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to our purpose, and help to give clearer conceptions about power, if we make our thoughts take a little more exact survey of action. I have said above, that we have ideas but of two sorts of action; viz., motion and thinking. These in truth, though called and accounted actions, yet, if nearly considered, will not be found to be always perfectly so. For, if I mistake not, there are instances of both kinds, which, upon due consideration, will be found rather passions than actions, and consequently so far the effects barely of passive power in those subjects, which yet on their account are thought agents; for in these instances, the substance that hath motion or thought receives the impression, whereby it is put into that action purely from without, and so acts merely by the capacity it has to receive such an impression from some external agent; and such a power is not properly an active power, but a mere passive capacity in the subject, sometimes the substance, or agent puts itself into action by its own power, and this is properly active power.
Whatsoever modification a substance has whereby it produces any effect, that is called action; v. g. a solid substance by motion operates on, or alters the sensible ideas of another substance, and therefore this modification of motion we call action.
But yet, this motion in that solid substance is, when rightly considered, but a passion, if it received it only from some external agent. So that the active
power of motion is in no substance, which cannot begin motion in itself, or in another substance, when at rest. So likewise in thinking, a power to receive ideas or thoughts from the operation of any external substance, is called a power of thinking: but this is but a passive power or capacity. But to be able to bring into view ideas out of sight, at one's own choice, and to compare which of them one thinks fit, this is an active power. This reflection may be of some use to preserve us from mistakes about powers, and actions, which grammar and the common frame of languages may be apt to lead us into since what is signified by verbs, that grammarians call active, does not always signify action; v. g. this proposition, I see the moon or star, or I feel the heat of the sun, though expressed by verb active, does not signify any action in me, whereby I operate on those substances; but the reception of the ideas of light, roundness, and heat, wherein I am not active, but barely passive, and cannot, in that position of my eyes, or body, avoid receiving them. But when I turn my eyes another way, or remove my body out of the sun beams, I am properly active, because of my own choice, by a power
within myself, I put myself into that motion. Such an action is the product of an active power.”
These observations, if rightly considered, may help us, in determining what operations of the mind belong to the understanding, and what to the will. It is clear, that grammar, and the common frame of languages, do not always designate to which of these powers of the mind an operation belongs. Our evidence of the existence of these distinct powers in the mind is intuition, or consciousness. If any one should inquire, what makes the mind feel when acted upon? The answer is, because the mind has a passive power. But how do you know it has a passive power? Because I feel, and should not, if there was not a power, or capacity in the mind to feel.
So, if one should inquire, why the mind wills? The answer is, because the mind has an active power. But how do you know it has an active power 2 Because I do not feel that I am acted upon, and made to will.
The passive power is inferred from feeling; the active power from not feeling any thing act on the mind, when it wills, and knowing it does will. But it is absurd for any one, who believes the mind has an active power, to inquire, what makes, or causes the mind to will: for if any thing makes, or causes
the mind to will, it has no more activity in willing, than in feeling but must be passive in both.
Volitions cannot be effects unless something acts on the mind, and therein produces them; but if they are so produced, then the active power to begin action is not in the mind, but in something else, which begins the action. The controversy about volitions being effects may be reduced to this question-Has the mind an active power, or a power to begin action within itself? If the mind has this power, then volitions are not effects. Before any one undertakes to decide, that volitions are effects produced by uneasiness of desire, or by the strongest motive in the mind's view, or by any thing else, let him seriously consider, whether the mind has an active power, by which it can begin, continue, and end volition in itself. If he should decide, that the mind has not this power, then it may be proper for him to point out the cause of volitions, and let us know, in what he places power to begin action choose to hold with Mr. Locke, that the mind has an active power, and from this would infer, that volitions are not effects. It is manifest, that God has an active power, and I ask, why is it unreasonable to suppose, He has imparted more, or less of this power to all created spirits; and they, like Him, will, without being acted upon, and made to will?
I shall consider this subject more fully, when I come to inquire after the cause of volition.
II. An able writer* observes, “No division has been more common, and perhaps, less exceptionable, than that of the powers of the mind into those of the understanding and those of the will. And yet even this division, I am afraid, has led into a mistake. The mistake I believe to be this; it has been supposed, that in the operations ascribed to the will, there was no employment of the understanding; and that in those abscribed to the understanding, there was no exertion of the will. But this is not the case. It is probable, that there is no operation of the understanding, in which the mind is not in some degree active; in other words, in which the will has not some share. On the other hand, there can be no energy of the will, which is not accompanied with some act of the understanding. In the operations of the mind, both faculties generally, if not always, concur; and the distinction between them can be of no farther use than to arrange each operation under that faculty, which has the largest share in it. Thus by the perceptive powers, we are supposed to acquire knowledge, and by the powers of volition, we are said to exert ourselves in action." 1 Wilson's Works, 233.
James Wilson, one of the late judges of the Sup. Court
of the U, States.