An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding HTML version

place. Being determined by custom to transfer the past to the future, in all our inferences;
where the past has been entirely regular and uniform, we expect the event with the
greatest assurance, and leave no room for any contrary supposition. But where different
effects have been found to follow from causes, which are to appearance exactly similar,
all these various effects must occur to the mind in transferring the past to the future, and
enter into our consideration, when we determine the probability of the event. Though we
give the preference to that which has been found most usual, and believe that this effect
will exist, we must not overlook the other effects, but must assign to each of them a
particular weight and authority, in proportion as we have found it to be more or less
frequent. It is more probable, in almost every country of Europe, that there will be frost
sometime in January, than that the weather will continue open throughout that whole
month; though this probability varies according to the different climates, and approaches
to a certainty in the more northern kingdoms. Here then it seems evident, that, when we
transfer the past to the future, in order to determine the effect, which will result from any
cause, we transfer all the different events, in the same proportion as they have appeared
in the past, and conceive one to have existed a hundred times, for instance, another ten
times, and another once. As a great number of views do here concur in one event, they
fortify and confirm it to the imagination, beget that sentiment which we call belief, and
give its object the preference above the contrary event, which is not supported by an
equal number of experiments, and recurs not so frequently to the thought in transferring
the past to the future. Let any one try to account for this operation of the mind upon any
of the received systems of philosophy, and he will be sensible of the difficulty. For my
part, I shall think it sufficient, if the present hints excite the curiosity of philosophers, and
make them sensible how defective all common theories are in treating of such curious
and such sublime subjects.