TRANSLATION EDITED BY THOMAS JEFFERSON
Elements of Ideology, or a treatise on the will and its effects.
The faculty of willing is a mode and a consequence of the faculty of feeling.
WHAT has been now read is the end of all that I had to say of human intelligence, considered under the relation of its means of knowing and understanding. This analysis of our understanding, and of that of every other animated being, such as we conceive and imagine it, is not perhaps either as perfect or as complete as might be desired; but I believe at least that it discovers clearly to us the origin and the source of all our knowledge, and the true intellectual operations which enter into its composition, and that it shows us plainly the nature and species of certitude of which this knowledge is susceptible, and the disturbing causes which render it uncertain or erroneous.
Strengthened with these data we can therefore endeavour to avail ourselves of them, and employ our means of knowledge either in the study of the will and its effects to complete the history of our intellectual faculties, or in the study of those beings which are not ourselves; in order to acquire a just idea of what we are able to know of this singular universe delivered to our eager curiosity.
I think for the reasons before adduced, that it is the first of these two researches which ought to occupy us in the first place. Consequently I shall go back to the point at which I endeavoured to trace the plan; and I shall permit myself to repeat here what I then said in my logic, chap. 9th, page 432. Obliged to be consequent, I must be pardoned for recalling the point from whence I set out.
“This second manner I have said of considering our individuals, presents us a system of phenomena so different from the first, that we can scarcely believe it appertains to the same beings, seen merely under a different aspect. Doubtless we could conceive man as only receiving impressions, recollecting, comparing and combining them always with a perfect indifference. He would then be only a being, knowing and understanding without passion, properly so called (relatively to himself) and without action relatively to other beings, for he would have no motive to will, and no reason and no means to act; and certainly on this supposition whatever were his faculties for judging and knowing they would rest in great stagnation, for want of a stimulant and agent to exercise them. But this is not man; he is a being willing in consequence of his impressions and of his knowledge, and acting in consequence of his will.* It is that which constitutes him on the one part susceptible of sufferings and enjoyments, of happiness and misery, ideas correlative and inseparable, and on the other part capable of influence and of power. It is that which causes him to have wants and means, and consequently rights and duties, either merely when he has relation with inanimate beings only, or more still when he is in contact with other beings, susceptible also of enjoying and suffering; for the rights of a sensible being are all in its wants, and its duties in its means; and it is to he remarked that weakness in all its forms is always and essentially the principle of rights; and that power, in whatsoever sense we take this word, is not and can never be but the source of duties, that is to say of rules for the manner of employing this power.” Where there is nothing, the old proverb justly says the king loses his right: but a king as another person cannot lose his rights, but in as much as another individual loses his duties in regard to him; which is saying in an inverse sense, that he who can do nothing, has no more duties to fulfil, has no longer any rule to follow for the employment of his power, since it has become null. That is very true.
Wants and means, rights and duties, arise then from the faculty of will; if man willed nothing he would have nothing of all these. But to have wants and means, rights and duties, is to have, is to possess, something. These are so many species of property, taking this word in its most extensive signification: They are things which appertain to us. Our means are even a real property, and the first of all, in the most restrained sense of the term. Thus the ideas, wants and means, rights and duties, imply the idea of property; and the ideas of riches and deprivation, justice and injustice, which are derived from them, could not exist without that of property. We must begin then by explaining this latter; and this can only be done by remounting to its origin. Now this idea of property can only be founded on the idea of personality. For if an individual had not a consciousness of his own existence, distinct and separate from every other, he could possess nothing, he could have nothing peculiar to himself. We must first therefore examine and determine the idea of personality; but before proceeding on this examination, there is yet a necessary preliminary; it is to explain with clearness and precision what the willing faculty is, from which we maintain that all these ideas arise, and on account of which we wish to give its history. We have no other means of seeing clearly how this faculty produces these ideas, and how all the consequences which result from it may be regarded as its effects. It is thus that always by remounting, or rather by descending step by step, we are inevitably led to the study and observation of our intellectual faculties, whenever we wish to penetrate to the bottom of whatever subject engages us. This truth is perhaps more precious in itself than all those we shall be able to collect in the course of our work. I will commence then by an exposition of that in which the willing faculty consists.
This faculty, or the will, is one of the four primordial faculties, which we have recognized in the human understanding, and even in that of all animated beings, and into which we have seen that the faculty of thinking or of feeling necessarily resolves itself when we decompose it into its true elements, and when we admit into it nothing factitious.
We have considered the faculty of willing as the fourth and last of these four primitive and necessary subdivisions of sensibility; because in every desire, in every act of willing or volition, in a word, in every propensity whatsoever, we can always conceive the act of experiencing an impression, that of judging it good either to seek or avoid, and even that of recollecting it to a certain point, since by the very nature of the act of judging we have seen that the idea, which is the subject of every judgment, can always be considered as a representation of the first impression which this idea has made. Thus more or less confusedly, more or less rapidly, an animated being has always felt, recollected and judged, previously to willing.
It must not be concluded from this analysis that I consider the willing faculty as only that of having definitive and studied sentiments which are specially called desires, and which may be called express and formal acts of the will. On the contrary I believe that to have a just idea of it, we must form one much more extensive; and nothing previously established prevents us from it: for since we have said that even in a desire the most mechanical, and the most sudden, and in a determination the most instinctive, the most purely organic, we ought always to conceive the acts of feeling, recollecting and judging, as therein implicitly and imperceptibly included, and as having necessarily preceded it, were it only for an inappreciable instant, we can without contradicting ourselves regard all these propensities, even the most sudden and unstudied, as appertaining to the faculty of willing; though we have made it the fourth and the last of the elementary faculties of our intelligence. I even think it is necessary to do so, and that the will is really and properly the general and universal faculty of finding one thing preferable to another, that of being so affected as to love better such an impression, such a sentiment, such an action, such a possession, such an object, than such another. To love and to hate are words solely relative to this faculty, which would have no signification if it did not exist; and its action takes place on every occasion on which our sensibility experiences any attraction or repulsion whatsoever. At least it is thus I conceive the will in all its generality; and it is by proceeding from this manner of conceiving it that I will attempt to explain its effects and consequences.
Without doubt the will, thus conceived, is a part of sensibility. The faculty of being affected in a particular manner cannot but be a part of the faculty of being affected in general. But it is a distinct mode of it, and one which may be separated from it in thought. We cannot will without a cause, (this is a thing very necessary to be remarked, and never to be forgotten,) thus we cannot will without having felt, but we may always feel in such a manner as never to will. We have already said that we can imagine man, or any other animated and sensible being, as feeling in such a manner that every thing would be equal to him; that all his affections, although distinct, would be indifferent to him; and that consequently he could neither desire nor fear any thing; that is to say he could not will, for to desire and to fear is to will: and to will is never but to desire something and to fear the contrary, or reciprocally. On this supposition an animated and sensible being would yet be a feeling being. He could even be discerning and knowing, that is to say judging. It will be sufficient for this that he should feel the difference of his various perceptions, and the different circumstances of each, although incapable of a predilection for any of them, or for any of the combinations of them which he can make; only, and we have before made the remark, the knowledge of the animated being thus constituted would necessarily be very limited. Because his faculty of knowing would have no motive of action; and his faculty of acting, if even it existed, could not exercise itself with intention, since to have an intention he must have a desire, and every desire supposes a preference of some sort.
I will observe, by the way, that this supposition of a perfect indifference in sensibility shows very clearly, in my opinion, that it is erroneously that certain persons have wished to make of what they call our sentiments and affections, modifications of our being essentially different from those which they name perceptions or ideas, and refuse to comprehend them under those general denominations of perceptions or ideas; for the quality of being effective, which certain of our perceptions have, is but a particular circumstance, an accidental quality, with which all our modifications might be endowed; and of which, as we have just seen, all might likewise be deprived. But they would not be the less, as they are in effect perceptions, that is to say things perceived or felt. The proof is that some of these modifications, after having possessed the quality of being effective, lose it by the effect of habit, and others which acquire it through reflection, all without ceasing to be perceived, and consequently without ceasing to be perceptions. I think therefore that the word perception is truly the generic term.
As to the distinction established between the words perception and idea, I do not think it more legitimate if founded on the pretended property of an idea being an image. For the idea of a peartree is no more the image of a tree, than the perception of the relation of three to four is the image of the difference of these two figures, and no one of the modifications of our sensibility is the image of any thing which takes place around us. I think then, that we may regard the words perception and idea as synonymous in their most extensive signification, and for the same reasons the words think and feel as equivalent also when taken in all their generality: For all our thoughts are things felt; and if they were not felt they would be nothing; and sensibility is the general phenomenon which constitutes and comprehends the whole existence of an animated being, at least for himself; and inasmuch as he is an animated being, it is the only condition which can render him a thinking being.
However this may be, none of the animated beings which we know, nor even of those we can imagine, are indifferent to all their perceptions. It is always comprised in their sensibility, in their faculty of being affected, of their being so affected as that certain perceptions appear to them what we call agreeable, and certain others disagreeable. Now it is this which constitutes the faculty of willing. Now that we have formed to ourselves a perfectly clear idea of it we shall easily he able to see how this faculty produces the ideas of personality and property.