Obrázky na stránke

All things

understood and only understood the connexion of cause and effect, or the constant dependence of one thing on another, in the human mind as well as in matter, that according to this interpretation all things are equally certain and necessary. On the other hand, if by liberty be meant any thing opposite to this connexion of cause and effect; that is, a positive beginning of any action or motion out of nothing, or out of a state of indifference, or from itself, I believe that there is no such thing as liberty in the mind any more than in matter. have their preceding determining causes, and nothing is, but what must be in the precise given circumstances. This has been demonstrated over and over again, and the contrary supposition reduced to a manifest absurdity in every possible way by Hobbes, Hume, Hartley, Edwards, Priestley, and others.

But, secondly, I conceive that the question does not stop here, because certain ideas have been annexed to these terms of liberty and necessity, both by the learned and by common men, which have nothing at all to do with the affirmation or denial of the simple connexion between cause and effect. What I shall therefore attempt will be to point out a few instances of the misapplication of the term to prove a

necessity not included in the certainty of the event, and to disprove liberty in a sense in which it does not interfere with that certainty, or with philosophical necessity: that is, I shall attempt to show in what sense, in conformity with the general law to which all things are by their nature subject, man is an agent, a free agent, a moral and accountable agent; that is, deserving of reward and punishment, praise and blame, &c. Now by an agent I mean any thing that acts or has a power to operate that is, to produce effects; by a free agent I mean one that is not hindered from acting ; by a moral and accountable agent I mean one that acts from will, and is influenced by motives; by reward and punishment I mean what every one does; by praise and blame I mean our approbation or disapprobation of any agent that is conscious of our sentiments towards him, or that is capable of reflecting on his own conduct, and of being affected by what others think of it. If by an agent be meant the beginner of action, or one that produces an effect of itself, there can be no such thing; but if by an agent be meant one that contributes to an effect, there is such a thing as an agent; and the more any thing contributes to an effect and determines it to be this or that, the more it is an agent. If by freedom be meant a freedom from causes, or necessity in the abstract, there can be no freedom in this sense, but there may be and is a freedom from certain causes and from certain kinds and degrees of necessity; that is, from physical causes, or compulsion, and from absolute, unconditional necessity. If all things are equally necessary, that do not spring out of nothing, then indeed the distinction between liberty and necessity must be in all cases absurd. Again, by free-will I do not mean the power or liberty to act without motives, but with motives. The mind cannot act without an occasion or ground for acting, but this does not shew that it is no agent at all, or that it is not a free agent; that is, that its action is restrained or hindered by the action of any thing else. The intellectual and voluntary powers are free, just as the corporeal are, namely, when they are free to produce certain effects, which, if excited, they can produce, as the body is free when it can move in consequence of the mind's direction ; it is no longer free when though the same reason exists for its moving, it is hindered by something else from obeying the impulse. In short, liberty is this: the power in any agent in given circumstances to operate in a certain manner, if left to itself; or perhaps more un

equivocally, opportunity given to any agent to exert certain powers to produce an effect, when nothing but those powers and the absence of impediments is wanting to produce it. To be free is to possess all the requisites for acting in one's-self, and in the circumstances, and not to be counteracted. Again, if moral good and evil are supposed to be something self-created, then they are merely fictions of the mind; but if we suppose an agent to be entitled to praise or blame, reward or punishment, not because he is a self-willed, but a voluntary agent, that is to say, a being possessing certain powers and habitually and with determination exerting them to certain purposes, then there will be a foundation for this distinction in nature. To the idea of moral responsibility, it is not necessary that the agent should be the sole or absolutely first cause of the evil, for example, but that he should be one real, determining cause of it, and while he remains what he is, the same effects will follow. An agent is the author of any evil, when without him, that is, without something peculiar and essential to his disposition and character, it would not exist.

1. Every thing is an agent that is any way necessary or conducing to an effect. The doctrine of second causes does not destroy agency.

It no more proves that those causes do not act because something has acted before them, than that they do not exist, because something has existed before them. The theological writers on this side of the question affirm, I think improperly, that God or the first cause is the sole agent in the universe, to which all second causes are to be referred as instruments, having no real efficacy of their own. If so, all events are produced immediately by the divine

agency, that is, all second causes are parts of the divine essence, and in all that we see or hear or feel, we must conceive of something far more deeply interfused, a spirit and a motion that impels all thinking things, all objects of all thought, and breathes through all things. This doctrine is that of Spinoza : but upon this supposition second causes, as the immediate operation of the Deity are and must be real and efficient. On the other hand, if to exclude this system of pantheism, we consider the things and appearances about us as merely natural, still what are called second causes must be real and efficient causes, or they could not produce their effects. If nothing can operate but the first cause, then whatever produces effects is the Deity: but if this conclusion be thought objectionable, then we must allow other causes of

« PredošláPokračovať »