Before I close this chapter, it may perhaps be to our purpose, and help to give us clearer conceptions about power, if we make our thoughts take a little more exact survey of action. I have said above, that we have ideas but of two sorts of action, viz. motion and thinking. These, in truth, though called and counted actions, yet if nearly considered, will not be found to be always perfectly so. For, if I mistake not, there are instances of both kinds, which, upon due consideration, will be found rather passions than actions, and consequently so far the effects barely of passive powers in those subjects, which yet on their accounts are thought agents. For in these instances, the substance that hath motion or thought receives the impression, where it is put into that action purely from without, and so acts merely by the capacity it has to receive such an impression from some external agent; and such a power is not properly an active power, but a mere passive capacity in the subject. Sometimes the substance or agent puts itself into action by its own power; and this is properly active power. Whatsoever modification a substance has, whereby it produces any effect, that is called action; v. g. a solid substance by motion operates on, or alters the sensible ideas of another substance; and therefore this modification of motion we call action. But yet this motion in that solid substance is, when rightly considered, but a passion, if it received it only from some external agent. So that the active power of motion is in no substance which cannot begin motion in itself, or in another substance, when at rest. So likewise in thinking, a power to receive ideas or thoughts, from the operation of any external substance, is called a power of thinking: but this is but a passive power, or capacity. But to be able to bring into view ideas out of sight at one’s own choice, and to compare which of them one thinks fit, this is an active power. This reflection may be of some use to preserve us from mistakes about powers and actions, which grammar and the common frame of languages may be apt to lead us into; since what is signified by verbs that grammarians call active, does not always signify action: v. g. this proposition, I see the moon, or a star, or I feel the heat of the sun, though expressed by a verb active, does not signify any action in me, whereby I operate on those substances; but the reception of the ideas of light, roundness and heat, wherein I am not active, but barely passive, and cannot in that position of my eyes, or body, avoid receiving them. But when I turn my eyes another way, or remove my body out of the sun-beams, I am properly active; because of my own choice, by a power within myself, I put myself into that motion. Such an action is the product of active power.
He had a great knowledge of the world, and was prudent without cunning, easy, affable, and condescending without any mean complaisance. If there was any thing he could not bear, it was ill manners, and a rude behaviour. This was ever ungrateful to him, unless when he perceived that it proceeded from ignorance; but when it was the effect of pride, ill-nature, or brutality, he detested it. He looked on civility not only as a duty of humanity, but of christianity; and he thought that it ought to be more pressed and urged upon men than it commonly is. He recommended on this occasion a treatise in the moral Essays, written by the gentlemen of Port Royal, ‘concerning the means of preserving peace among men,’ and was a great admirer of Dr. Whichcote’s sermons on the subject. He was exact to his word, and religiously performed whatever he promised. He was very scrupulous of giving recommendations of persons whom he did not well know, and would by no means commend those whom he thought not to deserve it. If he was told that his recommendation had not produced the effect expected, he would say, ‘the reason of that was because he never deceived any person by saying more than he knew; that he never passed his word for any but such as he believed would answer the character he gave of them; and that if he should do otherwise, his recommendations would be worth nothing.’
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It has been objected to Mr. Locke, that if space consists of parts, as it is confessed in this place, he should not have reckoned it in the number of simple ideas: because it seems to be inconsistent with what he says elsewhere, that a simple idea is uncompounded, and contains in it nothing but one uniform appearance or conception of the mind, and is not distinguishable into different ideas. It is farther objected, that Mr. Locke has not given in the eleventh chapter of the second book, where he begins to speak of simple ideas, an exact definition of what he understands by the word simple ideas. To these difficulties Mr. Locke answers thus: To begin with the last, he declares, that he has not treated his subject in an order perfectly scholastic, having not had much familiarity with those sort of books during the writing of his, and not remembering at all the method in which they are written; and therefore his readers ought not to expect definitions regularly placed at the beginning of each new subject. Mr. Locke contents himself to employ the principal terms that he uses, so that from his use of them the reader may easily comprehend what he means by them. But with respect to the term simple idea, he has had the good luck to define that in the place cited in the objection; and therefore there is no reason to supply that defect. The question then is to know, whether the idea of extension agrees with this definition? which will effectually agree to it, if it be understood in the sense which Mr. Locke had principally in his view: for that composition which he designed to exclude in that definition, was a composition of different ideas in the mind, and not a composition of the same kind in a thing whose essence consists in having parts of the same kind, where you can never come to a part entirely exempted from this composition. So that if the idea of extension consists in having partes extra partes, (as the schools speak) it is always, in the sense of Mr. Locke, a simple idea; because the idea of having partes extra partes cannot be resolved into two other ideas. For the remainder of the objection made to Mr. Locke, with respect to the nature of extension, Mr. Locke was aware of it, as may be seen in § 9. chap. 15. of the second book, where he says, that “the least portion of space or extension, whereof we have a clear and distinct idea, may perhaps be the fittest to be considered by us as a simple idea of that kind, out of which our complex modes of space and extension are made up.” So that, according to Mr. Locke, it may very fitly be called a simple idea, since it is the least idea of space that the mind can form to itself, and that cannot be divided by the mind into any less, whereof it has in itself any determined perception. From whence it follows, that it is to the mind one simple idea; and that is sufficient to take away this objection: for it is not the design of Mr. Locke, in this place, to discourse of any thing but concerning the idea of the mind. But if this is not sufficient to clear the difficulty, Mr. Locke hath nothing more to add, but that if the idea of extension is so peculiar that it cannot exactly agree with the definition that he has given of those simple ideas, so that it differs in some manner from all others of that kind, he thinks it is better to leave it there exposed to this difficulty, than to make a new division in his favour. It is enough for Mr. Locke that his meaning can be understood. It is very common to observe intelligible discourses spoiled by too much subtilty in nice divisions. We ought to put things together as well as we can, doctrinæ causâ; but, after all, several things will not be bundled up together under our terms and ways of speaking.