Imágenes de páginas

appear not to us as necessary. A mul“ titude of events seem to be under our co

power to cause or to prevent; and we readily make a distinction betwixt e

vents that are necesary, i. e, that must “ be; and events that are contingent, i. e.

that may be, or may not be. This dif“ tinction is void of truth : for all things " that fall out either in the material or “ moral world, are, as we have seen, a“ like necessary, and alike the result of “ fixed laws. Yet, whatever conviction a

philosopher may have of this, the dis“ tinction betwixt things necessary and

things contingent, possesses his ordinary “ train of thought, as much as it possesses “ the most illiterate. We act universally upon that distinction :


it is in truth “ the cause of all the labour, care, and in

dustry, of mankind. I illustrate this “ doctrine by an example. Constant ex

perience hath taught us, that death is

a necessary event. The human frame " is not made to last for ever in its pre“ fent condition; and no man thinks of more than a temporary

existence upon “ this globe. But the particular time of

appears a contingent event, 2

66 However

our death

[ocr errors]


” However certain it be, that the time " and manner of the death of each indi

vidual is determined by a train of prea

ceding causes, and is no less fixed than “ the hour of the sun's rising or setting ;

yet no person is affected by this doc* trine. In the care of prolonging life,

we are directed by the supposed contingency of the time of death, which, to

certain term of years, we consider as depending in a great measure on our“ selves, by caution against accidents, due

use of food, exercise, &c. These means are prosecuted with the fame diligence

if there were in fact no necessary “ train of causes to fix the period of life. " In short, whoever attends to his own

practical ideas, whoever reflects upon " the meaning of the following words “ which occur in all languages, of things

poffible, contingent, that are in our power " to cause or prevent ; whoever, I say, re

these words, will clearly see, “ that they suggest certain perceptions or “ notions repugnant to the doctrine above “ established of universal neceflity.”

In order to show thai there is no repugnance, I begin with defining chance anci Vol. IV,



o flects upon

[ocr errors]

contingency. The former is applied to events that have happened ; the latter tơ future events,

When we fay a thing has happened by chance, we furely do not mean that chance was the cause; for no person ever imagined that chance is a thing that can act, and by acting produce events : we only mean, that we are ignorant of the cause, and that, for ought we see, it might have happened or not happened, or have happened differently. · Aiming at a bird, I shoot by chance a favourite spaniel : the meaning is not, that chance killed the dog, but that as to me the dog's death was accidental. With respect to contingency, future events that are variable and the cause unknown, are said to be contingent; changes of the weather, for example, whether it will be frost or thaw tomorrow, whether fair or foul. In a word, chance and contingency applied to events, mean not that such events happen without any cause, but only that we are ignorant of the cause.

It appears to me, that there is no such thing in human nature as a sense that any thing happens without a cause : such a fcnfe would be grossly delusive. It is

[ocr errors]

indeed true, that our sense of a cause is not always equally distinct : with respect to an event that happens regularly, such as fummer, winter, rising or setting of the sun, we have a diftinct sense of a cause : our sense is less distinct with respect to events less regular, such as alterations of the weather; and extremely indistinct with respect to events that feldom happen, and that happen without


known cause. But with respect to no event whatever does our fense of a cause vanish altogether, and give place to a sense of things happening without a cause.

Chance and contingency thus explained, suggest not any perception or notion repugnant to the doctrine of univerfal necessity; for my ignorance of a cause, does not, even in my own apprehension, exclude a cause. Descending to particulars, I take the example mentioned in the text, namely, the uncertainty of the time of

my death. Knowing that my life depends in some measure on myself, I use all means to preserve it, by proper food, exercise, and care to prevent accidents. Nor is there any delufion here. I a! more to Q2


[ocr errors]


use these means by the desire I have to live : these means accordingly prove effectual to carry on my present existence to the appointed period ; and in that view fo

many links in the great chain of causes and effects. A burning coal falling from the grate upon the floor, wakes me from a sound fleep. I start up to extinguish the fire. The motive is irresistible : nor have I reason to refift, were it in my power; for I consider the extinction of the fire by my hand, to be one of the means chosen by Providence for prolonging my life to its destined period.

Were there a chain of causes and effects established entirely independent on me, and were my life in no measure under my own power, it would indeed be fruitless for me to act; and the absurdity of knowingly acting in vain, would be a prevailing motive for remaining at rest. Upon that supposition, the ignava ratio of Chrys fippus might take place; cui fi pareamus, nihil omnino agamus in vita * But I act necessarily when influenced by motives; and I have no reason to forbear, consider

* “ The indolent principle ; which if we were to Sollow, we fould do nothing in life.”

« AnteriorContinuar »