« ForrigeFortsæt »
an action that he repents of, and that affects him with anguish, abhors himself, and is odious in his own eyes: he wishes to find himself guilty; and the thought that his guilt is beyond the possibility of excuse, gratifies the passion. In the first case, accordingly, remorse forces upon me a conviction that I might have restrained my passion, and ought to have restrained it. I will not give way to any excuse; because in a severe fit of remorse, it gives me pain to be excused. In the other case, as there is no remorse, things appear in their true light without disguise. To illustrate this reasoning, I observe, that passion warps my judgment of the actions of others, as well as of my own. Many examples are given in the chapter above quoted: join to these the following. My servant aiming at a partridge, happens to shoot a favourite spaniel crossing the way unseen. Inflamed with anger, I
storm at his rashness, pronounce him guilty, and will listen to no excuse. When passion subsides, I become sensible that the action was merely accidental, and that the man is absolutely innocent. The nurse overlays my only child, the long-expected heir to a great estate. With difficulty I refrain from putting her to death: "The wretch "has murdered my infant: she ought to be torn "to pieces." When I turn calm, the matter appears to me in a very different light. The poor woman is inconsolable, and can scarce believe that she is innocent: she bitterly reproaches herself
for want of care and concern. But, upon cool reflection, both she and I become sensible, that no person in sound sleep has any self-command, and that we cannot be answerable for any action of which we are not conscious. Thus, upon the whole, we discover, that any impression we occasionally have of being able to act in contradiction to motives, is the result of passion, not of sound judgment.
The reader will observe, that this section is copied from Essays on Morality and Natural Religion. The ground-work is the same: the alterations are only in the superstructure; and the subject is abridged, in order to adapt it to its present place. The preceding parts of the Sketch were published in the second edition of the Principles of Equity. But as law-books have little currency, the publishing the whole in one essay, will not, I hope, be thought improper.
Upon Chance and Contingency.
HOLD it to be an intuitive proposition, That the Deity is the primary cause of all things, that with consummate wisdom he formed the
66 were in fact no necessary train of causes to fix "the period of life. In short, whoever attends to "his own practical ideas, whoever reflects upon "the meaning of the following words, which oc"cur in all languages, of things possible, contingent, "that are in our power to cause or prevent; who66 ever, I say, reflects upon these words, will clearly see, that they suggest certain perceptions or "notions repugnant to the doctrine above esta"blished of universal necessity."
In order to shew that there is no repugnance, I begin with defining chance and contingency.. The former is applied to events that have happened; the latter to future events. When we say a thing has happened by chance, we surely do not mean that chance was the cause; for no person ever imagined that chance is a thing that can act, and by acting produce events: we only mean that we are ignorant of the cause, and that, for ought we see, it might have happened or not happened, or have happened differently. Aiming at a bird, I shoot by chance a favourite spaniel: the meaning is not that chance killed the dog, but that as to me the dog's death was accidental. With respect to contingency, future events that are variable and the cause unknown, are said to be contingent; changes of the weather, for example, whether it will be frost or thaw to-morrow, whether fair or foul. In a word, chance and contingency applied to events, mean not that such events happen with
out any cause, but only that we are ignorant of the
It appears to me, that there is no such thing in human nature, as a sense that any thing happens without a cause such a sense would be grossly delusive. It is indeed true, that our sense of a cause is not always equally distinct: with respect to an event that happens regularly, such as summer, winter, rising or setting of the sun, we have a distinct sense of a cause: our sense is less distinct with respect to events less regular, such as alterations of the weather; and extremely indistinct with respect to events that seldom happen, and that happen without any known cause. But with respect to
no event whatever does our sense of a cause vanish altogether, and give place to a sense of things happening without a cause..
Chance and contingency thus explained, suggest not any perception or notion repugnant to the doctrine of universal necessity; for my ignorance of a cause, does not, even in my own apprehension, exclude a cause. Descending to particulars, I take the example mentioned in the text, namely, the uncertainty of the time of my death. Knowing that my life depends in some measure on myself, I use all means to preserve it, by proper food, exercise, and care to prevent accidents. Nor is there any delusion here. I am moved to use these means by the desire I have to live these means accordingly prove effectual to carry on my present existence
existence to the appointed period; and in that view are so many links in the great chain of causes and effects. A burning coal falling from the grate upon the floor, wakes me from a sound sleep. I start up to extinguish the fire. The motive is irresistible nor have I reason to resist, were it in my power; for I consider the extinction of the fire by my hand, to be one of the means chosen by Providence for prolonging my life to its destined period.
Were there a chain of causes and effects established entirely independent on me, and were my life in no measure under my own power, it would indeed be fruitless for me to act; and the absurdity of knowingly acting in vain, would be a prevailing motive for remaining at rest. Upon that supposition, the ignava ratio of Chrysippus might take place; cui si pareamus, nihil omnino agamus in vita*. But I act necessarily when influenced by motives; and I have no reason to forbear, considering that my actions, by producing their intend ed effects, contribute to carry on the great chain.
* "The indolent principle; which if we were to follow, we
"should do nothing in life."