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of such volitions ; and have represented our habitual actions as involuntary and mechanical. But surely the circumstance of our inability to recollect our vo

litions, does not authorise us to dispute their possien Bett in bility; any more than our inability to attend to the

process of the mind, in estimating the distance of an object from the eye, authorises us to affirm that the perception is instantaneous.

Nor does it add any force to the objection to urge, that there are instances in which we find it difficult, or perhaps impossible, to check our habitual actions by a contrary volition. For it must be remembered, that this contrary volition does not remain with us steadily during the whole operation ; but is merely a general intention or resolution, which is banished from the mind, as soon as the occasion presents itself, with which the habitual train of our thoughts and volitions is associated *.

It may indeed be said, that these observations only prove the possibility that our habitual actions may be

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* The solution of this difficulty, which is given by Dr. Porter. field, is somewhat curious.

“ Such is the power of custom and habit, that many actions, “ which are no doubt voluntary, and proceed from our mind, are « in certain circumstances rendered necessary, so as to appear alto“gether mechanical, and independent of our wills; but it does not “ from thence follow, that our mind is not concerned in such mo“ tions, but only that it has imposed upon itself a law, whereby “ it regulates and governs them to the greatest advantage. In all “ this, there is nothing of intrinsical necessity; the mind is at ab. « folute liberty to act as it pleases ; but being a wise agent, it can“ not chuse but to act in conformity to this law, by reason of the “ utility and advantage that arises from this way of acting.”TREATISE ON THE EYE, vol. ii. p. 17.


voluntary. But if this be admitted, nothing more can well be required; for surely, if these phenomena are clearly explicable from the known and acknow. ledged laws of the human mind, it would be unphilosophical to devise a new principle, on purpose to account for them. The doctrine, therefore, which I have laid down with respect to the nature of habits, is by no means founded on hypothesis, as has been objected to me by some of my friends ; but, on the contrary, the charge of hypothesis falls on those who attempt to explain them, by saying that they are mechanical or automatic; a doctrine which, if it is at all intelligible, must be understood as implying the existence of some law of our constitution, which has been hitherto unobserved by philosophers ; and to which, I believe, it will be difficult to find any thing analogous in our constitution.

In the foregoing observations, I have had in view a favourite doctrine of Dr. Hartley's ; which has been maintained also of late by a much higher authority, I mean Dr Reid.

“ Habit *" (says this ingenious author) “ differs “ from instinct, not in its nature, but in its origin ; " the last being natural, the first acquired. Both

operate without will or intention, without thought, “ and therefore may be called mechanical principles.” In another passage t, he expresses himself thus: “I “ conceive it to be a part of our constitution, that 66 what we have been accustomed to do, we acquire “ casions ; so that it requires a particular will or effort

not only a facility but a proneness to do on like oc* Ffrays on the Active Powers of Man, p. 128. + Ibid. p. 130.

c6 casions ;

to forbear it, but to do it requires, very often, no 66 will at all.”

The same doctrine is laid down still more explicitly by Dr. Hartley

Suppose,” (says he,)“ a person who has a per« fectly voluntary command over his fingers, to begin

to learn to play on the harpsichord. The first step " is to move his fingers from key to key, with a flow 56 motion, looking at the notes, and exerting an exo

press act of volition in every motion. By degrees " the motions cling to one another, and to the im“ pressions of the notes, in the way of association, so " often mentioned, the acts of volition growing less “ and less express all the time, till at last they become “ evanescent and imperceptible. For an expert per“ former will play from notes, or ideas laid up in the

memory, and at the same time carry on a quite “ different train of thoughts in his mind; or even “ hold a conversation with another. Whence we

may conclude, that there is no intervention of the " idea, or state of mind, called Will *.” Cases of this fort, Hartley calls“ transitions of voluntary " actions into automatic ones.”

I cannot help thinking it more philosophical to suppose, that those actions which are originally voluntary, always continue so; although, in the case of operations which are become habitual in consequence of long practice, we may not be able to recollect every different volition. Thus, in the case of a performer

• Vol. i. p. 108, 109.


on the harpsichord, I apprehend, that there is an act of the will preceding every motion of every finger, although he may not be able to recollect these volitions afterwards; and although he may, during the time of his performance, be employed in.carrying on a separate train of thought. For, it must be remarked, that the most rapid performer can, when he pleases, play so flowly, as to be able to attend to, and to recollect, every separate act of his will in the various movements of his fingers; and he can gradually accelerate the rate of his execution, till he is unable to recollect these acts. Now, in this instance, one! of two suppositions must be made; the one is, that the operations in the two cases are carried on precisely in the same manner, and differ only in the degree of rapidity; and that when this rapidity exceeds a certain rate, the acts of the will are too momentary to leave any impression on the memory.-The other is, that when the rapidity exceeds a certain rate, the operation is taken entirely out of our hands; and is carried on by some unknown power, of the nature of which we are as ignorant, as of the cause of the circulation of the blood, or of the mo. tion of the intestines *. The last supposition seems to

* me

* This seems to have been the opinion of Bishop Berkeley, whose doctrine concerning the nature of our habitual actions, coincides with that of the two philosophers already quoted. “ It must be “owned, we are not conscious of the systole and diastole of the “ heart, or the motion of the diaphragm. It may not, neverthe" less, be thence inferred, that unknowing nature can act regu. “ larly as well as ourselves. The true inference is, that the self


" thinking

me to be somewhat similar to that of a man who should maintain, that, although a body projected with a moderate velocity, is seen to pass through all the intermediate spaces in moving from one place to another, yet we are not intitled to conclude, that this happens when the body moves so quickly as to become invisible to the eye. The former supposition is supported by the analogy of many other facts in our constitution. Of some of these, I have already taken notice; and it would be easy to add to the number.

An expert accountant, for example, can sum up, almost with a single glance of his eye, a long column of figures. He can tell the fum, with unerring certainty; while, at the same time, he is unable to recollect any one of the figures of which that sum is composed; and yet nobody doubts, that each of these figures has passed through his mind, or supposes, that whien the rapidity of the process becomes fo great

that he is unable to recollect the various steps of it, he obtains the result by a sort of inspiration. This

" thinking individual, or human person, is not the real author of " those natural motions. And, in fact, no man blames himself, if “they are wrong, or values himself, if they are right. The same “ may be faid of the fingers of a mufican, which fome object to “ be moved by habit, which understands not; it being evident that “ what is done by rule, must proceed from fomething that un“ derstands the rule; therefore, if not from the musician him elf, “ from fome other active intelligence; the same, perhaps, which “ governs bees and spiders, and moves the limbs of those who “ walk in their flecp.”See a Treatise, entitled, Siris, p. 123. 211 edit.


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