It is maintained that the Author of mind has implanted, as a part of its
constitution, the belief in certain truths, so that it is impossible to
disbelieve them without losing that which distinguishes man as a
It is also assumed that there is an _infallible test_, by which we can
distinguish these truths from all those acquired notions which men often
falsely call intuitions, or principles of reason, etc.
Before proceeding, it will be premised that the attempt will not be to
set forth _all_ those truths that may properly be called intuitive, but
it will be limited to those which are immediately connected with the
subjects to be discussed.
To proceed, then, the first principle of reason, or intuitive truth, is
that by which we arrive at the idea of a great _First Cause, who was
without a beginning_. In briefest form, this truth is usually thus
EVERY CHANGE HAS A CAUSE.
The position here maintained is that the human mind is so made that,
whenever any kind of change (or effect) takes place, there inevitably
follows a belief that there is some antecedent which is _the cause_ of
this change, or, in other words, that there is _something that produced
Now the question is not how this conviction first finds entrance to the
mind, nor whether it is consequent on experience.
It is simply a question of fact. Men always do, whenever they see any
new form of existence, or any change take place, believe that there is
some antecedent cause that produced this change.
Moreover, if a man should be found who was destitute of this belief, so
that in his daily pursuits he assumed that things would spring into
existence without any cause, and that there were no causes of any kind
that produced the changes around him, he would be pronounced insane–a
man who had “lost his reason.”
Here, then, we have an example of an intuitive truth, and also an
illustration of the _test_ by which we are to distinguish such truths
from all others, viz.:
_Any truth is a principle of reason, or an intuitive truth, when all men
talk and act as if they believed it in the practical affairs of life,
and when talking and acting as if it were not believed, would
universally be regarded as evidence that a man had “lost his reason.”_
It will now be shown how a belief in this truth involves a belief in
some great First Cause who himself had no beginning.
The atheist says thus: Somewhere, far back in other ages, there were no
existences at all, either of matter or mind; but at a given period,
without any cause at all, the vast and wonderful contrivances of matter
and mind began to exist.
The first reply to this is, that it is an assertion without evidence,
either intuitive or otherwise. No being ever was known to testify of
such an event, and there is no proof of it of any kind.
Next, it is replied that placing such an event at distant ages does not
render it any more credible than the assertion that worlds and
intelligent beings are coming into existence at the present time without
any cause. God has so constituted our minds that we can not believe that
any curious and wonderful contrivance springs into being without a
cause, either now or at any past period of time.
If the atheist, in the common affairs of life, should talk and act as if
he believed there were no causes for all the existences and changes
around him, he would be regarded as having “lost his reason.” And thus
Holy Writ sanctions the decision: “The fool hath said in his heart,
There is no God.”
We find, then, that our minds are made so that we can not help believing
that whatever begins to be has an antecedent cause that produces it, and
every change in any kind of existence has a cause. We find, also, the
universe around us to be a succession of changes, and these we trace
back and back again to antecedent causes.
But at last we come to the grand question, “Who first started this vast
system of endless and wonderful contrivances?”
Only two replies are possible. The first is that of the atheist, that
the whole started into existence without a cause, which we have shown
that no sane mind can really believe.
The only remaining reply is, there is _some great_ _self-existent Cause,
who never began to be, and who is the author of the universe of matter
It must, however, be conceded that this intuitive truth does not aid us
in deciding what is the nature and character of this First Cause. We are
obliged to resort to other intuitive truths to settle this question.
Neither does this principle aid us in deciding whether there may not be
_more than one_ self-existent cause; for several minds can be supposed
to have united in will and action to bring forth this “universal frame,”
each one of which might have existed without beginning.
The second intuitive truth is this:
TWO CLASSES OF CAUSES EXIST, VIZ., MATERIAL THINGS, WHICH ACT ON MIND,
AND IMMATERIAL OR SPIRITUAL THINGS, WHICH ACT ON MATTER.
Some metaphysicians maintain that every thing is matter, and that mind
or spirit is only one particular species of matter. Others teach that
every thing is mind, and that all which we suppose to be material things
are merely ideas in the mind of what really has no existence.
Now we have no mode of proving that we have a soul or that we have a
body, or that there are any real things existing around us. But God has
so formed our minds that we can not help believing that our minds are
distinct from matter, and that they are causes of changes in our body
and in the things around us. Nor can we help believing that we have
bodies, and that the things around us are realities. And no man could
talk or act, in practical matters, with a contrary belief, without being
regarded as having “lost his reason.”
The third intuitive truth is, that THE MIND OF MAN IS A FREE AGENT.
By this is signified that mind is an independent cause of its own
volitions, and capable, in appropriate circumstances, of choosing in
_either_ of two or more ways, not being, like matter, forced to a fixed
and necessary mode of action.
Some changes in mind are necessary effects produced by causes out of the
mind. And some mental action is the necessary result of its
constitution, and can not be otherwise. But _choice_ or _volition_ is an
act of the mind itself, when it has power to choose in either of two or
more ways without any change of circumstances.
The fatalist denies this, and maintains that choice is a necessary act,
the same as the changes in matter, and that at each act of choice the
mind had no power to choose otherwise than as it does choose.
In reply to this, nothing is needed but to show that all men believe,
and show it by their words and actions, that they always have power to
choose more ways than one. And after they have chosen a particular way,
they still believe that they had the power to have chosen another way.
And though metaphysicians may deny this in words, if any one of them, in
practical every-day life, should talk and act as if he believed that he
had no power to choose otherwise than as he does, he would be regarded
as having “lost his reason.”
This subject has often been so treated as to embarrass some of the most
acute minds. Yet the ordinary mind is as perfectly qualified to settle
this question as the most astute philosopher. Do men believe that they
have no power to choose any other way than as they do choose? Do they
talk and act in common life as if they believed it? Would not a man who
talked and acted on the assumption that he had no power to choose
otherwise than as he does choose be regarded as having “lost his
All men of common sense must answer these questions alike, and thus
decide that this is one of the intuitive truths.
The fourth intuitive truth is, that DESIGN IS EVIDENCE OF AN INTELLIGENT
CAUSE, AND THE NATURE OF A DESIGN PROVES THE INTENTION AND CHARACTER OF
It is by the aid of this principle of reason that we gain a knowledge of
the character and designs of our Creator. All minds are so constituted
that when they find a contrivance fitted to accomplish some end, they
can not help believing that the author of it is an _intelligent_ cause,
and that he _intended_ to secure that end.
This position is finely illustrated by Paley. He describes a savage
finding a watch in a desert, who is made to comprehend all its curious
contrivances for marking time. This savage, he claims, would inevitably
conclude that some intelligent person made the watch, and that it was
his design to have it keep time.
In like manner, should the residence of a person be inspected, and be
found filled with contrivances for producing mischief and for torturing
men and animals, the result would be a belief that the author of these
things was cruel and malignant. On the other hand, were these
contrivances calculated to produce only comfort and happiness, the
inevitable belief would follow that the contriver was benevolent.
Again, if these designs were found to involve powerful and magnificent
results, the immediate belief would follow that the author was wise and
powerful as well as benevolent.
This illustrates the method by which this implanted principle of reason
enables us to learn the design and character of the Author of the
universe by the works of creation.
The fifth intuitive truth is, that NO RATIONAL MIND WILL CHOOSE EVIL
WITHOUT ANY HOPE OF COMPENSATING GOOD.
The fact that any person was seeking pain and evil without hope of
compensating good would prove to all that “reason was lost.” No sane
mind ever acts thus.
It is by the aid of this intuitive truth that we rely on human
testimony. The surest mode of establishing the reliability of a witness
is to show that by false testimony he would knowingly incur evil and
gain no good. In such circumstances no one would believe that a witness
would be false.
The sixth intuitive truth is, that THINGS WILL CONTINUE AS THEY ARE AND
HAVE BEEN TILL THERE IS EVIDENCE OF A CHANGE OR OF A CAUSE FOR A CHANGE.
All the business of this life rests on a belief in this implanted truth,
and equally so do our inferences in regard to the immortality of the
soul and a future state.
The belief that the sun will continue to rise, or that the seasons will
return, rests solely on the fact that these events have been uniform in
past time, and that we know of no cause for a change from this
uniformity. And were any person to talk and act as if destitute of this
belief, he would be deemed insane.
Bishop Butler’s celebrated argument on the immortality of the soul is
founded entirely on this principle. It is briefly this:
Things will continue as they are and have been unless there is some
evidence of some change or cause for a change. At death the soul exists.
The dissolution of the body is no evidence of the destruction of the
soul, and there is no kind of evidence that it is destroyed. Therefore
we infer that the soul continues to exist after the dissolution of the
The main point in this argument is to show that there is no evidence
that the act of death involves the destruction of the soul. If this can
be established, then the belief must follow that the soul exists after
death. By the same method Butler establishes several other doctrines of
It is by the aid of this principle that what are called the laws of
nature are established. By means of human testimony we learn what has
been the uniform course of nature. And then men conclude that what has
been will continue to be until some new cause intervenes to change this
The seventh intuitive truth is, that the NEEDLESS DESTRUCTION OF
HAPPINESS OR INFLICTION OF PAIN IS WRONG, and THAT WHATEVER TENDS TO
PRODUCE THE MOST HAPPINESS IS RIGHT.
The terms right and wrong, as used by mankind, always have reference to
some _plan_ or _design_. Any thing is called right when it fulfills the
design for which it is made, and it is called wrong when it does not.
Thus a watch is right when it fulfills its design in keeping time. A
compass is right when it points to the north. And so of all
Of course, then, the question as to the right and wrong action of mind
involves a reference to the _object_ or _design_ of the Author of mind.
At this time it will be assumed (the proof being reserved for future
pages) that the design or object for which God made mind was _to produce
the greatest possible happiness with the least possible evil_.
It is also assumed, without here exhibiting the proof, that the
impression of this design is so inwrought into the mental constitution
that whatever is perceived to be destructive to happiness is felt to be
_wrong_–that is, _unfitted_ to the design of the Author of all things,
which the mind _feels_ often when it can not logically set forth the
reason. So, also, whatever is seen to promote the greatest amount of
happiness is felt to be right.
The mind is so constituted that, without any act of reasoning as to the
tendencies of things, there are certain feelings and actions that the
mind turns from as _unfit_ and to be abhorred.
Thus, when plighted faith is violated, or a great benefactor treated
with cruelty and indignity by those he has benefited, a feeling of
unfitness and abhorrence is awakened, independent of all considerations
of the tendency of such conduct to destroy happiness.
In like manner, there are certain acts of gratitude and benevolence that
always awaken approval and admiration as suitable and right, without any
reference to future tendencies or results.
At the same time, it is true that when, by a process of reasoning, it is
seen that the _tendency_ of any course of conduct is to diminish
happiness or inflict evil without compensating good, there arises the
same feeling of disapproval of it as wrong, and unfitted to the end for
which all things are made. This is often the case when there is no
definite, distinct idea of what the great design of the Creator may be.
This belief and feeling of unfitness and wrongfulness is common to all
sane minds. It is true that there are different views of what actions
are destructive to happiness, but when there is a clear perception that
a given act will do great harm and no good, every mind will feel that it
is wrong; and when it is seen that any act will do good without any
evil, it is felt to be right. And this is so universal, that if any one
should be found to talk and act with a contrary belief, he would be
regarded as having lost a part of that which constitutes him a rational
The eighth intuitive truth is, that THE EVIDENCE OF OUR SENSES IS
This statement needs some qualification. It often requires time to learn
accurately what our senses do testify, and sometimes the apparent
experience of the senses proves incorrect. For example, to one just
restored to sight, every object seems to touch the eye, and distances
are learned only by experience. So the sun and stars seem to move, when
it is the earth that is turning. So, also, the senses are sometimes
diseased or disordered, and make false reports.
The true meaning, then, of the above intuitive truth is, that when men
know that they have had all requisite experience, and understand
properly all the circumstances of the case, they can not help believing
the evidence of their senses, and when this belief is lost, a person is
regarded as insane.
The ninth intuitive truth is, that WHENEVER THERE IS A CHANGE IN THE
ESTABLISHED ORDER OF NATURE SURPASSING HUMAN POWER, IT IS EVIDENCE OF A
SUPERNATURAL AGENCY THAT IS SANCTIONED BY THE AUTHOR OF THE LAWS OF
The conviction of the wisdom and power of the Author of this vast and
wonderful frame around us is such that whatever changes may occur in its
established order must be felt to be by his permission.
To illustrate this, suppose a man appeared claiming to be a teacher sent
from God. In proof of this, he commands a mountain to be uptorn and
thrown into the sea. Now, if this phenomenon should follow his command,
it would be impossible for any who witnessed it to refrain from
believing that the Author of Nature performed this miracle to attest the
authority of his messenger.
In order to insure this belief in the interference of Deity, there must
be full evidence that there can be no deception, and that the miraculous
performance is entirely beyond human power and skill. Men always talk
and act on the assumption that _such_ miracles are from God, and that
all rational minds so regard them.
The tenth intuitive truth is, that IN ALL PRACTICAL CONCERNS WE ARE TO
CONSIDER THAT COURSE RIGHT WHICH HAS THE BALANCE OF EVIDENCE IN ITS
There are few practical questions where we can have perfect certainty as
to the right course. In almost all the concerns of life men are guided
by _probabilities_. It is not certain that seed will spring up, or that
a ship will return, or that a given medicine will cure, or that any
future project will succeed; but men go forward in their pursuits with
exactly the same decision as if the probabilities that guide them were
certainties. They find which course has _the most_ evidence in its
favor, and then act as if it was certain that this was the right course
to attain their designs.
And if any person should habitually act as if he believed the reverse,
he would be regarded as having lost his reason.
The eleventh intuitive truth is, that NOTHING IS TO BE ASSUMED AS TRUE
UNLESS THERE IS SOME EVIDENCE THAT IT IS SO.
This principle is always assumed in all practical affairs. If a man were
to send a cargo abroad without _any_ evidence that it was wanted, he
would be called a fool; and so in all other concerns, every sane man
takes this for his rule of conduct.
The preceding include the principles which it is believed are the grand
foundation on which rest most of the practical knowledge of life, as
well as the doctrines and duties both of natural and revealed religion.
There are some other intuitive truths which are not introduced here, and
there are some principles that others have placed in this honorable
position which could not stand the _test_ here introduced, and claimed
to be the only true and reliable one.
The intuitive truths have been called “fundamental truths,” because they
are the ultimate basis of all knowledge secured or established by the
process of _reasoning_.
This process consists in assuming a certain proposition to be true as
the _basis_ of an argument. If this proposition is granted, or supposed
to be granted, then the reasoner proceeds to show that the point in
dispute is in reality _included_ in the truth already granted, so that
believing the first proposition, or basis, necessarily involves a belief
in the one to be proved.
For example, if a man wishes to prove that a certain person is a
benevolent man, he proceeds thus:
Let it be granted that all persons who are habitually contriving and
laboring to promote the happiness of all around them are benevolent
persons. This basis proposition being conceded to be true, the reasoner
proceeds to present evidence that the person in question habitually is
laboring for the good of others. This being done, he draws the
conclusion that this person is _included_ in the class which have been
granted to be benevolent.
_Reasoning_, then, is a process for exhibiting evidence that a point
which is disputed is included in a proposition already believed and
But suppose the disputant denies the truth of the basis or foundation
proposition, then it becomes necessary to establish that proposition by
another act of reasoning. In order to do this, still another proposition
is assumed which is allowed to be true, and which the reasoner then
attempts to show includes his former basis proposition.
This process may thus be continued till, finally, it comes to pass that
the basis proposition assumed is an intuitive truth. In this case the
victory is secure; for whatever can be shown to be embraced in an
intuitive truth must be conceded to be true, and whatever is
contradictory to an intuitive truth must be allowed to be false.
Now it can be shown that all the reliable practical knowledge of this
life can be thus traced back till it is seen to rest on some intuitive
truth as its basis.
So, also, all the doctrines and duties, both of natural and revealed
religion, can be shown to rest on these intuitive truths. This indicates
the propriety of the name given to these first principles as _principles
of reason_ and _fundamental truths_.
Here, then, is presented the foundation of the hope so confidently
expressed, that a time is coming when, in all the great questions which
now agitate humanity with doubts, discussions, and conflict, there shall
result universal harmony and unity of opinion. If such intuitive
principles are implanted in all human minds; if there is a _certain
test_ by which these principles can be eliminated and established; and
if, by a sure process of reasoning, every correct practical and
religious opinion can be shown to rest on these principles, and every
false one to contradict them, then we can plainly perceive the true path
to this golden age.
It is to cultivate the powers of the human intellect, to train every
mind, from early life, to detect the true laws of reason, and to
practice accurately the process of reasoning. Not that this alone will
suffice without the attending cultivation of the moral powers, and the
promised blessing of heavenly aid. But the first would powerfully tend
to secure the second, and then the third would inevitably be bestowed.
Before proceeding farther, it is desirable to recognize the fact that
the word _reason_ is used in several ways. Sometimes it signifies simply
the intuitive truths. Sometimes it includes all those principles and
powers of mind which are employed in the act of reasoning. Sometimes it
refers to the intellect in distinction from the feelings. In all cases,
however, the connection will determine in which of these uses it is