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§ 6.: That Moral Approbation implies a Real Judgment - Thomas Reid, Selections from the Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense 
Selections from the Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense, edited, with an introduction by G.A. Johnston (Chicago: Open Court, 1915).
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That Moral Approbation implies a Real Judgment
The approbation of good actions, and disapprobation of bad, are so familiar to every man come to years of understanding, that it seems strange there should be any dispute about their nature.
Whether we reflect upon our own conduct, or attend to the conduct of others with whom we live, or of whom we hear or read, we cannot help approving of some things, disapproving of others, and regarding many with perfect indifference.
These operations of our minds we are conscious of every day and almost every hour we live. Men of ripe understanding are capable of reflecting upon them, and of attending to what passes in their own thoughts on such occasions; yet, for half a century, it has been a serious dispute among philosophers what this approbation and disapprobation is, Whether there be a real judgment included in it, which, like all other judgments, must be true or false; or, Whether it include no more but some agreeable or uneasy feeling, in the person who approves or disapproves.
Mr Hume observes very justly, that this is a controversy started of late. Before the modern system of Ideas and Impressions was introduced, nothing would have appeared more absurd than to say, that when I condemn a man for what he has done, I pass no judgment at all about the man, but only express some uneasy feeling in myself.
Nor did the new system produce this discovery at once, but gradually, by several steps, according as its consequences were more accurately traced, and its spirit more thoroughly imbibed by successive philosophers.
Des Cartes and Mr Locke went no farther than to maintain that the Secondary Qualities of body—Heat and Cold, Sound, Colour, Taste, and Smell—which we perceive and judge to be in the external object, are mere feelings or sensations in our minds, there being nothing in bodies themselves to which these names can be applied; and that the office of the external senses is not to judge of external things, but only to give us ideas of sensations, from which we are by reasoning to deduce the existence of a material world without us, as well as we can.
Arthur Collier and Bishop Berkeley discovered, from the same principles, that the Primary, as well as the Secondary, Qualities of bodies, such as Extension, Figure, Solidity, Motion, are only sensations in our minds; and, therefore, that there is no material world without us at all.
The same philosophy, when it came to be applied to matters of taste, discovered that beauty and deformity are not anything in the objects, to which men, from the beginning of the world, ascribed them, but certain feelings in the mind of the spectator.
The next step was an easy consequence from all the preceding, that Moral Approbation and Disapprobation are not Judgments, which must be true or false, but barely agreeable and uneasy Feelings or Sensations.
Mr Hume made the last step in this progress, and crowned the system by what he calls his hypothesis—to wit, That Belief is more properly an act of the Sensitive than of the Cogitative part of our nature.
Beyond this I think no man can go in this track; sensation or feeling is all, and what is left to the cogitative part of our nature, I am not able to comprehend.
I have had occasion to consider each of these paradoxes, excepting that which relates to morals, in “Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man”; and, though they be strictly connected with each other, and with the system which has produced them, I have attempted to shew that they are inconsistent with just notions of our intellectual powers, no less than they are with the common sense and common language of mankind. And this, I think, will likewise appear with regard to the conclusion relating to morals—to wit, That moral approbation is only an agreeable feeling, and not a real judgment.
To prevent ambiguity as much as possible, let us attend to the meaning of Feeling and of Judgment. These operations of the mind, perhaps, cannot be logically defined; but they are well understood, and easily distinguished, by their properties and adjuncts.
A feeling must be agreeable, or uneasy, or indifferent. It may be weak or strong. It is expressed in language either by a single word, or by such a contexture of words as may be the subject or predicate of a proposition, but such as cannot by themselves make a proposition. For it implies neither affirmation nor negation; and therefore cannot have the qualities of true or false, which distinguish propositions from all other forms of speech, and judgments from all other acts of the mind.
That I have such a feeling, is indeed an affirmative proposition, and expresses testimony grounded upon an intuitive judgment. But the feeling is only one term of this proposition; and it can only make a proposition when joined with another term, by a verb affirming or denying.
As feeling distinguishes the animal nature from the inanimate; so judging seems to distinguish the rational nature from the merely animal.
Though judgment in general is expressed by one word in language, as the most complex operations of the mind may be; yet a particular judgment can only be expressed by a sentence, and by that kind of sentence which logicians call a proposition, in which there must necessarily be a verb in the indicative mood, either expressed or understood.
Every judgment must necessarily be true or false, and the same may be said of the proposition which expresses it. It is a determination of the understanding, with regard to what is true, or false, or dubious.
In judgment, we can distinguish the object about which we judge, from the act of the mind in judging of that object. In mere feeling there is no such distinction. The object of judgment must be expressed by a proposition; and belief, disbelief, or doubt, always accompanies the judgment we form. If we judge the proposition to be true, we must believe it; if we judge it to be false, we must disbelieve it; and if we be uncertain whether it be true or false, we must doubt.
These two operations of mind, when we consider them separately, are very different, and easily distinguished. When we feel without judging, or judge without feeling, it is impossible, without very gross inattention, to mistake the one for the other.
But in many operations of the mind, both are inseparably conjoined under one name; and when we are not aware that the operation is complex, we may take one ingredient to be the whole, and overlook the other.
But in most of the operations of mind in which judgment or belief is combined with feeling, the feeling is the consequence of the judgment, and is regulated by it.
Let me now consider how I am affected when I see a man exerting himself nobly in a good cause. I am conscious that the effect of his conduct on my mind is complex, though it may be called by one name. I look up to his virtue, I approve, I admire it. In doing so, I have pleasure indeed, or an agreeable feeling; this is granted. But I find myself interested in his success and in his fame. This is affection; it is love and esteem, which is more than mere feeling. The man is the object of this esteem; but in mere feeling there is no object.
I am likewise conscious that this agreeable feeling in me, and this esteem of him, depend entirely upon the judgment I form of his conduct. I judge that this conduct merits esteem; and, while I thus judge, I cannot but esteem him, and contemplate his conduct with pleasure. Persuade me that he was bribed, or that he acted from some mercenary or bad motive, immediately my esteem and my agreeable feeling vanish.
In the approbation of a good action, therefore, there is feeling indeed, but there is also esteem of the agent; and both the feeling and the esteem depend upon the judgment we form of his conduct.
When I exercise my moral faculty about my own actions or those of other men, I am conscious that I judge as well as feel. I accuse and excuse, I acquit and condemn, I assent and dissent, I believe and disbelieve, and doubt. These are acts of judgment, and not feelings.
Suppose that, in a case well known to both, my friend says—Such a man did well and worthily, his conduct is highly approvable. This speech, according to all rules of interpretation, expresses my friend’s judgment of the man’s conduct. This judgment may be true or false, and I may agree in opinion with him, or I may dissent from him without offence, as we may differ in other matters of judgment.
Suppose, again, that, in relation to the same case, my friend says—The man’s conduct gave me a very agreeable feeling.
This speech, if approbation be nothing but an agreeable feeling, must have the very same meaning with the first, and express neither more nor less. But this cannot be, for two reasons.
First, Because there is no rule in grammar or rhetoric, nor any usage in language, by which these two speeches can be construed so as to have the same meaning. The first expresses plainly an opinion or judgment of the conduct of the man, but says nothing of the speaker. The second only testifies a fact concerning the speaker—to wit, that he had such a feeling.
Another reason why these two speeches cannot mean the same thing is, that the first may be contradicted without any ground of offence, such contradiction being only a difference of opinion, which, to a reasonable man, gives no offence. But the second speech cannot be contradicted without an affront: for, as every man must know his own feelings, to deny that a man had a feeling which he affirms he had, is to charge him with falsehood.
If moral approbation be a real judgment, which produces an agreeable feeling in the mind of him who judges, both speeches are perfectly intelligible, in the most obvious and literal sense. Their meaning is different, but they are related, so that the one may be inferred from the other, as we infer the effect from the cause, or the cause from the effect. I know, that what a man judges to be a very worthy action, he contemplates with pleasure; and what he contemplates with pleasure must, in his judgment, have worth. But the judgment and the feeling are different acts of his mind, though connected as cause and effect. He can express either the one or the other with perfect propriety; but the speech, which expresses his feeling, is altogether improper and inept to express his judgment, for this evident reason, that judgment and feeling, though in some cases connected, are things in their nature different.1
OF MAN’S PROGRESSIVE NATURE
There is in nature a well-known distinction of things progressive, and stationary, to which we must attend in the farther pursuit of our subject.
To be stationary, it is not necessary that a subject should be incapable of change, even from the action of any external cause; it is sufficient that it have not any principle of change in its own nature. To be progressive, on the contrary, does not consist in any variation or change which an external cause may produce; but in those transitions, from one state to another, which proceed from a principle of advancement in the subject itself.
A block of stone, from the quarry, may receive, in the hands of a workman, any variety of forms, but left to itself, would remain in its state.
A seedling plant on the contrary, in a favourable soil and exposure, takes root and grows of itself.
Progressive natures are subject to vicissitudes of advancement or decline, but are not stationary, perhaps, in any period of their existence. Thus, in the material world, subjects organized being progressive, when they cease to advance, begin to decline, however insensibly, at the time of their transition from one to the other. In this consist the operation or failure of vegetable and animal life. In their advancement, the matter of which they are composed accumulates, and at every period acquires a form that approaches to the end of their progress. The principle of life itself gains strength or ability to discharge, and to vary, the functions of nature. In their decline they fade, shrink, and abate of their vigour and force.
Intelligence appears to be, in a still higher degree, a principle of progression, and subject to greater extremes of comparative advancement or degradation. It is advanced by continual accessions of observation and knowledge; of skill and habit, in the practice of arts; of improving discernment of good and evil; of resolute purpose or power. It declines through defect of memory, discernment, affection, and resolution.
While subjects stationary are described by the enumeration of co-existent parts, and quiescent qualities, subjects progressive are characterized by the enumeration of steps, in the passage from one form or state of existence to another, and by the termination or point of approach, whether near or remote, to which the successive movements of their nature are directed.
The rank of a progressive subject is to be estimated, not by its condition at any particular stage of its progress, but by its capacity and destination to advance in the scale of being. From the feeblest shoot or seed-leaf of the oak, though more diminutive than many plants of the garden, we already forecast the stately fabric it is designed to raise in the forest. In the human infant, though inferior to the young of many other animals, we anticipate the beauty of youth, the vigorous soul of manhood, and the wisdom of age. And the highest rank, in the scale of created existence, is due to that nature, if such there be, which is destined to grow in perfection, and may grow without end: its good is advancement, and its evil, decline.
We are inclined to consider progression as made up of stationary periods; as we consider a circle as a polygon of an infinite number of sides; a fluid as made up of solid parts indefinitely small; and duration itself, as made up of successive points, or indivisible moments of time.
In this our conception is inaccurate, and our reasoning, of course, likely to become incorrect. Progression may, no doubt, be divided into periods; but in no period, perhaps, is the subject stationary. Every subdivision, like the whole of its progress, is a transition from one state to another, and through states intermediate, more or less numerous according to the divisions under which we are pleased to conceive them. The progress of intelligent being, for instance, may be more or less rapid, but is continual; and in the very continuance of existence, and the repetition of consciousness and perception, must receive continual increments of knowledge and thought. Or in the failure of the source from which it derives improvement, it is likely to incur degradation and decline.
For our purpose, however, it is sufficient to observe, that the state of nature or the distinctive character of any progressive being is to be taken, not from its description at the outset, or at any subsequent stage of its progress; but from an accumulative view of its movement throughout. The oak is distinguishable from the pine, not merely by its seed leaf; but by every successive aspect of its form; by its foliage in every successive season; by its acorn; by its spreading top; by its lofty growth, and the length of its period. And the state of nature, relative to every tree in the wood, includes all the varieties of form or dimension through which it is known to pass in the course of its nature.
By parity of reason, the natural state of a living creature includes all its known variations, from the embryo and the fœtus to the breathing animal, the adolescent and the adult, through which life in all its varieties is known to pass.
The state of nature, relative to man, is also a state of progression equally real, and of greater extent. The individual receives the first stamina of his frame in a growing state. His stature is waxing, his limbs and his organs gain strength, and he himself a growing facility in the use of them. His faculties improve by exercise, and are in a continual state of exertion.
If his thoughts pass from one subject to another, he can return to the subject he has left, with some acquired advantage of discernment or comprehension. He accumulates perceptions and observations, takes cognizance of new subjects, without forgetting the old; knows more, of course, at every subsequent period than he did in a former; reasons more securely; penetrates obscurities, which at first embarrassed him; and performs every operation of thought with more facility and more success.
With respect to the period of his existence he sees it but in part. When he looks back to the point from which he set out, he cannot descry it; when he looks forward to the end of his line, he cannot foresee it. He may observe the birth and the death of a fellow creature, but knows nothing of his own. If he were to assume the earliest date he remembers as the beginning of his existence, he might soon be convinced that he overlooked a considerable period which had preceded; or if he should suppose his being to end with the dissolution of his animal frame, it is possible he might be equally mistaken. Yet he finds nothing in the world around him beyond the limits of what he can collect from the remembrance of the past, or infer by sagacity from the laws of nature in foresight of the future, from which he can fix any certain marks of his own beginning or his end.
Such, without entering into the peculiarities or unequal degrees of power incident to different men, we may assume as the state of nature relative to the individual.
The state of nature relative to the species is differently constituted, and of different extent. It consists in the continual succession of one generation to another; in progressive attainments made by different ages; communicated with additions from age to age; and in periods, the farthest advanced, not appearing to have arrived at any necessary limit. This progress indeed is subject to interruption, and may come to a close, or give way to vicissitude at any of its stages; but not more necessarily at the period of highest attainment than at any other.
So long as the son continues to be taught what the father knew, or the pupil begins where the tutor has ended, and is equally bent on advancement; to every generation the state of arts and accommodations already in use serves but as groundwork for new invention and successive improvement. As Newton did not acquiesce in what was observed by Kepler and Galileo; no more have successive astronomers restricted their view to what Newton has demonstrated. And, with respect to the mechanic and commercial arts, even in the midst of the most laboured accommodations, so long as there is any room for improvement, invention is busy as if nothing had yet been done to supply the necessities, or complete the conveniences of human life. But even here, and in all its steps of progression, this active nature, in respect to the advantages, whether of knowledge or art, derived from others, if there be not a certain effort to advance, is exposed to reverse and decline. The generation, in which there is no desire to know more or practise better than its predecessors, will probably neither know so much nor practise so well. And the decline of successive generations, under this wane of intellectual ability, is not less certain than the progress made under the operation of a more active and forward disposition.
Such is the state of nature relative to the human species; and, in this, as in every other progressive subject, the present being intermediate to the past and the future, may be different from either. Each is a part of the whole; and neither can, with any reason, be said to be more natural than the others. It cannot be said, that it is more natural for the oak to spring from its seed than to overshadow the plain; that it is more natural for water to gush from the land in springs than to flow in rivers, and to mix with the sea.
The state of nature relative to man, however, is sometimes a mere term of abstraction, in which he is stated apart from the society he forms, from the art he invents, the science he acquires, or the political establishment he makes. And, when his progress in any of these respects is to be considered, it is no doubt convenient to consider the particular in question apart from himself, and from every thing else. It is not, however, to be supposed, that man ever existed apart from the qualities and operations of his own nature, or that any one operation and quality existed without the others. The whole, indeed, is connected together, and any part may vary in measure or degree, while in its nature and kind it is still the same.
The child may be considered apart from his parent, and the parent apart from his child; but the latter would not have existed without the former. If we trace human society back to this its simplest constitution, even there the society was real. If we trace human thought back to its simplest exertions, even there it was an exercise of understanding, and some effort of invention or skill.
The groups in which the rudest of men were placed, had their chiefs and their members; and nothing that the human species ever attained, in the latest period of its progress, was altogether without a germ or principle from which it is derived, in the earliest or most ancient state of mankind.
It may no doubt be convenient, we may again repeat, in speculation, or in assigning the origin and in deriving the progress of any attainment, to consider the attainment itself abstractly, or apart from the faculty or power by which it is made; and we must not deny ourselves the use of such abstractions, in treating of human nature, any more than in treating of any other subject. But there is a caution to be observed in the use of abstractions, relating to any subject whatever: That they be not mistaken for realities, nor obtruded for historical facts.
The language of geometry is necessarily abstract. A point is mere place, considered apart from any dimension whatever. A line is length, considered apart from breadth or thickness. A surface is length and breadth, considered apart from thickness. And, in a solid, all the dimensions of length, breadth, and thickness, are admitted. But the geometrical abstractions are nowhere mistaken for realities: length is not supposed to exist without breadth, nor length and breadth without thickness. Or, if such mistakes are actually made, yet, no one would infer that lines are more natural than surfaces, or surfaces more natural than solids.
Such mistake and misapprehension of terms is scarcely admitted, except in treating of human nature. In every other progressive subject, progression itself, not any particular step in the progress, is supposed to constitute the natural state. The last shoot of the oak, after it has stood five hundred years in the forest, and carried a thousand branches, is not deemed less natural than the first.
Under this term, of the State of Nature, authors affect to look back to the first ages of man, not without some apparent design to depreciate his nature, by placing his origin in some unfavourable point of view; as we derogate, from the supposed honours of a family, by looking back to the mechanics or peasants, from whom its ancestors were descended.
Hobbes contended, that men were originally in a state of war, and undisposed to amity or peace; that society, altogether unnatural to its members, is to be established and preserved by force. Or this, at least, may be supposed to follow from his general assumption that the state of nature was a state of war.
If this point must be seriously argued, we may ask in what sense war is the state of nature? Not surely the only state of which men are susceptible; for we find them at peace as well as at war: nor can we suppose it the state which mankind ought at all times to prefer; for it labours under many inconveniences and defects. But it was, we may be told, the first and the earliest state, from which men were relieved by convention and adventitious establishments.
This assertion, that war was the earliest state of mankind, is made without proof; for the first ages of the human species, in times past, are as little known as the last, that may close the scene of its being in times to come. In every progression, it is true, may be conceived a point of origin, and a point of termination, to be collected from the direction in which the progress proceeds. The sun, even by a person who never saw him rise or set, may be supposed, from the course he holds, to have risen in the east, and to set in the west. Man, who is advancing in knowledge and art, may be supposed to have begun in ignorance or rudeness; but it is not necessary to suppose that a species, of whom the individuals are sometimes at war, and sometimes at peace, must have begun in war. There is, on the contrary, much reason to suppose, that they began in peace, and continued in peace, until some occasion of quarrel arose between them.
The progress of the species, in population and numbers, implies an original peace, at least, between the sexes, and between the parent and his child, in family together; and, if we are to suppose a state of war between brothers, this, at least, must have been posterior to the peace in which they were born and brought up, to the peace in which they arrived at the possession of those talents, and that force, which they come to employ for mutual destruction.
Another philosopher, in this school of nature, has chosen to fix the original description of man, in a state of brutality, unconscious of himself, and ignorant of his kind; so far from being destined to the use of reason, that all the attempts he has made at the exercise of this dangerous faculty have opened but one continual source of depravation and misery.
But, as the former of these philosophers has not told us what beneficent power, different from man himself, has made peace for this refractory being; no more has the other informed us, who invented reason for man; whose thoughts and reflections first disturbed the tranquillity of his brutal nature, and brought this victim of care into this anxious state of reflection, to which are imputed so many of his follies and sufferings.
Until we are told by whom the state of nature was done away, and a new one substituted, we must continue to suppose that this is the work of man himself; and the whole of what these shrewd philosophers have taught, amounts to no more than this, that man would be found in a state of war, or in a state of brutality, if it were not for himself, for his own qualifications and his endeavours to obtain a better; and that, in reality, the situation he gains is the effect of a faculty by which he is disposed to choose for himself.
This we are ready to admit. Man is made for society and the attainments of reason. If, by any conjuncture, he is deprived of these advantages, he will sooner or later find his way to them. If he came from a beginning, defective in these respects, he was, from the first, disposed to supply his defects; in process of time has actually done so; continued to improve upon every advantage he gains; and thus to advance, we may again repeat, is the state of nature relative to him.
It were absurd to think of depreciating a progressive being, by pointing out the state of defect, from which he has passed, to the attainment of a better and a higher condition; for so to pass is the specific excellence of his nature.
The grandeur of the forest is not the less real, for its having sprung up from among the weeds of the field: the genius of Newton not the less to be admired, for his having grown up from the ignorance and simplicity of his infant years: nor the policy of Athens, Sparta, or Rome, less to be valued, because they may have sprung from hordes, no way superior to those who are now found in different parts of Africa or America.
It is the nature of progression to have an origin, far short of the attainments which it is directed to make; and not any precise measure of attainment, but the passage or transition from defect to perfection is that which constitutes the felicity of a progressive nature. The happy being, accordingly, whose destination is to better himself, must not consider the defect under which he labours, at the outset, or in any subsequent part of his progress, as a limit set to his ambition, but as an occasion and a spur to his efforts.
The life and activity of intelligent beings consists in the consciousness or perception of an improveable state, and in the effort to operate upon it for the better. This constitutes an unremitting principle of ambition in human nature. Men have different objects, and succeed unequally in the pursuit of them: but every person, in one sense or another, is earnest to better himself.
Man is by nature an artist, endowed with ingenuity, discernment, and will. These faculties he is qualified to employ on different materials; but is chiefly concerned to employ them on himself: over this subject his power is most immediate and most complete; as he may know the law, according to which his progress is effected, by conforming himself to it, he may hasten or secure the result.
The bulk of mankind are, like other parts of the system, subjected to the law of their nature, and, without knowing it, are led to accomplish its purpose: while they intend no more than subsistence and accommodation or the peace of society, and the safety of their persons and their property, their faculties are brought into use, and they profit by exercise. In mutually conducting their relative interests and concerns, they acquire the habits of political life; are made to taste of their highest enjoyments, in the affections of benevolence, integrity, and elevation of mind; and, before they have deliberately considered in what the merit or felicity of their own nature consist, have already learned to perform many of its noblest functions.
Nature in this as in many other instances does not entrust the conduct of her works to the precarious views and designs of any subordinate agent. But if the progress of man in every instance were matter of necessity or even of contingency, and no way dependent on his will, nor subjected to his command, we should conclude that this sovereign rank and responsibility of a moral agent with which he is vested were given in vain; and the capacity of erecting a fabric of art, on the foundation of the laws of nature, were denied to him in that department precisely in which they are of the highest account. If he may work on the clay that is placed under his foot, and form it into models of grace and beauty; if he may employ the powers of gravitation, elasticity, and magnetism, as the ministers of his pleasure; we may suppose, also, that the knowledge of laws operating on himself should direct him how to proceed, and enable him to hasten the advantages, to which his progressive nature is competent. If his Maker have destined his faculties to improve by exercise, and by the attainment of habits, there is no doubt that he himself may choose what exercise he will perform, and what habits he shall acquire.
But in order to profit by the laws of progression which take place in his frame, it behoves him to recollect what they are, and to take his resolution respecting the purpose to which he will apply their force.
To this object, he is urged at once by the double consideration of a good to be obtained, and of an evil to be avoided. Most subjects in nature, which, from the energy of a salutary principle, are susceptible of advancement, are likewise, by the failure or abuse of that principle, susceptible of degradation and ruin. Plants and animals are known to perish, in the same gradual manner in which they advance into strength and beauty. Man, with whom the sources of good and of evil are more entrusted to his own management, is likewise exposed, in a much higher degree, to the extremes of comparative degradation and misery. The progress of nations in one age to high measures of intellectual attainment and cultivated manners is not more remarkable than the decline that sometimes ensues in their fall to extreme depravation and intellectual debility.
It may not be in the power of the individual greatly to promote the advancement or to retard the decline of his country. But every person, being principally interested in himself, is the absolute master of his own will, and for the choice he shall have made is alone responsible.1
OF THE PERCEPTION OF TRUTH IN GENERAL
On hearing these propositions,—I exist, things equal to one and the same thing are equal to one another, the sun rose to-day, there is a God, ingratitude ought to be blamed and punished, the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, etc.—I am conscious that my mind admits and acquiesces in them. I say, that I believe them to be true; that is, I conceive them to express something conformable to the nature of things. Of the contrary propositions I should say, that my mind does not acquiesce in them, but disbelieves them, and conceives them to express something not conformable to the nature of things. My judgment in this case, I conceive to be the same that I should form in regard to these propositions, if I were perfectly acquainted with all nature, in all its parts, and in all its laws.
If I be asked, what I mean by the nature of things, I cannot otherwise explain myself than by saying, that there is in my mind something which induces me to think, that every thing existing in nature is determined to exist, and to exist after a certain manner, in consequence of established laws; and that whatever is agreeable to those laws is agreeable to the nature of things, because by those laws the nature of all things is determined. Of those laws I do not pretend to know any thing except so far as they seem to be intimated to me by my own feelings, and by the suggestions of my own understanding. But these feelings and suggestions are such, and affect me in such a manner, that I cannot help receiving them, and trusting in them, and believing that their intimations are not fallacious, but such as I should approve if I were perfectly acquainted with every thing in the universe, and such as I may approve, and admit of, and regulate my conduct by, without danger of any inconvenience.
It is not easy on this subject to avoid identical expressions. I am not certain that I have been able to avoid them. And perhaps I might have expressed my meaning more shortly and more clearly, by saying, that I account that to be truth which the constitution of our nature determines us to believe, and that to be falsehood which the constitution of our nature determines us to disbelieve. Believing and disbelieving are simple acts of the mind; I can neither define nor describe them in words; and therefore the reader must judge of their nature from his own experience. We often believe what we afterwards find to be false; but while belief continues, we think it true; when we discover its falsity, we believe it no longer.
Hitherto I have used the word belief to denote an act of the mind which attends the perception of truth in general. But truths are of different kinds; some are certain, others only probable: and we ought not to call that act of the mind which attends the perception of certainty, and that which attends the perception of probability, by one and the same name. Some have called the former conviction, and the latter assent. All convictions are equally strong; but assent admits of innumerable degrees, from moral certainty, which is the highest degree, downward, through the several stages of opinion, to that suspense of judgment which is called doubt.
We may, without absurdity, speak of probable truth, as well as of certain truth. Whatever a rational being is determined, by the constitution of his nature, to admit as probable, may be called probable truth; the acknowledgment of it is as universal as that rational nature, and will be as permanent. But, in this enquiry, we propose to confine ourselves chiefly to that kind of truth which may be called certain, which enforces our conviction, and the belief of which, in a sound mind, is not tinctured with any doubt or uncertainty.
The investigation and perception of truth is commonly ascribed to our rational faculties; and these have by some been reduced to two,—Reason and Judgment; the former being supposed to be conversant about certain truths, the latter chiefly about probabilities. But certain truths are not all of the same kind; some being supported by one sort of evidence and others by another: different energies of the understanding must therefore be exerted in perceiving them; and these different energies must be expressed by different names, if we would speak of them distinctly and intelligibly. The certainty of some truths, for instance, is perceived intuitively; the certainty of others is perceived not intuitively, but in consequence of a proof. Most of the propositions of Euclid are of the latter kind; the axioms of geometry are of the former. Now, if that faculty by which we perceive truth in consequence of a proof, be called Reason, that power by which we perceive self-evident truth ought to be distinguished by a different name. It is of little consequence what name we make choice of, provided that in choosing it we depart not from the analogy of language; and that, in applying it, we avoid equivocation and ambiguity. Some philosophers of note have given the name of Common Sense to that faculty by which we perceive self-evident truth; and, as the term seems proper enough, we shall adopt it.1
The term Common Sense has several different significations. 1. Sometimes it seems to be synonymous with prudence. Thus we say, that a man has a large stock of common sense, who is quick in perceiving remote consequences, and thence instantaneously determines concerning the propriety of present conduct. 2. We often meet with persons of great sagacity in most of the ordinary affairs of life, and very capable of accurate reasoning, who yet, without any bad intention, commit blunders in regard to decorum; by saying or doing what is offensive to their company, and inconsistent with their own character; and this we are apt to impute to a defect in common sense. But it seems rather to be owing to a defect in that kind of sensibility, or sympathy, by which we suppose ourselves in the situations of others, adopt their sentiments, and in a manner perceive their thoughts; and which is indeed the foundation of good breeding. It is by this secret, and sudden, and (to those who are unacquainted with it) inexplicable communication of feelings, that a man is enabled to avoid what would appear incongruous or offensive. They who are prompted by inclination, or obliged by necessity, to study the art of recommending themselves to others, acquire a wonderful facility in perceiving and avoiding all possible ways of giving offence; which is a proof, that this kind of sensibility may be improved by habit; although there are, no doubt, in respect of this, as well as of some other modifications of perception, original and constitutional differences in the frame of different minds. 3. Some men are distinguished by an uncommon acuteness in discovering the characters of others; they seem to read the soul in the countenance, and with a single glance to penetrate the deepest recesses of the heart. In their presence, the hypocrite is detected, notwithstanding his specious outside; the gay effrontery of the coxcomb cannot conceal his insignificance; and the man of merit appears conspicuous under all the disguises of an ungainly modesty. This talent is sometimes called Common Sense; but improperly. It is far from being common; it is even exceedingly rare: it is to be found in men who are not remarkable for any other mental excellence; and we often see those who in other respects are judicious enough, quite destitute of it. 4. Neither ought every common opinion to be referred to common sense. Modes in dress, religion, and conversation, however absurd in themselves, may suit the notions or the taste of a particular people: but none of us will say, that it is agreeable to common sense, to worship more gods than one; to believe that one and the same body may be in ten thousand different places at the same time; to like a face the better because it is painted, or to dislike a person because he does not lisp in his pronunciation. Lastly, the term Common Sense has been used by some philosophers to signify that power of the mind which perceives truth, or commands belief, not by progressive argumentation, but by an instantaneous and instinctive impulse; derived neither from education nor from habit, but from nature; acting independently on our will, whenever its object is presented, according to an established law, and therefore not improperly called Sense; and acting in a similar manner upon all mankind, and therefore properly called Common Sense. It is in this signification that the term Common Sense is used in the present enquiry.
That there is a real and essential difference between these two faculties; that common sense cannot be accounted for, by being called the perfection of reason, nor reason, by being resolved into common sense, will perhaps appear from the following remarks. 1. We are conscious, from internal feeling, that the energy of understanding which perceives intuitive truth, is different from that other energy which unites a conclusion with a first principle, by a gradual chain of intermediate relations. We believe the truth of an investigated conclusion, because we can assign a reason for our belief; we believe an intuitive principle, without being able to assign any other reason but this, that we know it to be true; or that the law of our nature, or the constitution of the human understanding, determines us to believe it. 2. We cannot discern any necessary connection between reason and common sense: they are indeed generally connected; but we can conceive a being endued with the one who is destitute of the other. Nay, we often find, that this is in fact the case. In dreams, we sometimes reason without common sense. Through a defect of common sense, we adopt absurd principles; but supposing our principles true, our reasoning is often unexceptionable.1
In the science of body, glorious discoveries have been made by a right use of reason. When men are once satisfied to take things as they find them; when they believe Nature upon her bare declaration, without suspecting her of any design to impose upon them; when their utmost ambition is to be her servants and interpreters; then, and not till then, will philosophy prosper. But of those who have applied themselves to the science of human nature, it may truly be said, (of many of them at least), that too much reasoning hath made them mad. Nature speaks to us by our external, as well as by our internal, senses; it is strange that we should believe her in the one case, and not in the other; it is most strange, that supposing her fallacious, we should think ourselves capable of detecting the cheat. Common sense tells me, that the ground on which I stand is hard, material, and solid, and has a real, separate, independent existence. Berkeley and Hume tell me, that I am imposed upon in this matter; for that the ground under my feet is really an idea in my mind; that its very essence consists in being perceived; and that the same instant it ceases to be perceived, it must also cease to exist; in a word, that to be, and to be perceived, when predicated of the ground, the sun, the starry heavens, or any corporeal object, signify precisely the same thing. Now, if my common sense be mistaken, who shall ascertain and correct the mistake? Our reason, it is said. Are then the inferences of reason in this instance clearer, and more decisive, than the dictates of common sense? By no means: I still trust to my common sense as before; and I feel that I must do so. But supposing the inferences of the one faculty as clear and decisive as the dictates of the other; yet who will assure me, that my reason is less liable to mistake than my common sense? And if reason be mistaken, what shall we say? Is this mistake to be rectified by a second reasoning, as liable to mistake as the first?—In a word, we must deny the distinction between truth and falsehood, adopt universal scepticism, and wander without end from one maze of uncertainty to another; a state of mind so miserable, that Milton makes it one of the torments of the damned;—or else we must suppose, that one of these faculties is of higher authority than the other; and that either reason ought to submit to common sense, or common sense to reason, whenever a variance happens between them:—in other words, that no doctrine ought to be admitted as true that exceeds belief, and contradicts a first principle.
It has been said, that every enquiry in philosophy ought to begin with doubt;—that nothing is to be taken for granted, and nothing believed, without proof. If this be admitted, it must also be admitted, that reason is the ultimate judge of truth, to which common sense must continually act in subordination. But this I cannot admit; because I am able to prove the contrary by incontestable evidence. I am able to prove, that “except we believe many things without proof, we never can believe any thing at all; for that all sound reasoning must ultimately rest on the principles of common sense; that is, on principles intuitively certain or intuitively probable; and consequently, that common sense is the ultimate judge of truth, to which reason must continually act in subordination.”—This I mean to prove by a fair induction of particulars.1
OF THE OBJECT OF PHILOSOPHY, AND THE METHOD OF PROSECUTING PHILOSOPHICAL INQUIRIES
1. All the different kinds of philosophical inquiry, and all that practical knowledge which guides our conduct in life, presuppose such an established order in the succession of events, as enables us to form conjectures concerning the future, from the observation of the past.
2. In the phenomena of the material world, and in many of the phenomena of mind, more especially in those which depend on the instincts of the brutes, we expect, with the most perfect confidence, that in the same combinations of circumstances the same results will take place; and it is owing to this expectation (justified by the experience of all ages) that the instincts of the brutes, as well as the laws of matter, become a source of power to man. In both cases, the established order of nature affords abundant evidence that it was chiefly with a view to our accommodation and happiness that the arrangements of this world were made. The laws which regulate the course of human affairs, are investigated with much greater difficulty: but, even in this class of events, such a degree of order may frequently be traced, as furnishes general rules of great practical utility; and this order becomes the more apparent, in proportion as we generalize our observations.
3. Our knowledge of the laws of nature is entirely the result of observation and experiment; for there is no instance in which we perceive such a necessary connexion between two successive events, as might enable us to infer the one from the other by reasoning a priori. We find, from experience, that certain events are invariably conjoined, so that when we see the one, we expect the other; but our knowledge in such cases extends no farther than the fact.
4. To ascertain those established conjunctions of successive events, which constitute the order of the universe;—to record the phenomena which it exhibits to our observation, and to refer them to their general laws, is the great business of philosophy. Lord Bacon was the first person who was fully aware of the importance of this fundamental truth. The ancients considered philosophy as the science of causes; and hence were led to many speculations, to which the human faculties are altogether incompetent.
5. The ultimate object of philosophical inquiry is the same which every man of plain understanding proposes to himself, when he remarks the events which fall under his observation, with a view to the future regulation of his conduct. The more knowledge of this kind we acquire, the better can we accommodate our plans to the established order of things, and avail ourselves of natural Powers and Agents for accomplishing our purposes.
6. The knowledge of the Philosopher differs from that sagacity which directs uneducated men in the business of life, not in kind, but in degree, and in the manner in which it is acquired. 1st, By artificial combinations of circumstances, or, in other words, by experiments, he discovers many natural conjunctions which would not have occurred spontaneously to his observation. 2dly, By investigating the general Laws of Nature, and by reasoning from them synthetically, he can often trace an established order, where a mere observer of facts would perceive nothing but irregularity. This last process of the mind is more peculiarly dignified with the name of Philosophy; and the object of the rules of philosophizing is to explain in what manner it ought to be conducted.
7. The knowledge which is acquired of the course of Nature by mere observation, is extremely limited, and extends only to cases in which the uniformity of the observed phenomena is apparent to our senses. This happens, either when one single law of nature operates separately, or when different laws are always combined together in the same manner. In most instances, however, when different laws are combined, the result varies in every particular case, according to the different circumstances of the combination; and it is only by knowing what the laws are which are concerned in any expected phenomenon, and by considering in what manner they modify each other’s effects, that the result can be predicted.
8. Hence it follows, that the first step in the study of Philosophy is to ascertain the simple and general laws on which the complicated phenomena of the universe depend. Having obtained these laws, we may proceed safely to reason concerning the effect resulting from any given combination of them. In the former instance, we are said to carry on our inquiries in the way of Analysis; in the latter in that of Synthesis.—[Scala Ascensoria et Descensoria.—Bacon.]
9. To this method of philosophizing, (which is commonly distinguished by the title of the Method of Induction), we are indebted for the rapid progress which physical knowledge has made since the time of Lord Bacon. The publication of his writings fixes one of the most important eras in the history of science. Not that the reformation which has since taken place in the plan of philosophical inquiry is to be ascribed entirely to him; for although he did more to forward it than any other individual, yet his genius and writings seem to have been powerfully influenced by the circumstances and character of the age in which he lived; and there can be little doubt that he only accelerated an event which was already prepared by many concurrent causes.1
OF THE ASSOCIATION OF IDEAS
The effect of custom in connecting together different thoughts, in such a manner that the one seems spontaneously to follow the other, is one of the most obvious facts with respect to the operations of the mind. To this law of our constitution, modern philosophers have given the name of the Association of Ideas. Of late, the phrase has been used in a more extensive sense, to denote the tendency which our thoughts have to succeed each other in a regular train; whether the connexion between them be established by custom, or arise from some other associating principle.
What the different circumstances are which regulate the succession of our thoughts, it is not possible, perhaps, to enumerate completely. The following are some of the most remarkable: Resemblance, Analogy, Contrariety, Vicinity in Place, Vicinity in Time, Relation of Cause and Effect, Relation of Means and End, Relation of Premises and Conclusion. Whether some of these may not be resolvable into others, is not very material to inquire. The most powerful of all the associating principles is undoubtedly Custom; and it is that which leads to the most important inquiries of a practical nature.
Among the associating principles already enumerated, there is an important distinction. The relations on which some of them are founded are obvious; and connect our thoughts together, when the attention is not directed particularly to any subject. Other relations are discovered only in consequence of efforts of meditation or study. Of the former kind are the relations of Resemblance and Analogy, of Contrariety, of Vicinity in Time and Place; of the latter, the Relations of Cause and Effect, of Means and End, of Premises and Conclusion. It is owing to this distinction that transitions, which would be highly offensive in philosophical writing, are the most pleasing of any in poetry.
In so far as the train of our thoughts is regulated by the laws of Association, it depends on causes of the nature of which we are ignorant, and over which we have no direct or immediate control. At the same time it is evident, that the will has some influence over this part of our constitution. To ascertain the extent and the limits of this influence, is a problem of equal curiosity and importance.
We have not a power of summoning up any particular thought, till that thought first solicit our notice. Among a crowd, however, which present themselves, we can choose and reject. We can detail a particular thought, and thus check the train that would otherwise have taken place.
The indirect influence of the will over the train of our thoughts is very extensive. It is exerted chiefly in two ways:—1. By an effort of attention, we can check the spontaneous course of our ideas, and give efficacy to those associating principles which prevail in a studious and collected mind. 2. By practice, we can strengthen a particular associating principle to so great a degree, as to acquire a command over a particular class of our ideas.
The effect of habit, in subjecting to the will those intellectual processes, which are the foundation of wit,—of the mechanical part of poetry, (or, in other words, of the powers of versification and rhyming),—of poetical fancy,—of invention in the arts and sciences; and, above all, its effect in forming a talent for extempore elocution, furnish striking illustrations of this last remark.
Of all the different parts of our constitution, there is none more interesting to the student of Moral Philosophy than the laws which regulate the Association of Ideas. From the intimate and almost indissoluble combinations which we are thus led to form in infancy and in early youth, may be traced many of our speculative errors; many of our most powerful principles of action; many perversions of our moral judgment; and many of those prejudices which mislead us in the conduct of life. By means of a judicious education, this susceptibility of the infant mind might be rendered subservient not only to moral improvement, but to the enlargement and multiplication of our capacities of enjoyment.1
OF THE POWER WHICH THE MIND HAS OVER THE TRAIN OF ITS THOUGHTS
By means of the Association of Ideas, a constant current of thoughts, if I may use the expression, is made to pass through the mind while we are awake. Sometimes the current is interrupted, and the thoughts diverted into a new channel, in consequence of the ideas suggested by other men, or of the objects of perception with which we are surrounded. So completely, however, is the mind in this particular subjected to physical laws, that it has been justly observed,2 we cannot by an effort of our will call up any one thought, and that the train of our ideas depends on causes which operate in a manner inexplicable by us.
This observation, although it has been censured as paradoxical, is almost self-evident; for, to call up a particular thought supposes it to be already in the mind. As I shall have frequent occasion, however, to refer to the observation afterwards, I shall endeavour to obviate the only objection which I think can reasonably be urged against it, and which is founded on that operation of the mind which is commonly called recollection or intentional memory.
It is evident, that before we attempt to recollect the particular circumstances of any event, that event in general must have been an object of our attention. We remember the outlines of the story, but cannot at first give a complete account of it. If we wish to recall these circumstances, there are only two ways in which we can proceed. We must either form different suppositions, and then consider which of these tallies best with the other circumstances of the event; or, by revolving in our mind the circumstances we remember, we must endeavour to excite the recollection of the other circumstances associated with them. The first of these processes is, properly speaking, an inference of reason, and plainly furnishes no exception to the doctrine already delivered. We have an instance of the other mode of recollection, when we are at a loss for the beginning of a sentence in reciting a composition that we do not perfectly remember, in which case we naturally repeat over, two or three times, the concluding words of the preceding sentence, in order to call up the other words which used to be connected with them in the memory. In this instance, it is evident that the circumstances we desire to remember are not recalled to the mind in immediate consequence of an exertion of volition, but are suggested by some other circumstances with which they are connected, independently of our will, by the laws of our constitution.
Notwithstanding, however, the immediate dependence of the train of our thoughts on the laws of association, it must not be imagined that the will possesses no influence over it. This influence, indeed, is not exercised directly and immediately, as we are apt to suppose on a superficial view of the subject; but it is, nevertheless, very extensive in its effects, and the different degrees in which it is possessed by different individuals, constitute some of the most striking inequalities among men, in point of intellectual capacity.
Of the powers which the mind possesses over the train of its thoughts, the most obvious is its power of singling out any one of them at pleasure, of detaining it, and of making it a particular object of attention. By doing so, we not only stop the succession that would otherwise take place, but in consequence of our bringing to view the less obvious relations among our ideas, we frequently divert the current of our thoughts into a new channel. If, for example, when I am indolent and inactive, the name of Sir Isaac Newton accidentally occur to me, it will perhaps suggest one after another the names of some other eminent mathematicians and astronomers, or of some of his illustrious contemporaries and friends, and a number of them may pass in review before me, without engaging my curiosity in any considerable degree. In a different state of mind, the name of Newton will lead my thoughts to the principal incidents of his life, and the more striking features of his character; or, if my mind be ardent and vigorous, will lead my attention to the sublime discoveries he made, and gradually engage me in some philosophical investigation. To every object, there are others which bear obvious and striking relations; and others, also, whose relation to it does not readily occur to us, unless we dwell upon it for some time, and place it before us in different points of view.
But the principal power we possess over the train of our ideas, is founded on the influence which our habits of thinking have on the laws of Association; an influence which is so great, that we may often form a pretty shrewd judgment concerning a man’s prevailing turn of thought, from the transitions he makes in conversation or in writing. It is well known, too, that by means of habit, a particular associating principle may be strengthened to such a degree, as to give us a command of all the different ideas in our mind which have a certain relation to each other, so that when any one of the class occurs to us, we have almost a certainty that it will suggest the rest. What confidence in his own powers must a speaker possess, when he rises without premeditation in a popular assembly, to amuse his audience with a lively or a humorous speech! Such a confidence, it is evident, can only arise from a long experience of the strength of particular associating principles.
To how great a degree this part of our constitution may be influenced by habit, appears from facts which are familiar to every one. A man who has an ambition to become a punster, seldom or never fails in the attainment of his object; that is, he seldom or never fails in acquiring a power which other men have not, of summoning up on a particular occasion a number of words different from each other in meaning, and resembling each other more or less in sound. I am inclined to think that even genuine wit is a habit acquired in a similar way; and that, although some individuals may from natural constitution be more fitted than others to acquire this habit, it is founded in every case on a peculiarly strong association among certain classes of our ideas, which gives the person who possesses it a command over those ideas which is denied to ordinary men. But there is no instance in which the effect of habits of association is more remarkable than in those men who possess a facility of rhyming. That a man should be able to express his thoughts perspicuously and elegantly, under the restraints which rhyme imposes, would appear to be incredible if we did not know it to be fact. Such a power implies a wonderful command both of ideas and of expression, and yet daily experience shews that it may be gained with very little practice. Pope tells us with respect to himself, that he could express himself not only more concisely but more easily in rhyme than in prose.
Nor is it only in these trifling accomplishments that we may trace the influence of habits of association. In every instance of invention, either in the fine arts, in the mechanical arts, or in the sciences, there is some new idea, or some new combination of ideas, brought to light by the inventor. This, undoubtedly, may often happen in a way which he is unable to explain; that is, his invention may be suggested to him by some lucky thought, the origin of which he is unable to trace. But when a man possesses a habitual fertility of invention in any particular art or science, and can rely, with confidence, on his inventive powers, whenever he is called upon to exert them, he must have acquired, by previous habits of study, a command over certain classes of his ideas, which enables him at pleasure to bring them under his review.1
OF THE INFLUENCE OF ASSOCIATION ON OUR ACTIVE PRINCIPLES, AND ON OUR MORAL JUDGMENTS
In order to illustrate a little farther the influence of the Association of Ideas on the human mind, I shall add a few remarks on some of its effects on our active and moral principles. In stating these remarks, I shall endeavour to avoid, as much as possible, every occasion of controversy, by confining myself to such general views of the subject, as do not presuppose any particular enumeration of our original principles of action, or any particular system concerning the nature of the moral faculty. If my health and leisure enable me to carry my plans into execution, I propose, in the sequel of this work, to resume these inquiries, and to examine the various opinions to which they have given rise.
The manner in which the association of ideas operates in producing new principles of action, has been explained very distinctly by different writers. Whatever conduces to the gratification of any natural appetite, or of any natural desire, is itself desired on account of the end to which it is subservient; and by being thus habitually associated in our apprehension with agreeable objects, it frequently comes, in process of time, to be regarded as valuable in itself, independently of its utility. It is thus that wealth becomes, with many, an ultimate object of pursuit; although, at first, it is undoubtedly valued merely on account of its subserviency to the attainment of other objects. In like manner, men are led to desire dress, equipage, retinue, furniture, on account of the estimation in which they are supposed to be held by the public. Such desires are called by Dr Hutcheson1secondary desires, and their origin is explained by him in the way which I have mentioned. “Since we are capable,” says he, “of reflection, memory, observation, and reasoning, about the distant tendencies of objects and actions, and not confined to things present, there must arise, in consequence of our original desires, secondary desires of everything imagined useful to gratify any of the primary desires; and that with strength proportioned to the several original desires, and imagined usefulness or necessity of the advantageous object.” “Thus,” he continues, “as soon as we come to apprehend the use of wealth or power to gratify any of our original desires, we must also desire them; and hence arises the universality of these desires of wealth and power, since they are the means of gratifying all other desires.” The only thing that appears to me exceptionable in the foregoing passage is, that the author classes the desire of power with that of wealth; whereas I apprehend it to be clear (for reasons which I shall state in another part of this work) that the former is a primary desire, and the latter a secondary one.
Our moral judgments, too, may be modified, and even perverted to a certain degree, in consequence of the operation of the same principle. In the same manner in which a person who is regarded as a model of taste may introduce, by his example, an absurd or fantastical dress; so a man of splendid virtues may attract some esteem also to his imperfections; and, if placed in a conspicuous situation, may render his vices and follies objects of general imitation among the multitude.
“In the reign of Charles II.,” says Mr Smith,1 “a degree of licentiousness was deemed the characteristic of a liberal education. It was connected, according to the notions of those times, with generosity, sincerity, magnanimity, loyalty; and proved that the person who acted in this manner was a gentleman, and not a puritan. Severity of manners and regularity of conduct, on the other hand, were altogether unfashionable, and were connected, in the imagination of that age, with cant, cunning, hypocrisy, and low manners. To superficial minds, the vices of the great seem at all times agreeable. They connect them not only with the splendour of fortune, but with many superior virtues which they ascribe to their superiors; with the spirit of freedom and independency; with frankness, generosity, humanity, and politeness. The virtues of the inferior ranks of people, on the contrary,—their parsimonious frugality, their painful industry, and rigid adherence to rules, seem to them mean and disagreeable. They connect them both with the meanness of the station to which these qualities commonly belong, and with many great vices which they suppose usually accompany them, such as an abject, cowardly, ill-natured, lying, pilfering disposition.”
The theory which, in the foregoing passages from Hutcheson and Smith, is employed so justly and philosophically to explain the origin of our secondary desires, and to account for some perversions of our moral judgments, has been thought sufficient, by some later writers, to account for the origin of all our active principles without exception. The first of these attempts to extend so very far the application of the doctrine of Association, was made by the Rev. Mr Gay, in a Dissertation concerning the Fundamental Principle of Virtue, which is prefixed by Dr Law to his translation of Archbishop King’s Essay on the Origin of Evil. In this dissertation, the author endeavours to shew, “that our approbation of morality, and all affections whatsoever, are finally resolvable into reason, pointing out private happiness, and are conversant only about things apprehended to be means tending to this end; and that wherever this end is not perceived, they are to be accounted for from the association of ideas, and may properly be called habits.” The same principles have been since pushed to a much greater length by Dr Hartley, whose system (as he himself informs us) took rise from his accidentally hearing it mentioned as an opinion of Mr Gay, “that the association of ideas was sufficient to account for all our intellectual pleasures and pains.”1
It must, I think, in justice be acknowledged, that this theory concerning the origin of our affections, and of the moral sense, is a most ingenious refinement upon the selfish system, as it was formerly taught; and that, by means of it, the force of many of the common reasonings against that system is eluded. Among these reasonings, particular stress has always been laid on the instantaneousness with which our affections operate, and the moral sense approves or condemns; and on our total want of consciousness, in such cases, of any reference to our own happiness. The modern advocates for the selfish system admit the fact to be as it is stated by their opponents, and grant that, after the moral sense and our various affections are formed, their exercise, in particular cases, may become completely disinterested; but still they contend, that it is upon a regard to our own happiness that all these principles are originally grafted. The analogy of avarice will serve to illustrate the scope of this theory. It cannot be doubted that this principle of action is artificial. It is on account of the enjoyments which it enables us to purchase that money is originally desired; and yet, in process of time, by means of the agreeable impressions which are associated with it, it comes to be desired for its own sake, and even continues to be an object of our pursuit, long after we have lost all relish for those enjoyments which it enables us to command.
Without meaning to engage in any controversy on the subject, I shall content myself with observing in general, that there must be some limit beyond which the theory of association cannot possibly be carried; for the explanation which it gives of the formation of new principles of action, proceeds on the supposition that there are other principles previously existing in the mind. The great question then is, when are we arrived at this limit; or, in other words, when are we arrived at the simple and original laws of our constitution?
In conducting this inquiry philosophers have been apt to go into extremes. Lord Kames and some other authors have been censured, and perhaps justly, for a disposition to multiply original principles to an unnecessary degree. It may be questioned whether Dr Hartley and his followers have not sometimes been misled by too eager a desire of abridging their number.
Of these two errors the former is the least common and the least dangerous. It is the least common, because it is not so flattering as the other to the vanity of a theorist; and it is the least dangerous, because it has no tendency, like the other, to give rise to a suppression or to a misrepresentation of facts, or to retard the progress of the science by bestowing upon it an appearance of systematical perfection, to which in its present state it is not entitled.
Abstracting, however, from these inconveniences which must always result from a precipitate reference of phenomena to general principles, it does not seem to me that the theory in question has any tendency to weaken the foundation of morals. It has, indeed, some tendency, in common with the philosophy of Hobbes and of Mandeville, to degrade the dignity of human nature, but it leads to no sceptical conclusions concerning the rule of life. For, although we were to grant that all our principles of action are acquired, so striking a difference among them must still be admitted, as is sufficient to distinguish clearly those universal laws which were intended to regulate human conduct, from the local habits which are formed by education and fashion. It must still be admitted that while some active principles are confined to particular individuals, or to particular tribes of men, there are others which, arising from circumstances in which all the situations of mankind must agree, are common to the whole species. Such active principles as fall under this last description, at whatever period of life they may appear, are to be regarded as a part of human nature no less than the instinct of suction; in the same manner as the acquired perception of distance by the eye, is to be ranked among the perceptive powers of man, no less than the original perceptions of any of our other senses.1
OF CERTAIN LAWS OF BELIEF, INSEPARABLY CONNECTED WITH THE EXERCISE OF CONSCIOUSNESS, MEMORY, PERCEPTION, AND REASONING
1. It is by the immediate evidence of consciousness that we are assured of the present existence of our various sensations, whether pleasant or painful; of all our affections, passions, hopes, fears, desires, and volitions. It is thus, too, we are assured of the present existence of those thoughts which, during our waking hours, are continually passing through the mind, and of all the different effects which they produce in furnishing employment to our intellectual faculties.
According to the common doctrine of our best philosophers, it is by the evidence of consciousness we are assured that we ourselves exist. The proposition, however, when thus stated, is not accurately true; for our own existence (as I have elsewhere observed) is not a direct or immediate object of consciousness, in the strict and logical meaning of that term. We are conscious of sensation, thought, desire, volition; but we are not conscious of the existence of Mind itself; nor would it be possible for us to arrive at the knowledge of it, (supposing us to be created in the full possession of all the intellectual capacities which belong to human nature), if no impression were ever to be made on our external senses. The moment that, in consequence of such an impression, a sensation is excited, we learn two facts at once,—the existence of the sensation, and our own existence as sentient beings;—in other words, the very first exercise of consciousness necessarily implies a belief, not only of the present existence of what is felt, but of the present existence of that which feels and thinks: or (to employ plainer language) the present existence of that being which I denote by the words I and myself. Of these facts, however, it is the former alone of which we can properly be said to be conscious, agreeably to the rigorous interpretation of the expression. A conviction of the latter, although it seems to be so inseparable from the exercise of consciousness that it can scarcely be considered as posterior to it in the order of time, is yet (if I may be allowed to make use of a scholastic distinction) posterior to it in the order of nature; not only as it supposes consciousness to be already awakened by some sensation, or some other mental affection; but as it is evidently rather a judgment accompanying the exercise of that power, than one of its immediate intimations concerning its appropriate class of internal phenomena. It appears to me, therefore, more correct to call the belief of our own existence a concomitant or accessory of the exercise of consciousness, than to say, that our existence is a fact falling under the immediate cognizance of consciousness, like the existence of the various agreeable or painful sensations which external objects excite in our minds.
2. That we cannot, without a very blameable latitude in the use of words, be said to be conscious of our personal identity, is a proposition still more indisputable; inasmuch as the very idea of personal identity involves the idea of time, and consequently presupposes the exercise not only of consciousness, but of memory. The belief connected with this idea is implied in every thought and every action of the mind, and may be justly regarded as one of the simplest and most essential elements of the understanding. Indeed, it is impossible to conceive either an intellectual or an active being to exist without it. It is, however, extremely worthy of remark, with respect to this belief that, universal as it is among our species, nobody but a metaphysician ever thinks of expressing it in words, or of reducing into the shape of a proposition the truth to which it relates. To the rest of mankind, it forms not an object of knowledge; but a condition or supposition, necessarily and unconsciously involved in the exercise of all their faculties. On a part of our constitution, which is obviously one of the last or primordial elements at which it is possible to arrive in analyzing our intellectual operations, it is plainly unphilosophical to suppose that any new light can be thrown by metaphysical discussion. All that can be done with propriety, in such cases, is to state the fact.
And here, I cannot help taking notice of the absurd and inconsistent attempts which some ingenious men have made, to explain the gradual process by which they suppose the mind to be led to the knowledge of its own existence, and of that continued identity which our constitution leads us to ascribe to it. How (it has been asked) does a child come to form the very abstract and metaphysical idea expressed by the pronoun I or moi? In answer to this question, I have only to observe, that when we set about the explanation of a phenomenon, we must proceed on the supposition that it is possible to resolve it into some more general law or laws with which we are already acquainted. But, in the case before us, how can this be expected, by those who consider that all our knowledge of mind is derived from the exercise of reflection; and that every act of this power implies a conviction of our own existence as reflecting and intelligent beings? Every theory, therefore, which pretends to account for this conviction, must necessarily involve that sort of paralogism which logicians call a petitio principii; inasmuch as it must resolve the thing to be explained into some law or laws, the evidence of which rests ultimately on the assumption in question. From this assumption, which is necessarily implied in the joint exercise of consciousness and memory, the philosophy of the human mind, if we mean to study it analytically, must of necessity set out; and the very attempt to dig deeper for its foundation, betrays a total ignorance of the logical rules, according to which alone it can ever be prosecuted with any hopes of success.
It was, I believe, first marked by M. Prévost of Geneva, (and the remark, obvious as it may appear, reflects much honour on his acuteness and sagacity), that the inquiries concerning the mind, founded on the hypothesis of the animated statue—inquiries which both Bonnet and Condillac professed to carry on analytically—were in truth altogether synthetical. To this criticism it may be added, that their inquiries, in so far as they had for their object to explain the origin of our belief of our own existence, and of our personal identity, assumed, as the principles of their synthesis, facts at once less certain and less familiar than the problem which they were employed to resolve.
Nor is it to the metaphysician only that the ideas of identity and of personality are familiar. Where is the individual who has not experienced their powerful influence over his imagination, while he was employed in reflecting on the train of events which have filled up the past history of his life; and on that internal world, the phenomena of which have been exposed to his own inspection alone? On such an occasion, even the wonders of external nature seem comparatively insignificant; and one is tempted, (with a celebrated French writer), in contemplating the spectacle of the universe, to adopt the words of the Doge of Genoa, when he visited Versailles—“Ce qui m’étonne le plus ici, c’est de m’y voir.”1
3. The belief which all men entertain of the existence of the material world, (I mean their belief of its existence independently of that of percipient beings,) and their expectation of the continued uniformity of the laws of nature, belong to the same class of ultimate or elemental laws of thought, with those which have been just mentioned. The truths which form their objects are of an order so radically different from what are commonly called truths, in the popular acceptation of that word, that it might perhaps be useful for logicians to distinguish them by some appropriate appellation, such, for example, as that of metaphysical or transcendental truths. They are not principles or data (as will afterwards appear) from which any consequence can be deduced; but form a part of those original stamina of human reason, which are equally essential to all the pursuits of science, and to all the active concerns of life.
4. I shall only take notice farther, under this head, of the confidence which we must necessarily repose in the evidence of memory, (and, I may add, in the continuance of our personal identity,) when we are employed in carrying on any process of deduction or argumentation,—in following out, for instance, the steps of a long mathematical demonstration. In yielding our assent to the conclusion to which such a demonstration leads, we evidently trust to the fidelity with which our memory has connected the different links of the chain together. The reference which is often made, in the course of a demonstration, to propositions formerly proved, places the same remark in a light still stronger; and shews plainly that, in this branch of knowledge, which is justly considered as the most certain of any, the authority of the same laws of belief which are recognised in the ordinary pursuits of life is tacitly acknowledged. Deny the evidence of memory as a ground of certain knowledge, and you destroy the foundations of mathematical science as completely as if you were to deny the truth of the axioms assumed by Euclid.
The foregoing examples sufficiently illustrate the nature of that class of truths which I have called Fundamental Laws of Human Belief, or Primary Elements of Human Reason. A variety of others, not less important, might be added to the list;1 but these I shall not at present stop to enumerate, as my chief object, in introducing the subject here, was to explain the common relation in which they all stand to deductive evidence. In this point of view, two analogies, or rather coincidences, between the truths which we have been last considering, and the mathematical axioms which were treated of formerly, immediately present themselves to our notice.
1. From neither of these classes of truths can any direct inference be drawn for the farther enlargement of our knowledge. This remark has been already shewn to hold universally with respect to the axioms of geometry, and it applies equally to what I have called Fundamental Laws of Human Belief. From such propositions as these—I exist; I am the same person to-day that I was yesterday; the material world has an existence independent of my mind; the general laws of nature will continue, in future, to operate uniformly as in time past—no inference can be deduced, any more than from the intuitive truths prefixed to the Elements of Euclid. Abstracted from other data, they are perfectly barren in themselves; nor can any possible combination of them help the mind forward one single step in its progress. It is for this reason that, instead of calling them, with some other writers, first principles, I have distinguished them by the title of fundamental laws of belief; the former word seeming to me to denote, according to common usage, some fact, or some supposition, from which a series of consequences may be deduced.
If the account now given of these laws of belief be just, the great argument which has been commonly urged in support of their authority, and which manifestly confounds them with what are properly called principles of reasoning, is not at all applicable to the subject; or at least does not rest the point in dispute upon its right foundation. If there were no first principles, (it has been said,) or in other words, if a reason could be given for everything, no process of deduction could possibly be brought to a conclusion. The remark is indisputably true; but it only proves (what no logician of the present times will venture to deny) that the mathematician could not demonstrate a single theorem, unless he were first allowed to lay down his definitions; nor the natural philosopher explain or account for a single phenomenon, unless he were allowed to assume, as acknowledged facts, certain general laws of nature. What inference does this afford in favour of that particular class of truths to which the preceding observations relate, and against which the ingenuity of modern sceptics has been more particularly directed? If I be not deceived, these truths are still more intimately connected with the operations of the reasoning faculty than has been generally imagined; not as the principles (ἀρχαί) from which our reasonings set out, and on which they ultimately depend, but as the necessary conditions on which every step of the deduction tacitly proceeds; or rather (if I may use the expression) as essential elements which enter into the composition of reason itself.
2. In this last remark I have anticipated, in some measure, what I had to state with respect to the second coincidence alluded to, between mathematical axioms, and the other propositions which I have comprehended under the general title of fundamental laws of human belief. As the truth of axioms is virtually presupposed or implied in the successive steps of every demonstration, so, in every step of our reasonings concerning the order of Nature, we proceed on the supposition, that the laws by which it is regulated will continue uniform as in time past; and that the material universe has an existence independent of our perceptions. I need scarcely add, that in all our reasonings whatever, whether they relate to necessary or to contingent truths, our own personal identity, and the evidence of memory, are virtually taken for granted. These different truths all agree in this, that they are essentially involved in the exercise of our rational powers; although, in themselves, they furnish no principles or data by which the sphere of our knowledge can, by any ingenuity, be enlarged. They agree farther in being tacitly acknowledged by all men, learned or ignorant, without any formal enunciation in words, or even any conscious exercise of reflection. It is only at that period of our intellectual progress when scientific arrangements and metaphysical refinements begin to be introduced, that they become objects of attention to the mind, and assume the form of propositions.
In consequence of these two analogies or coincidences, I should have been inclined to comprehend, under the general title of axioms, all the truths which have been hitherto under our review, if the common usage of our language had not, in a great measure, appropriated that appellation to the axioms of mathematics; and if the view of the subject which I have taken, did not render it necessary for me to direct the attention of my readers to the wide diversity between the branches of knowledge to which they are respectively subservient.
I was anxious also to prevent these truths from being all identified, in point of logical importance, under the same name. The fact is, that the one class (in consequence of the relation in which they stand to the demonstrative conclusions of geometry) are comparatively of so little moment, that the formal enumeration of them was a matter of choice rather than of necessity; whereas the other class have unfortunately been raised, by the sceptical controversies of modern times, to a conspicuous rank in the philosophy of the human mind. I have thought it more advisable, therefore, to bestow on the latter an appropriate title of their own; without, however, going so far as to reject altogether the phraseology of those who have annexed to the word axiom a more enlarged meaning than that which I have usually given to it. Little inconvenience, indeed, can arise from this latitude in the use of the term; provided only it be always confined to those ultimate laws of belief, which, although they form the first elements of human reason, cannot with propriety be ranked among the principles from which any of our scientific conclusions are deduced.
Corresponding to the extension which some late writers have given to axioms, is that of the province which they have assigned to intuition; a term which has been applied, by Dr Beattie and others, not only to the power by which we perceive the truth of the axioms of geometry, but to that by which we recognise the authority of the fundamental laws of belief, when we hear them enunciated in language. My only objection to this use of the word is, that it is a departure from common practice; according to which, if I be not mistaken, the proper objects of intuition are propositions analogous to the axioms prefixed to Euclid’s Elements. In some other respects, this innovation might perhaps be regarded as an improvement on the very limited and imperfect vocabulary of which we are able to avail ourselves in our present discussions.1
To the class of truths which I have here called laws of belief, or elements of reason, the title of principles of common sense was long ago given by Father Buffier, whose language and doctrine concerning them bears a very striking resemblance to those of some of our later Scottish logicians. This, at least, strikes me as the meaning which these writers in general annex to the phrase, although all of them have frequently employed it with a far greater degree of latitude. When thus limited in its acceptation, it is obviously liable, in point of scientific accuracy, to two very strong objections, both of which have been already sufficiently illustrated. The first is, that it applies the appellation of principles to laws of belief from which no inference can be deduced; the second, that it refers the origin of these laws to Common Sense. Nor is this phraseology more agreeable to popular use than to logical precision. If we were to suppose an individual, whose conduct betrayed a disbelief of his own existence, or of his own identity, or of the reality of surrounding objects, it would by no means amount to an adequate description of his condition to say, that he was destitute of common sense. We should at once pronounce him to be destitute of reason, and would no longer consider him as a fit subject of discipline or of punishment. The former expression, indeed, would only imply that he was apt to fall into absurdities and improprieties in the common concerns of life. To denominate, therefore, such laws of belief as we have now been considering, constituent elements of human reason, while it seems quite unexceptionable in point of technical distinctness, cannot be justly censured as the slightest deviation from our habitual forms of speech. On the same grounds, it may be fairly questioned, whether the word reason would not, on some occasions, be the best substitute which our language affords for intuition, in that enlarged acceptation which has been given to it of late. If not quite so definite and precise as might be wished, it would be at least employed in one of those significations in which it is already familiar to every ear; whereas the meaning of intuition, when used for the same purpose, is stretched very far beyond its ordinary limits. And in cases of this sort, where we have to choose between two terms, neither of which is altogether unexceptionable, it will be found much safer to trust to the context for restricting in the reader’s mind what is too general, than for enlarging what use has accustomed us to interpret in a sense too narrow.
I must add, too, in opposition to the high authorities of Dr Johnson and Dr Beattie, that for many years past, reason has been very seldom used by philosophical writers, or, indeed, by correct writers of any description, as synonymous with the power of reasoning. To appeal to the light of humanreason from the reasonings of the schools, is surely an expression to which no good objection can be made, on the score either of vagueness or of novelty. Nor has the etymological affinity between these two words the slightest tendency to throw any obscurity on the foregoing expression. On the contrary, this affinity may be of use in some of our future arguments, by keeping constantly in view the close and inseparable connexion which will be afterwards shown to exist between the two different intellectual operations which are thus brought into immediate contrast.1
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[1 ]Ibid., pp. 670-673.
[1 ]Principles of Moral and Political Science, vol. 1. pp. 189-202
[1 ]Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, pp. 22-27.
[1 ]Ibid., pp. 31-35.
[1 ]Ibid., pp. 38-40.
[1 ]“Outlines of Moral Philosophy,” Works, vol. ii. pp. 5-8.
[1 ]Ibid., pp. 23-25
[2 ]By Lord Kames and others.
[1 ]“Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind,” Works, vol. ii. pp. 266-269.
[1 ]See his Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions.
[1 ]Theory of Moral Sentiments.
[1 ]Mr Hume, too, who in my opinion has carried this principle of the Association of Ideas a great deal too far, had compared the universality of its applications in the philosophy of mind, to that of the principle of attraction in physics. “Here,” says he, “is a kind of attraction, which in the mental world will be found to have as extraordinary effects as in the natural, and to shew itself in as many and as various forms.”—Treatise of Human Nature, vol. i. p. 30.
[1 ]“Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind,” Works, vol. ii. pp. 334-338.
[1 ]D’Alembert, Apologie de l’Étude.
[1 ]Such, for example, as our belief of the existence of efficient causes; our belief of the existence of other intelligent beings besides ourselves, etc., etc.
[1 ]According to Locke, we have the knowledge of our own existence by intuition; of the existence of God by demonstration; and of other things by sensation—Book iv. chap. ix. § 2.
[1 ]“Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind,” (Works, vol. iii. pp. 40-51).