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OF LIBERTY AND NECESSIT Y.
P A RT 1
verly has lite opposite we consider
TT might reasonably be expected, in questions, which have been canvassed and I disputed with great eagerness since the first origin of science and philosophy, that the meaning of all the terms, at least, thould 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 found of words, the object of future scrutiny and examination ? But if we consider the matter more narrowly, we shall be apt to draw a quite opposite conclusion. From that circumstance alone, that a controverfy 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 foul 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 opi. nions of the same subject; especially when they communicate their views, and each party turn themselves on all sides, in search of arguments, which may give them the victory over their antagonists. 'Tis 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.
*This has been the case in the long disputed question concerning liberty and necesity; and to so remarkable a degree, that, if I be not much mistaken, we shall find all mankind, both learned and ignorant, to have been always of the fame opinion with regard to that 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 à labyrinth of obscure fophiftry, that 'tis no wonder, if a sensible and polite reader indulge his case so far as to turn a deaf ear to the proposal of such a question, from which he can expect neither instruction nor entertainment. But the state of the argument here proposed may, perhaps, serve to renew his attention; as it has more novelty, promises at least some decision of the controversy, and will not much disturb his ease, by any intricate or obscure reasoning.
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I HOPE, therefore, to make it appear, that all men have ever agreed in the doctrines both of necessity and of liberty, according to any reasonable sense, which can be put on these terms; and that the whole controversy has hitherto turned merely upon words. We shall begin with examining the doctrine of necessity.
'Tis universally allowed, that matter, in all its operations, is actuated by a necessary force, and that every natural effect is fo precisely determined by the energy of its cause, that no other effect, in such particular circunstances, could possibly have resulted from the operation of that cause. The degree and direction of every motion is, by the laws of nature, prescribed with such exactness, that a living creature may as soon arise from the shock of two bodies, as motion in any other degree or direction, than what is actually produced by it. Would we, there. fore, form a just and precise idea of necesity, we must consider, whence that idea arises, when we apply it to the operation of bodies.
It seems evident, that, if all the scenes of nature were shifted continually in such a manner, that no two events bore any resemblance to each other, but every object was entirely new, without any similitude to whatever had been seen before, we should never, in that case, have attained the least idea of neceffity, or of a connexion among these objects. We might say, upon such a supposition, that one object or event has followed another; not that one was produced by the other.
The relation of cause and effect must be utterly unknown to mankind. Inference and reasoning concerning the operations of nature would, from that moment, be at an end ; and the memory and senses remain the only canals, by which the knowlege of any real existence could possibly have access to the mind. Our idea, therefore, of necessity and causation arises entirely from that uniformity, obseryable 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 the mind; it must follow, that all mankind have ever agreed in the doctrine of necessity, and that they have hitherto disputed, merely for not understanding each other.
As to the first circumstance, the constant and regular conjunction of similar events; we may possibly satisfy ourselves by the following considerations. It is universally acknowleged, that there is a great uniformity among the actions of men, in all nations and ages, and that human nature remains still the same, in its principles and operations. The same motives produce always the same actions : The same events follow from the same causes. Ambition, avarice, self-love, va
nity, friendship, generosity, public spirit; these passions, mixed in various de- grees, and distributed thro' society, have been, from the beginning of the world,
and still are, the sources of all the actions and enterprizes, which have ever been observed among mankind. Would you know the sentiments, inclinations, and course of life of the Greeks and Romans? Study well the temper and actions of • Uu
entire, divested of avaria oublic spirit ; We him
a liar, w
the French and English. You cannot be much mistaken in transferring to the former m li 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 sewing men in all varieties of circumstances and situations, and furnishing us with materials, from which we may forın our obiervations, and become acquainted with the regular springs of human action and behavior. These records of wars, intrigues, factions, and revolutions, are so many collections of experiments, by which the politician or moral philosopher fixes the principles of his science; in the same manner as the physician or natural philosopher becomes acquainted with the nature of plants, minerals, and other external objects, by the experiments, which he forms concerning them. Nor are the earth, water, and other elements, examined by ARISTOTLE, and HIPPOCRATES, more like to those, which at present lie under our observation, than the men, described by POLYBIUS and TACITUS, are to those who now govern the world.
SHOULD a traveller, returning from a far country, bring us an account of men, entirely different from any, with whom we were ever acquainted; men, who 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 falfhood, and prove him a liar, with the faine certainty as if he had stuffed his narration with stories of centaurs and dragons, miracles and prodigies. And if we would explode any forgery in history, we cannot make use of a more convincing argument, than to prove, that the actions, ascribed to any person, are directly contrary to the course of nature, and that no human motives, in such circumstances, could ever induce him to such a conduct. The veracity of QUINTUS CURTIUS is as suspicious, when he describes the supernatural courage of ALEXANDER, by which he was hurried on singly to attack multitudes, as when he describes his supernatural force and activity, by which he was able to resist them. So readily and universally do we acknowlege 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 knowlege of mens inclinations and motives, from their actions, expressions, and even gestures; and again, descend to the interpretation of their actions from the knowlege of their motives and inclinations. The general observations, treasured up by a course of experience, give us the clue of human nature, and teaches us to unravel all its intricacies. Pretexts and appearances no longer deceive us. Public declarations pass for the specious coloring of a cause. And tho' virtue and honor be allowed their proper weight and authority, that perfect disinterestedness, so often pretended, is never expected in multitudes and parties; seldom in their leaders; and scarcely even in individuals of any rank or station. But were there no uniformity in human actions, and were every experiment which we could form of this kind irregular and anomolous, it were impossible to collect any general observations concerning mankind; and no experience, however accurately digested by reflection, would ever serve to any purpose. Why is the antient husbandman more skilful in his calling than the young beginner, but because there is a certain uniformity in the operation of the sun, rain, and earth, towards the production of vegetables; and experience teaches the old practitioner the rules, by which this operation is governed and directed ?
We must not, however, expect, that this uniformity of human actions should be carried to such a length, as that all men in the same circumstances, should always act precisely in the same manner, without 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 behavior and conduct of the one sex very unlike that of the other ? ?Tis from thence we become acquainted with the different characters, which nature has impressed upon the sexes, and which she preserves with constancy and regularity. Are the actions of
the same person much diversified in the different periods of his life, from infancy 'to old age? This affords room for many general observations concerning the gradual change of our sentiments and inclinations, and the different maxims, which prevail in the different ages of human creatures. Even the characters which are peculiar to each individual, have a uniformity in their influence, otherwise our acquaintance with the persons, and our observation of their conduct could never teach us their dispositions, nor serve to direct our behavior with regard to them.
I GRANT it possible to find some actions, which seem to have no regular connexion with any known motives, and are exceptions to all the measures of conduct, which have ever been established for the government of men. . But if we would willingly know, what judgment should be formed of such irregular and extraordinary actions; we may consider the sentiments that are commonly entera tained with regard to those irregular events, which appear in the course of nature, and the operations of external objects. All causes are not conjoined to their usual effects, with like uniformity. An artificer, who handles only dead matter, may be disappointed of his aim as well as the politician, who directs the conduct of sensible and intelligent agents.
The vulgar, who take things according to their first appearance, attribute the uncertainty of events to such an uncertainty in the causes as makes the latter often fail of their usual influence; tho' they meet with no impediment in their operation. But philosophers, observing, that almost in every part of nature there is contained a vast variety of springs and principles, which are hid, by reason of their minuteness or remoteness, find, that 'tis at least possible the contrariety of events may not proceed from any contingency in the cause, but from the secret operation of contrary causes. This possibility is converted into certainty by farther observation, when they remark, that, upon an exact scrutiny, a contrariety of effects always betrays a contrariety of causes, and proceeds from their mutual opposition. A peasant can give no better reason for the stopping of any clock or watch than to say that it commonly does not go right: But an artizan easily perU u 2
ceives, ceives, that the same force in the spring or pendulum has always the same in. Auence on the whec!s; but fails of its usual effect, perhaps by reason of a grain of duft, which puts a stop to the whole movement. From the observation of several parallel instances, philosophers form a maxim, that the connexion between all causes and effects is equally necessary, and that its seeming uncertainty in some instances proceeds from the secret opposition of contrary causes.
Thus for instance, in the human body, when the usual symptoms of health or sickness disappoint our expectation; when medicines operate not with their wonted powers; when irregular events follow from any particular causes; the philosopher and physician are not surprized at the matter, nor are ever tempted to deny, in general, the necessity and uniformity of those principles, by which the animal 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 comprehenGion: 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.
The philosopher, if he be consistent, must apply the fame seasonings 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 parti. cular circumstance of their character and situation. A person of an obliging difposition gives a peevish answer : But he has the tooth-ake, or has not dined. A stupid fellow discovers an uncommon alacrity in his carriage: But he has met with a sudden piece of good-fortune. Or even when an action, as sometimes happens, cannot be particularly accounted for, either by the person himself or by others; we know, in general, that the characters of men are, to a certain degree, inconstant and irregular. This is, in a manner, the constant character of human nature ; tho' it be applicable, in a more particular manner, to some persons, who have na 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; tho' not easily discoverable by human fagacity and enquiry."
Thus it appears, not only that the conjunction between motives and voluntary actions is as regular and uniform, as that between the cause and effect in any part of nature; but also that this regular conjunction has been universally acknowleged among mankind, and has never been the subject of dispute, either in philosophy or common life. Now as it is from past experience, that we draw all inferences concerning the future, and as we conclude, that objects will always be conjoined together, which we find always to have been conjoined ; it may seem fuperfluous to prove, that this experienced uniformity in human actions is the source of all the inferences, which we form concerning them. But in order to throw the argument into a greater variety of lights, we shall also infift, tho'briefly, on this latter topic.
The mutual dependance of men is so great, in all societies, that scarce any human action is intirely compleat in itself, or is performed without some reference to the actions of others, which are requisite to make it answer fully the intention
Atancy:nding that her varierily