Part 3 out of 4
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 judge 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
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
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
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 every
thing 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, every thing
that is to be found in the writers of natural magic or alchimy, or such
authors, who seem, all of them, to have an unconquerable appetite for
falsehood and fable.'
 Nov. Org. lib. 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 any one 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.
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 reader.
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 of pensions and
salaries was afforded equally, by the wisest of all the Roman
emperors, to the professors of every sect of philosophy. How
requisite such kind of treatment was to philosophy, in 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.
 Luciani [Greek: symp. ae Lapithai].
 Luciani [Greek: eunouchos].
 Luciani 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
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 arguments.
The matter would not be difficult, upon such conditions, replied he: And
if you please, I shall suppose myself Epicurus for a moment, and make
you stand for the Athenian people, and shall deliver you such an
harangue as will fill all the urn with white beans, and leave not a
black one to gratify 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
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
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 farther, 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
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 misery, I hear them with attention and with reverence. But when
philosophers, who pretend to neglect authority, and to cultivate reason,
hold the same discourse, I pay 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
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 cause.
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 concerned?
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 _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_,
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
111. I observe (said I, finding he had finished his harangue) that you
neglect not the artifice of the demagogues of old; and as you were
pleased to make me stand for the people, you insinuate yourself into my
favour by embracing those principles, to which, you know, I have always
expressed a particular attachment. But allowing you to make experience
(as indeed I think you ought) the only standard of our judgement
concerning this, and all other questions of fact; I doubt not but, from
the very same experience, to which you appeal, it may be possible to
refute this reasoning, which you have put into the mouth of Epicurus.
If you saw, for instance, a half-finished building, surrounded with
heaps of brick and stone and mortar, and all the instruments of masonry;
could you not _infer_ from the effect, that it was a work of design and
contrivance? And could you not return again, from this inferred cause,
to infer new additions to the effect, and conclude, that the building
would soon be finished, and receive all the further improvements, which
art could bestow upon it? If you saw upon the sea-shore the print of one
human foot, you would conclude, that a man had passed that way, and that
he had also left the traces of the other foot, though effaced by the
rolling of the sands or inundation of the waters. Why then do you refuse
to admit the same method of reasoning with regard to the order of
nature? Consider the world and the present life only as an imperfect
building, from which you can infer a superior intelligence; and arguing
from that superior intelligence, which can leave nothing imperfect; why
may you not infer a more finished scheme or plan, which will receive its
completion in some distant point of space or time? Are not these methods
of reasoning exactly similar? And under what pretence can you embrace
the one, while you reject the other?
112. The infinite difference of the subjects, replied he, is a
sufficient foundation for this difference in my conclusions. In works of
_human_ art and contrivance, it is allowable to advance from the effect
to the cause, and returning back from the cause, to form new inferences
concerning the effect, and examine the alterations, which it has
probably undergone, or may still undergo. But what is the foundation of
this method of reasoning? Plainly this; that man is a being, whom we
know by experience, whose motives and designs we are acquainted with,
and whose projects and inclinations have a certain connexion and
coherence, according to the laws which nature has established for the
government of such a creature. When, therefore, we find, that any work
has proceeded from the skill and industry of man; as we are otherwise
acquainted with the nature of the animal, we can draw a hundred
inferences concerning what may be expected from him; and these
inferences will all be founded in experience and observation. But did we
know man only from the single work or production which we examine, it
were impossible for us to argue in this manner; because our knowledge of
all the qualities, which we ascribe to him, being in that case derived
from the production, it is impossible they could point to anything
farther, or be the foundation of any new inference. The print of a foot
in the sand can only prove, when considered alone, that there was some
figure adapted to it, by which it was produced: but the print of a human
foot proves likewise, from our other experience, that there was probably
another foot, which also left its impression, though effaced by time or
other accidents. Here we mount from the effect to the cause; and
descending again from the cause, infer alterations in the effect; but
this is not a continuation of the same simple chain of reasoning. We
comprehend in this case a hundred other experiences and observations,
concerning the _usual_ figure and members of that species of animal,
without which this method of argument must be considered as fallacious
113. The case is not the same with our reasonings from the works of
nature. The Deity is known to us only by his productions, and is a
single being in the universe, not comprehended under any species or
genus, from whose experienced attributes or qualities, we can, by
analogy, infer any attribute or quality in him. As the universe shews
wisdom and goodness, we infer wisdom and goodness. As it shews a
particular degree of these perfections, we infer a particular degree of
them, precisely adapted to the effect which we examine. But farther
attributes or farther degrees of the same attributes, we can never be
authorised to infer or suppose, by any rules of just reasoning. Now,
without some such licence of supposition, it is impossible for us to
argue from the cause, or infer any alteration in the effect, beyond what
has immediately fallen under our observation. Greater good produced by
this Being must still prove a greater degree of goodness: a more
impartial distribution of rewards and punishments must proceed from a
greater regard to justice and equity. Every supposed addition to the
works of nature makes an addition to the attributes of the Author of
nature; and consequently, being entirely unsupported by any reason or
argument, can never be admitted but as mere conjecture and
 In general, it may, I think, be established as a maxim,
that where any cause is known only by its particular effects,
it must be impossible to infer any new effects from that cause;
since the qualities, which are requisite to produce these new
effects along with the former, must either be different, or
superior, or of more extensive operation, than those which
simply produced the effect, whence alone the cause is supposed
to be known to us. We can never, therefore, have any reason to
suppose the existence of these qualities. To say, that the new
effects proceed only from a continuation of the same energy,
which is already known from the first effects, will not remove
the difficulty. For even granting this to be the case (which
can seldom be supposed), the very continuation and exertion of
a like energy (for it is impossible it can be absolutely the
same), I say, this exertion of a like energy, in a different
period of space and time, is a very arbitrary supposition, and
what there cannot possibly be any traces of in the effects,
from which all our knowledge of the cause is originally
derived. Let the _inferred_ cause be exactly proportioned (as
it should be) to the known effect; and it is impossible that
it can possess any qualities, from which new or different
effects can be _inferred_.
The great source of our mistake in this subject, and of the unbounded
licence of conjecture, which we indulge, is, that we tacitly consider
ourselves, as in the place of the Supreme Being, and conclude, that he
will, on every occasion, observe the same conduct, which we ourselves,
in his situation, would have embraced as reasonable and eligible. But,
besides that the ordinary course of nature may convince us, that almost
everything is regulated by principles and maxims very different from
ours; besides this, I say, it must evidently appear contrary to all
rules of analogy to reason, from the intentions and projects of men, to
those of a Being so different, and so much superior. In human nature,
there is a certain experienced coherence of designs and inclinations; so
that when, from any fact, we have discovered one intention of any man,
it may often be reasonable, from experience, to infer another, and draw
a long chain of conclusions concerning his past or future conduct. But
this method of reasoning can never have place with regard to a Being, so
remote and incomprehensible, who bears much less analogy to any other
being in the universe than the sun to a waxen taper, and who discovers
himself only by some faint traces or outlines, beyond which we have no
authority to ascribe to him any attribute or perfection. What we imagine
to be a superior perfection, may really be a defect. Or were it ever so
much a perfection, the ascribing of it to the Supreme Being, where it
appears not to have been really exerted, to the full, in his works,
savours more of flattery and panegyric, than of just reasoning and sound
philosophy. All the philosophy, therefore, in the world, and all the
religion, which is nothing but a species of philosophy, will never be
able to carry us beyond the usual course of experience, or give us
measures of conduct and behaviour different from those which are
furnished by reflections on common life. No new fact can ever be
inferred from the religious hypothesis; no event foreseen or foretold;
no reward or punishment expected or dreaded, beyond what is already
known by practice and observation. So that my apology for Epicurus will
still appear solid and satisfactory; nor have the political interests
of society any connexion with the philosophical disputes concerning
metaphysics and religion.
114. There is still one circumstance, replied I, which you seem to have
overlooked. Though I should allow your premises, I must deny your
conclusion. You conclude, that religious doctrines and reasonings _can_
have no influence on life, because they _ought_ to have no influence;
never considering, that men reason not in the same manner you do, but
draw many consequences from the belief of a divine Existence, and
suppose that the Deity will inflict punishments on vice, and bestow
rewards on virtue, beyond what appear in the ordinary course of nature.
Whether this reasoning of theirs be just or not, is no matter. Its
influence on their life and conduct must still be the same. And, those,
who attempt to disabuse them of such prejudices, may, for aught I know,
be good reasoners, but I cannot allow them to be good citizens and
politicians; since they free men from one restraint upon their passions,
and make the infringement of the laws of society, in one respect, more
easy and secure.
After all, I may, perhaps, agree to your general conclusion in favour of
liberty, though upon different premises from those, on which you
endeavour to found it. I think, that the state ought to tolerate every
principle of philosophy; nor is there an instance, that any government
has suffered in its political interests by such indulgence. There is no
enthusiasm among philosophers; their doctrines are not very alluring to
the people; and no restraint can be put upon their reasonings, but what
must be of dangerous consequence to the sciences, and even to the state,
by paving the way for persecution and oppression in points, where the
generality of mankind are more deeply interested and concerned.
115. But there occurs to me (continued I) with regard to your main
topic, a difficulty, which I shall just propose to you without insisting
on it; lest it lead into reasonings of too nice and delicate a nature.
In a word, I much doubt whether it be possible for a cause to be known
only by its effect (as you have all along supposed) or to be of so
singular and particular a nature as to have no parallel and no
similarity with any other cause or object, that has ever fallen under
our observation. It is only when two _species_ of objects are found to
be constantly conjoined, that we can infer the one from the other; and
were an effect presented, which was entirely singular, and could not be
comprehended under any known _species_, I do not see, that we could form
any conjecture or inference at all concerning its cause. If experience
and observation and analogy be, indeed, the only guides which we can
reasonably follow in inferences of this nature; both the effect and
cause must bear a similarity and resemblance to other effects and
causes, which we know, and which we have found, in many instances, to be
conjoined with each other. I leave it to your own reflection to pursue
the consequences of this principle. I shall just observe, that, as the
antagonists of Epicurus always suppose the universe, an effect quite
singular and unparalleled, to be the proof of a Deity, a cause no less
singular and unparalleled; your reasonings, upon that supposition, seem,
at least, to merit our attention. There is, I own, some difficulty, how
we can ever return from the cause to the effect, and, reasoning from our
ideas of the former, infer any alteration on the latter, or any
addition to it.
OF THE ACADEMICAL OR SCEPTICAL PHILOSOPHY.
116. There is not a greater number of philosophical reasonings,
displayed upon any subject, than those, which prove the existence of a
Deity, and refute the fallacies of _Atheists_; and yet the most
religious philosophers still dispute whether any man can be so blinded
as to be a speculative atheist. How shall we reconcile these
contradictions? The knights-errant, who wandered about to clear the
world of dragons and giants, never entertained the least doubt with
regard to the existence of these monsters.
The _Sceptic_ is another enemy of religion, who naturally provokes the
indignation of all divines and graver philosophers; though it is
certain, that no man ever met with any such absurd creature, or
conversed with a man, who had no opinion or principle concerning any
subject, either of action or speculation. This begets a very natural
question; What is meant by a sceptic? And how far it is possible to push
these philosophical principles of doubt and uncertainty?
There is a species of scepticism, _antecedent_ to all study and
philosophy, which is much inculcated by Des Cartes and others, as a
sovereign preservative against error and precipitate judgement. It
recommends an universal doubt, not only of all our former opinions and
principles, but also of our very faculties; of whose veracity, say they,
we must assure ourselves, by a chain of reasoning, deduced from some
original principle, which cannot possibly be fallacious or deceitful.
But neither is there any such original principle, which has a
prerogative above others, that are self-evident and convincing: or if
there were, could we advance a step beyond it, but by the use of those
very faculties, of which we are supposed to be already diffident. The
Cartesian doubt, therefore, were it ever possible to be attained by any
human creature (as it plainly is not) would be entirely incurable; and
no reasoning could ever bring us to a state of assurance and conviction
upon any subject.
It must, however, be confessed, that this species of scepticism, when
more moderate, may be understood in a very reasonable sense, and is a
necessary preparative to the study of philosophy, by preserving a proper
impartiality in our judgements, and weaning our mind from all those
prejudices, which we may have imbibed from education or rash opinion. To
begin with clear and self-evident principles, to advance by timorous and
sure steps, to review frequently our conclusions, and examine accurately
all their consequences; though by these means we shall make both a slow
and a short progress in our systems; are the only methods, by which we
can ever hope to reach truth, and attain a proper stability and
certainty in our determinations.
117. There is another species of scepticism, _consequent_ to science and
enquiry, when men are supposed to have discovered, either the absolute
fallaciousness of their mental faculties, or their unfitness to reach
any fixed determination in all those curious subjects of speculation,
about which they are commonly employed. Even our very senses are brought
into dispute, by a certain species of philosophers; and the maxims of
common life are subjected to the same doubt as the most profound
principles or conclusions of metaphysics and theology. As these
paradoxical tenets (if they may be called tenets) are to be met with in
some philosophers, and the refutation of them in several, they naturally
excite our curiosity, and make us enquire into the arguments, on which
they may be founded.
I need not insist upon the more trite topics, employed by the sceptics
in all ages, against the evidence of _sense_; such as those which are
derived from the imperfection and fallaciousness of our organs, on
numberless occasions; the crooked appearance of an oar in water; the
various aspects of objects, according to their different distances; the
double images which arise from the pressing one eye; with many other
appearances of a like nature. These sceptical topics, indeed, are only
sufficient to prove, that the senses alone are not implicitly to be
depended on; but that we must correct their evidence by reason, and by
considerations, derived from the nature of the medium, the distance of
the object, and the disposition of the organ, in order to render them,
within their sphere, the proper _criteria_ of truth and falsehood. There
are other more profound arguments against the senses, which admit not of
so easy a solution.
118. It seems evident, that men are carried, by a natural instinct or
prepossession, to repose faith in their senses; and that, without any
reasoning, or even almost before the use of reason, we always suppose an
external universe, which depends not on our perception, but would exist,
though we and every sensible creature were absent or annihilated. Even
the animal creation are governed by a like opinion, and preserve this
belief of external objects, in all their thoughts, designs, and actions.
It seems also evident, that, when men follow this blind and powerful
instinct of nature, they always suppose the very images, presented by
the senses, to be the external objects, and never entertain any
suspicion, that the one are nothing but representations of the other.
This very table, which we see white, and which we feel hard, is believed
to exist, independent of our perception, and to be something external
to our mind, which perceives it. Our presence bestows not being on it:
our absence does not annihilate it. It preserves its existence uniform
and entire, independent of the situation of intelligent beings, who
perceive or contemplate it.
But this universal and primary opinion of all men is soon destroyed by
the slightest philosophy, which teaches us, that nothing can ever be
present to the mind but an image or perception, and that the senses are
only the inlets, through which these images are conveyed, without being
able to produce any immediate intercourse between the mind and the
object. The table, which we see, seems to diminish, as we remove farther
from it: but the real table, which exists independent of us, suffers no
alteration: it was, therefore, nothing but its image, which was present
to the mind. These are the obvious dictates of reason; and no man, who
reflects, ever doubted, that the existences, which we consider, when we
say, _this house_ and _that tree_, are nothing but perceptions in the
mind, and fleeting copies or representations of other existences, which
remain uniform and independent.
119. So far, then, are we necessitated by reasoning to contradict or
depart from the primary instincts of nature, and to embrace a new system
with regard to the evidence of our senses. But here philosophy finds
herself extremely embarrassed, when she would justify this new system,
and obviate the cavils and objections of the sceptics. She can no longer
plead the infallible and irresistible instinct of nature: for that led
us to a quite different system, which is acknowledged fallible and even
erroneous. And to justify this pretended philosophical system, by a
chain of clear and convincing argument, or even any appearance of
argument, exceeds the power of all human capacity.
By what argument can it be proved, that the perceptions of the mind
must be caused by external objects, entirely different from them, though
resembling them (if that be possible) and could not arise either from
the energy of the mind itself, or from the suggestion of some invisible
and unknown spirit, or from some other cause still more unknown to us?
It is acknowledged, that, in fact, many of these perceptions arise not
from anything external, as in dreams, madness, and other diseases. And
nothing can be more inexplicable than the manner, in which body should
so operate upon mind as ever to convey an image of itself to a
substance, supposed of so different, and even contrary a nature.
It is a question of fact, whether the perceptions of the senses be
produced by external objects, resembling them: how shall this question
be determined? By experience surely; as all other questions of a like
nature. But here experience is, and must be entirely silent. The mind
has never anything present to it but the perceptions, and cannot
possibly reach any experience of their connexion with objects. The
supposition of such a connexion is, therefore, without any foundation in
120. To have recourse to the veracity of the supreme Being, in order to
prove the veracity of our senses, is surely making a very unexpected
circuit. If his veracity were at all concerned in this matter, our
senses would be entirely infallible; because it is not possible that he
can ever deceive. Not to mention, that, if the external world be once
called in question, we shall be at a loss to find arguments, by which we
may prove the existence of that Being or any of his attributes.
121. This is a topic, therefore, in which the profounder and more
philosophical sceptics will always triumph, when they endeavour to
introduce an universal doubt into all subjects of human knowledge and
enquiry. Do you follow the instincts and propensities of nature, may
they say, in assenting to the veracity of sense? But these lead you to
believe that the very perception or sensible image is the external
object. Do you disclaim this principle, in order to embrace a more
rational opinion, that the perceptions are only representations of
something external? You here depart from your natural propensities and
more obvious sentiments; and yet are not able to satisfy your reason,
which can never find any convincing argument from experience to prove,
that the perceptions are connected with any external objects.
122. There is another sceptical topic of a like nature, derived from the
most profound philosophy; which might merit our attention, were it
requisite to dive so deep, in order to discover arguments and
reasonings, which can so little serve to any serious purpose. It is
universally allowed by modern enquirers, that all the sensible qualities
of objects, such as hard, soft, hot, cold, white, black, &c. are merely
secondary, and exist not in the objects themselves, but are perceptions
of the mind, without any external archetype or model, which they
represent. If this be allowed, with regard to secondary qualities, it
must also follow, with regard to the supposed primary qualities of
extension and solidity; nor can the latter be any more entitled to that
denomination than the former. The idea of extension is entirely acquired
from the senses of sight and feeling; and if all the qualities,
perceived by the senses, be in the mind, not in the object, the same
conclusion must reach the idea of extension, which is wholly dependent
on the sensible ideas or the ideas of secondary qualities. Nothing can
save us from this conclusion, but the asserting, that the ideas of those
primary qualities are attained by _Abstraction_, an opinion, which, if
we examine it accurately, we shall find to be unintelligible, and even
absurd. An extension, that is neither tangible nor visible, cannot
possibly be conceived: and a tangible or visible extension, which is
neither hard nor soft, black nor white, is equally beyond the reach of
human conception. Let any man try to conceive a triangle in general,
which is neither _Isosceles_ nor _Scalenum_, nor has any particular
length or proportion of sides; and he will soon perceive the absurdity
of all the scholastic notions with regard to abstraction and
 This argument is drawn from Dr. Berkeley; and indeed most
of the writings of that very ingenious author form the best
lessons of scepticism, which are to be found either among the
the ancient or modern philosopher, Bayle not excepted. He
professes, however, in his title-page (and undoubtedly with
great truth) to have composed his book against the sceptics as
well as against the atheists and free-thinkers. But that all
his arguments, though otherwise intended, are, in reality,
merely sceptical, appears from this, _that they admit of no
answer and produce no conviction_. Their only effect is to
cause that momentary amazement and irresolution and confusion,
which is the result of scepticism.
123. Thus the first philosophical objection to the evidence of sense or
to the opinion of external existence consists in this, that such an
opinion, if rested on natural instinct, is contrary to reason, and if
referred to reason, is contrary to natural instinct, and at the same
time carries no rational evidence with it, to convince an impartial
enquirer. The second objection goes farther, and represents this opinion
as contrary to reason: at least, if it be a principle of reason, that
all sensible qualities are in the mind, not in the object. Bereave
matter of all its intelligible qualities, both primary and secondary,
you in a manner annihilate it, and leave only a certain unknown,
inexplicable _something_, as the cause of our perceptions; a notion so
imperfect, that no sceptic will think it worth while to contend
124. It may seem a very extravagant attempt of the sceptics to destroy
_reason_ by argument and ratiocination; yet is this the grand scope of
all their enquiries and disputes. They endeavour to find objections,
both to our abstract reasonings, and to those which regard matter of
fact and existence.
The chief objection against all _abstract_ reasonings is derived from
the ideas of space and time; ideas, which, in common life and to a
careless view, are very clear and intelligible, but when they pass
through the scrutiny of the profound sciences (and they are the chief
object of these sciences) afford principles, which seem full of
absurdity and contradiction. No priestly _dogmas_, invented on purpose
to tame and subdue the rebellious reason of mankind, ever shocked common
sense more than the doctrine of the infinitive divisibility of
extension, with its consequences; as they are pompously displayed by all
geometricians and metaphysicians, with a kind of triumph and exultation.
A real quantity, infinitely less than any finite quantity, containing
quantities infinitely less than itself, and so on _in infinitum_; this
is an edifice so bold and prodigious, that it is too weighty for any
pretended demonstration to support, because it shocks the clearest and
most natural principles of human reason. But what renders the matter
more extraordinary, is, that these seemingly absurd opinions are
supported by a chain of reasoning, the clearest and most natural; nor is
it possible for us to allow the premises without admitting the
consequences. Nothing can be more convincing and satisfactory than all
the conclusions concerning the properties of circles and triangles; and
yet, when these are once received, how can we deny, that the angle of
contact between a circle and its tangent is infinitely less than any
rectilineal angle, that as you may increase the diameter of the circle
_in infinitum_, this angle of contact becomes still less, even _in
infinitum_, and that the angle of contact between other curves and their
tangents may be infinitely less than those between any circle and its
tangent, and so on, _in infinitum_? The demonstration of these
principles seems as unexceptionable as that which proves the three
angles of a triangle to be equal to two right ones, though the latter
opinion be natural and easy, and the former big with contradiction and
absurdity. Reason here seems to be thrown into a kind of amazement and
suspence, which, without the suggestions of any sceptic, gives her a
diffidence of herself, and of the ground on which she treads. She sees a
full light, which illuminates certain places; but that light borders
upon the most profound darkness. And between these she is so dazzled and
confounded, that she scarcely can pronounce with certainty and assurance
concerning any one object.
 Whatever disputes there may be about mathematical points,
we must allow that there are physical points; that is, parts
of extension, which cannot be divided or lessened, either by
the eye or imagination. These images, then, which are present
to the fancy or senses, are absolutely indivisible, and
consequently must be allowed by mathematicians to be infinitely
less than any real part of extension; and yet nothing appears
more certain to reason, than that an infinite number of them
composes an infinite extension. How much more an infinite
number of those infinitely small parts of extension, which are
still supposed infinitely divisible.
125. The absurdity of these bold determinations of the abstract sciences
seems to become, if possible, still more palpable with regard to time
than extension. An infinite number of real parts of time, passing in
succession, and exhausted one after another, appears so evident a
contradiction, that no man, one should think, whose judgement is not
corrupted, instead of being improved, by the sciences, would ever be
able to admit of it.
Yet still reason must remain restless, and unquiet, even with regard to
that scepticism, to which she is driven by these seeming absurdities and
contradictions. How any clear, distinct idea can contain circumstances,
contradictory to itself, or to any other clear, distinct idea, is
absolutely incomprehensible; and is, perhaps, as absurd as any
proposition, which can be formed. So that nothing can be more
sceptical, or more full of doubt and hesitation, than this scepticism
itself, which arises from some of the paradoxical conclusions of
geometry or the science of quantity.
 It seems to me not impossible to avoid these absurdities
and contradictions, if it be admitted, that there is no such
thing as abstract or general ideas, properly speaking; but that
all general ideas are, in reality, particular ones, attached to
a general term, which recalls, upon occasion, other particular
ones, that resemble, in certain circumstances, the idea,
present to the mind. Thus when the term Horse is pronounced, we
immediately figure to ourselves the idea of a black or a white
animal, or a particular size or figure: But as that tern is
also usually though not actually present to the imagination,
are easily recalled: and our reasoning and conclusion proceed
in the same way, as if they were actually present. If this be
admitted (as seems reasonable) it follows that all the ideas of
quantity, upon which mathematicians reason, are nothing but
particular, and such as are suggested by the senses and
imagination, and consequently, cannot be infinitely divisible.
It is sufficient to have dropped this hint at present, without
prosecuting it any farther. It certainly concerns all lovers
of science not to expose themselves to the ridicule and
contempt of the ignorant by their conclusion; and this seems
the readiest solution of these difficulties.
126. The sceptical objections to _moral_ evidence, or to the reasonings
concerning matter of fact, are either _popular_ or _philosophical_. The
popular objections are derived from the natural weakness of human
understanding; the contradictory opinions, which have been entertained
in different ages and nations; the variations of our judgement in
sickness and health, youth and old age, prosperity and adversity; the
perpetual contradiction of each particular man's opinions and
sentiments; with many other topics of that kind. It is needless to
insist farther on this head. These objections are but weak. For as, in
common life, we reason every moment concerning fact and existence, and
cannot possibly subsist, without continually employing this species of
argument, any popular objections, derived from thence, must be
insufficient to destroy that evidence. The great subverter of
_Pyrrhonism_ or the excessive principles of scepticism is action, and
employment, and the occupations of common life. These principles may
flourish and triumph in the schools; where it is, indeed, difficult, if
not impossible, to refute them. But as soon as they leave the shade, and
by the presence of the real objects, which actuate our passions and
sentiments, are put in opposition to the more powerful principles of our
nature, they vanish like smoke, and leave the most determined sceptic in
the same condition as other mortals.
127. The sceptic, therefore, had better keep within his proper sphere,
and display those _philosophical_ objections, which arise from more
profound researches. Here he seems to have ample matter of triumph;
while he justly insists, that all our evidence for any matter of fact,
which lies beyond the testimony of sense or memory, is derived entirely
from the relation of cause and effect; that we have no other idea of
this relation than that of two objects, which have been frequently
_conjoined_ together; that we have no argument to convince us, that
objects, which have, in our experience, been frequently conjoined, will
likewise, in other instances, be conjoined in the same manner; and that
nothing leads us to this inference but custom or a certain instinct of
our nature; which it is indeed difficult to resist, but which, like
other instincts, may be fallacious and deceitful. While the sceptic
insists upon these topics, he shows his force, or rather, indeed, his
own and our weakness; and seems, for the time at least, to destroy all
assurance and conviction. These arguments might be displayed at greater
length, if any durable good or benefit to society could ever be expected
to result from them.
128. For here is the chief and most confounding objection to _excessive_
scepticism, that no durable good can ever result from it; while it
remains in its full force and vigour. We need only ask such a sceptic,
_What his meaning is? And what he proposes by all these curious
researches?_ He is immediately at a loss, and knows not what to answer.
A Copernican or Ptolemaic, who supports each his different system of
astronomy, may hope to produce a conviction, which will remain constant
and durable, with his audience. A Stoic or Epicurean displays
principles, which may not be durable, but which have an effect on
conduct and behaviour. But a Pyrrhonian cannot expect, that his
philosophy will have any constant influence on the mind: or if it had,
that its influence would be beneficial to society. On the contrary, he
must acknowledge, if he will acknowledge anything, that all human life
must perish, were his principles universally and steadily to prevail.
All discourse, all action would immediately cease; and men remain in a
total lethargy, till the necessities of nature, unsatisfied, put an end
to their miserable existence. It is true; so fatal an event is very
little to be dreaded. Nature is always too strong for principle. And
though a Pyrrhonian may throw himself or others into a momentary
amazement and confusion by his profound reasonings; the first and most
trivial event in life will put to flight all his doubts and scruples, and
leave him the same, in every point of action and speculation, with the
philosophers of every other sect, or with those who never concerned
themselves in any philosophical researches. When he awakes from his
dream, he will be the first to join in the laugh against himself, and to
confess, that all his objections are mere amusement, and can have no
other tendency than to show the whimsical condition of mankind, who must
act and reason and believe; though they are not able, by their most
diligent enquiry, to satisfy themselves concerning the foundation of
these operations, or to remove the objections, which may be raised
129. There is, indeed, a more _mitigated_ scepticism or _academical_
philosophy, which may be both durable and useful, and which may, in
part, be the result of this Pyrrhonism, or _excessive_ scepticism, when
its undistinguished doubts are, in some measure, corrected by common
sense and reflection. The greater part of mankind are naturally apt to
be affirmative and dogmatical in their opinions; and while they see
objects only on one side, and have no idea of any counterpoising
argument, they throw themselves precipitately into the principles, to
which they are inclined; nor have they any indulgence for those who
entertain opposite sentiments. To hesitate or balance perplexes their
understanding, checks their passion, and suspends their action. They
are, therefore, impatient till they escape from a state, which to them
is so uneasy: and they think, that they could never remove themselves
far enough from it, by the violence of their affirmations and obstinacy
of their belief. But could such dogmatical reasoners become sensible of
the strange infirmities of human understanding, even in its most perfect
state, and when most accurate and cautious in its determinations; such a
reflection would naturally inspire them with more modesty and reserve,
and diminish their fond opinion of themselves, and their prejudice
against antagonists. The illiterate may reflect on the disposition of
the learned, who, amidst all the advantages of study and reflection, are
commonly still diffident in their determinations: and if any of the
learned be inclined, from their natural temper, to haughtiness and
obstinacy, a small tincture of Pyrrhonism might abate their pride, by
showing them, that the few advantages, which they may have attained over
their fellows, are but inconsiderable, if compared with the universal
perplexity and confusion, which is inherent in human nature. In
general, there is a degree of doubt, and caution, and modesty, which,
in all kinds of scrutiny and decision, ought for ever to accompany a
130. Another species of _mitigated_ scepticism which may be of advantage
to mankind, and which may be the natural result of the Pyrrhonian doubts
and scruples, is the limitation of our enquiries to such subjects as are
best adapted to the narrow capacity of human understanding. The
_imagination_ of man is naturally sublime, delighted with whatever is
remote and extraordinary, and running, without control, into the most
distant parts of space and time in order to avoid the objects, which
custom has rendered too familiar to it. A correct _Judgement_ observes a
contrary method, and avoiding all distant and high enquiries, confines
itself to common life, and to such subjects as fall under daily practice
and experience; leaving the more sublime topics to the embellishment of
poets and orators, or to the arts of priests and politicians. To bring
us to so salutary a determination, nothing can be more serviceable, than
to be once thoroughly convinced of the force of the Pyrrhonian doubt,
and of the impossibility, that anything, but the strong power of natural
instinct, could free us from it. Those who have a propensity to
philosophy, will still continue their researches; because they reflect,
that, besides the immediate pleasure, attending such an occupation,
philosophical decisions are nothing but the reflections of common life,
methodized and corrected. But they will never be tempted to go beyond
common life, so long as they consider the imperfection of those
faculties which they employ, their narrow reach, and their inaccurate
operations. While we cannot give a satisfactory reason, why we believe,
after a thousand experiments, that a stone will fall, or fire burn; can
we ever satisfy ourselves concerning any determination, which we may
form, with regard to the origin of worlds, and the situation of nature,
from, and to eternity?
This narrow limitation, indeed, of our enquiries, is, in every respect,
so reasonable, that it suffices to make the slightest examination into
the natural powers of the human mind and to compare them with their
objects, in order to recommend it to us. We shall then find what are the
proper subjects of science and enquiry.
131. It seems to me, that the only objects of the abstract science or of
demonstration are quantity and number, and that all attempts to extend
this more perfect species of knowledge beyond these bounds are mere
sophistry and illusion. As the component parts of quantity and number
are entirely similar, their relations become intricate and involved; and
nothing can be more curious, as well as useful, than to trace, by a
variety of mediums, their equality or inequality, through their
different appearances. But as all other ideas are clearly distinct and
different from each other, we can never advance farther, by our utmost
scrutiny, than to observe this diversity, and, by an obvious reflection,
pronounce one thing not to be another. Or if there be any difficulty in
these decisions, it proceeds entirely from the undeterminate meaning of
words, which is corrected by juster definitions. That _the square of the
hypothenuse is equal to the squares of the other two sides_, cannot be
known, let the terms be ever so exactly defined, without a train of
reasoning and enquiry. But to convince us of this proposition, _that
where there is no property, there can be no injustice_, it is only
necessary to define the terms, and explain injustice to be a violation
of property. This proposition is, indeed, nothing but a more imperfect
definition. It is the same case with all those pretended syllogistical
reasonings, which may be found in every other branch of learning, except
the sciences of quantity and number; and these may safely, I think, be
pronounced the only proper objects of knowledge and demonstration.
132. All other enquiries of men regard only matter of fact and
existence; and these are evidently incapable of demonstration. Whatever
_is_ may _not be_. No negation of a fact can involve a contradiction.
The non-existence of any being, without exception, is as clear and
distinct an idea as its existence. The proposition, which affirms it not
to be, however false, is no less conceivable and intelligible, than that
which affirms it to be. The case is different with the sciences,
properly so called. Every proposition, which is not true, is there
confused and unintelligible. That the cube root of 64 is equal to the
half of 10, is a false proposition, and can never be distinctly
conceived. But that Caesar, or the angel Gabriel, or any being never
existed, may be a false proposition, but still is perfectly conceivable,
and implies no contradiction.
The existence, therefore, of any being can only be proved by arguments
from its cause or its effect; and these arguments are founded entirely
on experience. If we reason _a priori_, anything may appear able to
produce anything. The falling of a pebble may, for aught we know,
extinguish the sun; or the wish of a man control the planets in their
orbits. It is only experience, which teaches us the nature and bounds of
cause and effect, and enables us to infer the existence of one object
from that of another. Such is the foundation of moral reasoning,
which forms the greater part of human knowledge, and is the source of
all human action and behaviour.
 That impious maxim of the ancient philosopher, _Ex nihilo,
nihil fit_, by which the creation of matter was excluded,
ceases to be a maxim, according to this philosophy. Not all the
will of the supreme Being may create matter; but, for aught we
know a _priori,_ the will of any other being might create it,
or any other cause, that the most whimsical imagination
Moral reasonings are either concerning particular or general facts. All
deliberations in life regard the former; as also all disquisitions in
history, chronology, geography, and astronomy.
The sciences, which treat of general facts, are politics, natural
philosophy, physic, chemistry, &c. where the qualities, causes and
effects of a whole species of objects are enquired into.
Divinity or Theology, as it proves the existence of a Deity, and the
immortality of souls, is composed partly of reasonings concerning
particular, partly concerning general facts. It has a foundation in
_reason_, so far as it is supported by experience. But its best and most
solid foundation is _faith_ and divine revelation.
Morals and criticism are not so properly objects of the understanding as
of taste and sentiment. Beauty, whether moral or natural, is felt, more
properly than perceived. Or if we reason concerning it, and endeavour to
fix its standard, we regard a new fact, to wit, the general tastes of
mankind, or some such fact, which may be the object of reasoning
When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc
must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school
metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, _Does it contain any abstract
reasoning concerning quantity or number?_ No. _Does it contain any
experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?_ No.
Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry
not source of ideas of primary qualities, 122.
and philosophy, 1, 4, 34, 128;
a species of, the foundation of all reasoning about matter of fact,
the reason of, 83-85;
learn from experience and draw inferences, 83;
which can only be founded on custom, 84;
cause of difference between men and animals, 84 n.
to senses must be corrected by reason, 117.
25, 36 n, 89 n, 132, 132 n.
of ideas, three principles of, 18-19, 41-44 (v. _Cause_ C).
(v. _Cause_ C, 39-45);
and chance, 46.
really a sceptic, 122 n.
and soul, mystery of union of, 52;
volition and movements of, 52.
Real existence of (v. _Scepticism_, B, 118-123).
first (v. _God_, _Necessity_, 78-81; _Providence_,
102-115, 132 n).
a principle of association of ideas, 19, 43;
sole foundation of reasonings about matter of fact or real existence,
A. _Knowledge of Causes arises from experience not from Reason_,
Reasonings _a priori_ give no knowledge of cause and effect,
impossible to see the effect in the cause since they are totally
natural philosophy never pretends to assign ultimate causes, but only
to reduce causes to a few general causes, e.g. gravity, 26;
geometry applies laws obtained by experience, 27.
Conclusions from experience not based on any process of the
yet we infer in the future a similar connexion between known
qualities of things and their secret powers, to that which
we assumed in the past. On what is this inference based? 29;
demonstrative reasoning has no place here, and all experimental
reasoning assumes the resemblance of the future to the past,
and so cannot prove it without being circular, 30, 32;
if reasoning were the basis of this belief, there would be no need
for the multiplication of instances or of long experience,
yet conclusions about matter of fact are affected by experience even
in beasts and children, so that they cannot be founded on
abstruse reasoning, 33;
to explain our inferences from experience a principle is required of
equal weight and authority with reason, 34.
B. _Custom enables us to infer existence of one object from the
appearance of another_, 35-38.
Experience enables us to ascribe a more than arbitrary connexion to
we are determined to this by custom or habit which is the great guide
of human life, 36;
but our inference must be based on some fact present to the senses
or memory, 37;
the customary conjunction between such an object and some other
object produces an operation of the soul which is as
unavoidable as love, 38;
animals also infer one event from another by custom, 82-84;
and in man as in animals experimental reasoning depends on a species
of instinct or mechanical power that acts in us unknown to
C. _Belief_, 39-45.
Belief differs from fiction or the loose reveries of the fancy by
some feeling annexed to it, 39;
belief cannot be defined, but may be described as a more lively,
forcible, firm, steady conception of an object than can be
attained by the imagination alone, 40;
it is produced by the principles of association, viz. resemblance,
by a kind of pre-established harmony between the course of nature
and our ideas, 44;
this operation of our minds necessary to our subsistence and so
entrusted by nature to instinct rather than to reasoning, 45.
Belief produced by a majority of chances by an inexplicable
contrivance of Nature, 46 (cf. 87-8);
probability of causes: the failure of a cause ascribed to a secret
counteracting cause, 47 (cf. 67);
it is universally allowed that chance when strictly examined is a
mere negative word, 74.
D. _Power_, 49-57.
Power, force, energy, necessary connexion must either be defined by
analysis or explained by production of the impression from
which they are copied, 49;
from the first appearance of an object we cannot foretell its effect:
we cannot see the power of a single body: we only see
Is the idea of power derived from an internal impression and is it an
idea of reflection? 51;
it is not derived, as Locke said, from reasoning about power of
production in nature, 50 n;
nor from consciousness of influence of will over bodily organs, 52;
nor from effort to overcome resistance, 52 n (cf. 60 n);
nor from influence of will over mind, 53;
many philosophers appeal to an invisible intelligent principle, to a
volition of the supreme being, and regard causes as only
occasions and our mental conceptions as revelations, 54-5;
thus diminishing the grandeur of God, 56;
this theory too bold and beyond verification by our faculties, and
is no explanation, 57;
vis inertiae, 57 n.
In single instances we only see sequence of loose events which are
conjoined and never connected, 58;
the idea of necessary connexion only arises from a number of similar
instances, and the only difference between such a number and
a single instance is that the former produces a habit of
expecting the usual attendant, 59, 61.
This customary transition is the impression from which we form the
idea of necessary connexion.
E. _Reasoning from effect to cause and conversely_, 105-115 (v.
In arguing from effect to cause we must not infer more qualities in
the cause than are required to produce the effect, nor reason
backwards from an inferred cause to new effects, 105-8;
we can reason back from cause to new effects in the case of human
acts by analogy which rests on previous knowledge, 111-2;
when the effect is entirely singular and does not belong to any
species we cannot infer its cause at all, 115.
F. _Definitions of Cause_, 60 (cf. 74 n).
ignorance of causes, 46;
has no existence, 74 (v. _Cause_ B).
in reasoning, 30.
peculiarity of ideas of, 16.
the test of demonstration, 132.
of matter of fact always possible, 21, 132.
57 n, 158 n.
when strongest conceals itself, 24;
an ultimate principle of all conclusions from experience, 36, 127;
and belief, 39-45;
gives rise to inferences of animals, 84.
only applicable to complex ideas, 49;
need of, 131;
of cause, 60.
opp. intuitive, 20;
confined to quantity and number, 131;
impossible to demonstrate a fact since no negation of a fact can
involve a contradiction, 132.
his universal doubt antecedent to study if strictly taken is
incurable, since even from an indubitable first principle no
advance can be made except by the faculties which we doubt,
his appeal to the veracity of God is useless, 120 (v. _Scepticism_,
argument from, 105 f. (v. _Providence_).
of mathematical and physical points, 124.
Cartesian, 116, 120 (v. _Scepticism_ A).
philosophy, defence of, 102-15;
denial of providence and future state is harmless, 104 (v.
truths in, do not depend on existence of circles or triangles, 20.
moral and natural, 70;
value of human, 82-9 (v. _Miracles_).
doctrine of necessity either makes God the cause of evil or denies
existence of evil as regards the whole, 78-81.
external and perception, 118-9 (v. _Scepticism_, B, 116-32).
Ex nihilo nihil
(v. _Cause_ A, 23-33);
opposition of reason and experience usual, but really erroneous and
superficial, 36 n.
Infallible, may be regarded as proof, 87 (v. _Miracles_);
all the philosophy and religion in the world cannot carry us beyond
the usual course of experience, 113.
a supposed primary quality, 122.
and fact (v. _Cause_ C), 39 f.
inference to, from past, 29 (v. _Cause_ A).
ideas, do not really exist, but only particular ideas attached to a
general term, 125 n.
propositions of certain, as depending only on relations of ideas not
on existence of objects, 20;
gives no knowledge of ultimate causes: only applies laws discovered
by experience, 27.
idea of, 14;
no idea of except what we learn from reflection on our own
theory that God is cause of all motion and thought, causes being
only occasions of his volition, 54-57;
by doctrine of necessity either there are no bad actions or God is
the cause of evil, 78-81.
Veracity of, appealed to, 120.
And creation of matter, 132 n.
v. _Providence_, 102-115; _Scepticism_, 116-132.
(v. _Custom_, _Cause_ B).
use of, 65.
nature, inconstancy a constant character of, 68.
A. _Origin of_, 11-17.
Perceptions divided into impressions and ideas, 11-12;
the mind can only compound the materials derived from outward or
inward sentiment, 13 (cf. 53);
all ideas resolvable into simple ideas copied from precedent
deficiency in an organ of sensation produces deficiency in
corresponding idea, 15-16;
suspected ideas to be tested by asking for the impression from
which it is derived, 17 (cf. 49);
idea of reflection, 51;
general ideas, 135 n;
innate ideas, 19 n;
power of will over ideas, 53.
B. _Association of_, 18-19.
Ideas introduce each other with a certain degree of method and
only three principles of association, viz. Resemblance, Contiguity,
and Cause or Effect, 19;
contrariety, 19 n;
production of belief by these principles, 41-43.
C. Correspondence of ideas and course of nature, 44;
relations of ideas one of two possible objects of enquiry, 20;
such relations discoverable by the mere operation of thought, 20,
no demonstration possible except in case of ideas of quantity or
and belief, 40.
all our more lively perceptions, 12;
the test of ideas, 17, 49.
peculiar turpitude of explained, 12.
of the negative, 132 (cf. 20).
and similarity, 30, 115 (v. _Cause_).
divisibility, 124 f.
multiplication of not required by reason, 31.
more trustworthy than reasoning, 45;
the basis of all experimental reasoning, 85;
the basis of realism, 118, 121.
opp. mediate reasoning, 2.
(v. _Necessity_, 62-97).
Definition of hypothetical liberty, 73.
Necessary to morality, 77.
4, 40 n, 50 n, 57 n.
His loose use of 'ideas,' 19 n;
betrayed into frivolous disputes about innate ideas by the
School-men, 19 n;
distinction of primary and secondary qualities, 122.
4, 57 n..
a reasonable and active being, 4.
rules of, based on and vary with utility, 118.
ideas of, clear and determinate, hence their superiority to moral
and metaphysical sciences, 48;
their difficulty, 48.
Mathematical and physical points, 124 n.
necessity of, 64;
creation of, 132 n (v. _Scepticism_ A).
contrary of, always possible, 21;
arguments to new, based only on cause and effect, 22.
not a science, 5-6;
how inferior and superior to mathematics, 48.
mental geography, 8;
secret springs and principles of, 9;
can only mix and compound materials given by inward and outward
power of will over, 53.
Belief in human evidence diminishes according as the event witnessed
is unusual or extraordinary, 89;
difference between extraordinary and miraculous, 89 n;
if the evidence for a miracle amounted to proof we should have one
proof opposed by another proof, for the proof against a
miracle is as complete as possible;
an event is not miraculous unless there is a uniform experience,
that is a proof, against it, 90;
definition of miracle, 90 n;
hence no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless its
falsehood would be more miraculous than the event it
as a fact the evidence for a miracle has never amounted to proof, 92;
the passion for the wonderful in human nature, 93;
prevalence of miracles in savage and early periods and their
diminution with civilization, 94;
the evidence for miracles in matters of religion opposed by the
almost infinite number of witnesses for rival religions, 95;
value of human testimony diminished by temptation to pose as a
prophet or apostle, 97;
no testimony for a miracle has ever amounted to a probability, much
less to a proof, and if it did amount to a proof it would be
opposed by another perfect proof, 98;
so a miracle can never be proved so as to be the foundation of a
system of religion, 99;
a conclusion which confounds those who base the Christian religion
on reason, not on faith, 100;
the Christian religion cannot be believed without a miracle which
will subvert the principle of a man's understanding and give
him a determination to believe what is most contrary to
custom and experience, 101.
evil (q.v.) 80.
inferior to mathematics, 48;
sceptical objections to, 126-7.
Moral evidence easily combined with natural, 70.
design in, 105 f. (v. _Providence_),
and the course of our ideas, 44.
State of, a philosophical fiction, 151, 151 n.
connexion (v. _Cause_).
two definitions of, 75.
A. _and Liberty_, 62-81;
the controversy is based on ambiguity, and all mankind have always
been of the same opinion on this subject, 63;
our idea of the necessity of matter arises solely from observed
uniformity and consequent inference, circumstances which are
allowed by all men to exist in respect of human action, 64;
history and knowledge of human nature assume such uniformity, 65,
which does not exclude variety due to education and progress, 66;
irregular actions to be explained by secret operation of contrary
the inconstancy of human action, its constant character, as of winds
and weather, 68;
we all acknowledge and draw inferences from the regular conjunction
of motives and actions, 69;
history, politics, and morals show this, and the possibility of
combining moral and natural evidence shows that they have a
common origin, 70;
the reluctance to acknowledge the necessity of actions due to a
lingering belief that we can see real connexion behind mere
we should begin with the examination not of the soul and will but of
brute matter, 72;
the prevalence of the liberty doctrine due to a false sensation of
liberty and a false experiment, 72 n;
though this question is the most contentious of all, mankind has
always agreed in the doctrine of liberty, if we mean by it
that hypothetical liberty which consists in a power of
acting or not acting according to the determinations of our
will, and which can be ascribed to every one who is not a
liberty when opposed to necessity, and not merely to constraint, is
the same as chance, 74.
B. _Both necessity and liberty are necessary to morality_, this
doctrine of necessity only alters our view of matter and so
is at least innocent, 75;
rewards and punishments imply the uniform influence of motives, and
connexion of character and action: if necessity be denied,
a man may commit any crime and be no worse for it, 76;
liberty also essential to morality, 77.
Objection that doctrine of necessity and of a regular chain of
causes either makes God the cause of evil, or abolishes evil
in actions, 78;
Stoic answer, that the whole system is good, is specious but
ineffectual in practice, 79;
no speculative argument can counteract the impulse of our natural
sentiments to blame certain actions, 80;
how God can be the cause of all actions without being the author of
moral evil is a mystery with which philosophy cannot deal,
inconceivability of, 132.
52 n, 60 n.
the object of demonstration, 131.
theory of, 55.
between thought and course of nature, 44-5.
and external objects, 119 f. (v. _Scepticism_, _Impression_,
moral, two branches of, abstruse and practical, 1-5;
gratifies innocent curiosity, 6;
metaphysics tries to deal with matters inaccessible to human
True, must lay down limits of understanding, 7 (cf. 113);
a large part of, consists in mental geography, 8;
may hope to resolve principles of mind into still more general
Natural, only staves off our ignorance a little longer, as moral or
metaphysical philosophy serves only to discover larger
portions of it, 26;
academical, or sceptical, flatters no bias or passion except love of
truth, and so has few partisans, 34;
though it destroy speculation, cannot destroy action, for nature
steps in and asserts her rights, 34;
moral, inferior to mathematics in clearness of ideas, superior in
shortness of arguments, 48.
Controversies in, due to ambiguity of terms, 62.
Disputes in, not be settled by appeal to dangerous consequences of a
Speculative, entirely indifferent to the peace of society and
security of government, 104 (cf. 114).
All the philosophy in the world, and all the religion in the world,
which is nothing but a species of philosophy, can never
carry us beyond the usual course of experience, 113.
Happiness of, to have originated in an age and country of freedom
and toleration, 102.
physical, indivisible, 124 n.
50 f, 60 n. (v. _Cause_ D).
46 f. (v. _Cause_, B).
arguments, 38, 46 n.
not the foundation of justice, 257.
46 n, 86-101 (v. _Miracles_, _Demonstrative_).
102-115 (v. _God_).
The sole argument for a divine existence is from the marks of design
in nature; must not infer greater power in the cause than is
necessary to produce the observed effects, nor argue from
such an inferred cause to any new effects which have not
been observed, 105;
so must not infer in God more power, wisdom, and benevolence than
appears in nature, 106;
so it is unnecessary to try and save the honour of the Gods by
assuming the intractability of matter or the observance of
general laws, 107;
to argue from effects to unknown causes, and then from these causes
to unknown effects, is a gross sophism, 108.
From imperfect exercise of justice in this world we cannot infer its
perfect exercise in a future world, 109;
we must regulate our conduct solely by the experienced train of
in case of human works of art we can infer the perfect from the
imperfect, but that is because we know man by experience and
also know other instances of his art, 111-112;
but in the case of God we only know him by his productions, and do
not know any class of beings to which he belongs, 113;
and the universe, his production, is entirely singular and does not
belong to a known species of things, 115.
requires doctrines of necessity and liberty, 76 (v. _Necessity_).
primary and secondary, 122.
and number, the only objects of demonstration, the parts of them
being entirely similar, 131.
and thought, 44.
of the vulgar, 118.
(a) opp. intuition, 29;
opp. experience, 28, 36 n.
(b) Corrects sympathy and senses, 117.
No match for nature, 34.
Fallacious, compared with instinct, 45.
Of men and animals, 84 n.
(c) attempts to destroy, by reasoning, 124;
objections to abstract reasoning, 124 f. (v. _Scepticism_).
Two kinds of, demonstrative and moral, 30, 46 n, 132;
moral, divided into general and particular, 132;
produces demonstrations, proofs, and probabilities, 46 n.
Probable (v. _Cause_, 28-32).
of ideas, discoverable by the mere operation of thought,