Book 1, Chapter 04 : The Characters of Men Originate in their External Circumstances

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Book 1, Chapter 04



Theory of the human mind.--Subjects of the present chapter--of the 
  next.--Erroneous opinions refuted.--I. Innate principles.--This
  hypothesis, 1, superflous--2, unsatisfactory--3, absurd.--II. In-
  stincts.--Examination of this doctrine--of the arguments by which it 
  has been enforced: from the early actions of infants--from the desire 
  of self-preservation--from self-love--from pity.--III. Effects of 
  antenatal impressions and original structure.--Variableness of the 
  characters of men.--Ease with which impressions may be counter-
  acted.--Form of the infant undetermined.--Habits of men and other
  animals compared.--Inference.--Importance of these speculations.--
  IV. Reasonings of the present chapter applied.--Three sorts of edu-
  cation--1, accident--2, precept--3, political institution.

THUS far we have argued from historical facts, and from them have collected a very strong presumptive evidence that political institutions have a more powerful and extensive influence than it has been generally the practice to ascribe to them.

But we can never arrive at precise conceptions relative to this part of the subject without entering into an analysis of the human mind,2 and endeavoring to ascertain the nature of the causes by which its operations are directed. Under this branch of the subject I shall attempt to prove two things: first, that the actions and dispositions of mankind are the offspring of circumstances and events, and not of any original determination that they bring into the world; and, secondly, that the great stream of our voluntary actions essentially depends, not upon the direct and immediate impulses of sense, but upon the decisions of the understanding. If these propositions can be sufficiently established, it will follow that the happiness men are able to attain is proportioned to the justness of the opinions they take as guides in the pursuit; and it will only remain, for the purpose of applying these premises to the point under consideration, that we should demonstrate the opinions of men to be, for the most part, under the absolute control of political institution.

First, the actions and dispositions of men are not the off-spring of any original bias that they bring into the world in favor of one sentiment or character rather than another, but flow entirely from the operation of circumstances and events acting upon a faculty of receiving sensible impressions.

There are three modes in which the human mind has been conceived to be modified, independently of the circumstances which occur to us, and the sensations excited: first, innate principles; secondly, instincts; thirdly, the original differences of our structure, together with the impressions we receive in the womb. Let us examine each of these in their order.

First, innate principles of judgment. Those by whom this doctrine has been maintained have supposed that there were certain branches of knowledge, and those perhaps of all others the most important, concerning which we felt an irresistible persuasion, at the same time that we were wholly unable to trace them through any channels of external evidence and methodical deduction. They conceived therefore that they were orignally written in our hearts; or perhaps, more properly speaking, that there was a general propensity in the human mind suggesting them to our reflections, and fastening them upon our conviction. Accordingly, they established the universal consent of mankind as one of the most infallible criterions of fundamental truth. It appeared upon their system that we were furnished with a sort of sixth sense, the existence of which was not proved to us, like that of our other senses, by direct and proper evidence, but from the consideration of certain phenomena in the history of the human mind, which cannot be otherwise accounted for than by the assumption of this hypothesis.

There is an essential deficiency in every speculation of this sort. It turns entirely upon an appeal to our ignorance. Its language is as follows: "You cannot account for certain events from the known laws of the subjects to which they belong; therefore they are not deducible from those laws; therefore you must admit a new principle into the system for the express purpose of accounting for them." But there cannot be a sounder maxim of reasoning than that which points out to us the error of admitting into our hypotheses unnecessary principles, or referring the phenomena that occur to remote and extraordinary sources, when they may with equal facility be referred to sources which obviously exist, and the results of which we daily observe. This maxim alone is sufficient to persuade us to reject the doctrine of innate principles. If we consider the infinitely various causes by which the human mind is perceptibly modified, and the different principles, argument, imitation, inclination, early prejudice and imaginary interest, by which opinion is generated, we shall readily perceive that nothing can be more difficult than to assign any opinion, existing among the human species, and at the same time incapable of being generated by any of these causes and principles.

A careful enquirer will be strongly inclined to suspect the soundness of opinions which rest for their support on so ambiguous a foundation as that of innate impression. We cannot reasonably question the existence of facts; that is, we cannot deny the existence of our sensations, or the series in which they occur. We cannot deny the axioms of mathematics; for they exhibit nothing more than a consistent use of words, and affirm of some idea that it is itself and not something else. We can entertain little doubt of the validity of mathematical demonstrations, which appear to be irresistible conclusions deduced from identical propositions. We ascribe a certain value, sometimes greater and sometimes less, to considerations drawn from analogy. But what degree of weight shall we attribute to affirmations which pretend to rest upon none of these grounds? The most preposterous propositions, incapable of any rational defense, have in different ages and countries appealed to this inexplicable authority, and passed for infallible and innate. The enquirer that has no other object than truth, that refuses to be misled, and is determined to proceed only upon just and sufficient evidence will find little reason to be satisfied with dogmas which rest upon no other foundation than a pretended necessity impelling the human mind to yield its assent.

But there is a still more irresistible argument proving to us the absurdity of the supposition of innate principles. Every principle is a proposition: either it affirms, or it denies. Every proposition consists in the connection of at least two distinct ideas, which are affirmed to agree or disagree with each other. It is impossible that the proposition can be innate, unless the ideas to which it relates be also innate. A connection where there is nothing to be connected, a proposition where there is neither subject nor conclusion, is the most incoherent of all suppositions. But nothing can be more incontrovertible than that we do not bring preestablished ideas into the world with us.

Let the innate principle be that "virtue is a rule to which we are obliged to conform." Here are three principal and leading ideas, not to mention subordinate ones, which it is necessary to form, before we can so much as understand the proposition. What is virtue? Previously to our forming an idea corresponding to this general term, it seems necessary that we should have observed the several features by which virtue is distinguished, and the several subordinate articles of right conduct, that taken together constitute that mass of practical judgments to which we give the denomination of virtue. These are so far from being innate that the most impartial and laborious enquirers are not yet agreed respecting them. The next idea included in the above proposition is that of a rule or standard, a generical measure with which individuals are to be compared, and their conformity or disagreement with which is to determine their value. Lastly, there is the idea of obligation, its nature and source, the obliger and the sanction, the penalty and the reward.

Who is there in the present state of scientifical improvement that will believe that this vast chain of perceptions and notions is something that we bring into the world with us, a mystical magazine, shut up in the human embryo, whose treasures are to be gradually unfolded as circumstances shall require? Who does not perceive that they are regularly generated in the mind by a series of impressions, and digested and arranged by association and reflection?

But, if we are not endowed with innate principles of judgment, it has nevertheless been supposed by some persons that we might have instincts to action, leading us to the performance of certain useful and necessary functions, independently of any previous reasoning as to the advantage of these functions. These instincts, like the innate principles of judgment we have already examined, are conceived to be original, a separate endowment annexed to our being, and not anything that irresistibly flows from the mere faculty of perception and thought, as acted upon by the circumstances, either of our animal frame, or of the external objects, by which we are affected. They are liable therefore to the same objection as that already urged against innate principles. The system by which they are attempted to be established is a mere appeal to our ignorance, assuming that we are fully acquainted with all the possible operations of known powers, and imposing upon us an unknown power as indispensable to the accounting for certain phenomena. If we were wholly unable to solve these phenomena, it would yet behoove us to be extremely cautious in affirming that known principles and causes are inadequate to their solution. If we are able upon strict and mature investigation to trace the greater part of them to their source, this necessarily adds force to the caution here recommended.

An unknown cause is exceptionable, in the first place, inasmuch as to multiply causes is contrary to the experienced operation of scientifical improvement. It is exceptionable, secondly, because its tendency is to break that train of antecedents and consequents of which the history of the universe is composed. It introduces an action apparently extraneous, instead of imputing the nature of what follows to the properties of that which preceded. It bars the progress of inquiry by introducing that which is occult, mysterious and incapable of further investigation. It allows nothing to the future advancement of human knowledge; but represents the limits of what is already known, as the limits of human understanding.

Let us review a few of the most common examples adduced in favor of human instincts, and examine how far they authorize the conclusion that is attempted to be drawn from them: and first, some of those actions which appear to rise in the most instantaneous and irresistible manner.

A certain irritation of the palm of the hand will produce that contraction of the fingers which accompanies the action of grasping. This contraction will at first take place unaccompanied with design, the object will be grasped without any intention to retain it, and let go again without thought or observation. After a certain number of repetitions, the nature of the action will be perceived; it will be performed with a consciousness of its tendency; and even the hand stretched out upon the approach of any object that is desired. Present to the child, thus far instructed, a lighted candle. The sight of it will produce a pleasurable state of the organs of perception. He will probably stretch out his hand to the flame, and will have no apprehension of the pain of burning till he has felt the sensation.

At the age of maturity, the eyelids instantaneously close when any substance from which danger is apprehended is advanced towards them; and this action is so constant as to be with great difficulty prevented by a grown person, though he should explicitly desire it. In infants there is no such propensity; and an object may be approached to their organs, however near and however suddenly, without producing this effect. Frowns will be totally indifferent to a child, who has never found them associated with the effects of anger. Fear itself is a species of foresight, and in no case exists till introduced by experience.

It has been said that the desire of self-preservation is innate. I demand what is meant by this desire? Must we not understand by it a preference of existence to nonexistence? Do we prefer anything but because it is apprehended to be good ? It follows that we cannot prefer existence, previously to our experience of the motives for preference it possesses. Indeed the ideas of life and death are exceedingly complicated, and very tardy in their formation. A child desires pleasure and loathes pain long before he can have any imagination respecting the ceasing to exist.

Again, it has been said that self-love is innate. But there cannot be an error more easy of detection. By the love of self we understand the approbation of pleasure, and dislike of pain: but this is only the faculty of perception under another name. Who ever denied that man was a percipient being? Who ever dreamed that there was a particular instinct necessary to render him percipient?

Pity has sometimes been supposed an instance of innate principle; particularly as it seems to arise with greater facility in young persons, and persons of little refinement, than in others. But it was reasonable to expect that threats and anger, circumstances that have been associated with our own sufferings, should excite painful feelings in us in the case of others, independently of any labored analysis. The cries of distress, the appearance of agony or corporal infliction, irresistibly revive the memory of the pains accompanied by those symptoms in ourselves. Longer experience and observation enable us to separate the calamities of others and our own safety, the existence of pain in one subject and of pleasure or benefit in others, or in the same at a future period, more accurately than we could be expected to do previously to that experience.

If then it appear that the human mind is unattended either with innate principles or instincts, there are only two remaining circumstances that can be imagined to anticipate the effects of institution, and fix the human character independently of every species of education: these are, the qualities that may be produced in the human mind previously to the era of our birth, and the differences that may result from the different structure of the greater or subtler elements of the animal frame.

To objections derived from these sources the answer will be in both cases similar.

First, ideas are to the mind nearly what atoms are to the body. The whole mass is in a perpetual flux; nothing is stable and permanent; after the lapse of a given period not a single particle probably remains the same. Who knows not that in the course of a human life the character of the individual frequently undergoes two or three revolutions of its fundamental stamina? The turbulent man will frequently become contemplative, the generous be changed into selfish, and the frank and goodhumored into peevish and morose. How often does it happen that, if we meet our best loved friend after an absence of twenty years, we look in vain in the man before us for the qualities that formerly excited our sympathy, and, instead of the exquisite delight we promised ourselves, reap nothing but disappointment? If it is thus in habits apparently the most rooted, who will be disposed to lay any extraordinary stress upon the impressions which an infant may have received in the womb of his mother?

He that considers human life with an attentive eye will not fail to remark that there is scarcely such a thing in character and principles as an irremediable error. Persons of narrow and limited views may upon many occasions incline to sit down in despair; but those who are inspired with a genuine energy will derive new incentives from miscarriage. Has any unfortunate and undesirable impression been made upon the youthful mind? Nothing will be more easy than for a judicious superintendent, provided its nature is understood, and it is undertaken sufficiently early, to remedy and obliterate it. Has a child passed a certain period of existence in ill-judged indulgence and habits of command and caprice? The skillful parent, when the child returns to its paternal roof, knows that this evil is not invincible, and sets himself with an undoubting spirit to the removal of the depravity. It often happens that the very impression which, if not counteracted, shall decide upon the pursuits and fortune of an entire life might perhaps under other circumstances be reduced to complete inefficiency in half an hour.

It is in corporeal structure as in intellectual impressions. The first impressions of our infancy are so much upon the surface that their effects scarcely survive the period of the impression itself. The mature man seldom retains the faintest recollection of the incidents of the two first years of his life. Is it to be supposed that that which has left no trace upon the memory can be in an eminent degree powerful in its associated effects? Just so in the structure of the animal frame. What is born into the world is an unfinished sketch, without character or decisive feature impressed upon it. In the sequel there is a correspondence between the physiognomy and the intellectual and moral qualities of the mind. But is it not reasonable to suppose that this is produced by the continual tendency of the mind to modify its material engine in a particular way? There is for the most part no essential difference between the child of the lord and of the porter. Provided he do not come into the world infected with any ruinous distemper, the child of the lord, if changed in the cradle, would scarcely find any greater difficulty than the other in learning the trade of his softer father, and becoming a carrier of burthens. The muscles of those limbs which are most frequently called into play are always observed to acquire peculiar flexibility or strength. It is not improbable, if it should be found that the capacity of the skull of a wise man is greater than that of a fool, that this enlargement should be produced by the incessantly repeated action of the intellectual faculties, especially if we recollect of how flexible materials the skulls of infants are composed, and at how early an age persons of eminent intellectual merit acquire some portion of their future characteristics.

In the meantime it would be ridiculous to question the real differences that exist between children at the period of their birth. Hercules and his brother, the robust infant whom scarcely any neglect can destroy, and the infant that is with difficulty reared, are undoubtedly from the moment of parturition very different beings. If each of them could receive an education precisely equal and eminently wise, the child laboring under original disadvantage would be benefited, but the child to whom circumstances had been most favorable in the outset would always retain his priority. These considerations however do not appear materially to affect the doctrine of the present chapter; and that for the following reasons.

First, education never can be equal. The inequality of external circumstances in two beings whose situations most nearly resemble is so great as to baffle all power of calculation. In the present state of mankind this is eminently the case. There is no fact more palpable than that children of all sizes and forms indifferently become wise. It is not the man of great stature or vigorous make that outstrips his fellow in understanding. It is not the man who possesses all the external senses in the highest perfection. It is not the man whose health is most vigorous and invariable. Those moral causes that awaken the mind, that inspire sensibility, imagination and perseverance, are distributed without distinction to the tall or the dwarfish, the graceful or the deformed, the lynx-eyed or the blind. But, if the more obvious distinctions of animal structure appear to have little share in deciding upon their associated varieties of intellect, it is surely in the highest degree unjustifiable to attribute these varieties to such subtle and imperceptible differences as, being out of our power to assign, are yet gratuitously assumed to account for the most stupendous effects. This mysterious solution is the refuge of indolence or the instrument of imposture, but incompatible with a sober and persevering spirit of investigation.

Secondly, it is sufficient to recollect the nature of moral causes to be satisfied that their efficiency is nearly unlimited. The essential differences that are to be found between individual and individual originate in the opinions they form, and the circumstances by which they are controlled. It is impossible to believe that the same moral train would not make nearly the same man. Let us suppose a being to have heard all the arguments and been subject to all the excitements that were ever addressed to any celebrated character. The same arguments, with all their strength and all their weakness, unaccompanied with the smallest addition or variation, and retailed in exactly the same proportions from month to month and year to year, must surely have produced the same opinions. The same excitements, without reservation, whether direct or accidental, must have fixed the same propensities. Whatever science or pursuit was selected by this celebrated character must be loved by the person respecting whom we are supposing this identity of impressions. In fine, it is impression that makes the man, and, compared with the empire of impression, the mere differences of animal structure are inexpressibly unimportant and powerless.

These truths will be brought to our minds with much additional evidence if we compare in this respect the case of brutes with that of men. Among the inferior animals, breed is a circumstance of considerable importance, and a judicious mixture and preservation in this point is found to be attended with the most unequivocal results. But nothing of that kind appears to take place in our own species. A generous blood, a gallant and fearless spirit is by no means propagated from father to son. When a particular appellation is granted, as is usually practiced in the existing governments of Europe, to designate the descendants of a magnanimous ancestry, we do not find, even with all the arts of modern education, to assist, that such descendants are the legitimate representatives of departed heroism. Whence comes this difference? Probably from the more irresistible operation of moral causes. It is not impossible that among savages those differences would be conspicuous which with us are annihilated. It is not unlikely that if men, like brutes, were withheld from the more considerable means of intellectual improvement, if they derived nothing from the discoveries and sagacity of their ancestors, if each individual had to begin absolutely de novo in the discipline and arrangement of his ideas, blood or whatever other circumstances distinguish one man from another at the period of his nativity would produce as memorable effects in man as they now do in those classes of animals that are deprived of our advantages. Even in the case of brutes, education and care on the part of the man seem to be nearly indispensable, if we would not have the foal of the finest racer degenerate to the level of the carthorse. In plants the peculiarities of soil decide in a great degree upon the future properties of each. But who would think of forming the character of a human being by the operations of heat and cold, dryness and moisture upon the animal frame? With us moral considerations swallow up the effects of every other accident. Present a pursuit to the mind, convey to it the apprehension of calamity or advantage, excite it by motives of aversion or motives of affection, and the slow and silent influence of material causes perishes like dews at the rising of the sun.

The result of these considerations is that at the moment of birth man has really a certain character, and each man a character different from his fellows. The accidents which pass during the months of percipiency in the womb of the mother produce a real effect. Various external accidents, unlimited as to the period of their commencement, modify in different ways the elements of the animal frame. Everything in the universe is linked and united together. No event, however minute and imperceptible, is barren of a train of consequences, however comparatively evanescent those consequences may in some instances be found. If there have been philosophers that have asserted otherwise, and taught that all minds from the period of birth were precisely alike, they have reflected discredit by such an incautious statement upon the truth they proposed to defend.

But, though the original differences of man and man be arithmetically speaking something, speaking in the way of a general and comprehensive estimate they may be said to be almost nothing. If the early impressions of our childhood may by a skillful observer be as it were obliterated almost as soon as made, how much less can the confused and unpronounced impressions of the womb be expected to resist the multiplicity of ideas that successively contribute to wear out their traces? If the temper of the man appear in many instances to be totally changed, how can it be supposed that there is anything permanent and inflexible in the propensities of a new-born infant? and, if not in the character of the disposition, how much less in that of the understanding?

Speak the language of truth and reason to your child, and be under no apprehension for the result. Show him that what you recommend is valuable and desirable, and fear not but he will desire it. Convince his understanding, and you enlist all his powers animal and intellectual in your service. How long has the genius of education been disheartened and unnerved by the pretense that man is born all that it is possible for him to become? How long has the jargon imposed upon the world which would persuade us that in instructing a man you do not add to, but unfold his stores? The miscarriages of education do not proceed from the boundedness of its powers, but from the mistakes with which it is accompanied. We often inspire disgust, where we mean to infuse desire. We are wrapped up in ourselves, and do not observe, as we ought, step by step the sensations that pass in the mind of our hearer. We mistake compulsion for persuasion, and delude ourselves into the belief that despotism is the road to the heart.

Education will proceed with a firm step and with genuine luster when those who conduct it shall know what a vast field it embraces; when they shall be aware that the effect, the question whether the pupil shall be a man of perseverance and enterprise or a stupid and inanimate dolt, depends upon the powers of those under whose direction he is placed and the skill with which those powers shall be applied. Industry will be exerted with tenfold alacrity when it shall be generally confessed that there are no obstacles to our improvement which do not yield to the powers of industry. Multitudes will never exert the energy necessary to extraordinary success, till they shall dismiss the prejudices that fetter them, get rid of the chilling system of occult and inexplicable causes, and consider the human mind as an intelligent agent, guided by motives and prospects presented to the understanding, and not by causes of which we have no proper cognizance and can form no calculation.

Apply these considerations to the subject of politics, and they will authorize us to infer that the excellencies and defects of the human character are not derived from causes beyond the reach of ingenuity to modify and correct. If we entertain false views and be involved in pernicious mistakes, this disadvantage is not the offspring of an irresistible destiny. We have been ignorant, we have been hasty, or we have been misled. Remove the causes of this ignorance or this miscalculation, and the effects will cease. Show me in the clearest and most unambiguous manner that a certain mode of proceeding is most reasonable in itself or most conducive to my interest, and I shall infallibly pursue that mode, as long as the views you suggested to me continue present to my mind. The conduct of human beings in every situation is governed by the judgments they make and the sensations that are communicated to them.

It has appeared that the characters of men are determined in all their most essential circumstances by education. By education in this place I would be understood to convey the most comprehensive sense that can possibly be annexed to that word, including every incident that produces an idea in the mind, and can give birth to a train of reflections. It may be of use for a clearer understanding of the subject we here examine to consider education under three heads: the education of accident, or those impressions we receive independently of any design on the part of the preceptor; education commonly so called, or the impressions which he intentionally communicates; and political education, or the modification our ideas receive from the form of government under which we live. In the course of this successive review we shall be enabled in some degree to ascertain the respective influence which is to be attributed to each.

It is not unusual to hear persons dwell with emphasis on the wide difference of the results in two young persons who have been educated together; and this has been produced as a decisive argument in favor of the essential differences we are supposed to bring into the world with us. But this could scarcely have happened but from extreme inattention in the persons who have so argued. Innumerable ideas, or changes in the state of the percipient being, probably occur in every moment of time. How many of these enter into the plan of the preceptor? Two children walk out together. One busies himself in plucking flowers or running after butterflies, the other walks in the hand of their conductor. Two men view a picture. They never see it from the same point of view, and therefore strictly speaking never see the same picture. If they sit down to hear a lecture or any piece of instruction, they never sit down with the same degree of attention, seriousness or good humor. The previous state of mind is different, and therefore the impression received cannot be the same. It has been found in the history of several eminent men, and probably would have been found much oftener had their juvenile adventures been more accurately recorded, that the most trivial circumstance has sometimes furnished the original occasion of awakening the ardor of their minds and determining the bent of their studies.

It may however reasonably be suspected whether the education of design be not, intrinsically considered, more powerful than the education of accident. If at any time it appear impotent, this is probably owing to mistake in the project. The instructor continually fails in wisdom of contrivance, or conciliation of manner, or both. It may often happen, either from the pedantry of his habits, or the impatience of his temper, that his recommendation shall operate rather as an antidote than an attraction. Preceptors are apt to pique themselves upon disclosing part and concealing part of the truth, upon a sort of common place, cant exhortation to be addressed to youth, which it would be an insult to offer to the understandings of men. But children are not inclined to consider him entirely as their friend whom they detect in an attempt to impose upon them. Were it otherwise, were we sufficiently frank and sufficiently skillful, did we apply ourselves to excite the sympathy of the young and to gain their confidence, it is not to be believed but that the systematical measures of the preceptor would have a decisive advantage over the desultory influence of accidental impression. Children are a sort of raw material put into our hands, a ductile and yielding substance, which, if we do not ultimately mold in conformity to our wishes, it is because we throw away the power committed to us, by the folly with which we are accustomed to exert it. But there is another error not less decisive. The object we choose is an improper one. Our labor is expended, not in teaching truth, but in teaching falsehood. When that is the case, education is necessarily and happily maimed of half its powers. The success of an attempt to mislead can never be complete. We continually communicate in spite of ourselves the materials of just reasoning; reason is the genuine exercise, and truth the native element of an intellectual nature; it is no wonder therefore that, with a crude and abortive plan to govern his efforts, the preceptor is perpetually baffled, and the pupil, who has been thus stored with systematic delusions, and partial, obscure, and disfigured truths, should come out anything rather than that which his instructor intended him.

It remains to be considered what share political institution and forms of government occupy in the education of every human being. Their degree of influence depends upon two essential circumstances.

First, it is nearly impossible to oppose the education of the preceptor, and the education we derive from the forms of government under which we live, to each other; and therefore, however powerful the former of these may be, absolutely considered, it can never enter the lists with the latter upon equal terms. Should anyone talk to us of rescuing a young person from the sinister influence of a corrupt government by the power of education, it will be fair to ask who is the preceptor by whom this talk is to be effected? Is he born in the ordinary mode of generation, or does he descend among us from the skies? Has his character been in no degree modified by that very influence he undertakes to counteract? It is beyond all controversy that men who live in a state of equality, or that approaches equality, will be frank, ingenuous and intrepid in their carriage; while those who inhabit where a great disparity of ranks has prevailed will be distinguished by coldness, irresoluteness, timidity and caution. Will the preceptor in question be altogether superior to these qualities? Which of us is there who utters his thoughts in the fearless and explicit manner that true wisdom would prescribe? Who, that is sufficiently critical and severe, does not detect himself every hour in some act of falsehood or equivocation that example and early habits have planted too deeply to be eradicated? But the question is not what extraordinary persons can be found who may shine illustrious exceptions to the prevailing degeneracy of their neighbors. As long as parents and teachers in general shall fall under the established rule, it is clear that politics and modes of government will educate and infect us all. They poison our minds before we can resist, or so much as suspect their malignity. Like the barbarous directors of the Eastern seraglios, they deprive us of our virility, and fit us for their despicable employment from the cradle. So false is the opinion that has too generally prevailed that politics is an affair with which ordinary men have little concern.

Secondly, supposing the preceptor had all the qualifications that can reasonably be imputed, let us recollect for a moment what are the influences with which he would have to struggle. Political institution, by the consequences with which it is pregnant, strongly suggests to everyone who enters within its sphere what is the path he should avoid, as well as what he should pursue. Under a government fundamentally erroneous, he will see intrepid virtue proscribed, and a servile and corrupt spirit uniformly encouraged. But morality itself is nothing but a calculation of consequences. What strange confusion will the spectacle of that knavery which is universally practiced through all the existing classes of society produce in the mind? The preceptor cannot go out of the world, or prevent the intercourse of his pupil with human beings of a character different from his own. Attempts of this kind are generally unhappy, stamped with the impression of artifice, intolerance and usurpation. From earliest infancy therefore there will be two principles contending for empire, the peculiar and elevated system of the preceptor, and the groveling views of the great mass of mankind. These will generate confusion, uncertainty and irresolution. At no period of life will the effect correspond to what it would have been if the community were virtuous and wise. But its effect, obscure and imperceptible for a time, may be expected to burst into explosion at the period of puberty. When the pupil first becomes master of his own actions, and chooses his avocations and his associates, he will necessarily be acquainted with many things of which before he had very slender notions. At this time the follies of the world wear their most alluring face. He can scarcely avoid imagining that he has hitherto labored under some species of delusion. Delusion, when detected, causes him upon whom it was practiced to be indignant and restive. The only chance which remains is that, after a time, he should be recalled and awakened: and against this chance there are the progressive enticements of society; sensuality, ambition, sordid interest, false ridicule and the incessant decay of that unblemished purity which attended him in his outset. The best that can be expected is that he should return at last to sobriety and truth, with a mind debilitated and relaxed by repeated errors, and a moral constitution in which the seeds of degeneracy have been deeply and extensively sown.


1In the plan of this work it was originally conceived that it was advisable not to press matters of close and laborious speculation in the outset. It appeared as if moral and political philosophy might assume something more than had been usual of a popular form, without deducting from the justness and depth of its investigation. Upon revisal however, it was found that the inferences of the First Book had been materially injured by an overscrupulousness in that point. The fruit of the discovery was this and the following chapter, as they now stand. It is recommended, to the reader who finds himself deterred by their apparent difficulty, to pass on to the remaining divisions of the inquiry.

2 Some persons have of late suggested doubts concerning the propriety of the use of the word mind. An accurate philosophy has led modern enquirers to question the existence of two classes of substances in the universe, to reject the metaphysical denominations of spirit and soul, and even to doubt whether human beings have any satisfactory acquaintance with the properties of matter. The same accuracy, it has been said, ought to teach us to discard the term mind. But this objection seems to be premature. We are indeed wholly uncertain whether the causes of our sensations, heat, color, hardness and extension (the two former of these properties have been questioned in a very forcible manner by Locke, Human Understanding, the two latter by Berkeley and Hume) be in any respect similar to the ideas they produce. We know nothing of the substance or substratum of matter, or of that which is the recipient of thought and perception. We do not even know that the idea annexed to the word substance is correct, or has any counterpart in the reality of existence. But, if there be any one thing that we know more certainly than another, it is the existence of our own thoughts, ideas, perceptions or sensations (by whatever term we may choose to express them), and that they are ordinarily linked together so as to produce the complex notion of unity or personal identity. Now it is this series of thoughts thus linked together, without considering whether they reside in any or what substratum, that is most aptly expressed by the term mind; and in this sense the term is intended to be used throughout the following work.

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