by David Hume

           Sect. I. Of the different Species of Philosophy

  1. 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 measures 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. As virtue, of all objects, is allowed

to be the most valuable, 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, and 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 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

between 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


  2. The other species of philosophers considers man in the light of a

reasonable rather than an active being, and endeavours to form his

understanding more than cultivate his manners. They regard human

nature as a subject of speculation; and with a narrow scrutiny examine

it, 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 enquiries to

principles more general, and rest not satisfied till they arrive at

those original principles, by which, in every science, all human

curiosity must be bounded. Though their speculations seem abstract,

and even unintelligible to common readers, they aim at the approbation

of the learned and the wise; and think themselves sufficiently

compensated for the labour of their whole lives, if they can

discover some hidden truths, which may contribute to the instruction

of posterity.

  3. It is certain that the easy and obvious philosophy will always,

with the generality of mankind, have the preference above 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 to 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 heart, the agitation of our passions, the

vehemence of our affections, dissipate all its conclusions, and reduce

the profound philosopher to a mere plebeian.

  4. 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.

It is 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 purposes only

to represent the common sense of mankind in more beautiful and more

engaging colours, if by accident he falls into error, 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 entirely


  The mere philosopher is a character, which is commonly but little

acceptable in the world, as being 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

anything deemed a surer sign of an illiberal genius in an age and

nation where the sciences flourish, than to be entirely destitute 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 little satisfaction can be hoped for in this

particular, either from the extent of security or 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 for 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 the 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 shall meet with, when communicated. Be a philosopher; but,

amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.

  5. 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

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 of 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. How painful soever

this inward search or enquiry 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; but his science is

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 sentiment. 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

though a philosopher may live remote from business, the genius of

philosophy, if carefully cultivated by several, must gradually diffuse

itself throughout the whole society, and bestow a similar

correctness on every art and calling. The politician will acquire

greater foresight and subtility, 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 operations. The stability of modern

governments above the ancient, and the accuracy of modern

philosophy, have improved, and probably will still improve, by similar


  6. 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 the human race. The sweetest and most

inoffensive path of life leads through 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 though these researches may appear

painful and fatiguing, it is 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 would penetrate into

subjects utterly inaccessible to the understanding, or from the

craft of popular superstitions, which, being unable to defend

themselves on fair ground, raise these intangling brambles to cover

and protect their weakness. Chased 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 remit his watch a

moment, is oppressed. And many, through cowardice and folly, open

the gates to the enemies, and willingly receive them with reverence

and submission, as their legal sovereigns.

  7. But is this a sufficient reason, why philosophers should desist

from such researches, and leave superstition still in possession of

her retreat? Is it not proper to draw an opposite 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

disappointment, will at last 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 may reach discoveries unknown to former ages.

Each adventurous genius will still leap at the arduous prize, and find

himself stimulated, rather that discouraged, by the failures of his

predecessors; while he hopes that the glory of achieving so hard an

adventure is reserved for him alone. The only method of freeing

learning, at once, from these abstruse questions, is to enquire

seriously into the nature of human understanding, and show, from an

exact analysis of its powers and capacity, that it is by no means

fitted for such remote and abstruse subjects. We must submit to this

fatigue, in order to live at ease 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, fitted 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.

  8. Besides this advantage of rejecting, after deliberate enquiry,

the most uncertain and disagreeable part of learning, there are many

positive advantages, which result from an accurate scrutiny into the

powers and faculties of human nature. It is remarkable concerning

the operations of the mind, that, though most intimately present to

us, yet, whenever they become the object of reflexion, 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 reflexion. 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 heads, and to correct all that seeming disorder, in which

they lie involved, when made the object of reflexion and enquiry. This

talk 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, it is 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.

  Nor can there remain any suspicion, that this science is uncertain

and chimerical; unless we should entertain such a scepticism as is

entirely 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 distinct from each other, that what

is really distinct to the immediate perception may be distinguished by

reflexion; and consequently, that there is a truth and falsehood in

all propositions on this subject, and a truth and falsehood, 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, though more

difficult to be comprehended. Some instances, especially late ones, of

success in these enquiries, 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


  9. But may we not hope, that philosophy, if cultivated with care,

and encouraged by the attention of 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

enquiries concerning the mental powers and economy, if prosecuted with

equal capacity and caution. It is 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 compass of human

understanding, it may at last be happily achieved; if not, it may,

however, be rejected with some confidence and security. This last

conclusion, surely, is not desirable; nor ought it to be embraced

too rashly. For how much must we diminish from 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 those actions that excite our approbation or dislike,

to search for some common principle, on which this variety of

sentiments might depend. And though 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; though 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, that has ever attempted to

impose its crude dictates and principles on mankind.

  10. What though these reasonings concerning human nature seem

abstract, and of difficult comprehension? This affords no

presumption of their falsehood. 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 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

of all unnecessary detail, we have, in the following enquiry,

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 enquiry 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 hitherto served only as a shelter to superstition, and a cover

to absurdity and error!

                 Sect. II. Of the Origin of Ideas

  11. 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 entirely reach 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. The

most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation.

  We may observe a like distinction to run through 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 reflect on our past 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 or metaphysical head to mark the distinction between them.

  12. 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 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.

  13. 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 the

imagination 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, or heard

of, may yet be conceived; nor is any thing beyond the power of

thought, except what implies an absolute contradiction.

  But though our 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 to no more than the faculty of 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.

  14. To prove this, the two following arguments will, I hope, be

sufficient. First, when we analyze 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 nearer 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; where we shall always find, that every idea

which we examine is copied from a similar impression. Those who

would assert that this position is not universally true nor 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.

  15. 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 in conceiving these objects. The case is the same, if

the object, proper for exciting any sensation, has never been

applied to the organ. A Laplander or Negro has no notion of the relish

of wine. And though 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 idea of inveterate revenge or cruelty; nor can a selfish

heart easily conceive the heights of friendship and generosity. It

is 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, to wit, by the actual feeling and sensation.

  16. There is, however, one contradictory phenomenon, which may prove

that it is not absolutely impossible for ideas to arise, independent

of their correspondent impressions. I believe it will readily be

allowed, that the several distinct ideas of colour, which enter by the

eye, or those of sound, which are conveyed by the ear, are really

different from each other; though, 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, it is 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 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 placed before him, descending gradually

from the deepest to the lightest; it is 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 between the contiguous

colours than in any other. Now I ask, whether it be possible for

him, from his own imagination, to supply this deficiency, and raise up

to himself the idea of that particular shade, though 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; though this instance is so singular, that

it is scarcely worth our observing, and does not merit that for it

alone we should alter our general maxim.

  17. 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 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, though without a distinct

meaning, we are apt to imagine it has a determinate idea annexed to

it. On the contrary, all impressions, that is, all sensations,

either outward or inward, are strong and vivid: 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.*

  * It is probable that no more was meant by those, who denied

innate ideas, than that all ideas were copies of our impressions;

though it must be confessed, that the terms, which they employed, were

not chosen with such caution, nor so exactly defined, as to prevent

all mistakes about their doctrine. For what is meant by innate? If

innate be equivalent to natural, then all the perceptions and ideas of

the mind must be allowed to be innate or natural, in whatever sense we

take the latter word, whether in opposition to what is uncommon,

artificial, or miraculous. If by innate be meant, contemporary to

our birth, the dispute seems to be frivolous; nor is it worth while to

enquire at what time thinking begins, whether before, at, or after our

birth. Again, the word idea, seems to be commonly taken in a very

loose sense, by Locke and others; as standing for any of our

perceptions, our sensations and passions, as well as thoughts. Now

in this sense, I should desire to know, what can be meant by

asserting, that self-love, or resentment of injuries, or the passion

between the sexes is not innate?

  But admitting these terms, impressions and ideas, in the sense above

explained, and understanding by innate, what is original or copied

from no precedent perception, then may we assert that all our

impressions are innate, and our ideas not innate.

  To be ingenuous, I must own it to be my opinion, that Locke was

betrayed into this question by the Schoolmen, who, making use of

undefined terms, draw out their disputes to a tedious length,

without ever touching the point in question. A like ambiguity and

circumlocution seem to run through that Philosopher's reasonings on

this as well as most other subjects.

                Sect. III. Of the Association of Ideas

  18. IT is 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 the 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 inform you,

that there had secretly revolved in his mind a succession of

thought, which had gradually led him from the subject of conversation.

Among different languages, even where we cannot suspect the least

connexion or communication, it is 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.

  19. Though 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 worthy of curiosity. To me, there

appear to be only three principles of connexion among ideas, namely,

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:*(2) and if we think of a

wound, we can scarcely forbear reflecting on the pain which follows

it.*(3) But that this enumeration is complete, 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.*(4) 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 complete and entire.

  * Resemblance.

  *(2) Contiguity.

  *(3) Cause and effect.

  *(4) For instance Contrast or Contrariety is also a connexion

among Ideas: but it may, perhaps, be considered as a mixture of

Causation and Resemblance. Where two objects are contrary, the one

destroys the other; that is, the cause of its annihilation, and the

idea of the annihilation of an object, implies the idea of its

former existence.

               Sect. IV. Sceptical Doubts concerning the

                   Operations of the Understanding

                               PART I.

  20. All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be

divided into two kinds, to wit, 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 square 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 anywhere existent in the universe. Though there never were a

circle or triangle in nature, the truths demonstrated by Euclid

would for ever retain their certainty and evidence.

  21. Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason,

are not ascertained in 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 the

same facility and distinctness, as if ever so conformable to

reality. That the sun will not rise tomorrow 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 falsehood. 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 of 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, it is

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

through 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 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.

  22. All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on

the realtion of Cause and Effect. By means of that relation alone we

can 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 knowledge of his former resolutions

and promises. A man finding a watch or any other machine in a desert

island, would conclude that there had once been men in that island.

All our reasonings concerning fact are of the same nature. And here it

is constantly supposed that there is a connexion between the present

fact and that which is 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 on the 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.

  23. If we would satisfy ourselves, therefore, concerning the

nature of that evidence, which assures us of matters of fact, we

must enquire how we arrive at the knowledge of cause and effect.

  I shall venture to affirm, as a general proposition, which admits of

no exception, that the knowledge of this relation is not, in any

instance, attained by reasonings a 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,

though 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 by experience, ever draw any inference concerning real

existence and matter of fact.

  24. This proposition, that causes and effects are discoverable,

not by reason but by experience, will readily be admitted with

regard to such objects, as we remember to have once been 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 a priori. In like manner, when an effect is

supposed to depend upon an intricate machinery or secret structure

of parts, we make no difficulty in attributing all our knowledge 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


  But the same truth may not appear, at first sight, to have the

same evidence with regard to events, 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 operation 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.

  25. 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 it is plain that this

invention must be entirely arbitrary. The mind can 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 anything 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 a priori,

is there anything 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 tie or connexion between the cause

and effect, which binds them together, and renders it impossible

that any other effect could result from the operation of that cause.

When I see, for instance, a billiard-ball moving in a straight 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 straight line, or

leap off from the second in any line or direction? All these

suppositions are consistent and conceivable. Why then should we give

the preference to one, which is no more consistent or conceivable than

the rest? All our reasonings a priori will never be able to show 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, a 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.

  26. 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 produces any single effect in the universe. It is

confessed, that the utmost effort of human reason is to reduce the

principles, productive of natural phenomena, to a greater

simplicity, and to resolve the many particular effects into a few

general causes, by means of reasonings from analogy, experience, and

observation. But as to the causes of these general 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 phenomena 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 portions of it. Thus the observation of

human blindness and weakness is the result of all philosophy, and

meets us at every turn, in spite of our endeavours to elude or avoid


  27. Nor is geometry, when taken into the assistance of natural

philosophy, ever able to remedy this defect, or lead us into the

knowledge of ultimate causes, by all that accuracy of reasoning for

which it is so justly celebrated. Every part of mixed mathematics

proceeds 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 in particular instances, where it depends upon any

precise degree of distance and quantity. Thus, it is 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 force may remove

the greatest obstacle or raise the greatest weight, if, by any

contrivance or machinery, we can increase 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 knowledge of it. When we

reason a 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, show us the inseparable and inviolable connexion 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 operation of these qualities.

                               PART II.

  28. But we have not 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 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.

  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.

  29. It must certainly be allowed, that nature has kept us at a great

distance from all her secrets, and has afforded us only the

knowledge of a few superficial qualities of objects; while she

conceals from us those powers and principles on which the influence of

those objects entirely depends. Our senses inform us of the colour,

weight, and consistence of bread; but neither sense nor reason can

ever 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

notwithstanding this ignorance of natural powers* and principles, we

always presume, when we see like sensible qualities, that they have

like secret powers, and expect 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

foresee, with certainty, like nourishment and support. Now this is a

process of the mind or thought, of which I would willingly know the

foundation. It is allowed on all hands that there is no known

connexion 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 anything which

it knows of their nature. As to past Experience, it can be allowed

to give direct and certain information of those precise objects

only, 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 nowise necessary. At

least, it must be acknowledged 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, in 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 connexion 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 it is incumbent on those to produce it, who

assert that it really exists, and is the origin of all our conclusions

concerning matter of fact.

  * The word, Power, is here used in a loose and popular sense. The

more accurate explication of it would give additional evidence to this

argument. See Sect. 7.

  30. This negative argument must certainly, in process of time,

become altogether convincing, if many penetrating and able

philosophers shall turn their enquiries 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 far to his own

penetration, as to conclude, because an argument escapes his

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 knowledge, endeavour to show

that none of them can afford such an argument.

  All reasonings may be divided into two kinds, namely,

demonstrative reasoning, or that concerning relations of ideas, and

moral reasoning, or that 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

argument or abstract reasoning a priori.

  If we be, therefore, engaged by arguments to put trust in past

experience, and make it the standard of our future judgement, 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 is no argument 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 knowledge 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.

  31. 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 though 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 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

appearing similarity, expects the same taste and relish in all of

them. It is 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 a hundred instances that are nowise different from that

single one? 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.

  32. Should it be said that, from a number of uniform experiments, we

infer a connexion between the sensible qualities and the secret

powers; this, I must confess, seems the same difficulty, couched in

different terms. The question still recurs, on what process of

argument this inference is founded? Where is the medium, the

interposing ideas, which join propositions so very wide of each other?

It is 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 shows 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 look for a like effect. From a

body of like colour and consistence with bread we expect like

nourishment and support. But this surely 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 of a tautology, nor are these propositions in any respect the

same. You say that the one proposition is an inference from the other.

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. It is 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 learned 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 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

importance. Can I do better than propose the difficulty to the public,

even though, 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 knowledge.

  33. 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, though all the learned, for several ages, should have

employed themselves 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 though we

examine all the sources of our knowledge, and conclude them unfit

for such a subject, there may still remain a suspicion, that the

enumeration is not complete, or the examination not accurate. But with

regard to the present subject, there are some considerations which

seem to remove all this accusation of arrogance or suspicion of


  It is 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 pretence 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 not to have made any mighty discovery. And if I be

wrong, I must acknowledge 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.

               Sect. V. Sceptical Solution of these Doubts

                                PART I.

  34. The passion for philosophy, like that for religion, seems liable

to this inconvenience, that, though 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 bias and propensity of the natural temper. It is

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 towards the empty and transitory

nature of riches and honours, we are, perhaps, all the while

flattering our natural indolence, which, hating the bustle of the

world, and drudgery of business, seeks a pretence of reason to give

itself a full and uncontrolled 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 always talk of doubt and suspense of judgement, 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 mortified by it, except the love of truth;

and that passion never is, nor can be, carried to too high a degree.

It is surprising, 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

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.

Though 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.

  35. Suppose a person, though 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 anything farther. He would 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, the other the effect. Their conjunction may be

arbitrary and casual. There may be no reason to infer the existence of

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 of fact, or be assured of anything

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 familiar objects or

events to be constantly conjoined together; what is the consequence of

this experience? He immediately infers the existence of one object

from the appearance of the other. Yet he has not, by all his

experience, acquired any idea or knowledge 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 though he should be convinced

that his understanding has no part in the operation, he would

nevertheless continue in the same course of thinking. There is some

other principle which determines him to form such a conclusion.

  36. This principle is Custom or Habit. For wherever 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. It is sufficient

satisfaction, that we can go so far, without repining at the

narrowness of our faculties because they will carry us no farther. And

it is 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 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.*

  * Nothing is more useful than for writers, even, on moral,

political, or physical subjects, to distinguish between reason and

experience, and to suppose, that these species of argumentation are

entirely different from each other. The former are taken for the

mere result of our intellectual faculties, which, by considering

priori the nature of things, and examining the effects, that must

follow from their operation, establish particular principles of

science and philosophy. The latter are supposed to be derived entirely

from sense and observation, by which we learn what has actually

resulted from the operation of particular objects, and are thence able

to infer, what will, for the future, result from them. Thus, for

instance, the limitations and restraints of civil government, and a

legal constitution, may be defended, either from reason, which

reflecting on the great frailty and corruption of human nature,

teaches, that no man can safely be trusted with unlimited authority;

or from experience and history, which inform us of the enormous

abuses, that ambition, in every age and country, has been found to

make of so imprudent a confidence.

  The same distinction between reason and experience is maintained

in all our deliberations concerning the conduct of life; while the

experienced statesman, general, physician, or merchant is trusted

and followed; and the unpractised novice, with whatever natural

talents endowed, neglected and despised. Though it be allowed, that

reason may form very plausible conjectures with regard to the

consequences of such a particular conduct in such particular

circumstances; it is still supposed imperfect, without the

assistance of experience, which is alone able to give stability and

certainty to the maxims, derived from study and reflection.

  But notwithstanding that this distinction be thus universally

received, both in the active speculative scenes of life, I shall not

scruple to pronounce, that it is, at bottom, erroneous, at least,


  If we examine those arguments, which, in any of the sciences above

mentioned, are supposed to be mere effects of reasoning and

reflection, they will be found to terminate, at last, in some

general principle or conclusion, for which we can assign no reason but

observation and experience. The only difference between them and those

maxims, which are vulgarly esteemed the result of pure experience, is,

that the former cannot be established without some process of thought,

and some reflection on what we have observed, in order to

distinguish its circumstances, and trace its consequences: Whereas

in the latter, the experienced event is exactly and fully familiar

to that which we infer as the result of any particular situation.

The history of a Tiberius or a Nero makes us dread a like tyranny,

were our monarchs freed from the restraints of laws and senates: But

the observation of any fraud or cruelty in private life is sufficient,

with the aid of a little thought, to give us the same apprehension;

while it serves as an instance of the general corruption of human

nature, and shows us the danger which we must incur by reposing an

entire confidence in mankind. In both cases, it is experience which is

ultimately the foundation of our inference and conclusion.

  There is no man so young and unexperienced, as not to have formed,

from observation, many general and just maxims concerning human

affairs and the conduct of life; but it must be confessed, that,

when a man comes to put these in practice, he will be extremely liable

to error, till time and farther experience both enlarge these

maxims, and teach him their proper use and application. In every

situation or incident, there are many particular and seemingly

minute circumstances, which the man of greatest talent is, at first,

apt to overlook, though on them the justness of his conclusions, and

consequently the prudence of his conduct, entirely depend. Not to

mention, that, to a young beginner, the general observations and

maxims occur not always on the proper occasions, nor can be

immediately applied with due calmness and distinction. The truth is,

an unexperienced reasoner could be no reasoner at all, were he

absolutely unexperienced; and when we assign that character to any

one, we mean it only in a comparative sense, and suppose him possessed

of experience, in a smaller and more imperfect degree.

  Custom, then, is the great guide of human life. It is that principle

alone which renders our experience useful to us, and makes us

expect, for the future, a similar train of events with those which

have 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.

  37. But here it may be proper to remark, that though 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 ancient

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 eyewitnesses 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 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 knowledge 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.

  38. What, then, is the conclusion of the whole matter? A simple one;

though, 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 between that and some 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 the 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. It is an operation of the soul, when we are so

situated, as unavoidable as to feel the passion of love, when we

receive 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 further; 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 with 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, though it be neglected.

                             PART II.

  39. Nothing is more free than the imagination of man; and though

it cannot exceed that original stock of ideas furnished by the

internal and external senses, it has unlimited power of mixing,

compounding, separating, and dividing these ideas, in 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 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


  40. 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 any 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 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, it is

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 colours, just as they might have

existed. But as it is impossible that this faculty of imagination

can ever, of itself, reach belief, it is 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 it is 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 than assert, that

belief is something felt by the mind, which distinguishes the ideas of

the judgement from the fictions of the imagination. It gives them more

weight and influence; makes them appear of greater importance;

enforces them in the mind; and renders them the governing principle of

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 possessed. These ideas take

faster hold of my mind than ideas of an enchanted 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 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, and to trace up these phenomena to principles still more


  41. 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,

namely, 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 associations, this may be established 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 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 vigour. In producing this effect, there

concur both a relation and a present impression. Where the picture

bears him no resemblance, 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 it is set before us; but when it

is removed, rather choose 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

instances of the same nature. The devotees of that superstition

usually plead in excuse for 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 fervour, which otherwise would decay, if directed entirely 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 it is

possible 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.

  42. We may add force to these experiments by others of a different

kind, in considering the effects of contiguity as well as of

resemblance. It is certain that distance diminishes the force of every

idea, and that, upon our approach to any object, though 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 it is

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; though even at that distance the reflecting on anything 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 them;

that transition alone is not able to give a superior vivacity to any

of the ideas, for want of some immediate impression.*

  * "Naturane nobis, inquit, datum dicam, an errore quodam, ut, cum ea

loca videamus, in quibus memoria dignos viros acceperimus multum

esse versatos, magis moveamur, quam siquando eorum ipsorum aut facta

audiamus aut scriptum aliquod legamus? Velut ego nunc moveor. Venit

enim mihi Plato in mentem, quem accepimus primum hic disputare

solitum: cuius etiam illi hortuli propinqui non memoriam solum mihi

afferunt, sed ipsum videntur in conspectu meo hic ponere. Hic

Speusippus, hic Xenocrates, hic eius auditor Polemo; cuius ipsa illa

sessio fuit, quam videmus. Equidem etiam curiam nostram, Hostiliam

dico, non hanc novam, quae mihi minor esse videtur postquam est maior,

solebam intuens, Scipionem, Catonem, Laelium, nostrum vero in primis

avum cogitare. Tanta vis admonitionis est in locis; ut non sine

causa ex his memoriae deducta sit disciplina."

                                        Cicero, De finibus, Book V.

  43. 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 reliques 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 it is

evident, that one of the best reliques, which a devotee could procure,

would be the handywork of a saint; and if his cloaths and furniture

are ever to be considered in this light, it is 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; it is evident, that this object would

instantly revive its correlative idea, and recal to our thoughts all

past intimacies and familiarities, in more lively colours than they

would otherwise have appeared to us. This is another phaenomenon,

which seems to prove the principle above mentioned.

  44. We may observe, that, in these phaenomena, the belief of the

correlative object is always presupposed; without which the relation

could have no effect. The influence of the picture supposes, that we

believe our friend to have once existed. Continguity 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 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 though 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 a 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 it is 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, then, is a kind of pre-established harmony between the

course of nature and the succession of our ideas; and though 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 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, or 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.

  45. 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. It is more conformable to the

ordinary wisdom of nature to 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 laboured 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; though we are ignorant

of those powers and forces, on which this regular course and

succession of objects totally depends.

                      Sect. VI. Of Probability*

  * Mr. Locke divides all arguments into demonstrative and probable.

In this view, we must say, that it is only probable all men must

die, or that the sun will rise to-morrow. But to conform our

language more to common use, we ought to divide arguments into

demonstrations, proofs, and probabilities. By proofs meaning such

arguments from experience as leave no room for doubt or opposition.

  46. THOUGH 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

assent to that side, in which we discover the superiority. If a die

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 would turn up than the latter;

though, 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 curious speculation.

  It seems evident, that, when the mind looks forward to discover

the event, which may result from the throw of such a die, it considers

the turning up of each particular side as alike probable; and this 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

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 the idea more strongly on the

imagination; gives it superior force and vigour; 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.

  47. 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 burned, 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

always proved a purge, or opium a soporific to every one, who has

taken these medicines. It is 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 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 transferring the past to the future, and enter into our

consideration, when we determine the probability of the event.

Though 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 assign to each of them a particular weight and

authority, in proportion as we have found it to be more or less

frequent. It is more probable, in almost every country of Europe, that

there will be frost sometime in January, than that the weather will

continue open throughout that whole month; though 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 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

its object the preference above the contrary event, which is not

supported by an equal number of experiments, and recurs 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 defective all common theories are in treating of such

curious and such sublime subjects.

               Sect. VII. Of the Idea of necessary Connexion

                             PART I.

  48 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 defined 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 the passions, though really in themselves

distinct, easily escape us, when surveyed by reflection; nor is it

in our power to recal 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


  One may safely, however, affirm, that, if we consider these sciences

in a proper light, their advantages and disadvantages 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 scarcely 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 through a few steps, we may

be very well satisfied with our progress; considering how soon

nature throws a bar to all our enquiries 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 of any

conclusion. And, perhaps, our progress in natural philosophy is

chiefly retarded by the want of proper experiments and phaenomena,

which are often discovered by chance, and cannot always be found, when

requisite, even by the most diligent and prudent enquiry. As moral

philosophy seems hitherto to have received less improvement 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.

  49. 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.

  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 it is impossible for us to think of anything,

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 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 as to fall readily

under our apprehension, and be equally known with the grossest and

most sensible ideas, that can be the object of our enquiry.

  * Section II.

  50. 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, anything 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 experience; and might, at first, pronounce with certainty

concerning it, by 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 of force,

which actuates the whole machine, is entirely 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. It is 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.*

  * Mr. Locke, in his chapter of power, says that, finding from

experience, that there are several new productions in matter, and

concluding that there must somewhere be a power capable of producing

them, we arrive at last by this reasoning at the idea of power. But no

reasoning can ever give us a new, original, simple idea; as this

philosopher himself confesses. This, therefore, can never be the

origin of that idea.

  51. Since, therefore, external objects as they appear to the senses,

give us no idea of power or necessary connexion, by their operation 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 internal power; 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 mind. 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 mind, and on the command which is exercised by will, both over

the organs of the body and faculties of the soul.

  52. 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, is a fact, which, like all other

natural events, can be known only be 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 infallible

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 enquiry.

  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.

  Secondly, We are not able to move all the organs of the body with

a like authority; though we cannot assign any reason besides

experience, for so remarkable a difference between one and the

other. Why has the will an influence over the tongue and fingers,

not over the heart or liver? This question would never embarrass us,

were we conscious of a power in the former case, 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, suddenly struck with 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 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, through 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 the

one intended, is produced: This event produces another, equally

unknown: Till at last, through a long succession, the desired event is

produced. But if the original power were felt, it must be known:

Were it known, its effect also must be known; since all power is

relative to its effect. And vice versa, if the effect be not known,

the power cannot be known nor 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, though they produce at

last the motion of our limbs, yet operate in such a manner as is

wholly beyond our comprehension?

  We may, therefore, conclude from the whole, I hope, without any

temerity, though 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.*

  * It may be pretended, that the resistance which we meet with in

bodies, obliging us frequently to exert our force, and call up all our

power, this gives us the idea of force and power. It is this nisus, or

strong endeavour, of which we are conscious, that is the original

impression from which this idea is copied. But, first, we attribute

power to a vast number of objects, where we never can suppose this

resistance of exertion of force to take place; to the Supreme Being,

who never meets with any resistance; to the mind in its command over

its ideas and limbs, in common thinking and motion, where the effect

follows immediately upon the will, without any exertion or summoning

up of force; to inanimate matter, which is not capable of this

sentiment. Secondly, This sentiment of an endeavour to overcome

resistance has no known connexion with any event: What follows it,

we know by experience; but could not know it a priori. It must,

however, be confessed, that the animal nisus, which we experience,

though it can afford no accurate precise idea of power, enters very

much into that vulgar, inaccurate idea, which is formed of it.

  53. Shall we then assert, that we are conscious of a power or energy

in our own minds, when, by an act or command of our will, we raise

up a new idea, fix the mind to the 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,

namely, the existence of an idea, consequent to a command of the will:

But the manner, in which this operation is performed, the power by

which it is produced, is entirely beyond our comprehension.

  Secondly, The command of the mind over itself is limited, as well as

its command over the body; and these limits are not known by reason,

or any acquaintance with the nature of 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, not in


  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 entirely

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 anything in it like this creative power, by which it raises

from nothing a 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


  54. 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. It is 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. It is usual for men, in such

difficulties, to have recourse to some invisible intelligent

principle* as 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 anything like

Connexion between them.

  * Theos apo mechanes (deus ex machina).

  55. 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, it is 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 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 it is 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: It is 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: It is the

universal Creator, who discovers it to the mind, and renders it

present to us.

  56. Thus, according to these philosophers, every thing is full of

God. Not content 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 dependence 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

produce 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 philosophical confutation of this

theory, perhaps the two following reflections may suffice.

  57. First, it seems to me that this theory of the universal energy

and operation of the Supreme Being is too bold ever to carry

conviction with it to a man, sufficiently apprized of the weakness

of human reason, and the narrow limits to which it is confined in

all its operations. Though 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 to 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 entirely out of the sphere of experience. But on

this we shall have occasion to touch afterwards.*

  * Section XII.

  Secondly, I cannot perceive any force in the arguments on which this

theory is founded. We are ignorant, it is true, of the manner in which

bodies operate on each other: Their force or energy is entirely

incomprehensible: But are we not equally ignorant of the manner or

force by which a mind, even the 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 anything, we should be led into that principle of

denying all energy in the Supreme Being as much as in the grossest

matter. We surely comprehend 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.*

  * I need not examine at length the vis inertiae which is so much

talked of in the new philosophy, and which is ascribed to matter. We

find by experience, that a body at rest or in motion continues for

ever in its present state, till put from it by some new cause; and

that a body impelled takes as much motion from the impelling body as

it acquires itself. These are facts. When we call this a vis inertiae,

we only mark these facts, without pretending to have any idea of the

inert power; in the same manner as, when we talk of gravity, we mean

certain effects, without comprehending that active power. It was never

the meaning of Sir Isaac Newton to rob second causes of all force or

energy; though some of his followers have endeavoured to establish

that theory upon his authority. On the contrary, that great

philosopher had recourse to an etherial active fluid to explain his

universal attraction; though he was so cautious and modest as to

allow, that it was a mere hypothesis, not to be insisted on, without

more experiments. I must confess, that there is something in the

fate of opinions a little extraordinary. Descartes insinuated that

doctrine of the universal and sole efficacy of the Deity, without

insisting on it. Malebranche and other Cartesians made it the

foundation of all their philosophy. It had, however, no authority in

England. Locke, Clarke, and Cudworth, never so much as take notice

of it, but suppose all along, that matter has a real, though

subordinate and derived power. By what means has it become so

prevalent among our modern metaphysicians?

                             PART II.

  58. 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 anything 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 or conceive the

tie 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, throughout all nature, any

one instance of connexion which is conceivable by us. All events

seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we

never can observe any tie 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.

  59. 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, it is 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

entitled to form a general rule, or foretell what will happen in

like cases; it being justly esteemed an unpardonable 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

any scruple of foretelling one upon the appearance of the other, and

of employing that reasoning, which can alone assure us of any matter

of fact or existence. We then call the one object, Cause; 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 among

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, this

customary transition of the imagination from one object to its usual

attendant, is the sentiment or impression from which we form the

idea of power or necessary connexion. Nothing farther is in the

case. Contemplate the subject on all sides; you will never find any

other origin of that idea. This is the sole difference between one

instance, from which we can never 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 foretell 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 thought, 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 weakened 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.

  60. 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 to

us to know perfectly, it is 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

enquiries are, therefore, every moment, employed about this

relation: Yet so imperfect are the ideas which we form concerning

it, that it is 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.

Suitably 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, suitably to this experience,

form another definition of cause, and call it, an object followed by

another, and whose appearance always conveys the thought to that

other. But though 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.*

  * According to these explications and definitions, the idea of power

is relative as much as that of cause; and both have a reference to

an effect, or some other event constantly conjoined with the former.

When we consider the unknown circumstance of an object, by which the

degree or quantity of its effect is fixed and determined, we call that

its power: And accordingly, it is allowed by all philosophers, that

the effect is the measure of the power. But if they had any idea of

power, as it is in itself, why could not they Measure it in itself?

The dispute whether the force of a body in motion be as its

velocity, or the square of its velocity; this dispute, I say, need not

be decided by comparing its effects in equal or unequal times; but

by a direct mensuration and comparison.

  As to the frequent use of the words, Force, Power, Energy, &c.,

which every where occur in common conversation, as well as in

philosophy; that is no proof, that we are acquainted, in any instance,

with the connecting principle between cause and effect, or can account

ultimately for the production of one thing to another. These words, as

commonly used, have very loose meanings annexed to them; and their

ideas are very uncertain and confused. No animal can put external

bodies in motion without the sentiment of a nisus or endeavour; and

every animal has a sentiment or feeling from the stroke or blow of

an external object that is in motion. These sensations, which are

merely animal, and from which we can a priori draw no inference, we

are apt to transfer to inanimate objects, and to suppose, that they

have some such feelings, whenever they transfer or receive motion.

With regard to energies, which are exerted, without our annexing to

them any idea of communicated motion, we consider only the constant

experienced conjunction of the events; and as we feel a customary

connexion between the ideas, we transfer that feeling to the

objects; as nothing is more usual than to apply to external bodies

every internal sensation, which they occasion.

  61. 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

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, to

wit, 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 illustration) 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 whether 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 can happily hit, we shall go farther towards illustrating

the subject than by all the eloquence and copious expression in the

world. This point of view we should endeavour to reach, and reserve

the flowers of rhetoric for subjects which are more adapted to them.

               Sect. VIII. Of Liberty and Necessity

                             PART I.

  62. 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 this 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 to the terms employed in the

controversy. For as the faculties of the mind 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. It is true, 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 economy 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.

  63. 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, that all mankind, both

learned and ignorant, have always been of the same opinion with regard

to this subject, and that a few intelligible definitions 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 it is no

wonder, if a sensible 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 or 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


  I hope, therefore, to make it appear that all men have ever agreed

in the doctrine 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.

  64. It is 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 it. The degree and direction of every motion is, by the laws of

nature, prescribed with such exactness that a living creature may as

soon arise from the shock of two bodies in 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

continually shifted 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 knowledge

of any real existence could possibly have access to the mind. Our

idea, therefore, of necessity and causation arises entirely from the

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. 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 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.

  65. 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 always produce 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 through

society, have been, from the beginning of the world, and still are,

the source of all the actions and enterprises, which have ever been

observed among mankind. Would you know the sentiments, inclinations,

and course of life of the Greeks and Romans? 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 is only to discover the constant and

universal principles of human nature, by showing 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, wholly different from any with whom we were ever

acquainted; men, who were entirely divested of avarice, ambition, or

revenge; who knew no pleasure but friendship, generosity, and public

spirit; we should immediately, from these circumstances, detect the

falsehood, 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 much to be suspected 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 acknowledge a 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

knowledge of men's inclinations and motives, from their actions,

expressions, and even gestures; and again descend to the

interpretation of their actions from our knowledge of their motives

and inclinations. The general observations treasured up by a course of

experience, give us the clue of human nature, and teach us to

unravel all its intricacies. Pretexts and appearances no longer

deceive us. Public declarations pass for the specious colouring of a

cause. And though virtue and honour be allowed their proper weight and

authority, that perfect disinterestedness, so often pretended to, 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 anomalous, 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 aged husband-man 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


  66. 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, will always act precisely in the same manner,

without making 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? Is it 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 a uniformity in their influence;

otherwise our acquaintance with the persons and our observation of

their conduct could never teach us their dispositions, or serve to

direct our behaviour with regard to them.

  67. 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 judgement

should be formed of such irregular and extraordinary actions, we may

consider the sentiments 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


  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; though

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 it is 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 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 does not commonly go right: But

an artist 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 cause; the philosopher and physician are not

surprised at the matter, nor are ever tempted to deny, in general, the

necessity and uniformity of those principles by which the animal

economy 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

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.

  68. The philosopher, if he be consistent, must apply the same

reasoning 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 toothache, 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; though it be applicable, in a more particular manner, to

some persons who have no fixed rule for their conduct, but proceed

in a continued course of caprice and inconstancy. The internal

principles and motives may operate in a uniform manner,

notwithstanding these seeming irregularities; in the same manner as

the winds, rain, clouds, and other variations of the weather are

supposed to be governed by steady principles; though not easily

discoverable by human sagacity and enquiry.

  69. 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 acknowledged 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 to have always been conjoined;

it may seem superfluous to prove that this experienced uniformity in

human actions is a source whence we draw inferences concerning them.

But in order to throw the argument into a greater variety of lights we

shall also insist, though briefly, on this latter topic.

  The mutual dependence of men is so great in all societies that

scarce any human action is entirely complete 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 him the enjoyment of the

fruits of his labour. He also expects that, when he carries his

goods to market, and offers them at a reasonable price, he shall

find purchasers, 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 the 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

that 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 surprised 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?

  70. Nor have philosophers ever entertained a different opinion

from the people in this particular. For, not 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 a uniform influence upon society? Where would be

the foundation of morals, if particular characters had no certain or

determinate power to produce particular sentiments, and if these

sentiments had no constant operation on actions? And with what

pretence 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 acknowledging the doctrine of

necessity, and this inference from motive 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 when he considers

the obstinacy of the gaoler, as the walls and bars with which he is

surrounded; and, in all attempts for his freedom, chooses 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 axe 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, volition, and

actions; or figure and motion. We may change the name of things; but

their nature and their operation on the understanding never change.

  Were a man, whom I know to be honest and opulent, and with whom I

live in intimate friendship, to come into my house, where I am

surrounded with my servants, I rest assured that he is not to stab

me before he leaves it in order to rob me of my silver standish; and I

no more suspect this event than the falling of the house itself, which

is new, and solidly built and founded.- But he may have been seized

with a sudden and unknown frenzy.- So may a sudden earthquake arise,

and shake and tumble my house about my ears. I shall therefore

change the suppositions. I shall say that I know with certainty that

he is not to put his hand into the fire and hold it there till it be

consumed: And this event, I think I can foretell with the same

assurance, as that, if he throw himself out at the window, and meet

with no obstruction, he will not remain a moment suspended in the air.

No suspicion of an unknown frenzy can give the least possibility to

the former event, which is so contrary to all the known principles

of human nature. A man who at noon leaves his purse full of gold on

the pavement at Charing Cross, may as well expect that it will fly

away like a feather, as that he will find it untouched an hour

after. Above one half of human reasonings contain inferences of a

similar nature, attended with more or less degrees of certainty

proportioned to our experience of the usual conduct of mankind in such

particular situations.

  71. I have frequently considered, what could possibly be the

reason why all mankind, though they have ever, without hesitation,

acknowledged the doctrine of necessity in their whole practice and

reasoning, have yet discovered such a reluctance to acknowledge it

in words, and have rather shown 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

body, and the production of effects from their causes, we shall find

that all our faculties can never carry us farther in our knowledge

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 though 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 thence apt to

suppose, that there is a difference between the effects which result

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 allowed to have

place in voluntary actions; we may be more easily led to own the

same necessity common to all causes. And though 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 sentiment.

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 connexion that has not place in

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.

  72. 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, namely, 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, the whole of that

necessity, which we conceive in matter, and if these circumstances

be also universally acknowledged to take place in the operations of

the mind, the dispute is at an end; 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 question 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 material causes; and to convince

ourselves that all we know of them is the constant conjunction and

inference above mentioned. We may, perhaps, find that it is 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 it is

evident that these have a regular conjunction with motives and

circumstances and characters, and as we always draw inferences from

one to the other, we must be obliged to acknowledge in words that

necessity, which we have already avowed, in every deliberation of

our lives, and in every step of our conduct and behaviour.*

  * The prevalence of the doctrine of liberty may be accounted for,

from another cause, viz. a false sensation or seeming experience which

we have, or may have, of liberty or indifference, in many of our

actions. The necessity of any action, whether of matter or of mind, is

not, properly speaking, a quality in the agent, but in any thinking or

intelligent being, who may consider the action; and it consists

chiefly in the determination of his thoughts to infer the existence of

that action from some preceding objects; as liberty, when opposed to

necessity, is nothing but the want of that determination, and a

certain looseness or indifference, which we feel, in passing, or not

passing, from the idea of one object to that of any succeeding one.

Now we may observe, that, though, in reflecting on human actions, we

seldom feel such a looseness, or indifference, but are commonly able

to infer them with considerable certainty from their motives, and from

the dispositions of the agent; yet it frequently happens, that, in

performing the actions themselves, we are sensible of something like

it: And as all resembling objects are readily taken for each other,

this has been employed as a demonstrative and even intuitive proof

of human liberty. We feel, that our actions are subject to our will,

on most occasions; and imagine we feel, that the will itself is

subject to nothing, because, when by a denial of it we are provoked to

try, we feel, that it moves easily every way, and produces an image of

itself (or a Velleity, as it is called in the schools) even on that

side, on which it did not settle. This image, or faint motion, we

persuade ourselves, could, at that time, have been compleated into the

thing itself; because, should that be denied, we find, upon a second

trial, that, at present, it can. We consider not, that the fantastical

desire of shewing liberty, is here the motive of our actions. And it

seems certain, that, however we may imagine we feel a liberty within

ourselves, a spectator can commonly infer our actions from our motives

and character; and even where he cannot, he concludes in general, that

he might, were he perfectly acquainted with every circumstance of

our situation and temper, and the most secret springs of our

complexion and disposition. Now this is the very essence of necessity,

according to the foregoing doctrine.

  73. But to proceed in this reconciling project with regard to the

question of liberty and necessity; the 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 one does not follow with a

certain degree of uniformity from the other, and that one affords no

inference by which we can conclude the existence of the other. For

these are plain and acknowledged 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 choose to remain at rest,

we may; if we choose to move, we also may. Now this hypothetical

liberty is universally allowed to belong to every one who is not a

prisoner and in chains. Here, then, is no subject of dispute.

  74. 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.

  It is 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 anywhere a being in

nature. But it is pretended that some causes are necessary, some not

necessary. Here then is the 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 show distinctly the

origin of the idea, expressed by the definition; and I shall readily

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

synonymous 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.

  * Thus, if a cause be defined, that which produces any thing; it

is easy to observe, that producing is synonimous to causing. In like

manner, if a cause be defined, that by which any thing exists; this is

liable to the same objection. For what is meant by these words, by

which? Had it been said, that a cause is that after which any thing

constantly exists; we should have understood the terms. For this is,

indeed, all we know of the matter. And this constancy forms the very

essence of necessity, nor have we any other idea of it.

                            PART II.

  75. There is no method of reasoning more common, and yet none more

blameable, than, in philosophical disputes, to endeavour the

refutation of any hypothesis, by a pretence of its dangerous

consequences to religion and morality. When any opinion leads to

absurdities, it is certainly false; but it is not certain that an

opinion is false, because it is 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 in general, without pretending to draw any

advantage from it. I frankly submit 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, but are absolutely essential to its support.

  Necessity may be defined two ways, conformably 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, though tacitly, in the schools, in the pulpit, and in

common life, been allowed to belong to the will of man; and no one has

ever pretended to deny that we can draw inferences concerning human

actions, and that those inferences are founded on 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 acknowledged, 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

everyone 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.

  76. All laws being founded on rewards and punishments, it is

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 it is 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, it is 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 character and disposition of the person who

performed 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, it is 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 character anywise

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, though 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 for? but by asserting that actions render a person

criminal merely as they are proofs of criminal principles in the mind;

and when, by an 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.

  77. 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 sentiment, so far only as they are

indications of the internal character, passions, and affections; it is

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.

  78. 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, preordained and

pre-determined, reaching from the original cause of all to every

single volition of every human creature. No contingency anywhere 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 acknowledged

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 is

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 clear and

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 importence 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 those actions of men, which we so

rashly pronounce criminal. And we must therefore conclude, 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 as criminal actions render criminal the

original cause, if the connexion between them be necessary and


  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

acknowledge him to be the ultimate author of guilt and moral turpitude

in all his creatures.

  79. The answer to the first objection seems obvious and

convincing. There are many philosophers who, after an exact scrutiny

of all the phenomena of nature, conclude, that the WHOLE, considered

as one system, is, in every period of its existence, ordered with

perfect benevolence; and that the utmost possible happiness will, in

the end, result to all created beings, without any mixture of positive

or absolute ill or 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 ancient 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 though 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 through the

proper canals, to the sinews and nerves, 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 though undisturbed by the emotions of pain or passion; much

less can they maintain their ground when attacked by such powerful

antagonists. The affections take a narrower and more natural survey of

their object; and by an economy, 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.

  80. 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 our 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 it may reasonably be

presumed, that the moral sentiments arise, either mediately or

immediately, from a reflection of these opposite interests. What

though philosophical meditations establish a different opinion or

conjecture; that everything 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

as those which more directly promote its happiness and welfare? Are

such remote and uncertain speculations able to counterbalance 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 anywise diminished by these sublime reflections?

Why then should his moral resentment against the crime be supposed

incompatible with them? Or why should not the acknowledgement 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 controuled or altered by

any philosophical theory or speculation whatsoever.

  81. 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 she embraces, she must find herself involved in inextricable

difficulties, and even contradictions, at every step which she takes

with regard to such subjects. To reconcile the indifference and

contingency of human actions with prescience; or to defend absolute

decrees, and yet free the Deity from being the author of sin, has been

found hitherto to exceed all the power 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 enough to employ her enquiries, without launching into so

boundless an ocean of doubt, uncertainty, and contradiction!

               Sect. IX. Of the Reason of Animals

  82. 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; though still it has some

force, in proportion to the degree of similarity and resemblance.

The anatomical observations, formed upon one animal, are, by this

species of reasoning, extended to all animals; and it is certain, that

when the circulation of the blood, for instance, is clearly proved

to have place in one creature, as a frog, or fish, it 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

phenomena in all other animals. We shall make trial of this, with

regard to the hypothesis, by which we have, in the foregoing

discourse, endeavoured to account for all experimental reasonings; and

it is hoped, that this new point of view will serve to confirm all our

former observations.

  83. 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 knowledge of the nature

of fire, water, earth, stones, heights, depths, &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 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 proper application of rewards and

punishments, may be taught any course of action, and 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 is 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


  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 consequences, which it has always found in

its observation to result from similar objects.

  84. Secondly, It is 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. It is custom alone, which engages animals,

from every object, that strikes their senses, to infer its usual

attendant, and carries their imagination, from the appearance of the

one, to conceive the other, in that particular 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.*

  * Since all reasonings concerning facts or causes is derived

merely from custom, it may be asked how it happens, that men so much

surpass animals in reasoning, and one man so much surpasses another?

Has not the same custom the same influence on all?

  We shall here endeavour briefly to explain the great difference in

human understandings: After which the reason of the difference between

men and animals will easily be comprehended.

  1. When we have lived any time, and have been accustomed to the

uniformity of nature, we acquire a general habit, by which we always

transfer the known to the unknown, and conceive the latter to resemble

the former. By means of this general habitual principle, we regard

even one experiment as the foundation of reasoning, and expect a

similar event with some degree of certainty, where the experiment

has been made accurately, and free from all foreign circumstances.

It is therefore considered as a matter of great importance to

observe the consequences of things; and as one man may very much

surpass another in attention and memory and observation, this will

make a very great difference in their reasoning.

  2. Where there is a complication of causes to produce any effect,

one mind may be much larger than another, and better able to

comprehend the whole system of objects, and to infer justly their


  3. One man is able to carry on a chain of consequences to a

greater length than another.

  4. Few men can think long without running into a confusion of ideas,

and mistaking one for another; and there are various degrees of this


  5. The circumstance, on which the effect depends, is frequently

involved in other circumstances, which are foreign and extrinsic.

The separation of it often requires great attention, accuracy, and


  6. The forming of general maxims from particular observation is a

very nice operation; and nothing is more usual, from haste or a

narrowness of mind, which sees not on all sides, than to commit

mistakes in this particular.

  7. When we reason from analogies, the man, who has the greater

experience or the greater promptitude of suggesting analogies, will be

the better reasoner.

  8. Byasses from prejudice, education, passion, party, &c. hang

more upon one mind than another.

  9. After we have acquired a confidence in human testimony, books and

conversation enlarge much more the sphere of one man's experience

and thought than those of another.

  It would be easy to discover many other circumstances that make a

difference in the understandings of men.

  85. But though animals learn many parts of their knowledge from

observation, there are also many parts of 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. Though

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

economy and order of its nursery.

                       Sect. X. Of Miracles

                             PART I.

  86. 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, so little worthy

of a serious refutation. It is acknowledged 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 eye-witnesses 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 it is evident it must diminish in passing from them to

their disciples; nor can any one rest such confidence in their

testimony, as in 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, though 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 solicitations. 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.

  87. Though experience be our only guide in reasoning concerning

matters of fact; it must be acknowledged, that this guide is not

altogether infallible, but in some cases is apt to lead us into

errors. One, who in our climate, should expect better weather in any

week of June than in one of December, would reason justly, and

conformably to experience; but it is 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

greater number of experiments: to that side he inclines, with doubt

and hesitation; and when at last he fixes his judgement, 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 overbalance the other,

and to produce a degree of evidence, proportioned to the

superiority. A hundred instances or experiments on one side, and fifty

on another, afford a doubtful expectation of any event; though 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.

  88. 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 which is 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 all the inferences, which we can draw from one to another, are

founded merely on our experience of their constant and regular

conjunction; it is evident that we ought not to make an exception to

this maxim in favour of human testimony, whose connexion with any

event 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 falsehood and villany, 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

object has been found to be constant or variable. There are a number

of circumstances to be taken into consideration in all judgements 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, it is attended with an unavoidable contrariety in

our judgements, and with the same opposition and mutual destruction of

argument 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 force of its antagonist.

  89. 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 doubtful character; when they have an interest in what they

affirm; when they deliver their testimony with 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 the testimony endeavours

to establish, partakes of the extraordinary and the marvellous; in

that case, the evidence, resulting from the testimony, admits of a

diminution, 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 derived from any connexion, which we perceive a

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 arises 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 lifetime of that

philosophical patriot.* The incredibility of a fact, it was allowed,

might invalidate so great an authority.

  * Plutarch, Marcus Cato.

  The Indian prince, who refused to believe the first relations

concerning the effects of frost, reasoned justly; and it naturally

required very strong testimony to engage his assent to facts, that

arose from a state of nature, with which he was unacquainted, and

which bore so little analogy to those events, of which he had had

constant and uniform experience. Though they were not contrary to

his experience, they were not conformable to it.*

  * No Indian, it is evident, could have experience that water did not

freeze in cold climates. This is placing nature in a situation quite

unknown to him; and it is impossible for him to tell a priori what

will result from it. It is making a new experiment, the consequence of

which is always uncertain. One may sometimes conjecture from analogy

what will follow; but still this is but conjecture. And it must be

confessed, that, in the present case of freezing, the event follows

contrary to the rules of analogy, and is such as a rational Indian

would not look for. The operations of cold upon water are not gradual,

according to the degrees of cold; but whenever it comes to the

freezing point, the water passes in a moment, from the utmost

liquidity to perfect hardness. Such an event, therefore, may be

denominated extraordinary, and requires a pretty strong testimony to

render it credible to people in a war climate: But still it is not

miraculous, nor contrary to uniform experience of the course of nature

in cases where all the circumstances are the same. The inhabitants

of Sumatra have always seen water fluid in their own climate, and

the freezing of their rivers ought to be deemed a prodigy: But they

never saw water in Muscovy during the winter; and therefore they

cannot reasonably be positive what would there be the consequence.

  90. But in order to encrease 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. It is no miracle

that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden:

because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other,

has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle,

that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been

observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform

experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would

not merit that appellation. And as a 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.*

  * Sometimes an event may not, in itself, seem to be contrary to

the laws of nature, and yet, if it were real, it might, by reason of

some circumstances, be denominated a miracle; because, in fact, it

is contrary to these laws. Thus if a person, claiming a divine

authority, should command a sick person to be well, a healthful man to

fall down dead, the clouds to pour rain, the winds to blow, in

short, should order many natural events, which immediately follow upon

his command; these might justly be esteemed miracles, because they are

really, in this case, contrary to the laws of nature. For if any

suspicion remain, that the event and command concurred by accident,

there is no miracle and no transgression of the laws of nature. If

this suspicion be removed, there is evidently a miracle, and a

transgression of these laws; because nothing can be more contrary to

nature than that the voice or command of a man should have such an

influence. A miracle may be accurately defined, a transgression of a

law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the

interposition of some invisible agent. A miracle may either be

discoverable by men or not. This alters not its nature and essence.

The raising of a house or ship into the air is a visible miracle.

The raising of a feather, when the wind wants ever so little of a

force requisite for that purpose, is as real a miracle, though not

so sensible with regard to us.

  91. The plain consequence is (and it is 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 falsehood

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 anyone 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

falsehood 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.

                               PART II.

  92. In the foregoing reasoning we have supposed that the

testimony, upon which a miracle is founded, may possibly amount to

an entire proof, and that the falsehood of that testimony would be a

real prodigy: But it is easy to shew that we have been a great deal

too liberal in our concession, 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 their being detected in any falsehood; 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.

  93. Secondly. We may observe in human nature a principle which, if

strictly examined, will be found to diminish extremely the

assurance, which we might, from human testimony, have, in any kind

of prodigy. 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 found 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 as are founded

on the greatest number of past observations. But though, 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 anything is affirmed

utterly absurd and miraculous, it rather the more readily admits of

such a fact, upon account of that very circumstance, which ought to

destroy all its authority. The passion of surprise 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

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

narrative 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 not 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

judgement to canvass his evidence: what judgement 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 overpowers

their credulity.

  Eloquence, when at its highest pitch, leaves little room for

reason or reflection; but addressing itself entirely to the fancy or

the affections, captivates the willing hearers, and subdues their

understanding. Happily, this pitch it seldom attains. But what a Tully

or a Demosthenes could scarcely effect over a Roman or Athenian

audience, every Capuchin, every itinerant or stationary teacher can

perform over the generality of mankind, and in a higher degree, by

touching such gross and vulgar passions.

  The many instances of forged miracles, and prophecies, and

supernatural events, which, in all ages, have either been detected

by contrary evidence, or which detect themselves by their absurdity,

prove sufficiently the strong propensity of mankind to the

extraordinary and the marvellous, and ought reasonably to beget a

suspicion against all relations of this kind. This is our natural

way of thinking, even with regard to the most common and most credible

events. For instance: There is no kind of report which rises so

easily, and spreads so quickly, especially in country places and

provincial towns, as those concerning marriages; insomuch that two

young persons of equal condition never see each other twice, but the

whole neighbourhood immediately join them together. The pleasure of

telling a piece of news so interesting, of propagating it, and of

being the first reporters of it, spreads the intelligence. And this is

so well known, that no man of sense gives attention to these

reports, till he find them confirmed by some greater evidence. Do

not the same passions, and others still stronger, incline the

generality of mankind to believe and report, with the greatest

vehemence and assurance, all religious miracles?

  94. Thirdly. It forms a 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 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,

pestilence, famine and death, are never the effect of those natural

causes, which we experience. Prodigies, omens, oracles, judgements,

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, 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, though

this inclination may at intervals receive a check from sense and

learning, it can never be thoroughly extirpated from human nature.

  It is 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 it is nothing strange, I hope, that men should lie in

all ages. You must surely have seen instances enough 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 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.

  It was a wise policy in that false prophet, Alexander, who though

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 enquiry, have no opportunity of

receiving better information. The stories come magnified to them by

a hundred circumstances. Fools are industrious in propagating the

imposture; 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 enlisting 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 though the delusion should be too gross to

impose on the generality of them (which, though seldom, is sometimes

the case) it has a much better chance for succeeding in remote

countries, than if the first scene had been laid in a city renowned

for arts and knowledge. The most ignorant and barbarous of these

barbarians carry the report abroad. None of their countrymen have a

large correspondence, or sufficient credit and authority to contradict

and beat down the delusion. Men's 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, throughout 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

entirely opened the eyes of mankind. It is true; Lucian, passing by

chance through Paphlagonia, had an opportunity of performing this good

office. But, though much to be wished, it does not always happen, that

every Alexander meets with a Lucian, ready to expose and detect his


  95. 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 testimony, but 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 it is impossible

the religions of ancient 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, though 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 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 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 miracle

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 miracle 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.

  96. One of the best attested miracles in all profane 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 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, through the whole course of his life,

conversed in a familiar manner with his friends and courtiers, and

never affected those extraordinary airs of divinity assumed by

Alexander and Demetrius. The historian, a contemporary 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 credulity, that he even lies under the contrary

imputation, of atheism and profaneness: The persons, from whose

authority he related the miracle, of established character for

judgement and veracity, as we may well presume; eye-witnesses of the

fact, and confirming their testimony, after the Flavian family was

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, that no evidence can well be

supposed stronger for so gross and so palpable a falsehood.

  * Histories, iv. 81. Suetonius gives nearly the same account,

Lives of the Caesars (Vespasian).

  There is also a memorable story related by Cardinal de Retz, which

may well deserve our consideration. When that intriguing politician

fled into Spain, to avoid the persecution of his enemies, he passed

through Saragossa, the capital of Aragon, where he was shewn, in the

cathedral, a man, who had served seven years as a doorkeeper, and

was well known to every body in town, that had ever paid his 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 contemporary 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 scarcely

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 surprise on this occasion, is, that the cardinal

himself, who relates the story, seems not 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 falsehood, through 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 falsehood 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 a greater number of miracles ascribed to

one person, than those, which were lately said to have been wrought in

France upon the tomb of Abbe 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

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, though 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 shall we find such a number of circumstances,

agreeing to the corroboration of one fact? And what have we to

oppose to such a cloud of witnesses, but the absolute impossibility or

miraculous nature of the events, which they relate? And this surely,

in the eyes of all reasonable people, will alone be regarded as a

sufficient refutation.

  97. Is the consequence just, because some human testimony has the

utmost force and authority in some cases, when it relates the battle

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

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 I 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.

  * Lucretius.

  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

phenomenon is obvious; and we in conformity 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 falsehood in any

private or even public history, at the place, where it is said to

happen; much more when the scene is removed to ever so small a

distance. Even a court of judicature, with all the authority,

accuracy, and judgement, which they can employ, find themselves

often at a loss to distinguish between truth and falsehood in the most

recent actions. But the matter never comes to any issue, if trusted to

the common method of altercations and debate and flying rumours;

especially when men's passions have taken part 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 past,

and the records and witnesses, which might clear up the matter, have

perished beyond recovery.

  No means of detection remain, but those which must be drawn from the

very testimony itself of the reporters: and these, though always

sufficient with the judicious and knowing, are commonly too fine to

fall under the comprehension of the vulgar.

  98. 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. It is experience only, which gives

authority to human testimony; and it is 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 entire 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.

  99. I beg the limitations here made may be remarked, when I say,

that a miracle can never be proved, so as to be the foundation of a

system of religion. For I own, that otherwise, there may possibly be

miracles, or violations of the usual course of nature, of such a

kind as to admit of proof from human testimony; though, perhaps, it

will be impossible to find any such in all the records of history.

Thus, suppose all authors, in all languages, agree, that, from the

first of January 1600, there was a total darkness over the whole earth

for eight days: suppose that the tradition of this extraordinary event

is still strong and lively among the people: that all travellers,

who return from foreign countries, bring us accounts of the same

tradition, without the least variation or contradiction: it is

evident, that our present philosophers, instead of doubting the

fact, ought to receive it as certain, and ought to search for the

causes whence it might be derived. The decay, corruption, and

dissolution of nature, is an event rendered probable by so many

analogies, that any phenomenon, which seems to have a tendency towards

that catastrophe, comes within the reach of human testimony, if that

testimony be very extensive and uniform.

  But suppose, that all the historians who treat of England, should

agree, that, on the first of January 1600, Queen Elizabeth died;

that both before and after her death she was seen by her physicians

and the whole court, as is usual with persons of her rank; that her

successor was acknowledged and proclaimed by the parliament; and that,

after being interred a month, she again appeared, resumed the

throne, and governed England for three years: I must confess that I

should be surprised at the concurrence of so many odd circumstances,

but should not have the least inclination to believe so miraculous

an event. I should not doubt of her pretended death, and of those

other public circumstances that followed it: I should only assert it

to have been pretended, and that it neither was, nor possibly could be

real. You would in vain object to me the difficulty, and almost

impossibility of deceiving the world in an affair of such consequence;

the wisdom and solid judgement of that renowned queen; with the little

or no advantage which she could reap from so poor an artifice: All

this might astonish me; but I would still reply, that the knavery

and folly of men are such common phenomena, that I should rather

believe the most extraordinary events to arise from their concurrence,

than admit of so signal a violation of the laws of nature.

  But should this miracle be ascribed to any new system of religion;

men, in all ages, have been so much imposed on by ridiculous stories

of that kind, that this very circumstance would be a full proof of a

cheat, and sufficient, with all men of sense, not only to make them

reject the fact, but even reject it without farther examination.

Though the Being to whom the miracle is ascribed, be, in this case,

Almighty, it does not, upon that account, become a whit more probable;

since it is impossible for us to know the attributes or actions of

such a Being, otherwise than from the experience which we have of

his productions, in the usual course of nature. This still reduces

us to past observation, and obliges us to compare the instances of the

violation of truth in the testimony of men, with those of the

violation of the laws of nature by miracles, in order to judge which

of them is most likely and probable. As the violations of truth are

more common in the testimony concerning religious miracles, than in

that concerning any other matter of fact; this must diminish very much

the authority of the former testimony, and make us form a general

resolution, never to lend any attention to it, with whatever

specious pretence it may be covered.

  Lord Bacon seems to have embraced the same principles of

reasoning. "We ought," says he, "to make a collection or particular

history of all monsters and prodigious births or productions, and in a

word of everything new, rare, and extraordinary in nature. But this

must be done with the most severe scrutiny, lest we depart from truth.

Above all, every relation must be considered as suspicious, which

depends in any degree upon religion, as the prodigies of Livy: And

no less so, everything that is to be found in the writers of natural

magic or alchemy, or such authors, who seem, all of them, to have an

unconquerable appetite for falsehood and fable."*

  * Novum Organum, II, aph. 29.

  100. I am the better pleased with the method of reasoning here

delivered, as I think it may serve to confound those dangerous friends

or disguised enemies to the Christian Religion, who have undertaken to

defend it by the principles of human reason. Our most holy religion is

founded on Faith, not on reason; and it is 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 by a barbarous and

ignorant people, written 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 entirely

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, as 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 anyone to lay his hand upon his heart, and

after a serious consideration declare, whether he thinks that the

falsehood 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.

  101. 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

foretell future events, it would be absurd to employ any prophecy 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.

                    Sect. XI. Of a particular Providence

                          and of a future State

  102. I was lately engaged in conversation with a friend who loves

sceptical paradoxes; where, though 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

throughout this enquiry, I shall here copy them from my memory as

accurately as I can, in order to submit them to the judgement of the


  Our conversation began with my admiring the singular good fortune of

philosophy, which, as it requires entire liberty above all other

privileges, and chiefly flourishes 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, concessions, or

penal statutes. For, except the banishment of Protagoras, and the

death of Socrates, which last event proceeded partly from other

motives, there are scarcely any instances to be met with, in ancient

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*(2) of pensions and salaries was afforded equally, by

the wisest of all the Roman emperors,*(3) to the professors of every

sect of philosophy. How requisite such kind of treatment was to

philosophy, in her early youth, will easily be conceived, if we

reflect, that, even at present, when she may be supposed more hardy

and robust, she bears with much difficulty the inclemency of the

seasons, and those harsh winds of calumny and persecution, which

blow upon her.

  * Lucian, sump. e Lapithai [The Banquet, or the Lapiths].

  *(2) Lucian, eunouchos [The Eunuch].

  *(3) Lucian and Dio.

  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

entirely from the interest of his parent, and becomes her most

inveterate enemy and 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 of such

tales chiefly 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

superstition, and to have made a fair partition of mankind between

them; the former claiming all the learned and wise, the latter

possessing all the vulgar and illiterate.

  103. It seems then, say I, that you leave politics entirely 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 from experience of the

pernicious consequences of philosophy; but arose entirely 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 ancient 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


  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 the malice of my adversaries.

  Very well: Pray proceed upon these suppositions.

  104. I come hither, O ye Athenians, to justify in your assembly what

I maintained in my school, and I find myself impeached by furious

antagonists, instead of reasoning with calm and dispassionate

enquirers. 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 enquiries, 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 here dispute concerning the

origin and government of worlds. We shall only enquire how far such

questions concern the public interest. And if I can persuade you, that

they are entirely 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 tradition of your

forefathers, and doctrine 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 enquiry. They paint, in the most

magnificent colours, the order, beauty, and wise arrangement of the

universe; and then ask, if such a glorious display of intelligence

could proceed from the fortuitous concourse of atoms, or if chance

could produce what the greatest 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.

It is sufficient, if I can prove, from this very reasoning, that the

question is entirely 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.

  105. You then, who are my accusers, have acknowledged, 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

phenomena of nature will justify. These are your concessions. I desire

you to mark the consequences.

  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 ascribe 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 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 for

producing the effect, which we examine.

  106. 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 regions of space or periods of 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 entirely worthy

of the glorious attributes, which we ascribe to that deity. The

knowledge of the cause being derived solely from the effect, they must

be exactly adjusted to each other; and the one can never refer to

anything further, or be the foundation of any new inference and


  You find certain phenomena 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 entirely 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.

  107. When priests and poets, supported by your authority, O

Athenians, talk of a golden or silver age, which preceded the

present state of vice and miscry, 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

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 effects; 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 acknowledge 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, 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 phenomena. 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 entirely

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 phenomena of the

universe: but no just reasoner will ever presume to infer from it

any single fact, and alter or add to the phenomena, in any single

particular. If you think, that the appearances of things prove such

causes, it is 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, in the course of nature, which may serve as

a fuller display of particular attributes; I must admonish you, that

you have departed from the method of reasoning, attached to the

present subject, and have certainly added something to the

attributes of the cause, beyond what appears in the effect;

otherwise you could never, with tolerable sense or propriety, add

anything to the effect, in order to render it more worthy of the


  108. 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


  I deny a providence, you say, and supreme governor 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 acknowledge, 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 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. It is 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, deducted from

causes to effects, must of necessity be a gross sophism; since it is

impossible for you to know anything of the cause, but what you have

antecedently, not inferred, but discovered to the full, in the effect.

  109. But what must a philosopher think 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 phenomena, it would never point to

anything farther, but must be exactly adjusted to them. That the

divinity may possibly be endowed with 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 in 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, in our sense of it, to the

gods. If you hold a medium between affirmation and negation, by

saying, that the justice of the gods, at present, exerts 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.

  110. 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 to 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

understanding break through those boundaries, which are too narrow for

our fond imagination. 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. It is uncertain; because the subject

lies entirely beyond the reach of human experience. It is useless;

because our knowledge of this cause being derived entirely from the

course of nature, we can never, according to the rules of just

reasoning, return back from the cause with any new inference, or

making additions to the common and experienced course of nature,

establish any new principles of conduct and behaviour.

  111. I observe (said I, finding he had finished his harangue) that

you neglect not the artifice of the demagogues of old; and as you were

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

judgement 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 further 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, though 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 leave nothing imperfect; why may

you not infer a more finished scheme or plan, which will receive its

completion in some distant point of space or time? Are not these

methods of reasoning exactly similar? And under what pretence can

you embrace the one, while you reject the other?

  112. 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, it is allowable to advance from

the effect to the cause, and returning back from the cause, to 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 in 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 knowledge of all the qualities, which we

ascribe to him, being in that case derived from the production, it

is impossible they could point to anything farther, or be the

foundation of any new inference. 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, though effaced by time

or other accidents. 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.

  113. 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 shews a

particular degree of these perfections, we infer a particular degree

of them, precisely adapted to the effect which we examine. 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, it is 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: a more impartial distribution of rewards and punishments

must proceed from a greater 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 entirely

unsupported by any reason or argument, can never be admitted but as

mere conjecture and hypothesis.*

  * In general, it may, I think, be established as a maxim, that where

any cause is known only by its particular effects, it must be

impossible to infer any new effects from that cause; since the

qualities, which are requisite to produce these new effects along with

the former, must either be different, or superior, or of more

extensive operation, than those which simply produced the effect,

whence alone the cause is supposed to be known to us. We can never,

therefore, have any reason to suppose the existence of these

qualities. To say, that the new effects proceed only from a

continuation of the same energy, which is already known from the first

effects, will not remove the difficulty. For even granting this to

be the case (which can seldom be supposed), the very continuation

and exertion of a like energy (for it is impossible it can be

absolutely the same), I say, this exertion of a like energy, in a

different period of space and time, is a very arbitrary supposition,

and what there cannot possibly be any traces of in the effects, from

which all our knowledge of the cause is originally derived. Let the

inferred cause be exactly proportioned (as it should be) to the

known effect; and it is impossible that it can possess any

qualities, from which new or different effects can be inferred.

  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 everything is regulated by

principles and maxims very different from ours; besides this, I say,

it must evidently appear contrary to all rules 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 fact, 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 can never have place with regard to a

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 of it to

the Supreme Being, where it appears not to have been really exerted,

to the full, in his works, savours 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 interests of society any

connexion with the philosophical disputes concerning metaphysics and


  114. There is still one circumstance, replied I, which you seem to

have overlooked. Though I should allow your premises, I must deny your

conclusion. You 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 theirs 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, though 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 consequence to the sciences,

and even to the state, by paving the way for persecution and

oppression in points, where the generality of mankind are more

deeply interested and concerned.

  115. 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; lest 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 our observation. It is 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 entirely 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 reflection 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 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.

                   Sect. XII. Of the academical or

                          sceptical Philosophy

                                PART I.

  116. 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 knights-errant, 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; though it is

certain, that no man ever met with any such absurd creature, or

conversed with a man, who had no opinion or principle concerning 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 judgement. 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 those 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 impartiality in our judgements, 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; though by these 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.

  117. There is another species of scepticism, consequent to science

and enquiry, when 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.

  I need not insist upon the more trite topics, employed by the

sceptics in all ages, against the evidence of sense; such as those

which are 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 implicitly 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 falsehood. There are other more profound

arguments against the senses, which admit not of so easy a solution.

  118. 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, though 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.

  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 does not annihilate it. 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, through which these images

are conveyed, without being 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

mind, and fleeting copies or representations of other existences,

which remain uniform and independent.

  119. 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 evidence of our senses. But here

philosophy finds herself extremely embarrassed, when she would justify

this new system, and obviate the cavils and objections of the

sceptics. She 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,

though 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? It is acknowledged, that, in fact, many of these

perceptions arise not from anything 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

image of itself to a substance, supposed of so different, and even

contrary a nature.

  It is 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 anything 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.

  120. 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 question, we shall be at a loss to

find arguments, by which we may prove the existence of that Being or

any of his attributes.

  121. 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 knowledge

and enquiry. 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.

  122. 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 so little serve to any serious purpose. It is

universally allowed by modern enquirers, 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; 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, an opinion, which, if we examine it 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

Isosceles nor Scalenum, nor has any particular length or proportion of

sides; and he will soon perceive the absurdity of all the scholastic

notions with regard to abstraction and general ideas.*

  * This argument is drawn from Dr. Berkeley; and indeed most of the

writings of that very ingenious author form the best lessons of

scepticism which are to be found either among the ancient or modern

philosophers, Bayle not excepted. He professes, however, in his

title page (and undoubtedly with great truth) to have composed his

book against the sceptics as well as against the atheists and

free-thinkers. But that all his arguments, though otherwise

intended, are, in reality, merely sceptical, appears from this, that

they admit of no answer and produce no conviction. Their only effect

is to cause that momentary amazement and irresolution and confusion,

which is the result of scepticism.

  123. 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. Bereave matter of all its intelligible qualities,

both primary and secondary, you in a manner annihilate it, and leave

only a certain unknown, inexplicable something, as the cause of our

perceptions; a notion so imperfect, that no sceptic will think it

worth while to contend against it.

                              PART II.

  124. 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 through 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 subdue the rebellious reason of mankind, ever

shocked common sense more than the doctrine of the infinitive

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 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 increase 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, though 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 she 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 scarcely

can pronounce with certainty and assurance concerning any one object.

  * Whatever disputes there may be about mathematical points, we

must allow that there are physical points; that is, parts of

extension, which cannot be divided or lessened, either by the eye or

imagination. These images, then, which are present to the fancy or

senses, are absolutely indivisible, and consequently must be allowed

by mathematicians to be infinitely less than any real part of

extension; and yet nothing appears more certain to reason, than that

an infinite number of them composes an infinite extension. How much

more an infinite number of those infinitely small parts of

extension, which are still supposed infinitely divisible.

  125. The absurdity of these bold determinations of the abstract

sciences seems to become, if possible, still more palpable with regard

to time than extension. 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

judgement 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 driven 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.*

  * It seems to me not impossible to avoid these absurdities and

contradictions, if it be admitted, that there is no such thing as

abstract or general ideas, properly speaking; but that all general

ideas are, in reality, particular ones, attached to a general term,

which recalls, upon occasion, other particular ones, that resemble, in

certain circumstances, the idea, present to the mind. Thus when the

term Horse is pronounced, we immediately figure to ourselves the

idea of a black or a white animal, of a particular size or figure: But

as that term is also usually applied to animals of other colours,

figures and sizes, these ideas, though not actually present to the

imagination, are easily recalled; and our reasoning and conclusion

proceed in the same way, as if they were actually present. If this

be admitted (as seems reasonable) it follows that all the ideas of

quantity, upon which mathematicians reason, are nothing but

particular, and such as are suggested by the senses and imagination,

and consequently, cannot be infinitely divisible. It is sufficient

to have dropped this hint at present, without prosecuting it any

farther. It certainly concerns all lovers of science not to expose

themselves to the ridicule and contempt of the ignorant by their

conclusions; and this seems the readiest solution of these


  126. 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 judgement 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. It is

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

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 smoke, and leave the most determined sceptic in the same

condition as other mortals.

  127. The sceptic, therefore, had better keep within 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 conjoined together; that we have no argument to

convince us, that objects, 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

inference 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 upon these topics,

he shows 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.

  128. 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 be durable, but which have an

effect on conduct and behaviour. But a Pyrrhonian cannot expect,

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 acknowledge, if he will acknowledge anything, 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 their miserable existence. It is

true; so fatal an event is very little to be dreaded. Nature is always

too strong for principle. And though 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 amusement, and can have no other

tendency than to show the whimsical condition of mankind, who must act

and reason and believe; though 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.

                            PART III.

  129. 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 reflection. The greater part of 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

argument, 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 understanding, checks their passion, and suspends their

action. They are, therefore, impatient till they escape from a

state, which to them is so uneasy: and they think, that they could

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 be inclined, from their natural temper, to haughtiness and

obstinacy, a small tincture of Pyrrhonism might abate their pride,

by showing them, that the few advantages, which they may have attained

over their fellows, are but inconsiderable, 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.

  130. 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 control, 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 Judgement 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 anything, 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, 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 determination, which we may form, with regard to the origin of

worlds, and the situation of nature, from, and to eternity?

  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 with their objects, in order to recommend it to us. We shall then

find what are the proper subjects of science and enquiry.

  131. It seems to me, that the only objects of the abstract science

or of demonstration are quantity and number, and that all attempts

to extend this more perfect species of knowledge 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 can be more curious, as well as useful, than

to trace, by a variety of mediums, their equality or inequality,

through their different appearances. But as all other ideas are

clearly distinct and different from each other, we can never advance

farther, by our utmost 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, it is only necessary to define

the terms, and explain injustice to be a violation of property. This

proposition is, indeed, nothing but a more imperfect definition. It is

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 knowledge and demonstration.

  132. 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 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 a priori, anything may

appear able to produce anything. The falling of a pebble may, for

aught we know, extinguish the sun; or the wish of a man control the

planets in their orbits. It is only experience, which teaches us the

nature and bounds of cause and effect, and enables us to infer the

existence of one object from that of another.* Such is the

foundation of moral reasoning, which forms the greater part of human

knowledge, and is the source of all human action and behaviour.

  * That impious maxim of the ancient philosophy, Ex nihilo, nihil

fit, by which the creation of matter was excluded, ceases to be a

maxim, according to this philosophy. Not only the will of the

supreme Being may create matter; but, for aught we know a priori,

the will of any other being might create it, or any other cause,

that the most whimsical imagination can assign.

  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 politics, natural

philosophy, physic, chemistry, &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 endeavor to fix its standard, we regard a new fact,

to wit, the general tastes of mankind, or some such fact, which may be

the object of reasoning and enquiry.

   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 reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it

contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and

existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain

nothing but sophistry and illusion.

                              THE END