure. Viewing the same desk with my eyes, the figure appears the same, as far as the perceptions of these two senses correspond. But it is more material to be observed, that by each of these senses I am informed, that the desk exists independent of me, having certain properties or qualities equally independent. These senses serve evidently to inform me of things as they really exist.
The senses of hearing, smelling, and tasting, raise perceptions differing widely from these mentioned. A sound is produced in me by a certain vibration of the air striking the drum of my ear: a smell, by effluvia touching my nostrils: and a taste by a bit of matter touching my palate. With respect to these senses, it is not a little remarkable, that their perceptions have no resemblance to the causes that produced them; nor do they correspond to any thing existing independent of me. The beat of a drum produces nothing but a vibrating motion in the air; nor does any thing touch my ear but that vibration. The effect however is a perception of sound, which has not the slightest affinity either to the beat of the drum or vibration of the air; nor has it any existence but in my mind. A rose emits effluvia which touch my nostrils: the smell I perceive is neither in the rose nor in the effluvia. The sweetness I taste in sugar, is produced by the sugar; but in vain would one search for that quality in the sugar, more than in any other bit of matter. From this analysis it appears, that a sound, a smell, a taste, are not matter nor qualities of matter; but effects produced in a percipient. No mortal would without experience imagine, that such marvelous effects could be produced by causes in all appearance so inadequate, effects however that contribute in a high degree to our well-being.
Substance and Quality
As a just conception of the terms substance and quality is necessary in many branches of reasoning, particularly in reasoning about a Deity, and as the explanation given of these terms by Mr. Locke, our great master in logic, is extremely obscure, I shall endeavour to ascertain their meaning, to the satisfaction, I expect, of my reader.1
I cast my eye upon a tree, and perceive figure, extension, colour, and sometimes motion. Were these perceived as separate objects without relation to any other thing, I should never have any idea of substance. This possibly may be the condition of some animals; but the eye of man is more perfect. What we really perceive, is a tree of a certain figure, size, and colour. When I see motion, my perception is not of motion separately, but of a body moving. And so closely are these united, that we cannot even form a conception of motion, nor of colour, nor of figure, as independent existences, but as belonging to the tree and inhering in it. In short, the sense of seeing is given us to perceive things as they really exist; and did it not make us acquainted with things as they exist, we would be ill qualified for living in this world. Now, when we abstract from particulars, and reason in general, the things that have not a separate existence are termed qualities, and the thing they belong to, body or substance. Thus the idea of substance, as well as of qualities, is derived from sight. And the object so qualified, is at the same time perceived as really existing, independent altogether of the percipient.
A similar perception arises from the sense of feeling. Laying my hand upon this table, I have a perception not only of smoothness, hardness, figure, and extension, but also of a thing I call body, of which the particulars now mentioned are perceived as qualities. Smoothness, hardness, extension, and figure, are perceived, not as separate and unconnected existences, but as inhering in and belonging to something I call body, which is really existing, and which hath an independent and permanent existence. And it is this body with its several qualities, which I express by the word table.
The foregoing analysis of the perceptions of sight and touch, will be best illustrated by a comparison with the perceptions of the other senses. I hear a sound, or I feel a smell. These are not perceived as the qualities or properties of any body, thing, or substance. They make their appearance in the mind as simple existences; and do not suggest any perception of independency, nor permanent existence. Did seeing and feeling carry us no farther, we never could have the least conception of substance.
It is not a little surprising, that philosophers, who discourse so currently of qualities, should affect so much doubt and hesitation about substance; seeing these are relative ideas, and imply each other. For what other reason do we call figure a quality, but that we perceive it, not as a separate existence, but as belonging to something that is figured; and which thing we call sub-stance, because it is not a property of any other thing, but is a thing which subsists by itself, or hath an independent existence. Did we perceive figure as we perceive sound, it would not be considered as a quality. In a word, a quality is not intelligible, unless upon supposition of some other thing, of which it is the quality. Sounds indeed, and smells, are also considered as qualities. But this proceeds from habit, not from original perception. For, having once acquired the distinction betwixt a thing and its qualities, and finding sound and smell more to resemble qualities than substances, we readily come into the use of considering them as qualities.
Another observation hinted above occurs, with regard to those things which by the sight and touch are perceived as qualities; that we cannot form a conception of them, independent of the beings to which they belong. It is not in our power to separate, even in imagination, colour, figure, motion, and extension, from body or substance. There is no such thing as conceiving motion by itself, abstracted from some body which is in motion. Let us try ever so often, our attempts will be in vain, to form an idea of a triangle independent of a body which has that figure. We cannot conceive a body that is not figured; and we can as little conceive a figure without a body; for this would be to conceive a figure as having a separate existence, at the same time that we conceive it as having no separate existence; or to conceive it to be a quality, and not a quality. Thus it comes out, that substance makes a part, not only of every perception of sight and touch, but of every conception we can form of colour, figure, extension, and motion. Taking in the whole train of our ideas, there is not one more familiar to us, than that of substance, a being or thing which hath qualities.
When these things are considered, I cannot readily discover what wrong conception of the matter hath led Mr. Locke to talk so obscurely and indistinctly of the idea of substance. It is no wonder he should be difficulted to form an idea of substance in general, abstracted from all properties, when such abstraction is beyond our power: but nothing is more easy, than to form an idea of any particular substance with its properties. Yet this has some how escaped him. When he forms the idea of a horse or a stone, he admits nothing into the idea, but a collection of several simple ideas of sensible qualities.* “And because,” says he,
we cannot conceive how these qualities should subsist alone, nor one in another, we suppose them existing in and supported by some common subject, which support we denote by the name substance; though it be certain we have no clear or distinct idea of that thing we suppose a support.
A single question would have unfolded the whole mystery. How comes it, that we cannot conceive qualities to subsist alone, nor one in another? Mr. Locke himself must have given the following answer, That the thing is not conceivable; because a property or quality cannot subsist without the thing to which it belongs; for if it did, that it would cease to be a property or quality. Why then does he make so faint an inference, as that we suppose qualities existing in and supported by some common subject? It is not a bare supposition: it is an essential part of the idea; it is necessarily suggested to us by sight and touch. He observes, that we have no clear nor distinct idea of substance. If he mean, that we have no clear nor distinct idea of substance abstracted from properties, the thing is so true, that we can form no idea of substance at all abstracted from properties. But it is also true, that we can form no idea of properties abstracted from substance. The ideas both of substance and of quality are perfectly in the same condition in this respect; which it is surprising philosophers should so little attend to. At the same time, we have clear and distinct ideas of many things as they exist, though perhaps we have not a complete idea of any one thing. We have such ideas of things as serve to all the useful purposes of life. It is true, our senses reach not beyond the external properties of beings. We have no direct perception of the essence and internal properties of any thing. These we discover from the effects produced. But had we senses to perceive directly the essence and internal properties of things, our idea of them would indeed be more full and complete, but not more clear and distinct, than at present. For, even upon that supposition, we could form no notion of substance, but by its properties, internal and external. To form an idea of a thing abstracted from all its properties, is impossible.
The following is the sum of what is above laid down. By sight and touch we have the perceptions of substance and body, as well as of qualities. It is not figure, extension, motion, that we perceive; but a thing figured, extended, and moving. As we cannot form an idea of substance abstracted from qualities, so we cannot form an idea of qualities abstracted from sub-stance. They are relative ideas, and imply each other.
Primary and Secondary Qualities
Philosophers are pretty much agreed about primary qualities, that they are such as inhere in a body or substance, and exist with the body or substance intirely independent of us. According to that definition, primary qualities are objects of the senses of sight and touch, and of these only. Therefore secondary qualities, if these have any meaning, must be objects of the other senses: whether so or not, shall by and by be examined. According to these definitions, figure, size, solidity, and divisibility without end, are primary qualities. All of them belong to a substance or body; and are as much independent of us, as the substance or body itself. Holding gravity to be a tendency in every particle of matter to unite with every other particle, it may justly be considered as a primary quality: a tendency to motion, it is true, is properly a power; but a power to act is a property or quality, and may well be held a capital one. The vis inertiae is a power in matter to resist a change from rest to motion. The vis incita is another power, tending to make a body persevere in that degree of motion which is impressed upon it. These powers also may be added to the list of primary qualities. Colour at first view seems to be a primary quality, as we can as little conceive a body without colour as without figure. And yet, upon search we find nothing on the surface of a body but particles variously figured and combined, which have not the most distant resemblance to colour. These particles indeed, by reflecting rays of light on the eye, may produce a perception of colour in the beholder; but that perception cannot be a quality of the object, primary or secondary. Heat, whether a pleasant or painful feeling, cannot be in the fire, an inanimate body incapable of feeling. A power in fire to raise such a feeling, may indeed be classed among the primary qualities; and so may a power in a body to raise a perception of colour: but a cause ought not to be confounded with its effect.
According to the analysis here given, a sound, a smell, a taste, existing no where but in the mind of a percipient, cannot be qualities of a body, either primary or secondary. Mr. Locke however endeavours to make them secondary qualities by converting them into powers. “Colour, he says, is not a quality as it appears to be, but a power in matter to raise in us the perception of colour.”* In the same manner, sweetness must be a power in sugar to raise a perception of sweetness, and sound must be a power in a drum to raise a perception of sound. But this account of secondary qualities is unsatisfactory, as evidently converting an effect into its cause. A mental perception, as observed above, can in no proper sense be held a quality of the object perceived. And could this perception be converted into a power inherent in the object perceived, it would be a primary quality, not a secondary.
These insuperable objections notwithstanding, all men agree to place the perceptions mentioned, not in the mind where they really exist, but in the bodies that produce them; and for that reason, and for that only, are they held to be secondary qualities. Nothing is more familiar among the learned as well as among the vulgar, than to conceive sweetness to be a quality of sugar, a fragrant smell to be a quality of the rose, and colour to be a quality of all bodies. Now if this illusion be the only foundation of secondary qualities, they must be defined perceptions in the mind of man, which by an illusion of nature are placed upon external objects.
Nature never goes out of the direct road in vain. This illusion must be contrived for some valuable purpose that cannot be obtained in the direct road. Consider what would be the face of nature did we perceive nothing around us but bodies and their primary qualities as they really exist, without any notion of what are termed secondary qualities. It is difficult to conceive a scence with which we are intirely unacquainted; but upon the slightest reflection it will appear cold and insipid. How little attractive would a beautiful woman be, were the pure red and white of her skin and her melodious accents, perceived to be no where but in the mind of her lover! Upon that supposition, how slight would be the influence of an orator or of a general harranguing his army! Conversation would be much less entertaining, were we conscious that the sounds we hear proceed not from the speaker. A rose would be little regarded, were it known that it has no fragrancy of smell. To sum up all in a single view, were this delusive curtain withdrawn, men, finding no pleasure but within, would be intirely occupied with internal objects, without paying any regard to their external causes. Society would be greatly relaxed, and selfish passions would prevail without any antagonist. It is much easier to conceive and to paint objects as they appear to us. We are placed as in a fairy land full of enchantments. Behold that flower-parterre, insipid in itself and void of ornament, yet cloathed apparently with splendid colours, in perfect harmony! It is a wonderful artifice to present objects to the eye in various attires, so as to be distinguished and remembered; and to paint on the fancy gay and lively, grand and striking, sober and melancholy scenes, whence many agreeable and affecting emotions arise. Yet all this beauty of colour is a mere illusion, a sort of enchantment. The illusion of sound has still greater influence. Listen to an orator pouring out instruction in all the harmony of sound, different tones suited to the variety of his subject. Listen to a musician ravishing the heart with his melodious strains. It is this illusion that makes the charm of conversation: thoughts passing from one to another, would have little influence, if the speaker did not command attention by variety of tones high and low. How sweet and how vivifying is the smell of a polished field producing the most fragrant flowers! In a word, this illusion is the cement of society, connecting men and things together in an amiable union.
I had almost forgot to add, that though pain and pleasure can exist no where but in the mind, yet the pain occasioned by any disorder of the body, is by this illusion placed on the part affected; by which we are directed to apply the cure to that part.
The relation that things have to each other, afford an instance of a similar illusion. Equality, uniformity, resemblance, proximity, are relations that depend not on us, but exist whether perceived or not; and upon that account may properly be termed primary relations. Propriety and impropriety, congruity and incongruity, are perceptions of an internal sense, having no existence in the objects perceived. But as these perceptions are, by an illusion of nature, placed in the objects and conceived as belonging to them, they may therefore be termed secondary relations.
Veracity of the External Senses
The external senses serve two very different purposes, one to give information of things that concern us, and one to entertain us. With respect to the latter, handled in the section immediately foregoing, as enjoyment is intended not truth, it derogates not from our nature, that an illusion is happily employed for our good. A painter, who by the art of perspective, gives to a plain surface the appearance of hills and valleys, deserves praise for entertaining us, not blame as a deceiver. With respect to the former purpose, nature determines us to rely on the evidence of our senses; and they never deceive us when in a sound state. The senses chiefly intended to make us acquainted with things external, are sight and touch. These senses afford absolute conviction of the reality of their objects. By both we perceive external things existing independent of us. I see a white horse grazing in a field: I lift a book in the dark lying on my table. I can no more doubt of their existence than of my own. It is not even in my power to conceive that the Almighty can give me more satisfactory evidence. And the veracity of my perceptions is confirmed by constant experience. I see a tree of a certain shape and size. Advancing to it, I find it in its place by the resistance it makes to my body. I see it day after day, year after year; and find the object to be the same, with no variation but what the seasons and time produce. The tree is at last cut down: it is no longer seen nor felt.
The eye is nicely formed for seeing objects distinctly at the most convenient distance. A microscopic eye gives an accurate view of objects at hand, but reaches not distant objects: a telescopic eye enlarges our sphere of vision, but cannot take in minute objects. The eyes of the generality are accurately formed for a medium distance, that which is the most useful. It is true, that we see things differently at different distances and through different media. But that imperfection, if it can be termed so, is so on corrected by experience, and never betrays us into any hurtful error. By a diseased eye, we sometimes see things different from what they are in reality, as in a jaundice, which makes objects appear yellow; but even here the error appears upon the slightest reflection. In a word, there is nothing to which all men are more necessarily determined, than to put confidence in their senses. Their information is relied on; and we trust our lives and fortunes upon it, with perfect assurance. We entertain no doubt of their veracity, being so constituted as not to have it in our power to doubt.
When the veracity of our senses is thus founded on the necessity of our nature and confirmed by constant experience, it cannot but appear strange, that it should come into the thought of any man to call it in question. But the influence of novelty is great; and when a man of a bold genius, in spite of common sense, will strike out new paths to himself, it is not easy to foresee how far his airy metaphysical notions may carry him. A late author, who gives us a treatise concerning the principles of human knowledge, strikes at the root of the veracity of our senses, by denying the reality of external objects; and thereby paves the way to the most inveterate scepticism.2 For what reliance can we have upon our senses, if they deceive us in a point so material? If we can be prevailed upon to doubt of the reality of external objects, the next step will be, to doubt of what passes in our own mind, of the reality of our ideas and perceptions; for we have not a clearer conviction of the one than of the other. And the last step will be, to doubt of our own existence; for it is shown in a former essay, that we have no certainty of this fact, but what depends upon sense and feeling.
It is reported, that Dr. Berkeley, the author of the above-mentioned treatise, was moved to adopt this whimsical opinion, to evade some arguments urged by materialists against the existence of the Deity. If so, he was in bad luck; for this doctrine, if it should not lead to universal scepticism, affords at least a shrewd argument in favour of Atheism. If I can only be conscious of what passes in my own mind, and if I cannot trust my senses when they give me notice of external and independent existences; it follows, that I am the only being in the world; at least, that I can have no evidence from my senses, of any other being, body or spirit. This is certainly an unwary concession; because it deprives us of our chief means for attaining knowledge of the Deity. Laying aside sense and feeling, this learned divine will find it a difficult task, to point out by what other means we discover the foregoing important truth. But of this more afterward.
Were there nothing else in view but to establish the reality of external objects, it would be scarce worth while to bestow much thought in solving metaphysical paradoxes against their existence, which are better confuted by common sense and experience. But as the foregoing doctrine appears to have very extensive consequences, and to strike at the root of the most valuable branches of human knowledge; an attempt to re-establish the veracity of our senses, by detecting the fallacy of the arguments that have been urged against it, may, it is hoped, not be unacceptable to the public. The attempt at any rate is necessary in this work; the main purpose of which is, to show, that our senses, external and internal, are the chief sources from whence the knowledge of the Deity is derived to us.
The author mentioned boldly denies the existence of matter, and the reality of the objects of external sense; contending, that there is nothing really existing without the mind of an intelligent being; in a word, reducing all to be a world of ideas. “It is an opinion strangely prevailing among men,” says he, “that houses, mountains, rivers, and in a word all sensible objects have an existence, natural or real, distinct from their being perceived by the understanding.” He ventures to call this a manifest contradiction; and his argument against the reality of these objects, is in the following words:
The forementioned objects are things perceived by sense. We cannot perceive any thing but our own ideas or perceptions; therefore what we call men, houses, mountains, &c. can be nothing else but ideas or perceptions.3
This argument shall be examined afterward with the respect that is due to its author. It shall only be taken notice of by the way, that, supposing mankind to be under so strange a delusion as to mistake their ideas for men, houses, mountains, it will not follow, that there is in this any manifest contradiction, or any contradiction at all. For deception is a very different thing from contradiction. But he falls from this high pretension in the subsequent part of his work, to argue more consistently, “that, supposing solid, figured, and moveable substances, to exist without the mind, yet we could never come to the knowledge of this.”* Which is true, if our senses bear no testimony of the fact. And he adds,† “that, supposing no bodies to exist without the mind, we might have the very same reasons for supposing the existence of external bodies that we have now.” Which may be true, supposing our senses to be fallacious.
The Doctor’s fundamental proposition is, That we can perceive nothing but our own ideas or perceptions. Of this assertion he hath not even attempted a proof; though, in so bold an undertaking as that of annihilating the whole universe, his own mind excepted, he had no reason to hope, that an assertion so singular and so contradictory to common sense, would be taken upon his word. It may be true, that it is not easy to explain, nor even to comprehend, by what means we perceive external objects. But our ignorance is in most cases a very lame argument against fact. At this rate, he may take upon him equally to deny many operations in the material world, which have not hitherto been explained by him or others. At the same time, it is perhaps as difficult to explain the manner of perceiving our own ideas, or the impressions made upon us, as to explain the manner of perceiving external objects. The Doctor beside ought to have considered, that by this bold doctrine he sets bounds to the power of nature, or of the Author of nature. If it was in the power of the Almighty to bestow upon man a faculty of perceiving external objects, he has done it. We have indeed no conception how external objects could be more clearly manifested to us than in fact they are. Therefore the Doctor was in the right to assert, that a faculty in man to perceive external objects would be a contradiction, and consequently a privilege not in the power of the Deity to bestow upon him. He perceived the necessity of carrying his argument so far: sensible however that this was not to be made out, he never once attempts to point at any thing like a contradiction. And if he cannot prove it to be a contradiction, the question is at an end: for supposing only the fact to be possible, we have the very highest evidence of its reality that our nature is capable of, namely the testimony of our senses.
It hath been urged in support of this doctrine, that nothing is present to the mind but the impressions made upon it; and that it cannot be conscious of any thing but what is present. This difficulty is easily solved. For the proposition, “That we cannot be conscious of any thing but what is present to the mind, or passes within it,” is taken for granted, as if it were self-evident: and yet the direct contrary is an evident fact, that we are conscious of many things which are not present to the mind; that is, which are not, like perceptions and ideas, within the mind. Nor is there any difficulty to conceive, that an impression may be made upon us by an external object, so as to raise a direct perception of the external object itself. When we attend to the operations of the external senses, we discover that external objects make not impressions all of them in the same manner. In some instances we feel the impression, and are conscious of it as an impression. In others, being quite unconscious of the impression, we perceive only the external object. And to give full satisfaction to the reader upon the present subject, it may perhaps not be fruitless, briefly to run over the operations of the several external senses, by which the mind is made conscious of external objects, and of their properties.
And, first, with regard to the sense of smelling, which gives us no notice of external existences. Here the operation is of the simplest kind. It is no more but an impression made at the organ, which makes me perceive a smell. Experience, it is true, and habit, lead me to ascribe it to some external thing as its cause. But that this connection is the child of experience only, will be evident from the following considerations; that when a new smell is perceived, we are utterly at a loss what cause to ascribe it to; and that when a child feels a smell, it is not led to ascribe it to any cause whatever.
In the senses of tasting and touching, we are conscious not only of the impression made at the organ, but also of the body that makes the impression. When I lay my hand upon this table, the impression is of a hard smooth body that resists the motion of my hand. In this impression, there is nothing to create the least suspicion of fallacy. The body acts where it is, and it acts merely by resistance. We have, from that sense, the fullest and clearest perception of external existences that can be conceived, subject to no doubt, ambiguity, nor even cavil. And this perception must at the same time, support the veracity of our other senses, when they give us notice of external existences.
What remains is the sense of seeing, which it is presumed the Doctor had chiefly in view, when he argues against the reality of external existences. Here there occurs a difficulty, which possibly has had weight with our author, tho’ not once mentioned by him. It is, that no being can act but where it is; and that a body at a distance cannot act upon the mind, more than the mind upon it. This appears to evince the necessity of some inter mediate means in the act of vision; and one is suggested by a fact. The image of a visible object is painted upon the retina of the eye; which puts the operation of vision, in one respect, upon the same footing with that of touching, both being performed by means of an impression made at the organ. There is indeed this difference, that the impression of touch is felt, whereas the impression of sight is not felt: we are not conscious of any impression, but singly of the object itself that makes the impression.
And here a curious circumstance presents itself to view. Though an impression probably is made upon the mind by means of the image painted upon the retina, whereby the external object is perceived; yet nature hath concealed this impression from us in order to remove all ambiguity, and to give us a distinct perception of the object itself, and of that only. In touching and tasting, the impression made at the organ creates no confusion nor ambiguity, the body that makes the impression being perceived as operating where it really is. But were the impression of a visible object perceived as made on the retina, which is the organ of sight, all objects must be seen as within the eye. It is doubted among naturalists, whether outness or distance be at all discoverable by sight, and whether that appearance be not the effect of experience. But bodies and their operations are so closely connected in place, that were we conscious of an organic impression at the retina, the mind would have a constant propensity to place the body there also; which would be a circumstance extremely perplexing in the act of vision, as setting feeling and experience in perpetual opposition; enough to poison all the pleasure we enjoy by that noble sense.
In so short-sighted a creature as man, it is the worst reason in the world for denying any well-attested fact, that we cannot account how it is brought about. We cannot explain how the intervention of rays of light, lays open to our view the beings and things around us: but it is great arrogance, to pretend to doubt of the fact upon that account, for it is in effect maintaining, that there is nothing in nature but what we can explain.
The perception of objects at a distance by intervention of rays of light, involves no inconsistency nor impossibility: and unless that could be asserted, we have no reason to call in question the evidence of the perception. And after all, this particular step of the operation of vision, is not more difficult to be conceived or accounted for, than the other steps, of which no man entertains a doubt. It is perhaps not easy to explain how the image of an external body is painted upon the retina tunica; and no person can explain how that image is communicated to the mind. Why then should we hesitate about the last step, to wit, the perception of external objects, more than about the two former, when they are all equally supported by unexceptionable evidence? The whole operation of vision far surpasses human knowledge; but not more than the operation of magnetism, electricity, and a thousand other natural appearances: our ignorance of the cause, ought not to make us suspect deceit in the one, more than in the other.
Whether our perception of external objects correspond to truth, or whether it be a mere illusion, is a question that cannot be ascertained one way or other by reasoning. But it is ascertained by a higher degree of evidence, to wit, intuitive conviction, which admits not the slightest doubt of the veracity of our senses. It is clear, that supposing the reality of external objects, we can form no conception of their being displayed to us in a more lively and convincing manner, than in fact is done. Why then call a thing in doubt, of which we have as good evidence as human nature is capable of receiving? But we cannot call it in doubt, otherways than in speculation, and even then but for a moment. We have a thorough conviction of the reality of external objects: it rises to the highest certainty; and we act in consequence of it with the greatest security of not being deceived. Nor are we in fact deceived. When we put the matter to a trial, every experiment answers to our perceptions, and confirms us more and more in our belief.
I close this Essay with a comparison between the evidence of our senses and that of human testimony. That we ought not to give credit to any man’s testimony because some men fail in veracity, would be a very lame argument. The only effect such instances have, or ought to have, is to correct our propensity to believe, and to bring on a habit of suspending belief till circumstances be examined. The evidence of our senses rises undoubtedly much above that of human testimony: and if we put trust in the latter after many instances of being deceived, we have better reason to put trust in the former, were the instances of being deceived equally numerous; which is plainly not the fact. When people are in sound health of mind and body, they are very seldom misled by their senses.
Different Theories of Vision1
The sense of seeing is one of the most simple and distinct of all that belong to man. And yet by many philosophers it has been rendered so intricate, as to tempt plain people to a diffidence and distrust of it. The present Essay is intended to point out the errors of these philosophers, and to restore the sense of seeing to the authority it justly possesses in human nature, with respect to veracity. I have a further view, which is to put writers on their guard against attempting subjects beyond the sphere of human knowledge, of which I shall have occasion to give several mortifying instances, even in this narrow subject, the theory of vision,—scarce more excusable than the attempt made by the inhabitants of Shinar to erect a tower whose top should reach into heaven.2 Moderation is proper for man, no less in reasoning than in behaviour. Man, tho’ the chief of the terrestrial creation, is limited in the powers of his mind, as much as in those of his body. When he struggles to pass these limits, he acts and thinks in vain; and meets with nothing but disappointment and disgrace.
The connection between soul and body, and their manner of acting upon each other, are hid from us; and for ever will remain hid: we cannot form even the slightest conjecture how mind acts on matter, or matter on mind. And yet, writers talk familiarly on that mystery, as if they had been admitted to the councils of the Almighty in the formation of man.* A collection of all the strange and incoherent stuff that has been written on that subject, would fill a large volume. In the different theories of the sense of seeing adopted by writers of note, will be found, if I be not grossly mistaken, many rash attempts to build the tower of Babel; and to these I shall confine myself as being connected with the present work.
One capital error that all the writers on that subject have fallen into, is, to apply to mind axioms peculiar to matter. It holds true in matter, that one body cannot act upon another at a distance, nor be acted upon but by what is in contact with it. Extension in length, breadth, and thickness enters into every idea we can form of matter; and every thing that is so extended, is in our conception matter. Therefore, if mind or spirit be different from matter, which all admit, it cannot be so extended; consequently cannot occupy space, nor have any relation to place. Now, as local situation is implied in the axioms mentioned, there can be no foundation for applying them to mind, which has no local situation. The actions of the soul and body on each other, must be governed by laws intirely different from what govern the mutual actions of matter. As these laws are beyond the bounds of human knowledge, every attempt to explore them must prove abortive and be absurd. Writers however, by applying inadvertently to mind the axioms mentioned peculiar to matter, have been led into a labyrinth of metaphysical jargon, of the brain being the local situation of the soul, of phantasms or images carried along the nerves into the brain, where, being in contact with the soul, they make impressions upon it, &c. &c.
I begin with Aristotle’s account of vision. Taking it for granted that mind and matter cannot act upon each other at a distance, he is reduced to hold, that of every external object there is in the mind of the be holder a phantasm or species, having the form of the object without the matter, like the impression of a seal upon wax; and that by these, external objects are made visible.3 His followers add, that these phantasms or species, sent from external objects, make impressions on the passive intellect, which are perceived by the active intellect. This account of vision differs not from that of Epicurus, which is, that external objects send forth, constantly and in every direction, slender ghosts or films of themselves, which striking the mind are the means of perception.4 Had these philosophers instead of films and phantasms, stumbled on rays of light passing from the object to the eye of the spectator, they would have been nearer the truth. But they may well be excused, as they were groping in the dark and had no knowledge of pictures on the retinae. But they ought not so easily to be excused for stopping short at the first step: they could not expect to give satisfaction, but by explaining how it comes that these films and phantasms, of which the mind is not conscious, are however the means of seeing distant objects. Doctor Porterfield is the only writer who attempts to supply that defect. His words are,
The mind in seeing is subject to a law, whereby it traces back its own sensations from the sensorium to the retinae, and from thence along perpendicular lines to the object itself; and thence concludes, that what it perceives is the external object, and not in the mind.*
What does one think of sensations having a local situation in the brain or sensorium, and of being traced back along imaginary perpendicular lines? Have these words any meaning?
Here it will be observed, that neither Aristotle nor Epicurus make any doubt of seeing the external objects themselves: they only pretend to explain by what means these objects, though at a distance, are perceived. Des Cartes, adhering more rigidly to the axiom that objects at a distance cannot act upon us, denies that we have any perception of such objects, maintaining, that the objects we perceive are not external, but images or ideas in the mind. From which premises he concludes, that the existence of external objects cannot be known to us, otherwise than by a process of reasoning, inferring it from these images or ideas.5 Locke adopting this doctrine holds,
that we cannot perceive, remember, nor imagine any thing, but by having an idea or image of it in the mind; that we are conscious of ideas or images, and of nothing else; consequently, that we can have no knowledge of things external, but what we acquire from reasoning on ideas or images.6
He accordingly employs a whole chapter to make out by reasoning the existence of external objects. Doctor Porterfield, adhering to this doctrine, expresses himself in very strong terms.
How body acts upon mind, or mind upon body, I know not; but this I am very certain of, that nothing can act or be acted upon where it is not. And therefore our mind can never perceive any thing but its own proper modifications, and the various states and conditions of the sensorium to which it is present. When I look at the sun or moon, it is impossible that these bodies, so far distant from my mind, can with any propriety of speech be said to act upon it. To imagine that things can act where they are not present, is as absurd as to imagine that they can be where they are not. These bodies do indeed emit light, which falling upon the retina does excite certain agitations in the sensorium; and it is these agitations alone which can any way act upon the mind. So that it is not the sun or moon in the heavens which our mind perceives, but only their image or representation impressed upon the sensorium. How the soul sees these images, or how it receives those ideas from such agitations in the sensorium, I know not; but I am sure it can never perceive the external bodies themselves to which it is not present.*
With respect to this theory, it cannot escape observation, that in two particulars it contradicts the testimony of our senses; first in denying that we see external objects; and next in affirming that we perceive images in the mind, which no man ever perceived. It may be further observed, that supposing these particulars to hold true, yet this account of vision remains wofully imperfect. We acknowledge pictures on the retinae; but how these pictures are conveyed to the brain, no man can justly say. Next, supposing them conveyed, no man can account how they should raise a perception in the mind. And admitting the perception, it ought naturally to be of the pictures; and yet we have not the slightest consciousness of these pictures.
But waving these observations, there occurs an argument founded on a stuborn fact directly inconsistent with this theory. The three philosophers last mentioned agree in maintaining, that as external objects are hid from our eye-sight, our belief of them must depend on a process of reasoning. Their reasonings have been found insufficient by two acute philosophers, Berkeley and Hume, as shall by and by be mentioned. But supposing them solid, what must be the condition of a great plurality, who are incapable of abstruse reasoning? they must remain utterly ignorant of external objects. Yet the direct contrary is vouched by the testimony of all men; these philosophers excepted, who renounce the evidence of their senses for the sake of a favourite opinion. Even children have as lively a conviction of external objects as the most acute reasoners. In fact, objects of sight are perceived so clearly, as that we cannot even conceive that the Author of our nature could have made them more clear, or have given us a more satisfactory conviction of them. The means by which this is done, are beyond the sphere of human knowledge: we do not therefore pretend to say how it is done: we only say that it is done.
Misled by the same error of applying to mind axioms that hold true of matter only, two philosophers, Berkeley and Hume, have given us theories still more wild. The former, taking it for granted that mind and matter cannot act upon each other at a distance, and perceiving the insufficiency of the arguments urged by Des Cartes and Locke for the existence of matter, has ventured bluntly to deny its existence. The latter, observing Berkeley’s reason for denying the existence of matter to be equally conclusive against the existence of mind, has with great intrepidity discarded both, giving quarter to nothing but to phantasms or ideas, floating in the great void without inhering in any subject or substratum; an absurdity farther distant from common sense than ever entered into the imagination of any other writer.
Upon our supposed inability to see objects at a distance, is grafted a difficulty that has puzzled many a philosopher, how it comes that with two eyes external objects appear single only. Supposing that external objects are not visible to us, and that we perceive nothing but the representative pictures in the retinae, it seems highly presumable, that the two perceptions raised by these two pictures should to every external object give the appearance of being double. Gassendus and Porta could not imagine any solution of the difficulty, but to contradict an evident fact, asserting that though both eyes are open, yet we only see with one at a time.7
The great Newton, sensible of the difficulty arising from the two pictures, endeavours to remove it in the following words.
Are not the species of objects seen with both eyes united where the optic nerves meet before they come into the brain, the fibres on the right side of both nerves uniting there, and after union going thence into the brain in the nerve which is on the right side of the head, and the fibres on the left side of both nerves uniting in the same place, and after union going into the brain in the nerve which is on the left side of the head, and these two nerves meeting in the brain in such a manner that their fibres make but one entire species or picture, half of which on the right side of the sensorium comes from the right side of both eyes through the right side of both optic nerves to the place where the nerves meet, and from thence on the right side of the head into the brain, and the other half on the left side of the sensorium comes in like manner from the left side of both eyes? For the optic nerves of such animals as look the same way with both eyes (of men, dogs, sheep, oxen, &c.) meet before they come into the brain; but the optic nerves of such animals as do not look the same way with both eyes (as of fishes and of the camelion) do not meet, if I am rightly informed.*
The difficulty is attempted to be solved by uniting in the brain the two pictures, in order to produce a single perception. But whether this be fact or even probable, is what we can never know. One thing we know to be fact, that the external object appears single, even where the optic nerves happen not to be united. In a case reported by Vesalius, the optic nerves did not meet: yet the intimate companions of the man when alive, declared, that he never complained of any defect of sight, nor of objects appearing to him double. But what I chiefly remark here is, that Sir Isaac transgresses the bounds of human knowledge, in saying that the pictures in the retinae are carried along the optic nerves and united in the brain. Hypotheses may be thrown out at pleasure; but if they be of things surpassing our knowledge where we have no data either to verify or refute, they are no better than castles in the air. If the greatest philosopher ever existed be liable to this censure, it ought to be a most serious admonition to all others. Will the reader indulge me to observe further, that this hypothesis has not even a plausible appearance. I can well conceive a picture with the canvass, to be carried from place to place; but it is past my conception, how a painting can be detached from the retinae more than a painting from the canvass; or how in that detached state it can be carried to the brain, either entire or in halves. But supposing a picture formed in the brain, it must be different from those in the retinae; and how this is done is not said, nor how this new picture can raise a perception of the external object. Here we are left in utter darkness, where light is the most wanted. It may even be doubted, whether the pictures in the retinae contribute to vision. Their existence is no proof; because they are necessarily produced by rays of light acting on the eyes, precisely as on a camera obscura; and the same picture appears in an eye, even when separated from the body. This censure may be thought too severe; but where truth and reality are concerned, no partiality to any opinion ought to be admitted, not even to that of a Newton.*
Dr. Briggs taking it for granted with Sir Isaac, that two separate pictures in the brain must occasion the external object to appear double, endeavours to unite them in the following manner,
that the fibres of the optic nerves passing from corresponding points of the retinae to the thalami nervorum opticorum, having the same length, the same tension, and a similar situation, must have the same tone, and therefore that their vibrations excited by the impression of the rays of light, will, like unisons in music, present one image to the mind; but that fibres passing from parts of the retinae that do not correspond, having different tensions and tones, must have discordant vibrations, which present different images to the mind.8
An inference from an object of sound to one of sight can never hold, as there is no resemblance between objects of different senses upon which to form any sort of comparison. I can readily conceive, that fibres having the same tone must produce similar sounds, or if you please the same sound; and that fibres having different tones must produce dissimilar sounds; but that fibres, whether having the same or different tones, should produce pictures, is to me utterly inconceivable. What else have we here but sounding words that have no meaning? I need scarce add, that the doctor’s comparison overturns his theory, instead of supporting it. Two sounds are perceived as different, whether concordant or discordant. Two sounds in unison make not an exception; for unisons produce harmony, and there is no harmony in a single sound.
Dr. Porterfield composed an ingenious treatise on vision, in which the present subject is handled at great length.9 He differs from both Sir Isaac and Dr. Briggs; for he admits that the two pictures on the retinae are by motion propagated along the fibres of the optic nerves to the brain, so as to raise two perceptions in the mind; and that the mind traces back these perceptions from the sensorium to the retinae, and from thence to the object perceived. Here the two perceptions are kept distinct through the whole process till the ultimate step; and he gives the following reason for the objects appearing single in place of double. “By an original law of our nature, we perceive visible objects in their true place; and consequently, an object seen with each eye in its true place at the same time, must appear single.”
Here it is taken for granted, that we see external objects, and that we see them with both eyes in the same place; inadvertently it must be acknowledged, as it flatly contradicts what he had been all along inculcating, that external objects are not visible otherwise than in imagination. It was incumbent on the Doctor to account for single vision upon his own theory; and yet he accounts for it on an opposite theory. It is true, that two bodies cannot occupy the same place at the same time; but they may occupy it in imagination, and ten thousand more. Had the Doctor adhered to his own theory, to wit, that we know nothing of external objects but by reasoning from ideas or images in the mind, every argument must have led him to conclude with Sir Isaac and Doctor Briggs, that the two pictures in the retinae ought to produce the appearance of a double external object. This of itself is a confutation of the Doctor’s theory, as in fact objects are never seen double when the eyes are in a sound state.
But it will afford a more satisfactory confutation, to examine what the result must be, from seeing external objects themselves and not their images. To pave the way, I shall premise an account of the other external senses that have double organs. I lay my two hands on a globe: an impression is made upon each hand, nay upon each finger, every one of which impressions must be felt by the mind. There is here no coincidence of place; and yet the object is not felt double. In hearing, an impression is made on the drum of each ear, which one would naturally think should raise in the mind two perceptions of sound; yet in fact we hear but one sound. The effect is similar with respect to smell from effluvia taken in at the two nostrils. There must be here some cause, that prevents a multiplication in appearance of the same object. Sir Isaac Newton and Doctor Briggs with respect to vision, explain this difficulty by uniting the two pictures into one, to produce a single perception only. With respect to the other senses, we are left in the dark; for it is not said that this explanation is applicable to any of them. Doctor Smith in his optics attributes single vision entirely to custom; which in effect is maintaining, that in childhood we see double, hear double, feel double, and smell double. This solution I cannot acquiesce in. If we commence life with double perceptions, they, instead of being altered by custom, will be confirmed by it. But perhaps the Doctor’s meaning is, that in time the perceiving the same object double being discovered to be an error, we learn to correct the error and to perceive the object single only as it is in reality. This supposed struggle between perception and reflection and the complete victory obtained by the latter, must be the work of time and ripe years; which could not escape remembrance. But as no man can say that he ever had such remembrance, it is a demonstration that there never existed such a struggle.
All the writers on this subject take it for granted, that two perceptions must necessarily make the external object appear double; and they have reason to do so, supposing external objects not to be perceived but their ideas or images only. Sir Isaac Newton endeavours to reduce the two pictures in the eyes to a single picture in the brain, producing consequently but a single perception. Doctor Briggs attempts the same in a different way. Doctor Porterfield admits two perceptions; but in effect reduces them to one, when the object is seen with both eyes in the same place. But upon supposition of the real fact that the external objects themselves are perceived, the question is, why should two perceptions produce necessarily an appearance of two objects? Let us give attention to that question. If the external object could not be known but by a chain of reasoning, the conclusion from the double perception would naturally be that the external object should appear double. But the case differs widely where the external object is seen, and perhaps known. My little dog has a collar with my name inscribed: it has long been my companion; and I cannot mistake it for another. Viewing it with one eye, I know the creature: viewing it with the other, it is the same. What is there here but the seeing the same object at different times? Viewing now my dog with both eyes at once, it is still the same dog: the two perceptions are indeed varied as they now coincide in time; but what else can be the effect of this coincidence but a sight of the dog as formerly? I look to my dog, lay both hands upon him, and at the same time hear him bark. In this experiment, my perceptions are many and various; but as they are only different perceptions of the same object, they have no tendency to give it the appearance of more than one.
It is extremely true, that for ought we know of vision, our eyes might have been so framed, as to make an object appear double with one eye, instead of appearing single with two. But this would be a delusion, which cannot be imputed to the Author of our nature. He has provided us with the sense of seeing to perceive objects as they exist; and so effectually has he prevented delusion, that when by a distorted eye an object appears double, means are afforded to detect the error. Of the five senses, four have double organs, that if one be rendered useless, its office may be supplied by the other. These organs produce indeed two perceptions; but being perceptions of the same object, they cannot have the effect to make it appear double. No person thinks it necessary to explain, why an object repeatedly perceived in succession appears single: why not the same in simultaneous perceptions? In hearing, smelling, and touching, the object never appears double: why should it appear double in seeing? I am not satisfied with Dr. Porterfield’s explanation of single vision, in which it is taken for granted that the external object itself is seen by each eye separately; for though the two apparent objects must be blended when seen in the same place, it is however natural to think, that there should still remain an impression and conviction of two objects. But be this as it may, the Doctor undoubtedly errs in affirming that each eye has a separate object. Both eyes have but one object, evident from this, that the external object never appears double whether seen successively by one eye, or by both at once. And as the object appears single, his solution of blending two objects together does not hold. There can remain no doubt that the account given in this Essay of single vision is solid, when it is equally applicable to every one of the other senses that have double organs; whereas the Doctor’s explanation holds only in vision. In short, we are so constituted as to have a firm conviction of the reality of external objects from the perceptions of sight; and by the same constitution, we have a firm conviction of the Identity of an object, from a pair of organs as from a single organ. Is it above the power of the Almighty to make us perceive things as they really exist? In fact he has done so; and what better evidence can be required, than that when our eyes are found, an object is never seen double. Thus, a difficulty that has puzzled many a sage philosopher, turns out to be no difficulty at all.
Philosophers may exert their utmost powers to explain vision; but all in vain, for it is beyond the limits of human knowledge. There are difficulties in accounting for the other senses, no less puzzling. A sound, a smell, a taste, has not the slightest relation to the cause that produces it. This is set forth in the Essay immediately foregoing. Here is more work for a curious enquirer, attempting to transgress the limits of human knowledge. These things I do not pretend to explain; but humbly rest satisfied with the small portion of knowledge that is bestowed on me, because universal knowledge is not given to human beings.
I conclude with repeating what is observed above, that the connection between soul and body and their way of acting upon each other, are hid from us; and for ever will remain hid. Our senses not only guide us in acting, but are the means of manifold enjoyments. Their salutary effects are known to all; but by what means these effects are produced, is known to none. But we suffer not by our ignorance, as it gives no obstruction to the operation of our senses. We know from experience, that in vision, representations of the external object are painted on the retinae of our two eyes; but in what manner these pictures contribute to vision or whether they at all contribute, we know not. One thing only is certain, that our perception is not of the pictures but of the object itself. And after all, why are these great philosophers, in explaining vision, more bold than in explaining other actions of the mind on the body. It is not pretended that the circulation of the blood can be explained from any power in matter; and as little walking, or breathing, or moving the hand on a musical instrument. In these instances, and in many others that might be mentioned, the soul is the first mover; and writers venture not to say how the body is moved by the soul. Why then such intricate and obscure theories concerning vision? The seeing external bodies as they are, is an operation as simple as any of these now mentioned.
Matter and Spirit1
Whatever is extended in length, breadth, thickness, is termed matter. Hence, it is an essential property of every particle of matter to occupy space, and to exclude every other particle from that space. As we have no notion of spirit but as opposed to matter, spirit and immaterial substance pass as synonimous terms. The property therefore of extension, or length, breadth and thickness, cannot be attributed to spirit. Nor does it enter into our conception of spirit, that it must exclude other beings either matter or spirit from occupying the same place.
From any notion we can form of matter, there is no reason to think that it is necessarily passive or inert. None of its properties, as far as we know, is inconsistent with its being endued with a power of motion; and that it is possessed of various powers, we have the best evidence that can be expected, namely experience. Gravity is a power inherent in every particle of matter; and so is the vis inertiae and the vis incita. Magnitism, electricity, elasticity, and a great variety of elective attractions, belong to some kinds of matter only. When we ascend to organized bodies, the powers of matter multiply upon us. How many powers are requisite for the life even of the humblest vegetable! Advancing to animals, we find not only life, sense, and spontaneous motion, but the power of thinking, and in the more elevated animals even the power of reflecting. Many brute animals show evident symptoms of sagacity and reasoning.
Mr. Locke accordingly, in his answer to the bishop of Worcester, maintains “that the omnipotent Being can give to certain systems of created sensible matter some degrees of sense, perception, and thought.”2 This he has clearly made out, first, by showing that there is no inconsistency between our conception of matter and a power to think; and next, that in fact he has bestowed a power of thinking on many animals. There appears to me no way of evading the force of this argument, but by proving that animals are composed of two distinct substances, soul and body, that thinking is confined to the soul, and that matter is incapable of thinking. This proof has indeed often been attempted, but with very bad success. That matter is capable of acting, appears to me clear from instances without number. Now, as thinking is a species of action, it will be hard to prove, that matter, which can exert actions of one kind, is incapable to exert actions of another kind. I know of no data upon which that proof can be founded.
When we talk of soul and body in the same animal, of their union, and of the means by which they operate on each other, all is supposition and conjecture, without the possibility of any sort of evidence on the one side or on the other. It is a mystery to us; and will for ever remain a mystery, as human knowledge reaches not so far. Were I to indulge a conjecture, it would be, that the inferior animals are but organized matter, having powers for procreation and preservation, not even excepting the power of thinking as far as necessary to their well-being; but that man, the noblest exertion of Omnipotence upon this earth, is composed of two separate substances, one matter, the other soul or spirit; and that all his noblest faculties inhere in the latter. That the latter can subsist independent of the former, is a fact for which we are indebted to Revelation, being far beyond the reach of human investigation.
I proceed now to an analysis of human actions, without venturing to say, whether they all proceed from the mind, or partly from the body. Human actions are of two kinds, actions that put the body in motion, and actions that contribute to the acquisition of knowledge.
Actions of the former kind are exerted, some constantly, some at intervals. The motion of the heart, circulation of the blood, and others essential to life, require constant action. In moving the hands or head, in speaking, walking, and in other voluntary motions, we act at intervals. These actions are for the most part attended with consciousness: actions necessary for life, are exerted without any consciousness.
Actions necessary for life, require no illustration. But the other kind have drawn less attention than they merit. In order to external motion, the body is commonly prepared for it by direction of the mind. In dancing on the slack rope, it is by internal direction that the body is kept in equilibrio. When an external motion happens unexpectedly, it is always painful: in walking on a smooth road, I put my foot inadvertently into a hole, a violent shock ensues, which would not have happened had I been prepared: I walk down stairs with facility; but if I set my foot on a plain, expecting another step, the shock is considerable: when the motion of a horse in trotting is regular, the rider, accommodating his body to the expected motion, is carried smoothly; but if a horse, having a bad ear, move irregularly, the rider is jolted by motions different from what he expected.
Voluntary actions are commonly directed by the will, not always. Every motion of the fingers, in playing on a violin or harpsicord, is in a learner preceded by an act of will: but an artist moves his fingers with no less accuracy than celerity, without affording time for the will to interpose. An act of will is necessary at the commencement only: the train proceeds by habit without any new act of will. In learning to knit a stocking, every motion of the needle requires strict attention; but by practice a girl of nine or ten, without once looking on her work, moves the needle so swiftly as to escape the eye.
Of the actions that contribute to the acquisition of knowledge, thinking is the chief. It is a celebrated question among philosophers, whether the mind always thinks. Des Cartes, who, overlooking the works of nature, formed a world to his own taste, makes the essence of the soul to consist in thinking; not adverting that it is denied to man to dive into the essence of any thing. Locke, more justly, holds thinking to be only an action of the soul; and by many feeble arguments endeavours to prove, that the soul does not always think; adding, that we are not always conscious of thinking, and “that it is hard to conceive that any thing should think and not be conscious of it.”3 One thing is certain, that thinking must precede the consciousness of it; but that consciousness must necessarily follow, is a proposition not entitled to our assent till it be proved. I find not however that any writer has ever attempted a proof. It is observed above, that actions essential to life are directed without our being conscious of them. And if such actions, which are of the first importance, can be exerted without consciousness, I cannot see that the action of thinking must necessarily be an exception.
I do not pretend to form an opinion whether we always think or not: to determine that question requires more knowledge than is given to man. But I venture to give my opinion, that we sometimes think without being conscious of it. From long experience I am induced to believe, that we frequently think and reason during sleep, without knowing any thing of the matter. I have facts at hand to make this probable: my only concern is, that I have no other evidence to give but my own. If the reader however listen with patience, he probably will find more truth in the proposition than at first he may be apt to imagine. Frequently have I gone to bed at night, with various ideas floating in my mind without order, relative to some intricate point I had been studying. After a sound sleep, perhaps without a dream, the subject has presented itself to me perfectly well arranged. I must hold this as a proof of the proposition, unless it be made out, that this could happen during sleep without thinking. I never shall forget an incident that happened to me in attending an intimate friend in his last moments. Hanging over him and watching the concluding scene, the fatigue of suspence made me retire to another room. At that awful time, occurred to me a very difficult problem in law, which I had studied a month or two before, but without success; and to my utter astonishment the solution appeared instantaneously, without an intervening thought. I put in writing three short propositions, so complete that I had no occasion after to alter a word. There is a singular fact that even to this day I cannot reflect upon without surprise. After perusing a work deeply metaphysical, with the author at my elbow ready to clear every doubt, my notions remained extremely obscure. Convinced of my inability, I laid aside the book, firmly resolved never to think of it again. More than six months after, curiosity prompted me to examine what had puzzled me so much. I scarce expect to be believed when I inform the reader, that I understood every word, even so clearly as directly to take down in writing every point which I doubted of. The paper being put into the author’s hand, he brought it back a few days after, and acknowledged that my corrections were right. Once I was seized with a fever, which brought me to the gates of death. The moment the fever left me, I recollected a question concerning architecture, which I had been studying before I fell ill, but without being able to make any thing of it. I dictated to my secretary what filled four pages of paper, which I approved of upon a revisal after my health was restored. I have often experienced a similar effect with respect to music. After hearing a new tune without being able to carry away a note of it, it has occurred to me complete at the distance of days. The first time I took particular notice of this, was in humming a tune from end to end, wondering where I had heard it. With difficulty I recollected, that more than a fortnight before I had heard it in such a place, and that I could not then join two bars together.
The foregoing particulars suggested to me what I have practised many years. In studying a knotty point, if the solution do not soon occur, the student begins to fret, and the longer he thinks, the less capable he is of thinking. As this has frequently been my case, my practice now is to stop short after collecting the circumstances, trusting the rest to nature. At any spare moment I resume the subject, sometimes with success, sometimes without. But soon or late, the solution seldom fails to start up, often when I am thinking of something else, or scarce thinking at all. These facts are incapable of any proof but from my own testimony. But as nature is fundamentally the same in all, I have reason to believe, that my experience is not singular with respect to such facts: and I with confidence appeal to the experience of others, willing to stand or fall by their testimony.
I am confirmed in the opinion of the mind’s thinking during sleep, from several facts that I cannot otherways explain. People commonly rise at their usual time in the morning, however late they have been in going to rest. If a man, having a journey in view, purposes to rise an hour or two before his usual time, he awakes at that hour, perhaps from a sound sleep. How can this be accounted for, unless on supposition of some internal operation directing the external act? A man’s rest is not disturbed by any noise he is accustomed to; but he awakes instantly upon being told, even in a low voice, that it is time to rise. To what cause are we to ascribe the first idea that presents itself to the mind after a profound sleep; an idea perhaps very different from what is suggested by the surrounding objects? Every effect must have a cause; and I cannot imagine any cause, other than the continuation during sleep of a train of ideas passing in the mind without consciousness.
These facts have the appearance of bringing to light a latent power in man, hitherto little thought of. If the opinion above suggested appear well founded from repeated experiments, may not the studious lay hold even of their sleeping hours for enlarging their fund of knowledge? By the method above suggested, we may without fatigue double the time of study.
Power, Cause and Effect
As all things on this globe are in a continual flux, much activity and new productions without end, man would be ill fitted for his station, were he kept in ignorance of the laws that govern animate and inanimate beings. Without some notion of power in himself and in others, he would rival in ignorance the lowest of the brute creation, and be utterly at a loss how to regulate his conduct. But he is not left imperfect with respect to this branch of knowledge, more than with respect to others that contribute to his well being. The idea of power is familiar even with children. When they see a play-thing, a never-failing question is, Who made it, or who brought it here? How that idea is acquired, has however puzzled some philosophers, one in particular who shall be introduced by and by. Power is indeed not discernable by any external sense: we cannot see power, nor hear it, nor smell it, nor taste it, nor touch it. Neither can the idea be derived from experience, which, being barely are petition of known facts, cannot produce a new object, nor a new idea. It may give information, that certain known objects are always conjoined, such as fire and heat, the sun and light; but such conjunction is far from being the same with the idea of power.
Power is a simple idea, and therefore incapable of being defined; but no person can be at a loss about it; for it is suggested to the mind by every external action. A being may be so formed, as to have no consciousness of itself nor of what it does; but every human being is conscious of itself, and of its actions as proceeding from itself. A man cannot throw a stone without being conscious that it is he himself who makes the stone move; which imports that he has a power to produce that effect. A child who is learning to walk, reflects very early that it can walk; which in other words is saying, that it has a power to walk. I can, I am able, I have a power, are terms perfectly synonimous. A young boy tells his mother, that he is going to the garden, to pull a flower, or to eat gooseberries. Does not this import knowledge in the boy that he can go, or that he has a power to go? A resolution imports, in the very nature of it, a power to act. In short, there is not in the whole circle of our ideas one more familiar than that of power.
The author of the treatise of human nature has employed a world of reasoning, in searching for the foundation of our idea of power, and of necessary connection. And, after all his anxious researches, he can make no more of it, but,
That the idea of necessary connection, alias power or energy, arises from a number of instances, of one thing always following another, which connects them in the imagination; whereby we can readily foretel the existence of the one from the appearance of the other.
And he pronounces, “That this connection can never be suggested from any one of these instances, surveyed in all possible lights and positions.”* Thus, he places the essence of power or necessary connection upon that propensity which custom produces to pass from an object to the idea of its usual attendant. And from these premises, he draws a conclusion of a very extraordinary nature, and which he himself acknowledges to be not a little paradoxical. His words are:
upon the whole, necessity is something that exists in the mind, not in objects; nor is it possible for us even to form the most distant idea of it, considered as a quality in bodies. The efficacy or energy in causes, is neither placed in the causes themselves, nor in the Deity, nor in the concurrence of these two principles; but belongs entirely to the soul, which considers the union of two or more objects in all past instances. It is here that the real power of causes is placed, along with their connection and necessity.†
He may well admit this doctrine to be a violent paradox; because it wages war with the common sense of mankind. We cannot put this in a stronger light than our author himself does, in forming an objection against his own doctrine.
What! the efficacy of causes lie in the determination of the mind! as if causes did not operate entirely independent of the mind, and would not continue their operation, even though there was no mind existent to contemplate them, or reason concerning them. This is to reverse the order of nature, and to make that secondary which is really primary. To every operation there is a power proportioned; and this power must be placed on the body that operates. If we remove the power from one cause, we must ascribe it to another. But to remove it from all causes, and bestow it on a being that is no ways related to the cause or effect, but by perceiving them, is a gross absurdity, and contrary to the most certain principles of human reason.*
To what a cruel situation does a man reduce himself, when he is led unhappily to adopt a system inconsistent with common sense. Even his own conviction of a gross absurdity, is not sufficient to convert him. Upon such reasoners demonstration itself makes no impression; yet nothing is more clear, than that the very sight of a body in motion suggests to the mind the idea of power.
And to show, that our author’s account of this matter comes far short of truth, it will be plain, from one or two instances, that though a constant connection of two objects, may by custom produce a similar connection in the imagination; yet that a constant connection, whether in the imagination or betwixt the objects themselves, doth by no means come up to our idea of power. Far from it. In a garrison, the soldiers constantly turn out at a certain beat of the drum. The gates of the town are opened and shut regularly, as the clock points at a certain hour. These connected facts are observed by a child, are associated in his mind, and the association becomes habitual during a long life. The man however, if not a changeling, never imagines the beat of the drum to be the cause of the motion of the soldiers; nor the pointing of the clock to a certain hour, to be the cause of the opening or shutting of the gates. He perceives the cause of these operations to be very different; and is not led into any mistake by the above-mentioned circumstances, however closely connected. Let us put another instance, still more apposite. Such is the human constitution, that we act necessarily upon motives. The prospect of victuals makes a hungry man accelerate his pace: respect to an ancient family moves him to take a wife: an object of distress prompts him to lay out his money, or venture his person. Yet no man dreams a motive to be the cause of action; though here is not only a constant, but a necessary connection.*
The reader will take notice, that this author founds the idea of power upon instances of one thing always following another, which connects them in the imagination. According to that account, our idea of power includes two objects, one going before, another following. But what is to be said with respect to a single object, as where we see a man walking? Here there is no connection of one thing following another. It ought therefore to be admitted, that the idea of power is independent of that connection; otherwise, when a man is seen walking, it must be maintained that we have no idea of his having a power to walk. We have a conviction of power from every action, even of the simplest kind. Every man is conscious of having himself a power to act; and he readily transfers the idea to other beings, animate and inanimate.
I have still more to urge, though very little necessary, which is, to quote our author against himself. Though in his Philosophical Essays he continues to maintain, “That necessity exists only in the mind, not in objects; and that it is not possible for us even to form the most distant idea of it, considered as a quality in bodies;”1 yet, in the course of the argument, he more than once discovers, that he himself is possessed of an idea of power, considered as a quality in bodies. Thus, he observes,† “That nature conceals from us those powers and principles on which the influence of objects entirely depends.” And of these powers and principles he gives several apt instances; such as, a power or quality in bread to nourish; a power by which bodies persevere in motion. This is not only owning an idea of power as a quality in bodies, but also owning the reality of this power. In another passage,* he observes, “That the particular powers by which all natural operations are performed, never appear to the senses”; and “that experience does not lead us to the knowledge of the secret power by which one object produces another.” What leads us to the knowledge of this secret power, is not at present the question. But here is the author’s own acknowledgment, that he hath an idea of a power in one object to produce another; for he certainly will not say that he is here making use of words without having any ideas annexed to them. In one passage in particular,† he talks distinctly and explicitly of “a power in one object, by which it infallibly produces the other, and operates with the greatest certainty, and strongest necessity.” No person can give a description of power, considered as a quality in bodies, in more apt or more clear terms. So difficult it is to stifle or to disguise natural perceptions and sentiments.‡
Having thus ascertained the reality of our idea of power, as a quality of bodies, and traced it to its proper source, I shall close this Essay with some observations upon causes and their effects. That we cannot discover power in any object, otherways than by seeing it exert its power, is above observed. Therefore, we can never discover any object to be a cause, otherways than from the effect produced. But with regard to things caused or produced, the case is different. For we know an object to be an effect, when the cause is not seen. No one is at a loss to say, that a table or a chair is an effect produced: a child will ask who made it? We know from the light of nature every event, every new object, to be an effect or production, and consequently to have a cause. Hence the maxim, “That nothing can fall out, nothing begin to exist, without a cause”; in other words, “That every thing which begins to exist, must have a cause.” This maxim cannot be the result of experience, for it is applied to unknown objects and singular events as readily as to the most familiar. Mr. Locke endeavours to evince it by an argument. “Whatever, says he, is produced without any cause, is produced by nothing, or in other words has nothing for its cause. But nothing cannot be a cause more than it can be something.”2 This is a plain begging of the question, for the argument proceeds on the supposition of a cause being necessary. Doctor Clarke has an argument that lies open to the same objection. “Every thing must have a cause; for if any thing wanted a cause, it would produce itself, that is, exist before it existed, which is impossible.”3 Thus, any sort of argument, however frail, passes current even with acute philosophers, when applied to prove a proposition that they before knew to be true. At the same time, they have not adverted that these arguments, supposing them to be strict demonstration, cannot reach children and rustics, who however are far from being ignorant of this maxim. And were there no more, the futility of these arguments is of itself sufficient to show, that the maxim must be founded upon conviction derived from the light of nature.
Further, the sense of any object as an effect leads us to infer a cause proportioned to it. If the object be an effect properly adapted to some end, we infer an intelligent designing cause. If the effect be some good end brought about by proper means, we infer a designing and benevolent cause. Nor is it in our power, by any sort of constraint, to vary these inferences. It may be in our power to conceive, but it is not in our power to believe, that a fine painting, a pathetic poem, or a beautiful piece of architecture, can ever be the effect of chance, or of blind fatality. It may be possible, for ought we know to the contrary, that a blind and undesigning cause may be productive of excellent effects. But we have intuitive conviction, that every object which appears beautiful as adapted to an end or purpose, is the effect of a designing cause; and that every object which appears beautiful as fitted to a good end or purpose, is the effect of a designing and benevolent cause. We are so constituted, that we cannot entertain a doubt of this, if we would. And as far as we gather from experience, we are not deceived.
Knowledge of Future Events
While we are tied to this globe, some knowledge of the beings around us and of their operations, is necessary; because, without it, we should be utterly at a loss how to conduct ourselves. But that knowledge is not sufficient for our well-being, and scarce for our preservation. It is like ways necessary, that we have some knowledge of future events; for about these we are mostly employed. A man will not sow, if he hath not a prospect of reaping: he will not build a house, if he hath not some security, that it will stand firm for years. Man is possessed of that valuable branch of knowledge: he can fortel future events. There is no doubt of the fact. The difficulty only is, how that knowledge is acquired. It is indeed an established maxim, That the course of nature continues uniformly the same; and that things will be as they have been: but, from what premises we draw this conclusion, is not obvious. Uniformity in the operations of nature with regard to time past, is discovered by experience; but of future time having no experience, the maxim cannot be derived from that source. Neither will reason help us out. It is true, the production of one thing by another, even in a single instance, infers a power; and that power is necessarily connected with its effect. But as power is internal, not discoverable but by the effects produced, we can never by any chain of reasoning, conclude power to be in any body, except in the instant of operation. The power, for ought we know, may end at that instant. We cannot so much as conclude by any deduction of reason, that this earth, the sun, or any one being, will exist tomorrow. And, supposing their future existence to be discoverable by reason, we are not so much acquainted with the nature or essence of anything, as to discover a necessary connection betwixt it and its powers, that the one subsisting, the other must also subsist. There is nothing more easily conceived, than that the most active being shall at once be deprived of all its activity: and a thing that may be conceived, can never be proved inconsistent or impossible. An appeal to past experience, will not carry us through. The sun has afforded us light and heat from the beginning of the world. But what reason have we to conclude, that its power of giving light and heat must continue; when it is as easy to conceive powers to be limited in point of time, as to conceive them perpetual? If we have recourse to the wisdom and goodness of a Supreme Being, establishing permanent general laws; the difficulty is, that we have no data, from whence to conclude, in the way of reasoning, that these general laws must continue invariably the same without end. It is true, the conclusion is actually made, but it must be referred to some other source; for reasoning will not aid us, more than experience, to draw any one conclusion from past to future events. It is certain however, that the uniformity of nature’s operations, is a maxim admitted by all men. Though altogether unassisted either by reason or experience, we never have the least hesitation to conclude, that things will be as they have been; even so firmly as to trust our lives and fortunes upon that conclusion. I shall endeavour to trace out the principle upon which this important conclusion is founded. And this subject will afford a fresh instance of the admirable correspondence that is discovered betwixt the nature of man and his external circumstances. If our conviction of the uniformity of nature be not founded upon reason nor experience, it can have no foundation but the light of nature. We are so constituted, as necessarily to transfer our past experience to futurity; and we have an innate conviction of the constancy and uniformity of nature. Our knowledge here is intuitive, and is more firm and solid than any conclusion from reasoning can be. This conviction must arise from an internal sense, because it evidently hath no relation to any of our external senses. And an argument which hath been more than once stated in the foregoing Essays, will be found decisive upon this point. Let us suppose a being destitute of this sense: such a being will never be able to transfer its past experience to futurity. Every event, however conformable to past experience, will come equally unexpected to this being, as new and rare events do to us; though possibly without the same surprise.
This sense of constancy and uniformity in the works of nature, is not confined to the subject above handled, but displays itself remarkably upon many other objects. We have a conviction of a common nature in beings that are similar in their appearance. We expect a likeness in their constituent parts, in their appetites, and in their conduct. We not only lay our account with uniformity of behaviour in the same individual, but in all the individuals of the same species. This sense hath such influence, as even to make us hope for constancy and uniformity, where experience would lead us to the opposite conclusion. The rich man never thinks of poverty, nor the distressed of relief. Even in this variable climate, we cannot readily bring ourselves to believe, that good or bad weather will have an end. Nay, it governs our notions in law-matters, and is the foundation of the maxim, “That alteration or change of circumstances is not presumed.” Influenced by the same sense, every man acquires a certain uniformity of manner, which spreads itself upon his thoughts, words, and actions. In our younger years, its effect is not remarkable, being opposed by a variety of passions, which, as they have different and sometimes opposite tendencies, occasion a fluctuation in our conduct. But as soon as the heat of youth is over, it seldom fails to bring on a punctual regularity in our way of living, which is remarked in most old people.
Analogy is one of the most common sources of reasoning; the force of which is universally admitted. The conviction of every argument founded on analogy, ariseth from this very sense of uniformity. Things similar in some particulars, are presumed to be similar in every particular.
In a word, as the bulk of our views and actions have a future aim, some knowledge of future events is necessary, that we may adapt our views and actions to natural events. To this end, the Author of our nature hath done two things: he hath established a constancy and uniformity in the operations of nature; and he hath given us an intuitive conviction of this constancy and uniformity, and that things will be as they have been.
Dread of Supernatural Powers in the Dark
A very slight view of human nature is sufficient to convince us, that we were not dropt here by accident. This earth is fitted for man, and man is fitted for inhabiting this earth. By our senses we have an intuitive knowledge of the things that surround us, at least of those things, by which we may be affected. We can discover objects at a distance. We discern them in their connection of cause and effect; and their future operations are laid open, as well as their present. But in this grand apparatus of senses external and internal, by which the secrets of nature are disclosed to us, one seems to be with-held; though in appearance the most useful of all: and that is, a sense to discern what things are noxious, what are friendly. The most poisonous fruits have sometimes the fairest colours; and savage animals partake of beauty with the tame and harmless. And by the most extensive induction it will be found, that man hath no original sense of what is salutary to him, and what is hurtful.
It is natural to inquire why this sense is with-held, when it appears to be the design of nature, to furnish us plentifully with senses for the discovery of useful truths. It is too bold an undertaking in man, to dive in to the secrets of his Maker. We ought to rest contented with the numerous instances we have of good order and good purpose; which must afford us a rational conviction, that good order and good purpose take place universally. At the same time, a rational conjecture may be formed of this matter. We have a conviction, that there is nothing redundant or superfluous in the operations of nature: different means are never afforded us to bring about the same end. Experience, as far as it can go, is given us for acquiring knowledge; and sense only, where experience cannot aid us. Sense is with-held in the present case, because the knowledge of what is harmful, and what beneficial, may be obtained by experience. And this suggests a final cause, not a little interesting. Man by his nature is made for an active life, and his felicity depends greatly on it. To excite activity, we are left to gather knowledge from experience, and sense is only afforded where experience can give us no instruction.
Man then is placed in this world, amidst a great variety of objects, the nature and tendency of which are unknown to him, otherways than by experience. In this situation, he would be in perpetual danger, had he not some faithful monitor to keep him constantly upon the watch against harm. This monitor is the propensity he hath to be afraid of new objects; such especially as have no peculiar beauty to raise desire. A child, to whom all nature is strange, dreads the approach of every object; and even the face of man is frightful to it. The same timidity and suspicion may be observed in travellers, who converse with strangers, and meet with unknown appearances. Upon the first sight of an herb or fruit, we apprehend the worst, and suspect it to be noxious. An unknown animal is immediately conceived to be dangerous. The more rare phaenomena of nature, the causes of which are unknown to the vulgar, never fail to strike them with terror. From this induction it is clear, that we dread unknown objects: they are always surveyed with an emotion of fear, till experience discover them to be harmless.
This dread of unknown objects is thought to be inherent in all sensible beings; but chiefly in the weak and defenceless. The more feeble and delicate the creature is, the more shy and timorous it is observed to be. No creature is by nature more feeble and delicate than man; and this principle is to him of admirable use, to balance the principle of curiosity, which is prevalent in man above all other creatures; and which, indulged without control, would often betray him into fatal accidents.
The dread of unknown objects fires the imagination to magnify their supposed evil qualities. For it is a well-known truth, that passion hath great influence on the imagination. The less we know of a new object, the greater liberty we have to dress it in frightful colours. The object is conceived to have all the dreadful qualities that imagination can invent; and the same terror is raised, as if these qualities were real, not imaginary.
If the new and unknown object have any thing dreadful in its appearance, this circumstance, joined with our natural propensity to dread unknown objects, will raise terror even in the most resolute. If the evils dreaded from such objects, be known neither in quality nor degree; the imagination, being under no restraint, figures the greatest evils, both in kind and magnitude, that can be conceived. If no immediate harm ensue, the mind, by the impulse it hath received, transports itself into futurity, and imagines the strange forms to be presages of direful calamities. Hence it is, that the uncommon phaenomena of nature, such as comets, eclipses, earthquakes, are by the vulgar held as forerunners of dreadful events.
The most common instance of our dread of unknown objects, is the fear that seizes many young persons in the dark; a phaenomen on that has not been clearly accounted for. Light disposeth the mind to chearfulness and consequently to courage. Darkness, by depressing the mind, disposeth it to fear. Any object alarms the mind, when it is already prepared by darkness to receive impressions of fear. An object seen in the dark but obscurely, leaves the heated imagination at liberty to bestow upon it the most dreadful appearance. This phantom of the imagination, conceived as a reality, unhinges the mind, and throws it into a fit of distraction. The imagination, now heated to the highest degree, multiplies the dreadful appearances to the utmost bounds of its conception. The object becomes a spectre, a devil, a hobgoblin, something more terrible than ever was seen or described.
A very few accidents of this kind, having so powerful an effect, are sufficient to introduce an association between darkness and malignant powers. And when once this association is formed, there is no occasion for the appearance of an object to create terror. Frightful ideas croud into the mind, and augment the fear occasioned by darkness. The imagination becomes ungovernable, and converts these ideas into real appearances.
That the terror occasioned by darkness is entirely owing to the imagination, will be evident from a single reflection, that in company no such effect is produced. A companion can afford no security against super-natural powers. But a companion hath the same effect with sunshine to chear the mind, and preserve it from gloominess and despondence. The imagination is kept within bounds, and under due subjection to sense and reason.*
Knowledge of the Deity
The arguments a priori for the existence and attributes of the Deity, are urged, with the greatest shew of reason, in the sermons preached at Boyle’s lectures.1 But these sermons, though they command my attention, never reach my heart: on the contrary, they always give me a sensible uneasiness; the cause of which I imagine I can now explain. Such deep metaphysical reasoning, supposing it to be conclusive, is surely not fitted for the vulgar and illiterate. Is then our Maker known to none but to persons of great study and deep thinking? Is a vail thrown over the eyes of the rest of mankind? This thought always returned upon me, and gave me pain. If there really exist a Being who made and who governs the world, and if it be his purpose to display himself to his rational creatures; it is not accountable that he should stop short at a very small part of mankind. At the same time, to found our knowledge of the Deity upon reasoning solely, is not agreeable to the analogy of nature. We depend not on abstract reasoning, nor indeed on any reasoning, for unfolding our duty to our fellow creatures: it is engraved upon the table of our hearts. We adapt our actions to the course of nature, by mere instinct, without reasoning, or even experience. Therefore, if analogy can be relied on, it ought to be thought that God will discover himself to us, in some such manner as may take in all mankind, the vulgar and illiterate as well as the deep-thinking philosopher.
If these abstruse arguments be relished by the learned and speculative, it is so far well. I cannot help acknowledging, that they afford me no conviction; at least no solid and permanent conviction. We know little about the nature of things, but what we learn from a strict attention to our own nature. That nothing can begin to exist without a cause, is sufficiently evident from sense.* But that this can be demonstrated by any argument a priori, drawn from the nature of things, I have not observed.† And if demonstration fail us in the very out setting, we cannot hope for its assistance in the subsequent steps. But if this difficulty shall be surmounted, we have another to struggle with. Admitting that something has existed from all eternity, I find no data to determine a priori, whether this world has existed from all eternity, in a constant succession of causes and effects; or whether it is an effect produced by an almighty power. It is indeed hard to conceive a world, eternal and self-existent, where all things are carried on by blind fate, without design or intelligence. And yet I can find no demonstration to the contrary. If we can form any obscure notion of a single being existing from all eternity, is it more difficult to form a notion of a succession of beings, existing from all eternity, or a notion of a perpetual succession of causes and effects?
Mr. Locke‡ admits that we have no innate idea of God; but insists that the existence of God can be demonstrated; and the following is his demonstration.
Whatever had a beginning must be produced by something else: but man, an intelligent being, had a beginning; and therefore must have been produced by some powerful intelligent Being: and if that powerful intelligent Being had no beginning, he must have existed from all eternity; and it is that Being we term God.
This is a very infirm demonstration. It rests intirely upon the foundation of man having had a beginning, which is not self-evident. It includes no absurdity to suppose that this earth with all the beings upon it, cogitative and incogitative, may have existed from all eternity. This argument could not have passed as a demonstration with so consummate a logician as Mr. Locke, but for an antecedent conviction of a self-existent intelligent Being who made and governs the world. And with respect to any known truth, nothing is more common than to hold a few lame ergos to be a strict demonstration.
When we think of eternity and of an eternal Being, difficulties press on every side. But these difficulties are occasioned by the limited capacity of the mind of man. We cannot comprehend an eternity of existence: it is an object too bulky: it eludes our grasp. The mind is like the eye: it cannot take in an object that is very great or very little. This plainly is the source of our difficulties, when we attempt speculations so remote from common apprehension. Abstract reasoning upon such a subject, must lead into endless perplexities. It is indeed less difficult to conceive one eternal unchangeable Being who made the world, than to conceive a blind chain of causes and effects. At least, we are disposed to the former, as being more agreeable to the imagination. But as we cannot find any inconsistency in the latter supposition, we cannot justly say that it is demonstrably false.
Give me leave to add, that to bring out such abstruse and intricates peculations into any clear light, is at any rate scarce to be expected. And if, after the utmost straining, they remain obscure and unaffecting, it is evident to me, that they must have a bad tendency. Persons of a peevish and gloomy cast of mind, finding no conviction from that quarter, will be fortified in their propension to believe that all things happen by blind chance; that there is no wisdom, order, nor harmony, in the government of this world; and consequently, that there is no God.
Being therefore little solicitous about arguments a priori for the existence of a Deity, which are not proportioned to the capacity of man, I apply myself with zeal and chearfulness, to search for the Deity in his works; for by these we must discover him, if he have thought proper to make himself known. And the better to manage the inquiry, I shall endeavour to make out three propositions; 1st, That if there exist a Being who is the Maker and Governor of the world, it seems to be a necessary part of his government, that he should make himself known to his intelligent creatures. 2dly, That in fact he hath done so. And, 3dly, That to compass this end, a method is employed entirely suited to our nature, and the same by which many other truths of the greatest importance are laid open to us.
There certainly cannot be a more discouraging thought to man, than that the world was formed by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, and that all things are carried on by blind impulse. Upon that supposition, he can have no security for his life; nor for his continuing to be an intelligent creature, even for a moment. Things have been carried on with regularity and order: but chance may, in an instant, throw all things into horrid confusion. We can have no comfort in virtue, when it is a work of mere chance; nor can we justify our reliance upon the faith of others, when the nature of man rests upon so precarious a foundation. Every thing must appear gloomy, dismal, and disjointed, without a Deity to unite this world of beings into one beautiful and harmonious system. These considerations, and many more that will occur upon the first reflection, afford a very strong conviction, if there be a wise and good Being who superintends the affairs of this world, that he will not conceal himself from his rational creatures. Can any thing be more desirable or more substantially useful, than to know that there is a Being, from whom no secrets are hid, to whom our good works are acceptable, and even the good purposes of our hearts; and whose government, directed by wisdom and benevolence, ought to make us rest secure, that nothing doth nor will fall out but according to good order? This sentiment, rooted in the mind, is an antidote to all misfortune. Without it, life is at best but a confused and gloomy scene.
And this leads to a different consideration, which makes our knowledge of a benevolent Deity of the greatest importance to us. Though natural and moral evil are far from prevailing in this world, yet so much of both is scattered over the face of things, as to create some degree of doubt, whether there may not be a mixture of chance or of ill-will in the government of this world. But once supposing the superintendency of a good Being, these evils are no longer considered as such. A man restrains himself from unlawful pleasures, though the restraint gives him pain. But then he does not consider this pain as an evil to repine at: he submits to it voluntarily and with satisfaction, as one doth to grief for the loss of a friend; being conscious that it is right and fit for him to be so affected. In the same manner, he submits to all the evils of this life. Having confidence in the good government of the Deity, he is persuaded that every thing happens for the best; and therefore that it is his duty to submit to whatever happens. This unfolds a scene so enlivening and so productive of chearfulness and good humour, that we cannot readily think, if there be a benevolent Deity, that he would with-hold from his creatures so invaluable a blessing.
Man, at the same time, by his taste for beauty, regularity, and order, is fitted for contemplating the wisdom and goodness displayed in the frame and government of this world. These are proper objects of admiration and joy. It is not agreeable to the ordinary course of nature, that man should be endued with an affection, without having a proper object to bestow it upon. And as the providence of the Deity is the highest object of this affection, it would be unnatural, that man should be kept in ignorance of it.
These, I admit, are but probable reasons for believing, that if there exist a benevolent Deity, it must be his intention to manifest himself to his creatures: but they carry a high degree of probability, which leaves little room for doubt. At the same time, though it should be our fate to search in vain for this object of our affection, we ought not however to despair, and in that despair to conclude there is no God. Let us but reflect, that he hath not manifested himself to all his creatures. The brutes certainly know nothing of him. And should we be disappointed in this search, all we can conclude is, that, for good and wise purposes which we cannot dive into, he hath thought proper to with-hold himself also from us. We certainly have no reason to convert our ignorance into an argument against his existence. Our ignorance brings us only a step lower, and puts us so far upon a footing with the brute creation.
The second and important branch of our disquisition is, to as certain that there is a Deity, and that he hath manifested himself to us. I request only attention of my reader, and not any unreasonable concession. In a former Essay,* two propositions are made out. The first is, That every thing that hath a beginning, is perceived as a production or effect, which necessarily involves the idea of a cause. The second, That whatever of contrivance or usefulness is discovered in the effect, is necessarily attributed to the cause. Considering a house, garden, picture, or statue, in itself, it is perceived as beautiful. If we attend to these objects as things having a beginning, we perceive them to be effects, involving the idea of a cause. Natural objects, such as plants and animals, are also perceived as effects, or as the production of some cause. The question will always recur, How came it here? Who made it? What is the cause of its existence? We are so accustomed to human arts, that every work of design and use will be attributed to man, if it exceed not his known powers. Nor do effects above the power of man unhinge our notion of a cause: they only lead the mind to a more powerful cause.
With respect to the second proposition, that we attribute to the cause whatever of contrivance or usefulness is discovered in the effect, attend to any useful machine, such as a plough or a fire-engine, we necessarily infer that the contriver was a man of skill, and probably public spirited. With respect to works of nature, so much art and usefulness are discovered in the various plants covering the surface of this globe, as necessarily to make us infer them to be the production of some cause, benevolent as well as powerful and intelligent. The scene opens more and more, when, passing from plants to animals, we come to man, the most wonderful of all the works of nature. And when at last we take in at one view the material and moral worlds, full of harmony, order, and beauty, happily adjusted to answer great and glorious purposes; there is in this grand production necessarily involved the conviction of a cause, unbounded in power, intelligence, and goodness.*
Thus it is, that the Deity hath manifested himself to us by principles wrought into our nature, which infallibly operate upon viewing objects in their relation of cause and effect. We discover external objects by their qualities of colour, figure, size, and motion. In the perception of these qualities, connected after a certain manner, is comprehended the perception of the substance or thing, to which these qualities belong. At the same time, we perceive this substance or thing supposing it to have had a beginning, to be an effect produced by some cause; and we perceive the powers and properties of this cause, from its effects. If there be an aptitude in the effect to some end, we attribute to the cause intelligence and design. If the effect produced be something that is good in itself, or that hath a tendency to some good end or purpose, we attribute goodness to the cause, as well as intelligence and design: and this we do, not by any process of reasoning, but by the light of nature. The Deity hath not left his existence to be gathered from slippery and far-fetched arguments. We need but open our eyes, to receive impressions of him almost from every thing we perceive. We discover his being and attributes in the same manner as we discover external objects, namely by the evidence of our senses. And none but they who deny the existence of matter against the evidence of their senses, can seriously and deliberately deny the existence of the Deity. In fine, there is a wonderful harmony established betwixt our senses, internal and external, and the course of nature. We rely on our senses, for the existence of external objects, and their past, present, and future operations. We rely on these senses by the necessity of our nature; and upon experience find ourselves not deceived. Our conviction of the Deity, is as distinct and authoritative as that of external objects. And though here we have not experience to appeal to, the want of experience can never afford an argument against any proposition, where, from the nature of the thing, there can be no experience. It is sufficient for conviction, that our senses correspond to the truth of things, wherever there is an opportunity to try them by experience; and therefore we can have no cause to doubt of our senses in any case, where they are not contradicted by experience.
So far the Deity is discoverable, by every person who goes but one step beyond the surface of things, and their mere existence. We may indeed behold the earth in its gayest dress, the heavens in all their glory, without having any perception other than that of beauty, something in these objects that pleases and delights us. Many pass their lives, brutishly involved in corporeal pleasures, without having any perception, at least any strong or permanent perception, of the Deity. But the Deity cannot be long hid from those who are accustomed to any degree of reflection. No sooner are we prepared to relish beauties of the second and third class;* no sooner do we acquire a taste for regularity, order, design, and good purpose, than we begin to perceive the Deity in the beauty of the operations of nature. Savages, who have no consistent rule of conduct, who act by the blind impulse of passion and appetite, and who have only a glimmering of the moral sense, are but ill qualified to discover the Deity in his works. If they have little or no perception of a just tenor of life, of the dignity of behaviour, or of the beauty of action, how should they perceive the beauty of the works of creation, or the admirable harmony of all the parts, in the great system of things? Society teaches mankind self-denial, and improves the moral sense. Disciplined in society, the taste for order and regularity unfolds itself by degrees: the social affections gain the ascendant; and the morality of actions takes firm hold of the mind. In this improved state, the beauty of the creation makes a strong impression; and we can never cease admiring the excellency of that Cause, who is the author of so many beautiful effects.*
Hitherto we have gone no farther, than to point out the means by which we discover the Deity, and his attributes of power, wisdom, and goodness. So far are we carried, by those principles in our nature which discover the connection betwixt cause and effect, and from the effect discover the powers and properties of the cause. But there is one attribute of the Supreme Being, of the most essential kind, which remains to be unfolded. It is what commonly passeth under the name of self-existence, that he must have existed for ever; and, consequently, that he cannot be considered as an effect, to require a cause of his existence; but, without being caused, that, mediately or immediately, he is the Cause of all other things. If all beings had a beginning, there must have been a time when the world was an absolute void; upon which supposition, it is intuitively certain, that nothing ever could have come into existence. This proposition we perceive to be true; and our perception affords us, in this case, a more solid conviction than any demonstration can do. One being, therefore, must have existed from all eternity: who, as he is not an effect or production, cannot be indebted for his existence to any other being.
That there must be one eternal self-existing Being, is a capital point. What only remains is to consider, whether this world with all it contains was created by that Being; or whether the world itself be that one eternal self-existent Being. The latter opinion is maintained by several writers, ancient and modern. And supposing their eternal and self-existent world to be endued with an intelligent mind, uniting the various parts into one great whole, and directing the great chain of causes and effects, I perceive not any absurdity in the supposition, as far as my reason can carry me. But as this governing mind would be the Deity, the very Being we are in quest of, the supposition is rejected by these writers; who hold, that this world, devoid of intelligence, is governed by blind fatality, or perhaps by chance. Chance, in the sense here given it, must be exploded, as it is made out above, that the term signifies nothing but our ignorance of a cause.* And as for blind fatality, the intelligence and foresight displayed in the government of the world, is clearly inconsistent with that opinion. The numberless effects daily falling out, that bespeak power, wisdom, and benevolence in their cause, afford to us intuitive conviction of the world being governed by a powerful, wise, and benevolent Being. The light of nature leads us to that conclusion, and permits us not to entertain the slightest doubt of it.† Therefore, supposing this world to be eternal and self-existent, there must be notwithstanding an independent cause which governs all, and that cause is God. At the same time, I am far from admitting the world, this earth at least, to be eternal. The following argument appears to me conclusive against that opinion. Whatever is frequently changing must be an effect; because if it never had a beginning, all the changes it is susceptible of must have happened millions of ages ago. This earth, the surface at least, is continually changing, the hills gradually mouldering down to the valleys, the sea incroaching on the land, and the land on the sea, the latter growing salter and salter, &c. &c. Therefore it cannot be eternal. It will not enervate this argument, that these changes may be the effect of earthquakes, deluges, or other extraordinary events; for every grand revolution as well as every minute change must have happened long ago, if this earth had no beginning.
The bulk of mankind in forming their notion of a Deity, do not include the attribute of self-existence: a man must be accustomed to abstract reasoning, who of himself discovers this truth. But it is not difficult to explain it to others, after it is discovered. And it deserves well to be inculcated; for without it our knowledge of the Deity must be extremely imperfect. His other attributes of power, wisdom, and goodness, are in some measure communicated to his creatures; but his attribute of self-existence makes the strongest opposition imaginable betwixt him and his creatures.
The third point, namely, the means employed by the Deity to make himself known to us, require very little explanation after what is laid down above. The essence of the Deity is far beyond the reach of our comprehension. Were he to exhibit himself to us in broad day-light, he could not be reached by any of our external senses. Spirit cannot be reached by any of them; and the attributes of self-existence, wisdom, goodness, and power, are purely intellectual. By means indeed of that sense which discovers causes from their effects, he hath manifested himself to us in a satisfactory manner, liable to no doubt nor error. And after all, what further evidence can we desire, when the evidence we have of his existence is little inferior to that we have of our own existence? Our senses serve us for evidence in both.* Our own existence indeed is, of all facts, that which concerns us the most; and therefore of our own existence we ought to have the highest certainty. Next to it, we have not, as it appears to me, a greater certainty of any matter of fact, than of the existence of the Deity. It is equal to the certainty we have of external objects, and of the constancy and uniformity of the operations of nature, upon the faith of which our whole schemes of life are adjusted.
The arguments a posteriori that have been urged for the being and attributes of the Deity, are generally defective. There is always wanting one link of the chain, to wit, that sense upon which is founded our knowledge of causes and their effects. But the calm perceptions, turning habitual by frequent repetition, are apt to be overlooked in our reasonings. Many a proposition is rendered obscure by much laboured argument, for the truth of which we need but appeal to our own senses. Thus, we are told, that the frame and order of the world, the wisdom and goodness displayed in every part of it, are an evident demonstration of the being of a God. These, I acknowledge, afford full conviction. But, laying aside sense and perception, I should be utterly at a loss to conclude from reasoning, the existence of any one thing from that of another. In particular, by what process of reasoning can we demonstrate it to be true, That order and beauty must proceed from a designing cause? The idea of an effect involves indeed the idea of a cause; but does reason make out, that the thing we name an effect, may not exist of itself, as well as what we name a cause? If it be urged, that human works, where means are apparently adjusted to an end and beauty and order discovered, are always known to be the effects of intelligence and design: I admit this to be true, as far as I have experience. But where experience fails me, I desire to know by what step, what link in the chain of reasoning, am I to connect my past experience with the future. If it be said, that nature prompts us to judge of similar instances, by former experience; this is giving up reason and demonstration, to appeal to that very sense, on the evidence of which this truth must entirely rest. All the arguments a posteriori may be resolved into this principle: which probably influenced the writers who handle the present subject; though, I must be allowed to say, it hath not been explained, nor perhaps sufficiently understood by them; whereby all of them have been led into the error of stating as demonstrative reasoning, what is truly an appeal to our senses. They reason, for example, upon the equality of males and females; and hold the infinite odds against this equality to be a demonstration that matters cannot be carried on by chance. This, considered merely as reasoning, does not conclude; for events are infinite in their variety. But though reason cannot afford demonstration in this case, sense and perception afford conviction. The equality of males and females, is one of the many instances which we know and perceive to be effects of a designing cause; and of which we can no more entertain a doubt, than of our own existence. The same sense that unfolds to us the connection of causes and their effects in the most common events, discovers this whole universe to stand in the relation of an effect to a supreme cause.
To substitute sense in place of reason and demonstration, may seem to put the evidence of the Deity upon too low a footing. On the contrary, intuition affords a higher degree of conviction than any reasoning can do. Human reason is commonly overvalued by philosophers. It affords very little aid in making original discoveries. The comparing things together, and directing our inferences from sense and experience, are its proper province. Reason indeed gives its aid, in our inquiries concerning the Deity: it enlarges our views of final causes, and of the prevalence of wisdom and goodness. But the application of the argument from final causes to prove the existence of a Deity, and the force of our conclusion from beautiful and orderly effects to a designing cause, are not from reason, but from an internal light, which shows things in their relation of cause and effect. These conclusions rest entirely upon sense; and it is surprising, that writers should overlook what is so natural, and so obvious. But the pride of man’s heart, makes him desire to extend his discoveries by dint of reasoning, which is his own work. There is merit in acuteness and penetration; and we are better pleased to assume merit to ourselves, than humbly to acknowledge, that, to the most important discoveries, we are directly led by the hand of the Almighty.*
Having unfolded that principle upon which I would rest the most important of all truths, objections must not be overlooked. To these I shall give their utmost weight; which ought to be done in every controversy, and which becomes more strictly a duty, in handling a subject where truth is of the utmost importance.
One objection may be, that the foregoing argument from which we conclude the eternity and self-existence of one Being who made this world, doth not necessarily infer the conclusion; because it will equally conclude for an eternal succession of beings deriving their existence from each other. In matters so profound, it is difficult to form notions with any degree of accuracy. It is observed above, that it is much form an to grasp in his thought an eternal Being, whose existence cannot admit the supposition of a cause. To talk, as some of our metaphysical writers do, of an absolute necessity in the nature of the Being as the cause of his existence, is mere jargon. For we can conceive nothing more clearly, than that the cause must go before the effect, and that the cause cannot possibly be in the effect. But however difficult it may be to conceive one eternal Being, without a cause of its existence; it is no less difficult to conceive an eternal succession of beings, deriving their existence from each other: for though every link be supposed a production, the chain itself exists without a cause, as well as one eternal Being does. Therefore an eternal succession of beings is not a more natural supposition, than one eternal self-existent Being. And taking it in a different light, it will appear a supposition much less natural, or rather altogether unnatural. Succession in existence, implying the successive annihilation of individuals, is indeed a very natural conception. But then it is intimately connected with frail and dependent beings; and cannot, without the utmost violence to the conception, be applied to the Maker of all things, to whom we naturally ascribe perpetual existence, and every other perfection. And therefore, as this hypothesis of a perpetual succession, when applied to the Deity, is destitute of any support from reason and is contradicted by nature, there can be no reason for adopting it.
The noted proposition, That primos in orbe Deos fecit timor,2 may be objected; as it will be thought unphilosophical, to multiply causes for our belief of a Deity, when fear alone must have that effect. For my part, I have little doubt of the truth of the proposition taken in its proper sense, that fear is the foundation of our belief of invisible malevolent powers; for evidently fear can never be the cause of our belief of a benevolent Deity. There is unfolded in another Essay,* the cause of our dread of malevolent invisible powers. And I am persuaded, that nothing has been more hurtful to religion, than an irregular propensity in our nature to dread such powers. Superficial thinkers are apt to confound these phantoms of the imagination, with the objects of our true and genuine perceptions: and finding so little reality in the former, they are apt to conclude the latter also to be a fiction. Man in his original savage state, is a shy and timorous animal, dreading every new object, and attributing every extraordinary event to some invisible malevolent power. Led at the same time by mere appetite, he hath little idea of regularity and order, of the morality of actions, or of the beauty of nature. In this state he multiplies his invisible malevolent powers, without entertaining any notion of a supreme Being, the Creator of all things. As man ripens in society and is benefited by the good-will of others, his dread of new objects gradually lessens. He begins to perceive regularity and order in the course of nature. He becomes sharp-sighted, in discovering causes from effects, and effects from causes. He ascends gradually through the different orders of beings and their operations, till he discovers the Deity, who is the cause of all things. When we run over the history of man, it will be found to hold true, that savages, who are the most possessed with the opinion of evil spirits, are extremely deficient in the knowledge of a Deity; and that as all civilized nations, without exception, entertain the firm belief of a Deity, so the dread of evil spirits wears out in every nation, in proportion to their gradual advances in social intercourse.
And this leads to a reflection, which cannot fail to touch every thinking person. Man in a savage state, is hurried on by every gust of passion, and by every phantom of the imagination. His powers and faculties are improved by education and good culture; he acquires deep knowledge in the nature of things, and learns to distinguish truth from falsehood. And as he increaseth in knowledge and in the discerning faculties, his conviction of a Deity becomes proportionally more clear and authoritative. The universal conviction of a Deity, which hath spread through all civilized nations, cannot possibly be without a foundation in our nature. To insist that it may, is to insist that an effect may be without an adequate cause. Reason cannot be an adequate cause; because our reasonings upon this subject, must at best be abstruse, and beyond the comprehension of the generality of mankind. Our knowledge therefore of the Deity, must be founded on intuition and perception, which are common to mankind. And it is agreeable to the analogy of nature, that God should discover himself to his rational creatures after this manner.
If this subject be involved in any degree of obscurity, writers are to blame, who, in a matter of so great importance, ought to give no quarter to inaccuracy of thought or expression. But it is an error common among writers, to substitute reason in place of intuitive perception. Sense working silently and without effort, is generally overlooked: and we must find are a son for every thing we judge to be true, without considering that every sort of reasoning must be founded on axioms or principles that are intuitively certain. Instances of this wrong bias are not unfrequent even in mathematics, the most perfect of all sciences. In the first Book of Euclid, more than one self-evident proposition are brought under the form of a demonstration.3 It is by the same wrong bias, that the principles of morality have been involved in obscurity by several writers. The qualities of right and wrong in human actions, are known to us intuitively by means of the moral sense; and far from being discoverable by reason, they are axioms or principles upon which every reasoning upon moral subjects must be founded. I need no better instance of this observation, than Doctor Clarke’s demonstration, as it is termed, of the unalterable obligation of moral duty, mentioned above, page 67, which consists in words merely without any distinct meaning, or rather without any meaning.4 And even after the long neglected anatomy of the mind came to be more the subject of inquiry than formerly, the moral sense was not soon recognized. Hutcheson discovered a sense of beauty and deformity in things, and particularly in human actions; but he was mistaken in holding that sense to be the moral sense. The sense of right and wrong in actions passed unobserved by that author, though it is what ought only to be termed the moral sense, as being the director of our conduct, informing us what we ought to do, and what we ought not to do. In the same way, our knowledge of the Deity has been involved in much obscurity. Writers reason without end about a Deity and his attributes, over-looking the light of nature, by which we discover the Deity not only from his works, insisted on above, but from an innate perception of his existence, made evident in Sketches of the History of Man, which makes a branch of our nature, no less evidently than does the sense of right and wrong in actions.
With respect to the deification of heroes, which was the practice in the first stages of society, it is a common opinion, that, in the eagerness of a too forward gratitude to those who had in any degree contributed to the better accommodation of life, their countrymen no sooner saw them removed by death from the society of men than they exalted them to that of the gods. I cannot relish this conjecture. The notions of immortality among savages are generally obscure; and when a man is cut off by a natural or violent death, he is not conceived to be still alive, far less to be translated into a higher order of beings. It is true, that among savages, where every new invention makes a shining figure, a man who contributes in any measure to the accommodation of society, is honoured during his life, and remembred after his death; and to honour the memory of such men, feasts and ceremonies have been instituted. It is not reasonable to believe, that at first the matter was carried any further. That among savages the first notions of supernatural powers a rose from fear, is extremely probable. In the gradual improvement of society, regularity, order, and good design, came in some obscure manner to be recognized in the affairs of this world; and this naturally suggested the superintendance of benevolent powers, perhaps of the sun or moon, those exalted and illustrious beings. This apparently was the first dawn of internal conviction with respect to the Deity. So far is certain, that Polytheism was recognized before the unity of the Deity was discovered by our more enlightened faculties. In this first stage of religion, superior beings, according to the notions entertained of them, were much limited in power, as well as in benevolence. Men could not strain their thoughts to conceive much more power or benevolence than existed in their own species. Such confined and groveling notions favoured the system of Polytheism; for we are apt to supply by numbers what is wanting in energy: and as fear had multiplied the number of malevolent powers, hope was no less fruitful with respect to those who were supposed benevolent. Then it was, and no sooner, that good men, held in remembrance by solemn institutions, were, in the fond imagination of their countrymen, advanced a step higher, and converted into genii, or tutelary deities. They were still supposed to superintend the affairs of mankind, and in their exalted state to continue that good-will to their country which was so remarkable during their existence in the human shape. These appear to be the natural gradations of the mind in its progress toward the Deity.
Having settled the belief of a Deity upon its proper basis, we shall proceed to take a general view of the attributes which belong to that great Being. And, first,
Unity of the Deity
With regard to this and all the other attributes of the Deity, it ought to be no discouraging reflection, that we cannot attain an adequate idea of them. The Deity is too grand an object to be comprehended in any perfect manner by the human mind. We have not words nor ideas which any way correspond to the manner of his existence. Did even some good angel undertake to be our instructor, we would still be at a loss to form a distinct conception of it. Power, intelligence, and goodness, are attributes which we can comprehend. But with regard to the nature of the Deity in general and the manner of his existence, we must be satisfied in this mortal state to remain in the dark. The attribute of Unity, is, what of all we have the least certainty about by the light of nature. It is not inconsistent, that there should be two or more beings of the very highest order, whose essence and actions may be so regulated by the nature of the beings themselves, as to be altogether concordant. In truth, the nature of the Divine Being is so far out of our reach, that we must be absolutely at a loss to apply to it unity or multiplicity. This property is applicable to individual things; but we know not that it is applicable to the Deity. Yet if we may venture to judge of a matter so remote, we ought to conclude in favour of unity. We perceive the necessity of one eternal Being; and it is sufficient, that there is not the smallest foundation from sense or reason, to suppose more than one.
Power and Intelligence of the Deity
These two attributes I join together, because the same reflection is applicable to both. The wisdom and power necessarily supposed in the creation and government of this world, are so far beyond the reach of our comprehension, that they may justly be styled infinite. We can ascribe no bounds to either: and we have no other notion of infinite, but that to which we can ascribe no bounds.
Benevolence of the Deity
The mixed nature of the events that fall under our observation, seems to point out a mixed cause, partly good and partly ill. The author of Philosophical Essays concerning human understanding, in his eleventh essay, Of the practical consequences of natural religion, puts in the mouth of an Epicurean philosopher a very shrewd argument against the benevolence of the Deity. The sum is what follows:
If the cause be known only by the effect, we never ought to assign to it any qualities, beyond what are precisely requisite to produce the effect. Allowing, therefore, God to be the author of the existence and order of the universe; it follows, that he possesses that precise degree of power, intelligence, and benevolence, which appears in his workmanship.
And hence, from the present scene of things, apparently so full of ill and disorder, it is concluded, “That we have no foundation for ascribing any attribute to the Deity, but what is precisely commensurate with the imperfection of this world.” With regard to mankind, he reasons differently.
In works of human art and contrivance, it is admitted, that we can advance from the effect to the cause, and returning back from the cause, that we conclude new effects, which have not yet existed. Thus, for instance, from the sight of a half-finished building, surrounded with heaps of stones and mortar, and all the instruments of masonry, we naturally conclude, that the building will be finished, and receive all the farther improvements which art can bestow upon it. But the foundation of this reasoning is plainly, that man is a being whom we know by experience, and whose motives and designs we are acquainted with, which enables us to draw many inferences, concerning what may be expected from him. But did we know man only from the single work or production which we examine, we could not argue in this manner; because our knowledge of all the qualities which we ascribe to him, being, upon that supposition, derived from the work or production, it is impossible they could point anything farther, or be the foundation of any new inference.5
Supposing reason to be our only guide in these matters, which is supposed in this argument, it appears to be just. By no inference of reason, can I conclude any power or benevolence in the cause, beyond what is displayed in the effect. But this is no wonderful discovery. The philosopher might have carried his argument a greater length: he might have observed, even with regard to a man I am perfectly acquainted with, that I cannot conclude by any chain of reasoning, that he will finish the house he has begun. It is to no purpose to urge his temper and disposition; for from what principle of reason can I infer, that these will continue the same as formerly? He might further have observed, that the difficulty is greater with regard to a man I know nothing of, supposing him to have begun the building. For what foundation have I in reason to transfer the qualities of the persons I am acquainted with to a stranger, which surely is not performed by any process of reasoning? There is still a wider step; which is, that reason will not support me in attributing to the Deity even that precise degree of power, intelligence and benevolence, which appears in his workmanship. I find no inconsistency in supposing, that a blind and undesigning cause may be productive of excellent effects: it will I presume be difficult to produce a demonstration to the contrary. And supposing, at the instant of operation, the Deity to have been endued with these properties, can we make out, by any argument a priori, that they are still subsisting in him? Nay, this same philosopher might have gone a great way farther, by observing, when any thing comes into existence, that, by no process of reasoning, can we so much as infer any cause of its existence.
But happily for man, where reason fails him, sense and intuition come to his assistance. By means of principles implanted in our nature, we are enabled to make the foregoing conclusions and inferences; as at full length is made out in some of the foregoing Essays. More particularly, power discovered in any object, is intuitively perceived to be a permanent quality, like figure or extension.* Upon this account, power discovered by a single effect, is considered as sufficient to produce the like effects, without end. Further, great power may be discovered from a small effect; which holds even in bodily strength, as where an action is performed readily and without effort. This is equally remarkable in wisdom and intelligence: a very short argument may unfold correctness of judgment, and a deep reach. The same holds in art and skill: examining a slight piece of workmanship done with taste, we readily observe, that the artist was equal to a greater task. But it is most of all remarkable in the quality of benevolence: even from a single effect produced by an unknown cause, which appears adapted to some good purpose, we necessarily attribute to this cause benevolence, as well as power and wisdom.† The perception is indeed but weak, when it ariseth from a single effect; but still it is a perception of pure benevolence, without any mixture of malice; for such contradictory qualities are not readily ascribed to the same cause. There indeed may be a difficulty, where the effect is of a mixed nature, partly ill partly good; or where a variety of effects, having these opposite characters, proceed from the same cause. Such intricate cases cannot fail to embarrass us; but as we must form some sentiment, we ascribe benevolence or malevolence to the cause, from the prevalence of the one or other quality in the effects. If evil make the greater figure, we perceive the cause to be malevolent, notwithstanding opposite instances of goodness. If, upon the whole, goodness be supereminent, we perceive the cause to be benevolent; and are not moved by the cross instances of evil, which for ought we know may be necessary for producing on the whole the greatest quantity of good. In a word, it is the tendency of our nature to reject a mixed character made up of benevolence and malevolence, unless where it is necessarily pressed home upon us by an equality of opposite effects; and in every subject that cannot be reached by the reasoning faculty, we justly rely on the tendency of our nature, as the best proof the subject can admit of.
Such are the conclusions that we can draw; not indeed from reason, but from intuitive perception. So little are we acquainted with the essence or nature of things, that we cannot establish these conclusions upon any argument a priori. Nor would it be of great benefit to mankind, to have these conclusions demonstrated to them; few having either leisure or talents to comprehend such profound speculations. It is more wisely ordered, that they appear to us intuitively certain.
This is a solid foundation for our conviction of the benevolence of the Deity. If, from a single effect, pure benevolence in the cause can be perceived; what doubt can there be of the pure benevolence of the Deity, when we survey his works, pregnant with good-will to mankind? Innumerable instances of things wisely adapted to good purposes, give us the strongest conviction of the goodness as well as wisdom of the Deity; which is joined with the firmest persuasion of constancy and uniformity in his operations. A few cross instances cannot make us waver. When we know so little of nature, it would be surprising indeed, if we should be able to account for every event and its final tendency. Unless we were let into the counsels of the Almighty, we can never hope to unravel all the mysteries of the creation.
I shall add some other considerations to confirm our belief of the pure benevolence of the Deity. And first, the independent and all-sufficient nature of the Deity, sets him above all suspicion of being liable either to envy, or to the pursuit of any interest, other than the general interest of his creatures. Wants, weakness, and opposition of interests, are the causes of ill-will among men. From all such influences the Deity is exempted. And therefore, unless we suppose him less perfect than the creatures he hath made, we cannot suppose that there is any degree of malice in his nature.
There is a second consideration, which hath always afforded me great satisfaction. Did natural evil prevail in reality, as much as it doth in appearance, we must expect, that the enlargement of natural knowledge should daily discover new instances of bad, as well as of good intention. But the fact is directly otherways. Our discoveries ascertain us more and more of the benevolence of the Deity, by unfolding beautiful final causes without number; while the appearances of ill intention gradually vanish, like a mist when the sun breaks out. Many things are now found to be curious in their contrivance and productive of good effects, which formerly appeared useless, or perhaps of ill tendency. And, in the gradual progress of learning, we have the strongest reason to expect, that many more discoveries of the kind will be made. This very consideration, had we nothing else to rely on, ought to make us rest with assurance upon the intuitive conviction we have of the benevolence of the Deity; without giving way to the perplexity of a few cross appearances, which, in matters so far beyond our comprehension, ought rationally to be ascribed to our own ignorance, not to any malevolence in the Deity. In the progress of learning, the time may come, we have great reason to hope it will come, when all doubts and perplexities of this kind shall be fully cleared up.
I satisfy myself with suggesting but one other consideration, That inferring a mixed nature in the Deity from events which cannot be clearly reconciled to benevolence, is, at best, new-moulding the Manichean system, by substituting in place of it, one really less plausible. For I can with greater facility form a conception of two opposite powers governing the universe, than of one power endued with great goodness and great malevolence, principles so repugnant to each other.
It thus appears, that our conviction of the attribute of pure benevolence hath a wide and solid foundation. It is impressed upon us by intuitive perception, by every discovery we make in the science of nature, and by every argument suggested by reason and reflection. There is but one objection of any weight that can be moved against it, arising from the difficulty of accounting for natural and moral evil. It is observed above, that the objection, however it may puzzle, ought not to shake our faith in this attribute; because an argument from ignorance can never be a convincing argument in any case. This therefore, in its strongest light, appears but in the shape of a difficulty, not of a solid objection. At the same time, as the utmost labour of thought is well bestowed upon a subject so interesting, I shall proceed to some reflections, which may tend to satisfy us, that the instances commonly given of natural and moral evil, are not so inconsistent with pure benevolence, as at first sight may be imagined.
One preliminary point must be settled, which I presume will be admitted without much hesitation. It certainly will not be thought inconsistent in any degree with the pure benevolence of the Deity, that the world is filled with an endless variety of creatures, gradually ascending in the scale of being, from the most groveling to the most glorious. To think that this affords an argument against pure benevolence, is in effect to think, that all inanimate beings ought to be endued with life and motion, and that all animate beings ought to be angels. If at first view it shall be thought, that infinite power and goodness cannot stop short of absolute perfection in their operations, and that the work of creation must be confined to the highest order of beings, in the highest perfection; this thought will soon be corrected, by considering, that by this supposition a great void is left, which, according to the present system of things, is filled with beings, and with life and motion. And, supposing the world to be replenished with the highest order of beings created in the highest degree of perfection, it is certainly an act of more extensive benevolence, to complete the work of creation by the addition of an infinity of creatures less perfect, than to leave a great blank betwixt beings of the highest order and nothing.
The imperfection then of a created being, abstractly considered, impeaches none of the attributes of the Deity, whether power, wisdom, or benevolence. And if so, neither can pain abstractly considered be an impeachment, as far as it is the natural and necessary consequence of imperfection. The government of the world is carried on by general laws, which produce constancy and uniformity in the operations of nature. Among many reasons for this, we can clearly discover one, which is unfolded in a former Essay,* that were not nature uniform and constant, men and other sensible beings would be altogether at a loss how to conduct themselves. Our nature is adjusted to these general laws; and must therefore be subjected to all their varieties, whether beneficial or hurtful. We are made sensitive beings, and therefore equally capable of pleasure and pain. And it must follow from the very nature of the thing, that delicacy of perception, which is the source of much pleasure, may be equally the source of much pain. It is true, we cannot pronounce it to be a contradiction, that a being should be susceptible of pleasure only and not of pain. But no argument can be founded upon this supposition but what will conclude, that a creature such as man ought to have no place in the scale of beings; which surely will not be maintained: for it is still better, that man be as he is, than not to be at all. It is further to be observed in general, that aversion to pain is not so great, at least in mankind, as to counterbalance every other appetite. Most men would purchase an additional share of happiness, at the expence of some pain. And therefore it can afford no argument against the benevolence of the Deity, that created beings from their nature and condition are capable of pain, supposing upon the whole their life to be comfortable. Their state is still preferable to that of inanimate matter, capable neither of pleasure nor pain.
Thus it appears, even from a general view of our subject, that natural evil affords no argument against the benevolence of the Deity. And this will appear in a stronger light, when we go to particulars. It is laid open in the first Essay, that the social affections, even when most painful, are accompanied with no degree of aversion, either in the direct feeling or in subsequent reflection. We value ourselves the more for being so constituted; being conscious that such a constitution is right and meet for sociable creatures. Distresses therefore of this sort cannot be called evils, when we have no aversion to them, and do not repine at them. And if these be laid aside, what may be justly termed natural evils, are reduced with in a small compass. They will be found to proceed necessarily, and by an established train of causes and effects, either from the imperfection of our nature, or from the operation of general laws. Pain is not distributed thro’ the world blindly, or with any appearance of malice; but ends, proportions, and measures, are observed in the distribution. Sensible marks of good tendency are conspicuous, even in the harshest dispensations of Providence; and the good tendency of general laws, is a sure pledge of benevolence, even in those instances where we may be puzzled to explain their good effects. One thing is certain, that there is in man a natural principle to submit to these general laws, and their consequences. And were this principle cultivated as it ought to be, men would have the same consciousness of right conduct in submitting to the laws of the natural world, that they have in submitting to the laws of the moral world, and would as little repine at the distresses of the one kind, as at those of the other.
But justice is not done to the subject, unless we proceed to show, that pain and distress are productive of manifold good ends, and that they are in a measure necessary to the present system. In the first place, pain is necessary, as a monitor of what is hurtful and dangerous to life. Every man is trusted with the care of his own preservation; and he would be ill qualified for that trust, were he left entirely to the guidance of reason: he would die for want of food, were it not for the pain of hunger: and, but for the pain arising from fear, he would precipitate himself every moment into the most destructive enterprises. In the next place, pain is the great sanction of laws, both human and divine: there would be no order nor discipline in the world without it. In the third place, the distresses and disappointments that arise from the uncertainty of seasons, from the variable tempers of those we are connected with, and from other cross accidents, are wonderfully well adapted to our constitution, by keeping our hopes and fears in constant agitation. Man is an active being, and is not in his element but when in variety of occupation. A constant and uniform tenor of life without hopes or fears, would soon bring on satiety and disgust. Pain therefore is necessary, not only to enhance our pleasures, but to keep us in motion.* And it is needless to observe a second time, that to complain of man’s constitution in this respect, is in other words to complain, that there is such a creature as man in the scale of being. To mention but one other thing, pain and distress have a wonderful tendency to advance the interests of society. Grief, compassion, and sympathy, are strong connecting principles, by which every individual is made subservient to the general good of the whole species.
I shall close this branch of my subject with a general reflection, which is reserved to the last place, because in my apprehension it is a decisive argument for the benevolence of the Deity. When we run over what we know of the formation and government of this world, the instances are without number, of good intention and of consummate wisdom in adjusting things to good ends and purposes. And it is equally true, that as we advance in knowledge, scenes of this kind multiply upon us. This observation is enforced above. But I now observe, that there is not a single instance to be met with, which can be justly ascribed to malevolence or bad intention. Many evils may be pointed out; evils at least as to us. But when the most is made of such instances, they appear to be consequences only from general laws which regard the whole more than particulars; and therefore are not marks of malevolence in the Author and Governor of the world. Were there any doubt about the tendency of such instances, it would be more rational to ascribe them to want of power, than want of benevolence, which is so conspicuous in other instances. But we cannot rationally ascribe them to either, but to the pre-established order and constitution of things, and to the necessary imperfection of all created beings. And after all, laying the greatest weight upon these natural evils that can reasonably be demanded, the account stands thus. Instances without number of benevolence in the frame and government of this world, so direct and clear as not to admit of the slightest doubt. On the other side, natural evils are stated, which at best are very doubtful instances of malevolence, and may be ascribed, perhaps obscurely, to another cause. In balancing this account, where the evil appearances are so far outnumbered by the good, why should we hesitate to ascribe pure benevolence to the Deity, and to conclude these evils to be necessary defects in a good system; especially when it is so repugnant to our natural perceptions, to ascribe great benevolence and great malevolence to the same being?
It will be remarked, that in answering the foregoing objection to the benevolence of the Deity, I have avoided urging any argument from our future existence; though it affords a fruitful field of comfort, greatly over-balancing the transitory evils of this life. But I should scarce think it fair reasoning, to urge such topics upon this subject; which would be arguing in a circle; because the benevolence of the Deity is the only solid foundation upon which we can build a future existence.
Having discussed what occurred upon natural evil, we come now to consider moral evil as an objection against the benevolence of the Deity. And some writers carry this objection so far, as to conclude, that God is the cause of moral evil, since he hath given man a constitution, by which moral evil doth and must abound. It is certainly no satisfying answer to this objection, that moral evil is the necessary consequence of human liberty; when it is a very possible supposition, that man might have been endued with a moral sense, so lively and strong as to be absolutely authoritative over his actions. Waving therefore the argument from human liberty, we must look about for a more solid answer to the objection; which will not be difficult, when we consider this matter as laid down in a former essay.* It is there made out, it is hoped, to the satisfaction of the reader, that human actions are all of them directed by general laws, which have an operation no less infallible, than those laws have which govern mere matter. Thus, as all things in the moral as well as material world, proceed according to settled laws established by the Almighty, we have a just ground of conviction, that all matters are by Providence ordered in the best manner; and therefore that even human vices and frailties are made to answer wise and benevolent purposes. Every thing possesses its proper place in the Divine plan. All our actions contribute equally to carry on the great and good designs of our Maker; and therefore there is nothing which in his sight is ill, at least nothing which is ill upon the whole.
Considering the objection in the forgoing light, which is the true one, it loses its force. For it certainly will not be maintained as an argument against the goodness of the Deity, that he endued man with a sense of moral evil; which in reality is one of the greatest blessings bestowed upon him, and which eminently distinguishes him from the brute creation.
But if the objection be turned into another shape, and it be demanded, Why was not every man endued with so strong a sense of morality, as to be completely authoritative over all his principles of action, which would prevent much remorse to himself, and much mischief to others? it is answered, first, That this would not be sufficient for an exact regularity of conduct, unless man’s judgment of right and wrong were also infallible. For, as long as we differ about what is yours and what is mine, injustice must be the consequence in many instances however innocent we be. But in the next place, to complain of a defect in the moral sense, is to complain that we are not perfect creatures. And if this complaint be well founded, we may with equal justice complain, that our understanding is but moderate, and that in general our powers and faculties are limited. Why should imperfection in the moral sense be urged as an objection, when all our senses, internal and external, are imperfect? In short, if this complaint be in any measure just, it must go the length, as above observed, to prove, that it is not consistent with the benevolence of the Deity to create such a being as man.
After putting the last hand to this book for a third edition, Dialogues by David Hume, Esq.; concerning Natural Religion were published.6 Their purpose is to illustrate what the author had laid down on that subject in his former works, without adding any new matter. He has given a satisfactory reason for preferring the dialogue form; which is, that dialogue or conversation is the best suited to loose reasoning upon subjects obscure and uncertain. The execution justifies his choice; for the subject is treated in a more pleasing manner than strict and concise reasoning can admit. He has attained the true spirit of dialogue: the characters are finely supported, the stile animated, and the arguments properly enforced. One thing indeed surprised me, that there is not the slightest notice taken of the evidence of our senses for the existence of a Deity, one urged above, another in Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 4th.7 These books are in the hands of every one, and could not have been unknown to Mr. Hume. Did he think them so trifling as to merit nothing but contempt? I cannot believe it. May I not then suspect him of an artifice, not uncommon, That if an argument cannot be answered, to say nothing about it.
In another point Mr. Hume is equally liable to censure. An argument strenuously insisted on in the dialogues, is, that supposing a Deity unbounded in power and intelligence, the prevalence of evil both natural and moral is a clear proof that he must be deficient in benevolence.8 These evils are displayed at great length and with persuasive eloquence; but not a word of what is above urged on the other side; and as little of what is urged in Sketches of the History of Man,* where it is made evident, that evil both natural and moral are so far beneficial to man, as that without them he would be a most abject creature. Doth not our author’s silence in this instance as well as in the former, seem as if he had been more studious of victory than of truth?
As censure is to me not an agreeable amusement, I shall add but a single word. In explaining the system of nature, Mr. Hume, by an unaccountable bias, professes to have no reliance on the evidence of our senses. And by this strange opinion, he has been misled into many an inextricable labyrinth. Can it be thought wonderful, that an author who rejects the evidence of his senses for the existence of the objects around him, should think such evidence insufficient for the existence of a Deity?i
We have thus gone through a variety of subjects, not without labour and expence of thought. And now, like a traveller, who, after examining the different parts of a country, ascends some eminence to review the whole; let us refresh ourselves, by looking back, and enjoying the discoveries we have made.
The subject of these Essays is man. We have formed no imaginary schemes, for exalting or for depressing his nature. The inquiry has been, Whether his capacities and powers suit his present circumstances, and fit him for acting a proper part in this life? We begin with examining some of the great springs of action. Upon accurate scrutiny, it is found, that self-love or desire of good, is not our sole principle of action; but that we are furnished beside with a variety of impelling powers. Mingled in society for the convenience of mutual help, it is necessary that we feel for each other. But as the feeling for the distress of others, cannot but be painful, here is traced an admirable contrivance to reconcile us to this virtuous pain, by removing that aversion to pain, which in all other cases is an overruling principle. This explains a seemingly strange phaenomenon, that we should seek entertainment from representations that immerse us in affliction. From man as a social, we proceed to him as a moral agent. We find him sensible of beauty, in different ranks and orders; and eminently sensible of it, in its highest order, that of sentiment, action, and character. But the sense of moral beauty is not alone sufficient. The importance of morality requires some stronger principle to guard it; some checks and restraints from vice, more severe than mere disapprobation. These are not wanting. To the sense of beauty, is superadded a sense of obligation, a perception of right and wrong, which constitutes a law within us.* This law in joins the primary virtues, those which are essential to society, under the strictest sanctions. Pain, the strongest monitor, is here employed to check transgression; whilst in the sublimer more heroic virtues, where strict obligation ends, pleasure is employed to reward the performance. No action is made a duty, to which we are not antecedently disposed by some principle. An exact proportion is maintained betwixt the strength of our internal principles, and their usefulness. From self, the object of our most vigorous principles, affection spreads through all our connections with others; till, by distance of connection, it ceases to be felt. After it is thus lost, by the distance of particular objects, nature revives its force, by directing it to the abstract idea of a public and a whole; which idea, though faint and obscure in the conception, is yet equal to any of our ideas in force and energy. Man, by this artful contrivance is fitted for acting a proper and useful part in the system to which he belongs. But this system could not be regulated upon any pre-adjusted plan, the actions of man could not proceed with any order nor be subject to any government, unless all men were determined by motives. At the same time, man could not answer the purposes of active life, without being a free agent. Having made out, that morals are established on an immoveable foundation, we proceed to show, by what inward powers we are led to the knowledge and belief of some of the most important truths; particularly, the existence of the Deity. To this we pave the way, by a full preparation of reasoning. We first consider the nature of that act of the mind which is termed belief; of which the immediate foundation is the testimony of our senses. If the testimony they give to the real existence of a material world, be a mere illusion, as some have held, all belief founded on our own perceptions is at an end. Hence appears the absurdity of denying the evidence of our senses. And here we find full satisfaction. In other cases, where there is any thing like artifice in the conduct of nature, means are afforded, both of discovering the truth, and of discovering the end for which truth is artfully concealed; for nature never deceives us but for our good. Dispersing, with no great labour, that philosophic dust which sceptics have raised about material substance, we find upon examination that we have a conception of it, no less clear than of qualities; both being equally displayed to us by the sense of sight. But belief is not more solidly founded upon our external senses, than upon our internal feelings. Not the greatest sceptic ever doubted of his own personal identity, continued through the successive periods of life; of his being the same man this year he was the last: which, however, is a discovery made by no reasoning; resting wholly upon an inward sense and consciousness of the fact. Upon a like foundation rests our belief of cause and effect. No relation is more familiar than this, nor sooner takes hold of the mind. Yet certain it is, that no reasoning, no experience, can discover the power or energy of what we term a cause, when we attempt to trace it to its source. It is necessary for the well-being of man, first, that he should perceive the objects which exist around him; and next, that he should perceive them in their true state, not detached and loose, but as causes and effects, as producing and produced. Nature hath furnished us with senses for the perception of objects, not only as simply existing, but as existing thus related to each other. Nor without such faculties could we ever have attained the idea of cause and effect. The same provision is made by nature, in another case, no less remarkable. Our senses can only inform us of objects as presently existing. Yet nothing is more common, than from our knowledge of the present, and our experience of the past, to reason about the future. Now, reasonings about futurity, which have extensive influence on our conduct, would be utterly destitute of a foundation, were we not endued with a sense of uniformity and constancy in the operations of nature: an innate sense dictates to us, that the future will be like the past. Thus there is established a marvellous harmony betwixt our perceptions and the course of events. In the above-mentioned instances, we attribute to our boasted reason, what in truth is performed by sense. We act upon its informations, with equal confidence as we do upon the clearest conclusions of reason. Nature is thus our preceptor in things the most necessary to be known. But this is not all. We pursue the argument into an intuitive perception of the Deity. He hath not left us to collect his existence from abstract or perplexed arguments, but makes us perceive intuitively that he exists. When external objects are presented to our view, some are immediately distinguished to be effects, not by any process or deduction of reasoning, but by an internal sense, which gives us the perception of cause and effect. In the same manner, this whole world is seen to be an effect produced by some invisible designing cause. The evidence of this perception cannot be rejected, without introducing universal scepticism; and without obliging us to doubt of things, of which no man ever doubted. For, as in viewing an external object, the sense of sight produces the idea of substance as well as of quality; as by an intuitive perception we discover some things to be effects requiring a cause; as from experience of the past, we judge of the future; in fine, as by the sense of identity the reader is conscious of being the same person he was when he began to read; as all these conclusions upon which mankind rest with the fullest assurance, are the dictates of senses external and internal; in the very same way, and upon the same evidence, we conclude the existence of a first Supreme Cause. Reason gives us all its aid, both to confirm the certainty of his being, and to discover his perfections. From effects great and good display’d through the universe, we necessarily infer the cause to be both great and good. Mixed or imperfect qualities cannot belong to that cause. The difficulties from apparent evil, are found capable of a satisfactory solution. All the general laws of the universe are confessedly wise and good. Pain is found not to be useful only, but necessary, in the present system. If this be an argument of an imperfect state, must it not however be admitted, that somewhere in the scale of existence, an imperfect order of beings must be found? And why not man such a being? unless we extravagantly demand, that, to prove the benevolence of the Deity, all the possible orders of being should be advanced to the top of the scale, and all be left void and waste below; no life, no existence, allowed, except what is perfect. The more we know of nature, the less of evil appears. New discoveries of wisdom, order, and good intention, are the never-failing effects of enlarged knowledge; an intimation, not obscure, of its being owing to our imperfect and bounded views that evil is supposed to take place at all. Now, when we consider all these things in one complex view, so many striking instances of final causes, such undeniable proofs both of wise design and skilful execution: banishing cold distrust of the great universal cause, are we not raised to the highest admiration! And doth it not encourage us to attempt a higher strain?
For, do not all these wonders, O Eternal Mind, Sovereign Architect of all, form a hymn to thy praise!9 If in the dead inanimate works of nature, thou art seen; if in the verdure of the fields and the azure of the skies, the ignorant rustic admire thy creative power; how blind must that man be, who, contemplating his living structure, his moral frame, discerns not thy forming hand? What various and complicated machinery is here! and regulated with what exquisite art! While man pursues happiness as his chief aim, thou bendest self-love into the social direction. Thou infusest the generous principle, which makes him feel for sorrows not his own: nor feels he only, but, strange indeed! takes delight in rushing into foreign misery; and with pleasure goes to drop the painful tear over real or imaginary wo. Thy divine hand thus formed the connecting tye, and by sympathy linked man to man; that nothing might be solitary in thy world, but all tend toward mutual association. For that great end man is not left to a loose or arbitrary range of will. Thy wise decree hath erected within him a throne for virtue. There thou hast not decked her with beauty only to his admiring eye, but hast thrown around her the awful effulgence of authority divine. Her persuasions have the force of a precept; and her precepts are a law indispensable. Man feels himself bound by this law, strict and immutable. And yet the privilege of supererogating is left: a field opened for free and generous action; in which, performing a glorious course, he may attain the high reward by thee allotted of inward honour and self-estimation. Nothing is made superfluously severe, nothing left dangerously loose, in thy moral institution; but every active principle made to know its proper sphere. In just proportion, man’s affections spread from himself to objects around him. Where the rays of affection, too widely scattered, begin to lose their warmth: collecting them again by the idea of a public, a country, or the universe, thou rekindlest the dying flame. Converging eagerly to this point, behold how intense they glow! and man, though indifferent to each remote particular, burns with zeal for the whole. All things are by thee pre-ordained, great Mover of all! Throughout the wide expanse, every living creature runs a destin’d course. While all under a law irresistible fulfil thy decrees, man alone seems to himself exempt; free to turn and bend his course at will. Yet is he not exempt; but ministers to thy decree omnipotent, as much as the rolling sun, or ebbing flood. What strange contradictions are in thy great scheme reconciled! what glaring opposites made to agree! Necessity and liberty meet in the same agent, yet interfere not. Man, though free from constraint, is under bonds. He is a necessary agent, and yet acts with perfect liberty. Within the heart of man thou hast placed thy lamp, to direct his otherways uncertain steps. By this light, he is not only assured of the existence and entertained with all the glories of the material world, but is enabled to penetrate into the recesses of nature. He perceives objects joined together by the mysterious link of cause and effect. The connecting principle, though he can never explain, he is made to perceive; and is thus instructed to refer even things unknown, to their proper origin. Endued with a prophetic spirit, he foretels things to come. Where reason is unavailing, sense comes in aid; and bestows a power of divination, which discovers the future by the past. Thus thou gradually liftest him up to the knowledge of thyself. The plain and simple sense, which in the most obvious effect reads and perceives a cause, brings him straight to thee, the first great Cause, the ancient of days, the eternal source of all. Thou presentest thyself to us, and we cannot avoid thee. We must doubt of our own existence, if we can doubt of thine. We see thee by thine own light. We see thee, not existing only, but in wisdom and in benevolence supreme, as in existence first. As spots in the sun’s bright orb, so in the universal plan, scattered evils are lost in the blaze of superabundant goodness. Even by the research of human reason, weak as it is, those seeming evils diminish and fly away apace. Objects, supposed superfluous or noxious, have assumed a beneficial aspect. How much more, to thine all-penetrating eye must all appear excellent and fair! It must be so.—We cannot doubt. Neither imperfection nor malice dwell with thee. Thou appointest as salutary, what we lament as painful. Even the follies and vices of men minister to thy wise designs: and as at the beginning of days thou sawest, so thou seest and pronouncest still, that every thing thou hast made is good.
[1. ]Not verbatim, but Kames’s own paraphrase of Hume’s argument that “belief consists not in the nature and order of our ideas, but in the manner of their conception, and in their feeling to the mind ” (see Treatise, 1.3.7–8).
[2. ]David Garrick (1717–1779), the most famous actor of his day, was also a dramatist, co-manager of the Drury Lane Theatre, and a friend of Samuel Johnson.
[3. ]See Virgil, Aeneid, Book V; Livy, History of Rome, Book V.
[4. ]Elements of Criticism, vol. 1, chap. 2, pt. v, treats of “the influence of passion with respect to our perceptions, opinions, and belief.”
[1. ]See “Of Our Complex Ideas of Substances,” in Locke, Essay, II. xxiii.
[* ]Book 2. chap. 22. [Locke, Essay, II. xxiii.4, p. 297.]
[* ]Book 2. chap. 8. § 10. [Not verbatim, but Kames’s paraphrase of Locke’s definition of secondary qualities as those which are “nothing in the Objects themselves, but Powers to produce various Sensations in us by their primary Qualities, i.e. by the Bulk, Figure, Texture, and Motion of their insensible parts, as Colours, Sounds, Tasts, etc.”(Essay,II. viii.10, p. 142).]
[2. ]George Berkeley (1685–1753), A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710; reprint, ed. Jonathan Dancy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
[3. ]Berkeley, Principles, sec. 4, p. 104.
[* ]Sect. 18. [Berkeley, Principles, p. 109.]
[† ]Sect. 20. [Ibid.]
[1. ]This essay is new to the third edition.
[2. ]Shinar refers to a region of Babylonia (in modern-day southern Iraq), where the Tower of Babel was built (Genesis 11:1–9).
[* ]Quam bellum est velle confiteri potius nescire quod nescias, quam ista effutientem nauseare, atque ipsum displicere I Cic. de Natur. Deor. l. 1. [“And tell me this: are we also to assume that the gods bear the names which we allot to them?” Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods (De Natura Deorum), trans. P. G. Walsh (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), I.84, p. 32.]
[3. ]See Aristotle, On the Soul, trans. J. A. Smith, The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 2.7.
[4. ]As described by Lucretius in his De rerum natura (“On the Nature of Things”), Epicurus (341–270 ) put forth an atomistic theory of vision, according to which objects emit tiny particles (eidola) which retain the shape of the bodies from which they emanate, and which enter the eye to cause visual sensation.
[* ]Medical Essays, vol. 3. p. 228 [William Porterfield, “An essay concerning the motions of our eyes. Part I. Of their external motions” (1737) in Medical Essays and Observations, Published by a Society in Edinburgh, 5 vols., 5th ed. (London and Edinburgh, 1771). The Medical Essays were published by the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh, to which both Kames and Porterfield belonged. William Porterfield (1695–1771), Professor of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, was a leading authority on the senses and the author of A Treatise on the Eye (1759).]
[5. ]Descartes argued that while the senses provide us with useful information concerning the material world, they cannot give us reliable knowledge about the real nature of things.
[6. ]Not verbatim, but Kames’s paraphrase of Locke’s argument that the senses furnish the soul “with ideas to think on.” By “compounding those Ideas, and reflecting on its own Operations,” writes Locke, “it increases its Stock, as well as Facility, in remembring, imagining, reasoning, and other modes of thinking” (Essay, II.i.20, p. 116).
[* ]Medical Essays, vol. 3. p. 220.
[7. ]Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655), French Catholic priest, philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician, best known for his attempt to reconcile Epicurus with Christianity(Syntagma Philosophicum, 1658) and for his experiments in astronomy (he was the first to observe the planetary transit of Mercury). Giambattista della Porta (c. 1535–1615), an Italian natural philosopher with interests both in magic and in optics, described his experiments with the camera obscura in his Magia Naturalis (1558; English trans., Natural Magick, 1658) and discussed binocular vision in De refractione, optices parte (“On Refraction, the Division of Light”), which was published in 1593.
[* ]15th Query subjoined to his optics. [Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727), Opticks: Or, a Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light (London, 1704), pp. 320–1.]
[* ]The framing systems upon conjectures beyond the bounds of human knowledge, is far from being rare among philosophers. Take the following notable instance from Avicen an Arabian philosopher. His opinion is, that man may be formed out of the earth without father or mother, in the following manner.
[8. ]William Briggs (1642–1704), who discovered the optic papilla (or optic disk, also known as the “blind spot”), was the author of Ophthalmographia (Cambridge, 1676; London, 1685) and Nova visionis theoria (1685).
[9. ]William Porterfield, A treatise on the eye, the manner and phaenomena of vision, 2 vols. (London: A. Miller, and Edinburgh: G. Hamilton and J. Balfour, 1759).
[1. ]This essay is new to the third edition.
[2. ]Locke’s Reply to the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Worcester’s Answer to his Letter (1697). In 1696, Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester (1635–1699), published A Discourse in Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity, in which he attacked the theological implications of Locke’s ideas about substance. This prompted a published controversy that was cut off by Stillingfleet’s death in 1699. In his Reply, the second of his responses to Stillingfleet, Locke reiterates and defends a point made in the Essay, where he wrote that he saw “no contradiction in it, that the first eternal thinking Being or omnipotent Spirit should, if he pleased, give to certain systems of created senseless matter, put together as he thinks fit, some degrees of sense, perception, and thought” (IV. iii.6, p. 541).
[3. ]Locke, Essay, II.i.11, p. 110.
[* ]Philosophical Essays, Essay 7. [David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (first published as Philosophical Essays concerning Human Understanding in 1748), ed. Tom L. Beauchamp (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 7.28, pp. 144–5.]
[† ]Treatise of Human Nature, vol. 1. p. 290, 291. [Hume, Treatise, I.4.14.23, p. 112.]
[* ]Pag. 294. [Ibid., 220.127.116.11, p. 113.]
[* ]A thought or idea, it is obvious, cannot be the cause of action, cannot, of itself, produce motion. It is the mind itself that is the agent. Its power indeed is so regulated as that it cannot be exerted but by means of certain motives present to it.
[1. ]That is, Hume continues to maintain what he had already argued in the above-quoted passage, which comes from the Treatise (18.104.22.168, pp. 111–12).
[† ]London edition, p. 58. [An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, 4.16, p. 113.]
[* ]Page 72. [Ibid, 5.3–4, pp. 120–1.]
[† ]Page 121. [Ibid., 7.2.27, p. 144.]
[‡ ]Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret. [“You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, yet she will ever hurry back.” Horace, Epistles. Satires. Arts Poetica, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, Loeb Classical Library, No. 194 (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1926), Epistles, 1.10.]
[2. ]Not a direct quote, and probably a mistaken attribution. Perhaps Kames had in mind Locke’s statement that “whatever is considered by us, to conduce or operate, to the producing any particular simple Idea, or Collection of simple Ideas, whether Sub-stance, or Mode, which did not before exist, hath thereby in our Minds the relation of a Cause” (Essay, II. xxvi.1, p. 324). In the first edition of his Essays (p. 295), however, Kames cited the above as “a universal maxim” without linking it to Locke.
[3. ]Kames paraphrases the argument found in Proposition XI of Clarke’s A Discourse concerning the Being and Attributes of God.
[* ]Buffon, tome 6th of his Natural History, octavo, endeavours to account for the dread of spectres in the dark from the indistinct appearances of objects. A small bush at hand is imagined a great tree placed at a distance, and a fly passing near the eye is imagined a monstrous bird at a great distance. But that author has not adverted, that the dread of spectres is greatest in utter darkness, when no object can be seen either distinctly or confusedly. [Buffon suggests that while reports of specters in the dark are commonly attributed to the imagination, they may refer to actual objects the perception of which is distorted by our inability to judge distance and proportion in the dark. Thus, “the conception of spectres is founded in nature, and, contrary to what philosophers believe, their appearance does not depend solely on imagination.” Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707–1788), “Du sens de la Vue” (“Of the Sense of Sight”) in De L’Homme, vols. 2 and 3 of Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, 15 vols. (Paris, 1749), vol. 3, pp. 319–20. Published between 1749 and 1804, Buffon’s encyclopedic work covered the natural history of the earth, man, the quadrupeds, birds, and minerals, and eventually reached 44 volumes (with 35 volumes published by 1788, an additional volume in press at the time of Buffon’s death, and 8 volumes prepared by assistants and published in 1804).]
[1. ]That is, Samuel Clarke’s Discourse concerning the Being and Attributes of God.
[* ]See the Essay of Power.
[† ]See the same Essay.
[‡ ]Book 4. chap. 10. [“Of Our Knowledge of the Existence of a God,” in Locke, Essay, IV.x.]
[* ]Power, Cause and Effect.
[* ]See the Greenlander’s Argument, Sketches of the History of Man, edit. 2d. vol. 4. p. 196. [In his sketch on the “Principles and progress of theology” (Sketches, vol. 4, bk. 3, sketch 3), Kames cites a conversation between a Danish missionary and a Greenlander (taken from David Crantz’s History of Greenland, 1767) in order to show that “savage” peoples have intimations of a knowledge of the Deity.]
[* ]See the Essay upon the Foundation and Principles of Morality, chap. 2.
[John Milton, Paradise Lost (1674), ed. Scott Elledge (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993), bk. 5:153–9.]
[* ]Essay Liberty and Necessity, page 122.
[† ]See Essay on Power, Cause and Effect, at the end.
[* ]See the Essay Personal Identity.
[* ]To prevent mistakes, it is proper to be observed, that, in a lax sense, reason comprehends intuition, as well as the power of drawing conclusions from premises. But here it is used in its strict and proper sense, as opposed to intuition. By intuition we perceive certain propositions to be true, precisely as by sight we perceive certain things to exist. Other propositions require a chain of comparisons and intermediate steps, before we arrive at the conclusion; by which we perceive, either demonstrably or probably, the proposition to be true. Hence it is clear, that intuitive knowledge, which is acquired by a single act of perception, must stand higher in the scale of conviction, than any reasoning can do that requires a plurality of perceptions. The more complex any process is by which we acquire knowledge, the greater is the chance of error; and consequently the less entire our conviction.
[2. ]“Fear first created gods in the world.” Originally from Thebaid (3.661), an epic poem composed by Statius circa 80–92
[* ]Dread of Supernatural Powers in the Dark.
[3. ]Euclid’s Elements follows a syllogistic model, in which each geometrical proposition is justified by its own demonstration.
[4. ]“That, from the Eternal and Necessary Differences of Things, there naturally and necessarily arise certain Moral Obligations, which are of themselves incumbent on all Rational Creatures, antecedent to all positive Institution and to all expectation of Reward or Punishment,” Proposition I of Clarke’s Discourse concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion. See above, Part I, essay II, footnote 9, for Kames’s previous citation.
[5. ]Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, 11.13, p. 190; 11.25, p. 195.
[* ]Essay Knowledge of Future Events.
[† ]Essay Power, at the close.
[* ]Knowledge of Future Events.
[* ]One argument used against Providence, I take to be a very strong one in its defence. It is objected,
[* ]Essay upon Liberty and Necessity.
[6. ]Kames refers to Hume’s posthumously published Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779; reprint, ed. Richard H. Popkin, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1980).
[7. ]A reference to the sketch on the “Principles and progress of theology,” in Kames, Sketches, vol. 4, bk. 3, sketch 3.
[8. ]Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Part XI, p. 67ff.
[* ]Vol. 2d. p. 203. edit. 2d. [“Appetite for society—Origin of national societies,” in Kames, Sketches, vol. 2, bk. 2, sketch 1.]
[* ]Conscience! conscience! instinct divin; immortelle & celeste voix; guide assuré d’un être ignorant & borné, mais intelligent & libre; juge infaillible du bien & du mal, qui rends l’homme semblable à Dieu; c’est toi qui fais l’excellence de sa nature & la moralité de ses actions. Rousseau [“Conscience, conscience! Divine instinct, immortal and celestial voice, certain guide of a being that is ignorant and limited but intelligent and free; infallible judge of good and bad which makes men like unto God; it is you who make the excellence of his nature and the morality of his actions.” Emile, bk. IV, p. 290.]
[9. ]This deist prayer was composed for Kames by the liberal clergyman Hugh Blair (1718–1800), who defended Kames and Hume against the charges of heresy leveled by the “high-flyers” (i.e., strictly orthodox Calvinists). In addition to his Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian (1763) and his influential Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783), Blair was the author of an enormously popular collection of Sermons (5 vols., 1777–1801), a work so moderate and ecumenical in orientation that it earned the Presbyterian minister a pension from the Crown.