Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 3: On the Properties of Being - Logic, Metaphysics, and the Natural Sociability of Mankind
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER 3: On the Properties of Being - Francis Hutcheson, Logic, Metaphysics, and the Natural Sociability of Mankind 
Logic, Metaphysics, and the Natural Sociability of Mankind, ed. James Moore and Michael Silverthorne, texts translated from the Latin by Michael Silverthorne, introduction by James Moore (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
On the Properties of Being
The most common attributes of being are certain ideas involved and implicated in the very notion of being, which are interchangeable with being itself, and may be predicated of all its constituents.
There are commonly reckoned to be three attributes of being: unity, truth, and goodness; some add to these a connection with space and time, or the where and the when.1
Unity, identity, difference
Unity is either specific or numerical: the former should rather be called similarity, the latter identity.Numerical identity, which is sufficiently obvious, refuses to be defined. And the doctrine of the scholastics about unity has no use except to rectify their own errors about universal natures. They speak of unity as a property “by which a being is undivided in itself and divided from every other thing.” This means only that no thing is several things in itself.2 No question can be raised about identity unless two ideas occur which are different in some way, when at the very least some thing has been observed at different times or in different places. Any parts of space and time are obviously different from any other parts of space and time, though all are very similar. When ideas of things are different or dissimilar, we know most plainly that the things which arouse those ideas are different.
[Identity] of minds [and] of ideas
Questions arise about identity in the case either of the mind itself or of ideas, or of physical things. A man is conscious that his mind remains the same by a kind of internal perception which is totally certain but inexpressible; by this he also knows that his mind is wholly different from any other mind. But of another mind observed at different times we merely infer that it is the same mind by arguments that are probable but do nevertheless sometimes approximate to certainty. When a perfectly similar idea, judgment, sensation, or state of mind is recalled at different times, these recollections are different in some way simply because of the difference of time, so that they can scarcely be said to be the same as the earlier ones to which they are very similar. However, this difference is rarely so great as that between bodies which occupy different positions at the same time, or from completely similar motions of the same body repeated at different times. However similar physical bodies may be, a real difference between them will become apparent if they occupy different locations at the same time; without this criterion, there will be no completely convincing evidence, but we will be left to decide which bodies are similar and which dissimilar with the help of the ideas which they arouse.
[The principle of individuation
So much for the signs by which we distinguish identity or difference. If it is asked why a thing is one, which is the question of the principle of individuation in a thing, the only answer that can be given is the actual existing nature of the thing. For whatever cause made or created any thing what-soever also made it one or individual in the sense intended by the metaphysicians. But there are several kinds of such unity.]3
[Identity of] physical bodies
A physical thing is often said to be one and the same because we judge that all the parts of its matter remain the same; this is called unity of substance. But organic bodies and some artifacts, when men are not concerned with the identity of their material, are said to remain the same so long as their fabric remains much the same, or when an artificial mechanism continues to be useful for the same purposes, even though its material changes every day, as new parts take the place of former parts. We see this happening in every living body and in all things that grow from the earth.
Truth for logicians and moralists
For logicians and moralists truth means something useful and deserving to be known; for metaphysicians it is nothing other than the fact that each thing is such as the all-knowing God judges it to be, or that it truly is the very thing that it is. Logical truth is the agreement of a proposition with things themselves. Ethical truth is the agreement of a proposition with the sentiment of the mind.
In some noted authors4metaphysical truth means the same as the constancy of nature, its stability, or a kind of metaphorical solidity and grandeur. In this sense that which is infinite is also the truest. Finite things are less true; at least their truth is confined within narrow limits beyond which they have no truth. From the notion of each true quality the mind easily ascends to grasp the highest degree of [that quality], which is comprehensible in a kind of general and obscure notion; and it is a small step from there to believing that a nature endowed with that supreme and absolute perfection exists. As far as concerns duration and extension, the mind can hardly if at all refrain from believing, without any process of reasoning, that there exists a something which is boundless and eternal.]5
Goodness or perfection
The only sense in which all things might be said to be good is that we believe that God has formed all things by his excellent design for the most noble ends which each thing may most appropriately serve, or that no thing is lacking its own essential attributes which metaphysicians call its perfections.6 Why this is called goodness or what it contributes to a knowledge of things no one can easily say. [Physical perfection] Those things are said to have physical goodness, which make and keep any sentient nature happy, and give it pleasure without harm. Likewise living things and things endowed with sense are said to be perfect in virtue of themselves, since they have the qualities and faculties to make or keep themselves happy. Some kinds of such things are more perfect than others, in that they have more senses and higher faculties to experience pleasures. When none of those which are normally found in such a thing is lacking, the thing is said to possess perfection of parts; the greater they are, the more it excels in perfection of degrees. [Moral goodness ] Taking others into account, things which are endowed with life, sense, and powers of reason, are judged to be morally good when they have the ability and, above all, the constant will or character which renders them able and willing to serve the happiness of others. For all men strive to attain this power for themselves; they praise such a character in others; everyone would discover through his internal sense, as he surveyed his acts, intentions, and decisions, that such [a character] would be the happiest for himself.7
Absolute and qualified perfections
There are many species of living things, endowed with different senses, which take pleasure from very different things, and therefore the same powers cannot be regarded as perfections in every kind of thing. Those which are useful and pleasing to one species would be useless and deadly for another. Things which would give one species the highest happiness that it is capable of possessing, another species cannot allow; or if it did allow them, they would afford the very lowest pleasure. Hence has arisen the chief distinction between perfections, that some will make any nature endowed with them happy, and include no imperfection, whereas others can be of benefit only to lower natures, as they involve an imperfection and offer a remedy or mitigation of it. These are called relative perfections, or perfections in a qualified sense, whereas the former are said to be pure and absolute perfections.8
May space and time be predicated of all things?
Among the commonest attributes of being some of the most learned men9 include certain necessary connections with space and time, which they insist are real things if we may trust our ideas at all: they seem to have real attributes: in both cases their own proper extension or quantity extends to infinity; in both cases their parts are immutable; and although they allow things which are distinct from themselves to coexist with them and penetrate them, they are not penetrable by any things which have the same parts as themselves. There is a mutual relation or connection between all space and time, since every time is the same in every space; and every space seems to remain the same in every time, since virtually everything is connected with some part of both. They are the means by which we distinguish the truest difference between things which are very similar, since both have completely distinct parts. Neither motion nor the speed of motion can be understood without both of them. Long duration, more than anything, makes every pleasure or pain significant for the happiness or misery of life. Neither the physical world nor any physical property can be understood without both of them. Without time there can be no properties or activities of the human mind, albeit they seem to be quite unconnected with space. No part of either can exist without the rest, or perish if the rest remain. But whether they are things in themselves made by God, in order that he might make the physical world and successive things, or whether they are infinite modes of the infinite God, it is not easy to determine for certain. Although the first view is so obscure that it exceeds the reach of the mind, it seems closer to the truth, because both [space and time] consist of parts which are truly different. All things known to us and all their properties seem to persist in time; a kind of perception of time accompanies every perception or feeling of which the mind is aware. Only bodies and their properties seem to exist in space, not the properties which seem appropriate to spirits. Hence we quite easily conceive that there was once no extended space before God had made the physical world; but we can scarcely, if at all, conceive that duration or time had a beginning or will have an end.10 And we are totally ignorant what connection the divine nature has with either.
[An opinion different from the former11
Some ancient philosophers12 seem to have believed that both space and time were notions that are absolutely necessary to us, but to which nothing external corresponds any more than to ideas of numbers. They took the view that space is an abstract idea of physical magnitude, reached by the subtraction of all the other properties of body. Likewise time is a similarly abstracted idea of the continuation or succession which we have observed in the movements of the mind or in a series of thoughts. And furthermore [they argued] a certain size or quantity and parts and relations are ascribed to numbers as well as to space and time, albeit all agree that number does not exist apart from things numbered, outside of any mind. However, we will by no means settle the problem by this method. No one, necessarily, imagines number extending beyond every one of the things numbered, and indeed as something which would survive in the absence of any numbered things. No one [imagines] number [as] implicated of itself in the true qualities of external objects. Neither can the position of things or their motion, or succession of thoughts or the so-called coexistence of other things with space and time, be understood, unless something real outside the mind corresponds to these ideas.
But however much these two things are believed to be real, there seems to be no reason why they are believed to be attributes of one thing more than of any other thing that is both extended and enduring. And we cannot therefore properly infer that both things are uncreated and eternal on the ground that the mind can remove neither by thinking, since no more can those who enjoy sight remove colors from corporeal nature, and yet nothing external in the things themselves corresponds to these ideas. There is a great difference between a kind of necessary tendency of the mind to represent certain things to itself, and a sure conclusion of reason that they truly are so. There is no place in philosophy where the weakness of human intelligence is more evident in understanding things which we use virtually all the time and which occur in everybody’s speech, than in this very topic of space and time.
Permanent and successive time
The schoolmen seem to be talking in empty phrases, without advancing knowledge, when they divide time (τò Quando)13 into permanent, or simultaneous, and successive, ascribing the former to God alone; as also when they divide space (τò Ubi)14 into circumscriptive, which is appropriate to bodies, definitive, which is appropriate to created spirits, and repletive, which they ascribe to God alone, who fills all places by his essence without any extension.15 All this seems to be beyond the power and reach of our understanding.
There are learned men16 who confidently maintain that it is to be taken as a necessary axiom in philosophy, that what is nowhere (nullibi) is not, and also that nothing can act where it is not by means of its essence. But they should ask themselves whether being somewhere (τò alicubi esse) means the same as either being diffused throughout space, which belongs only to the infinite, or being diffused through a part of space, which will be appropriate only to things with figure and extension; and whether both do not presuppose a thing composed of parts however combined. They should also ask whether either one of these is appropriate to the qualities or actions of the mind, which are judgment, reasoning, love, hatred, desire, joy, and sorrow. They should also wonder whether they are not being deceived by the wrappings of words, in that they are happy to avoid employing the nouns time and extended space by making use of the adverbs where, anywhere, and when.]17
[1 ]In this chapter, Hutcheson was following the order of topics addressed by de Vries, Determinationes Ontologicae, chaps. 6, 8, 9, and 10.
[2 ]See de Vries, Determinationes Ontologicae, chap. 6, sec. 5, p. 113: “Since it has been shown that identity is intimately linked with unity, there does not seem to be any reason why we should not say that One and the Same are one and the same.”
[3 ]This paragraph was added in 1744.
[4 ]Ralph Cudworth, The True Intellectual System of the Universe; Samuel Clarke, A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God; Andrew Baxter, Enquiry. See also Part I, chap. 4, n. 2, p. 87.
[5 ]This paragraph was added in 1744.
[6 ]De Vries, Determinationes Ontologicae, chap. 8, sec. 11, p. 119. “So that we may reason more clearly about goodness, we must recognize that what is properly called [goodness] is in fact multiple; namely, metaphysical or transcendental, physical or natural, or, finally, ethical or moral.”
[7 ]The distinctive character of Hutcheson’s idea of moral goodness, as expressed in these sentences, may be contrasted with the definition proposed by de Vries, Determinationes Ontologicae, chap. 8, sec. 3, p. 119: “Ethical goodness consists in the conformity of a rational being with the law of nature or with the practical dictates of right reason. The privation of such is usually called sin. But we will have to discuss this in practical or moral philosophy.”
[8 ]Hutcheson was again following de Vries, Determinationes Ontologicae, chap. 8, sec. 18, p. 121.
[9 ]The learned men whom Hutcheson had in mind are specified in the following note.
[10 ]The following note was added in the third edition (1749): “On this question, consult [John] Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Henry More, Enchiridion Metaphysicum; [Ralph] Cudworth, The True Intellectual System of the Universe; Samuel Clarke, in his letters to Leibniz, all famous and learned men, and other well-known writers.”
[11 ]In the following paragraphs, Hutcheson was responding to the more skeptical position taken by Edmund Law, An Enquiry into the Ideas of Space, Time, Immensity and Eternity. Law argued, against Samuel Clarke, and in a manner that he took to be consistent with Locke, that ideas of space and time are abstract ideas, that they have no real or objective existence. He declared of the idea of space, “that it can hardly be any fix’d determinate Object in Nature … but rather one of Entia Rationis, or an Ideal Image arbitrarily set up in the Mind. …” p. 4. See also Part I, chap. 5, sec. 2, n. 5, p. 102.
[12 ]Among ancient philosophers who denied the reality of space and time, the most notable was no doubt Zeno of Elea. Edmund Law referred his readers to Pierre Bayle’s Dictionary article “Zeno,” Remarks E and F, for a demonstration of “the impossibility of Motion … on the supposition of a real Space or Extension infinitely divisible.” An Enquiry into the Ideas of Space, Time, Immensity and Eternity, p. 67, note B; Bayle, A General Dictionary, Historical and Critical.
[13 ]“Time” is a translation of τò Quando, which is a Latinization of Aristotle’s category τò π¿τε; Latin has no definite article.
[14 ]“Space” is a translation of τò Ubi, which is a Latinization of Aristotle’s category τò π¿υ̑.
[15 ]See de Vries, Determinationes Ontologicae, chap. 9, secs. 4, 6, and 7, p. 122, on the division of space into circumscriptive, definitive, and repletive; and chap. 10, secs. 3 and 5, p. 123, on the division of time into permanent and successive.
[16 ]Edmund Law, in An Enquiry into the Ideas of Space, Time, Immensity and Eternity, chap. 1, and earlier in the notes to his translation of William King, An Essay on the Origin of Evil, n. 13, pp. 31-34. In both places, Law was expanding upon the arguments of Leibniz in his exchange with Clarke, in “A collection of papers which passed between the late learned Mr. Leibniz and Dr. Clarke.”
[17 ]The four paragraphs between brackets were added in 1744.