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essay iv i: Matter and Spirit 1 - 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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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.
[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.