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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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is the man that does the action; it is the agent that has power, or is
able to do. For powers are relations, not agents: and that which has
the power or not the power to operate, is that alone which is or is not
free, and not the power itself. For freedom, or not freedom, can belong
to nothing but what has or has not a power to act.

20. Liberty belongs not to the Will.

The attributing to faculties that which belonged not to them, has given
occasion to this way of talking: but the introducing into discourses
concerning the mind, with the name of faculties, a notion of THEIR
operating, has, I suppose, as little advanced our knowledge in that part
of ourselves, as the great use and mention of the like invention of
faculties, in the operations of the body, has helped us in the knowledge
of physic. Not that I deny there are faculties, both in the body and
mind: they both of them have their powers of operating, else neither the
one nor the other could operate. For nothing can operate that is not
able to operate; and that is not able to operate that has no power to
operate. Nor do I deny that those words, and the like, are to have their
place in the common use of languages that have made them current. It
looks like too much affectation wholly to lay them by: and philosophy
itself, though it likes not a gaudy dress, yet, when it appears in
public, must have so much complacency as to be clothed in the ordinary
fashion and language of the country, so far as it can consist with truth
and perspicuity. But the fault has been, that faculties have been spoken
of and represented as so many distinct agents. For, it being asked, what
it was that digested the meat in our stomachs? it was a ready and very
satisfactory answer to say, that it was the DIGESTIVE FACULTY. What was
it that made anything come out of the body? the EXPULSIVE FACULTY. What
moved? the MOTIVE FACULTY. And so in the mind, the INTELLECTUAL FACULTY,
or the understanding, understood; and the ELECTIVE FACULTY, or the will,
willed or commanded. This is, in short, to say, that the ability to
digest, digested; and the ability to move, moved; and the ability to
understand, understood. For faculty, ability, and power, I think, are
but different names of the same things: which ways of speaking, when put
into more intelligible words, will, I think, amount to thus much; - That
digestion is performed by something that is able to digest, motion
by something able to move, and understanding by something able to
understand. And, in truth, it would be very strange if it should be
otherwise; as strange as it would be for a man to be free without being
able to be free.

21. But to the Agent, or Man.

To return, then, to the inquiry about liberty, I think the question is

First, That so far as any one can, by the direction or choice of his
mind, preferring the existence of any action to the non-existence of
that action, and vice versa, make IT to exist or not exist, so far HE is
free. For if I can, by a thought directing the motion of my finger,
make it move when it was at rest, or vice versa, it is evident, that in
respect of that I am free: and if I can, by a like thought of my mind,
preferring one to the other, produce either words or silence, I am at
liberty to speak or hold my peace: and as far as this power reaches, of
acting or not acting, by the determination of his own thought preferring
either, so far is a man free. For how can we think any one freer, than
to have the power to do what he will? And so far as any one can, by
preferring any action to its not being, or rest to any action, produce
that action or rest, so far can he do what he will. For such a
preferring of action to its absence, is the willing of it: and we can
scarce tell how to imagine any being freer, than to be able to do what
he wills. So that in respect of actions within the reach of such a power
in him, a man seems as free as it is possible for freedom to make him.

22. In respect of willing, a Man is not free.

But the inquisitive mind of man, willing to shift off from himself, as
far as he can, all thoughts of guilt, though it be by putting himself
into a worse state than that of fatal necessity, is not content with
this: freedom, unless it reaches further than this, will not serve the
turn: and it passes for a good plea, that a man is not free at all, if
he be not as FREE TO WILL as he is to ACT WHAT HE WILLS. Concerning a
man's liberty, there yet, therefore, is raised this further question,
WHETHER A MAN BE FREE TO WILL? which I think is what is meant, when it
is disputed whether the will be free. And as to that I imagine.

23. How a man cannot be free to will.

Secondly, That willing, or volition, being an action, and freedom
consisting in a power of acting or not acting, a man in respect of
willing or the act of volition, when any action in his power is once
proposed to his thoughts, as presently to be done, cannot be free. The
reason whereof is very manifest. For, it being unavoidable that the
action depending on his will should exist or not exist, and its
existence or not existence following perfectly the determination and
preference of his will, he cannot avoid willing the existence or
non-existence of that action; it is absolutely necessary that he will
the one or the other; i.e. prefer the one to the other: since one of
them must necessarily follow; and that which does follow follows by the
choice and determination of his mind; that is, by his willing it: for if
he did not will it, it would not be. So that, in respect of the act of
willing, a man is not free: liberty consisting in a power to act or not
to act; which, in regard of volition, a man, has not.

24. Liberty is freedom to execute what is willed.

This, then, is evident, That A MAN IS NOT AT LIBERTY TO WILL, OR NOT
consisting in a power to act or to forbear acting, and in that only. For
a man that sits still is said yet to be at liberty; because he can walk
if he wills it. A man that walks is at liberty also, not because he
walks or moves; but because he can stand still if he wills it. But if
a man sitting still has not a power to remove himself, he is not at
liberty; so likewise a man falling down a precipice, though in motion,
is not at liberty, because he cannot stop that motion if he would. This
being so, it is plain that a man that is walking, to whom it is proposed
to give off walking, is not at liberty, whether he will determine
himself to walk, or give off walking or not: he must necessarily prefer
one or the other of them; walking or not walking. And so it is in regard
of all other actions in our power they being once proposed, the mind has
not a power to act or not to act, wherein consists liberty. The mind,
in that case, has not a power to forbear WILLING; it cannot avoid some
determination concerning them, let the consideration be as short, the
thought as quick as it will, it either leaves the man in the state he
was before thinking, or changes it; continues the action, or puts an
end to it. Whereby it is manifest, that IT orders and directs one, in
preference to, or with neglect of the other, and thereby either the
continuation or change becomes UNAVOIDABLY voluntary.

25. The Will determined by something without it.

Since then it is plain that, in most cases, a man is not at liberty,
whether he will or no, (for, when an action in his power is proposed to
his thoughts, he CANNOT forbear volition; he MUST determine one way or
the other;) the next thing demanded is, - WHETHER A MAN BE AT LIBERTY TO
the absurdity of it so manifestly in itself, that one might thereby
sufficiently be convinced that liberty concerns not the will. For, to
ask whether a man be at liberty to will either motion or rest, speaking
or silence, which he pleases, is to ask whether a man can will what he
wills, or be pleased with what he is pleased with? A question which,
I think, needs no answer: and they who can make a question of it must
suppose one will to determine the acts of another, and another to
determine that, and so on in infinitum.

26. The ideas of LIBERTY and VOLITION must be defined.

To avoid these and the like absurdities, nothing can be of greater use
than to establish in our minds determined ideas of the things under
consideration. If the ideas of liberty and volition were well fixed in
our understandings, and carried along with us in our minds, as they
ought, through all the questions that are raised about them, I suppose a
great part of the difficulties that perplex men's thoughts, and entangle
their understandings, would be much easier resolved; and we should
perceive where the confused signification of terms, or where the nature
of the thing caused the obscurity.

27. Freedom.

First, then, it is carefully to be remembered, That freedom consists in
the dependence of the existence, or not existence of any ACTION, upon
our VOLITION of it; and not in the dependence of any action, or its
contrary, on our PREFERENCE. A man standing on a cliff, is at liberty to
leap twenty yards downwards into the sea, not because he has a power to
do the contrary action, which is to leap twenty yards upwards, for that
he cannot do; but he is therefore free, because he has a power to leap
or not to leap. But if a greater force than his, either holds him fast,
or tumbles him down, he is no longer free in that case; because the
doing or forbearance of that particular action is no longer in his
power. He that is a close prisoner in a room twenty feet square, being
at the north side of his chamber, is at liberty to walk twenty feet
southward, because he can walk or not walk it; but is not, at the same
time, at liberty to do the contrary, i.e. to walk twenty feet northward.

In this, then, consists FREEDOM, viz. in our being able to act or not to
act, according as we shall choose or will.

28. What Volition and action mean.

Secondly, we must remember, that VOLITION or WILLING is an act of the
mind directing its thought to the production of any action, and thereby
exerting its power to produce it. To avoid multiplying of words, I would
crave leave here, under the word ACTION, to comprehend the forbearance
too of any action proposed: sitting still, or holding one's peace, when
walking or speaking are proposed, though mere forbearances, requiring as
much the determination of the will, and being as often weighty in their
consequences, as the contrary actions, may, on that consideration, well
enough pass for actions too: but this I say, that I may not be mistaken,
if (for brevity's sake) I speak thus.

29. What determines the Will.

Thirdly, the will being nothing but a power in the mind to direct the
operative faculties of a man to motion or rest as far as they depend on
such direction; to the question, What is it determines the will? the
true and proper answer is, The mind. For that which determines the
general power of directing, to this or that particular direction, is
nothing but the agent itself exercising the power it has that particular
way. If this answer satisfies not, it is plain the meaning of the
question, What determines the will? is this, - What moves the mind, in
every particular instance, to determine its general power of directing,
to this or that particular motion or rest? And to this I answer, - The
motive for continuing in the same state or action, is only the present
satisfaction in it; the motive to change is always some uneasiness:
nothing setting us upon the change of state, or upon any new action, but
some uneasiness. This is the great motive that works on the mind to put
it upon action, which for shortness' sake we will call determining of
the will, which I shall more at large explain.

30. Will and Desire must not be confounded.

But, in the way to it, it will be necessary to premise, that, though
I have above endeavoured to express the act of volition, by CHOOSING,
PREFERRING, and the like terms, that signify desire as well as volition,
for want of other words to mark that act of the mind whose proper name
is WILLING or VOLITION; yet, it being a very simple act, whosoever
desires to understand what it is, will better find it by reflecting on
his own mind, and observing what it does when it wills, than by any
variety of articulate sounds whatsoever. This caution of being careful
not to be misled by expressions that do not enough keep up the
difference between the WILL and several acts of the mind that are quite
distinct from it, I think the more necessary, because I find the will
often confounded with several of the affections, especially DESIRE,
and one put for the other; and that by men who would not willingly be
thought not to have had very distinct notions of things, and not to
have writ very clearly about them. This, I imagine, has been no small
occasion of obscurity and mistake in this matter; and therefore is,
as much as may be, to be avoided. For he that shall turn his thoughts
inwards upon what passes in his mind when he wills, shall see that
the will or power of volition is conversant about nothing but our own
ACTIONS; terminates there; and reaches no further; and that volition is
nothing but that particular determination of the mind, whereby, barely
by a thought, the mind endeavours to give rise, continuation, or stop,
to any action which it takes to be in its power. This, well considered,
plainly shows that the will is perfectly distinguished from desire;
which, in the very same action, may have a quite contrary tendency from
that which our will sets us upon. A man, whom I cannot deny, may oblige
me to use persuasions to another, which, at the same time I am speaking,
I may wish may not prevail on him. In this case, it is plain the will
and desire run counter. I will the action; that tends one way, whilst my
desire tends another, and that the direct contrary way. A man who, by a
violent fit of the gout in his limbs, finds a doziness in his head, or a
want of appetite in his stomach removed, desires to be eased too of
the pain of his feet or hands, (for wherever there is pain, there is
a desire to be rid of it,) though yet, whilst he apprehends that the
removal of the pain may translate the noxious humour to a more vital
part, his will is never determined to any one action that may serve to
remove this pain. Whence it is evident that desiring and willing are two
distinct acts of the mind; and consequently, that the will, which is but
the power of volition, is much more distinct from desire.

31. Uneasiness determines the Will.

To return, then, to the inquiry, what is it that determines the will
in regard to our actions? And that, upon second thoughts, I am apt to
imagine is not, as is generally supposed, the greater good in view; but
some (and for the most part the most pressing) UNEASINESS a man is at
present under. This is that which successively determines the will, and
sets us upon those actions we perform. This uneasiness we may call,
as it is, DESIRE; which is an uneasiness of the mind for want of some
absent good. All pain of the body, of what sort soever, and disquiet of
the mind, is uneasiness: and with this is always joined desire, equal to
the pain or uneasiness felt; and is scarce distinguishable from it. For
desire being nothing but an uneasiness in the want of an absent good, in
reference to any pain felt, ease is that absent good; and till that ease
be attained, we may call it desire; nobody feeling pain that he wishes
not to be eased of, with a desire equal to that pain, and inseparable
from it. Besides this desire of ease from pain, there is another of
absent positive good; and here also the desire and uneasiness are equal.
As much as we desire any absent good, so much are we in pain for it. But
here all absent good does not, according to the greatness it has, or is
acknowledged to have, cause pain equal to that greatness; as all pain
causes desire equal to itself: because the absence of good is not always
a pain, as the presence of pain is. And therefore absent good may
be looked on and considered without desire. But so much as there is
anywhere of desire, so much there is of uneasiness.

32. Desire is Uneasiness.

That desire is a state of uneasiness, every one who reflects on himself
will quickly find. Who is there that has not felt in desire what the
wise man says of hope, (which is not much different from it,) that it
being 'deferred makes the heart sick'; and that still proportionable to
the greatness of the desire, which sometimes raises the uneasiness to
that pitch, that it makes people cry out, 'Give me children,' give me
the thing desired, 'or I die.' Life itself, and all its enjoyments, is a
burden cannot be borne under the lasting and unremoved pressure of such
an uneasiness.

33. The Uneasiness of Desire determines the Will.

Good and evil, present and absent, it is true, work upon the mind. But
that which IMMEDIATELY determines the will from time to time, to every
voluntary action, is the UNEASINESS OF DESIRE, fixed on some absent
good: either negative, as indolence to one in pain; or positive, as
enjoyment of pleasure. That it is this uneasiness that determines the
will to the successive voluntary actions, whereof the greatest part of
our lives is made up, and by which we are conducted through different
courses to different ends, I shall endeavour to show, both from
experience, and the reason of the thing.

34. This is the Spring of Action.

When a man is perfectly content with the state he is in - which is when
he is perfectly without any uneasiness - what industry, what action,
what will is there left, but to continue in it? Of this every man's
observation will satisfy him. And thus we see our all-wise Maker,
suitably to our constitution and frame, and knowing what it is that
determines the will, has put into man the uneasiness of hunger and
thirst, and other natural desires, that return at their seasons, to move
and determine their wills, for the preservation of themselves, and the
continuation of their species. For I think we may conclude, that, if the
BARE CONTEMPLATION of these good ends to which we are carried by these
several uneasinesses had been sufficient to determine the will, and set
us on work, we should have had none of these natural pains, and perhaps
in this world little or no pain at all. 'It is better to marry than to
burn,' says St. Paul, where we may see what it is that chiefly drives
men into the enjoyments of a conjugal life. A little burning felt pushes
us more powerfully than greater pleasure in prospect draw or allure.

35. The greatest positive Good determines not the Will, but present
Uneasiness alone.

It seems so established and settled a maxim, by the general consent of
all mankind, that good, the greater good, determines the will, that I
do not at all wonder that, when I first published my thoughts on this
subject I took it for granted; and I imagine that, by a great many, I
shall be thought more excusable for having then done so, than that now
I have ventured to recede from so received an opinion. But yet, upon a
stricter inquiry, I am forced to conclude that GOOD, the GREATER GOOD,
though apprehended and acknowledged to be so, does not determine the
will, until our desire, raised proportionably to it, makes us uneasy
in the want of it. Convince a man never so much, that plenty has its
advantages over poverty; make him see and own, that the handsome
conveniences of life are better than nasty penury: yet, as long as he is
content with the latter, and finds no uneasiness in it, he moves not;
his will never is determined to any action that shall bring him out of
it. Let a man be ever so well persuaded of the advantages of virtue,
that it is as necessary to a man who has any great aims in this world,
or hopes in the next, as food to life: yet, till he hungers or thirsts
after righteousness, till he FEELS AN UNEASINESS in the want of it, his
WILL will not be determined to any action in pursuit of this confessed
greater good; but any other uneasiness he feels in himself shall take
place, and carry his will to other actions. On the other side, let a
drunkard see that his health decays, his estate wastes; discredit and
diseases, and the want of all things, even of his beloved drink, attends
him in the course he follows: yet the returns of uneasiness to miss his
companions, the habitual thirst after his cups at the usual time, drives
him to the tavern, though he has in his view the loss of health and
plenty, and perhaps of the joys of another life: the least of which is
no inconsiderable good, but such as he confesses is far greater than
the tickling of his palate with a glass of wine, or the idle chat of a
soaking club. It is not want of viewing the greater good: for he sees
and acknowledges it, and, in the intervals of his drinking hours, will
take resolutions to pursue the greater good; but when the uneasiness to
miss his accustomed delight returns, the greater acknowledged good
loses its hold, and the present uneasiness determines the will to the
accustomed action; which thereby gets stronger footing to prevail
against the next occasion, though he at the same time makes secret
promises to himself that he will do so no more; this is the last time he
will act against the attainment of those greater goods. And thus he
is, from time to time, in the state of that unhappy complainer, Video
meliora, proboque, deteriora sequor: which sentence, allowed for true,
and made good by constant experience, may in this, and possibly no other
way, be easily made intelligible.

36. Because the Removal of Uneasiness is the first Step to Happiness.

If we inquire into the reason of what experience makes so evident in
fact, and examine, why it is uneasiness alone operates on the will, and
determines it in its choice, we shall find that, we being capable but
of one determination of the will to one action at once, the present
uneasiness that we are under does NATURALLY determine the will, in order
to that happiness which we all aim at in all our actions. For, as much
as whilst we are under any uneasiness, we cannot apprehend ourselves
happy, or in the way to it; pain and uneasiness being, by every one,
concluded and felt to be inconsistent with happiness, spoiling the
relish even of those good things which we have: a little pain serving
to mar all the pleasure we rejoiced in. And, therefore, that which of
course determines the choice of our will to the next action will always
be - the removing of pain, as long as we have any left, as the first and
necessary step towards happiness.

37. Because Uneasiness alone is present.

Another reason why it is uneasiness alone determines the will, is this:
because that alone is present and, it is against the nature of things,
that what is absent should operate where it is not. It may be said that
absent good may, by contemplation, be brought home to the mind and made
present. The idea of it indeed may be in the mind and viewed as present
there; but nothing will be in the mind as a present good, able to
counterbalance the removal of any uneasiness which we are under, till
it raises our desire; and the uneasiness of that has the prevalency in
determining the will. Till then, the idea in the mind of whatever is
good is there only, like other ideas, the object of bare unactive
speculation; but operates not on the will, nor sets us on work; the
reason whereof I shall show by and by. How many are to be found
that have had lively representations set before their minds of the
unspeakable joys of heaven, which they acknowledge both possible and
probable too, who yet would be content to take up with their happiness
here? And so the prevailing uneasiness of their desires, let loose after
the enjoyments of this life, take their turns in the determining their
wills; and all that while they take not one step, are not one jot moved,
towards the good things of another life, considered as ever so great.

38. Because all who allow the Joys of Heaven possible, purse them not.

Were the will determined by the views of good, as it appears in
contemplation greater or less to the understanding, which is the state
of all absent good, and that which, in the received opinion, the will is
supposed to move to, and to be moved by, - I do not see how it could ever
get loose from the infinite eternal joys of heaven, once proposed and
considered as possible. For, all absent good, by which alone, barely

Online LibraryJohn LockeAn Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 → online text (page 21 of 34)