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I would crave leave to ask your lordship, were there ever in the world any atheists or no? If there were not, what need is there of raising a question about the being of a God, when nobody questions it? What need of provisional arguments against a fault, from which mankind are so wholly free, and which, by an universal consent, they may be presumed to be secure from? If you say (as I doubt not but you will) that there have been atheists in the world, then your lordship’s universal consent reduces itself to only a great majority; and then make that majority as great as you will, what I have said in the place quoted by your lordship, leaves it in its full force; and I have not said one word that does in the least invalidate this argument for a God. The argument I was upon there, was to show, that the idea of God was not innate; and to my purpose it was sufficient, if there were but a less number found in the world, who had no idea of God, than your lordship will allow there have been of professed atheists; for whatsoever is innate, must be universal in the strictest sense. One exception is a sufficient proof against it. So that all that I said, and which was quite to another purpose, did not at all tend, nor can be made use of, to invalidate the argument for a Deity, grounded on such an universal consent, as your lordship, and all that build on it, must own; which is only a very disproportioned majority; such an universal consent my argument there neither affirms nor requires to be less than you will be pleased to allow it. Your lordship therefore might, without any prejudice to those declarations of good will and favour you have for the author of the “Essay of Human Understanding,” have spared the mentioning his quoting authors that are in print, for matters of fact to quite another purpose, “as going about to invalidate the argument for a Deity, from the universal consent of mankind;” since he leaves that universal consent as entire and as large as you yourself do, or can own, or suppose it. But here I have no reason to be sorry that your lordship has given me this occasion for the vindication of this passage of my book; if there should be any one besides your lordship, who should so far mistake it, as to think it in the least invalidates the argument for a God, from the universal consent of mankind.
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§ 71. To conclude this inquiry into human liberty, which as it stood before, I myself from the beginning fearing, and a very judicious friend of mine, since the publication, suspecting to have some mistake in it, though he could not particularly show it me, I was put upon a stricter review of this chapter. Wherein lighting upon a very easy and scarce observable slip I had made, in putting one seemingly indifferent word for another, that discovery opened to me this present view, which here, in this second edition, I submit to the learned world, and which in short is this: “Liberty is a power to act or not to act, according as the mind directs.” A power to direct the operative faculties to motion or rest in particular instances, is that which we call the will. That which, in the train of our voluntary actions, determines the will to any change of operation, is some present uneasiness; which is, or at least is always accompanied with, that of desire. Desire is always moved by evil, to fly it: because a total freedom from pain always makes a necessary part of our happiness: but every good, nay every greater good, does not constantly move desire, because it may not make, or may not be taken to make any necessary part of our happiness. For all that we desire, is only to be happy. But though this general desire of happiness operates constantly and invariably, yet the satisfaction of any particular desire can be suspended from determining the will to any subservient action, till we have maturely examined, whether the particular apparent good, which we then desire, makes a part of our real happiness, or be consistent or inconsistent with it. The result of our judgment upon that examination is what ultimately determines the man, who could not be free if his will were determined by any thing but his own desire, guided by his own judgment. I know that liberty by some is placed in an indifferency of the man, antecedent to the determination of his will. I wish they, who lay so much stress on such an antecedent indifferency, as they call it, had told us plainly, whether this supposed indifferency be antecedent to the thought and judgment of the understanding, as well as to the decree of the will. For it is pretty hard to state it between them; i. e. immediately after the judgment of the understanding, and before the determination of the will, because the determination of the will immediately follows the judgment of the understanding: and to place liberty in an indifferency, antecedent to the thought and judgment of the understanding, seems to me to place liberty in a state of darkness, wherein we can neither see nor say any thing of it; at least it places it in a subject incapable of it, no agent being allowed capable of liberty, but in consequence of thought and judgment. I am not nice about phrases, and therefore consent to say, with those that love to speak so, that liberty is placed in indifferency; but it is an indifferency which remains after the judgment of the understanding; yea, even after the determination of the will: and that is an indifferency not of the man, (for after he has once judged which is best, viz. to do, or forbear, he is no longer indifferent) but an indifferency of the operative powers of the man, which remaining equally able to operate, or to forbear operating after, as before the decree of the will, are in a state, which, if one pleases, may be called indifferency; and as far as this indifferency reaches, a man is free, and no farther; v. g. I have the ability to move my hand, or to let it rest; that operative power is indifferent to move, or not to move my hand; I am then in that respect perfectly free. My will determines that operative power to rest; I am yet free; because the indifferency of that my operative power to act, or not to act, still remains; the power of moving my hand is not at all impaired by the determination of my will, which at present orders rest; the indifferency of that power to act, or not to act, is just as it was before, as will appear, if the will puts it to the trial, by ordering the contrary. But if during the rest of my hand, it be seized by a sudden palsy, the indifferency of that operative power is gone, and with it my liberty; I have no longer freedom in that respect, but am under a necessity of letting my hand rest. On the other side, if my hand be put into motion by a convulsion, the indifferency of that operative faculty is taken away by that motion, and my liberty in that case is lost; for I am under a necessity of having my hand move. I have added this, to show in what sort of indifferency liberty seems to me to consist, and not in any other, real or imaginary.