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[Book IV.] Chap. VI.

I. We have now abundantly confuted the Protagorean Philosophy, which, that it might be sure to destroy the Immutable Natures of Just and Unjust, would destroy all Science or Knowledge, and make it Relative and Phantastical. Having shewed that this Tenet is not only most absurd and contradictious in it self, but also manifestly repugnant to that very Atomical Physiology, on which Protagoras endeavoured to found it, and, than which nothing can more effectually confute and destroy it: and also largely demonstrated, that though Sense be indeed a meer Relative and Phantastical Perception, as Protagoras thus far rightly supposed; yet notwithstanding there is a Superior Power of Intellection and Knowledge of a different Nature from Sense, which is not ter <284> minated [1]in meer Seeming and Appearance only, but [2]in the Truth and Reality of Things, and reaches to the Comprehension of that which Really and Absolutely is, whose Objects are the Eternal and Immutable Essences and Natures of Things, and their Unchangeable Relations to one another.

2. To prevent all Mistake, I shall again remember, what I have before intimated, that where it is affirmed that the Essences of all Things are Eternal and Immutable; which Doctrine the Theological Schools have constantly avouched, this is only to be understood of the Intelligible Essences and Rationes of Things, as they are the Objects of the Mind: And that there neither is nor can be any other Meaning of it, than this, that there is an Eternal Knowledge and Wisdom, or an Eternal Mind or Intellect, which comprehends within it self the Steady and Immutable Rationes of all Things and their Verities, from which all Particular Intellects are derived, and on which they do depend. But not that the Constitutive Essences of all Individual Created Things were Eternal and <285> Uncreated, as if God in Creating of the World, did nothing else, but as some sarcastically express it, Sartoris instar Rerum Essentias vestire Existentia, only cloathed the Eternal, Increated, and Antecedent Essences of Things with a New outside Garment of Existence, and not created the Whole of them: And as if the Constitutive Essences of Things could Exist apart separately from the Things themselves, which absurd Conceit Aristotle frequently, and no less deservedly chastises.

3. Wherefore the Result of all that we have hitherto said is this, that the Intelligible Natures and Essences of Things are neither Arbitrary nor Phantastical, that is, neither Alterable by any Will whatsoever, nor changeable by Opinion; and therefore every Thing is Necessarily and Immutably to Science and Knowledge what it is, whether Absolutely, or Relatively, to all Minds and Intellects in the World. So that if Moral Good and Evil, Just and Unjust, signify any Reality, either Absolute or Relative, in the Things so denominated, as they must have some certain Natures, which are the Actions or Souls of Men, <286> they are neither Alterable by meer Will nor Opinion.

Upon which Ground that wise Philosopher Plato, in his Minos, determines that Νόμος, a Law, is not δόγμα πόλεως, any Arbitrary Decree of a City or supreme Governours; because there may be Unjust Decrees, which therefore are no Laws, but [3]the Invention of that which IS, or what is Absolutely or Immutably Just, in its own Nature. Though it be very true also, that the Arbitrary Constitutions of those that have Lawful Authority of Commanding, when they are not materially Unjust, are Laws also in a secondary Sense, by vertue of that Natural and Immutable Justice or Law that requires Political Order to be Observed.

4. But I have not taken all this Pains only to Confute Scepticism or Phantasticism, or meerly to defend and corroborate our Argument for the Immutable Natures of Just and Unjust; but also for some other Weighty Purposes that are very much conducing to the Business that we have in hand. And first of all, that the Soul is <287> not a meer Rasa Tabula, a Naked and Passive Thing, which has no innate Furniture or Activity of its own, nor any thing at all in it, but what was impressed upon it without; for if it were so, then there could not possibly be any such Thing as Moral Good and Evil, Just and Unjust; Forasmuch as these Differences do not arise meerly from the outward Objects, or from the Impresses which they make upon us by Sense, there being no such Thing in them; in which Sense it is truly affirmed by the Author of the Leviathan, Page 24. That there is no common Rule of Good and Evil to be taken from the Nature of the Objects themselves, that is, either considered absolutely in themselves, or Relatively to external Sense only, but according to some other interior Analogy which Things have to a certain inward Determination in the Soul it self, from whence the Foundation of all this Difference must needs arise, as I shall shew afterwards; Not that the Anticipations of Morality spring meerly from intellectual Forms and notional Idea’s of the Mind, or from certain Rules or Propositions, arbitrarily printed upon the Soul as upon a Book, but from some <288> other more inward, and vital Principle, in intellectual Beings, as such, whereby they have a natural Determination in them to do some Things, and to avoid others, which could not be, if they were meer naked Passive Things. Wherefore since the Nature of Morality cannot be understood, without some Knowledge of the Nature of the Soul, I thought it seasonable and requisite here to take this Occasion offered, and to prepare the Way to our following Discourse, by shewing in general, that the Soul is not a meer Passive and Receptive Thing, which hath no innate active Principle of its own, Because upon this Hypothesis there could be no such Thing as Morality.

5. Again, I have the rather insisted upon this Argument also, because that which makes Men so inclinable to think that Justice, Honesty and Morality are but thin, airy and phantastical Things, that have little or no Entity or Reality in them besides Sensuality, is a certain Opinion in Philosophy which doth usually accompany it, that Matter and Body are the first Original and Source of all Things; that there is no Incorporeal Substance superior to <289> Matter and independent upon it: And therefore that sensible Things are the only real and substantial Things in Nature; but Souls and Minds springing secondarily out of Body, that Intellectuality and Morality belong unto them, are but thin and evanid Shadows of sensible and corporeal Things, and not natural, but artificial and factitious Things that do as it were border upon the Confines of Non-Entity.

6. This is a Thing excellently well observed by Plato, and therefore I shall set down his Words at large concerning it.[4]"These Men making this Distribution of <290> Things, that all Things that are, are either by Nature, or Art, or Chance, they imagine that the greatest and most excellent Things that are in the World, are to be attributed to Nature and Chance; which working upon those greater Things which are made by Nature, does form and fabricate certain smaller Things afterward, which we commonly call artificial Things. To speak more plainly, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, they attribute wholly to Nature and Chance, but not to any Art or Wisdom; in like manner those Bodies or the Earth, the Sun, Moon and Stars, they will have to be made out of them fortuitously agitated; and so by Chance causing both divers Systems and Compages of Things: thus they would have the whole Heavens made, and all the Earth and Animals, and all the Seasons of the Year, not by any Mind Intellect, or God, not by any Art or Wis <291> dom, but all by blind Nature and Chance. But Art and Mind aferwards springing up out of these, to have begotten certain ludicrous Things, which have little Truth and Reality in them, but are like Images in a Glass, such as Picture and Musick produces. Wherefore these Men attribute all Ethicks, Politicks, Morality and Laws, not to Nature, but to Art, whose Productions are not real and substantial."

7. Now this Philosopher, that he may evince that Ethicks, Politicks and Morality are as real and substantial Things, and as truly natural as those Things which belong to Matter, he endeavours to shew that Souls and Minds do not spring secondarily out of Matter and Body, but that they are real Things in Nature, superior and antecedent to Body and Matter. His Words are these: [5]"These Men are all ignorant concerning the <292> Nature of Mind and Soul, as in other Regards, so especially in respect of its Original, as it is in order of Nature before Matter and Body, and does not result out of it; but does command it, govern it, and rule it."

And I have in like manner in this antecedent Discourse, endeavoured to shew that Wisdom, Knowledge, Mind and Intellect, are no thin Shadows or Images of corporeal and sensible Things, nor do result secondarily out of Matter and Body, and from the Activity and Impressions thereof; but have an independent and self-subsistent Being, which in order of Nature, is before Body; all particular created Minds being but derivative Participations of one Infinite Eternal Mind, which is antecedent to all corporeal Things.

8. Now from hence it naturally follows, that those Things which belong to Mind and Intellect, such as Morality, Ethicks, Politics and Laws are, which Plato calls, [6]The Offspring and Productions of Mind, are no less to be accounted natural Things, or real and substantial, than those things <293> which belong to stupid and senseless matter: For since Mind and Intellect are first in order of Nature before Matter and Body, those Things which belong to the Mind must needs be in order of Nature before those Things which belong to the Body. [7]"Wherefore Mind and Intellect, Art and Law, Ethicks and Morality are first in order of Nature, before Hard and Soft, Light and Heavy, Long and Broad, which belong to Body;" and therefore more real and substantial Things. For since Mind and Intellect are a higher, more real and substantial Thing than senseless Body and Matter, and what hath far the more Vigour, Activity and Entity in it, Modifications of Mind and Intellect, such as Justice and Morality, must of Necessity be more real and substantial Things, than the Modifications of meer senseless Matter, such as Hard and Soft, Thick and Thin, Hot and Cold, and the like are. And therefore that grave Philosopher ex <294> excellently {sic} well concludes, [8]that "the greatest and first Works and Actions are of Art or of Mind, which were before Body; but those Things which are said to be by Nature (in which they abuse the Word Nature, appropriating it only to senseless and inanimate Matter) are afterwards, being governed by Mind and Art."

9. Wherefore I thought our former Discourse seasonable to confute the Dulness and Grossness of those Philosophasters that make corporeal Things existing without the Soul, to be the only solid and substantial Things, and make their grossest external Senses the only Judges of Reality of Things, [9]"and so conclude nothing is or has any Reality but what they can grasp in their Hands, or have some gross or palpable Sense of."

Whereas notwithstanding it is most true that those corporeal Qualities, which they think to be such Real Things exist <295> ing in Bodies without them, are for the most part fantastick and imaginary Things, and have no more Reality than the Colours of the Rainbow; and, as Plotinus expresseth it, [10]"have no Reality at all in the Objects without us, but only a seeming Kind of Entity in our own Fancies;" and therefore are not absolutely any Thing in themselves, but only relative to Animals. So that they do in a manner mock us, when we conceive of them as Things really existing without us, being nothing but our own Shadows, and the vital passive Energies of our own Souls.

Though it was not the Intention of God or Nature to abuse us herein, but a most wise Contrivance thus to beautify and adorn the visible and material World, to add Lustre or Imbellishment to it, that it might have Charms, Relishes and Allurements in it, to gratify our Appetites; Whereas otherwise really in it self, the whole corporeal World in its naked Hue, is nothing else but a Heap of Dust or Atoms, of several Figures and Magnitudes, <296> variously agitated up and down; so that these Things, which we look upon as such real Things without us, are not properly the Modifications of Bodies themselves, but several Modifications, Passions and Affections of our own Souls.

10. Neither are these passive and sympathetical Energies of the Soul, when it acts confusedly with the Body and the Pleasures resulting from them, such real and substantial things as those that arise from the pure noetical Energies of the Soul it self Intellectually and Morally; for since the Mind and Intellect is in it self a more real and substantial Thing, and fuller of Entity than Matter and Body, those Things which are [11]the pure Offspring of the Mind, and sprout from the Soul it self, must needs be more real and substantial than those Things which blossom from the Body, or from the Soul infeebled by it, and slumbering in it.

11. Wherefore that Philosopher professing and understanding to confute Atheists, and to shew, [12]That all Atheists, though they <297> pretend to Wit never so much, are but Bunglers at Reason, and sorry Philosophers, He, not without Cause, fetches his Discourse from hence, that [13]"They that thus infect Mens Minds with Impiety and Atheism, make that which is the first Cause of all Generation and Corruption, to be the last Thing in the Universe, and that which is the last to be the first: From hence proceeds their Errour concerning the Being of God;" that is, they make Mind and Soul to be the last Thing, and Body and Matter to be the first.

This therefore is the only Course and Method which this Philosopher proceeds in to confute the Atheists; to shew, [14]"That Mind and Soul, in the Order of the Universe, are before Body, and not posterior to it; Mind and Soul being that which rules in the Universe, and Body that which is ruled and ordered by it." And there is no Phenomenon in the World but may be salved from this Hypothesis.


Now this he demonstrates, even from local Motion, because Body and Matter has no self-moving Power, and therefore it is moved and determined in its Motion by a higher Principle, a Soul or Mind; which Argument is further improved by the Author of that excellent philosophical Treatise, Book II. Chap. {sic}.

12. Now, for the self-same Cause, I have endeavoured to demonstrate in the foregoing Discourse, that Knowledge and Intellection cannot possibly spring from Sense, nor the Radiation or Impresses of Matter and Body upon that which knows, but from an active Power of the Mind, as a Thing antecedent to Matter, and independent upon it, whereby it is enabled from within it self to exert intelligible Ideas of all Things.

13. Lastly, I have insisted the rather so largely upon this Argument, for this further Reason also, because it is not possible that there should be any such Thing as Morality, unless there be a God, that is, an Infinite Eternal Mind that is the first Original and Source of all Things, whose Nature is the first Rule and Exemplar of Morality; for otherwise it is not conceivable, whence any such Thing should <299> be derived to particular Intellectual Beings. Now there can be no such Thing as God, if stupid and senseless Matter be the first Original of all Things; and if all Being and Perfection that is found in the World, may spring up and arise out of the dark Womb of unthinking Matter; but if Knowledge and Understanding, if Soul, Mind and Wisdom may result and emerge out of it, then doubtless everything that appears in the World may; and so Night, Matter, and Chaos, must needs be the first and only Original of all Things.

14. Wherefore Plato, as I have already intimated, taking Notice of the Opinion of divers Pretenders to Philosophy, [15]"That Fire, Water, Air and Earth, are the first Beings of all, to which senseless and inanimate Things they appropriate the Title of Nature: But that Soul did spring up afterward out of these as a secondary Thing," and as a meer Shadow of them, he immediately adds concerning it, [16]"We have here found <300> and discovered the true Fountain of all that atheistical Madness that possesses most of those that deal in Physiology or Questions of Natural Philosophy," viz. That they are all possessed with this Sottishness, that Matter and Body is the first Original of all Things; and therefore it is observed by the same Author, that the same Persons that held all Things were derived from Body, Blind Nature and Chance, did both deny the Existence of God, and which is consentaneous thereunto, asserted, that Justice and Morality have no Nature or Entity at all, saying, they were nothing but Passion from Corporeal Things, without the Sentient or the Renitence, or the Reaction made upon local Motion in a Body duly mixed and tempered: that is, if Soul and Mind, Knowledge and Wisdom may thus arise from the Contemplation of meer senseless Matter, and Radiation or Impression that is the meer local Motion of corporeal Objects without, then, as we said before, there cannot possibly be the least Shadow of Argument left to prove a Deity by; since not only the Souls of Men, but also all that Wisdom, Counsel, and <301> Contrivance that appears in the Frame of the whole visible World, might first arise in like manner from the meer casual Concourse and Contemperation of the whole Matter; either in those particular Bodies of the Sun and Stars, or else in the whole System and Compages of the material World it self.

15. Wherefore we have not only shewed that all Intellection and Knowledge does not emerge or emane out of Sense, but also that Sense it self is not a meer Passion or Reception of corporeal Impresses without, but that it is an active Energy and Vigour, though sympathetical in the Sentient. And it is no more possible that this should arise out of senseless Matter and Atoms, by reason of any peculiar Contemperation or Contexture of them in respect of Figure, Site, and Motion, than that which all Atheists stoutly deny, that something should arise out of nothing.

And here we can never sufficiently applaud that ancient atomical Philosophy, so successfully revived of late by Cartesius, in that it shews distinctly what Matter is, and what it can amount unto, namely, <302> nothing else but what may be produced from meer Magnitude, Figure, Site, local Motion, and Rest; from whence it is demonstrably evident and mathematically certain, that no Cogitation can possibly arise out of the Power of Matter; whereas that other Philosophy which brings in a dark unintelligible Matter that is nothing and every thing, out of whose Potentiality not only innumerable Qualities, but also substantial Forms and sensitive Souls, (and therefore why not rational also, since all Reason emerges out of Sense) may be educed, must of necessity perpetually brood and hatch Atheism. Whereas we cannot but extremely admire that monstrous Dotage and Sottishness of Epicurus, and some other spurious Pretenders to this Atomical Philosophy, that notwithstanding they acknowledge nothing else in Matter besides Magnitude, Figure, Site, and Motion, yet would make not only the Power of Sensation, but also of Intellection and Ratiocination, and therefore all human Souls, to arise from the mere Contexture of corporeal Atoms, and utterly explode all incorporeal Substances; than <303> which two Assertions nothing can be more contradictious. And this is far more absurd, to make Reason and Intellection to arise from Magnitude, Figure and Motion, than to attribute those unintelligible Qualities to Matter which they explode.


[1] Ἐν τῷ φαινομένῳ

[2] Ἐν τῷ ὄντι.

[3] Τοῦ ὄντος ἐξεύρεσις.

[4] Λέγουσί που τινὲς ὠς πάντα ἐστι τὰ πράγματα τὰ μὲν φύσει, τὰ δὲ τέχνῃ, τὰ δὲ δὶα τύχνη. Εὄικε δὲ φασὶ, τὰ μὲν μέγιστα ἀυτῶν καὶ κάλλιστα ἀπεργάζεσθαι φύσιν καὶ τύχην, τὰ δὲ σμικρότερα τέχνην. ἣν δὲ παρὰ φύσεως λαμβάνουσαν τὴν τῶν μεγάλων καὶ πρώτων γένεσιν ἔργων πλάττειν καὶ τεκταίνεσθαι πάντα τὰ σμικρότερα, ἃ δὴ τεχνικὰ πάντες προσαγορέυομεν. Ὧδ᾽ ἔτι σαφέστερον ἐρῶ. Πῦρ καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ γῆν καὶ αέρα φύσει πάντα εἶναι καὶ τύχῃ φασὶ, τέχνῃ δὲ οὐδὲν τούτων. καὶ τὰ μετὰ ταῦτα ἆυ σώματα γῆς τε καὶ ἡλίου καὶ σελήνης ἄστρων τε πέρι, δὶα τούτων γεγονέναι παντελῶς ὅντων ἀψύχων. Τύχῃ δὲ φερόμενα τῇ τῆς δυνάμεως ἕκαστα ἑκαστων, ᾗ ξυμπέπτωκεν ἀρμόττοντα ὀικειως πῶς θερμὰ ψυχροῖς, ἢ ξηρὰ πρὸς ὑγρὰ, καὶ μαλακὰ πρὸς σκλῆρα. καὶ πάντα ὁπόσα τῇ τῶν ἐναντίων κράσει κατὰ τύχην ἐξ ἀνάγκης συνεκεράσθη. Ταύτῃ καὶ κατὰ τᾶυτα οὓτω γεγεννηκέναι τόν τε οὐρανὸν ὅλον καὶ πάντα ὁπόσα κατ᾽ ὄυρανον. καὶ ζῶα ἆυ καὶ φυτὰ ξύμπαντα ὡρῶν πασῶν ἐκ τούτων γενομένων. ὀυ δὶα νοῦν φασὶν, οὐδὲ δὶα τινα θεὸν, ὀυδὲ δια τέχνην, ἀλλὰ ὃ λέγομεν φύσει καὶ τύχῃ. Τέχνην δὲ ὕστε <290> ρον τούτων ὑστεραν γενομένην ἀυτὴν θνητὴν ἐκ θνητῶν, ὓστερα γεγενηκέναι παιδείας τινὰς, ἀληθείας οὐ σφόδρα μετεχόυσας, ἀλλ᾽ εἴδωλα ἄττα συγγενῆ εἁυτῶν. οἶα ἡ γραφὴ γεννᾷ καὶ Μουσικὴ, καὶ ὅσαι ταύταις εἰσὶ συνέριθοι τέχναι. οὕτω δὲ καὶ τὴν νομοθεσίαν πᾶσαν ὀυ φύσει τέχνῃ δὲ, ἦς ὀυκ ἀληθεῖς. εἶναι τὰς θέσεις.

[5] Ψυχὴν ὦ ἑταῖρε ἠγνοηκέναι κινδυνεύουσι μὲν ὀλίγου ξύμπαντες, οἷόν τε ὂν τυγχάνει καὶ δύναμιν ἣν ἔχει, τῶν τε ἄλλων ἀυτῆς πέρι, καὶ δὴ καὶ γενέσεως ὡς ἐν πρώτοις ἐστι σωμάτων ἔμπροσθεν πάντων γενομένη, καὶ μεταβολῆς τε ἀυτῶν καὶ μετακοσμήσεως ἀπάσης ἄρχη παντὸς μᾶλλον.

[6] Νοῦ γεννήματα ὀυχ ἧττον φύσει εἶναι ἢ φύσεως.

[7] Ἄρα οὐκ ἐξ ἀνάγκης τὰ ψυχῆς συγγενῆ πρότερα ἂν ἔιη γεγονότα τῶν σώματι προσηκόντων, οὔσης ταύτης πρεσβυτέρας ἢ σώματος, νοῦς καὶ τέχνη καὶ νόμος καὶ τρόπος καὶ ἤθη σκληρῶν καὶ μαλακῶν, βαρὲων καὶ κόυφων, μηκοῦς σωμάτων καὶ πλάτους πρότερα.

[8] Τὰ μεγάλα καὶ πρῶτα ἔργα καὶ πράξεις τέχνης ἂν γίγνοιτο ὄντα ἐν πρώτοις, τὰ δὲ φύσει και φύσις (ἣν ὀυκ ὀρθῶς ἐπονομάζουσιν) ἀυτὸ τοῦτο, ὕστερα καὶ ἀρχόμενα ἂν ἐκ τέχνης ἔιη καὶ νοῦ.

[9] Ὁι οὐδὲν ἄλλο ὀιόμενοι εἶναι ἢ οὗ ἂν δύνωνται ἄπριξ ταῖν χεροῖν λαβέσθαι.

[10] Καὶ οὐκ ἐν τοῖς ὑποκειμένοις, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν τοῖς πάθεσιν ἔχει τὴν ὑπόστασιν.

[11] Νοῦ γεννήματα.

[12] Τοῦς λόγων ἁπτομένους ἀσεβῶν μηδὲ ἐ͂ν τοῖς λόγοις ἀλλ᾽ ἐξημαρτημένως χρᾶσθαι.

[13] Ὅτι ὂ πρῶτον γενέσεως καὶ φθορᾶς ἄιτιον ἀπάντων, τοῦτο οὐ πρῶτον ἀλλ᾽ ὓστερον ἀπεφήναντο εἶναι γεγονὸς οἱ τὴν τῶν ἀσεβῶν ψυχὴν ἀπεργασάμενοι λόγοι, ὁ δὲ ὓστερον πρότερον, ὅθεν ἡμαρτήκασι περὶ θεῶν τῆς ὄντως οὐσίας.

[14] Ψυχὴν μὲν προτέραν γεγονέναι σώματος, σῶμα δὲ δεύτερόν τε καὶ ὕστερον, ψυχῆς ἀρχόυσης ἀρχόμενον κατὰ φύσιν.

[15] Πῦρ καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ γῆν, καὶ ἀέρα πρῶτα ἡγεῖσθαι τῶν πάντων εἶναι καὶ τὴν φύσιν ὀνομάζειν ταῦτα ἀυτὰ, ψυχὴν δὲ ἐκ τοῦτων ὕστερον.

[16] Οἷον πήγην τινα ἀνοήτου δόξης ἀνευρήκαμεν ἀνθρώπων ὁπόσοι πώποτε τῶν περὶ φύσεως ἐφήψαντο ζητημάτων.

Cite as: Ralph Cudworth, A Treatise concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality (1731), pp. 283-303,, accessed 2023-12-01.