Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XXI.: Of Power. - The Works, vol. 1 An Essay concerning Human Understanding Part 1
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CHAP. XXI.: Of Power. - John Locke, The Works, vol. 1 An Essay concerning Human Understanding Part 1 
The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, (London: Rivington, 1824 12th ed.). Vol. 1.
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This idea how got.
§ 1. The mind being every day informed, by the senses, of the alteration of those simple ideas it observes in things without, and taking notice how one comes to an end, and ceases to be, and another begins to exist which was not before; reflecting also on what passes within himself, and observing a constant change of its ideas, sometimes by the impression of outward objects on the senses, and sometimes by the determination of its own choice; and concluding from what it has so constantly observed to have been, that the like changes will for the future be made in the same things by like agents, and by the like ways; considers in one thing the possibility of having any of its simple ideas changed, and in another the possibility of making that change: and so comes by that idea which we call power. Thus we say, fire has a power to melt gold, i. e. to destroy the consistency of its insensible parts, and consequently its hardness, and make it fluid; and gold has a power to be melted: that the sun has a power to blanch wax, and wax a power to be blanched by the sun, whereby the yellowness is destroyed, and whiteness made to exist in its room. In which, and the like cases, the power we consider is in reference to the change of perceivable ideas: for we cannot observe any alteration to be made in, or operation upon, any thing, but by the observable change of its sensible ideas; nor conceive any alteration to be made, but by conceiving a change of some of its ideas.
Power active and passive.
§ 2. Power, thus considered, is two-fold, viz. as able to make, or able to receive, any change: the one may be called active, and the other passive power. Whether matter be not wholly destitute of active power, as its author God is truly above all passive power; and whether the intermediate state of created spirits be not that alone which is capable of both active and passive power, may be worth consideration. I shall not now enter into that inquiry: my present business being not to search into the original of power, but how we come by the idea of it. But since active powers make so great a part of our complex ideas of natural substances (as we shall see hereafter) and I mention them as such according to common apprehension; yet they being not perhaps so truly active powers, as our hasty thoughts are apt to represent them, I judge it not amiss, by this intimation, to direct our minds to the consideration of God and spirits, for the clearest idea of active powers.
Power includes relation.
§ 3. I confess power includes in it some kind of relation, (a relation to action or change) as indeed which of our ideas, of what kind soever, when attentively considered, does not? For our ideas of extension, duration, and number, do they not all contain in them a secret relation of the parts? Figure and motion have something relative in them much more visibly: and sensible qualities, as colours and smells, &c. what are they but the powers of different bodies, in relation to our perception? &c. And if considered in the things themselves, do they not depend on the bulk, figure, texture, and motion of the parts? All which include some kind of relation in them. Our idea therefore of power, I think may well have a place amongst other simple ideas, and be considered as one of them, being one of those that make a principal ingredient in our complex ideas of substances, as we shall hereafter have occasion to observe.
The clearest idea of active power had from spirit.
§ 4. We are abundantly furnished with the idea of passive power by almost all sorts of sensible things. In most of them we cannot avoid observing their sensible qualities, nay, their very substances, to be in a continual flux: and therefore with reason we look on them as liable still to the same change. Nor have we of active power (which is the more proper signification of the word power) fewer instances: since whatever change is observed, the mind must collect a power somewhere able to make that change, as well as a possibility in the thing itself to receive it. But yet, if we will consider it attentively, bodies, by our senses, do not afford us so clear and distinct an idea of active power, as we have from reflection on the operations of our minds. For all power relating to action, and there being but two sorts of action, whereof we have any idea, viz. thinking and motion; let us consider whence we have the clearest ideas of the powers which produce these actions. 1. Of thinking body affords us no idea at all, it is only from reflection that we have that. 2. Neither have we from body any idea of the beginning of motion. A body at rest affords us no idea of any active power to move; and when it is set in motion itself, that motion is rather a passion, than an action in it. For when the ball obeys the motion of a billiard stick, it is not any action of the ball, but bare passion: also when by impulse it sets another ball in motion that lay in its way, it only communicates the motion it had received from another, and loses in itself so much as the other received: which gives us but a very obscure idea of an active power moving in body, whilst we observe it only to transfer, but not produce any motion. For it is but a very obscure idea of power, which reaches not the production of the action, but the continuation of the passion. For so is motion in a body impelled by another; the continuation of the alteration made in it from rest to motion being little more an action, than the continuation of the alteration of its figure by the same blow is an action. The idea of the beginning of motion we have only from reflection on what passes in ourselves, where we find by experience, that barely by willing it, barely by a thought of the mind, we can move the parts of our bodies, which were before at rest. So that it seems to me, we have from the observation of the operation of bodies by our senses but a very imperfect obscure idea of active power, since they afford us not any idea in themselves of the power to begin any action, either motion or thought. But if, from the impulse bodies are observed to make one upon another, any one thinks he has a clear idea of power, it serves as well to my purpose, sensation being one of those ways whereby the mind comes by its ideas: only I thought it worth while to consider here by the way, whether the mind doth not receive its idea of active power clearer from reflection on its own operations, than it doth from any external sensation.
Will and understanding two powers.
§ 5. This at least I think evident, that we find in ourselves a power to begin or forbear, continue or end several actions of our minds, and motions of our bodies, barely by a thought or preference of the mind ordering, or, as it were, commanding the doing or not doing such or such a particular action. This power which the mind has thus to order the consideration of any idea, or the forbearing to consider it; or to prefer the motion of any part of the body to its rest, and vice versa, in any particular instance: is that which we call the will. The actual exercise of that power, by directing any particular action, or its forbearance, is that which we call volition or willing. The forbearance, of that action, consequent to such order or command of the mind, is called voluntary. And whatsoever action is performed without such a thought of the mind, is called involuntary. The power of perception is that which we call the understanding. Perception, which we make the act of the understanding, is of three sorts: 1. The perception of ideas in our mind. 2. The perception of the signification of signs. 3. The perception of the connexion or repugnancy, agreement or disagreement, that there is between any of our ideas. All these are attributed to the understanding, or perceptive power, though it be the two latter only that use allows us to say we understand.
§ 6. These powers of the mind, viz. of perceiving and of preferring, are usually called by another name: and the ordinary way of speaking, is, that the understanding and will are two faculties of the mind; a word proper enough, if it be used as all words should be, so as not to breed any confusion in men’s thoughts, by being supposed (as I suspect it has been) to stand for some real beings in the soul that performed those actions of understanding and volition. For when we say the will is the commanding and superior faculty of the soul: that it is, or is not free; that it determines the inferior faculties; that it follows the dictates of the understanding, &c. though these, and the like expressions, by those that carefully attend to their own ideas, and conduct their thoughts more by the evidence of things, than the sound of words, may be understood in a clear and distinct sense; yet I suspect, I say, that this way of speaking of faculties has misled many into a confused notion of so many distinct agents in us, which had their several provinces and authorities, and did command, obey, and perform several actions, as so many distinct beings; which has been no small occasion of wrangling, obscurity, and uncertainty in questions relating to them.
Whence the idea of liberty and necessity.
§ 7. Every one I think, finds in himself a power to begin or forbear, continue or put an end to several actions in himself. From the consideration of the extent of this power of the mind over the actions of the man, which every one finds in himself, arise the ideas of liberty and necessity.
§ 8. All the actions that we have any idea of, reducing themselves, as has been said, to these two, viz. thinking and motion; so far as a man has power to think, or not to think; to move, or not to move, according to the preference or direction of his own mind; so far is a man free. Wherever any performance or forbearance are not equally in a man’s power; wherever doing or not doing, will not equally follow upon the preference of his mind directing it: there he is not free, though perhaps the action may be voluntary. So that the idea of liberty is the idea of a power in any agent to do or forbear any particular action, according to the determination or thought of the mind, whereby either of them is preferred to the other; where either of them is not in the power of the agent to be produced by him according to his volition, there he is not at liberty; that agent is under necessity. So that liberty cannot be where there is no thought, no volition, no will; but there may be thought, there may be will, there may be volition, where there is no liberty. A little consideration of an obvious instance or two may make this clear.
Supposes the understanding and will.
§ 9. A tennis-ball, whether in motion by the stroke of a racket, or lying still at rest, is not by any one taken to be a free agent. If we inquire into the reason, we shall find it is because we conceive not a tennis-ball to think, and consequently not to have any volition, or preference of motion to rest, or vice versa; and therefore has not liberty, is not a free agent; but all its both motion and rest come under our idea of necessary, and are so called. Likewise a man falling into the water (a bridge breaking under him) has not herein liberty, is not a free agent. For though he has volition, though he prefers his not falling to falling; yet the forbearance of that motion not being in his power, the stop or cessation of that motion follows not upon his volition; and therefore therein he is not free. So a man striking himself, or his friend, by a convulsive motion of his arm, which it is not in his power, by volition or the direction of his mind, to stop, or forbear, nobody thinks he has in this liberty; every one pities him, as acting by necessity and constraint.
Belongs not to volition.
§ 10. Again, suppose a man be carried, whilst fast asleep, into a room, where is a person he longs to see and speak with; and be there locked fast in, beyond his power to get out; he awakes, and is glad to find himself in so desirable company, which he stays willingly in, i. e. prefers his stay to going away; I ask, Is not this stay voluntary? I think nobody will doubt it; and yet being locked fast in, it is evident he is not at liberty not to stay, he has not freedom to be gone. So that liberty is not an idea belonging to volition, or preferring; but to the person having the power of doing, or forbearing to do, according as the mind shall choose or direct. Our idea of liberty reaches as far as that power, and no farther. For wherever restraint comes to check that power, or compulsion takes away that indifferency of ability on either side to act, or to forbear acting; there liberty, and our notion of it, presently ceases.
Voluntary opposed to involuntary, not to necessary.
§ 11. We have instances enough, and often more than enough, in our own bodies. A man’s heart beats, and the blood circulates, which it is not in his power by any thought or volition to stop; and therefore in respect to these motions, where rest depends not on his choice, nor would follow the determination of his mind, if it should prefer it, he is not a free agent. Convulsive motions agitate his legs, so that though he wills it ever so much, he cannot by any power of his mind stop their motion (as in that odd disease called chorea sancti Viti) but he is perpetually dancing: he is not at liberty in this action, but under as much necessity of moving, as a stone that falls, or a tennis-ball struck with a racket. On the other side, a palsy or the stocks hinder his legs from obeying the determination of his mind, if it would thereby transfer his body to another place. In all these there is want of freedom; though the sitting still even of a paralytic, whilst he prefers it to a removal, is truly voluntary. Voluntary then is not opposed to necessary, but to involuntary. For a man may prefer what he can do, to what he cannot do: the state he is in, to its absence or change, though necessity has made it in itself unalterable.
§ 12. As it is in the motions of the body, so it is in the thoughts of our minds: where any one is such, that we have power to take it up, or lay it by, according to the preference of the mind, there we are at liberty. A waking man being under the necessity of having some ideas constantly in his mind, is not at liberty to think, or not to think; no more than he is at liberty whether his body shall touch any other or no: but whether he will remove his contemplation from one idea to another, is many times in his choice; and then he is in respect of his ideas as much at liberty, as he is in respect of bodies he rests on; he can at pleasure remove himself from one to another. But yet some ideas to the mind, like some motions to the body, are such as in certain circumstances it cannot avoid, nor obtain their absence by the utmost effort it can use. A man on the rack is not at liberty to lay by the idea of pain, and divert himself with other contemplations; and sometimes a boisterous passion hurries our thoughts as a hurricane does our bodies, without leaving us the liberty of thinking on other things, which we would rather choose. But as soon as the mind regains the power to stop or continue, begin or forbear any of these motions of the body without, or thoughts within, according as it thinks fit to prefer either to the other, we then consider the man as a free agent again.
§ 13. Wherever thought is wholly wanting, or the power to act or forbear according to the direction of thought; there necessity takes place. This in an agent capable of volition, when the beginning or continuation of any action is contrary to that preference of his mind, is called compulsion: when the hindering or stopping any action is contrary to his volition, it is called restraint. Agents that have no thought, no volition, at all, are in every thing necessary agents.
Liberty belongs not to the will.
§ 14. If this be so (as I imagine it is) I leave it to be considered whether it may not help to put an end to that long agitated, and I think, unreasonable, because unintelligible question, viz. Whether man’s will be free, or no? For if I mistake not, it follows from what I have said, that the question itself is altogether improper; and it is as insignificant to ask whether man’s will be free, as to ask whether his sleep be swift, or his virtue square; liberty being as little applicable to the will, as swiftness of motion is to sleep, or squareness to virtue. Every one would laugh at the absurdity of such a question, as either of these; because it is obvious, that the modifications of motion belong not to sleep, nor the difference of figure to virtue: and when any one well considers it, I think he will as plainly perceive, that liberty, which is but a power, belongs only to agents, and cannot be an attribute or modification of the will, which is also but a power.
§ 15. Such is the difficulty of explaining and giving clear notions of internal actions by sounds, that I must here warn my reader that ordering, directing, choosing, preferring, &c. which I have made use of, will not distinctly enough express volition, unless he will reflect on what he himself does when he wills. For example, preferring, which seems perhaps best to express the act of volition, does it not precisely. For though a man would prefer flying to walking, yet who can say he ever wills it? Volition, it is plain, is an act of the mind knowingly exerting that dominion it takes itself to have over any part of the man, by employing it in, or withholding it from, any particular action. And what is the will, but the faculty to do this? And is that faculty any thing more in effect than a power, the power of the mind to determine its thought, to the producing, continuing, or stopping any action, as far as it depends on us? For can it be denied, that whatever agent has a power to think on its own actions, and to prefer their doing or omission either to other, has that faculty called will? Will then is nothing but such a power. Liberty, on the other side, is the power a man has to do or forbear doing any particular action, according as its doing or forbearance has the actual preference in the mind; which is the same thing as to say, according as he himself wills it.
Powers belonging to agents.
§ 16. It is plain then, that the will is nothing but one power or ability; and freedom another power or ability: so that to ask, whether the will has freedom, is to ask whether one power has another power, one ability another ability; a question at first sight too grossly absurd to make a dispute or need an answer. For who is it that sees not that powers belong only to agents, and are attributes only of substances, and not of powers themselves? So that this way of putting the question, viz. Whether the will be free? is in effect to ask, Whether the will be a substance, an agent? or at least to suppose it, since freedom can properly be attributed to nothing else. If freedom can with any propriety of speech be applied to power, or may be attributed to the power that is in a man to produce or forbear producing motion in parts of his body, by choice or preference; which is that which denominates him free, and is freedom itself. But if any one should ask whether freedom were free, he would be suspected not to understand well what he said; and he would be thought to deserve Midas’s ears, who, knowing that rich was a denomination for the possession of riches, should demand whether riches themselves were rich.
§ 17. However the name faculty, which men have given to this power called the will, and whereby they have been led into a way of talking of the will as acting, may, by an appropriation that disguises its true sense, serve a little to palliate the absurdity; yet the will in truth signifies nothing but a power, or ability, to prefer or choose: and when the will under the name of a faculty, is considered as it is, barely as an ability to do something, the absurdity in saying it is free, or not free, will easily discover itself. For if it be reasonable to suppose and talk of faculties, as distinct beings that can act (as we do, when we say the will orders, and the will is free) it is fit that we should make a speaking faculty, and a walking faculty, and a dancing faculty, by which those actions are produced, which are but several modes of motion; as well as we make the will and understanding to be faculties, by which the actions of choosing and perceiving are produced, which are but several modes of thinking; and we may as properly say, that it is the singing faculty sings, and the dancing faculty dances; as that the will chooses, or that the understanding conceives; or as is usual, that the will directs the understanding, or the understanding obeys, or obeys not the will: it being altogether as proper and intelligible to say, that the power of speaking directs the power of singing, or the power of singing obeys or disobeys the power of speaking.
§ 18. This way of talking, nevertheless, has prevailed, and, as I guess, produced great confusion. For these being all different powers in the mind, or in the man, to do several actions, he exerts them as he thinks fit: but the power to do one action, is not operated on by the power of doing another action. For the power of thinking operates not on the power of choosing, nor the power of choosing on the power of thinking; no more than the power of dancing operates on the power of singing, or the power of singing on the power of dancing; as any one, who reflects on it, will easily perceive: and yet this is it which we say, when we thus speak, that the will operates on the understanding, or the understanding on the will.
§ 19. I grant, that this or that actual thought may be the occasion of volition, or exercising the power a man has to choose: or the actual choice of the mind, the cause of actual thinking on this or that thing: as the actual singing of such a tune, may be the cause of dancing such a dance, and the actual dancing of such a dance the occasion of singing such a tune. But in all these it is not one power that operates on another: but it is the mind that operates and exerts these powers; it is the man that does the action, it is the agent that has power, or is able to do. For powers are relations, not agents: and that which has the power, or not the power to operate, is that alone which is or is not free, and not the power itself. For freedom, or not freedom, can belong to nothing, but what has or has not a power to act.
Liberty belongs not to the will.
§ 20. The attributing to faculties that which belonged not to them, has given occasion to this way of talking: but the introducing into discourses concerning the mind, with the name of faculties, a notion of their operating, has, I suppose, as little advanced our knowledge in that part of ourselves, as the great use and mention of the like invention of faculties, in the operations of the body, has helped us in the knowledge of physic. Not that I deny there are faculties, both in the body and mind: they both of them have their powers of operating, else neither the one nor the other could operate. For nothing can operate that is not able to operate; and that is not able to operate, that has no power to operate. Nor do I deny, that those words, and the like, are to have their place in the common use of languages, that have made them current. It looks like too much affectation wholly to lay them by: and philosophy itself, though it likes not a gaudy dress, yet when it appears in public, must have so much complacency, as to be clothed in the ordinary fashion and language of the country, so far as it can consist with truth and perspicuity. But the fault has been, that faculties have been spoken of and represented as so many distinct agents. For it being asked, what it was that digested the meat in our stomachs? it was a ready and very satisfactory answer, to say that it was the digestive faculty. What was it that made any thing come out of the body? the expulsive faculty. What moved? the motive faculty. And so in the mind, the intellectual faculty, or the understanding, understood; and the elective faculty, or the will, willed or commanded. This is in short to say, that the ability to digest, digested; and the ability to move, moved; and the ability to understand, understood. For faculty, ability, and power, I think, are but different names of the same things; which ways of speaking, when put into more intelligible words, will, I think, amount to thus much; that digestion is performed by something that is able to digest, motion by something able to move, and understanding by something able to understand. And in truth it would be very strange if it should be otherwise; as strange as it would be for a man to be free without being able to be free.
But to the agent or man.
§ 21. To return then to the inquiry about liberty, I think the question is not proper, whether the will be free, but whether a man be free. Thus, I think,
1. That so far as any one can, by the direction or choice of his mind, preferring the existence of any action to the non-existence of that action, and vice versa, make it to exist or not exist; so far he is free. For if I can, by a thought directing the motion of my finger, make it move when it was at rest, or vice versa; it is evident, that in respect of that I am free: and if I can, by a like thought of my mind, preferring one to the other, produce either words or silence, I am at liberty to speak, or hold my peace; and as far as this power reaches, of acting, or not acting, by the determination of his own thought preferring either, so far is a man free. For how can we think any one freer, than to have the power to do what he will? And so far as any one can, by preferring any action to its not being, or rest to any action, produce that action or rest, so far can he do what he will. For such a preferring of action to its absence, is the willing of it; and we can scarce tell how to imagine any being freer, than to be able to do what he wills. So that in respect of actions within the reach of such a power in him, a man seems as free, as it is possible for freedom to make him.
In respect of willing, a man is not free.
§ 22. But the inquisitive mind of man, willing to shift off from himself, as far as he can, all thoughts of guilt, though it be by putting himself into a worse state than that of fatal necessity, is not content with this; freedom, unless it reaches farther than this, will not serve the turn: and it passes for a good plea, that a man is not free at all, if he be not as free to will, as he is to act what he wills. Concerning a man’s liberty, there yet therefore is raised this farther question, Whether a man be free to will? which I think is what is meant, when it is disputed whether the will be free. And as to that I imagine,
§ 23. That willing, or volition, being an action, and freedom consisting in a power of acting or not acting, a man in respect of willing or the act of volition, when any action in his power is once proposed to his thoughts, as presently to be done, cannot be free. The reason whereof is very manifest: for it being unavoidable that the action depending on his will should exist, or not exist: and its existence, or not existence, following perfectly the determination and preference of his will; he cannot avoid willing the existence, or not existence of that action; it is absolutely necessary that he will the one, or the other; i. e. prefer the one to the other; since one of them must necessarily follow; and that which does follow, follows by the choice and determination of his mind, that is, by his willing it; for if he did not will it, it would not be. So that in respect of the act of willing, a man in such a case is not free: liberty consisting in a power to act, or not to act; which, in regard of volition, a man, upon such a proposal, has not. For it is unavoidably necessary to prefer the doing or forbearance of an action in a man’s power, which is once so proposed to his thoughts: a man must necessarily will the one or the other of them, upon which preference or volition, the action or its forbearance certainly follows, and is truly voluntary. But the act of volition, or preferring one of the two, being that which he cannot avoid, a man in respect of that act of willing is under a necessity, and so cannot be free; unless necessity and freedom can consist together, and a man can be free and bound at once.
§ 24. This then is evident, that in all proposals of present action, a man is not at liberty to will or not to will, because he cannot forbear willing: liberty consisting in a power to act or to forbear acting, and in that only. For a man that sits still is said yet to be at liberty, because he can walk if he wills it. But if a man sitting still has not a power to remove himself, he is not at liberty; so likewise a man falling down a precipice, though in motion, is not at liberty, because he cannot stop that motion if he would. This being so, it is plain that a man that is walking, to whom it is proposed to give off walking, is not at liberty whether he will determine himself to walk, or give off walking, or no: he must necessarily prefer one or the other of them, walking or not walking; and so it is in regard of all other actions in our power so proposed, which are the far greater number. For considering the vast number of voluntary actions that succeed one another every moment that we are awake in the course of our lives, there are but few of them that are thought on or proposed to the will, till the time they are to be done: and in all such actions, as I have shown, the mind in respect of willing has not a power to act, or not to act, wherein consists liberty. The mind in that case has not a power to forbear willing; it cannot avoid some determination concerning them, let the consideration be as short, the thought as quick as it will; it either leaves the man in the state he was before thinking, or changes it; continues the action, or puts an end to it. Whereby it is manifest, that it orders and directs one, in preference to or with neglect of the other, and thereby either the continuation or change becomes unavoidably voluntary.
The will determined by something without it.
§ 25. Since then it is plain, that in most cases a man is not at liberty, whether he will or no; the next thing demanded, is, whether a man be at liberty to will which of the two he pleases, motion or rest? This question carries the absurdity of it so manifestly in itself, that one might thereby sufficiently be convinced that liberty concerns not the will. For to ask, whether a man be at liberty to will either motion or rest, speaking or silence, which he pleases; is to ask, whether a man can will what he wills, or be pleased with what he is pleased with? A question which, I think, needs no answer; and they who can make a question of it, must suppose one will to determine the acts of another, and another to determine that; and so on in infinitum.
§ 26. To avoid these and the like absurdities, nothing can be of greater use, than to establish in our minds determined ideas of the things under consideration. If the ideas of liberty and volition were well fixed in the understandings, and carried along with us in our minds, as they ought, through all the questions that are raised about them, I suppose a great part of the difficulties that perplex men’s thoughts, and entangle their understandings, would be much easier resolved; and we should perceive where the confused signification of terms, or where the nature of the thing caused the obscurity.
§ 27. First then, it is carefully to be remembered, that freedom consists in the dependence of the existence, or not existence of any action, upon our volition of it; and not in the dependence of any action, or its contrary, on our preference. A man standing on a cliff, is at liberty to leap twenty yards downwards into the sea, not because he has a power to do the contrary action, which is to leap twenty yards upwards, for that he cannot do: but he is therefore free because he has a power to leap or not to leap. But if a greater force than his either holds him fast, or tumbles him down, he is no longer free in that case; because the doing or forbearance of that particular action is no longer in his power. He that is a close prisoner in a room twenty feet square, being at the north side of his chamber, is at liberty to walk twenty feet southward, because he can walk or not walk it; but is not, at the same time, at liberty to do the contrary, i. e. to walk twenty feet northward.
In this then consists freedom, viz. in our being able to act or not to act, according as we shall choose or will.
§ 28. Secondly, we must remember, that volition or willing is an act of the mind directing its thought to the production of any action, and thereby exerting its power to produce it. To avoid multiplying of words, I would crave leave here, under the word action, to comprehend the forbearance too of any action proposed: sitting still, or holding one’s peace, when walking or speaking are proposed, though mere forbearances, requiring as much the determination of the will, and being as often weighty in their consequences as the contrary actions, may, on that consideration, well enough pass for actions too: but this I say, that I may not be mistaken, if for brevity sake I speak thus.
What determines the will.
§ 29. Thirdly, The will being nothing but a power in the mind to direct the operative faculties of a man to motion or rest, as far as they depend on such direction: to the question, What is it determines the will? the true and proper answer is, The mind. For that which determines the general power of directing to this or that particular direction, is nothing but the agent itself exercising the power it has, that particular way. If this answer satisfies not, it is plain the meaning of the question, What determines the will? is this, What moves the mind, in every particular instance, to determine its general power of directing to this or that particular motion or rest? And to this I answer, the motive for continuing in the same state or action, is only the present satisfaction in it; the motive to change, is always some uneasiness; nothing setting us upon the change of state, or upon any new action, but some uneasiness. This is the great motive that works on the mind to put it upon action, which for shortness’ sake we will call determining of the will; which I shall more at large explain.
Will and desire must not be confounded.
§ 30. But, in the way to it, it will be necessary to premise, that though I have above endeavoured to express the act of volition by choosing, preferring, and the like terms, that signify desire as well as volition, for want of other words to mark that act of the mind, whose proper name is willing or volition; yet it being a very simple act, whosoever desires to understand what it is, will better find it by reflecting on his own mind, and observing what it does when it wills, than by any variety of articulate sounds whatsoever. This caution of being careful not to be misled by expressions that do not enough keep up the difference between the will and several acts of the mind that are quite distinct from it, I think the more necessary; because I find the will often confounded with several of the affections, especially desire, and one put for the other; and that by men, who would not willingly be thought not to have had very distinct notions of things, and not to have writ very clearly about them. This, I imagine, has been no small occasion of obscurity and mistake in this matter; and therefore is, as much as may be, to be avoided. For he that shall turn his thoughts inwards upon what passes in his mind when he wills, shall see that the will or power of volition is conversant about nothing, but that particular determination of the mind, whereby barely by a thought the mind endeavours to give rise, continuation, or stop, to any action which it takes to be in its power. This well considered, plainly shows that the will is perfectly distinguished from desire; which in the very same action may have a quite contrary tendency from that which our will sets us upon. A man whom I cannot deny, may oblige me to use persuasions to another, which, at the same time I am speaking, I may wish may not prevail on him. In this case, it is plain the will and desire run counter. I will the action that tends one way, whilst my desire tends another, and that the direct contrary way. A man who by a violent fit of the gout in his limbs finds a doziness in his head, or a want of appetite in his stomach removed, desires to be eased too of the pain of his feet or hands (for wherever there is pain, there is a desire to be rid of it) though yet, whilst he apprehends that the removal of the pain may translate the noxious humour to a more vital part, his will is never determined to any one action that may serve to remove this pain. Whence it is evident that desiring and willing are two distinct acts of the mind; and consequently that the will, which is but the power of volition, is much more distinct from desire.
Uneasiness determines the will.
§ 31. To return then to the inquiry, What is it that determines the will in regard to our actions? And that, upon second thoughts, I am apt to imagine is not, as is generally supposed, the greater good in view; but some (and for the most part the most pressing) uneasiness a man is at present under. This is that which successively determines the will, and sets us upon those actions we perform. This uneasiness we may call, as it is, desire; which is an uneasiness of the mind for want of some absent good. All pain of the body, of what sort soever, and disquiet of the mind, is uneasiness: and with this is always joined desire, equal to the pain or uneasiness felt, and is scarce distinguishable from it. For desire being nothing but an uneasiness in the want of an absent good, in reference to any pain felt, ease is that absent good; and till that ease be attained, we may call it desire, nobody feeling pain that he wishes not to be eased of, with a desire equal to that pain, and inseparable from it. Besides this desire of ease from pain, there is another of absent positive good; and here also the desire and uneasiness are equal. As much as we desire any absent good, so much are we in pain for it. But here all absent good does not, according to the greatness it has, or is acknowledged to have, cause pain equal to that greatness; as all pain causes desire equal to it itself; because the absence of good is not always a pain, as the presence of pain is. And therefore absent good may be looked on, and considered without desire. But so much as there is any where of desire, so much there is of uneasiness.
Desire is uneasiness.
§ 32. That desire is a state of uneasiness, every one who reflects on himself will quickly find. Who is there, that has not felt in desire what the wise man says of hope, (which is not much different from it) “that it being deferred makes the heart sick?” and that still proportionable to the greatness of the desire: which sometimes raises the uneasiness to that pitch, that it makes people cry out, Give me children, give me the thing desired, or I die? Life itself, and all its enjoyments, is a burden cannot be born under the lasting and unremoved pressure of such an uneasiness.
The uneasiness of desire determines the will.
§ 33. Good and evil, present and absent, it is true, work upon the mind; but that which immediately determines the will, from time to time, to every voluntary action, is the uneasiness of desire, fixed on some absent good: either negative, as indolence to one in pain; or positive, as enjoyment of pleasure. That it is this uneasiness that determines the will to the successive voluntary actions, whereof the greatest part of our lives is made up, and by which we are conducted through different courses to different ends: I shall endeavour to show, both from experience and the reason of the thing.
This is the spring of action.
§ 34. When a man is perfectly content with the state he is in, which is, when he is perfectly without any uneasiness, what industry, what action, what will is there left, but to continue in it? of this every man’s observation will satisfy him. And thus we see our All-wise Maker, suitably to our constitution and frame, and knowing what it is that determines the will, has put into man the uneasiness of hunger and thirst, and other natural desires, that return at their seasons, to move and determine their wills, for the preservation of themselves, and the continuation of their species. For I think we may conclude, that if the bare contemplation of these good ends, to which we are carried by these several uneasinesses, had been sufficient to determine the will, and set us on work, we should have had none of these natural pains, and perhaps in this world little or no pain at all. “It is better to marry than to burn,” says St. Paul; where we may see what it is that chiefly drives men into the enjoyments of a conjugal life. A little burning felt pushes us more powerfully, than greater pleasures in prospect draw or allure.
The greatest positive good determines not the will, but uneasiness.
§ 35. It seems so established and settled a maxim by the general consent of all mankind, that good, the greater good, determines the will, that I do not at all wonder, that when I first published my thoughts on this subject, I took it for granted; and I imagine that by a great many I shall be thought more excusable, for having then done so, than that now I have ventured to recede from so received an opinion. But yet upon a stricter inquiry, I am forced to conclude, that good, the greater good, though apprehended and acknowledged to be so, does not determine the will, until our desire, raised proportionably to it, makes us uneasy in the want of it. Convince a man ever so much that plenty has an advantage over poverty; make him see and own, that the handsome conveniencies of life are better than nasty penury: yet as long as he is content with the latter, and finds no uneasiness in it, he moves not; his will never is determined to any action that shall bring him out of it. Let a man be ever so well persuaded of the advantages of virtue, that it is as necessary to a man who has any great aims in this world, or hopes in the next, as food to life: yet, till he hungers or thirsts after righteousness, till he feels an uneasiness in the want of it, his will will not be determined to any action in pursuit of this confessed greater good; but any other uneasiness he feels in himself shall take place, and carry his will to other actions. On the other side, let a drunkard see that his health decays, his estate wastes; discredit and diseases, and the want of all things, even of his beloved drink, attends him in the course he follows; yet the returns of uneasiness to miss his companions, the habitual thirst after his cups, at the usual time, drives him to the tavern, though he has in his view the loss of health and plenty, and perhaps of the joys of another life: the least of which is no inconsiderable good, but such as he confesses is far greater than the tickling of his palate with a glass of wine, or the idle chat of a soaking club. It is not want of viewing the greater good; for he sees and acknowledges it, and, in the intervals of his drinking hours, will take resolution to pursue the greater good; but when the uneasiness to miss his accustomed delight returns, the greater acknowledged good loses its hold, and the present uneasiness determines the will to the accustomed action: which thereby gets stronger footing to prevail against the next occasion, though he at the same time makes secret promises to himself, that he will do so no more; this is the last time he will act against the attainment of those greater goods. And thus he is from time to time in the state of that unhappy complainer, video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor: which sentence, allowed for true, and made good by constant experience, may this, and possibly no other way, be easily made intelligible.
Because the removal of uneasiness is the first step to happiness.
§ 36. If we inquire into the reason of what experience makes so evident in fact, and examine why it is uneasiness alone operates on the will, and determines it in its choice; we shall find that we being capable but of one determination of the will to one action at once, the present uneasiness that we are under does naturally determine the will, in order to that happiness which we all aim at in all our actions; forasmuch as whilst we are under any uneasiness, we cannot apprehend ourselves happy, or in the way to it. Pain and uneasiness being, by every one, concluded and felt to be inconsistent with happiness, spoiling the relish even of those good things which we have; a little pain serving to mar all the pleasure we rejoiced in. And therefore that which of course determines the choice of our will to the next action, will always be the removing of pain, as long as we have any left, as the first and necessary step towards happiness.
Because uneasiness alone is present.
§ 37. Another reason why it is uneasiness alone determines the will, may be this; because that alone is present, and it is against the nature of things, that what is absent should operate where it is not. It may be said, that absent good may by contemplation be brought home to the mind, and made present. The idea of it indeed may be in the mind, and viewed as present there; but nothing will be in the mind as a present good, able to counter-balance the removal of any uneasiness which we are under, till it raises our desire; and the uneasiness of that has the prevalency in determining the will. Till then, the idea in the mind of whatever good, is there only, like other ideas, the object of bare unactive speculation, but operates not on the will, nor sets us on work; the reason whereof I shall show by and by. How many are to be found, that have had lively representations set before their minds of the unspeakable joys of heaven, which they acknowledge both possible and probable too, who yet would be content to take up with their happiness here? And so the prevailing uneasiness of their desires, let loose after the enjoyments of this life, take their turns in the determining their wills; and all that while they take not one step, are not one jot moved towards the good things of another life, considered as ever so great.
Because all who allow the joys of heaven possible, pursue them not.
§ 38. Were the will determined by the views of good, as it appears in contemplation greater or less to the understanding, which is the state of all absent good, and that which in the received opinion the will is supposed to move to, and to be moved by, I do not see how it could ever get loose from the infinite eternal joys of heaven, once proposed and considered as possible. For all absent good, by which alone, barely proposed, and coming in view, the will is thought to be determined, and so to set us on action, being only possible, but not infallibly certain; it is unavoidable, that the infinitely greater possible good should regularly and constantly determine the will in all the successive actions it directs: and then we should keep constantly and steadily in our course towards heaven, without ever standing still, or directing our actions to any other end. The eternal condition of a future state infinitely outweighing the expectation of riches, or honour, or any other worldly pleasure which we can propose to ourselves, though we should grant these the more probable to be obtained: for nothing future is yet in possession, and so the expectation even of these may deceive us. If it were so, that the greater good in view determines the will, so great a good once proposed could not but seize the will, and hold it fast to the pursuit of this infinitely greatest good, without ever letting it go again: for the will having a power over, and directing the thoughts as well as other actions, would, if it were so, hold the contemplation of the mind fixed to that good.
But any great uneasiness is never neglected.
This would be the state of the mind, and regular tendency of the will in all its determinations, were it determined by that which is considered, and in view the greater good; but that it is not so, is visible in experience: the infinitely greatest confessed good being often neglected, to satisfy the successive uneasiness of our desires pursuing trifles. But though the greatest allowed, even everlasting unspeakable good, which has sometimes moved and affected the mind, does not stedfastly hold the will, yet we see any very great and prevailing uneasiness, having once laid hold on the will, lets it not go; by which we may be convinced, what it is that determines the will. Thus any vehement pain of the body, the ungovernable passion of a man violently in love, or the impatient desire of revenge, keeps the will steady and intent; and the will, thus determined, never lets the understanding lay by the object, but all the thoughts of the mind and powers of the body are uninterruptedly employed that way, by the determination of the will, influenced by that topping uneasiness as long as it lasts; whereby it seems to me evident, that the will or power of setting us upon one action in preference to all other, is determined in us by uneasiness. And whether this be not so, I desire every one to observe in himself.
Desire accompanies all uneasiness.
§ 39. I have hitherto chiefly instanced in the uneasiness of desire, as that which determines the will; because that is the chief and most sensible, and the will seldom orders any action, nor is there any voluntary action performed, without some desire accompanying it; which I think is the reason why the will and desire are so often confounded. But yet we are not to look upon the uneasiness which makes up, or at least accompanies most of the other passions, as wholly excluded in the case. Aversion, fear, anger, envy, shame, &c. have each their uneasiness too, and thereby influence the will. These passions are scarce any of them in life and practice simple and alone, and wholly unmixed with others: though usually in discourse and contemplation, that carries the name which operates strongest, and appears most in the present state of the mind: nay there is, I think, scarce any of the passions to be found without desire joined with it. I am sure, wherever there is uneasiness, there is desire: for we constantly desire happiness: and whatever we feel of uneasiness, so much it is certain we want of happiness, even in our own opinion, let our state and condition otherwise be what it will. Besides, the present moment not being our eternity, whatever our enjoyment be, we look beyond the present, and desire goes with our foresight, and that still carries the will with it. So that even in joy itself, that which keeps up the action, whereon the enjoyment depends, is the desire to continue it, and fear to lose it: and whenever a greater uneasiness than that takes place in the mind, the will presently is by that determined to some new action, and the present delight neglected.
The most pressing uneasiness naturally determines the will.
§ 40. But we being in this world beset with sundry uneasinesses, distracted with different desires, the next inquiry naturally will be, which of them has the precedency in determining the will to the next action? and to that the answer is, that ordinarily, which is the most pressing of those that are judged capable of being then removed. For the will being the power of directing our operative faculties to some action, for some end, cannot at any time be moved towards what is judged at that time unattainable: that would be to suppose an intelligent being designedly to act for an end, only to lose its labour, for so it is to act for what is judged not attainable; and therefore very great uneasinesses move not the will, when they are judged not capable of a cure; they, in that case, put us not upon endeavours. But these set apart, the most important and urgent uneasiness we at that time feel, is that which ordinarily determines the will successively, in that train of voluntary actions which makes up our lives. The greatest present uneasiness is the spur to action, that is constantly felt, and for the most part determines the will in its choice of the next action. For this we must carry along with us, that the proper and only object of the will is some action of ours, and nothing else: for we producing nothing by our willing it, but some action in our power, it is there the will terminates, and reaches no farther.
All desire happiness.
§ 41. If it be farther asked, what it is moves desire? I answer, Happiness, and that alone. Happiness and misery are the names of two extremes, the utmost bounds whereof we know not; it is what “eye hath not seen, ear not heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.” But of some degrees of both we have very lively impressions, made by several instances of delight and joy on the one side, and torment and sorrow on the other: which for shortness sake I shall comprehend under the names of pleasure and pain, there being pleasure and pain of the mind as well as the body: “with him is fulness of joy and pleasure for evermore.” Or, to speak truly, they are all of the mind; though some have their rise in the mind from thought, others in the body from certain modifications of motion.
§ 42. Happiness then in its full extent is the utmost pleasure we are capable of, and misery the utmost pain: and the lowest degree of what can be called happiness is so much ease from all pain, and so much present pleasure, as without which any one cannot be content. Now because pleasure and pain are produced in us by the operation of certain objects, either on our minds or our bodies, and in different degrees; therefore what has an aptness to produce pleasure in us is that we call good, and what is apt to produce pain in us we call evil, for no other reason, but for its aptness to produce pleasure and pain in us, wherein consists our happiness and misery. Farther, though what is apt to produce any degree of pleasure be in itself good; and what is apt to produce any degree of pain, be evil; yet it often happens, that we do not call it so, when it comes in competition with a greater of its sort; because when they come in competition, the degrees also of pleasure and pain have justly a preference. So that if we will rightly estimate what we call good and evil, we shall find it lies much in comparison; for the cause of every less degree of pain, as well as every greater degree of pleasure, has the nature of good, and vice versa.
What good is desired, what not.
§ 43. Though this be that which is called good and evil; and all good be the proper object of desire in general; yet all good, even seen, and confessed to be so, does not necessarily move every particular man’s desire, but only that part, or so much of it as is considered and taken to make a necessary part of his happiness. All other good, however great in reality or appearance, excites not a man’s desires, who looks not on it to make a part of that happiness, wherewith he, in his present thoughts, can satisfy himself. Happiness, under this view, every one constantly pursues, and desires what makes any part of it: other things, acknowledged to be good, he can look upon without desire, pass by, and be content without. There is nobody, I think, so senseless as to deny, that there is pleasure in knowledge: and for the pleasures of sense, they have too many followers to let it be questioned, whether men are taken with them or no. Now let one man place his satisfaction in sensual pleasures, another in the delight of knowledge; though each of them cannot but confess, there is great pleasure in what the other pursues; yet neither of them making the other’s delight a part of his happiness, their desires are not moved, but each is satisfied without what the other enjoys, and so his will is not determined to the pursuit of it. But yet as soon as the studious man’s hunger and thirst makes him uneasy, he, whose will was never determined to any pursuit of good cheer, poignant sauces, delicious wine, by the pleasant taste he has found in them, is, by the uneasiness of hunger and thirst, presently determined to eating and drinking, though possibly with great indifferency, what wholesome food comes in his way. And on the other side, the epicure buckles to study when shame, or the desire to recommend himself to his mistress, shall make him uneasy in the want of any sort of knowledge. Thus, how much soever men are in earnest, and constant in pursuit of happiness, yet they may have a clear view of good, great and confessed good, without being concerned for it, or moved by it, if they think they can make up their happiness without it. Though as to pain, that they are always concerned for: they can feel no uneasiness without being moved. And therefore being uneasy in the want of whatever is judged necessary to their happiness, as soon as any good appears to make a part of their portion of happiness, they begin to desire it.
Why the greatest good is not always desired.
§ 44. This, I think, any one may observe in himself and others, that the greater visible good does not always raise men’s desires, in proportion to the greatness it appears, and is acknowledged to have: though every little trouble moves us, and sets us on work to get rid of it. The reason whereof is evident, from the nature of our happiness and misery itself. All present pain, whatever it be, makes a part of our present misery; but all absent good does not at any time make a necessary part of our present happiness, nor the absence of it make a part of our misery. If it did, we should be constantly and infinitely miserable; there being infinite degrees of happiness, which are not in our possession. All uneasiness therefore being removed, a moderate portion of good serves at present to content men; and some few degrees of pleasure in a succession of ordinary enjoyments make up a happiness, wherein they can be satisfied. If this were not so, there could be no room for those indifferent and visibly trifling actions, to which our wills are so often determined, and wherein we voluntarily waste so much of our lives; which remissness could by no means consist with a constant determination of will or desire to the greatest apparent good. That this is so, I think few people need go far from home to be convinced. And indeed in this life there are not many whose happiness reaches so far as to afford them a constant train of moderate mean pleasures, without any mixture of uneasiness; and yet they could be content to stay here for ever: though they cannot deny, but that it is possible there may be a state of eternal durable joys after this life, far surpassing all the good that is to be found here. Nay, they cannot but see, that it is more possible than the attainment and continuation of that pittance of honour, riches, or pleasure, which they pursue, and for which they neglect that eternal state; but yet in full view of this difference, satisfied of the possibility of a perfect, secure, and lasting happiness in a future state, and under a clear conviction, that it is not to be had here, whilst they bound their happiness within some little enjoyment, or aim of this life, and exclude the joys of heaven from making any necessary part of it; their desires are not moved by this greater apparent good, nor their wills determined to any action, or endeavour for its attainment.
Why not being desired, it moves not the will.
§ 45. The ordinary necessities of our lives fill a great part of them with the uneasiness of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, weariness with labour, and sleepiness, in their constant returns, &c. To which, if, besides accidental harms, we add the fantastical uneasiness (as itch after honour, power, or riches, &c.) which acquired habits by fashion, example, and education, have settled in us, and a thousand other irregular desires, which custom has made natural to us; we shall find, that a very little part of our life is so vacant from these uneasinesses, as to leave us free to the attraction of remoter absent good. We are seldom at ease, and free enough from the solicitation of our natural or adopted desires, but a constant succession of uneasinesses out of that stock, which natural wants or acquired habits have heaped up, take the will in their turns: and no sooner is one action dispatched, which by such a determination of the will we are set upon, but another uneasiness is ready to set us on work. For the removing of the pains we feel, and are at present pressed with, being the getting out of misery, and consequently the first thing to be done in order to happiness, absent good, though thought on, confessed, and appearing to be good, not making any part of this unhappiness in its absence, is justled out to make way for the removal of those uneasinesses we feel; till due and repeated contemplation has brought it nearer to our mind, given some relish of it, and raised in us some desire; which then beginning to make a part of our present uneasiness, stands upon fair terms with the rest to be satisfied; and so, according to its greatness and pressure, comes in its turn, to determine the will.
Due consideration raises desire.
§ 46. And thus, by a due consideration, and examining any good proposed, it is in our power to raise our desires in a due proportion to the value of that good whereby in its turn and place it may come to work upon the will, and be pursued. For good, though appearing, and allowed ever so great, yet till it has raised desires in our minds, and thereby made us uneasy in its want, it reaches not our wills; we are not within the sphere of its activity; our wills being under the determination only of those uneasinesses which are present to us, which (whilst we have any) are always soliciting, and ready at hand to give the will its next determination: the balancing, when there is any in the mind, being only which desire shall be next satisfied, which uneasiness first removed. Whereby comes to pass, that as long as any uneasiness, any desire remains in our mind, there is no room for good, barely as such, to come at the will, or at all to determine it. Because, as has been said, the first step in our endeavours after happiness being to get wholly out of the confines of misery, and to feel no part of it, the will can be at leisure for nothing else, till every uneasiness we feel be perfectly removed; which, in the multitude of wants and desires we are beset with in this imperfect state, we are not like to be ever freed from in this world.
The power to suspend the prosecution of any desire makes way for consideration.
§ 47. There being in us a great many uneasinesses always soliciting, and ready to determine the will, it is natural, as I have said, that the greatest and most pressing should determine the will to the next action; and so it does for the most part, but not always. For the mind having in most cases, as is evident in experience, a power to suspend the execution and satisfaction of any of its desires, and so all, one after another; is at liberty to consider the objects of them, examine them on all sides, and weigh them with others. In this lies the liberty man has; and from the not using of it right comes all that variety of mistakes, errours, and faults which we run into in the conduct of our lives, and our endeavours after happiness; whilst we precipitate the determination of our wills, and engage too soon before due examination. To prevent this, we have a power to suspend the prosecution of this or that desire, as every one daily may experiment in himself. This seems to me the source of all liberty; in this seems to consist that which is (as I think improperly) called free-will. For during this suspension of any desire, before the will be determined to action, and the action (which follows that determination) done, we have opportunity to examine, view, and judge of the good or evil of what we are going to do; and when, upon due examination, we have judged, we have done our duty, all that we can or ought to do in pursuit of our happiness; and it is not a fault, but a perfection of our nature to desire, will, and act according to the last result of a fair examination.
To be determined by our own judgment, is no restraint to liberty.
§ 48. This is so far from being a restraint or diminution of freedom, that it is the very improvement and benefit of it: it is not an abridgment, it is the end and use of our liberty; and the farther we are removed from such a determination, the nearer we are to misery and slavery. A perfect indifferency in the mind, not determinable by its last judgment of the good or evil that is thought to attend its choice, would be so far from being an advantage and excellency of any intellectual nature, that it would be as great an imperfection, as the want of indifferency to act or not to act till determined by the will, would be an imperfection on the other side. A man is at liberty to lift up his hand to his head, or let it rest quiet; he is perfectly indifferent in either; and it would be an imperfection in him, if he wanted that power, if he were deprived of that indifferency. But it would be as great an imperfection if he had the same indifferency, whether he would prefer the lifting up his hand, or its remaining in rest, when it would save his head or eyes from a blow he sees coming: it is as much a perfection, that desire, or the power of preferring, should be determined by good, as that the power of acting should be determined by the will; and the certainer such determination is, the greater is the perfection. Nay, were we determined by any thing but the last result of our own minds, judging of the good or evil of any action, we were not free: the very end of our freedom being, that we may attain the good we choose. And therefore every man is put under a necessity by its constitution, as an intelligent being, to be determined in willing by his own thought and judgment what is best for him to do: else he would be under the determination of some other than himself, which is want of liberty. And to deny that a man’s will, in every determination, follows his own judgment, is to say, that a man wills and acts for an end that he would not have, at the time that he wills and acts for it. For if he prefers it in his present thoughts before any other, it is plain he then thinks better of it, and would have it before any other; unless he can have and not have it, will and not will it, at the same time; a contradiction too manifest to be admitted!
The freest agents are so determined.
§ 49. If we look upon those superior beings above us, who enjoy perfect happiness, we shall have reason to judge that they are more steadily determined in their choice of good than we; and yet we have no reason to think they are less happy, or less free than we are. And if it were fit for such poor finite creatures as we are to pronounce what infinite wisdom and goodness could do, I think we might say, that God himself cannot choose what is not good; the freedom of the Almighty hinders not his being determined by what is best.
A constant determination to a pursuit of happiness no abridgment of liberty.
§ 50. But to give a right view of this mistaken part of liberty, let me ask, “Would any one be a changeling, because he is less determined by wise considerations than a wise man? Is it worth the name of freedom to be at liberty to play the fool, and draw shame and misery upon the man’s self?” If to break loose from the conduct of reason, and to want that restraint of examination and judgment, which keeps us from choosing or doing the worse, be liberty, true liberty, madmen and fools are the only freemen: but yet, I think, nobody would choose to be mad for the sake of such liberty, but he that is mad already. The constant desire of happiness, and the constraint it puts upon us to act for it, nobody, I think, accounts an abridgment of liberty, or at least an abridgment of liberty to be complained of. God Almighty himself is under the necessity of being happy; and the more any intelligent being is so, the nearer is its approach to infinite perfection and happiness. That in this state of ignorance we short-sighted creatures might not mistake true felicity, we are endowed with a power to suspend any particular desire, and keep it from determining the will, and engaging us in action. This is standing still, where we are not sufficiently assured of the way: examination is consulting a guide. The determination of the will upon inquiry is following the direction of that guide: and he that has a power to act or not to act, according as such determination directs, is a free agent; such determination abridges not that power wherein liberty consists. He that has his chains knocked off, and the prison doors set open to him, is perfectly at liberty, because he may either go or stay, as he best likes; though his preference be determined to stay, by the darkness of the night, or illness of the weather, or want of other lodging. He ceases not to be free, though the desire of some convenience to be had there absolutely determines his preference, and makes him stay in his prison.
The necessity of pursuing true happiness, the foundation of liberty.
§ 51. As therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness, so the care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation of our liberty. The stronger ties we have to an unalterable pursuit of happiness in general, which is our greatest good, and which, as such, our desires always follow, the more are we free from any necessary determination of our will to any particular action, and from a necessary compliance with our desire, set upon any particular, and then appearing preferable good, till we have duly examined, whether it has a tendency to, or be inconsistent with our real happiness: and therefore till we are as much informed upon this inquiry, as the weight of the matter, and the nature of the case demands; we are, by the necessity of preferring and pursuing true happiness as our greatest good, obliged to suspend the satisfaction of our desires in particular cases.
The reason of it.
§ 52. This is the hinge on which turns the liberty of intellectual beings, in their constant endeavours after and a steady prosecution of true felicity, that they can suspend this prosecution in particular cases, till they have looked before them, and informed themselves whether that particular thing, which is then proposed or desired, lie in the way to their main end, and make a real part of that which is their greatest good: for the inclination and tendency of their nature to happiness is an obligation and motive to them, to take care not to mistake or miss it; and so necessarily puts them upon caution, deliberation, and wariness, in the direction of their particular actions, which are the means to obtain it. Whatever necessity determines to the pursuit of real bliss, the same necessity with the same force establishes suspense, deliberation, and scrutiny of each successive desire, whether the satisfaction of it does not interfere with our true happiness, and mislead us from it. This, as seems to me, is the great privilege of finite intellectual beings; and I desire it may be well considered, whether the great inlet and exercise of all the liberty men have, are capable of, or can be useful to them, and that whereon depends the turn of their actions, does not lie in this, that they can suspend their desires, and stop them from determining their wills to any action, till they have duly and fairly examined the good and evil of it, as far forth as the weight of the thing requires. This we are able to do, and when we have done it, we have done our duty, and all that is in our power, and indeed all that needs. For since the will supposes knowledge to guide its choice, and all that we can do is to hold our wills undetermined, till we have examined the good and evil of what we desire. What follows after that, follows in a chain of consequences linked one to another, all depending on the last determination of the judgment; which, whether it shall be upon a hasty and precipitate view, or upon a due and mature examination, is in our power; experience showing us, that in most cases we are able to suspend the present satisfaction of any desire.
Government of our passions the right improvement of liberty.
§ 53. But if any extreme disturbance (as sometimes it happens) possesses our whole mind, as when the pain of the rack, an impetuous uneasiness, as of love, anger, or any other violent passion, running away with us, allows us not the liberty of thought, and we are not masters enough of our own minds to consider thoroughly and examine fairly; God, who knows our frailty, pities our weakness, and requires of us no more than we are able to do, and sees what was and what was not in our power, will judge as a kind and merciful father. But the forbearance of a too hasty compliance with our desires, the moderation and restraint of our passions, so that our understandings may be free to examine, and reason unbiassed give its judgment, being that whereon a right direction of our conduct to true happiness depends; it is in this we should employ our chief care and endeavours. In this we should take pains to suit the relish of our minds to the true intrinsic good or ill that is in things, and not permit an allowed or supposed possible great and weighty good to slip out of our thoughts, without leaving any relish, any desire of itself there, till, by a due consideration of its true worth, we have formed appetites in our minds suitable to it, and made ourselves uneasy in the want of it, or in the fear of losing it. And how much this is in every one’s power, by making resolutions to himself, such as he may keep, is easy for every one to try. Nor let any one say he cannot govern his passions, nor hinder them from breaking out, and carrying him into action; for what he can do before a prince, or a great man, he can do alone, or in the presence of God, if he will.
How men come to pursue different courses.
§ 54. From what has been said, it is easy to give an account how it comes to pass, that though all men desire happiness, yet their wills carry them so contrarily, and consequently some of them to what is evil. And to this I say, that the various and contrary choices that men make in the world, do not argue that they do not all pursue good; but that the same thing is not good to every man alike. This variety of pursuits shows, that every one does not place his happiness in the same thing, or choose the same way to it. Were all the concerns of man terminated in this life, why one followed study and knowledge, and another hawking and hunting: why one chose luxury and debauchery, and another sobriety and riches; would not be, because every one of these did not aim at his own happiness, but because their happiness was placed in different things. And therefore it was a right answer of the physician to his patient that had sore eyes: If you have more pleasure in the taste of wine than in the use of your sight, wine is good for you; but if the pleasure of seeing be greater to you than that of drinking, wine is naught.
§ 55. The mind has a different relish, as well as the palate; and you will as fruitlessly endeavour to delight all men with riches or glory (which yet some men place their happiness in) as you would to satisfy all men’s hunger with cheese or lobsters; which, though very agreeable and delicious fare to some, are to others extremely nauseous and offensive: and many people would with reason prefer the griping of an hungry belly, to those dishes which are a feast to others. Hence it was, I think, that the philosophers of old did in vain enquire, whether summum bonum consisted in riches or bodily delights, or virtue, or contemplation. And they might have as reasonably disputed, whether the best relish were to be found in apples, plums, or nuts; and have divided themselves into sects upon it. For as pleasant tastes depend not on the things themselves, but their agreeableness to this or that particular palate, wherein there is great variety: so the greatest happiness consists in the having those things which produce the greatest pleasure, and in the absence of those which cause any disturbance, any pain. Now these, to different men, are very different things. If therefore men in this life only have hope, if in this life they can only enjoy, it is not strange nor unreasonable, that they should seek their happiness by avoiding all things that disease them here, and by pursuing all that delight them; wherein it will be no wonder to find variety and difference. For if there be no prospect beyond the grave, the inference is certainly right, “let us eat and drink,” let us enjoy what we delight in, “for to-morrow we shall die.” This, I think, may serve to show us the reason, why, though all men’s desires tend to happiness, yet they are not moved by the same object. Men may choose different things, and yet all choose right; supposing them only like a company of poor insects, whereof some are bees, delighted with flowers and their sweetness; others beetles, delighted with other kinds of viands, which having enjoyed for a season, they would cease to be, and exist no more for ever.
How men come to choose ill.
§ 56. These things duly weighed, will give us, as I think, a clear view into the state of human liberty. Liberty, it is plain, consists in a power to do, or not to do; to do, or forbear doing, as we will. This cannot be denied. But this seeming to comprehend only the actions of a man consecutive to volition, it is farther inquired, “whether he be at liberty to will, or no.” And to this it has been answered, that in most cases a man is not at liberty to forbear the act of volition: he must exert an act of his will, whereby the action proposed is made to exist, or not to exist. But yet there is a case wherein a man is at liberty in respect of willing, and that is, the choosing of a remote good, as an end to be pursued. Here a man may suspect the act of his choice from being determined for or against the thing proposed, till he has examined whether it be really of a nature in itself and consequences to make him happy, or no. For when he has once chosen it, and thereby it is become a part of his happiness, it raises desire, and that proportionably gives him uneasiness, which determines his will, and sets him at work in pursuit of his choice on all occasions that offer. And here we may see how it comes to pass, that a man may justly incur punishment, though it be certain that in all the particular actions that he wills, he does, and necessarily does will that which he then judges to be good. For, though his will be always determined by that which is judged good by his understanding, yet it excuses him not: because, by a too hasty choice of his own making, he has imposed on himself wrong measures of good and evil; which, however false and fallacious, have the same influence on all his future conduct, as if they were true and right. He has vitiated his own palate, and must be answerable to himself for the sickness and death that follows from it. The eternal law and nature of things must not be altered, to comply with his ill-ordered choice. If the neglect, or abuse, of the liberty he had to examine what would really and truly make for his happiness, misleads him, the miscarriages that follow on it must be imputed to his own election. He had a power to suspend his determination: it was given him, that he might examine, and take care of his own happiness, and look that he were not deceived. And he could never judge, that it was better to be deceived than not, in a matter of so great and near concernment.
What has been said may also discover to us the reason why men in this world prefer different things, and pursue happiness by contrary courses. But yet, since men are always constant, and in earnest, in matters of happiness and misery, the question still remains, How men come often to prefer the worse to the better; and to choose that, which by their own confession, has made them miserable?
§ 57. To account for the various and contrary ways men take, though all aim at being happy, we must consider whence the various uneasinesses, that determine the will in the preference of each voluntary action, have their rise.
From bodily pains.
1. Some of them come from causes not in our power; such as are often the pains of the body, from want, disease, or outward injuries, as the rack, &c. which, when present and violent, operate for the most part forcibly on the will, and turn the courses of men’s lives from virtue, piety, and religion, and what before they judged to lead to happiness; every one not endeavouring, or through disuse not being able, by the contemplation of remote and future good, to raise in himself desires of them strong enough to counterbalance the uneasiness he feels in those bodily torments, and to keep his will steady in the choice of those actions which lead to future happiness. A neighbour country has been of late a tragical theatre, from which we might fetch instances, if there needed any, and the world did not in all countries and ages furnish examples enough to confirm that received observation, “necessitas cogit ad turpia;” and therefore there is great reason for us to pray, “lead us not into temptation.”
From wrong desires, arising from wrong judgment.
2. Other uneasinesses arise from our desires of absent good; which desires always bear proportion to, and depend on the judgment we make, and the relish we have of any absent good: in both which we are apt to be variously misled, and that by our own fault.
Our judgment of present good or evil always right.
§ 58. In the first place, I shall consider the wrong judgments men make of future good and evil, whereby their desires are misled. For, as to present happiness and misery, when that alone comes into consideration, and the consequences are quite removed, a man never chooses amiss; he knows what best pleases him, and that he actually prefers. Things in their present enjoyment are what they seem: the apparent and real good are, in this case, always the same. For the pain or pleasure being just so great, and no greater than it is felt, the present good or evil is really so much as it appears. And therefore, were every action of ours concluded within itself, and drew no consequences after it, we should undoubtedly never err in our choice of good; we should always infallibly prefer the best. Were the pains of honest industry, and of starving with hunger and cold, set together before us, nobody would be in doubt which to choose; were the satisfaction of a lust, and the joys of heaven offered at once to any one’s present possession, he would not balance, or err in the determination of his choice.
§ 59. But since our voluntary actions carry not all the happiness and misery that depend on them, along with them in their present performance, but are the precedent causes of good and evil, which they draw after them, and bring upon us, when they themselves are passed and cease to be; our desires look beyond our present enjoyments, and carry the mind out to absent good, according to the necessity which we think there is of it, to the making or increase of our happiness. It is our opinion of such a necessity, that gives it its attraction: without that, we are not moved by absent good. For in this narrow scantling of capacity, which we are accustomed to, and sensible of here, wherein we enjoy but one pleasure at once, which, when all uneasiness is away, is, whilst it lasts, sufficient to make us think ourselves happy; it is not all remote, and even apparent good, that affects us. Because the indolency and enjoyment we have, sufficing for our present happiness, we desire not to venture the change; since we judge that we are happy already, being content, and that is enough. For who is content is happy. But as soon as any new uneasiness comes in, this happiness is disturbed, and we are set afresh on work in the pursuit of happiness.
From a wrong judgment of what makes a necessary part of their happiness.
§ 60. Their aptness, therefore, to conclude that they can be happy without it, is one great occasion that men often are not raised to the desire of the greatest absent good. For whilst such thoughts possess them, the joys of a future state move them not: they have little concern or uneasiness about them; and the will, free from the determination of such desires, is left to the pursuit of nearer satisfactions, and to the removal of those uneasinesses which it then feels, in its want of and longings after them. Change but a man’s view of these things; let him see, that virtue and religion are necessary to his happiness; let him look into the future state of bliss or misery, and see there God, the righteous judge, ready to “render to every man according to his deeds; to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life; but unto every soul that doth evil, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish:” to him, I say, who hath a prospect of the different state of perfect happiness, or misery, that attends all men after this life, depending on their behaviour here, the measures of good and evil, that govern his choice, are mightily changed. For since nothing of pleasure and pain in this life can bear any proportion to the endless happiness, or exquisite misery, of an immortal soul hereafter; actions in his power will have their preference, not according to the transient pleasure or pain that accompanies or follows them here, but as they serve to secure that perfect durable happiness hereafter.
A more particular account of wrong judgments.
§ 61. But to account more particularly for the misery that men often bring on themselves, notwithstanding that they do all in earnest pursue happiness, we must consider how things come to be represented to our desires, under deceitful appearances; and that is by the judgment pronouncing wrongly concerning them. To see how far this reaches, and what are the causes of wrong judgment, we must remember that things are judged good or bad in a double sense.
First, That which is properly good or bad, is nothing but barely pleasure or pain.
Secondly, But because not only present pleasure and pain, but that also which is apt by its efficacy or consequences to bring it upon us at a distance, is a proper object of our desires, and apt to move a creature that has foresight; therefore things also that draw after them pleasure and pain, are considered as good and evil.
§ 62. The wrong judgment that misleads us, and makes the will often fasten on the worse side, lies in misreporting upon the various comparisons of these. The wrong judgment I am here speaking of, is not what one man may think of the determination of another, but what every man himself must confess to be wrong. For since I lay it for a certain ground, that every intelligent being really seeks happiness, which consists in the enjoyment of pleasure, without any considerable mixture of uneasiness; it is impossible any one should willingly put into his own draught any bitter ingredient, or leave out any thing in his power, that would tend to his satisfaction, and the completing of his happiness, but only by wrong judgment. I shall not here speak of that mistake which is the consequence of invincible error, which scarce deserves the name of wrong judgment; but of that wrong judgment which every man himself must confess to be so.
In comparing present and future.
§ 63. I. Therefore, as to present pleasure and pain, the mind, as has been said, never mistakes that which is really good or evil; that which is the greater pleasure, or the greater pain, is really just as it appears. But though present pleasure and pain show their difference and degrees so plainly, as not to leave room for mistake; yet when we compare present pleasure or pain with future, (which is usually the case in the most important determinations of the will) we often make wrong judgments of them, taking our measures of them in different positions of distance. Objects, near our view, are apt to be thought greater than those of a larger size, that are more remote; and so it is with pleasures and pains; the present is apt to carry it, and those at a distance have the disadvantage in the comparison. Thus most men, like spendthrift heirs, are apt to judge a little in hand better than a great deal to come; and so, for small matters in possession, part with greater ones in reversion. But that this is a wrong judgment, every one must allow, let his pleasure consist in whatever it will; since that which is future will certainly come to be present; and then having the same advantage of nearness, will show itself in its full dimensions, and discover his wilful mistake, who judged of it by unequal measures. Were the pleasure of drinking accompanied, the very moment a man takes off his glass, with that sick stomach and aching head, which, in some men, are sure to follow not many hours after; I think nobody, whatever pleasure he had in his cups, would, on these conditions, ever let wine touch his lips; which yet he daily swallows; and the evil side comes to be chosen only by the fallacy of a little difference in time. But if pleasure or pain can be so lessened only by a few hours’ removal, how much more will it be so by a farther distance, to a man that will not by a right judgment do what time will, i. e. bring it home upon himself, and consider it as present, and there take its true dimensions? This is the way we usually impose on ourselves, in respect of bare pleasure and pain, or the true degrees of happiness or misery; the future loses its just proportion, and what is present obtains the preference as the greater. I mention not here the wrong judgment, whereby the absent are not only lessened, but reduced to perfect nothing; when men enjoy what they can in present, and make sure of that, concluding amiss that no evil will thence follow. For that lies not in comparing the greatness of future good and evil, which is that we are here speaking of; but in another sort of wrong judgment, which is concerning good or evil, as it is considered to be the cause and procurement of pleasure or pain, that will follow from it.
Causes of this.
§ 64. The cause of our judging amiss, when we compare our present pleasure or pain with future, seems to me to be the weak and narrow constitution of our minds. We cannot well enjoy two pleasures at once, much less any pleasure almost, whilst pain possesses us. The present pleasure, if it be not very languid, and almost none at all, fills our narrow souls, and so takes up the whole mind, that it scarce leaves any thought of things absent: or if among our pleasures, there are some which are not strong enough to exclude the consideration of things at a distance; yet we have so great an abhorrence of pain, that a little of it extinguishes all our pleasures: a little bitter mingled in our cup, leaves no relish of the sweet. Hence it comes, that at any rate we desire to be rid of the present evil, which we are apt to think nothing absent can equal; because, under the present pain, we find not ourselves capable of any the least degree of happiness. Men’s daily complaints are a loud proof of this: the pain that any one actually feels is still of all other the worst; and it is with anguish they cry out, “Any rather than this: nothing can be so intolerable as what I now suffer.” And therefore our whole endeavours and thoughts are intent to get rid of the present evil before all things, as the first necessary condition to our happiness, let what will follow. Nothing, as we passionately think, can exceed, or almost equal, the uneasiness that sits so heavy upon us. And because the abstinence from a present pleasure that offers itself, is a pain, nay oftentimes a very great one, the desire being inflamed by a near and tempting object; it is no wonder that that operates after the same manner pain does, and lessens in our thoughts what is future; and so forces, as it were, blindfold into its embraces.
§ 65. Add to this, that absent good, or, which is the same thing, future pleasure, especially if of a sort we are unacquainted with, seldom is able to counterbalance any uneasiness, either of pain or desire, which is present. For its greatness being no more than what shall be really tasted when enjoyed, men are apt enough to lessen that, to make it give place to any present desire; and conclude with themselves, that when it comes to trial, it may possibly not answer the report, or opinion that generally passes of it; they having often found, that not only what others have magnified, but even what they themselves have enjoyed with great pleasure and delight at one time, has proved insipid or nauseous at another; and therefore they see nothing in it for which they should forego a present enjoyment. But that this is a false way of judging, when applied to the happiness of another life, they must confess; unless they will say, “God cannot make those happy he designs to be so.” For that being intended for a state of happiness, it must certainly be agreeable to every one’s wish and desire: could we suppose their relishes as different there as they are here, yet the manna in heaven will suit every one’s palate. Thus much of the wrong judgment we make of present and future pleasure and pain, when they are compared together, and so the absent considered as future.
In considering consequences of actions.
§ 66. II. As to things good or bad in their consequences, and by the aptness is in them to procure us good or evil in the future, we judge amiss several ways.
1. When we judge that so much evil does not really depend on them, as in truth there does.
2. When we judge, that though the consequence be of that moment, yet it is not of that certainty, but that it may otherwise fall out, or else by some means be avoided as by industry, address, change, repentance, &c. That these are wrong ways of judging, were easy to show in every particular, if I would examine them at large singly: but I shall only mention this in general, viz. that it is a very wrong and irrational way of proceeding, to venture a greater good for a less, upon uncertain guesses, and before a due examination be made proportionable to the weightiness of the matter, and the concernment it is to us not to mistake. This, I think, every one must confess, especially if he considers the usual causes of his wrong judgment, whereof these following are some.
Causes of this.
§ 67. I. Ignorance: he that judges without informing himself to the utmost that he is capable, cannot acquit himself of judging amiss.
II. Inadvertency: when a man overlooks even that which he does know. This is an affected and present ignorance, which misleads our judgments as much as the other. Judging is, as it were, balancing an account, and determining on which side the odds lie. If therefore either side be huddled up in haste, and several of the sums, that should have gone into the reckoning, be overlooked and left out, this precipitancy causes as wrong a judgment, as if it were a perfect ignorance. That which most commonly causes this, is the prevalency of some present pleasure or pain, heightened by our feeble passionate nature, most strongly wrought on by what is present. To check this precipitancy, our understanding and reason was given us, if we will make a right use of it, to search and see, and then judge thereupon. Without liberty, the understanding would be to no purpose; and without understanding, liberty (if it could be) would signify nothing. If a man sees what would do him good or harm, what would make him happy or miserable, without being able to move himself one step towards or from it, what is he the better for seeing? And he that is at liberty to ramble in perfect darkness, what is his liberty better, than if he were driven up and down as a bubble by the force of the wind? The being acted by a blind impulse from without, or from within, is little odds. The first, therefore, and great use of liberty, is to hinder blind precipitancy; the principal exercise of freedom is to stand still, open the eyes, look about, and take a view of the consequence of what we are going to do, as much as the weight of the matter requires. How much sloth and negligence, heat and passion, the prevalency of fashion, or acquired indispositions, do severally contribute on occasion to these wrong judgments, I shall not here farther inquire. I shall only add one other false judgment, which I think necessary to mention, because perhaps it is little taken notice of, though of great influence.
Wrong judgment of what is necessary to our happiness.
§ 68. All men desire happiness, that is past doubt; but, as has been already observed, when they are rid of pain, they are apt to take up with any pleasure at hand, or that custom has endeared to them, to rest satisfied in that; and so being happy, till some new desire, by making them uneasy, disturbs that happiness, and shows them that they are not so, they look no farther; nor is the will determined to any action, in pursuit of any other known or apparent good. For since we find, that we cannot enjoy all sorts of good, but one excludes another; we do not fix our desires on every apparent greater good, unless it be judged to be necessary to our happiness; if we think we can be happy without it, it moves us not. This is another occasion to men of judging wrong, when they take not that to be necessary to their happiness, which really is so. This mistake misleads us both in the choice of the good we aim at, and very often in the means to it, when it is a remote good. But which way ever it be, either by placing it where really it is not, or by neglecting the means as not necessary to it; when a man misses his great end happiness, he will acknowledge he judged not right. That which contributes to this mistake, is the real or supposed unpleasantness of the actions, which are the way to this end; it seeming so preposterous a thing to men, to make themselves unhappy in order to happiness, that they do not easily bring themselves to it.
We can change the agreeableness or disagreeableness in things.
§ 69. The last inquiry, therefore, concerning this matter is, “whether it be in a man’s power to change the pleasantness and unpleasantness that accompanies any sort of action?” And as to that, it is plain, in many cases he can. Men may and should correct their palates, and give relish to what either has, or they suppose has none. The relish of the mind is as various as that of the body, and like that too may be altered; and it is a mistake to think, that men cannot change the displeasingness or indifferency that is in actions into pleasure and desire, if they will do but what is in their power. A due consideration will do it in some cases; and practice, application, and custom in most. Bread or tobacco may be neglected, where they are shown to be useful to health, because of an indifferency or disrelish to them; reason and consideration at first recommend, and begin their trial, and use finds, or custom makes them pleasant. That this is so in virtue too, is very certain. Actions are pleasing or displeasing, either in themselves, or considered as a means to a greater and more desirable end. The eating of a well-seasoned dish, suited to a man’s palate, may move the mind by the delight itself that accompanies the eating, without reference to any other end: to which the consideration of the pleasure there is in health and strength (to which that meat is subservient) may add a new gusto, able to make us swallow an ill-relished potion. In the latter of these, any action is rendered more or less pleasing, only by the contemplation of the end, and the being more or less persuaded of its tendency to it, or necessary connection with it: but the pleasure of the action itself is best acquired or increased by use and practice. Trials often reconcile us to that, which at a distance we looked on with aversion; and by repetitions wear us into a liking of what possibly, in the first essay, displeased us. Habits have powerful charms, and put so strong attractions of easiness and pleasure into what we accustom ourselves to, that we cannot forbear to do, or at least, be easy in the omission of actions, which habitual practice has suited, and thereby recommends to us. Though this be very visible, and every one’s experience shows him he can do so; yet it is a part in the conduct of men towards their happiness, neglected to a degree, that it will be possibly entertained as a paradox, if it be said, that men can make things or actions more or less pleasing to themselves; and thereby remedy that, to which one may justly impute a great deal of their wandering. Fashion and the common opinion having settled wrong notions, and education and custom ill habits, the just values of things are misplaced, and the palates of men corrupted. Pains should be taken to rectify these; and contrary habits change our pleasures, and give a relish to that which is necessary or conducive to our happiness. This every one must confess he can do; and when happiness is lost, and misery overtakes him, he will confess he did amiss in neglecting it, and condemn himself for it: and I ask every one, whether he has not often done so?
Preference of vice to virtue a manifest wrong judgment.
§ 70. I shall not now enlarge any farther on the wrong judgments and neglect of what is in their power, whereby men mislead themselves. This would make a volume, and is not my business. But whatever false notions, or shameful neglect of what is in their power, may put men out of their way to happiness, and distract them, as we see, into so different courses of life, this yet is certain, that morality, established upon its true foundations, cannot but determine the choice in any one that will but consider: and he that will not be so far a rational creature as to reflect seriously upon infinite happiness and misery, must needs condemn himself as not making that use of his understanding he should. The rewards and punishments of another life, which the Almighty has established as the enforcements of his law, are of weight enough to determine the choice, against whatever pleasure or pain this life can show, when the eternal state is considered but in its bare possibility, which nobody can make any doubt of. He that will allow exquisite and endless happiness to be but the possible consequence of a good life here, and the contrary state the possible reward of a bad one; must own himself to judge very much amiss if he does not conclude, that a virtuous life, with the certain expectation of everlasting bliss, which may come, is to be preferred to a vicious one, with the fear of that dreadful state of misery, which it is very possible may overtake the guilty; or at best the terrible uncertain hope of annihilation. This is evidently so, though the virtuous life here had nothing but pain, and the vicious continual pleasure: which yet is, for the most part, quite otherwise, and wicked men have not much the odds to brag of, even in their present possession; nay, all things rightly considered, have, I think, even the worst part here. But when infinite happiness is put into one scale against infinite misery in the other; if the worst that comes to the pious man, if he mistakes, be the best that the wicked can attain to, if he be in the right, who can without madness run the venture? Who in his wits would choose to come within a possibility of infinite misery, which if he miss, there is yet nothing to be got by that hazard? Whereas on the other side, the sober man ventures nothing against infinite happiness to be got, if his expectation comes to pass. If the good man be in the right, he is eternally happy; if he mistakes, he is not miserable, he feels nothing. On the other side, if the wicked be in the right, he is not happy; if he mistakes, he is infinitely miserable. Must it not be a most manifest wrong judgment that does not presently see to which side, in this case, the preference is to be given? I have forborn to mention any thing of the certainty or probability of a future state, designing here to show the wrong judgment that any one must allow he makes upon his own principles, laid how he pleases, who prefers the short pleasures of a vicious life upon any consideration, whilst he knows, and cannot but be certain, that a future life is at least possible.
§ 71. To conclude this inquiry into human liberty, which as it stood before, I myself from the beginning fearing, and a very judicious friend of mine, since the publication, suspecting to have some mistake in it, though he could not particularly show it me, I was put upon a stricter review of this chapter. Wherein lighting upon a very easy and scarce observable slip I had made, in putting one seemingly indifferent word for another, that discovery opened to me this present view, which here, in this second edition, I submit to the learned world, and which in short is this: “Liberty is a power to act or not to act, according as the mind directs.” A power to direct the operative faculties to motion or rest in particular instances, is that which we call the will. That which, in the train of our voluntary actions, determines the will to any change of operation, is some present uneasiness; which is, or at least is always accompanied with, that of desire. Desire is always moved by evil, to fly it: because a total freedom from pain always makes a necessary part of our happiness: but every good, nay every greater good, does not constantly move desire, because it may not make, or may not be taken to make any necessary part of our happiness. For all that we desire, is only to be happy. But though this general desire of happiness operates constantly and invariably, yet the satisfaction of any particular desire can be suspended from determining the will to any subservient action, till we have maturely examined, whether the particular apparent good, which we then desire, makes a part of our real happiness, or be consistent or inconsistent with it. The result of our judgment upon that examination is what ultimately determines the man, who could not be free if his will were determined by any thing but his own desire, guided by his own judgment. I know that liberty by some is placed in an indifferency of the man, antecedent to the determination of his will. I wish they, who lay so much stress on such an antecedent indifferency, as they call it, had told us plainly, whether this supposed indifferency be antecedent to the thought and judgment of the understanding, as well as to the decree of the will. For it is pretty hard to state it between them; i. e. immediately after the judgment of the understanding, and before the determination of the will, because the determination of the will immediately follows the judgment of the understanding: and to place liberty in an indifferency, antecedent to the thought and judgment of the understanding, seems to me to place liberty in a state of darkness, wherein we can neither see nor say any thing of it; at least it places it in a subject incapable of it, no agent being allowed capable of liberty, but in consequence of thought and judgment. I am not nice about phrases, and therefore consent to say, with those that love to speak so, that liberty is placed in indifferency; but it is an indifferency which remains after the judgment of the understanding; yea, even after the determination of the will: and that is an indifferency not of the man, (for after he has once judged which is best, viz. to do, or forbear, he is no longer indifferent) but an indifferency of the operative powers of the man, which remaining equally able to operate, or to forbear operating after, as before the decree of the will, are in a state, which, if one pleases, may be called indifferency; and as far as this indifferency reaches, a man is free, and no farther; v. g. I have the ability to move my hand, or to let it rest; that operative power is indifferent to move, or not to move my hand; I am then in that respect perfectly free. My will determines that operative power to rest; I am yet free; because the indifferency of that my operative power to act, or not to act, still remains; the power of moving my hand is not at all impaired by the determination of my will, which at present orders rest; the indifferency of that power to act, or not to act, is just as it was before, as will appear, if the will puts it to the trial, by ordering the contrary. But if during the rest of my hand, it be seized by a sudden palsy, the indifferency of that operative power is gone, and with it my liberty; I have no longer freedom in that respect, but am under a necessity of letting my hand rest. On the other side, if my hand be put into motion by a convulsion, the indifferency of that operative faculty is taken away by that motion, and my liberty in that case is lost; for I am under a necessity of having my hand move. I have added this, to show in what sort of indifferency liberty seems to me to consist, and not in any other, real or imaginary.
§ 72. True notions concerning the nature and extent of liberty are of so great importance, that I hope I shall be pardoned this digression, which my attempt to explain it has led me into. The idea of will, volition, liberty and necessity, in this chapter of power, came naturally in my way. In a former edition of this treatise, I gave an account of my thoughts concerning them, according to the light I then had; and now, as a lover of truth, and not a worshipper of my own doctrines, I own some change of my opinion, which I think I have discovered ground for. In what I first writ, I with an unbiassed indifferency followed truth, whither I thought she led me. But neither being so vain as to fancy infallibility, nor so disingenuous as to dissemble my mistakes, for fear of blemishing my reputation, I have, with the same sincere design for truth only, not been ashamed to publish what a severer inquiry has suggested. It is not impossible but that some may think my former notions right, and some (as I have already found) these latter, and some neither. I shall not at all wonder at this variety in men’s opinions; impartial deductions of reason in controverted points being so rare, and exact ones in abstract notions not so very easy, especially if of any length. And therefore I should think myself not a little beholden to any one, who would upon these, or any other grounds, fairly clear this subject of liberty from any difficulties that may yet remain.
Before I close this chapter, it may perhaps be to our purpose, and help to give us clearer conceptions about power, if we make our thoughts take a little more exact survey of action. I have said above, that we have ideas but of two sorts of action, viz. motion and thinking. These, in truth, though called and counted actions, yet if nearly considered, will not be found to be always perfectly so. For, if I mistake not, there are instances of both kinds, which, upon due consideration, will be found rather passions than actions, and consequently so far the effects barely of passive powers in those subjects, which yet on their accounts are thought agents. For in these instances, the substance that hath motion or thought receives the impression, where it is put into that action purely from without, and so acts merely by the capacity it has to receive such an impression from some external agent; and such a power is not properly an active power, but a mere passive capacity in the subject. Sometimes the substance or agent puts itself into action by its own power; and this is properly active power. Whatsoever modification a substance has, whereby it produces any effect, that is called action; v. g. a solid substance by motion operates on, or alters the sensible ideas of another substance; and therefore this modification of motion we call action. But yet this motion in that solid substance is, when rightly considered, but a passion, if it received it only from some external agent. So that the active power of motion is in no substance which cannot begin motion in itself, or in another substance, when at rest. So likewise in thinking, a power to receive ideas or thoughts, from the operation of any external substance, is called a power of thinking: but this is but a passive power, or capacity. But to be able to bring into view ideas out of sight at one’s own choice, and to compare which of them one thinks fit, this is an active power. This reflection may be of some use to preserve us from mistakes about powers and actions, which grammar and the common frame of languages may be apt to lead us into; since what is signified by verbs that grammarians call active, does not always signify action: v. g. this proposition, I see the moon, or a star, or I feel the heat of the sun, though expressed by a verb active, does not signify any action in me, whereby I operate on those substances; but the reception of the ideas of light, roundness and heat, wherein I am not active, but barely passive, and cannot in that position of my eyes, or body, avoid receiving them. But when I turn my eyes another way, or remove my body out of the sun-beams, I am properly active; because of my own choice, by a power within myself, I put myself into that motion. Such an action is the product of active power.
§ 73. And thus I have, in a short draught, given a view of our original ideas, from whence all the rest are derived, and of which they are made up; which if I would consider, as a philosopher, and examine on what causes they depend, and of what they are made, I believe they all might be reduced to these very few primary and original ones, viz. Extension, Solidity, Mobility, or the power of being moved; which by our senses we receive from body; Perceptivity, or the power of perception, or thinking; Motivity, or the power of moving; which by reflection we receive from our minds. I crave leave to make use of these two new words, to avoid the danger of being mistaken in the use of those which are equivocal. To which if we add Existence, Duration, Number; which belong both to the one and the other; we have, perhaps, all the original ideas, on which the rest depend. For by these, I imagine, might be explained the nature of colours, sounds, tastes, smells, and all other ideas we have, if we had but faculties acute enough to perceive the severally modified extensions and motions of these minute bodies, which produce those several sensations in us. But my present purpose being only to inquire into the knowledge the mind has of things, by those ideas and appearances, which God has fitted it to receive from them, and how the mind comes by that knowledge, rather than into their causes, or manner of production; I shall not, contrary to the design of this essay, set myself to inquire philosophically into the peculiar constitution of bodies, and the configuration of parts, whereby they have the power to produce in us the ideas of their sensible qualities: I shall not enter any farther into that disquisition, it sufficing to my purpose to observe, that gold or saffron has a power to produce in us the idea of yellow, and snow or milk the idea of white, which we can only have by our sight, without examining the texture of the parts of those bodies, or the particular figures or motion of the particles which rebound from them, to cause in us that particular sensation: though when we go beyond the bare ideas in our minds, and would inquire into their causes, we cannot conceive any thing else to be in any sensible object, whereby it produces different ideas in us, but the different bulk, figure, number, texture, and motion of its insensible parts.