LONDON: Printed for A. MILLAR, in the Strand; AND A. KINCAID and A. DONALDSON, at Edinburgh. MDCCLX.


  • Section Page
  • I. OF the different Species of Philosophy 3
  • II. Of the Origin of Ideas 19
  • III. Of the Association of Ideas 29
  • IV. Sceptical Doubts concerning the Operations of the Understanding 45
  • V. Sceptical Solution of these Doubts 67
  • [Page] VI. Of Probability 91
  • VII. Of the Idea of necessary Connexion 97
  • VIII. Of Liberty and Necessity 125
  • IX. Of the Reason of Animals 159
  • X. Of Miracles 167
  • XI. Of a particular Providence and of a future State 203
  • XII. Of the academical or sceptical Philosophy 227



MORAL philosophy, or the science of human nature, may be treated after two different manners; each of which has its peculiar merit, and may contribute to the entertainment, instruction, and reformation of mankind. The one considers man chiefly as born for action; and as influenced in his actions by taste and sentiment; pursuing one object, and avoiding another, according to the value which these objects seem to possess, and according to the light in which they present themselves. Virtue, of all objects, is the most valuable and lovely; and accor­dingly this species of philosophers paint her in the most amiable colours; borrowing all helps from poe­try and eloquence, and treating their subject in an easy and obvious manner, such as is best fitted to please the imagination, and engage the affections. They select the most striking observations and in­stances from common life; place opposite characters [Page 4] in a proper contrast; and alluring us into the paths of virtue by the views of glory and happiness, direct our steps in these paths by the soundest precepts and most illustrious examples. They make us feel the difference betwixt vice and virtue; they excite and regulate our sentiments; and so they can but bend our hearts to the love of probity and true honour, they think, that they have fully attained the end of all their labours.

THE other species of philosophers treat man rather as a reasonable than an active being, and endeavour to form his understanding more than cultivate his manners. They regard mankind as a subject of spe­culation; and with a narrow scrutiny examine human nature, in order to find those principles, which regu­late our understanding, excite our sentiments, and make us approve or blame any particular object, ac­tion, or behaviour. They think it a reproach to all literature, that philosophy should not yet have fixed, beyond controversy, the foundation of morals, reason­ing, and criticism, and should for ever talk of truth and falsehood, vice and virtue, beauty and deformity, without being able to determine the source of these distinctions. While they attempt this arduous task, they are deterred by no difficulties; but proceeding from particular instances to general principles, they still push on their inquiries to principles more gene­ral, and rest not satisfied till they arrive at those ori­ginal [Page 5] principles, by which, in every science, all hu­man cu [...]iosity must be bounded. Tho' their specula­tions seem abstract, and even unintelligible to com­mon readers, they please themselves with the appro­bation of the learned and the wise; and think them­selves sufficiently compensated for the labours of their whole lives, if they can discover some hidden truths, which may contribute to the instruction of posterity.

'TIS certain, that the easy and obvious philosophy will always, with the generality of mankind, have the preference to the accurate and abstruse; and by many will be recommended, not only as more agree­able, but more useful than the other. It enters more into common life; moulds the heart and affections; and, by touching those principles which actuate men, reforms their conduct, and brings them nearer that mo­del of perfection which it describes. On the contrary, the abstruse philosophy, being founded on a turn of mind, which cannot enter into business and action, vanishes when the philosopher leaves the shade, and comes into open day; nor can its principles easily re­tain any influence over our conduct and behaviour. The feelings of our sentiments, the agitations of our passions, the vehemence of our affections, dissipate all its conclusions, and reduce the profound philosopher to a mere plebeian.

[Page 6] THIS also must be confessed, that the most durable, as well as justest fame has been acquired by the easy philosophy, and that abstract reasoners seem hitherto to have enjoyed only a momentary reputation, from the caprice or ignorance of their own age, but have not been able to support their renown with more equitable posterity. 'Tis easy for a profound philo­sopher to commit a mistake in his subtile reasonings; and one mistake is the necessary parent of another, while he pushes on his consequences, and is not de­terred from embracing any conclusion, by its unusual appearance, or its contradiction to popular opinion. But a philosopher, who proposes only to represent the common sense of mankind in more beautiful and more engaging colours, if by accident he commits a mistake, goes no farther; but renewing his appeal to common sense, and the natural sentiments of the mind, returns into the right path, and secures him­self from any dangerous illusions. The fame of CI­CERO flourishes at present; but that of ARISTOTLE is utterly decayed. La BRUYERE passes the seas, and still maintains his reputation: But the glory of MALEBRANCHE is confined to his own nation, and to his own age. And ADDISON, perhaps, will be read with pleasure, when LOCKE shall be intirely for­gotten.

THE mere philosopher is a character which is commonly but little acceptable in the world, as being [Page 7] supposed to contribute nothing either to the advan­tage or pleasure of society; while he lives remote from communication with mankind, and is wrapped up in principles and notions equally remote from their comprehension. On the other hand, the mere ignorant is still more despised; nor is any thing deemed a surer sign of an illiberal genius in an age and nation where the sciences flourish, than to be in­tirely void of all relish for those noble entertainments. The most perfect character is supposed to lie between those extremes; retaining an equal ability and taste for books, company, and business; preserving in con­versation that discernment and delicacy which arise from polite letters; and in business, that probity and accuracy which are the natural result of a just philo­sophy. In order to diffuse and cultivate so accom­plished a character, nothing can be more useful than compositions of the easy style and manner, which draw not too much from life, require no deep application or retreat to be comprehended, and send back the stu­dent among mankind full of noble sentiments and wise precepts, applicable to every exigence of human life. By means of such compositions, virtue becomes amiable, science agreeable, company instructive, and retirement entertaining.

MAN is a reasonable being; and as such, receives from science his proper food and nourishment: But so narrow are the bounds of human understanding, that [Page 8] little satisfaction can be hoped for in this particular? either from the extent or security of his acquisitions. Man is a sociable, no less than a reasonable being: But neither can he always enjoy company agreeable and amusing, or preserve the proper relish of them. Man is also an active being; and from that dispo­sition, as well as from the various necessities of hu­man life, must submit to business and occupation: But the mind requires some relaxation, and cannot always support its bent to care and industry. It seems, then, that nature has pointed out a mixed kind of life as most suitable to human race, and secretly ad­monished them to allow none of these biasses to draw too much, so as to incapacitate them for other occu­pations and entertainments. Indulge your passion for science, says she, but let your science be human, and such as may have a direct reference to action and society. Abstruse thought and profound researches I prohibit, and will severely punish, by the pensive me­lancholy which they introduce, by the endless uncer­tainty in which they involve you, and by the cold re­ception which your pretended discoveries will meet with, when communicated. Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.

WERE the generality of mankind contented to pre­fer the easy philosophy to the abstract and profound, without throwing any blame or contempt on the lat­ter, it might not be improper, perhaps, to comply [Page 9] with this general opinion, and allow every man to enjoy, without opposition, his own taste and senti­ment. But as the matter is often carried farther, even to the absolute rejecting all profound reasonings, or what is commonly called metaphysics, we shall now proceed to consider what can reasonably be pleaded in their behalf.

WE may begin with observing, that one consider­able advantage which results from the accurate and ab­stract philosophy, is, its subserviency to the easy and humane; which, without the former, can never attain a sufficient degree of exactness in its sentiments, pre­cepts, or reasonings. All polite letters are nothing but pictures of human life in various attitudes and si­tuations; and inspire us with different sentiments, of praise or blame, admiration or ridicule, according to the qualities of the object which they set before us. An artist must be better qualified to succeed in this undertaking, who, besides a delicate taste and a quick apprehension, possesses an accurate knowledge of the internal fabric, the operations of the understanding, the workings of the passions, and the various species of sentiment which discriminate vice and virtue. How­ever painful this inward search or inquiry may appear, it becomes, in some measure, requisite to those, who would describe with success the obvious and outward appearances of life and manners. The anatomist pre­sents to the eye the most hideous and disagreeable ob­jects; [Page 10] but his science is highly useful to the painter in delineating even a VENUS or an HELEN. While the latter employs all the richest colours of his art, and gives his figures the most graceful and engaging airs; he must still carry his attention to the inward structure of the human body, the position of the mus­cles, the fabric of the bones, and the use and figure of every part or organ. Accuracy is, in every case, ad­vantageous to beauty, and just reasoning to delicate sentiments. In vain would we exalt the one by de­preciating the other.

BESIDES, we may observe, in every art or profes­sion, even those which most concern life or action, that a spirit of accuracy, however acquired, carries all of them nearer their perfection, and renders them more subservient to the interests of society. And tho' a philosopher may live remote from business, the ge­nius of philosophy, if carefully cultivated by several, must gradually diffuse itself thro' the whole society, and bestow a similar correctness on every art and call­ing. The politician will acquire greater foresight and subtilty, in the subdividing and balancing of power; the lawyer more method and finer principles in his reasonings; and the general more regularity in his discipline, and more caution in his plans and ope­ration. The stability of modern governments above the antient, and the accuracy of modern philosophy, [Page 11] have improved, and probably will still improve, by similar gradations.

WERE there no advantage to be reaped from these studies, beyond the gratification of an innocent curi­osity, yet ought not even this to be despised; as being one accession to those few safe and harmless pleasures which are bestowed on human race. The sweetest and most inoffensive path of life leads thro' the ave­nues of science and learning; and whoever can either remove any obstructions in this way, or open up any new prospect, ought so far to be esteemed a benefac­tor to mankind. And tho' these researches may ap­pear painful and fatiguing, 'tis with some minds as with some bodies, which being endowed with vigorous and florid health, require severe exercise, and reap a pleasure from what, to the generality of mankind, may seem burdensome and laborious. Obscurity, indeed, is painful to the mind as well as to the eye; but to bring light from obscurity, by whatever labour, must needs be delightful and rejoicing.

BUT this obscurity, in the profound and abstract philosophy, is objected to, not only as painful and fatiguing, but as the inevitable source of uncertainty and error. Here indeed lies the justest and most plau­sible objection against a considerable part of meta­physics, that they are not properly a science, but arise ei­ther from the fruitless efforts of human vanity, which [Page 12] would penetrate into subjects utterly inaccessible to the understanding, or from the craft of popular super­stition, which, being unable to defend themselves on fair ground, raise these intangling brambles to cover and protect their weakness. Chaced from the open country, these robbers fly into the forest, and lie in wait to break in upon every unguarded avenue of the mind, and overwhelm it with religious fears and pre­judices. The stoutest antagonist, if he remits his watch a moment, is oppressed. And many, thro' cowardice and folly, open the gates to the enemies, and willingly receive them with reverence and sub­mission, as their legal sovereigns.

BUT is this a just cause why philosophers should de­sist from such researches, and leave superstition still in possession of her retreat? Is it not reasonable to draw a direct contrary conclusion, and perceive the necessity of carrying the war into the most secret recesses of the enemy? In vain do we hope, that men, from fre­quent disappointments, will at laft abandon such airy sciences, and discover the proper province of human reason. For, besides that many persons find too sen­sible an interest in perpetually recalling such topics; besides this, I say, the motive of blind despair can ne­ver reasonably have place in the sciences; since, how­ever unsuccessful former attempts may have proved, there is still room to hope, that the industry, good fortune, or improved sagacity of succeeding genera­tions [Page 13] may reach discoveries unknown to former ages. Each adventurous genius will still leap at the arduous prize, and find himself stimulated, rather than discou­raged, by the failures of his predecessors; while he hopes, that the glory of atchieving so hard an adven­ture is reserved for him alone. The only method of freeing learning, at once, from these abstruse questions, is to inquire seriously into the nature of human under­standing, and shew, from an exact analysis of its powers and capacity, that it is by no means sitted for such remote and abstruse subjects. We must submit to this fatigue, in order to live at ease for ever after: And must cultivate true metaphysics with some care, in order to destroy the false and adulterate. Indolence, which to some persons, affords a safeguard against this deceitful philosophy, is, with others, overbalanced by curiosity; and despair, which, at some moments, pre­vails, may give place afterwards to sanguine hopes and expectations. Accurate and just reasoning is the only catholic remedy, sitted for all persons and all dispositions, and is alone able to subvert that abstruse philosophy and metaphysical jargon, which being mixed up with popular superstition, renders it in a manner impenetrable to careless reasoners, and gives it the air of science and wisdom.

BESIDES this advantage of rejecting, after deli­berate inquiry, the most uncertain and disagreeable part of learning, there are many positive advantages, [Page 14] which result from an accurate scrutiny into the powers and saculties of human nature. 'Tis remarkable con­cerning the operations of the mind, that tho' most in­timately present to us, yet whenever they become the object of reflection, they seem involved in obscurity, nor can the eye readily find those lines and bounda­ries, which discriminate and distinguish them. The objects are too fine to remain long in the same aspect or situation; and must be apprehended, in an in­stant, by a superior penetration, derived from nature, and improved by habit and reflection. It becomes, therefore, no inconsiderable part of science barely to know the different operations of the mind, to separate them from each other, to class them under their pro­per divisions, and to correct all that seeming disorder, in which they lie involved, when made the object of reflection and inquiry. This task of ordering and distinguishing, which has no merit, when performed with regard to external bodies, the objects of our sen­ses, rises in its value, when directed towards the ope­rations of the mind, in proportion to the difficulty and labour which we meet with in performing it. And if we can go no farther than this mental geography, or delineation of the distinct parts and powers of the mind, 'tis at least a satisfaction to go so far; and the more obvious this science may appear (and it is by no means obvious) the more contemptible still must the ignorance of it be esteemed in all pretenders to learn­ing and philosophy.

[Page 15] NOR can there remain any suspicion, that this sci­ence is uncertain and chimerical; unless we should en­tertain such a scepticism as is intirely subversive of all speculation, and even action. It cannot be doubted, that the mind is endowed with several powers and fa­culties, that these powers are totally distinct from each other, that what is really distinct to the immediate per­ception may be distinguished by reflection; and con­sequently, that there is a truth and falshood in all pro­positions on this subject, and a truth and falshood, which lie not beyond the compass of human under­standing. There are many obvious distinctions of this kind, such as those between the will and under­standing, the imagination and passions, which fall within the comprehension of every human creature; and the finer and more philosophical distinctions are no less real and certain, tho' more difficult to be com­prehended. Some instances, especially late ones, of success in these inquiries, may give us a juster notion of the certainty and solidity of this branch of learning. And shall we esteem it worthy the labour of a philo­sopher to give us a true system of the planets, and ad­just the position and order of those remote bodies; while we affect to overlook those, who, with so much success, delineate the parts of the mind, in which we are so intimately concerned?

BUT may we not hope, that philosophy, if culti­vated with care, and encouraged by the attention of [Page 16] the public, may carry its researches still farther, and discover, at least in some degree, the secret springs and principles, by which the human mind is actuated in its operations? Astronomers had long contented them­selves with proving, from the phaenomena, the true motions, order, and magnitude of the heavenly bodies: Till a philosopher, at last, arose, who seems from the happiest reasoning, to have also determined the laws and forces by which the revolutions of the planets are governed and directed. The like has been performed with regard to other parts of nature. And there is no reason to despair of equal success in our inquiries con­cerning the mental powers and oeconomy, if prosecu­red with equal capacity and caution. 'Tis probable, that one operation and principle of the mind depends on another; which, again, may be resolved into one more general and universal: And how far these re­searches may possibly be carried, it will be difficult for us, before, or even after, a careful trial, exactly to de­termine. This is certain, that attempts of this kind are every day made even by those who philosophize the most negligently: and nothing can be more re­quisite than to enter upon the enterprize with thorough care and attention; that, if it lie within the compase of human understanding, it may at last be happily at­chieved; if not, it may, however, be rejected with some confidence and security. This last conclusion' surrely, is not desireable, nor ought it to be embraced too rashly. For how much must we diminish from [Page 17] the beauty and value of this species of philosophy, up­on such a supposition? Moralists have hitherto been accustomed, when they considered the vast multitude and diversity of actions that excite our approbation or dislike, to search for some common principle, on which this variety of sentiments might depend. And tho' they have sometimes carried the matter too far, by their passion for some one general principle; it must, however, be confessed, that they are excusable, in ex­pecting to find some general principles, into which all the vices and virtues were justly to be resolved. The like has been the endeavour of critics, logicians, and even politicians: Nor have their attempts been wholly unsuccessful; tho' perhaps longer time, great­er accuracy, and more ardent application may bring these sciences still nearer their perfection. To throw up at once all pretensions of this kind may justly be deemed more rash, precipitate, and dogmatical, than even the boldest and most affirmative philosophy, which has ever attempted to impose its crude dictates and principles on mankind.

WHAT tho' these reasonings concerning human na­ture seem abstract, and of difficult comprehension? This affords no presumption of their falshood. On the contrary, it seems impossible, that what has hi­therto escaped so many wise and profound philoso­phers can be very obvious and easy. And whatever pains these researches may cost us, we may think our­selves [Page 18] sufficiently rewarded, not only in point of pro­fit but of pleasure, if, by that means, we can make any addition to our stock of knowledge, in subjects of such unspeakable importance.

BUT as, after all, the abstractedness of these specu­lations is no recommendation, but rather a disadvan­tage to them, and as this difficulty may perhaps be surmounted by care and art, and the avoiding all un­necessary detail, we have, in the following inquiry, attempted to throw some light upon subjects, from which uncertainty has hitherto deterred the wise, and obscurity the ignorant. Happy, if we can unite the boundaries of the different species of philosophy, by reconciling profound inquiry with clearness, and truth with novelty! And still more happy, if, reasoning in this easy manner, we can undermine the foundations of an abstruse philosophy, which seems to have served hitherto only as a shelter to supersition, and a cover to absurdity and error!


EVERY one will readily allow, that there is a considerable difference between the perceptions of the mind, when a man feels the pain of excessive heat, or the pleasure of moderate warmth, and when he afterwards recalls to his memory this sensation, or anticipates it by his imagination. These faculties may mimic or copy the perceptions of the senses; but they never can reach entirely the force and vivacity of the original sentiment. The utmost we say of them, even when they operate with greatest vigour, is, that they represent their object in so lively a man­ner, that we could almost say we feel or see it: But except the mind be disordered by disease or madness, they never can arrive at such a pitch of vivacity, as to render these perceptions altogether undistinguish­able. All the colours of poetry, however splendid, can never paint natural objects in such a manner as to make the description be taken for a real landskip. [Page 20] The most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation.

WE may observe a like distinction to run thro' all the other perceptions of the mind. A man, in a fit of anger, is actuated in a very different manner from one who only thinks of that emotion. If you tell me, that any person is in love, I easily understand your meaning, and form a just conception of his situ­ation; but never can mistake that conception for the real disorders and agitations of the passion. When we refiect on our paft sentiments and affections, our thought is a faithful mirror, and copies its objects truly; but the colours which it employs are faint and dull, in comparison of those in which our original perceptions were clothed. It requires no nice dis­cernment nor metaphysical head to mark the distinc­tion between them.

HERE therefore we may divide all the perceptions of the mind into two classes or species, which are distinguished by their different degrees of force and vivacity. The less forcible and lively are commonly denominated THOUGHTS or IDEAS. The other spe­cies want a name in our language, and in most others; I suppose, because it was not requisite for any, but philosophical purposes, to rank them under a general term or appellation. Let us, therefore, use a little freedom, and call them IMPRESSIONS; employing [Page 21] that word in a sense somewhat different from the usual. By the term impression, then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, which are the less lively perceptions of which we are conscious, when we re­flect on any of those sensations or movements above mentioned.

NOTHING, at first view, may seem more unbounded than the thought of man, which not only escapes all human power and authority, but is not even restrained within the limits of nature and reality. To form monsters, and join incongruous shapes and appear­ances, costs no more trouble than to conceive the most natural and familiar objects. And while the body is confined to one planet, along which it creeps with pain and difficulty; the thought can in an in­stant transport us into the most distant regions of the universe; or even beyond the universe, into the un­bounded chaos, where nature is supposed to lie in total confusion. What never was seen, nor heard of, may yet be conceived; nor is any thing beyond the power of thought, except what implies an absolute contradiction.

BUT tho' thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow limits, and that all this creative power of the mind amounts [Page 22] to no more than the compounding, transposing, aug­menting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experience. When we think of a golden mountain, we only join two consistent ideas, gold, and mountain, with which we were formerly ac­quainted. A virtuous horse we can conceive; be­cause, from our own feeling, we can conceive virtue, and this we may unite to the figure and shape of a horse, which is an animal familiar to us. In short, all the materials of thinking are derived either from our outward or inward sentiment: The mixture and composition of these belongs alone to the mind and will. Or, to express myself in philosophical lan­guage, all our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our impressions or more lively ones.

To prove this, the two following arguments will, I hope, be sufficient. First, When we analyse our thoughts or ideas, however compounded or sublime, we always find, that they resolve themselves into such simple ideas as were copied from a precedent feeling or sentiment. Even those ideas, which, at first view, seem the most wide of this origin, are found, upon a narrower scrutiny, to be derived from it. The idea of God, as meaning an infinitely intelligent, wise, and good Being, arises from reflecting on the opera­tions of our own mind, and augmenting, without li­mit, those qualities of goodness and wisdom. We may prosecute this enquiry to what length we please; [Page 23] where we shall always find, that every idea we exa­mine is copied from a similar impression. Those who would assert, that this position is not absolutely uni­versal and without exception, have only one, and that an easy method of refuting it; by producing that idea, which, in their opinion, is not derived from this source. It will then be incumbent on us, if we would maintain our doctrine, to produce the impression or lively perception, which corresponds to it.

SECONDLY. If it happen, from a defect of the organ, that a man is not susceptible of any species of sensation, we always find, that he is as little sus­ceptible of the correspondent ideas. A blind man can form no notion of colours; a deaf man of sounds. Restore either of them that sense, in which he is de­ficient; by opening this new inlet for his sensations, you also open an inlet for the ideas, and he finds no difficulty of conceiving these objects. The case is the fame, if the object, proper for exciting any sensation, has never been applied to the organ. A LAPLANDER or NEGROE has no notion of the relish of wine. And tho' there are few or no instances of a like defi­ciency in the mind, where a person has never felt or is wholly incapable of a sentiment or passion, that be­longs to his species; yet we find the same observation to take place in a less degree. A man of mild man­ners can form no notion of inveterate revenge or cruelty; nor can a selfish heart easily conceive the [Page 24] heights of friendship and generosity. 'Tis readily al­lowed, that other beings may possess many senses, of which we can have no conception: because the ideas of them have never been introduced to us in the only manner by which an idea can have access to the mind, viz. by the actual feeling and sensation.

THERE is, however, one contradictory phaenome­non, which may prove, that 'tis not absolutely im­possible for ideas to go before their correspondent im­pressions. I believe it will readily be allowed, that the several distinct ideas of colours, which enter by the eyes, or those of sounds, which are conveyed by the hearing, are really different from each other; tho', at the same time, resembling. Now if this be true of different colours, it must be no less so, of the dif­ferent shades of the same colour; and each shade pro­duces a distinct idea, independent of the rest. For if this should be denied, 'tis possible, by the continual gradation of shades, to run a colour insensibly into what is most remote from it; and if you will not al­low any of the means to be different, you cannot, without absurdity, deny the extremes to be the same. Suppose, therefore, a person to have enjoyed his sight for thirty years, and to have become perfectly well acquainted with colours of all kinds, except one par­ticular shade of blue, for instance, which it never has been his fortune to meet with. Let all the different shades of that colour, except that single one, be [Page 25] placed before him, descending gradually from the deepest to the lightest; 'tis plain, that he will per­ceive a blank, where that shade is wanting, and will be sensible, that there is a greater distance in that place betwixt the contiguous colours than in any other. Now I ask, whether 'tis possible for him, from his own imagination, to supply this deficiency, and raise up to himself the idea of that particular shade, tho' it had never been conveyed to him by his senses? I believe there are few but will be of opinion that he can; and this may serve as a proof, that the simple ideas are not always, in every instance, derived from the correspondent impressions; tho' this instance is so singular, that 'tis scarce worth our observing, and does not merit, that for it alone, we should alter our general maxim.

HERE, therefore, is a proposition, which not only seems, in itself, simple and intelligible; but if a pro­per use were made of it, might render every dispute equally intelligible, and banish all that jargon, which has so long taken possession of metaphysical reason­ings, and drawn such disgrace upon them. All ideas, especially abstract ones, are naturally faint and ob­scure; the mind has but a slender hold of them: They are apt to be confounded with other resembling ideas; and when we have often employed any term, tho' without a distinct meaning, we are apt to ima­gine that it has a determinate idea, annexed to it. [Page 26] On the contrary, all impressions, that is, all sensations, either outward or inward, are strong and sensible: The limits between them are more exactly deter­mined: Nor is it easy to fall into any error or mistake with regard to them. When we entertain therefore any suspicion, that a philosophical term is employed without any meaning or idea (as is but too frequent) we need but enquire, from what impression is that supposed idea derived? And if it be impossible to as­sign any, this will serve to confirm our suspicion. By bringing ideas into so clear a light, we may rea­sonably hope to remove all dispute, which may arise, concerning their nature and reality*.


'TIS evident, that there is a principle of con­nexion between the different thoughts or ideas of the mind, and that in their appearance to the me­mory or imagination, they introduce each other with a certain degree of method and regularity. In our more serious thinking or discourse, this is so observ­able, that any particular thought, which breaks in upon this regular tract or chain of ideas, is immedi­ately remarked and rejected. And even in our wildest and most wandering reveries, nay in our very dreams, we shall find, if we reflect, that the imagination ran not altogether at adventures, but that there was still a connexion upheld among the different ideas, which succeeded each other. Were the loosest and freest conversation to be transcribed, there would immedi­ately be observed something, which connected it in all its transitions. Or where this is wanting, the per­son, who broke the thread of discourse, might still [Page 30] inform you, that there had secretly revolved in his mind a succession of thought, which had gradually led him away from the subject of conversation. Among the languages of different nations, even where we cannot suspect the least connexion or communication, 'tis found, that the words, expressive of ideas, the most compounded, do yet nearly correspond to each other: A certain proof, that the simple ideas, com­prehended in the compound ones, were bound toge­ther by some universal principle, which had an equal influence on all mankind.

THO' it be too obvious to escape observation, that different ideas are connected together; I do not find, that any philosopher has attempted to enumerate or class all the principles of association; a subject, how­ever, that seems very worthy of curiosity. To me, there appear to be only three principles of connexion among ideas, viz. Resemblance, Contiguity in time or place, and Cause or Effect.

THAT these principles serve to connect ideas will not, I believe, be much doubted. A picture natu­rally leads our thoughts to the original*: The men­tion of one apartment in a building naturally intro­duces an enquiry or discourse concerning the others: And if we think of a wound, we can scarce forbear [Page 31] reflecting on the pain which follows it*. But that this enumeration is compleat, and that there are no other principles of association, except these, may be difficult to prove to the satisfaction of the reader, or even to a man's own satisfaction. All we can do, in such cases, is to run over several instances, and exa­mine carefully the principle, which binds the different thoughts to each other, never stopping till we render the principle as general as possible. The more in­stances we examine, and the more care we employ, the more assurance shall we acquire, that the enume­ration, which we form from the whole, is compleat and entire. Instead of entering into a detail of this kind, which would lead into many useless subtilties, we shall consider some of the effects of this connexion upon the passions and imagination; where we may open a field of speculation more entertaining, and per­haps more instructive, than the other.

As man is reasonable being, and is continually in pursuit of happiness, which he hopes to attain by the gratification of some passion or affection, he sel­dom acts or speaks or thinks without a purpose and intention. He has still some object in view; and however improper the means may sometimes be, which he chuses for the attainment of his end, he never loses view of an end, nor will he so much as [Page 32] throw away his thoughts or reflections, where he hopes not to reap any satisfaction from them.

IN all compositions of genius, therefore, 'tis requi­site that the writer have some plan or object; and tho' he may be hurried from this plan by the vehe­mence of thought, as in an ode, or drop it carelesly, as in an epistle or essay, there must appear some aim or intention, in his first setting out, if not in the composition of the whole work. A production with­out a design would resemble more the raving of a madman, than the sober efforts of genius and learn­ing.

As this rule admits of no exception, it follows, that in narrative compositions, the events or actions, which the writer relates, must be connected together, by some bond or tye: They must be related to each other in the imagination, and form a kind of Unity, which may bring them under one plan or view, and which may be the object or end of the writer in his first undertaking.

THIS connecting principle among the several events, which form the subject of a poem or history, may by very different, according to the different designs of the poet or historian. OVID has formed his plan up­on the connecting principle or resemblance. Every sabulous transformation, produced by the miraculous [Page 33] power of the gods, falls within the compass of his work. There needs but this one circumstance in any event to bring it under his original plan or intention.

AN annalist or historian, who should undertake to write the history of EUROPE during any century, would be influenced by the connexion of contiguity in time and place. All events, which happen in that portion of space, and period of time, are compre­hended in his design, tho' in other respects different and unconnected. They have still a species of unity, amidst all their diversity.

BUT the most usual species of connexion among the different events, which enter into any narrative composition, is that of cause and effect: while the historian traces the series of actions according to their natural order, remounts to their secret springs and principles, and delineates their most remote conse­quences. He chuses for his subject a certain portion of that great chain of events, which compose the his­tory of mankind: Each link in this chain he endea­vours to touch in his narration: Sometimes unavoid­able ignorance renders all his attempts fruitless: Some­times, he supplies by conjecture what is wanting in knowledge: And always, he is sensible, that the more unbroken the chain is, which he presents to his read­ers, the more perfect is his production. He sees, that the knowledge of causes is not only the most sa­tisfactory; this relation or connexion being the strong­est [Page 34] of all others; but also the most instructive; since it is by this knowlege alone, we are enabled to con­troul events, and govern futurity.

HERE therefore we may attain some notion of that Unity of Action, about which all critics, after ARI­STOTLE, have talked so much: Perhaps, to little purpose, while they directed not their taste or senti­ment by the accuracy of philosophy. It appears, that in all productions, as well as in the epic and tragic, there is a certain unity required, and that, on no occasion, can our thoughts be allowed to run at adventures, if we would produce a work, which will give any lasting entertainment to mankind. It ap­pears also, that even a biographer, who should write the life of ACHILLES, would connect the events, by shewing their mutual dependence and relation, as much as a poet, who should make the anger of that hero, the subject of his narration*. Not only in any limited portion of life, a man's actions have a depen­dance on each other, but also during the whole pe­riod of his duration, from the cradle to the grave; nor is it possible to strike off one link, however mi­nute, in this regular chain, without affecting the [Page 35] whole series of events, which follow. The unity of action, therefore, which is to be found in biography or history, differs from that of epic poetry, not in kind, but in degree. In epic poetry, the connexion among the events is more close and sensible: The narration is not carried on thro' such a length of time: And the actors hasten to some remarkable pe­riod, which satisfies the curiosity of the reader. This conduct of the epic poet depends on that particular situation of the Imagination and of the Passions, which is supposed in that production. The imagination, both of writer and reader, is more enlivened, and the passions more enflamed than in history, biography, or any species of narration, which confine themselves to strict truth and reality. Let us consider the effect of these two circumstances, an enlivened imagination and enflamed passions, circumstances, which belong to poetry, especially the epic kind, above any other species of composition; and let us examine the reason why they require a stricter and closer unity in the fable.

FIRST. All poetry, being a species of painting, approaches us nearer to the objects than any other species of narration, throws a stronger light upon them, and delineates more distinctly those minute circumstances, which, tho' to the historian they seem supersluous, serve mightily to enliven the imagery, and gratify the fancy. If it be not necessary, as in [Page 36] the Iliad, to inform us each time the hero buckles his shoes, and ties his garters, it will be requisite, per­haps, to enter into a greater detail than in the HEN­RIADE; where the events are run over with such ra­pidity, that we scarce have leisure to become acquaint­ed with the scene or action. Were a poet, therefore, to comprehend in his subject any great compass of time or series of events, and trace up the death of HECTOR to its remote causes, in the rape of HELEN, or the judgment of PARIS, he must draw out his poem to an immeasurable length, in order to fill this large canvas with just painting and imagery. The reader's imagination, enflamed with such a series of poetical descriptions, and his passions, agitated by a continual sympathy with the actors, must flag long before the period of the narration, and must sink into lassitude and disgust, from the repeated violence of the same movements.

SECONDLY. That an epic poet must not trace the causes to any great distance, will farther appear, if we consider another reason, which is drawn from a property of the passions still more remarkable and sin­gular. 'Tis evident, that in a just composition, all the affections, excited by the different events, described and represented, add mutual force to each other; and that while the heroes are all engaged in one common scene, and each action is strongly connected with the whole, the concern is continually awake, and the pass­ions [Page 37] make an easy transition from one object to ano­ther. The strong connection of the events, as it fa­cilitates the passage of the thought or imagination from one to another, facilitates also the transfusion of the passions, and preserves the affections still in the same channel and direction. Our sympathy and con­cern for EVE prepares the way for a like sympathy with ADAM: The affection is preserved almost entire in the transition; and the mind seizes immediately the new object as strongly related to that which for­merly engaged its attention. But were the poet to make a total digression from his subject, and intro­duce a new actor, no way connected with the per­sonages, the imagination, feeling a breach in the tran­sition, would enter coldly into the new scene; would kindle by flow degrees; and in returning to the main subject of the poem, would pass, as it were, upon foreign ground, and have its concern to excite anew, in order to take party with the principal actors. The same inconvenience follows in a less degree, where the poet traces his events to too great a distance, and binds together actions, which tho' not entirely dis­joined, have not so strong a connexion as is requisite to forward the transition of the passions. Hence arises the artifice of the oblique narration, employed in the Odyssey AND Aeneid; where the hero is introduced, at first, near the period of his designs, and afterwards shows us, as it were in perspective, the more distant [Page 38] events and causes. By this means, the reader's curi­osity is immediately excited: The events follow with rapidity, and in a very close connexion: And the concern is preserved alive, and, by means of the near relation of the objects, continually increases, from the beginning to the end of the narration.

THE same rule takes place in dramatic poetry; nor is it ever permitted, in a regular composition, to introduce an actor, who has no connexion, or but a small one, with the principal personages of the fable. The spectator's concern must not be diverted by any scenes, disjoined and separated from the rest. This breaks the course of the passions, and prevents that communication of the several emotions, by which one scene adds force to another, and transfuses the pity and terror, which it excites, upon each succeeding scene, 'till the whole produces that rapidity of move­ment, which is peculiar to the theatre. How must it extinguish this warmth of affection to be enter­tained, on a sudden, with a new action and new per­sonages, no way related to the former; to find so sensible a breach or vacuity in the course of the pas­sions, by means of this breach in the connexion of ideas; and instead of carrying the sympathy of one scene into the following, to be obliged every moment, to excite a new concern, and take party in a new scene of action?

[Page 39] BUT tho' this rule of unity of action be common to dramatic and epic poetry; we may still observe a difference between them, which may, perhaps, de­serve our attention. In both these species of compo­sition, 'tis requisite that the action be one and simple, in order to preserve the concern or sympathy entire and undiverted: But in epic or narrative poetry, this rule is also established upon another foundation, viz. the necessity, that is incumbent on every writer, to form some plan or design, before he enter on any discourse or narration, and to comprehend his subject in some general aspect or united view, which may be the constant object of his attention. As the author is entirely lost in dramatic compositions, and the spec­tator supposes himself to be really present at the ac­tions represented; this reason has no place with re­gard to the stage; but any dialogue or conversation may be introduced, which, without improbability, might have passed in that determinate portion of space, represented by the theatre. Hence in all our ENG­LISH comedies, even those of CONGREVE, the unity of action is never strictly observed; but the poet thinks is sufficient, if his personages be any way re­lated to each other, by blood, or by living in the same family; and he afterwards introduces them in particular scenes, where they display their humours and characters, without much forwarding the main action. The double plots of TERENCE are licences of the [Page 40] same kind; but in a less degree. And tho' this con­duct be not perfectly regular, it is not wholly unsuit­able to the nature of comedy, where the movements and passions are not raised to such a height as in tra­gedy; at the same time, that the fiction or represen­tation palliates, in some measure, such licences. In a narrative poem, the first proposition or design con­fines the author to one subject; and any digressions of this nature would, at first view, be rejected, as absurd and monstrous. Neither BOCCACE, LA FON­TAINE, nor any author of that kind, tho' pleasantry be their chief object, have ever indulged them.

To return to the comparison of history and epic poetry, we may conclude, from the foregoing rea­sonings, that as a certain unity is requisite in all pro­ductions, it cannot be wanting to history more than to any other; that in history, the connexion among the several events, which unites them into one body, is the relation of cause and effect, the same which takes place in epic poetry; and that in the latter com­position, this connexion is only required to be closer and more sensible, on account of the lively imagina­tion and strong passions, which must be touched by the poet in his narration. The PELEPONNESIAN war is a proper subject for history, the siege of ATHENS for an epic poem, and the death of ALCI­BIADES for a tragedy.

[Page 41] As the difference, therefore, between history and epic poetry consists only in the degrees of connexion, which bind together those several events, of which their subject is composed, 'twill be difficult, if not impossible, by words, to determine exactly the bounds which separate them from each other. That is a matter of taste more than of reasoning; and perhaps, this unity may often be discovered in a subject, where, at first view, and from an abstract consideration, we should least expect to find it.

'TIS evident, that HOMER, in the course of his narration, exceeds the first proposition of his subject; and that the anger of ACHILLES, which caused the death of HECTOR, is not the same with that which produced so many ills to the GREEKS. But the strong connexion between those two movements, the quick transition from one to another, the contrast* between the effects of concord and discord among the princes, and the natural curiosity which we have to see A­CHILLES in action, after such long repose; all these causes carry on the reader, and produce a sufficient unity in the subject.

[Page 42] IT may be objected to MILTON, that he has traced up his causes to too great a distance, and that the re­bellion of the angles produces the fall of man by a train of events, which is both very long and very ca­sual. Not to mention that the creation of the world, which he has related at length, is no more the cause of that catastrophe, than of the battle of PHARSALIA, or any other event, that has ever happened. But if we consider, on the other hand, that all these events, the rebellion of the angels, the creation of the world, and the fall of man, resemble each other, in being miraculous and out of the common course of nature; that they are supposed to be contiguous in time; and that being detached from all other events, and being the only original facts, which revelation dis­covers, they strike the eye at once, and naturally re­call each other to the thought or imagination: If we consider all these circumstances, I say, we shall find, that these parts of the action have a sufficient unity to make them be comprehended in one fable or nar­ration. To which we may add, that the rebellion of the angels and the fall of man have a peculiar re­semblance, as being counterparts to each other, and presenting to the reader the same moral, of obedi­ence to our Creator.

THESE loose hints I have thrown together, in or­der to excite the curiosity of philosophers, and beget a suspicion at least, if not a full persuasion, that this [Page 43] subject is very copious, and that many operations of the human mind depend on the connexion or associa­tion of ideas, which is here explained. Particularly, the sympathy between the passions and imagination will, perhaps, appear remarkable; while we observe that the affections, excited by one object, pass easily to another connected with it; but transfuse them­selves with difficulty, or not at all, along different objects, which have no manner of connexion toge­ther. By introducing, into any composition, per­sonages and actions, foreign to each other, an injudi­cious author loses that communication of emotions, by which alone he can interest the heart, and raise the passions to their proper height and period. The full explication of this principle and all its conse­quences would lead us into reasonings too profound and too copious for this enquiry. 'Tis sufficient, at present, to have established this conclusion, that the three connecting principles of all ideas are the rela­tions of Resemblance, Contiguity, and Causation.



ALL the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, viz. Re­lations of Ideas and Matters of Fact. Of the first kind are the sciences of Geometry, Algebra, and Arith­metic; and in short, every affirmation, which is either intuitively or demonstratively certain. That the square of the hypothenuse is equal to the squares of the two sides, is a proposition, which expresses a relation between these figures. That three times five is equal to the half of thirty, expresses a relation between these numbers. Propositions of this kind are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, without dependence on what is any where existent in the universe. Tho' there never were a circle or triangle in nature, the truths demon­strated by EUCLID, would for ever retain their cer­tainty and evidence.

[Page 46] MATTERS of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not ascertained int the same man­ner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The con­trary of every matter of fact is still possible; be­cause it can never imply a contradiction, and is con­ceived by the mind with equal facility and distinct­ness, as if ever so conformable to reality. That the sun will not rise to-morrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction, than the affirmation, that it will rise. We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falshood. Were it demonstratively false, it would imply a contradic­tion, and could never be distinctly conceived by the mind.

IT may, therefore, be a subject worthy curiosity, to enquire what is the nature of that evidence, which assures us of any real existence and matter of fact, beyond the present testimony of our senses, or the re­cords of our memory. This part of philosophy, 'tis observable, has been little cultivated, either by the ancients or moderns; and therefore our doubts and er­rors, in the prosecution of so important an enquiry, may be the more excusable, while we march thro' such difficult paths, without any guide or direction. They may even prove useful, by exciting curiosity, and destroying that implicit faith and security, which is the bane of all reasoning and free enquiry. The [Page 47] discovery of defects in the common philosophy, if any such there be, will not, I presume, be a discou­ragement, but rather an incitement, as is usual, to attempt something more full and satisfactory, than has yet been proposed to the public.

ALL reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded in the relation of Cause and Effect. By means of that relation alone can we go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses. If you were to ask a man, why he believes any matter of fact, which is absent; for instance, that his friend is in the coun­try, or in FRANCE; he would give you a reason; and this reason would be some other fact; as a letter received from him, or the knowlege of his former resolutions and primises. A man, finding a watch or any other machine in a desart island, would con­clude, that there had once been men in that island. All our reasonings concerning fact are of the same nature. And here 'tis constantly supposed, that there is a connexion between the present fact and that in­ferred from it. Were there nothing to bind them to­gether, the inference would be entirely precarious. The hearing of an articulate voice and rational dis­course in the dark assures us of the presence of some person: Why? because these are the effects of the human make and fabric, and closely connected with it. If we anatomize all the other reasonings of this nature, we shall find, that they are founded in the [Page 48] relation of cause and effect, and that this relation is either near or remote, direct or collateral. Heat and light are collateral effects of fire, and the one effect may justly be inferred from the other.

IF we would satisfy ourselves, therefore, concern­ing the nature of that evidence, which assures us of all matters of fact, we must enquire how we arrive at the knowlege of cause and effect.

I SHALL venture to affirm, as a general proposition, which admits of no exception, that the knowlege of this relation is not, in any instance, attained by reasonings à priori; but arises entirely from experience, when we find, that any particular objects are constantly con­joined with each other. Let an object be presented to a man of ever so strong natural reason and abilities; if that object be entirely new to him, he will not be able, by the most accurate examination of its sensible qualities, to discover any of its causes or effects. ADAM, tho' his rational faculties be supposed, at the very first, entirely perfect, could not have inferred from the fluidity and transparency of water, that it would suffocate him, or from the light and warmth of fire, that it would consume him. No object ever dis­covers, by the qualities which appear to the senses, either the causes, which produced it, or the effects, which will arise from it; nor can our reason, unas­sisted [Page 49] by experience, ever draw any inferences con­cerning real existence and matter of fact.

THIS proposition, that cause and effects are discover­able, not by reason but by experience, will readily be admitted with regard to such objects, as we remem­ber to have been once altogether unknown to us; since we must be conscious of the utter inability which we then lay under of foretelling what would arise from them. Present two smooth pieces of marble to a man, who has no tincture of natural philosophy; he will never discover, that they will adhere together, in such a manner as to require great force to separate them in a direct line, while they make so small a re­sistance to a lateral pressure. Such events, as bear little analogy to the common course of nature, are also readily confessed to be known only by experience; nor does any man imagine that the explosion of gunpowder, or the attraction of a loadstone could ever be disco­vered by arguments à priori. In like manner, when an effect is supposed to depend upon an intricate ma­chinery or secret structure of parts, we make no dif­ficulty to attribute all our knowlege of it to experi­ence. Who will assert, that he can give the ultimate reason, why milk or bread is proper nourishment for a man, not for a lion or a tyger?

BUT the same truth may not appear, at first sight, to have the same evidence with regard to events, [Page 50] which have become familiar to us from our first ap­pearance in the world, which bear a close analogy to the whole course of nature, and which are supposed to depend on the simple qualities of objects, without any secret structure of parts. We are apt to ima­gine, that we could discover these effects, by the mere operations of our reason, without experience. We fancy, that, were we brought, on a sudden, into this world, we could at first have inferred, that one Bil­liard-ball would communicate motion to another up­on impulse; and that we needed not to have waited for the event, in order to pronounce with certainty concerning it. Such is the influence of custom, that, where it is strongest, it not only covers our natural ignorance, but even conceals itself, and seems not to take place, merely because it is found in the highest degree.

BUT to convince us, that all the laws of nature and all the operations of bodies, without exception, are known only by experience, the following reflec­tions, may, perhaps, suffice. Were any object pre­sented to us, and were we required to pronounce con­cerning the effect, which will result from it, without consulting past observation; after what manner, I be­seech you, must the mind proceed in this operation? It must invent or imagine some event, which it ascribes to the object as its effect; and 'tis plain that this invention must be entirely arbitrary. The mind can [Page 51] never possibly find the effect in the supposed cause, by the most accurate scrutiny and examination. For the effect is totally different from the cause, and conse­quently can never be discovered in it. Motion in the second Billiard-ball is a quite distinct event from mo­tion in the first; nor is there any thing in the one to suggest the smallest hint of the other. A stone or piece of metal raised into the air, and left without any support, immediately falls: But to consider the matter à priori, is there any thing we discover in this situation, which can beget the idea of a downward, rather than an upward, or any other motion, in the stone or metal?

AND as the first imagination or invention of a par­ticular effect, in all natural operations, is arbitrary, where we consult not experience; so must we also esteem the supposed tye or connexion between the cause and effect, which binds them together, and ren­ders it impossible, that any other effect could result from the operatioon of that cause. When I see, for instance, a Billiard-ball moving in a strait line towards another; even suppose motion in the second ball should by accident be suggested to me, as the result of their contact or impulse; may I not conceive, that a hundred different events might as well follow from that cause? May not both these balls remain at abso­lute rest? May not the first ball return in a strait line, or leap off from the second in any line or direction? [Page 52] All these suppositions are consistent and conceivable. Why then should we give the preference to one, which is no more consistent nor conceivable than the rest? All our reasonings à priori will never be able to shew us any foundation for this preference.

IN a word, then, every effect is a distinct event from its cause. It could not, therefore, be discovered In the cause, and the first invention or conception of it, à priori, must be entirely arbitrary. And even after it is suggested, the conjunction of it with the cause must appear equally arbitrary; since there are always many other effects, which, to reason, must seem fully as consistent and natural. In vain, there­fore, should we pretend to determine any single event, or infer any cause or effect, without the assistance of observation and experience.

HENCE we may discover the reason, why no philo­sopher, who is rational and modest, has ever pretended to assign the ultimate cause of any natural operation, or to show distinctly the action of that power, which produced any single effect in the universe. 'Tis con­fessed, that the utmost effort of human reason is, to reduce the principles, productive of natural phaeno­mena, to a greater simplicity, and to resolve the many particular effects into a few general cause, by means of reasonings from analogy, experience, and observation. But as to the causes of these general [Page 53] causes, we should in vain attempt their discovery; nor shall we ever be able to satisfy ourselves, by any particular explication of them. These ultimate springs and principles are totally shut up from human curi­osity and enquiry. Elasticity, gravity, cohesion of parts, communication of motion by impulse; these are probably the ultimate causes and principles which we shall ever discover in nature; and we may esteem ourselves sufficiently happy, if, by accurate enquiry and reasoning, we can trace up the particular phaeno­mena to, or near to, these general principles. The most perfect philosophy of the natural kind only staves off our ignorance a little longer: As perhaps the most perfect philosophy of the moral or metaphy­sical kind serves only to discover larger portion of our ignorance. Thus the observation of human blindness and weakness is the result of all philosophy, and meets us, at every turn, in spight of our endea­vours to elude or avoid it.

NOR is geometry, when taken into the assistance of natural philosophy, ever able to remedy this de­fect, or lead us into the knowlege of ultimate causes, by all that accuracy of reasoning, for which it is so justly celebrated. Every part of mixed mathematics goes upon the supposition, that certain laws are esta­blished by nature in her operations; and abstract rea­sonings are employed, either to assist experience in the discovery of these laws, or to determine their in­fluence [Page 54] in particular instances, where it depends upon any precise degrees of distance and quantity. Thus 'tis a law of motion, discovered by experience, that the moment or force of any body in motion is in the compound ratio or proportion of its solid contents and its velocity; and consequently, that a small sorce may remove the greatest obstacle or raise the greatest weight, if by any contrivance or machinery we can encrease the velocity of that force, so as to make it an over­match for its antagonist. Geometry assists us in the application of this law, by giving us the just di­mensions of all the parts and figures, which can enter into any species of machine; but still the discovery of the law itself is owing merely to experience, and all the abstract reasonings in the world could never lead us one step towards the knowlege of it. When we reason à priori, and consider merely any object or cause, as it appears to the mind, independent of all observation, it never could suggest to us the notion of any distinct object, such as its effect; much less, shew us the inseparable and inviolable connection be­tween them. A man must be very sagacious, who could discover by reasoning, that crystal is the effect of heat, and ice of cold, without being previously acquainted with the operations of these qualities.


BUT we have not, as yet, attained any tolerable satisfaction with regard to the question first proposed. Each solution still gives rise to a new question as dif­ficult as the foregoing, and leads us on to farther en­quiries. When it is asked, What is the nature of all our reasonings concerning matter of fact? The proper answer seems to be, that they are founded on the rela­tion of cause and effect. When again it is asked, What is the foundation of all our reasonings and con­clusions concerning that relation? it may be replied in one word, EXPERIENCE. But if we still carry on our sifting humour, and ask, What is the foundation of all our conclusions from experience? this implies a new question, which may be of more difficult solution and explication. Philosophers, that give themselves airs of superior wisdom and sufficiency, have a hard task, when they encounter persons of inquisitive dis­positions, who push them from every corner, to which they retreat, and who are sure at last to bring them to some dangerous dilemma. The best expedient to prevent this confusion, is to be modest in our preten­sions; and even to discover the difficulty ourselves before it is objected to us. By this means, we may make a kind of merit of our very ignorance.

[Page 56] I SHALL content myself, in this section, with an easy task, and shall pretend only to give a negative answer to the question here proposed. I say then, that even after we have experience of the operations of cause and effect, our conclusions from that experi­ence are not founded on reasoning, or any process of the understanding. This answer we must endeavour, both to explain and to defend.

IT must certainly be allowed, that nature has kept us at a great distance from all her secrets, and has aoffrded us only the knowlege of a few superficial qualities of objects, while she conceals from us those powers and principles, on which the influence of these objects entirely depends. Our senses inform us of the colour, weight, and consistence of bread; but neither senses nor reason ever can inform us of those qualities, which fit it for the nourishment and support of a human body. Sight or feeling conveys an idea of the actual motion of bodies; but as to that won­derful force or power, which would carry on a mov­ing body for ever in a continued change of place, and which bodies never lose but by communicating it to others; of this we cannot form the most distant conception. But notwithanding this ignorance of natural powers* and principles, we always presume, [Page 57] where we see like sensible qualities, that they have like secret powers, and lay our account, that effects, similar to those, which we have experienced, will follow from them. If a body of like colour and consistence with that bread, which we have formerly eat, be presented to us, we make no scruple of re­peating the experiment, and expect, with certainty, like nourishment and support. Now this is a process of the mind or thought, of which I would willingly know the foundation. 'Tis allowed on all hands, that there is no known connection between the sensible qualities and the secret powers; and consequently, that the mind is not led to form such a conclusion concerning their constant and regular conjunction, by any thing which it knows of their nature. As to past Experience, it can be allowed to give direct and certain information only of those precise objects, and that precise period of time, which fell under its cogni­zance: But why this experience should be extended to future times, and to other objects, which, for aught we know, may be only in appearance similar; this is the main question on which I would insist. The bread, which I formerly eat, nourished me; that is, a body of such sensible qualities, was, at that time, endued with such secret powers: But does it follow, that other bread must also nourish me at another time, and that like sensible qualities must always be attended with like secret powers? The consequence seems no [Page 58] way necessary. At least, it must be acknowleged, that there is here a consequence drawn by the mind; that there is a certain step taken; a process of thought, and an inference, which wants to be explained. These two propositions are far from being the same, I have found that such an object has always been attended with such an effect, and I foresee, that other objects, which are, to appearance, similar, will be attended with simi­lar effects. I shall allow, if you please, that the one proposition may justly be inferred from the other: I know in fact, that it always is inferred. But if you insist, that the inference is made by a chain of reason­ing, I desire you to produce that reasoning. The con­nection between these propositions is not intuitive. There is required a medium, which may enable the mind to draw such an inference; if indeed it be drawn by reasoning and argument. What that medium is, I must confess, passes my comprehension; and 'tis incumbent on those to produce it, who assert, that it really exists, and is the origin of all our conclusions concerning matter of fact.

THIS negative argument must certainly, in process of time, become altogether convincing, if many pe­netrating and able philosophers shall turn their inqui­ries this way; and no one be ever able to discover any connecting proposition or intermediate step, which supports the understanding in this conclusion. But as the question is yet new, every reader may not trust so [Page 59] far to his own penetration, as to conclude, because an argument escapes his research and enquiry, that there­fore it does not really exist. For this reason it may be requisite to venture upon a more difficult task; and enumerating all the branches of human knowlege, endeavour to shew, that none of them can afford such an argument.

ALL reasonings may be divided into two kinds, viz. demonstrative reasonings, or those concerning relations of ideas, and moral reasonings or those con­cerning matter of fact and existence. That there are no demonstrative arguments in the case, seems evi­dent; since it implies no contradiction, that the course of nature may change, and that an object seemingly like those which we have experienced, may be at­tended with different or contrary effects. May I not clearly and distinctly conceive, that a body falling from the clouds, and which, in all other respects, resembles snow, has yet the taste of salt or feeling of fire? Is there any more intelligible proposition than to affirm, that all the trees will flourish in DE­CEMBER and JANUARY, and decay in MAY and JUNE? Now whatever is intelligible, and can be dis­tinctly conceived, implies no contradiction, and can never be proved false by any demonstrative argu­ments or abstract reasonings à priori.

[Page 60] IF we be, therefore, engaged by arguments to put trust in past experience, and make it the standard of our future judgment, these arguments must be pro­bable only, or such as regard matter of fact and real existence, according to the division above-mentioned. But that there are no arguments of this kind, must appear, if our explication of that species of reasoning be admitted as solid and satisfactory. We have said, that all arguments concerning existence are founded on the relation of cause and effect; that our knowlege of that relation is derived entirely from experience, and that all our experimental conclusions proceed upon the supposition that the future will be conformable to the past. To endeavour, therefore, the proof of this last supposition by probable arguments, or arguments regarding existence, must be evidently going in a circle, and taking that for granted, which is the very point in question.

IN reality, all arguments from experience are founded on the similarity, which we discover among natural objects, and by which we are induced to ex­pect effects similar to those, which we have found to follow from such objects. And tho' none but a fool or madman will ever pretend to dispute the authority of experience, or to reject that great guide of human life; it may surely be allowed a philosopher to have so much curiosity at least, as to examine the principle of human nature which gives this mighty authority to [Page 61] experience, and makes us draw advantage from that similarity, which nature has placed among different objects. From causes, which appear similar, we ex­pect similar effects. This is the sum of all our expe­rimental conclusions. Now it seems evident, that if this conclusion were formed by reason, it would be as perfect at first, and upon one instance, as after ever so long a course of experience. But the case is far otherwise. Nothing so like as eggs; yet no one, on account of this apparent similarity, expects the same taste and relish in all of them. 'Tis only after a long course of uniform experiments in any kind, that we attain a firm reliance and security with regard to a particular event. Now where is that process of rea­soning, which from one instance draws a conclusion, so different from that which it infers from an hun­dred instances, that are no way different from that single instance? This question I propose as much for the sake of information, as with an intention of rais­ing difficulties. I cannot find, I cannot imagine any such reasoning. But I keep my mind still open to instruction, if any one will vouchsafe to bestow it on me.

SHOULD it be said, that from a number of uni­form experiments, we infer a connection between the sensible qualities and the secret powers; this, I must confess, seems the same difficulty, couched in diffe­rent [Page 62] terms. The question still recurs, On what pro­cess of argument this inference is founded? Where is the medium, the interposing ideas, which join pro­popositions so very wide of each other? 'Tis con­fessed, that the colour, consistence and other sensible qualities of bread appear not, of themselves, to have any connexion with the secret powers of nourishment and support. For otherwise we could infer these se­cret powers from the first appearance of these sensible qualities, without the aid of experience; contrary to the sentiment of all philosophers, and contrary to plain matter of fact. Here then is our natural state of ignorance with regard to the powers and influence of all objects. How is this remedied by experience? It only shews us a number of uniform effects, result­ing from certain objects, and teaches us, that those particular objects, at that particular time, were en­dowed with such powers and forces. When a new object, endowed with similar sensible qualities is pro­duced, we expect similar powers and forces, and lay our account with a like effect. From a body of like colour and consistence with bread, we look for like nourishment and support. But this furely is a step or progress of the mind, which wants to be explained. When a man says, I have found, in all past instances, such sensible qualities, conjoined with such secret powers: And when he says, similar sensible qualities will always be conjoined with similar secret powers; he is not guilty [Page 63] of a tautology, nor are these propositions in any re­spect the same: You say that the one proposition is an inference from another. But you must confess, that the inference is not intuitive; neither is it de­monstrative: Of what nature is it then? To say it is experimental is begging the question. For all in­ferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past, and that simi­lar powers will be conjoined with similar sensible qua­lities. If there be any suspicion, that the course of nature may change, and that the past may be no rule for the future, all experience becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference or conclusion. 'Tis im­possible, therefore, that any arguments from experi­ence can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance. Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular; that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not, that, for the future, it will continue so. In vain do you pretend to have learnt the nature of bodies from your past experience. Their secret nature, and con­sequently, all their effects and influence may change, without any change in their sensible qualities. This happens sometimes, and with regard to some objects: Why may it not happen always, and with regard to all objects? What logic, what process of argument [Page 64] secures you against this supposition? My Practice, you say, refutes my doubts. But you mistake the purport of my question. As an agent, I am quite satisfied in the point; but as a philosopher, who has some share of curiosity, I will not say scepticism, I want to learn the foundation of this inference. No reading, no enquiry has yet been able to remove my difficulty, or give me satisfaction in a matter of such vast im­portance. Can I do better than propose the difficulty to the public, even tho', perhaps, I have small hopes of obtaining a solution? We shall at least, by this means, be sensible of our ignorance, if we do not augment our knowlege.

I MUST confess, that a man is guilty of unpar­donable arrogance, who concludes, because an argu­ment has escaped his own investigation, that there­fore it does not really exist. I must also confess, that tho' all the learned, for several ages, should have employed their time in fruitless search upon any sub­ject, it may still, perhaps, be rash to conclude posi­tively, that the subject must, therefore, pass all hu­man comprehension. Even tho' we examine all the sources of our knowlege, and conclude them unfit for such a subject, there may still remain a suspicion, that the enumeration is not compleat, or the exami­nation not accurate. But with regard to the present subject, there are some considerations, which seem to [Page 65] remove all this accusation of arrogance or suspicion of mistake.

'TIS certain, that the most ignorant and stupid pea­sants, nay infants, nay even brute beasts improve by experience, and learn the qualities of natural objects, by observing the effects, which result from them. When a child has felt the sensation of pain from touching the flame of a candle, he will be careful not to put his hand near any candle; but will expect a similar effect from a cause, which is similar in its sensible qualities and appearance. If you assert, there­fore, that the understanding of the child is led into this conclusion by any process of argument or ratio­cination, I may justly require you to produce that argument; nor have you any pretext to refuse so equitable a demand. You cannot say, that the ar­gument is abstruse, and may possibly escape your enquiry; since you confess, that it is obvious to the capacity of a mere infant. If you hesitate, there­fore, a moment, or if, after reflection, you produce any intricate or profound argument, you, in a man­ner, give up the question, and confess, that it is not reasoning which engages us to suppose the past resembling the future, and to expect similar effects from causes, which are, to appearance, similar. This is the proposition, which I intended to enforce in the present section. If I be right, I pretend to have [Page 66] made no mighty discovery. And if I be wrong, I must acknowlege myself to be indeed a very back­ward scholar: since I cannot now discover an argument, which, it seems, was perfectly familiar to me, long before I was out of my cradle.



THE passion for philosophy, like that for religion, seems liable to this inconvenience, that, tho' it aims at the correction of our manners, and extirpa­tion of our vices, it may only serve, by imprudent management, to foster a predominant inclination, and push the mind, with more determined resolution, to­wards that side, which already draws too much, by the byass and propensity of the natural temper. 'Tis certain, that, while we aspire to the magnani­mous firmness of the philosophic sage, and endeavour to confine our pleasures altogether within our own minds, we may, at last, render our philosophy, like that of EPICTETUS, and other Stoics, only a more refined system of selfishness, and reason ourselves out of all virtue, as well as social enjoyment. While we study with attention the vanity of human life, and turn all our thoughts on the empty and transitory nature of riches and honors, we are, perhaps, all the [Page 68] while flattering our natural indolence, which, hating the bustle of the world and drudgery of business, seeks a pretext of reason, to give itself a full and uncontroled indulgence. There is, however, one species of philosophy, which seems little liable to this inconvenience, and that because it strikes in with no disorderly passion of the human mind, nor can mingle itself with any natural affection or propensity; and that is the ACADEMIC or SCEPTICAL philoso­phy. The academics talk always of doubts, and suspense of judgment, of danger in hasty determina­tions, of confining to very narrow bounds the enqui­ries of the understanding, and of renouncing all spe­culations which lie not within the limits of common life and practice. Nothing, therefore, can be more contrary than such a philosophy to the supine indo­lence of the mind, its rash arrogance, its lofty pre­tensions, and its superstitious credulity. Every pas­sion is mortfied by it, except the love of truth; and that passion never is, nor can be carried to too high a degree. 'Tis surprizing, therefore, that this philo­sophy, which, in almost every instance, must be harmless and innocent, should be the subject of so much groundless reproach and obloquy. But, per­haps, the very circumstance which renders it so inno­cent, is what chiefly exposes it to the public hatred, and resentment. By flattering no irregular passion, it gains few partizans: By opposing so many vices and [Page 69] follies, it raises to itself abundance of enemies, who stigmatize it as libertine, profane, and irreligious.

NOR need we fear, that this philosophy, while it endeavours to limit our enquiries to common life, should ever undermine the reasonings of common life, and carry its doubts so far as to destroy all action, as well as speculation. Nature will always maintain her rights, and prevail in the end over any abstract reasoning whatsoever. Tho' we should conclude, for instance, as in the foregoing section, that, in all reasonings from experience, there is a step taken by the mind, which is not supported by any argument or process of the understanding; there is no danger, that these reasonings, on which almost all knowledge depends, will ever be affected by such a discovery. If the mind be not engaged by argument to make this step, it must be induced by some other principle of equal weight and authority; and that principle will preserve its influence as long as human nature re­mains the same. What that principle is, may well be worth the pains of enquiry.

SUPPOSE a person, tho' endowed with the strong­est faculties of reason and reflection, to be brought on a sudden into this world; he would, indeed, im­mediately observe a continual succession of objects, and one event following another; but he would not be able to discover any thing farther. He would [Page 70] not, at first, by any reasoning, be able to reach the idea of cause and effect; since the particular powers, by which all natural operations are performed, never appear to the senses; nor is it reasonable to conclude, merely because one event, in one instance, precedes another, that therefore the one is the cause, and the other the effect. Their conjunction may be arbitra­ry and casual. There may be no reason to infer the existence of the one from the appearance of the other. And in a word, such a person without more experience, could never employ his conjecture or rea­soning concerning any matter or fact, or be assured of any thing beyond what was immediately present to his memory and senses.

SUPPOSE again, that he has acquired more expe­rience, and has lived so long in the world as to have observed similar objects or events to be constantly conjoined together; what is the consequence of this experience? He immediately insers the existence of the one object from the appearance of the other. Yet he has not, by all his experience, acquired any idea or knowlege of the secret power, by which the one object produces the other; nor is it, by any pro­cess of reasoning, he is engaged to draw this infe­rence. But still he finds himself determined to draw it: And tho' he should be convinced, that his under­standing has no part in the operation, he would ne­vertheless continue in the same course of thinking. [Page 71] There is some other principle, which determines him to form such a conclusion.

THIS principle is CUSTOM or HABIT. For where­ever the repetition of any particular act or operation produces a propensity to renew the same act or ope­ration, without being impelled by any reasoning or process of the understanding; we always say, that this propensity is the effect of Custom. By employ­ing that word, we pretend not to have given the ulti­mate reason of such a propensity. We only point out a principle of human nature, which is universally ac­knowledged, and which is well known by its effects. Perhaps, we can push our enquiries no farther, or pretend to give the cause of this cause; but must rest contented with it as the ultimate principle, which we can assign of all our conclusions from experience. 'Tis sufficient satisfaction, that we can go so far; without repining at the narrowness of our faculties, because they will carry us no farther. And 'tis cer­tain we here advance a very intelligible proposition at least, if not a true one, when we assert, that, after the constant conjunction of two objects, heat and flame, for instance, weight and solidity, we are de­termined by custom alone to expect the one from the appearance of the other. This hypothesis seems even the only one, which explains the difficulty, why we draw, from a thousand instances, an in­ference, which we are not able to draw from [Page 72] one instance, that is, in no respect, different from them. Reason is incapable of any such varia­tion. The conclusions, which it draws from consi­dering one circle, are the same which it would form upon surveying all the circles in the universe. But no man, having seen only one body move after being impelled by another, could infer, that every other body will move after a like impulse. All inferences from experience, therefore, are effects of custom, not of reasoning*.

[Page 73] CUSTOM, then, is the great guide of human life. 'Tis that principle alone, which renders our expe­rience [Page 74] useful to us, and makes us expect for the fu­ture, a similar train of events with those which have [Page 75] appeared in the past. Without the influence of cus­tom, we should be entirely ignorant of every matter of fact, beyond what is immediately present to the memory and senses. We should never know how to adjust means to ends, or to employ our natural powers in the production of any effect. There would be an end at once of all action, as well as of the chief part of speculation.

BUT here it may be proper to remark, that tho' our conclusions from experience carry us beyond our memory and senses, and assure us of matters of fact, which happened in the most distant places and most remote ages; yet some fact must always be present to the senses or memory, from which we may first pro­ceed in drawing these conclusions. A man, who should find in a desert country the remains of pomp­ous buildings, would conclude, that the country had, in antient times, been cultivated by civilized inhabi­tants; but did nothing of this nature occur to him, he could never form such an inference. We learn the events of former ages from history; but then we must peruse the volumes, in which this instruction is con­tained, and thence carry up our inferences from one testimony to another, till we arrive at the eye-witnes­ses and spectators of these distant events. In a word, if we proceed not upon some fact, present to the me­mory or senses, our reasonings would be merely hy­pothetical; and however the particular links might [Page 76] be connected with each other, the whole chain of in­ferences would have nothing to support it, nor could we ever, by its means, arrive at the knowlege of any real existence. If I ask, why you believe any particular matter of fact, which you relate, you must tell me some reason; and this reason will be some other fact, connected with it: But as you cannot pro­ceed after this manner, in infinitum, you must at last terminate in some fact, which is present to your me­mory or senses; or must allow, that your belief is en­tirely without foundation.

WHAT then is the conclusion of the whole matter? A simple one; tho' it must be confessed, pretty re­mote from the common theories of philosophy. All belief of matter of fact or real existence is derived merely from some object, present to the memory or senses, and a customary conjunction betwixt that and any other object. Or in other words; having found, in many instances, that any two kinds of objects, flame and heat, snow and cold, have always been conjoined together; if flame or snow be presented anew to our senses; the mind is carried by custom to expect heat or cold, and to believe, that such a qua­lity does exist, and will discover itself upon a nearer approach. This belief is the necessary result of plac­ing the mind in such circumstances. 'Tis an opera­tion of the soul, when we are so situated, as unavoid­able as to feel the passion of love, when we receive [Page 77] benefits, or hatred, when we meet with injuries. All these operations are a species of natural instincts, which no reasoning or process of the thought and un­derstanding is able, either to produce, or to prevent.

AT this point, it would be very allowable for us to stop our philosophical researches. In most ques­tions, we can never make a single step farther; and in all questions, we must terminate here at last, after our most restless and curious enquiries. But still our curiosity will be pardonable, perhaps commendable, if it carry us on to still farther researches, and make us examine more accurately the nature of this belief, and of the customary conjunction, whence it is derived. By this means we may meet some explications and analogies, that will give satisfaction; at least to such as love the abstract sciences, and can be entertained with speculations, which, however accurate, may still retain a degree of doubt and uncertainty. As to readers of a different taste; the remaining part of this section is not calculated for them, and the fol­lowing enquiries may well be understood, tho' it be neglected.


THERE is nothing more free than the imagination of man; and tho' it cannot exceed that original stock of ideas, which is furnished by the internal and ex­ternal [Page 78] senses, it has unlimited power of mixing, com­pounding, separating, and dividing these ideas, to all the varieties of fiction and vision. It can feign a train of events, with all the appearance of reali­ty, ascribe to them a particular time and place, con­ceive them as existent, and paint them out to itself with every circumstance, that belongs to any historical fact, which it believes with the greatest certainty. Wherein, therefore, consists the difference between such a fiction and belief? It lies not merely in any peculiar idea, which is annexed to such a conception, as commands our assent, and which is wanting to every known fiction. For as the mind has authority over all its ideas, it could voluntarily annex this particular idea to any fiction, and consequently be able to be­lieve whatever it pleases; contrary to what we find by daily experience. We can, in our conception, join the head of a man to the body of a horse; but it is not in our power to believe, that such an animal has ever really existed.

IT follows, therefore, that the difference between fiction and belief lies in some sentiment or feeling, which is annexed to the latter, not to the former, and which depends not on the will, nor can be com­manded at pleasure. It must be excited by nature, like all other sentiments; and must arise from the par­ticular situation, in which the mind is placed at any particular juncture. Whenever any object is pre­sented [Page 79] to the memory or senses, it immediately, by the force of custom, carries the imagination to con­ceive that object, which is usually conjoined to it; and this conception is attended with a feeling or sen­timent, different from the loose reveries of the fancy. In this consists the whole nature of belief. For as there is no matter of fact which we believe so firmly, that we cannot conceive the contrary, there would be no difference between the conception assented to, and that which is rejected, were it not for some sen­timent, which distinguishes the one from the other. If I see a billiard-ball moving towards another, on a smooth table, I can easily conceive it to stop upon contact. This conception implies no contradiction; but still it feels very differently from that conception, by which I represent to myself the impulse, and the communication of motion from one ball to another.

WERE we to attempt a definition of this sentiment, we should, perhaps, find it a very difficult, if not an impossible task; in the same manner as if we should endeavour to define the feeling of cold or passion of anger, to a creature who never had an experience of these sentiments. BELIEF is the true and proper name of this feeling; and no one is ever at a loss to know the meaning of that term; because every man is every moment conscious of the sentiment, repre­sented by it. It may not, however, be improper to attempt a description of this sentiment; in hopes we [Page 80] may, by that means, arrive at some analogies, which may afford a more perfect explication of it. I say then, that belief is nothing but a more vivid, lively, forcible, firm, steady conception of an object, than what the imagination alone is ever able to attain. This variety of terms, which may seem so unphilo­sophical, is intended only to express that act of the mind, which renders realities, or what is taken for such, more present to us than fictions, causes them to weigh more in the thought, and gives them a superior influence on the passions and imagination. Provided we agree about the thing, 'tis needless to dispute about the terms. The imagination has the command over all its ideas, and can join and mix and vary them, in all the ways possible. It may conceive ficti­tious objects with all the circumstances of place and time. It may set them, in a manner, before our eyes, in their true colors, just as they might have existed. But as it is impossible, that that faculty of imagina­tion can ever, of itself, reach belief, 'tis evident, that belief consists not in the peculiar nature or order of ideas, but in the manner of their conception, and in their feeling to the mind. I confess, that 'tis im­possible perfectly to explain this feeling or manner of conception. We may make use of words, which ex­press something near it. But its true and proper name, as we observed before, is belief; which is a term, that every one sufficiently understands in com­mon life. And in philosophy, we can go no farther [Page 81] than assert, that belief is something felt by the mind, which distinguishes the ideas of the judgment from the fictions of the imagination. It gives them more force and influence; makes them appear of greater importance; inforces them in the mind; and renders them the governing principle of all our actions. I hear at present, for instance, a person's voice, with whom I am acquainted; and the sound comes as from the next room. This impression of my senses imme­diately conveys my thought to the person, together with all the surrounding objects. I paint them out to myself as existing at present, with the same qualities and relations, of which I formerly knew them possest. These ideas take faster hold of my mind, than ideas of an inchanted castle. They are very different to the feeling, and have a much greater influence of every kind, either to give pleasure or pain, joy or sor­row.

LET us, then, take in the whole compass of this doctrine, and allow, that the sentiment of belief is nothing but a conception of an object more intense and steady than what attends the mere fictions of the imagination, and that this manner of conception arises from a customary conjunction of the object with something present to the memory or senses: I believe that it will not be difficult, upon these suppositions, to find other operations of the mind analogous to it, [Page 82] and to trace up these phaenomena to principles still more general.

WE have already observed, that nature has esta­blished connexions among particular ideas, and that no sooner one idea occurs to our thoughts than it in­troduces its correlative, and carries our attention to­wards it, by a gentle and insensible movement. These principles of connexion or association we have re­duced to three, viz. Resemblance, Contiguity, and Causation; which are the only bonds, that unite our thoughts together, and beget that regular train of reflection or discourse, which, in a greater or less de­gree, takes place among all mankind. Now here arises a question, on which the solution of the present difficulty will depend. Does it happen, in all these relations, that, when one of the objects is presented to the senses or memory, the mind is not only carried to the conception of the correlative, but reaches a steadier and stronger conception of it than what other­wise it would have been able to attain? This seems to be the case with that belief, which arises from the relation of cause and effect. And if the case be the same with the other relations or principles of associ­ation, we may establish this as a general law, which takes place in all the operations of the mind.

WE may, therefore, observe, as the first experi­ment to our present purpose, that, upon the appear­ance [Page 83] of the picture of an absent friend, our idea of him is evidently enlivened by the resemblance, and that every passion, which that idea occasions, whe­ther of joy or sorrow, acquires new force and vi­gor. In producing this effect, there concur both a relation and a present impression. Where the picture bears him no resemblance, or at least was not intend­ed for him, it never so much as conveys our thought to him: And where it is absent, as well as the per­son; though the mind may pass from the thought of the one to that of the other; it feels its idea to be rather weakened than enlivened by that transition. We take a pleasure in viewing the picture of a friend, when 'tis set before us; but when 'tis removed, ra­ther chuse to consider him directly, than by reflection in an image, which is equally distant and obscure.

THE ceremonies of the ROMAN CATHOLIC reli­gion may be considered as experiments of the same nature. The devotees of that superstition usually plead in excuse of the mummeries, with which they are upbraided, that they feel the good effect of those external motions, and postures, and actions, in en­livening their devotion and quickening their servor, which otherwise would decay, if directed intirely to distant and immaterial objects. We shadow out the objects of our faith, say they, in sensible types and images, and render them more present to us by the immediate presence of these types, than 'tis possible [Page 84] for us to do, merely by an intellectual view and con­templation. Sensible objects have always a greater influence on the fancy than any other; and this in­fluence they readily convey to those ideas, to which they are related, and which they resemble. I shall only infer from these practices, and this reasoning, that the effect of resemblance in enlivening the ideas is very common; and as in every case a resemblance and a present impression must concur, we are abun­dantly supplied with experiments to prove the reality of the foregoing principle.

WE may add force to these experiments by others of a different kind, in considering the effects of conti­guity as well as of resemblance. 'Tis certain that di­stance diminishes the force of every idea, and that upon our approach to any object; tho' it does not discover itself to our senses; it operates upon the mind with an influence, which imitates an immediate impression. The thinking on any object readily transports the mind to what is contiguous; but 'tis only the actual presence of an object, that trans­ports it with a superior vivacity. When I am a few miles from home, whatever relates to it touches me more nearly than when I am two hundred leagues distant; tho' even at that distance the reflecting on any thing in the neighbourhood of my friends or fa­mily naturally produces an idea of them. But as in this latter case, both the objects of the mind are ideas; notwithstanding there is an easy transition be­tween [Page 85] them; that transition alone is not able to give a superior vivacity to any of the ideas, for want of some immediate impression*.

NO one can doubt but causation has the same in­fluence as the other two relations of resemblance and contiguity. Superstitious people are fond of the re­licts of saints and holy men, for the same reason, that they seek after types or images, in order to en­liven their devotion, and give them a more intimate and strong conception of those exemplary lives, which they desire to imitate. Now 'tis evident, that one of the best relicts, which a devotee could procure, would be the handywork of a saint; and if his cloaths [Page 86] and furniture are ever to be considered in this light, 'tis because they were once at his disposal, and were moved and affected by him; in which respect they are to be considered as imperfect effects, and as con­nected with him by a shorter chain of consequences than any of those, by which we learn the reality of his existence.

SUPPOSE, that the son of a friend, who had been long dead or absent, were presented to us; 'tis evi­dent, that this object would instantly revive its corre­lative idea, and recal to our thoughts all past intima­cies and familiarities in more lively colors than they would otherwise have appeared to us. This is ano­ther phaenomenon, which seems to prove the principle above-mentioned.

WE may observe, that in these phaenomena the belief of the correlative object is always pre-sup­posed; without which the relation could have no ef­fect in enlivening the idea. The influence of the picture supposes, that we believe our friend to have once existed. Contiguity to home can never excite our ideas of home, unless we believe that it really ex­ists. Now I assert, that this belief, where it reaches beyond the memory or senses, is of a similar nature, and arises from similar causes, with the transition of thought and vivacity of conception here explained. When I throw a piece of dry wood into a fire, my [Page 87] mind is immediately carried to conceive, that it aug­ments, not extinguishes the flame. This transition of thought from the cause to the effect proceeds not from reason. It derives its origin altogether from custom and experience. And as it first begins from an ob­ject, present to the senses, it renders the idea or con­ception of flame more strong and lively than any loose, floating reverie of the imagination. That idea arises immediately. The thought moves instantly to­wards it, and conveys to it all that force of concep­tion, which is derived from the impression present to the senses. When a sword is levelled at my breast, does not the idea of wound and pain strike me more strongly, than when a glass of wine is presented to me, even tho' by accident this idea should occur after the appearance of the latter object? But what is there in this whole matter to cause such a strong concep­tion, except only a present object and customary tran­sition to the idea of another object, which we have been accustomed to conjoin with the former? This is the whole operation of the mind in all our conclusions concerning matter of fact and existence; and 'tis a satisfaction to find some analogies, by which it may be explained. The transition from a present object does in all cases give strength and solidity to the related idea.

HERE is a kind of pre-established harmony be­tween the course of nature and the succession of our [Page 88] ideas; and tho' the powers and forces, by which the former is governed, be wholly unknown to us; yet our thoughts and conceptions have still, we find, gone on in the same train with the other works of nature. Custom is that admirable principle, by which this correspondence has been effected; so necessary to the subsistence of our species, and the regulation of our conduct, in every circumstance and occurrence of hu­man life. Had not the presence of an object instant­ly excited the idea of those objects, commonly conjoined with it, all our knowledge must have been limited to the narrow sphere of our memory and sen­ses; and we should never have been able to adjust means to ends, nor employ our natural powers, either to the producing of good, or avoiding of evil. Those, who delight in the discovery and contemplation of fi­nal causes, have here ample subject to employ their wonder and admiration.

I SHALL add, for a further confirmation of the foregoing theory, that as this operation of the mind, by which we infer like effects from like causes, and vice versa, is so essential to the subsistence of all hu­man creatures, it is not probable that it could be trusted to the fallacious deductions of our reason, which is slow in its operations; appears not, in any degree, during the first years of infancy; and at best is, in every age and period of human life, extremely liable to error and mistake. 'Tis more conformable [Page 89] to the ordinary wisdom of nature of secure so necessa­ry an act of the mind, by some instinct or mechanical tendency, which may be infallible in its operations, may discover itself at the first appearance of life and thought, and may be independent of all the labored deductions of the understanding. As nature has taught us the use of our limbs, without giving us the knowledge of the muscles and nerves, by which they are actuated; so has she implanted in us an instinct, which carries forward the thought in a correspondent course to that which she has established among exter­nal objects; tho' we are ignorant of those powers and forces, on which this regular course and succes­sion of objects totally depends.


THO' there be no such thing as Chance in the world; our ignorance of the real cause of any event has the same influence on the understanding, and begets a like species of belief or opinion.

THERE is certainly a probability, which arises from a superiority of chances on any side; and according as this superiority encreases, and surpasses the oppo­site chances, the probability receives a proportionable encrease, and begets still a higher degree of belief or [Page 92] assent to that side, in which we discover the superio­rity. If a dye were marked with one figure or num­ber of spots on four sides, and with another figure or number of spots on the two remaining sides, it would be more probable, that the former should turn up than the latter; tho' if it had a thousand sides marked in the same manner, and only one side diffe­rent, the probability would be much higher, and our belief or expectation of the event more steady and secure. This process of the thought or reason­ing may seem trivial and obvious; but to those, who consider it more narrowly, it may, perhaps, afford matter for very curious speculations.

IT seems evident, that when the mind looks for­ward to discover the event, which may result from the throw of such a dye, it considers the turning up of each particular side as alike probable; and this is the very nature of chance, to render all the particular events, comprehended in it, entirely equal. But finding a greater number of sides concur in the one event than in the other, the mind is carried more fre­quently to that event, and meets it oftener, in revolv­ing the various possibilities or chances, on which the ultimate result depends. This concurrence of several views in one particular event begets immediately, by an inexplicable contrivance of nature, the sentiment of belief, and gives that event the advantage over its [Page 93] antagonist, which is supported by a smaller number of views, and recurs less frequently to the mind. If we allow, that belief is nothing but a firmer and stronger conception of an object than what attends the mere fictions of the imagination, this operation may, perhaps, in some measure, be accounted for. The concurrence of these several views or glimpses imprints its idea more strongly on the imagination; gives it superior force and vigor; renders its influence on the passions and affections more sensible; and in a word, begets that reliance or security, which con­stitutes the nature of belief and opinion.

THE case is the same with the probability of causes, as with that of chance. There are some causes, which are entirely uniform and constant in producing a particular effect; and no instance has ever yet been found of any failure or irregularity in their operation. Fire has always burnt, and water suffocated every hu­man creature: The production of motion by impulse and gravity is an universal law, which has hitherto admitted of no exception. But there are other causes which have been found more irregular and uncertain; nor has rhubarb proved always a purge, or opium a soporific to every one, who has taken these medicines. 'Tis true, when any cause fails of producing its usual effect, philosophers ascribe not this to any irregularity in nature; but suppose, that some secret causes, in the particular structure of parts, have prevented the [Page 94] operation. Our reasonings, however, and conclu­sions concerning the event are the same as if this prin­ciple had no place. Being determined by custom to transfer the past to the future, in all our inferences; where the past has been entirely regular and uniform, we expect the event with the greatest assurance, and leave no room for any contrary supposition. But where different effects have been found to follow from causes, which are to appearance exactly similar, all these various effects must occur to the mind in trans­fering the past to the future, and enter into our consi­deration, when we determine the probability of the event. Tho' we give the preference to that which has been found most usual, and believe that this effect will exist, we must not overlook the other effects, but must give each of them a particular weight and au­thority, in proportion as we have found it to be more or less frequent. 'Tis more probable, in every place of EUROPE, that there will be frost sometime in JA­NUARY, than that the weather will continue open throughout that whole month; who' this probability varies according to the different climates, and ap­proaches to a certainty in the more northern king­doms. Here then it seems evident, that when we transfer the past to the future, in order to determine the effect, which will result from any cause, we trans­fer all the different events, in the same proportion as they have appeared in the past, and conceive one to have existed a hundred times, for instance, another [Page 95] ten times, and another once. As a great number of views do here concur in one event, they fortify and confirm it to the imagination, beget that sentiment which we call belief, and give it the preference above its antagonist, which is not supported by an equal number of experiments, and occurs not so frequently to the thought in transferring the past to the future. Let any one try to account for this operation of the mind upon any of the received systems of philosophy, and he will be sensible of the difficulty. For my part, I shall think it sufficient, if the present hints excite the curiosity of philosophers, and make them sensible how extremely defective all common theories are, in treating of such curious and such sublime subjects.



THE great advantage of the mathematical sci­ences above the moral consists in this, that the ideas of the former, being sensible, are always clear and determinate, the smallest distinction between them is immediately perceptible, and the same terms are still expressive of the same ideas, without ambi­guity or variation. An oval is never mistaken for a circle, nor an hyperbola for an ellipsis. The isosceles and scalenum are distinguished by boundaries more exact than vice and virtue, right and wrong. If any term be desined in geometry, the mind readily, of it­self substitutes, on all occasions, the definition for the term defined; Or even when no definition is employ­ed, the object itself may be presented to the senses, and by that means be steadily and clearly apprehend­ed. But the finer sentiments of the mind, the opera­tions of the understanding, the various agitations of [Page 98] the passions, tho' really in themselves distinct, easily escape us, when surveyed by reflection; nor is it in our power to recall the original object, as often as we have occasion to contemplate it. Ambiguity, by this means, is gradually introduced into our reasonings: Similar objects are readily taken to be the same: And the conclusion becomes at last very wide of the premi­ses.

ONE may safely, however, affirm, that, if we con­sider these sciences in a proper light, their advantages and disadvantages very nearly compensate each other, and reduce both of them to a state of equality. If the mind with greater facility retains the ideas of ge­ometry clear and determinate, it must carry on a much longer and more intricate chain of reasoning, and compare ideas much wider of each other, in order to reach the abstruser truths of that science. And if moral ideas are apt, without extreme care, to fall into obscurity and confusion, the inferences are always much shorter in these disquisitions, and the interme­diate steps, which lead to the conclusion, much fewer than in the sciences which treat of quantity and num­ber. In reality, there is scarce a proposition in EU­CLID so simple, as not to consist of more parts, than are to be found in any moral reasoning which runs not into chimera and conceit. Where we trace the principles of the human mind thro' a few steps, we may be very well satisfied with our progress; consi­dering [Page 99] how soon nature throws a bar to all our in­quiries concerning causes, and reduces us to an ac­knowledgment of our ignorance. The chief obsta­cle, therefore, to our improvement in the moral or metaphysical sciences is the obscurity of the ideas, and ambiguity of the terms. The principal difficulty in the mathematics is the length of inferences and com­pass of thought, requisite to the forming any conclu­sion. And perhaps, our progress in natural philo­sophy is chiefly retarded by the want of proper expe­riments and phaenomena, which often are discovered by chance, and cannot always be found, when requi­site, even by the most diligent and prudent inquiry. As moral philosophy seems hitherto to have received less improvements than either geometry or physics, we may conclude, that, if there be any difference in this respect among these sciences, the difficulties, which obstruct the progress of the former, require su­perior care and capacity to be surmounted.

THERE are no ideas, which occur in metaphysics, more obscure and uncertain, than those of power▪ force, energy, or necessary connexion, of which it is every moment necessary for us to treat in all our disquisitions. We shall, therefore, endeavour, in this section, to fix, if possible, the precise meaning of these terms, and thereby remove some part of that obscurity, which is so much complained of in this species of philosophy.

[Page 100] IT seems a proposition, which will not admit of much dispute, that all our ideas are nothing but co­pies of our impressions, or, in other words, that 'tis impossible for us to think of any thing, which we have not antecedently felt, either by our external or internal senses. I have endeavoured* to explain and prove this proposition, and have expressed my hopes, that, by a proper application of it, men may reach a greater clearness and precision in philosophical reasonings, than what they have hitherto been ever able to at­tain. Complex ideas may, perhaps, be well known by definition, which is nothing but an enumeration of those parts or simple ideas, that compose them. But when we have pushed up definitions to the most sim­ple ideas, and find still some ambiguity and obscurity; what resource are we then possessed of? By what in­vention can we throw light upon these ideas, and ren­der them altogether precise and determinate to our intellectual view? Produce the impressions or original sentiments, from which the ideas are copied. These impressions are all strong and sensible. They admit not of ambiguity. They are not only placed in a full light themselves, but may throw light on their correspondent ideas, which lie in obscurity. And by this means, we may, perhaps, attain a new microscope or species of optics, by which, in the moral sciences, the most minute, and most simple ideas may be so en­larged [Page 101] as to fall readily under our apprehension, and be equally known with the grossest and most sensible ideas, which can be the object of our inquiry.

To be fully acquainted, therefore, with the idea of power or necessary connexion, let us examine its im­pression; and in order to find the impression with greater certainty, let us search for it in all the sources, from which it may possibly be derived.

WHEN we look about us towards external objects, and consider the operation of causes, we are never able, in a single instance, to discover any power or ne­cessary connexion; any quality, which binds the effect to the cause, and renders the one an infallible conse­quence of the other. We only find, that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other. The impulse of one billiard-ball is attended with motion in the se­cond. This is the whole that appears to the outward senses. The mind feels no sentiment or inward im­pression from this succession of objects: Consequently, there is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, any thing which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion.

FROM the first appearance of an object, we never can conjecture what effect will result from it. But were the power or energy of any cause discoverable by the mind, we could foresee the effect, even without [Page 102] experience, and might, at first, pronounce with cer­tainty concerning it, by the mere dint of thought and reasoning.

IN reality, there is no part of matter, that does ever, by its sensible qualities, discover any power or energy, or give us ground to imagine, that it could produce any thing, or be followed by any other object, which we could denominate its effect. Solidity, extension, motion; these qualities are all complete in themselves, and never point out any other event which may result from them. The scenes of the universe are continual­ly shifting, and one object follows another in an unin­terrupted succession; but the power or force, which actuates the whole machine, is intirely concealed from us, and never discovers itself in any of the sensible qua­lities of body. We know, that, in fact, heat is a con­stant attendant of flame; but what is the connexion between them, we have no room so much as to con­jecture or imagine. 'Tis impossible, therefore, that the idea of power can be derived from the contem­plation of bodies, in single instances of their operation; because no bodies ever discover any power, which can be the original of this idea*.

[Page 103] SINCE, therefore, external objects, as they appear to the senses, give us no idea of power or necessary connexion, by their operations in particular instances, let us see, whether this idea be derived from re­flection on the operations of our own minds, and be copied from any internal impression. It may be said, that we are every moment conscious of power in our own minds; while we feel, that, by the simple com­mand of our will, we can move the organs of our body, or direct the faculties of our minds, in their operation. An act of volition produces motion in our limbs, or raises a new idea in our imagination. This influence of the will we know by consciousness. Hence we acquire the idea of power or energy; and are certain, that we ourselves and all other intelligent beings are possessed of power. This idea, then, is an idea of reflection, since it arises from reflecting on the operations of our own minds, and on the command which is exercised by will, both over the organs of the body and faculties of the mind.

WE shall proceed to examine this pretension; and first with regard to the influence of volition over the organs of the body. This influence, we may observe, [Page 104] is a fact, which, like all other natural operations, can be known only by experience, and can never be foreseen from any apparent energy or power in the cause, which connects it with the effect, and ren­ders the one an insallible consequence of the other. The motion of our body follows upon the command of our will. Of this we are every moment con­scious: But the means, by which this is effected; the energy, by which the will performs so extraordinary an operation; of this we are so far from being imme­diately conscious, that it must for ever escape our most diligent inquiry.

FOR first; is there any principle in all nature more mysterious than the union of soul with body; by which a supposed spiritual substance acquires such an influence over a material one, that the most refined thought is able to actuate the grossest matter? Were we empowered, by a secret wish, to remove moun­tains, or control the planets in their orbit; this exten­sive authority would not be more extraordinary, nor more beyond our comprehension. But if by consci­ousness we perceived any power or energy in the will, we must know this power; we must know its con­nexion with the effect; we must know the secret union of soul and body, and the nature of both these substances: by which the one is able to operate, in so many instances, upon the other.

[Page 105] Secondly, We are not able to move all the organs of the body with a like authority; tho' we cannot as­sign any other reason, besides experience, for so re­markable a difference betwixt one and the other. Why has the will an influence over the tongue and fingers, and not over the heart or liver? This ques­tion would never embarrass us, were we conscious of a power in the former case, and not in the latter. We should then perceive, independent of experience, why the authority of will over the organs of the body is circumscribed within such particular limits. Being in that case fully acquainted with the power or force, by which it operates, we should also know, why its in­fluence reaches precisely to such boundaries, and no farther.

A MAN, struck suddenly with a palsy in the leg or arm, or who had newly lost those members, frequently endeavours, at first to move them, and employ them in their usual offices. Here he is as much conscious of power to command such limbs, as a man in perfect health is conscious of power to actuate any member which remains in its natural state and condition. But consciousness never deceives. Consequently, neither in the one case nor in the other, are we ever conscious of any power. We learn the influence of our will from experience alone. And experience only teaches us, how one event constantly follows another, without [Page 106] instructing us in the secret connexion, which binds them together, and renders them inseparable.

Thirdly, WE learn from anatomy, that the imme­diate object of power in voluntary motion, is not the member itself which is moved, but certain muscles, and nerves, and animal spirits, and perhaps, some­thing still more minute and more unknown, thro' which the motion is successively propagated, ere it reach the member itself whose motion is the imme­diate object of volition. Can there be a more certain proof, that the power, by which this whole operation is performed, so far from being directly and fully known by an inward sentiment or consciousness, is, to the last degree, mysterious and unintelligible? Here the mind wills a certain event: Immediately, another event, unknown to ourselves, and totally different from that intended, is produced: This event produces another, equally unknown: Till at last, thro' a long succession, the desired event is produced. But if the original power were felt, it must be known: Were it known, its effect must also be known; since all power is relative to its effect. And vice versa, if the effect be not known, the power cannot be known or felt. How indeed can we be conscious of a power to move our limbs, when we have no such power; but only that to move certain animal spirits, which, tho' they produce at last the motion of our limbs, yet operate in such a manner as is wholly beyond our comprehension?

[Page 107] WE may, therefore, conclude from the whole, I hope, without any temerity, tho' with assurance; that our idea of power is not copied from any sentiment or consciousness of power within ourselves, when we give rise to animal motion, or apply our limbs to their proper use and office. That their motion follows the command of the will is a matter of common expe­rience, like other natural events: But the power or energy, by which this is effected, like that in other natural events, is unknown and inconceivable*.

SHALL We then assert, that we are conscious of a power or energy in our own minds, when, by an act [Page 108] or command of our will, we raise up a new idea, fix the mind to a contemplation of it, turn it on all sides, and at last dismiss it for some other idea, when we think, that we have surveyed it with sufficient accu­racy? I believe the same arguments will prove, that even this command of the will gives us no real idea of force or energy.

First, IT must be allowed, that when we know a power, we know that very circumstance in the cause, by which it is enabled to produce the effect: For these are supposed to be synonimous. We must, therefore, know both the cause and effect, and the re­lation between them. But do we pretend to be ac­quainted with the nature of the human soul and the nature of an idea, or the aptitude of the one to pro­duce the other? This is a real creation; a production of something out of nothing: Which implies a power so great, that it may seem, at first sight, beyond the reach of any being, less than infinite. At least it must be owned, that such a power is not felt, nor known, nor even conceivable by the mind. We only feel the event, viz. The existence of an idea, confequent to a command of the will: But the manner, in which this operation is performed; the power, by which it is pro­duced; is intirely beyond our comprehension.

Secondly, THE command of the mind over itself is limited, as well as its command over the body; and [Page 109] these limits are not known by reason, or any acquaint­ance with the nature of the cause and effect; but on­ly by experience and observation, as in all other na­tural events and in the operation of external objects. Our authority over our sentiments and passions is much weaker than that over our ideas; and even the latter authority is circumscribed within very narrow boundaries. Will any one pretend to assign the ulti­mate reason of these boundaries, or show why the power is deficient in one case and not in another?

Thirdly, THIS self-command is very different at different times. A man in health possesses more of it, than one languishing with sickness. We are more master of our thoughts in the morning than in the evening: Fasting, than after a full meal. Can we give any reason for these variations, except experience? Where then is the power, of which we pretend to be conscious? Is there not here, either in a spiritual or material substance, or both, some secret mechanism or structure of parts, upon which the effect depends, and which being intirely unknown to us, renders the pow­er or energy of the will equally unknown and incom­prehensible?

VOLITION is surely an act of the mind, with which we are sufficiently acquainted. Reflect upon it. Con­sider it on all sides. Do you find any thing in it like this creative power, by which it raises from nothing a [Page 110] new idea, and with a kind of FIAT, imitates the omni­potence of its Maker, if I may be allowed so to speak, who called forth into existence all the various scenes of nature? So far from being conscious of this energy in the will, it requires as certain experience, as that of which we are possessed, to convince us, that such ex­traordinary effects do ever result from a simple act of volition.

THE generality of mankind never find any diffi­culty in accounting for the more common and familiar operations of nature; such as the descent of heavy bodies, the growth of plants, the generation of ani­mals, or the nourishment of bodies by food: But sup­pose, that, in all these cases, they perceive the very force or energy of the cause, by which it is connected with its effect, and is for ever infallible in its opera­tion. They acquire, by long habit, such a turn of mind, that, upon the appearance of the cause, they immediately expect with assurance its usual attendant, and hardly conceive it possible, that any other event could result from it. 'Tis only on the discovery of extraordinary phaenomena, such as earthquakes, pes­tilence, and prodigies of any kind, that they find themselves at a loss to assign a proper cause, and to ex­plain the manner in which the effect is produced by it. 'Tis usual for men, in such difficulties, to have recourse to some invisible, intelligent principle*, as [Page 111] the immediate cause of that event, which surprises them, and which, they think, cannot be accounted for from the common powers of nature. But philo­sophers, who carry their scrutiny a little farther, im­mediately perceive, that, even in the most familiar events, the energy of the cause is as unintelligible as in the most unusual, and that we only learn by expe­rience the frequent CONJUNCTION of objects, with­out being ever able to comprehend any thing like CONNEXION between them. Here then, many philo­sophers think themselves obliged by reason to have recourse, on all occasions, to the same principle, which the vulgar never appeal to but in cases, that appear miraculous and supernatural. They acknowledge mind and intelligence to be, not only the ultimate and original cause of all things, but the immediate and sole cause of every event, which appears in na­ture. They pretend, that those objects, which are commonly denominated causes, are in reality nothing but occasions; and that the true and direct principle of every effect is not any power or force in nature, but a volition of the Supreme Being, who wills, that such particular objects should, for ever, be conjoined with each other. Instead of saying, that one billiard-ball moves another, by a force which it has derived from the author of nature; 'tis the Deity himself, they say, who, by a particular volition, moves the second ball, being determined to this operation by the impulse of the first ball; in consequence of those general laws, [Page 112] which he has laid down to himself in the government of the universe. But philosophers, advancing still in their inquiries, discover, that, as we are totally igno­rant of the power on which depends the mutual ope­ration of bodies, we are no less ignorant of that power, on which depends the operation of mind on body, or of body on mind; nor are we able, either from our senses or consciousness, to assign the ultimate principle in one case, more than in the other. The same ig­norance, therefore, reduces them to the same conclu­sion. They assert, that the Deity is the immediate cause of the union between soul and body, and that they are not the organs of sense, which, being agita­ted by external objects, produce sensations in the mind; but that 'tis a particular volition of our omni­potent Maker, which excites such a sensation, in con­sequence of such a motion in the organ. In like manner, it is not any energy in the will, that produ­ces local motion in our members: 'Tis God himself, who is pleased to second our will, in itself impotent, and to command that motion, which we erroneously attribute to our own power and efficacy. Nor do philosophers stop at this conclusion. They some­times extend the same inference to the mind itself, in its internal operations. Our mental vision or concep­tion of ideas is nothing but a revelation made to us by our Maker. When we voluntarily turn our thoughts to any object, and raise up its image in the fancy; it is not the will which creates that idea; [Page 113] 'Tis the universal Creator of all things, who discovers it to the mind, and renders it present to us.

THUS, according to these philosophers, every thing is full of God. Not contented with the principle, that nothing exists but by his will, that nothing pos­sesses any power but by his concession: They rob na­ture, and all created beings, of every power, in order to render their dependance on the Deity still more sensible and immediate. They consider not, that by this theory they diminish, instead of magnifying, the grandeur of those attributes, which they affect so much to celebrate. It argues surely more power in the Deity to delegate a certain degree of power to in­ferior creatures, than to operate every thing by his own immediate volition. It argues more wisdom to contrive at first the fabric of the world with such per­fect foresight, that, of itself, and by its proper opera­tion, it may serve all the purposes of providence, than if the great Creator were obliged every moment to ad­just its parts, and animate by his breath all the wheels of that stupendous machine.

BUT if we would have a more a philosophical confu­tation of this theory, perhaps the two following re­flections may suffice.

First, IT seems to me, that this theory of the uni­versal energy and operation of the Supreme Being, is [Page 114] too bold ever to carry conviction with it to a man who is sufficiently apprized of the weakness of human reason, and the narrow limits, to which it is confined in all its operations. Tho' the chain of arguments, which conduct to it, were ever so logical, there must arise a strong suspicion, if not an absolute assurance, that it has carried us quite beyond the reach of our faculties, when it leads to conclusions so extraordinary, and so remote from common life and experience. We are got into fairy land, long ere we have reached the last steps of our theory; and there we have no reason to trust our common methods of argument, or think that our usual analogies and probabilities have any autho­rity. Our line is too short to fathom such immense abysses. And however we may flatter ourselves, that we are guided, in every step which we take, by a kind of verisimilitude and experience; we may be assured, that this fancied experience has no authority when we thus apply it to subjects that lie intirely out of the sphere of experience. But on this we shall have oc­casion to touch afterwards*.

Secondly, I cannot perceive any force in the argu­ments on which this theory is founded. We are ig­norant, tis true, of the manner in which bodies ope­rate on each other: Their force or energy is intirely incomprehensible. But are we not equally ignorant of the manner or force, by which a mind, even the [Page 115] supreme mind, operates either on itself or on body? Whence, I beseech you, do we acquire any idea of it? We have no sentiment or consciousness of this power in ourselves. We have no idea of the Supreme Being but what we learn from reflection on our own facul­ties. Were our ignorance, therefore, a good reason for rejecting any thing, we should be led into that principle of denying all energy in the Supreme Being as much as in the grossest matter. We surely com prehend as little the operations of one as of the other. Is it more difficult to conceive, that motion may arise from impulse, than that it may arise from voli­tion? All we know is our profound ignorance in both cases*.

[Page 116] BUT to hasten to a conclusion of this argument, which is already drawn out to too great a length: We have sought in vain for an idea of power or neces­sary connexion, in all the sources from which we could suppose it to be derived. It appears, that, in single instances of the operation of bodies, we never can, by our utmost scrutiny, discover any thing but one event following another; without being able to comprehend any force or power, by which the cause operates, or any connexion between it and its supposed effect. The same difficulty occurs in contemplating the ope­rations of mind on body; where we observe the mo­tion of the latter to follow upon the volition of the former; but are not able to observe nor conceive the [Page 117] tye, which binds together the motion and volition, or the energy by which the mind produces this effect. The authority of the will over its own faculties and ideas is not a whit more comprehensible: So that, upon the whole, there appears not, thro' all nature, any one instance of connexion, which is conceivable by us. All events seem intirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tye between them. They seem conjoined, but never connected. And as we can have no idea of any thing, which never appeared to our outward sense or inward sentiment, the necessary conclusion seems to be, that we have no idea of connexion or power at all, and that these words are absolutely without any mean­ing, when employed either in philosophical reason­ings, or common life.

BUT there still remains one method of avoiding this conclusion, and one source which we have not yet ex­amined. When any natural object or event is pre­sented, 'tis impossible for us, by any sagacity or pe­netration, to discover, or even conjecture, without ex­perience, what event will result from it, or to carry our foresight beyond that object, which is immediate­ly present to the memory and senses. Even after one instance or experiment, where we have observed a particular event to follow upon another, we are not intitled to form a general rule, or foretel what will happen in like cases; it being justly esteemed an un­pardonable [Page 118] temerity to judge of the whole course of nature from one single experiment, however accurate or certain. But when one particular species of event has always, in all instances, been conjoined with ano­ther, we make no longer any scruple to foretel the one upon the appearance of the other, and to employ that reasoning, which can alone assure us of any mat­ter of fact or existence. We then call the one object, Cause; and the other, Effect. We suppose, that there is some connexion between them; some power in the one, by which it infallibly produces the other, and o­perates with the greatest certainty and strongest ne­cessity.

IT appears, then, that this idea of a necessary con­nexion from events arises from a number of similar instances, which occur, of the constant conjunction of these events; nor can that idea ever be suggested by any one of these instances, surveyed in all possible lights and positions. But there is nothing in a num­ber of instances, different from every single instance, which is supposed to be exactly similar; except only, that after a repetition of similar instances, the mind is carried by habit, upon the appearance of one event, to expect its usual attendant, and to believe, that it will exist. This connexion, therefore, which we feel in the mind, or customary transition of the imagination from one object to its usual attendant, is the senti­ment or impression, from which we form the idea of [Page 119] power or necessary connexion. Nothing farther is in the case. Contemplate the subject on all sides, you will never find any other origin of this idea. This is the sole difference between one instance, from which we never can receive the idea of connexion, and a number of similar instances, by which it is suggested. The first time a man saw the communication of mo­tion by impulse, as by the shock of two billiard balls, he could not pronounce that the one event was con­nected; but only that it was conjoined with the other. After he has observed several instances of this nature, he then pronounces them to be connected. What al­teration has happened to give rise to this new idea of connexion? Nothing but that he now feels these events to be connected in his imagination, and can readily foretel the existence of one from the appearance of the other. When we say, therefore, that one object is connected with another, we mean only, that they have acquired a connexion in our thoughts, and give rise to this inference, by which they become proofs of each other's existence: A conclusion; which is somewhat extraordinary; but which seems founded on sufficient evidence. Nor will its evidence be weakned by any general diffidence of the under­standing, or sceptical suspicion concerning every con­clusion, which is new and extraordinary. No con­clusions can be more agreeable to scepticism than such as make discoveries concerning the weakness and nar­row limits of human reason and capacity.

[Page 120] AND what stronger instance can be produced of the surprising ignorance and weakness of the understand­ing, than the present? For surely, if there be any re­lation among objects, which it imports us to know perfectly, 'tis that of cause and effect. On this are founded all our reasonings concerning matter of fact or existence. By means of it alone we attain any as­surance concerning objects which are removed from the present testimony of our memory and senses. The only immediate utility of all sciences, is to teach us, how to control and regulate future events by their causes. Our thoughts and inquiries are, therefore, every moment, employed about this relation. And yet so imperfect are the ideas which we form concern­ing it, that 'tis impossible to give any just definition of cause, except what is drawn from something extra­neous and foreign to it. Similar objects are always conjoined with similar. Of this we have experience. Suitable to this experience, therefore, we may define a cause to be an object, followed by another, and where all the objects, similar to the first, are followed by ob­jects similar to the second. Or in other words, where, if the first object had not been, the second never had ex­isted. The appearance of a cause always conveys the mind, by a customary transition, to the idea of the ef­fect. Of this also we have experience. We may, therefore, suitable to this experience, form another de­finition of cause, and call it, an object followed by an­other, and whose appearance always conveys the thought [Page 121] to that other. But tho' both these definitions be drawn from circumstances foreign to the cause, we cannot remedy this inconvenience, or attain any more perfect definition, which may point out that circumstance in the cause, which gives it a connexion with its effect. We have no idea of this connexion; nor even any distinct notion what it is we desire to know, when we endeavour at a conception of it. We say, for instance, that the vibration of this string is the cause of this particular sound. But what do we mean by that affirmation? We either mean, that this vibra­tion is followed by this sound, and that all similar vibra­tions have been followed by similar sounds: Or, that this vibration is followed by this sound, and that upon the appearance of one, the mind anticipates the senses, and forms immediately an idea of the other. We may consider the relation of cause and effect in either of these two lights; but beyond these, we have no idea of it*.

[Page 122] To recapitulate, therefore, the reasonings of this section: Every idea is copied from some preceding impression or sentiment; and where we cannot find any impression, we may be certain that there is no idea. In all single instances of the operation of bodies [Page 123] or minds, there is nothing that produces any impres­sion, nor consequently can suggest any idea of power or necessary connexion. But when many uniform in­stances appear, and the same object is always follow­ed by the same event; we then begin to entertain the notion of cause and connexion. We then feel a new sentiment or impression, viz. a customary connexion in the thought or imagination between one object and its usual attendant; and this sentiment is the original of that idea which we seek for. For as this idea arises from a number of similar instances, and not from any single instance; it must arise from that circumstance, in which the number of instances differ from every in­dividual instance. But this customary connexion or transition of the imagination is the only circumstance, in which they differ. In every other particular they are alike. The first instance which we saw of motion, communicated by the shock of two billiard-balls (to re­turn to this obvious instance) is exactly similar to any instance that may, at present, occur to us; except on­ly, that we could not, at first, infer one event from the other; which we are enabled to do at present, after so long a course of uniform experience. I know not, if the reader will readily apprehend this reasoning. I am afraid, that, should I multiply words about it, or throw it into a greater variety of lights, it would only become more obscure and intricate. In all abstract reasonings, there is one point of view, which, if we [Page 124] can happily hit, we shall go farther towards illustrating the subject, than by all the eloquence and copious expression in the world. This we should endeavour to attain, and reserve the flowers of rhetoric for sub­jects, which are more adapted to them.



IT might reasonably be expected, in questions, which have been canvassed and disputed with great eagerness since the first origin of science and philoso­phy, that the meaning of all the terms, at least, should have been agreed upon among the disputants; and our enquiries, in the course of two thousand years, been able to pass from words to the true and real sub­ject of the controversy. For how easy may it seem to give exact definitions of the terms employed in reason­ing, and make these definitions, not the mere sound of words, the object of future scrutiny and examination? But if we consider the matter more narrowly, we shall be apt to draw a quite opposite conclusion. From that circumstance alone, that a controversy has been long kept on foot, and remains still undecided, we may presume, that there is some ambiguity in the ex­pression, and that the disputants affix different ideas [Page 126] to the terms employed in the controversy. For as the faculties of the soul are supposed to be naturally alike in every individual; otherwise nothing could be more fruitless than to reason or dispute together; it were impossible, if men affix the same ideas to their terms, that they could so long form different opinions of the same subject; especially when they communicate their views, and each party turn themselves on all sides, in search of arguments, which may give them the vic­tory over their antagonists. 'Tis ture; if men at­tempt the discussion of questions, which lie entirely beyond the reach of human capacity, such as those concerning the origin of worlds, or the oeconomy of the intellectual system or region of spirits, they may long beat the air in their fruitless contests, and never arrive at any determinate conclusion. But if the question regard any subject of common life and expe­rience; nothing, one would think, could preserve the dispute so long undecided, but some ambiguous expressions, which keep the antagonists still at a dis­tance, and hinder them from grappling with each other.

THIS has been the case in the long disputed ques­tion concerning liberty and necessity; and to so re­markable a degree, that, if I be not much mistaken, we shall find all mankind, both learned and ignorant, to have been always of the same opinion with regard to that subject, and that a few intelligible definitions [Page 127] would immediately have put an end to the whole controversy. I own, that this dispute has been so much canvassed, on all hands, and has led philoso­phers into such a labyrinth of obscure sophistry, that 'tis no wonder if a sensible and polite reader indulge his ease so far as to turn a deaf ear to the proposal of such a question, from which he can expect neither instruction nor entertainment. But the state of the argument here proposed may, perhaps, serve to re­new his attention; as it has more novelty, promises at least some decision of the controversy, and will not much disturb his ease, by any intricate or obscure reasoning.

I HOPE, therefore, to make it appear, that all men have ever agreed in the doctrines both of necessity and of liberty, according to any reasonable sense, which can be put on these terms; and that the whole con­troversy has hitherto turned merely upon words. We shall begin with examining the doctrine of necessity.

'TIS universally allowed, that matter, in all its operations, is actuated by a necessary force, and that every natural effect is so precisely determined by the energy of its cause, that no other effect, in such particular circumstances, could possibly have resulted from the operation of that cause. The degree and direction of every motion is, by the laws of nature, prescribed with such exactness, that a living creature [Page 128] may as soon arise from the shock of two bodies, as motion in any other degree or direction, than what is actually produced by it Would we, therefore, form a just and precise idea of necessity, we must consider, whence that idea arises, when we apply it to the ope­ration of bodies.

IT seems evident, that, if all the scenes of nature were shifted continually in such a manner, that no two events bore any resemblance to each other, but every object was entirely new, without any similitude to whatever had been seen before, we should never, in that case, have attained the least idea of necessity, or of a connexion among these objects. We might say, upon such a supposition, that one object or event has followed another; not that one was produced by the other. The relation of cause and effect must be utterly unknown to mankind. Inference and reason­ing concerning the operations of nature would, from that moment, be at an end; and the memory and senses remain the only canals, by which the know­lege of any real existence could possibly have access to the mind. Our idea, therefore, of necessity and cau­sation arises entirely from that uniformity, observable in the operations of nature; where similar objects are constantly conjoined together, and the mind is deter­mined by custom to infer the one from the appear­ance of the other. These two circumstances form the whole of that necessity, which we ascribe to mat­ter. [Page 129] Beyond the constant conjunction of similar ob­jects, and the consequent inference from one to the other, we have no notion of any necessity, or con­nexion.

IF it appear, therefore, that all mankind have ever allowed, without any doubt or hesitation, that these two circumstances take place in the voluntary actions of men, and in the operations of the mind; it must follow, that all mankind have ever agreed in the doc­trine of necessity, and that they have hitherto dis­puted, merely for not understanding each other.

As to the first circumstance, the constant and regular conjunction of similar events; we may possibly satisfy ourselves by the following considerations. It is uni­versally acknowledged, that there is a great uniformity among the actions of men, in all nations and ages, and that human nature remains still the same, in its principles and operations. The same motives produce always the same actions: The same events follow from the same causes. Ambition, avarice, self love, vanity, friendship, generosity, public spirit; these passions, mixed in various degrees, and distributed thro' society, have been, from the beginning of the world, and still are, the sources of all the actions and enterprizes, which have ever been observed among mankind. Would you know the sentiments, incli­nations, and course of life of the GREEKS and RO­MANS? [Page 130] Study well the temper and actions of the FRENCH and ENGLISH. You cannot be much mis­taken in transferring to the former most of the obser­vations, which you have made with regard to the latter. Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular. Its chief use if only to dis­cover the constant and universal principles of human nature, by shewing men in all varieties of circum­stances and situations, and furnishing us with mate­rials, from which we may form our observations, and become acquainted with the regular springs of human action and behaviour. These records of wars, in­trigues, factions, and revolutions, are so many col­lections of experiments, by which the politician or moral philosopher fixes the principles of his science; in the same manner as the physician or natural philo­sopher becomes acquainted with the nature of plants, minerals, and other external objects, by the experi­ments, which he forms concerning them. Nor are the earth, water, and other elements, examined by ARISTOTLE, and HIPPOCRATES, more like to those, which at present lie under our observation, than the men, described by POLYBIUS and TACITUS, are to those who now govern the world.

SHOULD a traveller, returning from a far country, bring us an account of men, entirely different from any, with whom we were ever acquainted; men, who [Page 131] were entirely divested of avarice, ambition, or re­venge; who knew no pleasure but friendship, gene­rosity, and publick spirit; we should immediately, from these circumstances, detect the falshood, and prove him a liar, with the same certainty as if he had stuffed his narration with stories of centaurs and dragons, miracles and prodigies. And if we would explode any forgery in history, we cannot make use of a more convincing argument; than to prove, that the actions, ascribed to any person, are directly con­trary to the course of nature, and that no human mo­tives, in such circumstances, could ever induce him to such a conduct. The veracity of QUINTUS CUR­TIUS is as suspicious, when he describes the superna­tural courage of ALEXANDER, by which he was hur­ried on singly to attack multitudes, as when he de­scribes his supernatural force and activity, by which he was able to resist them. So readily and univer­sally do we acknowlege an uniformity in human mo­tives and actions as well as in the operations of body.

HENCE likewise the benefit of that experience, ac­quired by long life and a variety of business and com­pany, in order to instruct us in the principles of hu­man nature, and regulate our future conduct, as well as speculation. By means of this guide, we mount up to the knowlege of mens inclinations and motives, from their actions, expressions, and even gestures; [Page 132] and again, descend to the interpretation of their ac­tions from our knowlege of their motives and inclina­tions. The general observations, treasured up by a course of experience, give us the clue of human na­ture, and teaches us to unravel all its intricacies. Pre­texts and appearances no longer deceive us. Public declarations pass for the specious colouring of a cause. And tho' virtue and honour be allowed their proper weight and authority, that perfect disinterestedness, so often pretended, is never expected in multitudes and parties; seldom in their leaders; and scarcely even in individuals of any rank or station. But were there no uniformity in human actions, and were every experi­ment which we could form of this kind irregular and anomolous, it were impossible to collect any general observations concerning mankind; and no experience, however accurately digested by reflection, would ever serve to any purpose. Why is the antient husband­man more skilful in his calling than the young be­ginner, but because there is a certain uniformity in the operation of the sun, rain, and earth, towards the production of vegetables; and experience teaches the old practitioner the rules, by which this operation is governed and directed?

WE must not, however, expect, that this unifor­mity of human actions should be carried to such a length, as that all men in the same circumstances, should always act precisely in the same manner, with­out [Page 133] any allowance for the diversity of characters, pre­judices, and opinions. Such a uniformity, in every particular is found in no part of nature. On the con­trary, from observing the variety of conduct in diffe­rent men, we are enabled to form a greater variety of maxims, which still suppose a degree of uniformity and regularity.

ARE the manners of men different in different ages and countries? We learn thence the great force of custom and education, which mould the human mind from its infancy, and form it into a fixed and esta­blished character. Is the behaviour and conduct of the one sex very unlike that of the other? 'Tis from thence we become acquainted with the different cha­racters, which nature has impressed upon the sexes, and which she preserves with constancy and regula­rity. Are the actions of the same person much di­versified in the different periods of his life, from in­fancy to old age? This affords room for many gene­ral observations concerning the gradual change of our sentiments and inclinations, and the different maxims, which prevail in the different ages of human crea­tures. Even the characters which are peculiar to each individual, have an uniformity in their influence, other­wise our acquaintance with the persons, and our ob­servation of their conduct could never teach us their dispositions, nor serve to direct our behaviour with regard to them.

[Page 134] I GRANT it possible to find some actions, which seem to have no regular connexion with any known motives, and are exceptions to all the measures of conduct, which have ever been established for the go­vernment of men. But if we would willingly know, what judgment should be formed of such irregular and extraordinary actions; we may consider the sen­timents that are commonly entertained with regard to those irregular events, which appear in the course of nature, and the operations of external objects. All causes are not conjoined to their usual effects, with like uniformity. An artificer, who handles only dead matter, may be disappointed of his aim as well as the politician, who directs the conduct of sensible and intelligent agents.

THE vulgar, who take things according to their first appearance, attribute the uncertainty of events to such an uncertainty in the causes as makes the latter often fail of their usual influence; tho' they meet with no impediment in their operation. But philoso­phers, observing, that almost in every part of nature there is contained a vast variety of springs and prin­ciples, which are hid, by reason of their minuteness or remoteness, find, that 'tis at least possible the con­trariety of events may not proceed from any contin­gency in the cause, but from the secret operation of contrary causes. This possibility is converted into cer­tainty by farther observation, when they remark, [Page 135] that, upon an exact scrutiny, a contrariety of effects always betrays a contrariety of causes, and proceeds from their mutual opposition. A peasant can give no better reason for the stopping of any clock or watch than to say that it commonly does not not go right: But an artizan easily perceives, that the same force in the spring or pendulum has always the same influence on the wheels; but fails of its usual effect, perhaps by reason of a grain of dust, which puts a stop to the whole movement. From the observation of several parallel instances, philosophers form a maxim, that the connexion between all causes and effects is equally necessary, and that its seeming un­certainty in some instances proceeds from the secret opposition of contrary causes.

THUS for instance, in the human body, when the usual symptoms of health or sickness disappoint our expectation; when medicines operate not with their wonted powers; when irregular events follow from any particular causes; the philosopher and physician are not surprized at the matter, nor are ever tempted to deny, in general, the necessity and uniformity of those principles, by which the animal oeconomy is conducted. They know, that a human body is a mighty complicated machine: That many secret pow­ers lurk in it, which are altogether beyond our com­prehension: That to us it must often appear very un­certain in its operations: And that therefore the irre­gular [Page 136] events, which outwardly discover themselves, can be no proof, that the laws of nature are not ob­served with the greatest regularity in its internal ope­rations and government.

THE philosopher, if he be consistent, must apply the same reasonings to the actions and volitions of intelligent agents. The most irregular and unex­pected resolutions of men may frequently be accounted for by those who know every particular circumstance of their character and situation. A person of an obliging disposition gives a peevish answer: But he has the tooth-ake, or has not dined. A stupid fel­low discovers an uncommon alacrity in his carriage: But he has met with a sudden piece of good fortune. Or even when an action, as sometimes happens, can­not be particularly accounted for, either by the per­son himself or by others; we know, in general, that the characters of men are, to a certain degree, incon­stant and irregular. This is, in a manner, the constant character of human nature; tho' it be applicable, in a more particular manner, to some persons, who have no fixed rule for their conduct, but proceed in a con­tinued cours of caprice and inconstancy. The in­ternal principles and motives may operate in an uni­form manner, notwithstanding these seeming irregu­larities; in the same manner as the winds, rain, clouds, and other variations of the weather are sup­posed [Page 137] to be governed by steady principles; tho' not easily discoverable by human sagacity and enquiry.

THUS it appears, not only that the conjunction between motives and voluntary actions is as regular and uniform, as that between the cause and effect in any part of nature; but also that this regular conjunc­tion has been universally acknowleged among man­kind, and has never been the subject of dispute, ei­ther in philosophy or common life. Now as it is from past experience, that we draw all inferences con­cerning the future, and as we conclude, that objects will always be conjoined together, which we find al­ways to have been conjoined; it may seem superflu­ous to prove, that this experienced uniformity in human actions is the source of all the inferences, which we form concerning them. But in order to throw the argument into a greater variety of lights, we shall also insist, tho' briefly, on this latter topic.

THE mutual dependance of men is so great, in all societies, that scarce any human action is entirely compleat in itself, or is performed without some re­ference to the actions of others, which are requisite to make it answer fully the intention of the agent. The poorest artificer, who labours alone, expects at least the protection of the magistrate, to ensure the enjoyment of the fruits of his labour. He also ex­pects, that, when he carries his goods to market, and [Page 138] offers them at a reasonable price, he shall find buyers; and shall be able, by the money he acquires, to en­gage others to supply him with those commodities, which are requisite for his subsistence. In propor­tion as men extend their dealings, and render their intercourse with others more complicated, they always comprehend, in their schemes of life, a greater va­riety of voluntary actions, which they expect, from their proper motives, to co-operate with their own. In all these conclusions, they take their measures from past experience, in the same manner as in their rea­sonings concerning external objects: and firmly be­lieve, that men, as well as all the elements, are to continue, in their operations, the same, which they have ever found them. A manufacturer reckons up­on the labour of his servants, for the execution of any work, as much as upon the tools, which he em­ploys, and would be equally surprized, were his ex­pectations disappointed. In short, this experimental inference and reasoning concerning the actions of others enters so much into human life, that no man, while awake, is ever a moment without employing it. Have we not reason, therefore, to affirm, that all mankind have always agreed in the doctrine of ne­cessity, according to the foregoing definition and ex­plication of it?

NOR have philosophers ever entertained a different opinion from the people in this particular. For not [Page 139] to mention, that almost every action of their life sup­poses that opinion; there are even few of the specu­lative parts of learning, to which it is not essential. What would become of history, had we not a depen­dence on the veracity of the historian, according to the experience, which we have had of mankind? How could politics be a science, if laws and forms of go­vernment had not an uniform influence upon society? Where would be the foundation of morals, if particu­lar characters had no certain nor determinate power to produce particular sentiments, and if these senti­ments had no constant operations on actions? And with what pretext could we employ our criticism upon any poet or polite author, if we could not pronounce the conduct and sentiments of his actors, either natu­ral or unnatural, to such characters, and in such cir­cumstances? It seems almost impossible, therefore, to engage, either in science or action of any kind, without acknowleging the doctrine of necessity, and this inference from motives to voluntary actions; from characters to conduct.

AND indeed, when we consider how aptly natural and moral evidence link together, and form only one chain of argument, we shall make no scruple to al­low, that they are of the same nature, and derived from the same principles. A prisoner, who has nei­ther money nor interest, discovers the impossibility of his escape, as well from the obstinacy of the gaoler, [Page 140] as from the walls and bars, with which he is sur­rounded; and in all attempts for his freedom, chuses rather to work upon the stone and iron of the one, than upon the inflexible nature of the other. The same prisoner, when conducted to the scaffold, foresees his death as certainly from the constancy and fidelity of his guards, as from the operation of the ax or wheel. His mind runs along a certain train of ideas: The refusal of the soldiers to consent to his escape; the action of the executioner; the separation of the head and body; bleeding, convulsive motions, and death. Here is a connected chain of natural causes and voluntary actions; but the mind feels no diffe­rence between them, in passing from one link to another: Nor is less certain of the future event than if it were connected with the objects present to the memory or senses, by a train of causes, cemented to­gether by what we are pleased to call a physical neces­sity. The same experienced union has the same effect on the mind, whether the united objects be motives, volitions, and actions; or figure and motion. We may change the names of things; but their nature and their operation on the understanding never change.

I HAVE frequently considered, what could possibly be the reason, why all mankind, tho' they have ever without hesitation, acknowleged the doctrine of ne­cessity, in their whole practice and reasoning, have [Page 141] yet discovered such a reluctance to acknowlege it in words, and have rather shewn a propensity, in all ages, to profess the contrary opinion. The matter, I think, may be accounted for, after the following manner. If we examine the operations of bodies and the production of effects from their causes, we shall find, that all our faculties can never carry us farther in our knowlege of this relation, than barely to ob­serve, that particular objects are constantly conjoined to­gether, and that the mind is carried, by a customary transition, from the appearance of one to the belief of the other. But tho' this conclusion concerning human ignorance be the result of the strictest scrutiny of this subject, men still entertain a strong propensity to believe, that they penetrate farther into the powers of nature, and perceive something like a necessary con­nexion between the cause and the effect. When again they turn their reflections towards the operations of their own minds, and feel no such connexion of the motive and the action; they are apt, from thence, to suppose, that there is a difference between the effects, resulting from material force, and those which arise from thought and intelligence. But being once con­vinced, that we know nothing farther of causation of any kind, than merely the constant conjunction of ob­jects, and the consequent inference of the mind from one to another, and finding, that these two circum­stances are universally acknowleged to have place in voluntary actions; we may thence be more easily led [Page 142] to own the same necessity common to all causes. And tho' this reasoning may contradict the systems of many philosophers, in ascribing necessity to the determinati­ons of the will, we shall find, upon reflection, that they dissent from it in words only, not in their real senti­ments. Necessity, according to the sense, in which it is here taken, has never yet been rejected, nor can ever, I think, be rejected by any philosopher. It may only, perhaps, be pretended, that the mind can per­ceive, in the operations of matter, some farther con­nexion between the cause and effect; and a connexion which has not place in the voluntary actions of in­telligent beings. Now whether it be so or not, can only appear upon examination; and it is incumbent on these philosophers to make good their assertion, by defining or describing that necessity, and pointing it out to us, in the operations of material causes.

IT would seem, indeed, that men begin at the wrong end of this question concerning liberty and ne­cessity, when they enter upon it by examining the faculties of the soul, the influence of the understand­ing, and the operations of the will. Let them first discuss a more simple question, viz. the operations of body and of brute unintelligent matter; and try whe­ther they can there form any idea of causation and necessity, except that of a constant conjunction of ob­jects, and subsequent inference of the mind from one to another. If these circumstances form, in reality, [Page 143] the whole of that necessity, which we can conceive in matter, and if these circumstances be also univer­sally acknowleged to take place in the operations of the mind, the dispute is at an end; or, at least, must be owned to be thenceforth merely verbal. But as long as we will rashly suppose, that we have some far­ther idea of necessity and causation in the operations of external objects; at the same time, that we can find nothing farther, in the voluntary actions of the mind; there is no possibility of bringing the dispute to any determinate issue, while we proceed upon so erroneous a supposition. The only method of unde­ceiving us, is, to mount up higher; to examine the narrow extent of science, when applied to mateiral causes; and to convince ourselves, that all we know of them, is, the constant conjunction and inference above-mentioned. We may, perhaps, find, that 'tis with difficulty we are induced to fix such narrow li­mits to human understanding: But we can afterwards find no difficulty, when we come to apply this doc­trine to the actions of the will. For as 'tis evident, that these have a regular conjunction with motives and circumstances and characters, and as we always draw inferences from the one to the other, we must be obliged to acknowlege, in words, that ne­cessity, which we have already avowed, in every deliberation of our lives, and in every step of our conduct and behaviour*.

[Page 144] BUT to proceed in this reconciling project with re­gard to the question of liberty and necessity; the [Page 145] most contentious question, of metaphysics, the most contentious science; it will not require many words to prove, that all mankind have ever agreed in the doc­trine of liberty as well as in that of necessity, and that the whole dispute, in this respect also, has been hitherto merely verbal. For what is meant by liber­ty, when applied to voluntary actions? We cannot surely mean, that actions have so little connexion with motives, inclinations, and circumstances, that the one does not follow with a certain degree of uni­formity from the other, and that the one affords no inference, from which we can conclude the existence of the other. For these are plain and acknowleged matters of fact. By liberty, then, we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the deter­minations of the will; that is, if we chuse to remain at rest, we may; if we chuse to move, we also may. Now this hypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to every body, who is not a prisoner and in chains. Here then is no subject of dispute.

[Page 146] WHATEVER definition we may give of liberty, we should be careful to observe two requisite circum­stances; first, that it be consistent with plain matter of fact; secondly, that it be consistent with itself. If we observe these circumstances, and render our defi­nition intelligible, I am persuaded that all mankind will be found of one opinion with regard to it.

'TIS universally allowed, that nothing exists with­out a cause of its existence, and that chance, when strictly examined, is a mere negative word, and means not any real power, which has, any where, a being in nature. But 'tis pretended that some causes are ne­cessary, and some are not necessary. Here then is the admirable advantage of definitions. Let any one define a cause, without comprehending, as a part of the definition, a necessary connexion with its effect; and let him shew distinctly the origin of the idea, ex­pressed by the definition; and I shall frankly give up the whole controversy. But if the foregoing explica­tion of the matter be received, this must be absolutely impracticable. Had not objects a regular conjunction with each other, we should never have entertained any notion of cause and effect; and this regular conjunc­tion produces that inference of the understanding, which is the only connexion, that we can have any comprehension of. Whoever attempts a definition of cause, exclusive of these circumstances, will be obliged, either to employ unintelligible terms, or such as are [Page 147] synonimous to the term, which he endeavours to de­fine*. And if the definition above-mentioned be ad­mitted; liberty, when opposed to necessity, not to constraint, is the same thing with chance; which is universally allowed to have no existence.


THERE is no method of reasoning more common, and yet none more blameable, than in philosophical debates, to endeavour the refutation of any hypothesis, by a pretext of its dangerous consequences to religion and morality. When any opinion leads into absurdi­ties, 'tis certainly false; but 'tis not certain that an opi­nion is false, because 'tis of dangerous consequence. Such topics, therefore, ought entirely to be forborne; as serving nothing to the discovery of truth, but only to make the person of an antagonist odious. This I ob­serve [Page 148] in general, without pretending to draw any ad­vantage from it. I submit frankly to an examination of this kind, and shall venture to affirm, that the doctrines, both of necessity and of liberty, as above explained, are not only consistent with morality and religion, but are absolutely essential to the support of them.

NECESSITY may be defined two ways, conformable to the two definitions of cause, of which it makes an essential part. It consists either in the constant con­junction of like objects, or in the inference of the understanding from one object to another. Now ne­cessity, in both these senses, (which, indeed, are, at bottom, the same) has universally, tho' tacitly, in the schools, in the pulpit, and in common life, been allowed to belong to the will of man; and no man has ever pretended to deny, that we can draw infe­rences concerning human actions, and that those in­ferences are founded in the experienced union of like actions, with like motives, inclinations, and circum­stances. The only particular, in which any one can differ, is, that either, perhaps, he will refuse to give the name of necessity to this property of human ac­tions: But as long as the meaning is understood, I hope the word can do no harm: Or that he will maintain it possible to discover something farther in the operations of matter. But this, it must be ac­knowleged, [Page 149] can be of no consequence to morality or religion, whatever it may be to natural philosophy or metaphysics. We may here be mistaken in asserting, that there is no idea of any other necessity or connexion in the actions of body: But surely we ascribe nothing to the actions of the mind, but what every one does, and must readily allow of. We change no circum­stance in the received orthodox system with regard to the will, but only in that with regard to material ob­jects and causes. Nothing therefore can be more innocent, at least, than this doctrine.

ALL laws being founded on rewards and punish­ments, 'tis supposed as a fundamental principle, that these motives have a regular and uniform influence on the mind, and both produce the good and prevent the evil actions. We may give to this influence, what name we please; but as 'tis usually conjoined with the action, it must be esteemed a cause, and be looked upon as an instance of that necessity, which we would here establish.

THE only proper object of hatred or vengeance, is a person or creature, endowed with thought and consciousness; and when any criminal or injurious actions excite that passion, 'tis only by their relation to the person, or connexion with him. Actions are, by their very nature, temporary and perishing; and where they proceed not from some cause in the cha­racters and disposition of the person who performed [Page 150] them, they can neither redound to his honour, if good, nor infamy, if evil. The actions themselves may be blameable; they may be contrary to all the rules of morality and religion: But the person is not answer­able for them; and as they proceeded from nothing in him, that is durable and constant, and leave no­thing of that nature behind them, 'tis impossible he can, upon their account, become the object of punish­ment or vengeance. According to the principle, therefore, which denies necessity, and consequently causes, a man is as pure and untainted, after having committed the most horrid crime, as at the first mo­ment of his birth, nor is his charracter any way con­cerned in his actions; since they are not derived from it, and the wickedness of the one can never be used as a proof of the depravity of the other.

MEN are not blamed for such actions, as they per­form ignorantly and casually, whatever may be the consequences. Why? but because the principles of these actions are only momentary, and terminate in them alone. Men are less blamed for such actions as they perform hastily and unpremeditately, than for such as proceed from deliberation. For what reason? but because a hasty temper, tho' a constant cause or principle in the mind, operates only by intervals, and infects not the whole character. Again, repentance wipes off every crime, if attended with a reformation of life and manners. How is this to be accounted [Page 151] for? but by asserting, that actions render a person criminal, merely as they are proofs of criminal prin­ciples in the mind; and when, by any alteration of these principles, they cease to be just proofs, they like­wise cease to be criminal. But except upon the doc­trine of necessity, they never were just proofs, and consequently never were criminal.

IT will be equally easy to prove, and from the same arguments, that liberty, according to that definition above mentioned, in which all men agree, is also es­sential to morality, and that no human actions, where it is wanting, are susceptible of any moral qualities, or can be the objects either of approbation or dislike. For as actions are objects of our moral sentiments, so far only as they are indications of the internal cha­racter, passions, and affections; 'tis impossible that they can give rise either to praise or blame, where they proceed not from these principles, but are de­rived altogether from external violence.

I PRETEND not to have obviated or removed all objections to this theory, with regard to necessity and liberty. I can foresee other objections, derived from topics, which have not here been treated of. It may be said, for instance, that if voluntary actions be sub­jected to the same laws of necessity with the opera­tions of matter, there is a continued chain of necessary causes, pre-ordained and pre-determined, reaching [Page 152] from the original cause of all, to every single volition of every human creature. No contingency any where in the universe; no indifference; no liberty. While we act, we are, at the same time, acted upon. The ultimate Author of all our volitions is the Creator of the world, who first bestowed motion on this immense machine, and placed all beings in that particular po­sition, whence every subsequent event, by an inevi­table necessity, must result. Human actions, there­fore, either can have no moral turpitude at all, as proceeding from so good a cause; or if they have any turpitude, they must involve our Creator in the same guilt, while he is acknowleged to be their ultimate cause and author. For as a man, who fired a mine, is answerable for all the consequences, whether the train he employed be long or short: so wherever a continued chain of necessary causes are fixed, that Be­ing, either finite or infinite, who produces the first, is likewise the author of all the rest, and must both bear the blame and acquire the praise, which belong to them. Our clearest and most unalterable ideas of morality establish this rule, upon unquestionable rea­sons, when we examine the consequences of any hu­man action; and these reasons must still have greater force, when applied to the volitions and intentions of a Being, infinitely wise and powerful. Ignorance or impotence may be pleaded for so limited a creature as man; but those imperfections have no place in our Creator. He foresaw, he ordained, he intended all [Page 153] those actions of men, which we so rashly pronounce criminal. And we must conclude, therefore, either that they are not criminal, or that the Deity, not man, is accountable for them. But as either of these positions is absurd and impious, it follows, that the doctrine from which they are deduced, cannot pos­sibly be true, as being liable to all the same objections. An absurd consequence, if necessary, proves the ori­ginal doctrine to be absurd; in the same manner that criminal actions render criminal the original cause, if the connexion between them be necessary and ine­vitable.

THIS objection consists of two parts, which we shall examine separately; First, that if human actions can be traced up, by a necessary chain, to the Deity, they can never be criminal; on account of the infinite per­fection of that Being, from whom they are derived, and who can intend nothing but what is altogether good and laudable. Or Secondly, if they be criminal, we must retract the attribute of perfection, which we ascribe to the Deity, and must acknowlege him to be the ultimate author of guilt and moral trupitude in all his creatures.

THE answer to the first objection seems obvious and convincing. There are many philosophers, who, af­ter an exact scrutiny of all the phaenomena of nature, conclude, that the WHOLE, considered as one system, [Page 154] is, in every period of its existence, ordered with per­fect benevolence; and that the utmost possible hap­piness will, in the end, result to every created being, without any mixture of positive or absolute ill and misery. Every physical ill, say they, makes an es­sential part of this benevolent system, and could not possibly be removed, even by the Deity himself, con­sidered as a wise agent, without giving entrance to greater ill, or excluding greater good, which will re­sult from it. From this theory, some philosophers, and the antient Stoics among the rest, derived a topic of consolation, under all afflictions, while they taught their pupils, that those ills, under which they laboured, were, in reality, goods to the universe; and that to an enlarged view, which could comprehend the whole system of nature, every event became an object of joy and exultation. But tho' this topic be specious and sublime, it was soon found in practice weak and in­effectual. You would surely more irritate, than ap­pease a man, lying under the racking pains of the gout, by preaching up to him the rectitude of those general laws, which produced the malignant humours in his body, and led them, thro' the proper canals, to the nerves and sinews, where they now excite such acute torments. These enlarged views may, for a moment, please the imagination of a speculative man, who is placed in ease and security; but neither can they dwell with constancy on his mind, even tho' un­disturbed by the emotions of pain or passion; much [Page 155] less can they maintain their ground, when attacked by such powerful antagonists. The affections take a narrower and more natural survey of their objects, and by an oeconomy, more suitable to the infirmity of hu­man minds, regard alone the beings around us, and are actuated by such events as appear good or ill to the private system. The case is the same with moral as with physical ill. It cannot reasonably be supposed, that those remote considerations, which are found of so little efficacy with regard to one, will have a more powerful influence with regard to the other. The mind of man is so formed by nature, that, upon the appearance of certain characters, dispositions, and actions, it immediately feels the sentiment of appro­bation or blame; nor are there any emotions more essential to its frame and constitution.

THE characters, which engage its approbation, are chiefly such as contribute to the peace and security of human society; as the characters, which excite blame, are chiefly such as tend to public detriment and dis­turbance: Whence we may reasonably presume, that the moral sentiments arise, either mediately or im­mediately, from a reflection on these opposite interests. What tho' philosophical meditations establish a diffe­rent opinion or conjecture; that every thing is right with regard to the WHOLE, and that the qualities, which disturb society, are, in the main, as beneficial, and are as suitable to the primary intention of na­ture, [Page 156] as those which more directly promote its hap­piness and welfare? Are such remote and uncertain speculations able to counter-balance the sentiments, which arise from the natural and immediate view of the objects? A man, who is robbed of a conside­rable sum; does he find his vexation for the loss any way diminished by these sublime reflections? Why then should his moral resentment against the crime be supposed incompatible with them? Or why should not the acknowlegement of a real distinction between vice and virtue be reconcileable to all speculative systems of philosophy, as well as that of a real dis­tinction between personal beauty and deformity? Both these distinctions are founded in the natural sentiments of the human mind: And these sentiments are not to be controled nor altered by any philoso­phical theory or speculation whatsoever.

THE second objection admits not of so easy and sa­tisfactory an answer; nor is it possible to explain dis­tinctly, how the Deity can be the mediate cause of all the actions of men, without being the author of sin and moral turpitude. These are mysteries, which mere natural and unassisted reason is very unfit to handle; and whatever system it embraces, it must find itself involved in inextricable difficulties, and even contradictions, at every step which it takes with re­gard to such subjects. To reconcile the indifference and contingency of human actions with prescience; [Page 157] or to defend absolute decrees, and yet free the Deity from being the author of sin, has been found hitherto to exceed all the skill of philosophy. Happy, if she be thence sensible of her temerity, when she pries into these sublime mysteries; and leaving a scene so full of obscurities and perplexities, return, with suit­able modesty, to her true and proper province, the ex­amination of common life; where she will find diffi­culties enow to employ her enquiries, without launch­ing into so boundless an ocean of doubt, uncertainty, and contradiction!


ALL our reasonings concerning matter of fact are founded on a species of ANALOGY, which leads us to expect from any cause the same events, which we have observed to result from similar causes. Where the causes are entirely similar, the analogy is perfect, and the inference, drawn from it, is regarded as certain and conclusive: Nor does any man ever entertain a doubt, where he sees a piece of iron, that it will have weight and cohesion of parts; as in all other instances, which have ever fallen under his ob­servation. But where the objects have not so exact a similarity, the analogy is less perfect, and the infe­rence is less conclusive; tho' still it has some force, in proportion to the degrees of similarity and resem­blance. The anatomical observations, formed upon one animal, are by this species of reasoning ex­tended to all animals; and 'tis certain, that when the circulation of the blood, for instance, is proved clearly to have place in one creature, as a frog or fish, it [Page 160] forms a strong presumption, that the same principle has place in all. These analogical observations may be carried farther, even to this science, of which we are now treating; and any theory, by which we ex­plain the operations of the understanding, or the ori­gin and connexion of the passions in man, will acquire additional authority, if we find, that the same theory is requisite to explain the same phaenomena in all other animals. We shall make trial of this, with re­gard to the hypothesis, by which, in the foregoing discourse, we have endeavored to account for all ex­perimental reasonings; and 'tis hoped, that this new point of view will serve to confirm all our former ob­servations.

First, IT seems evident, that animals, as well as men, learn many things from experience, and infer, that the same events will always follow from the same causes. By this principle, they become acquainted with the more obvious properties of external objects, and gradually, from their birth, treasure up a know­lege of the nature of fire, water, earth, stones, heights, dephts, &c. and of the effects, which result from their operation. The ignorance and inexperience of the young are here plainly distinguishable from the cun­ning and sagacity of the old, who have learned, by long observation, to avoid what hurt them, and to pursue what gave ease or pleasure. A horse, that has been accustomed to the field, becomes acquainted [Page 161] with the proper height, which he can leap, and will never attempt what exceeds his force and ability. An old greyhound will trust the more fatiguing part of the chace to the younger, and will place himself so as to meet the hare in her doubles; nor are the con­jectures, which he forms on this occasion, founded in any thing but his observation and experience.

THIS is still more evident from the effects of dis­cipline and education on animals, who, by the porper application of rewards and punishments, may be taught any course of action, the most contrary to their na­tural instincts and propensities. Is it not experience, which renders a dog apprehensive of pain, when you menace him, or lift up the whip to beat him? Is it not even experience, which makes him answer to his name, and infer, from such an arbitrary sound, that you mean him rather than any of his fellows, and intend to call him, when you pronounce it in a cer­tain manner, and with a certain tone and accent?

IN all these cases, we may observe, that the animal infers some fact beyond what immediately strikes his senses; and that this inference is altogether founded on past experience, while the creature expects from the present object the same events, which it has al­ways found in its observation to result from similar objects.

[Page 162] Secondly, 'TIS impossible, that this inference of the animal can be founded on any process of argument or reasoning, by which he concludes, that like events must follow like objects, and that the course of na­ture will always be regular in its operations. For if there be in reality any arguments of this nature, they surely lie too abstruse for the observation of such im­perfect understandings; since it may well employ the utmost care and attention of a philosophic genius to discover and observe them. Animals, therefore, are not guided in these inferences by reasoning: Neither are children: Neither are the generality of mankind, in their ordinary actions and conclusions: Neither are phi­losophers themselves, who, in all the active parts of life, are, in the main, the same with the vulgar, and are go­verned by the same maxims. Nature must have pro­vided some other principle, of more ready, and more general use and application; nor can an operation of such immense consequence in life, as that of inferring effects from causes, be trusted to the uncertain pro­cess of reasoning and argumentation. Were this doubt­ful with regard to men, it seems to admit of no ques­tion with regard to the brute-creation; and the con­clusion being once firmly established in the one, we have a strong presumption, from all the rules of ana­logy, that it ought to be universally admitted, with­out any exception or reserve. 'Tis custom alone, which engages animals, from every object, that strikes their senses, to infer its usual attendant, and carries [Page 163] their imagination, from the appearance of the one, to conceive the other, in that strong and lively man­ner, which we denominate belief. No other explica­tion can be given of this operation, in all the higher, as well as lower classes of sensitive beings, which fall under our notice and observation*.

[Page 164] BUT tho' animals learn many parts of their know­lege from observation, there are also many parts of [Page 165] it, which they derive from the original hand of na­ture, which much exceed the share of capacity they possess on ordinary occasions; and in which they im­prove, little or nothing, by the longest practice and experience. These we denominate INSTINCTS, and are so apt to admire, as something very extraordinary, and inexplicable by all the disquisitions of human un­derstanding. But our wonder will, perhaps, cease or diminish; when we consider, that the experimental reasoning itself, which we possess in common with beasts, and on which the whole conduct of life de­pends, is nothing but a species of instinct or mecha­nical power, that acts in us unknown to ourselves; and in its chief operations, is not directed by any such relations or comparisons of ideas, as are the pro­per objects of our intellectual faculties. Tho' the in­stinct be different, yet still it is an instinct, which teaches a man to avoid the fire; as much as that, which teaches a bird, with such exactness, the art of incubation, and the whole oeconomy and order of its nursery.



THERE is in Dr. TILLOTSON's writings an argument against the real presence, which is as concise, and elegant, and strong as any argument can possibly be supposed against a doctrine, that is so little worthy of a serious refutation. 'Tis acknowleged on all hands, says that learned prelate, that the autho­rity, either of the scripture or of tradition, is founded merely in the testimony of the apostles, who were eye­witnesses to those miracles of our Saviour, by which he proved his divine mission. Our evidence, then, for the truth of the Christian religion is less than the evidence for the truth of our senses; because, even in the first authors of our religion, it was no greater; and 'tis evident it must diminish in passing from them to their disciples; nor can any one be so certain of [Page 168] the truth of their testimony, as of the immediate ob­ject of his senses. But a weaker evidence can never destroy a stronger; and therefore, were the doctrine of the real presence ever so clearly revealed in scrip­ture, it were directly contrary to the rules of just rea­soning to give our assent to it. It contradicts sense, tho' both the scripture and tradition, on which it is supposed to be built, carry not such evidence with them as sense; when they are considered merely as external evidences, and are not brought home to every one's breast, by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit.

NOTHING is so convenient as a decisive argument of this kind, which must at least silence the most ar­rogant bigotry and superstition, and free us from their impertinent sollicitations. I flatter myself, that I have discovered an argument of a like nature, which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlast­ing check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world en­dures. For so long, I presume, will the accounts of miracles and prodigies be found in all history, sacred and profane.

THO' experience be our only guide in reasoning concerning matters of fact; it must be acknow­leged, that this guide is not altogether infallible, but in some cases is apt to lead us into errors and [Page 169] mistakes. One, who, in our climate, should expect better weather in any week of JUNE than in one of DECEMBER, would reason justly and conformable to experience; but 'tis certain, that he may happen, in the event, to find himself mistaken. However, we may observe, that, in such a case, he would have no cause to complain of experience; because it com­monly informs us beforehand of the uncertainty, by that contrariety of events, which we may learn from a diligent observation. All effects follow not with like certainty from their supposed causes. Some events are found, in all countries and all ages, to have been constantly conjoined together: Others are found to have been more variable, and sometimes to disap­point our expectations; so that in our reasonings con­cerning matter of fact, there are all imaginable de­grees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence.

A WISE man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence. In such conclusions as are founded on an infallible experience, he expects the event with the last degree of assurance, and regards his past ex­perience as a full proof of the future existence of that event. In other cases, he proceeds with more cau­tion: He weighs the opposite experiments: He con­siders which side is supported by the greatest number of experiments: To that side he inclines, with doubt and hesitation; and when at last he fixes his judgment▪ [Page 170] the evidence exceeds not what we properly call pro­bability. All probability, then, supposes an opposi­tion of experiments and observations; where the one side is found to over-balance the other, and to pro­duce a degree of evidence, proportioned to the su­periority. An hundred instances or experiments on one side, and fifty on another, afford a very doubtful expectation of any event; tho' a hundred uniform experiments, with only one that is contradictory, rea­sonably beget a pretty strong degree of assurance. In all cases, we must balance the opposite experi­ments, where they are opposite, and deduct the smaller number from the greater, in order to know the exact force of the superior evidence.

TO apply these principles to a particular instance; we may observe, that there is no species of reasoning more common, more useful, and even necessary to human life, than that derived from the testimony of men, and the reports of eye-witnesses and spectators. This species of reasoning, perhaps, one may deny to be founded on the relation of cause and effect. I shall not dispute about a word. It will be sufficient to observe, that our assurance in any argument of this kind is derived from no other principle than our observation of the veracity of human testimony, and of the usual conformity of facts to the reports of wit­nesses. It being a general maxim, that no objects have any discoverable connexion together, and that [Page 171] all the inferences, which we can draw from one to another, are founded merely on our experience of their constant and regular conjunction; 'tis evident, that we ought not to make an exception to this maxim in favour of human testimony, whose con­nexion with any events seems, in itself, as little ne­cessary as any other. Were not the memory tena­cious to a certain degree; had not men commonly an inclination to truth and a principle of probity; were they not sensible to shame, when detected in a false­hood: Were not these, I say, discovered by experi­ence to be qualities, inherent in human nature, we should never repose the least confidence in human testimony. A man delirious, or noted for falshood and villainy, has no manner of authority with us.

AND as the evidence, derived from witnesses and human testimony, is founded on past experience, so it varies with the experience, and is regarded either as a proof or a probability, according as the conjunction between any particular kind of report and any kind of objects, has been found to be con­stant or variable. There are a number of circum­stances to be taken into consideration in all judg­ments of this kind; and the ultimate standard, by which we determine all disputes, that may arise con­cerning them, is always derived from experience and observation. Where this experience is not entirely uniform on any side, 'tis attended with an unavoid­able contrariety in our judgments, and with the same [Page 172] opposition and mutual destruction of arguments as in every other kind of evidence. We frequently hesitate concerning the reports of others. We balance the opposite circumstances, which cause any doubt or un­certainty; and when we discover a superiority on any side, we incline to it; but still with a diminution of assurance, in proportion to the forec of its anta­gonist.

THIS contrariety of evidence, in the present case, may be derived from several different causes; from the opposition of contrary testimony; from the cha­racter or number of the witnesses; from the manner of their delivering their testimony; or from the union of all these circumstances. We entertain a suspicion concerning any matter of fact, when the witnesses contradict each other; when they are but few, or of a suspicious character; when they have an interest in what they affirm; when they deliver their testimony with doubt and hesitation, or on the contrary, with too violent asseverations. There are many other par­ticulars of the same kind, which may diminish or de­stroy the force of any argument, derived from human testimony.

SUPPOSE, for instance, that the fact, which tes­timony endeavours to establish, partakes of the ex­traordinary and the marvellous; in that case, the evi­dence, resulting from the testimony, admits a dimi­nution, [Page 173] greater or less, in proportion as the fact is more or less unusual. The reason, why we place any credit in witnesses and historians is not from any con­nex on, which we perceive à priori between testimony and reality, but because we are accustomed to find a conformity between them. But when the fact attested is such a one as has seldom fallen under our obser­vation, here is a contest of two opposite experiences; of which the one destroys the other as far as its force goes, and the superior can only operate on the mind by the force, which remains. The very same prin­ciple of experience, which gives us a certain degree of assurance in the testimony of witnesses, gives us also, in this case, another degree of assurance against the fact, which they endeavour to establish; from which contradiction there necessarily arise a counter­poize, and mutual destruction of belief and autho­rity.

I should not believe such a story were it told me by CATO; was a proverbial saying in ROME, even du­ring the life-time of that philosophical patriot*. The incredibility of a fact, it was allowed, might invalidate so great an authority.

THE INDIAN prince, who refused to believe the first relations concerning the effects of frost, reasoned [Page 174] justly; and it naturally required very strong testimony to engage his assent to facts, which arose from a state of nature, with which he was unacquainted, and bore so little analogy to those events, of which he had had constant and uniform experience. Tho' they were not contrary to his experience, they were not con­formable to it*.

[Page 175] BUT in order to increase the probability against the testimony of witnesses, let us suppose that the fact, which they affirm, instead of being only marvellous, is really miraculous; and suppose also, that the testi­mony, considered apart, and in itself, amounts to an entire proof; in that case there is proof against proof, of which the strongest must prevail, but still with a diminution of its force, in proportion to that of its antagonist.

A MIRACLE is a violation of the laws of nature: and as a firm and unalterable experience has esta­blished these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argu­ment from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by wa­ter; unless it be, that these events are found agree­able to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or in other words, a miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle if it ever happen in the common course of nature. 'Tis no miracle that a man in seeming good health should die on a sudden; because such a kind of death, tho' more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But 'tis a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been [Page 176] observed, in any age or country. There must, there­fore, be an uniform experience against every miracu­lous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as an uniform experience amounts to a proof there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof, which is superior*.

[Page 177] THE plain consequence is (and 'tis a general max­im worthy of our attention) ‘"That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testi­mony be of such a kind, that its falshood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it en­deavours to establish: And even in that case, there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the su­perior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior."’ When any one tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately con­sider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other, and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falshood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

[Page 178] IN the foregoing reasoning we have supposed, that the testimony, upon which a miracle is founded, may possibly amount to an intire proof, and that the fals­hood of that testimony would be a kind of prodigy. But 'tis easy to shew, that we have been a great deal too liberal in our concessions, and that there never was a miraculous event established on so full an evi­dence.

FOR first, there is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good-sense, education, and learn­ing, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves; of such undoubted integrity, as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit and reputation in the eyes of mankind, as to have a great deal to lose in case of being detected in any falshood; and at the same time attesting facts, performed in such a public manner, and in so celebra­ted a part of the world, as to render the detection un­avoidable: All which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of men.

SECONDLY. We may observe in human nature a principle, which, if strictly examined, will be found to diminish extremely the assurance which we might have, from human testimony, in any kind of prodigy. [Page 179] The maxim, by which we commonly conduct our­selves in our reasonings, is, that the objects, of which we have no experience, resemble those, of which we have: that what we have sound to be most usual is always most probable; and that where there is an op­position of arguments, we ought to give the prefe­rence to such of them as are founded on the greatest number of past observations. But tho' in proceeding by this rule, we readily reject any fact which is unu­sual and incredible in an ordinary degree; yet in ad­vancing farther, the mind observes not always the same rule; but when any thing is affirmed utterly ab­surd and miraculous, it rather the more readily admits such a fact, upon account of that very circumstance which ought to destroy all its authority. The passion of surprize and wonder, arising from miracles, being an agreeable emotion, gives a sensible tendency to­wards the belief of those events from which it is de­rived. And this goes so far, that even those who cannot enjoy this pleasure immediately, nor can be­lieve those miraculous events, of which they are in­formed, yet love to partake of the satisfaction at se­cond hand or by rebound, and place a pride and de­light in exciting the admiration of others.

WITH what greediness are the miraculous accounts of travellers received, their descriptions of sea and land monsters, their relations of wonderful adven­tures, strange men, and uncouth manners? But if [Page 180] the spirit of religion join itself to the love of wonder, there is an end of common sense; and human testi­mony, in these circumstances, loses all pretensions to authority. A religionist may be an enthusiast, and imagine he sees what has no reality: He may know his narration to be false, and yet persevere in it, with the best intentions in the world, for the sake of pro­moting so holy a cause: Or even where this delusion has no place, vanity, excited by so strong a tempta­tion, operates on him more powerfully than on the rest of mankind in any other circumstances; and self-interest with equal force. His auditors may not have, and commonly have not sufficient judgment to canvass his evidence: What judgment they have, they re­nounce by principle, in these sublime and mysterious subjects: Or if they were ever so willing to employ it, passion and a heated imagination disturb the regu­larity of its operations. Their credulity increases his impudence: And his impudence over-powers their credulity.

ELOQUENCE, when in its highest pitch, leaves little room for reason or reflection; but addressing it­self intirely to the fancy or the affections, captivates the willing hearers, and subdues their understanding. Happily, this pitch it seldom attains. But what a CICERO or a DEMOSTHENES could scarcely operate over a ROMAN or ATHENIAN audience, every Capu­chin, every itinerant or stationary teacher can perform [Page 181] over the generality of mankind, and in a higher de­gree, by touching such gross and vulgar passions*.

THIRDLY. It forms a very strong presumption against all supernatural and miraculous relations, that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations; or if a civilized people has ever given admission to any of them, that people will be found to have received them from ignorant and barbarous ancestors, who transmitted them with that inviolable sanction and authority, which always attend [Page 182] received opinions. When we peruse the first histories of all nations, we are apt to imagine ourselves trans­ported into some new world, where the whole frame of nature is disjointed, and every element performs its operations in a different manner, from what it does at present. Battles, revolutions, pestilences, famines, and death, are never the effects of those natural cau­ses, which we experience. Prodigies, omens, ora­cles, judgments, quite obscure the few natural events, that are intermingled with them. But as the former grow thinner every page, in proportion as we advance nearer the enlightened ages of science and knowlege, we soon learn, that there is nothing mysterious or su­pernatural in the case, but that all proceeds from the usual propensity of mankind towards the marvellous, and that tho' this inclination may at intervals receive a check from sense and learning, it can never tho­roughly be extirpated from human nature.

'Tis strange, a judicious reader is apt to say, upon the perusal of these wonderful historians, that such prodigious events never happen in our days. But 'tis no­thing strange, I hope, that men should lie in all ages. You must surely have seen instances enow of that frailty. You have yourself heard many such marvellous relations started, which being treated with scorn by all the wise and judicious, have at last been abandoned even by the vulgar. Be assured, that those renowned lies, which have spread and flourished to such [Page 183] a monstrous height, arose from like beginnings; but being sown in a more proper soil, shot up at last into prodigies almost equal to those which they relate.

'TWAS a wise policy in that cunning impostor, ALEXANDER, who, tho' now forgotten, was once so famous, to lay the first scene of his impostures in PA­PHLAGONIA, where, as LUCIAN tells us, the people were extremely ignorant and stupid, and ready to swallow even the grossest delusion. People at a dis­tance, who are weak enough to think the matter at all worth inquiry, have no opportunity of receiving better information. The stories come magnified to them by a hundred circumstances. Fools are indus­trious to propagate the delusion; while the wise and learned are contented, in general, to deride its ab­surdity, without informing themselves of the particu­lar facts by which it may be distinctly refuted. And thus the impostor above-mentioned was enabled to proceed, from his ignorant PAPHLAGONIANS, to the inlisting of votaries, even among the GRECIAN phi­losophers, and men of the most eminent rank and distinction in ROME: Nay, could engage the atten­tion of that sage emperor MARCUS AURELIUS; so far as to make him trust the success of a military ex­pedition to his delusive prophecies.

THE advantages are so great of starting an impos­ture among an ignorant people, that even tho' the de­lusion [Page 184] should be too gross to impose on the generality of them (which, tho' seldom, is sometimes the case) it has a much better chance of succeeding in remote countries, than if the first scene had been laid in a city renowned for arts and knowlege. The most ig­norant and barbarous of these barbarians carry the re­port abroad. None of their countrymen have large enough correspondence of sufficient credit and autho­rity to contradict and beat down the delusion. Mens inclination to the marvellous has full opportunity to display itself. And thus a story, which is univer­sally exploded in the place where it was first started, shall pass for certain at a thousand miles distance. But had ALEXANDER fixed his residence at ATHENS, the philosophers of that renowned mart of learning had immediately spread, thro' the whole ROMAN empire, their sense of the matter, which, being sup­ported by so great authority, and displayed by all the force of reason and eloquence, had intirely opened the eyes of mankind. 'Tis true; LUCIAN passing by chance thro' PAPHLAGONIA had an opportunity of performing this good office. But, tho' much to be wished, it does not always happen, that every ALE­XANDER meets with a LUCIAN, ready to expose and detect his impostures.

[Page 185] I MAY add as a fourth reason, which diminishes the authority of prodigies, that there is no testimony for any, even those which have not been expressly de­tected, that is not opposed by an infinite number of witnesses; so that not only the miracle destroys the credit of the testimony, but even the testimony de­stroys itself. To make this the better understood, let us consider that, in matters of religion, whatever is different is contrary, and that 'tis impossible the reli­gions of antient ROME, of TURKEY, of SIAM, and of CHINA should, all of them, be established on any solid foundation. Every miracle, therefore, pretend­ed to have been wrought in any of these religions (and all of them abound in miracles) as its direct scope is to establish the particular system to which it is attributed; so has it the same force, tho' more indi­rectly, to overthrow every other system. In destroy­ing a rival system, it likewise destroys the credit of those miracles, on which that system was established; so that all the prodigies of different religions are to be regarded as contrary facts, and the evidences of [Page 186] these prodigies, whether weak or strong, as opposite to each other. According to this method of reason­ing, when we believe any miracle of MAHOMET or any of his successors, we have for our warrant the tes­timony of a few barbarous ARABIANS: And on the other hand, we are to regard the authority of TITUS LIVIUS, PLUTARCH, TACITUS, and, in short, of all the authors and witnesses, GRECIAN, CHINESE, and ROMAN CATHOLIC, who have related any miracles in their particular religion; I say, we are to regard their testimony in the same light as if they had men­tioned that MAHOMETAN miracle, and had in express terms contradicted it, with the same certainty as they have for the miracles they relate. This argument may appear over subtile and refined; but is not in re­ality different from the reasoning of a judge, who sup­poses, that the credit of two witnesses, maintaining a crime against any one, is destroyed by the testimony of two others, who affirm him to have been two hundred leagues distant, at the same instant when the crime is said to have been committed.

ONE of the best attested miracles in all prophane history, is that which TACITUS reports of VESPA­SIAN, who cured a blind man in ALEXANDRIA, by means of his spittle, and a lame man by the mere touch of his foot; in obedience to a vision of the god SERAPIS, who had enjoined them to have recourse to the Emperor, for these miraculous and extraordinary [Page 187] cures. The story may be seen in that fine historian*; where every circumstance seems to add weight to the testimony, and might be displayed at large with all the force of argument and eloquence, if any one were now concerned to enforce the evidence of that explo­ded and idolatrous superstition. The gravity, solidity, age, and probity of so great an emperor, who, thro' the whole course of his life, conversed in a familiar way with his friends and courtiers, and never affected those extraordinary airs of divinity assumed by ALE­XANDER and DEMETRIUS. The historian, a cotem­porary writer, noted for candour and veracity, and withal, the greatest and most penetrating genius, per­haps of all antiquity; and so free from any tendency to superstition and credulity, that he even lies under the contrary imputation, of atheism and prophane­ness: The persons, from whose testimony he related the miracle, of established character for judgment and veracity, as we may well presume; eye-witnesses of the fact, and confirming their verdict, after the FLA­VIAN family were despoiled of the empire, and could no longer give any reward, as the price of a lie. Utrumque, qui interfuere, nunc quoque memorant, post­quam nullum mendacio pretium. To which if we add the public nature of the facts, as related, it will ap­pear, [Page 188] that no evidence can well be supposed stronger for so gross and so palpable a falshood.

THERE is also a very memorable story related by Cardinal DE RETZ, and which may well deserve our consideration. When that intriguing politician fled into SPAIN, to avoid the persecution of his enemies, he passed thro' SARAGOSSA, the capital of ARRA­GON, where he was shewn, in the cathedral, a man, who had served twenty years as a door-keeper, and was well known to every body in town, that had ever paid their devotions at that church. He had been seen, for so long a time, wanting a leg; but recover­ed that limb by the rubbing of holy oil upon the stump; and the cardinal assures us that he saw him with two legs. This miracle was vouched by all the canons of the church; and the whole company in town were appealed to for a confirmation of the fact; whom the cardinal found, by their zealous devotion, to be thorough believers of the miracle. Here the re­later was also cotemporary to the supposed prodigy, of an incredulous and libertine character, as well as of great genius, the miracle of so singular a nature as could scarce admit of a counterfeit, and the witnesses very numerous, and all of them, in a manner, specta­tors of the fact to which they gave their testimony. And what adds mightily to the force of the evidence, and may double our surprize on this occasion, is, that the cardinal himself, who relates the story, seems not [Page 189] to give any credit to it, and consequently cannot be suspected of any concurrence in the holy fraud. He considered justly, that it was not requisite, in order to reject a fact of this nature, to be able accurately to disprove the testimony, and to trace its falshood, thro' all the circumstances of knavery and credulity which produced it. He knew, that as this was com­monly altogether impossible at any small distance of time and place; so was it extremely difficult, even where one was immediately present, by reason of the bigotry, ignorance, cunning and roguery of a great part of mankind. He therefore concluded, like a just reasoner, that such an evidence carried falshood upon the very face of it, and that a miracle supported by any human testimony, was more properly a subject of derision than of argument.

THERE surely never was so great a number of mi­racles ascribed to one person, as those, which were lately said to have been wrought in FRANCE upon the tomb of Abbé PARIS, the famous JANSENIST, with whose sanctity the people were so long deluded. The curing of the sick, giving hearing to the deaf, and sight to the blind, were every where talked of as the usual effects of that holy sepulchre. But what is more extraordinary; many of the miracles were im­mediately proved, upon the spot, before judges of unquestioned integrity, attested by witnesses of credit and distinction, in a learned age, and on the most [Page 190] eminent theatre that is now in the world. Nor is this all: A relation of them was published and dis­persed every where; nor were the Jesuits, tho' a learned body, supported by the civil magistrate, and determined enemies to those opinions, in whose fa­vour the miracles were said to have been wrought, ever able distinctly to refute or detect them*. Where [Page 191] shall we find such a number of circumstances, agreeing to the corroboration of one fact? And what have we [Page 192] to oppose to such a cloud of witnesses, but the abso­lute impossibility or miraculous nature of the events, [Page 193] which they relate? And this surely, in the eyes of all reasonable people, will alone be regarded as a suffi­cient refutation.

[Page 194] IS the consequence just, because some human tes­timony has the utmost force and authority in some cases, when it relates the battles of PHILIPPI or PHARSALIA, for instance; that therefore all kinds of testimony must, in all cases, have equal force and authority? Suppose that the CAESAREAN and POM­PEIAN factions had, each of them, claimed the vic­tory in these battles, and that the historians of each party had uniformly ascribed the advantage to their own side; how could mankind, at this distance, have been able to determine between them? The contra­riety is equally strong between the miracles related [Page 195] by HERODOTUS or PLUTARCH, and those delivered by MARIANA, BEDE, or any monkish historian.

THE wise lend a very academic faith to every re­port which favours the passion of the reporter; whe­ther it magnifies his country, his family, or himself, or in any other way strikes in with his natural incli­nations and propensities. But what greater tempta­tion than to appear a missionary, a prophet, an am­bassador from heaven? Who would not encounter many dangers and difficulties, in order to attain so sublime a character? Or if, by the help of vanity and a heated imagination, a man has first made a convert of himself and entered seriously into the delusion; who ever scruples to make use of pious frauds, in sup­port of so holy and meritorious a cause?

THE smallest spark may here kindle into the great­est flame; because the materials are always prepared for it. The avidum genus auricularum , the gazing populace receive greedily, without examination, what­ever sooths superstition, and promotes wonder.

HOW many stories of this nature have, in all ages, been detected and exploded in their infancy? How many more have been celebrated for a time, and have afterwards sunk into neglect and oblivion? Where such reports, therefore, fly about, the solution of the phaenomenon is obvious; and we judge in confor­mity [Page 196] to regular experience and observation, when we account for it by the known and natural principles of credulity and delusion. And shall we, rather than have a recourse to so natural a solution, allow of a mi­raculous violation of the most established laws of nature?

I NEED not mention the difficulty of detecting a falshood in any private or even public history, at the time and place, where it is said to happen; much more where the scene is removed to ever so small a distance. Even a court of judicature, with all the authority, accuracy, and judgment, which they can employ, find themselves often at a loss to distinguish between truth and falshood in the most recent actions. But the matter never comes to any issue, if trusted to the common method of altercation and debate and flying rumours; especially when mens passions have taken party on either side.

IN the infancy of new religions, the wise and learned commonly esteem the matter too inconsider­able to deserve their attention or regard. And when afterwards they would willingly detect the cheat, in order to undeceive the deluded multitude, the season is now gone, and the records and witnesses, which might clear up the matter, have perished beyond recovery.

[Page 197] NO means of detection remain, but those which must be drawn from the very testimony itself of the reporters: And these, tho' always sufficient with the judicious and knowing, are commonly too fine to fall under the comprehension of the vulgar.

UPON the whole, then, it appears, that no testi­mony for any kind of miracle has ever amounted to a probability, much less to a proof; and that, even supposing it amounted to a proof, it would be op­posed by another proof derived from the very nature of the fact, which it would endeavour to establish. 'Tis experience only, which gives authority to hu­man testimony; and 'tis the same experience, which assures us of the laws of nature. When, therefore, these two kinds of experience are contrary, we have nothing to do but substract the one from the other, and embrace an opinion, either on one side or the other, with that assurance which arises from the re­mainder. But according to the principle here ex­plained, this substraction, with regard to all popular religions, amounts to an intire annihilation; and therefore we may establish it as a maxim, that no human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for any such system of religion*.

[Page 198] I AM the better pleased with this method of rea­soning, as I think it may serve to confound those [Page 199] dangerous friends or disguised enemies to the Christ­ian Religion, who have undertaken to defend it by [Page 200] the principles of human reason. Our most holy reli­gion is founded on Faith, not on reason; and 'tis a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means, fitted to endure. To make this more evident, let us examine those miracles, related in scripture; and not to lose ourselves in too wide a field, let us confine ourselves to such as we find in the Pentateuch, which we shall examine, according to the principles of these pretended Christians, not as the word or testimony of God himself, but as the pro­duction of a mere human writer and historian. Here then we are first to consider a book, presented to us [Page 201] by a barbarous and ignorant people, wrote in an age when they were still more barbarous, and in all pro­bability long after the facts which it relates; corro­borated by no concurring testimony, and resembling those fabulous accounts, which every nation gives of its origin. Upon reading this book, we find it full of prodigies and miracles. It gives an account of a state of the world and of human nature intirely dif­ferent from the present: Of our fall from that state: Of the age of man, extended to near a thousand years: Of the destruction of the world by a deluge: Of the arbitrary choice of one people, a the favour­ites of heaven; and that people, the countrymen of the author: Of their deliverance from bondage by prodigies the most astonishing imaginable: I desire any one to lay his hand upon his heart, and after se­rious consideration declare, whether he thinks, that the falshood of such a book, supported by such a tes­timony, would be more extraordinary and miraculous than all the miracles it relates; which is, however, necessary to make it be received, according to the measures of probability above established.

WHAT we have said of miracles may be applied, without any variation, to prophecies; and indeed, all prophecies are real miracles, and as such only, can be admitted as proofs of any revelation. If it did not exceed the capacity of human nature to foretel future events, it would be absurd to employ any prophecy [Page 202] as an argument for a divine mission or authority from heaven. So that, upon the whole, we may conclude, that the Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which sub­verts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.


I WAS lately engaged in conversation with a friend who loves sceptical paradoxes; where, tho' he ad­vanced many principles, of which I can by no means approve, yet as they seem to be curious, and to bear some relation to the chain of reasoning carried on thro' this enquiry, I shall here copy them from my memory as accurately as I can, in order to submit them to the judgment of the reader.

OUR conversation began with my admiring the singular good fortune of philosophy, which, as it re­quires intire liberty, above all other privileges, and flourishes chiefly from the free opposition of senti­ments and argumentation, received its first birth in an age and country of freedom and toleration, and was never cramped, even in its most extravagant prin­ciples, by any creeds, confessions, or penal statutes. For except the banishment of PROTAGORAS, and the [Page 204] death of SOCRATES, which last event proceeded partly from other motives, there are scarce any in­stances to be met with, in antient history, of this bi­gotted jealousy, with which the present age is so much infested. EPICURUS lived at ATHENS to an advan­ced age, in peace and tranquillity: EPICUREANS * were even admitted to receive the sacerdotal charac­ter, and to officiate at the altar, in the most sacred rites of the established religion: And the public en­couragement of pensions and salaries was afforded equally, by the wisest of all the ROMAN emperors, to the professors of every sect of philosophy. How re­quisite such kind of treatment was to philosophy, in its first origin, will easily be conceived, if we reflect, that even at present, when it may be supposed more hardy and robust, it bears with much difficulty the in­clemency of the seasons, and those harsh winds of ca­lumny and persecution, which blow upon it.

YOU admire, says my friend, as the singular good fortune of philosophy, what seems to result from the natural course of things, and to be unavoidable in every age and nation. This pertinacious bigotry, of which you complain, as so fatal to philosophy, is re­ally her offspring, who, after allying with superstition, separates himself intirely from the interest of his pa­rent, and becomes her most inveterate enemy and [Page 205] persecutor. Speculative dogmas of religion, the pre­sent occasions of such furious dispute, could not pos­sibly be conceived or admitted in the early ages of the world; when mankind, being wholly illiterate, formed an idea of religion, more suitable to their weak apprehension, and composed their sacred tenets chiefly of such tales as were the objects of traditional belief, more than of argument or disputation. After the first alarm, therefore, was over, which arose from the new paradoxes and principles of the philosophers; these teachers seem ever after, during the ages of an­tiquity, to have lived in great harmony with the esta­blished superstitions, and to have made a fair partition of mankind between them; the former claiming all the learned and the wise, and the latter possessing all the vulgar and illiterate.

IT seems then, says I, that you leave politics intirely out of the question, and never suppose, that a wise magistrate can justly be jealous of certain tenets of philosophy, such as those of EPICURUS, which deny­ing a divine existence, and consequently a providence and a future state, seem to loosen, in a great measure, the ties of morality, and may be supposed, for that reason, pernicious to the peace of civil society.

I KNOW, replied he, that in fact these persecutions never, in any age, proceeded from calm reason, or any experience of the pernicious consequences of phi­losophy; [Page 206] but arose intirely from passion and pre­judice. But what if I should advance farther, and assert, that if EPICURUS had been accused before the people, by any of the sycophants or informers of those days, he could easily have defended his cause, and proved his principles of philosophy to be as salutary as those of his adversaries, who endeavoured, with such zeal, to expose him to the public hatred and jealousy?

I WISH, said I, you would try your eloquence up­on so extraordinary a topic, and make a speech for EPICURUS, which might satisfy, not the mob of ATHENS, if you will allow that antient and polite city to have contained any mob, but the more philo­sophical part of his audience, such as might be sup­posed capable of comprehending his arguments.

THE matter would not be difficult, upon such con­ditions, replied he: And if you please, I shall sup­pose myself EPICURUS for a moment, and make you stand for the ATHENIAN people, and shall deliver you such an harangue as will fill all the urn with white beans, and leave not a black one to gratify and malice of my adversaries.

VERY well: Pray proceed upon these supposi­tions.

[Page 207] I COME hither, O ye ATHENIANS, to justify in your assembly what I maintained in my school, and find myself impeached by furious antagonists, instead of reasoning with calm and dispassionate inquirers. Your deliberations, which of right should be directed to questions of public good, and the interest of the commonwealth, are diverted to the disquisitions of speculative philosophy; and these magnificent, but perhaps fruitless inquiries, take place of your more familiar but more useful occupations. But so far as in me lies, I will prevent this abuse. We shall not herre dispute concerning the origin and government of worlds. We shall only inquire how far such questions concern the public interest. And if I can persuade you, that they are intirely indifferent to the peace of society and security of government, I hope that you will presently send us back to our schools, there to ex­amine at leisure the question the most sublime, but, at the same time, the most speculative of all philosophy.

THE religious philosophers, not satisfied with the traditions of your forefathers, and doctrines of your priests (in which I willingly acquiesce) indulge a rash curiosity, in trying how far they can establish religion upon the principles of reason; and they thereby ex­cite, instead of satisfying, the doubts, which naturally arise from a diligent and scrutinous inquiry. They paint, in the most magnificent colours, the order, beauty, and wise arrangement of the universe; and [Page 208] then ask, if such a glorious display of intelligence could proceed from the fortuitous concourse of atoms, or if chance could produce what the highest genius can never sufficiently admire. I shall not examine the justness of this argument. I shall allow it to be as solid as my antagonists and accusers can desire. 'Tis sufficient, if I can prove, from this very reason­ing, that the question is intirely speculative, and that when, in my philosophical disquisitions, I deny a pro­vidence and a future state, I undermine not the foun­dations of society, but advance principles, which they themselves, upon their own topics, if they argue consistently, must allow to be solid and satisfactory.

YOU then, who are my accusers, have acknowleged, that the chief or sole argument for a divine existence (which I never questioned) is derived from the order of nature; where there appear such marks of intelli­gence and design, that you think it extravagant to as­sign for its cause, either chance, or the blind and un­guided force of matter. You allow, that this is an argument drawn from effects to causes. From the order of the work you infer, that there must have been project and forethought in the workman. If you cannot make out this point, you allow, that your conclusion fails; and you pretend not to establish the conclusion in a greater latitude than the phaenomena of nature will justify. These are your concessions. I desire you to mark the consequences.

[Page 209] WHEN we infer any particular cause from an ef­fect, we must proportion the one to the other, and can never be allowed to ascribe to the cause any qua­lities, but what are exactly sufficient to produce the effect. A body of ten ounces raised in any scale may serve as a proof, that the counterbalancing weight ex­ceeds ten ounces; but can never afford a reason that it exceeds a hundred. If the cause, assigned for any effect, be not sufficient to produce it, we must either reject that cause, or add to it such qualities as will give it a just proportion to the effect. But if we ascribe to it farther qualities, or affirm it capable of producing other effects, we can only indulge the li­cence of conjecture, and arbitrarily suppose the exis­tence of qualities and energies, without reason or au­thority.

THE same rule holds, whether the cause assigned be brute unconscious matter, or a rational intelligent being. If the cause be known only by the effect, we never ought to assign to it any qualities, beyond what are precisely requisite to produce the effect: Nor can we, by any rules of just reasoning, return back from the cause, and infer other effects from it, beyond those by which alone it is known to us. No one, merely from the sight of one of ZEUXIS's pictures, could know, that he was also a statuary or architect, and was an artist no less skilful in stone and marble than in colours. The talents and taste displayed in the par­ticular [Page 210] work before us; these we may safely conclude the workman to be possessed of. The cause must be proportioned to the effect: And if we exactly and precisely proportion it, we shall never find in it any qualities that point farther, or afford an inference con­cerning any other design or performance. Such qua­lities must be somewhat beyond what is merely requi­site to produce the effect which we examine.

ALLOWING, therefore, the gods to be the authors of the existence or order of the universe; it follows, that they possess that precise degree of power, intelligence, and benevolence, which appears in their workman­ship; but nothing farther can ever be proved, except we call in the assistance of exaggeration and flattery to supply the defects of argument and reasoning. So far as the traces of any attributes, at present, appear, so far may we conclude these attributes to exist. The supposition of farther attributes is mere hypothesis; much more, the supposition, that, in distant periods of place and time, there has been, or will be, a more magnificent display of these attributes, and a scheme of administration more suitable to such imaginary vir­tues. We can never be allowed to mount up from the universe, the effect, to JUPITER, the cause; and then descend downwards, to infer any new effect from that cause; as if the present effects alone were not in­tirely worthy of the glorious attributes which we as­cribe to that deity. The knowlege of the cause being [Page 211] derived solely from the effect, they must be exactly ad­justed to each other, and the one can never refer to any thing farther, or be the foundation of any new in­ference and conclusion.

YOU find certain phaenomena in nature. You seek a cause or author. You imagine that you have found him. You afterwards become so enamoured of this offspring of your brain, that you imagine it impos­sible but he must produce something greater and more perfect than the present scene of things, which is so full of ill and disorder. You forget, that this super­lative intelligence and benevolence are intirely ima­ginary, or, at least, without any foundation in reason; and that you have no ground to ascribe to him any qualities, but what you see he has actually exerted and displayed in his productions. Let your gods, therefore, O philosophers, be suited to the present appearances of nature: And presume not to alter these appearances by arbitrary suppositions, in order to suit them to the attributes, which you so fondly ascribe to your deities.

WHEN priests and poets, supported by your autho­rity, O ATHENIANS, talk of a golden or a silver age, which preceded the present scene of vice and misery, I hear them with attention and with reverence. But when philosophers, who pretend to neglect authority, and to cultivate reason, hold the same discourse, I pay [Page 212] them not, I own, the same obsequious submission and pious deference. I ask; Who carried them into the celestial regions, who admitted them into the councils of the gods, who opened to them the book of fate, that they thus rashly affirm that their deities have exe­cuted, or will execute, any purpose, beyond what has actually appeared? If they tell me, that they have mounted on the steps or by the gradual ascent of rea­son, and by drawing inferences from effects to causes, I still insist, that they have aided the ascent of reason by the wings of imagination; otherwise they could not thus change their manner of inference, and argue from causes to effect; presuming, that a more perfect production than the present world would be more sui­table to such perfect beings as the gods, and forget­ting, that they have no reason to ascribe to these celes­tial beings any perfection or any attribute, but what can be found in the present world.

HENCE all the fruitless industry to account for the ill appearances of nature, and save the honour of the gods; while we must acknowlege the reality of that evil and disorder, with which the world so much a­bounds. The obstinate and intractable qualities of matter, we are told, or the observance of general laws; or some such reason, is the sole cause, which controlled the power and benevolence of JUPITER, and obliged him to create mankind and every sensible creature so imperfect and so unhappy. These attributes, then, [Page 213] are, it seems, beforehand, taken for granted, in their greatest latitude. And upon that supposition, I own, that such conjectures may, perhaps, be admitted as plausible solutions of the ill phaenomena▪ But still I ask; Why take these attributes for granted, or why ascribe to the cause any qualities but what actually ap­pear in the effect? Why torture your brain to justify the course of nature upon suppositions, which, for aught you know, may be intirely imaginary, and of which there are to be found no traces in the course of nature?

THE religious hypothesis, therefore, must be consi­dered only as a particular method of accounting for the visible phaenomena of the universe: But no just reasoner will ever presume to infer from it any single fact, and alter or add to the phaenomena, in any single particular. If you think, that the appearances of things prove such causes, 'tis allowable for you to draw an inference concerning the existence of these causes. In such complicated and sublime subjects, every one should be indulged in the liberty of conjecture and ar­gument. But here you ought to rest. If you come backward, and arguing from your inferred causes, conclude, that any other fact has existed, or will exist, display of particular attributes; I must admonish you, that you have departed from the method of reason­ing, attached to the present subject, and must certainly [Page 214] have added something to the attributes of the cause, beyond what appears in the effect; otherwise you could never, with tolerable sense or propriety, add any thing to the effect, in order to render it more worthy of the cause.

WHERE, then, is the odiousness of that doctrine, which I teach in my school, or rather, which I exa­mine in my gardens? Or what do you find in this whole question, wherein the security of good morals, or the peace and order of society is in the least con­cerned?

I DENY a providence, you say, and supreme go­vernour of the world, who guides the course of e­vents, and punishes the vicious with infamy and dis­appointment, and rewards the virtuous with honour and success, in all their undertakings. But surely; I deny not the course itself of events, which lies open to every one's inquiry and examination. I acknow­lege, that, in the present order of things, virtue is attended with more peace of mind than vice; and meets with a more favourable reception from the world. I am sensible, that, according to the past ex­perience of mankind, friendship is the chief joy of human life, and moderation the only source of tran­quillity and happiness. I never balance between the virtuous and the vicious course of life; but am sen­sible, that, to a well disposed mind, every advantage [Page 215] is on the side of the former. And what can you say more, allowing all your suppositions and reasonings? You tell me, indeed, that this disposition of things proceeds from intelligence and design. But whatever it proceeds from, the disposition itself, on which de­pends our happiness or misery, and consequently our conduct and deportment in life, is still the same. 'Tis still open for me, as well as you, to regulate my be­haviour, by my experience of past events. And if you affirm, that, while a divine providence is allowed, and a supreme distributive justice in the universe, I ought to expect some more particular reward of the good, and punishment of the bad, beyond the ordi­nary course of events; I here find the same fallacy, which I have before endeavoured to detect. You per­sist in imagining, that, if we grant that divine exis­tence, for which you so earnestly contend, you may safely infer consequences from it, and add something to the experienced order of nature, by arguing from the attributes which you ascribe to your gods. You seem not to remember, that all your reasonings on this subject can only be drawn from effects to causes; and that every argument, deduced from causes to ef­fects, must of necessity be a gross sophism; since it is impossible for you to know any thing of the cause, but what you have, antecedently, not inferred, but dis­covered to the full, in the effect.

[Page 216] BUT what must a philosopher judge of those vain reasoners, who, instead of regarding the present scene of things as the sole object of their contemplation, so far reverse the whole course of nature, as to render this life merely a passage to something farther; a porch, which leads to a greater, and vastly different building; a prologue, which serves only to introduce the piece, and give it more grace and propriety? Whence, do you think, can such philosophers derive their idea of the gods? From their own conceit and imagination surely. For if they derived it from the present phaenomena, it would never point to any thing farther, but must be exactly adjusted to them. That the divinity may possibly possess attributes, which we have never seen exerted; may be governed by prin­ciples of action, which we cannot discover to be sa­tisfied: All this will freely be allowed. But still this is mere possibility and hypothesis. We never can have reason to infer any attributes, or any principles of ac­tion in him, but so far as we know them to have been exerted and satisfied.

Are there any marks of a distributive justice in the world? If you answer in the affirmative, I conclude, that, since justice here exerts itself, it is satisfied. If you reply in the negative, I conclude, that you have then no reason to ascribe justice to the gods. If you hold a medium between affirmation and negation, by saying, that the justice of the gods, at present, exerts [Page 217] itself in part, but not in its full extent; I answer, that you have no reason to give it any particular extent, but only so far as you see it, at present, exert itself.

THUS I bring the dispute, O ATHENIANS, to a short issue with my antagonists. The course of nature lies open to my contemplation as well as theirs. The experienced train of events is the great standard by which we all regulate our conduct. Nothing else can be appealed to in the field, or in the senate. Nothing else ought ever to be heard of in the school, or in the closet. In vain would our limited understandings break thro' those boundaries, which are too narrow for our fond imaginations. While we argue from the course of nature, and infer a particular intelligent cause, which first bestowed, and still preserves order in the universe, we embrace a principle which is both uncertain and useless. 'Tis uncertain; because the subject lies intirely beyond the reach of human expe­rience. 'Tis useless; because our knowlege of this cause being derived intirely from the course of na­ture, we can never, according to the rules of just rea­soning, return back from the cause with any new in­ferences, or making additions to the common and experienced course of nature, establish any new princi­ples of conduct and behaviour.

I OBSERVE (says I, finding he had finished his ha­rangue) that you neglect not the artifice of the dema­gogues [Page 218] of old; and as you was pleased to make me stand for the people, you insinuate yourself into my favour, by embracing those principles, to which, you know, I have always expressed a particular attach­ment. But allowing you to make experience (as in­deed I think you ought) the only standard of our judg­ment concerning this, and all other questions of fact; I doubt not but, from the very same experience, to which you appeal, it may be possible to refute this reasoning, which you have put into the mouth of EPICURUS. If you saw, for instance, a half-finished building surrounded with heaps of brick and stone and mortar, and all the instruments of masonry; could you not infer from the effect, that it was a work of design and contrivance? And could you not return again, from this inferred cause, to infer new additions to the effect, and conclude, that the building would soon be finished, and receive all the farther improve­ments, which art could bestow upon it? If you saw upon the sea-shore the print of one human foot, you would conclude, that a man had passed that way, and that he had also left the traces of the other foot, tho' effaced by the rolling of the sands or inundation of the waters. Why then do you refuse to admit the same method of reasoning with regard to the order of na­ture? Consider the world and the present life only as an imperfect building, from which you can infer a superior intelligence; and arguing from that superior intelligence, which can have nothing imperfect; why [Page 219] may you not infer a more finished scheme or plan, which will receive its completion in some distant pe­riod of space or time? Are not these methods of rea­soning exactly parallel? And under what pretext can you embrace the one, while you reject the other?

THE infinite difference of the subjects, replied he, is a sufficient foundation for this difference in my con­clusions. In works of human art and contrivance, 'tis allowable to advance from the effect to the cause, and returning back from the cause, form new inferences concerning the effect, and examine the alterations which it has probably undergone, or may still under­go. But what is the foundation of this method of reasoning? Plainly this; that man is a being, whom we know by experience, whose motives and designs we are acquainted with, and whose projects and incli­nations have a certain connexion and coherence, ac­cording to the laws which nature has established for the government of such a creature. When, there­fore, we find, that any work has proceeded from the skill and industry of man; as we are otherwise ac­quainted with the nature of the animal, we can draw a hundred inferences concerning what may be expected from him; and these inferences will all be founded on experience and observation. But did we know man only from the single work or production which we ex­amine, it were impossible for us to argue in this man­ner; because our knowlege of all the qualities, which [Page 220] we ascribe to him, being in that case derived from the production, 'tis impossible they could point to any thing farther, or be the foundation of any new infer­ences. The print of a foot in the sand can only prove, when considered alone, that there was some figure adapted to it, by which it was produced: But the print of a human foot proves likewise, from our other experience, that there was probably another foot, which also left its impression, tho' effaced by time or other accide [...]s. Here we mount from the ef­fect to the cause, and descending again from the cause, infer alterations in the effect; but this is not a continuation of the same simple chain of reasoning. We comprehend in this case a hundred other expe­riences and observations, concerning the usual figure and members of that species of animal, without which this method of argument must be considered as falla­cious and sophistical.

THE case is not the same with our reasonings from the works of nature. The Deity is known to us only by his productions, and is a single being in the uni­verse, not comprehended under any species or genus, from whose experienced attributes or qualities, we can, by analogy, infer any attribute or quality in him. As the universe shews wisdom and goodness, we infer wisdom and goodness. As it shows a particular degree of these perfections, we infer a particular degree of them, precisely adapted to the effect which we exa­mine. [Page 221] But farther attributes or farther degrees of the same attributes, we can never be authorised to infer or suppose, by any rules of just reasoning. Now without some such licence of supposition, 'tis impossible for us to argue from the cause, or infer any alteration in the effect, beyond what has immediately fallen under our observation. Greater good produced by this Be­ing must still prove a greater degree of goodness: More impartial distribution of rewards and punish­ments must proceed from a superior regard to justice and equity. Every supposed addition to the works of nature makes an addition to the attributes of the au­thor of nature; and consequently, being intirely un supported by any reason or argument, can never be admitted but as mere conjecture and hypothesis*.

[Page 222] THE great source of our mistake in this subject, and of the unbounded licence of conjecture, which we in­dulge, is, that we tacitly consider ourselves, as in the place of the Supreme Being, and conclude, that he will, on every occasion, observe the same conduct, which we ourselves, in his situation, would have em­braced as reasonable and eligible. But besides, that the ordinary course of nature may convince us, that almost every thing is regulated by principles and max­ims very different from ours; besides this, I say, it must evidently appear contrary to all rule of analogy to reason, from the intentions and projects of men, to those of a being so different, and so much superior. In human nature, there is a certain experienced cohe­rence of designs and inclinations; so that when, from any facts, we have discovered one intention of any man, it may often be reasonable, from experience, to infer another, and draw a long chain of conclusions con­cerning his past or future conduct. But this method of reasoning never can have place with regard to a [Page 223] Being, so remote and incomprehensible, who bears much less analogy to any other being in the universe than the sun to a waxen taper, and who discovers him­self only by some faint traces or outlines, beyond which we have no authority to ascribe to him any at­tribute or perfection. What we imagine to be a su­perior perfection may really be a defect. Or were it ever so much a perfection, the ascribing it to the Su­preme Being, where it appears not to have been real­ly exerted, to the full, in his works, favours more of flattery and panegyric, than of just reasoning and sound philosophy. All the philosophy, therefore, in the world, and all the religion, which is nothing but a species of philosophy, will never be able to carry us beyond the usual course of experience, or give us mea­sures of conduct and behaviour different from those which are furnished by reflections on common life. No new fact can ever be inferred from the religious hypothesis; no event foreseen or foretold; no reward or punishment expected or dreaded, beyond what is already known by practice and observation. So that my apology for EPICURUS will still appear solid and satisfactory; nor have the political interest of society any connexion with the philosophical disputes con­cerning metaphysics and religion.

THERE is still one circumstance, replied I, which you seem to have overlooked. I ho' I should allow your premises, I must still deny your conclusion. You [Page 224] conclude, that religious doctrines and reasonings can have no influence on life, because they ought to have no influence; never considering, that men reason not in the same manner you do, but draw many conse­quences from the belief of a divine existence, and sup­pose that the Deity will inflict punishments on vice, and bestow rewards on virtue, beyond what appear in the ordinary course of nature. Whether this reason­ing of their be just or not, is no matter. Its influ­ence on their life and conduct must still be the same. And those, who attempt to disabuse them of such pre­judices, may, for aught I know, be good reasoners, but I cannot allow them to be good citizens and poli­ticians; since they free men from one restraint upon their passions, and make the infringement of the laws of society, in one respect, more easy and secure.

AFTER all, I may, perhaps, agree to your general conclusion in favour of liberty, tho' upon different pre­mises from those, on which you endeavour to found it. I think that the state ought to tolerate every principle of philosophy; nor is there an instance that any go­vernment has suffered in its political interests by such indulgence. There is no enthusiasm among philo­sophers; their doctrines are not very alluring to the people; and no restraint can be put upon their rea­sonings, but what must be of dangerous consquence to the sciences, and even to the state, by paving the way for persecution and oppression in points where the [Page 225] generality of mankind are more deeply interested and concerned.

BUT there occurs to me (continued I) with regard to your main topic, a difficulty, which I shall just pro­pose to you, without insisting on it; left it lead into reasonings of too nice and delicate a nature. In a word, I much doubt whether it be possible for a cause to be known only by its effect (as you have all along supposed) or to be of so singular and particular a na­ture as to have no parallel and no similarity with any other cause or object, that has ever fallen under out observation. 'Tis only when two species of objects are found to be constantly conjoined, that we can in­fer the one from the other; and were an effect pre­sented, which was intirely singular, and could not be comprehended under any known species, I do not see, that we could form any conjecture or inference at all concerning its cause. If experience and observation and analogy be, indeed, the only guides which we can reasonably follow in inferences of this nature; both the effect and cause must bear a similarity and resem­blance to other effects and causes which we know, and which we have found, in many instances, to be conjoined with each other. I leave it to your own reflections to pursue the consequences of this principle. I shall just observe, that as the antagonists of EPI­CURUS always suppose the universe an effect quite sin­gular and unparalleled; to be the proof of a Deity, a [Page 226] cause no less singular and unparalleled; your reason­ings, upon that supposition, seem, at least, to merit our attention. There is, I own, some difficulty, how we can ever return from the cause to the effect, and reasoning from our ideas of the former, infer any al­teration on the latter, or any addition to it.



THERE is not a greater number of philosophical reasonings, displayed upon any subject, than those, which prove the existence of a Deity, and re­fute the fallacies of Atheists; and yet the most reli­gious philosophers still dispute whether any man can be so blinded as to be a speculative atheist. How shall we reconcile these contradictions? The knight­errants, who wandered about to clear the world of dragons and giants, never entertained the least doubt with regard to the existence of these monsters.

THE Sceptic is another enemy of religion, who na­turally provokes the indignation of all divines and graver philosophers; tho' 'tis certain, that no man ever met with any such absurd creature, or conversed with a man, who had no opinion or principle con­cerning [Page 228] any subject, either of action or speculation. This begets a very natural question; What is meant by a sceptic? And how far it is possible to push these philosophical principles of doubt and uncertainty?

THERE is a species of scepticism, antecedent to all study and philosophy, which is much inculcated by DES CARTES and others, as a sovereign preserva­tive against error and precipitate judgment. It recom­mends an universal doubt, not only of all our former opinions and principles, but also of our very faculties; of whose veracity, say they, we must assure ourselves, by a chain of reasoning, deduced from some original principle, which cannot possibly be fallacious or de­ceitful. But neither is there any such original prin­ciple, which has a prerogative above others, that are self-evident and convincing: Or if there were, could we advance a step beyond it, but by the use of these very faculties, of which we are supposed to be already diffident. The CARTESIAN doubt, therefore, were it ever possible to be attained by any human creature (as it plainly is not) would be entirely incurable; and no reasoning could ever bring us to a state of assurance and conviction upon any subject.

IT must, however, be confessed, that this species of scepticism, when more moderate, may be understood in a very reasonable sense, and is a necessary prepara­tive to the study of philosophy, by preserving a pro­per [Page 229] impartiality in our judgments, and weaning our mind from all those prejudices, which we may have imbibed from education or rash opinion. To begin with clear and self-evident principles, to advance by timorous and sure steps, to review frequently our con­clusions, and examine accurately all their consequences; tho' by this means we shall make both a slow and a short progress in our systems; are the only methods, by which we can ever hope to reach truth, and attain a proper stability and certainty in our determina­tions.

THERE is another species of scepticism, consequent to science and enquiry, where men are supposed to have discovered, either the absolute fallaciousness of their mental faculties, or their unfitness to reach any fixed determination in all those curious subjects of speculation, about which they are commonly em­ployed. Even our very senses are brought into dis­pute, by a certain species of philosophers; and the maxims of common life are subjected to the same doubt as the most profound principles or conclusions of metaphysics and theology. As these paradoxical tenets (if they may be called tenets) are to be met with in some philosophers, and the refutation of them in several, they naturally excite our curiosity, and make us enquire into the arguments, on which they may be founded.

[Page 230] I NEED not insist upon the more trite topics, em­ployed by the sceptics in all ages, against the evidence of sense; such as those derived from the imperfection and fallaciousness of our organs, on numberless occa­sions; the crooked appearance of an oar in water; the various aspects of objects, according to their dif­ferent distances; the double images which arise from the pressing one eye; with many other appearances of a like nature. These sceptical topics, indeed, are only sufficient to prove, that the senses alone are not implicitely to be depended on; but that we must correct their evidence by reason, and by considerations, derived from the nature of the medium, the distance of the object, and the disposition of the organ, in order to render them, within their sphere, the proper criteria of truth and falshood. There are other more profound arguments against the senses, which admit not of so easy a solution.

IT seems evident, that men are carried, by a natu­ral instinct or prepossession, to repose faith in their senses; and that, without any reasoning, or even al­most before the use of reason, we always suppose an external universe, which depends not on our percep­tion, but would exist, tho' we and every sensible crea­ture were absent or annihilated. Even the animal creation are governed by a like opinion, and preserve this belief of external objects, in all their thoughts, designs, and actions.

[Page 231] IT seems also evident, that when men follow this blind and powerful instinct of nature, they always suppose the very images, presented by the senses, to be the external objects, and never entertain any sus­picion, that the one are nothing but representations of the other. This very table, which we see white, and which we feel hard, is believed to exist, indepen­dent of our perception, and to be something external to our mind, which perceives it. Our presence be­stows not being on it: Our absence annihilates it not. It preserves its existence uniform and entire, indepen­dent of the situation of intelligent beings, who per­ceive or contemplate it.

BUT this universal and primary opinion of all men is soon destroyed by the slightest philosophy, which teaches us, that nothing can ever be present to the mind but an image or perception, and that the senses are only the inlets, thro' which these images are re­ceived, without being ever able to produce any im­mediate intercourse between the mind and the object. The table, which we see, seems to diminish, as we remove farther from it: But the real table which ex­ists independent of us, suffers no alteration: It was, therefore, nothing but its image, which was present to the mind. These are the obvious dictates of rea­son; and no man, who reflects, ever doubted, that the existences, which we consider, when we say, this house and that tree are nothing but perceptions in the [Page 232] mind, and fleeting copies or representations of other existences, which remain uniform and independent.

So far, then, are we necessitated by reasoning to contradict or depart from the primary instincts of na­ture, and to embrace a new system with regard to the evidences of our senses. But here philosophy finds itself extremely embarrassed, when it would justify this new system, and obviate the cavils and objections of the sceptics. It can no longer plead the infallible and irresistible instinct of nature: For that led us to a quite different system, which is acknowledged fal­lible and even erroneous. And to justify this pre­tended philosophical system, by a chain of clear and convincing argument, or even any appearance of ar­gument, exceeds the power of all human capacity.

BY what argument can it be proved, that the per­ceptions of the mind must be caused by external ob­jects, entirely different from them, tho' resembling them (if that be possible) and could not arise either from the energy of the mind itself, or from the sug­gestion of some invisible and unknown spirit, or from some other cause still more unknown to us? 'Tis ac­knowledged, that, in fact, many of these perceptions arise not from any thing external, as in dreams, madness, and other diseases. And nothing can be more inexplicable than the manner, in which body should so operate upon mind as ever to convey an [Page 233] image of itself to a substance supposed of so different, and even contrary a nature.

'TIS a question of fact, whether the perceptions of the senses be produced by external objects, resem­bling them: How shall this question be determined? By experience surely; as all other questions of a like nature. But here experience is, and must be entirely silent. The mind has never any thing present to it but the perceptions, and cannot possibly reach any experience of their connexion with objects. The sup­position of such a connexion is, therefore, without any foundation in reasoning.

To have recourse to the veracity of the supreme Being, in order to prove the veracity of our senses, is surely making a very unexpected circuit. If his veracity were at all concerned in this matter, our senses would be entirely infallible; because it is not possible that he can ever deceive. Not to mention, that if the external world be once called in doubt, we shall be at a loss to find arguments, by which we may prove the existence of that Being or any of his attributes.

THIS is a topic, therefore, in which the profounder and more philosophical sceptics will always triumph, when they endeavour to introduce an universal doubt into all subjects of human knowlege and enquiry.

[Page 234] Do you follow the instincts and propensities of nature, may they say, in assenting to the veracity of sense? But these lead you to believe, that the very perception or sensible image is the external object. Do you dis­claim this principle, in order to embrace a more ra­tional opinion, that the perceptions are only represen­tations of something external? You here depart from your natural propensities and more obvious sentiments; and yet are not able to satisfy your reason, which can never find any convincing argument from experience to prove, that the perceptions are connected with any external objects.

THERE is another sceptical topic of a like nature, derived from the most profound philosophy; which might merit our attention, were it requisite to dive so deep, in order to discover arguments and reasonings, which can serve so little any serious purpose. 'Tis universally allowed by modern enquiers, that all the sensible qualities of objects, such as hard, soft, hot, cold, white, black, &c. are merely secondary, and exist not in the objects themselves, but are perceptions of the mind, without any external archetype or model, which they represent. If this be allowed, with regard to secondary qualities, it must also follow with regard to the supposed primary qualities of extension and solidity; nor can the latter be any more entitled to that deno­mination than the former. The idea of extension is entirely acquired from the senses of sight and feeling; [Page 235] and if all the qualities, perceived by the senses, be in the mind, not in the object, the same conclusion must reach the idea of extension, which is wholly de­pendent on the sensible ideas or the ideas of secon­dary qualities. Nothing can save us from this con­clusion, but the asserting, that the ideas of those pri­mary qualities are attained by Abstraction; which, if we examine accurately, we shall find to be unintel­ligible, and even absurd. An extension, that is nei­ther tangible nor visible, cannot possibly be conceived: And a tangible or visible extension, which is neither hard nor soft, black nor white, is equally beyond the reach of human conception. Let any man try to conceive a triangle in general, which is neither Isoceles, nor Scalenum, nor has any particular length nor pro­portion of sides; and he will soon perceive the ab­surdity of all the scholastic notions with regard to ab­straction and general ideas*.

[Page 236] THUS the first philosophical objection to the evi­dence of sense or to the opinion of external existence consists in this, that such an opinion, if rested on na­tural instinct, is contrary to reason, and if referred to reason, is contrary to natural instinct, and at the same time carries no rational evidence with it, to convince an impartial enquirer. The second objection goes farther, and represents this opinion as contrary to rea­son; at least, if it be a principle of reason, that all sensible qualities are in the mind, not in the object.


IT may seem a very extravagant attempt of the sceptics to destroy reason by argument and ratiocina­tion; yet is this the grand scope of all their enquiries and disputes. They endeavour to find objections, both to our abstract reasonings, and to those which regard matter of fact and existence.

THE chief objection against all abstract reasonings is derived from the ideas of space and time; ideas, which, in common life and to a careless view, are very clear and intelligible, but when they pass thro' the scrutiny of the profound sciences (and they are the chief object of these sciences) afford principles which seem full of absurdity and contradiction. No priestly dogmas, invented on purpose to tame and [Page 237] subdue the rebellious reason of mankind, ever shocked common sense more than the doctrine of the infinite divisibility of extension, with its consequences; as they are pompously displayed by all geometricians and metaphysicians, with a kind of triumph and ex­ultation. A real quantity, infinitely less than any finite quantity, containing quantities, infinitely less than itself, and so on, in infinitum; this is an edifice so bold and prodigious, that it is too weighty for any pretended demonstration to support, because it shocks the clearest and most natural principles of human rea­son*. But what renders the matter more extraordi­nary, is, that these seemingly absurd opinions are supported by a chain of reasoning, the clearest and most natural; nor is it possible for us to allow the premises without admitting the consequences. No­thing [Page 238] can be more convincing and satisfactory than all the conclusions concerning the properties of circles and triangles; and yet, when these are once received, how can we deny, that the angle of contact between a circle and its tangent is infinitely less than any rec­tilineal angle, that as you may encrease the diameter of the circle in infinitum, this angle of contact be­comes still less, even in infinitum, and that the angle of contact between other curves and their tangents may be infinitely less than those between any circle and its tangent, and so on, in infinitum? The de­monstration of these principles seems as unexception­able as that which proves the three angles of a tri­angle to be equal to two right ones; tho' the latter opinion be natural and easy, and the former big with contradiction and absurdity. Reason here seems to be thrown into a kind of amazement and suspence, which, without the suggestions of any sceptic, gives her a diffidence of herself, and of the ground on which he treads. She sees a full light, which illu­minates certain places; but that light borders upon the most profound darkness. And between these she is so dazzled and confounded, that she scarce can pro­nounce with certainty and assurance concerning any one object.

THE absurdity of these bold determinations of the abstract sciences seems to become, if possible, still more palpable with regard to time than extension. [Page 239] An infinite number of real parts of time, passing in succession, and exhausted one after another, appears so evident a contradiction, that no man, one should think, whose judgment is not corrupted, instead of being improved, by the sciences, would ever be able to admit of it.

YET still reason must remain restless and unquiet, even with regard to that scepticism, to which she is led by these seeming absurdities and contradictions. How any clear, distinct idea can contain circumstances, contradictory to itself, or to any other clear, distinct idea, is absolutely incomprehensible; and is, perhaps, as absurd as any proposition, which can be formed. So that nothing can be more sceptical, or more full of doubt and hesitation, than this scepticism itself, which arises from some of the paradoxical conclusions of geometry or the science of quantity*.

[Page 240] THE sceptical objections to moral evidence, or to the reasonings concerning matter of fact are either popular or philosophical. The popular objections are derived from the natural weakness of human under­standing; the contradictory opinions, which have been entertained in different ages and nations; the variations of our judgment in sickness and health, youth and old age, prosperity and adversity; the perpetual con­tradiction of each particular man's opinions and sen­timents; with many other topics of that kind. 'Tis needless to insist farther on this head. These objec­tions are but weak. For as, in common life, we rea­son every moment concerning fact and existence, and cannot possibly subsist, without continually employing this species of argument, any popular objections, de­rived [Page 241] from thence, must be insufficient to destroy that evidence. The great subverter of Pyrrhonism or the excessive principles of scepticism, is action, and em­ployment, and the occupations of common life. These principles may flourish and triumph in the schools; where it is, indeed, difficult, if not impossible, to re­fute them. But as soon as they leave the shade, and by the presence of the real objects, which actuate our passions and sentiments, are put in opposition to the more powerful principles of our nature, they vanish like smoak, and leave the most determined sceptic in the same condition as other mortals.

THE sceptic, therefore, had better keep in his pro­per sphere, and display those philosophical objections, which arise from more profound researches. Here he seems to have ample matter of triumph; while he justly insists, that all our evidence for any matter of fact, which lies beyond the testimony of sense or memory, is derived entirely from the relation of cause and effect; that we have no other idea of this relation than that of two objects, which have been frequently cojoined together; that we have no arguments to convince us, that object, which have, in our expe­rience, been frequently conjoined, will likewise, in other instances, be conjoined in the same manner; and that nothing leads us to this inserence but custom or a certain instinct of our nature; which it is indeed difficult to resist, but which, like other instincts, may be fallacious and deceitful. While the sceptic insists [Page 242] upon these topics, he shews his force, or rather, in­deed, his own and our weakness; and seems, for the time at least, to destroy all assurance and conviction. These arguments might be displayed at greater length, if any durable good or benefit to society could ever be expected to result from them.

FOR here is the chief and most confounding objec­tion to excessive scepticism, that no durable good can ever result from it; while it remains in its full force and vigour. We need only ask such a sceptic, What his meaning is? And what he proposes by all these curious researches? He is immediately at a loss, and knows not what to answer. A COPERNICAN or PTOLEMAIC, who supports each his different system of astronomy, may hope to produce a conviction, which will remain, constant and durable, with his audience. A STOIC or EPICUREAN displays prin­ciples, which may not only be durable, but which have a mighty effect on conduct and behaviour. But a PYRRHONIAN cannot propose that his philosophy will have any constant influence on the mind: Or if it had, that its influence would be beneficial to soci­ety. On the contrary, he must acknowlege, if he will acknowlege any thing, that all human life must perish, were his principles universally and steadily to prevail. All discourse, all action would immediate­ly cease; and men remain in a total lethargy, till the necessities of nature, unsatisfied, put an end to [Page 243] their miserable existence. 'Tis true; so fatal an event is very little to be dreaded. Nature is always too strong for principle. And tho' a PYRRHONIAN may throw himself or others into a momentary amazement and confusion by his profound reasonings; the first and most trivial event in life will put to flight all his doubts and scruples, and leave him the same, in every point of action and speculation, with the philosophers of every other sect, or with those who never con­cerned themselves in any philosophical researches. When he awakes from his dream, he will be the first to join in the laugh against himself, and to confess, that all his objections are mere amusements, and can have no other tendency than to show the whimsical condition of mankind, who must act and reason and believe; tho' they are not able, by their most diligent enquiry, to satisfy themselves concerning the founda­tion of these operations, or to remove the objections, which may be raised against them.


THERE is, indeed, a more mitigated scepticism or academical philosophy, which may be both durable and useful, and which may, in part, be the result of this PYRRHONISM, or excessive scepticism, when its undistinguished doubts are, in some measure, corrected by common sense and reflexion. The greatest part of [Page 244] mankind are naturally apt to be affirmative and dog­matical in their opinions; and while they see objects only on one side, and have no idea of any counter­poising arguments, they throw themselves precipi­tately into the principles, to which they are inclin­ed; nor have they any indulgence for those who en­tertain opposite sentiments. To hesitate or balance perplexes their understandings, checks their passion, and suspends their actions. They are, therefore, im­patient till they escape from a state, which to them is so uneasy; and they think, that they can never re­move themselves far enough from it, by the violence of their affirmations and obstinacy of their belief. But could such dogmatical reasoners become sensible of the strange infirmities of human understanding, even in its most perfect state, and when most accurate and cautious in its determinations; such a reflection would naturally inspire them with more modesty and reserve, and diminish their fond opinion of them­selves, and their prejudice against antagonists. The illiterate may reflect on the disposition of the learned, who, amidst all the advantages of study and reflec­tion, are commonly still diffident in their determina­tions: And if any of the learned are inclined, from their natural temper, to haughtiness and obstinacy, a small tincture of PYRRHONISM may abate their pride, by showing them, that the few advantages, which they may have attained over their fellows, are but incon­siderable, [Page 245] if compared with the universal perplexity and confusion, which is inherent in human nature. In general, there is a degree of doubt, and caution, and modesty, which, in all kinds of scrutiny and de­cision, ought for ever to accompany a just reasoner.

ANOTHER species of mitigated scepticism, which may be of advantage to mankind, and which may be the natural result of the PYRRHONIAN doubts and scruples, is the limitation of our enquiries to such subjects as are best adapted to the narrow capacity of human understanding. The imagination of man is naturally sublime, delighted with whatever is remote and extraordinary, and running, without controul, into the most distant parts of space and time, in or­der to avoid the objects, which custom has rendered too familiar to it. A correct judgment observes a con­trary method; and avoiding all distant and high en­quiries, confines itself to common life, and to such subjects as fall under daily practice and experience; leaving the more sublime topics to the embellishment of poets and orators, or to the arts of priests and po­liticians. To bring us to so salutary a determination, nothing can be more serviceable, than to be once thoroughly convinced of the force of the PYRRHONIAN doubt, and of the impossibility that any thing but the strong power of natural instinct, could free us from it. Those who have a propensity to philosophy, will still continue their researches; because they reflect, [Page 246] that besides the immediate pleasure, attending such an occupation, philosophical decisions are nothing but the reflections of common life, methodized and cor­rected. But they will never be tempted to go be­yond common life, so long as they consider the im­perfection of those faculties which they employ, their narrow reach, and their inaccurate operations. While we cannot give a satisfactory reason, why we believe after a thousand experiments, that a stone will fall, or fire burn; can we ever satisfy ourselves concerning any determinations which we may form with regard to the origin of worlds, and the situation of nature, from, and to enternity?

THIS narrow limitation, indeed, of our enquiries, is, in every respect, so reasonable, that it suffices to make the slightest examination into the natural powers of the human mind, and to compare them to their objects, in order to recommend it to us. We shall then find what are the proper subjects of science and enquiry.

IT seems to me, that the only objects of the ab­stract sciences or of demonstration are quantity and number, and that all attempts to extend this more perfect species of knowlege beyond these bounds are mere sophistry and illusion. As the component parts of quantity and number are entirely similar, their re­lations become intricate and involved; and nothing [Page 247] can be more curious, as well as useful, than to trace, by a variety of mediums, their equality or inequality, thro' their different appearances. But as all other ideas are clearly distinct and different from each other, we can never advance farther, by all our scrutiny, than to observe this diversity, and, by an obvious reflection, pronounce one thing not to be another. Or if there be any difficulty in these decisions, it proceeds entirely from the undeterminate meaning of words, which is corrected by juster definitions. That the square of the hypothenuse is equal to the squares of the other two sides, cannot be known, let the terms be ever so exactly defined, without a train of reasoning and enquiry. But to convince us of this proposition, that where there is no property, there can be no injustice, 'tis only neces­sary to define the terms, and explain injustice to be a violation of property. This proposition is, indeed, nothing but a more imperfect desinition. 'Tis the same case with all those pretended syllogistical reason­ings, which may be found in every other branch of learning, except the sciences of quantity and number; and these may safely, I think, be pronounced the only proper objects of knowlege and demonstration.

ALL other enquiries of men regard only matter of fact and existence; and these are evidently incapable of demonstration. Whatever is may not be. No ne­gation of a fact can involve a contradiction. The non-existence of any being, without exception, is as [Page 248] clear and distinct an idea as its existence. The pro­position, which affirms it not to be, however false, is no less conceivable and intelligible, than that which affirms it to be. The case is different with the sci­ences, properly so called. Every proposition, which is not true, is there confused and unintelligible. That the cube root of 64 is equal to the half of 10, is a false proposition, and can never be distinctly conceiv­ed. But that CAESAR, or the angel GABRIEL, or any being never existed, may be a false proposition, but still is perfectly conceivable, and implies no con­tradiction.

THE existence, therefore, of any being can only be proved by arguments from its cause or its effect; and these arguments are founded entirely on experi­ence. If we reason à priori, any thing may appear able to produce any thing. The falling of a pebble may, for aught we know, extinguish the sun; or the wish of a man controul the planets in their orbits. 'Tis only experience, which teaches us the nature and bounds of cause and effect, and enables us to inser the existence of one object from that of another*. [Page 249] Such is the foundation of moral reasoning, which forms the greatest part of human knowlege, and is the source of all human action and behaviour.

MORAL reasonings are either concerning particular or general facts. All deliberations in life regard the former; as also all disquisitions in history, chronology, geography, and astronomy.

THE sciences, which treat of general facts, are po­lities, natural philosophy, physic, chymistry, &c. where the qualities, causes, and effects of a whole species of objects are enquired into.

DIVINITY or Theology, as it proves the existence of a Deity, and the immortality of souls, is composed partly of reasonings concerning particular, partly con­cerning general facts. It has a foundation in rea­son, so far as it is supported by experience. But its best and most solid foundation is faith and divine revelation.

MORALS and criticism are not so properly objects of the understanding as of taste and sentiment. Beauty, whether moral or natural, is felt, more properly than perceived. Or if we reason concerning it, and endea­vour to fix its standard, we regard a new fact, viz. the general taste of mankind, or some such fact, which may be the object of reasoning and enquiry.

[Page 250] WHEN we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphy­sics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any ab­stract reasonings concerning quantity of number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasonings concerning matters of fact or existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.



1. SOME objects produce immediately an argree­able sensation, by the original structure of our organs, and are thence denominated GOOD; as others, from their immediate disagreeable sensation, acquire the appellation of EVIL. Thus moderate warmth is agreeable and good; excessive heat painful and evil.

SOME objects again, by being naturally conform­able or contrary to passion, excite an agreeable or painful sensation; and are thence called Good or Evil. The punishment of an adversary, by gratifying re­venge, is good; the sickness of a companion, by af­fecting friendship, is evil.

[Page 252] 2. ALL good or evil, whence-ever it arises, pro­duces various passions and affections, according to the light, in which it is surveyed.

WHEN good is certain or very probable, it pro­duces JOY: When evil is in the same situation, there arises GRIEF or SORROW.

WHEN either good or evil is uncertain, it gives rise to FEAR or HOPE, according to the degrees of un­certainty on one side or the other.

DESIRE arises from good considered simply; and AVERSION, from evil. The WILL exerts itself, when either the presence of the good or absence of the evil may be attained by any action of the mind or body.

3. NONE of these passions seem to contain any thing curious or remarkable except Hope and Fear, which, being derived from the probability of any good or evil, are mixed passions, that merit our attention.

PROBABILITY arises from an opposition of con­trary chances or causes, by which the mind is not allowed to fix on either side; but is incessantly tossed from one to another, and in one moment is deter­mined to consider an object as existent, and in ano­ther [Page 253] moment as the contrary. The imagination or understanding, call it which you please, fluctuates be­tween the opposite views; and tho' perhaps it may be oftener turned to one side than the other, it is impossible for it, by reason of the opposition of causes or chances, to rest on either. The pro and con of the question alternately prevail; and the mind, surveying the objects in their opposite causes, finds such a contrariety as utterly destroys all certainty or established opinion.

SUPPOSE, then, that the object, concerning which we are doubtful, produces either desire or aversion; it is evident, that, according as the mind turns itself to one side or the other, it must feel a momentary im­pression of joy or sorrow. An object, whose existence we desire, gives satisfaction, when we think of those causes, which produce it; and for the same reason, excites grief or uneasiness from the opposite conside­ration. So that, as the understanding, in probable questions, is divided between the contrary points of view, the heart must in the same manner be divided between opposite emotions.

NOW, if we consider the human mind, we shall observe, that with regard to the passions, it is not like a wind instrument of music, which, in run­ning over all the notes, immediately loses the sound when the breath ceases; but rather resembles a string-instrument, [Page 254] where, after each stroke, the vibrations still retain some sound, which gradually and insensibly decays. The imagination is extremely quick and agile; but the passions, in comparison, are slow and restive: For which reason, when any object is pre­sented, which affords a variety of views to the one and emotions to the other; tho' the fancy may change its views with great celerity; each stroke will not produce a clear and distinct note of passion, but the one passion will always be mixed and confounded with the other. According as the probability inclines to good or evil, the passion of grief or joy predominates in the composition; and these passions being inter­mingled by means of the contrary views of the ima­gination, produce by the union the passions of hope or fear.

4. As this theory seems to carry its own evidence along with it, we shall be more concise in our proofs.

THE passions of fear and hope may arise, when the chances are equal on both sides, and no superiority can be discovered in one above the other. Nay, in this situ­ation the passions are rather the strongest, as the mind has then the least foundation to rest upon, and is tost with the greatest uncertainty. Throw in a superior degree of probability to the side of grief, you im­mediately see that passion diffuse itself over the com­position, and tincture it into fear. Encrease the pro­bability, and by that means the grief; the fear pre­vails [Page 255] still more and more, 'till at last it runs insensibly, as the joy continually diminishes, into pure grief. After you have brought it to this situation, diminish the grief, by a contrary operation to that, which en­creased it, to wit, by diminishing the probability on the melancholy side; and you will see the passion clear every moment, 'till it changes insensibly into hope; which again runs, by flow degrees, into joy, as you increase that part of the composition, by the increase of the probability. Are not these as plain proofs, that the passions of fear and hope are mixtures of grief and joy, as in optics it is a proof, that a coloured ray of the sun, passing thro' a prism, is a composition of two others, when as you diminish or increase the quantity of either, you find it prevail proportionably, more or less, in the composition?

5.PROBABILITY is of two kinds; either when the object is itself uncertain, and to be determined by chance; or when, tho' the object be already certain, yet is it uncertain to our judgment, which finds a number of proofs or presumptions on each side of the question. Both these kinds of probability cause fear and hope; which must proceed from that property, in which they agree; to wit, the uncertainty and fluc­tuation which they bestow on the passion, by that con­trariety of views, which is common to both.

[Page 256] 6. IT is a probable good or evil, which commonly causes hope or fear; because probability, producing an inconstant and wavering survey of an object, oc­casions naturally a like mixture and uncertainty of passion. But we may observe, that, wherever, from other causes, this mixture can be produced, the pas­sions of fear and hope will arise, even tho' there be no probability.

AN evil, conceived as barely possible, sometimes produces fear; especially if the evil be very great. A man cannot think of excessive pain and torture without trembling, if he runs the least risque of suf­fering them. The smallness of the probability is compensated by the greatness of the evil.

BUT even impossible evils cause fear; as when we tremble on the brink of a precipice, tho' we know ourselves to be in perfect security, and have it in our choice, whether we will advance a step farther. The immediate presence of the evil influences the imagi­nation and produces a species of belief; but being opposed by the reflection on our security, that belief is immediately retracted, and causes the same kind of passion, as when, from a contrariety of chances, con­trary passions are produced.

EVILS, which are certain, have sometimes the same effect as the possible or impossible. A man, in a strong [Page 257] prison, without the least means of escape, trembles at the thoughts of the rack, to which he is sentenced. The evil is here fixed in itself; but the mind has not courage to fix upon it; and this fluctuation gives rise to a passion of a similar appearance with fear.

7. BUT it is not only where good or evil is uncer­tain as to its existence, but also as to its kind, that fear or hope arises. If any one were told that one of his sons is suddenly killed; the passion, occasioned by this event, would not settle into grief, 'till he got cer­tain information which of his sons he had lost. Tho' each side of the question produces here the same passion; that passion cannot settle, but receives from the imagination, which is unfixed, a tremulous un­steady motion, resembling the mixture and contention of grief and joy.

8. THUS all kinds of uncertainty have a strong connexion with fear, even tho' they do not cause any opposition of passions, by the opposite views, which they present to us. Should I leave a friend in any malady, I should feel more anxiety upon his account, than if he were present; tho' perhaps I am not only incapable of giving him assistance, but likewise of judging concerning the event of his sickness. There are a thousand little circumstances of his situation and condition, which I desire to know; and the know­lege of them would prevent that fluctuation and un­certainty, [Page 258] so nearly allied to fear. HORACE has re­marked this phaenomenon.

Ut assidens implumibus pullus avis
Serpentûm allapsus timet,
Magis relictis; non, ut adsit, auxili
Latura plus praesentibus.

A VIRGIN on her bridal-night goes to bed full of fears and apprehensions, tho' she expects nothing but pleasure. The confusion of wishes and joys, the new­ness and greatness of the unknown event, so embar­rass the mind, that it knows not in what image or passion to fix itself.

9. CONCERNING the mixture of affections, we may remark, in general, that when contrary passions arise from objects no way connected together, they take place alternately. Thus when a man is afflicted for the loss of a law-fuit, and joyful for the birth of a son, the mind, running from the agreeable to the calamitous object; with whatever celerity it may per­form this motion, can scarcely temper the one affec­tion with the other, and remain between them in a state of indifference.

IT more easily attains that calm situation, when the same event is of a mixed nature, and contains some­thing adverse and something prosperous in its different circumstance. For in that case, both the passions, [Page 259] mingling with each other by means of the relation, often become mutually destructive, and leave the mind in perfect tranquillity.

BUT suppose, that the object is not a compound of good and evil, but is considered as probable or im­probable in any degree; in that case the contrary pas­sions will both of them be present at once in the soul, and instead of ballancing and tempering each other, will subsist together, and by their union, pro­duce a third impression or affection, such as hope or fear.

THE influence of the relations of ideas (which we shall afterwards explain more fully) is plainly seen in this affair. In contrary passions, if the objects be totally different, the passions are like two opposite li­quors in different bottles, which have no influence on each other. If the objects be intimately connected, the passions are like an alcali and an acid, which, being mingled, destroy each other. If the relation be more imperfect, and consists in the contradictory views of the same object, the passions are like oil and vinegar, which, however mingled, never perfectly unite and incorporate.

THE effect of a mixture of passions, when one of them is predominant and swallows up the other, shall be explained afterwards.


1. BESIDES those passions above-mentioned, which arise from a direct pursuit of good and aversion to evil, there are others which are of a more com­plicated nature, and imply more than one view or consideration. Thus Pride is a certain satisfaction in ourselves, on account of some accomplishment or pos­session, which we enjoy: Humility, on the other hand, is a dissatisfaction with ourselves, on account of some defect or infirmity.

LOVE or Friendship is a complacency in another, on account of his accomplishments or services: Ha­tred, the contrary.

2. IN these two sets of passions, there is an obvi­ous distinction to be made between the object of the passion and its cause. The object of pride and hu­mility is self: The cause of the passion is some ex­cellence in the former case; some fault, in the latter. The object of love and hatred is some other person: The causes, in like manner, are either excellencies or faults.

WITH regard to all these passions, the causes are what excite the emotion; the object is what the mind directs its view to when the emotion is excited. Our [Page 261] merit, for instance, raises pride; and it is essential to pride to turn our view on ourself with complacency and satisfaction.

NOW as the causes of these passions are very nu­merous and various, tho' their object be uniform and simple; it may be a subject of curiosity to consider, what that circumstance is, in which all these various causes agree; or, in other words, what is the real, efficient cause of the passion. We shall begin with pride and humility.

3. IN order to explain the causes of these passions, we must reflect on certain properties, which tho' they have a mighty influence on every operation, both of the understanding and passions, are not commonly much insisted on by philosophers. The first of these is the association of ideas, or that principle, by which we make an easy transition from one idea to another. However uncertain and changeable our thoughts may be, they are not entirely without rule and method in their changes. They usually pass with regularity, from one object, to what resembles it, is contiguous to it, or produced by it*. When one idea is present to the imagination; any other, united by these rela­tions, naturally follows it, and enters with more fa­cility, by means of that introduction.

[Page 262] THE second property, which I shall observe in the human mind, is a like association of impressions or emotions. All resembling impressions are connected together; and no sooner one arises, than the rest na­turally follow. Grief and disappointment give rise to anger, anger to envy, envy to malice, and malice to grief again. In like manner, our temper, when elevated with joy, naturally throws itself into love, generosity, courage, pride, and other resembling af­fections.

IN the third place, it is observable of these two kinds of association, that they very much assist and forward each other, and that the transition is more easily made, where they both concur in the same ob­ject. Thus, a man, who by any injury from another, is very much discomposed and ruffled in his temper, is apt to find a hundred subjects of hatred, discontent, impatience, fear, and other uneasy passions, especi­ally if he can discover these subjects in or near the person, who was the object of his first emotion. Those principles which forward the transition of ideas, here concur with those, which operate on the passions; and both, uniting in one action, bestow on the mind a double impulse.

UPON this occasion, I may cite a passage from an elegant writer, who expresses himself in the following manner*. ‘"As the fancy delights in every thing, [Page 263] that is great, strange, or beautiful, and is still the more pleased the more it finds of these perfections in the same object, so it is capable of receiving new satisfaction by the assistance of another sense. Thus, any continual found, as the music of birds, or a fall of waters, awakens every moment the mind of the beholder, and makes him more attentive to the several beauties of the place, that lie before him. Thus, if there arises a fragrancy of smells or perfumes, they heighten the pleasure of the ima­gination, and make even the colours and verdure of the landscape appear more agreeable; for the ideas of both senses recommend each other, and are pleasanter together than where they enter the mind separately: As the different colours of a pic­ture, when they are well disposed, set off one ano­ther, and receive an additional beauty from the ad­vantage of the situation."’ In these phaenomena, we may remark the association both of impressions and ideas; as well as the mutual assistance these asso­ciations lend to each other.

4. IT seems to me, that both these species of rela­tion have place in producing Pride or Humility, and are the real, efficient causes of the passion.

WITH regard to the first relation, that of ideas, there can be no question. Whatever we are proud of, must, in some manner, belong to us. It is always [Page 264] our knowlege, our sense, beauty, possessions, family, on which we value ourselves. Self, which is the object of the passion, must still be related to that qua­lity or circumstance, which causes the passion. There must be a connexion between them; an easy transition of the imagination; or a facility of the conception in passing from one to the other. Where this connexion is wanting, no object can either excite pride or hu­mility; and the more you weaken the connexion, the more you weaken the passion.

5. THE only subject of enquiry is, whether there be a like relation of impressions or sentiments, where­ever pride or humility is felt; whether the circum­stance, which causes the passion, produces antecedently a sentiment similar to the passion; and whether there be an easy transfusion of the one into the other.

THE feeling or sentiment of pride is agreeable; of humility, painful. An agreeable sensation is, there­fore, related to the former; a painful, to the latter. And if we find, after examination, that every object, which produces pride, produces also a separate plea­sure; and every object, that causes humility, excites in like manner a separate uneasiness; we must allow, in that case, that the present theory is fully proved and ascertained. The double relation of ideas and sentiments will be acknowleged incontestable.

[Page 265] 6. To begin with personal merit and demerit, the most obvious causes of these passions; it would be en­tirely foreign to our present purpose to examine the foundation of moral distinctions. It is sufficient to observe, that the foregoing theory concerning the origin of the passions may be defended on any hypo­thesis. The most probable system, which has been advanced to explain the difference between vice and virtue, is, that either from a primary constitution of nature, or from a sense of public or private interest, certain characters, upon the very view and contem­plation, produce uneasiness; and others, in like man­ner, excite pleasure. The uneasiness and satisfaction, produced in the spectator, are essential to vice and virtue. To approve of a character, is to feel a de­light upon its appearance. To disapprove of it, is to be sensible of an uneasiness. The pain and pleasure therefore, being, in a manner, the primary source of blame or praise, must also be the causes of all their effects; and consequently, the causes of pride and humility, which are the unavoidable attendants of that distinction.

BUT supposing this theory of morals should not be received; it is still evident that pain and plea­sure, if not the sources of moral distinctions, are at least inseparable from them. A generous and noble character affords a satisfaction even in the survey; and when presented to us, tho' only in a poem or [Page 266] fable, never fails to charm and delight us. On the other hand, cruelty and treachery displease from their very nature; nor is it possible ever to reconcile us to these qualities, either in ourselves or others. Vir­tue, therefore, produces always a pleasure distinct from the pride or self-satisfaction which attends it: Vice, an uneasiness separate from the humility or re­morse.

BUT a high or low conceit of ourselves arises not from those qualities alone of the mind, which, ac­cording to common systems of ethics, have been de­fined parts of moral duty; but from any other, which have a connexion with pleasure or uneasiness. No­thing flatters our vanity more than the talent of pleas­ing by our wit, good-humour, or any other accom­plishment; and nothing gives us a more sensible mor­tification, than a disappointment in any attempt of that kind. No one has ever been able to tell pre­cisely, what wit is, and to shew why such a system of thought must be received under that denomination, and such another rejected. It is by taste alone we can decide concerning it; nor are we possest of any other standard, by which we can form a judgment of this nature. Now what is this taste, from which true and false wit in a manner receive their being, and with­out which no thought can have a title to either of these denominations? It is plainly nothing but a sensation of pleasure from true wit, and of dis­gust [Page 267] from false, without our being able to tell the reasons of that satisfaction or uneasiness. The power of exciting these opposite sensations is, therefore, the very essence of true or false wit; and consequently, the cause of that vanity or mortification, which arises from one or the other.

7. BEAUTY of all kinds gives us a peculiar delight and satisfaction; as deformity produces pain, upon whatever subject it may be placed, and whether sur­veyed in an animate or inanimate object. If the beauty or deformity belong to our own face, shape, or person, this pleasure or uneasiness is converted into pride or humility; as having in this case all the cir­cumstances requisite to produce a perfect transition, according to the present theory.

IT would seem, that the very essence of beauty con­sists in its power of producing pleasure. All its ef­fects, therefore, must proceed from this circumstance: And if beauty is so universally the subject of vanity, it is only from its being the cause of pleasure.

CONCERNING all other bodily accomplishments, we may observe in general, that whatever in ourselves is either useful, beautiful, or surprizing, is an object of pride; and the contrary, of humility. These qua­lities agree in producing a separate pleasure; and agree in nothing else.

[Page 268] WE are vain of the surprizing adventures which we have met with, the escapes which we have made, the dangers to which we have been exposed; as well as of our surprizing seats or vigour and activity. Hence the origin of vulgar lying; where men, with­out any interest, and merely out of vanity, heap up a number of extraordinary events, which are either the fictions of their brain; or, if true, have no connexion with themselves. Their fruitful invention supplies them with a variety of adventures; and where that talent is wanting, they appropriate such as belong to others, in order to gratify their vanity: For between that passion, and the sentiment of pleasure, there is always a close connexion.

8. BUT tho' pride and humility have the qualities of our mind and body, that is, of self, for their na­tural and more immediate causes; we find by experi­ence, that many other objects produce these affections. We found vanity upon houses, gardens, equipage, and other external objects; as well as upon personal merit and accomplishments. This happens when ex­ternal objects acquire any particular relation to our­selves, and are associated or connected with us. A beautiful fish in the ocean, a well-proportioned ani­mal in a forest, and indeed, any thing, which nei­ther belongs nor is related to us, has no manner of influence on our vanity; whatever extraordinary qua­lities it may be endowed with, and whatever degree [Page 269] if surprize and admiration it may naturally occasion. It must be someway associated with us, in order to touch our pride. Its idea must hang, in a manner, upon that of ourselves; and the transition from one to the other must be easy and natural.

MEN are vain of the beauty either of their country, or their country, or even of their parish. Here the idea of beauty plainly produces a pleasure. This pleasure is related to pride. The object or cause of this pleasure is, by the supposition, related to self, the object of pride. By this double relation of senti­ments and ideas, a transition is made from one to the other.

MEN are also vain of the happy temperature of the climate, in which they are born; of the fertility of their native soil; of the goodness of the wines, fruits, or victuals, produced by it; of the softness or force of their language, with other particulars of that kind. These objects have plainly a reference to the pleasures of the senses, and are originally considered as agree­able to the feeling, taste, or hearing. How could they become causes of pride, except by means of that transition above explained?

THERE are some, who discover a vanity of an op­posite kind, and affect to depreciate their own coun­try, in comparison of those, to which they have tra­velled. [Page 270] These persons find, when they are at home, and surrounded with their countrymen, that the strong relation between them and their own nation is shared with so many, that it is in a manner lost to them; whereas, that distant relation to a foreign country, which is formed by their having seen it, and lived in it, is augmented by their considering how few have done the same. For this reason, they al­ways admire the beauty, utility, and rarity of what they met with abroad, above what they find at home.

SINCE we can be vain of a country, climate, or any inanimate object, which bears a relation to us; it is no wonder we should be vain of the qualities of those, who are connected with us by blood or friend­ship. Accordingly we find, that any qualities which, when belonging to ourself, produce pride, produce also, in a less degree, the same affection, when dis­covered in persons, related to us. The beauty, ad­dress, merit, credit, and honours of their kindred are carefully displayed by the proud, and are considerable sources of their vanity.

AS we are proud of riches in ourselves, we desire, in order to gratify our vanity, that every one, who has any connexion with us, should likewise be pos­sest of them, and are ashamed of such as are mean [Page 271] or poor among our friends and relations. Our fore­fathers being conceived as our nearest relations; every one naturally affects to be of a good family, and to be descended from a long succession of rich and ho­nourable ancestors.

THOSE, who boast of the antiquity of their fami­lies, are glad when they can join this circumstance, that their ancestors, for many generations, have been uninterrupted proprietors of the some portion of land, and that their family has never changed its possessions, or been transplanted into any other county or pro­vince. It is an additional subject of vanity, when they can boast, that these possessions have been trans­mitted thro' a descent, composed entirely of males, and that the honours and fortune have never passed thro' any female. Let us endeavour to explain these phaenomena from the foregoing theory.

WHEN any one values himself on the antiquity of his family the [...] of his [...] are not merely the [...] and number [...] ancestors (for in that respect all [...] are alike▪ but these circum­stances, joined [...] sriches and credit of his ancef­tors, which are supposed to reflect a lustre on him­self, upon account of his connexion with them. Since therefore the passion depends on the connexion, what­ever strengthens the connexion must also encrease the passion, and whatever weakens the connexion must [Page 272] diminish the passion. But 'tis evident, that the same­ness of the possessions must strengthen the relation of ideas, arising from blood and kindred, and convey the fancy with greater facility from one generation to another; from the remotest ancestors to their poste­rity, who are both their heirs and their descendants. By this facility, the sentiment is transmitted more en­tire, and excites a greater degree of pride and vanity.

THE case is the same with the transmission of the honours and fortune, thro' a succession of males, with­out their passing thro' any female. It is an obvious quality of human nature, that the imagination natu­rally turns to whatever is important and considerable; and where two objects are presented, a small and a great, it usually leaves the former, and dwells entirely on the latter. This is the reason, why children com­monly bear their father's name, and are esteemed to be of a nobler or meaner birth, according to his fa­mily. And tho' the mother should be possest of su­perior qualities to the father, as often happens, the general rule prevails, notwithstanding the exception, according to the doctrine, which shall be explained afterwards. Nay, even when a superiorty of any kind is so great, or when any other reasons have such an effect, as to make the children rather repre­sent the mother's family than the father's, the general rule still retains an efficacy, sufficient to weaken the relation, and make a kind of breach in the line of [Page 273] ancestors. The imagination runs not along them with the same facility, nor is able to tranfer the honour and credit of the ancestors to their posterity of the same name and family so readily, as when the tran­sition is conformable to the general rule, and passes thro' the male line, from father to son, or from bro­ther to brother.

9. BUT property, as it gives us the fullest power and authority over any object, is the relation, which has the greatest influence on these passions*.

[Page 274] EVERY thing, belonging to a vain man, is the best that is any where to be found. His houses, equipage, furniture, cloaths, horses, hounds, excel all others in his conceit; and it is easy to observe, that, from the least advantage in any of these, he draws a new sub­ject of pride and vanity. His wine, if you will be­lieve him, has a finer flavour than any other; his cookery is more exquisite; his table more orderly; his servants more expert; the air, in which he lives, more healthful; the soil, which he cultivates, more fertile; his fruits ripen earlier, and to greater perfection: Such a thing is remarkable for its novelty; such ano­ther for its antiquity: This is the workmanship of a famous artist; that belonged once to such a prince or great man. All objects, in a word, which are use­ful, beautiful, or surprizing, or are related to such, may, by means of property, give rise to this passion. These all agree in giving pleasure. This alone is common to them; and therefore must be the quality, that produces the passion, which is their common effect. As every new instance is a new argument, and as the instances are here without number; it would seem, that this theory is sufficiently confirmed by experience.

RICHES imply the power of acquiring whatever is agreeable; and as they comprehend many particular objects of vanity, necessarily become one of the chief causes of that passion.

[Page 275] 10. OUR opinions of all kinds are strongly affected by society and sympathy, and it is almost impossible for us to support any principle or sentiment, against the universal consent of every one, with whom we have any friendship or correspondence. But of all our opinions, those, which we form in our own favour; however lofty or presuming; are at bottom, the frail­est, and the most easily shaken by the contradiction and opposition of others. Our great concern, in this case, makes us soon alarmed, and keeps our passions upon the watch: Our consciousness of partiality still makes us dread a mistake: And the very difficulty of judging concerning an object, which is never set at a due distance from us, nor is seen in a proper point of view, makes us hearken anxiously to the opinions of others, who are better qualified to form just opi­nions concerning us. Hence that strong love of fame, with which all mankind are possest. It is in order to fix and confirm their favourable opinion of themselves, not from any original passion, that they seek the ap­plauses of others. And when a man desires to be praised, it is for the same reason, that a beauty is pleased with surveying herself in a favourable look­ing-glass, and seeing the reflexion of her own charms.

THO' it be difficult in all points of speculation to distinguish a cause, which encreases an effect, from one, which solely produces it; yet in the present case [Page 276] the phaenomena seem pretty strong and satisfactory in confirmation of the foregoing principle.

WE receive a much greater satisfaction from the approbation of those whom we ourselves esteem and approve of, than of those, whom we contemn and despise.

WHEN esteem is obtained after a long and inti­mate acquaintance, it gratifies our vanity in a pecu­liar manner.

THE suffrage of those, who are shy and backward in giving praise, is attended with an additional relish and enjoyment, if we can obtain it in our favour.

WHERE a great man is nice in his choice of favou­rites, every one courts with greater earnestness his countenance and protection.

PRAISE never gives us much pleasure, unless it con­cur with our own opinion, and extol us for those qualities, in which we chiefly excel.

THESE phaenomena seem to prove, that the fa­vourable opinions of others are regarded only as au­thorities, or as confirmations of our own opinion. And if they have more influence on this subject than in any other, it is easily accounted for from the na­ture of the subject.

[Page 277] 11. THUS few objects, however related to us, and whatever pleasure they produce, are able to excite a great degree of pride or self satisfaction; unless they be also obvious to others, and engage the approbation of the spectators. What disposition of mind so desirable as the peaceful, resigned, contented; which readily sub­mits to all the dispensations of providence, and pre­serves a constant serenity amidst the greatest misfor­tunes and disappointments? Yet this disposition, tho' acknowleged to be a virtue or excellence, is seldom the foundation of great vanity or self-applause; hav­ing no brilliancy or exterior lustre, and rather cheer­ing the heart, than animating the behaviour and con­versation. The case is the same with many other qualities of the mind, body, or fortune; and this cir­cumstance, as well as the double relations above men­tioned, must be admitted to be of consequence in the production of these passions.

A SECOND circumstance, which is of consequence in this affair, is the constancy and duration of the ob­ject. What is very casual and inconstant, beyond the common course of human affairs, gives little joy, and less pride. We are not much satisfied with the thing itself; and are still less apt to feel any new de­gree of self-satisfaction upon its account. We foresee and anticipate its change; which makes us little sa­tisfied with the thing itself: We compare it to our­selves, whose existence is more durable; by which [Page 278] means its inconstancy appears still greater. It seems ridiculous to make ourselves the object of a passion, on account of a quality or possession, which is of so much shorter duration, and attends us during so small a part of our existence.

A THIRD circumstance, not to be neglected, is, that the objects, in order to produce pride or self-value, must be peculiar to us, or at least, common to us with a few others. The advantages of sun-shine, good weather, a happy climate, &c. distinguish us not from any of our companions, and give us no prefer­ence or superiority. The comparison which we are every moment apt to make, presents no inference to our advantage; and we still remain, notwithstanding these enjoyments, on a level with all our friends and acquaintance.

AS health and sickness vary incessantly to all men, and there is no one, who is solely or certainly fixed in either; these accidental blessings and calamities are in a manner separated from us, and are not con­sidered as a foundation for vanity or humiliation. But wherever a malady of any kind is so rooted in our constitution, that we no longer entertain any hopes of recovery, from that moment it damps our self-conceit, as is evident in old men, whom nothing mortifies more than the consideration of their age and infirmities. They endeavour, as long as possible, to [Page 279] conceal their blindness and deafness, their rheums and gouts; nor do they ever avow them without re­luctance and uneasiness. And tho' young men are not ashamed of every head-ach or cold which they fall into; yet no topic is more proper to mortify hu­man pride, and make us entertain a mean opinion of our nature, than this, that we are every moment of our lives subject to such infirmities. This proves, that bodily pain and sickness are in themselves proper causes of humility; tho' the custom of estimating every thing, by comparison, more than by its intrinsic worth and value, makes us overlook those calamities, which we find incident to every one, and causes us to form an idea of our merit and character, independent of them.

WE are ashamed of such maladies as affect others, and are either dangerous or disagreeable to them. Of the epilepsy; because it gives a horror to every one present: Of the itch; because it is infectious: Of the king's evil; because it often goes to posterity. Men always consider the sentiments of others in their judg­ment of themselves.

A FOURTH circumstance, which has an influence on these passions, is general rules; by which we form a notion of different ranks of men, suitable to the power or riches of which they are possessed; and this notion is not changed by any peculiarities of the health [Page 280] or temper of the persons, which may deprive them of all enjoyment in their possessions. Custom readily carries us beyond the just bounds in our passions, as well as in our reasonings.

IT may not be amiss to observe on this occasion, that the influence of general rules and maxims on the passions very much contributes to facilitate the effects of all the principles or internal mechanism, which we here explain. For it seems evident, that, if a per­son full grown, and of the same nature with ourselves' were on a sudden transported into our world, he would be very much embarrassed with every object, and would not readily determine what degree of love or hatred, of pride or humility, or of any other passion should be excited by it. The passions are often varied by very inconsiderable principles; and these do not always play with perfect regularity, especially on the first trial. But as custom or practice has brought to light all these principles, and has settled the just va­lue of every thing; this must certainly contribute to the easy production of the passions, and guide us, by means of general established rules, in the proportions, which we ought to observe in prefering one object to another. This remark may, perhaps, serve to ob­viate difficulties, that may arise concerning some causes, which we here ascribe to particular passions, and which may be esteemed too refined to operate so universally and certainly, as they are found to do.


1. IN running over all the causes, which produce the passion of pride or that of humility; it would readily occur, that the same circumstance, if tansfer­red from ourself to another person, would render him the object of love or hatred, esteem or contempt. The virtue, genius, beauty, family, riches, and authority of others beget favourable sentiments in their behalf; and their vice, folly, deformity, poverty and mean­ness excite the contrary sentiments. The double re­lation of impressions and ideas still operates on these passions of love and hatred; as on the former of pride and humility. Whatever gives a separate pleasure or pain, and is related to another person or connected with him, makes him the object of our affection or disgust.

HENCE too injury or contempt is one of the greatest sources of hatred; services or esteem, of friendship.

2. SOMETIMES a relation to ourself excites affection towards any person. But there is always here im­plied a realtion of sentiments, without which the other relation would have no influence*.

[Page 282] A PERSON, who is related to us, or connected with us, by blood, by similitude of fortune, of adventures, profession, or country, soon becomes an agreeable com­panion to us; because we enter easily and familiarly into his sentiments and conceptions: Nothing is strange or new to us: Our imagination, passing from self, which is ever intimately present to us, runs smoothly along the relation or connexion, and conceives with a full sympathy the person, who is nearly related to self. He renders himself immediately acceptable, and is at once on an easy sooting with us: No distance, no reserve has place, where the person introduced is supposed so closely connected with us.

RELATION has here the same influence as custom or acquaintance, in exciting affection; and from like causes. The ease and satisfaction, which, in both cases, attend our intercourse or commerce, is the source of the friendship.

3. The passions of love and hatred are always fol­lowed by, or rather conjoined with, benevolence and anger. It is this conjunction, which chiefly distin­guishes these affections, from pride and humility. For pride and humility are pure emotions in the soul, un­attended with any desire, and not immediately excit­ing us to action. But love and hatred are not com­pleat within themselves, nor rest in that emotion, which they produce; but carry the mind to something far­ther. [Page 283] Love is always followed by a desire of hap­piness to the person beloved, and an aversion to his misery: As hatred produces a desire of the misery, and an aversion to the happiness of the person hated. These opposite desires seem to be originally and pri­marily conjoined with the passion of love and hatred. It is a constitution of nature, of which we can give no farther explication.

4. COMPASSION frequently arises, where there is no preceding esteem or friendship; and compassion is an uneasiness in the sufferings of another. It seems to spring from the intimate and strong conception of his sufferings; and our imagination proceeds by de­grees, from the lively idea, to the real feeling of another's misery.

MALICE and envy also arise in the mind without any preceding hatred or injury; tho' their tendency is exactly the same with that of anger and ill will. The comparison of ourselves with others seems the source of envy and malice. The more unhappy ano­ther is, the more happy do we ourselves appear in our own conception.

5. THE similar tendency of compassion to that of benevolence, and of envy to anger, forms a very close relation between these two sets of passions; tho' of a different kind from that insisted on above. It is not [Page 284] a resemblance of feeling or sentiment, but a resem­blance of tendency or direction. Its effect, however, is the same, in producing an association of passions. Compassion is seldom or never felt without some mix­ture of tenderness or friendship; and envy is naturally accompanied with anger or ill will. To desire the happiness of another, from whatever motive, is a good preparative to affection: and to delight in ano­ther's misery almost unavoidably begets aversion to­wards him.

EVEN where interest is the source of our concern, it is commonly attended with the same consequences. A partner is a natural object of friendship; a rival of enmity.

6. POVERTY, meanness, disappointment, produce contempt and dislike: But when these misfortunes are very great, or are represented to us in very strong colours, they excite compassion, and tenderness, and friendship. How is this contradiction to be accounted for? The poverty and meanness of another, in their common appearance, gives us uneasiness, by a species of imperfect sympathy; and this uneasiness produces aversion or dislike, from the resemblance of sentiment. But when we enter more intimately into another's concerns, and wish for his happiness, as well as feel his misery, friendship or good-will arises, from the similar tendency of the inclinations.

[Page 285] 7. IN respect, there is a mixture of humility, with the esteem or affection: In contempt, a mix­ture of pride.

THE amorous passion is usually compounded of complacency in beauty, a bodily appetite, and friend­ship or affection. The close relation of these senti­ments is very obvious, as well as their origin from each other, by means of that relation. Were there no other phaenomenon to reconcile us to the present theory, this alone, methinks, were sufficient.


1. THE present theory of the passions depends en­tirely on the double relations of sentiments and ideas, and the mutual assistance, which these relations lend to each other. It may not, therefore, be improper to illustrate these principles by some farther instances.

2. THE virtues, talents, accomplishments, and pos­sessions of others, make us love and esteem them: Because these objects excite a pleasant sensation, which is related to love; and as they have also a relation or connexion with the person, this union of ideas for­wards the union of sentiments, according to the fore­going reasoning.

BUT suppose, that the person, whom we love, is also related to us, by blood, country, or friendship; [Page 286] it is evident, that a species of pride must also be ex­cited by his accomplishments and possessions; there being the same double relation, which we have all along insisted on. The person is related to us, or there is an easy transition of thought from him to us; and the sentiments, excited by his advantages and virtues, are agreeable, and consequently related to pride. Accordingly we find, that people are natu­rally vain of the good qualities or high fortune of their friends and countrymen.

3. BUT it is observable, that, if we reverse the order of the passions, the same effect does not follow. We pass easily from love and affection to pride and vanity; but not from the latter passions to the former, tho' all the relations be the same. We love not those related to us on account of our own merit; tho' they are naturally vain on account of our merit. What is the reason of this difference? The transition of the imagination to ourselves, from objects related to us, is always very easy; both on account of the relation, which facilitates the transition, and because we there pass from remoter objects, to those which are con­tiguous. But in passing from ourselves to objects, re­lated to us; tho' the former principle forwards the transition of thought, yet the latter opposes it; and consequently there is not the same easy transfusion of passions from pride to love as from love to pride.

[Page 287] 4. THE virtues, services, and fortune of one man inspire us readily with esteem and affection for ano­ther related to him. The son of our friend is natu­rally entitled to our friendship: The kindred of a very great man value themselves, and are valued by others, on account of that relation. The force of the double relation is here fully displayed.

5. THE following are instances of another kind, where the operation of these principles may still be discovered. Envy arises from a superiority in others; but it is observable, that it is not the great dispro­portion between us, which excites that passion, but on the contrary, our proximity. A great disproportion cuts off the relation of the ideas, and either keeps us from comparing ourselves with what is remote from us, or diminishes the effects of the compa­rison.

A POET is not apt to envy a philosopher, or a poet of a different kind, of a different nation, or of a dif­ferent age. All these differences, if they do not pre­vent, at least weaken the comparison, and conse­quently the passion.

THIS too is the reason, why all objects appear great or little, merely by a comparison with those of the same species. A mountain neither magnifies nor di­minishes a horse in our eyes: But when a FLEMISH and a WELSH horse are seen together, the one ap­pears [Page 288] greater and the other less, than when viewed apart.

FROM the same principle we may account for that remark of historians, that any party, in a civil war, or even factious division, always choose to call in a foreign enemy at any hazard rather than submit to their fellow-citizens. GUICCIARDIN applies this re­mark to the wars in ITALY; where the relations be­tween the different states are, properly speaking, no­thing but of name, language, and contiguity. Yet even these relations, when joined with superiority, by making the comparison more natural, make it like­wise more grievous, and cause men to search for some other superiority, which may be attended with no relation, and by that means, may have a less sensible influence on the imagination. When we cannot break the association, we feel a stronger desire to remove the superiority. This seems to be the reason, why tra­vellers, tho' commonly lavish of their praises to the CHINESE and PERSIANS, take care to depreciate those neighbouring nations, which may stand upon a footing of rivalship with their native country.

6. THE fine arts afford us parallel instances. Should an author compose a treatise, of which one part was serious and profound, another light and humorous; every one would condemn so strange a mixture, and would blame him for the neglect of all rules of art [Page 289] and criticism. Yet we accuse not PRIOR for joining his Alma and Solomon in the same volume; though that amiable poet has succeeded perfectly in the gaiety of the one, as well as in the melancholy of the other. Even suppose the reader should peruse these two compositions without any interval, he would feel little or no difficulty in the change of the passions. Why? but because he considers these per­formances as entirely different; and by that break in the ideas, breaks the progress of the affections, and hinders the one from influencing or contradicting the other.

AN heroic and burlesque design, united in one picture, would be monstrous; though we place two pictures of so opposite a character in the same cham­ber, and even close together, without any scruple.

7. IT needs be no matter of wonder, that the easy transition of the imagination should have such an influ­ence on all the passions. It is this very circumstance, which forms all the relations and connexions amongst objects. We know no real connection between one thing and another. We know only, that the idea of one thing is associated with that of another, and that the imagination makes an easy transition between them. And as the easy transition of ideas, and that of sentiments mutually assist each other; we might beforehand expect, that this principle must have a [Page 290] mighty influence on all our internal movements and affections. And experience sufficiently confirms the theory.

FOR, not to repeat all the foregoing instances: Suppose, that I were travelling with a companion through a country, to which we are both utter stran­gers; it is evident, that, if the prospects be beautiful, the roads agreeable, and the fields finely cultivated; this may serve to put me in good humour, both with myself and fellow-traveller. But as the country has no connexion with myself or friend, it can never be the immediate cause either of self-value or of regard to him: And therefore, if I found not the passion on some other object, which bears to one of us a closer relation, my emotions are rather to be considered as the overflowings of an elevated or humane disposition, than as an established passion. But supposing the agreeable prospect before us to be surveyed either from his country-seat or from mine; this new con­nexion of ideas gives a new direction to the sentiment of pleasure, proceeding from the prospect, and raises the emotion of regard or vanity, according to the na­ture of the connection. There is not here, methinks, much room for doubt or difficulty.


1. IT seems evident, that reason, in a strict sense, as meaning the judgment of truth and falsehood, can never, of itself, be any motive to the will, and can have no influence but so far as it touches some passion or affection. Abstract relations of ideas are the object of curiosity, not of volition. And matters of fact, where they are neither good nor evil, where they neither excite desire nor aversion, are totally indiffe­rent; and whether known or unknown, whether mistaken or rightly apprehended, cannot be regarded as any motive to action.

2. WHAT is commonly, in a popular sense, called reason, and is so much recommended in moral dis­courses, is nothing but a general and a calm passion, which takes a comprehensive and a distant view of its object, and actuates the will, without exciting any sensible emotion. A man, we say, is diligent in his profession from reason; that is, from a calm desire of riches and a fortune. A man adheres to justice from reason; that is, from a calm regard to public good, or to a character with himself and others.

3. THE same objects, which recommend them­selves to reason in this sense of the word, are also the objects of what we call passion, when they are brought [Page 292] near to us, and acquire some other advantages, either of external situation, or congruity to our internal temper; and by that means, excite a turbulent and sensible emotion. Evil, at a great distance, is a­voided, we say, from reason: Evil, near at hand, produces aversion, horror, fear, and is the object of passion.

4. THE common error of metaphysicians has lain in ascribing the direction of the will entirely to one of these principles, and supposing the other to have no influence. Men often act knowingly against their interest: It is not therefore the view of the greatest possible good which always influences them. Men often counteract a violent passion, in prosecution of their distant interests and designs: It is not therefore the present uneasiness alone, which determines them. In general, we may observe, that both these princi­ples operate on the will; and where they are contra­ry, that either of them prevails, according to the ge­neral character or present disposition of the person. What we call strength of mind implies the prevalence of the calm passions above the violent; though we may easily observe, that there is no person so con­stantly possessed of this virtue, as never, on any oc­casion, to yield to the sollicitation of violent affec­tions and desires. From these variations of temper proceeds the great difficulty of deciding concerning [Page 293] the future actions and resolutions of men, where there is any contrariety of motives and passions.


1. WE shall here enumerate some of those circum­stances, which render a passion calm or violent, which heighten or diminish any emotion.

IT is a property in human nature, that any emo­tion, which attends a passion, is easily converted into it; though in their natures they be originally diffe­rent from, and even contrary to each other. It is true, in order to cause a perfect union amongst pas­sions, and make one produce the other, there is al­ways required a double relation, according to the theory above delivered. But when two passions are already produced by their separate causes, and are both present in the mind, they readily mingle and unite; though they have but one relation, and some­times without any. The predominant passion swallows up the inferior, and converts it into itself. The spirits, when once excited, easily receive a change in their direction; and it is natural to imagine, that this change will come from the prevailing affection. The connection is in many cases closer between any two passions, than between any passion and indiffe­rence.

[Page 294] WHEN a person is once heartily in love, the little faults and caprices of his mistress, the jealousies and quarrels, to which that commerce is so subject; how­ever unpleasant they be, and rather connected with anger and hatred; are yet found, in many instances, to give additional force to the prevailing passion. It is a common artifice of politicians, when they would affect any person very much by a matter of fact, of which they intend to inform him, first to excite his curiosity; delay as long as possible the satisfying it; and by that means raise his anxiety and impatience to the utmost, before they give him a full insight into the business. They know, that this curiosity will pre­cipitate him into the passion, which they purpose to raise, and will assist the object in its influence on the mind. A soldier, advancing to battle, is naturally inspired with courage and confidence, when he thinks on his friends and fellow-soldiers; and is struck with fear and terror, when he reflects on the enemy. Whatever new emotion, therefore, proceeds from the former, naturally encreases the courage; as the same emotion proceeding from the latter, augments the fear. Hence in martial disci­pline, the uniformity and lustre of habit, the regu­larity of figures and motions, with all the pomp and majesty of war, encourage ourselves and our allies; while the same objects in the enemy strike terror into us, though agreeable and beautiful in themselves.

[Page 295] HOPE is, in itself, an agreeable passion, and allied to friendship and benevolence; yet is it able sometimes to blow up anger, when that is the predominant pas­sion. Spes addita suscitat iras. VIRG.

2. SINCE passions, however independent, are na­turally transfused into each other, if they are both present at the same time; it follows, that when good or evil is placed in such a situation as to cause any par­ticular emotion, besides its direct passion of desire or aversion, that latter passion must acquire new force and violence.

3. THIS often happens, when any object excites contrary passions. For it is observable, that an op­position of passions commonly causes a new emotion in the spirits, and produces more disorder than the concurrence of any two affections of equal force. This new emotion is easily converted into the predo­minant passion, and in many instances, is observed to encrease its violence, beyond the pitch, at which it would have arrived, had it met with no opposition. Hence we naturally desire what is forbid, and often take a pleasure in performing actions, merely because they are unlawful. The notion of duty, when oppo­site to the passions, is not always able to overcome them; and when it fails of that influence, is apt ra­ther to increase and irritate them, by producing an opposition in our motives and principles.

[Page 296] 4. THE same effect follows, whether the opposi­tion arises from internal motives or external obstacles. The passion commonly acquires new force in both cases. The efforts, which the mind makes to sur­mount the obstacle, excite the spirits, and enliven the passion.

5. UNCERTAINTY has the same effect as opposi­tion. The agitation of the thought, the quick turns which it makes from one view to another, the variety of passions which succeed each other, according to the different views: All these produce an emotion in the mind, and this emotion transfuses itself into the pre­dominant passion.

SECURITY, on the contrary, diminishes the pas­sions. The mind, when lest to itself, immediately languishes; and in order to preserve its ardor, must be every moment supported by a new flow of passion. For the same reason, despair, though contrary to se­curity, has a like influence.

6. NOTHING more powerfully excites any affection than to conceal some part of its object, by throwing it into a kind of shade, which, at the same time, that it shows enough to prepossess us in favour of the object, leaves still some work for the imagination. Besides, that obscurity is always attended with a kind [Page 297] of uncertainty; the effort, which the fancy makes to compleat the idea, rouzes the spirits, and gives an additional force to the passion.

7. AS despair and security, though contrary, pro­duce the same effects; so absence is observed to have contrary effects, and in different circumstances, either encreases or diminishes our affection. ROCHEFOU­CAULT has very well remarked, that absence destroys weak passions, but encreases strong; as the wind ex­tinguishes a candle, but blows up a fire. Long ab­sence naturally weakens our idea, and diminishes the passion: But where the passion is so strong and lively as to support itself, the uneasiness, arising from ab­sence, encreases the passion, and gives it new force and influence.

8. WHEN the soul applies itself to the performance of any action, or the conception of any object, to which it is not accustomed, there is a certain unpli­ableness in the faculties, and a difficulty of the spirits moving in their new direction. As this difficulty excites the spirits, it is the source of wonder, sur­prize, and of all the emotion, which arise from novelty; and is in itself, very agreeable, like every thing, which inlivens the mind to a moderate degree. But though surprise be agreeable in itself, yet as it puts the spirits in agitation, it not only augments our agreeable affections, but also our painful, according [Page 298] to the foregoing principle. Hence every thing, that is new, is most affecting, and gives us either more pleasure or pain, than what, strictly speaking, should naturally follow from it. When it often returns upon us, the novelty wears off; the passions subside; the hurry of the spirits is over; and we survey the object with greater tranquillity.

9. THE imagination and affections have a close union together. The vivacity of the former, gives force to the latter. Hence the prospect of any plea­sure, with which we are acquainted, affects us more than any other pleasure, which we may own superior, but of whose nature we are wholly ignorant. Of the one we can form a particular and determinate idea: The other, we conceive under the general notion of pleasure.

ANY satisfaction, which we lately enjoyed, and of which the memory is fresh and recent, operates on the will with more violence, than another of which the traces are decayed and almost obliterated.

A PLEASURE, which is suitable to the way of life, in which we are engaged, excites more our desires and appetites than another, which is foreign to it.

[Page 299] NOTHING is more capable of infusing any passion into the mind, than eloquence, by which objects are represented in the strongest and most lively colours. The bare opinion of another, especially when inforced with passion, will cause an idea to have an influence upon us, though that idea might otherwise have been entirely neglected.

IT is remarkable, that lively passions commonly attend a lively imagination. In this respect, as well as others, the force of the passion depends as much on the temper of the person, as on the nature and situation of the object.

WHAT is distant, either in place or time, has not equal influence with what is near and contiguous.

I PRETEND not here to have exhausted this subject. It is sufficient for my purpose, if I have made it ap­pear, that in the production and conduct of the pas­sions, there is a certain regular mechanism, which is susceptible of as accurate a disquisition, as the laws of motion, optics, hydrostatics, or any part of natural philosophy.


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