Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

ESSAYS,

PHILOSOPHICAL, HISTORICAL,

&c. &c. &c.

ESSAY I

On LIBERTY and NECESSITY.

TH

HE celebrated controverfy on the fubject of Liberty and Neceffity has, from the earliest ages and in various modes, attracted the attention and employed the fagacity of philofophical and fpeculative minds. Whether the courfe of human events is fixed and unalterable, or uncertain and contingent, is a queftion in the highest degree curious and interefting, but at the fame time involved in difficulties of fuch magnitude, that it may be justly doubted whether it is capable of a folution fo clear and fatisfactory, as to preclude a difference of opinion on this fubject, amongst enquirers equally candid, impartial, and intelligent. In modern times, indeed, the controverfy has affumed a more regular and fcientific form; and

B

the

the utmost force of the human understanding has been exerted, the utmost powers of ratiocination displayed by the advocates on each fide, in their attempts to establish or confirm their respective fyftems yet the queftion does not seem to approach to a decifion, and the greatest names in the republic of letters are ftill divided in opinion on this important point. Perhaps it may afford fome amusement to those who do not poffefs leifure or inclination to toil through the numerous volumes to which this controverfy has given birth, to view, in a small compafs, the principal arguments on each fide, expreffed in eafy and intelligible terms by which means they will be enabled to form a general idea of the nature of this famous controverfy, and be in fome degree qualified to form a judgment refpecting it. First then, the Neceffarian writers (amongst whom Hume, Hobbes, Collins, Liebnitz, Hutchefon, Edwards, Hartley, Priestley, and perhaps Locke, are to be claffed), ftrenuously maintain, that the course of human events is abfolutely fixed and unalterable, and that nothing could poffibly, or at least without a change in the fundamental laws of the universe, take place, otherwise than as it is, has been, or is to be. This, they affirm, is not merely a probable conclufion, but a conclufion demonftrably resulting from the following confiderations:Whatever begins to exift, must have an adequate cause of its existence; for, if the smallest particle of duft, or the moft tranfient emotion of the

mind,

mind, could come into existence without a cause, it is evident that the whole univerfe, and all the inhabitants it contains, might alfo exift without a caufe: and confequently, it would be impoffible to prove the existence of the great and original Caufe of all things. This primary truth, then, being established, they affert further, that the fame caufes in the fame circumstances must produce exactly the fame effects; this axiom being confonant to all the phonomena of nature, and indeed the bafis and foundation of all juft philofophy. To affirm that the fame caufes do not in the fame circumstances produce invariably the fame effects, is in reality to affert that a caufe of existence is not abfolutely neceffary; for, if nothing in the caufe correfponds to the variation in the effect, that variation exists without a caufe; confequently this truth is equally incontrovertible with the firft: and they proceed with confidence to a third propofition, neceffarily refulting from the two former, viz. that a man in any given fituation must form certain or definite volitions or determinations; for, if nothing exists without a caufe, and the fame caufes in the fame. circumftances produce the fame effects, the volitions referred to must have had a caufe, and. the cause which was adequate to the production of those volitions, was inadequate to the production. of any other than thofe; for a variation in the volitions would neceffarily imply a variation in the caufe. From hence it follows, by easy and B 2

irrefragable

irrefragable deduction, that in every possible fituation in which a human or thinking being can be placed, his volitions must be determinate and certain that the volitions of all mankind are fo, and finally, that as every event comes to pass in confequence of caufes previously existing, the whole feries of events is under the influence of an abfolute and uncontrollable Neceffity. Again, it is urged as an undeniable matter of fact, by this clafs of metaphyficians, that na volition ever takes place in the mind without fome motive as this propofition is too plain to be called in question, it must be allowed, that when different motives prefent themselves to the imagination, the mind will be invariably influenced by the stronger motive; consequently the volition must be in the ftricteft fenfe neceffary. The prefcience of the Divine Being affords alfo a collateral argument of the greatest weight in fupport of the doctrine of Neceffity; for, if future events are, in their own nature, uncertain and contingent, Omniscience itself cannot fee them to be otherwife than they actually are; and it is a grofs and palpable contradiction to affert, that God can with abfolute certainty foretell that a particu lar event fhall take place; and at the fame time to affirm, that the event foretold depends upon the free-will of man for its accomplishment, if the determinations of the will are themselves lawless and uncertain.

To

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »