Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION I: Human Actions analysed. - Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 3
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SECTION I: Human Actions analysed. - Henry Home, Lord Kames, Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 3 
Sketches of the History of Man Considerably enlarged by the last additions and corrections of the author, edited and with an Introduction by James A. Harris (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). 3 Vols. Vol. 3.
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Human Actions analysed.
The hand of God is no where more visible, than in the nice adjustment of our internal frame to our situation in this world. An animal is endued with a power of self-motion; and in performing animal functions, requires no external aid. This in particular is the case of man, the noblest of terrestrial beings. His heart beats, his blood circulates, his stomach digests, &c. &c. By what means? Not surely by the laws of mechanism, which are far from being adequate to such operations. They are effects of an internal power, bestow’d on man for preserving life. The power is exerted uniformly, and without interruption, independent of will, and without consciousness.
Man is a being susceptible of pleasure and pain: these generate desire to attain what is agreeable, and to shun what is disagreeable; and he is possessed of other powers which enable him to gratify his desires. One power, termed instinct, is exerted indeed with consciousness; but without will, and consequently without desiring or intending to produce any effect. Brute animals act for the most part by instinct: hunger prompts them to eat, and cold to take shelter; knowingly indeed, but without exerting any act of will, and without foresight of what will happen. Infants of the human species are, like brutes, governed by instinct: they apply to the nipple, without knowing that sucking will satisfy their hunger; and they weep when pained, without any view of relief.1 But men commonly are governed by desire and intention. In the progress from infancy to maturity, the mind opens to objects without end, agreeable and disagreeable, which raise in us a desire to attain the former and avoid the latter. The will is influenced by desire; and the actions thus performed are termed voluntary.
But to have an accurate conception of human nature, it is necessary to be more particular. To incline, to intend, to consent, to resolve, to will, are acts of the mind preparatory to external action. These several acts are well understood, tho’ they cannot be defined, being perfectly simple. As every act implies a power to act, the acts mentioned must be the effects of mental powers. The mind cannot determine without having a power to determine, nor will without having a power to will.
Instinctive actions are exerted without any previous desire or motive, and without any previous act of will. Actions influenced by desire or motives are very different. In such actions, will is essential to connect the desire or motive with the external act. A man who desires or is moved to perform an external act in view, must have a power to determine himself: that power is termed will; and the deter-mination is an act of will. With respect to external acts influenced by desire, we cannot even move a finger, without a previous act of will directing that motion. We are very sensible of this determination or act of will, when we deliberate upon motives that tend to different ends. The mind for some time is suspended, deliberates, and at last determines according to the strongest motive. But there must also be a determination where there is but a single motive, though not so perceptible. Being called to dinner when hungry, I instantly obey the call. I cannot go to dinner without first determining to rise from my seat. And it is this determination that intitles it to be called a voluntary act, as much as where the determination is the result of the most anxious deliberation.2
Some effects require a train of actions; walking, reading, singing. Where these actions are uniform, as in walking, or nearly so, as in playing on a musical instrument, an act of will is only necessary at the commencement: the train proceeds by habit without any new act of will. The body is antecedently adjusted to the uniform progress; and is disturbed if any thing unexpected happen: in walking, for example, a man feels a shock if he happen to tread on ground higher or lower than his body was prepared for. The power thus acquired by habit of acting without will, is an illustrious branch of our nature; for upon it depend all the arts, both the fine and the useful. To play on the violin, requires wonderful swiftness of fingers, every motion of which in a learner is preceded by an act of will: and yet by habit solely, an artist moves his fingers with no less accuracy than celerity. Let the most handy person try for the first time to knit a stocking: every motion of the needle demands the strictest attention; and yet a girl of nine or ten will move the needle so swiftly as almost to escape the eye, without once looking on her work. If every motion in the arts required a new act of will, they would remain in infancy for ever; and what would man be in that case? In the foregoing instances, we are conscious of the external operation without being conscious of a cause. But there are various internal operations of which we have no consciousness; and yet that they have existed is made known by their effects. Often have I gone to bed with a confused notion of what I was studying; and have awaked in the morning completely master of the subject. I have heard a new tune of which I carried away but an imperfect conception. A week or perhaps a fortnight after, the tune has occurred to me in perfection; recollecting with difficulty where I heard it. Such things have happened to me frequently, and probably also to others. My mind must have been active in these instances, though I knew nothing of it.3
There still remains another species of actions, termed involuntary. Strictly speaking, every action influenced by a motive is voluntary, because no such action can be done but by an antecedent act of will. But in a less strict sense, actions done contrary to desire are termed involuntary; and they have more or less of that character according to the strength of the motive. A man to free himself from torture, reveals the secrets of his party: his confession is in a degree involuntary, being extorted from him with great reluctance. But let us suppose, that after the firmest resolution to reveal nothing, his mind is unhinged by exquisite torture: the discovery he makes is in the highest degree involuntary.
Man is by his nature an accountable being, answerable for his conduct to God and man. In doing any action that wears a double face, he is prompted by his nature to explain the same to his relations, his friends, his acquaintance; and above all, to those who have authority over him. He hopes for praise for every right action, and dreads blame for every one that is wrong. But for what sort of actions does he hold himself accountable? Not surely for an instinctive action, which is done blindly, without intention and without will: neither for an involuntary action, because it is extorted from him reluctantly, and contrary to his desire; and least of all, for actions done without consciousness. What only remain are voluntary actions proceeding from desire, which are done as we say wittingly and willingly: for these we must account, if at all accountable; and for these every man in conscience holds himself bound to account.
Further upon voluntary actions. To intend and to will, though commonly held synonymous, signify different acts of the mind. Intention respects the effect: Will respects the action that is exerted for producing the effect. It is my Intention, for example, to relieve my friend from distress: upon seeing him, it is my Will to give him a sum for his relief: the external act of giving follows; and my friend is relieved, which is the effect intended. But these internal acts are always united: I cannot will the means, without intending the effect; and I cannot intend the effect, without willing the means.4
Some effects of voluntary action follow necessarily: A wound is an effect that necessarily follows the stabbing a person with a dagger: death is a necessary effect of throwing one down from the battlements of a high tower. Some effects are probable only: I labour in order to provide for my family; fight for my country to rescue it from oppressors; take physic for my health. In such cases, the event intended does not necessarily nor always follow.
A man, when he wills to act, must intend the necessary effect: a person who stabs, certainly intends to wound. But where the effect is probable only, one may act without intending the effect that follows: a stone thrown by me at random into the market-place, may happen to wound a man without my intending it. One acts by instinct, without either will or intention: voluntary actions that necessarily produce their effect, imply intention: voluntary actions, when the effect is probable only, are sometimes intended, sometimes not.
Human actions are distinguished from each other by certain qualities, termed right and wrong. But as these make the corner-stone of morality, they are reserved to the following section.
[1. ]In the 1st edition the following note is added here: “Akin to these, are certain habitual acts done without thought, such as snuffing or grinning. Custom enables one to move the fingers on an instrument of music, without being directed by will: the motion is often too quick for an act of will. Some arrive at great perfection in the art of balancing: the slightest deviation from the just balance is instantly redressed: were a preceding act of will necessary, it would be too late. An unexpected hollow in walking, occasions a violent shock: is not this evidence, that external motion is governed by the mind, frequently without consciousness; and that in walking, the body is adjusted beforehand to what is expected?” [2:243].
[2. ]This paragraph and the preceding one on p. 702 were added in the 3rd edition.
[3. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[4. ]In the 1st and 2nd editions the following note is added here: “To incline, to resolve, to intend, to will, are acts of the mind relative to external action. These several acts are well understood; tho’ they cannot be defined, being perfectly simple” [2:245].