An Essay Concerning Human Understanding By John Locke Book II: Of Ideas, Chapters 12-33

72. Preference of Vice to Virtue a manifest wrong Judgment.

I shall not now enlarge any further on the wrong judgments and neglect of what is in their power, whereby men mislead themselves. This would make a volume, and is not my business. But whatever false notions, or shameful neglect of what is in their power, may put men out of their way to happiness, and distract them, as we see, into so different courses of life, this yet is certain, that morality established upon its true foundations, cannot but determine the choice in any one that will but consider: and he that will not be so far a rational creature as to reflect seriously upon INFINITE happiness and misery, must needs condemn himself as not making that use of his understanding he should. The rewards and punishments of another life which the Almighty has established, as the enforcements of his law, are of weight enough to determine the choice against whatever pleasure or pain this life can show, where the eternal state is considered but in its bare possibility which nobody can make any doubt of. He that will allow exquisite and endless happiness to be but the possible consequence of a good life here, and the contrary state the possible reward of a bad one, must own himself to judge very much amiss if he does not conclude, — That a virtuous life, with the certain expectation of everlasting bliss, which may come, is to be preferred to a vicious one, with the fear of that dreadful state of misery, which it is very possible may overtake the guilty; or, at best, the terrible uncertain hope of annihilation. This is evidently so, though the virtuous life here had nothing but pain, and the vicious continual pleasure: which yet is, for the most part, quite otherwise, and wicked men have not much the odds to brag of, even in their present possession; nay, all things rightly considered, have, I think, even the worse part here. But when infinite happiness is put into one scale, against infinite misery in the other; if the worst that comes to the pious man, if he mistakes, be the best that the wicked can attain to, if he be in the right, who can without madness run the venture? Who in his wits would choose to come within a possibility of infinite misery; which if he miss, there is yet nothing to be got by that hazard? Whereas, on the other side, the sober man ventures nothing against infinite happiness to be got, if his expectation comes not to pass. If the good man be in the right, he is eternally happy; if he mistakes, he is not miserable, he feels nothing. On the other side, if the wicked man be in the right, he is not happy; if he mistakes, he is infinitely miserable. Must it not be a most manifest wrong judgment that does not presently see to which side, in this case, the preference is to be given? I have forborne to mention anything of the certainty or probability of a future state, designing here to show the wrong judgment that any one must allow he makes, upon his own principles, laid how he pleases, who prefers the short pleasures of a vicious life upon any consideration, whilst he knows, and cannot but be certain, that a future life is at least possible.

73. Recapitulation — Liberty of indifferency.

To conclude this inquiry into human liberty, which, as it stood before, I myself from the beginning fearing, and a very judicious friend of mine, since the publication, suspecting to have some mistake in it, though he could not particularly show it me, I was put upon a stricter review of this chapter. Wherein lighting upon a very easy and scarce observable slip I had made, in putting one seemingly indifferent word for another that discovery opened to me this present view, which here, in this second edition, I submit to the learned world, and which, in short, is this: LIBERTY is a power to act or not to act, according as the mind directs. A power to direct the operative faculties to motion or rest in particular instances is that which we call the WILL. That which in the train of our voluntary actions determines the will to any change of operation is SOME PRESENT UNEASINESS, which is, or at least is always accompanied with that of DESIRE. Desire is always moved by evil, to fly it: because a total freedom from pain always makes a necessary part of our happiness: but every good, nay, every greater good, does not constantly move desire, because it may not make, or may not be taken to make, any necessary part of our happiness. For all that we desire, is only to be happy. But, though this general desire of happiness operates constantly and invariably, yet the satisfaction of any particular desire CAN BE SUSPENDED from determining the will to any subservient action, till we have maturely examined whether the particular apparent good which we then desire makes a part of our real happiness, or be consistent or inconsistent with it. The result of our judgment upon that examination is what ultimately determines the man; who could not be FREE if his will were determined by anything but his own desire, guided by his own judgment.

74. Active and passive power, in motions and in thinking.

True notions concerning the nature and extent of LIBERTY are of so great importance, that I hope I shall be pardoned this digression, which my attempt to explain it has led me into. The ideas of will, volition, liberty, and necessity, in this Chapter of Power, came naturally in my way. In a former edition of this Treatise I gave an account of my thoughts concerning them, according to the light I then had. And now, as a lover of truth, and not a worshipper of my own doctrines, I own some change of my opinion; which I think I have discovered ground for. In what I first writ, I with an unbiassed indifferency followed truth, whither I thought she led me. But neither being so vain as to fancy infallibility, nor so disingenuous as to dissemble my mistakes for fear of blemishing my reputation, I have, with the same sincere design for truth only, not been ashamed to publish what a severer inquiry has suggested. It is not impossible but that some may think my former notions right; and some (as I have already found) these latter; and some neither. I shall not at all wonder at this variety in men's opinions: impartial deductions of reason in controverted points being so rare, and exact ones in abstract notions not so very easy especially if of any length. And, therefore, I should think myself not a little beholden to any one, who would, upon these or any other grounds, fairly clear this subject of LIBERTY from any difficulties that may yet remain.

75. Summary of our Original ideas.

And thus I have, in a short draught, given a view of OUR ORIGINAL IDEAS, from whence all the rest are derived, and of which they are made up; which, if I would consider as a philosopher, and examine on what causes they depend, and of what they are made, I believe they all might be reduced to these very few primary and original ones, viz. EXTENSION, SOLIDITY, MOBILITY, or the power of being moved; which by our senses we receive from body: PERCEPTIVITY, or the power of perception, or thinking; MOTIVITY, or the power of moving: which by reflection we receive from OUR MINDS.

I crave leave to make use of these two new words, to avoid the danger of being mistaken in the use of those which are equivocal.

To which if we add EXISTENCE, DURATION, NUMBER, which belong both to the one and the other, we have, perhaps, all the original ideas on which the rest depend. For by these, I imagine, might be EXPLAINED the nature of colours, sounds, tastes, smells, and ALL OTHER IDEAS WE HAVE, if we had but faculties acute enough to perceive the severally modified extensions and motions of these minute bodies, which produce those several sensations in us. But my present purpose being only to inquire into the knowledge the mind has of things, by those ideas and appearances which God has fitted it to receive from them, and how the mind comes by that knowledge; rather than into their causes or manner of Production, I shall not, contrary to the design of this Essay, see myself to inquire philosophically into the peculiar constitution of BODIES, and the configuration of parts, whereby THEY have the power to produce in us the ideas of their sensible qualities. I shall not enter any further into that disquisition; it sufficing to my purpose to observe, that gold or saffron has power to produce in us the idea of yellow, and snow or milk the idea of white, which we can only have by our sight without examining the texture of the parts of those bodies or the particular figures or motion of the particles which rebound from them, to cause in us that particular sensation, though, when we go beyond the bare ideas in our minds and would inquire into their causes, we cannot conceive anything else to be in any sensible object, whereby it produces different ideas in us, but the different bulk, figure, number, texture, and motion of its insensible parts.

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