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Title: Hume - (English Men of Letters Series)
Author: Huxley, Thomas Henry, 1825-1895
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hume - (English Men of Letters Series)" ***

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English Men of Letters



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_The Right of Translation and Reproduction is Reserved_


              *       *       *       *       *


                   _PART I.--HUME'S LIFE._

                         CHAPTER I.

                         CHAPTER II.

LATER YEARS: THE HISTORY OF ENGLAND                        26

                 _PART II.--HUME'S PHILOSOPHY._

                         CHAPTER I.

THE OBJECT AND SCOPE OF PHILOSOPHY                         48

                         CHAPTER II.

THE CONTENTS OF THE MIND                                   60

                        CHAPTER III.

THE ORIGIN OF THE IMPRESSIONS.                             74

                        CHAPTER IV.

OPERATIONS                                                 89

                        CHAPTER V.

THE MENTAL PHENOMENA OF ANIMALS                           103

                        CHAPTER VI.


                       CHAPTER VII.

THE ORDER OF NATURE: MIRACLES                             129

                       CHAPTER VIII.

THEISM: EVOLUTION OF THEOLOGY                             140

                        CHAPTER IX.


                        CHAPTER X.

VOLITION: LIBERTY AND NECESSITY                           183

                        CHAPTER XI.

THE PRINCIPLES OF MORALS                                  197

              *       *       *       *       *






David Hume was born, in Edinburgh on the 26th of April (O.S.), 1711. His
parents were then residing in the parish of the Tron church, apparently
on a visit to the Scottish capital, as the small estate which his father
Joseph Hume, or Home, inherited, lay in Berwickshire, on the banks of
the Whitadder or Whitewater, a few miles from the border, and within
sight of English ground. The paternal mansion was little more than a
very modest farmhouse,[1] and the property derived its name of
Ninewells from a considerable spring, which breaks out on the slope in
front of the house, and falls into the Whitadder.

Both mother and father came of good Scottish families--the paternal line
running back to Lord Home of Douglas, who went over to France with the
Douglas during the French wars of Henry V. and VI. and was killed at the
battle of Verneuil. Joseph Hume died when David was an infant, leaving
himself and two elder children, a brother and a sister, to the care of
their mother, who is described by David Hume in _My Own Life_ as "a
woman of singular merit, who though young and handsome devoted herself
entirely to the rearing and education of her children." Mr. Burton says:
"Her portrait, which I have seen, represents a thin but pleasing
countenance, expressive of great intellectual acuteness;" and as Hume
told Dr. Black that she had "precisely the same constitution with
himself" and died of the disorder which proved fatal to him, it is
probable that the qualities inherited from his mother had much to do
with the future philosopher's eminence. It is curious, however, that her
estimate of her son in her only recorded, and perhaps slightly
apocryphal utterance, is of a somewhat unexpected character. "Our
Davie's a fine goodnatured crater, but uncommon wake-minded." The first
part of the judgment was indeed verified by "Davie's" whole life; but
one might seek in vain for signs of what is commonly understood as
"weakness of mind" in a man who not only showed himself to be an
intellectual athlete, but who had an eminent share of practical wisdom
and tenacity of purpose. One would like to know, however, when it was
that Mrs. Hume committed herself to this not too flattering judgment of
her younger son. For as Hume reached the mature age of four and thirty,
before he obtained any employment of sufficient importance to convert
the meagre pittance of a middling laird's younger brother into a decent
maintenance, it is not improbable that a shrewd Scots wife may have
thought his devotion to philosophy and poverty to be due to mere
infirmity of purpose. But she lived till 1749, long enough to see more
than the dawn of her son's literary fame and official importance, and
probably changed her mind about "Davie's" force of character.

David Hume appears to have owed little to schools or universities. There
is some evidence that he entered the Greek class in the University of
Edinburgh in 1723--when he was a boy of twelve years of age--but it is
not known how long his studies were continued, and he did not graduate.
In 1727, at any rate, he was living at Ninewells, and already possessed
by that love of learning and thirst for literary fame, which, as _My Own
Life_ tells us, was the ruling passion of his life and the chief source
of his enjoyments. A letter of this date, addressed to his friend
Michael Ramsay, is certainly a most singular production for a boy of
sixteen. After sundry quotations from Virgil the letter proceeds:--

     "The perfectly wise man that outbraves fortune, is much greater
     than the husbandman who slips by her; and, indeed, this pastoral
     and saturnian happiness I have in a great measure come at just now.
     I live like a king, pretty much by myself, neither full of action
     nor perturbation--_molles somnos_. This state, however, I can
     foresee is not to be relied on. My peace of mind is not
     sufficiently confirmed by philosophy to withstand the blows of
     fortune. This greatness and elevation of soul is to be found only
     in study and contemplation. This alone can teach us to look down on
     human accidents. You must allow [me] to talk thus like a
     philosopher: 'tis a subject I think much on, and could talk all day
     long of."

If David talked in this strain to his mother her tongue probably gave
utterance to "Bless the bairn!" and, in her private soul, the epithet
"wake-minded" may then have recorded itself. But, though few lonely,
thoughtful, studious boys of sixteen give vent to their thoughts in such
stately periods, it is probable that the brooding over an ideal is
commoner at this age, than fathers and mothers, busy with the cares of
practical life, are apt to imagine.

About a year later, Hume's family tried to launch him into the
profession of the law; but, as he tells us, "while they fancied I was
poring upon Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the authors which I
was secretly devouring," and the attempt seems to have come to an abrupt
termination. Nevertheless, as a very competent authority[2] wisely

     "There appear to have been in Hume all the elements of which a good
     lawyer is made: clearness of judgment, power of rapidly acquiring
     knowledge, untiring industry, and dialectic skill: and if his mind
     had not been preoccupied, he might have fallen into the gulf in
     which many of the world's greatest geniuses lie
     buried--professional eminence; and might have left behind him a
     reputation limited to the traditional recollections of the
     Parliament house, or associated with important decisions. He was
     through life an able, clear-headed, man of business, and I have
     seen several legal documents, written in his own hand and evidently
     drawn by himself. They stand the test of general professional
     observation; and their writer, by preparing documents of facts of
     such a character on his own responsibility, showed that he had
     considerable confidence in his ability to adhere to the forms
     adequate for the occasion. He talked of it as 'an ancient prejudice
     industriously propagated by the dunces in all countries, that _a
     man of genius is unfit for business_,' and he showed, in his
     general conduct through life, that he did not choose to come
     voluntarily under this proscription."

Six years longer Hume remained at Ninewells before he made another
attempt to embark in a practical career--this time commerce--and with a
like result. For a few months' trial proved that kind of life, also, to
be hopelessly against the grain.

It was while in London, on his way to Bristol, where he proposed to
commence his mercantile life, that Hume addressed to some eminent London
physician (probably, as Mr. Burton suggests, Dr. George Cheyne) a
remarkable letter. Whether it was ever sent seems doubtful; but it shows
that philosophers as well as poets have their Werterian crises, and it
presents an interesting parallel to John Stuart Mill's record of the
corresponding period of his youth. The letter is too long to be given in
full, but a few quotations may suffice to indicate its importance to
those who desire to comprehend the man.

     "You must know then that from my earliest infancy I found always a
     strong inclination to books and letters. As our college education
     in Scotland, extending little further than the languages, ends
     commonly when we are about fourteen or fifteen years of age, I was
     after that left to my own choice in my reading, and found it
     incline me almost equally to books of reasoning and philosophy, and
     to poetry and the polite authors. Every one who is acquainted
     either with the philosophers or critics, knows that there is
     nothing yet established in either of these two sciences, and that
     they contain little more than endless disputes, even in the most
     fundamental articles. Upon examination of these, I found a certain
     boldness of temper growing on me, which was not inclined to submit
     to any authority in these subjects, but led me to seek out some new
     medium, by which truth might be established. After much study and
     reflection on this, at last, when I was about eighteen years of
     age, there seemed to be opened up to me a new scene of thought,
     which transported me beyond measure, and made me, with an ardour
     natural to young men, throw up every other pleasure or business to
     apply entirely to it. The law, which was the business I designed to
     follow, appeared nauseous to me, and I could think of no other way
     of pushing my fortune in the world, but that of a scholar and
     philosopher. I was infinitely happy in this course of life for some
     months; till at last, about the beginning of September, 1729, all
     my ardour seemed in a moment to be extinguished, and I could no
     longer raise my mind to that pitch, which formerly gave me such
     excessive pleasure."

This "decline of soul" Hume attributes, in part, to his being smitten
with the beautiful representations of virtue in the works of Cicero,
Seneca, and Plutarch, and being thereby led to discipline his temper and
his will along with his reason and understanding.

     "I was continually fortifying myself with reflections against
     death, and poverty, and shame, and pain, and all the other
     calamities of life."

And he adds very characteristically:--

     "These no doubt are exceeding useful when joined with an active
     life, because the occasion being presented along with the
     reflection, works it into the soul, and makes it take a deep
     impression: but, in solitude, they serve to little other purpose
     than to waste the spirits, the force of the mind meeting no
     resistance, but wasting itself in the air, like our arm when it
     misses its aim."

Along with all this mental perturbation, symptoms of scurvy, a disease
now almost unknown among landsmen, but which, in the days of winter salt
meat, before root crops flourished in the Lothians, greatly plagued our
forefathers, made their appearance. And, indeed, it may be suspected
that physical conditions were, at first, at the bottom of the whole
business; for, in 1731, a ravenous appetite set in and, in six weeks
from being tall, lean, and raw-boned, Hume says he became sturdy and
robust, with a ruddy complexion and a cheerful countenance--eating,
sleeping, and feeling well, except that the capacity for intense mental
application seemed to be gone. He, therefore, determined to seek out a
more active life; and, though he could not and would not "quit his
pretensions to learning, but with his last breath," he resolved "to lay
them aside for some time, in order the more effectually to resume them."

The careers open to a poor Scottish gentleman in those days were very
few; and, as Hume's option lay between a travelling tutorship and a
stool in a merchant's office, he chose the latter.

     "And having got recommendation to a considerable trader in Bristol,
     I am just now hastening thither, with a resolution to forget
     myself, and everything that is past, to engage myself, as far as is
     possible, in that course of life, and to toss about the world from
     one pole to the other, till I leave this distemper behind me."[3]

But it was all of no use--Nature would have her way--and in the middle
of 1736, David Hume, aged twenty-three, without a profession or any
assured means of earning a guinea; and having doubtless, by his apparent
vacillation, but real tenacity of purpose, once more earned the title of
"wake-minded" at home; betook himself to a foreign country.

     "I went over to France, with a view of prosecuting my studies in a
     country retreat: and there I laid that plan of life which I have
     steadily and successfully pursued. I resolved to make a very rigid
     frugality supply my deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired
     my independency, and to regard every object as contemptible except
     the improvement of my talents in literature."[4]

Hume passed through Paris on his way to Rheims, where he resided for
some time; though the greater part of his three years' stay was spent at
La Flêche, in frequent intercourse with the Jesuits of the famous
college in which Descartes was educated. Here he composed his first
work, the _Treatise of Human Nature_; though it would appear from the
following passage in the letter to Cheyne, that he had been accumulating
materials to that end for some years before he left Scotland.

     "I found that the moral philosophy transmitted to us by antiquity
     laboured under the same inconvenience that has been found in their
     natural philosophy, of being entirely hypothetical, and depending
     more upon invention than experience: every one consulted his fancy
     in erecting schemes of virtue and happiness, without regarding
     human nature, upon which every moral conclusion must depend."

This is the key-note of the _Treatise_; of which Hume himself says
apologetically, in one of his letters, that it was planned before he was
twenty-one and composed before he had reached the age of twenty-five.[5]

Under these circumstances, it is probably the most remarkable
philosophical work, both intrinsically and in its effects upon the
course of thought, that has ever been written. Berkeley, indeed,
published the _Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision_, the _Treatise
Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge_, and the _Three
Dialogues_, between the ages of twenty-four and twenty-eight; and thus
comes very near to Hume, both in precocity and in influence; but his
investigations are more limited in their scope than those of his
Scottish contemporary.

The first and second volumes of the _Treatise_, containing Book I., "Of
the Understanding," and Book II., "Of the Passions," were published in
January, 1739.[6] The publisher gave fifty pounds for the copyright;
which is probably more than an unknown writer of twenty-seven years of
age would get for a similar work, at the present time. But, in other
respects, its success fell far short of Hume's expectations. In a letter
dated the 1st of June, 1739, he writes,--

     "I am not much in the humour of such compositions at present,
     having received news from London of the success of my _Philosophy_,
     which is but indifferent, if I may judge by the sale of the book,
     and if I may believe my bookseller."

This, however, indicates a very different reception from that which
Hume, looking through the inverted telescope of old age, ascribes to the
_Treatise_ in _My Own Life_.

     "Never literary attempt was more unfortunate than my _Treatise of
     Human Nature_. It fell _deadborn from the press_ without reaching
     such a distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots."

As a matter of fact, it was fully, and, on the whole, respectfully and
appreciatively, reviewed in the _History of the Works of the Learned_
for November, 1739.[7] Whoever the reviewer may have been, he was a man
of discernment, for he says that the work bears "incontestable marks of
a great capacity, of a soaring genius, but young, and not yet thoroughly
practised;" and he adds, that we shall probably have reason to consider
"this, compared with the later productions, in the same light as we view
the juvenile works of a Milton, or the first manner of a Raphael or
other celebrated painter." In a letter to Hutcheson, Hume merely speaks
of this article as "somewhat abusive;" so that his vanity, being young
and callow, seems to have been correspondingly wide-mouthed and hard to

It must be confessed that, on this occasion, no less than on that of his
other publications, Hume exhibits no small share of the craving after
mere notoriety and vulgar success, as distinct from the pardonable, if
not honourable, ambition for solid and enduring fame, which would have
harmonised better with his philosophy. Indeed, it appears to be by no
means improbable that this peculiarity of Hume's moral constitution was
the cause of his gradually forsaking philosophical studies, after the
publication of the third part (_On Morals_) of the _Treatise_, in 1740,
and turning to those political and historical topics which were likely
to yield, and did in fact yield, a much better return of that sort of
success which his soul loved. The _Philosophical Essays Concerning the
Human Understanding_, which afterwards became the _Inquiry_, is not much
more than an abridgment and recast, for popular use, of parts of the
_Treatise_, with the addition of the essays on Miracles and on
Necessity. In style, it exhibits a great improvement on the _Treatise_;
but the substance, if not deteriorated, is certainly not improved. Hume
does not really bring his mature powers to bear upon his early
speculations, in the later work. The crude fruits have not been ripened,
but they have been ruthlessly pruned away, along with the branches which
bore them. The result is a pretty shrub enough; but not the tree of
knowledge, with its roots firmly fixed in fact, its branches perennially
budding forth into new truths, which Hume might have reared. Perhaps,
after all, worthy Mrs. Hume was, in the highest sense, right. Davie was
"wake-minded," not to see that the world of philosophy was his to
overrun and subdue, if he would but persevere in the work he had begun.
But no--he must needs turn aside for "success": and verily he had his
reward; but not the crown he might have won.

In 1740, Hume seems to have made an acquaintance which rapidly ripened
into a life long friendship. Adam Smith was, at that time, a boy student
of seventeen at the University of Glasgow; and Hume sends a copy of the
_Treatise_ to "Mr. Smith," apparently on the recommendation of the
well-known Hutcheson, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the university.
It is a remarkable evidence of Adam Smith's early intellectual
development, that a youth of his age should be thought worthy of such a

In 1741 Hume published anonymously, at Edinburgh, the first volume of
_Essays Moral and Political_, which was followed in 1742 by the second

These pieces are written in an admirable style and, though arranged
without apparent method, a system of political philosophy may be
gathered from their contents. Thus the third essay, _That Politics may
be reduced to a Science_, defends that thesis, and dwells on the
importance of forms of government.

     "So great is the force of laws and of particular forms of
     government, and so little dependence have they on the humours and
     tempers of men, that consequences almost as general and certain may
     sometimes be deduced from them as any which the mathematical
     sciences afford us."--(III. 15.) (_See_ p. 45.)

Hume proceeds to exemplify the evils which inevitably flow from
universal suffrage, from aristocratic privilege, and from elective
monarchy, by historical examples, and concludes:--

     "That an hereditary prince, a nobility without vassals, and a
     people voting by their representatives, form the best monarchy,
     aristocracy, and democracy."--(III. 18.)

If we reflect that the following passage of the same essay was written
nearly a century and a half ago, it would seem that whatever other
changes may have taken place, political warfare remains _in statu

     "Those who either attack or defend a minister in such a government
     as ours, where the utmost liberty is allowed, always carry matters
     to an extreme, and exaggerate his merit or demerit with regard to
     the public. His enemies are sure to charge him with the greatest
     enormities, both in domestic and foreign management; and there is
     no meanness or crime, of which, in their judgment, he is not
     capable. Unnecessary wars, scandalous treaties, profusion of public
     treasure, oppressive taxes, every kind of maladministration is
     ascribed to him. To aggravate the charge, his pernicious conduct,
     it is said, will extend its baneful influence even to posterity, by
     undermining the best constitution in the world, and disordering
     that wise system of laws, institutions, and customs, by which our
     ancestors, during so many centuries, have been so happily governed.
     He is not only a wicked minister in himself, but has removed every
     security provided against wicked ministers for the future.

     "On the other hand, the partisans of the minister make his
     panegyric rise as high as the accusation against him, and celebrate
     his wise, steady, and moderate conduct in every part of his
     administration. The honour and interest of the nation supported
     abroad, public credit maintained at home, persecution restrained,
     faction subdued: the merit of all these blessings is ascribed
     solely to the minister. At the same time, he crowns all his other
     merits by a religious care of the best government in the world,
     which he has preserved in all its parts, and has transmitted
     entire, to be the happiness and security of the latest
     posterity."--(III. 26.)

Hume sagely remarks that the panegyric and the accusation cannot both be
true; and, that what truth there may be in either, rather tends to show
that our much-vaunted constitution does not fulfil its chief object,
which is to provide a remedy against maladministration. And if it does

     "we are rather beholden to any minister who undermines it and
     affords us the opportunity of erecting a better in its
     place."--III. 28.

The fifth Essay discusses the _Origin of Government_:--

     "Man, born in a family, is compelled to maintain society from
     necessity, from natural inclination, and from habit. The same
     creature, in his farther progress, is engaged to establish
     political society, in order to administer justice, without which
     there can be no peace among them, nor safety, nor mutual
     intercourse. We are therefore to look upon all the vast apparatus
     of our government, as having ultimately no other object or purpose
     but the distribution of justice, or, in other words, the support of
     the twelve judges. Kings and parliaments, fleets and armies,
     officers of the court and revenue, ambassadors, ministers and privy
     councillors, are all subordinate in the end to this part of
     administration. Even the clergy, as their duty leads them to
     inculcate morality, may justly be thought, so far as regards this
     world, to have no other useful object of their institution."--(III.

The police theory of government has never been stated more tersely:
and, if there were only one state in the world; and if we could be
certain by intuition, or by the aid of revelation, that it is wrong for
society, as a corporate body, to do anything for the improvement of its
members and, thereby, indirectly support the twelve judges, no objection
could be raised to it.

Unfortunately the existence of rival or inimical nations furnishes
"kings and parliaments, fleets and armies," with a good deal of
occupation beyond the support of the twelve judges; and, though the
proposition that the State has no business to meddle with anything but
the administration of justice, seems sometimes to be regarded as an
axiom, it can hardly be said to be intuitively certain, inasmuch as a
great many people absolutely repudiate it; while, as yet, the attempt to
give it the authority of a revelation has not been made.

As Hume says with profound truth in the fourth essay, _On the First
Principles of Government_:--

     "As force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have
     nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion
     only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most
     despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free
     and the most popular."--(III. 31.)

But if the whole fabric of social organisation rests on opinion, it may
surely be fairly argued that, in the interests of self-preservation, if
for no better reason, society has a right to see that the means of
forming just opinions are placed within the reach of every one of its
members; and, therefore, that due provision for education, at any rate,
is a right and, indeed, a duty, of the state.

The three opinions upon which all government, or the authority of the
few over the many, is founded, says Hume, are public interest, right to
power, and right to property. No government can permanently exist,
unless the majority of the citizens, who are the ultimate depositary of
Force, are convinced that it serves the general interest, that it has
lawful authority, and that it respects individual rights:--

     "A government may endure for several ages, though the balance of
     power and the balance of property do not coincide.... But where the
     original constitution allows any share of power, though small, to
     an order of men who possess a large share of property, it is easy
     for them gradually to stretch their authority, and bring the
     balance of power to coincide with that of property. This has been
     the case with the House of Commons in England."--(III. 34.)

Hume then points out that, in his time, the authority of the Commons was
by no means equivalent to the property and power it represented, and

     "Were the members obliged to receive instructions from their
     constituents, like the Dutch deputies, this would entirely alter
     the case; and if such immense power and riches as those of all the
     Commons of Great Britain, were brought into the scale, it is not
     easy to conceive that the crown could either influence that
     multitude of people, or withstand that balance of property. It is
     true, the crown has great influence over the collective body in the
     elections of members; but were this influence, which at present is
     only exerted once in seven years, to be employed in bringing over
     the people to every vote, it would soon be wasted, and no skill,
     popularity, or revenue could support it. I must, therefore, be of
     opinion that an alteration in this particular would introduce a
     total alteration in our government, would soon reduce it to a pure
     republic; and, perhaps, to a republic of no inconvenient
     form."--(III. 35.)

Viewed by the light of subsequent events, this is surely a very
remarkable example of political sagacity. The members of the House of
Commons are not yet delegates; but, with the widening of the suffrage
and the rapidly increasing tendency to drill and organise the
electorate, and to exact definite pledges from candidates, they are
rapidly becoming, if not delegates, at least attorneys for committees of
electors. The same causes are constantly tending to exclude men, who
combine a keen sense of self-respect with large intellectual capacity,
from a position in which the one is as constantly offended, as the other
is neutralised. Notwithstanding the attempt of George the Third to
resuscitate the royal authority, Hume's foresight has been so completely
justified that no one now dreams of the crown exerting the slightest
influence upon elections.

In the seventh essay, Hume raises a very interesting discussion as to
the probable ultimate result of the forces which were at work in the
British Constitution in the first part of the eighteenth century:--

     "There has been a sudden and sensible change in the opinions of
     men, within these last fifty years, by the progress of learning and
     of liberty. Most people in this island have divested themselves of
     all superstitious reverence to names and authority; the clergy have
     much lost their credit; their pretensions and doctrines have been
     much ridiculed; and even religion can scarcely support itself in
     the world. The mere name of _king_ commands little respect; and to
     talk of a king as God's vicegerent on earth, or to give him any of
     those magnificent titles which formerly dazzled mankind, would but
     excite laughter in every one."--(III. 54.)

In fact, at the present day, the danger to monarchy in Britain would
appear to lie, not in increasing love for equality, for which, except as
regards the law, Englishmen have never cared, but rather entertain an
aversion; nor in any abstract democratic theories, upon which the mass
of Englishmen pour the contempt with which they view theories in
general; but in the constantly increasing tendency of monarchy to become
slightly absurd, from the ever-widening discrepancy between modern
political ideas and the theory of kingship. As Hume observes, even in
his time, people had left off making believe that a king was a different
species of man from, other men; and, since his day, more and more such
make-believes have become impossible; until the maintenance of kingship
in coming generations seems likely to depend, entirely, upon whether it
is the general opinion, that a hereditary president of our virtual
republic will serve the general interest better than an elective one or
not. The tendency of public feeling in this direction is patent, but it
does not follow that a republic is to be the final stage of our
government. In fact, Hume thinks not:--

     "It is well known, that every government must come to a period, and
     that death is unavoidable to the political, as well as to the
     animal body. But, as one kind of death may be preferable to
     another, it may be inquired, whether it be more desirable for the
     British constitution to terminate in a popular government, or in an
     absolute monarchy? Here, I would frankly declare, that though
     liberty be preferable to slavery, in almost every case; yet I
     should rather wish to see an absolute monarch than a republic in
     this island. For let us consider what kind of republic we have
     reason to expect. The question is not concerning any fine imaginary
     republic of which a man forms a plan in his closet. There is no
     doubt but a popular government may be imagined more perfect than
     an absolute monarchy, or even than our present constitution. But
     what reason have we to expect that any such government will ever be
     established in Great Britain, upon the dissolution of our monarchy?
     If any single person acquire power enough to take our constitution
     to pieces, and put it up anew, he is really an absolute monarch;
     and we have already had an instance of this kind, sufficient to
     convince us, that such a person will never resign his power, or
     establish any free government. Matters, therefore, must be trusted
     to their natural progress and operation; and the House of Commons,
     according to its present constitution, must be the only legislature
     in such a popular government. The inconveniences attending such a
     situation of affairs present themselves by thousands. If the House
     of Commons, in such a case, ever dissolve itself, which is not to
     be expected, we may look for a civil war every election. If it
     continue itself, we shall suffer all the tyranny of a faction
     subdivided into new factions. And, as such a violent government
     cannot long subsist, we shall at last, after many convulsions and
     civil wars, find repose in absolute monarchy, which it would have
     been happier for us to have established peaceably from the
     beginning. Absolute monarchy, therefore, is the easiest death, the
     true _Euthanasia_ of the British constitution.

     "Thus if we have more reason to be jealous of monarchy, because the
     danger is more imminent from that quarter; we have also reason to
     be more jealous of popular government, because that danger is more
     terrible. This may teach us a lesson of moderation in all our
     political controversies."--(III. 55.)

One may admire the sagacity of these speculations, and the force and
clearness with which they are expressed, without altogether agreeing
with them. That an analogy between the social and bodily organism
exists, and is, in many respects, clear and full of instructive
suggestion, is undeniable. Yet a state answers, not to an individual,
but to a generic type; and there is no reason, in the nature of things,
why any generic type should die out. The type of the pearly _Nautilus_,
highly organised as it is, has persisted with but little change from the
Silurian epoch till now; and, so long as terrestrial conditions remain
approximately similar to what they are at present, there is no more
reason why it should cease to exist in the next, than in the past,
hundred million years or so. The true ground for doubting the
possibility of the establishment of absolute monarchy in Britain is,
that opinion seems to have passed through, and left far behind, the
stage at which such a change would be possible; and the true reason for
doubting the permanency of a republic, if it is ever established, lies
in the fact, that a republic requires for its maintenance a far higher
standard of morality and of intelligence in the members of the state
than any other form of government. Samuel gave the Israelites a king
because they were not righteous enough to do without one, with a pretty
plain warning of what they were to expect from the gift. And, up to this
time, the progress of such republics as have been established in the
world has not been such, as to lead to any confident expectation that
their foundation is laid on a sufficiently secure subsoil of public
spirit, morality, and intelligence. On the contrary, they exhibit
examples of personal corruption and of political profligacy as fine as
any hotbed of despotism has ever produced; while they fail in the
primary duty of the administration of justice, as none but an effete
despotism has ever failed.

Hume has been accused of departing, in his old age, from the liberal
principles of his youth; and, no doubt, he was careful, in the later
editions of the _Essays_, to expunge everything that savoured of
democratic tendencies. But the passage just quoted shows that this was
no recantation, but simply a confirmation, by his experience of one of
the most debased periods of English history, of those evil tendencies
attendant on popular government, of which, from the first, he was fully

In the ninth essay, _On the Parties of Great Britain_, there occurs a
passage which, while it affords evidence of the marvellous change which
has taken place in the social condition of Scotland since 1741, contains
an assertion respecting the state of the Jacobite party at that time,
which at first seems surprising:--

     "As violent things have not commonly so long a duration as
     moderate, we actually find that the Jacobite party is almost
     entirely vanished from among us, and that the distinction of
     _Court_ and _Country_, which is but creeping in at London, is the
     only one that is ever mentioned in this kingdom. Beside the
     violence and openness of the Jacobite party, another reason has
     perhaps contributed to produce so sudden and so visible an
     alteration in this part of Britain. There are only two ranks of men
     among us; gentlemen who have some fortune and education, and the
     meanest slaving poor; without any considerable number of that
     middling rank of men, which abound more in England, both in cities
     and in the country, than in any other part of the world. The
     slaving poor are incapable of any principles; gentlemen may be
     converted to true principles, by time and experience. The middling
     rank of men have curiosity and knowledge enough to form principles,
     but not enough to form true ones, or correct any prejudices that
     they may have imbibed. And it is among the middling rank of people
     that Tory principles do at present prevail most in England."--(III.
     80, _note_.)

Considering that the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 broke out only four
years after this essay was published, the assertion that the Jacobite
party had "almost entirely vanished in 1741" sounds strange enough: and
the passage which contains it is omitted in the third edition of the
_Essays_, published in 1748. Nevertheless, Hume was probably right, as
the outbreak of '45 was little better than a Highland raid, and the
Pretender obtained no important following in the Lowlands.

No less curious, in comparison with what would be said nowadays, is
Hume's remark in the Essay on the _Rise of the Arts and Sciences_ that--

     "The English are become sensible of the scandalous licentiousness
     of their stage from the example of the French decency and
     morals."--(III. 135.)

And it is perhaps as surprising to be told, by a man of Hume's literary
power, that the first polite prose in the English language was written
by Swift. Locke and Temple (with whom Sprat is astoundingly conjoined)
"knew too little of the rules of art to be esteemed elegant writers,"
and the prose of Bacon, Harrington, and Milton is "altogether stiff and
pedantic." Hobbes, who whether he should be called a "polite" writer or
not, is a master of vigorous English; Clarendon, Addison, and Steele
(the last two, surely, were "polite" writers in all conscience) are not

On the subject of _National Character_, about which more nonsense, and
often very mischievous nonsense, has been and is talked than upon any
other topic, Hume's observations are full of sense and shrewdness. He
distinguishes between the _moral_ and the _physical_ causes of national
character, enumerating under the former--

     "The nature of the government, the revolutions of public affairs,
     the plenty or penury in which people live, the situation of the
     nation with regard to its neighbours, and such like
     circumstances."--(III. 225.)

and under the latter:--

     "Those qualities of the air and climate, which are supposed to work
     insensibly on the temper, by altering the tone and habit of the
     body, and giving a particular complexion, which, though reflexion
     and reason may sometimes overcome it, will yet prevail among the
     generality of mankind, and have an influence on their
     manners."--(III. 225.)

While admitting and exemplifying the great influence of moral causes,
Hume remarks--

     "As to physical causes, I am inclined to doubt altogether of their
     operation in this particular; nor do I think that men owe anything
     of their temper or genius to the air, food, or climate."--(III.

Hume certainly would not have accepted the "rice theory" in explanation
of the social state of the Hindoos; and, it may be safely assumed, that
he would not have had recourse to the circumambience of the "melancholy
main" to account for the troublous history of Ireland. He supports his
views by a variety of strong arguments, among which, at the present
conjuncture, it is worth noting that the following occurs--

     "Where any accident, as a difference in language or religion, keeps
     two nations, inhabiting the same country, from mixing with one
     another, they will preserve during several centuries a distinct and
     even opposite set of manners. The integrity, gravity, and bravery
     of the Turks, form an exact contrast to the deceit, levity, and
     cowardice of the modern Greeks."--(III. 233.)

The question of the influence of race, which plays so great a part in
modern political speculations, was hardly broached in Hume's time, but
he had an inkling of its importance:--

     "I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the
     Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilised nation of that
     complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or
     speculation.... Such a uniform and constant difference [between the
     negroes and the whites] could not happen in so many countries and
     ages, if nature had not made an original distinction between these
     breeds of men.... In Jamaica, indeed, they talk of one Negro as a
     man of parts and learning; but it is likely he is admired for
     slender accomplishments, like a parrot who speaks a few words
     plainly."--(III. 236.)

The _Essays_ met with the success they deserved. Hume wrote to Henry
Home in June, 1742:--

     "The Essays are all sold in London, as I am informed by two letters
     from English gentlemen of my acquaintance. There is a demand for
     them; and, as one of them tells me, Innys, the great bookseller in
     Paul's Churchyard, wonders there is not a new edition, for he
     cannot find copies for his customers. I am also told that Dr.
     Butler has everywhere recommended them; so that I hope that they
     will have some success."

Hume had sent Butler a copy of the _Treatise_ and had called upon him,
in London, but he was out of town; and being shortly afterwards made
Bishop of Bristol, Hume seems to have thought that further advances on
his part might not be well received.

Greatly comforted by this measure of success, Hume remained at
Ninewells, rubbing up his Greek, until 1745; when, at the mature age of
thirty-four, he made his entry into practical life, by becoming
bear-leader to the Marquis of Annandale, a young nobleman of feeble
body and feebler mind. As might have been predicted, this venture was
not more fortunate than his previous ones; and, after a year's
endurance, diversified latterly with pecuniary squabbles, in which
Hume's tenacity about a somewhat small claim is remarkable, the
engagement came to an end.


[1] A picture of the house, taken from Drummond's _History of Noble
British Families_, is to be seen in Chambers's _Book of Days_ (April
26th); and if, as Drummond says, "It is a favourable specimen of the
best Scotch lairds' houses," all that can be said is worst Scotch lairds
must have been poorly lodged indeed.

[2] Mr. John Hill Burton, in his valuable _Life of Hume_, on which, I
need hardly say, I have drawn freely for the materials of the present
biographical sketch.

[3] One cannot but be reminded of young Descartes' renunciation of study
for soldiering.

[4] _My Own Life._

[5] Letter to Gilbert Elliot of Minto, 1751. "So vast an undertaking,
planned before I was one-and-twenty, and composed before twenty-five,
must necessarily be very defective. I have repented my haste a hundred
and a hundred times."

[6] So says Mr. Burton, and that he is right is proved by a letter of
Hume's, dated February 13, 1739, in which he writes, "'Tis now a
fortnight since my book was published." But it is a curious illustration
of the value of testimony, that Hume, in _My Own Life_, states: "In the
end of 1738 I published my Treatise, and immediately went down to my
mother and my brother."

[7] Burton, _Life_, vol. i. p. 109.



In 1744, Hume's friends had endeavoured to procure his nomination to the
Chair of "Ethics and pneumatic philosophy"[8] in the University of
Edinburgh. About this matter he writes to his friend William Mure:--

     "The accusation of heresy, deism, scepticism, atheism, &c., &c.,
     &c. was started against me; but never took, being bore down by the
     contrary authority of all the good company in town."

If the "good company in town" bore down the first three of these
charges, it is to be hoped, for the sake of their veracity, that they
knew their candidate chiefly as the very good company that he always
was; and had paid as little attention, as good company usually does, to
so solid a work as the _Treatise_. Hume expresses a naïve surprise, not
unmixed with indignation, that Hutcheson and Leechman, both clergymen
and sincere, though liberal, professors of orthodoxy, should have
expressed doubts as to his fitness for becoming a professedly
presbyterian teacher of presbyterian youth. The town council, however,
would not have him, and filled up the place with a safe nobody.

In May, 1746, a new prospect opened. General St. Clair was appointed to
the command of an expedition to Canada, and he invited Hume, at a week's
notice, to be his secretary; to which office that of judge advocate was
afterwards added.

Hume writes to a friend: "The office is very genteel, 10_s_. a day,
perquisites, and no expenses;" and, to another, he speculates on the
chance of procuring a company in an American regiment. "But this I build
not on, nor indeed am I very fond of it," he adds; and this was
fortunate, for the expedition, after dawdling away the summer in port,
was suddenly diverted to an attack on L'Orient, where it achieved a huge
failure and returned ignominiously to England.

A letter to Henry Home, written when this unlucky expedition was
recalled, shows that Hume had already seriously turned his attention to
history. Referring to an invitation to go over to Flanders with the
General, he says:

     "Had I any fortune which would give me a prospect of leisure and
     opportunity to prosecute my _historical projects_, nothing could be
     more useful to me, and I should pick up more literary knowledge in
     one campaign by being in the General's family, and being introduced
     frequently to the Duke's, than most officers could do after many
     years' service. But to what can all this serve? I am a philosopher,
     and so I suppose must continue."

But this vaticination was shortly to prove erroneous. Hume seems to
have made a very favourable impression on General St. Clair, as he did
upon every one with whom he came into personal contact; for, being
charged with a mission to the court of Turin, in 1748, the General
insisted upon the appointment of Hume as his secretary. He further made
him one of his aides-de-camp; so that the philosopher was obliged to
encase his more than portly, and by no means elegant, figure in a
military uniform. Lord Charlemont, who met him at Turin, says he was
"disguised in scarlet," and that he wore his uniform "like a grocer of
the train-bands." Hume, always ready for a joke at his own expense,
tells of the considerate kindness with which, at a reception at Vienna,
the Empress-dowager released him and his friends from the necessity of
walking backwards. "We esteemed ourselves very much obliged to her for
this attention, especially my companions, who were desperately afraid of
my falling on them and crushing them."

Notwithstanding the many attractions of this appointment, Hume writes
that he leaves home "with infinite regret, where I had treasured up
stores of study and plans of thinking for many years;" and his only
consolation is that the opportunity of becoming conversant with state
affairs may be profitable:--

     "I shall have an opportunity of seeing courts and camps: and if I
     can afterward be so happy as to attain leisure and other
     opportunities, this knowledge may even turn to account to me as a
     man of letters, which I confess has always been the sole object of
     my ambition. I have long had an intention, in my riper years, of
     composing some history; and I question not but some greater
     experience in the operations of the field and the intrigues of the
     cabinet will be requisite, in order to enable me to speak with
     judgment on these subjects."

Hume returned to London in 1749, and, during his stay there, his mother
died, to his heartfelt sorrow. A curious story in connection with this
event is told by Dr. Carlyle, who knew Hume well, and whose authority is
perfectly trustworthy.

     "Mr. Boyle hearing of it, soon after went to his apartment, for
     they lodged in the same house, where he found him in the deepest
     affliction and in a flood of tears. After the usual topics and
     condolences Mr. Boyle said to him, 'My friend, you owe this
     uncommon grief to having thrown off the principles of religion: for
     if you had not, you would have been consoled with the firm belief
     that the good lady, who was not only the best of mothers, but the
     most pious of Christians, was completely happy in the realms of the
     just. To which David replied, 'Though I throw out my speculations
     to entertain the learned and metaphysical world, yet in other
     things I do not think so differently from the rest of the world as
     you imagine.'"

If Hume had told this story to Dr. Carlyle, the latter would have said
so; it must therefore have come from Mr. Boyle; and one would like to
have the opportunity of cross-examining that gentleman as to Hume's
exact words and their context, before implicitly accepting his version
of the conversation. Mr. Boyle's experience of mankind must have been
small, if he had not seen the firmest of believers overwhelmed with
grief by a like loss, and as completely inconsolable. Hume may have
thrown off Mr. Boyle's "principles of religion," but he was none the
less a very honest man, perfectly open and candid, and the last person
to use ambiguous phraseology, among his friends; unless, indeed, he saw
no other way of putting a stop to the intrusion of unmannerly twaddle
amongst the bitter-sweet memories stirred in his affectionate nature by
so heavy a blow.

The _Philosophical Essays_ or _Inquiry_ was published in 1748, while
Hume was away with General St. Clair, and, on his return to England, he
had the mortification to find it overlooked in the hubbub caused by
Middleton's _Free Inquiry_, and its bold handling of the topic of the
_Essay on Miracles_, by which Hume doubtless expected the public to be

Between 1749 and 1751, Hume resided at Ninewells, with his brother and
sister, and busied himself with the composition of his most finished, if
not his most important works, the _Dialogues on Natural Religion_, the
_Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals_, and the _Political

_The Dialogues on Natural Religion_ were touched and re-touched, at
intervals, for a quarter of a century, and were not published till after
Hume's death: but the _Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals_
appeared in 1751, and the _Political Discourses_ in 1752. Full reference
will be made to the two former in the exposition of Hume's philosophical
views. The last has been well said to be the "cradle of political
economy: and much as that science has been investigated and expounded in
later times, these earliest, shortest, and simplest developments of its
principles are still read with delight even by those who are masters of
all the literature of this great subject."[9]

The _Wealth of Nations_, the masterpiece of Hume's close friend, Adam
Smith, it must be remembered, did not appear before 1776, so that, in
political economy, no less than in philosophy, Hume was an original, a
daring, and a fertile innovator.

The _Political Essays_ had a great and rapid success; translated into
French in 1753, and again in 1754, they conferred a European reputation
upon their author; and, what was more to the purpose, influenced the
later French school of economists of the eighteenth century.

By this time, Hume had not only attained a high reputation in the world
of letters, but he considered himself a man of independent fortune. His
frugal habits had enabled him to accumulate £1,000, and he tells Michael
Ramsay in 1751:--

     "While interest remains as at present, I have £50 a year, a hundred
     pounds worth of books, great store of linens and fine clothes, and
     near £100 in my pocket; along with order, frugality, a strong
     spirit of independency, good health, a contented humour, and an
     unabated love of study. In these circumstances I must esteem myself
     one of the happy and fortunate; and so far from being willing to
     draw my ticket over again in the lottery of life, there are very
     few prizes with which I would make an exchange. After some
     deliberation, I am resolved to settle in Edinburgh, and hope I
     shall be able with these revenues to say with Horace:--

     'Est bona librorum et provisæ frugis in annum

It would be difficult to find a better example of the honourable
independence and cheerful self-reliance which should distinguish a man
of letters, and which characterised Hume throughout his career. By
honourable effort, the boy's noble ideal of life, became the man's
reality; and, at forty, Hume had the happiness of finding that he had
not wasted his youth in the pursuit of illusions, but that "the solid
certainty of waking bliss" lay before him, in the free play of his
powers in their appropriate sphere.

In 1751, Hume removed to Edinburgh and took up his abode on a flat in
one of those prodigious houses in the Lawnmarket, which still excite the
admiration of tourists; afterwards moving to a house in the Canongate.
His sister joined him, adding £30 a year to the common stock; and, in
one of his charmingly playful letters to Dr. Clephane, he thus describes
his establishment, in 1753.

     "I shall exult and triumph to you a little that I have now at
     last--being turned of forty, to my own honour, to that of learning,
     and to that of the present age--arrived at the dignity of being a

     "About seven months ago, I got a house of my own, and completed a
     regular family, consisting of a head, viz., myself, and two
     inferior members, a maid and a cat. My sister has since joined me,
     and keeps me company. With frugality, I can reach, I find,
     cleanliness, warmth, light, plenty, and contentment. What would you
     have more? Independence? I have it in a supreme degree. Honour?
     That is not altogether wanting. Grace? That will come in time. A
     wife? That is none of the indispensable requisites of life. Books?
     That is one of them; and I have more than I can use. In short, I
     cannot find any pleasure of consequence which I am not possessed of
     in a greater or less degree; and, without any great effort of
     philosophy, I may be easy and satisfied.

     "As there is no happiness without occupation, I have begun a work
     which will occupy me several years, and which yields me much
     satisfaction. 'Tis a History of Britain from the Union of the
     Crowns to the present time. I have already finished the reign of
     King James. My friends flatter me (by this I mean that they don't
     flatter me) that I have succeeded."

In 1752, the Faculty of Advocates elected Hume their librarian, an
office which, though it yielded little emolument--the salary was only
forty pounds a year--was valuable as it placed the resources of a large
library at his disposal. The proposal to give Hume even this paltry
place caused a great outcry, on the old score of infidelity. But as Hume
writes, in a jubilant letter to Clephane (February 4, 1752):--

     "I carried the election by a considerable majority.... What is more
     extraordinary, the cry of religion could not hinder the ladies from
     being violently my partisans, and I owe my success in a great
     measure to their solicitations. One has broke off all commerce with
     her lover because he voted against me! And Mr. Lockhart, in a
     speech to the Faculty, said there was no walking the streets, nor
     even enjoying one's own fireside, on account of their importunate
     zeal. The town says that even his bed was not safe for him, though
     his wife was cousin-german to my antagonist.

     "'Twas vulgarly given out that the contest was between Deists and
     Christians, and when the news of my success came to the playhouse,
     the whisper rose that the Christians were defeated. Are you not
     surprised that we could keep our popularity, notwithstanding this
     imputation, which my friends could not deny to be well founded?"

It would seem that the "good company" was less enterprising in its
asseverations in this canvass than in the last.

The first volume of the _History of Great Britain, containing the reign
of James I. and Charles I._, was published in 1754. At first, the sale
was large, especially in Edinburgh, and if notoriety _per se_ was Hume's
object, he attained it. But he liked applause as well as fame and, to
his bitter disappointment, he says:--

     "I was assailed by one cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even
     detestation: English, Scotch, and Irish, Whig and Tory, Churchman
     and Sectary, Freethinker and Religionist, Patriot and Courtier,
     united in their rage against the man who had presumed to shed a
     generous tear for the fate of Charles I. and the Earl of Strafford;
     and after the first ebullitions of their fury were over, what was
     still more mortifying, the book seemed to fall into oblivion. Mr.
     Millar told me that in a twelvemonth he sold only forty-five copies
     of it. I scarcely, indeed, heard of one man in the three kingdoms,
     considerable for rank or letters, that could endure the book. I
     must only except the primate of England, Dr. Herring, and the
     primate of Ireland, Dr. Stone, which seem two odd exceptions. These
     dignified prelates separately sent me messages not to be

It certainly is odd to think of David Hume being comforted in his
affliction by the independent and spontaneous sympathy of a pair of
archbishops. But the instincts of the dignified prelates guided them
rightly; for, as the great painter of English history in Whig pigments
has been careful to point out,[10] Hume's historical picture, though a
great work, drawn by a master hand, has all the lights Tory, and all the
shades Whig.

Hume's ecclesiastical enemies seem to have thought that their
opportunity had now arrived; and an attempt was made to get the General
Assembly of 1756 to appoint a committee to inquire into his writings.
But, after a keen debate, the proposal was rejected by fifty votes to
seventeen. Hume does not appear to have troubled himself about the
matter, and does not even think it worth mention in _My Own Life_.

In 1756 he tells Clephane that he is worth £1,600 sterling, and
consequently master of an income which must have been wealth to a man of
his frugal habits. In the same year, he published the second volume of
the _History_, which met with a much better reception than the first;
and, in 1757, one of his most remarkable works, the _Natural History of
Religion_, appeared. In the same year, he resigned his office of
librarian to the Faculty of Advocates, and he projected removal to
London, probably to superintend the publication of the additional volume
of the _History_.

     "I shall certainly be in London next summer; and probably to remain
     there during life: at least, if I can settle myself to my mind,
     which I beg you to have an eye to. A room in a sober discreet
     family, who would not be averse to admit a sober, discreet,
     virtuous, regular, quiet, goodnatured man of a bad character--such
     a room, I say, would suit me extremely."[11]

The promised visit took place in the latter part of the year 1758, and
he remained in the metropolis for the greater part of 1759. The two
volumes of the _History of England under the House of Tudor_ were
published in London, shortly after Hume's return to Edinburgh; and,
according to his own account, they raised almost as great a clamour as
the first two had done.

Busily occupied with the continuation of his historical labours, Hume
remained in Edinburgh until 1763; when, at the request of Lord Hertford,
who was going as ambassador to France, he was appointed to the embassy;
with the promise of the secretaryship, and, in the meanwhile,
performing the duties of that office. At first, Hume declined the offer;
but, as it was particularly honourable to so well abused a man, on
account of Lord Hertford's high reputation for virtue and piety,[12] and
no less advantageous by reason of the increase of fortune which it
secured to him, he eventually accepted it.

In France, Hume's reputation stood far higher than in Britain; several
of his works had been translated; he had exchanged letters with
Montesquieu and with Helvetius; Rousseau had appealed to him; and the
charming Madame de Boufflers had drawn him into a correspondence, marked
by almost passionate enthusiasm on her part, and as fair an imitation of
enthusiasm as Hume was capable of, on his. In the extraordinary mixture
of learning, wit, humanity, frivolity, and profligacy which then
characterised the highest French society, a new sensation was worth
anything, and it mattered little whether the cause thereof was a
philosopher or a poodle; so Hume had a great success in the Parisian
world. Great nobles fêted him, and great ladies were not content unless
the "gros David" was to be seen at their receptions, and in their boxes
at the theatre. "At the opera his broad unmeaning face was usually to be
seen _entre deux jolis minois_," says Lord Charlemont.[13] Hume's cool
head was by no means turned; but he took the goods the gods provided
with much satisfaction; and everywhere won golden opinions by his
unaffected good sense and thorough kindness of heart.

Over all this part of Hume's career, as over the surprising episode of
the quarrel with Rousseau, if that can be called quarrel which was
lunatic malignity on Rousseau's side and thorough generosity and
patience on Hume's, I may pass lightly. The story is admirably told by
Mr. Burton, to whose volumes I refer the reader. Nor need I dwell upon
Hume's short tenure of office in London, as Under-Secretary of State,
between 1767 and 1769. Success and wealth are rarely interesting, and
Hume's case is no exception to the rule.

According to his own description the cares of official life were not

     "My way of life here is very uniform and by no means disagreeable.
     I have all the forenoon in the Secretary's house, from ten till
     three, when there arrive from time to time messengers that bring me
     all the secrets of the kingdom, and, indeed, of Europe, Asia,
     Africa, and America. I am seldom hurried; but have leisure at
     intervals to take up a book, or write a private letter, or converse
     with a friend that may call for me; and from dinner to bed-time is
     all my own. If you add to this that the person with whom I have the
     chief, if not only, transactions, is the most reasonable,
     equal-tempered, and gentleman-like man imaginable, and Lady
     Aylesbury the same, you will certainly think I have no reason to
     complain; and I am far from complaining. I only shall not regret
     when my duty is over; because to me the situation can lead to
     nothing, at least in all probability; and reading, and sauntering,
     and lounging, and dozing, which I call thinking, is my supreme
     happiness--I mean my full contentment."

Hume's duty was soon over, and he returned to Edinburgh in 1769, "very
opulent" in the possession of £1,000 a year, and determined to take what
remained to him of life pleasantly and easily. In October, 1769, he
writes to Elliot:--

     "I have been settled here two months, and am here body and soul,
     without casting the least thought of regret to London, or even to
     Paris.... I live still, and must for a twelvemonth, in my old house
     in James's Court, which is very cheerful and even elegant, but too
     small to display my great talent for cookery, the science to which
     I intend to addict the remaining years of my life. I have just now
     lying on the table before me a receipt for making _soupe à la
     reine_, copied with my own hand; for beef and cabbage (a charming
     dish) and old mutton and old claret nobody excels me. I make also
     sheep's-head broth in a manner that Mr. Keith speaks of for eight
     days after; and the Duc de Nivernois would bind himself apprentice
     to my lass to learn it. I have already sent a challenge to David
     Moncreiff: you will see that in a twelvemonth he will take to the
     writing of history, the field I have deserted; for as to the giving
     of dinners, he can now have no further pretensions. I should have
     made a very bad use of my abode in Paris if I could not get the
     better of a mere provincial like him. All my friends encourage me
     in this ambition; as thinking it will redound very much to my

In 1770, Hume built himself a house in the new town of Edinburgh, which
was then springing up. It was the first house in the street, and a
frolicsome young lady chalked upon the wall "St. David's Street." Hume's
servant complained to her master, who replied, "Never mind, lassie, many
a better man has been made a saint of before," and the street retains
its title to this day.

In the following six years, the house in St. David's Street was the
centre of the accomplished and refined society which then distinguished
Edinburgh. Adam Smith, Blair, and Ferguson were within easy reach; and
what remains of Hume's correspondence with Sir Gilbert Elliot, Colonel
Edmonstone, and Mrs. Cockburn gives pleasant glimpses of his social
surroundings, and enables us to understand his contentment with his
absence from the more perturbed, if more brilliant, worlds of Paris and

Towards London, Londoners, and indeed Englishmen in general, Hume
entertained a dislike, mingled with contempt, which was as nearly
rancorous as any emotion of his could be. During his residence in Paris,
in 1764 and 1765, he writes to Blair:--

     "The taste for literature is neither decayed nor depraved here, as
     with the barbarians who inhabit the banks of the Thames."

And he speaks of the "general regard paid to genius and learning" in
France as one of the points in which it most differs from England. Ten
years later, he cannot even thank Gibbon for his History without the
left-handed compliment, that he should never have expected such an
excellent work from the pen of an Englishman. Early in 1765, Hume writes
to Millar:--

     "The rage and prejudice of parties frighten me, and above all, this
     rage against the Scots, which is so dishonourable, and indeed so
     infamous, to the English nation. We hear that it increases every
     day without the least appearance of provocation on our part. It has
     frequently made me resolve never in my life to set foot on English
     ground. I dread, if I should undertake a more modern history, the
     impertinence and ill-manners to which it would expose me; and I was
     willing to know from you whether former prejudices had so far
     subsided as to ensure me of a good reception."

His fears were kindly appeased by Millar's assurance that the English
were not prejudiced against the Scots in general, but against the
particular Scot, Lord Bute, who was supposed to be the guide,
philosopher, and friend, of both Dowager Queen and King.

To care nothing about literature, to dislike Scotchmen, and to be
insensible to the merits of David Hume, was a combination of iniquities
on the part of the English nation, which would have been amply
sufficient to ruffle the temper of the philosophic historian, who,
without being foolishly vain, had certainly no need of what has been
said to be the one form of prayer in which his countrymen, torn as they
are by theological differences, agree; "Lord! gie us a gude conceit o'
oursels." But when, to all this, these same Southrons added a passionate
admiration for Lord Chatham, who was in Hume's eyes a charlatan; and
filled up the cup of their abominations by cheering for "Wilkes and
Liberty," Hume's wrath knew no bounds, and, between 1768 and 1770, he
pours a perfect Jeremiad into the bosom of his friend Sir Gilbert

     "Oh! how I long to see America and the East Indies revolted,
     totally and finally--the revenue reduced to half--public credit
     fully discredited by bankruptcy--the third of London in ruins, and
     the rascally mob subdued! I think I am not too old to despair of
     being witness to all these blessings.

     "I am delighted to see the daily and hourly progress of madness and
     folly and wickedness in England. The consummation of these
     qualities are the true ingredients for making a fine narrative in
     history, especially if followed by some signal and ruinous
     convulsion--as I hope will soon be the case with that pernicious

Even from the secure haven of James's Court, the maledictions continue
to pour forth:--

     "Nothing but a rebellion and bloodshed will open the eyes of that
     deluded people; though were they alone concerned, I think it is no
     matter what becomes of them.... Our government has become a
     chimera, and is too perfect, in point of liberty, for so rude a
     beast as an Englishman; who is a man, a bad animal too, corrupted
     by above a century of licentiousness. The misfortune is that this
     liberty can scarcely be retrenched without danger of being entirely
     lost; at least the fatal effects of licentiousness must first be
     made palpable by some extreme mischief resulting from it. I may
     wish that the catastrophe should rather fall on our posterity, but
     it hastens on with such large strides as to leave little room for

     I am running over again the last edition of my History, in order to
     correct it still further. I either soften or expunge many
     villainous seditious Whig strokes which had crept into it. I wish
     that my indignation at the present madness, encouraged by lies,
     calumnies, imposture, and every infamous act usual among popular
     leaders, may not throw me into the opposite extreme."

A wise wish, indeed. Posterity respectfully concurs therein; and
subjects Hume's estimate of England and things English to such
modifications as it would probably have undergone had the wish been

In 1775, Hume's health began to fail; and, in the spring of the
following year, his disorder, which appears to have been hæmorrhage of
the bowels, attained such a height that he knew it must be fatal. So he
made his will, and wrote _My Own Life_, the conclusion of which is one
of the most cheerful, simple, and dignified leave-takings of life and
all its concerns, extant.

     "I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution. I have suffered very
     little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have,
     notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a
     moment's abatement of spirits; insomuch that were I to name the
     period of my life which I should most choose to pass over again, I
     might be tempted to point to this later period. I possess the same
     ardour as ever in study and the same gaiety in company; I consider,
     besides, that a man of sixty-five, by dying, cuts off only a few
     years of infirmities; and though I see many symptoms of my literary
     reputation's breaking out at last with additional lustre, I know
     that I could have but few years to enjoy it. It is difficult to be
     more detached from life than I am at present.

     "To conclude historically with my own character, I am, or rather
     was (for that is the style I must now use in speaking of myself,
     which emboldens me the more to speak my sentiments); I was, I say,
     a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open,
     social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little
     susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.
     Even my love of literary fame, my ruling passion, never soured my
     temper, notwithstanding my frequent disappointments. My company was
     not unacceptable to the young and careless, as well as to the
     studious and literary; and as I took a particular pleasure in the
     company of modest women, I had no reason to be displeased with the
     reception I met with from them. In a word, though most men any wise
     eminent, have found reason to complain of calumny, I never was
     touched or even attacked by her baleful tooth; and though I
     wantonly exposed myself to the rage of both civil and religious
     factions, they seemed to be disarmed in my behalf of their wonted
     fury. My friends never had occasion to vindicate any one
     circumstance of my character and conduct; not but that the zealots,
     we may well suppose, would have been glad to invent and propagate
     any story to my disadvantage, but they could never find any which
     they thought would wear the face of probability. I cannot say there
     is no vanity in making this funeral oration of myself, but I hope
     it is not a misplaced one; and this is a matter of fact which is
     easily cleared and ascertained."

Hume died in Edinburgh on the 25th of August, 1776, and, a few days
later, his body, attended by a great concourse of people, who seem to
have anticipated for it the fate appropriate to the remains of wizards
and necromancers, was deposited in a spot selected by himself, in an old
burial-ground on the eastern slope of the Calton Hill.

From the summit of this hill, there is a prospect unequalled by any to
be seen from the midst of a great city. Westward lies the Forth, and
beyond it, dimly blue, the far away Highland hills; eastward, rise the
bold contours of Arthur's Seat and the rugged crags of the Castle rock,
with the grey Old Town of Edinburgh; while, far below, from a maze of
crowded thoroughfares, the hoarse murmur of the toil of a polity of
energetic men is borne upon the ear. At times, a man may be as solitary
here as in a veritable wilderness; and may meditate undisturbedly upon
the epitome of nature and of man--the kingdoms of this world--spread out
before him.

Surely, there is a fitness in the choice of this last resting-place by
the philosopher and historian, who saw so clearly that these two
kingdoms form but one realm, governed by uniform laws and alike based on
impenetrable darkness and eternal silence: and faithful to the last to
that profound veracity which was the secret of his philosophic
greatness, he ordered that the simple Roman tomb which marks his grave
should bear no inscription but

                               DAVID HUME

                        BORN 1711.     DIED 1776.

                _Leaving it to posterity to add the rest._

It was by the desire and at the suggestion of my friend, the Editor of
this Series, that I undertook to attempt to help posterity in the
difficult business of knowing what to add to Hume's epitaph; and I
might, with justice, throw upon him the responsibility of my apparent
presumption in occupying a place among the men of letters, who are
engaged with him, in their proper function of writing about English Men
of Letters.

That to which succeeding generations have made, are making, and will
make, continual additions, however, is Hume's fame as a philosopher;
and, though I know that my plea will add to my offence in some quarters,
I must plead, in extenuation of my audacity, that philosophy lies in the
province of science, and not in that of letters.

In dealing with Hume's Life, I have endeavoured, as far as possible, to
make him speak for himself. If the extracts from his letters and essays
which I have given do not sufficiently show what manner of man he was,
I am sure that nothing I could say would make the case plainer. In the
exposition of Hume's philosophy which follows, I have pursued the same
plan, and I have applied myself to the task of selecting and arranging
in systematic order, the passages which appeared to me to contain the
clearest statements of Hume's opinions.

I should have been glad to be able to confine myself to this duty, and
to limit my own comments to so much as was absolutely necessary to
connect my excerpts. Here and there, however, it must be confessed that
more is seen of my thread than of Hume's beads. My excuse must be an
ineradicable tendency to try to make things clear; while, I may further
hope, that there is nothing in what I may have said, which is
inconsistent with the logical development of Hume's principles.

My authority for the facts of Hume's life is the admirable biography,
published in 1846, by Mr. John Hill Burton. The edition of Hume's works
from which all citations are made is that published by Black and Tait in
Edinburgh, in 1826. In this edition, the Essays are reprinted from the
edition of 1777, corrected by the author for the press a short time
before his death. It is well printed in four handy volumes; and as my
copy has long been in my possession, and bears marks of much reading, it
would have been troublesome for me to refer to any other. But, for the
convenience of those who possess some other edition, the following table
of the contents of the edition of 1826, with the paging of the four
volumes, is given:--

                              VOLUME I.

                      TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE.

       Book I. _Of the Understanding_, p. 5 to the end, p. 347.

                              VOLUME II.

                      TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE.

               Book II. _Of the Passions_, p. 3-p. 215.

                 Book III. _Of Morals_, p. 219-p. 415.


               APPENDIX TO THE TREATISE, p. 551-p. 560.

                            VOLUME III.

              ESSAYS, MORAL AND POLITICAL, p. 3-p. 282.

                 POLITICAL DISCOURSES, p. 285-p. 579.

                            VOLUME IV.



           THE NATURAL HISTORY OF RELIGION, p. 435-p. 513.

                  ADDITIONAL ESSAYS, p. 517-p. 577.

As the volume and the page of the volume are given in my references, it
will be easy, by the help of this table, to learn where to look for any
passage cited, in differently arranged editions.


[8] "Pneumatic philosophy" must not be confounded with the theory of
elastic fluids; though, as Scottish chairs have, before now, combined
natural with civil history, the mistake would be pardonable.

[9] Burton's _Life of David Hume_, i. p. 354.

[10] Lord Macaulay, Article on History, _Edinburgh Review_, vol. lxvii.

[11] Letter to Clephane, 3rd September, 1757.

[12] "You must know that Lord Hertford has so high a character for
piety, that his taking me by the hand is a kind of regeneration to me,
and all past offences are now wiped off. But all these views are
trifling to one of my age and temper."--_Hume to Edmonstone_, 9th
January, 1764. Lord Hertford had procured him a pension of £200 a year
for life from the King, and the secretaryship was worth £1000 a year.

[13] Madame d'Epinay gives a ludicrous account of Hume's performance
when pressed into a _tableau_, as a Sultan between two slaves,
personated for the occasion by two of the prettiest women in Paris:--

"Il les regarde attentivement, _il se frappe le ventre_ et les genoux à
plusieurs reprises et ne trouve jamais autre chose à leur dire que _Eh
bien! mes demoiselles.--Eh bien! vous voilà donc.... Eh bien! vous voilà
... vous voilà ici?_ Cette phrase dura un quart d'heure sans qu'il pût
en sortir. Une d'elles se leva d'impatience: Ah, dit-elle, je m'en étois
bien doutée, cet homme n'est bon qu'à manger du veau!"--Burton's _Life
of Hume_, vol. ii. p. 224.





Kant has said that the business of philosophy is to answer three
questions: What can I know? What ought I to do? and For what may I hope?
But it is pretty plain that these three resolve themselves, in the long
run, into the first. For rational expectation and moral action are alike
based upon beliefs; and a belief is void of justification, unless its
subject-matter lies within the boundaries of possible knowledge, and
unless its evidence satisfies the conditions which experience imposes as
the guarantee of credibility.

Fundamentally, then, philosophy is the answer to the question, What can
I know? and it is by applying itself to this problem, that philosophy is
properly distinguished as a special department of scientific research.
What is commonly called science, whether mathematical, physical, or
biological, consists of the answers which mankind have been able to
give to the inquiry, What do I know? They furnish us with the results of
the mental operations which constitute thinking; while philosophy, in
the stricter sense of the term, inquires into the foundation of the
first principles which those operations assume or imply.

But though, by reason of the special purpose of philosophy, its
distinctness from other branches of scientific investigation may be
properly vindicated, it is easy to see that, from the nature of its
subject-matter, it is intimately and, indeed, inseparably connected with
one branch of science. For it is obviously impossible to answer the
question, What can we know? unless, in the first place, there is a clear
understanding as to what is meant by knowledge; and, having settled this
point, the next step is to inquire how we come by that which we allow to
be knowledge; for, upon the reply, turns the answer to the further
question, whether, from the nature of the case, there are limits to the
knowable or not. While, finally, inasmuch as What can I know? not only
refers to knowledge of the past or of the present, but to the confident
expectation which we call knowledge of the future; it is necessary to
ask, further, what justification can be alleged for trusting to the
guidance of our expectations in practical conduct.

It surely needs no argumentation to show, that the first problem cannot
be approached without the examination of the contents of the mind; and
the determination of how much of these contents may be called knowledge.
Nor can the second problem be dealt with in any other fashion; for it is
only by the observation of the growth of knowledge that we can
rationally hope to discover how knowledge grows. But the solution of
the third problem simply involves the discussion of the data obtained
by the investigation of the foregoing two.

Thus, in order to answer three out of the four subordinate questions
into which What can I know? breaks up, we must have recourse to that
investigation of mental phenomena, the results of which are embodied in
the science of psychology.

Psychology is a part of the science of life or biology, which differs
from the other branches of that science, merely in so far as it deals
with the psychical, instead of the physical, phenomena of life.

As there is an anatomy of the body, so there is an anatomy of the mind;
the psychologist dissects mental phenomena into elementary states of
consciousness, as the anatomist resolves limbs into tissues, and tissues
into cells. The one traces the development of complex organs from simple
rudiments; the other follows the building up of complex conceptions out
of simpler constituents of thought. As the physiologist inquires into
the way in which the so-called "functions" of the body are performed, so
the psychologist studies the so-called "faculties" of the mind. Even a
cursory attention to the ways and works of the lower animals suggests a
comparative anatomy and physiology of the mind; and the doctrine of
evolution presses for application as much in the one field as in the

But there is more than a parallel, there is a close and intimate
connexion between psychology and physiology. No one doubts that, at any
rate, some mental states are dependent for their existence on the
performance of the functions of particular bodily organs. There is no
seeing without eyes, and no hearing without ears. If the origin of the
contents of the mind is truly a philosophical problem, then the
philosopher who attempts to deal with that problem, without acquainting
himself with the physiology of sensation, has no more intelligent
conception of his business than the physiologist, who thinks he can
discuss locomotion, without an acquaintance with the principles of
mechanics; or respiration, without some tincture of chemistry.

On whatever ground we term physiology, science, psychology is entitled
to the same appellation; and the method of investigation which
elucidates the true relations of the one set of phenomena will discover
those of the other. Hence, as philosophy is, in great measure, the
exponent of the logical consequences of certain data established by
psychology; and as psychology itself differs from physical science only
in the nature of its subject-matter, and not in its method of
investigation, it would seem to be an obvious conclusion, that
philosophers are likely to be successful in their inquiries, in
proportion as they are familiar with the application of scientific
method to less abstruse subjects; just as it seems to require no
elaborate demonstration, that an astronomer, who wishes to comprehend
the solar system, would do well to acquire a preliminary acquaintance
with the elements of physics. And it is accordant with this presumption,
that the men who have made the most important positive additions to
philosophy, such as Descartes, Spinoza, and Kant, not to mention more
recent examples, have been deeply imbued with the spirit of physical
science; and, in some cases, such as those of Descartes and Kant, have
been largely acquainted with its details. On the other hand, the founder
of Positivism no less admirably illustrates the connexion of scientific
incapacity with philosophical incompetence. In truth, the laboratory is
the fore-court of the temple of philosophy; and whoso has not offered
sacrifices and undergone purification there, has little chance of
admission into the sanctuary.

Obvious as these considerations may appear to be, it would be wrong to
ignore the fact that their force is by no means universally admitted. On
the contrary, the necessity for a proper psychological and physiological
training to the student of philosophy is denied, on the one hand, by the
"pure metaphysicians," who attempt to base the theory of knowing upon
supposed necessary and universal truths, and assert that scientific
observation is impossible unless such truths are already known or
implied: which, to those who are not "pure metaphysicians," seems very
much as if one should say that the fall of a stone cannot be observed,
unless the law of gravitation is already in the mind of the observer.

On the other hand, the Positivists, so far as they accept the teachings
of their master, roundly assert, at any rate in words, that observation
of the mind is a thing inherently impossible in itself, and that
psychology is a chimera--a phantasm generated by the fermentation of the
dregs of theology. Nevertheless, if M. Comte had been asked what he
meant by "physiologic cérebrale," except that which other people call
"psychology;" and how he knew anything about the functions of the brain,
except by that very "observation intérieure," which he declares to be an
absurdity--it seems probable that he would have found it hard to escape
the admission, that, in vilipending psychology, he had been propounding
solemn nonsense.

It is assuredly one of Hume's greatest merits that he clearly recognised
the fact that philosophy is based upon psychology; and that the inquiry
into the contents and the operations of the mind must be conducted upon
the same principles as a physical investigation, if what he calls the
"moral philosopher" would attain results of as firm and definite a
character as those which reward the "natural philosopher."[14] The title
of his first work, a "_Treatise of Human Nature, being an Attempt to
introduce the Experimental method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects_,"
sufficiently indicates the point of view from which Hume regarded
philosophical problems; and he tells us in the preface, that his object
has been to promote the construction of a "science of man."

     "'Tis evident that all the sciences have a relation, greater or
     less, to human nature; and that, however wide any of them may seem
     to run from it, they still return back by one passage or another.
     Even _Mathematics_, _Natural Philosophy_, and _Natural Religion_
     are in some measure dependent on the science of MAN; since they lie
     under the cognizance of men, and are judged of by their powers and
     qualities. 'Tis impossible to tell what changes and improvements we
     might make in these sciences were we thoroughly acquainted with the
     extent and force of human understanding, and could explain the
     nature of the ideas we employ and of the operations we perform in
     our reasonings.... To me it seems evident that the essence of mind
     being equally unknown to us with that of external bodies, it must
     be equally impossible to form any notion of its powers and
     qualities otherwise than from careful and exact experiments, and
     the observation of those particular effects which result from its
     different circumstances and situations. And though we must
     endeavour to render all our principles as universal as possible, by
     tracing up our experiments to the utmost, and explaining all
     effects from the simplest and fewest causes, 'tis still certain we
     cannot go beyond experience; and any hypothesis that pretends to
     discover the ultimate original qualities of human nature, ought at
     first to be rejected as presumptuous and chimerical....

     "But if this impossibility of explaining ultimate principles should
     be esteemed a defect in the science of man, I will venture to
     affirm, that it is a defect common to it with all the sciences, and
     all the arts, in which we can employ ourselves, whether they be
     such as are cultivated in the schools of the philosophers, or
     practised in the shops of the meanest artisans. None of them can go
     beyond experience, or establish any principles which are not
     founded on that authority. Moral philosophy has, indeed, this
     peculiar disadvantage, which is not found in natural, that in
     collecting its experiments, it cannot make them purposely, with
     premeditation, and after such a manner as to satisfy itself
     concerning every particular difficulty which may arise. When I am
     at a loss to know the effects of one body upon another in any
     situation, I need only put them in that situation, and observe what
     results from it. But should I endeavour to clear up in the same
     manner any[15] doubt in moral philosophy, by placing myself in the
     same case with that which I consider, 'tis evident this reflection
     and premeditation would so disturb the operation of my natural
     principles, as must render it impossible to form any just
     conclusion from the phenomenon. We must, therefore, glean up our
     experiments in this science from a cautious observation of human
     life, and take them as they appear in the common course of the
     world, by men's behaviour in company, in affairs, and in their
     pleasures. Where experiments of this kind are judiciously collected
     and compared, we may hope to establish on them a science which
     will not be inferior in certainty, and will be much superior in
     utility, to any other of human comprehension."--(I. pp. 7-11.)

All science starts with hypotheses--in other words, with assumptions
that are unproved, while they may be, and often are, erroneous; but
which are better than nothing to the seeker after order in the maze of
phenomena. And the historical progress of every science depends on the
criticism of hypotheses--on the gradual stripping off, that is, of their
untrue or superfluous parts--until there remains only that exact verbal
expression of as much as we know of the fact, and no more, which
constitutes a perfect scientific theory.

Philosophy has followed the same course as other branches of scientific
investigation. The memorable service rendered to the cause of sound
thinking by Descartes consisted in this: that he laid the foundation of
modern philosophical criticism by his inquiry into the nature of
certainty. It is a clear result of the investigation started by
Descartes, that there is one thing of which no doubt can be entertained,
for he who should pretend to doubt it would thereby prove its existence;
and that is the momentary consciousness we call a present thought or
feeling; that is safe, even if all other kinds of certainty are merely
more or less probable inferences. Berkeley and Locke, each in his way,
applied philosophical criticism in other directions; but they always, at
any rate professedly, followed the Cartesian maxim of admitting no
propositions to be true but such as are clear, distinct, and evident,
even while their arguments stripped off many a layer of hypothetical
assumption which their great predecessor had left untouched. No one has
more clearly stated the aims of the critical philosopher than Locke, in
a passage of the famous _Essay concerning Human Understanding_, which,
perhaps, I ought to assume to be well known to all English readers, but
which so probably is unknown to this full-crammed and much examined
generation that I venture to cite it:

     "If by this inquiry into the nature of the understanding I can
     discover the powers thereof, how far they reach, to what things
     they are in any degree proportionate, and where they fail us, I
     suppose it may be of use to prevail with the busy mind of man to be
     more cautious in meddling with things exceeding its comprehension:
     to stop when it is at the utmost extent of its tether; and to sit
     down in quiet ignorance of those things which, upon examination,
     are proved to be beyond the reach of our capacities. We should not
     then, perhaps, be so forward, out of an affectation of universal
     knowledge, to raise questions and perplex ourselves and others with
     disputes about things to which our understandings are not suited,
     and of which we cannot frame in our minds any clear and distinct
     perception, or whereof (as it has, perhaps, too often happened) we
     have not any notion at all.... Men may find matter sufficient to
     busy their heads and employ their hands with variety, delight, and
     satisfaction, if they will not boldly quarrel with their own
     constitution and throw away the blessings their hands are filled
     with because they are not big enough to grasp everything. We shall
     not have much reason to complain of the narrowness of our minds, if
     we will but employ them about what may be of use to us: for of that
     they are very capable: and it will be an unpardonable, as well as a
     childish peevishness, if we under-value the advantages of our
     knowledge, and neglect to improve it to the ends for which it was
     given us, because there are some things that are set out of the
     reach of it. It will be no excuse to an idle and untoward servant
     who would not attend to his business by candlelight, to plead that
     he had not broad sunshine. The candle that is set up in us shines
     bright enough for all our purposes.... Our business here is not to
     know all things, but those which concern our conduct."[16]

Hume develops the same fundamental conception in a somewhat different
way, and with a more definite indication of the practical benefits which
may be expected from a critical philosophy. The first and second parts
of the twelfth section of the _Inquiry_ are devoted to a condemnation of
excessive scepticism, or Pyrrhonism, with which Hume couples a
caricature of the Cartesian doubt; but, in the third part, a certain
"mitigated scepticism" is recommended and adopted, under the title of
"academical philosophy." After pointing out that a knowledge of the
infirmities of the human understanding, even in its most perfect state,
and when most accurate and cautious in its determinations, is the best
check upon the tendency to dogmatism, Hume continues:--

     "Another species of _mitigated_ scepticism, which may be of
     advantage to mankind, and which maybe 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 instinct could free us from it. Those
     who have a propensity to philosophy will still continue their
     researches; because they reflect, that, besides the immediate
     pleasure attending such an occupation, philosophical decisions are
     nothing but the reflections of common life, methodised and
     corrected. But they will never be tempted to go beyond common 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 concerning any determination which we may
     form with regard to the origin of worlds and the situation of
     nature from and to eternity?"--(IV. pp. 189--90.)

But further, it is the business of criticism not only to keep watch over
the vagaries of philosophy, but to do the duty of police in the whole
world of thought. Wherever it espies sophistry or superstition they are
to be bidden to stand; nay, they are to be followed to their very dens
and there apprehended and exterminated, as Othello smothered Desdemona,
"else she'll betray more men."

Hume warms into eloquence as he sets forth the labours meet for the
strength and the courage of the Hercules of "mitigated scepticism."

     "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 defend themselves on fair
     ground, raise these entangling 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 overwhelm it with religious fears and prejudices. The
     stoutest antagonist, if he remits 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 superstition still in possession of
     her retreat? Is it not proper to draw an opposite conclusion, and
     perceive the necessity of carrying the war into the most secret
     recesses of the enemy?... 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 analysis
     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 ease ever after; and must cultivate true
     metaphysics with some care, in order to destroy the false and
     adulterated."--(IV. pp. 10, 11.)

Near a century and a half has elapsed since these brave words were
shaped by David Hume's pen; and the business of carrying the war into
the enemy's camp has gone on but slowly. Like other campaigns, it long
languished for want of a good base of operations. But since physical
science, in the course of the last fifty years, has brought to the front
an inexhaustible supply of heavy artillery of a new pattern, warranted
to drive solid bolts of fact through the thickest skulls, things are
looking better; though hardly more than the first faint flutterings of
the dawn of the happy day, when superstition and false metaphysics shall
be no more and reasonable folks may "live at ease," are as yet
discernible by the _enfants perdus_ of the outposts.

If, in thus conceiving the object and the limitations of philosophy,
Hume shows himself the spiritual child and continuator of the work of
Locke, he appears no less plainly as the parent of Kant and as the
protagonist of that more modern way of thinking, which has been called
"agnosticism," from its profession of an incapacity to discover the
indispensable conditions of either positive or negative knowledge, in
many propositions, respecting which, not only the vulgar, but
philosophers of the more sanguine sort, revel in the luxury of
unqualified assurance.

The aim of the _Kritik der reinen Vernunft_ is essentially the same as
that of the _Treatise of Human Nature_, by which indeed Kant was led to
develop that "critical philosophy" with which his name and fame are
indissolubly bound up: and, if the details of Kant's criticism differ
from those of Hume, they coincide with them in their main result, which
is the limitation of all knowledge of reality to the world of phenomena
revealed to us by experience.

The philosopher of Königsberg epitomises the philosopher of Ninewells
when he thus sums up the uses of philosophy:--

     "The greatest and perhaps the sole use of all philosophy of pure
     reason is, after all, merely negative, since it serves, not as an
     organon for the enlargement [of knowledge], but as a discipline for
     its delimitation; and instead of discovering truth, has only the
     modest merit of preventing error."[17]


[14] In a letter to Hutcheson (September 17th, 1739) Hume
remarks:--"There are different ways of examining the mind as well as the
body. One may consider it either as an anatomist or as a painter: either
to discover its most secret springs and principles, or to describe the
grace and beauty of its actions;" and he proceeds to justify his own
mode of looking at the moral sentiments from the anatomist's point of

[15] The manner in which Hume constantly refers to the results of the
observation of the contents and the processes of his own mind clearly
shows that he has here inadvertently overstated the case.

[16] Locke, _An Essay concerning Human Understanding_, Book I, chap. i,
§§ 4, 5, 6.

[17] _Kritik der reinen Vernunft._ Ed. Hartenstein, p. 256.



In the language of common life, the "mind" is spoken of as an entity,
independent of the body, though resident in and closely connected with
it, and endowed with numerous "faculties," such as sensibility,
understanding, memory, volition, which stand in the same relation to the
mind as the organs do to the body, and perform the functions of feeling,
reasoning, remembering, and willing. Of these functions, some, such as
sensation, are supposed to be merely passive--that is, they are called
into existence by impressions, made upon the sensitive faculty by a
material world of real objects, of which our sensations are supposed to
give us pictures; others, such as the memory and the reasoning faculty,
are considered to be partly passive and partly active; while volition is
held to be potentially, if not always actually, a spontaneous activity.

The popular classification and terminology of the phenomena of
consciousness, however, are by no means the first crude conceptions
suggested by common sense, but rather a legacy, and, in many respects, a
sufficiently _damnosa hæreditas_, of ancient philosophy, more or less
leavened by theology; which has incorporated itself with the common
thought of later times, as the vices of the aristocracy of one age
become those of the mob in the next. Very little attention to what
passes in the mind is sufficient to show, that these conceptions involve
assumptions of an extremely hypothetical character. And the first
business of the student of psychology is to get rid of such
prepossessions; to form conceptions of mental phenomena as they are
given us by observation, without any hypothetical admixture, or with
only so much as is definitely recognised and held subject to
confirmation or otherwise; to classify these phenomena according to
their clearly recognisable characters; and to adopt a nomenclature which
suggests nothing beyond the results of observation. Thus chastened,
observation of the mind makes us acquainted with nothing but certain
events, facts, or phenomena (whichever name be preferred) which pass
over the inward field of view in rapid and, as it may appear on careless
inspection, in disorderly succession, like the shifting patterns of a
kaleidoscope. To all these mental phenomena, or states of our
consciousness,[18] Descartes gave the name of "thoughts,"[19] while
Locke and Berkeley termed them "ideas." Hume, regarding this as an
improper use of the word "idea," for which he proposes another
employment, gives the general name of "perceptions" to all states of
consciousness. Thus, whatever other signification we may see reason to
attach to the word "mind," it is certain that it is a name which is
employed to denote a series of perceptions; just as the word "tune,"
whatever else it may mean, denotes, in the first place, a succession of
musical notes. Hume, indeed, goes further than others when he says

     "What we call a mind is nothing but a heap or collection of
     different perceptions, united together by certain relations, and
     supposed, though falsely, to be endowed with a perfect simplicity
     and identity."--(I. p. 268.)

With this "nothing but," however, he obviously falls into the primal and
perennial error of philosophical speculators--dogmatising from negative
arguments. He may be right or wrong; but the most he, or anybody else,
can prove in favour of his conclusion is, that we know nothing more of
the mind than that it is a series of perceptions. Whether there is
something in the mind that lies beyond the reach of observation; or
whether perceptions themselves are the products of something which can
be observed and which is not mind; are questions which can in nowise be
settled by direct observation. Elsewhere, the objectionable hypothetical
element of the definition of mind is less prominent:--

     "The true idea of the human mind is to consider it as a system of
     different perceptions, or different existences, which are linked
     together by the relation of cause and effect, and mutually produce,
     destroy, influence and modify each other.... In this respect I
     cannot compare the soul more properly to anything than a republic
     or commonwealth, in which the several members are united by the
     reciprocal ties of government and subordination, and give rise to
     other persons who propagate the same republic in the incessant
     changes of its parts."--(I. p. 331).

But, leaving the question of the proper definition of mind open for the
present, it is further a matter of direct observation, that, when we
take a general survey of all our perceptions or states of consciousness,
they naturally fall into sundry groups or classes. Of these classes, two
are distinguished by Hume as of primary importance. All "perceptions,"
he says, are either "_Impressions_" or "_Ideas_."

Under "impressions" he includes "all our more lively perceptions, when
we hear, see, feel, love, or will;" in other words, "all our sensations,
passions, and emotions, as they make their first appearance in the soul"
(I. p. 15).

"Ideas," on the other hand, are the faint images of impressions in
thinking and reasoning, or of antecedent ideas.

Both impressions and ideas may be either _simple_, when they are
incapable of further analysis, or _complex_, when they may be resolved
into simpler constituents. All simple ideas are exact copies of
impressions; but, in complex ideas, the arrangement of simple
constituents may be different from that of the impressions of which
those simple ideas are copies.

Thus the colours red and blue and the odour of a rose, are simple
impressions; while the ideas of blue, of red, and of rose-odour are
simple copies of these impressions. But a red rose gives us a complex
impression, capable of resolution into the simple impressions of red
colour, rose-scent, and numerous others; and we may have a complex idea,
which is an accurate, though faint, copy of this complex impression.
Once in possession of the ideas of a red rose and of the colour blue, we
may, in imagination, substitute blue for red; and thus obtain a complex
idea of a blue rose, which is not an actual copy of any complex
impression, though all its elements are such copies.

Hume has been criticised for making the distinction of impressions and
ideas to depend upon their relative strength or vivacity. Yet it would
be hard to point out any other character by which the things signified
can be distinguished. Any one who has paid attention to the curious
subject of what are called "subjective sensations" will be familiar with
examples of the extreme difficulty which sometimes attends the
discrimination of ideas of sensation from impressions of sensation, when
the ideas are very vivid, or the impressions are faint. Who has not
"fancied" he heard a noise; or has not explained inattention to a real
sound by saying, "I thought it was nothing but my fancy"? Even healthy
persons are much more liable to both visual and auditory spectra--that
is, ideas of vision and sound so vivid that they are taken for new
impressions--than is commonly supposed; and, in some diseased states,
ideas of sensible objects may assume all the vividness of reality.

If ideas are nothing but copies of impressions, arranged, either in the
same order as that of the impressions from which they are derived, or in
a different order, it follows that the ultimate analysis of the contents
of the mind turns upon that of the impressions. According to Hume,
these are of two kinds: either they are impressions of sensation, or
they are impressions of reflection. The former are those afforded by the
five senses, together with pleasure and pain. The latter are the
passions or the emotions (which Hume employs as equivalent terms). Thus
the elementary states of consciousness, the raw materials of knowledge,
so to speak, are either sensations or emotions; and whatever we discover
in the mind, beyond these elementary states of consciousness, results
from the combinations and the metamorphoses which they undergo.

It is not a little strange that a thinker of Hume's capacity should have
been satisfied with the results of a psychological analysis which
regards some obvious compounds as elements, while it omits altogether a
most important class of elementary states.

With respect to the former point, Spinoza's masterly examination of the
Passions in the third part of the _Ethics_ should have been known to
Hume.[20] But, if he had been acquainted with that wonderful piece of
psychological anatomy, he would have learned that the emotions and
passions are all complex states, arising from the close association of
ideas of pleasure or pain with other ideas; and, indeed, without going
to Spinoza, his own acute discussion of the passions leads to the same
result,[21] and is wholly inconsistent with his classification of those
mental states among the primary uncompounded materials of consciousness.

If Hume's "impressions of reflection" are excluded from among the
primary elements of consciousness, nothing is left but the impressions
afforded by the five senses, with pleasure and pain. Putting aside the
muscular sense, which had not come into view in Hume's time, the
questions arise whether these are all the simple undecomposable
materials of thought? or whether others exist of which Hume takes no

Kant answered the latter question in the affirmative, in the _Kritik der
reinen Vernunft_, and thereby made one of the greatest advances ever
effected in philosophy; though it must be confessed that the German
philosopher's exposition of his views is so perplexed in style, so
burdened with the weight of a cumbrous and uncouth scholasticism, that
it is easy to confound the unessential parts of his system with those
which are of profound importance. His baggage train is bigger than his
army, and the student who attacks him is too often led to suspect he has
won a position when he has only captured a mob of useless

In his _Principles of Psychology_, Mr. Herbert Spencer appears to me to
have brought out the essential truth which underlies Kant's doctrine in
a far clearer manner than any one else; but, for the purpose of the
present summary view of Hume's philosophy, it must suffice if I state
the matter in my own way, giving the broad outlines, without entering
into the details of a large and difficult discussion.

When a red light flashes across the field of vision, there arises in the
mind an "impression of sensation"--which we call red. It appears to me
that this sensation, red, is a something which may exist altogether
independently of any other impression, or idea, as an individual
existence. It is perfectly conceivable that a sentient being should have
no sense but vision, and that he should have spent his existence in
absolute darkness, with the exception of one solitary flash of red
light. That momentary illumination would suffice to give him the
impression under consideration; and the whole content of his
consciousness might be that impression; and, if he were endowed with
memory, its idea.

Such being the state of affairs, suppose a second flash of red light to
follow the first. If there were no memory of the latter, the state of
the mind on the second occasion would simply be a repetition of that
which occurred before. There would be merely another impression.

But suppose memory to exist, and that an idea of the first impression is
generated; then, if the supposed sentient being were like ourselves,
there might arise in his mind two altogether new impressions. The one is
the feeling of the _succession_ of the two impressions, the other is the
feeling of their _similarity_.

Yet a third case is conceivable. Suppose two flashes of red light to
occur together, then a third feeling might arise which is neither
succession nor similarity, but that which we call _co-existence_.

These feelings, or their contraries, are the foundation of everything
that we call a relation. They are no more capable of being described
than sensations are; and, as it appears to me, they are as little
susceptible of analysis into simpler elements. Like simple tastes and
smells, or feelings of pleasure and pain, they are ultimate irresolvable
facts of conscious experience; and, if we follow the principle of Hume's
nomenclature, they must be called _impressions of relation_. But it must
be remembered, that they differ from the other impressions, in requiring
the pre-existence of at least two of the latter. Though devoid of the
slightest resemblance to the other impressions, they are, in a manner,
generated by them. In fact, we may regard them as a kind of impressions
of impressions; or as the sensations of an inner sense, which takes
cognizance of the materials furnished to it by the outer senses.

Hume failed as completely as his predecessors had done to recognise the
elementary character of impressions of relation; and, when he discusses
relations, he falls into a chaos of confusion and self-contradiction.

In the _Treatise_, for example, (Book I., § iv.) resemblance, contiguity
in time and space, and cause and effect, are said to be the "uniting
principles among ideas," "the bond of union" or "associating quality by
which one idea naturally introduces another." Hume affirms that--

     "These qualities produce an association among ideas, and upon the
     appearance of one idea naturally introduce another." They are "the
     principles of union or cohesion among our simple ideas, and, in
     the imagination, supply the place of that inseparable connection by
     which they are united in our memory. Here is a kind of
     _attraction_, which, in the mental world, will be found to have as
     extraordinary effects as in the natural, and to show itself in as
     many and as various forms. Its effects are everywhere conspicuous;
     but, as to its causes they are mostly unknown, and must be resolved
     into _original_ qualities of human nature, which I pretend not to
     explain."--(I. p. 29.)

And at the end of this section Hume goes on to say--

     "Amongst the effects of this union or association of ideas, there
     are none more remarkable than those complex ideas which are the
     common subjects of our thought and reasoning, and generally arise
     from some principle of union among our simple ideas. These complex
     ideas may be resolved into _relations_, _modes_, and

In the next section, which is devoted to _Relations_, they are spoken of
as qualities "by which two ideas are connected together in the
imagination," or "which make objects admit of comparison," and seven
kinds of relation are enumerated, namely, _resemblance_, _identity_,
_space and time_, _quantity or number_, _degrees of quality_,
_contrariety_, and _cause and effect_.

To the reader of Hume, whose conceptions are usually so clear, definite,
and consistent, it is as unsatisfactory as it is surprising to meet with
so much questionable and obscure phraseology in a small space. One and
the same thing, for example, resemblance, is first called a "quality of
an idea," and secondly a "complex idea." Surely it cannot be both. Ideas
which have the qualities of "resemblance, contiguity, and cause and
effect," are said to "attract one another" (save the mark!), and so
become associated; though, in a subsequent part of the _Treatise_,
Hume's great effort is to prove that the relation of cause and effect is
a particular case of the process of association; that is to say, is a
result of the process of which it is supposed to be the cause. Moreover,
since, as Hume is never weary of reminding his readers, there is nothing
in ideas save copies of impressions, the qualities of resemblance,
contiguity, and so on, in the idea, must have existed in the impression
of which that idea is a copy; and therefore they must be either
sensations or emotions--from both of which classes they are excluded.

In fact, in one place, Hume himself has an insight into the real nature
of relations. Speaking of equality, in the sense of a relation of
quantity, he says--

     "Since equality is a relation, it is not, strictly speaking, a
     property in the figures themselves, but arises merely from the
     comparison which the mind makes between them."--(I. p. 70.)

That is to say, when two impressions of equal figures are present, there
arises in the mind a _tertium quid_, which is the perception of
equality. On his own principles, Hume should therefore have placed this
"perception" among the ideas of reflection. However, as we have seen, he
expressly excludes everything but the emotions and the passions from
this group.

It is necessary therefore to amend Hume's primary "geography of the
mind" by the excision of one territory and the addition of another; and
the elementary states of consciousness will stand thus:--

       A. Sensations of
           _a._ Smell.
           _b._ Taste.
           _c._ Hearing.
           _d._ Sight.
           _e._ Touch.
           _f._ Resistance (the muscular sense).
       B. Pleasure and Pain.
       C. Relations.
           _a._ Co-existence.
           _b._ Succession.
           _c._ Similarity and dissimilarity.
     B. IDEAS.
     Copies, or reproductions in memory, of the foregoing.

And now the question arises, whether any, and if so what, portion of
these contents of the mind are to be termed "knowledge."

According to Locke, "Knowledge is the perception of the agreement or
disagreement of two ideas;" and Hume, though he does not say so in so
many words, tacitly accepts the definition. It follows, that neither
simple sensation, nor simple emotion, constitutes knowledge; but that,
when impressions of relation are added to these impressions, or their
ideas, knowledge arises; and that all knowledge is the knowledge of
likenesses and unlikenesses, co-existences and successions.

It really matters very little in what sense terms are used, so long as
the same meaning is always rigidly attached to them; and, therefore, it
is hardly worth while to quarrel with this generally accepted, though
very arbitrary, limitation of the signification of "knowledge." But, on
the face of the matter, it is not obvious why the impression we call a
relation should have a better claim to the title of knowledge, than that
which we call a sensation or an emotion; and the restriction has this
unfortunate result, that it excludes all the most intense states of
consciousness from any claim to the title of "knowledge."

For example, on this view, pain, so violent and absorbing as to exclude
all other forms of consciousness, is not knowledge; but becomes a part
of knowledge the moment we think of it in relation to another pain, or
to some other mental phenomenon. Surely this is somewhat inconvenient,
for there is only a verbal difference between having a sensation and
knowing one has it: they are simply two phrases for the same mental

But the "pure metaphysicians" make great capital out of the ambiguity.
For, starting with the assumption that all knowledge is the perception
of relations, and finding themselves, like mere common-sense folks, very
much disposed to call sensation knowledge, they at once gratify that
disposition and save their consistency, by declaring that even the
simplest act of sensation contains two terms and a relation--the
sensitive subject, the sensigenous object, and that masterful entity,
the Ego. From which great triad, as from a gnostic Trinity, emanates an
endless procession of other logical shadows and all the _Fata Morgana_
of philosophical dreamland.


[18] "Consciousnesses" would be a better name, but it is awkward. I have
elsewhere proposed _psychoses_ as a substantive name for mental

[19] As this has been denied, it may be as well to give Descartes's
words: "Par le mot de penser, j'entends tout ce que se fait dans nous de
telle sorte que nous l'apercevons immédiatement par nous-mêmes: c'est
pourquoi non-seulement entendre, vouloir, imaginer, mais aussi sentir,
c'est le même chose ici que penser."--_Principes de Philosophie_. Ed.
Cousin. 57.

"Toutes les propriétés que nous trouvons en la chose qui pense ne sont
que des façons différentes de penser."--_Ibid._ 96.

[20] On the whole, it is pleasant to find satisfactory evidence that
Hume knew nothing of the works of Spinoza; for the invariably abusive
manner in which he refers to that type of the philosophic hero is only
to be excused, if it is to be excused, by sheer ignorance of his life
and work.

[21] For example, in discussing pride and humility, Hume says:--

"According as our idea of ourselves is more or less advantageous, we
feel either of these opposite affections, and are elated by pride or
dejected with humility ... when self enters not into the consideration
there is no room either for pride or humility." That is, pride is
pleasure, and humility is pain, associated with certain conceptions of
one's self; or, as Spinoza puts it:--"Superbia est de se præ amore sui
plus justo sentire" ("amor" being "lætitia concomitante idea causæ
externæ"); and "Humilitas est tristitia orta ex eo quod homo suam
impotentiam sive imbecillitatem contemplatur."



Admitting that the sensations, the feelings of pleasure and pain, and
those of relation, are the primary irresolvable states of consciousness,
two further lines of investigation present themselves. The one leads us
to seek the origin of these "impressions;" the other, to inquire into
the nature of the steps by which they become metamorphosed into those
compound states of consciousness, which so largely enter into our
ordinary trains of thought.

With respect to the origin of impressions of sensation, Hume is not
quite consistent with himself. In one place (I. p. 117) he says, that it
is impossible to decide "whether they arise immediately from the object,
or are produced by the creative power of the mind, or are derived from
the Author of our being," thereby implying that realism and idealism are
equally probable hypotheses. But, in fact, after the demonstration by
Descartes, that the immediate antecedents of sensations are changes in
the nervous system, with which our feelings have no sort of resemblance,
the hypothesis that sensations "arise immediately from the object" was
out of court; and that Hume fully admitted the Cartesian doctrine is
apparent when he says (I. p. 272):--

     "All our perceptions are dependent on our organs and the
     disposition of our nerves and animal spirits."

And again, though in relation to another question, he observes:--

     "There are three different kinds of impressions conveyed by the
     senses. The first are those of the figure, bulk, motion, and
     solidity of bodies. The second those of colours, tastes, smells,
     sounds, heat, and cold. The third are the pains and pleasures that
     arise from the application of objects to our bodies, as by the
     cutting of our flesh with steel, and such like. Both philosophers
     and the vulgar suppose the first of these to have a distinct
     continued existence. The vulgar only regard the second as on the
     same footing. Both philosophers and the vulgar again esteem the
     third to be merely perceptions, and consequently interrupted and
     dependent beings.

     "Now 'tis evident that, whatever may be our philosophical opinion,
     colour, sounds, heat, and cold, as far as appears to the senses,
     exist after the same manner with motion and solidity; and that the
     difference we make between them, in this respect, arises not from
     the mere perception. So strong is the prejudice for the distinct
     continued existence of the former qualities, that when the contrary
     opinion is advanced by modern philosophers, people imagine they can
     almost refute it from their reason and experience, and that their
     very senses contradict this philosophy. 'Tis also evident that
     colours, sounds, &c., are originally on the same footing with the
     pain that arises from steel, and pleasure that proceeds from a
     fire; and that the difference betwixt them is founded neither on
     perception nor reason, but on the imagination. For as they are
     confessed to be, both of them, nothing but perceptions arising from
     the particular configurations and motions of the parts of body,
     wherein possibly can their difference consist? Upon the whole,
     then, we may conclude that, as far as the senses are judges, all
     perceptions are the same in the manner of their existence."--(I. p.
     250, 251.)

The last words of this passage are as much Berkeley's as Hume's. But,
instead of following Berkeley in his deductions from the position thus
laid down, Hume, as the preceding citation shows, fully adopted the
conclusion to which all that we know of psychological physiology tends,
that the origin of the elements of consciousness, no less than that of
all its other states, is to be sought in bodily changes, the seat of
which can only be placed in the brain. And, as Locke had already done
with less effect, he states and refutes the arguments commonly brought
against the possibility of a causal connexion between the modes of
motion of the cerebral substance and states of consciousness, with great

     "From these hypotheses concerning the _substance_ and _local
     conjunction_ of our perceptions we may pass to another, which is
     more intelligible than the former, and more important than the
     latter, viz. concerning the _cause_ of our perceptions. Matter and
     motion, 'tis commonly said in the schools, however varied, are
     still matter and motion, and produce only a difference in the
     position and situation of objects. Divide a body as often as you
     please, 'tis still body. Place it in any figure, nothing ever
     results but figure, or the relation of parts. Move it in any
     manner, you still find motion or a change of relation. 'Tis absurd
     to imagine that motion in a circle, for instance, should be nothing
     but merely motion in a circle; while motion in another direction,
     as in an ellipse, should also be a passion or moral reflection;
     that the shocking of two globular particles should become a
     sensation of pain, and that the meeting of the triangular ones
     should afford a pleasure. Now as these different shocks and
     variations and mixtures are the only changes of which matter is
     susceptible, and as these never afford us any idea of thought or
     perception, 'tis concluded to be impossible, that thought can ever
     be caused by matter.

     "Few have been able to withstand the seeming evidence of this
     argument; and yet nothing in the world is more easy than to refute
     it. We need only reflect upon what has been proved at large, that
     we are never sensible of any connexion between causes and effects,
     and that 'tis only by our experience of their constant conjunction
     we can arrive at any knowledge of this relation. Now, as all
     objects which are not contrary are susceptible of a constant
     conjunction, and as no real objects are contrary, I have inferred
     from these principles (Part III. § 15) that, to consider the matter
     _a priori_, anything may produce anything, and that we shall never
     discover a reason why any object may or may not be the cause of any
     other, however great, or however little, the resemblance may be
     betwixt them. This evidently destroys the precedent reasoning,
     concerning the cause of thought or perception. For though there
     appear no manner of connection betwixt motion and thought, the case
     is the same with all other causes and effects. Place one body of a
     pound weight on one end of a lever, and another body of the same
     weight on the other end; you will never find in these bodies any
     principle of motion dependent on their distance from the centre,
     more than of thought and perception. If you pretend, therefore, to
     prove, _a priori_, that such a position of bodies can never cause
     thought, because, turn it which way you will, it is nothing but a
     position of bodies: you must, by the same course of reasoning,
     conclude that it can never produce motion, since there is no more
     apparent connection in the one than in the other. But, as this
     latter conclusion is contrary to evident experience, and as 'tis
     possible we may have a like experience in the operations of the
     mind, and may perceive a constant conjunction of thought and
     motion, you reason too hastily when, from the mere consideration of
     the ideas, you conclude that 'tis impossible motion can ever
     produce thought, or a different position of parts give rise to a
     different passion or reflection. Nay, 'tis not only possible we may
     have such an experience, but 'tis certain we have it; since every
     one may perceive that the different dispositions of his body change
     his thoughts and sentiments. And should it be said that this
     depends on the union of soul and body, I would answer, that we must
     separate the question concerning the substance of the mind from
     that concerning the cause of its thought; and that, confining
     ourselves to the latter question, we find, by the comparing their
     ideas, that thought and motion are different from each other and by
     experience, that they are constantly united; which, being all the
     circumstances that enter into the idea of cause and effect, when
     applied to the operations of matter, we may certainly conclude that
     motion may be, and actually is, the cause of thought and
     perception."--(I. pp. 314-316.)

The upshot of all this is, that the "collection of perceptions," which
constitutes the mind, is really a system of effects, the causes of which
are to be sought in antecedent changes of the matter of the brain, just
as the "collection of motions," which we call flying, is a system of
effects, the causes of which are to be sought in the modes of motion of
the matter of the muscles of the wings.

Hume, however, treats of this important topic only incidentally. He
seems to have had very little acquaintance even with such physiology as
was current in his time. At least, the only passage of his works,
bearing on this subject, with which I am acquainted, contains nothing
but a very odd version of the physiological views of Descartes:--

     "When I received the relations of _resemblance_, _contiguity_, and
     _causation_, as principles of union among ideas, without examining
     into their causes, 'twas more in prosecution of my first maxim,
     that we must in the end rest contented with experience, than for
     want of something specious and plausible which I might have
     displayed on that subject. 'Twould have been easy to have made an
     imaginary dissection of the brain, and have shown why, upon our
     conception of any idea, the animal spirits run into all the
     contiguous traces and rouse up the other ideas that are related to
     it. But though I have neglected any advantage which I might have
     drawn from this topic in explaining the relations of ideas, I am
     afraid I must here have recourse to it, in order to account for the
     mistakes that arise from these relations. I shall therefore
     observe, that as the mind is endowed with the power of exciting any
     idea it pleases; whenever it despatches the spirits into that
     region of the brain in which the idea is placed; these spirits
     always excite the idea, when they run precisely into the proper
     traces and rummage that cell which belongs to the idea. But as
     their motion is seldom direct, and naturally turns a little to the
     one side or to the other; for this reason the animal spirits,
     falling into the contiguous traces, present other related ideas, in
     lieu of that which the mind desired at first to survey. This change
     we are not always sensible of; but continuing still the same train
     of thought, make use of the related idea which is presented to us
     and employ it in our reasonings, as if it were the same with what
     we demanded. This is the cause of many mistakes and sophisms in
     philosophy; as will naturally be imagined, and as it would be easy
     to show, if there was occasion."--(I. p. 88.)

Perhaps it is as well for Hume's fame that the occasion for further
physiological speculations of this sort did not arise. But, while
admitting the crudity of his notions and the strangeness of the language
in which they are couched, it must in justice be remembered, that what
are now known as the elements of the physiology of the nervous system
were hardly dreamed of in the first half of the eighteenth century; and,
as a further set off to Hume's credit, it must be noted that he grasped
the fundamental truth, that the key to the comprehension of mental
operations lies in the study of the molecular changes of the nervous
apparatus by which they are originated.

Surely no one who is cognisant of the facts of the case, nowadays,
doubts that the roots of psychology lie in the physiology of the nervous
system. What we call the operations of the mind are functions of the
brain, and the materials of consciousness are products of cerebral
activity. Cabanis may have made use of crude and misleading phraseology
when he said that the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile;
but the conception which that much-abused phrase embodies is,
nevertheless, far more consistent with fact than the popular notion that
the mind is a metaphysical entity seated in the head, but as independent
of the brain as a telegraph operator is of his instrument.

It is hardly necessary to point out that the doctrine just laid down is
what is commonly called materialism. In fact, I am not sure that the
adjective "crass," which appears to have a special charm for rhetorical
sciolists, would not be applied to it. But it is, nevertheless, true
that the doctrine contains nothing inconsistent with the purest
idealism. For, as Hume remarks (as indeed Descartes had observed long

     "'Tis not our body we perceive when we regard our limbs and
     members, but certain impressions which enter by the senses; so that
     the ascribing a real and corporeal existence to these impressions,
     or to their objects, is an act of the mind as difficult to explain
     as that [the external existence of objects] which we examine at
     present."--(I. p. 249.)

Therefore, if we analyse the proposition that all mental phenomena are
the effects or products of material phenomena, all that it means amounts
to this; that whenever those states of consciousness which we call
sensation, or emotion, or thought, come into existence, complete
investigation will show good reason for the belief that they are
preceded by those other phenomena of consciousness to which we give the
names of matter and motion. All material changes appear, in the long
run, to be modes of motion; but our knowledge of motion is nothing but
that of a change in the place and order of our sensations; just as our
knowledge of matter is restricted to those feelings of which we assume
it to be the cause.

It has already been pointed out, that Hume must have admitted, and in
fact does admit, the possibility that the mind is a Leibnitzian monad,
or a Fichtean world-generating Ego, the universe of things being merely
the picture produced by the evolution of the phenomena of consciousness.
For any demonstration that can be given to the contrary effect, the
"collection of perceptions" which makes up our consciousness may be an
orderly phantasmagoria generated by the Ego, unfolding its successive
scenes on the background of the abyss of nothingness; as a firework,
which is but cunningly arranged combustibles, grows from a spark into a
coruscation, and from a coruscation into figures, and words, and
cascades of devouring fire, and then vanishes into the darkness of the

On the other hand, it must no less readily be allowed that, for anything
that can be proved to the contrary, there may be a real something which
is the cause of all our impressions; that sensations, though not
likenesses, are symbols of that something; and that the part of that
something, which we call the nervous system, is an apparatus for
supplying us with a sort of algebra of fact, based on those symbols. A
brain may be the machinery by which the material universe becomes
conscious of itself. But it is important to notice that, even if this
conception of the universe and of the relation of consciousness to its
other components should be true, we should, nevertheless, be still bound
by the limits of thought, still unable to refute the arguments of pure
idealism. The more completely the materialistic position is admitted,
the easier is it to show that the idealistic position is unassailable,
if the idealist confines himself within the limits of positive

Hume deals with the questions whether all our ideas are derived from
experience, or whether, on the contrary, more or fewer of them are
innate, which so much exercised the mind of Locke, after a somewhat
summary fashion, in a note to the second section of the _Inquiry_:--

     "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
     innate 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 with 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, our 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, then we may assert
     that all our impressions are innate, and our ideas not innate."

It would seem that Hume did not think it worth while to acquire a
comprehension of the real points at issue in the controversy which he
thus carelessly dismisses.

Yet Descartes has defined what he means by innate ideas with so much
precision, that misconception ought to have been impossible. He says
that, when he speaks of an idea being "innate," he means that it exists
potentially in the mind, before it is actually called into existence by
whatever is its appropriate exciting cause.

     "I have never either thought or said," he writes, "that the mind
     has any need of innate ideas [_idées naturelles_] which are
     anything distinct from its faculty of thinking. But it is true that
     observing that there are certain thoughts which arise neither from
     external objects nor from the determination of my will, but only
     from my faculty of thinking; in order to mark the difference
     between the ideas or the notions which are the forms of these
     thoughts, and to distinguish them from the others, which may be
     called extraneous or voluntary, I have called them innate. But I
     have used this term in the same sense as when we say that
     generosity is innate in certain families; or that certain maladies,
     such as gout or gravel, are innate in others; not that children
     born in these families are troubled with such diseases in their
     mother's womb; but because they are born with the disposition or
     the faculty of contracting them."[22]

His troublesome disciple, Regius, having asserted that all our ideas
come from observation or tradition, Descartes remarks:--

     "So thoroughly erroneous is this assertion, that whoever has a
     proper comprehension of the action of our senses, and understands
     precisely the nature of that which is transmitted by them to our
     thinking faculty, will rather affirm that no ideas of things, such
     as are formed in thought, are brought to us by the senses, so that
     there is nothing in our ideas which is other than innate in the
     mind (_naturel à l'esprit_), or in the faculty of thinking, if only
     certain circumstances are excepted, which belong only to
     experience. For example, it is experience alone which causes us to
     judge that such and such ideas, now present in our minds, are
     related to certain things which are external to us; not in truth,
     that they have been sent into our mind by these things, such as
     they are, by the organs of the senses; but because these organs
     have transmitted something which has occasioned the mind, in virtue
     of its innate power, to form them at this time rather than at

     "Nothing passes from external objects to the soul except certain
     motions of matter (_mouvemens corporels_), but neither these
     motions, nor the figures which they produce, are conceived by us as
     they exist in the sensory organs, as I have fully explained in my
     "Dioptrics"; whence it follows that even the ideas of motion and of
     figures are innate (_naturellement en nous_). And, _à fortiori_,
     the ideas of pain, of colours, of sounds, and of all similar things
     must be innate, in order that the mind may represent them to
     itself, on the occasion of certain motions of matter with which
     they have no resemblance."

Whoever denies what is, in fact, an inconceivable proposition, that
sensations pass, as such, from the external world into the mind, must
admit the conclusion here laid down by Descartes, that, strictly
speaking, sensations, and _à fortiori_, all the other contents of the
mind, are innate. Or, to state the matter in accordance with the views
previously expounded, that they are products of the inherent properties
of the thinking organ, in which they lie potentially, before they are
called into existence by their appropriate causes.

But if all the contents of the mind are innate, what is meant by

It is the conversion, by unknown causes, of these innate potentialities
into actual existences. The organ of thought, prior to experience, may
be compared to an untouched piano, in which it may be properly said that
music is innate, inasmuch as its mechanism contains, potentially, so
many octaves of musical notes. The unknown cause of sensation which
Descartes calls the "je ne sais quoi dans les objets" or "choses telles
qu'elles sont," and Kant the "Noumenon" or "Ding an sich," is
represented by the musician; who, by touching the keys, converts the
potentiality of the mechanism into actual sounds. A note so produced is
the equivalent of a single experience.

All the melodies and harmonies that proceed from the piano depend upon
the action of the musician upon the keys. There is no internal mechanism
which, when certain keys are struck, gives rise to an accompaniment of
which the musician is only indirectly the cause. According to Descartes,
however--and this is what is generally fixed upon as the essence of his
doctrine of innate ideas--the mind possesses such an internal mechanism,
by which certain classes of thoughts are generated, on the occasion of
certain experiences. Such thoughts are innate, just as sensations are
innate; they are not copies of sensations, any more than sensations are
copies of motions; they are invariably generated in the mind, when
certain experiences arise in it, just as sensations are invariably
generated when certain bodily motions take place; they are universal,
inasmuch as they arise under the same conditions in all men; they are
necessary, because their genesis under these conditions is invariable.
These innate thoughts are what Descartes terms "vérités" or truths: that
is beliefs--and his notions respecting them are plainly set forth in a
passage of the _Principes_.

     "Thus far I have discussed that which we know as things: it remains
     that I should speak of that which we know as truths. For example,
     when we think that it is impossible to make anything out of
     nothing, we do not imagine that this proposition is a thing which
     exists, or a property of something, but we take it for a certain
     eternal truth, which has its seat in the mind (_pensée_), and is
     called a common notion or an axiom. Similarly, when we affirm that
     it is impossible that one and the same thing should exist and not
     exist at the same time; that that which has been created should not
     have been created; that he who thinks must exist while he thinks;
     and a number of other like propositions; these are only truths, and
     not things which exist outside our thoughts. And there is such a
     number of these that it would be wearisome to enumerate them: nor
     is it necessary to do so, because we cannot fail to know them when
     the occasion of thinking about them presents itself, and we are not
     blinded by any prejudices."

It would appear that Locke was not more familiar with Descartes'
writings than Hume seems to have been; for, viewed in relation to the
passages just cited, the arguments adduced in his famous polemic against
innate ideas are totally irrelevant.

It has been shown that Hume practically, if not in so many words,
admits the justice of Descartes' assertion that, strictly speaking,
sensations are innate; that is to say, that they are the product of the
reaction of the organ of the mind on the stimulus of an "unknown cause,"
which is Descartes' "je ne sais quoi." Therefore, the difference between
Descartes' opinion and that of Hume resolves itself into this: Given
sensation-experiences, can all the contents of consciousness be derived
from the collocation and metamorphosis of these experiences? Or, are new
elements of consciousness, products of an innate potentiality distinct
from sensibility, added to these? Hume affirms the former position,
Descartes the latter. If the analysis of the phenomena of consciousness
given in the preceding pages is correct, Hume is in error; while the
father of modern philosophy had a truer insight, though he overstated
the case. For want of sufficiently searching psychological
investigations, Descartes was led to suppose that innumerable ideas, the
evolution of which in the course of experience can be demonstrated, were
direct or innate products of the thinking faculty.

As has been already pointed out, it is the great merit of Kant that he
started afresh on the track indicated by Descartes, and steadily upheld
the doctrine of the existence of elements of consciousness, which are
neither sense-experiences nor any modifications of them. We may demur to
the expression that space and time are forms of sensory intuition; but
it imperfectly represents the great fact that co-existence and
succession are mental phenomena not given in the mere sense


[22] Remarques de René Descartes sur un certain placard imprimé aux Pays
Bas vers la fin de l'année, 1647.--Descartes, _OEuvres_. Ed. Cousin,
x. p. 71.

[23] "Wir können uns keinen Gegenstand denken, ohne durch Kategorien;
wir können keinen gedachten Gegenstand erkennen, ohne durch
Anschauungen, die jenen Begriffen entsprechen. Nun sind alle unsere
Anschauungen sinnlich, und diese Erkenntniss, so fern der Gegenstand
derselben gegeben ist, ist empirisch. Empirische Erkenntniss aber ist
Erfahrung. Folglich ist uns keine Erkenntniss _a priori_ möglich, als
lediglich von Gegenständen möglicher Erfahrung."

"Aber diese Erkenntniss, die bloss auf Gegenstände der Erfahrung
eingeschränkt ist, ist darum nicht alle von der Erfahrung entlehnt,
sondern was sowohl die reinen Anschauungen, als die reinen
Verstandesbegriffe betrifft, so sind sie Elemente der Erkenntniss die in
uns _a priori_ angetroffen werden."--_Kritik der reinen Vernunft.
Elementarlehre_, p. 135.

Without a glossary explanatory of Kant's terminology, this passage would
be hardly intelligible in a translation; but it may be paraphrased thus:
All knowledge is founded upon experiences of sensation, but it is not
all derived from those experiences; inasmuch as the impressions of
relation ("reine Anschauungen"; "reine Verstandesbegriffe") have a
potential or _à priori_ existence in us, and by their addition to
sense-experiences, constitute knowledge.



If, as has been set forth in the preceding chapter, all mental states
are effects of physical causes, it follows that what are called mental
faculties and operations are, properly speaking, cerebral functions,
allotted to definite, though not yet precisely assignable, parts of the

These functions appear to be reducible to three groups, namely:
Sensation, Correlation, and Ideation.

The organs of the functions of sensation and correlation are those
portions of the cerebral substance, the molecular changes of which give
rise to impressions of sensation and impressions of relation.

The changes in the nervous matter which bring about the effects which we
call its functions, follow upon some kind of stimulus, and rapidly
reaching their maximum, as rapidly die away. The effect of the
irritation of a nerve-fibre on the cerebral substance with which it is
connected may be compared to the pulling of a long bell-wire. The
impulse takes a little time to reach the bell; the bell rings and then
becomes quiescent, until another pull is given. So, in the brain, every
sensation is the ring of a cerebral particle, the effect of a momentary
impulse sent along a nerve-fibre.

If there were a complete likeness between the two terms of this very
rough and ready comparison, it is obvious that there could be no such
thing as memory. A bell records no audible sign of having been rung five
minutes ago, and the activity of a sensigenous cerebral particle might
similarly leave no trace. Under these circumstances, again, it would
seem that the only impressions of relation which could arise would be
those of co-existence and of similarity. For succession implies memory
of an antecedent state.[24]

But the special peculiarity of the cerebral apparatus is, that any given
function which has once been performed is very easily set a-going again,
by causes more or less different from those to which it owed its origin.
Of the mechanism of this generation of images of impressions or ideas
(in Hume's sense), which may be termed _Ideation_, we know nothing at
present, though the fact and its results are familiar enough.

During our waking, and many of our sleeping, hours, in fact, the
function of ideation is in continual, if not continuous, activity.
Trains of thought, as we call them, succeed one another without
intermission, even when the starting of new trains by fresh
sense-impressions is as far as possible prevented. The rapidity and the
intensity of this ideational process are obviously dependent upon
physiological conditions. The widest differences in these respects are
constitutional in men of different temperaments; and are observable in
oneself, under varying conditions of hunger and repletion, fatigue and
freshness, calmness and emotional excitement. The influence of diet on
dreams; of stimulants upon the fulness and the velocity of the stream of
thought; the delirious phantasms generated by disease, by hashish, or by
alcohol; will occur to every one as examples of the marvellous
sensitiveness of the apparatus of ideation to purely physical

The succession of mental states in ideation is not fortuitous, but
follows the law of association, which may be stated thus: that every
idea tends to be followed by some other idea which is associated with
the first, or its impression, by a relation of succession, of
contiguity, or of likeness.

Thus the idea of the word horse just now presented itself to my mind,
and was followed in quick succession by the ideas of four legs, hoofs,
teeth, rider, saddle, racing, cheating; all of which ideas are connected
in my experience with the impression, or the idea, of a horse and with
one another, by the relations of contiguity and succession. No great
attention to what passes in the mind is needful to prove that our trains
of thought are neither to be arrested, nor even permanently controlled,
by our desires or emotions. Nevertheless they are largely influenced by
them. In the presence of a strong desire, or emotion, the stream of
thought no longer flows on in a straight course, but seems, as it were,
to eddy round the idea of that which is the object of the emotion. Every
one who has "eaten his bread in sorrow" knows how strangely the current
of ideas whirls about the conception of the object of regret or remorse
as a centre; every now and then, indeed, breaking away into the new
tracks suggested by passing associations, but still returning to the
central thought. Few can have been so happy as to have escaped the
social bore, whose pet notion is certain to crop up whatever topic is
started; while the fixed idea of the monomaniac is but the extreme form
of the same phenomenon.

And as, on the one hand, it is so hard to drive away the thought we
would fain be rid of; so, upon the other, the pleasant imaginations
which we would so gladly retain are, sooner or later, jostled away by
the crowd of claimants for birth into the world of consciousness; which
hover as a sort of psychical possibilities, or inverse ghosts, the
bodily presentments of spiritual phenomena to be, in the limbo of the
brain. In that form of desire which is called "attention," the train of
thought, held fast, for a time, in the desired direction, seems ever
striving to get on to another line--and the junctions and sidings are so

The constituents of trains of ideas may be grouped in various ways.

Hume says:--

     "We find, by experience, that when any impression has been present
     in the mind, it again makes its appearance there as an idea, and
     this it may do in two different ways: either when, on its new
     appearance, it retains a considerable degree of its first vivacity,
     and is somewhat intermediate between an impression and an idea; or
     when it entirely loses that vivacity, and is a perfect idea. The
     faculty by which we repeat our impressions in the first manner, is
     called the _memory_, and the other the _imagination_."--(I. pp. 23,

And he considers that the only difference between ideas of imagination
and those of memory, except the superior vivacity of the latter, lies
in the fact that those of memory preserve the original order of the
impressions from which they are derived, while the imagination "is free
to transpose and change its ideas."

The latter statement of the difference between memory and imagination is
less open to cavil than the former, though by no means unassailable.

The special characteristic of a memory surely is not its vividness; but
that it is a complex idea, in which the idea of that which is remembered
is related by co-existence with other ideas, and by antecedence with
present impressions.

If I say I remember A. B., the chance acquaintance of ten years ago, it
is not because my idea of A. B. is very vivid--on the contrary, it is
extremely faint--but because that idea is associated with ideas of
impressions co-existent with those which I call A. B.; and that all
these are at the end of the long series of ideas, which represent that
much past time. In truth I have a much more vivid idea of Mr. Pickwick,
or of Colonel Newcome, than I have of A. B.; but, associated with the
ideas of these persons, I have no idea of their having ever been derived
from the world of impressions; and so they are relegated to the world of
imagination. On the other hand, the characteristic of an imagination may
properly be said to lie not in its intensity, but in the fact that, as
Hume puts it, "the arrangement," or the relations, of the ideas are
different from those in which the impressions, whence these ideas are
derived, occurred; or in other words, that the thing imagined has not
happened. In popular usage, however, imagination is frequently employed
for simple memory--"In imagination I was back in the old times."

It is a curious omission on Hume's part that, while thus dwelling on two
classes of ideas, _Memories_ and _Imaginations_, he has not, at the same
time, taken notice of a third group, of no small importance, which are
as different from imaginations as memories are; though, like the latter,
they are often confounded with pure imaginations in general speech.
These are the ideas of expectation, or as they may be called for the
sake of brevity, _Expectations_; which differ from simple imaginations
in being associated with the idea of the existence of corresponding
impressions, in the future, just as memories contain the idea of the
existence of the corresponding impressions in the past.

The ideas belonging to two of the three groups enumerated: namely,
memories and expectations, present some features, of particular
interest. And first, with respect to memories.

In Hume's words, all simple ideas are copies of simple impressions. The
idea of a single sensation is a faint, but accurate, image of that
sensation; the idea of a relation is a reproduction of the feeling of
co-existence, of succession, or of similarity. But, when complex
impressions or complex ideas are reproduced as memories, it is probable
that the copies never give all the details of the originals with perfect
accuracy, and it is certain that they rarely do so. No one possesses a
memory so good, that if he has only once observed a natural object, a
second inspection does not show him something that he has forgotten.
Almost all, if not all, our memories are therefore sketches, rather than
portraits, of the originals--the salient features are obvious, while the
subordinate characters are obscure or unrepresented.

Now, when several complex impressions which are more or less different
from one another--let us say that out of ten impressions in each, six
are the same in all, and four are different from all the rest--are
successively presented to the mind, it is easy to see what must be the
nature of the result. The repetition of the six similar impressions will
strengthen the six corresponding elements of the complex idea, which
will therefore acquire greater vividness; while the four differing
impressions of each will not only acquire no greater strength than they
had at first, but, in accordance with the law of association, they will
all tend to appear at once, and will thus neutralise one another.

This mental operation may be rendered comprehensible by considering what
takes place in the formation of compound photographs--when the images of
the faces of six sitters, for example, are each received on the same
photographic plate, for a sixth of the time requisite to take one
portrait. The final result is that all those points in which the six
faces agree are brought out strongly, while all those in which they
differ are left vague; and thus what may be termed a _generic_ portrait
of the six, in contradistinction to a _specific_ portrait of any one, is

Thus our ideas of single complex impressions are incomplete in one way,
and those of numerous, more or less similar, complex impressions are
incomplete in another way; that is to say, they are _generic_, not
_specific_. And hence it follows, that our ideas of the impressions in
question are not, in the strict sense of the word, copies of those
impressions; while, at the same time, they may exist in the mind
independently of language.

The generic ideas which are formed from several similar, but not
identical, complex experiences are what are commonly called _abstract_
or _general_ ideas; and Berkeley endeavoured to prove that all general
ideas are nothing but particular ideas annexed to a certain term, which
gives them a more extensive signification, and makes them recall, upon
occasion, other individuals which are similar to them. Hume says that he
regards this as "one of the greatest and the most valuable discoveries
that has been made of late years in the republic of letters," and
endeavours to confirm it in such a manner that it shall be "put beyond
all doubt and controversy."

I may venture to express a doubt whether he has succeeded in his object;
but the subject is an abstruse one; and I must content myself with the
remark, that though Berkeley's view appears to be largely applicable to
such general ideas as are formed after language has been acquired, and
to all the more abstract sort of conceptions, yet that general ideas of
sensible objects may nevertheless be produced in the way indicated, and
may exist independently of language. In dreams, one sees houses, trees
and other objects, which are perfectly recognisable as such, but which
remind one of the actual objects as seen "out of the corner of the eye,"
or of the pictures thrown by a badly-focussed magic lantern. A man
addresses us who is like a figure seen by twilight; or we travel through
countries where every feature of the scenery is vague; the outlines of
the hills are ill-marked, and the rivers have no defined banks. They
are, in short, generic ideas of many past impressions of men, hills, and
rivers. An anatomist who occupies himself intently with the examination
of several specimens of some new kind of animal, in course of time
acquires so vivid a conception of its form and structure, that the idea
may take visible shape and become a sort of waking dream. But the figure
which thus presents itself is generic, not specific. It is no copy of
any one specimen, but, more or less, a mean of the series; and there
seems no reason to doubt that the minds of children before they learn to
speak, and of deaf mutes, are peopled with similarly generated generic
ideas of sensible objects.

It has been seen that a memory is a complex idea made up of at least two
constituents. In the first place there is the idea of an object; and
secondly, there is the idea of the relation of antecedence between that
object and some present objects.

To say that one has a recollection of a given event and to express the
belief that it happened, are two ways of giving an account of one and
the same mental fact. But the former mode of stating the fact of memory
is preferable, at present, because it certainly does not presuppose the
existence of language in the mind of the rememberer; while it may be
said that the latter does. It is perfectly possible to have the idea of
an event A, and of the events B, C, D, which came between it and the
present state E, as mere mental pictures. It is hardly to be doubted
that children have very distinct memories long before they can speak;
and we believe that such is the case because they act upon their
memories. But, if they act upon their memories, they to all intents and
purposes believe their memories. In other words, though, being devoid of
language, the child cannot frame a proposition expressive of belief;
cannot say "sugar-plum was sweet;" yet the psychical operation of which
that proposition is merely the verbal expression, is perfectly
effected. The experience of the co-existence of sweetness with sugar has
produced a state of mind which bears the same relation to a verbal
proposition, as the natural disposition to produce a given idea, assumed
to exist by Descartes as an "innate idea" would bear to that idea put
into words.

The fact that the beliefs of memory precede the use of language, and
therefore are originally purely instinctive, and independent of any
rational justification, should have been of great importance to Hume,
from its bearing upon his theory of causation; and it is curious that he
has not adverted to it, but always takes the trustworthiness of memories
for granted. It may be worth while briefly to make good the omission.

That I was in pain, yesterday, is as certain to me as any matter of fact
can be; by no effort of the imagination is it possible for me really to
entertain the contrary belief. At the same time, I am bound to admit,
that the whole foundation for my belief is the fact, that the idea of
pain is indissolubly associated in my mind with the idea of that much
past time. Any one who will be at the trouble may provide himself with
hundreds of examples to the same effect.

This and similar observations are important under another aspect. They
prove that the idea of even a single strong impression may be so
powerfully associated with that of a certain time, as to originate a
belief of which the contrary is inconceivable, and which may therefore
be properly said to be necessary. A single weak, or moderately strong,
impression may not be represented by any memory. But this defect of weak
experiences may be compensated by their repetition; and what Hume means
by "custom" or "habit" is simply the repetition of experiences.

     "wherever the repetition of any particular act or operation
     produces a propensity to renew the same act or operation, without
     being impelled by any reasoning or process of the understanding, we
     always say that this propensity is the effect of _Custom_. By
     employing 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."--(IV. p. 52.)

It has been shown that an expectation is a complex idea which, like a
memory, is made up of two constituents. The one is the idea of an
object, the other is the idea of a relation of sequence between that
object and some present object; and the reasoning which applied to
memories applies to expectations. To have an expectation[25] of a given
event, and to believe that it will happen, are only two modes of stating
the same fact. Again, just in the same way as we call a memory, put into
words, a belief, so we give the same name to an expectation in like
clothing. And the fact already cited, that a child before it can speak
acts upon its memories, is good evidence that it forms expectations. The
infant who knows the meaning neither of "sugar-plum" nor of "sweet,"
nevertheless is in full possession of that complex idea, which, when he
has learned to employ language, will take the form of the verbal
proposition, "A sugar-plum will be sweet."

Thus, beliefs of expectation, or at any rate their potentialities, are,
as much as those of memory, antecedent to speech, and are as incapable
of justification by any logical process. In fact, expectations are but
memories inverted. The association which is the foundation of
expectation must exist as a memory before it can play its part. As Hume

     " ... it is certain we here advance 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 instance, weight
     and solidity, we are determined by custom alone to expect the one
     from the appearance 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."...

     "Custom, then, is the great guide of human life. It is that
     principle alone which renders our experience useful to us, and
     makes us expect, for the future, a similar train of events with
     those which have appeared in the past."...

     "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 between 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 understanding is able either to
     produce or to prevent."--(IV. pp. 52-56.)

The only comment that appears needful here is, that Hume has attached
somewhat too exclusive a weight to that repetition of experiences to
which alone the term "custom" can be properly applied. The proverb says
that "a burnt child dreads the fire"; and any one who will make the
experiment will find, that one burning is quite sufficient to establish
an indissoluble belief that contact with fire and pain go together.

As a sort of inverted memory, expectation follows the same laws; hence,
while a belief of expectation is, in most cases, as Hume truly says,
established by custom, or the repetition of weak impressions, it may
quite well be based upon a single strong experience. In the absence of
language, a specific memory cannot be strengthened by repetition. It is
obvious that that which has happened cannot happen again, with the same
collateral associations of co-existence and succession. But, memories of
the co-existence and succession of impressions are capable of being
indefinitely strengthened by the recurrence of similar impressions, in
the same order, even though the collateral associations are totally
different; in fact, the ideas of these impressions become generic.

If I recollect that a piece of ice was cold yesterday, nothing can
strengthen the recollection of that particular fact; on the contrary, it
may grow weaker, in the absence of any record of it. But if I touch ice
to-day and again find it cold, the association is repeated, and the
memory of it becomes stronger. And, by this very simple process of
repetition of experience, it has become utterly impossible for us to
think of having handled ice without thinking of its coldness. But, that
which is, under the one aspect, the strengthening of a memory, is,
under the other, the intensification of an expectation. Not only can we
not think of having touched ice, without feeling cold, but we cannot
think of touching ice, in the future, without expecting to feel cold. An
expectation so strong that it cannot be changed, or abolished, may thus
be generated out of repeated experiences. And it is important to note
that such expectations may be formed quite unconsciously. In my dressing
room, a certain can is usually kept full of water, and I am in the habit
of lifting it to pour out water for washing. Sometimes the servant has
forgotten to fill it, and then I find that, when I take hold of the
handle, the can goes up with a jerk. Long association has, in fact, led
me to expect the can to have a considerable weight; and, quite unawares,
my muscular effort is adjusted to the expectation.

The process of strengthening generic memories of succession, and, at the
same time, intensifying expectations of succession, is what is commonly
called _verification_. The impression B has frequently been observed to
follow the impression A. The association thus produced is represented as
the memory, A -> B. When the impression A appears again, the idea of B
follows, associated with that of the immediate appearance of the
impression B. If the impression B does appear, the expectation is said
to be verified; while the memory A -> B is strengthened, and gives rise
in turn to a stronger expectation. And repeated verification may render
that expectation so strong that its non-verification is inconceivable.


[24] It is not worth while, for the present purpose, to consider
whether, as all nervous action occupies a sensible time, the duration of
one impression might not overlap that of the impression which follows
it, in the case supposed.

[25] We give no name to faint memories; but expectations of like
character play so large a part in human affairs that they, together with
the associated emotions of pleasure and pain, are distinguished as
"hopes" or "fears."



In the course of the preceding chapters, attention has been more than
once called to the fact, that the elements of consciousness and the
operations of the mental faculties, under discussion, exist
independently of and antecedent to, the existence of language.

If any weight is to be attached to arguments from analogy, there is
overwhelming evidence in favour of the belief that children, before they
can speak, and deaf mutes, possess the feelings to which those who have
acquired the faculty of speech apply the name of sensations; that they
have the feelings of relation; that trains of ideas pass through their
minds; that generic ideas are formed from specific ones; and, that among
these, ideas of memory and expectation occupy a most important place,
inasmuch as, in their quality of potential beliefs, they furnish the
grounds of action. This conclusion, in truth, is one of those which,
though they cannot be demonstrated, are never doubted; and, since it is
highly probable and cannot be disproved, we are quite safe in accepting
it, as, at any rate, a good working hypothesis.

But, if we accept it, we must extend it to a much wider assemblage of
living beings. Whatever cogency is attached to the arguments in favour
of the occurrence of all the fundamental phenomena of mind in young
children and deaf mutes, an equal force must be allowed to appertain to
those which may be adduced to prove that the higher animals have minds.
We must admit that Hume does not express himself too strongly when he

     "no truth appears to me more evident, than that the beasts are
     endowed with thought and reason as well as men. The arguments are
     in this case so obvious, that they never escape the most stupid and
     ignorant."--(I. p. 232.)

In fact, this is one of the few cases in which the conviction which
forces itself upon the stupid and the ignorant, is fortified by the
reasonings of the intelligent, and has its foundation deepened by every
increase of knowledge. It is not merely that the observation of the
actions of animals almost irresistibly suggests the attribution to them
of mental states, such as those which accompany corresponding actions in
men. The minute comparison which has been instituted by anatomists and
physiologists between the organs which we know to constitute the
apparatus of thought in man, and the corresponding organs in brutes, has
demonstrated the existence of the closest similarity between the two,
not only in structure, as far as the microscope will carry us, but in
function, as far as functions are determinable by experiment. There is
no question in the mind of any one acquainted with the facts that, so
far as observation and experiment can take us, the structure and the
functions of the nervous system are fundamentally the same in an ape, or
in a dog, and in a man. And the suggestion that we must stop at the
exact point at which direct proof fails us; and refuse to believe that
the similarity which extends so far stretches yet further, is no better
than a quibble. Robinson Crusoe did not feel bound to conclude, from the
single human footprint which he saw in the sand, that the maker of the
impression had only one leg.

Structure for structure, down to the minutest microscopical details, the
eye, the ear, the olfactory organs, the nerves, the spinal cord, the
brain of an ape, or of a dog, correspond with the same organs in the
human subject. Cut a nerve, and the evidence of paralysis, or of
insensibility, is the same in the two cases; apply pressure to the
brain, or administer a narcotic, and the signs of intelligence disappear
in the one as in the other. Whatever reason we have for believing that
the changes which take place in the normal cerebral substance of man
give rise to states of consciousness, the same reason exists for the
belief that the modes of motion of the cerebral substance of an ape, or
of a dog, produce like effects.

A dog acts as if he had all the different kinds of impressions of
sensation of which each of us is cognisant. Moreover, he governs his
movements exactly as if he had the feelings of distance, form,
succession, likeness, and unlikeness, with which we are familiar, or as
if the impressions of relation were generated in his mind as they are in
our own. Sleeping dogs frequently appear to dream. If they do, it must
be admitted that ideation goes on in them while they are asleep; and, in
that case, there is no reason to doubt that they are conscious of trains
of ideas in their waking state. Further, that dogs, if they possess
ideas at all, have memories and expectations, and those potential
beliefs of which these states are the foundation, can hardly be doubted
by any one who is conversant with their ways. Finally, there would
appear to be no valid argument against the supposition that dogs form
generic ideas of sensible objects. One of the most curious peculiarities
of the dog mind is its inherent snobbishness, shown by the regard paid
to external respectability. The dog who barks furiously at a beggar will
let a well-dressed man pass him without opposition. Has he not then a
"generic idea" of rags and dirt associated with the idea of aversion,
and that of sleek broadcloth associated with the idea of liking?

In short, it seems hard to assign any good reason for denying to the
higher animals any mental state, or process, in which the employment of
the vocal or visual symbols of which language is composed is not
involved; and comparative psychology confirms the position in relation
to the rest of the animal world assigned to man by comparative anatomy.
As comparative anatomy is easily able to show that, physically, man is
but the last term of a long series of forms, which lead, by slow
gradations, from the highest mammal to the almost formless speck of
living protoplasm, which lies on the shadowy boundary between animal and
vegetable life; so, comparative psychology, though but a young science,
and far short of her elder sister's growth, points to the same

In the absence of a distinct nervous system, we have no right to look
for its product, consciousness; and, even in those forms of animal life
in which the nervous apparatus has reached no higher degree of
development, than that exhibited by the system of the spinal cord and
the foundation of the brain in ourselves, the argument from analogy
leaves the assumption of the existence of any form of consciousness
unsupported. With the super-addition of a nervous apparatus
corresponding with the cerebrum in ourselves, it is allowable to suppose
the appearance of the simplest states of consciousness, or the
sensations; and it is conceivable that these may at first exist, without
any power of reproducing them, as memories; and, consequently, without
ideation. Still higher, an apparatus of correlation may be superadded,
until, as all these organs become more developed, the condition of the
highest speechless animals is attained.

It is a remarkable example of Hume's sagacity that he perceived the
importance of a branch of science which, even now, can hardly be said to
exist; and that, in a remarkable passage, he sketches in bold outlines
the chief features of comparative psychology.

     " ... any theory, by which we explain the operations of the
     understanding, or the origin and connexion of the passions in man,
     will acquire additional authority if we find that the same theory
     is requisite to explain the same phenomena in all other animals. We
     shall make trial of this with regard to the hypothesis by which we
     have, in the foregoing discourse, endeavoured to account for all
     experimental reasonings; and it is hoped that this new point of
     view will serve to confirm all our former observations.

     "_First_, it seems evident that animals, as well as men, learn many
     things from experience, and infer that the same events will always
     follow from the same causes. By this principle they become
     acquainted with the more obvious properties of external objects,
     and gradually, from their birth, treasure up a knowledge of the
     nature of fire, water, earth, stones, heights, depths, &c., and of
     the effects which result from their operation. The ignorance and
     inexperience of the young are here plainly distinguishable from the
     cunning and sagacity of the old, who have learned, by long
     observation, to avoid what hurt them, and 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
     conjectures which he forms on this occasion founded on anything but
     his observation and experience.

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

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

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

It will be observed that Hume appears to contrast the "inference of the
animal" with the "process of argument or reasoning in man." But it would
be a complete misapprehension of his intention, if we were to suppose,
that he thereby means to imply that there is any real difference between
the two processes. The "inference of the animal" is a potential belief
of expectation; the process of argument, or reasoning, in man is based
upon potential beliefs of expectation, which are formed in the man
exactly in the same way as in the animal. But, in men endowed with
speech, the mental state which constitutes the potential belief is
represented by a verbal proposition, and thus becomes what all the world
recognises as a belief. The fallacy which Hume combats is, that the
proposition, or verbal representative of a belief, has come to be
regarded as a reality, instead of as the mere symbol which it really is;
and that reasoning, or logic, which deals with nothing but propositions,
is supposed to be necessary in order to validate the natural fact
symbolised by those propositions. It is a fallacy similar to that of
supposing that money is the foundation of wealth, whereas it is only the
wholly unessential symbol of property.

In the passage which immediately follows that just quoted, Hume makes
admissions which might be turned to serious account against some of his
own doctrines.

     "But though animals learn many parts of their knowledge from
     observation, there are also many parts of it which they derive from
     the original hand of Nature, which much exceed the share of
     capacity they possess on ordinary occasions, and in which they
     improve, little or nothing, by the longest practice and experience.
     These we denominate INSTINCTS, and are so apt to admire as
     something very extraordinary and inexplicable by all the
     disquisitions of human understanding. But our wonder will perhaps
     cease or diminish when we consider that the experimental reasoning
     itself, which we possess in common with beasts, and on which the
     whole conduct of life depends, is nothing but a species of instinct
     or mechanical power, that acts in us unknown to ourselves, and in
     its chief operations is not directed by any such relations or
     comparison of ideas as are the proper objects of our intellectual

     "Though the instinct be different, yet still it is an instinct
     which teaches a man to avoid the fire, as much as that which
     teaches a bird, with such exactness, the art of incubation and the
     whole economy and order of its nursery."--(IV. pp. 125, 126.)

The parallel here drawn between the "avoidance of a fire" by a man and
the incubatory instinct of a bird is inexact. The man avoids fire when
he has had experience of the pain produced by burning; but the bird
incubates the first time it lays eggs, and therefore before it has had
any experience of incubation. For the comparison to be admissible, it
would be necessary that a man should avoid fire the first time he saw
it, which is notoriously not the case.

The term "instinct" is very vague and ill-defined. It is commonly
employed to denote any action, or even feeling, which is not dictated by
conscious reasoning, whether it is, or is not, the result of previous
experience. It is "instinct" which leads a chicken just hatched to pick
up a grain of corn; parental love is said to be "instinctive"; the
drowning man who catches at a straw does it "instinctively"; and the
hand that accidentally touches something hot is drawn back by
"instinct." Thus "instinct" is made to cover everything from a simple
reflex movement, in which the organ of consciousness need not be at all
implicated, up to a complex combination of acts directed towards a
definite end and accompanied by intense consciousness.

But this loose employment of the term "instinct" really accords with the
nature of the thing; for it is wholly impossible to draw any line of
demarcation between reflex actions and instincts. If a frog, on the
flank of which a little drop of acid has been placed, rubs it off with
the foot of the same side; and, if that foot be held, performs the same
operation, at the cost of much effort, with the other foot, it certainly
displays a curious instinct. But it is no less true that the whole
operation is a reflex operation of the spinal cord, which can be
performed quite as well when the brain is destroyed; and between which
and simple reflex actions there is a complete series of gradations. In
like manner, when an infant takes the breast, it is impossible to say
whether the action should be rather termed instinctive or reflex.

What are usually called the instincts of animals are, however, acts of
such a nature that, if they were performed by men, they would involve
the generation of a series of ideas and of inferences from them; and it
is a curious, and apparently an insoluble, problem whether they are, or
are not, accompanied by cerebral changes of the same nature as those
which give rise to ideas and inferences in ourselves. When a chicken
picks up a grain, for example, are there, firstly, certain sensations,
accompanied by the feeling of relation between the grain and its own
body; secondly, a desire of the grain; thirdly, a volition to seize it?
Or, are only the sensational terms of the series actually represented in

The latter seems the more probable opinion, though it must be admitted
that the other alternative is possible. But, in this case, the series of
mental states which occurs is such as would be represented in language
by a series of propositions, and would afford proof positive of the
existence of innate ideas, in the Cartesian sense. Indeed, a
metaphysical fowl, brooding over the mental operations of his
fully-fledged consciousness, might appeal to the fact as proof that, in
the very first action of his life, he assumed the existence of the Ego
and the non-Ego, and of a relation between the two.

In all seriousness, if the existence of instincts be granted, the
possibility of the existence of innate ideas, in the most extended sense
ever imagined by Descartes, must also be admitted. In fact, Descartes,
as we have soon, illustrates what he means by an innate idea, by the
analogy of hereditary diseases or hereditary mental peculiarities, such
as generosity. On the other hand, hereditary mental tendencies may
justly be termed instincts; and still more appropriately might those
special proclivities, which constitute what we call genius, come into
the same category.

The child who is impelled to draw as soon as it can hold a pencil; the
Mozart who breaks out into music as early; the boy Bidder who worked out
the most complicated sums without learning arithmetic; the boy Pascal
who evolved Euclid out of his own consciousness: all these may be said
to have been impelled by instinct, as much as are the beaver and the
bee. And the man of genius, is distinct in kind from the man of
cleverness, by reason of the working within him of strong innate
tendencies--which cultivation may improve, but which it can no more
create, than horticulture can make thistles bear figs. The analogy
between a musical instrument and the mind holds good here also. Art and
industry may get much music, of a sort, out of a penny whistle; but,
when all is done, it has no chance against an organ. The innate musical
potentialities of the two are infinitely different.



Though we may accept Hume's conclusion that speechless animals think,
believe, and reason; yet, it must be borne in mind, that there is an
important difference between the signification of the terms when applied
to them and when applied to those animals which possess language. The
thoughts of the former are trains of mere feelings; those of the latter
are, in addition, trains of the ideas of the signs which represent
feelings, and which are called "words."

A word, in fact, is a spoken or written sign, the idea of which is, by
repetition, so closely associated with the idea of the simple or complex
feeling which it represents, that the association becomes indissoluble.
No Englishman, for example, can think of the word "dog" without
immediately having the idea of the group of impressions to which that
name is given; and conversely, the group of impressions immediately
calls up the idea of the word "dog."

The association of words with impressions and ideas is the process of
naming; and language approaches perfection, in proportion as the shades
of difference between various ideas and impressions are represented by
differences in their names.

The names of simple impressions and ideas, or of groups of co-existent
or successive complex impressions and ideas, considered _per se_, are
substantives; as redness, dog, silver, mouth; while the names of
impressions or ideas considered as parts or attributes of a complex
whole, are adjectives. Thus redness, considered as part of the complex
idea of a rose, becomes the adjective red; flesh-eater, as part of the
idea of a dog, is represented by carnivorous; whiteness, as part of the
idea of silver, is white; and so on.

The linguistic machinery for the expression of belief is called
_predication_; and, as all beliefs express ideas of relation, we may say
that the sign of predication is the verbal symbol of a feeling of
relation. The words which serve to indicate predication are verbs. If I
say "silver" and then "white," I merely utter two names; but if I
interpose between them the verb "is," I express a belief in the
co-existence of the feeling of whiteness with the other feelings which
constitute the totality of the complex idea of silver; in other words, I
predicate "whiteness" of silver.

In such a case as this, the verb expresses predication and nothing else,
and is called a copula. But, in the great majority of verbs, the word is
the sign of a complex idea, and the predication is expressed only by its
form. Thus in "silver shines," the verb "to shine" is the sign for the
feeling of brightness, and the mark of predication lies in the form

Another result is brought about by the forms of verbs. By slight
modifications they are made to indicate that a belief, or predication,
is a memory, or is an expectation. Thus "silver _shone_" expresses a
memory; "silver _will_ shine" an expectation.

The form of words which expresses a predication is a proposition.
Hence, every predication is the verbal equivalent of a belief; and, as
every belief is either an immediate consciousness, a memory, or an
expectation, and as every expectation is traceable to a memory, it
follows that, in the long run, all propositions express either immediate
states of consciousness, or memories. The proposition which predicates A
of X must mean either, that the fact is testified by my present
consciousness, as when I say that two colours, visible at this moment,
resemble one another; or that A is indissolubly associated with X in
memory; or that A is indissolubly associated with X in expectation. But
it has already been shown that expectation is only an expression of

Hume does not discuss the nature of language, but so much of what
remains to be said, concerning his philosophical tenets, turns upon the
value and the origin of verbal propositions, that this summary sketch of
the relations of language to the thinking process will probably not be
deemed superfluous.

So large an extent of the field of thought is traversed by Hume, in his
discussion of the verbal propositions in which mankind enshrine their
beliefs, that it would be impossible to follow him throughout all the
windings of his long journey, within the limits of this essay. I
purpose, therefore, to limit myself to those propositions which
concern--1. Necessary Truths; 2. The Order of Nature; 3. The Soul; 4.
Theism; 5. The Passions and Volition; 6. The Principle of Morals.

Hume's views respecting necessary truths, and more particularly
concerning causation, have, more than any other part of his teaching,
contributed to give him a prominent place in the history of philosophy.

     "All the objects of human reason and inquiry 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 arithmetic, and, in short, every affirmation which is either
     intuitively or demonstratively certain. _That the square of the
     hypothenuse is equal to the square of the two sides_, is a
     proposition which expresses a relation between these two 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
     whatever is anywhere existent in the universe. Though there never
     were a circle or a triangle in nature, the truths demonstrated by
     Euclid would for ever retain their certainty and evidence.

     "Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are
     not ascertained in the same manner, nor is an evidence of their
     truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The
     contrary 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 to-morrow_, is no less
     intelligible a proposition, 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 conceived by the mind."--(IV. pp. 32, 33.)

The distinction here drawn between the truths of geometry and other
kinds of truth is far less sharply indicated in the _Treatise_, but as
Hume expressly disowns any opinions on these matters but such as are
expressed in the _Inquiry_, we may confine ourselves to the latter; and
it is needful to look narrowly into the propositions here laid down, as
much stress has been laid upon Hume's admission that the truths of
mathematics are intuitively and demonstratively certain; in other
words, that they are necessary and, in that respect, differ from all
other kinds of belief.

What is meant by the assertion that "propositions of this kind are
discoverable by the mere operation of thought without dependence on what
is anywhere existent in the universe"?

Suppose that there were no such things as impressions of sight and touch
anywhere in the universe, what idea could we have even of a straight
line, much less of a triangle and of the relations between its sides?
The fundamental proposition of all Hume's philosophy is that ideas are
copied from impressions; and, therefore, if there were no impressions of
straight lines and triangles there could be no ideas of straight lines
and triangles. But what we mean by the universe is the sum of our actual
and possible impressions.

So, again, whether our conception of number is derived from relations of
impressions in space or in time, the impressions must exist in nature,
that is, in experience, before their relations can be perceived. Form
and number are mere names for certain relations between matters of fact;
unless a man had seen or felt the difference between a straight line and
a crooked one, straight and crooked would have no more meaning to him,
than red and blue to the blind.

The axiom, that things which are equal to the same are equal to one
another, is only a particular case of the predication of similarity; if
there were no impressions, it is obvious that there could be no
predicates. But what is an existence in the universe but an impression?

If what are called necessary truths are rigidly analysed, they will be
found to be of two kinds. Either they depend on the convention which
underlies the possibility of intelligible speech, that terms shall
always have the same meaning; or they are propositions the negation of
which implies the dissolution of some association in memory or
expectation, which is in fact indissoluble; or the denial of some fact
of immediate consciousness.

The "necessary truth" A = A means that the perception which is called A
shall always be called A. The "necessary truth" that "two straight lines
cannot inclose a space," means that we have no memory, and can form no
expectation of their so doing. The denial of the "necessary truth" that
the thought now in my mind exists, involves the denial of consciousness.

To the assertion that the evidence of matter of fact, is not so strong
as that of relations of ideas, it may be justly replied, that a great
number of matters of fact are nothing but relations of ideas. If I say
that red is unlike blue, I make an assertion concerning a relation of
ideas; but it is also matter of fact, and the contrary proposition is
inconceivable. If I remember[26] something that happened five minutes
ago, that is matter of fact; and, at the same time, it expresses a
relation between the event remembered and the present time. It is wholly
inconceivable to me that the event did not happen, so that my assurance
respecting it is as strong as that which I have respecting any other
necessary truth. In fact, the man is either very wise or very virtuous,
or very lucky, perhaps all three, who has gone through life without
accumulating a store of such necessary beliefs which he would give a
good deal to be able to disbelieve.

It would be beside the mark to discuss the matter further on the present
occasion. It is sufficient to point out that, whatever may be the
differences, between mathematical and other truths, they do not justify
Hume's statement. And it is, at any rate, impossible to prove, that the
cogency of mathematical first principles is due to anything more than
these circumstances; that the experiences with which they are concerned
are among the first which arise in the mind; that they are so
incessantly repeated as to justify us, according to the ordinary laws of
ideation, in expecting that the associations which they form will be of
extreme tenacity; while the fact, that the expectations based upon them
are always verified, finishes the process of welding them together.

Thus, if the axioms of mathematics are innate, nature would seem to have
taken unnecessary trouble; since the ordinary process of association
appears to be amply sufficient to confer upon them all the universality
and necessity which they actually possess.

Whatever needless admissions Hume may have made respecting other
necessary truths he is quite clear about the axiom of causation, "That
whatever event has a beginning must have a cause;" whether and in what
sense it is a necessary truth; and, that question being decided, whence
it is derived.

With respect to the first question, Hume denies that it is a necessary
truth, in the sense that we are unable to conceive the contrary. The
evidence by which he supports this conclusion in the _Inquiry_, however,
is not strictly relevant to the issue.

     "No object ever discovers, by the qualities which appear to the
     senses, either the cause which produced it, or the effects which
     will arise from it; nor can our reason, unassisted by experience,
     ever draw any inference concerning real existence and matter of
     fact."--(IV. p. 35.)

Abundant illustrations are given of this assertion, which indeed cannot
be seriously doubted; but it does not follow that, because we are
totally unable to say what cause preceded, or what effect will succeed,
any event, we do not necessarily suppose that the event had a cause and
will be succeeded by an effect. The scientific investigator who notes a
new phenomenon may be utterly ignorant of its cause, but he will,
without hesitation, seek for that cause. If you ask him why he does so,
he will probably say that it must have had a cause; and thereby imply
that his belief in causation is a necessary belief.

In the _Treatise_ Hume indeed takes the bull by the horns:

     " ... as all distinct ideas are separable from each other, and as
     the ideas of cause and effect are evidently distinct, 'twill be
     easy for us to conceive any object to be non-existent this moment
     find existent the next, without conjoining to it the distinct idea
     of a cause or productive principle."--(I. p. 111.)

If Hume had been content to state what he believed to be matter of fact,
and had abstained from giving superfluous reasons for that which is
susceptible of being proved or disproved only by personal experience,
his position would have been stronger. For it seems clear that, on the
ground of observation, he is quite right. Any man who lets his fancy run
riot in a waking dream, may experience the existence at one moment, and
the non-existence at the next, of phenomena which suggest no connexion
of cause and effect. Not only so, but it is notorious that, to the
unthinking mass of mankind, nine-tenths of the facts of life do not
suggest the relation of cause and effect; and they practically deny the
existence of any such relation by attributing them to chance. Few
gamblers but would stare if they were told that the falling of a die on
a particular face is as much the effect of a definite cause as the fact
of its falling; it is a proverb that "the wind bloweth where it
listeth;" and even thoughtful men usually receive with surprise the
suggestion, that the form of the crest of every wave that breaks,
wind-driven, on the sea-shore, and the direction of every particle of
foam that flies before the gale, are the exact effects of definite
causes; and, as such, must be capable of being determined, deductively,
from the laws of motion and the properties of air and water. So again,
there are large numbers of highly intelligent persons who rather pride
themselves on their fixed belief that our volitions have no cause; or
that the will causes itself, which is either the same thing, or a
contradiction in terms.

Hume's argument in support of what appears to be a true proposition,
however, is of the circular sort, for the major premiss, that all
distinct ideas are separable in thought, assumes the question at issue.

But the question whether the idea of causation is necessary, or not, is
really of very little importance. For, to say that an idea is necessary
is simply to affirm that we cannot conceive the contrary; and the fact
that we cannot conceive the contrary of any belief may be a presumption,
but is certainly no proof, of its truth.

In the well-known experiment of touching a single round object, such as
a marble, with crossed fingers, it is utterly impossible to conceive
that we have not two round objects under them; and, though light is
undoubtedly a mere sensation arising in the brain, it is utterly
impossible to conceive that it is not outside the retina. In the same
way, he who touches anything with a rod, not only is irresistibly led to
believe that the sensation of contact is at the end of the rod, but is
utterly incapable of conceiving that this sensation is really in his
head. Yet that which is inconceivable is manifestly true in all these
cases. The beliefs and the unbeliefs are alike necessary, and alike

It is commonly urged that the axiom of causation cannot be derived from
experience, because experience only proves that many things have causes,
whereas the axiom declares that all things have causes. The syllogism,
"many things which come into existence have causes, A has come into
existence: therefore A had a cause," is obviously fallacious, if A is
not previously shown to be one of the "many things." And this objection
is perfectly sound so far as it goes. The axiom of causation cannot
possibly be deduced from any general proposition which simply embodies
experience. But it does not follow that the belief, or expectation,
expressed by the axiom, is not a product of experience, generated
antecedently to, and altogether independently of, the logically
unjustifiable language in which we express it.

In fact, the axiom of causation resembles all other beliefs of
expectation in being the verbal symbol of a purely automatic act of the
mind, which is altogether extra-logical, and would be illogical, if it
were not constantly verified by experience. Experience, as we have seen,
stores up memories; memories generate expectations or beliefs--why they
do so may be explained hereafter by proper investigation of cerebral
physiology. But, to seek for the reason of the facts in the verbal
symbols by which they are expressed, and to be astonished that it is not
to be found there, is surely singular; and what Hume did was to turn
attention from the verbal proposition to the psychical fact of which it
is the symbol.

     "When any natural object or event is presented, it is impossible
     for us, by any sagacity or penetration, to discover, or even
     conjecture, without experience, what event will result from it, or
     to carry our foresight beyond that object, which is immediately
     present to the memory and senses. Even after one instance or
     experiment, where we have observed a particular event to follow
     upon another, we are not entitled to form a general rule, or
     foretell what will happen in like cases; it being justly esteemed
     an unpardonable temerity to judge of the whole course of nature
     from one single experiment, however accurate or certain. But when
     one particular species of events has always, in all instances, been
     conjoined with another, we make no longer any scruple of
     foretelling one upon the appearance of the other, and of employing
     that reasoning which can alone assure us of any matter of fact or
     existence. We then call the one object _Cause_, the other _Effect_.
     We suppose that there is some connexion between them: some power in
     the one, by which it infallibly produces the other, and operates
     with the greatest certainty and strongest necessity.... But there
     is nothing in a number of instances, different from every single
     instance, which is supposed to be exactly similar; except only,
     that after a repetition of similar instances, the mind is carried
     by habit, upon the appearance of one event, to expect its usual
     attendant, and to believe that it will exist.... The first time a
     man saw the communication of motion by impulse, as by the shock of
     two billiard balls, he could not pronounce that the one event was
     _connected_, but only that it was _conjoined_, with the other.
     After he has observed several instances of this nature, he then
     pronounces them to be _connected_. What alteration has happened to
     give rise to this new idea of _connexion_? Nothing but that he now
     _feels_ those events to be _connected_ in his imagination, and can
     readily foresee the existence of the one from the appearance of the
     other. When we say, therefore, that one object is connected with
     another we mean only that they have acquired a connexion in our
     thought, and give rise to this inference, by which they become
     proofs of each other's existence; a conclusion which is somewhat
     extraordinary, but which seems founded on sufficient
     evidence."--(IV. pp. 87-89.)

In the fifteenth section of the third part of the _Treatise_, under the
head of the _Rules by which to Judge of Causes and Effects_, Hume gives
a sketch of the method of allocating effects to their causes, upon
which, so far as I am aware, no improvement was made down to the time of
the publication of Mill's _Logic_. Of Mill's four methods, that of
_agreement_ is indicated in the following passage:--

     " ... where several different objects produce the same effect, it
     must be by means of some quality which we discover to be common
     amongst them. For as like effects imply like causes, we must always
     ascribe the causation to the circumstance wherein we discover the
     resemblance."--(I. p. 229.)

Next, the foundation of the _method of difference_ is stated:--

     "The difference in the effects of two resembling objects must
     proceed from that particular in which they differ. For, as like
     causes always produce like effects, when in any instance we find
     our expectation to be disappointed, we must conclude that this
     irregularity proceeds from some difference in the causes."--(I. p.

In the succeeding paragraph the _method of concomitant variations_ is

     "When any object increases or diminishes with the increase or
     diminution of the cause, 'tis to be regarded as a compounded
     effect, derived from the union of the several different effects
     which arise from the several different parts of the cause. The
     absence or presence of one part of the cause is here supposed to be
     always attended with the absence or presence of a proportionable
     part of the effect. This constant conjunction sufficiently proves
     that the one part is the cause of the other. We must, however,
     beware not to draw such a conclusion from a few experiments."--(I.
     p. 230.)

Lastly, the following rule, though awkwardly stated, contains a
suggestion of the _method of residues_:--

     " ... an object which exists for any time in its full perfection
     without any effect, is not the sole cause of that effect, but
     requires to be assisted by some other principle, which may forward
     its influence and operation. For as like effects necessarily follow
     from like causes, and in a contiguous time and place, their
     separation for a moment shows that these causes are not complete
     ones."--(I. p. 230.)

In addition to the bare notion of necessary connexion between the cause
and its effect, we undoubtedly find in our minds the idea of something
resident in the cause which, as we say, produces the effect, and we call
this something Force, Power, or Energy. Hume explains Force and Power as
the results of the association with inanimate causes of the feelings of
endeavour or resistance which we experience, when our bodies give rise
to, or resist, motion.

If I throw a ball, I have a sense of effort which ends when the ball
leaves my hand; and if I catch a ball, I have a sense of resistance
which comes to an end with the quiescence of the ball. In the former
case, there is a strong suggestion of something having gone from myself
into the ball; in the latter, of something having been received from the
ball. Let any one hold a piece of iron near a strong magnet, and the
feeling that the magnet endeavours to pull the iron one way in the same
manner as he endeavours to pull it in the opposite direction, is very

As Hume says:--

     "No animal can put external bodies in motion without the sentiment
     of a _nisus_, or endeavour; and every animal has a sentiment or
     feeling from the stroke or blow of an external object that is in
     motion. These sensations, which are merely animal, and from which
     we can, _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."--(IV. p. 91, _note_.)

It is obviously, however, an absurdity not less gross than that of
supposing the sensation of warmth to exist in a fire, to imagine that
the subjective sensation of effort or resistance in ourselves can be
present in external objects, when they stand in the relation of causes
to other objects.

To the argument, that we have a right to suppose the relation of cause
and effect to contain something more than invariable succession,
because, when we ourselves act as causes, or in volition, we are
conscious of exerting power; Hume replies, that we know nothing of the
feeling we call power except as effort or resistance; and that we have
not the slightest means of knowing whether it has anything to do with
the production of bodily motion or mental changes. And he points out, as
Descartes and Spinoza had done before him, that when voluntary motion
takes place, that which we will is not the immediate consequence of the
act of volition, but something which is separated from it by a long
chain of causes and effects. If the will is the cause of the movement of
a limb, it can be so only in the sense that the guard who gives the
order to go on, is the cause of the transport of a train from one
station to another.

     "We learn from anatomy, that the immediate object of power in
     voluntary motion is not the member itself which is moved, but
     certain muscles and nerves and animal spirits, and perhaps
     something still more minute and unknown, through which the motion
     is successively 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 the 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, unknown to ourselves, and totally different from the
     one intended, is produced: This event produces another equally
     unknown: Till at last, through a long succession, the desired event
     is produced."--(IV. p. 78.)

A still stronger argument against ascribing an objective existence to
force or power, on the strength of our supposed direct intuition of
power in voluntary acts, may be urged from the unquestionable fact, that
we do not know, and cannot know, that volition does cause corporeal
motion; while there is a great deal to be said in favour of the view
that it is no cause, but merely a concomitant of that motion. But the
nature of volition will be more fitly considered hereafter.


[26] Hume, however, expressly includes the "records of our memory" among
his matters of fact.--(IV. p. 33.)



If our beliefs of expectation are based on our beliefs of memory, and
anticipation is only inverted recollection, it necessarily follows that
every belief of expectation implies the belief that the future will have
a certain resemblance to the past. From the first hour of experience,
onwards, this belief is constantly being verified, until old age is
inclined to suspect that experience has nothing new to offer. And when
the experience of generation after generation is recorded, and a single
book tells us more than Methuselah could have learned, had he spent
every waking hour of his thousand years in learning; when apparent
disorders are found to be only the recurrent pulses of a slow working
order, and the wonder of a year becomes the commonplace of a century;
when repeated and minute examination never reveals a break in the chain
of causes and effects; and the whole edifice of practical life is built
upon our faith in its continuity; the belief that that chain has never
been broken and will never be broken, becomes one of the strongest and
most justifiable of human convictions. And it must be admitted to be a
reasonable request, if we ask those who would have us put faith in the
actual occurrence of interruptions of that order, to produce evidence
in favour of their view, not only equal, but superior, in weight to that
which leads us to adopt ours.

This is the essential argument of Hume's famous disquisition upon
miracles; and it may safely be declared to be irrefragable. But it must
be admitted that Hume has surrounded the kernel of his essay with a
shell of very doubtful value.

The first step in this, as in all other discussions, is to come to a
clear understanding as to the meaning of the terms employed.
Argumentation whether miracles are possible, and, if possible, credible,
is mere beating the air until the arguers have agreed what they mean by
the word "miracles."

Hume, with less than his usual perspicuity, but in accordance with a
common practice of believers in the miraculous, defines a miracle as a
"violation of the laws of nature," or as "a transgression of a law of
nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of
some invisible agent."

There must, he says,--

     "be an uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise
     the event would not merit that appellation. And as an uniform
     experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full
     proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any
     miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed or the miracle rendered
     credible but by an opposite proof which is superior."--(IV. p.

Every one of these dicta appears to be open to serious objection.

The word "miracle"--_miraculum_,--in its primitive and legitimate sense,
simply means something wonderful.

Cicero applies it as readily to the fancies of philosophers, "Portenta
et miracula philosophorum somniantium," as we do to the prodigies of
priests. And the source of the wonder which a miracle excites is the
belief, on the part of those who witness it, that it transcends or
contradicts ordinary experience.

The definition of a miracle as a "violation of the laws of nature" is,
in reality, an employment of language which, on the face of the matter,
cannot be justified. For "nature" means neither more nor less than that
which is; the sum of phenomena presented to our experience; the totality
of events past, present, and to come. Every event must be taken to be a
part of nature, until proof to the contrary is supplied. And such proof
is, from the nature of the case, impossible.

Hume asks:--

     "Why is it more than probable that all men must die: that lead
     cannot of itself remain suspended in the air: that fire consumes
     wood and is extinguished by water; unless it be that these events
     are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a
     violation of those laws, or in other words, a miracle, to prevent
     them?"--(IV. p. 133.)

But the reply is obvious; not one of these events is "more than
probable"; though the probability may reach such a very high degree
that, in ordinary language, we are justified in saying that the opposite
events are impossible. Calling our often verified experience a "law of
nature" adds nothing to its value, nor in the slightest degree increases
any probability that it will be verified again, which may arise out of
the fact of its frequent verification.

If a piece of lead were to remain suspended of itself, in the air, the
occurrence would be a "miracle," in the sense of a wonderful event,
indeed; but no one trained in the methods of science would imagine that
any law of nature was really violated thereby. He would simply set to
work to investigate the conditions under which so highly unexpected an
occurrence took place, and thereby enlarge his experience and modify his
hitherto unduly narrow conception of the laws of nature.

The alternative definition, that a miracle is "a transgression of a law
of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition
of some invisible agent," (IV. p. 134, _note_) is still less defensible.
For a vast number of miracles have professedly been worked, neither by
the Deity, nor by any invisible agent; but by Beelzebub and his
compeers, or by very visible men.

Moreover, not to repeat what has been said respecting the absurdity of
supposing that something which occurs is a transgression of laws, our
only knowledge of which is derived from the observation of that which
occurs; upon what sort of evidence can we be justified in concluding
that a given event is the effect of a particular volition of the Deity,
or of the interposition of some invisible (that is unperceivable) agent?
It may be so, but how is the assertion, that it is so, to be tested? If
it be said that the event exceeds the power of natural causes, what can
justify such a saying? The day-fly has better grounds for calling a
thunderstorm supernatural, than has man, with his experience of an
infinitesimal fraction of duration, to say that the most astonishing
event that can be imagined is beyond the scope of natural causes.

     "Whatever is intelligible and can be distinctly conceived, implies
     no contradiction, and can never be proved false by any
     demonstration, argument, or abstract reasoning _a priori_."--(IV.
     p. 44.)

So wrote Hume, with perfect justice, in his _Sceptical Doubts_. But a
miracle, in the sense of a sudden and complete change in the customary
order of nature, is intelligible, can be distinctly conceived, implies
no contradiction; and, therefore, according to Hume's own showing,
cannot be proved false by any demonstrative argument.

Nevertheless, in diametrical contradiction to his own principles, Hume
says elsewhere:--

     "It is a miracle that a dead man should come to life: because that
     has never been observed in any age or country."--(IV. p. 134.)

That is to say, there is an uniform experience against such an event,
and therefore, if it occurs, it is a violation of the laws of nature.
Or, to put the argument in its naked absurdity, that which never has
happened never can happen, without a violation of the laws of nature. In
truth, if a dead man did come to life, the fact would be evidence, not
that any law of nature had been violated, but that those laws, even when
they express the results of a very long and uniform experience, are
necessarily based on incomplete knowledge, and are to be held only as
grounds of more or less justifiable expectation.

To sum up, the definition of a miracle as a suspension or a
contravention of the order of Nature is self-contradictory, because all
we know of the order of nature is derived from our observation of the
course of events of which the so-called miracle is a part. On the other
hand, no event is too extraordinary to be impossible; and, therefore, if
by the term miracles we mean only "extremely wonderful events," there
can be no just ground for denying the possibility of their occurrence.

But when we turn from the question of the possibility of miracles,
however they may be defined, in the abstract, to that respecting the
grounds upon which we are justified in believing any particular miracle,
Hume's arguments have a very different value, for they resolve
themselves into a simple statement of the dictates of common
sense--which may be expressed in this canon: the more a statement of
fact conflicts with previous experience, the more complete must be the
evidence which is to justify us in believing it. It is upon this
principle that every one carries on the business of common life. If a
man tells me he saw a piebald horse in Piccadilly, I believe him without
hesitation. The thing itself is likely enough, and there is no
imaginable motive for his deceiving me. But if the same person tells me
he observed a zebra there, I might hesitate a little about accepting his
testimony, unless I were well satisfied, not only as to his previous
acquaintance with zebras, but as to his powers and opportunities of
observation in the present case. If, however, my informant assured me
that he beheld a centaur trotting down that famous thoroughfare, I
should emphatically decline to credit his statement; and this even if he
were the most saintly of men and ready to suffer martyrdom in support of
his belief. In such a case, I could, of course, entertain no doubt of
the good faith of the witness; it would be only his competency, which
unfortunately has very little to do with good faith or intensity of
conviction, which I should presume to call in question.

Indeed, I hardly know what testimony would satisfy me of the existence
of a live centaur. To put an extreme case, suppose the late Johannes
Müller, of Berlin, the greatest anatomist and physiologist among my
contemporaries, had barely affirmed he had seen a live centaur, I should
certainly have been staggered by the weight of an assertion coming from
such an authority. But I could have got no further than a suspension of
judgment. For, on the whole, it would have been more probable that even
he had fallen into some error of interpretation of the facts which came
under his observation, than that such an animal as a centaur really
existed. And nothing short of a careful monograph, by a highly competent
investigator, accompanied by figures and measurements of all the most
important parts of a centaur, put forth under circumstances which could
leave no doubt that falsification or misinterpretation would meet with
immediate exposure, could possibly enable a man of science to feel that
he acted conscientiously, in expressing his belief in the existence of a
centaur on the evidence of testimony.

This hesitation about admitting the existence of such an animal as a
centaur, be it observed, does not deserve reproach, as scepticism, but
moderate praise, as mere scientific good faith. It need not imply, and
it does not, so far as I am concerned, any _a priori_ hypothesis that a
centaur is an impossible animal; or, that his existence, if he did
exist, would violate the laws of nature. Indubitably, the organisation
of a centaur presents a variety of practical difficulties to an
anatomist and physiologist; and a good many of those generalisations of
our present experience, which we are pleased to call laws of nature,
would be upset by the appearance of such an animal, so that we should
have to frame new laws to cover our extended experience. Every wise man
will admit that the possibilities of nature are infinite, and include
centaurs; but he will not the less feel it his duty to hold fast, for
the present, by the dictum of Lucretius, "Nam certe ex vivo Centauri non
fit imago," and to cast the entire burthen of proof, that centaurs
exist, on the shoulders of those who ask him to believe the statement.

Judged by the canons either of common sense, or of science, which are
indeed one and the same, all "miracles" are centaurs, or they would not
be miracles; and men of sense and science will deal with them on the
same principles. No one who wishes to keep well within the limits of
that which he has a right to assert will affirm that it is impossible
that the sun and moon should ever have been made to appear to stand
still in the valley of Ajalon; or that the walls of a city should have
fallen down at a trumpet blast; or that water was turned into wine;
because such events are contrary to uniform experience and violate laws
of nature. For aught he can prove to the contrary, such events may
appear in the order of nature to-morrow. But common sense and common
honesty alike oblige him to demand from those who would have him believe
in the actual occurrence of such events, evidence of a cogency
proportionate to their departure from probability; evidence at least as
strong as that, which the man who says he has seen a centaur is bound to
produce, unless he is content to be thought either more than credulous
or less than honest.

But are there any miracles on record, the evidence for which fulfils the
plain and simple requirements alike of elementary logic and of
elementary morality?

Hume answers this question without the smallest hesitation, and with all
the authority of a historical specialist:--

     "There is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by
     a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned goodness,
     education, and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in
     themselves; of such undoubted integrity, as to place them beyond
     all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit and
     reputation in the eyes of mankind, as to have a great deal to lose
     in case of their being detected in any falsehood; and at the same
     time attesting facts, performed in such a public manner, and in so
     celebrated a part of the world, as to render the detection
     unavoidable: All which circumstances are requisite to give us a
     full assurance of the testimony of men."--(IV. p. 135.)

These are grave assertions, but they are least likely to be challenged
by those who have made it their business to weigh evidence and to give
their decision under a due sense of the moral responsibility which they
incur in so doing.

It is probable that few persons who proclaim their belief in miracles
have considered what would be necessary to justify that belief in the
case of a professed modern miracle-worker. Suppose, for example, it is
affirmed that A.B. died and that C.D. brought him to life again. Let it
be granted that A.B. and C.D. are persons of unimpeachable honour and
veracity; that C.D. is the next heir to A.B.'s estate, and therefore had
a strong motive for not bringing him to life again; and that all A.B.'s
relations, respectable persons who bore him a strong affection, or had
otherwise an interest in his being alive, declared that they saw him
die. Furthermore, let A.B. be seen after his recovery by all his friends
and neighbours, and let his and their depositions, that he is now alive,
be taken down before a magistrate of known integrity and acuteness:
would all this constitute even presumptive evidence that C.D. had worked
a miracle? Unquestionably not. For the most important link in the whole
chain of evidence is wanting, and that is the proof that A.B. was really
dead. The evidence of ordinary observers on such a point as this is
absolutely worthless. And, even medical evidence, unless the physician
is a person of unusual knowledge and skill, may have little more value.
Unless careful thermometric observation proves that the temperature has
sunk below a certain point; unless the cadaveric stiffening of the
muscles has become well established; all the ordinary signs of death may
be fallacious, and the intervention of C.D. may have had no more to do
with A.B.'s restoration to life than any other fortuitously coincident

It may be said that such a coincidence would be more wonderful than the
miracle itself. Nevertheless history acquaints us with coincidences as

On the 19th of February, 1842, Sir Robert Sale held Jellalabad with a
small English force and, daily expecting attack from an overwhelming
force of Afghans, had spent three months in incessantly labouring to
improve the fortifications of the town. Akbar Khan had approached within
a few miles, and an onslaught of his army was supposed to be imminent.
That morning an earthquake--

     "nearly destroyed the town, threw down the greater part of the
     parapets, the central gate with the adjoining bastions, and a part
     of the new bastion which flanked it. Three other bastions were also
     nearly destroyed, whilst several large breaches were made in the
     curtains, and the Peshawur side, eighty feet long, was quite
     practicable, the ditch being filled, and the descent easy. Thus in
     one moment the labours of three months were in a great measure

If Akbar Khan had happened to give orders for an assault in the early
morning of the 19th of February, what good follower of the Prophet could
have doubted that Allah had lent his aid? As it chanced, however,
Mahometan faith in the miraculous took another turn; for the energetic
defenders of the post had repaired the damage by the end of the month;
and the enemy, finding no signs of the earthquake when they invested the
place, ascribed the supposed immunity of Jellalabad to English

But the conditions of belief do not vary with time or place; and, if it
is undeniable that evidence of so complete and weighty a character is
needed, at the present time, for the establishment of the occurrence of
such a wonder as that supposed, it has always been needful. Those who
study the extant records of miracles with due attention will judge for
themselves how far it has ever been supplied.


[27] Report of Captain Broadfoot, garrison engineer, quoted in Kaye's



Hume seems to have had but two hearty dislikes: the one to the English
nation, and the other to all the professors of dogmatic theology. The
one aversion he vented only privately to his friends; but, if he is ever
bitter in his public utterances, it is against priests[28] in general
and theological enthusiasts and fanatics in particular; if he ever seems
insincere, it is when he wishes to insult theologians by a parade of
sarcastic respect. One need go no further than the peroration of the
_Essay on Miracles_ for a characteristic illustration.

     "I am the better pleased with the method of reasoning here
     delivered, as I think it may serve to confound those dangerous
     friends and disguised enemies to the _Christian religion_ who have
     undertaken to defend it by the principles of human reason. 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. ... 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 continual 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."--(IV. pp. 153, 154.)

It is obvious that, here and elsewhere, Hume, adopting a popular
confusion of ideas, uses religion as the equivalent of dogmatic
theology; and, therefore, he says, with perfect justice, that "religion
is nothing but a species of philosophy" (iv. p. 171). Here no doubt lies
the root of his antagonism. The quarrels of theologians and philosophers
have not been about religion, but about philosophy; and philosophers not
unfrequently seem to entertain the same feeling towards theologians that
sportsmen cherish towards poachers. "There cannot be two passions more
nearly resembling each other than hunting and philosophy," says Hume.
And philosophic hunters are given to think, that, while they pursue
truth for its own sake, out of pure love for the chase (perhaps mingled
with a little human weakness to be thought good shots), and by open and
legitimate methods; their theological competitors too often care merely
to supply the market of establishments; and disdain neither the aid of
the snares of superstition, nor the cover of the darkness of ignorance.

Unless some foundation was given for this impression by the theological
writers whose works had fallen in Hume's way, it is difficult to account
for the depth of feeling which so good natured a man manifests on the

Thus he writes in the _Natural History of Religion_, with quite unusual

     "The chief objection to it [the ancient heathen mythology] with
     regard to this planet is, that it is not ascertained by any just
     reason or authority. The ancient tradition insisted on by heathen
     priests and theologers is but a weak foundation: and transmitted
     also such a number of contradictory reports, supported all of them
     by equal authority, that it became absolutely impossible to fix a
     preference among them. A few volumes, therefore, must contain all
     the polemical writings of pagan priests: And their whole theology
     must consist more of traditional stories and superstitious
     practices than of philosophical argument and controversy.

     "But where theism forms the fundamental principle of any popular
     religion, that tenet is so conformable to sound reason, that
     philosophy is apt to incorporate itself with such a system of
     theology. And if the other dogmas of that system be contained in a
     sacred book, such as the Alcoran, or be determined by any visible
     authority, like that of the Roman pontiff, speculative reasoners
     naturally carry on their assent, and embrace a theory, which has
     been instilled into them by their earliest education, and which
     also possesses some degree of consistence and uniformity. But as
     these appearances are sure, all of them, to prove deceitful,
     philosophy will very soon find herself very unequally yoked with
     her new associate; and instead of regulating each principle, as
     they advance together, she is at every turn perverted to serve the
     purposes of superstition. For besides the unavoidable incoherences,
     which must be reconciled and adjusted, one may safely affirm, that
     all popular theology, especially the scholastic, has a kind of
     appetite for absurdity and contradiction. If that theology went not
     beyond reason and common sense, her doctrines would appear too easy
     and familiar. Amazement must of necessity be raised: Mystery
     affected: Darkness and obscurity sought after: And a foundation of
     merit afforded to the devout votaries, who desire an opportunity
     of subduing their rebellious reason by the belief of the most
     unintelligible sophisms.

     "Ecclesiastical history sufficiently confirms these reflections.
     When a controversy is started, some people always pretend with
     certainty to foretell the issue. Whichever opinion, say they, is
     most contrary to plain reason is sure to prevail; even when the
     general interest of the system requires not that decision. Though
     the reproach of heresy may, for some time, be bandied about among
     the disputants, it always rests at last on the side of reason. Any
     one, it is pretended, that has but learning enough of this kind to
     know the definition of _Arian_, _Pelagian_, _Erastian_, _Socinian_,
     _Sabellian_, _Eutychian_, _Nestorian_, _Monothelite_, &c., not to
     mention _Protestant_, whose fate is yet uncertain, will be
     convinced of the truth of this observation. It is thus a system
     becomes absurd in the end, merely from its being reasonable and
     philosophical in the beginning.

     "To oppose the torrent of scholastic religion by such feeble maxims
     as these, that _it is impossible for the same thing to be and not
     to be_, that _the whole is greater than a part_, that _two and
     three make five_, is pretending to stop the ocean with a bulrush.
     Will you set up profane reason against sacred mystery? No
     punishment is great enough for your impiety. And the same fires
     which were kindled for heretics will serve also for the destruction
     of philosophers."--(IV. pp. 481-3.)

Holding these opinions respecting the recognised systems of theology and
their professors, Hume, nevertheless, seems to have had a theology of
his own; that is to say, he seems to have thought (though, as will
appear, it is needful for an expositor of his opinions to speak very
guardedly on this point) that the problem of theism is susceptible of
scientific treatment, with something more than a negative result. His
opinions are to be gathered from the eleventh section of the _Inquiry_
(1748); from the _Dialogues concerning Natural Religion_, which were
written at least as early as 1751, though not published till after his
death; and from the _Natural History of Religion_, published in 1757.

In the first two pieces, the reader is left to judge for himself which
interlocutor in the dialogue represents the thoughts of the author; but,
for the views put forward in the last, Hume accepts the responsibility.
Unfortunately, this essay deals almost wholly with the historical
development of theological ideas; and, on the question of the
philosophical foundation of theology, does little more than express the
writer's contentment with the argument from design.

     "The whole frame of nature bespeaks an Intelligent Author; and no
     rational inquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief
     a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism
     and Religion.--(IV. p. 435.)

     "Were men led into the apprehension of invisible, intelligent
     power, by a contemplation of the works of nature, they could never
     possibly entertain any conception but of one single being, who
     bestowed existence and order on this vast machine, and adjusted all
     its parts according to one regular plan or connected system. For
     though, to persons of a certain turn of mind, it may not appear
     altogether absurd, that several independent beings, endowed with
     superior wisdom, might conspire in the contrivance and execution of
     one regular plan, yet is this a merely arbitrary supposition,
     which, even if allowed possible, must be confessed neither to be
     supported by probability nor necessity. All things in the universe
     are evidently of a piece. Everything is adjusted to everything. One
     design prevails throughout the whole. And this uniformity leads the
     mind to acknowledge one author; because the conception of different
     authors, without any distinction of attributes or operations,
     serves only to give perplexity to the imagination, without
     bestowing any satisfaction on the understanding."--(IV. p. 442.)

Thus Hume appears to have sincerely accepted the two fundamental
conclusions of the argument from design; firstly, that a Deity exists;
and, secondly, that He possesses attributes more or less allied to those
of human intelligence. But, at this embryonic stage of theology, Hume's
progress is arrested; and, after a survey of the development of dogma,
his "general corollary" is, that--

     "The whole is a riddle, an enigma, an inexplicable mystery. Doubt,
     uncertainty, suspense of judgment, appear the only result of our
     most accurate scrutiny concerning this subject. But such is the
     frailty of human reason, and such the irresistible contagion of
     opinion, that even this deliberate doubt could scarcely be upheld;
     did we not enlarge our view, and opposing one species of
     superstition to another, set them a quarrelling; while we
     ourselves, during their fury and contention, happily make our
     escape into the calm, though obscure, regions of philosophy."--(IV.
     p. 513.)

Thus it may be fairly presumed that Hume expresses his own sentiments in
the words of the speech with which Philo concludes the _Dialogues_.

     "If the whole of natural theology, as some people seem to maintain,
     resolves itself into one simple, though somewhat ambiguous, at
     least undefined proposition, _That the cause or causes of order in
     the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human
     intelligence_: If this proposition be not capable of extension,
     variation, or more particular explication: If it affords no
     inference that affects human life or can be the source of any
     action or forbearance: And if the analogy, imperfect as it is, can
     be carried no further than to the human intelligence, and cannot be
     transferred, with any appearance of probability, to the other
     qualities of the mind; if this really be the case, what can the
     most inquisitive, contemplative, and religious man do more than
     give a plain, philosophical assent to the proposition, as often as
     it occurs, and believe that the arguments on which it is
     established exceed the objections which lie against it? Some
     astonishment indeed will naturally arise from the greatness of the
     object; some melancholy from its obscurity; some contempt of human
     reason, that it can give no solution more satisfactory with regard
     to so extraordinary and magnificent a question. But believe me,
     Cleanthes, the most natural sentiment which a well-disposed mind
     will feel on this occasion, is a longing desire and expectation
     that Heaven would be pleased to dissipate, at least alleviate, this
     profound ignorance, by affording some more particular revelation to
     mankind, and making discoveries of the nature, attributes, and
     operations of the Divine object of our faith."[29]--(II. pp.

Such being the sum total of Hume's conclusions, it cannot be said that
his theological burden is a heavy one. But, if we turn from the _Natural
History of Religion_, to the _Treatise_, the _Inquiry_, and the
_Dialogues_, the story of what happened to the ass laden with salt, who
took to the water, irresistibly suggests itself. Hume's theism, such as
it is, dissolves away in the dialectic river, until nothing is left but
the verbal sack in which it was contained.

Of the two theistic propositions to which Hume is committed, the first
is the affirmation of the existence of a God, supported by the argument
from the nature of causation. In the _Dialogues_, Philo, while pushing
scepticism to its utmost limit, is nevertheless made to say that--

     " ... where reasonable men treat these subjects, the question can
     never be concerning the _Being_, but only the _Nature_, of the
     Deity. The former truth, as you will observe, is unquestionable and
     self-evident. Nothing exists without a cause, and the original
     cause of this universe (whatever it be) we call God, and piously
     ascribe to him every species of perfection."--(II. p. 439.)

The expositor of Hume, who wishes to do his work thoroughly, as far as
it goes, cannot but fall into perplexity[30] when he contrasts this
language with that of the sections of the third part of the _Treatise_,
entitled, _Why a Cause is Always Necessary_, and _Of the Idea of
Necessary Connexion_.

It is there shown, at large, that "every demonstration which has been
produced for the necessity of a cause is fallacious and sophistical" (I.
p. 111); it is affirmed, that "there is no absolute nor metaphysical
necessity that every beginning of existence should be attended with such
an object" [as a cause] (I. p. 227); and it is roundly asserted, that it
is "easy for us to conceive any object to be non-existent this moment
and existent the next, without conjoining to it the distinct idea of a
cause or productive principle" (I. p. 111). So far from the axiom, that
whatever begins to exist must have a cause of existence, being
"self-evident," as Philo calls it, Hume spends the greatest care in
showing that it is nothing but the product of custom, or experience.

And the doubt thus forced upon one, whether Philo ought to be taken as
even, so far, Hume's mouth-piece, is increased when we reflect that we
are dealing with an acute reasoner; and that there is no difficulty in
drawing the deduction from Hume's own definition of a cause, that the
very phrase, a "first cause," involves a contradiction in terms. He lays
down that,--

     "'Tis an established axiom both in natural and moral philosophy,
     that an object, which exists for any time in its full perfection
     without producing another, is not its sole cause; but is assisted
     by some other principle which pushes it from its state of
     inactivity, and makes it exert that energy, of which it was
     secretly possessed."--(I. p. 106.)

Now the "first cause" is assumed to have existed from all eternity, up
to the moment at which the universe came into existence. Hence it cannot
be the sole cause of the universe; in fact, it was no cause at all until
it was "assisted by some other principle"; consequently the so-called
"first cause," so far as it produces the universe, is in reality an
effect of that other principle. Moreover, though, in the person of
Philo, Hume assumes the axiom "that whatever begins to exist must have a
cause," which he denies in the _Treatise_, he must have seen, for a
child may see, that the assumption is of no real service.

Suppose Y to be the imagined first cause and Z to be its effect. Let the
letters of the alphabet, _a_, _b_, _c_, _d_, _e_, _f_, _g_, in their
order, represent successive moments of time, and let _g_ represent the
particular moment at which the effect Z makes its appearance. It follows
that the cause Y could not have existed "in its full perfection" during
the time _a_--_e_, for if it had, then the effect Z would have come into
existence during that time, which, by the hypothesis, it did not do. The
cause Y, therefore, must have come into existence at _f_, and if
"everything that comes into existence has a cause," Y must have had a
cause X operating at _e_; X, a cause W operating at _d_; and, so on, _ad

If the only demonstrative argument for the existence of a Deity, which
Hume advances, thus, literally, "goes to water" in the solvent of his
philosophy, the reasoning from the evidence of design does not fare much
better. If Hume really knew of any valid reply to Philo's arguments in
the following passages of the _Dialogues_, he has dealt unfairly by the
leader in concealing it:--

     "But because I know you are not much swayed by names and
     authorities, I shall endeavour to show you, a little more
     distinctly, the inconveniences of that Anthropomorphism, which you
     have embraced; and shall prove, that there is no ground to suppose
     a plan of the world to be formed in the Divine mind, consisting of
     distinct ideas, differently arranged, in the same manner as an
     architect forms in his head the plan of a house which he intends to

     "It is not easy, I own, to see what is gained by this supposition,
     whether we judge the matter by _Reason_ or by _Experience_. We are
     still obliged to mount higher, in order to find the cause of this
     cause, which you had assigned as satisfactory and conclusive.

     "If _Reason_ (I mean abstract reason, derived from inquiries _a
     priori_) be not alike mute with regard to all questions concerning
     cause and effect, this sentence at least it will venture to
     pronounce: That a mental world, or universe of ideas, requires a
     cause as much as does a material world, or universe of objects;
     and, if similar in its arrangement, must require a similar cause.
     For what is there in this subject, which should occasion a
     different conclusion or inference? In an abstract view, they are
     entirely alike; and no difficulty attends the one supposition,
     which is not common to both of them.

     "Again, when we will needs force _Experience_ to pronounce some
     sentence, even on those subjects which lie beyond her sphere,
     neither can she perceive any material difference in this
     particular, between these two kinds of worlds; but finds them to be
     governed by similar principles, and to depend upon an equal variety
     of causes in their operations. We have specimens in miniature of
     both of them. Our own mind resembles the one; a vegetable or animal
     body the other. Let experience, therefore, judge from these
     samples. Nothing seems more delicate, with regard to its causes,
     than thought: and as these causes never operate in two persons
     after the same manner, so we never find two persons who think
     exactly alike. Nor indeed does the same person think exactly alike
     at any two different periods of time. A difference of age, of the
     disposition of his body, of weather, of food, of company, of books,
     of passions; any of these particulars, or others more minute, are
     sufficient to alter the curious machinery of thought, and
     communicate to it very different movements and operations. As far
     as we can judge, vegetables and animal bodies are not more delicate
     in their motions, nor depend upon a greater variety or more curious
     adjustment of springs and principles.

     "How, therefore, shall we satisfy ourselves concerning the cause of
     that Being whom you suppose the Author of Nature, or, according to
     your system of anthropomorphism, the ideal world in which you trace
     the material? Have we not the same reason to trace the ideal world
     into another ideal world, or new intelligent principle? But if we
     stop and go no farther; why go so far? Why not stop at the material
     world? How can we satisfy ourselves without going on _in
     infinitum_? And after all, what satisfaction is there in that
     infinite progression? Let us remember the story of the Indian
     philosopher and his elephant. It was never more applicable than to
     the present subject. If the material world rests upon a similar
     ideal world, this ideal world must rest upon some other; and so on
     without end. It were better, therefore, never to look beyond the
     present material world. By supposing it to contain the principle of
     its order within itself, we really assert it to be God; and the
     sooner we arrive at that Divine Being, so much the better. When you
     go one step beyond the mundane system you only excite an
     inquisitive humour, which it is impossible ever to satisfy.

     "To say, that the different ideas which compose the reason of the
     Supreme Being, fall into order of themselves and by their own
     natures, is really to talk without any precise meaning. If it has a
     meaning, I would fain know why it is not as good sense to say,
     that the parts of the material world fall into order of themselves,
     and by their own nature. Can the one opinion be intelligible while
     the other is not so?"--(II. pp. 461-4.)

Cleanthes, in replying to Philo's discourse, says that it is very easy
to answer his arguments; but, as not unfrequently happens with
controversialists, he mistakes a reply for an answer, when he declares

     "The order and arrangement of nature, the curious adjustment of
     final causes, the plain use and intention of every part and organ;
     all these bespeak in the clearest language one intelligent cause or
     author. The heavens and the earth join in the same testimony. The
     whole chorus of nature raises one hymn to the praises of its
     Creator."--(II. p. 465.)

Though the rhetoric of Cleanthes may be admired, its irrelevancy to the
point at issue must be admitted. Wandering still further into the region
of declamation, he works himself into a passion:

     "You alone, or almost alone, disturb this general harmony. You
     start abstruse doubts, cavils, and objections: You ask me what is
     the cause of this cause? I know not: I care not: that concerns not
     me. I have found a Deity; and here I stop my inquiry. Let those go
     further who are wiser or more enterprising."--(II. p. 466.)

In other words, O Cleanthes, reasoning having taken you as far as you
want to go, you decline to advance any further; even though you fully
admit that the very same reasoning forbids you to stop where you are
pleased to cry halt! But this is simply forcing your reason to abdicate
in favour of your caprice. It is impossible to imagine that Hume, of all
men in the world, could have rested satisfied with such an act of
high-treason against the sovereignty of philosophy. We may rather
conclude that the last word of the discussion, which he gives to Philo,
is also his own.

     "If I am still to remain in utter ignorance of causes, and can
     absolutely give an explication of nothing, I shall never esteem it
     any advantage to shove off for a moment a difficulty, which, you
     acknowledge, must immediately, in its full force, recur upon me.
     Naturalists[32] indeed very justly explain particular effects by
     more general causes, though these general causes should remain in
     the end totally inexplicable; but they never surely thought it
     satisfactory to explain a particular effect by a particular cause,
     which was no more to be accounted for than the effect itself. An
     ideal system, arranged of itself, without a precedent design, is
     not a whit more explicable than a material one, which attains its
     order in a like manner; nor is there any more difficulty in the
     latter supposition than in the former."--(II. p. 466.)

It is obvious that, if Hume had been pushed, he must have admitted that
his opinion concerning the existence of a God, and of a certain remote
resemblance of his intellectual nature to that of man, was an hypothesis
which might possess more or less probability, but was incapable on his
own principles of any approach to demonstration. And to all attempts to
make any practical use of his theism; or to prove the existence of the
attributes of infinite wisdom, benevolence, justice, and the like, which
are usually ascribed to the Deity, by reason, he opposes a searching
critical negation.[33]

The object of the speech of the imaginary Epicurean in the eleventh
section of the _Inquiry_, entitled _Of a Particular Providence and of a
Future State_, is to invert the argument of Bishop Butler's _Analogy_.

That famous defence of theology against the _a priori_ scepticism of
Freethinkers of the eighteenth century, who based their arguments on the
inconsistency of the revealed scheme of salvation with the attributes of
the Deity, consists, essentially, in conclusively proving that, from a
moral point of view, Nature is at least as reprehensible as orthodoxy.
If you tell me, says Butler, in effect, that any part of revealed
religion must be false because it is inconsistent with the divine
attributes of justice and mercy; I beg leave to point out to you, that
there are undeniable natural facts which are fully open to the same
objection. Since you admit that nature is the work of God, you are
forced to allow that such facts are consistent with his attributes.
Therefore, you must also admit, that the parallel facts in the scheme of
orthodoxy are also consistent with them, and all your arguments to the
contrary fall to the ground. Q.E.D. In fact, the solid sense of Butler
left the Deism of the Freethinkers not a leg to stand upon. Perhaps,
however, he did not remember the wise saying that "A man seemeth right
in his own cause, but another cometh after and judgeth him." Hume's
Epicurean philosopher adopts the main arguments of the _Analogy_, but
unfortunately drives them home to a conclusion of which the good Bishop
would hardly have approved.

     "I deny a Providence, you say, and supreme governor of the world,
     who guides the course of events, and punishes the vicious with
     infamy and disappointment, and rewards the virtuous with honour and
     success in all their undertakings. But surely I deny not the course
     itself of events, which lies open to every one's inquiry and
     examination. I acknowledge that, in the present order of things,
     virtue is attended with more peace of mind than vice, and meets
     with a more favourable reception from the world. I am sensible
     that, according to the past experience of mankind, friendship is
     the chief joy of human life, and moderation the only source of
     tranquillity and happiness. I never balance between 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 suppositions and
     reasonings? You tell me, indeed, that this disposition of things
     proceeds from intelligence and design. But, whatever it proceeds
     from, the disposition itself, on which depends our happiness and
     misery, and consequently our conduct and deportment in life, is
     still the same. It is still open for me, as well as you, to
     regulate my behaviour by my experience of past events. And if you
     affirm that, while a divine providence is allowed, and a supreme
     distributive justice in the universe, I ought to expect some more
     particular reward of the good, and punishment of the bad, beyond
     the ordinary course of events, I here find the same fallacy which I
     have before endeavoured to detect. You persist in imagining, 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, deduced from causes to
     effects, must of necessity be a gross sophism, 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

     "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 contemplation, so far reverse the whole course of nature,
     as to render this life merely a passage to something further; 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 philosophers
     derive their idea of the gods? From their own conceit and
     imagination surely. For if they derive it from the present
     phenomena, it would never point to anything further, but must be
     exactly adjusted 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
     _possibility_ 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 exerted and satisfied.

     "_Are there any marks of a distributive justice in the world?_ If
     you answer in the affirmative, I conclude that, since justice here
     exerts itself, it is satisfied. 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 between 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."--(IV. pp. 164-6.)

Thus, the Freethinkers said, the attributes of the Deity being what they
are, the scheme of orthodoxy is inconsistent with them; whereupon Butler
gave the crushing reply: Agreeing with you as to the attributes of the
Deity, nature, by its existence, proves that the things to which you
object are quite consistent with them. To whom enters Hume's Epicurean
with the remark: Then, as nature is our only measure of the attributes
of the Deity in their practical manifestation, what warranty is there
for supposing that such measure is anywhere transcended? That the "other
side" of nature, if there be one, is governed on different principles
from this side?

Truly on this topic silence is golden; while speech reaches not even
the dignity of sounding brass or tinkling cymbal, and is but the weary
clatter of an endless logomachy. One can but suspect that Hume also had
reached this conviction; and that his shadowy and inconsistent theism
was the expression of his desire to rest in a state of mind, which
distinctly excluded negation, while it included as little as possible of
affirmation, respecting a problem which he felt to be hopelessly

But, whatever might be the views of the philosopher as to the arguments
for theism, the historian could have no doubt respecting its many-shaped
existence, and the great part which it has played in the world. Here,
then, was a body of natural facts to be investigated scientifically, and
the result of Hume's inquiries is embodied in the remarkable essay on
the _Natural History of Religion_. Hume anticipated the results of
modern investigation in declaring fetishism and polytheism to be the
form in which savage and ignorant men naturally clothe their ideas of
the unknown influences which govern their destiny; and they are
polytheists rather than monotheists because,--

     " ... the first ideas of religion arose, not from a contemplation
     of the works of nature, but from a concern with regard to the
     events of life, and from the incessant hopes and fears which
     actuate the human mind ... in order to carry men's attention beyond
     the present course of things, or lead them into any inference
     concerning invisible intelligent power, they must be actuated by
     some passion which prompts their thought and reflection, some
     motive which urges their first inquiry. But what passion shall we
     have recourse to, for explaining an effect of such mighty
     consequence? Not speculative curiosity merely, or the pure love of
     truth. That motive is too refined for such gross apprehensions,
     and would lead men into inquiries concerning the frame of nature, a
     subject too large and comprehensive for their narrow capacities. No
     passions, therefore, can be supposed to work on such barbarians,
     but the ordinary affections of human life; the anxious concern for
     happiness, the dread of future misery, the terror of death, the
     thirst of revenge, the appetite for food and other necessaries.
     Agitated by hopes and fears of this nature, especially the latter,
     men scrutinize, with a trembling curiosity, the course of future
     causes, and examine the various and contrary events of human life.
     And in this disordered scene, with eyes still more disordered and
     astonished, they see the first obscure traces of divinity."--(IV.
     pp. 443, 4.)

The shape assumed by these first traces of divinity is that of the
shadows of men's own minds, projected out of themselves by their

     "There is an universal tendency among mankind to conceive all
     beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object those
     qualities with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which
     they are intimately conscious.... The _unknown causes_ which
     continually employ their thought, appearing always in the same
     aspect, are all apprehended to be of the same kind or species. Nor
     is it long before we ascribe to them thought, and reason, and
     passion, and sometimes even the limbs and figures of men, in order
     to bring them nearer to a resemblance with ourselves."--(IV. pp.

Hume asks whether polytheism really deserves the name of theism.

     "Our ancestors in Europe, before the revival of letters, believed
     as we do at present, that there was one supreme God, the author of
     nature, whose power, though in itself uncontrollable, was yet often
     exerted by the interposition of his angels and subordinate
     ministers, who executed his sacred purposes. But they also
     believed, that all nature was full of other invisible powers:
     fairies, goblins, elves, sprights; beings stronger and mightier
     than men, but much inferior to the celestial natures who surround
     the throne of God. Now, suppose that any one, in these ages, had
     denied the existence of God and of his angels, would not his
     impiety justly have deserved the appellation of atheism, even
     though he had still allowed, by some odd capricious reasoning, that
     the popular stories of elves and fairies were just and well
     grounded? The difference, on the one hand, between such a person
     and a genuine theist, is infinitely greater than that, on the
     other, between him and one that absolutely excludes all invisible
     intelligent power. And it is a fallacy, merely from the casual
     resemblance of names, without any conformity of meaning, to rank
     such opposite opinions under the same denomination.

     "To any one who considers justly of the matter, it will appear that
     the gods of the polytheists are no better than the elves and
     fairies of our ancestors, and merit as little as any pious worship
     and veneration. These pretended religionists are really a kind of
     superstitious atheists, and acknowledge no being that corresponds
     to our idea of a Deity. No first principle of mind or thought; no
     supreme government and administration; no divine contrivance or
     intention in the fabric of the world."--(IV. pp. 450-51.)

The doctrine that you may call an atheist anybody whose ideas about the
Deity do not correspond with your own, is so largely acted upon by
persons who are certainly not of Hume's way of thinking and, probably,
so far from having read him, would shudder to open any book bearing his
name, except the _History of England_, that it is surprising to trace
the theory of their practice to such a source.

But on thinking the matter over, this theory seems so consonant with
reason, that one feels ashamed of having suspected many excellent
persons of being moved by mere malice and viciousness of temper to call
other folks atheists, when, after all, they have been obeying a purely
intellectual sense of fitness. As Hume says, truly enough, it is a mere
fallacy, because two people use the same names for things, the ideas of
which are mutually exclusive, to rank such opposite opinions under the
same denomination. If the Jew says, that the Deity is absolute unity,
and that it is sheer blasphemy to say that He ever became incarnate in
the person of a man; and, if the Trinitarian says, that the Deity is
numerically three as well as numerically one, and that it is sheer
blasphemy to say that He did not so become incarnate, it is obvious
enough that each must be logically held to deny the existence of the
other's Deity. Therefore; that each has a scientific right to call the
other an atheist; and that, if he refrains, it is only on the ground of
decency and good manners, which should restrain an honourable man from
employing even scientifically justifiable language, if custom has given
it an abusive connotation. While one must agree with Hume, then, it is,
nevertheless, to be wished that he had not set the bad example of
calling polytheists "superstitious atheists." It probably did not occur
to him that, by a parity of reasoning, the Unitarians might justify the
application of the same language to the Ultramontanes, and _vice versâ_.
But, to return from a digression which may not be wholly unprofitable,
Hume proceeds to show in what manner polytheism incorporated physical
and moral allegories, and naturally accepted hero-worship; and he sums
up his views of the first stages of the evolution of theology as

     "These then are the general principles of polytheism, founded in
     human nature, and little or nothing dependent on caprice or
     accident. As the _causes_ which bestow happiness or misery, are in
     general very little known and very uncertain, our anxious concern
     endeavours to attain a determinate idea of them: and finds no
     better expedient than to represent them as intelligent, voluntary
     agents, like ourselves, only somewhat superior in power and wisdom.
     The limited influence of these agents, and their proximity to human
     weakness, introduce the various distribution and division of their
     authority, and thereby give rise to allegory. The same principles
     naturally deify mortals, superior in power, courage, or
     understanding, and produce hero-worship; together with fabulous
     history and mythological tradition, in all its wild and
     unaccountable forms. And as an invisible spiritual intelligence is
     an object too refined for vulgar apprehension, men naturally affix
     it to some sensible representation; such as either the more
     conspicuous parts of nature, or the statues, images, and pictures,
     which a more refined age forms of its divinities."--(IV. p. 461.)

How did the further stage of theology, monotheism, arise out of
polytheism? Hume replies, certainly not by reasonings from first causes
or any sort of fine-drawn logic:--

     "Even at this day, and in Europe, ask any of the vulgar why he
     believes in an Omnipotent Creator of the world, he will never
     mention the beauty of final causes, of which he is wholly ignorant:
     He will not hold out his hand and bid you contemplate the
     suppleness and variety of joints in his fingers, their bending all
     one way, the counterpoise which they receive from the thumb, the
     softness and fleshy parts of the inside of the hand, with all the
     other circumstances which render that member fit for the use to
     which it was destined. To these he has been long accustomed; and he
     beholds them with listlessness and unconcern. He will tell you of
     the sudden and unexpected death of such-a-one; the fall and bruise
     of such another; the excessive drought of this season; the cold and
     rains of another. These he ascribes to the immediate operation of
     Providence: And such events as, with good reasoners, are the chief
     difficulties in admitting a Supreme Intelligence, are with him the
     sole arguments for it....

     "We may conclude therefore, upon the whole, that since the vulgar,
     in nations which have embraced the doctrine of theism, still build
     it upon irrational and superstitious grounds, they are never led
     into that opinion by any process of argument, but by a certain
     train of thinking, more suitable to their genius and capacity.

     "It may readily happen, in an idolatrous nation, that though men
     admit the existence of several limited deities, yet there is some
     one God, whom, in a particular manner, they make the object of
     their worship and adoration. They may either suppose, that, in the
     distribution of power and territory among the Gods, their nation
     was subjected to the jurisdiction of that particular deity; or,
     reducing heavenly objects to the model of things below, they may
     represent one god as the prince or supreme magistrate of the rest,
     who, though of the same nature, rules them with an authority like
     that which an earthly sovereign exerts over his subjects and
     vassals. Whether this god, therefore, be considered as their
     peculiar patron, or as the general sovereign of heaven, his
     votaries will endeavour, by every art, to insinuate themselves into
     his favour; and supposing him to be pleased, like themselves, with
     praise and flattery, there is no eulogy or exaggeration which will
     be spared in their addresses to him. In proportion as men's fears
     or distresses become more urgent, they still invent new strains of
     adulation; and even he who outdoes his predecessor in swelling the
     titles of his divinity, is sure to be outdone by his successor in
     newer and more pompous epithets of praise. Thus they proceed, till
     at last they arrive at infinity itself, beyond which there is no
     further progress; And it is well if, in striving to get further,
     and to represent a magnificent simplicity, they run not into
     inexplicable mystery, and destroy the intelligent nature of their
     deity, on which alone any rational worship or adoration can be
     founded. While they confine themselves to the notion of a perfect
     being, the Creator of the world, they coincide, by chance, with the
     principles of reason and true philosophy; though they are guided to
     that notion, not by reason, of which they are in a great measure
     incapable, but by the adulation and fears of the most vulgar
     superstition."--(IV. pp. 463-6.)

     "Nay, if we should suppose, what never happens, that a popular
     religion were found, in which it was expressly declared, that
     nothing but morality could gain the divine favour; if an order of
     priests were instituted to inculcate this opinion, in daily
     sermons, and with all the arts of persuasion; yet so inveterate are
     the people's prejudices, that, for want of some other superstition,
     they would make the very attendance on these sermons the essentials
     of religion, rather than place them in virtue and good morals. The
     sublime prologue of Zaleucus' laws inspired not the Locrians, so
     far as we can learn, with any sounder notions of the measures of
     acceptance with the deity, than were familiar to the other
     Greeks."--(IV. p. 505.)

It has been remarked that Hume's writings are singularly devoid of local
colour; of allusions to the scenes with which, he was familiar, and to
the people from whom he sprang. Yet, surely, the Lowlands of Scotland
were more in his thoughts than the Zephyrean promontory, and the hard
visage of John Knox peered from behind the mask of Zaleucus, when this
passage left his pen. Nay, might not an acute German critic discern
therein a reminiscence of that eminently Scottish institution, a "Holy
Fair"? where as Hume's young contemporary sings:--

     "... opens out his cauld harangues
       On practice and on morals;
     An' aff the godly pour in thrangs
       To gie the jars and barrels
                   A lift that day.

     "What signifies his barren shine
       Of moral powers and reason?
     His English style and gesture line
       Are a' clean out of season.
     Like Socrates or Antonine,
       Or some auld pagan heathen,
     The moral man he does define,
       But ne'er a word o' faith in
                   That's right that day."[34]


[28] In a note to the Essay on Superstition and Enthusiasm, Hume is
careful to define what he means by this term. "By priests I understand
only the pretenders to power and dominion, and to a superior sanctity of
character, distinct from virtue and good morals. These are very
different from _clergymen_, who are set apart to the care of sacred
matters, and the conducting our public devotions with greater decency
and order. There is no rank of men more to be respected than the
latter."--(III. p. 83.)

[29] It is needless to quote the rest of the passage, though I cannot
refrain from observing that the recommendation which it contains, that a
"man of letters" should become a philosophical sceptic as "the first and
most essential step towards being a sound believing Christian," though
adopted and largely acted upon by many a champion of orthodoxy in these
days, is questionable in taste, if it be meant as a jest, and more than
questionable in morality, if it is to be taken in earnest. To pretend
that you believe any doctrine for no better reason than that you doubt
everything else, would be dishonest, if it were not preposterous.

[30] A perplexity which is increased rather than diminished by some
passages in a letter to Gilbert Elliot of Minto (March 10, 1751). Hume
says, "You would perceive by the sample I have given you that I make
Cleanthes the hero of the dialogue; whatever you can think of, to
strengthen that side of the argument, will be most acceptable to me. Any
propensity you imagine I have to the other side crept in upon me against
my will; and 'tis not long ago that I burned an old manuscript book,
wrote before I was twenty, which contained, page after page, the gradual
progress of my thoughts on this head. It began with an anxious scent
after arguments to confirm the common opinion; doubts stole in,
dissipated, returned; were again dissipated, returned again; and it was
a perpetual struggle of a restless imagination against
inclination--perhaps against reason.... I could wish Cleanthes' argument
could be so analysed as to be rendered quite formal and regular. The
propensity of the mind towards it--unless that propensity were as strong
and universal as that to believe in our senses and experience--will
still, I am afraid, be esteemed a suspicious foundation. 'Tis here I
wish for your assistance. We must endeavour to prove that this
propensity is somewhat different from our inclination to find our own
figures in the clouds, our faces in the moon, our passions and
sentiments even in inanimate matter. Such an inclination may and ought
to be controlled, and can never be a legitimate ground of assent."
(Burton, _Life_, I. pp. 331-3.) The picture of Hume here drawn
unconsciously by his own hand, is unlike enough to the popular
conception of him as a careless sceptic loving doubt for doubt's sake.

[31] Kant employs substantially the same argument:--"Würde das höchste
Wesen in dieser Kette der Bedingungen stehen, so würde es selbst ein
Glied der Reihe derselben sein, und eben so wie die niederen Glieder,
denen es vorgesetzt ist, noch fernere Untersuchungen wegen seines noch
höheren Grundes erfahren."--_Kritik._ Ed. Hartenstein, p. 422.

[32] _I.e._ Natural philosophers.

[33] Hume's letter to Mure of Caldwell, containing a criticism of
Leechman's sermon (Burton, I. p. 163), bears strongly on this point.

[34] Burns published the _Holy Fair_ only ten years after Hume's death.



Descartes taught that an absolute difference of kind separates matter,
as that which possesses extension, from spirit, as that which thinks.
They not only have no character in common, but it is inconceivable that
they should have any. On the assumption, that the attributes of the two
were wholly different, it appeared to be a necessary consequence that
the hypothetical causes of these attributes--their respective
substances--must be totally different. Notably, in the matter of
divisibility, since that which has no extension cannot be divisible, it
seemed that the _chose pensante_, the soul, must be an indivisible

Later philosophers, accepting this notion of the soul, were naturally
much perplexed to understand how, if matter and spirit had nothing in
common, they could act and react on one another. All the changes of
matter being modes of motion, the difficulty of understanding how a
moving extended material body was to affect a thinking thing which had
no dimension, was as great as that involved in solving the problem of
how to hit a nominative case with a stick. Hence, the successors of
Descartes either found themselves obliged, with the Occasionalists, to
call in the aid of the Deity, who was supposed to be a sort of
go-between betwixt matter and spirit; or they had recourse, with
Leibnitz, to the doctrine of pre-established harmony, which denied any
influence of the body on the soul, or _vice versâ_, and compared matter
and spirit to two clocks so accurately regulated to keep time with one
another, that the one struck when ever the other pointed to the hour;
or, with Berkeley, they abolished the "substance" of matter altogether,
as a superfluity, though they failed to see that the same arguments
equally justified the abolition of soul as another superfluity, and the
reduction of the universe to a series of events or phenomena; or,
finally, with Spinoza, to whom Berkeley makes a perilously close
approach, they asserted the existence of only one substance, with two
chief attributes, the one, thought, and the other, extension.

There remained only one possible position, which, had it been taken up
earlier, might have saved an immensity of trouble; and that was to
affirm that we do not, and cannot, know anything about the "substance"
either of the thinking thing, or of the extended thing. And Hume's sound
common sense led him to defend this thesis, which Locke had already
foreshadowed, with respect to the question of the substance of the soul.
Hume enunciates two opinions. The first is that the question itself is
unintelligible, and therefore cannot receive any answer; the second is
that the popular doctrine respecting the immateriality, simplicity, and
indivisibility of a thinking substance is a "true atheism, and will
serve to justify all those sentiments for which Spinoza is so
universally infamous."

In support of the first opinion, Hume points out that it is impossible
to attach any definite meaning to the word "substance" when employed for
the hypothetical substratum of soul and matter. For if we define
substance as that which may exist by itself, the definition does not
distinguish the soul from perceptions. It is perfectly easy to conceive
that states of consciousness are self-subsistent. And, if the substance
of the soul is defined as that in which perceptions inhere, what is
meant by the inherence? Is such inherence conceivable? If conceivable,
what evidence is there of it? And what is the use of a substratum to
things which, for anything we know to the contrary, are capable of
existing by themselves?

Moreover, it may be added, supposing the soul has a substance, how do we
know that it is different from the substance, which, on like grounds,
must be supposed to underlie the qualities of matter?

Again, if it be said that our personal identity requires the assumption
of a substance which remains the same while the accidents of perception
shift and change, the question arises what is meant by personal

     "For my part," says Hume, "when I enter most intimately into what I
     call _myself_, I always stumble on some particular perception or
     other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or
     pleasure. I never can catch _myself_ at any time without a
     perception, and never can observe anything but the perception. When
     my perceptions are removed for any time, as by sound sleep, so long
     am I insensible of _myself_, and may be truly said not to exist.
     And were all my perceptions removed by death, and I could neither
     think, nor feel, nor see, nor love, nor hate, after the dissolution
     of my body, I should be entirely annihilated, nor do I conceive
     what is further requisite to make me a perfect nonentity. If any
     one, upon serious and unprejudiced reflection, thinks he has a
     different notion of _himself_, I must confess I can reason no
     longer with him. All I can allow him is, that he may be in the
     right as well as I, and that we are essentially different in this
     particular. He may perhaps perceive something simple and continued
     which he calls _himself_, though I am certain there is no such
     principle in me.

     "But setting aside some metaphysicians of this kind, I may venture
     to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a
     bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed one
     another with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux
     and movement.... The mind is a kind of theatre, where several
     perceptions successively make their appearance, pass, repass, glide
     away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations.
     There is properly no _simplicity_ in it at one time, nor _identity_
     in different, whatever natural propension we may have to imagine
     that simplicity and identity. The comparison of the theatre must
     not mislead us. They are the successive perceptions only that
     constitute the mind; nor have we the most distant notion of the
     place where these scenes are represented, or of the materials of
     which it is composed.

     "What then gives so great a propension to ascribe an identity to
     these successive perceptions, and to suppose ourselves possessed of
     an invariable and uninterrupted existence through the whole course
     of our lives? In order to answer this question, we must distinguish
     between personal identity as it regards our thought and
     imagination, and as it regards our passions, or the concern we take
     in ourselves. The first is our present subject; and to explain it
     perfectly we must take the matter pretty deep, and account for that
     identity which we attribute to plants and animals; there being a
     great analogy betwixt it and the identity of a self or
     person."--(I. pp. 321, 322.)

Perfect identity is exhibited by an object which remains unchanged
throughout a certain time; perfect diversity is seen in two or more
objects which are separated by intervals of space and periods of time.
But, in both these cases, there is no sharp line of demarcation between
identity and diversity, and it is impossible to say when an object
ceases to be one and becomes two.

When a sea-anemone multiplies by division, there is a time during which
it is said to be one animal partially divided; but, after a while, it
becomes two animals adherent together, and the limit between these
conditions is purely arbitrary. So in mineralogy, a crystal of a
definite chemical composition may have its substance replaced, particle
by particle, by another chemical compound. When does it lose its
primitive identity and become a new thing?

Again, a plant or an animal, in the course of its existence, from the
condition of an egg or seed to the end of life, remains the same neither
in form, nor in structure, nor in the matter of which it is composed:
every attribute it possesses is constantly changing, and yet we say that
it is always one and the same individual. And if, in this case, we
attribute identity without supposing an indivisible immaterial something
to underlie and condition that identity, why should we need the
supposition in the case of that succession of changeful phenomena we
call the mind?

In fact, we ascribe identity to an individual plant or animal, simply
because there has been no moment of time at which we could observe any
division of it into parts separated by time or space. Every experience
we have of it is as one thing and not as two; and we sum up our
experiences in the ascription of identity, although we know quite well
that, strictly speaking, it has not been the same for any two moments.

So with the mind. Our perceptions flow in even succession; the
impressions of the present moment are inextricably mixed up with the
memories of yesterday and the expectations of to-morrow, and all are
connected by the links of cause and effect.

     " ... as the same individual republic may not only change its
     members, but also its laws and constitutions; in like manner the
     same person may vary his character and disposition, as well as his
     impressions and ideas, without losing his identity. Whatever
     changes he endures, his several parts are still connected by the
     relation of causation. And in this view our identity with regard to
     the passions serves to corroborate that with regard to the
     imagination, by the making our distant perceptions influence each
     other, and by giving us a present concern for our past or future
     pains or pleasures.

     "As memory alone acquaints us with the continuance and extent of
     this succession of perceptions, 'tis to be considered, upon that
     account chiefly, as the source of personal identity. Had we no
     memory we never should have any notion of causation, nor
     consequently of that chain of causes and effects which constitute
     our self or person. But having once acquired this notion of
     causation from the memory, we can extend the same chain of causes,
     and consequently the identity of our persons, beyond our memory,
     and can comprehend times, and circumstances, and actions, which we
     have entirely forgot, but suppose in general to have existed. For
     how few of our past actions are there of which we have any memory?
     Who can tell me, for instance, what were his thoughts and actions
     on the first of January, 1715, the eleventh of March, 1719, and the
     third of August, 1733? Or will he affirm, because he has entirely
     forgot the incidents of those days, that the present self is not
     the same person with the self of that time, and by that means
     overturn all the most established notions of personal identity? In
     this view, therefore, memory does not so much _produce_ as
     _discover_ personal identity, by showing us the relation of cause
     and effect among our different perceptions. 'Twill be incumbent on
     those who affirm that memory produces entirely our personal
     identity, to give a reason why we can thus extend our identity
     beyond our memory.

     "The whole of this doctrine leads us to a conclusion which is of
     great importance in the present affair, viz. that all the nice and
     subtle questions concerning personal identity can never possibly be
     decided, and are to be regarded rather as grammatical than as
     philosophical difficulties. Identity depends on the relations of
     ideas, and these relations produce identity by means of that easy
     transition they occasion. But as the relations, and the easiness of
     the transition may diminish by insensible degrees, we have no just
     standard by which we can decide any dispute concerning the time
     when they acquire or lose a title to the name of identity. All the
     disputes concerning the identity of connected objects are merely
     verbal, except so far as the relation of parts gives rise to some
     fiction or imaginary principle of union, as we have already

     "What I have said concerning the first origin and uncertainty of
     our notion of identity, as applied to the human mind may be
     extended, with little or no variation, to that of _simplicity_. An
     object, whose different co-existent parts are bound together by a
     close relation, operates upon the imagination after much the same
     manner as one perfectly simple and undivisible, and requires not a
     much greater stretch of thought in order to its conception. From
     this similarity of operation we attribute a simplicity to it, and
     feign a principle of union as the support of this simplicity, and
     the centre of all the different parts and qualities of the
     object."--(I. pp. 331-3.)

The final result of Hume's reasoning comes to this: As we use the name
of body for the sum of the phenomena which make up our corporeal
existence, so we employ the name of soul for the sum of the phenomena
which constitute our mental existence; and we have no more reason, in
the latter case, than in the former, to suppose that there is anything
beyond the phenomena which answers to the name. In the case of the soul,
as in that of the body, the idea of substance is a mere fiction of the
imagination. This conclusion is nothing but a rigorous application of
Berkeley's reasoning concerning matter to mind, and it is fully adopted
by Kant.[35]

Having arrived at the conclusion that the conception of a soul, as a
substantive thing, is a mere figment of the imagination; and that,
whether it exists or not, we can by no possibility know anything about
it, the inquiry as to the durability of the soul may seem superfluous.

Nevertheless, there is still a sense in which, even under these
conditions, such an inquiry is justifiable. Leaving aside the problem of
the substance of the soul, and taking the word "soul" simply as a name
for the series of mental phenomena which make up an individual mind; it
remains open to us to ask, whether that series commenced with, or
before, the series of phenomena which constitute the corresponding
individual body; and whether it terminates with the end of the corporeal
series, or goes on after the existence of the body has ended. And, in
both cases, there arises the further question, whether the excess of
duration of the mental series over that of the body, is finite or

Hume has discussed some of these questions in the remarkable essay _On
the Immortality of the Soul_, which was not published till after his
death, and which seems long to have remained but little known.
Nevertheless, indeed, possibly, for that reason, its influence has been
manifested in unexpected quarters, and its main arguments have been
adduced by archiepiscopal and episcopal authority in evidence of the
value of revelation. Dr. Whately,[36] sometime Archbishop of Dublin,
paraphrases Hume, though he forgets to cite him; and Bishop Courtenay's
elaborate work,[37] dedicated to the Archbishop, is a development of
that prelate's version of Hume's essay.

This little paper occupies only some ten pages, but it is not wonderful
that it attracted an acute logician like Whately, for it is a model of
clear and vigorous statement. The argument hardly admits of
condensation, so that I must let Hume speak for himself:--

     "By the mere light of reason it seems difficult to prove the
     immortality of the soul: the arguments for it are commonly derived
     either from metaphysical topics, or moral, or physical. But in
     reality it is the gospel, and the gospel alone, that has brought
     _life and immortality_ to light.[38]

     "1. Metaphysical topics suppose that the soul is immaterial, and
     that 'tis impossible for thought to belong to a material
     substance.[39] But just metaphysics teach us that the notion of
     substance is wholly confused and imperfect; and that we have no
     other idea of any substance, than as an aggregate of particular
     qualities inhering in an unknown something. Matter, therefore, and
     spirit, are at bottom equally unknown, and we cannot determine what
     qualities inhere in the one or in the other.[40] They likewise
     teach us, that nothing can be decided _a priori_ concerning any
     cause or effect; and that experience, being the only source of our
     judgments of this nature, we cannot know from any other principle,
     whether matter, by its structure or arrangement, may not be the
     cause of thought. Abstract reasonings cannot decide any question of
     fact or existence. But admitting a spiritual substance to be
     dispersed throughout the universe, like the ethereal fire of the
     Stoics, and to be the only inherent subject of thought, we have
     reason to conclude from _analogy_, that nature uses it after the
     manner she does the other substance, _matter_. She employs it as a
     kind of paste or clay; modifies it into a variety of forms or
     existences; dissolves after a time each modification, and from its
     substance erects a new form. As the same material substance may
     successively compose the bodies of all animals, the same spiritual
     substance may compose their minds: Their consciousness, or that
     system of thought which they formed during life, may be continually
     dissolved by death, and nothing interests them in the new
     modification. The most positive assertors of the mortality of the
     soul never denied the immortality of its substance; and that an
     immaterial substance, as well as a material, may lose its memory
     or consciousness, appears in part from experience, if the soul be
     immaterial. Seasoning from the common course of nature, and without
     supposing any new interposition of the Supreme Cause, which ought
     always to be excluded from philosophy, _what is incorruptible must
     also be ingenerable_. The soul, therefore, if immortal, existed
     before our birth, and if the former existence noways concerned us,
     neither will the latter. Animals undoubtedly feel, think, love,
     hate, will, and even reason, though in a more imperfect manner than
     men: Are their souls also immaterial and immortal?"[41]

Hume next proceeds to consider the moral arguments, and chiefly

     " ... those derived from the justice of God, which is supposed to
     be further interested in the future punishment of the vicious and
     reward of the virtuous."

But if by the justice of God we moan the same attribute which we call
justice in ourselves, then why should either reward or punishment be
extended beyond this life?[42] Our sole means of knowing anything is
the reasoning faculty which God has given us; and that reasoning
faculty not only denies us any conception of a future state, but fails
to furnish a single valid argument in favour of the belief that the mind
will endure after the dissolution of the body.

     " ... If any purpose of nature be clear, we may affirm that the
     whole scope and intention of man's creation, so far as we can judge
     by natural reason, is limited to the present life."

To the argument that the powers of man are so much greater than the
needs of this life require, that they suggest a future scene in which
they can be employed, Hume replies:--

     "If the reason of man gives him great superiority above other
     animals, his necessities are proportionably multiplied upon him;
     his whole time, his whole capacity, activity, courage, and passion,
     find sufficient employment in fencing against the miseries of his
     present condition; and frequently, nay, almost always, are too
     slender for the business assigned them. A pair of shoes, perhaps,
     was never yet wrought to the highest degree of perfection that
     commodity is capable of attaining; yet it is necessary, at least
     very useful, that there should be some politicians and moralists,
     even some geometers, poets and philosophers, among mankind. The
     powers of men are no more superior to their wants, considered
     merely in this life, than those of foxes and hares are, compared to
     _their_ wants and to their period of existence. The inference from
     parity of reason is therefore obvious."

In short, Hume argues that, if the faculties with which we are endowed
are unable to discover a future state, and if the most attentive
consideration of their nature serves to show that they are adapted to
this life and nothing more, it is surely inconsistent with any
conception of justice that we should be dealt with, as if we had all
along had a clear knowledge of the fact thus carefully concealed from
us. What should we think of the justice of a father, who gave his son
every reason to suppose that a trivial fault would only be visited by a
box on the ear; and then, years afterwards, put him on the rack for a
week for the same fault?

Again, the suggestion arises, if God is the cause of all things, he is
responsible for evil as well as for good; and it appears utterly
irreconcilable with our notions of justice that he should punish another
for that which he has, in fact, done himself. Moreover, just punishment
bears a proportion to the offence, while suffering which is infinite is
_ipso facto_ disproportionate to any finite deed.

     "Why then eternal punishment for the temporary offences of so frail
     a creature as man? Can any one approve of Alexander's rage, who
     intended to exterminate a whole nation because they had seized his
     favourite horse Bucephalus?

     "Heaven and hell suppose two distinct species of men, the good and
     the bad; but the greatest part of mankind float betwixt vice and
     virtue. Were one to go round the world with the intention of giving
     a good supper to the righteous and a sound drubbing to the wicked,
     he would frequently be embarrassed in his choice, and would find
     the merits and demerits of most men and women scarcely amount to
     the value of either."[43]

One can but admire the broad humanity and the insight into the springs
of action manifest in this passage. _Comprendre est à moitié pardonner_.
The more one knows of the real conditions which determine men's acts the
less one finds either to praise or blame. For kindly David Hume, "the
damnation of one man is an infinitely greater evil in the universe than
the subversion of a thousand million of kingdoms." And he would have
felt with his countryman Burns, that even "auld Nickie Ben" should "hae
a chance."

As against those who reason for the necessity of a future state, in
order that the justice of the Deity may be satisfied, Hume's
argumentation appears unanswerable. For if the justice of God resembles
what we mean by justice, the bestowal of infinite happiness for finite
well-doing and infinite misery for finite ill-doing, it is in no sense
just. And, if the justice of God does not resemble what we mean by
justice, it is an abuse of language to employ the name of justice for
the attribute described by it. But, as against those who choose to argue
that there is nothing in what is known to us of the attributes of the
Deity inconsistent with a future state of rewards and punishments,
Hume's pleadings have no force. Bishop Butler's argument that, inasmuch
as the visitation of our acts by rewards and punishments takes place in
this life, rewards and punishments must be consistent with the
attributes of the Deity, and therefore may go on as long as the mind
endures, is unanswerable. Whatever exists is, by the hypothesis,
existent by the will of God; and, therefore, the pains and pleasures
which exist now may go on existing for all eternity, either increasing,
diminishing, or being endlessly varied in their intensity, as they are

It is remarkable that Hume does not refer to the sentimental arguments
for the immortality of the soul which are so much in vogue at the
present day; and which are based upon our desire for a longer conscious
existence than that which nature appears to have allotted to us. Perhaps
he did not think them worth notice. For indeed it is not a little
strange, that our strong desire that a certain occurrence should happen
should be put forward as evidence that it will happen. If my intense
desire to see the friend, from whom I have parted, does not bring him
from the other side of the world, or take me thither; if the mother's
agonised prayer that her child should live has not prevented him from
dying; experience certainly affords no presumption that the strong
desire to be alive after death, which we call the aspiration after
immortality, is any more likely to be gratified. As Hume truly says,
"All doctrines are to be suspected which are favoured by our passions;"
and the doctrine, that we are immortal because we should extremely like
to be so, contains the quintessence of suspiciousness.

In respect of the existence and attributes of the soul, as of those of
the Deity, then, logic is powerless and reason silent. At the most we
can get no further than the conclusion of Kant:--

     "After we have satisfied ourselves of the vanity of all the
     ambitious attempts of reason to fly beyond the bounds of
     experience, enough remains of practical value to content us. It is
     true that no one may boast that he _knows_ that God and a future
     life exist; for, if he possesses such knowledge, he is just the
     man for whom I have long been seeking. All knowledge (touching an
     object of mere reason) can be communicated, and therefore I might
     hope to see my own knowledge increased to this prodigious extent,
     by his instruction. No; our conviction in these matters is not
     _logical_, but _moral_ certainty; and, inasmuch as it rests upon
     subjective grounds, (of moral disposition) I must not even say: _it
     is_ morally certain that there is a God, and so on; but, _I am_
     morally certain, and so on. That is to say: the belief in a God and
     in another world is so interwoven with my moral nature, that the
     former can no more vanish, than the latter can ever be torn from

     "The only point to be remarked here is that this act of faith of
     the intellect (_Vernunftglaube_) assumes the existence of moral
     dispositions. If we leave them aside, and suppose a mind quite
     indifferent to moral laws, the inquiry started by reason becomes
     merely a subject for speculation; and [the conclusion attained] may
     then indeed be supported by strong arguments from analogy, but not
     by such as are competent to overcome persistent scepticism.

     "There is no one, however, who can fail to be interested in these
     questions. For, although he may be excluded from moral influences
     by the want of a good disposition, yet, even in this case, enough
     remains to lead him to fear a divine existence and a future state.
     To this end, no more is necessary than that he can at least have no
     certainty that there is no such being, and no future life; for, to
     make this conclusion demonstratively certain, he must be able to
     prove the impossibility of both; and this assuredly no rational man
     can undertake to do. This negative belief, indeed, cannot produce
     either morality or good dispositions, but can operate in an
     analogous fashion, by powerfully repressing the outbreak of evil

     "But it will be said, is this all that Pure Reason can do when it
     gazes out beyond the bounds of experience? Nothing more than two
     articles of faith? Common sense could achieve as much without
     calling the philosophers to its counsels!

     "I will not here speak of the service which philosophy has rendered
     to human reason by the laborious efforts of its criticism, granting
     that the outcome proves to be merely negative: about that matter
     something is to be said in the following section. But do you then
     ask, that the knowledge which interests all men shall transcend the
     common understanding and be discovered for you only by
     philosophers? The very thing which you make a reproach, is the best
     confirmation of the justice of the previous conclusions, since it
     shows that which could not, at first, have been anticipated:
     namely, that in those matters which concern all men alike, nature
     is not guilty of distributing her gifts with partiality; and that
     the highest philosophy, in dealing with the most important concerns
     of humanity, is able to take us no further than the guidance which
     she affords to the commonest understanding."[44]

In short, nothing can be proved or disproved, respecting either the
distinct existence, the substance, or the durability of the soul. So
far, Kant is at one with Hume. But Kant adds, as you cannot disprove the
immortality of the soul, and as the belief therein is very useful for
moral purposes, you may assume it. To which, had Hume lived half a
century later, he would probably have replied, that, if morality has no
better foundation than an assumption, it is not likely to bear much
strain; and, if it has a better foundation, the assumption rather
weakens than strengthens it.

As has been already said, Hume is not content with denying that we know
anything about the existence or the nature of the soul; but he carries
the war into the enemy's camp, and accuses those who affirm the
immateriality, simplicity, and indivisibility of the thinking substance,
of atheism and Spinozism, which are assumed to be convertible terms.

The method of attack is ingenious. Observation appears to acquaint us
with two different systems of beings, and both Spinoza and orthodox
philosophers agree, that the necessary substratum of each of these is a
substance, in which the phenomena adhere, or of which they are
attributes or modes.

     "I observe first the universe of objects or of body; the sun, moon,
     and stars; the earth, seas, plants, animals, men, ships, houses,
     and other productions either of art or of nature. Here Spinoza
     appears, and tells me that these are only modifications and that
     the subject in which they inhere is simple, uncompounded, and
     indivisible. After this I consider the other system of beings, viz.
     the universe of thought, or my impressions and ideas. Then I
     observe another sun, moon, and stars; an earth and seas, covered
     and inhabited by plants and animals, towns, houses, mountains,
     rivers; and, in short, everything I can discover or conceive in the
     first system. Upon my inquiring concerning these, theologians
     present themselves, and tell me that these also are modifications,
     and modifications of one simple, uncompounded, and indivisible
     substance. Immediately upon which I am deafened with the noise of a
     hundred voices, that treat the first hypothesis with detestation
     and scorn, and the second with applause and veneration. I turn my
     attention to these hypotheses to see what may be the reason of so
     great a partiality; and find that they have the same fault of being
     unintelligible, and that, as far as we can understand them, they
     are so much alike, that 'tis impossible to discover any absurdity
     in one, which is not common to both of them."--(I. p. 309.)

For the manner in which Hume makes his case good, I must refer to the
original. Plain people may rest satisfied that both hypotheses are
unintelligible, without plunging any further among syllogisms, the
premisses of which convey no meaning, while the conclusions carry no


[35] "Our internal intuition shows no permanent existence, for the Ego
is only the consciousness of my thinking." "There is no means whatever
by which we can learn anything respecting the constitution of the soul,
so far as regards the possibility of its separate existence."--_Kritik
von den Paralogismen der reinen Vernunft_.

[36] _Essays on Some of the Peculiarities of the Christian Religion_,
(Essay I. Revelation of a Future State), by Richard Whately, D.D.,
Archbishop of Dublin. Fifth Edition, revised, 1846.

[37] _The Future States: their Evidences and Nature; considered on
Principles Physical, Moral, and Scriptural, with the Design of showing
the Value of the Gospel Revelation_ by the Right Rev. Reginald
Courtenay, D.D., Lord Bishop of Kingston (Jamaica), 1857.

[38] "Now that 'Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light
through the Gospel,' and that in the most literal sense, which implies
that the revelation of the doctrine is _peculiar_ to His Gospel, seems
to be at least the most obvious meaning of the Scriptures of the New
Testament."--Whately, _l.c._ p. 27.

[39] Compare, _Of the Immateriality of the Soul_, Section V. of Part
IV., Book I., of the _Treatise_, in which Hume concludes (I. p. 319)
that, whether it be material or immaterial, "in both cases the
metaphysical arguments for the immortality of the soul are equally
inconclusive; and in both cases the moral arguments and those derived
from the analogy of nature are equally strong and convincing."

[40] "The question again respecting the materiality of the soul is one
which I am at a loss to understand clearly, till it shall have been
clearly determined _what matter is_. We know nothing of it, any more
than of mind, except its attributes."--Whately, _l.c._ p. 66.

[41] "None of those who contend for the natural immortality of the soul
... have been able to extricate themselves from one difficulty, viz.
that all their arguments apply, with exactly the same force, to prove an
immortality, not only of _brutes_, but even of _plants_; though in such
a conclusion as this they are never willing to acquiesce."--Whately,
_l.c._ p. 67.

[42] "Nor are we therefore authorised to infer _à priori_, independent
of Revelation, a future state of retribution, from the irregularities
prevailing in the present life, since that future state does not account
fully for these irregularities. It may explain, indeed, how present evil
may be conducive to future good, but not why the good could not be
attained without the evil; it may reconcile with our notions of the
divine justice the present prosperity of the wicked, but it does not
account for the existence of the wicked."--Whately, _l.c._ pp. 69, 70.

[43] "So reason also shows, that for man to expect to earn for himself
by the practice of virtue, and claim, as his just right, an immortality
of exalted happiness, is a most extravagant and groundless
pretension."--Whately, _l.c._ p. 101. On the other hand, however, the
Archbishop sees no unreasonableness in a man's earning for himself an
immortality of intense unhappiness by the practice of vice. So that life
is, naturally, a venture in which you may lose all, but can earn
nothing. It may be thought somewhat hard upon mankind if they are pushed
into a speculation of this sort, willy-nilly.

[44] _Kritik der reinen Vernunft_. Ed. Hartenstein, p. 547.



In the opening paragraphs of the third part of the second book of the
_Treatise_, Hume gives a description of the will.

     "Of all the immediate effects of pain and pleasure there is none
     more remarkable than the _will_; and though, properly speaking, it
     be not comprehended among the passions, yet as the full
     understanding of its nature and properties is necessary to the
     explanation of them, we shall here make it the subject of our
     inquiry. I desire it may be observed, that, by the _will_, I mean
     nothing but _the internal impression we feel, and are conscious of,
     when we knowingly give rise to any new motion of our body, or new
     perception of our mind_. This impression, like the preceding ones
     of pride and humility, love and hatred, 'tis impossible to define,
     and needless to describe any further."--(II. p. 150.)

This description of volition may be criticised on various grounds. More
especially does it seem defective in restricting the term "will" to that
feeling which arises when we act, or appear to act, as causes: for one
may will to strike, without striking; or to think of something which we
have forgotten.

Every volition is a complex idea composed of two elements: the one is
the idea of an action; the other is a desire for the occurrence of that
action. If I will to strike, I have an idea of a certain movement, and a
desire that that movement should take place; if I will to think of any
subject, or, in other words, to attend to that subject, I have an idea
of the subject and a strong desire that it should remain present to my
consciousness. And so far as I can discover, this combination of an idea
of an object with an emotion, is everything that can be directly
observed in an act of volition. So that Hume's definition may be amended
thus: Volition is the impression which arises when the idea of a bodily
or mental action is accompanied by the desire that the action should be
accomplished. It differs from other desires simply in the fact, that we
regard ourselves as possible causes of the action desired.

Two questions arise, in connexion with the observation of the phenomenon
of volition, as they arise out of the contemplation of all other natural
phenomena. Firstly, has it a cause; and, if so, what is its cause?
Secondly, is it followed by any effect, and if so, what effect does it

Hume points out, that the nature of the phenomena we consider can have
nothing to do with the origin of the conception that they are connected
by the relation of cause and effect. For that relation is nothing but an
order of succession, which, so far as our experience goes, is
invariable; and it is obvious that the nature of phenomena has nothing
to do with their order. Whatever it is that leads us to seek for a cause
for every event, in the case of the phenomena of the external world,
compels us, with equal cogency, to seek it in that of the mind.

The only meaning of the law of causation, in the physical world, is,
that it generalises universal experience of the order of that world;
and, if experience shows a similar order to obtain among states of
consciousness, the law of causation will properly express that order.

That such an order exists, however, is acknowledged by every sane man:

     "Our idea, therefore, of necessity and causation, arises entirely
     from the uniformity observable in the operations of nature, where
     similar objects are constantly conjoined together, and the mind is
     determined by custom to infer the one from the appearance of the
     other. These two circumstances form the whole of that necessity
     which we ascribe to matter. Beyond the constant _conjunction_ of
     similar objects and the consequent _inference_ from one to the
     other, we have no notion of any necessity of connexion.

     "If it appear, therefore, what all mankind have ever allowed,
     without any doubt or hesitation, that these two circumstances take
     place in the voluntary actions of men, and in the operations of
     mind, it must follow that all mankind have ever agreed in the
     doctrine of necessity, and that they have hitherto disputed merely
     from not understanding each other."--(IV. p. 97.)

But is this constant conjunction observable in human actions? A student
of history could give but one answer to this question:

     "Ambition, avarice, self-love, vanity, friendship, generosity,
     public spirit: these passions, mixed in various degrees, and
     distributed through society, have been, from the beginning of the
     world, and still are, the source of all the actions and enterprizes
     which have ever been observed among mankind. Would you know the
     sentiments, inclinations, and course of life of the Greeks and
     Romans? Study well the temper and actions of the French and
     English. You cannot be much mistaken in transferring to the former
     _most_ of the observations which you have made with regard to the
     latter. Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that
     history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular.
     Its chief use is only to discover the constant and universal
     principles of human nature, by showing men in all varieties of
     circumstances and situations, and furnishing us with materials from
     which we may form our observations, and become acquainted with the
     regular springs of human action and behaviour. These records of
     wars, intrigues, factions, and revolutions are so many collections
     of experiments, by which the politician or moral philosopher fixes
     the principles of his science, in the same manner as the physician
     or natural philosopher becomes acquainted with the nature of
     plants, minerals, and other external objects, by the experiments
     which he forms concerning them. Nor are the earth, air, water, and
     other elements examined by Aristotle and Hippocrates more like to
     those which at present lie under our observation, than the men
     described by Polybius and Tacitus are to those who now govern the
     world."--(IV. pp. 97-8.)

Hume proceeds to point out that the value set upon experience in the
conduct of affairs, whether of business or of politics, involves the
acknowledgment that we base our expectation of what men will do, upon
our observation of what they have done; and, that we are as firmly
convinced of the fixed order of thoughts as we are of that of things.
And, if it be urged that human actions not unfrequently appear
unaccountable and capricious, his reply is prompt:--

     "I grant it possible to find some actions which seem to have no
     regular connexion with any known motives, and are exceptions to all
     the measures of conduct which have ever been established for the
     government of men. But if one could willingly 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 external objects. All causes are not conjoined to
     their usual effects with like uniformity. An artificer, who handles
     only dead matter, may be disappointed in his aim, as well as the
     politician who directs the conduct of sensible and intelligent

     "The vulgar, who take things according to their first appearance,
     attribute the uncertainty of events to such an uncertainty in the
     causes as make the latter often fail of their usual influence,
     though they meet with no impediment to their operation. But
     philosophers, observing that, almost in every part of nature, there
     is contained a vast variety of springs and principles, which are
     hid, by reason of their minuteness or remoteness, find that it is
     at least possible the contrariety of events may not proceed from
     any contingency in the cause, but from the secret operation of
     contrary causes. This possibility is converted into certainty by
     further observation, when they remark that, upon an exact scrutiny,
     a contrariety of effects always betrays a contrariety of causes,
     and proceeds from their mutual opposition. A peasant can give no
     better reason for the stopping of any clock or watch, than to say
     that it does not commonly go right. But an artist easily perceives
     that the same force in the spring or pendulum has always the same
     influence on the wheels; but fails of its usual effect, perhaps by
     reason of a grain of dust, which puts a stop to the whole movement.
     From the observation of several parallel instances, philosophers
     form a maxim, that the connexion between all causes and effects is
     equally necessary, and that its seeming uncertainty in some
     instances proceeds from the secret opposition of contrary
     causes."--(IV. pp. 101-2.)

So with regard to human actions:--

     "The internal principles and motives may operate in a uniform
     manner, notwithstanding these seeming irregularities; in the same
     manner as the winds, rains, clouds, and other variations of the
     weather are supposed to be governed by steady principles; though
     not easily discoverable by human sagacity and inquiry."--(IV. p.

Meteorology, as a science, was not in existence in Hume's time, or he
would have left out the "supposed to be." In practice, again, what
difference does any one make between natural and moral evidence?

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

But, if the necessary connexion of our acts with our ideas has always
been acknowledged in practice, why the proclivity of mankind to deny it

     "If we examine the operations of body, and the production of
     effects from their causes, we shall find that all our faculties can
     never carry us further 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 the one to the belief of the
     other. But though this conclusion concerning human ignorance be the
     result of the strictest scrutiny of this subject, men still
     entertain a strong propensity to believe, that they penetrate
     further into the province of nature, and perceive something like a
     necessary connexion between cause and effect. When, again, they
     turn their reflections towards the operations of their own minds,
     and _feel_ no such connexion between the motive and the action;
     they are thence apt to suppose, that there is a difference between
     the effects which result from material force, and those which arise
     from thought and intelligence. But, being once convinced, that we
     know nothing of causation of any kind, than merely the _constant
     conjunction_ of objects, and the consequent _inference_ of the mind
     from one to another, and finding that these two circumstances are
     universally allowed to have place in voluntary actions; we may be
     more easily led to own the same necessity common to all
     causes."--(IV. pp. 107, 8.)

The last asylum of the hard-pressed advocate of the doctrine of uncaused
volition is usually, that, argue as you like, he has a profound and
ineradicable consciousness of what he calls the freedom of his will. But
Hume follows him even here, though only in a note, as if he thought the
extinction of so transparent a sophism hardly worthy of the dignity of
his text.

     "The prevalence of the doctrine of liberty may be accounted for
     from another cause, viz. a false sensation, or seeming experience,
     which we have, or may have, of liberty or indifference in many of
     our actions. The necessity of any action, whether of matter or of
     mind, is not, properly speaking, a quality in the agent, but in any
     thinking or intelligent being who may consider the action; and it
     consists chiefly in the determination of his thoughts to infer the
     existence of that action from some preceding objects; as liberty,
     when opposed to necessity, is nothing but the want of that
     determination, and a certain looseness or indifference which we
     feel, in passing or not passing, from the idea of any object to the
     idea of any succeeding one. Now we may observe that though, in
     _reflecting_ on human actions, we seldom feel such looseness or
     indifference, but are commonly able to infer them with considerable
     certainty from their motives, and from the dispositions of the
     agent; yet it frequently happens, that in _performing_ the actions
     themselves, we are sensible of something like it: And as all
     resembling objects are taken for each other, this has been employed
     as demonstrative and even intuitive proof of human liberty. We feel
     that our actions are subject to our will on most occasions; and
     imagine we feel, that the will itself is subject to nothing,
     because, when by a denial of it we are provoked to try, we feel
     that it moves easily every way, and produces an image of itself (or
     a _Velleity_ as it is called in the schools), even on that side on
     which it did not settle. This image or faint notion, we persuade
     ourselves, could at that time 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 showing liberty is here the motive of our actions."--(IV. p.
     110, _note_.)

Moreover, the moment the attempt is made to give a definite meaning to
the words, the supposed opposition between free will and necessity turns
out to be a mere verbal dispute.

     "For what is meant by liberty, when applied to voluntary actions?
     We cannot surely mean, that actions have so little connexion with
     motive, inclinations, and circumstances, that one does not follow
     with a certain degree of uniformity from the other, and that one
     affords no inference by which we can conclude the existence of the
     other. For these are plain and acknowledged matters of fact. By
     liberty, then, we can only mean _a power of acting or not acting
     according to the determinations of the will_; that is, if we choose
     to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may. Now
     this hypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to every
     one who is not a prisoner and in chains. Here then is no subject of
     dispute."--(IV. p. 111.)

Half the controversies about the freedom of the will would have had no
existence, if this pithy paragraph had been well pondered by those who
oppose the doctrine of necessity. For they rest upon the absurd
presumption that the proposition, "I can do as I like," is contradictory
to the doctrine of necessity. The answer is; nobody doubts that, at any
rate within certain limits, you can do as you like. But what determines
your likings and dislikings? Did you make your own constitution? Is it
your contrivance that one thing is pleasant and another is painful? And
even if it were, why did you prefer to make it after the one fashion
rather than the other? The passionate assertion of the consciousness of
their freedom, which is the favourite refuge of the opponents of the
doctrine of necessity, is mere futility, for nobody denies it. What they
really have to do, if they would upset the necessarian argument, is to
prove that they are free to associate any emotion whatever with any idea
whatever; to like pain as much as pleasure; vice as much as virtue; in
short, to prove, that, whatever may be the fixity of order of the
universe of things, that of thought is given over to chance.

In the second part of this remarkable essay, Hume considers the real, or
supposed, immoral consequences of the doctrine of necessity, premising
the weighty observation that

     "When any opinion leads to absurdity, it is certainly false; but it
     is not certain that an opinion is false because it is of dangerous
     consequence."--(IV. p. 112.)

And, therefore, that the attempt to refute an opinion by a picture of
its dangerous consequences to religion and morality, is as illogical as
it is reprehensible.

It is said, in the first place, that necessity destroys responsibility;
that, as it is usually put, we have no right to praise or blame actions
that cannot be helped. Hume's reply amounts to this, that the very idea
of responsibility implies the belief in the necessary connexion of
certain actions with certain states of the mind. A person is held
responsible only for those acts which are preceded by a certain
intention; and, as we cannot see, or hear, or feel, an intention, we can
only reason out its existence on the principle that like effects have
like causes.

If a man is found by the police busy with "jemmy" and dark lantern at a
jeweller's shop door over night, the magistrate before whom he is
brought the next morning, reasons from those effects to their causes in
the fellow's "burglarious" ideas and volitions, with perfect confidence,
and punishes him accordingly. And it is quite clear that such a
proceeding would be grossly unjust, if the links of the logical process
were other than necessarily connected together. The advocate who should
attempt to get the man off on the plea that his client need not
necessarily have had a felonious intent, would hardly waste his time
more, if he tried to prove that the sum of all the angles of a triangle
is not two right angles, but three.

A man's moral responsibility for his acts has, in fact, nothing to do
with the causation of these acts, but depends on the frame of mind which
accompanies them. Common language tells us this, when it uses
"well-disposed" as the equivalent of "good," and "evil-minded" as that
of "wicked." If A does something which puts B in a violent passion, it
is quite possible to admit that B's passion is the necessary consequence
of A's act, and yet to believe that B's fury is morally wrong, or that
he ought to control it. In fact, a calm bystander would reason with both
on the assumption of moral necessity. He would say to A, "You were wrong
in doing a thing which you knew (that is, of the necessity of which you
were convinced) would irritate B." And he would say to B, "You are wrong
to give way to passion, for you know its evil effects"--that is the
necessary connection between yielding to passion and evil.

So far, therefore, from necessity destroying moral responsibility, it is
the foundation of all praise and blame; and moral admiration reaches its
climax in the ascription of necessary goodness to the Deity.

To the statement of another consequence of the necessarian doctrine,
that, if there be a God, he must be the cause of all evil as well as of
all good, Hume gives no real reply--probably because none is possible.
But then, if this conclusion is distinctly and unquestionably deducible
from the doctrine of necessity, it is no less unquestionably a direct
consequence of every known form of monotheism. If God is the cause of
all things, he must be the cause of evil among the rest; if he is
omniscient, he must have the fore-knowledge of evil; if he is almighty,
he must possess the power of preventing, or of extinguishing evil. And
to say that an all-knowing and all-powerful being is not responsible for
what happens, because he only permits it, is, under its intellectual
aspect, a piece of childish sophistry; while, as to the moral look of
it, one has only to ask any decently honourable man, whether, under like
circumstances, he would try to get rid of his responsibility by such a

Hume's _Inquiry_ appeared in 1748. He does not refer to Anthony Collins'
essay on Liberty, published thirty-three years before, in which the same
question is treated to the same effect, with singular force and
lucidity. It may be said, perhaps, that it is not wonderful that the two
freethinkers should follow the same line of reasoning; but no such
theory will account for the fact that in 1754, the famous Calvinistic
divine, Jonathan Edwards, President of the College of New Jersey,
produced, in the interests of the straitest orthodoxy, a demonstration
of the necessarian thesis, which has never been equalled in power, and
certainly has never been refuted.

In the ninth section of the fourth part of Edwards' _Inquiry_, he has to
deal with the Arminian objection to the Calvinistic doctrine that "it
makes God the author of sin"; and it is curious to watch the struggle
between the theological controversialist, striving to ward off an
admission which he knows will be employed to damage his side, and the
acute logician, conscious that, in some shape or other, the admission
must be made. Beginning with a _tu quoque_, that the Arminian doctrine
involves consequences as bad as the Calvinistic view, he proceeds to
object to the term "author of sin," though he ends by admitting that, in
a certain sense, it is applicable; he proves from Scripture, that God is
the disposer and orderer of sin; and then, by an elaborate false analogy
with the darkness resulting from the absence of the sun, endeavours to
suggest that he is only the author of it in a negative sense; and,
finally, he takes refuge in the conclusion that, though God is the
orderer and disposer of those deeds which, considered in relation to
their agents, are morally evil, yet, inasmuch as His purpose has all
along been infinitely good, they are not evil relatively to him.

And this, of course, may be perfectly true; but if true, it is
inconsistent with the attribute of omnipotence. It is conceivable that
there should be no evil in the world; that which is conceivable is
certainly possible; if it were possible for evil to be non-existent, the
maker of the world, who, though foreknowing the existence of evil in
that world, did not prevent it, either did not really desire it should
not exist, or could not prevent its existence. It might be well for
those who inveigh against the logical consequences of necessarianism to
bethink them of the logical consequences of theism; which are not only
the same, when the attribute of Omniscience is ascribed to the Deity,
but which bring out, from the existence of moral evil, a hopeless
conflict between the attributes of Infinite Benevolence and Infinite
Power, which, with no less assurance, are affirmed to appertain to the
Divine Being.

Kant's mode of dealing with the doctrine of necessity is very singular.
That the phenomena of the mind follow fixed relations of cause and
effect is, to him, as unquestionable as it is to Hume. But then there is
the _Ding an sich_, the _Noumenon_, or Kantian equivalent for the
substance of the soul. This, being out of the phenomenal world, is
subject to none of the laws of phenomena, and is consequently as
absolutely free, and as completely powerless, as a mathematical point,
_in vacua_, would be. Hence volition is uncaused, so far as it belongs
to the noumenon; but, necessary, so far as it takes effect in the
phenomenal world.

Since Kant is never weary of telling us that we know nothing whatever,
and can know nothing, about the noumenon, except as the hypothetical
subject of any number of negative predicates; the information that it is
free, in the sense of being out of reach of the law of causation, is
about as valuable as the assertion that it is neither grey, nor blue,
nor square. For practical purposes, it must be admitted that the inward
possession of such a noumenal libertine does not amount to much for
people whose actual existence is made up of nothing but definitely
regulated phenomena. When the good and evil angels fought for the dead
body of Moses, its presence must have been of about the same value to
either of the contending parties, as that of Kant's noumenon, in the
battle of impulses which rages in the breast of man. Metaphysicians, as
a rule, are sadly deficient in the sense of humour; or they would surely
abstain from advancing propositions which, when stripped of the verbiage
in which they are disguised, appear to the profane eye to be bare shams,
naked but not ashamed.



In his autobiography, Hume writes:--

     "In the same year [1752] was published at London my _Inquiry
     Concerning the Principles of Morals_; which in my own opinion (who
     ought not to judge on that subject) is of all my writings,
     historical, philosophical, and literary, incomparably the best. It
     came unnoticed and unobserved into the world."

It may commonly be noticed that the relative value which an author
ascribes to his own works rarely agrees with the estimate formed of them
by his readers; who criticise the products, without either the power or
the wish to take into account the pains which they may have cost the
producer. Moreover, the clear and dispassionate common sense of the
_Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals_ may have tasted flat after
the highly-seasoned _Inquiry concerning the Human Understanding_.
Whether the public like to be deceived, or not, may be open to question;
but it is beyond a doubt that they love to be shocked in a pleasant and
mannerly way. Now Hume's speculations on moral questions are not so
remote from those of respectable professors, like Hutcheson, or saintly
prelates, such as Butler, as to present any striking novelty. And they
support the cause of righteousness in a cool, reasonable, indeed
slightly patronising fashion, eminently in harmony with the mind of the
eighteenth century; which admired virtue very much, if she would only
avoid the rigour which the age called fanaticism, and the fervour which
it called enthusiasm.

Having applied the ordinary methods of scientific inquiry to the
intellectual phenomena of the mind, it was natural that Hume should
extend the same mode of investigation to its moral phenomena; and, in
the true spirit of a natural philosopher, he commences by selecting a
group of those states of consciousness with which every one's personal
experience must have made him familiar: in the expectation that the
discovery of the sources of moral approbation and disapprobation, in
this comparatively easy case, may furnish the means of detecting them
where they are more recondite.

     "We shall analyse that complication of mental qualities which form
     what, in common life, we call PERSONAL MERIT: We shall consider
     every attribute of the mind, which renders a man an object either
     of esteem and affection, or of hatred and contempt; every habit or
     sentiment or faculty, which if ascribed to any person, implies
     either praise or blame, and may enter into any panegyric or satire
     of his character and manners. The quick sensibility which, on this
     head, is so universal among mankind, gives a philosopher sufficient
     assurance that he can never be considerably mistaken in framing the
     catalogue, or incurs any danger of misplacing the objects of his
     contemplation: He needs only enter into his own breast for a
     moment, and consider whether he should or should not desire to have
     this or that quality assigned to him, and whether such or such an
     imputation would proceed from a friend or an enemy. The very nature
     of language guides us almost infallibly in forming a judgment of
     this nature; and as every tongue possesses one set of words which
     are taken in a good sense, and another in the opposite, the least
     acquaintance with the idiom suffices, without any reasoning, to
     direct us in collecting and arranging the estimable or blamable
     qualities of men. The only object of reasoning is to discover the
     circumstances on both sides, which are common to these qualities;
     to observe that particular in which the estimable qualities agree
     on the one hand, and the blamable on the other, and thence to reach
     the foundation of ethics, and find their universal principles, from
     which all censure or approbation is ultimately derived. As this is
     a question of fact, not of abstract science, we can only expect
     success by following the experimental method, and deducing general
     maxims from a comparison of particular instances. The other
     scientifical method, where a general abstract principle is first
     established, and is afterwards branched out into a variety of
     inferences and conclusions, may be more perfect in itself, but
     suits less the imperfection of human nature, and is a common source
     of illusion and mistake, in this as well as in other subjects. Men
     are now cured of their passion for hypotheses and systems in
     natural philosophy, and will hearken to no arguments but those
     which are derived from experience. It is full time they should
     attempt a like reformation in all moral disquisitions; and reject
     every system of ethics, however subtile or ingenious, which is not
     founded on fact and observation."--(IV. pp. 242-4.)

No qualities give a man a greater claim to personal merit than
benevolence and justice; but if we inquire why benevolence deserves so
much praise, the answer will certainly contain a large reference to the
utility of that virtue to society; and as for justice, the very
existence of the virtue implies that of society; public utility is its
sole origin; and the measure of its usefulness is also the standard of
its merit. If every man possessed everything he wanted, and no one had
the power to interfere with such possession; or if no man desired that
which could damage his fellow-man, justice would have no part to play
in the universe. But as Hume observes:--

     "In the present disposition of the human heart, it would perhaps be
     difficult to find complete instances of such enlarged affections;
     but still we may observe that the case of families approaches
     towards it; and the stronger the mutual benevolence is among the
     individuals, the nearer it approaches, till all distinction of
     property be in a great measure lost and confounded among them.
     Between married persons, the cement of friendship is by the laws
     supposed so strong, as to abolish all division of possessions, and
     has often, in reality, the force assigned to it.[45] And it is
     observable that, during the ardour of new enthusiasms, when every
     principle is inflamed into extravagance, the community of goods has
     frequently been attempted; and nothing but experience of its
     inconveniences, from the returning or disguised selfishness of men,
     could make the imprudent fanatics adopt anew the ideas of justice
     and separate property. So true is it that this virtue derives its
     existence entirely from its necessary _use_ to the intercourse and
     social state of mankind."--(IV. p. 256.)

     "Were the human species so framed by nature as that each individual
     possessed within himself every faculty requisite both for his own
     preservation and for the propagation of his kind: Were all society
     and intercourse cut off between man and man by the primary
     intention of the Supreme Creator: It seems evident that so solitary
     a being would be as much incapable of justice as of social
     discourse and conversation. Where mutual regard and forbearance
     serve to no manner of purpose, they would never direct the conduct
     of any reasonable man. The headlong course of the passions would be
     checked by no reflection on future consequences. And as each man
     is here supposed to love himself alone, and to depend only on
     himself and his own activity for safety and happiness, he would, on
     every occasion, to the utmost of his power, challenge the
     preference above every other being, to none of which he is bound by
     any ties, either of nature or of interest.

     "But suppose the conjunction of the sexes to be established in
     nature, a family immediately arises; and particular rules being
     found requisite for its subsistence, these are immediately
     embraced, though without comprehending the rest of mankind within
     their prescriptions. Suppose that several families unite together
     in one society, which is totally disjoined from all others, the
     rules which preserve peace and order enlarge themselves to the
     utmost extent of that society; but becoming then entirely useless,
     lose their force when carried one step further. But again, suppose
     that several distinct societies maintain a kind of intercourse for
     mutual convenience and advantage, the boundaries of justice still
     grow larger, in proportion to the largeness of men's views and the
     force of their mutual connexion. History, experience, reason,
     sufficiently instruct us in this natural progress of human
     sentiments, and in the gradual enlargement of our regard to justice
     in proportion as we become acquainted with the extensive utility of
     that virtue."--(IV. pp. 262-4.)

The moral obligation of justice and the rights of property are by no
means diminished by this exposure of the purely utilitarian basis on
which they rest:--

     "For what stronger foundation can be desired or conceived for any
     duty, than to observe that human society, or even human nature,
     could not subsist without the establishment of it, and will still
     arrive at greater degrees of happiness and perfection, the more
     inviolable the regard is which is paid to that duty?

     "The dilemma seems obvious: As justice evidently tends to promote
     public utility, and to support civil society, the sentiment of
     justice is either derived from our reflecting on that tendency, or,
     like hunger, thirst, and other appetites, resentment, love of life,
     attachment to offspring, and other passions, arises from a simple
     original instinct in the human heart, which nature has implanted
     for like salutary purposes. If the latter be the case, it follows
     that property, which is the object of justice, is also
     distinguished by a simple original instinct, and is not ascertained
     by any argument or reflection. But who is there that ever heard of
     such an instinct? Or is this a subject in which new discoveries can
     be made? We may as well expect to discover in the body new senses
     which had before escaped the observation of all mankind."--(IV. pp.
     273, 4.)

The restriction of the object of justice to property, in this passage,
is singular. Pleasure and pain can hardly be included under the term
property, and yet justice surely deals largely with the withholding of
the former, or the infliction of the latter, by men on one another. If a
man bars another from a pleasure which he would otherwise enjoy, or
actively hurts him without good reason, the latter is said to be injured
as much as if his property had been interfered with. Here, indeed, it
may be readily shown, that it is as much the interest of society that
men should not interfere with one another's freedom, or mutually inflict
positive or negative pain, as that they should not meddle with one
another's property; and hence the obligation of justice in such matters
may be deduced. But, if a man merely thinks ill of another, or feels
maliciously towards him without due cause, he is properly said to be
unjust. In this case it would be hard to prove that any injury is done
to society by the evil thought; but there is no question that it will be
stigmatised as an injustice; and the offender himself, in another frame
of mind, is often ready enough to admit that he has failed to be just
towards his neighbour. However, it may plausibly be said, that so slight
a barrier lies between thought and speech, that any moral quality
attached to the latter is easily transferred to the former; and that,
since open slander is obviously opposed to the interests of society,
injustice of thought, which is silent slander, must become inextricably
associated with the same blame.

But, granting the utility to society of all kinds of benevolence and
justice, why should the quality of those virtues involve the sense of
moral obligation?

Hume answers this question in the fifth section, entitled, _Why Utility
Pleases_. He repudiates the deduction of moral approbation from
self-love, and utterly denies that we approve of benevolent or just
actions because we think of the benefits which they are likely to confer
indirectly on ourselves. The source of the approbation with which we
view an act useful to society must be sought elsewhere; and, in fact, is
to be found in that feeling which is called sympathy.

     "No man is absolutely indifferent to the happiness and misery of
     others. The first has a natural tendency to give pleasure, the
     second pain. This every one may find in himself. It is not probable
     that these principles can be resolved into principles more simple
     and universal, whatever attempts may have been made for that
     purpose."--(IV. p. 294, _Note_.)

Other men's joys and sorrows are not spectacles at which we remain

     " ... The view of the former, whether in its causes or effects,
     like sunshine, or the prospect of well-cultivated plains (to carry
     our pretensions no higher) communicates a secret joy and
     satisfaction; the appearance of the latter, like a lowering cloud
     or barren landscape, throws a melancholy damp over the imagination.
     And this concession being once made, the difficulty is over; and a
     natural unforced interpretation of the phenomena of human life will
     afterwards, we hope, prevail among all speculative
     inquirers."--(IV. p. 320.)

The moral approbation, therefore, with which we regard acts of justice
or benevolence rests upon their utility to society, because the
perception of that utility or, in other words, of the pleasure which
they give to other men, arouses a feeling of sympathetic pleasure in
ourselves. The feeling of obligation to be just, or of the duty of
justice, arises out of that association of moral approbation or
disapprobation with one's own actions, which is what we call conscience.
To fail in justice, or in benevolence, is to be displeased with oneself.
But happiness is impossible without inward self-approval; and, hence,
every man who has any regard to his own happiness and welfare, will find
his best reward in the practice of every moral duty. On this topic Hume
expends much eloquence.

     "But what philosophical truths can be more advantageous to society
     than these here delivered, which represent virtue in all her
     genuine and most engaging charms, and make us approach her with
     ease, familiarity, and affection? The dismal dress falls off, with
     which many divines and some philosophers have covered her; and
     nothing appears but gentleness, humanity, beneficence, affability;
     nay, even at proper intervals, play, frolic, and gaiety. She talks
     not of useless austerities and rigours, suffering and self-denial.
     She declares that her sole purpose is to make her votaries, and all
     mankind, during every period of their existence, if possible,
     cheerful and happy; nor does she ever willingly part with any
     pleasure but in hopes of ample compensation in some other period of
     their lives. The sole trouble which she demands is that of just
     calculation, and a steady preference of the greater happiness. And
     if any austere pretenders approach her, enemies to joy and
     pleasure, she either rejects them as hypocrites and deceivers, or
     if she admit them in her train, they are ranked, however, among the
     least favoured of her votaries.

     "And, indeed, to drop all figurative expression, what hopes can we
     ever have of engaging mankind to a practice which we confess full
     of austerity and rigour? Or what theory of morals can ever serve
     any useful purpose, unless it can show, by a particular detail,
     that all the duties which it recommends are also the true interest
     of each individual? The peculiar advantage of the foregoing system
     seem to be, that it furnishes proper mediums for that
     purpose."--(IV. p. 360.)

In this pæan to virtue, there is more of the dance measure than will
sound appropriate in the ears of most of the pilgrims who toil
painfully, not without many a stumble and many a bruise, along the rough
and steep roads which lead to the higher life.

Virtue is undoubtedly beneficent; but the man is to be envied to whom
her ways seem in anywise playful. And, though she may not talk much
about suffering and self-denial, her silence on that topic may be
accounted for on the principle _ça va sans dire_. The calculation of the
greatest happiness is not performed quite so easily as a rule of three
sum; while, in the hour of temptation, the question will crop up,
whether, as something has to be sacrificed, a bird in the hand is not
worth two in the bush; whether it may not be as well to give up the
problematical greater happiness in the future, for a certain great
happiness in the present, and

             "Buy the merry madness of one hour
     With the long irksomeness of following time."[46]

If mankind cannot be engaged in practices "full of austerity and
rigour," by the love of righteousness and the fear of evil, without
seeking for other compensation than that which flows from the
gratification of such love and the consciousness of escape from
debasement, they are in a bad case. For they will assuredly find that
virtue presents no very close likeness to the sportive leader of the
joyous hours in Hume's rosy picture; but that she is an awful Goddess,
whose ministers are the Furies, and whose highest reward is peace.

It is not improbable that Hume would have qualified all this as
enthusiasm or fanaticism, or both; but he virtually admits it:--

     "Now, as virtue is an end, and is desirable on its own account,
     without fee or reward, merely for the immediate satisfaction which
     it conveys, it is requisite that there should be some sentiment
     which it touches; some internal taste or feeling, or whatever you
     please to call it, which distinguishes moral good and evil, and
     which embraces the one and rejects the other.

     "Thus the distinct boundaries and offices of _reason_ and of
     _taste_ are easily ascertained. The former conveys the knowledge of
     truth and falsehood: The latter gives the sentiment of beauty and
     deformity, vice and virtue. The one discovers objects as they
     really stand in nature, without addition or diminution: The other
     has a productive faculty, and gilding and staining all natural
     objects with the colours borrowed from internal sentiment, raises
     in a manner a new creation. Reason being cool and disengaged, is no
     motive to action, and directs only the impulse received from
     appetite or inclination, by showing us the means of attaining
     happiness or avoiding misery. Taste, as it gives pleasure or pain,
     and thereby constitutes happiness or misery, becomes a motive to
     action, and is the first spring or impulse to desire and volition.
     From circumstances and relations known or supposed, the former
     leads us to the discovery of the concealed and unknown. After all
     circumstances and relations are laid before us, the latter makes us
     feel from the whole a new sentiment of blame or approbation. The
     standard of the one, being founded on the nature of things, is
     external and inflexible, even by the will of the Supreme Being: The
     standard of the other, arising from the internal frame and
     constitution of animals, is ultimately derived from the Supreme
     Will, which bestowed on each being its peculiar nature, and
     arranged the several classes and orders of existence."--(IV. pp.

Hume has not discussed the theological theory of the obligations of
morality, but it is obviously in accordance with his view of the nature
of those obligations. Under its theological aspect, morality is
obedience to the will of God; and the ground for such obedience is
two-fold; either we ought to obey God because He will punish us if we
disobey Him, which is an argument based on the utility of obedience; or
our obedience ought to flow from our love towards God, which is an
argument based on pure feeling and for which no reason can be given.
For, if any man should say that he takes no pleasure in the
contemplation of the ideal of perfect holiness, or, in other words, that
he does not love God, the attempt to argue him into acquiring that
pleasure would be as hopeless as the endeavour to persuade Peter Bell of
the "witchery of the soft blue sky."

In whichever way we look at the matter, morality is based on feeling,
not on reason; though reason alone is competent to trace out the effects
of our actions and thereby dictate conduct. Justice is founded on the
love of one's neighbour; and goodness is a kind of beauty. The moral
law, like the laws of physical nature, rests in the long run upon
instinctive intuitions, and is neither more nor less "innate" and
"necessary" than they are. Some people cannot by any means be got to
understand the first book of Euclid; but the truths of mathematics are
no less necessary and binding on the great mass of mankind. Some there
are who cannot feel the difference between the _Sonata Appassionata_,
and _Cherry Ripe_; or between a gravestone-cutter's cherub and the
Apollo Belvidere; but the canons of art are none the less acknowledged.
While some there may be, who, devoid of sympathy are incapable of a
sense of duty; but neither does their existence affect the foundations
of morality. Such pathological deviations from true manhood are merely
the halt, the lame, and the blind of the world of consciousness; and the
anatomist of the mind leaves them aside, as the anatomist of the body
would ignore abnormal specimens.

And as there are Pascals and Mozarts, Newtons and Raffaelles, in whom
the innate faculty for science or art seems to need but a touch to
spring into full vigour, and through whom the human race obtains new
possibilities of knowledge and new conceptions of beauty: so there have
been men of moral genius, to whom we owe ideals of duty and visions of
moral perfection, which ordinary mankind could never have attained;
though, happily for them, they can feel the beauty of a vision, which
lay beyond the reach of their dull imaginations, and count life well
spent in shaping some faint image of it in the actual world.




[45] Family affection in the eighteenth century may have been stronger
than in the nineteenth; but Hume's bachelor inexperience can surely
alone explain his strange account of the suppositions of the marriage
law of that day, and their effects. The law certainly abolished all
division of possessions, but it did so by making the husband sole

[46] Ben Jonson's _Cynthia's Revels_, act i.




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