A Treatise of Human Nature HTML version

There is nothing I would more willingly lay hold of, than an opportunity of confessing
my errors; and should esteem such a return to truth and reason to be more honourable
than the most unerring judgment. A man, who is free from mistakes, can pretend to no
praises, except from the justness of his understanding: But a man, who corrects his
mistakes, shews at once the justness of his understanding, and the candour and ingenuity
of his temper. I have not yet been so fortunate as to discover any very considerable
mistakes in the reasonings delivered in the preceding volumes, except on one article: But
I have found by experience, that some of my expressions have not been so well chosen,
as to guard against all mistakes in the readers; and it is chiefly to remedy this defect, I
have subjoined the following appendix.
We can never be induced to believe any matter of fact, except where its cause, or its
effect, is present to us; but what the nature is of that belief, which arises from the relation
of cause and effect, few have had the curiosity to ask themselves. In my opinion, this
dilemma is inevitable. Either the belief is some new idea, such as that of reality or
existence, which we join to the simple conception of an object, or it is merely a peculiar
feeling or sentiment. That it is not a new idea, annexed to the simple conception, may be
evinced from these two arguments. First, We have no abstract idea of existence,
distinguishable and separable from the idea of particular objects. It is impossible,
therefore, that this idea of existence can be annexed to the idea of any object, or form the
difference betwixt a simple conception and belief. Secondly, The mind has the command
over all its ideas, and can separate, unite, mix, and vary them, as it pleases; so that if
belief consisted merely in a new idea, annexed to the conception, it would be in a man's
power to believe what he pleased. We may, therefore, conclude, that belief consists
merely in a certain feeling or sentiment; in something, that depends not on the will, but
must arise from certain determinate causes and principles, of which we are not masters.
When we are convinced of any matter of fact, we do nothing but conceive it, along with a
certain feeling, different from what attends the mere reveries of the imagination. And
when we express our incredulity concerning any fact, we mean, that the arguments for the
fact produce not that feeling. Did not the belief consist in a sentiment different from our
mere conception, whatever objects were presented by the wildest imagination, would be
on an equal footing with the most established truths founded on history and experience.
There is nothing but the feeling, or sentiment, to distinguish the one from the other.
This, therefore, being regarded as an undoubted truth, that belief is nothing but a peculiar
feeling, different from the simple conception, the next question, that naturally occurs, is,
what is the nature of this feeling, or sentiment, and whether it be analogous to any other
sentiment of the human mind? This question is important. For if it be not analogous to
any other sentiment, we must despair of explaining its causes, and must consider it as an
original principle of the human mind. If it be analogous, we may hope to explain its
causes from analogy, and trace it up to more general principles. Now that there is a
greater firmness and solidity in the conceptions, which are the objects of conviction and