John Locke.

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

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our chief care and endeavours. In this we should take pains to suit the
relish of our minds to the true intrinsic good or ill that is in things;
and not permit an allowed or supposed possible great and weighty good
to slip out of our thoughts, without leaving any relish, any desire of
itself there till, by a due consideration of its true worth, we have
formed appetites in our minds suitable to it, and made ourselves uneasy
in the want of it, or in the fear of losing it. And how much this is
in every one's power, by making resolutions to himself, such as he may
keep, is easy for every one to try. Nor let any one say, he cannot
govern his passions, nor hinder them from breaking out, and carrying him
into action; for what he can do before a prince or a great man, he can
do alone, or in the presence of God, if he will.

55. How Men come to pursue different, and often evil Courses.

From what has been said, it is easy to give an account how it comes to
pass, that, though all men desire happiness, yet their wills carry them
so contrarily; and consequently, some of them to what is evil. And to
this I say, that the various and contrary choices that men make in the
world do not argue that they do not all pursue good; but that the same
thing is not good to every man alike. This variety of pursuits shows,
that every one does not place his happiness in the same thing, or choose
the same way to it. Were all the concerns of man terminated in this
life, why one followed study and knowledge, and another hawking and
hunting: why one chose luxury and debauchery, and another sobriety and
riches, would not be because every one of these did NOT aim at his own
happiness; but because their happiness was placed in different things.
And therefore it was a right answer of the physician to his patient that
had sore eyes: - If you have more pleasure in the taste of wine than
in the use of your sight, wine is good for you; but if the pleasure of
seeing be greater to you than that of drinking, wine is naught.

56. All men seek happiness, but not of the same sort.

The mind has a different relish, as well as the palate; and you will as
fruitlessly endeavour to delight all men with riches or glory (which yet
some men place their happiness in) as you would to satisfy all men's
hunger with cheese or lobsters; which, though very agreeable and
delicious fare to some, are to others extremely nauseous and offensive:
and many persons would with reason prefer the griping of an hungry belly
to those dishes which are a feast to others. Hence it was, I think,
that the philosophers of old did in vain inquire, whether summum bonum
consisted in riches, or bodily delights, or virtue, or contemplation:
and they might have as reasonably disputed, whether the best relish were
to be found in apples, plums, or nuts, and have divided themselves
into sects upon it. For, as pleasant tastes depend not on the things
themselves, but on their agreeableness to this or that particular
palate, wherein there is great variety; so the greatest happiness
consists in the having those things which produce the greatest pleasure,
and in the absence of those which cause any disturbance, any pain. Now
these, to different men, are very different things. If, therefore, men
in this life only have hope; if in this life only they can enjoy, it is
not strange nor unreasonable, that they should seek their happiness by
avoiding all things that disease them here, and by pursuing all
that delight them; wherein it will be no wonder to find variety and
difference. For if there be no prospect beyond the grave, the inference
is certainly right - 'Let us eat and drink,' let us enjoy what we
delight in, 'for to-morrow we shall die.' This, I think, may serve to
show us the reason, why, though all men's desires tend to happiness, yet
they are not moved by the same object. Men may choose different things,
and yet all choose right; supposing them only like a company of poor
insects; whereof some are bees, delighted with flowers and their
sweetness; others beetles, delighted with other kinds of viands, which
having enjoyed for a season, they would cease to be, and exist no more
for ever.

57. [not in early editions]

58. Why men choose what makes them miserable.

What has been said may also discover to us the reason why men in this
world prefer different things, and pursue happiness by contrary courses.
But yet, since men are always constant and in earnest in matters of
happiness and misery, the question still remains, How men come often to
prefer the worse to the better; and to choose that, which, by their own
confession, has made them miserable?

59. The causes of this.

To account for the various and contrary ways men take, though all aim
at being happy, we must consider whence the VARIOUS UNEASINESSES that
determine the will, in the preference of each voluntary action, have
their rise: -

1. From bodily pain.

Some of them come from causes not in our power; such as are often the
pains of the body from want, disease, or outward injuries, as the
rack, etc.; which, when present and violent, operate for the most part
forcibly on the will, and turn the courses of men's lives from virtue,
piety, and religion, and what before they judged to lead to happiness;
every one not endeavouring, or not being able, by the contemplation
of remote and future good, to raise in himself desires of them strong
enough to counterbalance the uneasiness he feels in those bodily
torments, and to keep his will steady in the choice of those actions
which lead to future happiness. A neighbouring country has been of late
a tragical theatre from which we might fetch instances, if there needed
any, and the world did not in all countries and ages furnish examples
enough to confirm that received observation: NECESSITAS COGIT AD TURPIA;
and therefore there is great reason for us to pray, 'Lead us not into

2. From wrong Desires arising from wrong Judgments.

Other uneasinesses arise from our desires of absent good; which desires
always bear proportion to, and depend on, the judgment we make, and
the relish we have of any absent good; in both which we are apt to be
variously misled, and that by our own fault.

60. Our judgment of present Good or Evil always right.

In the first place, I shall consider the wrong judgments men make of
FUTURE good and evil, whereby their desires are misled. For, as to
PRESENT happiness and misery, when that alone comes into consideration,
and the consequences are quite removed, a man never chooses amiss: he
knows what best pleases him, and that he actually prefers. Things in
their present enjoyment are what they seem: the apparent and real good
are, in this case, always the same. For the pain or pleasure being just
so great and no greater than it is felt, the present good or evil is
really so much as it appears. And therefore were every action of ours
concluded within itself, and drew no consequences after it, we should
undoubtedly never err in our choice of good: we should always infallibly
prefer the best. Were the pains of honest industry, and of starving with
hunger and cold set together before us, nobody would be in doubt which
to choose: were the satisfaction of a lust and the joys of heaven
offered at once to any one's present possession, he would not balance,
or err in the determination of his choice.

61. Our wrong judgments have regard to future good and evil only.

But since our voluntary actions carry not all the happiness and misery
that depend on them along with them in their present performance, but
are the precedent causes of good and evil, which they draw after them,
and bring upon us, when they themselves are past and cease to be; our
desires look beyond our present enjoyments, and carry the mind out to
ABSENT GOOD, according to the necessity which we think there is of it,
to the making or increase of our happiness. It is our opinion of such a
necessity that gives it its attraction: without that, we are not moved
by absent good. For, in this narrow scantling of capacity which we are
accustomed to and sensible of here, wherein we enjoy but one pleasure
at once, which, when all uneasiness is away, is, whilst it lasts,
sufficient to make us think ourselves happy, it is not all remote and
even apparent good that affects us. Because the indolency and enjoyment
we have, sufficing for our present happiness, we desire not to venture
the change; since we judge that we are happy already, being content,
and that is enough. For who is content is happy. But as soon as any new
uneasiness comes in, this happiness is disturbed, and we are set afresh
on work in the pursuit of happiness.

62. From a wrong Judgment of what makes a necessary Part of their

Their aptness therefore to conclude that they can be happy without it,
is one great occasion that men often are not raised to the desire of the
greatest ABSENT good. For, whilst such thoughts possess them, the joys
of a future state move them not; they have little concern or uneasiness
about them; and the will, free from the determination of such desires,
is left to the pursuit of nearer satisfactions, and to the removal of
those uneasinesses which it then feels, in its want of any longings
after them. Change but a man's view of these things; let him see that
virtue and religion are necessary to his happiness; let him look into
the future state of bliss or misery, and see there God, the righteous
Judge, ready to 'render to every man according to his deeds; to them who
by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, and honour,
and immortality, eternal life; but unto every soul that doth evil,
indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish.' To him, I say, who hath
a prospect of the different state of perfect happiness or misery that
attends all men after this life, depending on their behaviour here, the
measures of good and evil that govern his choice are mightily changed.
For, since nothing of pleasure and pain in this life can bear any
proportion to the endless happiness or exquisite misery of an immortal
soul hereafter, actions in his power will have their preference, not
according to the transient pleasure or pain that accompanies or follows
them here, but as they serve to secure that perfect durable happiness

63. A more particular Account of wrong Judgments.

But, to account more particularly for the misery that men often bring
on themselves, notwithstanding that they do all in earnest pursue
happiness, we must consider how things come to be represented to our
desires under deceitful appearances: and that is by the judgment
pronouncing wrongly concerning them. To see how far this reaches, and
what are the causes of wrong judgment, we must remember that things are
judged good or bad in a double sense: -


Secondly, But because not only present pleasure and pain, but that also
which is apt by its efficacy or consequences to bring it upon us at a
distance, is a proper object of our desires, and apt to move a creature
that has foresight; therefore THINGS ALSO THAT DRAW AFTER THEM PLEASURE

64. No one chooses misery willingly, but only by wrong judgment.

The wrong judgment that misleads us, and makes the will often fasten on
the worse side, lies in misreporting upon the various comparisons of
these. The wrong judgment I am here speaking of is not what one man may
think of the determination of another, but what every man himself must
confess to be wrong. For, since I lay it for a certain ground, that
every intelligent being really seeks happiness, which consists in the
enjoyment of pleasure, without any considerable mixture of uneasiness;
it is impossible any one should willingly put into his own draught any
bitter ingredient, or leave out anything in his power that would tend
to his satisfaction, and the completing of his happiness, but only by
a WRONG JUDGMENT. I shall not here speak of that mistake which is the
consequence of INVINCIBLE error, which scarce deserves the name of
wrong judgment; but of that wrong judgment which every man himself must
confess to be so.

65. Men may err on comparing Present and Future.

(I) Therefore, as to present pleasure and pain, the mind, as has been
said, never mistakes that which is really good or evil; that which is
the greater pleasure, or the greater pain, is really just as it appears.
But, though present pleasure and pain show their difference and degrees
so plainly as not to leave room to mistake; yet, WHEN WE COMPARE PRESENT
PLEASURE OR PAIN WITH FUTURE, (which is usually the case in most
important determinations of the will,) we often make wrong judgments of
them; taking our measures of them in different positions of distance.
Objects near our view are apt to be thought greater than those of a
larger size that are more remote. And so it is with pleasures and
pains: the present is apt to carry it; and those at a distance have the
disadvantage in the comparison. Thus most men, like spendthrift heirs,
are apt to judge a little in hand better than a great deal to come;
and so, for small matters in possession, part with greater ones in
reversion. But that this is a wrong judgment every one must allow, let
his pleasure consist in whatever it will: since that which is future
will certainly come to be present; and then, having the same advantage
of nearness, will show itself in its full dimensions, and discover his
wilful mistake who judged of it by unequal measures. Were the pleasure
of drinking accompanied, the very moment a man takes off his glass, with
that sick stomach and aching head which, in some men, are sure to follow
not many hours after, I think nobody, whatever pleasure he had in his
cups, would, on these conditions, ever let wine touch his lips; which
yet he daily swallows, and the evil side comes to be chosen only by the
fallacy of a little difference in time. But, if pleasure or pain can be
so lessened only by a few hours' removal, how much more will it be so by
a further distance to a man that will not, by a right judgment, do what
time will, i. e. bring it home upon himself, and consider it as present,
and there take its true dimensions? This is the way we usually impose on
ourselves, in respect of bare pleasure and pain, or the true degrees of
happiness or misery: the future loses its just proportion, and what is
present obtains the preference as the greater. I mention not here the
wrong judgment, whereby the absent are not only lessened, but reduced to
perfect nothing; when men enjoy what they can in present, and make sure
of that, concluding amiss that no evil will thence follow. For that lies
not in comparing the greatness of future good and evil, which is that we
are here speaking of; but in another sort of wrong judgment, which
is concerning good or evil, as it is considered to be the cause and
procurement of pleasure or pain that will follow from it.

66. Causes of our judging amiss when we compare present pleasure and
pain with future.

The cause of our judging amiss, when we compare our present pleasure or
pain with future, seems to me to be THE WEAK AND NARROW CONSTITUTION OF
OUR MINDS. We cannot well enjoy two pleasures at once; much less any
pleasure almost, whilst pain possesses us. The present pleasure, if it
be not very languid, and almost none at all, fills our narrow souls, and
so takes up the whole mind that it scarce leaves any thought of things
absent: or if among our pleasures there are some which are not strong
enough to exclude the consideration of things at a distance, yet we have
so great an abhorrence of pain, that a little of it extinguishes all our
pleasures. A little bitter mingled in our cup, leaves no relish of the
sweet. Hence it comes that, at any rate, we desire to be rid of the
present evil, which we are apt to think nothing absent can equal;
because, under the present pain, we find not ourselves capable of any
the least degree of happiness. Men's daily complaints are a loud proof
of this: the pain that any one actually feels is still of all other the
worst; and it is with anguish they cry out, - 'Any rather than this:
nothing can be so intolerable as what I now suffer.' And therefore our
whole endeavours and thoughts are intent to get rid of the present evil,
before all things, as the first necessary condition to our happiness;
let what will follow. Nothing, as we passionately think, can exceed, or
almost equal, the uneasiness that sits so heavy upon us. And because the
abstinence from a present pleasure that offers itself is a pain, nay,
oftentimes a very great one, the desire being inflamed by a near and
tempting object, it is no wonder that that operates after the same
manner pain does, and lessens in our thoughts what is future; and so
forces us, as it were blindfold, into its embraces.

67. Absent good unable to counterbalance present uneasiness.

Add to this, that absent good, or, which is the same thing, future
pleasure, - especially if of a sort we are unacquainted with, - seldom is
able to counterbalance any uneasiness, either of pain or desire, which
is present. For, its greatness being no more than what shall be really
tasted when enjoyed, men are apt enough to lessen that; to make it give
place to any present desire; and conclude with themselves that, when it
comes to trial, it may possibly not answer the report or opinion that
generally passes of it: they having often found that, not only what
others have magnified, but even what they themselves have enjoyed with
great pleasure and delight at one time, has proved insipid or nauseous
at another; and therefore they see nothing in it for which they should
forego a present enjoyment. But that this is a false way of judging,
when applied to the happiness of another life, they must confess; unless
they will say, God cannot make those happy he designs to be so. For that
being intended for a state of happiness, it must certainly be agreeable
to every one's wish and desire: could we suppose their relishes as
different there as they are here, yet the manna in heaven will suit
every one's palate. Thus much of the wrong judgment we make of present
and future pleasure and pain, when they are compared together, and so
the absent considered as future.

68. Wrong judgment in considering Consequences of Actions.

that is in them to procure us good or evil in the future, we judge amiss
several ways.

1. When we judge that so much evil does not really depend on them as in
truth there does.

2. When we judge that, though the consequence be of that moment, yet it
is not of that certainty, but that it may otherwise fall out, or else by
some means be avoided; as by industry, address, change, repentance, &c.

That these are wrong ways of judging, were easy to show in every
particular, if I would examine them at large singly: but I shall only
mention this in general, viz. that it is a very wrong and irrational
way of proceeding, to venture a greater good for a less, upon uncertain
guesses; and before a due examination be made, proportionable to the
weightiness of the matter, and the concernment it is to us not to
mistake. This I think every one must confess, especially if he considers
the usual cause of this wrong judgment, whereof these following are
some: -

69. Causes of this.

(i) IGNORANCE: He that judges without informing himself to the utmost
that he is capable, cannot acquit himself of judging amiss.

(ii) INADVERTENCY: When a man overlooks even that which he does know.
This is an affected and present ignorance, which misleads our judgments
as much as the other. Judging is, as it were, balancing an account, and
determining on which side the odds lie. If therefore either side be
huddled up in haste, and several of the sums that should have gone into
the reckoning be overlooked and left out, this precipitancy causes as
wrong a judgment as if it were a perfect ignorance. That which most
commonly causes this is, the prevalency of some present pleasure or
pain, heightened by our feeble passionate nature, most strongly wrought
on by what is present. To check this precipitancy, our understanding and
reason were given us, if we will make a right use of them, to search and
see, and then judge thereupon. How much sloth and negligence, heat
and passion, the prevalency of fashion or acquired indispositions do
severally contribute, on occasion, to these wrong judgments, I shall not
here further inquire. I shall only add one other false judgment, which
I think necessary to mention, because perhaps it is little taken notice
of, though of great influence.

70. Wrong judgment of what is necessary to our Happiness.

All men desire happiness, that is past doubt: but, as has been already
observed, when they are rid of pain, they are apt to take up with any
pleasure at hand, or that custom has endeared to them; to rest satisfied
in that; and so being happy, till some new desire, by making them
uneasy, disturbs that happiness, and shows them that they are not so,
they look no further; nor is the will determined to any action in
pursuit of any other known or apparent good. For since we find that we
cannot enjoy all sorts of good, but one excludes another; we do not fix
our desires on every apparent greater good, unless it be judged to be
necessary to our happiness: if we think we can be happy without it, it
moves us not. This is another occasion to men of judging wrong; when
they take not that to be necessary to their happiness which really is
so. This mistake misleads us, both in the choice of the good we aim at,
and very often in the means to it, when it is a remote good. But, which
way ever it be, either by placing it where really it is not, or by
neglecting the means as not necessary to it; - when a man misses his
great end, happiness, he will acknowledge he judged not right. That
which contributes to this mistake is the real or supposed unpleasantness
of the actions which are the way to this end; it seeming so preposterous
a thing to men, to make themselves unhappy in order to happiness, that
they do not easily bring themselves to it.

71. We can change the Agreeableness or Disagreeableness in Things.

The last inquiry, therefore, concerning this matter is, - Whether it
be in a man's power to change the pleasantness and unpleasantness that
accompanies any sort of action? And as to that, it is plain, in many
cases he can. Men may and should correct their palates, and give relish
to what either has, or they suppose has none. The relish of the mind is
as various as that of the body, and like that too may be altered; and
it is a mistake to think that men cannot change the displeasingness or
indifferency that is in actions into pleasure and desire, if they will
do but what is in their power. A due consideration will do it in some
cases; and practice, application, and custom in most. Bread or tobacco
may be neglected where they are shown to be useful to health, because of
an indifferency or disrelish to them; reason and consideration at first
recommends, and begins their trial, and use finds, or custom makes them
pleasant. That this is so in virtue too, is very certain. Actions are
pleasing or displeasing, either in themselves, or considered as a means
to a greater and more desirable end. The eating of a well-seasoned dish,
suited to a man's palate, may move the mind by the delight itself that
accompanies the eating, without reference to any other end; to which the
consideration of the pleasure there is in health and strength (to which
that meat is subservient) may add a new GUSTO, able to make us swallow
an ill-relished potion. In the latter of these, any action is rendered
more or less pleasing, only by the contemplation of the end, and the
being more or less persuaded of its tendency to it, or necessary
connexion with it: but the pleasure of the action itself is best
acquired or increased by use and practice. Trials often reconcile us to
that, which at a distance we looked on with aversion; and by repetitions
wear us into a liking of what possibly, in the first essay, displeased
us. Habits have powerful charms, and put so strong attractions of
easiness and pleasure into what we accustom ourselves to, that we cannot
forbear to do, or at least be easy in the omission of, actions, which
habitual practice has suited, and thereby recommends to us. Though this
be very visible, and every one's experience shows him he can do so; yet

Online LibraryJohn LockeAn Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 → online text (page 23 of 34)