Not a member?     Existing members login below:

An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

In all these cases, we may observe, that the animal infers some fact beyond what
immediately strikes his senses; and that this inference is altogether founded on past
experience, while the creature expects from the present object the same consequences,
which it has always found in its observation to result from similar objects.
84. Secondly, It is impossible, that this inference of the animal can be founded on any
process of argument or reasoning, by which he concludes, that like events must follow
like objects, and that the course of nature will always be regular in its operations. For if
there be in reality any arguments of this nature, they surely lie too abstruse for the
observation of such imperfect understandings; since it may well employ the utmost care
and attention of a philosophic genius to discover and observe them. Animals, therefore,
are not guided in these inferences by reasoning: Neither are children: Neither are the
generality of mankind, in their ordinary actions and conclusions: Neither are philosophers
themselves, who, in all the active parts of life, are, in the main, the same with the vulgar,
and are governed by the same maxims. Nature must have provided some other principle,
of more ready, and more general use and application; nor can an operation of such
immense consequence in life, as that of inferring effects from causes, be trusted to the
uncertain process of reasoning and argumentation. Were this doubtful with regard to men,
it seems to admit of no question with regard to the brute creation; and the conclusion
being once firmly established in the one, we have a strong presumption, from all the rules
of analogy, that it ought to be universally admitted, without any exception or reserve. It is
custom alone, which engages animals, from every object, that strikes their senses, to infer
its usual attendant, and carries their imagination, from the appearance of the one, to
conceive the other, in that particular manner, which we denominate belief. No other
explication can be given of this operation, in all the higher, as well as lower classes of
sensitive beings, which fall under our notice and observation 19.
85. But though animals learn many parts of their knowledge from observation, there are
also many parts of it, which they derive from the original hand of nature; which much
exceed the share of capacity they possess on ordinary occasions; and in which they
improve, little or nothing, by the longest practice and experience. These we denominate
Instincts, and are so apt to admire as something very extraordinary, and inexplicable by
all the disquisitions of human understanding. But our wonder will, perhaps, cease or
diminish, when we consider, that the experimental reasoning itself, which we possess in
common with beasts, and on which the whole conduct of life depends, is nothing but a
species of instinct or mechanical power, that acts in us unknown to ourselves; and in its
chief operations, is not directed by any such relations or comparisons of ideas, as are the
proper objects of our intellectual faculties. Though the instinct be different, yet still it is
an instinct, which teaches a man to avoid the fire; as much as that, which teaches a bird,
with such exactness, the art of incubation, and the whole economy and order of its