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The Falseness and Inconsistence of that metaphysical
Notion of Action and Agency, which seems to be generally entertained by the Defenders of the Arminian Doctrine concerning Liberty, moral Agen, cy, &C.
ONE thing that is made very much a ground of argument and supposed demonstration by Arminians, in defence of the forementioned principles, concerning moral agency, virtue, vice, &c. is their inetaphysical notion of agency and action. They say, unless the soul has a selfdetermining power, it has no power of action ; if its volitions be not caused by itself, but are excited and determined by some extrinsic cause, they cannot be the soul's own acts ; and that the soul cannot be active, but must be wholly passive, in those effects which it is the subject of necessarily, and not from its own free determi. nation.
Mr. Chubb lays the foundation of his scheme of liberty, and of his arguments to support it, very much in this position, that man is an agent, and capable of action. Which doubtless is true ; but selfdetermination belongs to his notion of action, and is the very essence of it. Whence he infers, that it is impossible for a man to act and be acted upon, in the same thing, at the same time ; and that nothing, that is an action, can be the effect of the action of another; and he insists, that a necessary agent, or an agent that is necessarily determined to act, is a plain contradiction.
But those are a precarious sort of demonstrations, which men build on the meaning that they arbitrarily affix to a word; especially when that meaning is abstruse, inconsistent, and entirely diverse from the original sense of the word in common speech.
That the meaning of the word action, as Mr. Chubb and many others use it, is utterly unintelligible and inconsistent, is manifest, because it belongs to their notion of an action, that it is something wherein is no passion or passiveness ; that is (according to their sense of passiveness) it is under the power, influence or action of no cause. And this implies, that action has no cause, and is no effect; for to be an effect implies passiveness, or the being subject to the power and action of its cause. And yet they hold, that the mind's action is the effect of its own determination, yea, the mind's free and voluntary determination ; which is the same with free choice. So that action is the effect of something preceding, even a preceding act of choice ; and consequently, in this effect the mind is passive, subject to the power and action of the preceding cause, which is the foregoing choice, and therefore cannot be active. So that here we have this contradiction, that action is always the effect of foregoing choice ; and therefore cannot be action ; because it is passive to the power of that preceding causal choice ; and the mind cannot be active and passive in the same thing, at the same time. Again, they say, necessity is utterly inconsistent with action, and a necessary action is a contradiction ; and so their notion of action implies contingence, and excludes all necessity. And therefore, their notion of action implies, that it has no necessary dependence or connexion with any thing foregoing; for such a dependence or connexion excludes contingence, and implies necessity. And yet their notion of action implies necessity, and supposes that it is necessary, and cannot be contingent. For they suppose, that whatever is properly called action, must be determined by the Will and free choice ; and this is as much as to say, that it must be necessary, being dependent upon, and determined by something foregoing ; namely, a foregoing act of choice. Again, it belongs to their notion of action, of that which is a proper and mere act, that it is the beginning of motion, or of exertion of power ; but yet it is implied in their notion of action, that it is not the beginning
of motion or exertion of power, but is consequent and depend. - ent on a preceding exertion of power, viz. the power of Will and choice ; for they say there is no proper action but what is freely chosen ; or, which is the same thing, determined by a foregoing act of free choice. But if any of them shall see cause to deny this, and say they hold no such thing as that every action is chosen or determined by a foregoing choice ; but that the very first exertion of Will only, undetermined by any preceding act, is properly called action ; then I say, such a man's notion of action implies necessity ; for what the mind is the subject of, without the determination of its own previous choice, it is the subject of necessarily, as to any hand, that free choice has in the affair, and, without any ability, the mind has to prevent it, by any Will or election of its own; because by the supposition it precludes all previous acts of the Will or choice in the case, which might prevent it. So that it is again, in this other way, implied in their notion of act, that it is both necessary and not necessary. Again, it belongs to their notion of an act, that it is no effect of a predetermining bias or preponderation, but springs immediately out of indifference ; and this implies, that it cannot be from foregoing choice, which is foregoing preponderation : If it be not habitual, but occasional, yet if it causes the act, it is truly previ. ous, efficacious and determining. And yet, at the same time, it is essential to their notion of an act, that it is what the agent is the author of freely and voluntarily, and that is, by previous choice and design.
So that, according to their notion of an act, considered with regard to its consequences, these following things are all essential to it, viz. that it should be necessary, and not necessary; that it should be from a cause, and no cause ; that it should be the fruit of choice and design, and not the fruit of choice and design; that it should be the beginning of motion or exertion, and yet consequent on previous exertion ; that it should be before it is ; that it should spring immediately out of indifference and equilibrium, and yet be the effect of preponderation ; that it should be selforiginated, and also have its original from something else ; that it is what the mind causes itself, of its own Will, and can produce or prevent, according
to its choice or pleasure, and yet what the mind has no power to prevent, it precluding all previous choice in the affair.
So that an act, according to their metaphysical notion of it, is something of which there is no idea : It is nothing but a confusion of the mind, excited by words without any distinct meaning, and is an absolute nonentity; and that in two respects : (1.) There is nothing in the world that ever was, is, or can be, to answer the things which must belong to its description, according to what they suppose to be essential to it. And (2.) There neither is, nor ever was, nor can be, any notion or idea to answer the word, as they use and explain it. For if we should suppose any such notion, it would many ways destroy itself. But it is impossible any idea or notion should subsist in the mind, whose very nature and essence, which constitutes it, destroys it. If some learned philosopher, who had been abroad, in giving an account of the curious observations he had made in his travels, should say, “ He had been in Terra del Fuego, and there had seen an animal, which he calls by a certain name, that begat and brought forth itself, and yet had a sire and dam distinct from itself; ihat it had an appetite, and was hungry before it had a being; that his master, who led him, and governed him at his pleasure, was always governed by him, and driven by him where he pleased ; that when he moved, he always took a step before the first step; that he went with his head first, and yet always went tail foremost; and this, though he had neither head nor tail :" It would be no impudence at all, to tell such a traveller, though a learned man, that he himself had no notion or idea of such an animal, as he gave an account of, and never had, nor ever would have.
As the forementioned notion of action is very inconsistent, so it is wholly diverse from the original meaning of the word, The more usual signification of it, in vulgar speech, seems to be some motion, or exertion of power, that is voluntary, or that is the effect of the Will; and is used in the same sense as doing; and most commonly it is used to signify outward actions. So thinking is often distinguished from acting; and desiring and willing, from doing.
Besides this more usual and proper signification of the word action, there are other ways in which the word is used, that are less proper, which yet have place in common speech. Oftentimes it is used to signify some motion or alteration in inanimate things, with relation to some object and effect. So the spring of a watch is said to act upon the chain and wheels; the sun beams, to act upon plants and trees; and the fire, to act upon wood. Sometimes the word is used to signify motions, alterations, and exertions of power, which are seen in corporeal things, considered absolutely ; especially when these motions seem to arise from some internal cause which is hid. den; so that they have a greater resemblance of those motions of our bodies, which are the effects of internal volition, or invisible exertions of Will. So the fermentation of liquor, the operations of the loadstone, and of electrical bodies, are called the action of these things. And sometimes the word action is used to signify the exercise of thought, or of Will and inclination : So meditating, loving, hating, inclining, disinclining, choosing and refusing, may be sometimes called acting ; though more rarely (unless it be by philosophers and metaphysicians) than in any of the other senses.
But the word is never used in vulgar speech in that sense which Arminian divines use it in, namely, for the selfdeterminate exercise of the Will, or an exertion of the soul that arises without any necessary connexion, with any thing foregoing. If a man does something voluntarily, or as the effect of his choice, then in the most proper sense, and as the word is most originally and commonly used, he is said to act : But whether that choice or volition be selfdetermined, or no, whether it be connected with foregoing habitual bias, whether it be the certain effect of the strongest motive, or some extrinsic cause, never comes into consideration in the meaning of the word.
And if the word Action is arbitrarily used by some men otherwise, to suit some scheme of metaphysics or morality, no argument can rcasonably be founded on such a use of this term, to prove any thing but their own pleasure. For divines and philosophers sirenuously to urge such arguments, as