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Introduction by Russell Kirk 



Introduction copyright 1956 by 
Henry Regnery Company. All rights 
reserved. Manufactured in the 
United States of America, 9-60. 


Introduction vii 

I. Of the Different Species of Philosophy 1 

II. Of the Origins of Ideas 13 

III. Of the Association of Ideas 20 

IV. Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Op- 

erations of the Understanding 22 

V. Sceptical Solution of These Doubts 38 

VI. Of Probability 55 

VII. Of the Idea of Necessary Connection 59 

/III. Of Liberty and Necessity 80 

IX. Of the Reason of Animals 107 

X. Of Miracles 112 

XI. Of a Particular Providence and of a 

Future State 137 

XII, Of the Academical or Sceptical 

Philosophy 155 


"A gloomy, hair-brained enthusiast/' Hume ob- 
serves in his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of 
Morals, "may have a place in the calendar; but will 
scarcely ever be admitted, when alive, into intimacy 
and society, except by those who are as delirious 
and dismal as himself/' The words would have 
applied very well to Marx; and Hume, later in 
life, could have made them fit his acquaintance 
Rousseau, whom he treated with invariable kind- 
ness, but who Hume at length concluded was 
little better than a madman. Now Hume has a 
place in the calendar of philosophy; but, being a 
jolly, fat, witty, cosmopolitan gentleman, he did 
very well as respects intimacy and society. The 
ladies, especially, doted on Hume, though he was 
a confirmed bachelor who thought marriage too 
much of a luxury for a frugal Scot. Once, in a 
French tableau, he figured as a sultan between two 
houris, in the form of Parisian beauties: thus be- 
tween conviviality and books, his life was spent. 
Adam Smith, his best friend, considered him "as 
approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly 
wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of 
human frailty will admit." 

Born in 1711, the second son of a Border laird, 
Hume made a good deal of money from his books 
(which no philosopher does nowadays), twice went 
on diplomatic missions, was an undersecretary of 
state for a time, served as Keeper of the Advocates' 
Library for years, lived on sixpence a day in his 
rooms in the towering pile of James's Court by the 
Lawnmarket, in Edinburgh, and knew nearly every- 
one of the world of fashion and letters in France 


and Scodand. If the mind and character of the 
eighteenth century may be represented by any one 
man, that man is Davy Hume. He spent his days 
in dissipating philosophical illusions, and his in- 
fluence, as a destructive critic of ideas, is at work 
among us still. T. H. Huxley observes that "if you 
want to get a clear conception of the deepest prob- 
lems set before the intellect of man, there is no 
need, so far as I can see, for you to go beyond the 
limits of the English tongue. Indeed, if you are 
pressed for time, three English authors will suffice; 
namely, Berkeley, Hume, and Hobbes." However 
this may be, certainly Hume is one of the most 
powerful of modern thinkers and his work is a 
model of philosophical style more influential than 
either Berkeley or Hobbes. 

Samuel Johnson, who detested him, said that 
Hume was a Tory only by accident. He meant 
principally that Hume's skepticism in religion 
made him a curious partisan of the faction of King 
and Church. An ardent High Tory Hume was, 
for all that, venerating Charles I and Strafford in 
his History of England. Our impressions, morals, 
and tastes are the products of Nature, rather than 
of Reason, Hume argued in his books; there is not 
much accounting for them; and so, perhaps, it was 
with his own politics. A contemner of enthusiasm, 
a being possessed of scarcely a strong emotion of 
any sort, Hume nevertheless stood for the Old 
Cause against Whiggery, for Faith against Reason, 
for Nature against the Rights of Man. To under- 
stand his work properly, one needs to read A 
Treatise of Human Nature (written when he was 
twenty-four), An Enquiry Concerning Human Un- 
derstanding (1748), and An Enquiry Concerning 
the Principles of Morals (1751), Of these, Hume 


himself believed Human Understanding to be the 
most important. 

The great philosophical systems are perennial. 
Hume was in the line of the Greek Skeptics, or the 
medieval Nominalists: his pleasure was to puncture 
balloons. The biggest balloon that came his way 
was John Locke, whom he undoes thoroughly in 
Human Understanding. Reason with a Roman R, 
pure rationality as the guide to morals and politics, 
dominated the first half of the eighteenth century, 
and Locke was the great champion and exponent 
of this system. Pure Reason never recovered from 
Hume's needle-prick, and Kant carried on Hume's 
criticism; but philosophical systems last a long 
while, in the public consciousness, long after they 
have been mortally wounded, so that journalists 
like Tom Paine were crying up the Age of Reason 
well into the nineteenth century, and Reason has 
its worshippers still. 

"Religion is irrational, theism is permissible only 
in utter attenuation: oh for a revelation! but not^ 
if you please, the one we are supposed to have had 
already/' So Basil Willey sums up Hume's theol- 
ogy. The thread of Hume's discourse runs thus. 
Locke did not understand the nature of innate 
ideas. They do exist; they form, indeed, our human 
nature, which we know through the study of his- 
tory; and it is these innate ideas, or impressions, 
which guide us through life. The knowledge we 
pick up in life is fragmentary, and necessarily im- 
perfect because of the imperfection of our senses; 
there are vast realms of which we can know 
nothing; and we do not form our judgments upon 
the basis of logically-arranged accumulations of ex- 
perience, but rather attach these experiences to gen- 
eral ideas. Those ideas are produced from "in> 


pressions"; but the origin of impressions is inex- 
plicable. We cannot say whether they arise imme- 
diately from the object, or are produced by the 
creative power of the mind, or are derived from 
God* The imagination, rather than mere experience- 
knowledge, is the source of whatever wisdom we 
have. And no one can account for the existence of 
the imagination in individuals, varying so greatly: 
it is literally genius, though Hume does not say so. 
What we learn in this world we learn through 
custom, repeated experiences, rather than pure 
Reason. "Our reason never does, nor is it possible 
that it should upon any supposition, give us an 
assurance of the continued and distinct existence 
of body." Education really is the accumulated cus- 
tom of the race. The ways of society are not the 
products of reason, but of the customary experience 
of the species, beginning with small family-groups 
and growing upward into the state. It is perilous 
to meddle, on principles of pure rationality, with 
valuable social institutions that thus are natural 
developments, not logical schemes. All religion is 
irrational; it is derived from Revelation and Faith; 
it cannot be sustained by logical argument, which 
only betrays Christianity to its enemies. (This was 
the stand of the Nominalists.) In Nature are vast 
mysteries which we cannot possibly apprehend. 
There are no metaphysical or supernatural sanc- 
tions for morality; reason only reveals a universe 
in which the great mysterious powers have no re- 
gard for human good or evil; no, our morality 
which Hume was sedulous to uphold is obedience 
to the rules of approbation and disapprobation by 
our fellows; and the standard of morality is shown 
to us by the study of history, and its arbiters are 
men of strong sense and delicate sentiment, whose 


impressions force themselves upon the wills of their 

A moderate skepticism of this sort, Hume de- 
clared, is the only real defense of Christianity, 
morality, and established social institutions. Follow 
Nature, not a vain illusory Reason; understand the 
nature of man, and be guided accordingly; we can- 
not know more; our intellects are puny. "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 na- 
ture/' This chain of argument is formed with con- 
summate skill and power, and expressed with an 
urbane good humor. The effect of Hume's books, 
joined to the general influence of similar reflections 
by other men, began very promptly to change the 
climate of opinion among advanced thinkers, so 
that the philosophies, after the middle of the eight- 
eenth century, turned reluctantly away from pure 
reason and busied themselves with history, politi- 
cal reform, and scholarly concerns that did not 
aspire to perfect knowledge of universals. 

As a congenital Tory, Hume had every desire to 
preserve the pleasant society of the eighteenth cen- 
tury, of which he was an ornament. He did not 
desire to alter the established morality of the age, 
nor to destroy religious faith, nor to make any radi- 
cal change in social institutions. Revolutionaries of 
every description, he said, the civil magistrate justly 
puts on the same footing with common robbers. He 
was well aware of the inflammatory power of cer- 
tain concepts, once they have been vulgarized, and 
said so. "Why rake into those corners of nature, 
which spread a nuisance all around?" The ob- 
session of philosophes with abstract reason, a priori 


systems, and dialectics tends toward this. "Truths 
which are pernicious to society, if any such there 
are, will yield to errors, which are salutary and ad- 
vantageous" It is quite possible to reason ourselves 
out of virtue and social enjoyment. "The passion 
for philosophy, like that for religion, seems liable 
to this inconvenience, that, though it aims at the 
correction of our manners, and extirpation of our 
vices, it may only serve, by imprudent manage- 
ment, to foster a predominant inclination, and push 
the mind, with more determined resolution, to- 
wards that side which already draws too much, by 
the bias and propensity of the natural temper/' 
Nor had a man ought to let his speculations dis- 
turb the even tenor of his ways: Hume himself 
postponed the publication of his Natural History 
of Religion until his death, to spare himself the 
fury of outraged orthodoxy. 

Yet, in the long run, Hume's ideas had their 
revolutionary consequences. It was sufficient unto 
his time that the gentleman and the scholar, like 
Hume himself, should set the standard of taste and 
morality; their approbation secured the substantial 
emulation of the mass of men. But when the gentle- 
man and the scholar ceased to set the tone of life, 
the fate of morality became in question; transcend- 
ent sanction lacking, and deference from the crowd 
gone, every appetite might be indulged. It was suffi- 
cient unto his time that moderate skepticism should 
chasten the presumption of established churches: 
those churches seemed very secure indeed, with 
the mob on their side, so that when Hume died, 
in 1776, it was found prudent to set a watch by 
his grave on the Calton Hill for eight days, lest 
the Edinburgh zealots for religion wreak their ven- 
geance on the skeptic's corpse. But a time would 


come when faith would go out of the masses, and 
revelation would be forgotten: and then religion 
might need the Schoolmen's bulwark of reason. 

And though Hume's books undid Locke and the 
French philosophers of pure rationality, philosophi- 
cal systems and their refutations work their way 
only slowly to the cognizance of the great public. 
By the last decade of the century, Reason was en- 
throned in Notre Dame, and a priori notions were 
applied to the governance of great states, and the 
Rights of Man triumphed over custom and pru- 
dence. That urbane, leisurely, orderly world of 
Hume's was submerged in France and much of 
the rest of Europe; it has been sinking ever since; 
and what remains of it now is in peril everywhere. 
Whether human nature, as Hume describes it, can 
endure the assault of modern armed doctrines is 
now a question ominously debated by the phi- 
losophers of our own century. 






nature, may be treated after two different manners; 
each of which has its peculiar merit, and may con- 
tribute to the entertainment, instruction, and ref- 
ormation of mankind. The one considers man 
chiefly as born for action; and as influenced in his 
measures by taste and sentiment; pursuing one ob- 
ject-, and avoiding another, according to the value 
which these objects seem to possess, and according 
to the light in which they present themselves. As 
virtue, of all objects, is allowed to be the most valu- 
able, this species of philosophers paint her in the 
most amiable colors; borrowing all helps from 
poetry and eloquence, and treating their subject in 
an easy and obvious manner, and such as is best 
fitted to please the imagination, and engage the af- 
fections. They select the most striking observations 
and instances from common life; place opposite 
characters in a proper contrast; and alluring us into 
the paths of virtue by the views of glory and happi- 
ness, direct our steps in these paths by the soundest 
precepts and most illustrious examples. They make 
us jeel the difference between vice and virtue; they 
excite and regulate our sentiments; and so they can 
but bend our hearts to the love of probity and true 


honor, they think that they have fully attained the 
end of all their labors. 

The other species of philosophers consider man 
in the light of a reasonable rather than an active 
being, and endeavor to form his understanding 
more than cultivate his manners. They regard hu- 
man nature as a subject of speculation; and with a 
narrow scrutiny examine it, in order to find those 
principles, which regulate our understanding, ex- 
cite our sentiments, and make us to approve or 
blame any particular object, action, or behavior. 
They think it a reproach to all literature, that phi- 
losophy should not yet have fixed, beyond contro- 
versy, the foundation of morals, reasoning, and crit- 
icism; and should for ever talk of truth and false- 
hood, vice and virtue, beauty and deformity, with- 
out being able to determine the source of the dis- 
tinctions. While they attempt this arduous task, 
they are deterred by no difficulties; but proceeding 
from particular instances to general principles, they 
still push on their inquiries to principles more gen- 
eral, and rest not satisfied till they arrive at those 
original principles, by which, in every science, all 
human curiosity must be bounded. Though their 
speculations seem abstract, and even unintelligible 
to common readers, they aim at the approbation of 
the learned and the wise; and think themselves suffi- 
ciently compensated for the labor of their whole 
lives, if they can discover some hidden truths, 
which may contribute to the instruction of poster- 

It is certain that the easy and obvious philosophy 
will always, with the generality of mankind, have 
the preference above the accurate and abstruse; and 
by many will be recommended, not only as more 
agreeable, but more useful than the other. It enters 

lions; ana, oy roucnmg tnose principles wnicn ac- 
tuate men, reforms their conduct, and brings them 
nearer to that model of perfection which it de- 
scribes. On the contrary, the abstruse philosophy, 
being founded on a turn of mind, which cannot en- 
ter into business and action, vanishes when the phi- 
losopher leaves the shade, and comes into open 
day; nor can its principles easily retain any influ- 
ence over our conduct and behavior. The feelings 
of our heart, the agitation of our passions, the ve- 
hemence of our affections, dissipate all its conclu- 
sions, and reduce the profound philosopher to a 
mere plebeian. 

This also must be confessed, that the most dur- 
able, as well as justest fame, has been acquired by 
the easy philosophy, and that abstract reasoners 
seem hitherto to have enjoyed only a momentary 
reputation, from the caprice or ignorance of their 
own age, but have not been able to support their 
renown with more equitable posterity. It is easy for 
a profound philosopher to commit a mistake in his 
subtle reasonings; and one mistake is the necessary 
parent of another, while he pushes on his conse- 
quences, and is not deterred from embracing any 
conclusion, by its unusual appearance, or its con- 
tradiction to popular opinion. But a philosopher, 
who purposes only to represent the common sense 
of mankind in more beautiful and more engaging 
colors, if by accident he falls into error, goes no 
farther; but renewing his appeal to common sense, 
and the natural sentiments of the mind, returns 
into the right path, and secures himself from any 
dangerous illusions. The fame of Cicero flourishes 
at present; but that of Aristotle is utterly decayed. 
La Bruy&re passes the seas, and still maintains his 


reputation: But the glory of Malebranche is con- 
fined to his own nation, and to his own age. And 
Addison, perhaps, will be read with pleasure, when 
Locke shall be entirely forgotten. 

The mere philosopher is a character, which is 
commonly but little acceptable in the world, as be- 
ing supposed to contribute nothing either to the 
advantage or pleasure of society; while he lives re- 
mote from communication with mankind, and is 
wrapped up in principles and notions equally re- 
mote from their comprehension. On the other 
hand, the mere ignorant is still more despised; nor 
is anything deemed a surer sign of an illiberal gen- 
ius in an age and nation where the sciences flourish 
than to be entirely destitute of all relish for those 
noble entertainments. The most perfect character 
is supposed to lie between those extremes; retain- 
ing an equal ability and taste for books, company, 
and business; preserving in conversation that dis- 
cernment and delicacy which arise from polite let- 
ters; and in business, that probity and accuracy 
which are the natural result of a just philosophy. 
In order to diffuse and cultivate so accomplished a 
character, nothing can be more useful than compo- 
sitions of the easy style and manner, which draw 
not too much from life, require no deep application 
or retreat to be comprehended, and send back the 
student among mankind full of noble sentiments 
and wise precepts, applicable to every exigence of 
human life. By means of such compositions, virtue 
becomes amiable, science agreeable, company in- 
structive, and retirement entertaining, 

Man is a reasonable being; and as such, receives 
from science his proper food and nourishment: But 
so narrow are the bounds of human understanding, 
that little satisfaction can be hoped for in this par- 


ticular, either from the extent or security of his 
acquisitions. Man is a sociable, no less than a rea- 
sonable being: But neither can he always enjoy 
company agreeable and amusing, or preserve the 
proper relish for them, Man is also an active being, 
and from that disposition, as well as from the vari- 
ous necessities of human life, must submit to busi- 
ness and occupation: But the mind requires some 
relaxation, and cannot always support its bent to 
care and industry. It seems, then, that nature has 
pointed out a mixed kind of life as most suitable to 
the human race, and secretly admonished them to 
allow none of these biases to draw too much, so as 
to incapacitate them for other occupations and en- 
tertainments. Indulge your passion for science, says 
she, but let your science be human, and such as 
may have a direct reference to action and society. 
Abstruse thought and profound researches I pro- 
hibit, and will severely punish, by the pensive mel- 
ancholy which they introduce, by the endless un- 
certainty in which they involve you, and by the 
cold reception which your pretended discoveries 
shall meet with, when communicated. Be a philoso- 
pher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a 

Were the generality of mankind contented to pre- 
fer the easy philosophy to the abstract and pro- 
found, without throwing any blame or contempt on 
the latter, it might not be improper, perhaps, to 
comply with this general opinion, and allow every 
man to enjoy, without opposition, his own taste and 
sentiment. But as the matter is often carried far- 
ther, even to the absolute rejecting of all profound 
reasonings, or what is commonly called metaphys- 
ics, we shall now proceed to consider what can rea- 
sonably be pleaded in their behalf. 


We may begin with observing, that one consid- 
erable advantage, which results from the accurate 
and abstract philosophy, is, its subserviency to the 
easy and humane, which, without the former, can 
never attain a sufficient degree of exactness in its 
sentiments, precepts, or reasonings. All polite let- 
ters are nothing but pictures of human life in vari- 
ous attitudes and situations; and inspire us with 
different sentiments, of praise or blame, admiration 
or ridicule, according to the qualities of the object, 
which they set before us. An artist must be better 
qualified to succeed in his undertaking, who, be- 
sides a delicate taste and a quick apprehension, pos- 
sesses an accurate knowledge of the internal fab- 
ric, the operations of the understanding, the 
workings of the passions, and the various species of 
sentiment which discriminate vice and virtue. How 
painful soever this inward search or inquiry may 
appear, it becomes, in some measure, requisite to 
those, who would describe with success the ob- 
vious and outward appearances of life and manners. 
The anatomist presents to the eye the most hideous 
and disagreeable objects; but his science is useful 
to the painter in delineating even a Venus or an 
Helen. While the latter employs all the richest col- 
ors of his art, and gives his figures the most grace- 
ful and engaging airs; he must still carry his atten- 
tion to the inward structure of the human body, the 
position of the muscles, the fabric of the bones, and 
the use and figure of every part or organ. Accuracy 
is, in every case, advantageous to beauty, and just 
reasoning to delicate sentiment. In vain would we 
exalt the one by depreciating the other. 

Besides, we may observe, in every art or profes- 
sion, even those which most concern life or action, 
that a spirit of accuracy, however acquired, carries 


all of them nearer their perfection, and renders 
them more subservient to the interests of society. 
And though a philosopher may live remote from 
business, the genius of philosophy, if carefully cul- 
tivated by several, must gradually diffuse itself 
throughout the whole society, and bestow a similar 
correctness on every art and calling. The politician 
will acquire greater foresight and subtlety, in the 
subdividing and balancing of power; the lawyer 
more method and finer principles in his reasonings; 
and the general more regularity in his discipline, 
and more caution in his plans and operations. The 
stability of modern governments above the ancient, 
and the accuracy of modern philosophy, have inv 
proved, and probably will still improve, by similar 

Were there no advantage to be reaped from these 
studies, beyond the gratification of an innocent 
curiosity, yet ought not even this to be despised; 
as being one accession to those few safe and harm- 
less pleasures, which are bestowed on the human 
race. The sweetest and most inoffensive path of life 
leads through the avenues of science and learning; 
and whoever can either remove any obstructions in 
this way, or open up any new prospect, ought so 
far to be esteemed a benefactor to mankind. And 
though these researches may appear painful and fa- 
tiguing, it is with some minds as with some bodies, 
which being endowed with vigorous and florid 
health, require severe exercise, and reap a pleasure 
from what, to the generality of mankind, may seem 
burdensome and laborious. Obscurity, indeed, is 
painful to the mind as well as to the eye; but to 
bring light from obscurity, by whatever labor, must 
needs be delightful and rejoicing. 

But this obscurity in the profound and abstract 


philosophy, is objected to, not only as painful and 
fatiguing, but as the inevitable source of uncer- 
tainty and error. Here indeed lies the justest and 
most plausible objection against a considerable part 
of metaphysics, that they are not properly a science; 
but arise either from the fruitless efforts of human 
vanity, which would penetrate into subjects utterly 
inaccessible to the understanding, or from the craft 
of popular superstitions, which, being unable to de- 
fend themselves on fair ground, raise these entan- 
gling brambles to cover and protect their weakness- 
Chased from the open country, these robbers fly 
into the forest, and lie in wait to break in upon 
every unguarded avenue of the mind, and over- 
whelm it with religious fears and prejudices. The 
stoutest antagonist, if he remit his watch a moment, 
is oppressed. And many, through cowardice and 
folly, open the gates to the enemies, and willingly 
receive them with reverence and submission, as 
their legal sovereigns. 

But is this a sufficient reason, why philosophers 
should desist from such researches, and leave super- 
stition still in possession of her retreat? Is it not 
proper to draw an opposite conclusion, and per- 
ceive the necessity of carrying the war into the most 
secret recesses of the enemy? In vain do we hope, 
that men, from frequent disappointment, will at 
last abandon such airy sciences, and discover the 
proper province of human reason. For, besides, 
that many persons find too sensible an interest in 
perpetually recalling such topics; besides this, I say, 
the motive of blind despair can never reasonably 
have place in the sciences; since, however unsuc- 
cessful former attempts may have proved, there is 
still room to hope, that the industry, good fortune, 
or improved sagacity of succeeding generations 


may reach discoveries unknown to former ages. 
Each adventurous genius will leap at the arduous 
prize, and find himself stimulated, rather than dis- 
couraged, by the failures of his predecessors; while 
he hopes that the glory of achieving so hard an ad- 
venture is reserved for him alone. The only method 
of freeing learning, at once, from these abstruse 
questions, is to inquire seriously into the nature of 
human understanding, and show, from an exact an- 
alysis of its powers and capacity, that it is by no 
means fitted for such remote and abstruse subjects. 
We must submit to this fatigue, in order to live at 
case ever after: And must cultivate true metaphys- 
ics with some care, in order to destroy the false 
and adulterate. Indolence, which, to some persons, 
affords a safeguard against this deceitful philos- 
ophy, is, with others, overbalanced by curiosity; 
and despair, which, at some moments, prevails, 
may give place afterwards to sanguine hopes and 
expectations. Accurate and just reasoning is the 
only catholic remedy, fitted for all persons and all 
dispositions; and is alone able to subvert that ab- 
struse philosophy and metaphysical jargon, which, 
being mixed up with popular superstition, renders 
it in a manner impenetrable to careless reasoners, 
and gives it the air of science and wisdom. 

Besides this advantage of rejecting, after deliber- 
ate inquiry, the most uncertain and disagreeable 
part of learning, there are many positive advan- 
tages, which result from an accurate scrutiny into 
the powers and faculties of human nature. It is re- 
markable concerning the operations of the mind, 
that, though most intimately present to us, yet, 
whenever they become the object of reflection, they 
seem involved in obscurity; nor can the eye readily 
find those lines and boundaries, which discriminate 


and distinguish them. The objects are too fine to 
remain long in the same aspect or situation; and 
must he apprehended in an instant, by a superior 
penetration, derived from nature, and improved by 
habit and reflection. It becomes, therefore, no in- 
considerable part of science barely to know the dif- 
ferent operations of the mind, to separate them 
from each other, to class them under their proper 
heads, and to correct all that seeming disorder, in 
which they lie involved, when made the object of 
reflection and inquiry. This talk of ordering and 
distinguishing, which has no merit, when per- 
formed with regard to external bodies, the ob- 
jects of our senses, rises in its value, when directed 
towards the operations of the mind, in proportion 
to the difficulty and labor, which we meet with in 
performing it. And if we can go no farther than this 
mental geography, or delineation of the distinct 
parts and powers of the mind, it is at least a satisfac- 
tion to go so far; and the more obvious this science 
may appear (and it is by no means obvious) the 
more contemptible still must the ignorance of it 
be esteemed, in all pretenders to learning and phi- 

Nor can there remain any suspicion, that this 
science is uncertain and chimerical; unless we 
should entertain such a scepticism as is entirely sub- 
versive of all speculation, and even action. It can- 
not be doubted, that the mind is endowed with 
several powers and faculties, that these powers are 
distinct from each other, that what is really distinct 
to the immediate perception may be distinguished 
by reflection; and consequently, that there is a 
truth and falsehood in all propositions on this sub- 
ject, and a truth and falsehood, which lie not be- 
yond the compass of human understanding. There 


are many obvious distinctions of this kind, such as 
those between the will and understanding, the 
imagination and passions, which fall within the 
comprehension of every human creature; and the 
finer and more philosophical distinctions are no 
less real and certain, though more difficult to be 
comprehended. Some instances, especially late 
ones, of success in their inquiries, may give us a 
juster notion of the certainty and solidity of this 
branch of learning. And shall we esteem it worthy 
the labor of a philosopher to give us a true system 
of the planets, and adjust the position and order of 
those remote bodies; while we affect to overlook 
those, who, with so much success, delineate the 
parts of the mind, in which we are so intimately 

But may we not hope, that philosophy, if culti- 
vated with care, and encouraged by the attention 
of the public, may carry its researches still farther, 
and discover, at least in some degree, the secret 
springs and principles, by which the human mind 
is actuated in its operations? Astronomers had long 
contented themselves with proving, from the phe- 
nomena, the true motions, order, and magnitude of 
the heavenly bodies: Till a philosopher, at last, 
arose, who seems, from the happiest reasoning, to 
have also determined the laws and forces, by which 
the revolutions of the planets are governed and di- 
rected. The like has been performed with regard to 
other parts of nature. And there is no reason to 
despair of equal success in our inquiries concerning 
the mental powers and economy, if prosecuted 
with equal capacity and caution. It is probable, that 
one operation and principle of the mind depends 
on another; which, again, may be resolved into one 
more general and universal: And how far these re- 


searches may possibly be carried, it will be difficult 
for us, before, or even after, a careful trial, exactly 
to determine. This is certain, that attempts of this 
kind are every day made even by those who phi- 
losophize the most negligently: And nothing can 
be more requisite than to enter upon the enterprise 
with thorough care and attention; that, if it lie 
within the compass of human understanding, it 
may at last be happily achieved; if not, it may, how- 
ever, be rejected with some confidence and secu- 
rity. This last conclusion, surely, is not desirable; 
nor ought it to be embraced too rashly. For how 
much must we diminish from the beauty and value 
of this species of philosophy, upon such a supposi- 
tion? Moralists have hitherto been accustomed, 
when they considered the vast multitude and di- 
versity of those actions that excite our approbation 
or dislike, to search for some common principle, on 
which this variety of sentiments might depend. 
And though they have sometimes carried the mat- 
ter too far, by their passion for some one general 
principle; it must, however, be confessed, that they 
are excusable in expecting to find some general 
principles, into which all the vices and virtues were 
justly to be resolved. The like has been the en- 
deavor of critics, logicians, and even politicians: 
Nor have their attempts been wholly unsuccessful; 
though perhaps longer time, greater accuracy, and 
more ardent application may bring these sciences 
still nearer their perfection. To throw up at once 
all pretensions of this kind may justly be deemed 
more rash, precipitate, and dogmatical, than even 
the boldest and most affirmative philosophy, that 
has ever attempted to impose its crude dictates and 
principles on mankind. 

What though these reasonings concerning human 


nature seem abstract, and of difficult comprehen- 
sion? This affords no presumption of their false- 
hood. On the contrary, it seems impossible, that 
what has hitherto escaped so many wise and pro- 
found philosophers can be very obvious and easy. 
And whatever pains these researches may cost us, 
we may think ourselves sufficiently rewarded, not 
only in point of profit but of pleasure, if, by that 
means, we can make any addition to our stock of 
knowledge, in subjects of such unspeakable impor- 

But as, after all, the abstractedness of these spec- 
ulations is no recommendation, but rather a disad- 
vantage to them, and as this difficulty may perhaps 
be surmounted by care and art, and the avoiding of 
all unnecessary detail, we have, in the following in- 
quiry, attempted to throw some light upon subjects, 
from which uncertainty has hitherto deterred the 
wise, and obscurity the ignorant. Happy, if we can 
unite the boundaries of the different species of phi- 
losophy, by reconciling profound inquiry with 
clearness, and truth with novelty! And still more 
happy, if reasoning in this easy manner, we can un- 
dermine the foundations of an abstruse philosophy, 
which seems to have hitherto served only as a shel- 
ter to superstition, and a cover to absurdity and 



considerable difference between the perceptions of 
the mind, when a man feels die pain of excessive 
heat, or the pleasure of moderate warmth, and 


when he afterwards recalls to his memory this sen- 
sation, or anticipates it by his imagination. These 
faculties may mimic or copy the perceptions of the 
senses; but they never can entirely reach the force 
and vivacity of the original sentiment. The utmost 
we say of them, even when they operate with great- 
est vigor, is, that they represent their object in so 
lively a manner, that we could almost say we feel or 
see it: But, except the mind be disordered by dis- 
ease or madness, they never can arrive at such a 
pitch of vivacity, as to render these perceptions al- 
together undistinguishable. All the colors of poetry, 
however splendid, can never paint natural ob- 
jects in such a manner as to make the description 
be taken for a real landscape. The most lively 
thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation. 

We may observe a like distinction to run through 
all the other perceptions of the mind. A man in a 
fit of anger, is actuated in a very different manner 
from one who only thinks of that emotion. If you 
tell me, that any person is in love, I easily under- 
stand your meaning, and form a just conception of 
his situation; but never can mistake that concep- 
tion for the real disorders and agitations of the pas- 
sion. When we reflect on our past sentiments and 
affections, our thought is a faithful mirror, and cop- 
ies its objects truly; but the colors which it employs 
are faint and dull, in comparison of those in which 
our original perceptions were clothed. It requires 
no nice discernment or metaphysical head to mark 
the distinction between them. 

Here therefore we may divide all the perceptions 
of the mind into two classes or species, which are 
distinguished by their different degrees of force 
and vivacity. The less forcible and lively are com- 
monly denominated thoughts or ideas. The other 


species want a name in our language, and in most 
others; I suppose, because it was not requisite for 
any, but philosophical purposes, to rank them un- 
der a general term or appellation. Let us, therefore, 
use a little freedom and call them impressions; em- 
ploying that word in a sense somewhat different 
from the usual. By the term impression, then, I 
mean all our more lively perceptions, when we 
hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or 
will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, 
which are the less lively perceptions, of which we 
are conscious, when we reflect on any of those sen- 
sations or movements above mentioned. 

Nothing, at first view, may seem more un- 
bounded than the thought of man, which not only 
escapes all human power and authority, but is not 
even restrained within the limits of nature and 
reality. To form monsters, and join incongruous 
shapes and appearances, costs the imagination no 
more trouble than to conceive the most natural and 
familiar objects. And while the body is confined to 
one planet, along which it creeps with pain and 
difficulty; the thought can in an instant transport 
us into the most distant regions of the universe; or 
even beyond the universe, into the unbounded 
chaos, where nature is supposed to lie in total con- 
fusion. What never was seen, or heard of, may yet 
be conceived; nor is anything beyond the power of 
thought, except what implies an absolute contradic- 

But though our thought seems to possess this un- 
bounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer ex- 
amination, that it is really confined within very nar- 
row limits, and that all this creative power of the 
mind amounts to no more than the faculty of com- 
pounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminish- 


ing the materials afforded us by the senses and ex- 
perience. When we think of a golden mountain, we 
only join two consistent ideas, gold and moun- 
tain, with which we were formerly acquainted. A 
virtuous horse we can conceive; because, from our 
own feeling, we can conceive virtue; and this we 
may unite to the figure and shape of a horse, which 
is an animal familiar to us. In short, all the mate- 
rials of thinking are derived either from our out- 
ward or inward sentiment: the mixture and compo- 
sition of these belongs alone to the mind and will. 
Or, to express myself in philosophical language, all 
our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of 
our impressions or more lively ones. 

To prove this, the two following arguments will, 
I hope, be sufficient. First, when we analyze our 
thoughts or ideas, however compounded or sub- 
lime, we always find that they resolve themselves 
into such simple ideas as were copied from a prece- 
dent feeling or sentiment. Even those ideas, which, 
at first view, seem the most wide of this origin, are 
found, upon a nearer scrutiny, to be derived from 
it. The idea of God, as meaning an infinitely intel- 
ligent, wise, and good Being, arises from reflecting 
on the operations of our own mind, and augment- 
ing, without limit, those qualities of goodness and 
wisdom. We may prosecute this inquiry to what 
length we please; where we shall always find, that 
every idea which we examine is copied from a simi- 
lar impression. Those who would assert that this 
position is not universally true nor without excep- 
tion, have only one, and that an easy method, of re- 
futing it; by producing that idea, which, in their 
opinion, is not derived from this source. It will then 
be incumbent on us, if we would maintain our 


doctrine, to produce the impression, or lively per- 
ception, which corresponds to it. 

Secondly, If it happen, from a defect of the or- 
gan, that a man is not susceptible of any species of 
sensation, we always find that he is as little suscep- 
tible of the correspondent ideas. A blind man can 
form no notion of colors; a deaf man of sounds. Re- 
store either of them that sense in which he is defi- 
cient; by opening this new inlet for his sensations, 
you also open an inlet for the ideas; and he finds 
no difficulty in conceiving these objects. The case 
is the same, if the object, proper for exciting any 
sensation, has never been applied to the organ. A 
Laplander or Negro has no notion of the relish of 
wine. And though there are few or no instances of 
a like deficiency in the mind, where a person has 
never felt or is wholly incapable of a sentiment or 
passion that belongs to his species; yet we find the 
same observation to take place in a less degree. A 
man of mild manners can form no idea of inveter- 
ate revenge or cruelty; nor can a selfish heart easily 
conceive the heights of friendship and generosity. 
It is readily allowed, that other beings may possess 
many senses of which we can have no conception; 
because the ideas of them have never been intro- 
duced to us in the only manner by which an idea 
can have access to the mind, to wit, by the actual 
feeling and sensation. 

There is, however, one contradictory phenome- 
non, which may prove that it is not absolutely im- 
possible for ideas to arise, independent of their cor- 
respondent impressions. I believe it will readily be 
allowed, that the several distinct ideas of color, 
which enter by the eye, or those of sound, which 
are conveyed by the ear, are really different from 


each other; though, at the same time resembling. 
Now if this be true of different colors, it must be 
no less so of the different shades of the same color; 
and each shade produces a distinct idea, independ- 
ent of the rest. For if this should be denied, it is 
possible, by the continued gradation of shades, to 
run a color insensibly into what is most remote 
from it; and if you will not allow any of the means 
to be different, you cannot, without absurdity, 
deny the extremes to be the same. Suppose, there- 
fore, a person to have enjoyed his sight for thirty 
years, and to have become perfectly acquainted 
with colors of all kinds except one particular shade 
of blue, for instance, which it never has been his 
fortune to meet with. Let all the different shades of 
that color, except that single one, be placed before 
him, descending gradually from the deepest to the 
lightest; it is plain that he will perceive a blank, 
where that shade is wanting, and will be sensible 
that there is a greater distance in that place be- 
tween the contiguous colors than in any other. Now 
I ask, whether it be possible for him, from his own 
imagination, to supply this deficiency, and raise up 
to himself the idea of that particular shade, though 
it had never been conveyed to him by his senses? I 
believe there are few but will be of opinion that 
he can: and this may serve as a proof that the sim- 
ple ideas are not always, in every instance, derived 
from the correspondent impressions; though this 
instance is so singular, that it is scarcely worth our 
observing, and does not merit that for it alone we 
should alter our general maxim. 

Here, therefore, is a proposition, which not only 
seems, in itself, simple and intelligible; but, if a 
proper use were made of it, might render every dis- 
pute equally intelligible, and banish all that jar- 


gon, which has so long taken possession of meta- 
physical reasonings, and drawn disgrace upon 
them. All ideas, especially abstract ones, are natu- 
rally faint and obscure: the mind has but a slender 
hold on them: they are apt to be confounded with 
other resembling ideas; and when we have often 
employed any term, though without a distinct 
meaning, we are apt to imagine it has a determinate 
idea annexed to it. On the contrary, all impressions, 
that is, all sensations, either outward or inward, are 
strong and vivid: the limits between them are more 
exactly determined: nor is it easy to fall into any 
error or mistake with regard to them. When we en- 
tertain, therefore, any suspicion that a philosophi- 
cal term is employed without any meaning or idea 
(as is but too frequent), we need but inquire, from 
what impression is that supposed idea derived? And 
if it be impossible to assign any, this will serve to 
confirm our suspicion. 1 By bringing ideas into so 

1 It is probable that no more was meant by those, who 
denied innate ideas, than that all ideas were copies of 
our impressions; though it must be confessed, that the 
terms, which they employed, were not chosen with such 
caution, nor so exactly defined, as to prevent all mistakes 
about their doctrine. For what is meant by innate? If in- 
nate be equivalent to natural, then all the perceptions 
and ideas of the mind must be allowed to be innate or 
natural, in whatever sense we take the latter word, 
whether in opposition to what is uncommon, artificial, 
or miraculous. If by innate be meant, contemporary to 
our birth, the dispute seems to be frivolous; nor is it 
worth while to inquire at what time thinking begins, 
whether before, at, or after our birth. Again, the word 
idea, seems to be commonly taken in a very loose sense, by 
LOCKE and others; as standing for any of our perceptions, 
or sensations and passions, as well as thoughts. Now in 
this sense, I should desire to know, what can be meant 
by asserting, that self-love, or resentment of injuries, or 
the passion between the sexes is not innate? 

But admitting these terms, impressions and ideas, in 
the sense above explained, and understanding by innate, 
what is original or copied from no precedent perception, 


clear a light we may reasonably hope to remove all 
dispute, which may arise, concerning their nature 
and reality. 



nection between the different thoughts or ideas of 
the mind, and that, in their appearance to the mem- 
ory or imagination, they introduce each other 
with a certain degree of method and regularity. In 
our more serious thinking or discourse this is so ob- 
servable that any particular thought, which breaks 
in upon the regular tract or chain of ideas, is imme- 
diately remarked and rejected. And even in our 
wildest and most wandering reveries, nay in our 
very dreams, we shall find, if we reflect, that the 
imagination ran not altogether at adventures, but 
that there was still a connection upheld among the 
different ideas, which succeeded each other. Were 
the loosest and freest conversation to be tran- 
scribed, there would immediately be observed 
something which connected it in all its transitions. 
Or where this is wanting, the person who broke 
the thread of discourse might still inform you, 
that there had secretly revolved in his mind a sue- 
then may we assert that all our impressions are innate 
and our ideas not innate. 

To be ingenuous, I must own it to be my opinion, that 
LOCKE was betrayed into this question by the schoolmen, 
who, making use of undefined terms, draw out their dis- 
putes to a tedious length, without ever touching the 
point in question. A like ambiguity and circumlocution 
seem to run through that philosopher's reasonings on this 
as well as most other subjects. 


cession of thought, which had gradually led him 
from the subject of conversation. Among different 
languages, even where we cannot suspect the least 
connection or communication, it is found, that the 
words, expressive of ideas, the most compounded, 
do yet nearly correspond to each other: a certain 
proof that the simple ideas, comprehended in the 
compound ones, were bound together by some uni- 
versal principle, which had an equal influence on 
all mankind. 

Though it be too obvious to escape observation, 
that different ideas are connected together; I do not 
find that any philosopher has attempted to enumer- 
ate or class all the principles of association; a sub- 
ject, however, that seems worthy of curiosity. To 
me, there appear to be only three principles of con- 
nection among ideas, namely, resemblance, conti- 
guity in time or place, and cause or effect 

That these principles serve to connect ideas will 
not, I believe, be much doubted. A picture natu- 
rally leads out thoughts to the original; 2 the men- 
tion of one apartment in a building naturally intro- 
duces an inquiry or discourse concerning the oth- 
ers; 3 and if we think of a wound, we can scarcely 
forbear reflecting on the pain which follows it. 4 But 
that this enumeration is complete, and that there are 
no other principles of association except these, may 
be difficult to prove to the satisfaction of the reader, 
or even to a man's own satisfaction. All we can do, 
in such cases, is to run over several instances, and 
examine carefully the principle which binds the 
different thoughts to each other, never stopping till 

2 Resemblance. 

3 Contiguity. 

* Cause and effect. 


we render the principle as general as possible. 6 The 
more instances we examine, and the more care we 
employ, the more assurance shall we acquire, that 
the enumeration, which we form from the whole, 
is complete and entire. 



Part 1 


may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, 
relations of ideas, and matters of fact. Of the first 
kind are the sciences of geometry, algebra, and arith- 
metic; and in short, every affirmation which is either 
intuitively or demonstratively certain. That the 
square of the hypothenuse is equal to the squares 
of the two sides, is a proposition which expresses a 
relation between these figures. That three times five 
is equal to the half of thirty, expresses a relation 
between these numbers. Propositions of this kind 
are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, 
without dependence on what is anywhere existent 
in the universe. Though there never were a circle 
or triangle in nature, the truths demonstrated by 
Euclid would for ever retain their certainty and 
Matters of fact, which are the second objects of 

5 For instance, contrast or contrariety is also a connection 
among ideas but it may, perhaps, be considered as a 
mixture of causation and resemblance. Where two objects 
are contrary, the one destroys the other; that is, the cause 
of its annihilation and the idea of the annihilation of an 
object implies the idea of its former existence. 


human reason, are not ascertained in the same man- 
ner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however 
great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The con- 
trary of every matter of fact is still possible; because 
it can never imply a contradiction, and is conceived 
by the mind with the same facility and distinctness, 
as if ever so conformable to reality. That the sun 
will not rise tomorrow is no less intelligible a propo- 
sition, and implies no more contradiction than the 
affirmation, that it will rise. We should in vain, 
therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood. 
Were it demonstratively false, it would imply a 
contradiction, and could never be distinctly con- 
ceived by the mind. 

It may, therefore, be a subject worthy of curiosity, 
to inquire what is the nature of that evidence which 
assures us of any real existence and matter of fact, 
beyond the present testimony of our senses, or the 
records of our memory. This part of philosophy, it 
is observable, has been little cultivated, either by 
the ancients or moderns; and therefore our doubts 
and errors, in the prosecution of so important an 
inquiry, may be the more excusable; while we march 
through such difficult paths without any guide or 
direction. They may even prove useful, by exciting 
curiosity, and destroying that implicit faith and se- 
curity, which is the bane of all reasoning and free 
inquiry. The discovery of defects in the common 
philosophy, if any such there be, will not, I presume, 
be a discouragement, but rather an incitement, as 
is usual, to attempt something more full and satis- 
factory than has yet been proposed to the public. 

All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to 
be founded on the relation of cause and effect. By 
means of that relation alone we can go beyond the 
-evidence of our memory and senses. If you were to 


ask a man, why he believes any matter of fact, which 
is absent; for instance, that his friend is in the coun- 
try, or in France; he would give you a reason; and 
this reason would be some other fact; as a letter re- 
ceived from him, or the knowledge of his former 
resolutions and promises. A man finding a watch 
or any other machine in a desert island, would con- 
clude that there had once been men in that island. 
All our reasonings concerning fact are of the same 
nature. And here it is constantly supposed that there 
is a connection between the present fact and that 
which is inferred from it. Were there nothing to 
bind them together, the inference would be entirely 
precarious. The hearing of an articulate voice and 
rational discourse in the dark assures us of the 
presence of some person: Why? because these are 
the effects of the human make and fabric, and 
closely connected with it. If we anatomize all the 
other reasonings of this nature, we shall find that 
they are founded on the relation of cause and effect, 
and that this relation is either near or remote, direct 
or collateral. Heat and light are collateral effects of 
fire, and the one effect may justly be inferred from 
the other. 

If we would satisfy ourselves, therefore, concern- 
ing the nature of that evidence, which assures us of 
matters of fact, we must inquire how we arrive at 
the knowledge of cause and effect 

I shall venture to affirm, as a general proposition, 
which admits of no exception, that the knowledge 
of this relation is not, in any instance, attained by 
reasonings a yriori; but arises entirely from experi- 
ence, when we find that any particular objects are 
constantly conjoined with each other. Let an object 
be presented to a man of ever so strong natural 


reason and abilities; if that object be entirely new to 
him, he will not be able, by the most accurate ex- 
amination of its sensible qualities, to discover any 
of its causes or effects. Adam, though his rational 
faculties be supposed, at the very first, entirely per- 
fect, could not have inferred from the fluidity and 
transparency of water that it would suffocate him, 
or from the light and warmth of fire that it would 
consume him. No object ever discovers, by the 
qualities which appear to the senses, either the 
causes which produced it, or the effects which will 
arise from it; nor can our reason, unassisted by ex- 
perience, ever draw any inference concerning real 
existence and matter of fact. 

This proposition, that causes and effects are dis- 
coverable, not })y reason but by experience, will 
readily be admitted with regard to such objects, as 
we remember to have once been altogether un- 
known to us; since we must be conscious of the utter 
inability, which we then lay under, of foretelling 
what would arise from them. Present two smooth 
pieces of marble to a man who has no tincture of 
natural philosophy; he will never discover that they 
will adhere together in such a manner as to require 
great force to separate them in a direct line, while 
they make so small a resistance to a lateral pressure* 
Such events, as bear little analogy to the common 
course of nature, are also readily confessed to be 
known only by experience; nor does any man im- 
agine that the explosion of gunpowder, or the at- 
traction of a loadstone, could ever be discovered by 
arguments a priori. In like manner, when an effect 
is supposed to depend upon an intricate machinery 
or secret structure of parts, we make no difficulty in 
attributing all our knowledge of it to experience. 


Who will assert that he can give the ultimate reason, 
why milk or bread is proper nourishment for a man, 
not for a lion or a tiger? 

But the same truth may not appear, at first sight, 
to have the same evidence with regard to events, 
which have become familiar to us from our first ap- 
pearance in the world, which bear a close analogy to 
the whole course of nature, and which are supposed 
to depend on the simple qualities of objects, without 
any secret structure of parts. We are apt to imagine 
that we could discover these effects by the mere op- 
eration of our reason, without experience. We fancy, 
that were we brought on a sudden into this world, 
we could at first have inferred that one billiard ball 
would communicate motion to another upon im- 
pulse; and that we needed not to have waited for the 
event, in order to pronounce with certainty concern- 
ing it. Such is the influence of custom, that, where it 
is strongest, it not only covers our natural ignorance, 
but even conceals itself, and seems not to take place, 
merely because it is found in the highest degree* 

But to convince us that all the laws of nature, and 
all the operations of bodies without exception, are 
known only by experience, the following reflections 
may, perhaps, suffice. Were any object presented to 
us, and were we required to pronounce concerning 
the effect, which will result from it, without consult- 
ing past observation; after what manner, I beseech 
you, must the mind proceed in this operation? It 
must invent or imagine some event, which it ascribes 
to the object as its effect; and it is plain that this in- 
vention must be entirely arbitrary. The mind can 
never possibly find the effect in the supposed cause, 
by the most accurate scrutiny and examination. For 
the effect is totally different from the cause, and con- 
sequently can never be discovered in it. Motion in 


the second billiard ball is a quite distinct event from 
motion in the first: nor is there anything in the one 
to suggest the smallest hint of the other. A stone or 
piece of metal raised into the air, and left without 
any support, immediately falls: but to consider the 
matter a priori, is there anything we discover in this 
situation which can beget the idea of a downward, 
rather than an upward, or any other motion, in the 
stone or metal? 

And as the first imagination or invention of a par- 
ticular effect, in all natural operations, is arbitrary, 
where we consult not experience; so must we also 
esteem the supposed tie or connection between the 
cause and effect, which binds them together, and 
renders it impossible that any other effect could 
result from the operation of that cause. When I see, 
for instance, a billiard ball moving in a straight line 
towards another; even suppose motion in the second 
ball should by accident be suggested to me, as the 
result of their contact or impulse; may I not con- 
ceive, that a hundred different events might as well 
follow from that cause? May not both these balls 
remain at absolute rest? May not the first ball return 
in a straight line, or leap off from the second in any 
line or direction? All these suppositions are con- 
sistent and conceivable. Why then should we give 
the preference to one, which is no more consistent 
or conceivable than the rest? All our reasonings a 
priori will never be able to show us any foundation 
for this preference. 

In a word, then, every effect is a distinct event 
from its cause. It could not, therefore, be discov- 
ered in the cause, and the first invention or concep- 
tion of it, a priori, must be entirely arbitrary. And 
even after it is suggested, the conjunction of it with 
the cause must appear equally arbitrary; since 


there are always many other effects, which, to rea- 
son, must seem fully as consistent and natural. In 
vain, therefore, should we pretend to determine 
any single event, or infer any cause or effect, with- 
out the assistance of observation and experience. 
Hence we may discover the reason why no phi- 
losopher, who is rational and modest, has ever pre- 
tended to assign the ultimate cause of any natural 
operation, or to show distinctly the action of that 
power, which produces any single effect in the uni- 
verse. It is confessed, that the utmost effort of hu- 
man reason is to reduce the principles, productive 
of natural phenomena, to a greater simplicity, and 
to resolve the many particular effects into a few 
general causes, by means of reasonings from anal- 
ogy, experience, and observation. But as to the 
causes of these general causes, we should in vain 
attempt their discovery; nor shall we ever be able 
to satisfy ourselves, by any particular explication of 
them. These ultimate springs and principles are 
totally shut up from human curiosity and inquiry. 
Elasticity, gravity, cohesion of parts, communica- 
tion of motion by impulse; these are probably the 
ultimate causes and principles which we ever dis- 
cover in nature; and we may esteem ourselves suffi- 
ciently happy, if, by accurate inquiry and reason- 
ing, we can trace up the particular phenomena to, 
or near to, these general principles. The most per- 
fect philosophy of the natural kind only staves off 
our ignorance a little longer: as perhaps the most 
perfect philosophy of the moral or metaphysical 
kind serves only to discover larger portions of it. 
Thus the observation of human blindness and 
weakness is the result of all philosophy, and meets 
us at every turn, in spite of our endeavors to elude 
or avoid it* 


Nor is geometry, when taken into the assistance 
of natural philosophy, ever able to remedy this de- 
fect, or lead us into the knowledge of ultimate 
causes, by all that accuracy of reasoning for which 
it is so justly celebrated. Every part of mixed mathe- 
matics proceeds upon the supposition that certain 
laws are established by nature in her operations; 
and abstract reasonings are employed, either to as- 
sist experience in the discovery of these laws, or to 
determine their influence in particular instances, 
where it depends upon any precise degree of dis- 
tance and quantity. Thus, it is a law of motion, dis- 
covered by experience, that the moment or force of 
any body in motion is in the compound ratio or 
proportion of its solid contents and its velocity; and 
consequently, that a small force may remove the 
greatest obstacle or raise the greatest weight, if, 
by any contrivance or machinery, we can in- 
crease the velocity of that force, so as to make it an 
overmatch for its antagonist. Geometry assists us in 
the application of this law, by giving us the just 
dimensions of all the parts and figures which can 
enter into any species of machine; but still the dis- 
covery of the law itself is owing merely to experi- 
ence, and all the abstract reasonings in the world 
could never lead us one step towards the knowledge 
of it. When we reason a priori, and consider merely 
any object or cause, as it appears to the mind, inde- 
pendent of all observation, it never could suggest 
to us the notion of any distinct object, such as its 
effect; much less, show us the inseparable and in- 
violable connection between them. A man must be 
very sagacious who could discover by reasoning 
that crystal is the effect of heat, and ice of cold, 
without being previously acquainted with the 
operation of these qualities. 


Part II 

But we have not yet attained any tolerable satisfac- 
tion with regard to the question first proposed. 
Each solution still gives rise to a new question as 
difficult as the foregoing, and leads us on to far- 
ther inquiries. When it is asked, What is the nature 
of all our reasonings concerning matter of fact? the 
proper answer seems to be, that they are founded 
on the relation of cause and effect. When again it 
is asked, What is the foundation of all our reason- 
ings and conclusions concerning that relation? it 
may be replied in one word, experience. But if we 
stil] carry on our sifting humor, and ask, What is 
the foundation of all conclusions from experience? 
this implies a new question, which may be of more 
difficult solution and explication. Philosophers, 
that give themselves airs of superior wisdom and 
sufficiency, have a hard task when they encounter 
persons of inquisitive dispositions, who push them 
from every corner to which they retreat, and who 
are sure at last to bring them to some dangerous 
dilemma. The best expedient to prevent this confu- 
sion, is to be modest in our pretensions; and even 
to discover the difficulty ourselves before it is ob- 
jected to us. By this means, we may make a kind of 
merit of our very ignorance. 

I shall content myself, in this section, with an 
easy task, and shall pretend only to give a negative 
answer to the question here proposed. I say then, 
that, even after we have experience of the opera- 
tions of cause and effect, our conclusions from that 
experience are not founded on reasoning, or any 
process of the understanding. This answer we must 
endeavor both to explain and to defend. 

It must certainly be allowed, that nature has 


kept us at a great distance from all her secrets, and 
has afforded us only the knowledge of a few super- 
ficial qualities of objects; while she conceals from 
us those powers and principles on which the influ- 
ence of those objects entirely depends. Our senses 
inform us of the color, weight, and consistence of 
bread; but neither sense nor reason can ever inform 
us of those qualities which fit it for the nourishment 
and support of a human body. Sight or feeling 
conveys an idea of the actual motion of bodies; but 
as to that wonderful force of power, which would 
carry on a moving body for ever in a continued 
change of place, and which bodies never lose but 
by communicating it to others; of this we cannot 
form the most distant conception. But notwithstand- 
ing this ignorance of natural powers 6 and principles, 
we always presume, when we see like sensible 
qualities, that they have like secret powers, and 
expect that effects, similar to those which we have 
experienced, will follow from them. If a body of like 
color and consistence with that bread, which we 
have formerly eaten, be presented to us, we make 
no scruple of repeating the experiment, and foresee, 
with certainty, like nourishment and support. Now 
this is a process of the mind or thought, of which I 
would willingly know the foundation. It is allowed 
on all hands that there is no known connection 
between the sensible qualities and the secret powers; 
and consequently, that the mind is not led to form 
such a conclusion concerning their constant and 
regular conjunction, by anything which it knows of 
their nature. As to past experience, it can be allowed 
to give direct and certain information of those pre- 

* The word, power, is here used in a loose and popular 
sense. The more accurate explication of it would give 
additional evidence to this argument. See Sect. 7. 


else objects only, and that precise period of time, 
which fell under its cognizance: but why this ex- 
perience should be extended to future times, and to 
other objects, which, for aught we know, may be 
only in appearance similar; this is the main question 
on which I would insist. The bread, which I for- 
merly ate, nourished me; that is, a body of such 
sensible qualities was, at that time, endued with 
such secret powers: but does it follow, that other 
bread must also nourish me at another time, and that 
like sensible qualities must always be attended with 
like secret powers? The consequence seems no wise 
necessary. At least, it must be acknowledged that 
there is here a consequence drawn by the mind; 
that there is a certain step taken; a process of 
thought, and an inference, which wants to be 
explained. These two propositions are far from 
being the same, I have found that such an object 
has always been attended with such an effect, and 
I forsee, that other objects, which are, in appearance, 
similar, will be attended with similar effects. I shall 
allow, if you please, that the one proposition may 
justly be inferred from the other; I know, in fact, 
that it always is inferred. But if you insist that the 
inference is made by a chain of reasoning, I desire 
you to produce that reasoning. The connection be- 
tween these propositions is not intuitive. There is 
required a medium, which may enable the mind to 
draw such an inference, if indeed it be drawn by 
reasoning and argument. What that medium is, I 
must confess, passes my comprehension; and it is 
incumbent on those to produce it, who assert that it 
really exists, and is the origin of all our conclusions 
concerning matter of fact. 

This negative argument must certainly, in process 
of time, become altogether convincing, if many 


penetrating and able philosophers shall turn their 
inquiries this way and no one be ever able to dis- 
cover any connecting proposition or intermediate 
step, which supports the understanding in this con- 
clusion. But as the question is yet new, every reader 
may not trust so far to his own penetration, as to 
conclude, because an argument escapes his inquiry, 
that therefore it does not really exist. For this reason 
it may be requisite to venture upon a more difficult 
task; and enumerating all the branches of human 
knowledge, endeavor to show that none of them 
can afford such an argument. 

All reasonings may be divided into two kinds, 
namely demonstrative reasoning, or that concerning 
relations of ideas, and moral reasoning, or that con- 
cerning matter of fact and existence. That there are 
no demonstrative arguments in the case seems evi- 
dent; since it implies no contradiction that the 
course of nature may change, and that an object, 
seemingly like those which we have experienced, 
may be attended with different or contrary effects. 
May I not clearly and distinctly conceive that a 
body, falling from the clouds, and which, in all 
other respects, resembles snow, has yet the taste of 
salt or feeling of fire? Is there any more intelligible 
proposition than to affirm, that all the trees will 
flourish in December and January, and decay in 
May and June? Now whatever is intelligible, and 
can be distinctly conceived, implies no contradi- 
tion, and can never be proved false by any demon- 
strative argument or abstract reasoning a priori. 

If we be, therefore, engaged by arguments to put 
trust in past experience, and make it the standard of 
our future judgment, these arguments must be 
probable only, or such as regard matter of fact and 
real existence, according to the division above men- 


tioned. But that there is no argument of this kind, 
must appear, if our explication of that species of 
reasoning be admitted as solid and satisfactory. We 
have said that all arguments concerning existence 
are founded on the relation of cause and effect; that 
our knowledge of that relation is derived entirely 
from experience; and that all our experimental con- 
clusions proceed upon the supposition that the fu- 
ture will be conformable to the past. To endeavor, 
therefore, the proof of this last supposition by prob- 
able arguments, or arguments regarding existence, 
must be evidently going in a circle, and taking that 
for granted, which is the very point in question. 
In reality, all arguments from experience are 
founded on the similarity which we discover 
among natural objects, and by which we are in- 
duced to expect effects similar to those which we 
have found to follow from such objects. And 
though none but a fool or madman will ever pre- 
tend to dispute the authority of experience, or to 
reject that great guide of human life, it may surely 
be allowed a philosopher to have so much curiosity 
at least as to examine the principle of human na- 
ture, which gives this mighty authority to experi- 
ence, and makes us draw advantage from that sim- 
ilarity which nature has placed among different ob- 
jects. From causes which appear similar we expect 
similar effects. This is the sum of all our experi- 
mental conclusions. Now it seems evident that, if 
this conclusion were formed by reason, it would be 
as perfect at first, and upon one instance, as after 
ever so long a course of experience. But the case is 
far otherwise. Nothing so like as eggs; yet no one, 
on account of this appearing similarity, expects the 
same taste and relish in all of them. It is only after 
a long course of uniform experiments in any kind, 


that we attain a firm reliance and security with 
regard to a particular event. Now where is that 
process of reasoning which, from one instance, 
draws a conclusion, so different from that which 
it infers from a hundred instances that are nowise 
different from that single one? This question I pro- 
pose as much for the sake of information, as with 
an intention of raising difficulties. I cannot find, I 
cannot imagine any such reasoning. But I keep my 
mind still open to instruction, if anyone will vouch- 
safe to bestow it on me. 

Should it be said that, from a number of uni- 
form experiments, we infer a connection between 
the sensible qualities and the secret powers; this, I 
must confess, seems the same difficulty, couched in 
different terms. The question still recurs, on what 
process of argument this inference is founded? 
Where is the medium, the interposing ideas, which 
join propositions so very wide of each other? It is 
confessed that the color, consistence, and other sen* 
sible qualities of bread appear not, of themselves, 
to have any connection with the secret powers of 
nourishment and support. For otherwise we could 
infer these secret powers from the first appearance 
of these sensible qualities, without the aid of expe- 
rience; contrary to the sentiment of all philoso- 
phers, and contrary to plain matter of fact. Here, 
then, is our natural state of ignorance with regard 
to the powers and influence of all objects. How is 
this remedied by experience? It only shows us a 
number of uniform effects, resulting from certain 
objects, and teaches us that those particular ob- 
jects, at that particular time, were endowed with 
such powers and forces. When a new object, en- 
dowed with similar sensible qualities, is produced 
we expect similar powers and forces, and look for a 


like effect. From a body of like color and consist- 
ence with bread we expect like nourishment and 
support. But this surely is a step or progress of the 
mind, which wants to be explained. When a man 
says, I have found, in all past instances, stick sen- 
sible qualities conjoined -with such secret powers: 
And when he says, Similar sensible qualities will 
always he conjoined with similar secret powers, he is 
not guilty of a tautology, nor are these propositions 
in any respect the same. You say that the one prop- 
osition is an inference from the other. But you 
must confess that the inference is not intuitive; nei- 
ther is it demonstrative: Of what nature is it, then? 
To say it is experimental, is begging the question. 
For all inferences from experience suppose, as their 
foundation, that the future will resemble the past, 
and that similar powers will be conjoined with sim- 
ilar sensible qualities. If there be any suspicion 
that the course of nature may change, and that the 
past may be no rule for the future, all experience 
becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference 
or conclusion. It is impossible, therefore, that any 
arguments from experience can prove this resem- 
blance of the past to the future; since all these ar- 
guments are founded on the supposition of that 
resemblance. Let the course of things be allowed 
hitherto ever so regular; that alone, without some 
new argument or inference, proves not that, for the 
future, it will continue so. In vain do you pre- 
tend to have learned the nature of bodies from 
your past experience. Their secret nature, and con- 
sequently all their effects and influence, may 
change, without any change in their sensible qual- 
ities. This happens sometimes, and with regard to 
some objects: Why may it not happen always, and 
with regard to all objects? What logic, what process 


of argument secures you against this supposition? 
My practice, you say, refutes my doubts. But you 
mistake the purport of my question. As an agent, I 
am quite satisfied in the point; but as a philoso- 
pher, who has some share of curiosity, I will not 
say scepticism, I want to learn the foundation of 
this inference. No reading, no inquiry has yet 
been able to remove my difficulty, or to give me 
satisfaction in a matter of such importance. Can I 
do better than propose the difficulty to the public, 
even though, perhaps, I have small hopes of ob- 
taining a solution? We shall, at least, by dais means, 
be sensible of our ignorance, if we do not augment 
our knowledge. 

I must confess that a man is guilty of unpardon- 
able arrogance who concludes, because an argu- 
ment has escaped his own investigation, that there- 
fore it does not really exist. I must also confess that, 
though all the learned, for several ages, should have 
employed themselves in fruitless search upon any 
subject, it may still, perhaps, be rash to conclude 
positively triat the subject must, therefore, pass all 
human comprehension. Even though we examine 
all the sources of our knowledge, and conclude 
them unfit for such a subject, there may still re- 
main a suspicion, that the enumeration is not com- 
plete, or the examination not accurate. But with re- 
gard to the present subject, there are some con- 
siderations which seem to remove all this accusation 
of arrogance or suspicion of mistake. 

It is certain that the most ignorant and stupid 
peasants nay infants, nay even brute beasts im- 
prove by experience, and learn the qualities of nat- 
ural objects, by observing the effects which result 
from them. When a child has felt the sensation of 
pain from touching the flame of a candle, he will be 


careful not to put his hand near any candle; but 
will expect a similar effect from a cause which is 
similar in its sensible qualities and appearance. If 
you assert, therefore, that the understanding of the 
child is led into this conclusion by any process of 
argument or ratiocination, I may justly require you 
to produce that argument; nor have you any pre- 
tense to refuse so equitable a demand. You cannot 
say that the argument is abstruse, and may possibly 
escape your inquiry; since you confess that it is ob- 
vious to the capacity of a mere infant. If you hesi- 
tate, therefore, a moment, or if, after reflection, you 
produce any intricate or profound argument, you, 
in a manner, give up the question, and confess that 
it is not reasoning which engages us to suppose the 
past resembling the future, and to expect similar 
effects from causes which are, to appearance, simi- 
lar. This is the proposition which I intended to en- 
force in the present section. If I be right, I pretend 
not to have made any mighty discovery. And if I be 
wrong, I must acknowledge myself to be indeed a 
very backward scholar; since I cannot now discover 
an argument which, it seems, was perfectly familiar 
to me long before I was out of my cradle. 





ligion, seems liable to this inconvenience, that, 
though it aims at the correction of our manners, 
and extirpation of our vices, it may only serve, by 
imprudent management, to foster a predominant in- 


clination, and push the mind, with more deter- 
mined resolution, towards that side which already 
draws too much, by the bias and propensity of the 
natural temper. It is certain that, while we aspire to 
the magnanimous firmness of the philosophic sage, 
and endeavor to confine our pleasures altogether 
within our own minds, we may, at last, render our 
philosophy like that of Epictetus, and other stoics, 
only a more refined system of selfishness, and rea- 
son ourselves out of all virtue as well as social en- 
joyment. While we study with attention the vanity 
of human life, and turn all our thoughts towards 
the empty and transitory nature of riches and hon- 
ors, we are, perhaps, all the while flattering our 
natural indolence, which, hating the bustle of the 
world, and drudgery of business, seeks a pretense 
of reason to give itself a full and uncontrolled in- 
dulgence. There is, however, one species of phi- 
losophy which seems little liable to this inconven- 
ience, and that because it strikes in with no dis- 
orderly passion of the human mind, nor can mingle 
itself with any natural affection or propensity; and 
that is the academic or sceptical philosophy. The 
academics always talk of doubt and suspense of 
judgment, of danger in hasty determinations, of 
confining to very narrow bounds the inquiries of 
the understanding, and of renouncing all specula- 
tions which lie not within the limits of common life 
and practice. Nothing, therefore, can be more con- 
trary than such a philosophy to the supine indo- 
lence of the mind, its rash arrogance, its lofty pre- 
tensions, and its superstitious credulity. Every 
passion is mortified by it, except the love of truth; 
and that passion never is, nor can be, carried to too 
high a degree. It is surprising, therefore, that this 
philosophy, which, in almost every instance, must 


be harmless and innocent, should be the subject of 
so much groundless reproach and obloquy. But, 
perhaps, the very circumstance which renders it so 
innocent is what chiefly exposes it to the public 
hatred and resentment. By flattering no irregular 
passion, it gains few partisans: By opposing so 
many vices and follies, it raises to itself abundance 
of enemies, who stigmatize it as libertine, profane, 
and irreligious. 

Nor need we fear that this philosophy, while it 
endeavors to limit our inquiries to common life, 
should ever undermine the reasonings of common 
life, and carry its doubts so far as to destroy all ac- 
tion, as well as speculation. Nature will always 
maintain her rights, and prevail in the end over any 
abstract reasoning whatsoever. Though we should 
conclude, for instance, as in the foregoing section, 
that, in all reasonings from experience, there is a 
step taken by the mind which is not supported by 
any argument or process of the understanding; 
there is no danger that these reasonings, on which 
almost all knowledge depends, will ever be affected 
by such a discovery. If the mind be not engaged by 
argument to make this step, it must be induced by 
some other principle of equal weight and authority; 
and that principle will preserve its influence as long 
as human nature remains the same. What that prin- 
ciple is may well be worth the pains of inquiry. 

Suppose a person, though endowed with the 
strongest faculties of reason and reflection, to be 
brought on a sudden into -this world; he would T in- 
deed, immediately observe a continual succession 
of objects, and one event following another; but he 
would not be able to discover anything farther. He 
would not, at first, by any reasoning, be able to 
reach the idea of cause and effect; since the particu- 


lar powers, by which all natural operations are per- 
formed, never appear to the senses; nor is it reason- 
able to conclude, merely because one vent, in one 
instance, precedes another, that therefore the one 
is the cause, the other the effect. Their conjunction 
may be arbitrary and casual. There may be no rea- 
son to infer the existence of one from the appear- 
ance of the other. And in a word, such a person, 
without more experience, could never employ his 
conjecture or reasoning concerning any matter of 
fact, or be assured of anything beyond what was im- 
mediately present to his memory and senses. 

Suppose, again, that he has acquired more ex- 
perience, and has lived so long in the world as to 
have observed familiar objects or events to be con- 
stantly conjoined together; what is the consequence 
of this experience? He immediately infers die ex- 
istence of one object from the appearance of the 
other. Yet he has not, by all his experience, 
acquired any idea or knowledge of the secret power 
by which the one object produces the other; nor is 
it, by any process of reasoning, he is engaged to 
draw this inference. But still he finds himself de- 
termined to draw it: And though he should be 
convinced that his understanding has no part in 
the operation, he would nevertheless continue in 
the same course of thinking. There is some other 
principle which determines him to form such a con- 

The principle is custom or habit. For wherever 
the repetition of any particular act or operation 
produces a propensity to renew the same act or 
operation, without being impelled by any reason- 
ing or process of the understanding, we always say, 
that this propensity is the effect of custom. By em- 
ploying that word, we pretend not to have given 


the ultimate reason of such a propensity. We only 
point out a principle of human nature, which is 
universally acknowledged, and which is well 
known by its effects. Perhaps we can push our in- 
quiries no farther, or pretend to give the cause of 
this cause; but must rest contented with it as the 
ultimate principle, which we can assign, of all our 
conclusions from experience. It is sufficient satis- 
faction, that we can go so far, without repining at 
the narrowness of our faculties because they will 
carry us no farther. And it is certain we here ad- 
vance a very intelligible proposition at least, if not a 
true one, when we assert that, after the constant 
conjunction of two objects heat and flame, for in- 
stance, weight and solidity we are determined by 
custom alone to expect the one from the appear- 
ance of the other. This hypothesis seems even the 
only one which explains the difficulty, why we 
draw, from a thousand instances, an inference 
which we are not able to draw from one instance, 
that is, in no respect, different from them. Reason 
is incapable of any such variation. The conclusions 
which it draws from considering one circle are the 
same which it would form upon surveying all the 
circles in the universe. But no man, having seen 
only one body move after being impelled by an- 
other, could infer that every other body will move 
after a like impulse. All inferences from experience, 
therefore, are effects of custom, not of reasoning. 7 

'Nothing is more useful than for writers, even, on 
moral, Apolitical, or physical subjects, to distinguish be- 
tween reason and experience, and to suppose, that these 
species of argumentation are entirely different from each 
other. The former are taken for the mere result of our 
intellectual faculties, which, by considering a 'priori the 
nature of things, and examining the effects, that must 
follow from their operation, establish particular principles 
of science and philosophy. The latter are supposed to be 


Custom, then, is the great guide of human life. 
It is that principle alone which renders our experi- 
ence useful to us, and makes us expect, for the 
future, a similar train of events with those which 

derived entirely from sense and observation, by which 
we learn what has actually resulted from the operation 
of particular objects, and are thence able to infer, what 
will, for the future, result from them. Thus, for instance, 
the limitations and restraints of civil government, and 
a legal constitution, may be defended, either from 
reason, which reflecting on the great frailty and corruption 
of human nature, teaches, that no man can safely be 
trusted with unlimited authority; or from experience and 
history, which inform us of the enormous abuses, that 
ambition, in every age and country, has been found to 
make of so imprudent a confidence. 

The same distinction between reason and experience 
is maintained in all our deliberations concerning the 
conduct of life, while the experienced statesman, general, 
physician, or merchant is trusted and followed; and the 
unpracticed novice, with whatever natural talents endowed, 
neglected and despised. Though it be allowed, that reason 
may form very plausible conjectures with regard to the 
consequences of such a particular conduct in such particu- 
lar circumstances; it is still supposed imperfect, without 
the assistance of experience, which is alone able to give 
stability and certainty to the maxims, derived from study 
and reflection. 

But notwithstanding that this distinction be thus uni- 
versally received, both in the active and speculative scenes 
of life, I shall not scruple to pronounce, that it is, at 
bottom, erroneous, at least, superficial. 

If we examine those arguments, which, in any of the 
sciences above mentioned, are supposed to be the mere 
effects of reasoning and reflection, they will be found to 
terminate, at last, in some general principle or conclusion, 
for which we can assign no reason but observation and 
experience. The only difference between them and those 
maxims, which are vulgarly esteemed the result of pure 
experience, is, that the former cannot be established with- 
out some process of thought, and some reflection on what 
we have observed, in order to distinguish its circumstances, 
and trace its consequences: Whereas in the latter, the 
experienced event is exactly and fully familiar to that 
which we infer as the result of any particular situation. 
The history of a Tiberius or a Nero makes us dread a like 
tyranny, were our monarchs freed from the restraints of 


have appeared in the past. Without the influence of 
custom, we should be entirely ignorant of every 
matter of fact beyond what is immediately present 
to the memory and senses. We should never know 
how to adjust means to ends, or to employ our nat- 
ural powers in the production of any effect. There 
would be an end at once of all action, as well as of 
the chief part of speculation. 

But here it may be proper to remark, that though 
our conclusions from experience carry us beyond 
our memory and senses, and assure us of matters of 
fact which happened in the most distant places and 
most remote ages, yet some fact must always be 
present to the senses or memory, from which we 
may first proceed in drawing these conclusions. A 

laws and senates. But the observation of any fraud or 
cruelty in private life is sufficient, with the aid of a 
little thought, to give us the same apprehension; while 
it serves as an instance of the general corruption of human 
nature, and shows us the danger which we must incur 
by reposing an entire confidence in mankind. In both 
cases, it is experience which is ultimately the foundation 
of our inference and conclusion. 

There is no man so young and unexperienced, as not to 
have formed, from observation, many general and just 
maxims concerning human affairs and the conduct of life; 
but it must be confessed, that, when a man comes to put 
these in practice, he will be extremely liable to error, 
till time anil farther experience both enlarge these maxims, 
and teach him their proper use and application. In every 
situation or incident, there are many particular and seem- 
ingly minute circumstances, which the man of greatest 
talent is, at first, apt to overlook, though on them the 
justness of his conclusions, and consequently the prudence 
of his conduct, entirely depend. Not to mention, that, 
to a young beginner, the general observations and maxims 
occur not always on the proper occasions, nor can be 
immediately applied with due calmness and distinction. 
The truth is, an unexperienced reasoner could be no 
reasoner at all, were he absolutely unexperienced; and 
when we assign that character to anyone, we mean it 
only in a comparative sense, and suppose him possessed 
of experience, in a smaller and more imperfect degree. 


man, who should find in a desert country the re- 
mains of pompous buildings, would conclude that 
the country had, in ancient times, been cultivated 
by civilized inhabitants; but did nothing of this 
nature occur to him, he could never form such an 
inference. We learn the events of former ages from 
history; but then we must peruse the volumes in 
which this instruction is contained, and thence 
carry up our inferences from one testimony to an- 
other, till we arrive at the eyewitnesses and spec- 
tators of these distant events. In a word, if we pro- 
ceed not upon some fact, present to the memory or 
senses, our reasonings would be merely hypotheti- 
cal; and however the particular links might be con- 
nected with each other, the whole chain of infer- 
ences would have nothing to support it, nor could 
we ever, by its means, arrive at the knowledge of 
any real existence. If I ask why you believe any 
particular matter of fact, which you relate, you must 
tell me some reason; and this reason will be some 
other fact, connected with it. But as you cannot 
proceed after this manner, in mfmitu-m, you must at 
last terminate in some fact, which is present to 
your memory or senses; or must allow that your be- 
lief is entirely without foundation. 

What, then, is the conclusion of the whole mat- 
ter? A simple one; though, it must be confessed, 
pretty remote from the common theories of philos- 
ophy. All belief of matter of fact or real existence is 
derived merely from some object, present to the 
memory or senses, and a customary conjunction be- 
tween that and some other object. Or in other 
words; having found, in many instances, that any 
two kinds of objects flame and heat, snow and 
cold have always been conjoined together; if 
flame or snow be presented anew to the senses, 


the mind is carried by custom to expect heat or 
cold, and to believe that such a quality does exist, 
and will discover itself upon a nearer approach. 
This belief is the necessary result of placing the 
mind in such circumstances. It is an operation of the 
soul, when we are so situated, as unavoidable as to 
feel the passion of love, when we receive benefits; 
or hatred, when we meet with injuries. All these 
operations are a species of natural instincts, which 
no reasoning or process of the thought and under- 
standing is able either to produce or to prevent. 

At this point, it would be very allowable for us to 
stop our philosophical researches. In most ques- 
tions we can never make a single step farther; and 
in all questions we must terminate here at last, after 
our most restless and curious inquiries. But still our 
curiosity will be pardonable, perhaps commend- 
able, if it carry us on to still farther researches, and 
make us examine more accurately the nature of this 
belief, and of the customary conjunction, whence 
it is derived. By this means we may meet with some 
explications and analogies that will give satisfac- 
tion; at least to such as love the abstract sciences, 
and can be entertained with speculations, which, 
however accurate, may still retain a degree of doubt 
and uncertainty. As to readers of a different taste; 
the remaining part of this section is not calculated 
for them, and the following inquiries may well be 
understood though it be neglected. 

Part II 

Nothing is more free than the imagination of man; 
and though it cannot exceed that original stock of 
ideas furnished by the internal and external senses, 
it has unlimited power of mixing, compounding, 
separating, and dividing these ideas, in all the va- 


rieties of fiction and vision. It can feign a train of 
events, with all the appearance of reality, ascribe to 
them a particular time and place, conceive them as 
existent, and paint them out to itself with every 
circumstance, that belongs to any historical fact, 
which it believes with the greatest certainty. 
Wherein, therefore, consists the difference be- 
tween such a fiction and belief? It lies not merely 
in any peculiar idea, which is annexed to such a 
conception as commands our assent, and which is 
wanting to every known fiction. For as the mind 
has authority over all its ideas, it could voluntarily 
annex this particular idea to any fiction, and con- 
sequently be able to believe whatever it pleases; 
contrary to what we find by daily experience. We 
can, in our conception, join the head of a man to 
the body of a horse; but it is not in our power to 
believe that such an animal has ever really existed. 
It follows, therefore, that the difference between 
potion and belief lies in some sentiment or feeling, 
which is annexed to the latter, not to the former, 
and which depends not on the will, nor can be 
commanded at pleasure. It must be excited by na- 
ture, like all other sentiments; and must arise from 
the particular situation, in which the mind is placed 
at any particular juncture. Whenever any object 
is presented to the memory or senses, it immedi- 
ately, by the force of custom, carries the imagina- 
tion to conceive that object, which is usually con- 
joined to it; and this conception is attended with a 
feeling or sentiment, different from the loose rever- 
ies of the fancy. In this consists the whole nature of 
belief. For as there is no matter of fact which we be- 
lieve so firmly that we cannot conceive the contrary, 
there would be no difference between the concep- 
tion assented to and that which is rejected, were 


it not for some sentiment which distinguishes the 
one from the other. If I see a billiard ball moving 
towards another, on a smooth table, I can easily con- 
ceive it to stop upon contact. This conception im- 
plies no contradiction; but still it feels very differ- 
ently from that conception by which I represent 
to myself the impulse and the communication of 
motion from one ball to another. 

Were we to attempt a definition of this senti- 
ment, we should, perhaps, find it a very difficult, if 
not an impossible task; in the same manner as if we 
should endeavor to define the feeling of cold or 
passion of anger, to a creature who never had any 
experience of these sentiments. Belief is the true 
and proper name of this feeling; and no one is ever 
at a loss to know the meaning of that term; because 
every man is every moment conscious of the senti- 
ment represented by it. It may not, however, be 
improper to attempt a description of this senti- 
ment; in hopes we may, by that means, arrive at 
some analogies, which may afford a more perfect 
explication of it. I say, then, that belief is nothing 
but a more vivid, lively, forcible, firm, steady con- 
ception of an object, than what the imagination 
alone is ever able to attain. This variety of terms, 
which may seem so unphilosophical, is intended 
only to express that act of the mind, which renders 
realities, or what is taken for such, more present to 
us than fictions, causes them to weigh more in the 
thought, and gives them a superior influence on 
the passions and imagination. Provided we agree 
about the thing, it is needless to dispute about the 
terms. The imagination has the command over all 
its ideas, and can join and mix and vary them, in all 
the ways possible. It may conceive fictious objects 
with all the circumstances of place and time. It may 


set them, in a manner, before our eyes, in their true 
colors, just as they might have existed. But as it is 
impossible that this faculty of imagination can 
ever, of itself, reach belief, it is evident that belief 
consists not in the peculiar nature or order of ideas, 
but in the manner of their conception, and in their 
feeling to the mind. I confess, that it is impossible 
perfectly to explain this feeling or manner of con- 
ception. We may make use of words which express 
something near it. But its true and proper name, as 
we observed before, is belief; which is a term that 
every one sufficiently understands in common life. 
And in philosophy, we can go no farther than as- 
sert, that belief is something felt by the mind, 
which distinguishes the ideas of the judgment 
from the fictions of the imagination. It gives them 
more weight and influence; makes them appear of 
greater importance; enforces them in the mind; and 
renders them the governing principle of our ac- 
tions. I hear at present, for instance, a person's 
voice, with whom I am acquainted; and the sound 
comes as from the next room. This impression of 
my senses immediately conveys my thought to the 
person, together with all the surrounding objects. 
I paint them out to myself as existing at present, 
with the same qualities and relations, of which I 
formerly knew them possessed. These ideas take 
faster hold of my mind than ideas of an enchanted 
castle. They are very different to the feeling, and 
have a much greater influence of every kind, either 
to give pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow. 

Let us, then, take in the whole compass of this 
doctrine, and allow, that the sentiment of belief is 
nothing but a conception more intense and steady 
than what attends the mere fictions of the imagina- 
tion, and that this manner of conception arises from 


a customary conjunction of the object with some- 
thing present to the memory or senses: I believe 
that it will not be difficult, upon these suppositions, 
to find other operations of the mind analogous to 
it, and to trace up these phenomena to principles 
still more general. 

We have already observed that nature has estab- 
lished connections among particular ideas, and that 
no sooner one idea occurs to our thoughts than it 
introduces its correlative, and carries our attention 
towards it, by a gentle and insensible movement. 
These principles of connection or association we 
have reduced to three, namely resemblance, con- 
tiguity and causation; which are the only bonds 
that unite our thoughts together, and beget that 
regular train of reflection or discourse, which, in a 
greater or less degree, takes place among mankind. 
Now here arises a question, on which the solution 
of the present difficulty will depend. Does it hap- 
pen, in all these relations, that, when one of the 
objects is presented to the senses or memory, the 
mind is not only carried to the conception of the 
correlative, but reaches a steadier and stronger con- 
ception of it than what otherwise it would have 
been able to attain? This seems to be the case with 
that belief which arises from the relation of cause 
and effect. And if the case be the same with the 
other relations or principles of association, this may 
be established as a general law, which takes place 
in all the operations of the mind. 

We may, therefore, observe, as the first experi- 
ment to our present purpose, that, upon the ap- 
pearance of the picture of an absent friend, our 
idea of him is evidently enlivened by the res&m- 
Tslance, and that every passion, which that idea oc- 
casions, whether of joy or sorrow, acquires new 


force and vigor. In producing this effect, there con- 
cur both a relation and a present impression. Where 
the picture bears him no resemblance, at least was 
not intended for him, it never so much as conveys 
our thought to him: And where it is absent, as well 
as the person, though the mind may pass from the 
thought of the one to that of the other, it feels its 
idea to be rather weakened than enlivened by that 
transition. We take a pleasure in viewing the pic- 
ture of a friend, when it is set before us; but when 
it is removed, rather choose to consider him directly 
than by reflection in an image, which is equally 
distant and obscure. 

The ceremonies of the Roman Catholic religion 
may be considered as instances of the same nature. 
The devotees of that superstition usually plead in 
excuse for the mummeries, with which they were 
upbraided, that they feel the good effect of those 
external motions, and postures, and actions in en- 
livening their devotion and quickening their fervor 
which otherwise would decay, if directed entirely 
to distant and immaterial objects. We shadow out 
the objects of our faith, say they, in sensible types 
and images, and render them more present to us by 
the immediate presence of these types, than it is 
possible for us to do merely by an intellectual view 
and contemplation. Sensible objects have always a 
greater influence on the fancy than any other; and 
this influence they readily convey to those ideas to 
which they are related, and which they resemble. 
I shall only infer from these practices, and this rea- 
soning, that the effect of resemblance in enlivening 
the ideas is very common; and as in every case a 
resemblance and a present impression must concur, 
we are abundantly supplied with experiments to 
prove the reality of the foregoing principle. 


We may add force to these experiments by others 
of a different kind, in considering the effects of 
contiguity as well as of resemblance. It is certain 
that distance diminishes the force of every idea, and 
that upon our approach to any object; though it 
does not discover itself to our senses; it operates 
upon the mind with an influence, which imitates 
an immediate impression. The thinking on any ob- 
ject readily transports the mind to what is contigu- 
ous; but it is only the actual presence of an object, 
that transports it with a superior vivacity. When I 
am a few miles from home, whatever relates to it 
touches me more nearly than when I am two hun- 
dred leagues distant; though even at that distance 
the reflecting on anything in the neighborhood of 
my friends or family naturally produces an idea of 
them. But as in this latter case, both the objects of 
the mind are ideas; notwithstanding there is an 
easy transition between them; that transition alone 
is not able to give a superior vivacity to any of the 
ideas, for want of some immediate impression. 

No one can doubt but causation has the same 
influence as the other two relations of resemblance 
and contiguity. Superstitious people are fond of the 
relics of saints and holy men, for the same reason, 
that they seek after types or images, in order to en- 
liven their devotion, and give them a more inti- 
mate and strong conception of those exemplary 
lives, which they desire to imitate. Now it is evident 
that one of the best relics, which a devotee could 
procure, would be the handiwork of a saint; and if 
his clothes and furniture are ever to be considered 
in this light, it is because they were once at his dis- 
posal, and were moved and affected by him; in 
which respect they are to be considered as imper- 
fect effects, and as connected with him by a shorter 


chain of consequences than any of those, by which 
we learn the reality of his existence. 

Suppose, that the son of a friend, who had been 
long dead or absent, were presented to us; it is evi- 
dent, that this object would instantly revive its cor- 
relative idea, and recall to our thoughts all past in- 
timacies and familiarities, in more lively colors than 
they would otherwise have appeared to us. This is 
another phenomenon, which seems to prove the 
principle above mentioned* 

We may observe, that, in these phenomena, the 
belief of the correlative object is always presup- 
posed: without which the relation could have no 
effect. The influence of the picture supposes, that 
we believe our friend to have once existed. Con- 
tiguity to home can never excite our ideas of home, 
unless we believe that it really exists. Now I assert, 
that this belief, where it reaches beyond the mem- 
ory or senses, is of a similar nature, and arises 
from similar causes, with the transition of thought 
and vivacity of conception here explained. When I 
throw a piece of dry wood into a fire, my mind is 
immediately carried to conceive, that it augments, 
not extinguishes the flame. This transition of 
thought from the cause to the effect proceeds not 
from reason. It derives its origin altogether from cus- 
tom and experience. And as it first begins from an 
object, present to the senses, it renders the idea or 
conception of flame more strong and lively than 
any loose, floating reverie of the imagination. That 
idea arises immediately. The thought moves in- 
stantly towards it, and conveys to it all that force of 
conception, which is derived from the impression 
present to the senses. When a sword is leveled at 
my breast, does not the idea of wound and pain 
strike me more strongly, than when a glass of wine 


is presented to me, even though by accident this 
idea should occur after the appearance of the latter 
object? But what is there in this whole matter to 
cause such a strong conception, except only a pres- 
ent object and a customary transition to the idea of 
another object, which we have been accustomed to 
conjoin with the former 1 ? This is the whole opera- 
tion of the mind, in all our conclusions concerning 
matter of fact and existence; and it is a satisfaction 
to find some analogies, by which it may be ex- 
plained. The transition from a present object does 
in all cases give strength and solidity to the related 

Here, then, is a kind of pre-established harmony 
between the course of nature and the succession of 
our ideas; and though the powers and forces, by 
which the former is governed, be wholly unknown 
to us, yet our thoughts and conceptions have still, 
we find, gone on in the same train with the other 
works of nature. Custom is that principle, by which 
this correspondence has been effected; so necessary 
to the subsistence of our species, and the regulation 
of our conduct, in every circumstance and occur- 
rence of human life. Had not the presence of an 
object, instantly excited the idea of those objects, 
commonly conjoined with it, all our knowledge 
must have been limited to the narrow sphere of 
our memory and senses; and we should never have 
been able to adjust means to ends, or employ our 
natural powers, either to the producing of good, or 
avoiding of evil. Those, who delight in the dis- 
covery and contemplation of final causes, have here 
ample subject to employ their wonder and admira- 

I shall add, for a further confirmation of the fore- 
going theory, that, as this operation of the mind, by 


which we infer like effects from like causes, and 
vice versa, is so essential to the subsistence of all hu- 
man creatures, it is not probable, that it could be 
trusted to the fallacious deductions of our reason, 
which is slow in its operations; appears not, in any 
degree, during the first years of infancy, and at best 
is, in every age and period of human life, extremely 
liable to error and mistake. It is more conformable 
to the ordinary wisdom of nature to secure so neces- 
sary an act of the mind, by some instinct or me- 
chanical tendency, which may be infallible in its 
operations, may discover itself at the first appear- 
ance of life and thought, and may be independent 
of all the labored deductions of the understanding. 
As nature has taught us the use of our limbs, with- 
out giving us the knowledge of the muscles and 
nerves, by which they are actuated; so has she im- 
planted in us an instinct, which carries forward the 
thought in a correspondent course to that which she 
has established among external objects; though we 
are ignorant of those powers and forces, on which 
this regular course and succession of objects totally 



the world; our ignorance of the real cause of any 

8 Mr. Locke divides all arguments into demonstrative 
and probable. In this view, we must say, that it is only 
probable all men must die, or that the sun will rise tomor- 
row. But to conform our language more to common use, 
we ought to divide arguments into demonstrations, proofs, 
and 'probabilities. By proofs meaning such arguments 
from experience as leave no room for doubt or opposition. 


event has the same influence on the understanding, 
and begets a like species of belief or opinion. 

There is certainly a probability, which arises 
from a superiority of chances on any side; and ac- 
cording as this superiority increases, and surpasses 
the opposite chances, the probability receives a pro- 
portionable increase, and begets still a higher de- 
gree of belief or assent to that side, in which we 
discover the superiority. If a die were marked with 
one figure or number of spots on four sides, and 
with another figure or number of spots on the two 
remaining sides, it would be more probable, that 
the former would turn up than the latter; though, 
if it had a thousand sides marked in the same man- 
ner, and only one side different, the probability 
would be much higher, and our belief or expecta- 
tion of the event more steady and secure. This 
process of the thought or reasoning may seem trivial 
and obvious; but to those who consider it more nar- 
rowly, it may perhaps, afford matter for curious 

It seems evident, that, when the mind looks for- 
ward to discover the event, which may result from 
the throw of such a die, it considers the turning up 
of each particular side as alike probable; and this is 
the very nature of chance, to render all the particu- 
lar events, comprehended in it, entirely equal. But 
finding a greater number of sides concur in the one 
event than in the other, the mind is carried more 
frequently to that event, and meets it oftener, in 
revolving the various possibilities or chances, on 
which the ultimate result depends. This con- 
currence of several views in one particular event be- 
gets immediately, by an inexplicable contrivance of 
nature, the sentiment of belief, and gives that event 
the advantage over its antagonist, which is sup- 


ported by a smaller number of views, and recurs less 
frequently to the mind. If we allow, that belief is 
nothing but a firmer and stronger conception of an 
object than what attends the mere fictions of the 
imagination, this operation may, perhaps, in some 
measure, be accounted for. The concurrence of the 
several views or glimpses imprints the idea more 
strongly on the imagination; gives it superior force 
and vigor; renders its influence on the passions and 
affections more sensible; and in a word, begets that 
reliance or security, which constitutes the nature 
of belief and opinion. 

The case is the same with the probability of 
causes, as with that of chance. There are some 
causes, which are entirely uniform and constant in 
producing a particular effect; and no instance has 
ever yet been found of any failure or irregularity in 
their operation. Fire has always burned, and water 
suffocated every human creature: the production 
of motion by impulse and gravity is an universal 
law, which has hitherto admitted of no exception. 
But there are other causes which have been found 
more irregular and uncertain; nor has rhubarb al- 
ways proved a purge, or opium a soporific to every- 
one, who has taken these medicines. It is true, 
when any cause fails of producing its usual effect, 
philosophers ascribe not this to any irregularity in 
nature; but suppose, that some secret causes, in 
the particular structure of parts, have prevented the 
operation. Our reasonings, however, and conclu- 
sions concerning the event are the same as if this 
principle had no place. Being determined by cus- 
tom to transfer the past to the future, in all our in- 
ferences; where the past has been entirely regular 
and uniform, we expect the event with the greatest 
assurance, and leave no room for any contrary sup- 


position. But where different effects have been 
found to follow from causes, which are to appear- 
ance exactly similar, all these various effects must 
occur to the mind in transferring the past to the 
future, and enter into our consideration, when we 
determine the probability of the event. Though we 
give the preference to that which has been found 
most usual, and believe that this effect will exist, 
we must not overlook the other effects, but must 
assign to each of them a particular weight and au- 
thority, in proportion as we have found it to be 
more or less frequent. It is more probable, in almost 
every country of Europe, that there will be frost 
sometime in January, than that the weather will 
continue open throughout the whole month; 
though this probability varies according to the dif- 
ferent climates, and approaches to a certainty in the 
more northern kingdoms. Here then it seems evi- 
dent, that, when we transfer the past to the future, 
in order to determine the effect, which will result 
from any cause, we transfer all the different events, 
in the same proportion as they have appeared in the 
past, and conceive one to have existed a hundred 
times, for instance, another ten times, and another 
once. As a great number of views do here concur in 
one event, they fortify and confirm it to the imagin- 
ation, beget that sentiment which we call belief, 
and give its object the preference above the con- 
trary event, which is not supported by an equal 
number of experiments, and recurs not so fre- 
quently to the thought in transferring the past to 
the future. Let anyone try to account for this opera- 
tion of the mind upon any of the received systems 
of philosophy, and he will be sensible of the diffi- 
culty. For my part, I shall think it sufficient, if the 
present hints excite the curiosity of philosophers, 


and make them sensible of how defective all com- 
mon theories are in treating of such curious and 
such sublime subjects. 



Part I 


sciences above the moral consists in this, that the 
ideas of the former, being sensible, are always clear 
and determinate, the smallest distinction between 
them is immediately perceptible, and the same 
terms are still expressive of the same ideas, without 
ambiguity or variation. An oval is never mistaken 
for a circle, nor an hyperbola for an ellipsis. The 
isosceles and scalenum are distinguished by bound- 
aries more exact than vice and virtue, right and 
wrong. If any term be defined in geometry, the 
mind readily, of itself, substitutes, on all occasions, 
the definition for the term defined: or even when 
no definition is employed, the object itself may be 
presented to the senses, and by that means be 
steadily and clearly apprehended. But the finer 
sentiments of the mind, the operations of the 
understanding, the various agitations of the pas- 
sions, though really in themselves distinct, easily 
escape us, when surveyed by reflection; nor is it in 
our power to recall the original object, as often as 
we have occasion to contemplate it. Ambiguity, by 
this means, is gradually introduced into our reason- 
ings: similar objects are readily taken to be the 
same: and the conclusion becomes at last very wide 
of the premises. 


One may safely, however, affirm, that, if we con- 
sider these sciences in a proper light, their advan- 
tages and disadvantages nearly compensate each 
other, and reduce both of them to a state of equality. 
If the mind, with greater facility, retains the ideas 
of geometry clear and determinate, it must carry on 
a much longer and more intricate chain of reason- 
ing, and compare ideas much wider of each other, 
in order to reach the abstruser truths of that 
science. And if moral ideas are apt, without extreme 
care, to fall into obscurity and confusion, the infer- 
ences are always much shorter in these disquisitions, 
and the intermediate steps, which lead to the con- 
clusion, much fewer than in the sciences which 
treat of quantity and number. In reality, there is 
scarcely a proposition in Euclid so simple, as not to 
consist of more parts, than are to be found in any 
moral reasoning which runs not into chimera and 
conceit. Where we trace the principles of the hu- 
man mind through a few steps, we may be very well 
satisfied with our progress; considering how soon 
nature throws a bar to all our inquiries concerning 
causes, and reduces us to an acknowledgement of 
our ignorance. The chief obstacle, therefore, to our 
improvement in the moral or metaphysical sciences 
is the obscurity of the ideas, and ambiguity of the 
terms. The principal difficulty in the mathematics 
is the length of inferences and compass of thought, 
requisite to the forming of any conclusion. And, 
perhaps, our progress in natural philosophy is 
chiefly retarded by the want of proper experiments 
and phenomena, which are often discovered by 
chance, and cannot always be found, when requi- 
site, even by the most diligent and prudent inquiry. 
As moral philosophy seems hitherto to have re- 
ceived less improvement than either geometry or 


physics, we may conclude, that, if there be any dif- 
ference in this respect among these sciences, the 
difficulties, which obstruct the progress of the for- 
mer, require superior care and capacity to be sur- 

There are no ideas, which occur in metaphysics 
more obscure and uncertain, than those of power, 
force, energy or necessary connection, of which it is 
every moment necessary for us to treat in all our 
disquisitions. We shall, therefore, endeavor, in this 
section, to fix, if possible, the precise meaning of 
these terms, and thereby remove some part of that 
obscurity, which is so much complained of in this 
species of philosophy. 

It seems a proposition, which will not admit of 
much dispute, that all our ideas are nothing but 
copies of our impressions, or, in other words, that 
it is impossible for us to think of anything, which 
we have not antecedently felt, either by our exter- 
nal or internal senses. I have endeavored 9 to ex- 
plain and prove this proposition, and have ex- 
pressed my hopes, that, by a proper application of 
it, men may reach a greater clearness and precision 
in philosophical reasonings, than what they have 
hitherto been able to attain. Complex ideas may, 
perhaps, be well-known by definition, which is 
nothing but an enumeration of those parts or simple 
ideas, that compose them. But when we have 
pushed up definitions to the most simple ideas, 
and find still some ambiguity and obscurity; what 
resource are we then possessed of? By what inven- 
tion can we throw light upon these ideas, and ren- 
der them altogether precise and determinate to our 
intellectual view! Produce the impressions or origi- 
nal sentiments, from which the ideas are copied. 

8 Section IL 


These impressions are all strong and sensible. They 
admit not of ambiguity. They are not only placed 
in a full light themselves, but may throw light on 
their correspondent ideas, which lie in obscurity. 
And by this means, we may, perhaps, attain a new 
microscope or species of optics, by which, in the 
moral sciences, the most minute, and most simple 
ideas may be so enlarged as to fall readily under our 
apprehension, and be equally known with the 
grossest and most sensible ideas, that can be the ob- 
ject of our inquiry. 

To be fully acquainted, therefore, with the idea 
of power or necessary connection, let us examine 
its impression; and in order to find the impression 
with greater certainty, let us search for it in all the 
sources, from which it may possibly be derived. 

When we look about us towards external objects, 
and consider the operation of causes, we are never 
able, in a single instance, to discover any power or 
necessary connection; any quality, which binds the 
effect to the cause, and renders the one an infallible 
consequence of the other. We only find, that the 
one does actually, in fact, follow the other. The 
impulse of one billiard ball is attended with motion 
in the second. This is the whole that appears to the 
outward senses. The mind feels no sentiment or 
inward impression from this succession of objects: 
consequently there is not, in any single, particular 
instance of cause and effect, anything which can 
suggest the idea of power or necessary connection. 

From the first appearance of an object, we never 
can conjecture what effect will result from it. But 
were the power or energy of any cause discoverable 
by the mind, we could foresee the effect, even with- 
out experience; and might, at first, pronounce with 


certainty concerning it, by mere dint of thought 
and reasoning. 

In reality, there is no part of matter, that does 
ever, by its sensible qualities, discover any power 
or energy, or give us ground to imagine, that it 
could produce anything, or be followed by any 
other object, which we could denominate its 
effect. Solidity, extension, motion; these qualities 
are all complete in themselves, and never point out 
any other event which may result from them. The 
scenes of the universe are continually shifting, and 
one object follows another in an uninterrupted 
succession; but the power of force, which actuates 
the whole machine, is entirely concealed from us, 
and never discovers itself in any of the sensible 
qualities of body. We know, that, in fact, heat is 
a constant attendant of flame; but what is the con- 
nection between them, we have no room so much 
as to conjecture or imagine. It is impossible, there- 
fore, that the idea of power can be derived from the 
contemplation of bodies, in single instances of their 
operation; because no bodies ever discover any 
power, which can be the original of this idea. 10 

Since, therefore, external objects as they appear 
to the senses, give us no idea of power or necessary 
connection, by their operation in particular in- 
stances, let us see, whether this idea be derived 
from reflection on the operations of our own minds, 
and be copied from any internal impression. It may 

10 Mr. Locke, in his chapter on power, says, that, 
finding from experience, that there are several new 
productions in matter, and concluding that there must 
somewhere be a power capable of producing them, we 
arrive at last by this reasoning at the idea of power. But 
no reasoning can ever give us a new original, simple 
idea; as this philosopher himself confesses. This, therefore,, 
can never be the origin of that idea. 


be said, that we are every moment conscious of in- 
ternal power; while we feel, that, by the simple 
command of our will, we can move the organs of 
our body, or direct the faculties of our mind. An 
act of volition produces motion in our limbs, or 
raises a new idea in our imagination. This influence 
of the will we know by consciousness. Hence we 
acquire the idea of power or energy; and are cer- 
tain, that we ourselves and all other intelligent be- 
ings are possessed of power. This idea, then, is an 
idea of reflection, since it arises from reflecting on 
the operations of our own mind, and on the com- 
mand which is exercised by will, both over the or- 
gans of the body and faculties of the soul. 

We shall proceed to examine this pretension; and 
first with regard to the influence of volition over 
the organs of the body. This influence, we may ob- 
serve, is a fact, which, like all other natural events, 
can be known only by experience, and can never 
be foreseen from any apparent energy or power in 
the cause, which connects it with the effect, and 
renders the one an infallible consequence of the 
other* The motion of our body follows upon the 
command of our will. Of this we are every moment 
conscious. But the means, by which this is effected; 
the energy, by which the will performs so extraor- 
dinary an operation; of this we are so far from being 
immediately conscious, that it must for ever escape 
our most diligent inquiry. 

For first, Is there any principle in all nature more 
mysterious than the union of soul with body; by 
which a supposed spiritual substance acquires such 
an influence over a material one, that the most re- 
fined thought is able to actuate the grossest matter? 
Were we empowered, by a secret wish, to remove 
mountains, or control the planets in their orbit; this 


extensive authority would not be more extraordi- 
nary, nor more beyond our comprehension. But if 
by consciousness we perceived any power or energy 
in the will, we must know this power; we must 
know its connection with the effect; we must know 
the secret union of soul and body, and the nature 
of both these substances; by which the one is able 
to operate, in so many instances, upon the other. 

Secondly, We are not able to move all the organs 
of the body with a like authority; though we cannot 
assign any reason besides experience, for so remark- 
able a difference between one and the other* Why 
has the will an influence over the tongue and fin- 
gers, not over the heart and liver? This question 
would never embarrass us, were we conscious of a 
power in the former case, not in the latter. We 
should then perceive, independent of experience, 
why the authority of will over the organs of the 
body is circumscribed within such particular limits. 
Being in that case fully acquainted with the power 
or force, by which it operates, we should also know, 
why its influence reaches precisely to such bound- 
aries, and no farther. 

A man, suddenly struck with palsy in the leg or 
arm, or who had newly lost those members, fre- 
quently endeavors, at first to move them, and em- 
ploy them in their usual offices. Here he is as much 
conscious of power to command such limbs, as a 
man in perfect health is conscious of power to ac- 
tuate any member which remains in its natural 
state and condition. But consciousness never de- 
ceives. Consequently, neither in the one case nor 
in the other, are we ever conscious of any power. 
We learn the influence of our will from experience 
alone. And experience only teaches us, how one 
event constantly follows another; without instruct- 


ing us in the secret connection, which binds them 
together, and renders them inseparable. 

Thirdly, We learn from anatomy, that the im- 
mediate object of power in voluntary motion, is not 
the member itself which is moved, but certain 
muscles, and nerves, and animal spirits, and, per- 
haps, something still more minute and more un- 
known, through which the motion is successfully 
propagated, ere it reach the member itself whose 
motion is the immediate object of volition. Can 
there be a more certain proof that the power, by 
which this whole operation is performed, so far 
from being directly and fully known by an inward 
sentiment or consciousness, is, to the last degree, 
mysterious and unintelligible? Here the mind wills 
a certain event: immediately another event, un- 
known to ourselves, and totally different from the 
one intended, is produced: this event produces an- 
other, equally unknown: till at last, through a long 
succession, the desired event is produced. But if the 
original power were felt, it must be known: were it 
known, its effect also must be known; since all 
power is relative to its effect. And vice versa, if the 
effect be not known, the power cannot be known 
nor felt How indeed can we be conscious of a 
power to move our limbs, when we have no such 
power; but only that to move certain animal spirits, 
which, though they produce at last the motion of 
our limbs, yet operate in such a manner as is wholly 
beyond our comprehension? 

We may, therefore, conclude from the whole, I 
hope, without any temerity, though with assurance; 
that our idea of power is not copied from any senti- 
ment or consciousness of power within ourselves, 
when we give rise to animal motion, or apply our 
limbs, to their proper use and office. That this mo- 


tion follows the command of the will is a matter of 
common experience, like other natural events: but 
the power or energy by which this is effected, like 
that in other natural events, is unknown and incon- 
ceivable. 11 

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 suffi- 
cient 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 synonymous. We must, 
therefore, know both the cause and effect, and the 
relation between them. But do we pretend to be 

^It may "be pretended, that the resistance which we 
meet with in bodies, obliging us frequently to exert our 
force, and call up all our power, this gives us the idea 
of force and power. It is this nisus, or strong endeavor, 
of which we are conscious, that is the original impression 
from which this idea is copied. But, first, We attribute 
power to a vast number of objects, where we never can 
suppose this resistance or exertion of force to take place; 
to the Supreme Being, who never meets with any resist- 
ance; to the mind in its command over its ideas and 
limbs, in common thinking and motion, where the effect 
follows immediately upon the will, without any exertion 
or summoning up of force; to inanimate matter, which 
is not capable of this sentiment. Secondly, This senti- 
ment of an endeavor to overcome resistance has no known 
connection with any event: what follows it, we know 
by experience; but could not know it a priori. It must, 
however, be confessed, that the animal nisus, which we 
experience, though it can afford no accurate precise idea 
of power, enters very much into that vulgar, inaccurate 
idea, which is formed of it. 


acquainted with die 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 pro- 
duction of something out of nothing: which im- 
plies a power so great, that it may seem, at first 
sight, beyond the reach of any being, less than in- 
finite. 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 per- 
formed, the power by which it is produced, is en- 
tirely beyond our comprehension. 

Secondly, The command of the mind over itself 
is limited, as well as its command over the body; 
and these limits are not known by reason, or any ac- 
quaintance 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 ob- 
jects. Our authority over our sentiments and pas- 
sions is much weaker than that over our ideas; and 
even the latter authority is circumscribed within 
very narrow boundaries. Will anyone pretend to 
assign the ultimate reason of these boundaries, or 
show why the power is deficient in one case, not in 

Thirdly, This self-command is very different at 
different times. A man in health possesses more of 
it than one languishing with sickness. We are more 
master of our thoughts in the morning than in the 
evening; fasting, than after a full meal. Can we 
give any reason for these variations, except experi- 
ence? Where then is the power, of which we pre- 
tend to be conscious? Is there not here, either in a 
spiritual or material substance, or both, some secret 
mechanism or structure of parts, upon which the 


effect depends, and which, being entirely unknown 
to us, renders the power or energy of the will 
equally unknown and incomprehensible? 

Volition is surely an act of the mind, with which 
we are sufficiently acquainted. Reflect upon it. 
Consider it on all sides. Do you find anything in it 
like this creative power, by which it raises from 
nothing a new idea, and with a kind of fiat, imitates 
the omnipotence of its Maker, if I may be al- 
lowed 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. 

The generality of mankind never find any dif- 
ficulty in accounting for the more common and 
familiar operations of nature such as the descent 
of heavy bodies, the growth of plants, the genera- 
tion of animals, or the nourishment of bodies by 
food; but suppose that, in all these cases, they per- 
ceive the very force or energy of the cause, by 
which it is connected with its effect, and is forever 
infallible in its operation. They acquire, by long 
habit, such a turn of mind, that, upon the appear- 
ance 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 phe- 
nomena, such as earthquakes, pestilence, and prodi- 
gies of any kind, that they find themselves at a loss 
to assign a proper cause, and to explain the manner 
in which the effect is produced by it* It is usual for 
men, in such difficulties, to have recourse to some 
invisible intelligent principle as the immediate 
cause of that event which surprises them, and 


which, they think, cannot be accounted for from 
the common powers of nature. But philosophers, 
who carry their scrutiny a little farther, immedi- 
ately 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 experi- 
ence the frequent conjunction of objects, without 
being ever able to comprehend anything like 
connection between them. Here, then, many phi- 
losophers think themselves obliged by reason to 
have recourse, on all occasions, to the same princi- 
ple, which the vulgar never appeal to but in cases 
that appear miraculous and supernatural. They ac- 
knowledge 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 Be- 
ing, who wills that such particular objects should 
forever 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 govern- 
ment of the universe. But philosophers advancing 
still in their inquiries, discover that, as we are to- 
tally 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 mo- 
tion which we erroneously attribute to our own 
power and efficacy. Nor do philosophers stop at this 
conclusion. They sometimes extend the same infer- 
ence to the mind itself, in its internal operations. 
Our mental vision or conception of ideas is noth- 
ing but a revelation made to us by our Maker. 
When we voluntarily turn our thoughts to any ob- 
ject, 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. 

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 mag- 
nifying, 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 its 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 ma- 

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

First, It seems to me that this theory of the uni- 
versal energy and operation of the Supreme Being 
is too bold ever to carry conviction with it to a 
man, sufficiently apprised of the weakness of hu- 
man 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 ab- 
solute assurance, that it has carried us quite beyond 
the reach of our faculties, when it leads to conclu- 
sions 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 com- 
mon methods of argument, or to think that our 
usual analogies and probabilities have any author- 
ity. 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 author- 
ity when we thus apply it to subjects that lie en- 


tireJy out of the sphere of experience. But on this 
we shall have occasion to touch afterwards. 12 

Secondly, I cannot perceive any force in the ar- 
guments 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 en- 
tirely 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, there- 
fore, a good reason for rejecting anything, we 
should be led into that principle of denying all 
energy in the Supreme Being as much as in the 
grossest matter. We surely comprehend as little the 
operations of one as of the other. Is it more difficult 
to conceive that motion may arise from impulse 
than that it may arise from volition? All we know is 
our profound ignorance in both cases. 13 

12 Section XII. 

13 1 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 forever 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 SIB. ISAAC NEWTON to 
rob second causes of all force or energy; though some of 
his followers have endeavored to establish that theory 
upon his authority. On the contrary, that great philosopher 
had recourse to an ethereal active fluid to explain his 
universal attraction; though he was so cautious and modest 


Pan II 

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 connection 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 connection be- 
tween it and its supposed effect. The same diffi- 
culty 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 connection 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 

as to allow, that it was a mere Hypothesis, not to "be 
insisted on, without more experiments. I must confess, 
that there is something in the fate of opinions a little 
extraordinary. DESCARTES insinuated that doctrine of the 
universal and sole efficiency of the -Deity, without insist- 
ing on it. MALEBRANCHE and other CARTESIANS made 
it the foundation of all their philosophy. It had, how- 
ever, no authority in England. LOCKE, CLARKE and 
CUDWORTH, never so much as take notice of it, hut 
suppose all along, that matter has a real, though sub- 
ordinate and derived power. By what means has it become 
so prevalent among our modern metaphysicians:* 


have no idea of anything which never appeared to 
our outward sense or inward sentiment, the neces- 
sary conclusion seems to be that we have no idea 
of connection or power at all, and that these words 
are absolutely without any meaning, when em- 
ployed either in philosophical reasonings or com- 
mon life. 

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 cany 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 an- 
other, 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 ex- 
periment, 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 connection between them; some power in the 
one, by which it infallibly produces the other, and 
operates with the greatest certainty and strongest 

It appears, then, that this idea of a necessary con- 
nection among events arises from a number of simi- 
lar instances which occur of the constant conjunc- 


tion of these events; nor can that idea ever be sug- 
gested by any one of these instances, surveyed in 
all possible lights and positions. But there is noth- 
ing in a number of instances, different from every 
single instance, which is supposed to be exactly 
similar; except only, that after a repetition of simi- 
lar instances, the mind is carried by habit, upon the 
appearance of one event, to expect its usual at- 
tendant, and to believe that it will exist. This con- 
nection, 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 connection. 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 connection, and a 
number of similar instances, by which it is sug- 
gested. The first time a man saw the communica- 
tion 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 in- 
stances of this nature, he then pronounces them to 
be connected. What alteration has happened to 
give rise to this new idea of connection? Nothing 
but that he now feels these events to be connected 
in his imagination, and can readily foretell the ex- 
istence of one from the appearance of the other. 
When we say, therefore, that one object is con- 
nected with another, we mean only that they have 
acquired a connection in our thought, and give rise 
to this inference, by which they become proofs of 
each other's existence: a conclusion which is some- 
what extraordinary, but which seems founded on 


sufficient evidence. Nor will its evidence be 
weakened by any general diffidence of the under- 
standing, 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 weak- 
ness and narrow limits of human reason and capac- 

And what stronger instance can be produced of 
the surprising ignorance and weakness of the under- 
standing 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 sci- 
ences, is to teach us, how to control and regulate 
future events by their causes. Our thoughts and in- 
quiries 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 case, except what is 
drawn from something extraneous and foreign to 
it. Similar objects are always conjoined with simi- 
lar. Of this we have experience. Suitably to this ex- 
perience, therefore, we may define a cause to be an 
object, followed by another, and where all the ob- 
jects similar to the first are followed by objects simi- 
lar 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 die idea of 
the effect. Of this also we have experience. We 
may, therefore, suitably to this experience, form an- 


other definition of cause, and call it, an object fol- 
lowed by another, and whose appearance always 
conveys the thought to that other. But though both 
these definitions be drawn from circumstances for- 
eign to the cause, we cannot remedy this incon- 
venience, or attain any more perfect definition, 
which may point out that circumstance in the 
cause, which gives it a connection with its effect. 
We have no idea of this connection, nor even any 
distinct notion what it is we desire to know, when 
we endeavor at a conception of it. We say, for in- 
stance, 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 vi- 
brations have been followed by similar sounds: Or, 
that this vibration is followed by this sound, and 
that upon the appearance of one the mind antici- 
pates 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. 14 

"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, hy 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 un- 
equal times; but by a direct mensuration and comparison. 

As to the frequent use of the words, force, yoiver, 
energy, etc., which everywhere occur in common con- 
versation, as well as in philosophy; that is no proof, that 
we are acquainted, in any instance, with the connecting 


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 connection. 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 connection. 
We then feel a new sentiment or impression, to 
wit, a customary connection in the thought or im- 
agination between one object and its usual attend- 
ant; 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 sin- 
gle instance, it must arise from that circumstance, 
in which the number of instances differ from every 
individual instance. But this customary connec- 
tion or transition of the imagination is the only cir- 

principle between cause and effect, or can account 
ultimately for the production of one tiling 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 endeavor; and every 
animal has a sentiment or feeling from the stroke or 
blow of an external object that is in motion. These 
sensations, which are merely animal, and from which we 
can a priori draw no inference, we are apt to transfer to 
inanimate objects, and to suppose, that they have some 
such feelings, whenever they transfer or receive motion. 
With regard to energies, which are exerted, without our 
annexing to them any idea of communicated motion, 
we consider only the constant experienced conjunction 
of the events; and as we feel a customary connection 
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. 


cumstance in which they differ. In every other par- 
ticular 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 pres- 
ent, occur to us; except only, that we could not, at 
first, infer one event from die 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 be- 
come 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 il- 
lustrating the subject than by all the eloquence 
in the world. This point of view we should en- 
deavor to reach, and reserve the flowers of rhetoric 
for subjects which are more adapted to them. 



Part I 


which have been canvassed and disputed with great 
eagerness, since the first origin of science and phi- 
losophy, that the meaning of all the terms, at least, 
should have been agreed upon among the dis- 
putants; and our inquiries, 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 defi- 


nitions, not the mere sound of words, the object of 
future scrutiny and examination? But if we con- 
sider the matter more narrowly, we shall be apt to 
draw a quite opposite conclusion. From this cir- 
cumstance alone, that a controversy has been long 
kept on foot, and remains still undecided, we may 
presume that there is some ambiguity in the expres- 
sion, 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 natu- 
rally 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 antago- 
nists. It is true, if men attempt the discussion of 
questions which lie entirely beyond the reach of 
human capacity, such as those concerning the ori- 
gin 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 re- 
gard any subject of common life and experience, 
nothing, one would think, could preserve the dis- 
pute so long undecided but some ambiguous ex- 
pressions, which keep the antagonists still at a dis- 
tance, and hinder them from grappling with each 

This has been the case in the long disputed ques- 
tion concerning liberty and necessity; and to so re- 
markable 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 soph- 
istry, that it is no wonder, if a sensible reader in- 
dulge his ease so far as to turn a deaf ear to the 
proposal of such a question, from which he can 
expect neither instruction nor entertainment. But 
the state of the argument here proposed may, per- 
haps, serve to renew his attention; as it has more 
novelty, promises at least some decision of the con- 
troversy, 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 doc- 
trine of necessity. 

It is universally allowed that matter, in all its 
operations, is actuated by a necessary force, and that 
every natural effect is so precisely determined by 
the energy of its cause that no other effect, in such 
particular circumstances, could possibly have re- 
sulted 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 pro- 
duced 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 simili- 
tude to whatever had been seen before, we should 
never, in that case, have attained the least idea of 
necessity, or of a connection among these objects. 
We might say, upon such a supposition, that one 
object or event has followed another; not that one 
was produced by the other. The relation of cause 
and effect must be utterly unknown to mankind. 
Inference and reasoning concerning the operations 
of nature would, from that moment, be at an end; 
and the memory and senses remain the only canals, 
by which the knowledge of any real existence 
could possibly have access to the mind. Our idea, 
therefore, of necessity and causation arises entirely 
from the uniformity observable in the operations 
of nature, where similar objects are constantly con- 
joined together, and the mind is determined by cus- 
tom 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 connection. 

If it appear, therefore, that all mankind have 
ever allowed, without any doubt or hesitation, that 
these two circumstances take place in the volun- 
tary 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. 

As to the first circumstance, the constant and 
regular conjunction of similar events, we may pos- 
sibly satisfy ourselves by the following considera- 


tions. 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 de- 
grees, 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 tem- 
per and actions of the French and English: you 
cannot be much mistaken in transferring to the for- 
mer 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 in- 
forms us of nothing new or strange in this particu- 
lar. Its chief use is only to discover the constant 
and universal principles of human nature, by show- 
ing men in all varieties of circumstances and situa- 
tions, and furnishing us with materials from which 
we may form our observations and become ac- 
quainted with the regular springs of human action 
and behavior. These records of wars, intrigues, fac- 
tions, and revolutions, are so many collections of 
experiments, by which the politician or moral phi- 
losopher fixes the principles of his science, in the 
same manner as the physician or natural philos- 
opher 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 Aristode, 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 traveler, 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 immedi- 
ately, from these circumstances, detect the false- 
hood, and prove him a liar, with the same certainty 
as if he had stuffed his narration with stories of cen- 
taurs and dragons, miracles and prodigies. And if 
we would explode any forgery in history, we can- 
not 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 Alexan- 
der, 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 acknowl- 
edge a uniformity in human motives and actions as 
well as in the operations of body. 

Hence likewise the benefit of that experience, ac- 
quired 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 interpreta- 
tion 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 spe- 
cious coloring of a cause. And though virtue and 
honor be allowed their proper weight and author- 
ity, that perfect disinterestedness, so often pre- 
tended to, is never expected in multitudes and par- 
ties; seldom in their leaders; and scarcely even in in- 
dividuals of any rank or station. But were there no 
uniformity in human actions, and were every ex- 
periment which we could form of this kind irregu- 
lar and anomalous, it were impossible to collect any 
general observations concerning mankind; and no 
experience, however accurately digested by reflec- 
tion, would ever serve to any purpose. Why is the 
aged husbandman more skillful in his calling than 
the younger beginner but because there is a certain 
uniformity in the operation of the sun, rain, and 
earth towards the production of vegetables; and ex- 
perience teaches the old practitioner the rules by 
which this operation is governed and directed. 

We must not, however, expect that this uniform- 
ity 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, with- 
out making any allowance for the diversity of char- 
acters, prejudices, and opinions. Such a uniform- 
ity in every particular, is found in no part of nature. 
On the contrary, from observing the variety of con- 
duct in different men, we are enabled to form a 
greater variety of maxims, which still suppose a de- 
gree 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 mold the human 
mind from its infancy and form it into a fixed and 
established character. Is the behavior and conduct 
of the one sex very unlike that of the other? 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 uni- 
formity in their influence; otherwise our acquaint- 
ance with the persons and our observation of their 
conduct could never teach us their dispositions, or 
serve to direct our behavior with regard to them. 

I grant it possible to find some actions, which 
seem to have no regular connection with any 
known motives, and are exceptions to all the meas- 
ures of conduct which have ever been established 
for the government of men. But if we would will- 
ingly know what judgment 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 exter- 
nal 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 pro- 
ceed from any contingency in the cause, but from 
the secret operation of contrary causes. This possi- 
bility is converted into certainty by farther observa- 
tion, when they remark that, upon an exact scru- 
tiny, a contrariety of effects always betrays a con- 
trariety 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 pen- 
dulum has always the same influence on the 
wheels; but fails of its usual effect, perhaps by rea- 
son 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 connection between all causes and effects is 
equally necessary, and that its seeming uncertainty 
in some instances proceeds from the secret opposi- 
tion of contrary causes. 

Thus, for instance, in the human body, when 
the usual symptoms of health or sickness disap- 
point 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 regu- 
larity in its internal operations and government. 

The philosopher, if he be consistent, must apply 
the same reasoning to the actions and volitions of 
intelligent agents. The most irregular and unex- 
pected resolutions of men may frequently be ac- 
counted for by those who know every particular cir- 
cumstance of their character and situation. A per- 
son of an obliging disposition gives a peevish an- 
swer; 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 some- 
thing 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 na- 
ture; 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 irregular- 
ities; 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 inquiry. 

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 con- 
junction 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 infer- 
ences 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 experi- 
enced uniformity in human actions is a source 
whence we draw inferences concerning them. But 
in order to throw the argument into a greater vari- 
ety 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 ref- 
erence to the actions of others, which are requisite 
to make it answer fully the intention of the agent. 
The poorest artificer, who labors alone, expects at 
least the protection of the magistrate, to ensure him 
the enjoyment of the fruits of his labor. He also ex- 
pects 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 ac- 
quires, 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 compli- 
cated, 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 manu- 
facturer reckons upon the labor of his servants for 
the execution of any work as much as upon the 
tools which he employs, and would be equally sur- 
prised were his expectations disappointed. In short, 
this experimental inference and reasoning concern- 
ing the actions of others enters so much into hu- 
man life, that no man, while awake, is ever a mo- 
ment 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? 

Nor have philosophers ever entertained a differ- 
ent 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 essen- 
tial. What would become of history, had we not a 
dependence on the veracity of the historian accord- 
ing to the experience which we have had of man- 
kind? How could politics be a science, if laws and 
forms of government had not a uniform influence 
upon society? Where would be the foundation of 
morals, if particular characters had no certain or 
determinate power to produce particular senti- 
ments, and if these sentiments had no constant 
operation on actions? And with what pretense 
could we employ our criticism upon any poet or po- 
lite author, if we could not pronounce the conduct 
and sentiments of his actors either natural or un- 
natural to such characters, and in such circum- 
stances? It seems almost impossible, therefore, to 
engage either in science or action of any kind with- 
out acknowledging the doctrine of necessity and 


this inference from motive to voluntary actions, 
from characters to conduct. 

And indeed, when we consider how aptly natu- 
ral 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 nei- 
ther money nor interest, discovers the impossibility 
of his escape, as well when he considers the obsti- 
nacy 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, con- 
vulsive motions, and death. Here is a connected 
chain of natural causes and voluntary actions; but 
the mind feels no difference between them in pass- 
ing from one link to another. Nor is it 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 expe- 
rienced 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 opu- 
lent, 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. Bnf 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 as- 
surance, as that, if he throw himself out at the win- 
dow, and meet with no obstruction, he will not re- 
main 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 un- 
touched an hour after. Above one half of human 
reasonings contain inferences of a similar nature, 
attended with more or less degrees of certainty pro- 
portioned to our experience of the usual conduct of 
mankind in such particular situations. 

I have frequently considered, what could possibly 
be the reason why all mankind, though they have 
ever, without hesitation, acknowledged the doc- 
trine of necessity in their whole practice and reason- 
ing, have yet discovered such a reluctance to ac- 
knowledge it in words, and have rather shown 
propensity, in all ages, to profess the contrary opin- 
ion. 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 facul- 
ties 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 ig- 
norance 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 
connection between the cause and the effect. 
When again they turn their reflection towards the 
operations of their own minds, and feel no such 
connection of the motive and the action; they are 
thence apt to suppose, that there is a difference be- 
tween the effects which result from material force, 
and those which arise from thought and intelli- 
gence. 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 an- 
other, 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 phi- 
losophers, in ascribing necessity to the determina- 
tions 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 philoso- 
pher. It may only, perhaps, be pretended that the 
mind can perceive, in the operations of matter, 
some farther connection between the cause and ef- 


feet; and connection that has not place in the vol- 
untary actions of intelligent beings. Now whether 
it he so or not, can only appear upon examination; 
and it is incumbent on these philosophers to make 
good their assertion, by defining or describing that 
necessity, and pointing it out to us in the operations 
of material causes. 

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 under- 
standing, and the operations of the will. Let them 
first discuss a more simple question, namely, the 
operations of body and of brute unintelligent mat- 
ter; 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 circum- 
stances form, in reality, the whole of that necessity, 
which we conceive in matter, and if these circum- 
stances 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 sup- 
pose, 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 pos- 
sibility of bringing the question to any determinate 
issue, while we proceed upon so erroneous a suppo- 
sition. 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 men- 
tioned. We may, perhaps, find that it is with diffi- 


culty 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 delibera- 
tion of our lives, and in every step of our conduct 
and behavior. 15 

15 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 bave, of 
liberty or indifference, in many of our actions. The neces- 
sity 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, wbo may consider tbe 
action; and it consists chiefly in the determination of his 
thoughts to infer tbe 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 re- 
flecting 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 assembling 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 OUT 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 velte'ity, 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 tome, have been completed 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 


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 can- 
not surely mean that actions have so little connec- 
tion 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 acknowl- 
edged 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 univer- 
sally allowed to belong to everyone who is not a 
prisoner and in chains. Here, then, is no subject of 

Whatever definition we may give of liberty, we 
should be careful to observe two requisite circum- 
stances: 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 man- 
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 action 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 ana 
temper, and die most secret springs of our complexion 
and disposition. Now this is the very essence of necessity, 
according to the foregoing doctrine. 


kind will be found of one opinion with regard to it. 
It is universally allowed that nothing exists with- 
out 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 anyone de- 
fine a cause, without comprehending, as a part of 
the definition, a necessary connection with its ef- 
fect; 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 connection, 
that we can have any comprehension of. Whoever 
attempts a definition of cause, exclusive of these 
circumstances, will be obliged either to employ un- 
intelligible terms or such as are synonymous to the 
term which he endeavors to define. 16 And if the def- 
inition above mentioned be admitted; liberty, when 
opposed to necessity, not to constraint, is the same 
thing with chance; which is universally allowed to 
have no existence. 

"Thus, if a cause be defined, that which produces 
any thing; it is easy to observe, that producing is synony- 
mous to causing. In like manner, if a cause be defined, 
that lay which any thing exists; this is liable to the same 
objection. For what is meant by these words, by which? 
Had it been said, that a cause is that after which any 
thing constantly exists we should have understood the 
terms. For this is, indeed, all we know of the matter. 
And this constancy forms the very essence of necessity, 
nor have we any other idea of it. 


Part II 

There Is no method of reasoning more common, 
and yet none more blamable, than, in philosophical 
disputes, to endeavor the refutation of any hypoth- 
esis, by a pretense of its dangerous consequences 
to religion and morality. When any opinion leads 
to absurdities, it is certainly false; but it is not cer- 
tain that an opinion is false, because it is of danger- 
ous consequence. Such topics, therefore, ought en- 
tirely to be forborne; as serving nothing to the dis- 
covery of truth, but only to make the person of an 
antagonist odious. This I observe in general, with- 
out 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, inclina- 
tions, and circumstances. The only particular in 
which anyone 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 mean- 


ing is understood, I hope the word can do no harm; 
or that he will maintain it possible to discover some- 
thing 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 nat- 
ural philosophy or metaphysics. We may here be 
mistaken in asserting that there is no idea of any 
other necessity or connection 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 inno- 
cent, at least, than this doctrine. 

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

The only proper object of hatred or vengeance 
is a person or creature, endowed with thought and 
consciousness; and when any criminal or injurious 
actions excite that passion, it is only by their rela- 
tion to the person, or connection 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 per- 
formed them, they can neither redound to his 
honor, if good; nor infamy, if evil. The actions 
themselves may be blamable; they may be contrary 
to all the rules of morality and religion. But the per- 


son is not answerable for them; and as they pro- 
ceeded 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 per- 
form 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 con- 
stant cause or principle in the mind, operates only 
by intervals, and infects not the whole character. 
Again, repentance wipes off every crime, if at- 
tended 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 T except upon the doctrine of neces- 
sity, they never were just proofs, and consequently 
never were criminal. 

It will be equally easy to prove, and from the 
same arguments, that liberty, according to that def- 
inition above mentioned, in which all men agree, 


is also essential to morality, and that no human ac- 
tions, where it is wanting, are susceptible of any 
moral qualities, or can be the objects either of ap- 
probation or dislike. For as actions are objects of 
our moral sentiment, so far only as they are indica- 
tions of the internal character, passions, and affec- 
tions; 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. 

I pretend not to have obviated or removed all ob- 
jections 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 sin- 
gle volition of every human creature. No contin- 
gency 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 voli- 
tions 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 answer- 
able for all the consequences whether the train he 
employed be long or short; so wherever a contin- 
ued 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 be- 
long 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 power- 
ful. Ignorance or impotence may be pleaded for so 
limited a creature as man; but these imperfections 
have no place in our Creator. He foresaw, he or- 
dained, he intended all those actions of men, which 
we so rashly pronounce criminal. And we must 
therefore conclude, either that they are not crimi- 
nal, 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 conse- 
quence, if necessary, proves the original doctrine 
to be absurd in the same manner as criminal ac- 
tions render criminal the original cause, if the con- 
nection between them be necessary and inevitable. 

This objection consists of two parts, which we 
shall examine separately. First, that, if human ac- 
tions 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. 

The answer to the first objection seems obvious 


and convincing. There are many philosophers who, 
after an exact scrutiny of all the phenomena of na- 
ture, conclude, that the whole, considered as one 
system, is, in every period of its existence, ordered 
with perfect benevolence; and that the utmost pos- 
sible 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 him- 
self, considered as a wise agent, without giving en- 
trance 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 un- 
der which they labored 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 humors 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 nei- 
ther 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 antago- 
nists. The affections take a narrower and more natu- 


ral 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 sys- 

The case is the same with moral as with physical 
ill. It cannot reasonably be supposed, that those re- 
mote considerations, which are found of so little 
efficacy with regard to one, will have a more pow- 
erful influence with regard to the other. The mind 
of man is so formed by nature that, upon the ap- 
pearance of certain characters, dispositions, and ac- 
tions, it immediately feels the sentiment of approba- 
tion or blame; nor are there any emotions more 
essential to its frame and constitution. The charac- 
ters 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 dis- 
turbance: 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 wfeoZe, and 
that the qualities, which disturb society, are, in the 
main, as beneficial, and are as suitable to the pri- 
mary intention of nature as those which more di- 
rectly promote its happiness and welfare? Are such 
remote and uncertain speculations able to counter- 
balance the sentiments which arise from the natu- 
ral 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 re- 
sentment against the crime be supposed incompat- 


ible with them? Or why should not the acknowl- 
edgment of a real distinction between vice and vir- 
tue be reconcilable to all speculative systems of 
philosophy, as well as that of a real distinction be- 
tween personal beauty and deformity? Both these 
distinctions are founded in the natural sentiments 
of the human mind; and these sentiments are not 
to be controlled or altered by any philosophical 
theory or speculation whatsoever. 

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 diffi- 
culties, and even contradictions, at every step 
which she takes with regard to such subjects. To 
reconcile the indifference and contingency of hu- 
man actions with prescience; or to defend absolute 
decrees, and yet free the Deity from being the au- 
thor 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 ob- 
scurities and perplexities, return, with suitable 
modesty, to her true and proper province, the exam- 
ination of common life; where she will find diffi- 
culties enough to employ her inquiries, without 
launching into so boundless an ocean of doubt, un- 
certainty, and contradiction! 




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 re- 
garded as certain and conclusive: nor does any 
man ever entertain a doubt, when 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 ob- 
servations, 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 pre- 
sumption, that the same principle has place in all. 
These analogical observations may be carried far- 
ther, 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 
connection of the passions in man, will acquire ad- 
ditional 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 re- 
gard to the hypothesis, by which we have, in the 
foregoing discourse, endeavored to account for all 


experimental reasonings; and it is hoped, that this 
new point of view will serve to confirm all our for- 
mer observations. 

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 ac- 
quainted with the more obvious properties of exter- 
nal objects, and gradually, from their birth, treas- 
ure up a knowledge of the nature of fire, water, 
earth, stones, heights, depths, etc., and of the ef- 
fects which result from their operation. The igno- 
rance and inexperience of the young are here 
plainly distinguishable from the cunning and sa- 
gacity of the old, who have learned, by long obser- 
vation, 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 
chase to the younger, and will place himself so as 
to meet the hare in her doubles; nor are the conjec- 
tures, which he forms on this occasion, founded 
in anything but his observation and experience. 

This is still more evident from the effects of dis- 
cipline and education on animals, who, by the 
proper application of rewards and punishments, 
may be taught any course of action, and most con- 
trary 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 ani- 
mal infers some fact beyond what immediately 
strikes his senses; and that this inference is alto- 
gether founded on past experience, while the crea- 
ture expects from the present object the same 
consequences, which it has always found in its 
observation to result from similar objects. 

Secondly, It is impossible, that this inference of 
the animal can be founded on any process of argu- 
ment 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 opera- 
tions. 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 atten- 
tion of a philosophic genius to discover and ob- 
serve them. Animals, therefore, are not guided in 
these inferences by reasoning; neither are children; 
neither are the generality of mankind, in their ordi- 
nary actions and conclusions; neither are philoso- 
phers 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 consequences in life, 
as that of inferring effects from causes, be trusted 
to the uncertain process of reasoning and argumen- 
tation. 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 pre- 
sumption, from all the rules of analogy, that it 


ought to be universally admitted, without any ex- 
ception or reserve. It is custom alone, which en- 
gages 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. 17 

"Since all reasoning 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 endeavor briefly to explain the great 
difference in human understandings; after which the 
reason of the difference between men and animals will 
easily be comprehended. 

CO 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 or 
reasoning, and expect a similar event with some degree 
of certainty, where the experiment has been made accu- 
rately, and free from all foreign circumstances. It is 
therefore considered 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 con- 
sequences to a greater length than another. 

C4) 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. 

a The circumstance, on which the effect depends, 
uently involved in other circumstances, which are 


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 must exceed the share of ca- 
pacity they possess on ordinary occasion; and in 
which they improve, little or nothing, by the long- 
est practice and experience. These we denominate 
instincts, and are so apt to admire as something very 
extraordinary, and inexplicable by all the disquisi- 
tions of human understanding. But our wonder 
will, perhaps, cease or diminish, when we con- 
sider, 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 opera- 
tions, is not directed by any such relations or com- 
parisons of ideas, as are the proper objects of our 
intellectual faculties. Though the instinct be dif- 
ferent, 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 in- 

foreign and extrinsic. The separation of it often requires 
great attention, accuracy, and subtlety. 

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

C7) 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) Biases from prejudice, education, passion, party, 
etc., 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. 


cubation, and the whole economy and order of its 



Part I 

ment against the real presence, which is as concise, 
and elegant, and strong as any argument can pos- 
sibly be supposed against a doctrine, so little 
worthy of a serious refutation. It is acknowledged 
on all hands, says that learned prelate, that the au- 
thority, 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 dis- 
ciples; nor can anyone 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 sup- 
posed 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 
everyone'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. 

Though experience be our only guide in reason- 
ing concerning matters of fact; it must be acknowl- 
edged, 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 in- 
forms 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 rea- 
sonings concerning matter of fact there are all im- 
aginable 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 exist- 
ence of that event. In other cases, he proceeds 
with more caution; he weighs the opposite experi- 
ments; he considers which side is supported by the 
greater number of experiments; to that side he in- 
clines, with doubt and hesitation; and when at last 
he fixes his judgment, 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 over- 
balance the other, and to produce a degree of evi- 
dence, proportioned to the superiority. A hundred 
instances or experiments on one side, and fifty on 
another, afford a double expectation of any event; 
though a hundred uniform experiments, with only 
one that is contradictory, reasonably begets 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 su- 
perior evidence. 

To apply these principles to a particular in- 
stance; 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 r 
perhaps, one may deny to be founded on the rela- 
tion of cause and effect. I shall not dispute about 
a word. It will be sufficient to observe that our as- 
surance 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 in favor of human testi- 


mony, whose connection together, and that all the 
inferences, which we can draw from one tc 
another, are founded merely on our experience oi 
their constant and regular conjunction; it is evi 
dent, that we ought not to make an exception tc 
this maxim in favor of human testimony, whose 
connection with any event seems, in itself, as little 
necessary as any other. Were not the memory tena 
cious 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 bj 
experience to be qualities, inherent in human na- 
ture, we should never repose the least confidence 
in human testimony. A man delirious, or noted foi 
falsehood and villainy, has no manner of authority 
with us. 

And as the evidence, derived from witnesses and 
human testimony, is founded on past experience, sc 
it varies with the experience, and is regarded eithei 
as 'proof or a probability, according as the conjunc- 
tion between any particular kind of report and any 
kind of object has been found to be constant oi 
variable. There are a number of circumstances tc 
be taken into consideration in all judgments of this 
kind; and the ultimate standard, by which we deter- 
mine 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 con- 
trariety in our judgments, and with the same oppo- 
sition and mutual destruction of argument as in 
every other kind of evidence. We frequently hesi- 
tate concerning the reports of others. We balance 
the opposite circumstances, which cause any doubt 
or uncertainty; and when we discover a superiority 


on one side, we incline to it; but still with a dimi- 
nution of assurance, in proportion to the force of its 

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 par- 
ticulars 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 endeavors to establish, partakes of the 
extraordinary and marvellous; in that case, the evi- 
dence, resulting from the testimony, admits of a 
diminution, greater or less, in proportion as the fact 
is more or less unusual. TJie reason why we place 
any credit in witnesses and historians, is not de- 
rived from any connection, 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 assur- 
ance in the testimony of witnesses, gives us also, in 


this case, another degree of assurance against the 
fact, which they endeavor to establish; from which 
contradiction there necessarily arises a counter- 
poise, and mutual destruction of belief and author- 

I should not believe such a story were it told me 
lay Goto, was a proverbial saying in Rome, even dur- 
ing the lifetime of that philosophical patriot. 18 The 
incredibility of a fact, it was allowed, might invali- 
date so great an authority. 

The Indian prince, who refused to believe the 
first relations concerning the effects of frost, rea- 
soned justly; and it naturally required very strong 
testimony to engage his assent to fact, that arose 
from a state of nature, with which he was unac- 
quainted, 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. 19 

18 Plutarch, in Vita Catanis. 

19 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 extraor- 
dinary, 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 


But in order to increase the probability against 
the testimony of witnesses, let us suppose, that the 
fact, which they affirm, instead of being only mar- 
vellous, 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 estab- 
lished these laws, the proof against a miracle, from 
the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argu- 
ment 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 extin- 
guished 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 es- 
teemed a miracle, if it ever happens in the com- 
mon course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, 
seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: 
because such a land 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 ap- 
pellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to 

o their rivers ought to be deemed a prodigy; but they 
never saw water in Muscovy during the winter; and 
therefore they cannot reasonably be positive what would 
there be the consequence. 


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. 20 

The plain consequence is (and it is a general 
maxim worthy of our attention), "That no testi- 
mony 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 
endeavors to establish; and even in that case there 
is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the supe- 
rior only gives us an assurance suitable to that de- 
gree of force, which remains, after deducting the 
inferior." When anyone tells me, that he saw a 
dead man restored to life, I immediately consider 

* Sometimes an event may not, in itself, seem to be 
contrary to the laws of nature, and yet, it 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 he well, a healthful man to fell 
down dead, the clouds to pour rain, the winds to blow, in 
short, should order many natural events, which immedi- 
ately 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 he removed, there is 
evidently a miracle, and a transgression of these laws; 
because nothing can he more contrary to nature than 
that the voice or command of a man should have such 
an influence. A miracle may he accurately denned, 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 he discoverable hy 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 o 
a force requisite for that purpose, is as real a miracle, 
though not so sensible with regard to us. 


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 hap- 
pened. 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. 

Pan II 

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 show, 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 pub- 
lic manner and in so celebrated a part of the world, 
as to render the detection unavoidable: all of 
which circumstances are requisite to give us a full 
assurance in the testimony of men. 

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 con- 
duct ourselves in our reasonings, is, that the ob- 
jects, of which we have no experience, resemble 
those, of which we have; that what we have found 
to be most usual is always most probable; and that 
where there is an opposition of arguments, we 
ought to give the preference to such as are founded 
on the greatest number of past observations. But 
though, in proceeding by this rule, we readily re- 
ject 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 any- 
thing 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 agree- 
able 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 excit- 
ing the admiration of others. 

With what greediness are the miraculous ac- 
counts of travelers 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 hu- 
man testimony, in these circumstances, loses all pre- 
tensions to authority. A religionist may be an en- 
thusiast, and imagine he sees what has no reality: 


he may know his narrative to be false, and yet per- 
severe in it, with the hest 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 judgment to canvass his evi- 
dence: what judgment they have, they renounce 
by principle, in these sublime and mysterious sub- 
jects: or if they were ever so willing to employ it, 
passion and a heated imagination disturb the regu- 
larity 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 understand- 
ing. Happily, this pitch it seldom attains. But what 
a Tully or a Demosthenes could scarcely effect over 
a Roman or Athenian audience, every Gayuchin, 
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 evi- 
dence, or which detect themselves by their absurd- 
ity, prove sufficiently the strong propensity of man- 
kind 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, hut the whole neighborhood 
immediately join them together. The pleasure of 
telling a piece of news so interesting, of propagat- 
ing 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, in- 
cline the generality of mankind to believe and re- 
port, with the greatest vehemence and assurance, all 
religious miracles? 

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 bar- 
barous ancestors, who transmitted them with that 
inviolable sanction and authority, which always at- 
tend received opinions. When we peruse the first 
histories of all nations, we are apt to imagine our- 
selves transported into some new world; where the 
whole frame of nature is disjointed, and every ele- 
ment 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, judgments, 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 mysteri- 


ous or supernatural in the case, but that all pro- 
ceeds from the usual propensity of mankind to- 
wards the marvellous, and that, though this incli- 
nation may at intervals receive a check from sense 
and learning, it can never be thoroughly extirpated 
from human nature. 

If 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, be- 
ing 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 al- 
most equal to those which they relate. 

It was a wise policy in that false prophet, Alex- 
ander, who though now forgotten, was once so fa- 
mous, 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 dis- 
tance, who are weak enough to think the matter at 
all worth inquiry, have no opportunity of receiving 
better information. The stories come magnified to 
them by a hundred circumstances. Fools are in- 
dustrious in propagating the imposture; while the 
wise and learned are contented, in general, to de- 
ride 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 Paphla- 


gonians, to the enlisting of votaries, even among 
the Grecian philosophers, and men of the most emi- 
nent rank and distinction in Rome; nay, could en- 
gage 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 "im- 
posture 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 Alex- 
ander fixed his residence at Athens, the philoso- 
phers of that renowned mart of learning had im- 
mediately spread, throughout the whole Roman em- 
pire, their sense of the matter; which, being sup- 
ported 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, pass- 
ing by chance through Paphlagonia, had an oppor- 
tunity of performing this good office. But, though 
much to be wished, it does not always happen that 
ever} 7 Alexander meets with a Lucian, ready to ex- 
pose and detect his impostures. 

I may add as a fourth reason, which diminishes 
the authority of prodigies, that there is not testi- 


mony for any, even those which have not been ex- 
pressly 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, what- 
ever 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, pre- 
tended to have been wrought in any of these reli- 
gions (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 de- 
stroys 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. Accord- 
ing 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, Gre- 
cian, Chinese, and Roman Catholic, who have re- 
lated any miracle in their particular religion; I say, 
we are to regard their testimony in the same light 
as if they had mentioned that Mohammedan mir- 
acle, and had in express terms contradicted it, with 
the same certainty as they have for the miracle they 
relate. This argument may appear over subtle and 
refined; but is not in reality different from the rea- 
soning of a judge, who supposes, that the credit of 


two witnesses, maintaining a crime against anyone, 
is destroyed by the testimony of two others, who af- 
firm him to have been two hundred leagues dis- 
tant, at the same instant when the crime is said to 
have been committed. 

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; 21 where every 
circumstance seems to add weight to the testi- 
mony, and might be displayed at large with all the 
force of argument and eloquence, if anyone 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 extraordi- 
nary airs of divinity assumed by Alexander and De- 
metrius. The historian, a contemporary writer, 
noted for candor and veracity, and withal, the great- 
est and most penetrating genius, perhaps, of all 
antiquity; and so free from any tendency to credu- 
lity, that he even lies under the contrary imputa- 
tion of atheism and profaneness; the persons from 
whose authority he related the miracle, of estab- 
lished character for judgment and veracity, as we 
may well presume; eye-witnesses of the fact, and con- 
firming their testimony, after the Flavian family 
was despoiled of the empire, and could no longer 

21 Hist. lib. v. cap. 8. Suetonius gives nearly the same 
account in vita Vesp. 


give any reward, as the price of a lie. Utrumque, 
qui interfuere, mine quoqiie memorant, postquam 
nullum mendacio prethim. 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. 

There is also a memorable story related by Cardi- 
nal de Retz, which may well deserve our considera- 
tion. When that intriguing politician fled into 
Spain, to avoid the persecution of his enemies, he 
passed through Saragossa, the capital of Aragon, 
where he was shown, in the cathedral, a man, who 
had served seven years as a doorkeeper, and was 
well known to everybody in town, that had ever 
paid his devotions at that church. He had been 
seen, for so long a time, wanting a leg; but recov- 
ered 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 de- 
votion, to be thorough believers of the miracle. 
Here the relater was also contemporary to the sup- 
posed prodigy, of an incredulous and libertine char- 
acter, as well as of great genius; the miracle of so 
singular a nature as could scarcely admit of a coun- 
terfeit, 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 him- 
self, 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 consid- 
ered justly, that it was not requisite, in order to re- 


ject 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 cred- 
ulity which produced it. He knew, that, as this was 
commonly altogether impossible at any small dis- 
tance of time and place; so was it extremely diffi- 
cult, even where one was immediately present, by 
reason of the bigotry, ignorance, cunning, and ro- 
guery of a great part of mankind. He therefore con- 
cluded, 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 argu- 

There surely never was a greater number of mira- 
cles ascribed to one person, than those, which were 
lately said to have been wrought in France upon 
the tomb of Abbe Paris, the famous Jansenist, with 
whose sanctity the people were so long deluded. 
The curing of the sick, giving hearing to the deaf, 
and sight to the blind, were everywhere 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 theater that is now in the world. Nor 
is this all: a relation of them was published and dis- 
persed everywhere; nor were the Jesuits, though a 
learned body, supported by the civil magistrate, 
and determined enemies to those opinions, in whose 
favor the miracles were said to have been wrought, 
ever able distinctly to refute or detect them. Where 
shall we find such a number of circumstances, 
agreeing to the corroboration of one fact? And 
what have we to oppose to such a cloud of wit- 


nesses, 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. 

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 of 
their own side; how could mankind, at this dis- 
tance, have been able to determine between them? 
The contrariety is equally strong between the mira- 
cles related by Herodotus or Plutarch, and those 
delivered by Mariana, Bede, or any monkish his- 

The wise lend a very academic faith to every re- 
port which favors the passion of the reporter; 
whether it magnifies his country, his family, or 
himself, or in any other way strikes in with his nat- 
ural inclinations and propensities. But what greater 
temptation than to appear a missionary, a prophet, 
an ambassador from heaven? Who would not en- 
counter 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; whoever 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 pre- 
pared for it. The avidum genu auricularum, a gaz- 


ing populace, receive greedily, without examina- 
tion, whatever soothes superstition, and promotes 

How many stories of this nature have, in all ages, 
been detected and exploded in their infancy? How 
many more have been celebrated for a time, and 
have afterwards sunk into neglect and oblivion? 
Where such reports, therefore, fly about, the solu- 
tion of the phenomenon is obvious; and we judge 
in conformity to regular experience and observa- 
tion, when we account for it by the known and nat- 
ural principles of credulity and delusion. And 
shall we, rather than have a recourse to so natural a 
solution, allow of a miraculous violation of the most 
established laws of nature? 

I need not mention the difficulty of detecting a 
falsehood in any private or even public history, at 
the place, where it is said to happen; much more 
when the scene is removed to ever so small a dis- 
tance. Even a court of judicature, with all the au- 
thority, accuracy, and judgment, which they can 
employ, find themselves often at a loss to distin- 
guish between truth and falsehood in the most re- 
cent actions. But the matter never comes to any is- 
sue, if trusted to the common method of alter- 
cations and debate and flying rumors; especially 
when men's passions have taken part on either 

In the infancy of new religions, the wise and 
learned commonly esteem the matter too inconsid- 
erable to deserve their attention or regard. And 
when afterwards they would willingly detect the 
cheat, in order to undeceive the deluded multitude, 
the season is now past, and the records and wit- 
nesses, which might clear up the matter, have per- 
ished beyond recovery. 


No means of detection remain, but those which 
must be drawn from the very testimony itself of 
the reporters: and these, though always sufficient 
with the judicious and knowing, are commonly too 
fine to fall under the comprehension of the vulgar. 

Upon the whole, then, it appears, that no testi- 
mony for any kind of miracle has ever amounted to 
a probability, much less to a proof; and that, even 
supposing it amounted to a proof, it would be op- 
posed by another proof; derived from the very na- 
ture of the fact, which it would endeavor to estab- 
lish. It is experience only, which gives authority to 
human testimony; and it is the same experience, 
which assures us of the laws of nature. When, 
therefore, these two kinds of experience are con- 
trary, we have nothing to do but subtract the one 
from the other, and embrace an opinion, either on 
one side or the other, with that assurance which 
arises from the remainder. But according to the 
principle here explained, this subtraction, with 
regard to all popular religions, amounts to an entire 
annihilation; and therefore we may establish it as a 
maxim, that no human testimony can have such 
force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foun- 
dation for any such system of religion. 

I beg the limitations here made may be re- 
marked, when I say, that a miracle can never be 
proved, so as to be the foundation of a system of 
religion. For I own, that otherwise, there may pos- 
sibly be miracles, or violations of the usual course 
of nature, of such a kind as to admit of proof from 
human testimony; though, perhaps, it will be im- 
possible to find any such in all the records of his- 
tory. Thus, suppose, all authors, in all languages, 
agree, that, from the first of January 1600, there 
was a total darkness over the whole earth for eight 


days: suppose that the tradition of this extraordi- 
nary event is still strong and lively among the peo- 
ple: that all travelers, who return"* from foreign 
countries, bring us accounts of the sarrie-tradition, 
without the least variation or contradiction"! it is 
evident, that our present philosophers, inste3tUfi 
doubting the fact, ought to receive it as certain, 
and ought to search for the causes whence it might 
be derived. The decay, corruption, and dissolution 
of nature, is an event rendered probable by so many 
analogies, that any phenomenon, which seems to 
have a tendency towards that catastrophe, comes 
within the reach of human testimony, if that testi- 
mony be very extensive and uniform. 

But suppose, that all the historians who treat of 
England, should agree, that, on the first of January 
1600, Queen Elizabeth died; that both before and 
after her death she was seen by her physicians and 
the whole court, as is usual with persons of her 
rank; that her successor was acknowledged and pro- 
claimed by the parliament; and that, after being in- 
terred a month, she again appeared, resumed the 
throne, and governed England for three years* I 
must confess that I should be surprised at the con- 
currence of so many odd circumstances, but should 
not have the least inclination to believe so miracu- 
lous an event. I should not doubt of her pretended 
death, and of those other public circumstances that 
followed it; I should only assert it to have been pre- 
tended, and that it neither was, nor possibly could 
be real. You would in vain object to me the diffi- 
culty, and almost impossibility of deceiving the 
world in an affair of such consequence; the wisdom 
and solid judgment of that renowned queen; with 
the little or no advantage which she could reap 
from so poor an artifice. All this might astonish me; 


but I would still reply, that the knavery and folly 
of men are such common phenomena, that I should 
rather believe the most extraordinary events to arise 
from their- concurrence, than admit of so signal a 
violation of the laws of nature. 

But' should this miracle be ascribed to any new 
system of religion; men, in all ages, have been so 
much imposed on by ridiculous stories of that kind, 
that this very circumstance would be a full proof of 
a cheat, and sufficient, with all men of sense, not 
only to make them reject the fact, but even reject 
it without farther examination. Though the Being 
to whom the miracle is ascribed, be, in this case, Al- 
mighty, it does not, upon that account, become a 
whit more probable; since it is impossible for us to 
know the attributes or actions of such a Being, oth- 
erwise than from the experience which we have of 
his productions, in the usual course of nature. This 
still reduces us to past observation, and obliges us 
to compare the instances of the violation of truth 
in the testimony of men, with those of the violation 
of the laws of nature by miracles, in order to judge 
which of them is most likely and probable. As the 
violations of truth are more common in the testi- 
mony concerning religious miracles, than in that 
concerning any other matter of fact; this must di- 
minish very much the authority of the former testi- 
mony, and make us form a general resolution, never 
to lend any attention to it, with whatever specious 
pretense it may be covered. 

Lord Bacon seems to have embraced the same 
principles of reasoning. "We ought," says he, "to 
make a collection or particular history of all mon- 
sters and prodigious births or productions, and in a 
word of everything new, rare, and extraordinary in 
nature. But this must be done with the most severe 


scrutiny, lest we depart from truth. Above all, 
every relation must be considered as suspicious, 
which depends in any degree upon religion, as the 
prodigies of Livy. And no less so, everything that is 
to be found in the writers of natural magic or al- 
chemy, or such authors, who seem, all of them, to 
have an unquerable appetite for falsehood and 
fable." 22 

I am the better pleased with the method of rea- 
soning here delivered, as I think it may serve to 
confound those dangerous friends or disguised en- 
emies to the Christian Religion, who have under- 
taken to defend it by the principles of human rea- 
son. Our most holy religion is founded on faith, 
not on reason; and it is a sure method of exposing it 
to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means, fitted 
to endure. To make this more evident, let us exam- 
ine those miracles, related in scripture; and not to 
lose ourselves in too wide a field, let us confine our- 
selves to such as we find in the Pentateuch, which 
we shall examine, according to the principles of 
these pretended Christians, not as the word or testi- 
mony of God himself, but as the production of 
a mere human writer and historian. Here then we 
are first to consider a book, presented to us by a bar- 
barous and ignorant people, written in an age 
when they were still more barbarous, and in all 
probability long after the facts which it relates, cor- 
roborated by no concurring testimony, and resem- 
bling those fabulous accounts, which every nation 
gives of its origin. Upon reading this book, we find 
it full of prodigies and miracles. It gives an account 
of a state of the world and of human nature entirely 
different from the present: of our fall from that 

32 Nov. Org. lib. ii. aph. 29. 


state; of the age of man, extended to near a thou- 
sand years; of the destruction of the world by a del- 
uge; of the arbitrary choice of one people, as the fa- 
vorites of heaven and that people the countrymen 
of the author; of their deliverance from bondage by 
prodigies the most astonishing imaginable. I desire 
anyone to lay his hand upon his heart, and after a 
serious consideration declare, whether he thinks 
that the falsehood of such a book, supported by 
such a testimony, would be more extraordinary and 
miraculous than all the miracles it relates; which is, 
however, necessary to make it be received, accord- 
ing to the measures of probability above estab- 

What we have said of miracles may be applied, 
without any variation, to prophecies; and indeed, 
all prophecies are real miracles, and as such only, 
can be admitted as proofs of any revelation. If it did 
not exceed the capacity of human nature to foretell 
future events, it would be absurd to employ any 
prophecy as an argument for a divine mission or 
authority from heaven. So that, upon the whole, 
we may conclude, that the Christian Religion not 
only was at first attended with miracles, but even 
at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable 
person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to 
convince us of its veracity; and whoever is moved 
by faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued 
miracle in his own person, which subverts all the 
principles of his understanding, and gives him a 
determination to believe what is most contrary to 
custom and experience. 





friend who loves sceptical paradoxes; where, 
though he advanced many principles, of which I 
can by no means approve, yet as they seem to be 
curious, and to bear some relation to the chain of 
reasoning carried on throughout this inquiry, I 
shall here copy them from my memory as accu- 
rately as I can, in order to submit them to the judg- 
ment of the reader. 

Our conversation began with my admiring the 
singular good fortune of philosophy, which, as it re- 
quires entire liberty above all other privileges, and 
chiefly flourishes from the free opposition of senti- 
ments and argumentation, received its first birth in 
an age and country of freedom and toleration, and 
was never cramped, even in its most extravagant 
principles, by any creeds, concessions, or penal 
statutes. For, except the banishment of Protagoras, 
and the death of Socrates, which last event pro- 
ceeded partly from other motives, there are scarcely 
-any instances to be met with, in ancient history, of 
this bigoted jealousy, with which the present age is 
so much infested. Epicurus lived at Athens to an 
advanced age, in peace and tranquility; Epicureans 
were admitted to receive the sacerdotal character, 
and to officiate at the altar, in the most sacred rites 
of the established religion. And the public encour- 
agement of pensions and salaries was afforded 
equally, by the wisest of all the Roman emperors, 
to the professors of every sect of philosophy. How 


requisite such kind of treatment was to philoso- 
phy, in her early youth, will easily be conceived, if 
we reflect, that, even at present, when she may he 
supposed more hardy and robust, she bears with 
much difficulty the inclemency of the seasons, and 
those harsh winds of calumny and persecution, 
which blow upon her. 

You admire, says my friend, as the singular good 
fortune of philosophy, what seems to result from 
the natural course of things, and to be unavoidable 
in every age and nation. This pertinacious bigotry, 
of which you complain, as so fatal to philosophy, is 
really her offspring, who, after allying with super- 
stition, separates himself entirely from the interest 
of his parent, and becomes her most inveterate en- 
emy and persecutor. Speculative dogmas of reli- 
gion, the present occasions of such furious dispute, 
could not possibly be conceived or admitted in the 
early ages of the world; when mankind, being 
wholly illiterate, formed an idea of religion more 
suitable to their weak apprehension, and composed 
there sacred tenets of such tales chiefly as were the 
objects of traditional belief, more than of argument 
or disputation. After the first alarm, therefore, was 
over, which arose from the new paradoxes and 
principles of the philosophers; these teachers seem 
ever after, during the ages of antiquity, to have 
lived in great harmony with the established super- 
stitution, and to have made a fair partition of man- 
kind between them; the former claiming all the 
learned and wise, the latter possessing all the vul- 
gar and illiterate. 

It seems then, say I, that you leave politics en- 
tirely out of the question, and never suppose, that 
a wise magistrate can justly be jealous of certain 
tenets of philosophy, such as those of Epicurus, 


which, denying a divine existence, and conse- 
quently a providence and a future state, seem to 
loosen, in a great measure, the ties of morality, and 
may be supposed, for that reason, pernicious to 
the peace of civil society. 

I know, replied he, that in fact these persecutions 
never, in any age, proceeded from calm reason, or 
from experience of the pernicious consequences of 
philosophy; but arose entirely from passion and 
prejudice. But what if I should advance farther, 
and assert, that if Epicurus had been accused be- 
fore the people, by any of the sycophants or inform- 
ers of those days, he could easily have defended his 
cause, and proved his principles of philosophy to 
be as salutary as those of his adversaries, who en- 
deavored, with such zeal, to expose him to the pub- 
lic hatred and jealousy? 

I wish, said I, you would try your eloquence 
upon so extraordinary a topic, and make a speech 
for Epicurus, which might satisfy, not the mob of 
Athens, if you will allow that ancient and polite 
city to have contained any mob, but the more phil- 
osophical part of his audience, such as might be 
supposed capable of comprehending his arguments. 

The matter would not be difficult, upon such 
conditions, replied he. And if you please, I shall 
suppose myself Epicurus for a moment, and make 
you stand for the Athenian people, and shall de- 
liver you such an harangue as will fill all the urn 
with white beans, and leave not a black one to 
gratify the malice of my adversaries. 

Very well : pray proceed upon these suppositions. 

I come hither, O ye Athenians, to justify in your 
assembly what I maintained in my school, and I 
find myself impeached by furious antagonists, in- 
stead of reasoning with calm and dispassionate in- 


qulrers. Your deliberations, which of right should 
be directed to questions of public good, and the 
interest of the commonwealth, are diverted to the 
disquisitions of speculative philosophy; and these 
magnificent, but perhaps fruitless inquiries, take 
place of your more familiar but more useful occu- 
pations. But so far as in me lies, I will prevent this 
abuse. We shall not here dispute concerning the 
origin and government of worlds. We shall only in- 
quire how far such questions concern the public 
interest. And if I can persuade you, that they are 
entirely indifferent to the peace of society and 
security of government, I hope that you will pres- 
ently send us back to our schools, there to examine, 
at leisure, the question the most sublime, but at the 
same time, the most speculative of all philosophy* 
The religious philosophers, not satisfied with the 
tradition of your forefathers, and doctrine of your 
priests (in which I willingly acquiesce), indulge a 
rash curiosity, in trying how far they can establish 
religion upon the principles of reason; and they 
thereby excite, instead of satisfying, the doubts, 
which naturally arise from a diligent and scrutinous 
inquiry. They paint, in the most magnificent col- 
ors, the order, beauty, and wise arrangement of the 
universe; and then ask, if such a glorious display of 
intelligence could proceed from the fortuitous con- 
course of atoms, or if chance could produce what 
the greatest genius can never sufficiently admire. I 
shall not examine the justness of this argument. I 
shall allow it to be as solid as my antagonists and ac- 
cusers can desire. It is sufficient, if I can prove, from 
this very reasoning, that the question is entirely 
speculative, and that, when, in my philosophical 
disquisitions, I deny a providence and a future 
state, I undermine not the foundations of society, 


but advance principles, which they themselves, 
upon their own topics, if they argue consistently, 
must allow to be solid and satisfactory. 

You then, who are my accusers, have acknowl- 
edged, that the chief or sole argument for a divine 
existence (which I never questioned) is derived 
from the order of nature; where there appear such 
marks of intelligence and design, that you think it 
extravagant to assign for its cause, either chance, or 
the blind and unguided force of matter. You allow, 
that this is an argument drawn from effects to 
causes. From the order of the work, you infer, that 
there must have been project and forethought in 
the workman. If you cannot make out this point, 
you allow, that your conclusion fails; and you pre- 
tend not to establish the conclusion in a greater 
latitude than the phenomena of nature will justify. 
These are your concessions. I desire you to mark 
the consequences. 

When we infer any particular cause from an ef- 
fect, we must proportion the one to the other, and 
can never be allowed to ascribe to the cause any 
qualities, but what are exactly sufficient to produce 
the effect. A body of ten ounces raised in any scale 
may serve as a proof, that the counterbalancing 
weight exceeds ten ounces; but can never afford a 
reason that it exceeds a hundred. If the cause, as- 
signed for any effect, be not sufficient to produce it, 
we must either reject that cause, or add to it such 
qualities as will give it a just proportion to the ef- 
fect. But if we ascribe to it further qualities, or af- 
firm it capable of producing other effects, we can 
only indulge the license of conjecture, and arbitrar- 
ily suppose the existence of qualities and energies, 
without reason or authority. 

The same rule holds, whether the cause assigned 


be brute unconscious matter, or a rational intelli- 
gent being. If die cause be known only by the ef- 
fect, we never ought to ascribe to it any qualities, 
beyond what are precisely requisite to produce the 
effect; nor can we, by any rules of just reasoning, 
return back from the cause, and infer other effects 
from it, beyond those by which alone it is known 
to us. No one, merely from the sight of one Zeuxis's 
pictures, could know, that he was also a statuary or 
architect, and was an artist no less skillful in stone 
and marble than in colors. The talents and taste, 
displayed in the particular work before us; these 
we may safely conclude the workman to be pos- 
sessed of. The cause must be proportioned to the 
effect; and if we exactly and precisely proportion it, 
we shall never find in it any qualities, the point far- 
ther, or afford an inference concerning any other 
design or performance. Such qualities must be 
somewhat beyond what is merely requisite for pro- 
ducing the effect, which we examine. 

Allowing, therefore, the gods to be the authors 
of the existence or order of the universe; it follows, 
that they possess that precise degree of power, intel- 
ligence, and benevolence, which appears in their 
workmanship; but nothing farther can ever be 
proved, except we call in the assistance of exagger- 
ation and flattery to supply the defects of argument 
and reasoning. So far as the traces of any attributes, 
at present, appear, so far may we conclude these 
attributes to exist. The supposition of farther at- 
tributes is mere hypothesis; much more the suppo- 
sition, that, in distant regions of space or periods of 
time, there has been, or will be, a more magnificent 
display of these attributes, and a scheme of admin- 
istration more suitable to such imaginary virtues. 
We can never be allowed to mount up from the 


universe, the effect, to Jupiter, the cause; and then 
descend downwards, to infer any new effect from 
that cause; as if the present effects alone were not 
entirely worthy of the glorious attributes, which 
we ascribe to that deity. The knowledge of the 
cause being derived solely from the effect, they 
must be exactly adjusted to each other; and the one 
can never refer to anything farther, or be the foun- 
dation of any new inference and conclusion. 

You find certain phenomena in nature. You seek 
a cause or author. You imagine that you have found 
him. You afterwards become so enamored of this 
offspring of your brain, that you imagine it impos- 
sible, but he must produce something greater and 
more perfect than the present scene of things, 
which is so full of ill and disorder. You forget, that 
this superlative intelligence and benevolence are 
entirely imaginary, or, at least, without any founda- 
tion in reason; and that you have no ground to 
ascribe to him any qualities, but what you see he 
has actually exerted and displayed in his produc- 
tions. Let your gods, therefore, O philosophers, be 
suited to the present appearances of nature: and 
presume not to alter these appearances by arbitrary 
suppositions, in order to suit them to the attributes, 
which you so fondly ascribe to your deities. 

When priests and poets, supported by your au- 
thority, O Athenians, talk of a golden or silver age, 
which preceded the present state of vice and mis- 
ery, I hear them with attention and with rever- 
ence. But when philosophers, who pretend to neg- 
lect authority, and to cultivate reason, hold the 
same discourse, I pay them not, I own, the same 
obsequious submission and pious deference. I ask, 
who carried them into the celestial regions, who ad- 
mitted them into the councils of the gods, who 


opened to them the book of fate, that they thus 
rashly affirm, that their deities have executed, or 
will execute, any purpose beyond what has actually 
appeared? If they tell me, that they have mounted 
on the steps or by the gradual ascent of reason, and 
by drawing inferences from effects to causes, I 
still insist, that they have aided the ascent of reason 
by the wings of imagination; otherwise they could 
not thus change their manner of inference, and 
argue from causes to effects; presuming, that a more 
perfect production than the present world would 
be more suitable to such perfect beings as the gods, 
and forgetting that they have no reason to ascribe 
to these celestial beings any perfection or any at- 
tribute, but what can be found in the present 

Hence all the fruitless industry to account for 
the ill appearances of nature, and save the honor 
of the gods; while we must acknowledge the real- 
ity of that evil and disorder, with which the world 
so much abounds. The obstinate and intractable 
qualities of matter, we are told, or the observance 
of general laws, or some such reason, is the sole 
cause, which controlled the power and benevo- 
lence of Jupiter, and obliged him to create man- 
kind and every sensible creature so imperfect and 
so unhappy. These attributes then, are, it seems, 
beforehand, taken for granted, in their greatest lati- 
tude. And upon that supposition, I own that such 
conjectures may, perhaps, be admitted as plausible 
solutions of the ill phenomena. But still I ask, Why 
take these attributes for granted, or why ascribe to 
the cause and qualities but what actually appear in 
the effect? Why torture your brain to justify the 
course of nature upon suppositions, which, for 
ought you know, may be entirely imaginary, and of 


which there are to be found no traces in the course 
of nature? 

The religious hypothesis, therefore, must be con- 
sidered only as a particular method of accounting 
for the visible phenomena of the universe: but no 
just reasoner will presume to infer from it any sin- 
gle fact, and alter or add to the phenomena, in any 
single particular. You think, that the appearance of 
things prove such causes, it is allowable for you to 
draw an inference concerning the existence of 
these causes. In such complicated and sublime sub- 
jects, everyone should be indulged in the liberty 
of conjecture and argument But here you ought to 
rest. If you come backward, and arguing from your 
inferred causes, conclude, that any other fact has 
existed, or will exist, in the course of nature, which 
may serve as a fuller display of particular attributes; 
I must admonish you, that you have departed from 
the method of reasoning, attached to the present 
subject, and have certainly added something to the 
attributes of the cause, beyond what appears in the 
effect;* otherwise you could never, with tolerable 
sense or propriety, add anything to the effect, in 
order to render it more worthy of the cause. 

Where, then, is the odiousness of that doctrine, 
which I teach in my school, or rather, which I ex- 
amine in my gardens? Or what do you find in this 
whole question, wherein the security of good mor- 
als, or the peace and order of society, is in the least 

I deny a providence, you say, and supreme gover- 
nor of the world, who guides the course of events, 
and punishes the vicious with infamy and disap- 
pointment, and rewards the virtuous with honor 
and success, in all their undertakings. But surely, I 
deny not the course itself of events, which lies open 


to everyone's inquiry and examination. I acknowl- 
edge, that, in the present order of things, virtue is 
attended with more peace of mind than vice, and 
meets with a more favorable reception from the 
world. I am sensible, that, according to the past ex- 
perience of mankind, friendship is the chief joy of 
human life, and moderation the only source of 
tranquility and happiness. I never balance be- 
tween the virtuous and the vicious course of life; 
but am sensible, that, to a well-disposed mind, 
every advantage is on the side of the former. And 
what can you say more, allowing all your supposi- 
tions and reasonings? You tell me, indeed, that this 
disposition of things proceeds from intelligence and 
design. But whatever it proceeds from, the disposi- 
tion itself, on which depends our happiness or mis- 
ery, and consequently our conduct and deportment 
of life, is still the same. It is still open for me, as 
well as you, to regulate my behavior, by my experi- 
ence of past events. And if you affirm that, while a 
divine providence is allowed, and a supreme dis- 
tributive justice in the universe, I ought to expect 
some more particular reward of the good, and pun- 
ishment of the bad beyond the ordinary course of 
events; I here find the same fallacy, which I have 
before endeavored to detect. You persist in imag- 
ining, that, if we grant that divine existence, for 
which you so earnestly contend, you may safely 
infer consequences from it, and add something to 
the experienced order of nature, by arguing from 
the attributes which you ascribe to your gods. You 
seem not to remember, that all your reasonings on 
this subject can only be drawn from effects to 
causes; and that every argument, deducted from 
causes to effects, must of necessity be a gross soph- 
ism; since it is impossible for you to know anything 


of the cause, but what you have antecedently, not 
inferred, but discovered to the full, in the effect. 

But what must a philosopher think of those vain 
reasoners, who, instead of regarding the present 
scene of things as the sole object of their contem- 
plation, so far reverse the whole course of nature, 
as to render this life merely a passage to something 
farther; a porch, which leads to a greater, and vastly 
different building; a prologue, which serves only to 
introduce the piece, and give it more grace and 
propriety? Whence, do you think, can such philoso- 
phers derive their idea of the gods? From their own 
conceit and imagination surely. For if they derived 
it from the present phenomena, it would never 
point to anything farther, but must be exactly ad- 
justed to them. That the divinity may possibly be 
endowed with attributes, which we have never seen 
exerted; may be governed by principles of action, 
which we cannot discover to be satisfied: all this 
will freely be allowed. But still this is mere possibil- 
ity and hypothesis. We never can have reason to 
infer any attributes, or any principles of action in 
him, but so far as we know them to have been ex- 
erted and satisfied. 

Are these any marks of a distributive justice in 
the world? If you answer in the affirmative, I con- 
clude, that, since justice here exerts itself, it is satis- 
fied. If you reply in the negative, I conclude, that 
you have then no reason to ascribe justice, in our 
sense of it, to the gods. If you hold a medium be- 
tween affirmation and negation, by saying, that the 
justice of the gods, at present, exerts itself in part, 
but not in its full extent; I answer, that you have 
no reason to give it any particular extent, but only 
so far as you see it, at present, exert itself. 

Thus I bring the dispute, O Athenians, to a short 


issue \vith my antagonists. The course of nature lies 
open to my contemplation as well as to theirs. The 
experienced train of events is the great standard, by 
which we all regulate our conduct. Nothing else 
can be appealed to in the field, or in the senate. 
Nothing else ought ever to be heard of in the 
school, or in the closet In vain would our limited 
understanding break through those boundaries, 
which are too narrow for our fond imagination. 
While we argue from the course of nature, and in- 
fer a particular intelligent cause, which first be- 
stowed, and still preserves order in the universe, we 
embrace a principle, which is both uncertain and 
useless. It is uncertain; because the subject lies en- 
tirely beyond the reach of human experience. It 
is useless; because our knowledge of this cause be- 
ing derived entirely from the course of nature, we 
can never, according to the rules of just reasoning, 
return back from the cause with any new infer- 
ence, or making additions to the common and expe- 
rienced course of nature, establish any new princi- 
ples of conduct and behavior. 

I observe (said I, finding he had finished his 
harangue) that you neglect not the artifice of the 
demagogues of old; and as you were pleased to 
make me stand for the people, you insinuate your- 
self into my favor by embracing those principles, 
to which, you know, I have always expressed a par- 
ticular attachment. But allowing you to make expe- 
rience ( a $ indeed I think you ought) the only 
standard of our judgment concerning this, and all 
other questions of fact; I doubt not but, from the 
very same experience, to which you appeal, it may 
be possible to refute this reasoning, which you 
have put into the mouth of Epicurus. If you saw, 
for instance, a half-finished building, surrounded 


with heaps of brick and stone and mortar, and all 
the instruments of masonry, could you not infer 
from the effect, that it was a work of design and 
contrivance? And could you not return again, from 
this inferred cause, to infer new additions to the 
effect, and conclude, that the building would soon 
be finished, and receive all the further improve- 
ments, which art could bestow upon it? If you saw 
upon the seashore the print of one human foot, 
you would conclude, that a man had passed that 
way, and that he had also left the traces of the other 
foot, though effaced by the rolling of the sands or 
inundation of the waters. Why then do you refuse 
to admit the same method of reasoning with regard 
to the order of nature? Consider the world and the 
present life only as an imperfect building, from 
which you can infer a superior intelligence; and ar- 
guing from that superior intelligence, which can 
leave nothing imperfect; why may you not infer a 
more finished scheme or plan, which will receive 
its completion in some distant point of space or 
time? Are not these methods of reasoning exactly 
similar? And under what pretense can you em- 
brace the one, while you reject the other? 

The infinite difference of the subjects, replied 
he, is a sufficient foundation for this difference in 
my conclusions. In works of human art and con- 
trivance, it is allowable to advance from the effect 
to the cause, and returning back from the cause, to 
form new inferences concerning the effect, and ex- 
amine the alterations, which it has probably under- 
gone, or may still undergo. But what is the founda- 
tion of this method of reasoning? Plainly this: that 
man is a being, whom we know by experience, 
whose motives and designs we are acquainted with, 
and whose projects and inclinations have a certain 


connection and coherence, according to the laws 
which nature has established for the government 
of such a creature. When, therefore, we find, that 
any work has proceeded from the skill and industry 
of man; as we are otherwise acquainted with the 
nature of the animal, we can draw a hundred infer- 
ences concerning what may be expected from him; 
and these inferences will all be founded in experi- 
ence and observation. But did we know man only 
from the single work or production which we ex- 
amine, it were impossible for us to argue in this 
manner; because our knowledge of all the qualities, 
which we ascribe to him, being in that case derived 
from the production, it is impossible they could 
point to anything further, or be the foundation of 
any new inference. The print of a foot in the sand 
can only prove, when considered alone, that there 
was some figure adapted to it, by which it was pro- 
duced: but the print of a human foot proves like- 
wise, from our other experience, that there was 
probably another foot, which also left its impres- 
sion, though effaced by time or other accidents. 
Here we mount from the effect to the cause; and 
descending again from the cause, infer alterations 
in the effect; but this is not a continuation of the 
same simple chain of reasoning. We comprehend 
in this case a hundred other experiences and obser- 
vations, concerning the usual figure and members 
of that species of animal, without which this 
method of argument must be considered as falla- 
cious and sophistical. 

The case is not the same with our reasonings 
from the works of nature. The Deity is known to us 
only by his productions, and is a single being in 
the universe, not comprehended under any spe- 
cies or genus, from whose experienced attributes or 


qualities, we can, by analogy, infer any a .tribute 
or quality in him. As the universe shows wisdom 
and goodness, we infer wisdom and goodness. As it 
shows a particular degree of these perfections, we 
infer a particular degree of them, precisely adapted 
to the effect which we examine. But further attrib- 
utes or further degrees of the same attributes, we 
can never be authorized to infer or suppose, by 
any rules of just reasoning. Now, without some 
such license of supposition, it is impossible for us to 
argue from the cause, or infer any alteration in the 
effect, beyond what has immediately fallen under 
our observation. Greater good produced by this 
Being must still prove a greater degree of goodness; 
a more impartial distribution of rewards and pun- 
ishments must proceed from a greater regard to 
justice and equity. Every supposed addition to the 
works of nature makes an addition to the attributes 
of the Author of nature; and consequently, being 
entirely unsupported by any reason or argument, 
can never be admitted but as mere conjecture and 
hypothesis. 23 

23 In general, it may, I think, be established as a maxim, 
that where any cause is known only by its particular 
effects, it must be impossible to infer any new effects 
from that cause; since the qualities, which are requisite 
to produce these new effects along with the former, 
must either be different, or superior, or of more extensive 
operation, than those which simply produced the effect, 
whence alone the cause is supposed to be known to us. 
We can never, therefore, have any reason to suppose the 
existence of these qualities. To say, that the new effects 
proceed only from a continuation of the same energy, 
which is already known from the first effects, will not 
remove the difficulty. For even granting this to be the 
case (which can seldom be supposed), the very con- 
tinuation and exertion of a like energy (for it is impossible 
it can be absolutely the same), I say, this exertion of a 
like energy, in a different period of space and time, is 
a very arbitrary supposition, and what there cannot 


The ,great source of our mistake in this subject, 
and of the unbounded license of conjecture, which 
we indulge, is, that we tacitly consider ourselves, as 
in the place of the Supreme Being, and conclude, 
that he will, on every occasion, observe the same 
conduct, which we ourselves, in his situation, 
would have embraced as reasonable and eligible. 
But, besides that the ordinary course of nature may 
convince us, that almost everything is regulated by 
principles and maxims very different from ours; be- 
sides this, I say, it must evidently appear contrary 
to all rules of analogy to reason, from the intentions 
and project of men, to those of a Being so different, 
and so much superior. In human nature, there is a 
certain experienced coherence of designs and in- 
clinations; so that when, from any fact, we have 
discovered one intention of any man, it may often 
be reasonable, from experience, to infer another, 
and draw a long chain of conclusions concerning 
his past or future conduct. But this method of rea- 
soning can never have place with regard to a Being, 
so remote and incomprehensible, who bears much 
less analogy to any other being in the universe 
than the sun to a waxen taper, and who discovers 
himself only by some faint traces or outlines, be- 
yond which we have not authority to ascribe to 
him any attribute or perfection. What we imagine 
to be a superior perfection, may really be a defect. 
Or were it ever so much a perfection, the ascribing 
of it to the Supreme Being, where it appears not to 
have been really exerted, to the full, in his works, 

possibly be any traces of in the effects, from which all 
pur knowledge of the cause is originally derived. Let the 
inferred cause be exactly proportioned Cas it should be) 
to the known effect; and it is impossible that it can 
possess any qualities, from which new or different effects 
can be inferred. 


savors more of flattery and panegyric, than of just 
reasoning and sound philosophy. All the philoso- 
phy, therefore, in the world, and all the religion, 
which is nothing but a species of philosophy, will 
never be able to carry us beyond the usual course 
of experience, or give us measures of conduct and 
behavior different from those which are furnished 
by reflections on common life. No new fact can 
ever be inferred from the religious hypothesis; no 
event foreseen or foretold; no reward or punish- 
ment expected or dreaded, beyond what is already 
known by practice and observation. So that my 
apology for Epicurus will still appear solid and sat- 
isfactory; nor have the political interests of society 
any connection with the philosophical disputes 
concerning metaphysics and religion. 

There is still one circumstance, replied I, which 
you seem to have overlooked. Though I should al- 
low your premises, I must deny your conclusion. 
You conclude, that religious doctrines and reason- 
ings can have no influence on life, because they 
'Ought to have no influence; never considering, that 
men reason not in the same manner you do, but 
draw many consequences from the belief of a di- 
vine existence, and suppose that the Deity will in- 
flict punishments on vice, and bestow rewards on 
virtue, beyond what appear in the ordinary course 
of nature. Whether this reasoning of theirs be just 
or not, is no matter. Its influence on their life and 
conduct must still be the same. And, those, who at- 
tempt to disabuse them of such prejudices, may, 
for aught I know, be good reasoners, but I cannot 
allow them to be good citizens and politicians; since 
they free men from one restraint upon their pas- 
sions, and make the infringement of the laws of 
society, in one respect, more easy and secure. 


After all, I may, perhaps, agree to your general 
conclusion in favor of liberty, though upon differ- 
ent premises from those, on which you endeavor 
to found it. I think, that the state ought to tolerate 
every principle of philosophy; nor is there an in- 
stance, that any government has suffered in its pol- 
itical interests by such indulgence. There is no en- 
thusiasm among philosophers; their doctrines are 
not very alluring to the people; and no restraint 
can be put upon their reasonings, but what must be 
of dangerous consequence to the sciences, and 
even to the state by paving the way for persecution 
and oppression in points, where the generality of 
mankind are more deeply interested and con- 

But there occurs to me (continued I) with re- 
gard to your main topic, a difficulty, which I shall 
just propose to you without insisting on it; lest it 
lead into reasonings of too nice and delicate a na- 
ture. In a word, I must doubt whether it be possible 
for a cause to be known only by its effect (as you 
have all along supposed) or to be of so singular and 
particular a nature as to have no parallel and no 
similarity with any other cause or object, that has 
ever fallen under our observation. It is only when 
two species of objects are found to be constantly 
conjoined, that we can infer the one from the 
other; and were an effect presented, which was en- 
tirely singular, and could not be comprehended 
under any known species, I do not see, that we 
could form any conjecture or inference at all con- 
cerning its cause. If experience and observation 
and analogy be, indeed, the only guides which we 
can reasonably follow in inferences of this nature; 
both the effect and cause must bear a similarity and 
resemblance to other effects and causes, which we 


know, and which we have found, in many in- 
stances, to be conjoined with each other. I leave it 
to your own reflection to pursue the consequences 
of this principle. I shall just observe, that, as the 
antagonists of Epicurus always suppose the uni- 
verse, an effect quite singular and unparalleled, to 
be the proof of a Deity, a cause no less singular and 
unparalleled; your reasonings, upon that supposi- 
tion, seem, at least, to merit out attention. There is, 
I own, some difficulty, how we can ever return 
from the cause to the effect, and, reasoning from 
our ideas of the former, infer any alteration on the 
latter, or any addition to it. 



Part I 

ical reasonings, displayed upon any subject, than 
those, which prove the existence of a Deity, and re 
fute the fallacies of atheists; and yet the most reli- 
gious philosophers still dispute whether any man 
can be so blinded as to be a speculative atheist 
How shall we reconcile these contradictions? The 
knights-errant, who wandered about to clear the 
world of dragons and giants, never entertained the 
least doubt with regard to the existence of these 

The sceptic is another enemy of religion, who 
naturally provokes the indignation of all divines 
and graver philosophers; though it is certain, that 
no man ever met with any such absurd creature, or 
conversed with a man, who had no opinions or 


principle concerning any subject, either of action 
or speculation. This begets a very natural question; 
What is meant by a sceptic? And how far is it pos- 
sible to push these philosophical principles of 
doubt and uncertainty? 

There is a species of scepticism, antecedent to all 
study and philosophy, which is much inculcated 
by Descartes and others, as a sovereign preservative 
against error and precipitate judgment. It recom- 
mends an universal doubt, not only of all our for- 
mer opinions and principles, but also of our very 
faculties; of whose veracity, say they, we must as- 
sure ourselves, by a chain of reasoning, deduced 
from some original principle, which cannot pos- 
sibly be fallacious or deceitful. But neither is there 
any such original principle, which has a preroga- 
tive above otheis that are self-evident and convinc- 
ing: or if there were, could we advance a step be- 
yond it, but by the use of those very faculties, of 
which we are supposed to be already diffident. The 
Cartesian doubt, therefore, were it ever possible to 
be attained by any human creature (as it plainly is 
not) would be entirely incurable; and no reasoning 
could ever bring us to a state of assurance and con- 
viction upon any subject. 

It must, however, be confessed, that this species 
of scepticism, when more moderate, may be un- 
derstood in a very reasonable sense, and is a neces- 
sary preparative to the study of philosophy, by pre- 
serving a proper impartiality in our judgments, and 
weaning our mind from all those prejudices, which 
we may have imbibed from education or rash opin- 
ion. To begin with clear and self-evident principles, 
to advance by timorous and sure steps, to review 
frequendy our conclusions, and examine accurately 
all their consequences; though by these means we 


shall make both a slow and a short progress in our 
systems; are the only methods, by which we can 
ever hope to reach truth, and attain a proper stabil- 
ity and certainty in our determinations. 

There is another species of scepticism, conse- 
quent to science and inquiry, when men are sup- 
posed to have discovered either the absolute 
fallaciousness of their mental faculties, or their un- 
fitness to reach any fixed determination in all those 
curious subjects of speculation, about which they 
are commonly employed. Even our very senses are 
brought into dispute, by a certain species of philos- 
ophers; and the maxims of common life are sub- 
jected to the same doubt as the most profound 
principles or conclusions of metaphysics and theol- 
ogy. As these paradoxical tenets (if they may be 
called tenets) are to be met with in some philoso- 
phers, and the refutation of them in several, they 
naturally excite our curiosity, and make us inquire 
into the arguments, on which they may be 
founded. I need not insist upon the more trite top- 
ics, employed by the sceptics in all ages, against the 
evidence of sense; such as those which are derived 
from the imperfection and fallaciousness of our 
organs, on numberless occasions; the crooked ap- 
pearance of an oar in water; the various aspects of 
objects, according to their different distances; the 
double images which arise from the pressing of 
one eye; with many other appearances of a like na- 
ture. These sceptical topics, indeed, are only suffi- 
cient to prove, that the senses alone are not implic- 
itly to be depended on; but that we must correct 
their evidence by reason, and by considerations, de- 
rived from the nature of the medium, the distance 
of the object, and the disposition of the organ, in 
order to render them, within their sphere, the 


proper criteria of truth and falsehood. There are 
other more profound arguments against the senses, 
which admit not of so easy a solution. 

It seems evident, that men are carried, by a nat- 
ural instinct or prepossession, to repose faith in 
their senses; and that, without any reasoning, or 
even almost before the use of reason, we always 
suppose an external universe, which depends not 
on our perception, but would exist, though we and 
every sensible creature were absent or annihilated. 
Even the animal creation are governed by a like 
opinion, and preserve this belief of external objects, 
in all their thoughts, designs, and actions. 

It seems also evident, that, when men follow this 
blind and powerful instinct of nature, they always 
suppose the very images, presented by the senses, 
to be the external objects, and never entertain any 
suspicion, that the one are nothing but representa- 
tions of the other. This very table, which we see 
white, and which we feel hard, is believed to exist, 
independent of our perception, and to be some 
thing external to our mind, which perceives it. Our 
presence bestows not being on it; our absence does 
not annihilate it It preserves its existence uniform 
and entire, independent of the situation of intelli- 
gent beings, who perceive or contemplate it. 

But this universal and primary opinion of all 
men is soon destroyed by the slightest philosophy, 
which teaches us, that nothing can ever be present 
to the mind but an image or perception, and that 
the senses are only the inlets, through which these 
images are conveyed, without being able to produce 
any immediate intercourse between the mind and 
the object The table, which we see, seems to di- 
minish, as we remove farther from it; but the real 


table, which exists independent of us, suffers no 
alteration: it was, therefore, nothing tut its image, 
which was present to the mind. These are the ob- 
vious dictates of reason; and no man, \vho reflects, 
ever doubted, that the existences, which we con- 
sider, when we say, this house and that tree, are 
nothing but perceptions in the mind, and fleeting 
copies or representations of other existences, which 
remain uniform and independent. 

So far, then, are we necessitated by reasoning to 
contradict or depart from the primary instincts of 
nature, and to embrace a new system with regard 
to the evidence of our senses. But here philosophy 
finds herself extremely embarrassed, when she 
would justify this new system, and obviate the cav- 
ils and objections of the sceptics. She can no longer 
plead the infallible and irresistible instinct of na- 
ture: for that led us to a quite different system, 
which is acknowledged fallible and even erroneous. 
And to justify this pretended philosophical system, 
by a chain of clear and convincing argument, or 
even any appearance of argument, exceeds the 
power of all human capacity. 

By what argument can it be proved, that the per- 
ceptions of the mind must be caused by external 
objects, entirely different from them, though resem- 
bling them (if that be possible) and could not arise 
either from the energy of the mind itself, or from 
the suggestion of some invisible and unknown 
spirit, or from some other cause still more un- 
known to us"? It is acknowledged, that, in fact, 
many of these perceptions arise not from anything 
external, as in dreams, madness, and other diseases. 
And nothing can be more inexplicable than the 
manner, in which body should so operate upon 


mind as ever to convey an image of itself to a sub- 
stance, supposed of so different, and even contrary 
a nature. 

It is a question of fact, whether the perceptions 
of the senses be produced by external objects, re- 
sembling them: how shall this question be deter- 
mined? By experience surely; as all other questions 
of a like nature. But here experience is, and must 
be entirely silent. The mind has never anything 
present to it but the perceptions, and cannot pos- 
sibly reach any experience of their connection with 
objects. The supposition of such a connection is, 
therefore, without any foundation in reasoning. 

To have recourse to the veracity of the Supreme 
Being, in order to prove the veracity of our senses, 
is surely making a very unexpected circuit If his 
veracity were at all concerned in this matter, our 
senses would be entirely infallible; because it is not 
possible that he can ever deceive. Not to mention, 
that, if the external world be once called in ques- 
tion, we shall be at a loss to find arguments, by 
which we may prove the existence of that Being 
or any of his attributes, 

This is a topic, therefore, in which the pro- 
founder and more philosophical sceptics will al- 
ways triumph, when they endeavor to introduce 
an universal doubt into all subjects of human 
knowledge and inquiry. Do you follow the instincts 
and propensities of nature, may they say, in assent- 
ing to the veracity of sense? But these lead you to 
believe that the very perception or sensible image 
is the external object. Do you disclaim this prin- 
ciple, in order to embrace a more rational opinion, 
that the perceptions are only representations of 
something external? You here depart from your 
natural propensities and more obvious sentiments, 


and yet are not able to satisfy your reason, which 
can ever find any convincing argument from expe- 
rience to prove, that the perceptions are connected 
with any external objects. 

There is another sceptical topic of a like nature, 
derived from the most profound philosophy; which 
might merit our attention, were it requisite to dive 
so deep, in order to discover arguments and rea- 
sonings, which can so little serve to any serious 
purpose. It is universally allowed by modern in- 
quirers, that all the sensible qualities of objects, 
such as hard, soft, hot, cold, white, black, etc. are 
merely secondary, and exist not in the objects 
themselves, but are perceptions of the mind, with- 
out any external archetype or model, which they 
represent. If this be allowed, with regard to second- 
ary qualities, it must also follow, with regard to the 
supposed primary qualities of extension and solid- 
ity; nor can the latter be any more entitled to that 
denomination than the former. The idea of exten- 
sion is entirely acquired from the senses of sight 
and feeling; and if all the qualities, perceived by 
the senses, be in the mind, not in the object, the 
same conclusion must reach the idea of extension, 
which is wholly dependent on the sensible ideas or 
the ideas of secondary qualities. Nothing can save 
us from this conclusion, but the asserting, that the 
ideas of those primary qualities are attained by 
abstraction, an opinion, if we examine it accurately, 
we shall find to be unintelligible, and even absurd. 
An extension, that is neither tangible nor visible, 
cannot possibly be conceived; and a tangible or 
visible extension, which is neither hard nor soft, 
black or white, is equally beyond the reach of hu- 
man conception. Let any man try to conceive a tri- 
angle in general, which is neither isosceles nor 


scalemnn, nor has any particular length or propor- 
tion of sides; and he will soon perceive the absurd- 
ity of all the scholastic notions with regard to ab- 
straction and general ideas. 24 

Thus the first philosophical objection to the evi- 
dence of sense or to the opinion of external exist- 
ence consists in this, that such an opinion, if rested 
on natural instinct, is contrary to reason, and if re- 
ferred to reason, is contrary to natural instinct, and 
at the same time carries no rational evidence with 
it, to convince an impartial inquirer. The second 
objection goes farther, and represents this opinion 
as contrary to reason; at least, if it be a principle 
reason, that all sensible qualities are in the mind, 
not in the object. Bereave matter of all its intelli- 
gible qualities, both primary and secondary, you in 
a manner annihilate it, and leave only a certain un- 
known, inexplicable something, as the cause of our 
perceptions; a notion so imperfect, that no sceptic 
will think it worth while to contend against it. 

Part II 

It may seem a very extravagant attempt of the scep- 
tics to destroy reason by argument and ratiocina- 
tion; yet is this the grand scope of all their 
inquiries and disputes. They endeavor to find ob- 

24 This argument is drawn from Dr. Berkeley; and 
indeed most of the writings of that very ingenious author 
form the best lessons or scepticism, which are to be 
found either among the ancient or modern philosophers, 
Bayle not excepted. He professes, however, in his tide- 
page Cand undoubtedly with great truth) to have com- 
posed his book against the sceptics as well as against the 
atheists and freethinkers. But that all his arguments, 
though otherwise intended, are, in reality, merely sceptical, 
appears from this, that they admit of no answer ana pro- 
duce no conviction. Their only effect is to cause that 
momentary amazement and irresolution and confusion, 
which is the result of scepticism. 


jections, both to our abstract reasonings, and to 
those which regard matter of fact and existence. 

The chief objection against all abstract reason- 
ings is derived from the idea of space and time; 
ideas, which, in common life and to a careless view, 
are very clear and intelligible, but when they pass 
through the scrutiny of the profound sciences Cand 
they are the chief object of these sciences) afford 
principles, which seem full of absurdity and con- 
tradiction. No priestly dogmas, invented on purpose 
to tame and subdue the rebellious reason of man- 
kind, ever shocked common sense more than the 
doctrine of the infinite divisibility of extension, 
with its consequences; as they are pompously dis- 
played by all geometricians and metaphysicians, 
with a kind of triumph and exultation. A real 
quantity, infinitely less than any finite quantity, 
containing quantities infinitely less than itself, and 
so on in infmitum; this is an. edifice so bold and 
prodigious, that it is too weighty for any pretended 
demonstration to support, because it shocks the 
clearest and most natural principles of human rea- 
son. 25 But what renders the matter more extraordi- 
nary, is, that these seemingly absurd opinions are 
supported by a chain of reasoning, the clearest and 
most natural; nor is it possible for us to allow the 

25 Whatever disputes there may be about mathematical 
points, we must allow that there are physical points; 
that is, parts of extension, which cannot be divided or 
lessened, either by the eye or imagination. These images, 
then, which are present to the fancy or senses, are 
absolutely indivisible, and consequently must be allowed 
by mathematicians to be infinitely less than any real 
part of extension; and yet nothing appears more certain 
to reason, than that an infinite number of them composes 
an infinite extension. How much more an infinite number 
of those infinitely small parts of extension, which are 
still supposed infinitely divisible. 


premises without admitting the consequences. 
Nothing can be more convincing and satisfactory 
than all the conclusions concerning the properties 
of circles and triangles; and yet, when these are 
once received, how can we deny, that the angle of 
contact between a circle and its tangent is infinitely 
less than any rectilineal angle, that as you may in- 
crease the diameter of the circle in infinitum, this 
angle of contact becomes still less, even in infini- 
tum, and that the angle of contact between other 
curves and their tangents may be infinitely less 
than those between any circle and its tangent, and 
so on, in inpnitum? The demonstration of these 
principles seems as unexceptionable as that which 
proves the three angles of a triangle to be equal to 
two right ones though the latter opinion be natural 
and easy, and the former big with contradiction 
and absurdity. Reason here seems to be thrown 
into a kind of amazement and suspense, which, 
without the suggestions of any sceptic, gives her a 
diffidence of herself, and of the ground on which 
she treads. She sees a full light, which illuminates 
certain places; but that light borders upon the 
most profound darkness. And between these she is 
so dazzled and confounded, that she scarcely can 
pronounce with certainty and assurance concerning 
any one object. 

The absurdity of these bold determinations of 
the abstract sciences seems to become, if possible, 
still more palpable with regard to time than exten- 
sion. An infinite number of real parts of time, pass- 
ing in succession, and exhausted one after another, 
appears so evident a contradiction, that no man, 
one should think whose judgment is not corrupted, 
instead of being improved, by the sciences, would 
ever be able to admit of it 


Yet still reason must remain restless, and unquiet, 
even with regard to that scepticism, to which she is 
driven by these seeming absurdities and contradic- 
tions. How any clear, distinct idea can contain cir- 
cumstances, contradictory to itself, or to any other 
clear, distinct idea, is absolutely incomprehensible;, 
and is, perhaps, as absurd as any proposition, which 
can be formed. So that nothing can be more scep- 
tical, or more full of doubt and hesitation, than this 
scepticism itself, which arises from some of the 
paradoxical conclusions of geometry or the science 
of quantity. 26 

The sceptical objections to moral evidence, or to 
the reasonings concerning matter of fact, are either 
popular or philosophical. The popular objections 
are derived from the natural weakness of human 
understanding; the contradictory opinions, which 
have been entertained in different ages and na- 

20 It seems to me not impossible to avoid these absurd- 
ities and contradictions, if it be admitted, that there is 
no such thing as abstract or general ideas, properly 
speaking; but that all general ideas are, in reality, particu- 
lar ones, attached to a general term, which recalls, upon 
occasion, other particular ones, that resemble, in certain 
circumstances, the idea, present to the mind. Thus when 
the term horse is pronounced, we immediately figure to 
ourselves the idea of a black or a white animal, of a 
particular size or figure: but as that term is also usually 
applied to animals of other colors, figures and sizes, these 
ideas, though not actually present to the imagination, are 
easily recalled; and our reasoning and conclusion proceed 
in the same way, as if they were actually present. If 
this be admitted (as seems reasonable) it follows that all 
the ideas of quantity, upon which mathematicians reason,, 
are nothing but particular, and such as are suggested by 
the senses and imagination, and consequently, cannot be 
infinitely divisible. It is sufficient to have dropped this 
hint at present, without prosecuting it any farther. It 
certainly concerns all lovers of science not to expose 
themselves to the ridicule and contempt of die ignorant 
by their conclusions; and this seems the readiest solution, 
of these difficulties. 


tions; the variations of our judgment in sickness 
and health, youth and old age, prosperity and ad- 
versity; the perpetual contradiction of each particu- 
lar man's opinions and sentiments; with many other 
topics of that kind. It is needless to insist farther on 
this head. These objections are but weak. For as, in 
common life, we reason every moment concerning 
fact and existence, and cannot possibly subsist, 
without continually employing this species of argu- 
ment, any popular objections, derived from thence, 
must be insufficient to destroy that evidence. The 
great subverter of Pyrrhonism or the excessive prin- 
ciples of scepticism is action, and employment, and 
the occupations of common life. These principles 
may flourish and triumph in the schools; where it 
is, indeed, difficult, if not impossible, to refute them. 
But as soon as they leave the shade, and by the pres- 
ence of the real objects, which actuate our passions 
and sentiments, are put in opposition to the more 
powerful principles of our nature, they vanish like 
smoke, and leave the most determined sceptic in the 
same condition as other mortals. 

The sceptic, therefore, had better keep within 
his proper sphere, and display those philosophical 
objections, which arise from more profound re- 
searches. Here he seems to have ample matter of 
triumph; while he justly insists, that all our 
evidence for any matter of fact, which lies beyond 
the testimony of sense or memory, is derived en- 
tirely from the relation of cause and effect; that we 
have no other idea of this relation than that of two 
objects, which have been frequently conjoined to- 
gether; that we have no argument to convince us, 
that objects, which have, in our experience, been 
frequently conjoined, will likewise, in other in- 
stances, be conjoined in the same manner; and that 


nothing leads us to this inference but custom or a 
certain instinct of our nature; which it is indeed 
difficult to resist, but which, like other instincts,, 
may be fallacious and deceitful. While the sceptic 
insists upon these topics, he shows his force, or 
rather, indeed, his own and our weakness; and 
seems, for the time at least, to destroy all assurance 
and conviction. These arguments might be dis- 
played at greater length, if any durable good or 
benefit to society could ever be expected to result 
from them. 

For here is the chief and most confounding ob- 
jection to excessive scepticism, that no durable good 
can ever result from it; while it remains in its full 
force and vigor. We need only ask such a sceptic, 
What his meaning is? And -what he proposes by all 
these curious researches? He is immediately at a 
loss, and knows not what to answer. A Copernican 
or Ptolemaic, who supports each his different 
system of astronomy, may hope to produce a con- 
viction, which will remain constant and durable, 
with his audience. A Stoic or Epicurean displays 
principles, which may not be durable, but which 
have an effect on conduct and behavior. But a 
Tyrrhenian cannot expect, that his philosophy will 
have any constant influence on the mind, or if it 
had, that its influence would be beneficial to 
society. On the contrary, he must acknowledge, if 
he will acknowledge anything, that all human life 
must perish, were his principles universally and 
steadily to prevail. All discourse, all action would 
immediately cease; and men remain in a total 
lethargy, till the necessities of nature, unsatisfied, 
put an end to their miserable existence. It is true; so 
fatal an event is very little to be dreaded. Nature is 
always too strong for principle. And though a Pyrr- 


honian may throw himself or others into a momen- 
tary amazement and confusion by his profound 
reasonings; the first and most trivial event in life 
will put to flight all his doubts and scruples, and 
leave him the same, in every point of action and 
speculation, with the philosophers of every other 
sect, or with those who never concerned them- 
selves in any philosophical researches. When he 
awakes from his dream, he will be the first to join 
in the laugh against himself, and to confess, that 
all his objections are mere amusement, and can 
have no other tendency than to show the whimsical 
condition of mankind, who must act and reason 
and believe; though they are not able, by their most 
diligent inquiry, to satisfy themselves concerning 
the foundation of these operations, or to remove the 
objections, which may be raised against them. 

Part III 

There is, indeed, a more mitigated scepticism or 
academical philosophy, which may be both durable 
and useful, and which may, in part, be the result of 
this Pyrrhonism, or excessive scepticism, when its 
undistinguished doubts are, in some measure, cor- 
rected by common sense and reflection. The greater 
part of mankind are naturally apt to be affirmative 
and dogmatical in their opinions; and while they 
see objects only on one side, and have no idea of 
any counterpoising argument, they throw them- 
selves precipitately into the principles, to which 
they are inclined; nor have they any indulgence for 
those who entertain opposite sentiments. To hesi- 
tate or balance perplexes their understanding, 
checks their passion, and suspends their action. 
They are, therefore, impatient till they escape from 
a state, which to them is so uneasy: and they think, 


that they could never remove themselves far enough 
from it, by the violence of their affirmations and 
obstinacy of their belief. But could such dogmati- 
cal reasoners become sensible of the strange infirmi- 
ties of human understanding, even in its most per- 
fect state, and when most accurate and cautious in 
its determinations; such a reflection would naturally 
inspire them with more modesty and reserve, and 
diminish their fond opinion of themselves, and their 
prejudice against antagonists. The illiterate may 
reflect on the disposition of the learned, who, amidst 
all the advantages of study and reflection, are com- 
monly still diffident in their determinations: and if 
any of the learned be inclined, from their natural 
temper, to haughtiness and obstinacy, a small tinc- 
ture of Pyrrhonism might abate their pride, by 
showing them, that the few advantages, which they 
may have attained over their fellows, are but incon- 
siderable, if compared with the universal perplexity 
and confusion, which is inherent in human nature. 
In general, there is a degree of doubt, and caution, 
and modesty, which, in all kinds of scrutiny and 
decision, ought forever to accompany a just 

Another species of mitigated scepticism which 
may be of advantage to mankind, and which may 
be the natural result of the Pyrrhonian doubts and 
scruples, is the limitation of our inquiries to such 
subjects as are best adapted to the narrow capacity 
of human understanding. The imagination of man 
is naturally sublime, delighted with whatever is 
remote and extraordinary, and running, without 
control, into the most distant parts of space and 
time in order to avoid the objects, which custom 
has rendered too familiar to it. A correct judgment 
observes a contrary method, and avoiding all distant 


and high inquiries, confines itself to common life, 
and to such subjects as fall under daily practice and 
experience; leaving the more sublime topics to the 
embellishment of poets and orators, or to the arts of 
priests and politicians. To bring us to so salutary a 
determination, nothing can be more serviceable, 
than to be once thoroughly convinced of the force 
of the Pyrrhonian doubt, and of the impossibility, 
that anything, but the strong power of natural in- 
stinct, could free us from it. Those who have a pro- 
pensity to philosophy, will still continue their re- 
searches; because they reflect, that, besides the im- 
mediate pleasure, attending such an occupation, 
philosophical decisions are nothing but the reflec- 
tions of common life, methodized and corrected. 
But they will never be tempted to go beyond com- 
mon life, so long as they consider the imperfection 
of those faculties which they employ, their narrow 
reach, and their inaccurate operations. While we 
cannot give a satisfactory reason, why we believe, 
after a thousand experiments, that a stone will fall, 
or fire burn; can we ever satisfy ourselves concern- 
ing any determination, which we may form, with 
regard to the origin of worlds, and the situation of 
nature, from, and to eternity? 

This narrow limitation, indeed, of our inquiries, 
is, in every respect, so reasonable, that it suffices to 
make the slightest examination into the natural 
powers of the human mind and to compare them 
with their objects, in order to recommend it to us. 
We shall then find what are the proper subjects of 
science and inquiry. 

It seems to me, that the only objects of the ab- 
stract science or of demonstration are quantity and 
number, and that all attempts to extend this more 
perfect species of knowledge beyond these bounds 


are mere sophistry and illusion. As the component 
parts of quantity and number are entirely similar, 
their relations become intricate and involved; and 
nothing can be more curious, as well as useful, than 
to trace, by a variety of mediums, their equality or 
inequality, through their different appearances. But 
as all other ideas are clearly distinct and different 
from each other, we can never advance farther, by 
our utmost scrutiny, than to observe this diversity, 
and, by an obvious reflection, pronounce one thing 
not to be another. Or if there be any difficulty in 
these decisions, it proceeds entirely from the unde- 
terminate meaning of words, which is corrected by 
juster definitions. That the square of the hypothe- 
nuse is equal to the squares of the other two sides, 
cannot be known, let the terms be ever so exactly 
defined, without a train of reasoning and inquiry. 
But to convince us of this proposition, that -where 
there is no property, there can "be no injustice, it is 
only necessary to define the terms, and explain in- 
justice to be a violation of property. This proposi- 
tion is, indeed, nothing but a more imperfect defini- 
tion. It is the same case with all those pretended 
syllogistical reasonings, which may be found in 
every other branch of learning except the sciences 
of quantity and number; and these may safely, I 
think, be pronounced the only proper objects of 
knowledge and demonstration. 

All other inquiries of men regard only matter of 
fact and existence; and these are evidently inca- 
pable of demonstration. Whatever is may not be. Nc 
negation of a fact can involve a contradiction. The 
nonexistence of any being, without exception, is as 
clear and distinct an idea as its existence. The prop- 
osition, which affirms it not to be, however false, 
is no less conceivable and intelligible, than that 


which affirms it to be. The case is different with 
the sciences, properly so called. Every proposition, 
which is not true, is there confused and unintel- 
ligible. That the cube root of 64 is equal to the half 
of 10, is a false proposition, and can never be dis- 
tinctly conceived. But that Caesar, or the angel 
Gabriel, or any being never existed, may be a false 
proposition, but still is perfectly conceivable, and 
implies no contradiction. 

The existence, therefore, of any being can only 
be proved by arguments from its cause or its effect; 
and these arguments are founded entirely on 
experience. If we reason a priori, anything may ap- 
pear able to produce anything. The falling of a peb- 
ble may, for aught we know, extinguish the sun; or 
the wish of a man control the planets in their orbits* 
It is only experience, which teaches us the nature 
and bounds of cause and effect, and enables us to- 
infer the existence of one object from that of an- 
other. 27 Such is the foundation of moral reasoning,, 
which forms the greater part of human knowledge,, 
and is the source of all human action and behavior. 

Moral reasonings are either concerning partic- 
ular or general facts. All deliberations in life re- 
gard the former; as also all disquisitions in history, 
chronology, geography, and astronomy. 

The sciences, which treat of general facts, are 
politics, natural philosophy, physics, chemistry, 
etc., where the qualities, causes and effects of a 
whole species of objects are inquired into. 

87 That impious maxim of the ancient philosophy, Ex 
nilfiilo, fit, by which the creation of matter was 
excluded, ceases to he a maxim, according to this philos- 
ophy. Not only the will of the supreme Being may create 
matter; hut, for aught we know a priori, the will of any 
other heing migjit create it, or any other cause, that the 
most whimsical imagination can assign. 


Divinity or Theology, as it proves the existence 
of a Deity, and the immortality of souls, is com- 
posed partly of reasonings concerning particular, 
partly concerning general facts. It has a foundation 
in reason, so far as it is supported by experience. 
But its best and most solid foundation is faith and 
divine relevation. 

Morals and criticism are not so properly objects 
of the understanding as of taste and sentiment. 
Beauty, whether moral or natural, is felt, more prop- 
erly, than perceived. Or if we reason concerning it, 
and endeavor to fix its standard, we regard a new 
fact, to wit, the general tastes of mankind, or some 
such fact, which may be the object of reasoning and 

When we run over libraries, persuaded of these 
principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in 
our hand any volume; of divinity or school meta- 
physics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any 
abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? 
No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning con- 
cerning matter of fact and existence? No. Com- 
mit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing 
but sophistry and illusion. 


Becker, Carl. The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth- 
Century Philosophers. 1932. 

Huxley, Thomas Henry. Hume. 1894. 

Letters of David Hume. Edited by J. Y. T. Greig. 
2 vols. 1932. 

New Letters of David Hume. Edited by Raymond 
Klibansky and Ernest C. Mossner. 1954. 

Lecky, W. E. H. History of the Rise and Influence 
of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe. 2 vols. 
New edition, 1890. 

Mossner, Ernest C. The Life of David Hume. 1954. 

Willey, Basil. The Eighteenth Century Background.