Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ly ready, that our nature makes it fo. Certain visible objects are agreeable, certain sounds, and certain smells : other objects of these senses are disagreeable. But there we must stop; for we are far from being so intimately acquainted with our own nature as to assign the causes. These hints are sufficient for my present purpose: if one be curious to know more, the theory of desire, and of agreeableness and disagreeableness, will be found in Elements of Criticism (a).

With respect to instinctive actions, no person, I presume, thinks that there is any freedom :: an infant applies to the nipple, and a bird builds a nest, no less necessarily than a stone falls to the ground. With respect to voluntary actions, done in order to produce fome effect, the necessity is the same, tho' less apparent at first view. Thé external action is determined by the will: the will is determined by desire: and defire by what is agreeable or disagreeable. Here is a chain of causes and effects, not one link of which is arbitrary, or under command of the agent: he cannot will but according to his desire: he cannot desire but (a) Chap. 2.

according

[ocr errors]

according to what is agreeable or disagreeable in the objects perceived : nor do these qualities depend on his inclination or fancy; he has no power to make a beautiful woman ugly, nor to make a rotten carcase smell sweetly.

Many good men apprehending danger to morality from holding our actions to be necessary, endeavour to break the chain of caufes and effects above mentioned, maintaining, That whatever influence “ desire or motives may have, it is the agent

himself who is the cause of every " action; that desire may advife, but

cannot command ; and therefore that a man is still free to act in contradiction

to desire and to the strongest motives.” That a being may exist, which in

every case acts blindly and arbitrarily, without having any end in view, I can make a shift to conceive : but it is difficult for me even to imagine a thinking and rational being, that has affections and passions, that has a desirable end in view, that can easily accomplish this end; and yet, after all, can fly off, or remain at rest, without any cause, reason, or motive, to sway it. If such a whimsical being can poslibly ex

A

ist, I am certain that man is not the being. There is perhaps not a person above the condition of a changeling, but can say why he did so and so, what moved him, what he intended. Nor is a single fact stated to make us believe, that ever a man acted against his own will or desire, who was not compelled by external force. On the contrary, constant and universal experience proves, that human actions are governed by certain inflexible laws; and that a man cannot exert his felf-motive power, but in pursuance of some desire or motive.

Had a motive always the same influence, actions proceeding from it would appear no less necessary than the actions of matter. The various degrees of influence that motives have on different men at the same time, and on the same man at different times, occasion a doubt by suggesting a notion of chance. Some motives however have such influence, as to leave no doubt: a timid female has a physical power to throw herself into the mouth of a lion, roaring for food; but she is withheld by terror no less effectually than by cords : if the should rush upon the lion, VOL. IV,

N

would

would not every one conclude that she was frantic? A man, tho' in a deep sleep, retains a physical power to act, but he cannot exert it. A man, tho’ desperately in love, retains a physical power to refuse the hand of his mistress; but he cannot exert that power

in contradiction to his own ardent desire, more than if he were fast asleep. Now if a strong motive have a necessary influence, there is no reason for doubting, but that a weak motive must also have its influence, the same in kind, tho' not in degree. Some actions indeed are strangely irregular: but let the wildest action be scrutiniz'd, there will always be discovered some motive or desire, which, however whimsical or capricious, was what influenced the person to act. Of two contending motives, is it not natural to expect that the stronger will prevail, however little its excess may be? If there be any doubt, it must arise from a supposition that a weak motive can be resisted arbitrarily. Where then are we to fix the boundary between a weak and a strong motive? If a weak motive can be refifted, why not one a little stronger, and why not the strongest ? In Elements of

Criticism

Criticism (a) the reader will find many examples of contrary motives weighing against each other. Let him ponder these with the strictest attention : his conclusion will be, that between two motives, however nearly balanced, a man has not an arbitrary choice, but must yield to the stronger. The mind indeed fluctuates for some time, and feels itself in a measure loose : at last, however, it is determined by the more powerful motive, as a balance is by the greater weight after many

vibrations.

Such then are the laws that govern our voluntary actions. A man is absolutely free to act according to his own will ; greater freedom than which is not conceivable. At the same time, as man is made accountable for his conduct, to his Maker, to his fellow-creatures, and to himself, he is not left to act arbitrarily ; for at that rate he would be altogether unaccountable : his will is regulated by defire; and defire by what pleases or displeases him. Where we are subjected to the will of another, would it be our wish, that his will

(a) Chap. 2. part 4.

N 2

should

« AnteriorContinuar »