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The life of John Locke, with extracts from his correspondence, journals, and common-place books online

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Je suis de tout mon coeur, Monsieur, votre trfes humble et trfes ob^issant

J. Le Clerc.''

Mr. Locke's answer to M. Le Clerc.


As to the determination of the will, we may take it under three


1st. The ordinary and successive uneasinesses which, take their
turns in the common course of our lives, and these are what,
for the most part, determine the will, but with a power still of

2d. Violent uneasiness which the mind cannot resist nor away
with: these constantly determine the will without any manner
of suspension, where there is any view of a possibility of their

3d. A great number of little and very indifferent actions which
mix themselves with those of greater moment, and fill up, as it were,
the little empty spaces of our time. In these, the will may be said
to determine itself without the preponderancy of good or evil, or the
motive of uneasiness on either side ; as whether a man should put
on his right or left shoe first, whether he should fold a margeant in
the paper wherein he is going to write a letter to his friend, whether
he should sit still or walk, or scratch his head whilst he is in a deep
meditation ; there are a thousand such actions as these which we do
every day, which are certainly voluntary, and may be ascribed to
the will determining itself But there is so little thought precedes
them, because of the little consequences that attend them, that they
are but as it were appendices to the more weighty and more volun-
tary actions to which the mind is determined by some sensible un-
easiness, and therefore in these the mind is determined to one of the
other side, not by the preferable or greater good it sees in either,
but by the desire and necessity of dispatch, that it may not be hin-
dered in the pursuit of what is judged of more moment by a lirfger-
ing suspense between equal and indifferent things, and a delibera-
tion about trifles ; in these, the uneasiness of delay is sufficient to
determine and give the preference to one, it matters not which side.
Mem. This writ to Mr. Le Clerc 9th Oct. 1694, in answer to his of
12th. Aug.


The following articles properly belong to the Journal. Their
date will show when each was written,

1677. — Species.

The species of things are distinguished and made by chance, in
order to naming and names imposed on those things which either
the conveniences of life or common observation bring into discourse.
The greatest part of the rest sine nomine herh<e, lie neglected, neither
differenced by names, nor distinguished into species ; viz. how many
flies and worms are there which, though they are about us in great
plenty, we have not yet named nor ranked into species, but come
under the general names of flies or worms, which yet are as distinct
as a horse and a sheep, though we never have had so great oc-
casion to take notice of them. So that our ideas of species are
almost voluntary, or at least different from the idea of Nature by
which she forms and distinguishes them, which in animals she
seems to me to keep to with more constancy and exactness than in
other bodies and species of things : those being curious engines, do
perhaps require a greater accurateness for their propagation and
continuation of their race ; for in vegetables we find that several
sorts come from the seeds of one and the same individual as much
different species as those that are allowed to be so by philosophers.
TMs is very -familiar in apples, and perhaps other sorts of fruits,
whereof some have distinct names and others only the general,
though they begin every day to have more and more given them as
they come into use. So that species in respect of us are but things
ranked into order; because of their agreement in some ideas which
we have made essential in order to our naming them, though
what it is essentially to belong to any species in reference to Na-
ture be hard to determine ; for if a woman should bring forth a
creature perfectly of the shape of a man, that never showed any
more appearance of reason than a horse, and had no articular lan-
guage, and another woman should produce another with nothing of
the shape, but with the language arid reason of a man, I ask which
of these you would call by the name man ? — both or neither ?

2 T



In questions where there are arguments on both sides, one posi-
tive proof is to preponderate to a great many negatives, because a
positive proof is always founded upon some real existence, which
we know and apprehend ; whereas the negatiye arguments termi-
nate generally in nothing, in our not being able to conceive, and
so may be nothing but conclusions from our ignorance or incapacity,
and not from the truth of things which may, and we have expe-
rience do really exist, though they exceed our comprehension. This
amongst the things we know and lie obvious to our senses is very
evident, for though we are very well acquainted with matter, mo-
tion, and distance, yet there are many things in them which
we can by no means comprehend ; for, even in the things most ob-
vious and familiar to us, our understanding is nonplussed, and pre-
sently discovers its weakness ; whenever it enters upon the conside-
ration of any thing that is unlimited, or would penetrate into the
modes or manner of being or operation, it presently meets with un-
conquerable difficulties. Matter, ahd figure, and motion, and the
degrees of both, we have clear notions of ; but when we begin to think
of the extension or divisibility of the one, or the beginning of either,
our understanding sticks and boggles, and knows not which way to
turn. We also have no other notion of opelration but of matter by
motion, at least I must confess I have not, and should be glad to
have any one explain to me intelligibly any othel- ; and yet we shall
find it hard to make out any phenomenon by those causes. We
know very well that we think, and at pleasure move ourselves, and
yet, if we will think a negative argument sufficient to build on, we
shall have reason to doubt whether we can do one or other ; it being
to me inconceivable how matter should think, and as incomprehen-
sible how an immaterial thinking thing should be able to move im-
material, or be affected by it. We having therefore positive expe-
rience of our thinking and motion, the negative arguments against


them, and the impossibility of understanding them, never shake our
assent to these truths, which perhaps will prove a considerable rule
to determine us in very material questions.


DESIRE, 1677.

As for my recreation, thus I think ; that recreation being a thing
ordained, not for itself, but for a certain end, that end is to be the
rule and measure of it.

Recreation then seeming to me to be the doing of some easy
or at least delightful thing to restore the mind or body, tired with
labour, to its former strength and vigoUr, and thereby fit it for new
labour, it seems to me, —

1. That there can be no general rule set to different persons
concerning the time, manner, duration, or sort of recreation that is
to be used, but only that it be such as their experience tells them
is suited to them, and proper to refresh the part tired.

2nd. That if it be applied to the mind, it ought certainly to be
delightful, because it being to restore and enliven that which is
done by relaxing and composing the agitation of the spirits, that
whiieh delights it without employing it much, is not only the fittest
to do so, but also the contrary, i. e. what is ungrateful doth certainly
most discompose and tire it.

3rd. That it is impossible to set a standing rule of recreation to
one's self ; because not only the unsteady fleeting condition of our
bodies and spirits require more at one time than another, which is
plain in other more fixed refreshments, as food and sleep, and like-
wise requires very different according to the employment that hath
preceded the present temper of our bodies and inclination of our
minds ; but also because variety in most constitutions is so necessary
to delight, and the mind is so naturally tender of its freedom, that
the most pleasant diversions become nauseous and troublesome to
us when we are forced to repeat them in a continued fixed round.

2 T 2


It is farther to be considered :—

1st. That in things not absolutely commanded nor forbidden
by the law of God, such as is the material part of recreation, he in
his mercy considering our ignorance and frail constitution, hath not
tied us to an indivisible point, nor confined us to a way so narrow
that allows no latitude at all in things in their own nature indif-
ferent ; there is the liberty of great choice, great variety, within the
bounds of innocence.

2nd. That God delights not to have us miserable either in this
or the other world, but having given us all things richly to enjoy,
we cannot imagine that in our recreations we should be denied
delight, which is the only necessary and useful part of it.

This supposed, I imagine : —

1st. That recreation supposes labour and weariness, and there-
fore that he that labours not, hath no title to it.

2nd. That it very seldom happens that our constitutions (though
there be some tender one's that require a great deal,) require more
time to be spent in recreation than in labour.

Srd. We must beware that custom and the fashion of the world,
or some other by-interest, doth not make that pass with us for
recreation which is indeed labour to us, though it be not our busi-
ness ; as playing at cards, though no otherwise allowable but as a
recreation, is so far from fitting some men for their business and
giving them refreshment, that it more discomposes them than their
ordinary labour.

So that God not tying us up of time, place, kind, &c. in our re-
creations, if we secure our main duty, which is in sincerity to do
our duty in our calling as far as the frailty of our bodies or miiids
will allow us, (beyond which we cannot think any thing should be
required of us,) and that we design our diversions to put us in a
condition to do our duty, we need not perplex ourselves with too
scrupulous an inquiry into the precise bounds of them ; for we
cannot be supposed to be obliged to rules which we cannot know;
for I doubt first whether there be any such exact proportion of


recreation to our present state of body and mind, that so much is
exactly enough, and whatsoever is under is too little, whatsoever is
over is too much ; but be it so or no, this I am very confident of,
that no one can say in his own or another man's case, that thus
much is the precise dose ; hitherto you must go and no farther ; —
so that it is not only our privilege, but we are under a necessity of
using a latitude, and where we can discover no determined, precise
rule, it is unavoidable for us to go sometimes beyond, and some-
times to stop short of, that which is, I will not say the exact, but
nearest proportion ; and in such cases we can only govern ourselves
by the discoverable bounds on the one hand or the other, which is
only when we find that our recreation by excess or defect, serves
not to the proper end for which we are to use it, only with this
caution, that we are to suspect ourselves most on that side to which
we find ourselves most inclined. The cautious, devout, studious
man, is to fear that he allows not himself enough ; the gay, careless,
and idle, that he takes too much ; to which I can only add these
following directions as to some particulars : —

1st. That the properest time for recreating the mind is when it
feels itself weary and flagging ; it may be wearied with a thing
when it is not weary of it.

2nd. That the properest recreation of studious, sedentary per-
sons, whose labour is of the thought, is bodily exercise ; to those of
bustling employment, sedentary recreations.

3rd. That in all bodily exercise, those in the open air are best
for health.

4th. It may often be so ordered that one business may be made
a recreation to another, visiting a friend to study.

These are my sudden extemporary thoughts upon this subject,
which will deserve to be better considered when I am in better
circumstances of freedom, of thought and leisure. Vale, March 77.

J. L.



Memory. When we reTive in our minds the idea of any thing
that we have before observed to exist, this we call memory ; viz. to
recollect in our minds the idea of our father or brother. But when
from the observations we have made of divers particulars, we make
a general idea to represent any species in generalj as man ; or else
join several ideas together, which we never observed to exist to-
gether, we call it imagination. So that memory is always the pic-
ture of something, the idea whereof has existed before in our
thoughts, as near the life as we can draw it : but imagination is a
picture drawn in our minds without reference to a pattern. And,
here it may be observed, that the ideas of memory, like painting after
the life, come always short, ^. e. want something of the original.
For whether a man would remember the dreams he had in the night,
or the sights of a foregoing day, some of the traces are always left
out, some of the circumstances are forgotten ; and those kind of
pictures, like those represented successively by several looking-glasses,
are the more dim and fainter the farther they are off from the ori-
ginal object. For the mind, endeavouring to retain only the traces
of the pattern, losing by degi:ees a great part of them, and not
having the liberty to supply any new colours or touches of its own,
the picture in the memory every day fades and grows dimmer, and
often times is quite lost. But the imagination, not being tied to any
pattern, but adding what colours, what ideas it pleases, to its own
workmanship, making originals of its own, which are usually very
brihgt and clear in the mind, and sometimes to that degree that they
make impressions as strong and as sensible as those ideas which come
immediately by the senses from external objects, — so that the mind
takes one for the other, and its own imagination for realities. And
in this, it seems madness consists, and not in the want of reason ;
for allowing their imagination to be right, one may observe that
madmen usually reason right from them : and I guess that those


who are about madmen, will find that they make very little use of
their memory, which is to recollect particulars past with their cir-
cumstances : but having any particular idea suggested to their
memory, fancy dresses it up after its own fashion, without regard to
the original. Hence also, one may see how it comes to pass that
those that think long and intently upon one thing, come at last to
have their minds disturbed about it, and to be a little cracked as
to that particular. For by repeating often with vehemence of ima-
gination the ideas that do belong to, or may be brought in about the
same thing, a great many whereof the fancy is wont to furnish, these
at length come to take so deep an impression, that they all pass for
clear truths and realities, though perhaps the greater part of them
have at several times been supplied only by the fancy, and are
nothing but the pure effects of the imagination.

This at least is the cause of several errors and mistakes amongst
men, even when it does not wholly unhinge the brains, and put all
government of the thoughts into the hands of the imagination ; as it
sometimes happens when the imagination, being much employed, and
getting the mastery about any one thing, usurps the dominion over
all the other faculties of the mind in all other. But how this comes
about, or what it is that gives it on such an occasion that empire,
how it comes thus to be let loose, I confess, I cannot guess. If that
were once known, it would be no small advance towards the easier
curing of this malady ; and perhaps to that purpose it may not be
amiss to observe, what diet, temper, or other circumstances they are
that set the imagination on fire, and make it active and imperious.
This, I think, that having often recourse to one's memory, and tying
down the mind strictly to the recollecting things past precisely as
they wercj may be a means to check those extravagant or towering
flights of the imagination. And it is good often to divert the mind
from that which it has been earnestly employed about, or which is
its ordinary business to other objects, and to make it attend to the
informations of the senses and the things they offer to it.

J. L. 1678.



Madness seems to be nothing but a disorder in the imagination,
and not in the discursive faculty ; for one shall find amongst the dis-
tract, those who fancy themselves kings, &c. who discourse and rea-
son right enough upon the suppositions and wrong fancies they have
taken. And any sober man may find it in himself in twenty occa-
sions, viz. — ^in a town where he has not been long resident, let him
come into a street that he is pretty well acquainted with at the con-
trary end to what he imagined, he will find all his reasonings about
it so out of order and so inconsistent with the truth, that should he
enter into debate upon the situation of the houses, the turnings oh
the right or left hand, &c. &c. with one who knew the place perfectly
and had the right ideas which way he was going, he would seem
little better than frantic. This, 1 believe, most people may have
observed to have happened to themselves, especially when they have
been carried up and down in coaches, and perhaps may have found
it sometimes difficult to set their thoughts fight, and reform the
mistakes of their imagination. And I have known some, who upon
the wrong impressions which were at first made upon their imagi-
nations, could never tell which was north or south in Smithfield,
though they were no very ill geographers ; and when by the sun
and the time of the day they were convinced of the position of that
place, yet they could not tell how to reconcile it to other parts of
the town that were adjoining to it, but out of sight ; and were very
apt to relapse again as soon as either the sun disappeared or they
were out of sight of the place, into the mistakes and confusion of
their old ideas. From whence one may see of what moment it is
to take care that the first impressions we settle upon our minds be
conformable to the truth and to the nature of things ; or else all our
meditations and discourse thereupon will be nothing but perfect



The foundation of error and mistake in most men lies in hav-
ing obscure or confused notions of things, or by reason of their
confused ideas, doubtful and obscure words ; our words always in
their signification depending upon our ideas, being clear or obscure
proportionably as our notions are so, and sometimes ( * * * ) have
little more but the sound . of the word for the notion of the thing.
For in the discursive faculty of the mind, I do not find that men
are so apt to err : but it avails little that their syllogisms are right,
if their terms be insignificant and obscure, or confused and indeter-
mined, or that in their internal discourse, deductions be regular, if
their notions be wrong. Therefore, in our discourse with others,
the greatest care is to be had that we be not misled or imposed on
by the measure of their words, where the fallacy oftener lies than
in faulty consequences.

And in considering by ourselves to take care of our notions,
where a man argues right upon wrong notions or terms, he does like
a madman ; where he makes wrong consequences he does like a fool.
Madness seeming to me to lie more in the imagination, and folly in
the discourse.

SPACE. — 1677.

Space in itself seems to be nothing but a capacity or pos-
sibility for extended beings or bodies to be, or exist, which we
are apt to conceive infinite ; for there being in nothing no resist-
ance, we have a conception very natural and very true, that let
bodies be already as far extended as you will, yet, if other new bodies
should be created, they might exist where there are now no bodies :
viz. a globe of a foot diameter might exist beyond the utmost super-
ficies of all bodies now existing ; and because we have by our ac-
quaintance with bodies, got the idea of the figure and distance of

2 u


the superficial part of a globe of a foot diameter, we are apt to
imagine the space where the globe exists to be really something, to
have a real existence before and after its existence there. Whereas,
in truth, it is really nothing, and so has no opposition nor resistance
to the being of such a body there ; though we, applying the idea of
a natural globe, are apt to conceive it as something so far extended,
and these are properly the imaginary spaces which are so much dis-
puted of. But as for distance, I suppose that to be the relation of
two bodies or beings near or remote to one another, measurable by
the ideas we have of distance taken from solid bodies ; for were
there no beings at all, we might truly say there were no distances.
The fallacy we put upon ourselves which inclines us to think other-
wise is this, that whenever we talk of distance, we first suppose
some real beings existing separate from one another, and then, with-
out taking notice of that supposition, and the relation that results
from their placing one in reference to another, we are apt to consider
that space as some positive real being existing without them ; where-
as, as it seems to me, to be but a bare relation ; and when we sup-
pose them to be, viz. a yard asunder, it is no more but to say ex-
tended in a direct line to the proportion of three feet or thirty- six
inches distance, whereof by use we have got the idea ; this gives us
the notion of distance, and the vacuum that is between them is un-
derstood by this, that bodies of a yard long that come between them,
thrust or remove away nothing that was there before.

I. I take it for granted that I can conceive a space without a
body ; for, suppose the universe as big as you will, I can, without
the bounds of it, imagine it possible to thrust out or create any the
most solid body of any figure, without removing from the place it
possesses ■ any thing that was there before. Neither does it imply
any contradiction to suppose a space so empty within the. bounds of
the universe, that a body may be brought into it without removing
from thence any other ; and if this be not granted, I. cannot see how
one can make out any motion, supposing your bodies of what figures
or bulk you please, as I imagine it is easy to demonstrate.


If it be possible to suppose nothing, or, in our thoughts, to re-
move all manner of beings from any place, then this imaginary space
is just nothing, and signifies no more but a bare possibility that body
may exist where now there is none. If it be impossible to suppose
pure nothing, or to extend our thoughts where there is, or we can
suppose no being, this space void of body must be something belong-
ing to the being of the Deity. But be it one or the other, the idea
we have of it we take from the extension of bodies which fall under
our senses ; and this idea of extension being settled in our minds,
we are able, by repeating that in our thoughts, without annexing
body or impenetrability to it, to imagine spaces where there are no
bodies-^which imaginary spaces, if we suppose all other beings
absent, are purely nothing, but merely a possibility that body might
there exist. Or if it be a necessity to suppose a being there, it must
be God, whose being we thus make, i. e. suppose extended, but not
impenetrable : but be it one or the other, extension seems to be
mentally separable from body, and distance nothing but the relation
of space, resulting from the existence of two positive beings ; or,
which is all one, two parts of the same being.


Besides the considering things barely and separately in them-
selves, the mind considers them also with respect, i. e. at the same
time looking upon some other, and this we call relation. So that if
the mind so considers any thing that another is necessarily supposed,

Online LibraryPeter King KingThe life of John Locke, with extracts from his correspondence, journals, and common-place books → online text (page 30 of 37)