Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil. In Six Letters to —.
« Prev Letter III. On Natural Evils. Next »



Natural Evils.


On Natural Evils.


I Shall now lay before you my free sentiments concerning the Origin of Natural Evils, by which I understand the sufferings of sensitive Beings only; for tempests, inundations and earthquakes, with all the disorders of the material World, are no farther Evils than they affect the sensitive: so that under this head can be only comprehended pains of body, and inquietudes of mind. That these are real Evils, I readily acknowledge; and if any one is philosopher enough to doubt of it, I shall only beg leave to refer him to a severe fit of sickness, or a tedious lawsuit, for farther satisfaction.

The production of Happiness seems to be the only motive that could induce infinite Goodness to exert infinite Power to create all things: for, to say truth, Happiness is the only thing of real value in existence; neither riches, nor power, nor wisdom, nor learning, nor strength, nor beauty, nor virtue, nor religion, nor even life itself, being of any importance but as they contribute to its production. All these are in themselves neither Good nor Evil; Happiness alone is their great end, and they desirable only as they tend to promote it. Most astonishing therefore it must appear to every one who looks round him, to observe all creatures blessed with life and sensation, that is, all creatures made capable of Happiness, at the same time by their own natures condemned to innumerable and unavoidable miseries. Whence can it proceed, that Providence should thus seem to counteract his own benevolent intentions? To what strange and invisible cause are all these numerous and invincible Evils indebted for their existence? If God is a good and benevolent Being, what end could he propose from creation, but the propagation of Happiness? and if Happiness is the end of all existence, why are not all creatures that do exist happy?

The true solution of this important question, so long and so vainly searched for by the philosophers of all ages and all countries, I take to be at last no more than this, That these real Evils proceed from the same source as those imaginary ones of Imperfection before treated of, namely, from that subordination, without which no created system can subsist; all subordination implying imperfection; all Imperfection Evil, and all Evil some kind of inconvenience or suffering; so that there must be particular inconveniences and sufferings annexed to every particular rank of created Beings by the circumstances of things, and their modes of existence. Mot of those to which we ourselves are liable may be easily shewn to be of this kind, the effects only of human nature, and the station Man occupies in the universe: and therefore their Origin is plainly deducible from necessity; that is, they could not have been prevented without the loss of greater good, or the admission of greater Evils than themselves; or by not creating any such creatures as Men at all. And tho' this upon a general view of things, does not so forcibly us; yet, on a more minute inspection into every grievance attendant on human nature, it will most evidently appear. Most of these, I think, may be comprehended under the following heads: poverty, labour, inquietudes of mind, pains of body, and death; from none of which we may venture to affirm Man could ever have been exempted, so long as he continued to be Man. God indeed might have made us quite other creatures, and placed us in a world quite otherwise constituted; but then we had been no longer Men; and whatever Beings had occupied our stations in the universal System, they must have been liable to the same inconveniences.

Poverty, for example, is what all could not possibly have been exempted from, not only by reason of the fluctuating nature of human possessions, but because the world could not subsist without it; for had all been rich, none would have submitted to the commands of another, or the drudgeries of life; thence all governments must have been dissolved, arts neglected, and lands uncultivated, and so an universal penury have overwhelmed all, instead of now and then pinching a few. Hence by the bye, appears the great excellence of Charity, by which men are enabled by a particular distribution of the blessings and enjoyments of life, on proper occasions, to prevent that poverty which by a general one Omnipotence itself could never have prevented: so that, by inforcing this duty, God as it were demands our assistance to promote universal happiness, and to shut out Misery at every door, where it strives to intrude itself.

Labour, indeed, God might easily have excused us from, since at his command the Earth would readily have poured forth all her treasures without our inconsiderable assistance: but if the severest Labour cannot sufficiently subdue the malignity of human nature, what plots and machinations, what wars, rapine, and devastation, what profligacy, and licentiousness, must have been the consequence of universal idleness! So that Labour ought only to be looked upon as a task kindly imposed upon us by our indulgent Creator, necessary to preserve our health, our safety, and our innocence.

Inquietudes of mind cannot be prevented without first eradicating all our inclinations and passions, the winds and tides that preserve the great Ocean of human life from perpetual stagnation. So long as Men have pursuits, they must meet with disappointments; and whilst they have disappointments they must be disquieted; whilst they are injured, they must be enflamed with anger; and whilst they see cruelties, they must be melted with pity; whilst they perceive danger, they must be sensible of fear; and whilst they behold beauty, they must be inflaved by love: nor can they be exempted from the various anxieties attendant on these various and turbulent passions. Yet without them we should be undoubtedly less happy and less safe; for without anger we should not defend ourselves, and without pity we should not assist others; without fear we should not preserve our lives, and without love they would not be worth preserving.

Pains of body are perhaps but the necessary consequences of the union of material and spiritual essences; for matter being by nature divisible, when endued with sensibility, must probably be affected by pains and pleasures by its different modifications: therefore, to have been freed from our sufferings, we must have been deprived of all our sensual enjoyments; a composition by which few surely would be gainers. Besides, the pains of our bodies are necessary to make us continually mindful of their preservation; for what numberless lives would be lost in every trifling pursuit, or flung away in ill humour, was the piercing of a sword no more painful than the tickling of a feather.

Death, the last and most dreadful of all Evils, is so far from being one, that it is the infallible cure of all others.

To die is landing on some silent shore,

Where billows never beat, nor tempests roar.

Ere well we feel the friendly strole 'tis o'er.


For, abstracted from the sickness and sufferings usually attending it, it is no more than the expiration of that term of life, God was pleased to bestow on us, without any claim or merit on our part. But was it an Evil ever so great, it could not be remedied but by one much greater, which is by living for ever; by which means our wickedness, unrestrained by the prospect of a future state, would grow so insupportable, our sufferings so intolerable by perseverance, and our pleasures so tiresome by repetition, that no being in the Universe could be so compleatly miserable as a species of immortal men. We have no reason therefore to look upon death as an Evil, or to fear it as a punishment, even without any supposition of a future life: but if we consider it as a passage to a more perfect state, or a remove only in an eternal succession of still improving states (for which we have the strongest reasons) it will then appear a new favour from the divine munificence; and a man must be as absurd to repine at dying, as a traveller would be, who proposed to himself a delightful tour thro' various unknown countries, to lament that he cannot take up his residence at the first dirty Inn which he baits at on the road. The instability of human life, or the hasty changes of its successive periods, of which we so frequently complain, are no more than the necessary progress of it to this necessary conclusion; and are so far from being Evils deserving these complaints, that they are the source of our greatest pleasures, as they are the source of all novelty, from which our greatest pleasures are ever derived. The continual succession of Seasons in the human life, by daily presenting to us new scenes, render it agreeable, and like those of the year, afford us delights by their change, which the choicest of them could not give us by their continuance. In the Spring of Life, the gilding of the sun-shine, the verdure of the fields, and the variegated paintings of the Sky, are so exquisite in the eyes of Infants at their first looking abroad into a new World, as nothing perhaps afterwards can equal. The heat and vigour of the succeeding Summer of Youth ripens for us new pleasures, the blooming maid, the nightly revel, and the jovial chace: the serene Autumn of compleat Manhood feasts us with the golden harvests of our worldly pursuits: nor is the hoary Winter of old age destitute of its peculiar comforts and enjoyments, of which the recollection and relation of those past are perhaps none of the least; and at last death opens to us a new prospect, from whence we shall probably look back upon the diversions and occupations of this world with the same contempt we do now on our Tops, and Hobby-horses, and with the same surprise, that they could ever so much entertain or engage us.

Thus we see all these evils could never have been prevented even by infinite Power, without the introduction of greater, or the loss of superior good; they are but the necessary consequences of human Nature; from which it can no more be divested, than matter from extension, or heat from motion, which proceed from the very modes of their existence.

If it be objected, that, after all that has been said, there are innumerable miseries entailed upon all things that have life, and particularly on man; many diseases of the body, and afflictions of mind, in which Nature seems to play the Tyrant, ingenious in contriving torments for her children; that we cannot avoid feeing every moment with horror numbers of our fellow-creatures condemned to tedious and intolerable miseries, some expiring on racks, others roasting in flames, some starving in dungeons, others raving in mad houses; some broiling in fevers, others groaning whole months under the exquisite tortures of gout and stone: If it be said further, that some men being exempted from many calamities with which others are afflicted proves plainly that all might have been exempted from all; the charge can by no means be disputed, nor can it be alledged that infinite Power could not have prevented most of these dreadful calamities. From hence therefore I am perswaded, that there is something in the abstract nature of pain, conducive to pleasure: that the sufferings of individuals are absolutely necessary to universal happiness; and that, from connections to us inconceivable, it was impracticable for Omnipotence to produce the one, without at the same time permitting the other. Their constant and uniform concomitancy thro' every part of Nature with which we are acquainted, very much corroborates this conjecture, in which scarce one instance, I believe, can be produced of the acq tion of pleasure or convenience by any tures, which is not purchased by the previous or consequential sufferings of themselves or others; pointing out, as it were, th... certain allay of Pain must be cast into universal mass of created Happiness, inflicted somewhere for the benefit of the whole. Over what mountains of slai.. every mighty Empire rolled up to the summit of Prosperity and Luxury, and new scenes of desolation attend its fall? what infinite toil of Men, and other mals, is every flourishing City indebted for all the conveniencies and enjoyments of I... and what vice and misery do those very enjoyments introduce? The pleasures pec to the continuing our species are several paid for by pains and perils in one and by cares and anxieties in both. Those annexed to the preservation or ourselves are both preceded and followed by numberless sufferings; preceded by the massacres and tortures of various animals preparatory to a feast, and followed by as many diseases lying in wait in every dish to pour forth vengeance on their destroyers. Our riches and honours are acquired by laborious or perilous occupations, and our sports are pursued with scarce less fatigue or danger, and usually attended with distresses and destruction of innocent animals. This universal connection of pain with pleasure seems, I think, strongly to intimate, that pain abstractedly considered must have its uses; and since we may be assured, that it is never admitted but with the reluctance of the supreme Author, those uses must be of the highest importance, tho' we have no faculties to conceive them.

The human mind can comprehend but a very small part of the great and astonishing whole: for any thing we know, the sufferings (and perhaps the crimes producing those sufferings) of the Inhabitants of this terrestrial Globe may some way or other affect those of the most distant planet, and the whole animal world may be connected by some principle as general as that of attraction in the corporeal, and so the miseries of particular Beings be some way necessary to the happiness of the whole. How these things operate is indeed to us quite inconceivable; but that they do operate in some such extensive manner, is far, 1 think, from improbable.

All Ages and Nations seem to have had confused notions of the merits of sufferings abstracted from their tendency to any visible good, and have paid the highest honors to those who have voluntarily endured them, as to their common benefactors. Many in Christian countries have formerly so fainted for long fasting, for whipping ... tormenting themselves, for sitting whole s in uneasy postures, or exposing themselves to the inclemency of the weather on the tops of pillars. Many at this day in the East are almost deified for loading themselves with heavy chains, bending under burthens, or confining themselves in irs stuck round with pointed nails. Now, if these notions are not totally devoid of all reason and common sense, (and , I believe, are so which become universal they can be founded on no other principle than this, of the necessity of pain to induce happiness, which seems another mighty instance of the probability of this ancient and universal opinion, tho' the reasons for it are forgot or unknown, and the practices derived from it big with the most absurd and ridiculous superstitions.

One cause, I think, from which many of our severest sufferings may be derived, may be discovered by analogical reasoning, that is, by assimilating those things which are not objects of our understandings, to others which lye within their reach. Man is one link of that vast Chain, descending by insensible degrees from infinite perfection to absolute nothing. As there are many thousands below him, so must there be many more above him. If we look downwards, we see innumerable species of inferior Beings, whose happiness and lives are dependent on his will; we see him cloathed by their spoils, and fed by their miseries and destruction, inslaving some, tormenting others, and murdering millions for his luxury or diversion; is it not therefore analogous and highly probable, that the happiness and life of Man should be equally dependent on the wills of his superiors? As we receive great part of our pleasures, and even subsistence from the sufferings and deaths of lower animals, may not these superior Beings do the same from ours, and that by ways as far above the reach of the most exalted human understandings, as the means by which we receive our benefits are above the capacities of the meanest creatures destined for our service? The fundamental Error in all our reasonings on this subject, is that of placing ourselves wrong in that presumptuous climax of Beast, Man, and God; from whence, as we suppose falsely, that there is nothing above us except the Supreme Being, we foolishly conclude that all the Evils we labour under must be derived immediately from his omnipotent hand: whereas there may be numberless intermediate Beings, who have power to deceive, torment, or destroy us, for the ends only of their own pleasure or utility, who may be veiled with the same privileges over their inferiors, and as much benefited by the use of them, as ourselves. In what manner these benefits accrue to them, it is impossible for us to conceive; but that impossibility lessens not the probability of this conjecture, which by Analogy is so strongly confirmed.

Should you, Sir, have been lately employed in reading some of those sublime Authors, who, from pride and ignorance, delight to puff up the dignity of Human Nature, the notions here advanced may appear to you absurd and incredible, because inconsistent with that imaginary dignity; and you may object, that it is impossible that God should suffer innocence to be thus afflicted, and reason thus deceived; that tho' he may permit animals made solely for the use of man to be thus abused for his convenience, or recreation; yet that Man himself, the sole possessor of reason, the Lord of this terrestrial globe, his own ambassador, vicegerent, and similitude, should be thus dependent on the will of others, must be utterly inconsistent with the divine Wisdom and justice. But pray, Sir, what does all this prove, but the importance of a Man to himself? Is not the justice of God as much concerned to preserve the happiness of the meanest Insect which he has called into being, as of the greatest Man that ever lived? Are not all creatures we see made subservient to each other's uses? and what is there in Man that he should only be exempted from this common fate of all created Beings? The superiority of Man to that of other terrestrial animals is as inconsiderable, in proportion to the immense plan of universal existence, as the difference of climate between the north and south end of the paper I now write upon, with regard to the heat and distance of the Sun. There is nothing leads us into so many Errors concerning the works, and designs of Providence, as that foolish vanity that can persuade such insignificant creatures that all things were made for their service; from whence they ridiculously set up Utility to themselves as the standard of good, and conclude every thing to be Evil which appears injurious to them or their purposes. As well might a nest of Ants imagine this Globe of Earth created only for them to cast up into hillocks, and cloathed with grain and herbage for their sustenance then accuse their Creator for permitting spades to destroy them, and plows to lay waste their habitations; the inconveniences of which they feel, but are utterly unable to comprehend their uses, as well as the relations they themselves bear to superior Beings.

It is surprizing that none of those Philosophers, who were drove to the supposition of two first Causes, and many other absurdities, to account for the Origin of Evil, should not rather have chosen to impute it to the ministration of intermediate Beings; and when they saw the happiness of all inferior animals dependent on our wills, should not have concluded, that the good order and well-being of the Universe might require that ours should be as dependent on the wills of superior Beings, accountable like ourselves to one common Lord and Father of all things. This is the more wonderful, because the existence and influence of such Beings has been an article in the Creed of all religions that have ever appeared in the world. In the beautiful system of the Pagan theology, their Sylvan and Houshold Deities, their Nymphs, Satyrs, and Fawns, were of this kind. All the barbarous nations that have ever been discovered, have been found to believe and adore intermediate spiritual Beings, both good and evil. The Jewish religion not only confirms the belief of their existence, but of their tempting, deceiving, and tormenting mankind; and the whole system of Christianity is erected entirely on this foundation.

Thus, Sir, you see, the good order of the whole, and the happiness it receives from a proper subordination, will sufficiently account for the sufferings of individuals; and all such should be considered but as the necessary taxes, which every member of this great Republick of the Universe is obliged to pay towards the support of the Community. It is no derogation from the divine Goodness that these taxes are not always imposed equally in the present state of things; because as every individual is but a part of the great whole, so is the present state but a part of a long, or perhaps an eternal succession of others; and, like a single day in the natural life, has reference to many more, both past and to come. It is but as a page in a voluminous accompt, from which no judgment can be formed on the state of the whole; but of this we may be assured, that the balance will some time or other be settled with justice and impartiality. The certainty, therefore of a future state, in which we, and indeed all creatures endued with sensation, shall somehow or other exist, seems (if all our notions of justice are not erroneous) as demonstrable as the Justice of their Creator; for if he is just, all such Creatures must have their account of happiness and misery somewhere adjusted with equity, and all creatures capable of virtue and vice must, according to their behaviour, receive rewards and punishments; and, to render these punishments consistent with infinite goodness, they must not only be proportioned to their crimes, but also some way necessary to universal Good; for no creatures can be called out of their primitive nothing by an all-wise and benevolent Creator, to be losers by their existence, or to be made miserable for no beneficial end, even by their own misbehaviour: so that all future misery, as well as present, must be subservient to happiness, or other-wise infinite Power, joined with infinite Goodness, would have prevented both vice and punishment.

For this reason, amongst all the shortsighted conjectures of Man into the dispensations of Providence and a future State, the ancient doctrine of Transmigration seems the most rational and most consistent with his wisdom and goodness; as by it all the unequal dispensations of things so necessary in one Life may be set right in another, and all creatures serve the highest and lower, the most eligible and most burthensome offices of life, by an equitable kind of rotation; by which means their rewards and punishments may not only be well proportioned to their behaviour, but also subservient towards carrying on the Business of the Universe, and thus at the same time answer the purposes both of justice and utility. But the pride of man will not suffer us to treat this subject with the seriousness it deserves; but rejects as both impious and ridiculous every supposition of inferior creatures ever arriving at its own imaginary dignity, allowing at the same time the probability of human Nature being exalted to the angelick, a much wider and more extraordinary transition, but yet such a one as may probably be the natural consequence, as well as the reward of a virtuous life: nor is it less likely that our vices may debase us to the servile condition of inferior animals, in whose forms we may be severely punished for the injuries we have done to Mankind when amongst them, and be obliged in some measure to repair them, by performing the drudgeries tyrannically imposed upon us for their service.

From what has been said, I think it plainly appears that numberless Evils do actually exist, which could not have been excluded from the works of infinite goodness even by infinite power; and from hence it may be concluded, that there are none which could; but that God has exerted all his omnipotence to introduce all possible happiness, and as far as the imperfection of created things would permit, to exclude all misery, that is, all natural Evil, from the universal system; which notwithstanding will introduce itself in many circumstances, even in opposition to infinite Power.

The Origin of Moral Evil lies much deeper, and I will venture to assert has never yet been fathomed by the short line of human understanding, That I shall be able to reach it, I have by no means the vanity to imagine: but, laying aside all preconceived opinions and systematical prejudice I will in my next endeavour to come as near it as lies in the power of,

S I R, &c

« Prev Letter III. On Natural Evils. Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |