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ever much the understanding may be satisfied of the truth of the proposition by the arguments of Berkeley and others, we no sooner go out into actual life, than we become convinced, in spite of our previous scepticism or unbelief, of the real existence of the table, the chair, and the objects around us, and of the permanence and reality of the persons, both body and mind, with whom we have inter
If we were not, we should soon become indifferent to their pleasure and pain, and in no long time reason ourselves into the opinion that the one was not more desirable than the other, and conduct ourselves accordingly.
But there is a great difference between the question of a material world, and the question of liberty and necessity. The most strenuous Berkleian can never say, that there is any contradiction or impossibility in the existence of matter. All that he can consistently and soberly maintain is, that, if the material world exists, we can never perceive it, and that our sensations, and trains of impressions and thinking go on wholly independent of that existence.
But the question of the freedom of human actions is totally of another class. To say that in our choice we reject the stronger motive, and that we choose a thing merely because we choose it, is sheer nonsense and absurdity; and whoever with a sound understanding will fix his mind upon the state of the question will perceive its impossibility. In the mean time it is not less true, that every
man, the necessarian as well as his opponent, acts on the assumption of human liberty, and can never for a moment, when he enters into the scenes of real life, divest himself of this persuasion.
Let us take separately into our consideration the laws of matter and of mind. We acknowledge generally in both an established order of antecedents and consequents, or of causes and effects. This is the sole foundation of human prudence and of all morality. It is because we foresee that certain effects will follow from a certain mode of conduct, that we act in one way rather than another. It is because we foresee that, if the soil is prepared in a certain
way, and if seed is properly scattered and covered up in the soil thus prepared, a crop will follow, that we engage in the labours of agricul
In the same manner, it is because we foresee that, if lessons are properly given, and a young person has them clearly explained to him, certain benefits will result, and because we are apprised of the operation of persuasion, admonition, remonstrance, menace, punishment and reward, that we engage in the labours of education. All the studies of the natural philosopher and the chemist, all our journeys by land and our voyages by sea, and all the systems and science of government, are built
upon this principle, that from a certain method of proceeding, regulated by the precepts of wisdom and experience, certain effects may be expected to follow.
Yet, at the same time that we adınit of a regular series of cause and effect in the operations both of matter and mind, we never fail, in our reflections upon each, to ascribe to them an essential difference. In the laws by which a falling body descends to the earth, and by which the planets are retained in their orbits, in a word, in all that relates to inanimate nature, we readily assent to the existence of absolute laws, so that, when we have once ascertained the fundamental principles of astronomy and physics, we rely with perfect assurance upon the invariable operation of these laws, yesterday, to-day, and for ever. As long as the system of things, of which we are spectators, and in which we act our several parts, shall remain, so long have the general phenomena of nature gone on unchanged for more years
past ages than we can define, and will in all probability continue to operate for as many ages to
We admit of no variation, but firmly believe that, if we were perfectly acquainted with all the causes, we could, without danger of error, predict all the effects. We are satisfied that, since first the machine of the universe was set going, every thing in inanimate nature has taken place in a regular course, and nothing has happened and can happen, otherwise than as it actually has been and will be.
But we believe, or, more accurately speaking, we feel, that it is otherwise in the universe of mind. Whoever attentively observes the phenomena of
thinking and sentient beings, will be convinced, that men and animals are under the influence of motives, that we are subject to the predominance of the passions, of love and hatred, of desire and aversion, of sorrow and joy, and that the elections we make are regulated by impressions supplied to us by these passions. But we are fully penetrated with the notion, that mind is an arbiter, that it sits on its throne, and decides, as an absolute prince, this way or that ; in short, that, while inanimate nature proceeds passively in an eternal chain of cause and effect, mind is endowed with an initiating power, and forms its determinations by an inhe. rent and indefeasible prerogative.
Hence arises the idea of contingency relative to the acts of living and sentient beings, and the opinion that, while, in the universe of matter, every thing proceeds in regular course, and nothing has happened or can happen, otherwise than as it actually has been or will be, in the determinations and acts of living beings cach occurrence may be or not be, and waits the mastery of mind to decide whether the event shall be one way or the other, both issues being equally possible till that decision has been made.
Thus, as was said in the beginning, we have demonstration, all the powers of our reasoning faculty, on one side, and the feeling of our minds, an inward persuasion of which with all our efforts we can never divest ourselves, on the other. This
phenomenon in the history of every human creature, had aptly enough been denominated, the “ delusive sense of liberty b.”
And, though the philosopher in his closet will for the most part fully assent to the doctrine of the necessity of human actions, yet this indestructible feeling of liberty, which accompanies us from the cradle to the grave, is entitled to our serious attention, and has never obtained that consideration from the speculative part of mankind, which must by no means be withheld, if we would properly enter into the mysteries of our nature. The necessarian has paid a very imperfect attention to the impulses which form the character of man, if he omits this chapter in the history of mind, while on the other hand the advocate of free will, if he would follow up his doctrine rigorously into all its consequences, would render all speculations on human character and conduct superfluous, put an end to the system of persuasion, admonition, remonstrance, menace, punishment and reward, annihilate the very essence of civil government, and bring to a close all distinction between the sane person and the maniac.
With the disciples of the latter of these doctrines I am by no means specially concerned. I am fully
The first writer, by whom this proposition was distinctly enunciated, seems to have been Lord Kaimes, in his Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, published in 1751. But this ingenious author was afterwards frightened with the boldness of his own conclusions, and in the subsequent editions of bis work endeavoured ineffectually to explaiu away what he had said.