The mind of man is the noblest work of God which reason discovers to us, and therefore, on account of its dignity, deserves our study. It must, indeed, be acknowledged, that although it is of all objects the nearest to us, and seems the most within our reach, it is very difficult to attend to its operations, so as to form a distinct notion of them; and on that account there is no branch of knowledge in which the ingenious and speculative have fallen into so great errors, and even absurdities. These errors and absurdities have given rise to a general prejudice against all inquiries of this nature; and because ingenious men have, for many ages, given different and contradictory accounts of the powers of the mind, it is concluded that all speculations concerning them are chimerical and visionary. But whatever effect this prejudice may have with superficial thinkers, the judicious will not be apt to be carried away with it.
Mr. Hume has justly observed, that “all the sciences have a relation to human nature; and, however wide any of them may seem to run from it, they still return back by one passage or another. This is the centre and capitol of the sciences, which being once masters of, we may easily extend our conquests everywhere.” The faculties of our minds are the tools and engines we must use in every disquisition; and the better we understand their nature and force, the more successfully we shall be able to apply them.
By the mind of a man we understand that in him which thinks, remembers, reasons, wills. The essence both of body and of mind is unknown to us. We know certain properties of the first, and certain operations of the last, and by these only we can define or describe them. We define body to be that which is extended, solid, movable, divisible. In like manner we define mind to be that which thinks. We are conscious that we think, and that we have a variety of thoughts of different kinds; such as seeing, hearing, remembering, deliberating, resolving, loving, hating, and many other kinds of thought, all which we are taught by nature to attribute to one internal principle; and this principle of thought we call the mind or soul of a man.
To body we ascribe various properties, but not operations, properly so called; it is extended, divisible, movable, inert; it continues in any state in which it is put; every change of its state is the effect of some force impressed upon it, and is exactly proportional to the force impressed, and in the precise direction of that force. These are the general properties of matter, and these are not operations; on the contrary, they all imply its being a dead, inactive thing, which moves only as it is moved, and acts only by being acted upon. But the mind is, from its very nature, a living and active being. Every thing we know of it implies life and active energy; and the reason why all its modes of thinking are called its operations is, that in all, or in most of them, it is not merely passive, as body is, but is really and properly active. In all ages, and in all languages, ancient and modern, the various modes of thinking have been expressed by words of active signification, such as seeing, hearing, reasoning, willing, and the like. It seems, therefore, to be the natural judgment of mankind, that the mind is active in its various ways of thinking; and for this reason they are called its operations, and are expressed by active verbs. It may be made a question, What regard is to be paid to this natural judgment? May it not be a vulgar error? Philosophers who think so have, no doubt, a right to be heard. But until it is proved that the mind is not active in thinking, but merely passive, the common language with regard to its operations ought to be used, and ought not to give place to a phraseology invented by philosophers, which implies its being merely passive.
In 1784, a bill was before the House of Delegates of Virginia for a publick Act, “establishing a provision for the teachers of the Christian religion,” which had for its object the compelling of every person to contribute to some religious teacher. The bill was postponed to the next session of the legislature and ordered to be printed, and the people were requested to signify their opinion respecting its adoption. Among the numerous remonstrances against the passage of this bill, the following one drawn by Mr. Madison, stands pre-eminent. It is certainly one of the ablest productions of that great statesman, and deserves to be widely circulated. To use the language of the authour of the work from which it is extracted — Benedict’s “General History of the Baptist denomination in America,” — its “style is elegant and perspicuous and for strength of reasoning and purity of principle, it has seldom been equalled, certainly never surpassed, by anything on the subject in the English language.” It is hardly necessary to say that the bill never passed the House. ~ Hartford Times
The difficulty which the mere thought of this problem puts before our eyes is this. Man is an animal which, if it lives among others of its kind, requires a master. For he certainly abuses his freedom with respect to other men, and although as, a reasonable being he wishes to have a law which limits the freedom of all, his selfish animal impulses tempt him, where possible, to exempt himself from them. He thus requires a master, who will break his will and force him to obey a will that is universally valid, under which each can be free. But whence does he get this master? Only from the human race. But then the master is himself an animal, and needs a master. Let him begin it as he will, it is not to be seen how he can procure a magistracy which can maintain public justice and which is itself just, whether it be a single person or a group of several elected persons. For each of them will always abuse his freedom if he has none above him to exercise force in accord with the laws. The highest master should be just in himself, and yet a man. This task is therefore the hardest of all; indeed, its complete solution is impossible, for from such crooked wood as man is made of, nothing perfectly straight can be built.
Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment. Since the free will of man has obvious influence upon marriages, births, and deaths, they seem to be subject to no rule by which the number of them could be reckoned in advance. Yet the annual tables of them in the major countries prove that they occur according to laws as stable as [those of] the unstable weather, which we likewise cannot determine in advance, but which, in the large, maintain the growth of plants the flow of rivers, and other natural events in an unbroken uniform course. Individuals and even whole peoples think little on this. Each, according to his own inclination, follows his own purpose, often in opposition to others; yet each individual and people, as if following some guiding thread, go toward a natural but to each of them unknown goal; all work toward furthering it, even if they would set little store by it if they did know it.
Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.
Thomas Jefferson drafted The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1779 three years after he wrote the Declaration of Independence. The act was not passed by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia until 1786. Jefferson was by then in Paris as the U.S. Ambassador to France. The Act was resisted by a group headed by Patrick Henry who sought to pass a bill that would have assessed all the citizens of Virginia to support a plural establishment. James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments was, and remains, a powerful argument against state supported religion. It was written in 1785, just a few months before the General Assembly passed Jefferson’s religious freedom bill.
But though these external insults, said Demia, from animals, from men, from all the elements, which assault us form a frightful catalogue of woes, they are nothing in comparison of those which arise within ourselves, from the distempered condition of our mind and body. How many lie under the lingering torment of diseases? Hear the pathetic enumeration of the great poet.