Superphysics Superphysics


by David Hume Icon
9 minutes  • 1749 words
Table of contents

We may assign the 3 reasons for the prevalance of the doctrine of liberty, however absurd it may be in one sense, and unintelligible in any other.

  1. After we have performed any action, it is difficult for us to persuade ourselves that:
  • we were governed by necessity
  • it was utterly impossible for us to have acted otherwise.

The idea of necessity seems to imply something of force, violence, and constraint we are not sensible of.

Few are capable of distinguishing between:

  • the liberty of spontaniety and
    • This is the most common meaning of liberty.
    • Only this kind of liberty concerns us to preserve. This is why our thoughts have:
      • been principally turned towards it
      • almost universally confounded it with the liberty of indifference.
  • the liberty of indifference.
    • This liberty is between the liberty opposed to violence and the liberty negating necessity and causes.
  1. There is a false sensation or experience even of the liberty of indifference.

This false experience is an argument for the real existence of this liberty.

The necessity of any mental or physical action, is not a quality in the agent.

It is a quality in any thinking being who considers the action. ▪ This quality consists in the determination of his thought to infer its existence from some preceding objects. ◦ Liberty or chance, on the other hand, is nothing but: ▪ the lack of that determination ▪ a certain looseness we feel in passing or not passing from the idea of one to that of the other.

In reflecting on human actions, we seldom feel such a looseness or indifference. ▪ But we are commonly sensible of something like it in performing the actions themselves. ◦ All related or resembling objects are readily taken for each other. ▪ This has been employed as a demonstrative or even an intuitive proof of human liberty.

We feel that our actions are subject to our will on most occasions. ▪ We imagine we feel that the will itself is subject to nothing. ▪ Because when our actions are denied, we are provoked to try. • We feel that the will: ◦ moves easily every way ◦ produces an image of itself even on that side where it did not settle. ◦ We persuade ourselves that this image or faint motion could have been completed into the thing itself. ◦ Because, should that be denied, we find on a second trial, that it can. ◦ But these efforts are all in vain. ◦ Whatever capricious and irregular actions we may perform; as the desire of showing our liberty is the sole motive of our actions; we can never free ourselves from the bonds of necessity. ◦ We may imagine we feel a liberty within ourselves. ◦ But a spectator can commonly infer our actions from our motives and character. ◦ Even when he cannot, he concludes that he might, if he were perfectly acquainted with: ◦ our situation and temper ◦ the most secret springs of our complexion and disposition. ◦ According to the foregoing doctrine, this is the very essence of necessity.

  1. Religion

Religion has been very unnecessarily interested in this question.

The most common and most blamable reasoning in philosophical debates is in refuting any hypothesis by a pretext of its dangerous consequences to religion and morality. • Any opinion that leads us into absurdities is certainly false. ◦ But it is not certain that an opinion is false because it is of dangerous consequence. • Such topics, therefore, should entirely be foreborn, as serving nothing to the discovery of truth. ◦ It only makes the antagonist odious. • I submit myself frankly to this kind of examination. • I affirm that my doctrine of necessity is innocent and even advantageous to religion and morality.


I define necessity in 2 ways, conforming to the two definitions of cause.

I place it either in:

  1. The constant union and conjunction of like objects, or
  2. The inference of the mind from the one to the other.

In both these senses, necessity universally, but tacitly, belongs to man’s will.

• No one has ever denied that:
    ◦ we can draw inferences on human actions
    ◦ those inferences are founded on the experienced union of like actions with like motives and circumstances.
• Only those who refuse to call this ‘necessity’ can differ from me.
    ◦ But as long as the meaning is understood, I hope:
        ▪ the word can do no harm, or
        ▪ that he will maintain there is something else in the operations of matter.
    ◦ Whether it is so or not is of no consequence to religion, whatever it may be to natural philosophy.
• I may be mistaken in asserting that we have no idea of any other connection in the actions of body.
    ◦ I shall be glad to be instructed further on that head.
    ◦ But I am sure that I only ascribe what are readily allowed to the actions of the mind.
• No one should put an invidious construction on my words, by saying that I:
    ◦ assert the necessity of human actions
    ◦ place them on the same footing with the operations of senseless matter.
• I do not ascribe to the will that unintelligible necessity, which is supposed to lie in matter.
    ◦ But I ascribe to matter, that intelligible quality, call it necessity or not, which the most rigorous orthodoxy must allow to belong to the will.
• Therefore, I change nothing in the received systems with regard to the will, but only with regard to material objects.

I assert that this kind of necessity is so essential to religion and morality. ◦ Without it: ▪ there must ensue an absolute subversion of both ▪ every other supposition is entirely destructive to all laws both divine and human. • All human laws are founded on rewards and punishments. • It is a fundamental principle that these motives have an influence on the mind. • Both produce the good and prevent the evil actions. • We may give to this influence what name we please. • But as it is usually conjoined with the action, common sense requires it should be: ◦ esteemed a cause ◦ booked on as an instance of that necessity, which I would establish.

This reasoning is equally solid when applied to divine laws, so far as the deity is: ◦ considered as a legislator ◦ supposed to inflict punishment and bestow rewards with a design to produce obedience. • Even when he acts not in his magisterial capacity, but is regarded as the avenger of crimes merely on account of their odiousness and deformity, it is impossible: ◦ without the necessary connection of cause and effect in human actions, that punishments could be inflicted with justice and moral equity ◦ that it could ever enter into the thoughts of any reasonable being to inflict them. • The constant and universal object of hatred or anger is a person or creature endowed with thought and consciousness. ◦ When any criminal or injurious actions excite that passion, it is only by their relation to the person or connection with him. • But according to the doctrine of liberty or chance, this connection is reduced to nothing. ◦ Men are not more accountable for premeditated actions, than for the most casual and accidental actions. • Actions are by their very nature temporary and perishing. ◦ When they do not proceed from some cause in the characters and disposition of their performer, they do not: ▪ infix themselves on him ▪ redound to his honour if good, nor infamy, if evil. • The action itself may be blameable. ◦ It may be contrary to all the rules of morality and religion. • But the person is not responsible for it. • It proceeded from nothing in him that is durable or constant. • It leaves nothing of that nature behind it, it is impossible he can become the object of punishment or vengeance. • According to the hypothesis of liberty, therefore, a man is as pure and untainted, after having committed the most horrid crimes, as at the first moment of his birth. ◦ His character is not concerned in his actions in any way, since they are not derived from it. ◦ The wickedness of the one can never be used as a proof of the depravity of the other. • A person acquires any merit or demerit from his actions, only on the principles of necessity, however the common opinion may be contrary.

Men are so inconsistent with themselves. ◦ They often assert that necessity utterly destroys all merit and demerit towards mankind or superior powers. ◦ But men continue to reason on these very principles of necessity in all their judgments on this matter. • Men are not blamed for such evil actions as they perform ignorantly and casually, whatever their consequences. ◦ Why? ◦ Because the causes of these actions: ▪ are only momentary ▪ terminate in them alone. • Men are less blamed for such evil actions, as they perform hastily and unpremeditately, than for such as proceed from thought and deliberation. ◦ Why? ◦ Because a hasty temper, though a constant cause in the mind: ▪ operates only by intervals ▪ does not infect the whole character. • Repentance wipes off every crime, especially if attended with an evident reformation of life and manners. ◦ How is this to be accounted for? ◦ By asserting that actions render a person criminal, merely as they are proofs of criminal passions or principles in the mind. ◦ and when by any alteration of these principles they cease to be just proofs, they likewise cease to be criminal. • But according to the doctrine of liberty or chance, they never were just proofs. ◦ Consequently, they were never criminal.

• I turn to my adversary.
• I want him to free his own system from these odious consequences before he charges them on others.
• If he chooses that this question be decided by fair arguments before philosophers, than by declamations before the people, let him return to what I have advanced to prove:
    ◦ that liberty and chance are synonymous
    ◦ the nature of moral evidence
    ◦ the regularity of human actions.

Upon a review of these reasonings, I will have an entire victory.

Having proved that all actions of the will have particular causes, I explain:

  • what these causes are
  • how they operate.

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