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An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 online

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has done us good; because pleasure operates not so strongly on us as
pain, and because we are not so ready to have hope it will do so again.
But this by the by.

15. Pleasure and Pain, what.

By pleasure and pain, delight and uneasiness, I must all along be
understood (as I have above intimated) to mean not only bodily pain and
pleasure, but whatsoever delight or uneasiness is felt by us, whether
arising from any grateful or unacceptable sensation or reflection.

16. Removal or lessening of either.

It is further to be considered, that, in reference to the passions,
the removal or lessening of a pain is considered, and operates, as a
pleasure: and the loss or diminishing of a pleasure, as a pain.

17. Shame.

The passions too have most of them, in most persons, operations on the
body, and cause various changes in it; which not being always sensible,
do not make a necessary part of the idea of each passion. For SHAME,
which is an uneasiness of the mind upon the thought of having done
something which is indecent, or will lessen the valued esteem which
others have for us, has not always blushing accompanying it.

18. These Instances to show how our Ideas of the Passions are got from
Sensation and Reflection.

I would not be mistaken here, as if I meant this as a Discourse of the
Passions; they are many more than those I have here named: and those I
have taken notice of would each of them require a much larger and
more accurate discourse. I have only mentioned these here, as so many
instances of modes of pleasure and pain resulting in our minds from
various considerations of good and evil. I might perhaps have instanced
in other modes of pleasure and pain, more simple than these; as the pain
of hunger and thirst, and the pleasure of eating and drinking to remove
them: the pain of teeth set on edge; the pleasure of music; pain
from captious uninstructive wrangling, and the pleasure of rational
conversation with a friend, or of well-directed study in the search and
discovery of truth. But the passions being of much more concernment to
us, I rather made choice to instance in them, and show how the ideas we
have of them are derived from sensation or reflection.



1. This Idea how got.

The mind being every day informed, by the senses, of the alteration of
those simple ideas it observes in things without; and taking notice how
one comes to an end, and ceases to be, and another begins to exist
which was not before; reflecting also on what passes within itself, and
observing a constant change of its ideas, sometimes by the impression of
outward objects on the senses, and sometimes by the determination of its
own choice; and concluding from what it has so constantly observed to
have been, that the like changes will for the future be made in the same
things, by like agents, and by the like ways, - considers in one thing
the possibility of having any of its simple ideas changed, and in
another the possibility of making that change; and so comes by that idea
which we call POWER. Thus we say, Fire has a power to melt gold, i. e.
to destroy the consistency of its insensible parts, and consequently its
hardness, and make it fluid; and gold has a power to be melted; that the
sun has a power to blanch wax, and wax a power to be blanched by the
sun, whereby the yellowness is destroyed, and whiteness made to exist
in its room. In which, and the like cases, the power we consider is in
reference to the change of perceivable ideas. For we cannot observe
any alteration to be made in, or operation upon anything, but by the
observable change of its sensible ideas; nor conceive any alteration to
be made, but by conceiving a change of some of its ideas.

2. Power, active and passive.

Power thus considered is two-fold, viz. as able to make, or able to
receive any change. The one may be called ACTIVE, and the other PASSIVE
power. Whether matter be not wholly destitute of active power, as
its author, God, is truly above all passive power; and whether the
intermediate state of created spirits be not that alone which is capable
of both active and passive power, may be worth consideration. I shall
not now enter into that inquiry, my present business being not to search
into the original of power, but how we come by the IDEA of it. But since
active powers make so great a part of our complex ideas of natural
substances, (as we shall see hereafter,) and I mention them as such,
according to common apprehension; yet they being not, perhaps, so truly
ACTIVE powers as our hasty thoughts are apt to represent them, I
judge it not amiss, by this intimation, to direct our minds to the
consideration of God and spirits, for the clearest idea of ACTIVE power.

3. Power includes Relation.

I confess power includes in it some kind of RELATION (a relation to
action or change,) as indeed which of our ideas of what kind soever,
when attentively considered, does not. For, our ideas of extension,
duration, and number, do they not all contain in them a secret relation
of the parts? Figure and motion have something relative in them much
more visibly. And sensible qualities, as colours and smells, &c.
what are they but the powers of different bodies, in relation to our
perception, &c.? And, if considered in the things themselves, do they
not depend on the bulk, figure, texture, and motion of the parts? All
which include some kind of relation in them. Our idea therefore of
power, I think, may well have a place amongst other SIMPLE IDEAS, and
be considered as one of them; being one of those that make a principal
ingredient in our complex ideas of substances, as we shall hereafter
have occasion to observe.

4. The clearest Idea of active Power had from Spirit.

Of passive power all sensible things abundantly furnish us with sensible
ideas, whose sensible qualities and beings we find to be in continual
flux. And therefore with reason we look on them as liable still to the
same change. Nor have we of ACTIVE power (which is the more proper
signification of the word power) fewer instances. Since whatever change
is observed, the mind must collect a power somewhere able to make that
change, as well as a possibility in the thing itself to receive it. But
yet, if we will consider it attentively, bodies, by our senses, do not
afford us so clear and distinct an idea of active power, as we have from
reflection on the operations of our minds. For all power relating to
action, and there being but two sorts of action whereof we have an idea,
viz. thinking and motion, let us consider whence we have the clearest
ideas of the powers which produce these actions. (1) Of thinking, body
affords us no idea at all; it is only from reflection that we have that.
(2) Neither have we from body any idea of the beginning of motion. A
body at rest affords us no idea of any active power to move; and when it
is set in motion itself, that motion is rather a passion than an action
in it. For, when the ball obeys the motion of a billiard-stick, it is
not any action of the ball, but bare passion. Also when by impulse it
sets another ball in motion that lay in its way, it only communicates
the motion it had received from another, and loses in itself so much as
the other received: which gives us but a very obscure idea of an ACTIVE
power of moving in body, whilst we observe it only to TRANSFER, but not
PRODUCE any motion. For it is but a very obscure idea of power which
reaches not the production of the action, but the continuation of
the passion. For so is motion in a body impelled by another; the
continuation of the alteration made in it from rest to motion being
little more an action, than the continuation of the alteration of its
figure by the same blow is an action. The idea of the BEGINNING of
motion we have only from reflection on what passes in ourselves; where
we find by experience, that, barely by willing it, barely by a thought
of the mind, we can move the parts of our bodies, which were before
at rest. So that it seems to me, we have, from the observation of the
operation of bodies by our senses, but a very imperfect obscure idea of
ACTIVE power; since they afford us not any idea in themselves of the
power to begin any action, either motion or thought. But if, from the
impulse bodies are observed to make one upon another, any one thinks he
has a clear idea of power, it serves as well to my purpose; sensation
being one of those ways whereby the mind comes by its ideas: only I
thought it worth while to consider here, by the way, whether the mind
doth not receive its idea of active power clearer from reflection on its
own operations, than it doth from any external sensation.

5. Will and Understanding two Powers in Mind or Spirit.

This, at least, I think evident, - That we find in ourselves a power to
begin or forbear, continue or end several actions of our minds, and
motions of our bodies, barely by a thought or preference of the mind
ordering, or as it were commanding, the doing or not doing such or such
a particular action. This power which the mind has thus to order the
consideration of any idea, or the forbearing to consider it; or to
prefer the motion of any part of the body to its rest, and vice versa,
in any particular instance, is that which we call the WILL. The actual
exercise of that power, by directing any particular action, or its
forbearance, is that which we call VOLITION or WILLING. The forbearance
of that action, consequent to such order or command of the mind, is
called VOLUNTARY. And whatsoever action is performed without such a
thought of the mind, is called INVOLUNTARY. The power of perception is
that which we call the UNDERSTANDING. Perception, which we make the act
of the understanding, is of three sorts: - 1. The perception of ideas
in our minds. 2. The perception of the: signification of signs. 3. The
perception of the connexion or repugnancy, agreement or disagreement,
that there is between any of our ideas. All these are attributed to the
understanding, or perceptive power, though it be the two latter only
that use allows us to say we understand.

6. Faculties not real beings.

These powers of the mind, viz. of perceiving, and of preferring, are
usually called by another name. And the ordinary way of speaking is,
that the understanding and will are two FACULTIES of the mind; a word
proper enough, if it be used, as all words should be, so as not to breed
any confusion in men's thoughts, by being supposed (as I suspect it has
been) to stand for some real beings in the soul that performed those
actions of understanding and volition. For when we say the WILL is the
commanding and superior faculty of the soul; that it is or is not free;
that it determines the inferior faculties; that it follows the dictates
of the understanding, &c., - though these and the like expressions,
by those that carefully attend to their own ideas, and conduct their
thoughts more by the evidence of things than the sound of words, may be
understood in a clear and distinct sense - yet I suspect, I say, that
this way of speaking of FACULTIES has misled many into a confused notion
of so many distinct agents in us, which had their several provinces and
authorities, and did command, obey, and perform several actions, as so
many distinct beings; which has been no small occasion of wrangling,
obscurity, and uncertainty, in questions relating to them.

7. Whence the Ideas of Liberty and Necessity.

Every one, I think, finds in HIMSELF a power to begin or forbear,
continue or put an end to several actions in himself. From the
consideration of the extent of this power of the mind over the actions
of the man, which everyone finds in himself, arise the IDEAS of LIBERTY

8. Liberty, what.

All the actions that we have any idea of reducing themselves, as has
been said, to these two, viz. thinking and motion; so far as a man has
power to think or not to think, to move or not to move, according to the
preference or direction of his own mind, so far is a man FREE. Wherever
any performance or forbearance are not equally in a man's power;
wherever doing or not doing will not equally FOLLOW upon the preference
of his mind directing it, there he is not free, though perhaps the
action may be voluntary. So that the idea of LIBERTY is, the idea of a
power in any agent to do or forbear any particular action, according
to the determination or thought of the mind, whereby either of them is
preferred to the other: where either of them is not in the power of the
agent to be produced by him according to his volition, there he is not
at liberty; that agent is under NECESSITY. So that liberty cannot be
where there is no thought, no volition, no will; but there may be
thought, there may be will, there may be volition, where there is no
liberty. A little consideration of an obvious instance or two may make
this clear.

9. Supposes Understanding and Will.

A tennis-ball, whether in motion by the stroke of a racket, or lying
still at rest, is not by any one taken to be a free agent. If we
inquire into the reason, we shall find it is because we conceive not
a tennis-ball to think, and consequently not to have any volition, or
PREFERENCE of motion to rest, or vice versa; and therefore has not
liberty, is not a free agent; but all its both motion and rest come
under our idea of necessary, and are so called. Likewise a man falling
into the water, (a bridge breaking under him,) has not herein liberty,
is not a free agent. For though he has volition, though he prefers his
not falling to falling; yet the forbearance of that motion not being in
his power, the stop or cessation of that motion follows not upon his
volition; and therefore therein he is not free. So a man striking
himself, or his friend, by a convulsive motion of his arm, which it is
not in his power, by volition or the direction of his mind, to stop or
forbear, nobody thinks he has in this liberty; every one pities him, as
acting by necessity and constraint.

10. Belongs not to Volition.

Again: suppose a man be carried, whilst fast asleep, into a room where
is a person he longs to see and speak with; and be there locked fast in,
beyond his power to get out: he awakes, and is glad to find himself in
so desirable company, which he stays willingly in, i. e. prefers his
stay to going away. I ask, is not this stay voluntary? I think nobody
will doubt it: and yet, being locked fast in, it is evident he is not at
liberty not to stay, he has not freedom to be gone. So that liberty is
not an idea belonging to volition, or preferring; but to the person
having the power of doing, or forbearing to do, according as the mind
shall choose or direct. Our idea of liberty reaches as far as that
power, and no farther. For wherever restraint comes to check that power,
or compulsion takes away that indifferency of ability to act, or to
forbear acting, there liberty, and our notion of it, presently ceases.

11. Voluntary opposed to involuntary.

We have instances enough, and often more than enough, in our own bodies.
A man's heart beats, and the blood circulates, which it is not in his
power by any thought or volition to stop; and therefore in respect of
these motions, where rest depends not on his choice, nor would follow
the determination of his mind, if it should prefer it, he is not a free
agent. Convulsive motions agitate his legs, so that though he wills it
ever so much, he cannot by any power of his mind stop their motion, (as
in that odd disease called chorea sancti viti), but he is perpetually
dancing; he is not at liberty in this action, but under as much
necessity of moving, as a stone that falls, or a tennis-ball struck
with a racket. On the other side, a palsy or the stocks hinder his legs
from obeying the determination of his mind, if it would thereby transfer
his body to another place. In all these there is want of freedom; though
the sitting still, even of a paralytic, whilst he prefers it to a
removal, is truly voluntary. Voluntary, then, is not opposed to
necessary but to involuntary. For a man may prefer what he can do, to
what he cannot do; the state he is in, to its absence or change; though
necessity has made it in itself unalterable.

12. Liberty, what.

As it is in the motions of the body, so it is in the thoughts of our
minds: where any one is such, that we have power to take it up, or lay
it by, according to the preference of the mind, there we are at liberty.
A waking man, being under the necessity of having some ideas constantly
in his mind, is not at liberty to think or not to think; no more than he
is at liberty, whether his body shall touch any other or no, but whether
he will remove his contemplation from one idea to another is many times
in his choice; and then he is, in respect of his ideas, as much at
liberty as he is in respect of bodies he rests on; he can at pleasure
remove himself from one to another. But yet some ideas to the mind, like
some motions to the body, are such as in certain circumstances it cannot
avoid, nor obtain their absence by the utmost effort it can use. A man
on the rack is not at liberty to lay by the idea of pain, and divert
himself with other contemplations: and sometimes a boisterous passion
hurries our thoughts, as a hurricane does our bodies, without leaving us
the liberty of thinking on other things, which we would rather choose.
But as soon as the mind regains the power to stop or continue, begin or
forbear, any of these motions of the body without, or thoughts within,
according as it thinks fit to prefer either to the other, we then
consider the man as a FREE AGENT again.

13. Wherever thought is wholly wanting, or the power to act or forbear
according to the direction of thought, there necessity takes place.
This, in an agent capable of volition, when the beginning or
continuation of any action is contrary to that preference of his mind,
is called compulsion; when the hindering or stopping any action is
contrary to his volition, it is called restraint. Agents that have no
thought, no volition at all, are in everything NECESSARY AGENTS.

14. If this be so, (as I imagine it is,) I leave it to be considered,
whether it may not help to put an end to that long agitated, and, I
think, unreasonable, because unintelligible question, viz. WHETHER MAN'S
WILL BE FREE OR NO? For if I mistake not, it follows from what I have
said, that the question itself is altogether improper; and it is as
insignificant to ask whether man's WILL be free, as to ask whether his
sleep be swift, or his virtue square: liberty being as little applicable
to the will, as swiftness of motion is to sleep, or squareness to
virtue. Every one would laugh at the absurdity of such a question as
either of these: because it is obvious that the modifications of motion
belong not to sleep, nor the difference Of figure to virtue; and when
any one well considers it, I think he will as plainly perceive that
liberty, which is but a power, belongs only to AGENTS, and cannot be an
attribute or modification of the will, which is also but a power.

15. Volition.

Such is the difficulty of explaining and giving clear notions of
internal actions by sounds, that I must here warn my reader, that
ORDERING, DIRECTING, CHOOSING, PREFERRING, &c. which I have made use of,
will not distinctly enough express volition, unless he will reflect on
what he himself does when he wills. For example, preferring, which seems
perhaps best to express the act of volition, does it not precisely. For
though a man would prefer flying to walking, yet who can say he ever
wills it? Volition, it is plain, is an act of the mind knowingly
exerting that dominion it takes itself to have over any part of the man,
by employing it in, or withholding it from, any particular action.
And what is the will, but the faculty to do this? And is that faculty
anything more in effect than a power; the power of the mind to determine
its thought, to the producing, continuing, or stopping any action, as
far as it depends on us? For can it be denied that whatever agent has a
power to think on its own actions, and to prefer their doing or omission
either to other, has that faculty called will? WILL, then, is nothing
but such a power. LIBERTY, on the other side, is the power a MAN has
to do or forbear doing any particular action according as its doing or
forbearance has the actual preference in the mind; which is the same
thing as to say, according as he himself wills it.

16. Powers belonging to Agents.

It is plain then that the will is nothing but one power or ability, and
FREEDOM another power or ability so that, to ask, whether the will has
freedom, is to ask whether one power has another power, one ability
another ability; a question at first sight too grossly absurd to make
a dispute, or need an answer. For, who is it that sees not that powers
belong only to agents, and are attributes only of substances, and not
of powers themselves? So that this way of putting the question (viz.
whether the will be free) is in effect to ask, whether the will be
a substance, an agent, or at least to suppose it, since freedom can
properly be attributed to nothing else. If freedom can with any
propriety of speech be applied to power, it may be attributed to the
power that is in a man to produce, or forbear producing, motion in parts
of his body, by choice or preference; which is that which denominates
him free, and is freedom itself. But if any one should ask, whether
freedom were free, he would be suspected not to understand well what he
said; and he would be thought to deserve Midas's ears, who, knowing that
rich was a denomination for the possession of riches, should demand
whether riches themselves were rich.

17. How the will instead of the man is called free.

However, the name FACULTY, which men have given to this power called the
will, and whereby they have been led into a way of talking of the will
as acting, may, by an appropriation that disguises its true sense, serve
a little to palliate the absurdity; yet the will, in truth, signifies
nothing but a power or ability to prefer or choose: and when the will,
under the name of a faculty, is considered as it is, barely as an
ability to do something, the absurdity in saying it is free, or not
free, will easily discover itself. For, if it be reasonable to suppose
and talk of faculties as distinct beings that can act, (as we do, when
we say the will orders, and the will is free,) it is fit that we should
make a speaking faculty, and a walking faculty, and a dancing faculty,
by which these actions are produced, which are but several modes of
motion; as well as we make the will and understanding to be faculties,
by which the actions of choosing and perceiving are produced, which are
but several modes of thinking. And we may as properly say that it is the
singing faculty sings, and the dancing faculty dances, as that the will
chooses, or that the understanding conceives; or, as is usual, that the
will directs the understanding, or the understanding obeys or obeys not
the will: it being altogether as proper and intelligible to say that the
power of speaking directs the power of singing, or the power of singing
obeys or disobeys the power of speaking.

18. This way of talking causes confusion of thought.

This way of talking, nevertheless, has prevailed, and, as I guess,
produced great confusion. For these being all different powers in the
mind, or in the man, to do several actions, he exerts them as he thinks
fit: but the power to do one action is not operated on by the power of
doing another action. For the power of thinking operates not on the
power of choosing, nor the power of choosing on the power of thinking;
no more than the power of dancing operates on the power of singing, or
the power of singing on the power of dancing, as any one who reflects on
it will easily perceive. And yet this is it which we say when we thus
speak, that the will operates on the understanding, or the understanding
on the will.

19. Powers are relations, not agents.

I grant, that this or that actual thought may be the occasion of
volition, or exercising the power a man has to choose; or the actual
choice of the mind, the cause of actual thinking on this or that thing:
as the actual singing of such a tune may be the cause of dancing such a
dance, and the actual dancing of such a dance the occasion of singing
such a tune. But in all these it is not one POWER that operates on
another: but it is the mind that operates, and exerts these powers; it

Online LibraryJohn LockeAn Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 → online text (page 20 of 34)