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An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume et al

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summoning up of force; to inanimate matter, which is not
capable of this sentiment. _Secondly,_ This sentiment of an
endeavour to overcome resistance has no known connexion with
any event: What follows it, we know by experience; but could
not know it _à priori._ It must, however, be confessed, that
the animal _nisus,_ which we experience, though it can afford
no accurate precise idea of power, enters very much into that
vulgar, inaccurate idea, which is formed of it.

53. Shall we then assert, that we are conscious of a power or energy in
our own minds, when, by an act or command of our will, we raise up a new
idea, fix the mind to the contemplation of it, turn it on all sides, and
at last dismiss it for some other idea, when we think that we have
surveyed it with sufficient accuracy? I believe the same arguments will
prove, that even this command of the will gives us no real idea of force
or energy.

_First,_ It must be allowed, that, when we know a power, we know that
very circumstance in the cause, by which it is enabled to produce the
effect: For these are supposed to be synonimous. We must, therefore,
know both the cause and effect, and the relation between them. But do we
pretend to be acquainted with the nature of the human soul and the
nature of an idea, or the aptitude of the one to produce the other? This
is a real creation; a production of something out of nothing: Which
implies a power so great, that it may seem, at first sight, beyond the
reach of any being, less than infinite. At least it must be owned, that
such a power is not felt, nor known, nor even conceivable by the mind.
We only feel the event, namely, the existence of an idea, consequent to
a command of the will: But the manner, in which this operation is
performed, the power by which it is produced, is entirely beyond our

_Secondly_, The command of the mind over itself is limited, as well as
its command over the body; and these limits are not known by reason, or
any acquaintance with the nature of cause and effect, but only by
experience and observation, as in all other natural events and in the
operation of external objects. Our authority over our sentiments and
passions is much weaker than that over our ideas; and even the latter
authority is circumscribed within very narrow boundaries. Will any one
pretend to assign the ultimate reason of these boundaries, or show why
the power is deficient in one case, not in another.

_Thirdly_, This self-command is very different at different times. A man
in health possesses more of it than one languishing with sickness. We
are more master of our thoughts in the morning than in the evening:
Fasting, than after a full meal. Can we give any reason for these
variations, except experience? Where then is the power, of which we
pretend to be conscious? Is there not here, either in a spiritual or
material substance, or both, some secret mechanism or structure of
parts, upon which the effect depends, and which, being entirely unknown
to us, renders the power or energy of the will equally unknown and

Volition is surely an act of the mind, with which we are sufficiently
acquainted. Reflect upon it. Consider it on all sides. Do you find
anything in it like this creative power, by which it raises from nothing
a new idea, and with a kind of _Fiat_, imitates the omnipotence of its
Maker, if I may be allowed so to speak, who called forth into existence
all the various scenes of nature? So far from being conscious of this
energy in the will, it requires as certain experience as that of which
we are possessed, to convince us that such extraordinary effects do ever
result from a simple act of volition.

54. The generality of mankind never find any difficulty in accounting
for the more common and familiar operations of nature--such as the
descent of heavy bodies, the growth of plants, the generation of
animals, or the nourishment of bodies by food: But suppose that, in all
these cases, they perceive the very force or energy of the cause, by
which it is connected with its effect, and is for ever infallible in its
operation. They acquire, by long habit, such a turn of mind, that, upon
the appearance of the cause, they immediately expect with assurance its
usual attendant, and hardly conceive it possible that any other event
could result from it. It is only on the discovery of extraordinary
phaenomena, such as earthquakes, pestilence, and prodigies of any kind,
that they find themselves at a loss to assign a proper cause, and to
explain the manner in which the effect is produced by it. It is usual
for men, in such difficulties, to have recourse to some invisible
intelligent principle[13] as the immediate cause of that event which
surprises them, and which, they think, cannot be accounted for from the
common powers of nature. But philosophers, who carry their scrutiny a
little farther, immediately perceive that, even in the most familiar
events, the energy of the cause is as unintelligible as in the most
unusual, and that we only learn by experience the frequent _Conjunction_
of objects, without being ever able to comprehend anything like
_Connexion_ between them.

[13] [Greek: theos apo maechanaes.]

55. Here, then, many philosophers think themselves obliged by reason to
have recourse, on all occasions, to the same principle, which the vulgar
never appeal to but in cases that appear miraculous and supernatural.
They acknowledge mind and intelligence to be, not only the ultimate and
original cause of all things, but the immediate and sole cause of every
event which appears in nature. They pretend that those objects which are
commonly denominated _causes,_ are in reality nothing but _occasions;_
and that the true and direct principle of every effect is not any power
or force in nature, but a volition of the Supreme Being, who wills that
such particular objects should for ever be conjoined with each other.
Instead of saying that one billiard-ball moves another by a force which
it has derived from the author of nature, it is the Deity himself, they
say, who, by a particular volition, moves the second ball, being
determined to this operation by the impulse of the first ball, in
consequence of those general laws which he has laid down to himself in
the government of the universe. But philosophers advancing still in
their inquiries, discover that, as we are totally ignorant of the power
on which depends the mutual operation of bodies, we are no less ignorant
of that power on which depends the operation of mind on body, or of body
on mind; nor are we able, either from our senses or consciousness, to
assign the ultimate principle in one case more than in the other. The
same ignorance, therefore, reduces them to the same conclusion. They
assert that the Deity is the immediate cause of the union between soul
and body; and that they are not the organs of sense, which, being
agitated by external objects, produce sensations in the mind; but that
it is a particular volition of our omnipotent Maker, which excites such
a sensation, in consequence of such a motion in the organ. In like
manner, it is not any energy in the will that produces local motion in
our members: It is God himself, who is pleased to second our will, in
itself impotent, and to command that motion which we erroneously
attribute to our own power and efficacy. Nor do philosophers stop at
this conclusion. They sometimes extend the same inference to the mind
itself, in its internal operations. Our mental vision or conception of
ideas is nothing but a revelation made to us by our Maker. When we
voluntarily turn our thoughts to any object, and raise up its image in
the fancy, it is not the will which creates that idea: It is the
universal Creator, who discovers it to the mind, and renders it
present to us.

56. Thus, according to these philosophers, every thing is full of God.
Not content with the principle, that nothing exists but by his will,
that nothing possesses any power but by his concession: They rob nature,
and all created beings, of every power, in order to render their
dependence on the Deity still more sensible and immediate. They consider
not that, by this theory, they diminish, instead of magnifying, the
grandeur of those attributes, which they affect so much to celebrate. It
argues surely more power in the Deity to delegate a certain degree of
power to inferior creatures than to produce every thing by his own
immediate volition. It argues more wisdom to contrive at first the
fabric of the world with such perfect foresight that, of itself, and by
its proper operation, it may serve all the purposes of providence, than
if the great Creator were obliged every moment to adjust its parts, and
animate by his breath all the wheels of that stupendous machine.

But if we would have a more philosophical confutation of this theory,
perhaps the two following reflections may suffice.

57. _First_, it seems to me that this theory of the universal energy and
operation of the Supreme Being is too bold ever to carry conviction with
it to a man, sufficiently apprized of the weakness of human reason, and
the narrow limits to which it is confined in all its operations. Though
the chain of arguments which conduct to it were ever so logical, there
must arise a strong suspicion, if not an absolute assurance, that it has
carried us quite beyond the reach of our faculties, when it leads to
conclusions so extraordinary, and so remote from common life and
experience. We are got into fairy land, long ere we have reached the
last steps of our theory; and _there_ we have no reason to trust our
common methods of argument, or to think that our usual analogies and
probabilities have any authority. Our line is too short to fathom such
immense abysses. And however we may flatter ourselves that we are
guided, in every step which we take, by a kind of verisimilitude and
experience, we may be assured that this fancied experience has no
authority when we thus apply it to subjects that lie entirely out of the
sphere of experience. But on this we shall have occasion to touch

[14] Section XII.

_Secondly,_ I cannot perceive any force in the arguments on which this
theory is founded. We are ignorant, it is true, of the manner in which
bodies operate on each other: Their force or energy is entirely
incomprehensible: But are we not equally ignorant of the manner or force
by which a mind, even the supreme mind, operates either on itself or on
body? Whence, I beseech you, do we acquire any idea of it? We have no
sentiment or consciousness of this power in ourselves. We have no idea
of the Supreme Being but what we learn from reflection on our own
faculties. Were our ignorance, therefore, a good reason for rejecting
any thing, we should be led into that principle of denying all energy in
the Supreme Being as much as in the grossest matter. We surely
comprehend as little the operations of one as of the other. Is it more
difficult to conceive that motion may arise from impulse than that it
may arise from volition? All we know is our profound ignorance in
both cases[15].

[15] I need not examine at length the _vis inertiae_ which is
so much talked of in the new philosophy, and which is ascribed
to matter. We find by experience, that a body at rest or in
motion continues for ever in its present state, till put from
it by some new cause; and that a body impelled takes as much
motion from the impelling body as it acquires itself. These are
facts. When we call this a _vis inertiae_, we only mark these
facts, without pretending to have any idea of the inert power;
in the same manner as, when we talk of gravity, we mean certain
effects, without comprehending that active power. It was never
the meaning of Sir ISAAC NEWTON to rob second causes of all
force or energy; though some of his followers have endeavoured
to establish that theory upon his authority. On the contrary,
that great philosopher had recourse to an etherial active fluid
to explain his universal attraction; though he was so cautious
and modest as to allow, that it was a mere hypothesis, not to
be insisted on, without more experiments. I must confess, that
there is something in the fate of opinions a little
extraordinary. DES CARTES insinuated that doctrine of the
universal and sole efficacy of the Deity, without insisting on
it. MALEBRANCHE and other CARTESIANS made it the foundation of
all their philosophy. It had, however, no authority in England.
LOCKE, CLARKE, and CUDWORTH, never so much as take notice of
it, but suppose all along, that matter has a real, though
subordinate and derived power. By what means has it become so
prevalent among our modern metaphysicians?


58. But to hasten to a conclusion of this argument, which is already
drawn out to too great a length: We have sought in vain for an idea of
power or necessary connexion in all the sources from which we could
suppose it to be derived. It appears that, in single instances of the
operation of bodies, we never can, by our utmost scrutiny, discover any
thing but one event following another, without being able to comprehend
any force or power by which the cause operates, or any connexion between
it and its supposed effect. The same difficulty occurs in contemplating
the operations of mind on body--where we observe the motion of the
latter to follow upon the volition of the former, but are not able to
observe or conceive the tie which binds together the motion and
volition, or the energy by which the mind produces this effect. The
authority of the will over its own faculties and ideas is not a whit
more comprehensible: So that, upon the whole, there appears not,
throughout all nature, any one instance of connexion which is
conceivable by us. All events seem entirely loose and separate. One
event follows another; but we never can observe any tie between them.
They seem _conjoined_, but never _connected_. And as we can have no idea
of any thing which never appeared to our outward sense or inward
sentiment, the necessary conclusion _seems_ to be that we have no idea
of connexion or power at all, and that these words are absolutely
without any meaning, when employed either in philosophical reasonings or
common life.

59. But there still remains one method of avoiding this conclusion, and
one source which we have not yet examined. When any natural object or
event is presented, it is impossible for us, by any sagacity or
penetration, to discover, or even conjecture, without experience, what
event will result from it, or to carry our foresight beyond that object
which is immediately present to the memory and senses. Even after one
instance or experiment where we have observed a particular event to
follow upon another, we are not entitled to form a general rule, or
foretell what will happen in like cases; it being justly esteemed an
unpardonable temerity to judge of the whole course of nature from one
single experiment, however accurate or certain. But when one particular
species of event has always, in all instances, been conjoined with
another, we make no longer any scruple of foretelling one upon the
appearance of the other, and of employing that reasoning, which can
alone assure us of any matter of fact or existence. We then call the one
object, _Cause;_ the other, _Effect._ We suppose that there is some
connexion between them; some power in the one, by which it infallibly
produces the other, and operates with the greatest certainty and
strongest necessity.

It appears, then, that this idea of a necessary connexion among events
arises from a number of similar instances which occur of the constant
conjunction of these events; nor can that idea ever be suggested by any
one of these instances, surveyed in all possible lights and positions.
But there is nothing in a number of instances, different from every
single instance, which is supposed to be exactly similar; except only,
that after a repetition of similar instances, the mind is carried by
habit, upon the appearance of one event, to expect its usual attendant,
and to believe that it will exist. This connexion, therefore, which we
_feel_ in the mind, this customary transition of the imagination from
one object to its usual attendant, is the sentiment or impression from
which we form the idea of power or necessary connexion. Nothing farther
is in the case. Contemplate the subject on all sides; you will never
find any other origin of that idea. This is the sole difference between
one instance, from which we can never receive the idea of connexion, and
a number of similar instances, by which it is suggested. The first time
a man saw the communication of motion by impulse, as by the shock of two
billiard balls, he could not pronounce that the one event was
_connected:_ but only that it was _conjoined_ with the other. After he
has observed several instances of this nature, he then pronounces them
to be _connected._ What alteration has happened to give rise to this new
idea of _connexion?_ Nothing but that he now _feels_ these events to be
connected in his imagination, and can readily foretell the existence of
one from the appearance of the other. When we say, therefore, that one
object is connected with another, we mean only that they have acquired a
connexion in our thought, and give rise to this inference, by which they
become proofs of each other's existence: A conclusion which is somewhat
extraordinary, but which seems founded on sufficient evidence. Nor will
its evidence be weakened by any general diffidence of the understanding,
or sceptical suspicion concerning every conclusion which is new and
extraordinary. No conclusions can be more agreeable to scepticism than
such as make discoveries concerning the weakness and narrow limits of
human reason and capacity.

60. And what stronger instance can be produced of the surprising
ignorance and weakness of the understanding than the present? For
surely, if there be any relation among objects which it imports to us to
know perfectly, it is that of cause and effect. On this are founded all
our reasonings concerning matter of fact or existence. By means of it
alone we attain any assurance concerning objects which are removed from
the present testimony of our memory and senses. The only immediate
utility of all sciences, is to teach us, how to control and regulate
future events by their causes. Our thoughts and enquiries are,
therefore, every moment, employed about this relation: Yet so imperfect
are the ideas which we form concerning it, that it is impossible to give
any just definition of cause, except what is drawn from something
extraneous and foreign to it. Similar objects are always conjoined with
similar. Of this we have experience. Suitably to this experience,
therefore, we may define a cause to be _an object, followed by another,
and where all the objects similar to the first are followed by objects
similar to the second_. Or in other words _where, if the first object
had not been, the second never had existed_. The appearance of a cause
always conveys the mind, by a customary transition, to the idea of the
effect. Of this also we have experience. We may, therefore, suitably to
this experience, form another definition of cause, and call it, _an
object followed by another, and whose appearance always conveys the
thought to that other._ But though both these definitions be drawn from
circumstances foreign to the cause, we cannot remedy this inconvenience,
or attain any more perfect definition, which may point out that
circumstance in the cause, which gives it a connexion with its effect.
We have no idea of this connexion, nor even any distinct notion what it
is we desire to know, when we endeavour at a conception of it. We say,
for instance, that the vibration of this string is the cause of this
particular sound. But what do we mean by that affirmation? We either
mean _that this vibration is followed by this sound, and that all
similar vibrations have been followed by similar sounds:_ Or, _that this
vibration is followed by this sound, and that upon the appearance of one
the mind anticipates the senses, and forms immediately an idea of the
other._ We may consider the relation of cause and effect in either of
these two lights; but beyond these, we have no idea of it.[16]

[16] According to these explications and definitions, the idea
of _power_ is relative as much as that of _cause;_ and both
have a reference to an effect, or some other event constantly
conjoined with the former. When we consider the _unknown_
circumstance of an object, by which the degree or quantity of
its effect is fixed and determined, we call that its power: And
accordingly, it is allowed by all philosophers, that the effect
is the measure of the power. But if they had any idea of power,
as it is in itself, why could not they Measure it in itself?
The dispute whether the force of a body in motion be as its
velocity, or the square of its velocity; this dispute, I say,
need not be decided by comparing its effects in equal or
unequal times; but by a direct mensuration and comparison.

As to the frequent use of the words, Force, Power, Energy, &c.,
which every where occur in common conversation, as well as in
philosophy; that is no proof, that we are acquainted, in any
instance, with the connecting principle between cause and
effect, or can account ultimately for the production of one
thing to another. These words, as commonly used, have very
loose meanings annexed to them; and their ideas are very
uncertain and confused. No animal can put external bodies in
motion without the sentiment of a _nisus_ or endeavour; and
every animal has a sentiment or feeling from the stroke or blow
of an external object, that is in motion. These sensations,
which are merely animal, and from which we can _à priori_ draw
no inference, we are apt to transfer to inanimate objects, and
to suppose, that they have some such feelings, whenever they
transfer or receive motion. With regard to energies, which are
exerted, without our annexing to them any idea of communicated
motion, we consider only the constant experienced conjunction
of the events; and as we _feel_ a customary connexion between
the ideas, we transfer that feeling to the objects; as nothing
is more usual than to apply to external bodies every internal
sensation, which they occasion.

61. To recapitulate, therefore, the reasonings of this section: Every
idea is copied from some preceding impression or sentiment; and where we
cannot find any impression, we may be certain that there is no idea. In
all single instances of the operation of bodies or minds, there is
nothing that produces any impression, nor consequently can suggest any
idea of power or necessary connexion. But when many uniform instances
appear, and the same object is always followed by the same event; we
then begin to entertain the notion of cause and connexion. We then
_feel_ a new sentiment or impression, to wit, a customary connexion in
the thought or imagination between one object and its usual attendant;
and this sentiment is the original of that idea which we seek for. For
as this idea arises from a number of similar instances, and not from any
single instance, it must arise from that circumstance, in which the
number of instances differ from every individual instance. But this
customary connexion or transition of the imagination is the only
circumstance in which they differ. In every other particular they are
alike. The first instance which we saw of motion communicated by the
shock of two billiard balls (to return to this obvious illustration) is
exactly similar to any instance that may, at present, occur to us;
except only, that we could not, at first, _infer_ one event from the
other; which we are enabled to do at present, after so long a course of
uniform experience. I know not whether the reader will readily apprehend
this reasoning. I am afraid that, should I multiply words about it, or
throw it into a greater variety of lights, it would only become more
obscure and intricate. In all abstract reasonings there is one point of
view which, if we can happily hit, we shall go farther towards
illustrating the subject than by all the eloquence and copious
expression in the world. This point of view we should endeavour to
reach, and reserve the flowers of rhetoric for subjects which are more
adapted to them.




62. It might reasonably be expected in questions which have been
canvassed and disputed with great eagerness, since the first origin of
science and philosophy, that the meaning of all the terms, at least,
should have been agreed upon among the disputants; and our enquiries, in
the course of two thousand years, been able to pass from words to the
true and real subject of the controversy. For how easy may it seem to
give exact definitions of the terms employed in reasoning, and make
these definitions, not the mere sound of words, the object of future
scrutiny and examination? But if we consider the matter more narrowly,
we shall be apt to draw a quite opposite conclusion. From this
circumstance alone, that a controversy has been long kept on foot, and
remains still undecided, we may presume that there is some ambiguity in
the expression, and that the disputants affix different ideas to the
terms employed in the controversy. For as the faculties of the mind are
supposed to be naturally alike in every individual; otherwise nothing
could be more fruitless than to reason or dispute together; it were
impossible, if men affix the same ideas to their terms, that they could
so long form different opinions of the same subject; especially when
they communicate their views, and each party turn themselves on all
sides, in search of arguments which may give them the victory over their
antagonists. It is true, if men attempt the discussion of questions
which lie entirely beyond the reach of human capacity, such as those
concerning the origin of worlds, or the economy of the intellectual
system or region of spirits, they may long beat the air in their
fruitless contests, and never arrive at any determinate conclusion. But
if the question regard any subject of common life and experience,
nothing, one would think, could preserve the dispute so long undecided
but some ambiguous expressions, which keep the antagonists still at a
distance, and hinder them from grappling with each other.

63. This has been the case in the long disputed question concerning
liberty and necessity; and to so remarkable a degree that, if I be not
much mistaken, we shall find, that all mankind, both learned and
ignorant, have always been of the same opinion with regard to this
subject, and that a few intelligible definitions would immediately have
put an end to the whole controversy. I own that this dispute has been so
much canvassed on all hands, and has led philosophers into such a
labyrinth of obscure sophistry, that it is no wonder, if a sensible
reader indulge his ease so far as to turn a deaf ear to the proposal of
such a question, from which he can expect neither instruction or
entertainment. But the state of the argument here proposed may, perhaps,
serve to renew his attention; as it has more novelty, promises at least
some decision of the controversy, and will not much disturb his ease by
any intricate or obscure reasoning.

I hope, therefore, to make it appear that all men have ever agreed in
the doctrine both of necessity and of liberty, according to any
reasonable sense, which can be put on these terms; and that the whole
controversy has hitherto turned merely upon words. We shall begin with
examining the doctrine of necessity.

64. It is universally allowed that matter, in all its operations, is
actuated by a necessary force, and that every natural effect is so
precisely determined by the energy of its cause that no other effect, in
such particular circumstances, could possibly have resulted from it. The
degree and direction of every motion is, by the laws of nature,
prescribed with such exactness that a living creature may as soon arise
from the shock of two bodies as motion in any other degree or direction
than what is actually produced by it. Would we, therefore, form a just
and precise idea of _necessity_, we must consider whence that idea
arises when we apply it to the operation of bodies.

It seems evident that, if all the scenes of nature were continually
shifted in such a manner that no two events bore any resemblance to each
other, but every object was entirely new, without any similitude to
whatever had been seen before, we should never, in that case, have
attained the least idea of necessity, or of a connexion among these
objects. We might say, upon such a supposition, that one object or event
has followed another; not that one was produced by the other. The
relation of cause and effect must be utterly unknown to mankind.
Inference and reasoning concerning the operations of nature would, from
that moment, be at an end; and the memory and senses remain the only
canals, by which the knowledge of any real existence could possibly have
access to the mind. Our idea, therefore, of necessity and causation
arises entirely from the uniformity observable in the operations of
nature, where similar objects are constantly conjoined together, and the
mind is determined by custom to infer the one from the appearance of the
other. These two circumstances form the whole of that necessity, which
we ascribe to matter. Beyond the constant _conjunction_ of similar
objects, and the consequent _inference_ from one to the other, we have
no notion of any necessity or connexion.

If it appear, therefore, that all mankind have ever allowed, without any
doubt or hesitation, that these two circumstances take place in the
voluntary actions of men, and in the operations of mind; it must follow,
that all mankind have ever agreed in the doctrine of necessity, and that
they have hitherto disputed, merely for not understanding each other.

65. As to the first circumstance, the constant and regular conjunction
of similar events, we may possibly satisfy ourselves by the following
considerations. It is universally acknowledged that there is a great
uniformity among the actions of men, in all nations and ages, and that
human nature remains still the same, in its principles and operations.
The same motives always produce the same actions. The same events follow
from the same causes. Ambition, avarice, self-love, vanity, friendship,
generosity, public spirit: these passions, mixed in various degrees, and
distributed through society, have been, from the beginning of the world,
and still are, the source of all the actions and enterprises, which have
ever been observed among mankind. Would you know the sentiments,
inclinations, and course of life of the Greeks and Romans? Study well
the temper and actions of the French and English: You cannot be much
mistaken in transferring to the former _most_ of the observations which
you have made with regard to the latter. Mankind are so much the same,
in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or
strange in this particular. Its chief use is only to discover the
constant and universal principles of human nature, by showing men in all
varieties of circumstances and situations, and furnishing us with
materials from which we may form our observations and become acquainted
with the regular springs of human action and behaviour. These records of
wars, intrigues, factions, and revolutions, are so many collections of
experiments, by which the politician or moral philosopher fixes the
principles of his science, in the same manner as the physician or
natural philosopher becomes acquainted with the nature of plants,
minerals, and other external objects, by the experiments which he forms
concerning them. Nor are the earth, water, and other elements, examined
by Aristotle, and Hippocrates, more like to those which at present lie
under our observation than the men described by Polybius and Tacitus are
to those who now govern the world.

Should a traveller, returning from a far country, bring us an account of
men, wholly different from any with whom we were ever acquainted; men,
who were entirely divested of avarice, ambition, or revenge; who knew no
pleasure but friendship, generosity, and public spirit; we should
immediately, from these circumstances, detect the falsehood, and prove
him a liar, with the same certainty as if he had stuffed his narration
with stories of centaurs and dragons, miracles and prodigies. And if we
would explode any forgery in history, we cannot make use of a more
convincing argument, than to prove, that the actions ascribed to any
person are directly contrary to the course of nature, and that no human
motives, in such circumstances, could ever induce him to such a conduct.
The veracity of Quintus Curtius is as much to be suspected, when he
describes the supernatural courage of Alexander, by which he was hurried
on singly to attack multitudes, as when he describes his supernatural
force and activity, by which he was able to resist them. So readily and
universally do we acknowledge a uniformity in human motives and actions
as well as in the operations of body.

Hence likewise the benefit of that experience, acquired by long life and
a variety of business and company, in order to instruct us in the
principles of human nature, and regulate our future conduct, as well as
speculation. By means of this guide, we mount up to the knowledge of
men's inclinations and motives, from their actions, expressions, and
even gestures; and again descend to the interpretation of their actions
from our knowledge of their motives and inclinations. The general
observations treasured up by a course of experience, give us the clue of
human nature, and teach us to unravel all its intricacies. Pretexts and
appearances no longer deceive us. Public declarations pass for the
specious colouring of a cause. And though virtue and honour be allowed
their proper weight and authority, that perfect disinterestedness, so
often pretended to, is never expected in multitudes and parties; seldom
in their leaders; and scarcely even in individuals of any rank or
station. But were there no uniformity in human actions, and were every
experiment which we could form of this kind irregular and anomalous, it
were impossible to collect any general observations concerning mankind;
and no experience, however accurately digested by reflection, would ever
serve to any purpose. Why is the aged husbandman more skilful in his
calling than the young beginner but because there is a certain
uniformity in the operation of the sun, rain, and earth towards the
production of vegetables; and experience teaches the old practitioner
the rules by which this operation is governed and directed.

66. We must not, however, expect that this uniformity of human actions
should be carried to such a length as that all men, in the same
circumstances, will always act precisely in the same manner, without
making any allowance for the diversity of characters, prejudices, and
opinions. Such a uniformity in every particular, is found in no part of
nature. On the contrary, from observing the variety of conduct in
different men, we are enabled to form a greater variety of maxims, which
still suppose a degree of uniformity and regularity.

Are the manners of men different in different ages and countries? We
learn thence the great force of custom and education, which mould the
human mind from its infancy and form it into a fixed and established
character. Is the behaviour and conduct of the one sex very unlike that
of the other? Is it thence we become acquainted with the different
characters which nature has impressed upon the sexes, and which she
preserves with constancy and regularity? Are the actions of the same
person much diversified in the different periods of his life, from
infancy to old age? This affords room for many general observations
concerning the gradual change of our sentiments and inclinations, and
the different maxims which prevail in the different ages of human
creatures. Even the characters, which are peculiar to each individual,
have a uniformity in their influence; otherwise our acquaintance with
the persons and our observation of their conduct could never teach us
their dispositions, or serve to direct our behaviour with regard
to them.

67. I grant it possible to find some actions, which seem to have no
regular connexion with any known motives, and are exceptions to all the
measures of conduct which have ever been established for the government
of men. But if we would willingly know what judgement should be formed
of such irregular and extraordinary actions, we may consider the
sentiments commonly entertained with regard to those irregular events
which appear in the course of nature, and the operations of external
objects. All causes are not conjoined to their usual effects with like
uniformity. An artificer, who handles only dead matter, may be
disappointed of his aim, as well as the politician, who directs the
conduct of sensible and intelligent agents.

The vulgar, who take things according to their first appearance,
attribute the uncertainty of events to such an uncertainty in the causes
as makes the latter often fail of their usual influence; though they
meet with no impediment in their operation. But philosophers, observing
that, almost in every part of nature, there is contained a vast variety
of springs and principles, which are hid, by reason of their minuteness
or remoteness, find, that it is at least possible the contrariety of
events may not proceed from any contingency in the cause, but from the
secret operation of contrary causes. This possibility is converted into
certainty by farther observation, when they remark that, upon an exact
scrutiny, a contrariety of effects always betrays a contrariety of
causes, and proceeds from their mutual opposition. A peasant can give no
better reason for the stopping of any clock or watch than to say that it
does not commonly go right: But an artist easily perceives that the same
force in the spring or pendulum has always the same influence on the
wheels; but fails of its usual effect, perhaps by reason of a grain of
dust, which puts a stop to the whole movement. From the observation of
several parallel instances, philosophers form a maxim that the connexion
between all causes and effects is equally necessary, and that its
seeming uncertainty in some instances proceeds from the secret
opposition of contrary causes.

Thus, for instance, in the human body, when the usual symptoms of health
or sickness disappoint our expectation; when medicines operate not with
their wonted powers; when irregular events follow from any particular
cause; the philosopher and physician are not surprised at the matter,
nor are ever tempted to deny, in general, the necessity and uniformity
of those principles by which the animal economy is conducted. They know
that a human body is a mighty complicated machine: That many secret
powers lurk in it, which are altogether beyond our comprehension: That
to us it must often appear very uncertain in its operations: And that
therefore the irregular events, which outwardly discover themselves, can
be no proof that the laws of nature are not observed with the greatest
regularity in its internal operations and government.

68. The philosopher, if he be consistent, must apply the same reasoning
to the actions and volitions of intelligent agents. The most irregular
and unexpected resolutions of men may frequently be accounted for by
those who know every particular circumstance of their character and
situation. A person of an obliging disposition gives a peevish answer:
But he has the toothache, or has not dined. A stupid fellow discovers an
uncommon alacrity in his carriage: But he has met with a sudden piece of
good fortune. Or even when an action, as sometimes happens, cannot be
particularly accounted for, either by the person himself or by others;
we know, in general, that the characters of men are, to a certain
degree, inconstant and irregular. This is, in a manner, the constant
character of human nature; though it be applicable, in a more particular
manner, to some persons who have no fixed rule for their conduct, but
proceed in a continued course of caprice and inconstancy. The internal
principles and motives may operate in a uniform manner, notwithstanding
these seeming irregularities; in the same manner as the winds, rain,
clouds, and other variations of the weather are supposed to be governed
by steady principles; though not easily discoverable by human sagacity
and enquiry.

69. Thus it appears, not only that the conjunction between motives and
voluntary actions is as regular and uniform as that between the cause
and effect in any part of nature; but also that this regular conjunction
has been universally acknowledged among mankind, and has never been the
subject of dispute, either in philosophy or common life. Now, as it is
from past experience that we draw all inferences concerning the future,
and as we conclude that objects will always be conjoined together which
we find to have always been conjoined; it may seem superfluous to prove
that this experienced uniformity in human actions is a source whence we
draw _inferences_ concerning them. But in order to throw the argument
into a greater variety of lights we shall also insist, though briefly,
on this latter topic.

The mutual dependence of men is so great in all societies that scarce
any human action is entirely complete in itself, or is performed without
some reference to the actions of others, which are requisite to make it
answer fully the intention of the agent. The poorest artificer, who
labours alone, expects at least the protection of the magistrate, to
ensure him the enjoyment of the fruits of his labour. He also expects
that, when he carries his goods to market, and offers them at a
reasonable price, he shall find purchasers, and shall be able, by the
money he acquires, to engage others to supply him with those commodities
which are requisite for his subsistence. In proportion as men extend
their dealings, and render their intercourse with others more
complicated, they always comprehend, in their schemes of life, a greater
variety of voluntary actions, which they expect, from the proper
motives, to co-operate with their own. In all these conclusions they
take their measures from past experience, in the same manner as in their
reasonings concerning external objects; and firmly believe that men, as
well as all the elements, are to continue, in their operations, the same
that they have ever found them. A manufacturer reckons upon the labour
of his servants for the execution of any work as much as upon the tools
which he employs, and would be equally surprised were his expectations
disappointed. In short, this experimental inference and reasoning
concerning the actions of others enters so much into human life that no
man, while awake, is ever a moment without employing it. Have we not
reason, therefore, to affirm that all mankind have always agreed in the
doctrine of necessity according to the foregoing definition and
explication of it?

70. Nor have philosophers ever entertained a different opinion from the
people in this particular. For, not to mention that almost every action
of their life supposes that opinion, there are even few of the
speculative parts of learning to which it is not essential. What would
become of _history,_ had we not a dependence on the veracity of the
historian according to the experience which we have had of mankind? How
could _politics_ be a science, if laws and forms of goverment had not a
uniform influence upon society? Where would be the foundation of
_morals,_ if particular characters had no certain or determinate power
to produce particular sentiments, and if these sentiments had no
constant operation on actions? And with what pretence could we employ
our _criticism_ upon any poet or polite author, if we could not
pronounce the conduct and sentiments of his actors either natural or
unnatural to such characters, and in such circumstances? It seems almost
impossible, therefore, to engage either in science or action of any kind
without acknowledging the doctrine of necessity, and this _inference_
from motive to voluntary actions, from characters to conduct.

And indeed, when we consider how aptly _natural_ and _moral_ evidence
link together, and form only one chain of argument, we shall make no
scruple to allow that they are of the same nature, and derived from the
same principles. A prisoner who has neither money nor interest,
discovers the impossibility of his escape, as well when he considers the
obstinacy of the gaoler, as the walls and bars with which he is
surrounded; and, in all attempts for his freedom, chooses rather to work
upon the stone and iron of the one, than upon the inflexible nature of
the other. The same prisoner, when conducted to the scaffold, foresees
his death as certainly from the constancy and fidelity of his guards, as
from the operation of the axe or wheel. His mind runs along a certain
train of ideas: The refusal of the soldiers to consent to his escape;
the action of the executioner; the separation of the head and body;
bleeding, convulsive motions, and death. Here is a connected chain of
natural causes and voluntary actions; but the mind feels no difference
between them in passing from one link to another: Nor is less certain of
the future event than if it were connected with the objects present to
the memory or senses, by a train of causes, cemented together by what we
are pleased to call a _physical_ necessity. The same experienced union
has the same effect on the mind, whether the united objects be motives,
volition, and actions; or figure and motion. We may change the name of
things; but their nature and their operation on the understanding
never change.

Were a man, whom I know to be honest and opulent, and with whom I live
in intimate friendship, to come into my house, where I am surrounded
with my servants, I rest assured that he is not to stab me before he
leaves it in order to rob me of my silver standish; and I no more
suspect this event than the falling of the house itself, which is new,
and solidly built and founded._--But he may have been seized with a
sudden and unknown frenzy.--_So may a sudden earthquake arise, and shake
and tumble my house about my ears. I shall therefore change the
suppositions. I shall say that I know with certainty that he is not to
put his hand into the fire and hold it there till it be consumed: And
this event, I think I can foretell with the same assurance, as that, if
he throw himself out at the window, and meet with no obstruction, he
will not remain a moment suspended in the air. No suspicion of an
unknown frenzy can give the least possibility to the former event, which
is so contrary to all the known principles of human nature. A man who at
noon leaves his purse full of gold on the pavement at Charing-Cross, may
as well expect that it will fly away like a feather, as that he will
find it untouched an hour after. Above one half of human reasonings
contain inferences of a similar nature, attended with more or less
degrees of certainty proportioned to our experience of the usual conduct
of mankind in such particular situations.

71. I have frequently considered, what could possibly be the reason why
all mankind, though they have ever, without hesitation, acknowledged the
doctrine of necessity in their whole practice and reasoning, have yet
discovered such a reluctance to acknowledge it in words, and have rather
shown a propensity, in all ages, to profess the contrary opinion. The
matter, I think, may be accounted for after the following manner. If we
examine the operations of body, and the production of effects from their
causes, we shall find that all our faculties can never carry us farther
in our knowledge of this relation than barely to observe that particular
objects are _constantly conjoined_ together, and that the mind is
carried, by a _customary transition,_ from the appearance of one to the
belief of the other. But though this conclusion concerning human
ignorance be the result of the strictest scrutiny of this subject, men
still entertain a strong propensity to believe that they penetrate
farther into the powers of nature, and perceive something like a
necessary connexion between the cause and the effect. When again they
turn their reflections towards the operations of their own minds, and
_feel_ no such connexion of the motive and the action; they are thence
apt to suppose, that there is a difference between the effects which
result from material force, and those which arise from thought and
intelligence. But being once convinced that we know nothing farther of
causation of any kind than merely the _constant conjunction_ of objects,
and the consequent _inference_ of the mind from one to another, and
finding that these two circumstances are universally allowed to have
place in voluntary actions; we may be more easily led to own the same
necessity common to all causes. And though this reasoning may contradict
the systems of many philosophers, in ascribing necessity to the
determinations of the will, we shall find, upon reflection, that they
dissent from it in words only, not in their real sentiment. Necessity,
according to the sense in which it is here taken, has never yet been
rejected, nor can ever, I think, be rejected by any philosopher. It may
only, perhaps, be pretended that the mind can perceive, in the
operations of matter, some farther connexion between the cause and
effect; and connexion that has not place in voluntary actions of
intelligent beings. Now whether it be so or not, can only appear upon
examination; and it is incumbent on these philosophers to make good
their assertion, by denning or describing that necessity, and pointing
it out to us in the operations of material causes.

72. It would seem, indeed, that men begin at the wrong end of this
question concerning liberty and necessity, when they enter upon it by
examining the faculties of the soul, the influence of the understanding,
and the operations of the will. Let them first discuss a more simple
question, namely, the operations of body and of brute unintelligent
matter; and try whether they can there form any idea of causation and
necessity, except that of a constant conjunction of objects, and
subsequent inference of the mind from one to another. If these
circumstances form, in reality, the whole of that necessity, which we
conceive in matter, and if these circumstances be also universally
acknowledged to take place in the operations of the mind, the dispute is
at an end; at least, must be owned to be thenceforth merely verbal. But
as long as we will rashly suppose, that we have some farther idea of
necessity and causation in the operations of external objects; at the
same time, that we can find nothing farther in the voluntary actions of
the mind; there is no possibility of bringing the question to any
determinate issue, while we proceed upon so erroneous a supposition. The
only method of undeceiving us is to mount up higher; to examine the
narrow extent of science when applied to material causes; and to
convince ourselves that all we know of them is the constant conjunction
and inference above mentioned. We may, perhaps, find that it is with
difficulty we are induced to fix such narrow limits to human
understanding: But we can afterwards find no difficulty when we come to
apply this doctrine to the actions of the will. For as it is evident
that these have a regular conjunction with motives and circumstances and
characters, and as we always draw inferences from one to the other, we
must be obliged to acknowledge in words that necessity, which we have
already avowed, in every deliberation of our lives, and in every step of
our conduct and behaviour.[17]

[17] The prevalence of the doctrine of liberty may be accounted
for, from another cause, viz. a false sensation or seeming
experience which we have, or may have, of liberty or
indifference, in many of our actions. The necessity of any
action, whether of matter or of mind, is not, properly
speaking, a quality in the agent, but in any thinking or
intelligent being, who may consider the action; and it consists
chiefly in the determination of his thoughts to infer the
existence of that action from some preceding objects; as
liberty, when opposed to necessity, is nothing but the want of
that determination, and a certain looseness or indifference,
which we feel, in passing, or not passing, from the idea of one
object to that of any succeeding one. Now we may observe,
that, though, in _reflecting_ on human actions, we seldom feel
such a looseness, or indifference, but are commonly able to
infer them with considerable certainty from their motives, and
from the dispositions of the agent; yet it frequently happens,
that, in _performing_ the actions themselves, we are sensible
of something like it: And as all resembling objects are readily
taken for each other, this has been employed as a demonstrative
and even intuitive proof of human liberty. We feel, that our
actions are subject to our will, on most occasions; and imagine
we feel, that the will itself is subject to nothing, because,
when by a denial of it we are provoked to try, we feel, that it
moves easily every way, and produces an image of itself (or a
_Velleïty,_ as it is called in the schools) even on that side,
on which it did not settle. This image, or faint motion, we
persuade ourselves, could, at that time, have been compleated
into the thing itself; because, should that be denied, we find,
upon a second trial, that, at present, it can. We consider not,
that the fantastical desire of shewing liberty, is here the
motive of our actions. And it seems certain, that, however we
may imagine we feel a liberty within ourselves, a spectator can
commonly infer our actions from our motives and character; and
even where he cannot, he concludes in general, that he might,
were he perfectly acquainted with every circumstance of our
situation and temper, and the most secret springs of our
complexion and disposition. Now this is the very essence of
necessity, according to the foregoing doctrine.

73. But to proceed in this reconciling project with regard to the
question of liberty and necessity; the most contentious question of
metaphysics, the most contentious science; it will not require many
words to prove, that all mankind have ever agreed in the doctrine of
liberty as well as in that of necessity, and that the whole dispute, in
this respect also, has been hitherto merely verbal. For what is meant by
liberty, when applied to voluntary actions? We cannot surely mean that
actions have so little connexion with motives, inclinations, and
circumstances, that one does not follow with a certain degree of
uniformity from the other, and that one affords no inference by which we
can conclude the existence of the other. For these are plain and
acknowledged matters of fact. By liberty, then, we can only mean _a
power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the
will;_ that is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to
move, we also may. Now this hypothetical liberty is universally allowed
to belong to every one who is not a prisoner and in chains. Here, then,
is no subject of dispute.

74. Whatever definition we may give of liberty, we should be careful to
observe two requisite circumstances; _first,_ that it be consistent with
plain matter of fact; _secondly,_ that it be consistent with itself. If
we observe these circumstances, and render our definition intelligible,
I am persuaded that all mankind will be found of one opinion with
regard to it.

It is universally allowed that nothing exists without a cause of its
existence, and that chance, when strictly examined, is a mere negative
word, and means not any real power which has anywhere a being in nature.
But it is pretended that some causes are necessary, some not necessary.
Here then is the advantage of definitions. Let any one _define_ a cause,
without comprehending, as a part of the definition, a _necessary
connexion_ with its effect; and let him show distinctly the origin of
the idea, expressed by the definition; and I shall readily give up the
whole controversy. But if the foregoing explication of the matter be
received, this must be absolutely impracticable. Had not objects a
regular conjunction with each other, we should never have entertained
any notion of cause and effect; and this regular conjunction produces
that inference of the understanding, which is the only connexion, that
we can have any comprehension of. Whoever attempts a definition of
cause, exclusive of these circumstances, will be obliged either to
employ unintelligible terms or such as are synonymous to the term which
he endeavours to define.[18] And if the definition above mentioned be
admitted; liberty, when opposed to necessity, not to constraint, is the
same thing with chance; which is universally allowed to have no

[18] Thus, if a cause be defined, _that which produces any
thing;_ it is easy to observe, that _producing_ is synonymous
to _causing._ In like manner, if a cause be defined, _that by
which any thing exists;_ this is liable to the same objection.
For what is meant by these words, _by which?_ Had it been said,
that a cause is _that_ after which _any thing constantly
exists;_ we should have understood the terms. For this is,
indeed, all we know of the matter. And this constancy forms the
very essence of necessity, nor have we any other idea of it.


75. There is no method of reasoning more common, and yet none more
blameable, than, in philosophical disputes, to endeavour the refutation
of any hypothesis, by a pretence of its dangerous consequences to
religion and morality. When any opinion leads to absurdities, it is
certainly false; but it is not certain that an opinion is false, because
it is of dangerous consequence. Such topics, therefore, ought entirely
to be forborne; as serving nothing to the discovery of truth, but only
to make the person of an antagonist odious. This I observe in general,
without pretending to draw any advantage from it. I frankly submit to
an examination of this kind, and shall venture to affirm that the
doctrines, both of necessity and of liberty, as above explained, are not
only consistent with morality, but are absolutely essential to
its support.

Necessity may be defined two ways, conformably to the two definitions of
_cause_, of which it makes an essential part. It consists either in the
constant conjunction of like objects, or in the inference of the
understanding from one object to another. Now necessity, in both these
senses, (which, indeed, are at bottom the same) has universally, though
tacitly, in the schools, in the pulpit, and in common life, been allowed
to belong to the will of man; and no one has ever pretended to deny that
we can draw inferences concerning human actions, and that those
inferences are founded on the experienced union of like actions, with
like motives, inclinations, and circumstances. The only particular in
which any one can differ, is, that either, perhaps, he will refuse to
give the name of necessity to this property of human actions: But as
long as the meaning is understood, I hope the word can do no harm: Or
that he will maintain it possible to discover something farther in the
operations of matter. But this, it must be acknowledged, can be of no
consequence to morality or religion, whatever it may be to natural
philosophy or metaphysics. We may here be mistaken in asserting that
there is no idea of any other necessity or connexion in the actions of
body: But surely we ascribe nothing to the actions of the mind, but what
everyone does, and must readily allow of. We change no circumstance in
the received orthodox system with regard to the will, but only in that
with regard to material objects and causes. Nothing, therefore, can be
more innocent, at least, than this doctrine.

76. All laws being founded on rewards and punishments, it is supposed as
a fundamental principle, that these motives have a regular and uniform
influence on the mind, and both produce the good and prevent the evil
actions. We may give to this influence what name we please; but, as it
is usually conjoined with the action, it must be esteemed a _cause_, and
be looked upon as an instance of that necessity, which we would here

The only proper object of hatred or vengeance is a person or creature,
endowed with thought and consciousness; and when any criminal or
injurious actions excite that passion, it is only by their relation to
the person, or connexion with him. Actions are, by their very nature,
temporary and perishing; and where they proceed not from some _cause_ in
the character and disposition of the person who performed them, they can
neither redound to his honour, if good; nor infamy, if evil. The actions
themselves may be blameable; they may be contrary to all the rules of
morality and religion: But the person is not answerable for them; and as
they proceeded from nothing in him that is durable and constant, and
leave nothing of that nature behind them, it is impossible he can, upon
their account, become the object of punishment or vengeance. According
to the principle, therefore, which denies necessity, and consequently
causes, a man is as pure and untainted, after having committed the most
horrid crime, as at the first moment of his birth, nor is his character
anywise concerned in his actions, since they are not derived from it,
and the wickedness of the one can never be used as a proof of the
depravity of the other.

Men are not blamed for such actions as they perform ignorantly and
casually, whatever may be the consequences. Why? but because the
principles of these actions are only momentary, and terminate in them
alone. Men are less blamed for such actions as they perform hastily and
unpremeditately than for such as proceed from deliberation. For what
reason? but because a hasty temper, though a constant cause or
principle in the mind, operates only by intervals, and infects not the
whole character. Again, repentance wipes off every crime, if attended
with a reformation of life and manners. How is this to be accounted for?
but by asserting that actions render a person criminal merely as they
are proofs of criminal principles in the mind; and when, by an
alteration of these principles, they cease to be just proofs, they
likewise cease to be criminal. But, except upon the doctrine of
necessity, they never were just proofs, and consequently never
were criminal.

77. It will be equally easy to prove, and from the same arguments, that
_liberty_, according to that definition above mentioned, in which all
men agree, is also essential to morality, and that no human actions,
where it is wanting, are susceptible of any moral qualities, or can be
the objects either of approbation or dislike. For as actions are objects
of our moral sentiment, so far only as they are indications of the
internal character, passions, and affections; it is impossible that they
can give rise either to praise or blame, where they proceed not from
these principles, but are derived altogether from external violence.

78. I pretend not to have obviated or removed all objections to this
theory, with regard to necessity and liberty. I can foresee other
objections, derived from topics which have not here been treated of. It
may be said, for instance, that, if voluntary actions be subjected to
the same laws of necessity with the operations of matter, there is a
continued chain of necessary causes, pre-ordained and pre-determined,
reaching from the original cause of all to every single volition of
every human creature. No contingency anywhere in the universe; no
indifference; no liberty. While we act, we are, at the same time, acted
upon. The ultimate Author of all our volitions is the Creator of the
world, who first bestowed motion on this immense machine, and placed all
beings in that particular position, whence every subsequent event, by
an inevitable necessity, must result. Human actions, therefore, either
can have no moral turpitude at all, as proceeding from so good a cause;
or if they have any turpitude, they must involve our Creator in the same
guilt, while he is acknowledged to be their ultimate cause and author.
For as a man, who fired a mine, is answerable for all the consequences
whether the train he employed be long or short; so wherever a continued
chain of necessary causes is fixed, that Being, either finite or
infinite, who produces the first, is likewise the author of all the
rest, and must both bear the blame and acquire the praise which belong
to them. Our clear and unalterable ideas of morality establish this
rule, upon unquestionable reasons, when we examine the consequences of
any human action; and these reasons must still have greater force when
applied to the volitions and intentions of a Being infinitely wise and
powerful. Ignorance or impotence may be pleaded for so limited a
creature as man; but those imperfections have no place in our Creator.
He foresaw, he ordained, he intended all those actions of men, which we
so rashly pronounce criminal. And we must therefore conclude, either
that they are not criminal, or that the Deity, not man, is accountable
for them. But as either of these positions is absurd and impious, it
follows, that the doctrine from which they are deduced cannot possibly
be true, as being liable to all the same objections. An absurd
consequence, if necessary, proves the original doctrine to be absurd; in
the same manner as criminal actions render criminal the original cause,
if the connexion between them be necessary and evitable.

This objection consists of two parts, which we shall examine separately;
_First_, that, if human actions can be traced up, by a necessary chain,
to the Deity, they can never be criminal; on account of the infinite
perfection of that Being from whom they are derived, and who can intend
nothing but what is altogether good and laudable. Or, _Secondly_, if
they be criminal, we must retract the attribute of perfection, which we
ascribe to the Deity, and must acknowledge him to be the ultimate author
of guilt and moral turpitude in all his creatures.

79. The answer to the first objection seems obvious and convincing.
There are many philosophers who, after an exact scrutiny of all the
phenomena of nature, conclude, that the WHOLE, considered as one system,
is, in every period of its existence, ordered with perfect benevolence;
and that the utmost possible happiness will, in the end, result to all
created beings, without any mixture of positive or absolute ill or
misery. Every physical ill, say they, makes an essential part of this
benevolent system, and could not possibly be removed, even by the Deity
himself, considered as a wise agent, without giving entrance to greater
ill, or excluding greater good, which will result from it. From this
theory, some philosophers, and the ancient _Stoics_ among the rest,
derived a topic of consolation under all afflictions, while they taught
their pupils that those ills under which they laboured were, in reality,
goods to the universe; and that to an enlarged view, which could
comprehend the whole system of nature, every event became an object of
joy and exultation. But though this topic be specious and sublime, it
was soon found in practice weak and ineffectual. You would surely more
irritate than appease a man lying under the racking pains of the gout by
preaching up to him the rectitude of those general laws, which produced
the malignant humours in his body, and led them through the proper
canals, to the sinews and nerves, where they now excite such acute
torments. These enlarged views may, for a moment, please the imagination
of a speculative man, who is placed in ease and security; but neither
can they dwell with constancy on his mind, even though undisturbed by
the emotions of pain or passion; much less can they maintain their
ground when attacked by such powerful antagonists. The affections take a
narrower and more natural survey of their object; and by an economy,
more suitable to the infirmity of human minds, regard alone the beings
around us, and are actuated by such events as appear good or ill to the
private system.

80. The case is the same with _moral_ as with _physical_ ill. It cannot
reasonably be supposed, that those remote considerations, which are
found of so little efficacy with regard to one, will have a more
powerful influence with regard to the other. The mind of man is so
formed by nature that, upon the appearance of certain characters,
dispositions, and actions, it immediately feels the sentiment of
approbation or blame; nor are there any emotions more essential to its
frame and constitution. The characters which engage our approbation are
chiefly such as contribute to the peace and security of human society;
as the characters which excite blame are chiefly such as tend to public
detriment and disturbance: Whence it may reasonably be presumed, that
the moral sentiments arise, either mediately or immediately, from a
reflection of these opposite interests. What though philosophical
meditations establish a different opinion or conjecture; that everything
is right with regard to the WHOLE, and that the qualities, which disturb
society, are, in the main, as beneficial, and are as suitable to the
primary intention of nature as those which more directly promote its
happiness and welfare? Are such remote and uncertain speculations able
to counterbalance the sentiments which arise from the natural and
immediate view of the objects? A man who is robbed of a considerable
sum; does he find his vexation for the loss anywise diminished by these
sublime reflections? Why then should his moral resentment against the
crime be supposed incompatible with them? Or why should not the
acknowledgment of a real distinction between vice and virtue be
reconcileable to all speculative systems of philosophy, as well as that
of a real distinction between personal beauty and deformity? Both these
distinctions are founded in the natural sentiments of the human mind:
And these sentiments are not to be controuled or altered by any
philosophical theory or speculation whatsoever.

81. The _second_ objection admits not of so easy and satisfactory an
answer; nor is it possible to explain distinctly, how the Deity can be
the mediate cause of all the actions of men, without being the author of
sin and moral turpitude. These are mysteries, which mere natural and
unassisted reason is very unfit to handle; and whatever system she
embraces, she must find herself involved in inextricable difficulties,
and even contradictions, at every step which she takes with regard to
such subjects. To reconcile the indifference and contingency of human
actions with prescience; or to defend absolute decrees, and yet free the
Deity from being the author of sin, has been found hitherto to exceed
all the power of philosophy. Happy, if she be thence sensible of her
temerity, when she pries into these sublime mysteries; and leaving a
scene so full of obscurities and perplexities, return, with suitable
modesty, to her true and proper province, the examination of common
life; where she will find difficulties enough to employ her enquiries,
without launching into so boundless an ocean of doubt, uncertainty, and



82. All our reasonings concerning matter of fact are founded on a
species of Analogy, which leads us to expect from any cause the same
events, which we have observed to result from similar causes. Where the
causes are entirely similar, the analogy is perfect, and the inference,
drawn from it, is regarded as certain and conclusive: nor does any man
ever entertain a doubt, where he sees a piece of iron, that it will have
weight and cohesion of parts; as in all other instances, which have ever
fallen under his observation. But where the objects have not so exact a
similarity, the analogy is less perfect, and the inference is less
conclusive; though still it has some force, in proportion to the degree
of similarity and resemblance. The anatomical observations, formed upon
one animal, are, by this species of reasoning, extended to all animals;
and it is certain, that when the circulation of the blood, for instance,
is clearly proved to have place in one creature, as a frog, or fish, it
forms a strong presumption, that the same principle has place in all.
These analogical observations may be carried farther, even to this
science, of which we are now treating; and any theory, by which we
explain the operations of the understanding, or the origin and connexion
of the passions in man, will acquire additional authority, if we find,
that the same theory is requisite to explain the same phenomena in all
other animals. We shall make trial of this, with regard to the
hypothesis, by which we have, in the foregoing discourse, endeavoured
to account for all experimental reasonings; and it is hoped, that this
new point of view will serve to confirm all our former observations.

83. _First_, It seems evident, that animals as well as men learn many
things from experience, and infer, that the same events will always
follow from the same causes. By this principle they become acquainted
with the more obvious properties of external objects, and gradually,
from their birth, treasure up a knowledge of the nature of fire, water,
earth, stones, heights, depths, &c., and of the effects which result
from their operation. The ignorance and inexperience of the young are
here plainly distinguishable from the cunning and sagacity of the old,
who have learned, by long observation, to avoid what hurt them, and to
pursue what gave ease or pleasure. A horse, that has been accustomed to
the field, becomes acquainted with the proper height which he can leap,
and will never attempt what exceeds his force and ability. An old
greyhound will trust the more fatiguing part of the chace to the
younger, and will place himself so as to meet the hare in her doubles;
nor are the conjectures, which he forms on this occasion, founded in any
thing but his observation and experience.

This is still more evident from the effects of discipline and education
on animals, who, by the proper application of rewards and punishments,
may be taught any course of action, and most contrary to their natural
instincts and propensities. Is it not experience, which renders a dog
apprehensive of pain, when you menace him, or lift up the whip to beat
him? Is it not even experience, which makes him answer to his name, and
infer, from such an arbitrary sound, that you mean him rather than any
of his fellows, and intend to call him, when you pronounce it in a
certain manner, and with a certain tone and accent?

In all these cases, we may observe, that the animal infers some fact
beyond what immediately strikes his senses; and that this inference is
altogether founded on past experience, while the creature expects from
the present object the same consequences, which it has always found in
its observation to result from similar objects.

84. _Secondly_, It is impossible, that this inference of the animal can
be founded on any process of argument or reasoning, by which he
concludes, that like events must follow like objects, and that the
course of nature will always be regular in its operations. For if there
be in reality any arguments of this nature, they surely lie too abstruse
for the observation of such imperfect understandings; since it may well
employ the utmost care and attention of a philosophic genius to discover
and observe them. Animals, therefore, are not guided in these inferences
by reasoning: Neither are children: Neither are the generality of
mankind, in their ordinary actions and conclusions: Neither are
philosophers themselves, who, in all the active parts of life, are, in
the main, the same with the vulgar, and are governed by the same maxims.
Nature must have provided some other principle, of more ready, and more
general use and application; nor can an operation of such immense
consequence in life, as that of inferring effects from causes, be
trusted to the uncertain process of reasoning and argumentation. Were
this doubtful with regard to men, it seems to admit of no question with
regard to the brute creation; and the conclusion being once firmly
established in the one, we have a strong presumption, from all the rules
of analogy, that it ought to be universally admitted, without any
exception or reserve. It is custom alone, which engages animals, from
every object, that strikes their senses, to infer its usual attendant,
and carries their imagination, from the appearance of the one, to
conceive the other, in that particular manner, which we denominate
_belief_. No other explication can be given of this operation, in all
the higher, as well as lower classes of sensitive beings, which fall
under our notice and observation [19].

[19] Since all reasonings concerning facts or causes is derived
merely from custom, it may be asked how it happens, that men so
much surpass animals in reasoning, and one man so much
surpasses another? Has not the same custom the same
influence on all?

We shall here endeavour briefly to explain the great difference
in human understandings: After which the reason of the
difference between men and animals will easily be comprehended.

1. When we have lived any time, and have been accustomed to the
uniformity of nature, we acquire a general habit, by which we
always transfer the known to the unknown, and conceive the
latter to resemble the former. By means of this general
habitual principle, we regard even one experiment as the
foundation of reasoning, and expect a similar event with some
degree of certainty, where the experiment has been made
accurately, and free from all foreign circumstances. It is
therefore considered as a matter of great importance to observe
the consequences of things; and as one man may very much
surpass another in attention and memory and observation, this
will make a very great difference in their reasoning.

2. Where there is a complication of causes to produce any
effect, one mind may be much larger than another, and better
able to comprehend the whole system of objects, and to infer
justly their consequences.

3. One man is able to carry on a chain of consequences to a
greater length than another.

4. Few men can think long without running into a confusion of
ideas, and mistaking one for another; and there are various
degrees of this infirmity.

5. The circumstance, on which the effect depends, is frequently
involved in other circumstances, which are foreign and
extrinsic. The separation of it often requires great attention,
accuracy, and subtilty.

6. The forming of general maxims from particular observation is
a very nice operation; and nothing is more usual, from haste or
a narrowness of mind, which sees not on all sides, than to
commit mistakes in this particular.

7. When we reason from analogies, the man, who has the greater
experience or the greater promptitude of suggesting analogies,
will be the better reasoner.

8. Byasses from prejudice, education, passion, party, &c. hang
more upon one mind than another.

9. After we have acquired a confidence in human testimony,
books and conversation enlarge much more the sphere of one
man's experience and thought than those of another.

It would be easy to discover many other circumstances that make
a difference in the understandings of men.

85. But though animals learn many parts of their knowledge from
observation, there are also many parts of it, which they derive from the
original hand of nature; which much exceed the share of capacity they
possess on ordinary occasions; and in which they improve, little or
nothing, by the longest practice and experience. These we denominate
Instincts, and are so apt to admire as something very extraordinary, and
inexplicable by all the disquisitions of human understanding. But our
wonder will, perhaps, cease or diminish, when we consider, that the
experimental reasoning itself, which we possess in common with beasts,
and on which the whole conduct of life depends, is nothing but a species
of instinct or mechanical power, that acts in us unknown to ourselves;
and in its chief operations, is not directed by any such relations or
comparisons of ideas, as are the proper objects of our intellectual
faculties. Though the instinct be different, yet still it is an
instinct, which teaches a man to avoid the fire; as much as that, which
teaches a bird, with such exactness, the art of incubation, and the
whole economy and order of its nursery.




86. There is, in Dr. Tillotson's writings, an argument against the _real
presence_, which is as concise, and elegant, and strong as any argument
can possibly be supposed against a doctrine, so little worthy of a
serious refutation. It is acknowledged on all hands, says that learned
prelate, that the authority, either of the scripture or of tradition, is
founded merely in the testimony of the apostles, who were eye-witnesses
to those miracles of our Saviour, by which he proved his divine mission.
Our evidence, then, for the truth of the _Christian_ religion is less
than the evidence for the truth of our senses; because, even in the
first authors of our religion, it was no greater; and it is evident it
must diminish in passing from them to their disciples; nor can any one
rest such confidence in their testimony, as in the immediate object of
his senses. But a weaker evidence can never destroy a stronger; and
therefore, were the doctrine of the real presence ever so clearly
revealed in scripture, it were directly contrary to the rules of just
reasoning to give our assent to it. It contradicts sense, though both
the scripture and tradition, on which it is supposed to be built, carry
not such evidence with them as sense; when they are considered merely as
external evidences, and are not brought home to every one's breast, by
the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit.

Nothing is so convenient as a decisive argument of this kind, which
must at least _silence_ the most arrogant bigotry and superstition, and
free us from their impertinent solicitations. I flatter myself, that I
have discovered an argument of a like nature, which, if just, will, with
the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of
superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the
world endures. For so long, I presume, will the accounts of miracles and
prodigies be found in all history, sacred and profane.

87. Though experience be our only guide in reasoning concerning matters
of fact; it must be acknowledged, that this guide is not altogether
infallible, but in some cases is apt to lead us into errors. One, who in
our climate, should expect better weather in any week of June than in
one of December, would reason justly, and conformably to experience; but
it is certain, that he may happen, in the event, to find himself
mistaken. However, we may observe, that, in such a case, he would have
no cause to complain of experience; because it commonly informs us
beforehand of the uncertainty, by that contrariety of events, which we
may learn from a diligent observation. All effects follow not with like
certainty from their supposed causes. Some events are found, in all
countries and all ages, to have been constantly conjoined together:
Others are found to have been more variable, and sometimes to disappoint
our expectations; so that, in our reasonings concerning matter of fact,
there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest
certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence.

A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence. In such
conclusions as are founded on an infallible experience, he expects the
event with the last degree of assurance, and regards his past experience
as a full _proof_ of the future existence of that event. In other
cases, he proceeds with more caution: He weighs the opposite
experiments: He considers which side is supported by the greater number
of experiments: to that side he inclines, with doubt and hesitation; and
when at last he fixes his judgement, the evidence exceeds not what we
properly call _probability_. All probability, then, supposes an
opposition of experiments and observations, where the one side is found
to overbalance the other, and to produce a degree of evidence,
proportioned to the superiority. A hundred instances or experiments on
one side, and fifty on another, afford a doubtful expectation of any
event; though a hundred uniform experiments, with only one that is
contradictory, reasonably beget a pretty strong degree of assurance. In
all cases, we must balance the opposite experiments, where they are
opposite, and deduct the smaller number from the greater, in order to
know the exact force of the superior evidence.

88. To apply these principles to a particular instance; we may observe,
that there is no species of reasoning more common, more useful, and even
necessary to human life, than that which is derived from the testimony
of men, and the reports of eye-witnesses and spectators. This species of
reasoning, perhaps, one may deny to be founded on the relation of cause
and effect. I shall not dispute about a word. It will be sufficient to
observe that our assurance in any argument of this kind is derived from
no other principle than our observation of the veracity of human
testimony, and of the usual conformity of facts to the reports of
witnesses. It being a general maxim, that no objects have any
discoverable connexion together, and that all the inferences, which we
can draw from one to another, are founded merely on our experience of
their constant and regular conjunction; it is evident, that we ought not
to make an exception to this maxim in favour of human testimony, whose
connexion with any event seems, in itself, as little necessary as any
other. Were not the memory tenacious to a certain degree, had not men
commonly an inclination to truth and a principle of probity; were they
not sensible to shame, when detected in a falsehood: Were not these, I
say, discovered by experience to be qualities, inherent in human nature,
we should never repose the least confidence in human testimony. A man
delirious, or noted for falsehood and villany, has no manner of
authority with us.

And as the evidence, derived from witnesses and human testimony, is
founded on past experience, so it varies with the experience, and is
regarded either as a _proof_ or a _probability_, according as the
conjunction between any particular kind of report and any kind of object
has been found to be constant or variable. There are a number of
circumstances to be taken into consideration in all judgements of this
kind; and the ultimate standard, by which we determine all disputes,
that may arise concerning them, is always derived from experience and
observation. Where this experience is not entirely uniform on any side,
it is attended with an unavoidable contrariety in our judgements, and
with the same opposition and mutual destruction of argument as in every
other kind of evidence. We frequently hesitate concerning the reports of
others. We balance the opposite circumstances, which cause any doubt or
uncertainty; and when we discover a superiority on any side, we incline
to it; but still with a diminution of assurance, in proportion to the
force of its antagonist.

89. This contrariety of evidence, in the present case, may be derived
from several different causes; from the opposition of contrary
testimony; from the character or number of the witnesses; from the
manner of their delivering their testimony; or from the union of all
these circumstances. We entertain a suspicion concerning any matter of
fact, when the witnesses contradict each other; when they are but few,
or of a doubtful character; when they have an interest in what they
affirm; when they deliver their testimony with hesitation, or on the
contrary, with too violent asseverations. There are many other
particulars of the same kind, which may diminish or destroy the force of
any argument, derived from human testimony.

Suppose, for instance, that the fact, which the testimony endeavours to
establish, partakes of the extraordinary and the marvellous; in that
case, the evidence, resulting from the testimony, admits of a
diminution, greater or less, in proportion as the fact is more or less
unusual. The reason why we place any credit in witnesses and historians,
is not derived from any _connexion_, which we perceive _a priori_,
between testimony and reality, but because we are accustomed to find a
conformity between them. But when the fact attested is such a one as has
seldom fallen under our observation, here is a contest of two opposite
experiences; of which the one destroys the other, as far as its force
goes, and the superior can only operate on the mind by the force, which
remains. The very same principle of experience, which gives us a certain
degree of assurance in the testimony of witnesses, gives us also, in
this case, another degree of assurance against the fact, which they
endeavour to establish; from which contradition there necessarily arises
a counterpoize, and mutual destruction of belief and authority.

_I should not believe such a story were it told me by Cato_, was a
proverbial saying in Rome, even during the lifetime of that
philosophical patriot.[20] The incredibility of a fact, it was allowed,
might invalidate so great an authority.

[20] Plutarch, in vita Catonis.

The Indian prince, who refused to believe the first relations concerning
the effects of frost, reasoned justly; and it naturally required very
strong testimony to engage his assent to facts, that arose from a state
of nature, with which he was unacquainted, and which bore so little
analogy to those events, of which he had had constant and uniform
experience. Though they were not contrary to his experience, they were
not conformable to it.[21]

[21] No Indian, it is evident, could have experience that water
did not freeze in cold climates. This is placing nature in a
situation quite unknown to him; and it is impossible for him to
tell _a priori _what will result from it. It is making a new
experiment, the consequence of which is always uncertain. One
may sometimes conjecture from analogy what will follow; but
still this is but conjecture. And it must be confessed, that,
in the present case of freezing, the event follows contrary to
the rules of analogy, and is such as a rational Indian would
not look for. The operations of cold upon water are not
gradual, according to the degrees of cold; but whenever it
comes to the freezing point, the water passes in a moment, from
the utmost liquidity to perfect hardness. Such an event,
therefore, may be denominated _extra-ordinary_, and requires a
pretty strong testimony, to render it credible to people in a
warm climate: But still it is not _miraculous_, nor contrary to
uniform experience of the course of nature in cases where all
the circumstances are the same. The inhabitants of Sumatra
have always seen water fluid in their own climate, and the
freezing of their rivers ought to be deemed a prodigy: But they
never saw water in Muscovy during the winter; and therefore
they cannot reasonably be positive what would there be the

90. But in order to encrease the probability against the testimony of
witnesses, let us suppose, that the fact, which they affirm, instead of
being only marvellous, is really miraculous; and suppose also, that the
testimony considered apart and in itself, amounts to an entire proof; in
that case, there is proof against proof, of which the strongest must
prevail, but still with a diminution of its force, in proportion to that
of its antagonist.

A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and
unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a
miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument
from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable,
that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in
the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water; unless
it be, that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and
there is required a violation of these laws, or in other words, a
miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever
happen in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man,
seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of
death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently
observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to
life; because that has never been observed in any age or country. There
must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event,
otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform
experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full _proof_,
from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor
can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by
an opposite proof, which is superior.[22]

[22] Sometimes an event may not, _in itself_, seem to be
contrary to the laws of nature, and yet, if it were real, it
might, by reason of some circumstances, be denominated a
miracle; because, in _fact_, it is contrary to these laws. Thus
if a person, claiming a divine authority, should command a sick
person to be well, a healthful man to fall down dead, the
clouds to pour rain, the winds to blow, in short, should order
many natural events, which immediately follow upon his command;
these might justly be esteemed miracles, because they are
really, in this case, contrary to the laws of nature. For if
any suspicion remain, that the event and command concurred by
accident, there is no miracle and no transgression of the laws
of nature. If this suspicion be removed, there is evidently a
miracle, and a transgression of these laws; because nothing can
be more contrary to nature than that the voice or command of a
man should have such an influence. A miracle may be accurately
defined, _a transgression of a law of nature by a particular
volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some
invisible agent_. A miracle may either be discoverable by men
or not. This alters not its nature and essence. The raising of
a house or ship into the air is a visible miracle. The raising
of a feather, when the wind wants ever so little of a force
requisite for that purpose, is as real a miracle, though not so
sensible with regard to us.

91. The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our
attention), 'That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle,
unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more
miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish; and even in
that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior
only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which
remains, after deducting the inferior.' When anyone tells me, that he
saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself,
whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or
be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have
happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to
the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always
reject the greater miracle If the falsehood of his testimony would be
more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till
then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.


92. In the foregoing reasoning we have supposed, that the testimony,
upon which a miracle is founded, may possibly amount to an entire proof,
and that the falsehood of that testimony would be a real prodigy: But it
is easy to shew, that we have been a great deal too liberal in our
concession, and that there never was a miraculous event established on
so full an evidence.

For _first_, there is not to be found, in all history, any miracle
attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good-sense,
education, and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in
themselves; of such undoubted integrity, as to place them beyond all
suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit and reputation
in the eyes of mankind, as to have a great deal to lose in case of their
being detected in any falsehood; and at the same time, attesting facts
performed in such a public manner and in so celebrated a part of the
world, as to render the detection unavoidable: All which circumstances
are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of men.

93. _Secondly_. We may observe in human nature a principle which, if
strictly examined, will be found to diminish extremely the assurance,
which we might, from human testimony, have, in any kind of prodigy. The
maxim, by which we commonly conduct ourselves in our reasonings, is,
that the objects, of which we have no experience, resembles those, of
which we have; that what we have found to be most usual is always most
probable; and that where there is an opposition of arguments, we ought
to give the preference to such as are founded on the greatest number of
past observations. But though, in proceeding by this rule, we readily
reject any fact which is unusual and incredible in an ordinary degree;
yet in advancing farther, the mind observes not always the same rule;
but when anything is affirmed utterly absurd and miraculous, it rather
the more readily admits of such a fact, upon account of that very
circumstance, which ought to destroy all its authority. The passion of
_surprise_ and _wonder_, arising from miracles, being an agreeable
emotion, gives a sensible tendency towards the belief of those events,
from which it is derived. And this goes so far, that even those who
cannot enjoy this pleasure immediately, nor can believe those miraculous
events, of which they are informed, yet love to partake of the
satisfaction at second-hand or by rebound, and place a pride and delight
in exciting the admiration of others.

With what greediness are the miraculous accounts of travellers received,
their descriptions of sea and land monsters, their relations of
wonderful adventures, strange men, and uncouth manners? But if the
spirit of religion join itself to the love of wonder, there is an end of
common sense; and human testimony, in these circumstances, loses all
pretensions to authority. A religionist may be an enthusiast, and
imagine he sees what has no reality: he may know his narrative to be
false, and yet persevere in it, with the best intentions in the world,
for the sake of promoting so holy a cause: or even where this delusion
has not place, vanity, excited by so strong a temptation, operates on
him more powerfully than on the rest of mankind in any other
circumstances; and self-interest with equal force. His auditors may not
have, and commonly have not, sufficient judgement to canvass his
evidence: what judgement they have, they renounce by principle, in these
sublime and mysterious subjects: or if they were ever so willing to
employ it, passion and a heated imagination disturb the regularity of
its operations. Their credulity increases his impudence: and his
impudence overpowers their credulity.

Eloquence, when at its highest pitch, leaves little room for reason or
reflection; but addressing itself entirely to the fancy or the
affections, captivates the willing hearers, and subdues their
understanding. Happily, this pitch it seldom attains. But what a Tully
or a Demosthenes could scarcely effect over a Roman or Athenian
audience, every _Capuchin_, every itinerant or stationary teacher can
perform over the generality of mankind, and in a higher degree, by
touching such gross and vulgar passions.

The many instances of forged miracles, and prophecies, and supernatural
events, which, in all ages, have either been detected by contrary
evidence, or which detect themselves by their absurdity, prove
sufficiently the strong propensity of mankind to the extraordinary and
the marvellous, and ought reasonably to beget a suspicion against all
relations of this kind. This is our natural way of thinking, even with
regard to the most common and most credible events. For instance: There
is no kind of report which rises so easily, and spreads so quickly,
especially in country places and provincial towns, as those concerning
marriages; insomuch that two young persons of equal condition never see
each other twice, but the whole neighbourhood immediately join them
together. The pleasure of telling a piece of news so interesting, of
propagating it, and of being the first reporters of it, spreads the
intelligence. And this is so well known, that no man of sense gives
attention to these reports, till he find them confirmed by some greater
evidence. Do not the same passions, and others still stronger, incline
the generality of mankind to believe and report, with the greatest
vehemence and assurance, all religious miracles?

94. _Thirdly_. It forms a strong presumption against all supernatural
and miraculous relations, that they are observed chiefly to abound among
ignorant and barbarous nations; or if a civilized people has ever given
admission to any of them, that people will be found to have received
them from ignorant and barbarous ancestors, who transmitted them with
that inviolable sanction and authority, which always attend received
opinions. When we peruse the first histories of all nations, we are apt
to imagine ourselves transported into some new world; where the whole
frame of nature is disjointed, and every element performs its operations
in a different manner, from what it does at present. Battles,
revolutions, pestilence, famine and death, are never the effect of those
natural causes, which we experience. Prodigies, omens, oracles,
judgements, quite obscure the few natural events, that are intermingled
with them. But as the former grow thinner every page, in proportion as
we advance nearer the enlightened ages, we soon learn, that there is
nothing mysterious or supernatural in the case, but that all proceeds
from the usual propensity of mankind towards the marvellous, and that,
though this inclination may at intervals receive a check from sense and
learning, it can never be thoroughly extirpated from human nature.

_It is strange_, a judicious reader is apt to say, upon the perusal of
these wonderful historians, _that such prodigious_ _events never happen
in our days_. But it is nothing strange, I hope, that men should lie in
all ages. You must surely have seen instances enough of that frailty.
You have yourself heard many such marvellous relations started, which,
being treated with scorn by all the wise and judicious, have at last
been abandoned even by the vulgar. Be assured, that those renowned lies,
which have spread and flourished to such a monstrous height, arose from
like beginnings; but being sown in a more proper soil, shot up at last
into prodigies almost equal to those which they relate.

It was a wise policy in that false prophet, Alexander, who though now
forgotten, was once so famous, to lay the first scene of his impostures
in Paphlagonia, where, as Lucian tells us, the people were extremely
ignorant and stupid, and ready to swallow even the grossest delusion.
People at a distance, who are weak enough to think the matter at all
worth enquiry, have no opportunity of receiving better information. The
stories come magnified to them by a hundred circumstances. Fools are
industrious in propagating the imposture; while the wise and learned are
contented, in general, to deride its absurdity, without informing
themselves of the particular facts, by which it may be distinctly
refuted. And thus the impostor above mentioned was enabled to proceed,
from his ignorant Paphlagonians, to the enlisting of votaries, even
among the Grecian philosophers, and men of the most eminent rank and
distinction in Rome: nay, could engage the attention of that sage
emperor Marcus Aurelius; so far as to make him trust the success of a
military expedition to his delusive prophecies.

The advantages are so great, of starting an imposture among an ignorant
people, that, even though the delusion should be too gross to impose on
the generality of them (_which, though seldom, is sometimes the case_)
it has a much better chance for succeeding in remote countries, than if
the first scene had been laid in a city renowned for arts and
knowledge. The most ignorant and barbarous of these barbarians carry
the report abroad. None of their countrymen have a large correspondence,
or sufficient credit and authority to contradict and beat down the
delusion. Men's inclination to the marvellous has full opportunity to
display itself. And thus a story, which is universally exploded in the
place where it was first started, shall pass for certain at a thousand
miles distance. But had Alexander fixed his residence at Athens, the
philosophers of that renowned mart of learning had immediately spread,
throughout the whole Roman empire, their sense of the matter; which,
being supported by so great authority, and displayed by all the force of
reason and eloquence, had entirely opened the eyes of mankind. It is
true; Lucian, passing by chance through Paphlagonia, had an opportunity
of performing this good office. But, though much to be wished, it does
not always happen, that every Alexander meets with a Lucian, ready to
expose and detect his impostures.

95. I may add as a _fourth_ reason, which diminishes the authority of
prodigies, that there is no testimony for any, even those which have not
been expressly detected, that is not opposed by an infinite number of
witnesses; so that not only the miracle destroys the credit of
testimony, but the testimony destroys itself. To make this the better
understood, let us consider, that, in matters of religion, whatever is
different is contrary; and that it is impossible the religions of
ancient Rome, of Turkey, of Siam, and of China should, all of them, be
established on any solid foundation. Every miracle, therefore, pretended
to have been wrought in any of these religions (and all of them abound
in miracles), as its direct scope is to establish the particular system
to which it is attributed; so has it the same force, though more
indirectly, to overthrow every other system. In destroying a rival
system, it likewise destroys the credit of those miracles, on which that
system was established; so that all the prodigies of different
religions are to be regarded as contrary facts, and the evidences of
these prodigies, whether weak or strong, as opposite to each other.
According to this method of reasoning, when we believe any miracle of
Mahomet or his successors, we have for our warrant the testimony of a
few barbarous Arabians. And on the other hand, we are to regard the
authority of Titus Livius, Plutarch, Tacitus, and, in short, of all the
authors and witnesses, Grecian, Chinese, and Roman Catholic, who have
related any miracle in their particular religion; I say, we are to
regard their testimony in the same light as if they had mentioned that
Mahometan miracle, and had in express terms contradicted it, with the
same certainty as they have for the miracle they relate. This argument
may appear over subtile and refined; but is not in reality different
from the reasoning of a judge, who supposes, that the credit of two
witnesses, maintaining a crime against any one, is destroyed by the
testimony of two others, who affirm him to have been two hundred leagues
distant, at the same instant when the crime is said to have been

96. One of the best attested miracles in all profane history, is that
which Tacitus reports of Vespasian, who cured a blind man in Alexandria,
by means of his spittle, and a lame man by the mere touch of his foot;
in obedience to a vision of the god Serapis, who had enjoined them to
have recourse to the Emperor, for these miraculous cures. The story may
be seen in that fine historian[23]; where every circumstance seems to add
weight to the testimony, and might be displayed at large with all the
force of argument and eloquence, if any one were now concerned to
enforce the evidence of that exploded and idolatrous superstition. The
gravity, solidity, age, and probity of so great an emperor, who, through
the whole course of his life, conversed in a familiar manner with his
friends and courtiers, and never affected those extraordinary airs of
divinity assumed by Alexander and Demetrius. The historian, a
cotemporary writer, noted for candour and veracity, and withal, the
greatest and most penetrating genius, perhaps, of all antiquity; and so
free from any tendency to credulity, that he even lies under the
contrary imputation, of atheism and profaneness: The persons, from whose
authority he related the miracle, of established character for judgement
and veracity, as we may well presume; eye-witnesses of the fact, and
confirming their testimony, after the Flavian family was despoiled of
the empire, and could no longer give any reward, as the price of a lie.
_Utrumque, qui interfuere, nunc quoque memorant, postquam nullum
mendacio pretium_. To which if we add the public nature of the facts, as
related, it will appear, that no evidence can well be supposed stronger
for so gross and so palpable a falsehood.

[23] Hist. lib. iv. cap. 81. Suetonius gives nearly the same
account _in vita_ Vesp.

There is also a memorable story related by Cardinal de Retz, which may
well deserve our consideration. When that intriguing politician fled
into Spain, to avoid the persecution of his enemies, he passed through
Saragossa, the capital of Arragon, where he was shewn, in the cathedral,
a man, who had served seven years as a door-keeper, and was well known
to every body in town, that had ever paid his devotions at that church.
He had been seen, for so long a time, wanting a leg; but recovered that
limb by the rubbing of holy oil upon the stump; and the cardinal assures
us that he saw him with two legs. This miracle was vouched by all the
canons of the church; and the whole company in town were appealed to for
a confirmation of the fact; whom the cardinal found, by their zealous
devotion, to be thorough believers of the miracle. Here the relater was
also cotemporary to the supposed prodigy, of an incredulous and
libertine character, as well as of great genius; the miracle of so
_singular_ a nature as could scarcely admit of a counterfeit, and the
witnesses very numerous, and all of them, in a manner, spectators of the
fact, to which they gave their testimony. And what adds mightily to the
force of the evidence, and may double our surprise on this occasion, is,
that the cardinal himself, who relates the story, seems not to give any
credit to it, and consequently cannot be suspected of any concurrence in
the holy fraud. He considered justly, that it was not requisite, in
order to reject a fact of this nature, to be able accurately to disprove
the testimony, and to trace its falsehood, through all the circumstances
of knavery and credulity which produced it. He knew, that, as this was
commonly altogether impossible at any small distance of time and place;
so was it extremely difficult, even where one was immediately present,
by reason of the bigotry, ignorance, cunning, and roguery of a great
part of mankind. He therefore concluded, like a just reasoner, that such
an evidence carried falsehood upon the very face of it, and that a
miracle, supported by any human testimony, was more properly a subject
of derision than of argument.

There surely never was a greater number of miracles ascribed to one
person, than those, which were lately said to have been wrought in
France upon the tomb of Abbé Paris, the famous Jansenist, with whose
sanctity the people were so long deluded. The curing of the sick, giving
hearing to the deaf, and sight to the blind, were every where talked of
as the usual effects of that holy sepulchre. But what is more
extraordinary; many of the miracles were immediately proved upon the
spot, before judges of unquestioned integrity, attested by witnesses of
credit and distinction, in a learned age, and on the most eminent
theatre that is now in the world. Nor is this all: a relation of them
was published and dispersed every where; nor were the _Jesuits_, though
a learned body, supported by the civil magistrate, and determined
enemies to those opinions, in whose favour the miracles were said to
have been wrought, ever able distinctly to refute or detect them[24].
Where shall we find such a number of circumstances, agreeing to the
corroboration of one fact? And what have we to oppose to such a cloud of
witnesses, but the absolute impossibility or miraculous nature of the
events, which they relate? And this surely, in the eyes of all
reasonable people, will alone be regarded as a sufficient refutation.

[24] This book was writ by Mons. Montgeron, counsellor or judge
of the parliament of Paris, a man of figure and character, who
was also a martyr to the cause, and is now said to be somewhere
in a dungeon on account of his book.

There is another book in three volumes (called _Recueil des
Miracles de l'Abbé_ Paris) giving an account of many of these
miracles, and accompanied with prefatory discourses, which are
very well written. There runs, however, through the whole of
these a ridiculous comparison between the miracles of our
Saviour and those of the Abbé; wherein it is asserted, that the
evidence for the latter is equal to that for the former: As if
the testimony of men could ever be put in the balance with that
of God himself, who conducted the pen of the inspired writers.
If these writers, indeed, were to be considered merely as human
testimony, the French author is very moderate in his
comparison; since he might, with some appearance of reason,
pretend, that the Jansenist miracles much surpass the other in
evidence and authority. The following circumstances are drawn
from authentic papers, inserted in the above-mentioned book.

Many of the miracles of Abbé Paris were proved immediately by
witnesses before the officiality or bishop's court at Paris,
under the eye of cardinal Noailles, whose character for
integrity and capacity was never contested even by his enemies.

His successor in the archbishopric was an enemy to the
Jansenists, and for that reason promoted to the see by the
court. Yet 22 rectors or curés of Paris, with infinite
earnestness, press him to examine those miracles, which they
assert to be known to the whole world, and undisputably
certain: But he wisely forbore.

The Molinist party had tried to discredit these miracles in one
instance, that of Mademoiselle le Franc. But, besides that
their proceedings were in many respects the most irregular in
the world, particularly in citing only a few of the Jansenist
witnesses, whom they tampered with: Besides this, I say, they
soon found themselves overwhelmed by a cloud of new witnesses,
one hundred and twenty in number, most of them persons of
credit and substance in Paris, who gave oath for the miracle.
This was accompanied with a solemn and earnest appeal to the
parliament. But the parliament were forbidden by authority to
meddle in the affair. It was at last observed, that where men
are heated by zeal and enthusiasm, there is no degree of human
testimony so strong as may not be procured for the greatest
absurdity: And those who will be so silly as to examine the
affair by that medium, and seek particular flaws in the
testimony, are almost sure to be confounded. It must be a
miserable imposture, indeed, that does not prevail in
that contest.

All who have been in France about that time have heard of the
reputation of Mons. Heraut, the _lieutenant de Police_, whose
vigilance, penetration, activity, and extensive intelligence
have been much talked of. This magistrate, who by the nature of
his office is almost absolute, was vested with full powers, on
purpose to suppress or discredit these miracles; and he
frequently seized immediately, and examined the witnesses and
subjects of them: But never could reach any thing satisfactory
against them.

In the case of Mademoiselle Thibaut he sent the famous De Sylva
to examine her; whose evidence is very curious. The physician
declares, that it was impossible she could have been so ill as
was proved by witnesses; because it was impossible she could,
in so short a time, have recovered so perfectly as he found
her. He reasoned, like a man of sense, from natural causes; but
the opposite party told him, that the whole was a miracle, and
that his evidence was the very best proof of it.

The Molinists were in a sad dilemma. They durst not assert the
absolute insufficiency of human evidence, to prove a miracle.
They were obliged to say, that these miracles were wrought by
witchcraft and the devil. But they were told, that this was the
resource of the Jews of old.

No Jansenist was ever embarrassed to account for the cessation
of the miracles, when the church-yard was shut up by the king's
edict. It was the touch of the tomb, which produced these
extraordinary effects; and when no one could approach the tomb,
no effects could be expected. God, indeed, could have thrown
down the walls in a moment; but he is master of his own graces
and works, and it belongs not to us to account for them. He did
not throw down the walls of every city like those of Jericho,
on the sounding of the rams horns, nor break up the prison of
every apostle, like that of St. Paul.

No less a man, than the Due de Chatillon, a duke and peer of
France, of the highest rank and family, gives evidence of a
miraculous cure, performed upon a servant of his, who had lived
several years in his house with a visible and palpable
infirmity. I shall conclude with observing, that no clergy are
more celebrated for strictness of life and manners than the
secular clergy of France, particularly the rectors or curés of
Paris, who bear testimony to these impostures. The learning,
genius, and probity of the gentlemen, and the austerity of the
nuns of Port-Royal, have been much celebrated all over Europe.
Yet they all give evidence for a miracle, wrought on the niece
of the famous Pascal, whose sanctity of life, as well as
extraordinary capacity, is well known. The famous Racine gives
an account of this miracle in his famous history of Port-Royal,
and fortifies it with all the proofs, which a multitude of
nuns, priests, physicians, and men of the world, all of them of
undoubted credit, could bestow upon it. Several men of letters,
particularly the bishop of Tournay, thought this miracle so
certain, as to employ it in the refutation of atheists and
free-thinkers. The queen-regent of France, who was extremely
prejudiced against the Port-Royal, sent her own physician to
examine the miracle, who returned an absolute convert. In
short, the supernatural cure was so uncontestable, that it
saved, for a time, that famous monastery from the ruin with
which it was threatened by the Jesuits. Had it been a cheat, it
had certainly been detected by such sagacious and powerful
antagonists, and must have hastened the ruin of the contrivers.
Our divines, who can build up a formidable castle from such
despicable materials; what a prodigious fabric could they have
reared from these and many other circumstances, which I have
not mentioned! How often would the great names of Pascal,
Racine, Amaud, Nicole, have resounded in our ears? But if they
be wise, they had better adopt the miracle, as being more
worth, a thousand times, than all the rest of the collection.
Besides, it may serve very much to their purpose. For that
miracle was really performed by the touch of an authentic holy
prickle of the holy thorn, which composed the holy crown,
which, &c.

97. Is the consequence just, because some human testimony has the utmost
force and authority in some cases, when it relates the battle of
Philippi or Pharsalia for instance; that therefore all kinds of
testimony must, in all cases, have equal force and authority? Suppose
that the Caesarean and Pompeian factions had, each of them, claimed the
victory in these battles, and that the historians of each party had
uniformly ascribed the advantage to their own side; how could mankind,
at this distance, have been able to determine between them? The
contrariety is equally strong between the miracles related by Herodotus
or Plutarch, and those delivered by Mariana, Bede, or any monkish

The wise lend a very academic faith to every report which favours the
passion of the reporter; whether it magnifies his country, his family,
or himself, or in any other way strikes in with his natural inclinations
and propensities. But what greater temptation than to appear a
missionary, a prophet, an ambassador from heaven? Who would not
encounter many dangers and difficulties, in order to attain so sublime a
character? Or if, by the help of vanity and a heated imagination, a man
has first made a convert of himself, and entered seriously into the
delusion; who ever scruples to make use of pious frauds, in support of
so holy and meritorious a cause?

The smallest spark may here kindle into the greatest flame; because the
materials are always prepared for it. The _avidum genus auricularum_[25],
the gazing populace, receive greedily, without examination, whatever
sooths superstition, and promotes wonder.

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