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

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