John Locke.

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

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composition whereof the complex idea is made, whenever existence makes
it one particular thing under any denomination, THE SAME EXISTENCE
CONTINUED preserves it the SAME individual under the same denomination.



1. Ideas of Proportional relations.

BESIDES the before-mentioned occasions of time, place, and causality of
comparing or referring things one to another, there are, as I have said,
infinite others, some whereof I shall mention.

First, The first I shall name is some one simple idea, which, being
capable of parts or degrees, affords an occasion of comparing the
subjects wherein it is to one another, in respect of that simple idea,
v.g. whiter, sweeter, equal, more, &c. These relations depending on the
equality and excess of the same simple idea, in several subjects, may be
called, if one will, PROPORTIONAL; and that these are only conversant
about those simple ideas received from sensation or reflection is so
evident that nothing need be said to evince it.

2. Natural relation.

Secondly, Another occasion of comparing things together, or considering
one thing, so as to include in that consideration some other thing,
is the circumstances of their origin or beginning; which being not
afterwards to be altered, make the relations depending thereon as
lasting as the subjects to which they belong, v.g. father and son,
brothers, cousin-germans, &c., which have their relations by one
community of blood, wherein they partake in several degrees: countrymen,
i.e. those who were born in the same country or tract of ground; and
these I call NATURAL RELATIONS: wherein we may observe, that mankind
have fitted their notions and words to the use of common life, and not
to the truth and extent of things. For it is certain, that, in reality,
the relation is the same betwixt the begetter and the begotten, in the
several races of other animals as well as men; but yet it is seldom
said, this bull is the grandfather of such a calf, or that two pigeons
are cousin-germans. It is very convenient that, by distinct names, these
relations should be observed and marked out in mankind, there being
occasion, both in laws and other communications one with another, to
mention and take notice of men under these relations: from whence also
arise the obligations of several duties amongst men: whereas, in brutes,
men having very little or no cause to mind these relations, they have
not thought fit to give them distinct and peculiar names. This, by the
way, may give us some light into the different state and growth of
languages; which being suited only to the convenience of communication,
are proportioned to the notions men have, and the commerce of thoughts
familiar amongst them; and not to the reality or extent of things, nor
to the various respects might be found among them; nor the different
abstract considerations might be framed about them. Where they had no
philosophical notions, there they had no terms to express them: and it
is no wonder men should have framed no names for those things they found
no occasion to discourse of. From whence it is easy to imagine why, as
in some countries, they may have not so much as the name for a horse;
and in others, where they are more careful of the pedigrees of their
horses, than of their own, that there they may have not only names for
particular horses, but also of their several relations of kindred one to

3. Ideas of Instituted of Voluntary relations.

Thirdly, Sometimes the foundation of considering things with reference
to one another, is some act whereby any one comes by a moral right,
power, or obligation to do something. Thus, a general is one that hath
power to command an army, and an army under a general is a collection of
armed men obliged to obey one man. A citizen, or a burgher, is one who
has a right to certain privileges in this or that place, All this sort
depending upon men's wills, or agreement in society, I call INSTITUTED,
or VOLUNTARY; and may be distinguished from the natural, in that they
are most, if not all of them, some way or other alterable, and separable
from the persons to whom they have sometimes belonged, though neither
of the substances, so related, be destroyed. Now, though these are all
reciprocal, as well as the rest, and contain in them a reference of two
things one to the other; yet, because one of the two things often wants
a relative name, importing that reference, men usually take no notice of
it, and the relation is commonly overlooked: v. g. a patron and client
are easily allowed to be relations, but a constable or dictator are not
so readily at first hearing considered as such. Because there is no
peculiar name for those who are under the command of a dictator or
constable, expressing a relation to either of them; though it be certain
that either of them hath a certain power over some others, and so is so
far related to them, as well as a patron is to his client, or general to
his army.

4. Ideas of Moral relations.

Fourthly, There is another sort of relation, which is the conformity or
disagreement men's VOLUNTARY ACTIONS have to a RULE to which they are
referred, and by which they are judged of; which, I think, may be called
MORAL RELATION, as being that which denominates our moral actions, and
deserves well to be examined; there being no part of knowledge wherein
we should be more careful to get determined ideas, and avoid, as much as
may be, obscurity and confusion. Human actions, when with their various
ends, objects, manners, and circumstances, they are framed into distinct
complex ideas, are, as has been shown, so many MIXED MODES, a great part
whereof have names annexed to them. Thus, supposing gratitude to be a
readiness to acknowledge and return kindness received; polygamy to be
the having more wives than one at once: when we frame these notions thus
in our minds, we have there so many determined ideas of mixed modes.
But this is not all that concerns our actions: it is not enough to have
determined ideas of them, and to know what names belong to such and such
combinations of ideas. We have a further and greater concernment, and
that is, to know whether such actions, so made up, are morally good or

5. Moral Good and Evil.

Good and evil, as hath been shown, (B. II. chap. xx. Section 2, and
chap. xxi. Section 43,) are nothing but pleasure or pain, or that which
occasions or procures pleasure or pain to us. MORAL GOOD AND EVIL, then,
THE LAW-MAKER; which good and evil, pleasure or pain, attending our
observance or breach of the law by the decree of the law-maker, is that

6. Moral Rules.

Of these moral rules or laws, to which men generally refer, and by which
they judge of the rectitude or gravity of their actions, there seem
to me to be THREE SORTS, with their three different enforcements, or
rewards and punishments. For, since it would be utterly in vain to
suppose a rule set to the free actions of men, without annexing to
it some enforcement of good and evil to determine his will, we must,
wherever we suppose a law, suppose also some reward or punishment
annexed to that law. It would be in vain for one intelligent being to
set a rule to the actions of another, if he had it not in his power to
reward the compliance with, and punish deviation from his rule, by some
good and evil, that is not the natural product and consequence of the
action itself. For that, being a natural convenience or inconvenience,
would operate of itself, without a law. This, if I mistake not, is the
true nature of all law, properly so called.

7. Laws.

The laws that men generally refer their actions to, to judge of their
rectitude or obliquity, seem to me to be these three: - 1. The DIVINE
law. 2. The CIVIL law. 3. The law of OPINION or REPUTATION, if I may
so call it. By the relation they bear to the first of these, men judge
whether their actions are sins or duties; by the second, whether they
be criminal or innocent; and by the third, whether they be virtues or

8. Divine Law the Measure of Sin and Duty.

First, the DIVINE LAW, whereby that law which God has set to the actions
of men, - whether promulgated to them by the light of nature, or the
voice of revelation. That God has given a rule whereby men should govern
themselves, I think there is nobody so brutish as to deny. He has a
right to do it; we are his creatures: he has goodness and wisdom to
direct our actions to that which is best: and he has power to enforce it
by rewards and punishments of infinite weight and duration in another
life; for nobody can take us out of his hands. This is the only true
touchstone of moral rectitude; and, by comparing them to this law, it
is that men judge of the most considerable moral good or evil of their
actions; that is, whether, as duties or sins, they are like to procure
them happiness or misery from the hands of the ALMIGHTY.

9. Civil Law the Measure of Crimes and Innocence.

Secondly, the CIVIL LAW - the rule set by the commonwealth to the actions
of those who belong to it - is another rule to which men refer their
actions; to judge whether they be criminal or no. This law nobody
overlooks: the rewards and punishments that enforce it being ready at
hand, and suitable to the power that makes it: which is the force of the
Commonwealth, engaged to protect the lives, liberties, and possessions
of those who live according to its laws, and has power to take away
life, liberty, or goods, from him who disobeys; which is the punishment
of offences committed against his law.

10. Philosophical Law the Measure of Virtue and Vice.

Thirdly, the LAW OF OPINION OR REPUTATION. Virtue and vice are names
pretended and supposed everywhere to stand for actions in their own
nature right and wrong: and as far as they really are so applied, they
so far are coincident with the divine law above mentioned. But yet,
whatever is pretended, this is visible, that these names, virtue and
vice, in the particular instances of their application, through the
several nations and societies of men in the world, are constantly
attributed only to such actions as in each country and society are in
reputation or discredit. Nor is it to be thought strange, that men
everywhere should give the name of virtue to those actions, which
amongst them are judged praiseworthy; and call that vice, which they
account blamable: since otherwise they would condemn themselves, if they
should think anything right, to which they allowed not commendation,
anything wrong, which they let pass without blame. Thus the measure
of what is everywhere called and esteemed virtue and vice is this
approbation or dislike, praise or blame, which, by a secret and tacit
consent, establishes itself in the several societies, tribes, and clubs
of men in the world: whereby several actions come to find credit or
disgrace amongst them, according to the judgment, maxims, or fashion
of that place. For, though men uniting into politic societies, have
resigned up to the public the disposing of all their force, so that they
cannot employ it against any fellow-citizens any further than the law
of the country directs: yet they retain still the power of thinking well
or ill, approving or disapproving of the actions of those whom they live
amongst, and converse with: and by this approbation and dislike they
establish amongst themselves what they will call virtue and vice.

11. The Measure that Man commonly apply to determine what they call
Virtue and Vice.

That this is the common MEASURE of virtue and vice, will appear to any
one who considers, that, though that passes for vice in one country
which is counted a virtue, or at least not vice, in another, yet
everywhere virtue and praise, vice and blame, go together. Virtue is
everywhere, that which is thought praiseworthy; and nothing else but
that which has the allowance of public esteem is called virtue. Virtue
and praise are so united, that they are called often by the same name.
Sunt sua praemia laudi, says Virgil; and so Cicero, Nihil habet natura
praestantius, quam honestatem, quam laudem, quam dignitatem, quam
decus, which he tells you are all names for the same thing. This is the
language of the heathen philosophers, who well understood wherein
their notions of virtue and vice consisted. And though perhaps, by the
different temper, education, fashion, maxims, or interest of different
sorts of men, it fell out, that what was thought praiseworthy in one
place, escaped not censure in another; and so in different societies,
virtues and vices were changed; yet, as to the main, they for the most
part kept the same everywhere. For, since nothing can be more natural
than to encourage with esteem and reputation that wherein every one
finds his advantage, and to blame and discountenance the contrary; it is
no wonder that esteem and discredit, virtue and vice, should, in a great
measure, everywhere correspond with the unchangeable rule of right and
wrong, which the law of God hath established; there being nothing that
so directly and visible secures and advances the general good of mankind
in this world, as obedience to the laws he had set them, and nothing
that breeds such mischiefs and confusion, as the neglect of them. And
therefore men, without renouncing all sense and reason, and their own
interest, which they are so constantly true to, could not generally
mistake, in placing their commendation and blame on that side that
really deserved it not. Nay, even those men whose practice was
otherwise, failed not to give their approbation right, few being
depraved to that degree as not to condemn, at least in others, the
faults they themselves were guilty of; whereby, even in the corruption
of manners, the true boundaries of the law of nature, which ought to be
the rule of virtue and vice, were pretty well preferred. So that even
the exhortations of inspired teachers, have not feared to appeal to
common repute: 'Whatsoever is lovely, whatsoever is of good report, if
there be any virtue, if there be any praise,' &c. (Phil. iv. 8.)

12. Its Inforcement is Commendation and Discredit.

If any one shall imagine that I have forgot my own notion of a law, when
I make the law, whereby men judge of virtue and vice, to be nothing else
but the consent of private men, who have not authority enough to make a
law: especially wanting that which is so necessary and essential to a
law, a power to enforce it: I think I may say, that he who imagines
commendation and disgrace not to be strong motives to men to accommodate
themselves to the opinions and rules of those with whom they converse,
seems little skilled in the nature or history of mankind: the greatest
part whereof we shall find to govern themselves chiefly, if not solely,
by this LAW OF FASHION; and so they do that which keeps them in
reputation with their company, little regard the laws of God, or the
magistrate. The penalties that attend the breach of God's laws some, nay
perhaps most men, seldom seriously reflect on: and amongst those that
do, many, whilst they break the law, entertain thoughts of future
reconciliation, and making their peace for such breaches. And as to
the punishments due from the laws of the commonwealth, they frequently
flatter themselves with the hopes of impunity. But no man escapes the
punishment of their censure and dislike, who offends against the fashion
and opinion of the company he keeps, and would recommend himself to. Nor
is there one of ten thousand, who is stiff and insensible enough, to
bear up under the constant dislike and condemnation of his own club. He
must be of a strange and unusual constitution, who can content himself
to live in constant disgrace and disrepute with his own particular
society. Solitude many men have sought, and been reconciled to: but
nobody that has the least thought or sense of a man about him, can live
in society under the constant dislike and ill opinion of his familiars,
and those he converses with. This is a burden too heavy for human
sufferance: and he must be made up of irreconcileable contradictions,
who can take pleasure in company, and yet be insensible of contempt and
disgrace from his companions.

13. These three Laws the Rules of moral Good and Evil.

These three then, first, the law of God; secondly, the law of politic
societies; thirdly, the law of fashion, or private censure, are those to
which men variously compare their actions: and it is by their conformity
to one of these laws that they take their measures, when they would
judge of their moral rectitude, and denominate their actions good or

14. Morality is the Relation of Voluntary Actions to these Rules.

Whether the rule to which, as to a touchstone, we bring our voluntary
actions, to examine them by, and try their goodness, and accordingly to
name them, which is, as it were, the mark of the value we set upon them:
whether, I say, we take that rule from the fashion of the country, or
the will of a law-maker, the mind is easily able to observe the relation
any action hath to it, and to judge whether the action agrees or
disagrees with the rule; and so hath a notion of moral goodness or evil,
which is either conformity or not conformity of any action to that rule:
and therefore is often called moral rectitude. This rule being nothing
but a collection of several simple ideas, the conformity thereto is
but so ordering the action, that the simple ideas belonging to it may
correspond to those which the law requires. And thus we see how moral
beings and notions are founded on, and terminated in, these simple ideas
we have received from sensation or reflection. For example: let us
consider the complex idea we signify by the word murder: and when we
have taken it asunder, and examined all the particulars, we shall find
them to amount to a collection of simple ideas derived from reflection
or sensation, viz. First, from REFLECTION on the operations of our own
minds, we have the ideas of willing, considering, purposing beforehand,
malice, or wishing ill to another; and also of life, or perception, and
self-motion. Secondly, from SENSATION we have the collection of those
simple sensible ideas which are to be found in a man, and of some
action, whereby we put an end to perception and motion in the man; all
which simple ideas are comprehended in the word murder. This collection
of simple ideas, being found by me to agree or disagree with the esteem
of the country I have been bred in, and to be held by most men there
worthy praise or blame, I call the action virtuous or vicious: if I
have the will of a supreme invisible Lawgiver for my rule, then, as I
supposed the action commanded or forbidden by God, I call it good or
evil, sin or duty: and if I compare it to the civil law, the rule made
by the legislative power of the country, I call it lawful or unlawful,
a crime or no crime. So that whencesoever we take the rule of moral
actions; or by what standard soever we frame in our minds the ideas of
virtues or vices, they consist only, and are made up of collections of
simple ideas, which we originally received from sense or reflection: and
their rectitude or obliquity consists in the agreement or disagreement
with those patterns prescribed by some law.

15. Moral actions may be regarded wither absolutely, or as ideas of

To conceive rightly of moral actions, we must take notice of them under
this two-fold consideration. First, as they are in themselves, each made
up of such a collection of simple ideas. Thus drunkenness, or lying,
signify such or such a collection of simple ideas, which I call mixed
modes: and in this sense they are as much POSITIVE ABSOLUTE ideas, as
the drinking of a horse, or speaking of a parrot. Secondly, our actions
are considered as good, bad, or indifferent; and in this respect they
are RELATIVE, it being their conformity to, or disagreement with some
rule that makes them to be regular or irregular, good or bad; and so, as
far as they are compared with a rule, and thereupon denominated, they
come under relation. Thus the challenging and fighting with a man, as it
is a certain positive mode, or particular sort of action, by particular
ideas, distinguished from all others, is called DUELLING: which, when
considered in relation to the law of God, will deserve the name of sin;
to the law of fashion, in some countries, valour and virtue; and to the
municipal laws of some governments, a capital crime. In this case,
when the positive mode has one name, and another name as it stands in
relation to the law, the distinction may as easily be observed as it is
in substances, where one name, v.g. MAN, is used to signify the thing;
another, v.g. FATHER, to signify the relation.

16. The Denominations of Actions often mislead us.

But because very frequently the positive idea of the action, and its
moral relation, are comprehended together under one name, and the same
word made use of to express both the mode or action, and its moral
rectitude or obliquity: therefore the relation itself is less taken
notice of; and there is often no distinction made between the positive
idea of the action, and the reference it has to a rule. By which
confusion of these two distinct considerations under one term, those who
yield too easily to the impressions of sounds, and are forward to take
names for things, are often misled in their judgment of actions. Thus,
the taking from another what is his, without his knowledge or allowance,
is properly called STEALING: but that name, being commonly understood
to signify also the moral gravity of the action, and to denote its
contrariety to the law, men are apt to condemn whatever they hear called
stealing, as an ill action, disagreeing with the rule of right. And yet
the private taking away his sword from a madman, to prevent his doing
mischief, though it be properly denominated stealing, as the name of
such a mixed mode; yet when compared to the law of God, and considered
in its relation to that supreme rule, it is no sin or transgression,
though the name stealing ordinarily carries such an intimation with it.

17. Relations innumerable, and only the most considerable here

And thus much for the relation of human actions to a law, which,
therefore, I call MORAL RELATIONS.

It would make a volume to go over all sorts of RELATIONS: it is not,
therefore, to be expected that I should here mention them all. It
suffices to our present purpose to show by these, what the ideas are we
have of this comprehensive consideration called RELATION. Which is so
various, and the occasions of it so many, (as many as there can be of
comparing things one to another,) that it is not very easy to reduce it
to rules, or under just heads. Those I have mentioned, I think, are
some of the most considerable; and such as may serve to let us see from
whence we get our ideas of relations, and wherein they are founded. But
before I quit this argument, from what has been said give me leave to

18. All Relations terminate in simple Ideas.

First, That it is evident, that all relation terminates in, and is
ultimately founded on, those simple ideas we have got from sensation or
reflection: so that all we have in our thoughts ourselves, (if we think
of anything, or have any meaning,) or would signify to others, when we
use words standing for relations, is nothing but some simple ideas,
or collections of simple ideas, compared one with another. This is so
manifest in that sort called proportional, that nothing can be more.
For when a man says 'honey is sweeter than wax,' it is plain that his
thoughts in this relation terminate in this simple idea, sweetness;
which is equally true of all the rest: though, where they are
compounded, or decompounded, the simple ideas they are made up of, are,
perhaps, seldom taken notice of: v.g. when the word father is mentioned:
first, there is meant that particular species, or collective idea,
signified by the word man; secondly, those sensible simple ideas,
signified by the word generation; and, thirdly, the effects of it, and
all the simple ideas signified by the word child. So the word friend,
being taken for a man who loves and is ready to do good to another, has
all these following ideas to the making of it up: first, all the simple
ideas, comprehended in the word man, or intelligent being; secondly, the
idea of love; thirdly, the idea of readiness or disposition; fourthly,

Online LibraryJohn LockeAn Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 → online text (page 30 of 34)