An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding HTML version

philosopher, at last, arose, who seems, from the happiest reasoning, to have also
determined the laws and forces, by which the revolutions of the planets are governed and
directed. The like has been performed with regard to other parts of nature. And there is no
reason to despair of equal success in our enquiries concerning the mental powers and
economy, if prosecuted with equal capacity and caution. It is probable, that one operation
and principle of the mind depends on another; which, again, may be resolved into one
more general and universal: And how far these researches may possibly be carried, it will
be difficult for us, before, or even after, a careful trial, exactly to determine. This is
certain, that attempts of this kind are every day made even by those who philosophize the
most negligently: And nothing can be more requisite than to enter upon the enterprize
with thorough care and attention; that, if it lie within the compass of human
understanding, it may at last be happily achieved; if not, it may, however, be rejected
with some confidence and security. This last conclusion, surely, is not desirable; nor
ought it to be embraced too rashly. For how much must we diminish from the beauty and
value of this species of philosophy, upon such a supposition? Moralists have hitherto
been accustomed, when they considered the vast multitude and diversity of those actions
that excite our approbation or dislike, to search for some common principle, on which
this variety of sentiments might depend. And though they have sometimes carried the
matter too far, by their passion for some one general principle; it must, however, be
confessed, that they are excusable in expecting to find some general principles, into
which all the vices and virtues were justly to be resolved. The like has been the
endeavour of critics, logicians, and even politicians: Nor have their attempts been wholly
unsuccessful; though perhaps longer time, greater accuracy, and more ardent application
may bring these sciences still nearer their perfection. To throw up at once all pretensions
of this kind may justly be deemed more rash, precipitate, and dogmatical, than even the
boldest and most affirmative philosophy, that has ever attempted to impose its crude
dictates and principles on mankind.
10. What though these reasonings concerning human nature seem abstract, and of
difficult comprehension? This affords no presumption of their falsehood. On the contrary,
it seems impossible, that what has hitherto escaped so many wise and profound
philosophers can be very obvious and easy. And whatever pains these researches may
cost us, we may think ourselves sufficiently rewarded, not only in point of profit but of
pleasure, if, by that means, we can make any addition to our stock of knowledge, in
subjects of such unspeakable importance.
But as, after all, the abstractedness of these speculations is no recommendation, but rather
a disadvantage to them, and as this difficulty may perhaps be surmounted by care and art,
and the avoiding of all unnecessary detail, we have, in the following enquiry, attempted
to throw some light upon subjects, from which uncertainty has hitherto deterred the wise,
and obscurity the ignorant. Happy, if we can unite the boundaries of the different species
of philosophy, by reconciling profound enquiry with clearness, and truth with novelty!
And still more happy, if, reasoning in this easy manner, we can undermine the
foundations of an abstruse philosophy, which seems to have hitherto served only as a
shelter to superstition, and a cover to absurdity and error!