TRANSLATION EDITED BY THOMAS JEFFERSON
From the faculty of willing arise the ideas of personality and property.
Every man who pronounces the word I (myself) without being a metaphysician understands very well what he means to say, and yet being a metaphysician he often succeeds very badly in giving an account of it, or in explaining it. We will endeavour to accomplish this by the aid of some very simple reflections.
It is not our body such as it is to others, and such as it appears to them which we call our self The proof is that we know very well to say how our body will be when we shall exist no more, that is to say when our self shall be no more. There are then two very distinct beings.
It is not moreover any of the particular faculties we possess, which is for us the same thing as our self. For we say I have the faculty of walking, of eating, sleeping, of breathing, &c. Thus I or my self, who possess, am a thing distinct from the by thing possessed.
Is it the same with the general faculty of feeling? At the first glance it appears that the answer must be yes, since I say in the same manner I have the faculty of feeling. Notwithstanding, here we find a great difference if we penetrate further. For if I ask myself how I know that I have the faculty of walking? I answer I know it because I feel it, or because I experience it, because I see it, which is still to feel it. But if I ask myself how I know that I feel, I am obliged to answer I know it because. I feel it. The faculty of feeling is then that which manifests to us all the others, without which none of them would exist for us, whilst it manifests itself that it is its own principle to itself; that it is that beyond which we are not able to remount, and which constitutes our existence; that it is every thing for us; that it is the same thing as ourselves. I feel because I feel: I feel because I exist; and I do not exist but because I feel. Then my existence and my sensibility are one and the same thing. Or in other words the existence of myself and the sensibility of myself are two identical beings.
If we pay attention that in discourse I or myself signifies always the moral being or person who speaks, we shall find that (to express ourselves with exactness) instead of saying I have the faculty of walking I ought to say the faculty of feeling, which constitutes the moral person who speaks to you has the property of reacting on his legs in such a manner that his body walks. And instead of saying I have the faculty of feeling, I ought to say the faculty of feeling which constitutes the moral person who speaks to you exists in the body by which he speaks to you. These modes of expression are odd and unusual I agree, but in my opinion they paint the fact with much truth; for in all our conversations, as in all our relations, it is always one faculty of feeling which addresses itself to another.
The self of each of us is therefore for him his proper sensibility, whatsoever be the nature of this sensibility; or what he calls his mind, if he has a decided opinion of the nature of the principle of this same sensibility. It is so true that it is this that we all understand by our self, that we all regard apparent death as the end of our being, or as a passage to another existence, according as we think that it extinguishes or does not extinguish all sentiment. It is then the sole fact of sensibility which gives us the idea of personality, that is to say which makes us perceive that we are a being, and which constitutes for us ourself, our being.
There is, however, and we have already remarked it,* another of our faculties with which we often identify our self, that is our will. We say indifferently it depends on me, or it depends on my will to do such or such a thing; but this observation very far from contradicting the preceding analysis confirms it, for the faculty of willing is but a mode of the faculty of feeling; it is our faculty of feeling so modified as to render it capable to enjoy and to suffer, and to react on our organs. Thus to take the will as the equivalent of self, is to take a part for the whole; it is to regard as the equivalent of this self the portion of sensibility which constitutes all its energy, that from which we can scarcely conceive it separated, and without which it would be almost null, if it would not even be entirely annihilated. There is then nothing there contrary to what we have just established. It remains then well understood and admitted that the self or the moral person of every animated being, conceived as distinct from the organs it causes to move, is either simply the abstract existence which we call the sensibility of this individual, which results from his organization or a monade without extension; which is supposed eminently to possess this sensibility, and which is also clearly an abstract being (if indeed we comprehend this supposition,) or a little body, subtile, ethereal, imperceptible, impalpable, endowed with this sensibility and which is still very nearly an abstraction. These three suppositions are indifferent for all which is to follow. In all three sensibility is found; and in all three also it alone constitutes the self, or the moral person of the individual, whether it be but a phenomenon resulting from his organization, or a property of a spiritual or corporeal mind resident within him.
There remains then but one question, which is to know if this idea of personality, this consciousness of self, would arise in us from our sensibility in the case in which it would not be followed by will, in the case in which it would be deprived of this mode which causes it to enjoy and suffer, and to react on our organs, which in a word renders it capable of action and of passion. This question cannot be resolved by facts, for we know no sensibility of this kind, and if any such existed it could not manifest itself to our means of knowledge. For the same reason the question is more curious than useful; but whatever is curious has an indirect utility, above all in these matters which can never be viewed on too many different sides: we must not then neglect it.
On the point in question we certainly cannot pronounce with assurance that a being which should feel without affection, properly so called, and without reaction on its organs, would not have the idea of personality, and that of the existence of its self. It even appears to me probable that it would have the idea of the existence of this self: for in fact to feel any thing whatever, is to feel its self feeling, it is to know its self feeling: it is to have the possibility of distinguishing self from that which self feels; from the modifications of self. But at the same time it is beyond doubt that the being which should thus know its own self would not know it by opposition with other beings, from which it would be able to distinguish and separate it; since it would know only itself and its modes. It would be for itself the true infinite or indefinite, as I have elsewhere remarked,* without term or limit of any kind, not knowing any thing else. It would not then properly know itself in the sense we attach to the word to know, which always imports the idea of circumscription and of speciality; and consequently it would not have the idea of individuality and of personality, in opposition and distinction from other beings as we have it. We may already assure ourselves that this idea, such as it is in us and for us, is a creation and an effect of our faculty of willing; and this explains very clearly why, although the sole faculty of feeling simply constitutes and establishes our existence, yet we confound and identify by preference our self with our will. Here I think is a first point elucidated.
A thing still more certain, perhaps, and which will advance us a step further, is that if it is possible that the idea of individuality and personality should exist in the manner we have said, in a being conceived to be endowed with sensibility without will, at least it is impossible it should produce there the idea of property such as we have it. For our idea of property is privative and exclusive: it imports the idea that the thing possessed appertains to a sensible being, and appertains to none but him, to the exclusion of all others. Now it cannot be that it exists thus in the head of a being which knows nothing but itself, which does not know that any other beings besides itself exists. If then we should suppose that this being knows its self with sufficient accuracy to distinguish it from its modes, and to regard its different modifications as attributes of this self, as things which this self possesses, this being would still not have completely our idea of property. For this it is necessary to have the idea of personality very completely, and such as we have just seen that we form it when we are susceptible of passion and of action. It is then proved that this idea of property is an effect, a production of our willing faculty.
But what is very necessary to be remarked, because it has many consequences, is, that if it be certain that the idea of property can arise only in a being endowed with will, it is equally certain that in such a being it arises necessarily and inevitably in all its plenitude; for as soon as this individual knows accurately itself, or its moral person, and its capacity to enjoy and to suffer, and to act necessarily, it sees clearly also that this self is the exclusive proprietor of the body which it animates, of the organs which it moves, of all their passions and their actions; for all this finishes and commences with this self, exists but by it, is not moved but by its acts, and no other moral person can employ the same instruments nor be affected in the same manner by their effects. The idea of property and of exclusive property arises then necessarily in a sensible being from this alone, that it is susceptible of passion and action; and it rises in such a being because nature has endowed it with an inevitable and inalienable property, that of its individuality.
It was necessary there should be a natural and necessary property, as there exists an artificial and conventional one; for there can never be any thing in art which has not its radical principle in nature;—we have already made the observation elsewhere.* If our gestures and our cries had not the natural and inevitable effect of denoting the ideas which affect us, they never would have become their artificial and conventional signs. If it were not in nature that every solid body sustained above our heads necessarily sheltered us we should never have had houses made expressly for shelter. In the same manner, if there never had been natural and inevitable property there never would have been any artificial or conventional. This is universally the case, and we cannot too frequently repeat, man creates nothing, he makes nothing absolutely new or extra-natural, (if we may be allowed the expression) he never does any thing but draw consequences and make combinations from that which already is. It is also as impossible for him to create an idea or a relation which has not its source in nature as to give himself a sense which has no relation with his natural senses. From this it also follows that in every research which concerns man it is necessary to arrive at this first type; for as long as we do not see the natural model of an artificial institution which we examine we may be sure we have not discovered its generation, and consequently we do not know it completely.
This observation will meet with many explications. It appears to me that we have not always paid sufficient attention to it, and that it is for this reason we have often discoursed on the subject which now occupies us in a very useless and vague manner. We have brought property to a solemn trial at bar and exhibited the reasons for and against it as if it depended on us, whether there should or should not be property in this world. But this is entirely to mistake our nature. It seems were we to listen to certain philosophers and legislators that at a precise instant people have taken into their heads spontaneously, and without cause, to say thine and mine, and that they could and even should have dispensed with it. But the thine and the mine were never invented. They were acknowledged the day on which we could say thee and me; and the idea of me and thee or rather of me and something other than me, has arisen, if not the very day on which a feeling being has experienced impressions, at least the one on which, in consequence of these impressions, he has experienced the sentiment of willing, the possibility of acting, which is a consequence thereof, and a resistance to this sentiment and to this act. When afterwards among these resisting beings, consequently other than himself, the feeling and willing being has known that there were some feeling like himself, it has been forced to accord to them a personality other than his own, a self other than his own and different from his own. And it always has been impossible, as it always will be, that that which is his should not for him be different from that which is theirs. It was not requisite therefore to discuss at first whether it is well or ill that there exists such or such species of property, the advantages and inconveniences of which we shall see by the sequel; but it was necessary first of all to recognize that there is a property, fundamental, anterior and superior to every institution, from which will always arise all the sentiments and dis-sentiments which are derived from all the others; for there is property, if not precisely every where that there is an individual sentient, at least every where that there is an individual willing in consequence of his sentiment, and acting in consequence of his will. These, or I am greatly mistaken, are eternal truths, against which will fail all the declamations that have nothing for their base but an ignorance of our true existence; and which are indebted to this ignorance for the great credit they have enjoyed at different times, and in different countries.
As no authority can impose on me when it is contrary to evidence, I will say frankly that the same forgetfulness of the true condition of our being is found in this famous precept, so much boasted: Love thy neighbour as thyself. It exhorts us to a sentiment which is very good and very useful to propagate, but which is certainly also very badly expressed; for to take this expression in all the rigour of the injunction it is inexecutable; it is as if they should tell us, with your eyes, such as they are, see your own visage as you see that of others. This cannot be. Without doubt we are able to love another as much and even more than ourselves, in the sense that we should rather die, bearing with us the hope of preserving his life, than to live and to suffer the grief of losing him. But to love him exactly as ourself, and otherwise than relatively to ourself, once more I say is impossible. It would be necessary for this, to live his life as we do our own.* This has no meaning for beings constituted as we are. It is contrary to the work of our creation, in what manner soever it has been operated.
I am very far from saying the same things of this other precept, which people regard as almost synonymous with the first. Love ye one another, and the law is accomplished. This is truly admirable, both for its form and substance. It is also as conformable to our nature as the other is repugnant to it; and it enounces perfectly a very profound truth. Effectively sentiments of benevolence being for us, under every imaginable relation, the source of all our good of every kind, and the universal means of diminishing and remedying all our evils as much as possible, as long as we maintain them amongst ourselves the great law of our happiness is accomplished, in as great a degree as possible.
I shall be accused perhaps of futility for the distinction which I establish between two maxims, to which nearly the same meaning has been commonly attributed; but it will be wrong. It is so different to present to men as a rule of their conduct a general principle, drawn from the recesses of their nature, or one repugnant to it, and it leads to consequences so distant among themselves, that one must never have reflected on it at all not to have perceived all its importance. To myself it appears such, that I cannot conceive that two maxims so dissimilar should have emanated from the same source;†‡ for the one manifests to me the most profound ignorance, and the other the most profound knowledge of human nature. One would lead us to compose the romance of man, and the other his history. The one consecrates the existence of natural property, resulting from individuality, and the other seems to disregard it, la méconnaître. Perhaps it may be wondered that I should treat at the same time the question of the property of all our riches, and that of all our sentiments, and thus mingle economy and morality; but, when we penetrate to their fundamental basis, it does not appear to me possible to separate either these two orders of things or their study. In proportion as we advance, the objects separate and subdivide themselves, and it becomes necessary to examine them separately; but in their principles they are intimately united. We should not have the property of any of our goods whatsoever if we had not that of our wants, which is nothing but that of our sentiments; and all these properties are inevitably derived from the sentiment of personality, from the consciousness of our self.
It is then quite as useless to the purpose of morality or economy, to discuss whether it would not be better that nothing should appertain exclusively to each one of us, as it would be to the purpose of grammar to enquire whether it would not be more advantageous that our actions should not be the signs of the ideas and the sentiments which produce them. In every case it would be to ask whether it would not be desirable that we should be quite different from what we are; and indeed it would be to enquire, whether it would not be better that we did not exist at all; for these conditions being changed our existence would not be conceivable. It would not be altered, it would be annihilated.
It remains therefore certain that the thine and the mine are necessarily established amongst men; from this alone, that they are individuals feeling, willing, and acting distinctly the one from the other, that they have each one the inalienable, incommutable, and inevitable property, in their individuality and its faculties; and that consequently the idea of property is the necessary result, if not of the sole phenomenon of pure sensibility, at least of that of sensibility united to the will. Thus we have found how the sentiment of personality or the idea of self, and that of property which flows from it necessarily, are derived from our faculty of willing. Now we may enquire with success, how this same faculty produces all our wants and all our means.