Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

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 expeg rience; nothing, one would think, could preserve the dispute so long undecided, but some ambiguous expressions, which keep the antagonists still at a distance, and hinder them from grappling with each other.

This has been the case in the long disputed question concerning liberty and necessity; and to so remarkable a degree, that, if I be not much mistaken, we shall find, 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 nor entertainment. But the state of the argument here proposed may, perhaps, serve to renew his attention ; as it has more novelty, promises at least some decision of the controversy, and will not much disturb his ease by any intricate or obscure reasoning...

I hope, therefore, to make it appear, that all men have ever agreed in the doctrine both of necessity and of

ally allowehe of necessito We shall begins

Ziberty, 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.

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 circumstånces, 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, as motion, in any other degree or direction, than what is actually produced by it. Would we, therefore, form a just and precise idea of necessity, we must consider whence that idea arises, when we apply it to the operation of bodies. . It seems evident, that, if all the scenes of nature were 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 connection 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 ob. seryable in the operations of nature ; where similar ob

jects are constantly conjoined together, and the third is: determined by custom to infer the one from the appears ances of the other.r. These two circumstances form the. whole of thàt 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 connection. ; !. . - If it appear, therefore, that all mankind have evet 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 Snecessity, and that they have hitherto disputed, merely

for not understanding each other. ' 1.. 4"As to the first circumstance, the constant and regular

conjunction of similar events; we may possibly satisfy

ourselves by the following considerations. It is aniver* sally 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 prina ciples and operations. The same motives always pro*duce the same actions : The same events follow from

the same causes. "Ambition, avarice, self-love, vanity, S. Friendship, generosity, public spirit; these passions, mix

ed in various degrees, and distributed through society, * Thave Been, from the beginning of the world, and still.

O are, the source of all the actions and enterprises which I have ever been observed among mankind. Would you - "know the sentimefits, inclinations, and course of life of

the GREEKS and ROMANSI?r Study well the temper "" and actions of the FRENCH and ENGLISHIPYou cannot

be much thistaken in transferring to the former most of 17 the observations: Which you have made with regard to

the fatter. 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 coustant and universal principles of human na. ture, by shewing men in all varieties of circumstances and situations, and furnishing us with materials, from which we may form our observations, and become acquainted with the regular springs of human action and behaviour: These records of wars, intrigues, factions, and revolutions, are so many collections of experiments, by which the politician or moral philosopher fixes the principles of his science ; in the same manner as the physician or natural philosopher becomes acquainted with the nature of plants; minerals, and other external objects, by the experiments which he forms concerning them. Nor are the earth, water, and other elements, examined by ARISTOTLE and HIPPOCRATES, more like to those which at present lie under our observation, than the men, described by POLYBIUS and TACITUS, are to those who now govern the world.

Should a traveller, returning from a far country, bring us an account of men 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 Curs

[ocr errors]

Tius 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 mens 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 forin 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 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 pro

« ZurückWeiter »