An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding HTML version

1. Of The Different Species Of Philosophy
1. Moral philosophy, or the science of human nature, may be treated after two different
manners; each of which has its peculiar merit, and may contribute to the entertainment,
instruction, and reformation of mankind. The one considers man chiefly as born for
action; and as influenced in his measures by taste and sentiment; pursuing one object, and
avoiding another, according to the value which these objects seem to possess, and
according to the light in which they present themselves. As virtue, of all objects, is
allowed to be the most valuable, this species of philosophers paint her in the most
amiable colours; borrowing all helps from poetry and eloquence, and treating their
subject in an easy and obvious manner, and such as is best fitted to please the
imagination, and engage the affections. They select the most striking observations and
instances from common life; place opposite characters in a proper contrast; and alluring
us into the paths of virtue by the views of glory and happiness, direct our steps in these
paths by the soundest precepts and most illustrious examples. They make us feel the
difference between vice and virtue; they excite and regulate our sentiments; and so they
can but bend our hearts to the love of probity and true honour, they think, that they have
fully attained the end of all their labours.
2. The other species of philosophers consider man in the light of a reasonable rather than
an active being, and endeavour to form his understanding more than cultivate his
manners. They regard human nature as a subject of speculation; and with a narrow
scrutiny examine it, in order to find those principles, which regulate our understanding,
excite our sentiments, and make us approve or blame any particular object, action, or
behaviour. They think it a reproach to all literature, that philosophy should not yet have
fixed, beyond controversy, the foundation of morals, reasoning, and criticism; and should
for ever talk of truth and falsehood, vice and virtue, beauty and deformity, without being
able to determine the source of these distinctions. While they attempt this arduous task,
they are deterred by no difficulties; but proceeding from particular instances to general
principles, they still push on their enquiries to principles more general, and rest not
satisfied till they arrive at those original principles, by which, in every science, all human
curiosity must be bounded. Though their speculations seem abstract, and even
unintelligible to common readers, they aim at the approbation of the learned and the wise;
and think themselves sufficiently compensated for the labour of their whole lives, if they
can discover some hidden truths, which may contribute to the instruction of posterity.
3. It is certain that the easy and obvious philosophy will always, with the generality of
mankind, have the preference above the accurate and abstruse; and by many will be
recommended, not only as more agreeable, but more useful than the other. It enters more
into common life; moulds the heart and affections; and, by touching those principles
which actuate men, reforms their conduct, and brings them nearer to that model of
perfection which it describes. On the contrary, the abstruse philosophy, being founded on
a turn of mind, which cannot enter into business and action, vanishes when the
philosopher leaves the shade, and comes into open day; nor can its principles easily retain
any influence over our conduct and behaviour. The feelings of our heart, the agitation of