Reflections of a Logical Mind, A Slim Volume of Common Sense, Reason Applied to the Supernatural

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These faculties may mimic or copy the perceptions of the senses; but they never can entirely reach the force and vivacity of the original sentiment. The utmost we say of them, even when they operate with greatest vigour, is, that they represent their object in so lively a manner, that we could almost say we feel or see it: but, except the mind be disordered by disease or madness, they never can arrive at such a pitch of vivacity, as to render these perceptions altogether undistinguishable. All the colours of poetry, however splendid, can never paint natural objects in such a manner as to make the description be taken for a real landscape.

The most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation. We may observe a like distinction to run through all the other perceptions of the mind. A man in a fit of anger, is actuated in a very different manner from one who only thinks of that emotion. If you tell me, that any person is in love, I easily understand your meaning, and form a just conception of his situation; but never can mistake that conception for the real disorders and agitations of the passion. When we reflect on our past sentiments and affections, our thought is a faithful mirror, and copies its objects truly; but the colours which it employs are faint and dull, in comparison of those in which our original perceptions were clothed.

It requires no nice discernment or metaphysical head to mark the distinction between them. Here therefore we may divide all the perceptions of the mind into two classes or species, which are distinguished by their different degrees of force and vivacity. The less forcible and lively are commonly denominated Thoughts or Ideas. The other species want a name in our language, and in most others; I suppose, because it was not requisite for any, but philosophical purposes, to rank them under a general term or appellation. Let us, therefore, use a little freedom, and call them Impressions; employing that word in a sense somewhat different from the usual.

By the term impression, then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, which are the less lively perceptions, of which we are conscious, when we reflect on any of those sensations or movements above mentioned. Nothing, at first view, may seem more unbounded than the thought of man, which not only escapes all human power and authority, but is not even restrained within the limits of nature and reality. To form monsters, and join incongruous shapes and appearances, costs the imagination no more trouble than to conceive the most natural and familiar objects.

And while the body is confined to one planet, along which it creeps with pain and difficulty; the thought can in an instant transport us into the most distant regions of the universe; or even beyond the universe, into the unbounded chaos, where nature is supposed to lie in total confusion. What never was seen, or heard of, may yet be conceived; nor is any thing beyond the power of thought, except what implies an absolute contradiction. But though our thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow limits, and that all this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experience.

When we think of a golden mountain, we only join two consistent ideas, gold, and mountain, with which we were formerly acquainted. A virtuous horse we can conceive; because, from our own feeling, we can conceive virtue; and this we may unite to the figure and shape of a horse, which is an animal familiar to us.

In short, all the materials of thinking are derived either from our outward or inward sentiment: the mixture and composition of these belongs alone to the mind and will. Or, to express myself in philosophical language, all our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our impressions or more lively ones. To prove this, the two following arguments will, I hope, be sufficient. First , when we analyze our thoughts or ideas, however compounded or sublime, we always find that they resolve themselves into such simple ideas as were copied from a precedent feeling or sentiment. Even those ideas, which, at first view, seem the most wide of this origin, are found, upon a nearer scrutiny, to be derived from it.

The idea of God, as meaning an infinitely intelligent, wise, and good Being, arises from reflecting on the operations of our own mind, and augmenting, without limit, those qualities of goodness and wisdom. We may prosecute this enquiry to what length we please; where we shall always find, that every idea which we examine is copied from a similar impression. Those who would assert that this position is not universally true nor without exception, have only one, and that an easy method of refuting it; by producing that idea, which, in their opinion, is not derived from this source.

It will then be incumbent on us, if we would maintain our doctrine, to produce the impression, or lively perception, which corresponds to it. If it happen, from a defect of the organ, that a man is not susceptible of any species of sensation, we always find that he is as little susceptible of the correspondent ideas. A blind man can form no notion of colours; a deaf man of sounds. Restore either of them that sense in which he is deficient; by opening this new inlet for his sensations, you also open an inlet for the ideas; and he finds no difficulty in conceiving these objects.

The case is the same, if the object, proper for exciting any sensation, has never been applied to the organ. A Laplander or Negro has no notion of the relish of wine. And though there are few or no instances of a like deficiency in the mind, where a person has never felt or is wholly incapable of a sentiment or passion that belongs to his species; yet we find the same observation to take place in a less degree.

A man of mild manners can form no idea of inveterate revenge or cruelty; nor can a selfish heart easily conceive the heights of friendship and generosity. It is readily allowed, that other beings may possess many senses of which we can have no conception; because the ideas of them have never been introduced to us in the only manner by which an idea can have access to the mind, to wit, by the actual feeling and sensation. There is, however, one contradictory phenomenon, which may prove that it is not absolutely impossible for ideas to arise, independent of their correspondent impressions.

I believe it will readily be allowed, that the several distinct ideas of colour, which enter by the eye, or those of sound, which are conveyed by the ear, are really different from each other; though, at the same time, resembling. Now if this be true of different colours, it must be no less so of the different shades of the same colour; and each shade produces a distinct idea, independent of the rest. For if this should be denied, it is possible, by the continual gradation of shades, to run a colour insensibly into what is most remote from it; and if you will not allow any of the means to be different, you cannot, without absurdity, deny the extremes to be the same.

Suppose, therefore, a person to have enjoyed his sight for thirty years, and to have become perfectly acquainted with colours of all kinds except one particular shade of blue, for instance, which it never has been his fortune to meet with. Let all the different shades of that colour, except that single one, be placed before him, descending gradually from the deepest to the lightest; it is plain that he will perceive a blank, where that shade is wanting, and will be sensible that there is a greater distance in that place between the contiguous colour than in any other.

Now I ask, whether it be possible for him, from his own imagination, to supply this deficiency, and raise up to himself the idea of that particular shade, though it had never been conveyed to him by his senses? I believe there are few but will be of opinion that he can: and this may serve as a proof that the simple ideas are not always, in every instance, derived from the correspondent impressions; though this instance is so singular, that it is scarcely worth our observing, and does not merit that for it alone we should alter our general maxim.

Here, therefore, is a proposition, which not only seems, in itself, simple and intelligible; but, if a proper use were made of it, might render every dispute equally intelligible, and banish all that jargon, which has so long taken possession of metaphysical reasonings, and drawn disgrace upon them. All ideas, especially abstract ones, are naturally faint and obscure: the mind has but a slender hold of them: they are apt to be confounded with other resembling ideas; and when we have often employed any term, though without a distinct meaning, we are apt to imagine it has a determinate idea annexed to it.

On the contrary, all impressions, that is, all sensations, either outward or inward, are strong and vivid: the limits between them are more exactly determined: nor is it easy to fall into any error or mistake with regard to them. When we entertain, therefore, any suspicion that a philosophical term is employed without any meaning or idea as is but too frequent , we need but enquire, from what impression is that supposed idea derived?

And if it be impossible to assign any, this will serve to confirm our suspicion. By bringing ideas into so clear a light we may reasonably hope to remove all dispute, which may arise, concerning their nature and reality. It is evident that there is a principle of connexion between the different thoughts or ideas of the mind, and that in their appearance to the memory or imagination, they introduce each other with a certain degree of method and regularity.

In our more serious thinking or discourse this is so observable that any particular thought, which breaks in upon the regular tract or chain of ideas, is immediately remarked and rejected. And even in our wildest and most wandering reveries, nay in our very dreams, we shall find, if we reflect, that the imagination ran not altogether at adventures, but that there was still a connexion upheld among the different ideas, which succeeded each other.

Were the loosest and freest conversation to be transcribed, there would immediately be observed something which connected it in all its transitions. Or where this is wanting, the person who broke the thread of discourse might still inform you, that there had secretly revolved in his mind a succession of thought, which had gradually led him from the subject of conversation.

Among different languages, even where we cannot suspect the least connexion or communication, it is found, that the words, expressive of ideas, the most compounded, do yet nearly correspond to each other: a certain proof that the simple ideas, comprehended in the compound ones, were bound together by some universal principle, which had an equal influence on all mankind. Though it be too obvious to escape observation, that different ideas are connected together; I do not find that any philosopher has attempted to enumerate or class all the principles of association; a subject, however, that seems worthy of curiosity.

To me, there appear to be only three principles of connexion among ideas, namely, Resemblance, Contiguity in time or place, and Cause or Effect. That these principles serve to connect ideas will not, I believe, be much doubted. A picture naturally leads our thoughts to the original: the mention of one apartment in a building naturally introduces an enquiry or discourse concerning the others: and if we think of a wound, we can scarcely forbear reflecting on the pain which follows it.

All we can do, in such cases, is to run over several instances, and examine carefully the principle which binds the different thoughts to each other, never stopping till we render the principle as general as possible. The more instances we examine, and the more care we employ, the more assurance shall we acquire, that the enumeration, which we form from the whole, is complete and entire. Section Four introduces a new distinction. Some propositions or declarative sentences, for our purposes are relations of ideas ROIs and some are matters of fact MOFs. These are objects of human reason or inquiry; not all of them are true.

The distinction is based not on whether the proposition is true or not, but rather on what it would take to make the proposition true. The Separability Principle SP says that any two distinct perceptions can, in thought, be separated. No matter how many times the taste of an apple accompanies the sight of an apple, I can still think of the one perception without the other. If a state of affairs is conceivable, what follows, according to the CP? This will help you keep track of his argument.

All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas , and Matters of Fact. Of the first kind are the sciences of Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic; and in short, every affirmation which is either intuitively or demonstratively certain. That the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the square of the two sides, is a proposition which expresses a relation between these figures. That three times five is equal to the half of thirty, expresses a relation between these numbers. Propositions of this kind are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe.

Though there never were a circle or triangle in nature, the truths demonstrated by Euclid would for ever retain their certainty and evidence. Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible; because it can never imply a contradiction, and is conceived by the mind with the same facility and distinctness, as if ever so conformable to reality. That the sun will not rise to-morrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction than the affirmation, that it will rise.

We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood. Were it demonstratively false, it would imply a contradiction, and could never be distinctly conceived by the mind. All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of Cause and Effect. By means of that relation alone we can go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses. If you were to ask a man, why he believes any matter of fact, which is absent; for instance, that his friend is in the country, or in France; he would give you a reason; and this reason would be some other fact; as a letter received from him, or the knowledge of his former resolutions and promises.

A man finding a watch or any other machine in a desert island, would conclude that there had once been men in that island. All our reasonings concerning fact are of the same nature. And here it is constantly supposed that there is a connexion between the present fact and that which is inferred from it. Were there nothing to bind them together, the inference would be entirely precarious. The hearing of an articulate voice and rational discourse in the dark assures us of the presence of some person: Why? If we anatomize all the other reasonings of this nature, we shall find that they are founded on the relation of cause and effect, and that this relation is either near or remote, direct or collateral.

Heat and light are collateral effects of fire, and the one effect may justly be inferred from the other. If we would satisfy ourselves, therefore, concerning the nature of that evidence, which assures us of matters of fact, we must enquire how we arrive at the knowledge of cause and effect.

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I shall venture to affirm, as a general proposition, which admits of no exception, that the knowledge of this relation is not, in any instance, attained by reasonings a priori ; but arises entirely from experience, when we find that any particular objects are constantly conjoined with each other. Let an object be presented to a man of ever so strong natural reason and abilities; if that object be entirely new to him, he will not be able, by the most accurate examination of its sensible qualities, to discover any of its causes or effects. Adam, though his rational faculties be supposed, at the very first, entirely perfect, could not have inferred from the fluidity and transparency of water that it would suffocate him, or from the light and warmth of fire that it would consume him.

No object ever discovers, by the qualities which appear to the senses, either the causes which produced it, or the effects which will arise from it; nor can our reason, unassisted by experience, ever draw any inference concerning real existence and matter of fact. This proposition, that causes and effects are discoverable, not by reason but by experience, will readily be admitted with regard to such objects, as we remember to have once been altogether unknown to us; since we must be conscious of the utter inability, which we then lay under, of foretelling what would arise from them.

Present two smooth pieces of marble to a man who has no tincture of natural philosophy; he will never discover that they will adhere together in such a manner as to require great force to separate them in a direct line, while they make so small a resistance to a lateral pressure. Such events, as bear little analogy to the common course of nature, are also readily confessed to be known only by experience; nor does any man imagine that the explosion of gunpowder, or the attraction of a loadstone, could ever be discovered by arguments a priori. In like manner, when an effect is supposed to depend upon an intricate machinery or secret structure of parts, we make no difficulty in attributing all our knowledge of it to experience.

Who will assert that he can give the ultimate reason, why milk or bread is proper nourishment for a man, not for a lion or a tiger? But the same truth may not appear, at first sight, to have the same evidence with regard to events, which have become familiar to us from our first appearance in the world, which bear a close analogy to the whole course of nature, and which are supposed to depend on the simple qualities of objects, without any secret structure of parts.


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We are apt to imagine that we could discover these effects by the mere operation of our reason, without experience. We fancy, that were we brought on a sudden into this world, we could at first have inferred that one Billiard-ball would communicate motion to another upon impulse; and that we needed not to have waited for the event, in order to pronounce with certainty concerning it.

Such is the influence of custom, that, where it is strongest, it not only covers our natural ignorance, but even conceals itself, and seems not to take place, merely because it is found in the highest degree. But to convince us that all the laws of nature, and all the operations of bodies without exception, are known only by experience, the following reflections may, perhaps, suffice. Were any object presented to us, and were we required to pronounce concerning the effect, which will result from it, without consulting past observation; after what manner, I beseech you, must the mind proceed in this operation?

It must invent or imagine some event, which it ascribes to the object as its effect; and it is plain that this invention must be entirely arbitrary. The mind can never possibly find the effect in the supposed cause, by the most accurate scrutiny and examination.

For the effect is totally different from the cause, and consequently can never be discovered in it. Motion in the second Billiard-ball is a quite distinct event from motion in the first; nor is there anything in the one to suggest the smallest hint of the other.

A stone or piece of metal raised into the air, and left without any support, immediately falls: but to consider the matter a priori , is there anything we discover in this situation which can beget the idea of a downward, rather than an upward, or any other motion, in the stone or metal?

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And as the first imagination or invention of a particular effect, in all natural operations, is arbitrary, where we consult not experience; so must we also esteem the supposed tie or connexion between the cause and effect, which binds them together, and renders it impossible that any other effect could result from the operation of that cause. When I see, for instance, a Billiard-ball moving in a straight line towards another; even suppose motion in the second ball should by accident be suggested to me, as the result of their contact or impulse; may I not conceive, that a hundred different events might as well follow from that cause?

May not both these balls remain at absolute rest? May not the first ball return in a straight line, or leap off from the second in any line or direction? All these suppositions are consistent and conceivable. Why then should we give the preference to one, which is no more consistent or conceivable than the rest? All our reasonings a priori will never be able to show us any foundation for this preference.

In a word, then, every effect is a distinct event from its cause. It could not, therefore, be discovered in the cause, and the first invention or conception of it, a priori , must be entirely arbitrary. And even after it is suggested, the conjunction of it with the cause must appear equally arbitrary; since there are always many other effects, which, to reason, must seem fully as consistent and natural.

In vain, therefore, should we pretend to determine any single event, or infer any cause or effect, without the assistance of observation and experience. Hence we may discover the reason why no philosopher, who is rational and modest, has ever pretended to assign the ultimate cause of any natural operation, or to show distinctly the action of that power, which produces any single effect in the universe.

It is confessed, that the utmost effort of human reason is to reduce the principles, productive of natural phenomena, to a greater simplicity, and to resolve the many particular effects into a few general causes, by means of reasonings from analogy, experience, and observation. But as to the causes of these general causes, we should in vain attempt their discovery; nor shall we ever be able to satisfy ourselves, by any particular explication of them.

These ultimate springs and principles are totally shut up from human curiosity and enquiry. Elasticity, gravity, cohesion of parts, communication of motion by impulse; these are probably the ultimate causes and principles which we shall ever discover in nature; and we may esteem ourselves sufficiently happy, if, by accurate enquiry and reasoning, we can trace up the particular phenomena to, or near to, these general principles. The most perfect philosophy of the natural kind only staves off our ignorance a little longer: as perhaps the most perfect philosophy of the moral or metaphysical kind serves only to discover larger portions of it.

Thus the observation of human blindness and weakness is the result of all philosophy, and meets us at every turn, in spite of our endeavours to elude or avoid it. But we have not yet attained any tolerable satisfaction with regard to the question first proposed. Each solution still gives rise to a new question as difficult as the foregoing, and leads us on to farther enquiries. When it is asked, What is the nature of all our reasonings concerning matter of fact? When again it is asked, What is the foundation of all our reasonings and conclusions concerning that relation?

But if we still carry on our sifting humour, and ask, What is the foundation of all conclusions from experience?

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I shall content myself, in this section, with an easy task, and shall pretend only to give a negative answer to the question here proposed. I say then, that, even after we have experience of the operations of cause and effect, our conclusions from that experience are not founded on reasoning, or any process of the understanding.

This answer we must endeavour both to explain and to defend. It must certainly be allowed, that nature has kept us at a great distance from all her secrets, and has afforded us only the knowledge of a few superficial qualities of objects; while she conceals from us those powers and principles on which the influence of those objects entirely depends.

Our senses inform us of the colour, weight, and consistence of bread; but neither sense nor reason can ever inform us of those qualities which fit it for the nourishment and support of a human body. Sight or feeling conveys an idea of the actual motion of bodies; but as to that wonderful force or power, which would carry on a moving body for ever in a continued change of place, and which bodies never lose but by communicating it to others; of this we cannot form the most distant conception.

But notwithstanding this ignorance of natural powers and principles, we always presume, when we see like sensible qualities, that they have like secret powers, and expect that effects, similar to those which we have experienced, will follow from them. If a body of like colour and consistence with that bread, which we have formerly eat, be presented to us, we make no scruple of repeating the experiment, and foresee, with certainty, like nourishment and support.

Now this is a process of the mind or thought, of which I would willingly know the foundation. It is allowed on all hands that there is no known connexion between the sensible qualities and the secret powers; and consequently, that the mind is not led to form such a conclusion concerning their constant and regular conjunction, by anything which it knows of their nature. As to past Experience, it can be allowed to give direct and certain information of those precise objects only, and that precise period of time, which fell under its cognizance: but why this experience should be extended to future times, and to other objects, which for aught we know, may be only in appearance similar; this is the main question on which I would insist.

The bread, which I formerly eat, nourished me; that is, a body of such sensible qualities was, at that time, endued with such secret powers: but does it follow, that other bread must also nourish me at another time, and that like sensible qualities must always be attended with like secret powers? The consequence seems nowise necessary. At least, it must be acknowledged that there is here a consequence drawn by the mind; that there is a certain step taken; a process of thought, and an inference, which wants to be explained.

These two propositions are far from being the same. I have found that such an object has always been attended with such an effect, and I foresee, that other objects, which are, in appearance, similar, will be attended with similar effects. I shall allow, if you please, that the one proposition may justly be inferred from the other: I know, in fact, that it always is inferred.

But if you insist that the inference is made by a chain of reasoning, I desire you to produce that reasoning. The connexion between these propositions is not intuitive. There is required a medium, which may enable the mind to draw such an inference, if indeed it be drawn by reasoning and argument.

What that medium is, I must confess, passes my comprehension; and it is incumbent on those to produce it, who assert that it really exists, and is the origin of all our conclusions concerning matter of fact. This negative argument must certainly, in process of time, become altogether convincing, if many penetrating and able philosophers shall turn their enquiries this way and no one be ever able to discover any connecting proposition or intermediate step, which supports the understanding in this conclusion. But as the question is yet new, every reader may not trust so far to his own penetration, as to conclude, because an argument escapes his enquiry, that therefore it does not really exist.

For this reason it may be requisite to venture upon a more difficult task; and enumerating all the branches of human knowledge, endeavour to show that none of them can afford such an argument. All reasonings may be divided into two kinds, namely, demonstrative reasoning, or that concerning relations of ideas, and moral reasoning, or that concerning matter of fact and existence. That there are no demonstrative arguments in the case seems evident; since it implies no contradiction that the course of nature may change, and that an object, seemingly like those which we have experienced, may be attended with different or contrary effects.

May I not clearly and distinctly conceive that a body, falling from the clouds, and which, in all other respects, resembles snow, has yet the taste of salt or feeling of fire? Is there any more intelligible proposition than to affirm, that all the trees will flourish in December and January, and decay in May and June? Now whatever is intelligible, and can be distinctly conceived, implies no contradiction, and can never be proved false by any demonstrative argument or abstract reasoning a priori. If we be, therefore, engaged by arguments to put trust in past experience, and make it the standard of our future judgment, these arguments must be probable only, or such as regard matter of fact and real existence according to the division above mentioned.

But that there is no argument of this kind, must appear, if our explication of that species of reasoning be admitted as solid and satisfactory. We have said that all arguments concerning existence are founded on the relation of cause and effect; that our knowledge of that relation is derived entirely from experience; and that all our experimental conclusions proceed upon the supposition that the future will be conformable to the past.

To endeavour, therefore, the proof of this last supposition by probable arguments, or arguments regarding experience, must be evidently going in a circle, and taking that for granted, which is the very point in question. In reality, all arguments from experience are founded on the similarity which we discover among natural objects, and by which we are induced to expect effects similar to those which we have found to follow from such objects.

And though none but a fool or madman will ever pretend to dispute the authority of experience, or to reject that great guide of human life, it may surely be allowed a philosopher to have so much curiosity at least as to examine the principle of human nature, which gives this mighty authority to experience, and makes us draw advantage from that similarity which nature has placed among different objects. From causes which appear similar we expect similar effects. This is the sum of all our experimental conclusions. When a man says, I have found, in all past instances, such sensible qualities conjoined with such secret powers: And when he says, Similar sensible qualities will always be conjoined with similar secret powers, he is not guilty of a tautology, nor are these propositions in any respect the same.

You say that the one proposition is an inference from the other. But you must confess that the inference is not intuitive; neither is it demonstrative: Of what nature is it, then? To say it is experimental, is begging the question. For all inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past, and that similar powers will be conjoined with similar sensible qualities. If there be any suspicion that the course of nature may change, and that the past may be no rule for the future, all experience becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference or conclusion.

It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance. Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular; that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not that, for the future, it will continue so.

In vain do you pretend to have learned the nature of bodies from your past experience. Their secret nature, and consequently all their effects and influence, may change, without any change in their sensible qualities. This happens sometimes, and with regard to some objects: Why may it not happen always, and with regard to all objects?

What logic, what process or argument secures you against this supposition? My practice, you say, refutes my doubts.

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But you mistake the purport of my question. As an agent, I am quite satisfied in the point; but as a philosopher, who has some share of curiosity, I will not say scepticism, I want to learn the foundation of this inference. No reading, no enquiry has yet been able to remove my difficulty, or give me satisfaction in a matter of such importance. Can I do better than propose the difficulty to the public, even though, perhaps, I have small hopes of obtaining a solution? We shall at least, by this means, be sensible of our ignorance, if we do not augment our knowledge. I must confess that a man is guilty of unpardonable arrogance who concludes, because an argument has escaped his own investigation, that therefore it does not really exist.

It is certain that the most ignorant and stupid peasants—nay infants, nay even brute beasts—improve by experience, and learn the qualities of natural objects, by observing the effects which result from them. When a child has felt the sensation of pain from touching the flame of a candle, he will be careful not to put his hand near any candle; but will expect a similar effect from a cause which is similar in its sensible qualities and appearance.

If you assert, therefore, that the understanding of the child is led into this conclusion by any process of argument or ratiocination, I may justly require you to produce that argument; nor have you any pretence to refuse so equitable a demand. You cannot say that the argument is abstruse, and may possibly escape your enquiry; since you confess that it is obvious to the capacity of a mere infant.

If you hesitate, therefore, a moment, or if, after reflection, you produce any intricate or profound argument, you, in a manner, give up the question, and confess that it is not reasoning which engages us to suppose the past resembling the future, and to expect similar effects from causes which are, to appearance, similar. This is the proposition which I intended to enforce in the present section. If I be right, I pretend not to have made any mighty discovery. And if I be wrong, I must acknowledge myself to be indeed a very backward scholar; since I cannot now discover an argument which, it seems, was perfectly familiar to me long before I was out of my cradle.

If the move from 1 to 2 is a rational, justified inference, it would have to be either demonstrative reasoning or reasoning from experience. What is the problem with adding this premise? To answer this, you might try re-writing the mini-argument above, with the conclusion restricted to probability.

Does the inference become justified, once its conclusion is qualified? But we need not] fear that this philosophy, while it endeavours to limit our enquiries to common life, should ever undermine the reasonings of common life, and carry its doubts so far as to destroy all action, as well as speculation.

Nature will always maintain her rights, and prevail in the end over any abstract reasoning whatsoever. Though we should conclude, for instance, as in the foregoing section, that, in all reasonings from experience, there is a step taken by the mind which is not supported by any argument or process of the understanding; there is no danger that these reasonings, on which almost all knowledge depends, will ever be affected by such a discovery. If the mind be not engaged by argument to make this step, it must be induced by some other principle of equal weight and authority; and that principle will preserve its influence as long as human nature remains the same.

What that principle is may well be worth the pains of enquiry. Suppose a person, though endowed with the strongest faculties of reason and reflection, to be brought on a sudden into this world; he would, indeed, immediately observe a continual succession of objects, and one event following another; but he would not be able to discover anything farther. He would not, at first, by any reasoning, be able to reach the idea of cause and effect; since the particular powers, by which all natural operations are performed, never appear to the senses; nor is it reasonable to conclude, merely because one event, in one instance, precedes another, that therefore the one is the cause, the other the effect.

Their conjunction may be arbitrary and casual. There may be no reason to infer the existence of one from the appearance of the other. And in a word, such a person, without more experience, could never employ his conjecture or reasoning concerning any matter of fact, or be assured of anything beyond what was immediately present to his memory and senses.

Suppose, again, that he has acquired more experience, and has lived so long in the world as to have observed familiar objects or events to be constantly conjoined together; what is the consequence of this experience? He immediately infers the existence of one object from the appearance of the other.

Yet he has not, by all his experience, acquired any idea or knowledge of the secret power by which the one object produces the other; nor is it by any process of reasoning, he is engaged to draw this inference. But still he finds himself determined to draw it: and though he should be convinced that his understanding has no part in the operation, he would nevertheless continue in the same course of thinking.

There is some other principle which determines him to form such a conclusion. This principle is Custom or Habit. For wherever the repetition of any particular act or operation produces a propensity to renew the same act or operation, without being impelled by any reasoning or process of the understanding, we always say, that this propensity is the effect of Custom. By employing that word, we pretend not to have given the ultimate reason of such a propensity. We only point out a principle of human nature, which is universally acknowledged, and which is well known by its effects.

Perhaps we can push our enquiries no farther, or pretend to give the cause of this cause; but must rest contented with it as the ultimate principle, which we can assign, of all our conclusions from experience. It is sufficient satisfaction, that we can go so far, without repining at the narrowness of our faculties because they will carry us no farther. And it is certain we here advance a very intelligible proposition at least, if not a true one, when we assert that, after the constant conjunction of two objects—heat and flame, for instance, weight and solidity—we are determined by custom alone to expect the one from the appearance of the other.

This hypothesis seems even the only one which explains the difficulty, why we draw, from a thousand instances, an inference which we are not able to draw from one instance, that is, in no respect, different from them. Reason is incapable of any such variation. The conclusions which it draws from considering one circle are the same which it would form upon surveying all the circles in the universe.

But no man, having seen only one body move after being impelled by another, could infer that every other body will move after a like impulse. All inferences from experience, therefore, are effects of custom, not of reasoning. Custom, then, is the great guide of human life. It is that principle alone which renders our experience useful to us, and makes us expect, for the future, a similar train of events with those which have appeared in the past. Without the influence of custom, we should be entirely ignorant of every matter of fact beyond what is immediately present to the memory and senses.

We should never know how to adjust means to ends, or to employ our natural powers in the production of any effect. There would be an end at once of all action, as well as of the chief part of speculation. What, then, is the conclusion of the whole matter? A simple one; though, it must be confessed, pretty remote from the common theories of philosophy.

How to increase your Intelligence? By Sandeep Maheshwari I Hindi

All belief of matter of fact or real existence is derived merely from some object, present to the memory or senses, and a customary conjunction between that and some other object. Or in other words; having found, in many instances, that any two kinds of objects—flame and heat, snow and cold—have always been conjoined together; if flame or snow be presented anew to the senses, the mind is carried by custom to expect heat or cold, and to believe that such a quality does exist, and will discover itself upon a nearer approach. This belief is the necessary result of placing the mind in such circumstances.

It is an operation of the soul, when we are so situated, as unavoidable as to feel the passion of love, when we receive benefits; or hatred, when we meet with injuries. All these operations are a species of natural instincts, which no reasoning or process of the thought and understanding is able either to produce or to prevent. At this point, it would be very allowable for us to stop our philosophical researches.

In most questions we can never make a single step farther; and in all questions we must terminate here at last, after our most restless and curious enquiries. But still our curiosity will be pardonable, perhaps commendable, if it carry us on to still farther researches, and make us examine more accurately the nature of this belief, and of the customary conjunction, whence it is derived. Recall the transition set out in above. Hume wants to explain how we make the transition. But no process of reasoning—neither demonstrative reasoning nor reasoning from experience—is up to the task.

So how do we do it? Hume takes his clue from the thought experiment of Adam. Just by looking at water, Adam is unable to figure out that it will quench his thirst. In Part Two and in the following section on probability, Hume examines the nature of belief. He shows how his principles of association—cause and effect, resemblance, and contiguity in time and place—can be used to explain how our ideas become so enlivened as to qualify as beliefs.

Nothing is more free than the imagination of man; and though it cannot exceed that original stock of ideas furnished by the internal and external senses, it has unlimited power of mixing, compounding, separating, and dividing these ideas, in all the varieties of fiction and vision. It can feign a train of events, with all the appearance of reality, ascribe to them a particular time and place, conceive them as existent, and paint them out to itself with every circumstance, that belongs to any historical fact, which it believes with the greatest certainty.

Wherein, therefore, consists the difference between such a fiction and belief? It lies not merely in any peculiar idea, which is annexed to such a conception as commands our assent, and which is wanting to every known fiction. For as the mind has authority over all its ideas, it could voluntarily annex this particular idea to any fiction, and consequently be able to believe whatever it pleases; contrary to what we find by daily experience. We can, in our conception, join the head of a man to the body of a horse; but it is not in our power to believe that such an animal has ever really existed.

It follows, therefore, that the difference between fiction and belief lies in some sentiment or feeling, which is annexed to the latter, not to the former, and which depends not on the will, nor can be commanded at pleasure. It must be excited by nature, like all other sentiments; and must arise from the particular situation, in which the mind is placed at any particular juncture. Whenever any object is presented to the memory or senses, it immediately, by the force of custom, carries the imagination to conceive that object, which is usually conjoined to it; and this conception is attended with a feeling or sentiment, different from the loose reveries of the fancy.

In this consists the whole nature of belief. For as there is no matter of fact which we believe so firmly that we cannot conceive the contrary, there would be no difference between the conception assented to and that which is rejected, were it not for some sentiment which distinguishes the one from the other. If I see a billiard-ball moving toward another, on a smooth table, I can easily conceive it to stop upon contact. This conception implies no contradiction; but still it feels very differently from that conception by which I represent to myself the impulse and the communication of motion from one ball to another.

Let us, then, take in the whole compass of this doctrine, and allow, that the sentiment of belief is nothing but a conception more intense and steady than what attends the mere fictions of the imagination, and that this manner of conception arises from a customary conjunction of the object with something present to the memory or senses: I believe that it will not be difficult, upon these suppositions, to find other operations of the mind analogous to it, and to trace up these phenomena to principles still more general.

We have already observed that nature has established connexions among particular ideas, and that no sooner one idea occurs to our thoughts than it introduces its correlative, and carries our attention towards it, by a gentle and insensible movement. These principles of connexion or association we have reduced to three, namely, Resemblance , Contiguity and Causation ; which are the only bonds that unite our thoughts together, and beget that regular train of reflection or discourse, which, in a greater or less degree, takes place among all mankind.

Now here arises a question, on which the solution of the present difficulty will depend. Does it happen, in all these relations, that, when one of the objects is presented to the senses or memory, the mind is not only carried to the conception of the correlative, but reaches a steadier and stronger conception of it than what otherwise it would have been able to attain?

This seems to be the case with that belief which arises from the relation of cause and effect. Would you take the chance? As for Curiosa, she taught me that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. I nicknamed her that way because she was genuinely curious and intelligent, reading widely about evolution, quantum mechanics, and everything in between. Reading yes, understanding, no. She took any evidence of even extremely marginal disagreement among scientists as, again, evidence that it is possible that what people claim is a well established notion evolution, climate change is, in fact, false.

Again, yes, it is possible; but no, finding the occasional contrarian scientist often ideologically motivated, as in the case of anti-evolution biochemist Michael Behe is absolutely no reason to seriously question an established scientific theory. I respectfully declined, explaining that my experience had showed me very clearly that nothing good comes out of such discussions.

People talk past each other, get upset, and nobody changes his mind. My relative was taken aback by my refusal, but I felt pretty good. Which I did, a couple of days after Thanksgiving! She is a very intelligent and highly educated person, who, moreover, is involved in a profession that very much requires critical thinking and intellectual acumen. Imagine then my astonishment when I discovered that Sorprendente flat out denies the existence of a patriarchy, both historically and in contemporary America.

I care enough about this sort of thing that I immediately felt the adrenaline rush to my head, which meant — unfortunately — that I had to fight what I already knew was an impossible battle: to explain certain things to Sorprendente without losing my temper. Anger, as Seneca famously put it, is temporary madness, and should not be indulged under any circumstances. Let alone when you are trying to convince someone you know of a notion that she is adamantly opposed to.

Besides, there are plenty of excellent resources out there like this one ; or this one ; or, if you are more practically minded, this one. Said two concepts are: definitions and facts. Indeed, here is how the Merriam-Webster puts it:. Social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line.

Broadly: control by men of a disproportionately large share of power. Definitions of words are, seems to me, crucial to any kind of discourse. Yes, it is true that dictionaries are both descriptive and prescriptive. They are descriptive in the sense that if the common usage of a word changes they will update accordingly; prescriptive because they tell us what currently counts as correct usage.

Of course semantics and definitions are important. Speaking of facts. Apparently, bringing those up also is a conversation stopper, and it is therefore highly impolite. Here things got truly bizarre. This is biology, one of my areas of expertise, and the facts can readily be checked. First off, the 10 years figure is false. The true figure, as it happens, varies from country to country: 6. Second, part of the gap is due to biological reasons: women have two copies of the X chromosome, while men only have one copy because we have the tiny Y instead.

As a result, men are exposed to hundreds more genetically influenced diseases than women, and their mortality is higher, both early in life and throughout. Apparently, however, bringing up these obviously pertinent facts on my part was a rude conversation stopper. Translated: I should be free to bring up whatever false information I want, but you are not allowed to contradict me on the basis of factually correct information. Oh boy. Indeed, according to her logic, since women have the statistical advantage, we should conclude that we live in a matriarchal society.

No patriarchy. This makes little sense on a number of levels. A military career has always since the time of the ancient Greeks be considered a manly job precisely because women have been thought of as inferior or inadequate for that sort of activity. This is exactly what one would expect in a patriarchy. Not to mention that women are now increasingly accepted in the military. This is true both for the US average life span gap 6. Ah, said Sorprendente, but then if we live in a patriarchal society, how do you explain that there are millions more men than women in prison?

This, I tried to respond, actually confuses two different issues, since the majority of men in American prisons are minorities, and particularly blacks and hispanics. The differential is a result of a combination of racism, poverty, and lack of education and therefore job opportunities. It appears, again, to have nothing to do with the issue of patriarchy.

At which point a thought suddenly struck me and I asked: are you by any chance into Jordan Peterson? Yes, came the response, I think he makes some good points. And that, my friends, was the real conversation stopper. Philosophy is my second academic career. My first one was in science, evolutionary biology, to be specific. Depending on how you look at it, this makes me either unusually competent in two normally widely distinct areas of academic scholarship, or barely making the passing grade in both.

Be that as it may, I have made a personal hobby to observe my new profession from the outside, as much as it is possible, sort of like an anthropologist looking into a different yet sufficient familiar culture. Another frequent observation is that of a high frequency of colleagues who are fascinating for being very smart, well regarded in the field, and yet — in my admittedly non humble opinion — completely wrong.

Alex is on the faculty at the prestigious Duke University in North Carolina, and someone I think should get a medal together with Chalmers, of course for the highest number of wrongheaded papers in a philosophical career. Here is a taste of my thinking at the time:. Nevermind that such statements are obviously self-contradictory. And what was he doing while writing the book? I continued my review:. Exactly what its functions are, what design problem it solves, neuroscience has not yet figured out. Oh right, those are all illusions. Me again:. Nor does physic fix anything at all in the rest of mathematics.

And in logic. Continuing the review:. Science is the right type of story if you want to know about cosmology, but not if you want to learn logic. Or history. Or art. I concluded:. The interview is about but wait, nothing is about anything! Except that Alex is making an astounding mistake here, very similar to the one made, for instance, by fellow atheist Sam Harris in his The Moral Landscape see my review here. He is confusing a mechanistic explanation of X for the explanation of X, apparently forgetting or simply outright denying that explanations — which are human constructs, let us not forget — can be given at different levels, and using different language, depending on how useful they are to the target recipients, i.

Now, we will surely find some such neural correlates. We have to, since everything we do, and certainly any kind of higher, conscious thinking, has to be done by way of engaging one part or another of our brains. Otherwise, it would be magic. But now imagine that our neuroscientist completes his experiment, gets the mathematician out of the fMRI machine, and gingerly informs her that mathematicians are no longer needed, because neuroscience has discovered which areas of the brain they use to solve mathematical problems.

Crazy, right? Ethicists can go play golf. A few weeks later, Alex did it again! What have they done? Thoughts with meaning have no more role in the human brain than in artificial intelligence. The fascinating thing is that Alex actually acknowledges that there is quite a bit of evidence for the theory of mind:. Child psychologists have established its operation in pre-linguistic toddlers, while primatologists have shown its absence in other primates even when they exceed infants in other forms of reasoning.

Social psychologists have established deficiencies in its deployment among children on the Autism spectrum. No kidding, Sherlock. The neurobiological level is more basic — but, crucially, no more true — than the psychological one. They provide complementary, not competing, explanations of the same phenomenon. One explanation is more useful to biologists and neuroscientists, another one to psychologists, historians, and art critics, among others. This is certainly the case, but by a long shot not the whole picture. The chair is most definitely not an illusion, just because it can be usefully, depending on the context be described in different ways.

Explanatory complementarity, not competition.

A side note, as a biologist, on Kandel et al. And won Nobel Prizes for doing it. I got news for Alex: while, again, Kandel et al. It is simply false that rat and human brains have a large number of anatomical and physiological identities, as the perusal of any introductory book on mammalian anatomy will readily confirm. Heck, our brains are substantially different from those of higher primates like chimpanzees and bonobos, which is a major reason we need to be careful when we extrapolate from the latter let alone rats to humans.

For instance, we have little to go by, in terms of comparative brain anatomy and physiology, to explain exquisite and crucially human traits like language not just communication and iterative cultural evolution. Take a look at this book by my colleague Kevin Laland to appreciate just how carefully biologists as distinct from some philosophers are when it comes to interspecies comparisons. Alex Rosenberg is a really smart guy, and his misguided writings are necessary in order to sharpen our thinking about all sorts of matters. After all, the British Royal Society awarded physicist Fred Hoyle the author of the steady state theory in cosmology, which for a while rivaled the big bang theory a medal for the highest number of wrong ideas proposed in a scientific career.

Perhaps we should establish a similar prize in philosophy.


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I have a couple of candidates in mind…. Stolen Generation apology, Adelaide, Australia, 13 February In the aftermath of the Apartheid government in South Africa, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission TRC was formed to help the country move forward at the same time as it acknowledged and attempted to redress the injustices of the past.

Not everyone was onboard with the project, but it turned out to be a success in terms of helping to heal the nation. The South African government, however, never followed through. This was not the first TRC, nor would it be the last. An earlier attempt was made by Bolivia in , with its National Commission of Inquiry into Disappearances, which brought together a variety of sectors of society after the end of the military rule there. The very first TRC was the one established in Uganda in Simone took as her starting point the formal apology proffered by the Parliament of Australia to the indigenous people of that continent, back in The apology was delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who also asked the indigenous people for forgiveness on behalf of the nation.

And here is where things, according to Simone, got problematic. You see, a good argument can be made that forgiveness is an essentially personal process, not one that makes sense at the level of public institutions. Setting aside the obvious observation that the current non-indigenous inhabitants of Australia did not perpetrate the original crimes against the indigenous ones though, of course, they still take advantage of the aftermath , and setting further aside the fact that groups cannot forgive only individual members of such groups can , there is an obviously imbalanced power dynamic at play here.

Thomas Nagel is not crazy

Individuals are far less likely to feel that pressure. If my partner betrays me and she asks for forgiveness I may or may not grant it. But when we scale up from the individual to a social group the dynamics change dramatically, according to Simone, so that forgiveness is no longer about contrite individuals who have come to agree that what they did is wrong, but rather about a political possibly, though not necessarily, cynical move in the public arena, meant to elicit a very specific response.

She suggested that what Simone said about forgiveness also goes for official apologies. They too, are something that makes sense at the individual level, but not so much at the social one. And apologies too can be given by the wrong person, on behalf of groups who may not agree, used as a power play, and delivered because of cynical calculations. Even when not cynical in nature, both Simone and Kate agreed, requests for forgiveness as well as apologies quickly become empty.

But nope, a few seconds of reflection revealed to me that she was right. But hold on, then. Probably, again, at the individual level, but not the public one. Consider two contrasting situations. The first one is the case mentioned above of my partner cheating on me. Without that, life as a couple would be re-established on very shaky foundations indeed. The second scenario is that of the CEO of Exxon-Mobil apologizing to the public for yet another environmental catastrophe caused by the greedy practices of his corporation.

Again setting aside the degree to which it makes sense for a single individual to apologize on behalf of a large anonymous entity which he certainly does not control beyond a limited extent, what I — as a member of the public — expect from Exxon-Mobil is three things and three things only: i an acknowledgement of the facts; ii some concrete suggestion on how the corporation can repair the damage; and iii reasonable assurances that whatever caused the problem will not happen again in the future.

Both apologies and forgiveness are entirely beside the point. The bottom line from all the above is that there is an important difference between the individual and social levels at which concepts like apologies and forgiveness operate. Simone or yours truly does not deny that it makes perfect sense for an individual to apologize to another for some wrongdoing.

She also agrees and so do I that it makes sense for an individual to ask for forgiveness, so long as it is understood that this is not an imposition on the other party, who may or may not grant it. Yet, as we have seen above, both concepts are problematic when scaled up to the level of social groups. If this is true, why do we do it, and how could we do otherwise?

I believe one source of the particular kind of mistake we are talking about is Plato. In the Republic he famously set out to investigate what makes for a just person. His strategy was to scale things up and ask first what makes for a just state the Republic of the title. The explicit assumption was that one can go back and forth between the two levels. The ideal Republic will be guided by reason in the form of a ruling class of philosophers , who will direct the other two components the soldiers-auxiliaries and the regular folks-producers. Likewise, the ideal human being has a tripartite soul, and is well advised to put her rational soul in control of the spirited and appetitive ones.

Yet, most of the ancients rejected this approach, making a clear distinction between individuals and society. A just individual is not the same as a just state. At the individual level the Stoics considered justice a character trait, having to do with treating other people fairly and with respect, but not necessarily equally e.