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Philosophical Theses, 1699 On directing the mind to lasting happiness - Gershom Carmichael, Natural Rights on the Threshold of the Scottish Enlightenment: The Writings of Gershom Carmichael 
Natural Rights on the Threshold of the Scottish Enlightenment: The Writings of Gershom Carmichael, ed. James Moore and Michael Silverthorne (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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Philosophical Theses, 1699
I. It is universally acknowledged that reason is the highest prerogative of human nature above any other part of the visible world. Accordingly, it has been repeated ad nauseam in the schools of philosophy that man is a rational animal. Nothing more is meant here by the term reason than the power or faculty of thinking (cogitandi), i.e., of understanding, willing, and initiating actions with self-awareness (conscientia) and self-approval (complacentia). But it is clear from the very notion of reason that man should not simply rest in this essential characteristic of his worth, but on the contrary, since every power is intended to be realized in act, he should put all his effort into the single aim of making right use of his rational faculty by aspiring to happiness. One aspires to happiness by aspiring to knowledge and love of the true and the good, however manifested, and such happiness is the proper perfection of thinking things.
Although the human mind has been miserably vitiated by original sin and thus rendered incapable by itself of making right use of its faculties so that only supernatural grace can effectively redeem this fall, yet there are certain natural means which in conjunction with the rational nature of the mind can give considerable help toward uncovering a good many truths both speculative and practical. Of these means some are in our power, others not. But the vulgar so confound these two kinds that they seem to attribute much more to the former and much less to the latter than they should. The aids to the right use of reason which are beyond our power are either internal, for example, intelligence, retentiveness of memory, etc., or external, such as a liberal education, the company of good and learned men, books, experience, and the like.
Internal factors have less importance in either intellectual or moral activity than is commonly thought, whether they are taken to be based on some natural difference between souls or (as is far more probable) on the actual arrangement of the brain and of the organs subordinate to it (which the goodness of God has made more naturally able in some men than in others). This is partly because those who consider themselves superior in the endowments of nature too often do too little work, but mostly because a natural ineptitude to carry out one function of reason is usually compensated by a greater aptitude for another, and vice versa. Consequently one may say with confidence that only a very small proportion of the errors into which men fall have their origin in any natural dullness or defect of intelligence.
As for external aids to cultivating reason, help from other people may be very useful in suggesting appropriate ideas and guiding the mind by an appropriate method; and many subjects that deserve to be investigated can only be known by external and elaborate experiments. Yet one must agree that the knowledge of what each man must know to secure his own safety and carry out the duties of social life is not dependent on the authority of precepts or books (with the exception of the divine pronouncements) or on difficult and elaborate experiments. On the contrary such knowledge (insofar as it is natural) is derivable by each man from the observation of himself and of the things he sees all round him and by the accurate comparison with each other of the ideas he gathers from his environment.
II. Thus the natural assistance which is most valuable for making a right use of reason, and whose lack is the source of most errors, is within our own power. It is clear that it consists in just one thing: in weighing all our thoughts with unfailing attention, and at the same time in striving to direct our minds along the most suitable and direct road to the knowledge of truth.
III. The attention required for successfully discerning truth and thus for duly controlling our inclinations and passions (so far as they depend on the knowledge of practical truths) has to be exercised both in the formation of ideas and in their comparison with each other. There is certainly a need for attention in forming ideas. Admittedly we cannot be deceived in the bare perception, whether simple or complex, of an object viewed in itself. But in abstracting ideas, in combining them together and in storing them in the mind stamped with definite names (all of which pertains to their formation in the wider sense), we often go wrong in various ways which commonly obscure our path in the pursuit of truth. First then we must be careful that each and every idea which is to be compared in our judgments and reasoning is as clear as it can be made, i.e., that it is quite vivid to the mind; this is the best way to ensure that it is distinct, i.e., that it is not confused with any other idea. This is not because the mind which is properly aware of all its thoughts ever takes one idea for two or two for one in inspecting its own ideas. It is because in thinking as well as in speaking men often lose track of their ideas, particularly if they are quite complex and have little natural affinity with the images depicted in the brain, and substitute words or other image-signs which because they have no natural connection with the ideas to which they are attached, may easily, without the closest attention, badly confuse the ideas which they are employed to distinguish. Sometimes a word is used now for one idea, now for another, without any awareness of a difference between them; sometimes two words which are supposed to express different ideas, are used for the same idea because of tiredness. Hence it is clear that we cannot really be too careful to ensure that every word we use in silent thought or talk or writing have a fixed and definite meaning for us.
IV. This is more difficult to achieve than is commonly thought, as will be shown by considering separately the various classes of ideas which may enter our thoughts. Singular ideas are less liable to this confusion; for proper names have a closer connection with the objective or material thing signified than with any idea by which it may be represented; and their signification is grasped with sufficient precision, if the singular object to which they refer is understood, whatever the singular idea by which it is distinguished from others. But we do not need to take much notice here of singular ideas, since almost all the terms of the different branches of knowledge are universal.
Of universal ideas some are simple, others complex. And the former too are not simply one class, for some can quite easily be accurately attached to their own names, others with considerable difficulty. But however precisely all names intended to express complex ideas are supposed to be understood, yet there may still remain a serious difficulty about the names of complex ideas, whether they are ideas of modes or of substances. In the case of modes, the reason is the frequently large number of simple ideas, variously arranged, which have no definite corresponding exemplar in nature. In the case of substances the reason is ignorance of the innermost essences of the substances to which they are related and the different accounts given by different individuals of the properties which are substituted for them.
V. To deal with this confusion of ideas, and to give to words that denote complex ideas a definite and fixed meaning for ourselves and our interlocutors, the most useful tool is definition. Definition is an utterance by which the simpler ideas involved in expressing a complex idea by some given name are unfolded in an individual and orderly fashion by means of several words.3 And since in this and no other sense definition, as it is commonly used, is rightly said to explain the essence of a thing, it follows that philosophers are wrong to allege some real definition beyond the nominal definition. Indeed in defining modes, it is not self-evident that any real essence distinct from the nominal is in view at all. And we cannot penetrate the absolute essences of substances nor enumerate all, or even perhaps the most noticeable, relative properties which proceed from them; consequently we cannot rightly be said to deliver the real definitions of them.
It is indeed true that in these ideas of substances which we fashion for ourselves, we normally assemble the most noticeable of the properties which fall under our observation. But apart from the fact that this method of making a definition does not come up to the magnificent promises of the philosophers who offer real definitions, this approach is inappropriate except in the case of substances which are designated by reference to a singular exemplar. For if the definition (as is usually the case) is attached to a specific name, either the idea to be explicated by definition is understood to this extent to underlie the name, in which case it is superfluous to offer a definition, or the meaning of the proposed name is uncertain and vague, in which case it will not be possible to get a fixed and definite sense out of the utterance which purports to give the real definition of the objects signified by that name. For the common method of distinguishing different kinds of substances is by reference to some individual objects of each kind which someone has at some time seen or come to know individually in one way or another. And while this method is valuable for everyday use, it is by no means accurate enough to satisfy the rigorous requirements of philosophy, since it only goes as far as giving standard names to a few of the most obvious properties. Hence arises the need to employ definition to explicate the names of substances no less than of modes, although we will not deny that, to designate some of their more sensible qualities, it is useful to point to the things themselves or to pictures of them.
VI. We have restricted the use of definition to names signifying complex ideas, for it is quite clear from the very notion of it that simple ideas cannot be explicated by definitions, since they do not admit of resolution into a number of ideas. Hence the names by which such ideas are to be expressed should be explicated by indicating the subject to which they belong, in conjunction with certain other circumstances. Those who seek definitions here find a continually increasing obscurity rather than clarity. An excellent example of this (to pass over many others which occur often in philosophical texts) is furnished by the simplest and most general of all the ideas which our mind can form, namely the idea of being or of existing or of something (for we do not doubt that one and the same idea is expressed by these three terms). The metaphysicians make absurd efforts to define this idea, and in so doing destroy the universal significance clearly distinguished by these general words.
VII. Not only do we habitually attach ideas which we abstract or combine in our minds to certain names, we also assume that they more or less conform with the ideas which others have attached to the same names, and often also with actual objects existing in nature (which is particularly appropriate with ideas of substances). Hence we must be careful here to ensure that they do conform, as we assume they do, on both counts. For if they are deficient on the first count, we will not be able to understand others or be understood by them; if on the latter, the science which is meant to investigate the properties of things existing in nature will just be chasing chimaeras.
VIII. But it is not enough to have attached clear and distinct ideas, conforming to the nature of things, to definite names in accordance with common usage. For our minds would achieve no sense of completion from this unless they also made judgments, i.e., unless they gave opinions on ideas in comparison to each other, with regard to the identity or nonidentity of the objects represented by them. Any other relationship that some persist in seeking among the given terms of any question may be reduced to this one relationship among the proposed ideas. In investigating this relation we must pay the most careful attention, so that it will not impose falsehood upon us in the guise of truth. The opinion which we give of the identity of the objects represented by two ideas has regard either to the identity which they are assumed to have, or not to have, on the basis of a real difference of time, past, present, or future; or to the identity which they would have, or would not have, on the basis of a possible time in which they might exist; the former may be called absolute, the latter hypothetical, judgments. And hence we infer (since every idea, which can be predicated of another idea, involves the idea of a being or of an existing thing) that nothing can be truly affirmed of things impossible; and nothing can be absolutely affirmed of things purely possible. If this had been properly noticed, the usual course of metaphysics could have been shortened by half (by cutting out the part which is occupied with what are called nonentities).
IX. In the case of both kinds of judgment, some are immediate, others mediate. In direct judgments the relation between the two proposed ideas becomes known by comparing the one with the other without the interposition of a third idea. In mediate judgments the relation of the two extreme ideas is inferred from the relation which connects both of them with a third idea. It is an agreement if both concur with the third in clearly designating in both cases at least one object which is the same; and a disagreement, if under the same condition one concurs with the third but the other does not. But it is not required that both extreme ideas be directly compared with the same middle term; it is enough if one of the extremes is directly compared with a middle term, and this is compared with another, and so on, until one arrives at the other extreme idea, provided that each of the middle terms, as it is repeated, clearly designates on both occasions at least one object which is the same, and provided that there is not more than one negative conjunction; if there is, the conjunction of the extremes will also be negative.
Hence we may infer in passing that in every piece of reasoning, the number of principles, that is, of propositions that are assumed to be known of themselves, exceeds the number of middle terms by one. Hence the attempt to deduce all knowable truths from one or the other principle will never succeed. Furthermore the common rules of syllogisms may easily be demonstrated from our account. But as virtually no intelligent person (except those who have learned the common rules but have never penetrated to their foundations and cling to the husks of the words) would allow himself to be deceived by a viciously formulated argument, we have to admit that the majority by far of the errors into which we fall every day have their origin in false principles which we accept as true, because we are carried away by the heat of the passions or other people’s authority or some other foolishness.
X. Propositions which are to be considered as principles become known in different ways depending on whether they are absolute or hypothetical. In order that the absolute existence of any thing may become known to us without proof, it must be intimately present to our mind and give a sense of itself; this is the way the mind observes its own existence and that of its thoughts. But the hypothetical connection or conflict of abstract ideas, i.e., the identity or nonidentity of objects which would be represented by them if they existed, becomes known from the mere comparison of such ideas despite the absence of the things themselves. On premises of the former kind depend all absolute propositions, which we also come to know by the use of reasoning. This includes propositions which are concerned with the existence of singular objects, and many also concerning the coexistence of properties which enter into specific ideas of substances and which are for the most part either singular or particular. But all propositions which are purely conditional, being concerned with the relation of abstract ideas, are free of that dependence. Countless universal propositions about the relations of modes in mathematics and the moral disciplines are like this; since they are free of all regard to this or that time and to the contingent existence in time of a created thing, and could not be distinctly conceived to be otherwise, they are rightly said to be in the most rigorous sense necessary. Hence one may incidentally infer the logicians’ fourth predicable in the modes; and that the fifth is particularly appropriate in the case of substances. And in these too, especially in the more general types of them, a necessary connection or conflict of attributes may sometimes be quite clearly detected by the abstract use of reason. The first three predicables, however, are either trivially predicated or yield only explications of words.
XI. In all these judgments, whether absolute or hypothetical, whether direct or indirect, due attention requires us to avoid all rashness and precipitancy and not to accept anything as certain and indubitable in which the splendor of truth does not flash out and compel the mind intent on tracking it down to give its full assent, even in spite of its own reluctance. So far as we observe this rule, so far and no further shall we assure ourselves of immunity from error. It is no objection that many people, in clinging obstinately to errors, display complete certainty and firm mental acquiescence in their opinions as true, whether by words or by anything else that one can offer as a sign of a true and certain judgment. For all that we may legitimately infer from this is that the criterion by which truth so manifests itself to our minds as to exclude all suspicion of falsity does not lie in the external profession or forms of speech which vain and dogmatic men may use, but is to be sought in the quiet recesses of the mind itself and in the innermost depths of our thought. Here everyone who refuses to cast himself headlong into hopeless skepticism must admit that some criterion of this kind is present when we assent to certain truths (or rather to any matters of which we can say that we are certainly convinced), and this cannot coexist with false assent.
XII. To achieve the requisite attention in the formation and comparison of ideas, we must partly remove obstacles and partly use them to help us. First, there are vivid sensations and images which engage both body and mind together and are apt to divert the mind’s gaze and draw its attention away from the purely intelligible. We must therefore avoid objects which strike the mind with such overly vivid sensations or images. But in our present state of union the human mind cannot avoid being strongly affected by things which affect the body, hence it should use those modes of perception in such a way that they conduce to a more distinct understanding of things. This will happen if we connect a specific sensible or imageable sign with each intellectual idea,4 and constantly preserve the connection; this is especially true of any sign that has a natural affinity with the intellectual idea itself. This has been the remarkable privilege of geometry, both to ensure that the truths which it demonstrates by itself were easily perceived and to throw a brilliant light on the sciences which it is employed to illustrate. But if we cannot find such suitably simple natural signs, we may profitably make use of other arbitrary signs which not only get attention, particularly if they are very simple, but also may be substituted for more complex ideas and lessen the difficulty that the mind has with these and augment its capacity. The more violent emotions also put another obstacle in the way of attentive contemplation of abstract things; these too we must silence if we wish to make successful progress in this area. Here too we must make a virtue of necessity, and fight the harmful passions with more useful ones, such as the desire to know the truth, the desire to successfully perform the duties which depend on knowledge of truth, etc.
XIII. It may be further established from what has been said, that the genuine method of discovering truth turns on these two cardinal points. First, we must collect for ourselves ideas of the things we intend to reason about that are clear, distinct, and conforming to their originals. Second, in connecting a series of several truths with each other, we start from those that are simpler and easier (i.e., those which are known by themselves and those which are close to being so, or even those which, other things being equal, have simpler terms), and not only grasp their unshakeable truth but also spend some time on them before we take the step toward more composite and difficult truths (those which need a longer chain of arguments or are composed of more complex terms). However, it is not the more general truths which we should immediately regard as simpler. For just as it is far from being the case that the most general ideas are the first to take their places in our minds, so their relation is not always especially obvious to the intellect. It is true that in teaching certain abstract disciplines, especially mathematics, it proves useful to begin with some rather general axioms which dispose the mind to give assent to more particular truths, because they are few in number and contain within themselves many other propositions which have been rendered familiar by use. Yet these very sciences (which are taught in this manner today) could not have been discovered by that method. And there are certain other disciplines (such as pneumatology and physics) which cannot be rightly taught by the same method. Since they investigate the actual existence of things and the properties which experience alone teaches belong to them, they require us to proceed from the singular and less universal to the more universal.
XIV. Among all the absolute truths, none becomes known to the mind earlier or more easily than the existence of oneself and one’s thoughts; and therefore the famous phrase of the celebrated Descartes, I thinking exist,5 does nothing to demonstrate abstract truths and should certainly not be laid down as their absolutely first principle; yet it may without absurdity be assigned the first place (first in the order of our knowledge, that is) in the class of propositions which are concerned with the actual existence of things. This at least is clear, that no physical object’s existence is knowable by us with such ease and certainty. For whether a physical thing which sensation leads me to believe exists, actually does exist or not, yet I cannot have doubts about the fact that there is such a sensation in me. For this purpose it does not matter whether the thinking thing which is in me (or rather which I myself am) is distinct from all matter (as we shall demonstrate below) or whether it is merely modified matter. For likewise the truth of our assertion is sound that the existence of our mind as a thinking substance becomes known to us earlier, more easily, and more certainly than the existence of any physical thing.
XV. However the absolute essence of our mind does not become manifest to us in the same manner as its existence does. For in forming a positive idea of itself, it can scarcely itself ascend higher, since it knows about itself by primary intuition and apprehends by inner awareness that it is itself a thinking thing, i.e., a thing which perceives, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, etc. And since these individual modes of thinking are only accidental perfections of the mind, one succeeding the other in a continual stream, it is clear that they must in no way be confused with the essence of the mind, even though we conceive of it somehow or other in relation to them. Of general and permanent thought (in which certain celebrated authors locate the essence of mind)6 the mind itself has neither awareness nor idea; especially since that kind of thought is defined by its patrons as an awareness of all that goes on in the mind. For awareness is either concerned with the particular thoughts of which there is awareness or presupposes particular thoughts; certainly it cannot be taken as a subject of thought. Thus the mind knows itself only in relation to its modes, and they are such that the mind itself only imperfectly conceives what relation they bear to their own subject. We should therefore abandon the vain hope of tracking down the absolute essence of mind and be content that the mind should look within where the way is open and reflect on the various modes of thinking in which it engages and their order and dependence; especially since each act of thought which it performs, though it does not lead to an absolute grasp of its being (entitas) as it is in itself, yet discloses an essential aspect of it, namely, its ability to perform such an act.
XVI. Here sensation first offers itself to our consideration. Sensation is a perception in the mind excited by the occasion7 of something physical being present and moving the organs of our body. And we are so intimately aware within ourselves that sensation resides in the same mind as the rest of our thoughts, that it seems extraordinary that there have been philosophers who taught that the sentient mind of man is different from the rational mind; nor on the other hand do the other philosophers seem to make sense who refuse to classify sensations as thoughts (notwithstanding the manifest self-awareness which they have in themselves). Nevertheless sensations do not represent any objects (properly so called), nor is there anything like them among external objects nor anything which bears a greater resemblance to them than motion or figure to thought or the body itself to mind. Hence the only account which can be given of the connection between our sensations and the properties of the bodies which arouse them is the will of the creator, who has so closely united substances of such different natures and established such a correspondence between the modifications of both, that the sensations aroused in the mind in the presence of physical things serve to tell it what it should pursue or avoid for the preservation of animal life. We do not however deny that the senses are useful for the investigation of truth, provided that we derive this conception not from the sensation itself but from the intellectual idea which naturally takes it up, and provided that we attend carefully to the various cases in which that idea normally designates, faithfully or otherwise, the condition of an object.
XVII. We experience perceptions similar to those described in the last thesis not only when an external object exists to arouse them but also in the absence of objects, except that these (which are commonly called imaginations) are noticeably less vigorous than the former and usually depend more on the determination of our will. When we dream we take them for sensations; for then we lack the sensations themselves, and there are no witnesses to correct the error of the imagination, nor do we have access to the greater clarity which would show up the obscurity of the imagination by comparison. In both these respects the cases of the dreamer and of the man caught in persistent error are neatly parallel to each other; nor is there a sharper distinction between the former and the waking man than between the latter and one who truly knows. But the primary use of the imagination is not only to retain what we have learned by sense, but also to implant other ideas more deeply in the memory and to save them from confusion; this has been shown in thesis 12.
XVIII. Besides the perceptions so far mentioned (which we usually claim to share with the animals) our mind has other perceptions of a completely different kind (which are usually called pure intellections). No one can be ignorant of these who is not too much a stranger in his own home; for only intellectual ideas make contact even lightly with thinking things. Only intellectual ideas are so general that they can stretch to include objects which present themselves to the senses in different guises; on the other hand they alone are so accurate that they distinguish between objects which are offered to the senses in the same guise (for example, a circle and an ellipse, one of whose diameters is imperceptibly longer than the other’s). Finally only intellectual ideas represent objects other than themselves or can be predicated of them; for when the names given for the purpose of distinguishing our sensations are applied to external objects, they import no more than an aptitude for exciting such sensations in us, and since the notion of this aptitude is relative, it is certainly represented not by the sensation itself but only by a pure intellection.
XIX. It is abundantly clear therefore that there are pure intellections in our minds. But the question of their nature and even more of their origin, has always been considered a difficult one, and rightly so. For although we seem to be intimately aware that they are directly produced by the mind itself and do not, when viewed materially (as they say), contain anything in themselves which should be reckoned beyond its powers, nevertheless the further question remains as to where our minds learned that variety of forms by which they can adapt their notions to represent the almost infinite variety of external things so exactly. Experience hardly allows us to believe that the earliest exemplars of all our intellectual notions were cocreated with the mind from its very origin (as one part of the learned world contends). For experience teaches us that our minds form singular notions earlier and more easily than universal notions and, even more, abstract notions (though these, if any, ought to be immediately aroused by exemplars innate to the mind). Experience also teaches that each person’s mind is stocked with more notions and more perfect notions, the more they are provided by familiarity with things and by a richer supply of objects, and the more apt the structure of his organs is for perceiving them.
We can at least infer from this that the furniture of knowledge which is actually found today in the human mind suggests an origin quite other than that which these authors propose. In forming a conjecture on this question, no one seems to us to come nearer the truth than those who take the view that the exemplars of all our original notions owe their origin to the actual presence of the objects represented through them. I say original because there is no doubt that from the singular notion which the mind has itself formed by the occasion of a present object and which includes several obvious features of it, the mind can abstract various simpler notions which are contained in it, and in turn combine these abstract notions in a new order among themselves; but in such a way that the mind owes the material of all its natural notions (for we are not speaking of those which are suggested supernaturally) to the actual presence of objects.
Since therefore physical objects, though present, do not come to our notice except by the mediation of sensations, we safely conclude that notions of corporeal things take their origin from sensation; there are however particular reasons for hesitation about the means by which our minds are equipped to form notions of spiritual things. But if we observe ourselves, if we carefully consider the objects which are most familiar to us, by whose means the rest become more or less amenable to conceptualization, they will all be seen to urge the mind to advance from contemplation of itself to form notions of the supreme deity and of other spirits. The mind will also be seen to be aroused to reflect on itself precisely so far as it is directed to some particular thought by another object (i.e., an external object). In thinking this thought it finds itself in action, and in reflecting on it it acquires, by a supervening act, a more explicit knowledge of itself and of its powers. At any rate we will not find a trace of any other origin or process in all the notions which our minds naturally perform. And so we do not doubt that the primary furniture of all our natural knowledge may be deduced, in all likelihood, from sensation and reflection.8
XX. Now since we are not able with any appearance of truth to claim for ourselves or concede to external objects (even though it is attributed to them in common usage) a truly active power of producing those first exemplars of our notions, it must be fully admitted that they are produced in the mind by God at the presence of objects. Since in this and many other respects God alone is rightly said to illuminate us and to be the cause of all our knowledge, there is no reason at all why, with the celebrated Malebranche, we should have recourse to what he calls intelligible entities (unintelligible though they may be) which exist in God as the immediate objects of all our notions.9 For if we contemplated all other things in God, God would necessarily be the most familiar object of our perception, and we would not be able to conceive any other objects whatever except by analogy with him; which flatly contradicts experience. Nor is anything to be gained by the observation of that celebrated thinker about the general idea of being circulating continuously in our minds; for this idea is aroused by any object whatsoever, and has no more in common with the idea of God (unless the notions of infinity and independence are also added, which are not at all ordinary notions) than with the idea of a creature.
XXI. But our minds can not only form, abstract, and combine notions or ideas (for we use these terms interchangeably)* but can also compare them with each other (as we have suggested in the eighth thesis) so as to yield an opinion whether and to what extent they are representative of the same object. On this topic there is just one point to be added at this time, namely that certain celebrated authors do not seem to us to explain its nature with sufficient accuracy by locating the judgment, partly in the perception, which they credit to the intellect, of a relation occurring between two ideas, and partly in the assent or acquiescence of the will. They do this despite the fact that to anyone who pays attention, it is quite obvious that the act of affirming or denying, in which lies truth or falsehood, differs totally both from perception and from volition. In fact it is so far from having affinity with either of these acts that the dispute between the Aristotelians and the Cartesians, as to whether judgment is an act of the intellect or of the will, is beside the point, since judgment cannot be reduced to either of them without one of the two terms being rendered equivocal.10
XXII. Now among all the thoughts that we have of every kind, some please us by flooding the mind with pleasure or delight, others are unpleasing, irksome, and painful. The mind naturally loves pleasing thoughts, and any things which tend to bring them to us or shut out unpleasing thoughts (to which we tend to give the general name of goods for ourselves); it pursues them and desires to have them present. But it hates, avoids, and longs to be free of unpleasing thoughts, and any thing which tends to bring them on or drive out pleasing thoughts (and such things are commonly called evils). The former act has usually been called volition, the latter nolition; either act in scholastic language is an act of will. And since the mind perpetually aspires not to this or that particular good, but to supreme happiness, i.e., the most exquisite pleasure and the most absolute freedom from pain, it cannot fail to pursue by its will every particular object which, considered in conjunction with all its circumstances, it believes will contribute in some way toward attaining that most desirable state. Hence the celebrated Locke seems on this topic to have parted unnecessarily from the common opinion of philosophers which was at one time his own, when he contends that the will is not always determined by a judgment passed on the goodness of the object but by desire for it as requisite to man’s happiness.11 For these coincide, since we always desire as pertaining to our happiness what we judge to be best, after we have taken into account not only the value of the object itself but also the toil and danger we must undergo to get it. We freely admit however that in conducting this examination, the mind is often led badly astray, as what is present to the mind has more influence with it than what is absent, and what we sense by immediate perception has more influence than what comes to us only in the form of abstract ideas, and indeed the tendency to avoid pain has greater influence than the desire to enjoy positive pleasure: these are the sources of most of the most dangerous errors in human life.
XXIII. Whenever the good or evil things which seem to make for the conservation or injury of the natural composite of mind and body are considered in the light of their presence or absence, they tend to arouse powerful determinations of the will accompanied by noticeable bodily agitation, and these are commonly called passions. The number of the passions is differently given by different thinkers. To us the most accurate computation seems to be that of the learned Malebranche, who allows only three primary passions: desire, happiness, and sadness.12
XXIV. We also experience that the will to produce certain bodily movements initiates the execution of these movements, whether our minds truly produce them by some activity of their own whose mode of operation it cannot detect, or (as seems equally probable) the first cause truly produces these motions in accordance with the conditions of union which it has itself ordained, taking its occasion from our will. So far as man has it in his power for these movements to be begun, continued, and suspended according to the determination of his will, he is declared free in respect to them. It is also true that many of our thoughts often depend on the determination of the will in the same way, but in their case the dependence is not so constant nor equally noticeable for another reason, namely that all the internal actions of our minds involve both implicit self-awareness and self-approval, and for this reason all thought may be said to be in some sense free, i.e., it has to be voluntarily initiated by us. Since only actions which are free in this way are essentially free, and consequently (as necessarily flows from created liberty) subject to the rule of morals, it follows that these alone are the measures of both the liberty and the morality which are to be attributed to external acts. Those who have insinuated into the doctrine of liberty the notion of indifference, which has nothing to do with it (and which, strictly understood, cannot occur in an agent), have introduced great obscurity into a subject which is in itself easy enough.
XXV. There is nothing which the mind observes more frequently in itself than the remembrance of past thoughts and its ability later to reproduce similar or related thoughts in various circumstances. This experience hardly allows us to doubt that definite traces remain in the mind of individual thoughts, but their nature is most obscure. All the same if we look at the simple nature of the mind and meanwhile reflect on the variety which it continually undergoes in the way of habits and acts, perhaps we shall not be able to explain it without admitting entities in the mind which are fairly distinct from it however dependent they may be on its substance. We submit therefore to deeper examination by learned men the question whether the real accidents of the Aristotelians, as explained by Reformed writers, must necessarily be retained in the intellectual world though eliminated from the material world.13
XXVI. From our previous explanation of the functions of the human mind, it is abundantly made out that mind is a different substance from matter, seeing that it acts by itself and in an indivisible mode. For every mode of a composite thing (such as every material object) is composite with regard to its subject, and thus divisible; so that one part of it belongs to one part of the subject and another to another. But this cannot be claimed about thought with respect to the mind. For in that case every mind would contain in itself innumerable others, each one equipped with its own portion of thought. On the contrary, since the principle of thought which is in us is intimately aware that it and its thought are a unity so that it conceives that if any part of it is removed, nothing at all survives. For the sake of brevity we pass over the other reasons which the most learned authors give to confirm the same truth, though they are quite forceful (at least in the opinion of those who derive all the differences among bodies from mechanical properties). We merely point out that the argument we have given quite overthrows that absurd figment of Master Henry More’s, in which he claimed that extension is a universal attribute of being and that it belongs to spirits though in its penetrable form.14 For extension, whether impenetrable or penetrable (if we can accept this notion), necessarily involves a multitude of parts, which we have proved does not belong at all to that which is cogitative.
XXVII. It necessarily flows from the simplicity of mind just demonstrated, that it could not be produced from a preexisting seed whether physical or spiritual, and cannot be resolved into the same, and so is by its nature ingenerable and incorruptible. Granted this, the celebrated Poiret’s conjecture will not seem at all likely that every single mind (also every single particle of matter) is endowed with a certain essential fertility by which it can produce others like it. For there is not the slightest evidence in nature for attributing an influence of this kind to any created cause (i.e., an influence by which a completely new substance begins to exist).15
XXVIII. But whether the cogitative principle which is found in us is said to be empty of all matter, as we have just proved, or whether it is composed of material parts, as the atheists would like, it is in either case certain, from the multiple defects which it daily experiences in itself, that it could not exist by itself. For just as the perfection of any effect depends upon either the power or the will of the producing cause, so the perfection of an independent thing can only be what is best for itself, i.e., a supreme and infinite perfection. Since our mind therefore is aware in itself of multiple ignorance, weakness, and other imperfections, it must necessarily derive its existence not from itself but from another superior cause, and one which is cogitative and immaterial. This last point admits of no doubt on the supposition that our mind is immaterial; and it must also be conceded by supporters of the opposite view. In fact, the less perfection we claim for the elements of our nature, the more excellent we are forced to infer is the architect who has constructed so excellent a fabric from such poor material. Since matter is the poorest of all things and has perfection of the lowest order, it is far removed from the highest eminence of perfection involved in independent and necessary existence, and hence presupposes a superior cause. But besides this, given matter’s existence, it still cannot be put into motion, of which it does not have the principle within itself, without the influence of an external and superior cause, since by its nature it is indifferent with regard to motion or rest; and in any case thought does not belong essentially to matter whether at rest or in motion. Matter therefore requires a further influence of a superior principle, and of a principle which is essentially cogitative, in order that it may be raised to so great a perfection which is not essentially due to itself.
But the atheists say (though nothing is more absurd) that there are certain combinations of matter, which, whenever they occur, necessarily bring thought with them. Since the combination of movements required for such a singular effect is (as they themselves admit) so delicate that barely one or two of an infinite number of equally possible combinations is adequate for this effect, it will certainly seem strange that, despite this, the combination happens so frequently, is so constantly and regularly maintained, and rises to such noble effects. Certainly if thinking agents produce such things as this, which it would be absurd to claim were fabricated fortuitously and without design, how much less should we suppose that the very power of deliberation from which such wonderful effects flow arises from a fortuitous concourse of atoms without the design of a superior cause? Whatever therefore we suppose the mind to be in its inmost constitution, it does presuppose some intelligent cause, one which is far more perfect than itself. More than this it must be a cause which, essentially and indeed independently, involves thought and all the other perfections which are essentially found (to whatever extent) in our minds. It is quite obvious that every total cause which is superior in a direct line to any effect has to contain all its simple perfections, and that a first cause of this kind possesses them all essentially, independently, and without defect.
That there is a first cause for any effect, and that an infinite series of subordinate causes cannot be admitted, is clear from the fact that the influence by virtue of which any given effect exists has necessarily to be transmitted through all superior causes in a straight line, though no influence can be transmitted through an infinite series of causes since infinity cannot be traversed. The force of this argument will appear more clearly if we reflect that the series of which we are speaking here must be understood not as a series of successive causes, but as a series of causes which have influence at one and the same time, since every effect (i.e., a thing not sufficient to itself for existence) must depend, so long as it exists, on some cause which necessarily influences it now.
Moreover, the necessity of recognizing some first and independent cause also becomes obvious from the fact that a cause may be sought not only for every dependent thing taken individually, but also for the whole collection of them. Grant this, and you also grant what we seek, an independent cause, since it is exempt from the whole sum of dependent things; but if it is not granted, then the whole sum of dependent things is independent, than which nothing is more absurd.
XXIX. Our mind therefore gives evidence of a supreme cause of itself, which contains within itself, essentially and without defect and independently, all pure perfections, not only those which we dimly see in our own minds but (because of the connection between independence and supreme perfection which we noted above) all other possible perfections whatsoever, absolutely free of every imperfection; this is the great and good God himself. From the notion of God so established, one may infer by easy reasoning various attributes of Deity, both individually and in relation to the primary idea of him. We will mention only a few of them. It manifestly follows that God is one, since he contains every absolute perfection in himself and that he is most simple, so that he is not composed of several things, and cannot be composed with several things. It also follows that he is immutable, since he does not have parts or components by means of which he could change, for either of these would indicate dependence; and that he is eternal and immense, i.e., that he exists always and everywhere, without either succession or extension on his part; and that he is also incomprehensible to every intellect except his own. It likewise follows that we should attribute to God the common perfections of mind with a certain special eminence and prerogative; this means that he is cogitative not successively and variably like us, but by one utterly simple act which is identical with his essence. Still more particularly, he does not apprehend a limited number of things, he apprehends all things, and not by abstract and inadequate ideas but by intuitive and perfect ideas which are not drawn from outside but contained in the plenitude of his own nature. It also follows that he makes judgments but never strays from truth, never wavers, and is never ignorant of anything; hence he needs no discursive thought nor depends on drawing knowledge from outside, and never changes his mind; but at one and the same time he has all truths of all kinds before him in their archetypes, truths which are hypothetical in his power but absolute in his will. Hence it also follows that God wills, not rashly or inconstantly like us, not with a hesitant or ineffective willing nor determined by external things, but by his most wise, most absolute, most free, and most efficacious will, he disposes all things as is most congruous with supreme reason and most fit to illustrate his infinite glory. It also follows that God is powerful, i.e., his will is efficacious in disposing external things as he wishes; nor does his efficacy merely extend (as ours does) to a few things put in his power by the influence of another cause, or which could be obstructed by another cause; rather it extends to absolutely all possible effects, independently and irresistibly. And in his full awareness and approval of his own perfection, without the intervention of any external possession at all, he is supremely and necessarily happy. Finally from these foundations it is safely inferred that God is the first and universal cause of all things that exist in nature, whether spiritual or corporeal, not only of permanent substances but also of their successive alterations and modifications. For all other things result from his eternal and efficacious will, each with its own times and other circumstances defined by that will.
From what has been said it is clear that in many cases when the attributes of created spirits are analytically distinguished from the imperfections which adhere to them in their combined condition, so that they can be rightly attributed both to the father of spirits and to the spirits created by him, these attributes are still so proper to spirits that they distinguish spirits from bodies, though, on the other side, the properties of bodies cannot be mentally separated from the imperfections which they include, without being converted into the universal attributes of all beings. So there is an easy reason why the great and good God, though he contains in himself the simple perfections of all things, is yet rightly said to be spirit, not body; for spirit is distinguished from body by its (mentally or analytically) pure perfections, but body is not distinguished from spirit in this way. Hence the reason which Jean Le Clerc gives as the chief reason why God is called spirit rather than body, namely that a name is usually derived from the nobler part, is too feeble and indicative of a quite absurd error.16
XXX. The primary aim of all our thinking about God (as of all other things) should be to acknowledge in a spirit of veneration that the creator of the universe, its preserver and ruler, the good, the almighty, is our supreme Lord, and Lord of all things, who directs his works, of every kind, by his own right; and to offer to him as our Lord every kind of worship and obedience in the whole course of our lives. And although it has become more than obvious from what has been said that we have a great obligation to do this, yet we can find another persuasive argument by looking more deeply into the condition of our own minds in comparison with the truths which we have deduced by easy reasoning from introspecting them. For our minds yearn with unbounded and unceasing desire for the highest happiness which we can achieve; so constant is this direction of our minds that we need no other obligation to do or not do anything than the understanding that our happiness in any degree depends on its performance or omission. This is the hinge on which all human deliberation turns. Hence it will complete our task if we show that man cannot better serve his happiness than by worshipping God and conducting himself well toward him. This is not difficult to demonstrate. For since it is certain that the one God, good, almighty, Lord of mankind and of all things, can make us happy or miserable at his discretion, it is obvious that the sum of all the prayers that we make to obtain happiness should be reduced to this, that God may will that we be happy. Consequently any ordering of our actions that has even the remotest connection with the benevolence of the supreme deity toward us should be pursued with every effort at every moment of our lives. It is true that we cannot define by the light of nature the extent to which our happiness can be promoted or our misery averted by any action we may take. Nevertheless it is obvious that the good God almighty, who has arranged all things in the manner most fit to illustrate his glory, and who has adorned man with the most ample abilities to know and love his creator (though he may turn them to neglect or even hatred of him), has so constituted this order of things that the more man gives evidence in his actions of love and veneration toward him, the happier, or at least less miserable, he is; and the more he shows neglect or contempt, the more miserable, or at least less happy. For nothing is more conducive than this order to manifest the supreme excellence of the deity and the dependence of the best creatures, i.e., the rational creatures, upon him. Hence follows the conclusion we set out to demonstrate, that there is no path that every man may follow in every moment of his life equally suited to promote his happiness or avert his misery, than to make himself obedient to the divine law by so ordering his actions that he expresses by them his love and veneration of God.
This may be proved not only from consideration of divine justice and power, but is also confirmed by the fact that in the acts in which the mind is acting most rationally (which are acts which involve the most perfect admiration and love of their object), it experiences the greatest delight and pleasure; in acts of the opposite kind by contrast, it unwillingly suffers pain and remorse, even as it tries to enjoy itself. The obvious conclusion of all this is that every kind of obligation falls upon every rational creature to temper all its actions to the will of God as the supreme legislator. For he has no less good cause to require the liberty of the created will to be curtailed at his discretion than he has power to visit extreme suffering on those who oppose him. It is altogether the gift of his abounding grace that he has sanctioned his laws not only with penalties but also with rewards.
There is a rather more substantial difficulty in determining the duties, so far as they are known by the natural light, which God requires men to show as symbols of love and veneration toward him. But this is less concerned with the actual substance of the precepts (which are mostly not at all obscure) as with the technical method by which they may be set out with the greatest clarity and incontrovertibly demonstrated. For there are two extreme errors into which different authors seem to us to have fallen here. Most philosophers who have professed to teach ethics, taking too loose a way, have multiplied the number of moral precepts which they supposed to be known of themselves to such an extent that they have considerably weakened the force and certainty of that most noble science. But when in our own century certain learned men, the restorers of moral philosophy, noticing the inconveniences that method had caused, took a completely opposite tack, they made too rigid an effort to reduce all the precepts of natural law to some one proposition. Such was the conclusion of the celebrated Pufendorf that every man must cultivate and preserve sociability, so far as he can.17 Most inappropriately, the great man seems to subordinate all our duties (the most important part of which are to be directed toward God himself in direct worship) to the advantages of society (at least so far as they are known by the light of nature). This is why the learned Cumberland gives us a more comprehensive summary of the natural laws, i.e., that, every man is bound to make every effort to promote the common good of the whole system of rational agents, in which his own happiness is included as a part.18 The great man commends this endeavor to us under the name of universal benevolence. But apart from the fact that whenever the words common good and benevolence are applied to God who lacks nothing, they seem to become equivocal, it is even less appropriate to propose to us that the good God almighty (to whom all things should be subordinate) and rational creatures form a single system of rational agents which should be the object of benevolence.
It would be more appropriate to make a distinction here and say that the duties which are taught by the natural law (i.e., the duties which are known19 by the natural light to pertain to the due expression to God of love and veneration) have regard to God himself either directly and immediately, or only indirectly and mediately. Among the former are: the duty to hold correct opinions about God and his perfections; to seek all goods from him; to give praise and glory to him alone for all we possess; and to display these due sentiments toward the deity by suitable external signs. The duties of the latter kind are comprehended in the single rule, that it pertains to the declaration of due sentiment toward the deity that we should promote the perfection of all creatures to the best of our ability, but especially the happiness of rational creatures (so far as this does not conflict, to the best of our knowledge, with manifestation of the divine glory). For veneration toward God is to be expressed by benevolence toward his creatures to the extent that they bear his image and are not opposed to him. The rule of the celebrated Pufendorf which we mentioned above comes to the same thing, and we could give various reasons as to the necessity of observing it, but we will omit them for the sake of brevity.
It cannot be denied without absurdity that the duties just mentioned, with innumerable particular duties which necessarily flow from them (the elaborating of which is the business of moral philosophy), are enjoined by the natural law, i.e., become known to us as duties by the light of nature. But these precepts of natural law are not scrupulously kept by any of us, but are violated daily by each one of us in many ways; and there is no argument that proves that it is possible to arrive at absolute happiness by keeping these or any other precepts. A holier faith, moreover, declares to us other and sublimer precepts than these, and yet teaches that we should not put the hope of our happiness in keeping even them, but place it on another footing. Therefore no sane man should be content with natural religion as a sufficient guide to happiness; and no wise man will deny that natural religion is the proper helpmate of revealed religion and rightly subordinate to it.
I had intended to add to this continuous thread of discourse some particular topics from each of the parts of philosophy. But when I had got this far, I realized that I had already passed the limits both of labor and of time (having taken up this task later than I should have, and still not being able to devote myself to it without interruption because of the teaching duties which my position requires every day and with as yet no intermission). But I also recognized that wide areas of philosophy, both moral and natural, remained untouched. So I laid aside my former design, and in place of what I was originally going to add, I decided to append these short excerpts from two parts of philosophy.
From ethics and politics
The full text of Carmichael’s
Which, with the Corollaries attached,
under the Blessing of Almighty God,
Students of the renowned University of Glasgow,
Scholars and Gentlemen,
Who are Candidates for the Degree of Master,
will submit to Public Examination by Learned Men
on the 27th. of June
at 2 o’clock in the Afternoon,
in the Church by the University
Under the Presidency of Gershom Carmichael
Great is truth and Most Powerful
Printed by Robert Sanders, Printer to the Queen and University,
To the most Noble and Illustrious Lord
Lord Carmichael of the Same, Etc.
Distinguished Head of the Name and Family of Carmichael,
Of the Privy Council of Her Most Serene Majesty
Distinguished Chancellor of the University of Glasgow,
munificent Patron worthy of honours untold,
these Philosophical Theses
are given and dedicated
by Gershom Carmichael, President,
and by the Candidates
[3.] See Locke, Essay, III.III.17.
[4.] For intellectual ideas, see Malebranche, Search after Truth, bk. III, pt. 2.
[5.] Ego cogitans existo (Descartes, Meditations, II).
[6.] Descartes, Malebranche, and Arnauld and Nicole.
[7.] This term alludes to the Malebranchian doctrine of occasionalism.
[8.] See Locke, Essay, II.VII.10.
[9.] Carmichael follows Arnauld in rejecting Malebranche’s view that what we actually perceive in our intellectual ideas are the archetypal ideas in the mind of God (Arnauld, Des vraies et des fausses Idées).
[*] Carmichael’s note: The term idea is sometimes used in philosophers for the notion itself or act of apprehending (which is the sense in which it is taken by us here and elsewhere), and sometimes for the exemplary form of the same remaining in the mind (even when it is not actually attending to it). To avoid this equivocation, we have thought it best to abstain from the term idea in the two previous theses where we were treating of their origins).
[10.] See above, pp. 31–32.
[11.] Locke, Essay, II.XXI.35 ff.
[12.] Search after Truth, V.VII, p. 375.
[13.] De Vries, De Natura Dei, pp. 146 ff.
[14.] More, Enchiridion Metaphysicum, pp. 73 ff.
[15.] Poiret, Cogitationes rationales, pp. 146 n., 148 n. His theory of the fertility and productivity of things was elaborated at greater length in The Divine Oeconomy: An Universal System of the works and purposes of God towards men, demonstrated, I, 7 (London, 1713). Robert Wodrow described Poiret’s theology as “a neu and connected systeme of Quietisme, Molinisme, [and] Quakerisme, and the refined mysticall Divinity of the Papists, leading quite off the Protestant doctrine, and the truth as it’s in Jesus” (Analecta, III, p. 473).
[16.] Le Clerc, “Pneumatologia,” in Ontologia, III.III, pp. 152–53.
[17.] On the Duty of Man and Citizen, I.3.9, pp. 35–36; and see above, p. 51.
[18.] Cumberland, Treatise on the Law of Nature, p. 16.
[19.] Amending innotescit to innotescunt.