John Locke.

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

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proposed, and coming in view, the will is thought to be determined, and
so to set us on action, being only possible, but not infallibly certain,
it is unavoidable that the infinitely greater possible good should
regularly and constantly determine the will in all the successive
actions it directs; and then we should keep constantly and steadily in
our course towards heaven, without ever standing still, or directing
our actions to any other end: the eternal condition of a future state
infinitely outweighing the expectation of riches, or honour, or any
other worldly pleasure which we can propose to ourselves, though we
should grant these the more probable to be obtained: for nothing future
is yet in possession, and so the expectation even of these may deceive
us. If it were so that the greater good in view determines the will, so
great a good, once proposed, could not but seize the will, and hold
it fast to the pursuit of this infinitely greatest good, without ever
letting it go again: for the will having a power over, and directing
the thoughts, as well as other actions, would, if it were so, hold the
contemplation of the mind fixed to that good.

39. But any great Uneasiness is never neglected.

This would be the state of the mind, and regular tendency of the will in
all its determinations, were it determined by that which is considered
and in view the greater good. But that it is not so, is visible
in experience; the infinitely greatest confessed good being often
neglected, to satisfy the successive uneasiness of our desires pursuing
trifles. But, though the greatest allowed, even everlasting unspeakable,
good, which has sometimes moved and affected the mind, does not
stedfastly hold the will, yet we see any very great and prevailing
uneasiness having once laid hold on the will, let it not go; by which we
may be convinced, what it is that determines the will. Thus any vehement
pain of the body; the ungovernable passion of a man violently in love;
or the impatient desire of revenge, keeps the will steady and intent;
and the will, thus determined, never lets the understanding lay by the
object, but all the thoughts of the mind and powers of the body are
uninterruptedly employed that way, by the determination of the will,
influenced by that topping uneasiness, as long as it lasts; whereby it
seems to me evident, that the will, or power of setting us upon one
action in preference to all others, is determined in us by uneasiness:
and whether this be not so, I desire every one to observe in himself.

40. Desire accompanies all Uneasiness.

I have hitherto chiefly instanced in the UNEASINESS of desire, as that
which determines the will: because that is the chief and most sensible;
and the will seldom orders any action, nor is there any voluntary action
performed, without some desire accompanying it; which I think is the
reason why the will and desire are so often confounded. But yet we are
not to look upon the uneasiness which makes up, or at least accompanies,
most of the other passions, as wholly excluded in the case. Aversion,
fear, anger, envy, shame, &c. have each their uneasinesses too, and
thereby influence the will. These passions are scarce any of them, in
life and practice, simple and alone, and wholly unmixed with others;
though usually, in discourse and contemplation, that carries the name
which operates strongest, and appears most in the present state of the
mind. Nay, there is, I think, scarce any of the passions to be found
without desire joined with it. I am sure wherever there is uneasiness,
there is desire. For we constantly desire happiness; and whatever we
feel of uneasiness, so much it is certain we want of happiness; even in
our own opinion, let our state and condition otherwise be what it
will. Besides, the present moment not being our eternity, whatever our
enjoyment be, we look beyond the present, and desire goes with our
foresight, and that still carries the will with it. So that even in joy
itself, that which keeps up the action whereon the enjoyment depends, is
the desire to continue it, and fear to lose it: and whenever a greater
uneasiness than that takes place in the mind, the will presently is by
that determined to some new action, and the present delight neglected.

41. The most pressing Uneasiness naturally determines the Will.

But we being in this world beset with sundry uneasinesses, distracted
with different desires, the next inquiry naturally will be, - Which of
them has the precedency in determining the will to the next action? and
to that the answer is, - That ordinarily which is the most pressing of
those that are judged capable of being then removed. For, the will being
the power of directing our operative faculties to some action, for some
end, cannot at any time be moved towards what is judged at that time
unattainable: that would be to suppose an intelligent being designedly
to act for an end, only to lose its labour; for so it is to act for what
is judged not attainable; and therefore very great uneasinesses move not
the will, when they are judged not capable of a cure: they in that case
put us not upon endeavours. But, these set apart the most important
and urgent uneasiness we at that time feel, is that which ordinarily
determines the will, successively, in that train of voluntary actions
which makes up our lives. The greatest present uneasiness is the spur to
action, that is constantly most felt, and for the most part determines
the will in its choice of the next action. For this we must carry along
with us, that the proper and only object of the will is some action of
ours, and nothing else. For we producing nothing by our willing it, but
some action in our power, it is there the will terminates, and reaches
no further.

42. All desire Happiness.

If it be further asked, - What it is moves desire? I answer, - happiness,
and that alone. Happiness and misery are the names of two extremes, the
utmost bounds whereof we know not; it is what be in itself good; and
what is apt to produce any degree of pain be evil; yet it often happens
that we do not call it so when it comes in competition with a greater of
its sort; because, when they come in competition, the degrees also of
pleasure and pain have justly a preference. So that if we will rightly
estimate what we call good and evil, we shall find it lies much in
comparison: for the cause of every less degree of pain, as well as every
greater degree of pleasure, has the nature of good, and vice versa.

43. [* missing]

44. What Good is desired, what not.

Though this be that which is called good and evil, and all good be
the proper object of desire in general; yet all good, even seen and
confessed to be so, does not necessarily move every particular man's
desire; but only that part, or so much of it as is considered and taken
to make a necessary part of HIS happiness. All other good, however great
in reality or appearance, excites not a man's desires who looks not
on it to make a part of that happiness wherewith he, in his present
thoughts, can satisfy himself. Happiness, under this view, every one
constantly pursues, and desires what makes any part of it: other things,
acknowledged to be good, he can look upon without desire, pass by, and
be content without. There is nobody, I think, so senseless as to deny
that there is pleasure in knowledge: and for the pleasures of sense,
they have too many followers to let it be questioned whether men are
taken with them or no. Now, let one man place his satisfaction in
sensual pleasures, another in the delight of knowledge: though each
of them cannot but confess, there is great pleasure in what the other
pursues; yet, neither of them making the other's delight a part of HIS
happiness, their desires are not moved, but each is satisfied without
what the other enjoys; and so his will is not determined to the pursuit
of it. But yet, as soon as the studious man's hunger and thirst make
him uneasy, he, whose will was never determined to any pursuit of good
cheer, poignant sauces, delicious wine, by the pleasant taste he has
found in them, is, by the uneasiness of hunger and thirst, presently
determined to eating and drinking, though possibly with great
indifferency, what wholesome food comes in his way. And, on the other
side, the epicure buckles to study, when shame, or the desire to
recommend himself to his mistress, shall make him uneasy in the want
of any sort of knowledge. Thus, how much soever men are in earnest and
constant in pursuit of happiness, yet they may have a clear view of
good, great and confessed good, without being concerned for it, or moved
by it, if they think they can make up their happiness without it.
Though as to pain, THAT they are always concerned for; they can feel no
uneasiness without being moved. And therefore, being uneasy in the want
of whatever is judged necessary to their happiness, as soon as any good
appears to make a part of their portion of happiness, they begin to
desire it.

45. Why the greatest Good is not always desired.`

This, I think, any one may observe in himself and others, - That the
greater visible good does not always raise men's desires in proportion
to the greatness it appears, and is acknowledged, to have: though every
little trouble moves us, and sets us on work to get rid of it. The
reason whereof is evident from the nature of our happiness and misery
itself. All present pain, whatever it be, makes a part of our present
misery: but all absent good does not at any time make a necessary part
of our present happiness, nor the absence of it make a part of our
misery. If it did, we should be constantly and infinitely miserable;
there being infinite degrees of happiness which are not in our
possession. All uneasiness therefore being removed, a moderate portion
of good serve at present to content men; and a few degrees of pleasure
in a succession of ordinary enjoyments, make up a happiness wherein they
can be satisfied. If this were not so, there could be no room for those
indifferent and visibly trifling actions, to which our wills are so
often determined, and wherein we voluntarily waste so much of our lives;
which remissness could by no means consist with a constant determination
of will or desire to the greatest apparent good. That this is so, I
think few people need go far from home to be convinced. And indeed in
this life there are not many whose happiness reaches so far as to afford
them a constant train of moderate mean pleasures, without any mixture of
uneasiness; and yet they could be content to stay here for ever: though
they cannot deny, but that it is possible there may be a state of
eternal durable joys after this life, far surpassing all the good that
is to be found here. Nay, they cannot but see that it is more possible
than the attainment and continuation of that pittance of honour, riches,
or pleasure which they pursue, and for which they neglect that eternal
state. But yet, in full view of this difference, satisfied of the
possibility of a perfect, secure, and lasting happiness in a future
state, and under a clear conviction that it is not to be had
here, - whilst they bound their happiness within some little enjoyment
or aim of this life, and exclude the joys of heaven from making any
necessary part of it, - their desires are not moved by this greater
apparent good, nor their wills determined to any action, or endeavour
for its attainment.

46. Why not being desired, it moves not the Will.

The ordinary necessities of our lives fill a great part of them with the
uneasinesses of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, weariness, with labour,
and sleepiness, in their constant returns, &c. To which, if, besides
accidental harms, we add the fantastical uneasiness (as itch after
honour, power, or riches, &c.) which acquired habits, by fashion,
example, and education, have settled in us, and a thousand other
irregular desires, which custom has made natural to us, we shall
find that a very little part of our life is so vacant from THESE
uneasinesses, as to leave us free to the attraction of remoter absent
good. We are seldom at ease, and free enough from the solicitation
of our natural or adopted desires, but a constant succession of
uneasinesses out of that stock which natural wants or acquired habits
have heaped up, take the will in their turns; and no sooner is one
action dispatched, which by such a determination of the will we are
set upon, but another uneasiness is ready to set us on work. For, the
removing of the pains we feel, and are at present pressed with, being
the getting out of misery, and consequently the first thing to be done
in order to happiness, - absent good, though thought on, confessed, and
appearing to be good, not making any part of this unhappiness in
its absence, is justled out, to make way for the removal of those
uneasinesses we feel; till due and repeated contemplation has brought
it nearer to our mind, given some relish of it, and raised in us some
desire: which then beginning to make a part of our present uneasiness,
stands upon fair terms with the rest to be satisfied, and so, according
to its greatness and pressure, comes in its turn to determine the will.

47. Due Consideration raises Desire.

And thus, by a due consideration, and examining any good proposed, it is
in our power to raise our desires in a due proportion to the value of
that good, whereby in its turn and place it may come to work upon the
will, and be pursued. For good, though appearing and allowed ever so
great, yet till it has raised desires in our minds, and thereby made
us uneasy in its want, it reaches not our wills; we are not within the
sphere of its activity, our wills being under the determination only of
those uneasinesses which are present to us, which (whilst we have any)
are always soliciting, and ready at hand, to give the will its next
determination. The balancing, when there is any in the mind, being only,
which desire shall be next satisfied, which uneasiness first removed.
Whereby it comes to pass that, as long as any uneasiness, any desire,
remains in our mind, there is no room for good, barely as such, to come
at the will, or at all to determine it. Because, as has been said, the
FIRST step in our endeavours after happiness being to get wholly out of
the confines of misery, and to feel no part of it, the will can be at
leisure for nothing else, till every uneasiness we feel be perfectly
removed: which, in the multitude of wants and desires we are beset with
in this imperfect state, we are not like to be ever freed from in this

48. The Power to suspend the Prosecution of any Desire makes way for

There being in us a great many uneasinesses, always soliciting and ready
to determine the will, it is natural, as I have said, that the greatest
and most pressing should determine the will to the next action; and so
it does for the most part, but not always. For, the mind having in most
cases, as is evident in experience, a power to SUSPEND the execution and
satisfaction of any of its desires; and so all, one after another; is at
liberty to consider the objects of them, examine them on all sides, and
weigh them with others. In this lies the liberty man has; and from the
not using of it right comes all that variety of mistakes, errors, and
faults which we run into in the conduct of our lives, and our endeavours
after happiness; whilst we precipitate the determination of our wills,
and engage too soon, before due examination. To prevent this, we have a
power to suspend the prosecution of this or that desire; as every one
daily may experiment in himself. This seems to me the source of all
liberty; in this seems to consist that which is (as I think improperly)
called FREE-WILL. For, during this suspension of any desire, before
the will be determined to action, and the action (which follows that
determination) done, we have opportunity to examine, view, and judge
of the good or evil of what we are going to do; and when, upon due
examination, we have judged, we have done our duty, all that we can, or
ought to do, in pursuit of our happiness; and it is not a fault, but a
perfection of our nature, to desire, will, and act according to the last
result of a fair examination.

49. To be determined by our own Judgment, is no Restraint to Liberty.

This is so far from being a restraint or diminution of freedom, that it
is the very improvement and benefit of it; it is not an abridgment, it
is the end and use of our liberty; and the further we are removed from
such a determination, the nearer we are to misery and slavery. A perfect
indifference in the mind, not determinable by its last judgment of the
good or evil that is thought to attend its choice, would be so far from
being an advantage and excellency of any intellectual nature, that it
would be as great an imperfection, as the want of indifferency to act,
or not to act, till determined by the will, would be an imperfection on
the other side. A man is at liberty to lift up his hand to his head, or
let it rest quiet: he is perfectly indifferent in either; and it would
be an imperfection in him, if he wanted that power, if he were deprived
of that indifferency. But it would be as great an imperfection, if he
had the same indifferency, whether he would prefer the lifting up his
hand, or its remaining in rest, when it would save his head or eyes from
a blow he sees coming: it is as much a perfection, that desire, or the
power of preferring, should be determined by good, as that the power
of acting should be determined by the will; and the certainer such
determination is, the greater is the perfection. Nay, were we determined
by anything but the last result of our own minds, judging of the good
or evil of any action, we were not free.

50. The freest Agents are so determined.

If we look upon those superior beings above us, who enjoy perfect
happiness, we shall have reason to judge that they are more steadily
determined in their choice of good than we; and yet we have no reason to
think they are less happy, or less free, than we are. And if it were
fit for such poor finite creatures as we are to pronounce what infinite
wisdom and goodness could do, I think we might say, that God himself
CANNOT choose what is not good; the freedom of the Almighty hinders not
his being determined by what is best.

51. A constant Determination to a Pursuit of Happiness no Abridgment of

But to give a right view of this mistaken part of liberty let me
ask, - Would any one be a changeling, because he is less determined by
wise considerations than a wise man? Is it worth the name of freedom to
be at liberty to play the fool, and draw shame and misery upon a man's
self? If to break loose from the conduct of reason, and to want that
restraint of examination and judgment which keeps us from choosing or
doing the worse, be liberty, true liberty, madmen and fools are the only
freemen: but yet, I think, nobody would choose to be mad for the sake
of such liberty, but he that is mad already. The constant desire of
happiness, and the constraint it puts upon us to act for it, nobody, I
think, accounts an abridgment of liberty, or at least an abridgment of
liberty to be complained of. God Almighty himself is under the necessity
of being happy; and the more any intelligent being is so, the nearer is
its approach to infinite perfection and happiness. That, in this
state of ignorance, we short-sighted creatures might not mistake true
felicity, we are endowed with a power to suspend any particular desire,
and keep it from determining the will, and engaging us in action. This
is standing still, where we are not sufficiently assured of the way:
examination is consulting a guide. The determination of the will upon
inquiry, is following the direction of that guide: and he that has a
power to act or not to act, according as SUCH determination directs, is
a free agent: such determination abridges not that power wherein liberty
consists. He that has his chains knocked off, and the prison doors set
open to him, is perfectly at liberty, because he may either go or stay,
as he best likes, though his preference be determined to stay, by the
darkness of the night, or illness of the weather, or want of other
lodging. He ceases not to be free; though the desire of some convenience
to be had there absolutely determines his preference, and makes him stay
in his prison.

52. The Necessity of pursuing true Happiness the Foundation of Liberty.

As therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a
careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care
of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the
necessary foundation of our liberty. The stronger ties we have to an
unalterable pursuit of happiness in general, which is our greatest good,
and which as such, our desires always follow, the more are we free from
any necessary determination of our will to any particular action, and
from a necessary compliance with our desire, so upon any particular, and
then appearing preferable good, till we have duly examined whether it
has a tendency to, or be inconsistent with, our real happiness: and
therefore, till we are as much informed upon this inquiry as the weight
of the matter, and the nature of the case demands, we are, by the
necessity of preferring and pursuing true happiness as our greatest
good, obliged to suspend the satisfaction of our desires in particular

53. Power to Suspend.

This is the hinge on which turns the LIBERTY of intellectual beings,
in their constant endeavours after, and a steady prosecution of true
felicity, - That they CAN SUSPEND this prosecution in particular cases,
till they have looked before them, and informed themselves whether that
particular thing which is then proposed or desired lie in the way to
their main end, and make a real part of that which is their greatest
good. For, the inclination and tendency of their nature to happiness is
an obligation and motive to them, to take care not to mistake or miss
it; and so necessarily puts them upon caution, deliberation, and
wariness, in the direction of their particular actions, which are the
means to obtain it. Whatever necessity determines to the pursuit of real
bliss, the same necessity, with the same force, establishes suspense,
deliberation, and scrutiny of each successive desire, whether the
satisfaction of it does not interfere with our true happiness, and
mislead us from it. This, as seems to me, is the great privilege of
finite intellectual beings; and I desire it may be well considered,
whether the great inlet and exercise of all the liberty men have, are
capable of, or can be useful to them, and that whereon depends the turn
of their actions, does not lie in this, - That they can suspend their
desires, and stop them from determining their wills to any action, till
they have duly and fairly examined the good and evil of it, as far forth
as the weight of the thing requires. This we are able to do; and when we
have done it, we have done our duty, and all that is in our power; and
indeed all that needs. For, since the will supposes knowledge to guide
its choice, all that we can do is to hold our wills undetermined, till
we have examined the good and evil of what we desire. What follows after
that, follows in a chain of consequences, linked one to another, all
depending on the last determination of the judgment, which, whether it
shall be upon a hasty and precipitate view, or upon a due and mature
examination, is in our power; experience showing us, that in most cases,
we are able to suspend the present satisfaction of any desire.

54. Government of our Passions the right Improvement of Liberty.

But if any extreme disturbance (as sometimes it happens) possesses our
whole mind, as when the pain of the rack, an impetuous uneasiness, as of
love, anger, or any other violent passion, running away with us, allows
us not the liberty of thought, and we are not masters enough of our own
minds to consider thoroughly and examine fairly; - God, who knows our
frailty, pities our weakness, and requires of us no more than we are
able to do, and sees what was and what was not in our power, will judge
as a kind and merciful Father. But the forbearance of a too hasty
compliance with our desires, the moderation and restraint of our
passions, so that our understandings may be free to examine, and reason
unbiassed, give its judgment, being that whereon a right direction of
our conduct to true happiness depends; it is in this we should employ

Online LibraryJohn LockeAn Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 → online text (page 22 of 34)