The subject of these Essays is man. We have formed no imaginary schemes, for exalting or for depressing his nature. The inquiry has been, Whether his capacities and powers suit his present circumstances, and fit him for acting a proper part in this life? We begin with examining some of the great springs of action. Upon accurate scrutiny, it is found, that self-love or desire of good, is not our sole principle of action; but that we are furnished beside with a variety of impelling powers. Mingled in society for the convenience of mutual help, it is necessary that we feel for each other. But as the feeling for the distress of others, cannot but be painful, here is traced an admirable contrivance to reconcile us to this virtuous pain, by removing that aversion to pain, which in all other cases is an overruling principle. This explains a seemingly strange phaenomenon, that we should seek entertainment from representations that immerse us in affliction. From man as a social, we proceed to him as a moral agent. We find him sensible of beauty, in different ranks and orders; and eminently sensible of it, in its highest order, that of sentiment, action, and character. But the sense of moral beauty is not alone sufficient. The importance of morality requires some stronger principle to guard it; some checks and restraints from vice, more severe than mere disapprobation. These are not wanting. To the sense of beauty, is superadded a sense of obligation, a perception of and , which constitutes a law within us. This law in joins the primary virtues, those which are essential to society, under the strictest sanctions. Pain, the strongest monitor, is here employed to check transgression; whilst in the sublimer more heroic virtues, where strict obligation ends, pleasure is employed to reward the performance. No action is made a duty, to which we are not antecedently disposed by some principle. An exact proportion is maintained betwixt the strength of our internal principles, and their usefulness. From self, the object of our most vigorous principles, affection spreads through all our connections with others; till, by distance of connection, it ceases to be felt. After it is thus lost, by the distance of particular objects, nature revives its force, by directing it to the abstract idea of a public and a whole; which idea, though faint and obscure in the conception, is yet equal to any of our ideas in force and energy. Man, by this artful contrivance is fitted for acting a proper and useful part in the system to which he belongs. But this system could not be regulated upon any pre-adjusted plan, the actions of man could not proceed with any order nor be subject to any government, unless all men were determined by motives. At the same time, man could not answer the purposes of active life, without being a free agent. Having made out, that morals are established on an immoveable foundation, we proceed to show, by what inward powers we are led to the knowledge and belief of some of the most important truths; particularly, the existence of the Deity. To this we pave the way, by a full preparation of reasoning. We first consider the nature of that act of the mind which is termed of which the immediate foundation is the testimony of our senses. If the testimony they give to the real existence of a material world, be a mere illusion, as some have held, all belief founded on our own perceptions is at an end. Hence appears the absurdity of denying the evidence of our senses. And here we find full satisfaction. In other cases, where there is any thing like artifice in the conduct of nature, means are afforded, both of discovering the truth, and of discovering the end for which truth is artfully concealed; for nature never deceives us but for our good. Dispersing, with no great labour, that philosophic dust which sceptics have raised about material substance, we find upon examination that we have a conception of it, no less clear than of qualities; both being equally displayed to us by the sense of sight. But belief is not more solidly founded upon our external senses, than upon our internal feelings. Not the greatest sceptic ever doubted of his own personal identity, continued through the successive periods of life; of his being the same man this year he was the last: which, however, is a discovery made by no reasoning; resting wholly upon an inward sense and consciousness of the fact. Upon a like foundation rests our belief of cause and effect. No relation is more familiar than this, nor sooner takes hold of the mind. Yet certain it is, that no reasoning, no experience, can discover the power or energy of what we term a , when we attempt to trace it to its source. It is necessary for the well-being of man, first, that he should perceive the objects which exist around him; and next, that he should perceive them in their true state, not detached and loose, but as causes and effects, as producing and produced. Nature hath furnished us with senses for the perception of objects, not only as simply existing, but as existing thus related to each other. Nor without such faculties could we ever have attained the idea of cause and effect. The same provision is made by nature, in another case, no less remarkable. Our senses can only inform us of objects as presently existing. Yet nothing is more common, than from our knowledge of the present, and our experience of the past, to reason about the future. Now, reasonings about futurity, which have extensive influence on our conduct, would be utterly destitute of a foundation, were we not endued with a sense of uniformity and constancy in the operations of nature: an innate sense dictates to us, that the future will be like the past. Thus there is established a marvellous harmony betwixt our perceptions and the course of events. In the above-mentioned instances, we attribute to our boasted reason, what in truth is performed by sense. We act upon its informations, with equal confidence as we do upon the clearest conclusions of reason. Nature is thus our preceptor in things the most necessary to be known. But this is not all. We pursue the argument into an intuitive perception of the Deity. He hath not left us to collect his existence from abstract or perplexed arguments, but makes us perceive intuitively that he exists. When external objects are presented to our view, some are immediately distinguished to be effects, not by any process or deduction of reasoning, but by an internal sense, which gives us the perception of cause and effect. In the same manner, this whole world is seen to be an effect produced by some invisible designing cause. The evidence of this perception cannot be rejected, without introducing universal scepticism; and without obliging us to doubt of things, of which no man ever doubted. For, as in viewing an external object, the sense of sight produces the idea of substance as well as of quality; as by an intuitive perception we discover some things to be effects requiring a cause; as from experience of the past, we judge of the future; in fine, as by the sense of identity the reader is conscious of being the same person he was when he began to read; as all these conclusions upon which mankind rest with the fullest assurance, are the dictates of senses external and internal; in the very same way, and upon the same evidence, we conclude the existence of a first Supreme Cause. Reason gives us all its aid, both to confirm the certainty of his being, and to discover his perfections. From effects great and good display’d through the universe, we necessarily infer the cause to be both great and good. Mixed or imperfect qualities cannot belong to that cause. The difficulties from apparent evil, are found capable of a satisfactory solution. All the general laws of the universe are confessedly wise and good. Pain is found not to be useful only, but necessary, in the present system. If this be an argument of an imperfect state, must it not however be admitted, that somewhere in the scale of existence, an imperfect order of beings must be found? And why not man such a being? unless we extravagantly demand, that, to prove the benevolence of the Deity, all the possible orders of being should be advanced to the top of the scale, and all be left void and waste below; no life, no existence, allowed, except what is perfect. The more we know of nature, the less of evil appears. New discoveries of wisdom, order, and good intention, are the never-failing effects of enlarged knowledge; an intimation, not obscure, of its being owing to our imperfect and bounded views that evil is supposed to take place at all. Now, when we consider all these things in one complex view, so many striking instances of final causes, such undeniable proofs both of wise design and skilful execution: banishing cold distrust of the great universal cause, are we not raised to the highest admiration! And doth it not encourage us to attempt a higher strain?
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And here a curious circumstance presents itself to view. Though an impression probably is made upon the mind by means of the image painted upon the retina, whereby the external object is perceived; yet nature hath concealed this impression from us in order to remove all ambiguity, and to give us a distinct perception of the object itself, and of that only. In touching and tasting, the impression made at the organ creates no confusion nor ambiguity, the body that makes the impression being perceived as operating where it really is. But were the impression of a visible object perceived as made on the retina, which is the organ of sight, all objects must be seen as within the eye. It is doubted among naturalists, whether outness or distance be at all discoverable by sight, and whether that appearance be not the effect of experience. But bodies and their operations are so closely connected in place, that were we conscious of an organic impression at the retina, the mind would have a constant propensity to place the body there also; which would be a circumstance extremely perplexing in the act of vision, as setting feeling and experience in perpetual opposition; enough to poison all the pleasure we enjoy by that noble sense.
onset w/in 4 weeks of change in behavior, confusion or perplexity, ..
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These considerations give the author of this essay a just concern to proceed with the utmost circumspection in his inquiries, and to try his conclusions by their true touchstone, that of facts and experiments. Had this method been strictly followed, the world would not have been perplexed with that variety of inconsistent systems, which unhappily have rendered morality a difficult and intricate science. An attempt to restore it to its original simplicity and authority, must be approved, however short one falls in the execution. Writers differ about the origin of the laws of nature, and they differ about the laws themselves. As the author is not fond of controversy, he will attempt a plan of the laws of nature, drawn from their proper source, laying aside what has been written on this subject.