Front Page Titles (by Subject) essay vi: Knowledge of Future Events - Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion
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essay vi: Knowledge of Future Events - 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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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.