Letters concerning the love of God between the author of the Proposal to the ladies and Mr. John Norris, wherein his late discourse, shewing that it ought to be intire and exclusive of all other loves, is further cleared and justified
Norris, John, 1657-1711., Astell, Mary, 1668-1731.
Page  288

Mr. Norris's Answer.


YOU are no less happy in this your Review than in your first Overture to pitch upon the on∣ly material Objection to which the Proposition you attack is liable. But before I set my self to answer it, give me leave to suggest to you that 'tis a Proposition of the most incontestable and philosophick Evi∣dence, and in the Discourse you refer to most clearly demonstrated to be so, that the Bodies that are about us are not the true Causes of those Sensations which we feel at their Presence, but that GOD only is the Cause of them, who being the Author of our Beings has the Page  289 sole Power to act upon our Spirits, and to give them new Modificati∣on. I say Modifications, for that well expresses the general Nature of Sensation. And it is a new Modification or different Way of existing of the Soul that makes this or that Sensation, which is not any thing really distinct from the Soul, but the Soul it self existing after such a certain Manner. Wherein it is distinguished from our Idea's, which are representative to us of something without us, whereas our Sensations are within us, and indeed no otherwise di∣stinct from us than Modalities are for the thing modified. Accor∣dingly there is a vast Difference be∣tween knowing by Sentiment and knowing by Idea. We know Numbers, Extension, and Geome∣trick Figures by Idea, but we know Page  290 Pleasure and Pain, Heat and Co∣lour, &c. by interior Sentiment. To know Numbers and Figures there is need of Ideas, for without an Idea the Soul can have no Perception of any thing distinct from it self, as Numbers and Fi∣gures are. But to know or per∣ceive Grief there is no need of an Idea to represent it. A Modality of the Soul is sufficient, it being certain that Grief is no other than a Modification of the Soul, who when in Grief does not perceive it as a thing without and distinct from her self (as when she contem∣plates a Square or a Triangle) but as a different Manner of her own Existence. Sensation then being a Modification of the Soul, this single Consideration setting aside all other Discoursings will furnish us with a demonstrative Argument Page  291 to prove that not Bodies, but GOD alone is the Cause of our Sensati∣ons. For who else should either have Power or Knowledge to new modifie our Beings, but he who made them and perfectly under∣stands them? But I shall not enter upon a further Demonstration of this Point, since I have abundantly proved it in my printed Discourse of the Love of GOD, and since you do as good as allow it in your pre∣sent Objection. This therefore appearing to be a clear and certain Truth, give me leave again to re∣mind you of a certain Maxim that I observed to you in my first Letter, That we are to stick to what we clearly see, notwithstanding any Objections that may be brought against it, and not reject what is evident for the sake of what is obscure. Suppo∣sing therefore that there are, or Page  292 might be Objections raised to shew that GOD is not the Cause of our Sensations which I could not answer, yet since my Reason as of∣ten as I consult her does most con∣vincingly assure me that he is, I ought to rest here, and not suffer that which I do not perceive, to hinder me from assenting to that which I evidently do.

But to consider your Objecti∣ons, I observe in the first place that having granted that sensation is only in the soul, that there is no∣thing in Body but Magnitude, Figure and Motion, and that being without Thought it self it is not able to pro∣duce it in us, and therefore those sensations, whether of Pleasure or Pain which we feel at the Presence of Bodies, must be produced by some higher Cause than they (all which well agrees with the Con∣clusion Page  293 I contend for) you after∣terwards object against their being only Conditions serving to deter∣mine the Action of the true and proper Cause, which Objection seems to come a little unexpectedly after such a Concession. For if they are not true and proper Cau∣ses of our sensations, what else can they be but Conditions serving to determine the Agency of him who is so? Yes, you seem to point out a middle Way, by supposing that as they are not so much as proper Causes, so they are more than mere Conditions, viz. That they have a natural Efficacy towards the Production of our Sensations. But if I am not mightily mistaken this middle Way will fall in with one of the Ex∣treams. For to have a natural Ef∣ficacy for the Production of a thing, is the same as to have a Cau∣sality, Page  294 and that again is the same as to be (at least a partial) Cause. If therefore the Objects of our Senses be not true and proper Causes of our Sensations, then neither have they any natural Efficacy towards the Production of them. But if they have any such natural Efficacy, then they are true and proper Cau∣ses, which though it be a Proposi∣tion which you formally and ex∣presly deny, is that however which your Objection in the true Conse∣quence and Result of it tends to prove. And to prove this, That Bodies have a natural Efficacy to∣wards the Production of our Sen∣sations, or that they are true Cau∣ses of them (for I take them to be Propositions of an equivalent Im∣port) you argue from a twofold Topick, first, That the contrary Theory renders a great Part of Page  295GOD's Workmanship vain and use∣less. Secondly, That it does not well comport with his Majesty. Now to set you right in this mat∣ter, and to acquit our Theory from both these very threatning Inconve∣niences, we need only fairly pro∣pose it. The Case then is this. GOD has united my Soul to a cer∣tain Portion of organized Matter, which therefore for the particular Relation it has to me I call my Bo∣dy. This Body of mine is placed among and surrounded with a vast Number and Variety of other Bo∣dies. These other Bodies accor∣ding to the Laws of Motion esta∣blished in the World strike vari∣ously upon mine, and make diffe∣rent Impressions upon it according to the Degree of their Motion, and the Difference of their Size and Fi∣gure. These Impressions have a dif∣ferent Page  [unnumbered]〈1 page duplicate〉Page  [unnumbered]〈1 page duplicate〉Page  296 Effect upon my Body, some of them tending to the Good and Preservation, and some to the Evil and Dissolution of its Structure and Mechanism, even as in the greater World some Motions tend to the Generation and Perfection, and others to the Corruption and Destruction of natural Bodies. Now though it be not necessary that my Soul should know what is done to other Bodies, yet for the good of the animal Life it is ve∣ry necessary she should know what passes in her own, whether such or such Impressions make for its good or hurt. Now there are but two Ways for this, Light and Sentiment. My Soul must know this either by considering and examining the Na∣ture of other Bodies, the inward Configuration of their Parts, the Difference of their Bulk and exter∣nal Page  297 Figure, the Degree of their Motion, and withal the Relation that all these bear to the Configura∣tion of her own Body, or by having some different Sentiment raised in her according to the Difference of the Impression, or in clearer Terms, by being differently modified her self, according as the Modification of her Body is altered by the Incur∣sion of other Bodies. The first of these Ways, besides that it would employ and ingage the Soul which was made for the Contemplation and Love of GOD (her true and on∣ly good) in things altogether un∣worthy of her Application, is with∣al, considering the Narrowness of our Faculties and the frequent Re∣turn of such Occasions, not only in∣finitely tedious, painful and distra∣cting, but utterly impracticable. For after all if I were not to take Page  298 away my Hand from the Fire till I had entered into the Philosophy of it, examined the Figure and Motion of its little Particles, and considered the several Relations they had to the Configuration of my Bo∣dy, I should be burnt before I had a quarter ended my Speculation. It is necessary therefore that there should be a quicker and a shorter Way of advertizing the Soul of the several Relations that other Bodies bear to her own, and of the Con∣veniency or Disconveniency of their Impressions. Which can be only by a suitable Sentiment either of Pleasure or Pain according as the Impression happens to be. But this is an Adver∣tisement I must in vain expect from Bodies. They can give me no Intelli∣gence of what even themselves do to me. They can indeed change the Situ∣ation of the Parts of my Body, but Page  299 they cannot give any Sentiment to my Mind, or new modifie my Soul. GOD only is able to do this, and accordingly being willing that I should know the Relations that other Bodies bear to mine with as little Trouble as may be, (it being not fit that a Soul made for the Contemplation of an infinite Good, should be occupied and taken up with anxious Disquisitions about Bodies) he leaves it not to my Reason to explore and sift out the Congru∣ities or Discongruities of other Bo∣dies with mine (which would not only be a laborious, but after all a very fallacious and uncertain Way) but in Wisdom thinks fit to go an∣other way to work, and to give me due Information of these things by the short incontestable Proof of Sentiment. And because Pleasure and Pain are the natural Marks of Page  300 Physical good and evil, and with∣al the strongest and most quickning Motives to incline me to seek or shun the Use of Bodies, according∣ly these are the two general Sensa∣tions he raises in my Soul according as the Impressions are which are made upon my Body. Thus for Instance, when the Motion of the Fire is moderate and temperate up∣on my Body, and serves only to open and supple its Parts, to quick∣en my Blood, and to cherish and recreate my Spirits, I feel a Sen∣timent of Pleasure. But when it comes to be intemperate so as to in∣danger the Rupture of any of its Fibres, I feel a contrary sentiment of Pain, which admonishes me of the imminent Evil, and in a Lan∣guage that even Children and Idiots understand, bids me remove my self at a greater Distance. And all Page  301 this with a great deal of Reason. For though there be nothing in the Motions themselves resembling those sensations which attend them, and though the Motion which occa∣sions Pleasure differ only in De∣gree from that which occa∣sions Pain (which by the way is a plain Argument that those Motions do not properly cause or produce those sensations) yet since as far as they respect the Preservation of the Machine, and the good of the Bodily Life or State they differ es∣sentially, or in their whole Kind, it is fit they should be attended with sensations essentially different, such as Pleasure and Pain, which therefore GOD raises in the soul in Consequence of those general Laws of Union which he has established between it and the Body, touching it as it ought to be touched in rela∣tion Page  302 to the Difference of sensible Objects. The Wisdom and Good∣ness of which Conduct we can ne∣ver sufficiently meditate upon or ad∣mire.

And now Madam, I can no sooner suppose you to have gone over in your Thoughts this ac∣count concerning the Manner of sensation, than to have formed with∣in your self a satisfactory solution of the Difficulties you propose. For though these sensible Objects are not the true Causes of those Sensa∣tions which we feel in our Souls up∣on the Impressions they make in our Bodies, but only Conditions deter∣mining the Agency of the true Cause, yet it does by no means fol∣low from hence that therefore they serve for nothing, and are wholly un∣necessary. No, the contrary appears from the Account before given. Page  303 For though these Objects do not act upon our spirits, or truly and properly speaking, produce any sen∣sation there, yet they do really make an Impression upon our Bodies, and according to the different Measure or Manner of that Impression mini∣ster to GOD (the true efficient) an apt and proper Occasion to act up∣on our spirits, and so in this respect are not merely positive and arbitra∣ry Conditions. 'Tis true indeed if by positive and arbitrary Conditi∣ons you mean that there is no real Analogy or necessary Connexion, abstracting from all Will or Con∣stitution of GOD about it, be∣tween such Impressions and such sensations, so they are mere positive and arbitrary Conditions. For most assuredly there is nothing in those Motions that either answers the following sensations, or natu∣rally Page  304 and necessarily infers them. But if by positive and arbitrary Conditions you mean that there is no greater Reason why GOD in Consideration of the Welfare of the Body should give the Soul such a Sentiment, rather than another up∣on such an Impression, so they are not mere positive and arbitrary Conditions. For though that Mo∣tion which is followed with Plea∣sure, has no Physical Analogy with Pleasure, as differing only in Degree from that which is followed with Pain (whereas Pleasure and Pain differ essentially) and so though GOD might if he pleased exchange sensations, giving me suppose, a sentiment of Pain, when the Moti∣on of the Fire is temperate, and ac∣cording to the present Order of things ought to be followed with a sentiment of Pleasure, and so like∣wise Page  305 giving me a sentiment of Plea∣sure when the Motion of the Fire is intemperate, and so according to the present Establishment ought to be followed with a sentiment of Pain, I say though he might thus transpose cur sensations for any Phy∣sical Proportion or Connexion that is between them and their respective Motions, yet in regard to the good State of the Body it is not so fit and reasonable that he should, as is obvious to conceive. And this is all the Sensible Congruity I can al∣low you. For in short, if by sensi∣ble Congruity you mean only, that considering the Good or Evil that arrives to the State of the Body from such an Impression there is an ante∣cedent Aptness or Reason in the thing why GOD should touch the Soul with such or such a Sentiment rather than with its contrary, I rea∣dilly Page  306 acknowledge that there is such a sensible Congruity. But if by sensible Congruity you mean (as you seem to do) that there is any natu∣ral similitude or Proportion between such an Impression and such a senti∣ment as to the things themselves, or that by virtue of this Analogy such an Impression has any natural Efficacy to produce, or (in your Language) to draw forth such a senti∣ment, in this sense I deny that there is any such thing as a sensible Con∣gruity, that is, I deny that sensible Objects have any such Congruity with our sensations as to be able to contribute any thing by way of a Physical Efficiency towards the Pro∣duction of them. No not so much as by way of Instruments. For even Instruments belong to the Or∣der of efficient Causes, though they are less principal ones, and 'tis most Page  307 certain that GOD has no need of any, since his Will is efficacious of it self. If therefore this be meant by sensible Congruity that the Objects of our senses have any real Part or Share in the Producti∣on of our sensations, though it be only in an instrumental Way, I ut∣terly disclaim it as an absurd and un∣philosophical Prejudice, and that without any Danger of rendring the Workmanship of GOD vain or un∣necessary, that Inconvenience being sufficiently salved by the first kind of sensible Congruity, as you may easily perceive.

This Madam, I think gives full Satisfaction to your first Instance. As to your second, That it seems more agreeable to the Majesty of GOD to say that he produces our sensations mediately by his servant Nature, than to affirm that he does Page  308 it immediately by his own Almigh∣ty Power, I reply briefly, First, That Arguments from the Majesty of GOD signifie no more here a∣gainst GOD's being the immediate Author of our sensations than in the old Epicurean Objection against Providence. And indeed they seem both to be built upon the same po∣pular Prejudice and wrong Appre∣hension concerning the Nature of the Deity, as if it were a Trouble to him to concern himself with his Creation. If it were not beneath the Grandeur and Majesty of GOD to create the World immediately, neither is it so to govern it, and if his greatness will permit him to or∣der and direct the Motions of Mat∣ter, much more will it to act upon and give sentiments to our Spirits, though with his own immediate Hand, which is necessary to hold Page  309 and govern the World which it has made. For, after all, secondly, we have no reason to think it be∣neath the Majesty of GOD to do that himself which can be done by none but himself. Which as I have sufficiently shewn to be the Case in reference to our Sensations, so I doubt not but that if you care∣fully read over Mr. Malebranch, Touchant l' efficace attribuèe aux Cau∣ses Seconds, you will find to hold as true as to all things else. I mean that GOD is the only true efficient Cause, and that his Servant Nature is but a mere Chimera.

As to what you say lastly, That the Supposition of Bodies ha∣ving an immediate Causality in the Production of our Sensations will be no Prejudice to the Drift of my Discourse, the intire Love of GOD, because of the mechanical and in∣voluntary Page  310 Way of their Operation, I do not know whether this Sup∣position will be so harmless or no. But this I am sure of that the safest Way to bar the Creatures from all Pretensions to my Love, is to deny that I have any of my Sensations from them, or that I am beholden to them for the lest Melioration or Perfection of my Being. And besides, if we should once allow them in a true and Physical Sense to cause our Sensations, I am in∣clined to think that this may justly be used as an Argument a Posterio∣ri, to prove that they do not do it so mechanically and involuntarily as you represent it, but rather knowingly and designedly, since it is impossible that any thing but a thinking Principle should be pro∣ductive of any Thought, as all Sen∣sation certainly is.

Page  312 And thus Madam I have endea∣voured to give you the best Satis∣faction I can upon this great and noble, but much neglected Argu∣ment, and shall think my self very happy and sufficiently rewarded if by the Pains I have bestowed I may deserve the Title of


Your sincere Friend and humble Servant J. NORRIS.

Bemerton, Sept. 21.