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From the same principles it may be collected that all such pompous theories of morals, however seemingly diversified, yet amount ultimately to the same thing, being all built upon the same false bottom of innate notions; and from the history of this science we may see that they have received no manner of improvement (as indeed by the supposition of their innateness they become incapable of any) from the days of Plato to our own; but must always take the main point, the ground of obligation, for granted: which is in truth the shortest and safest way of proceeding for such self-taught philosophers, and saves a deal of trouble in seeking reasons for what they advance, where none are to be found. Mr. Locke went a far different way to work, at the very entrance on his Essay, pointing out the true origin of all our passions and affections, i. e. sensitive pleasure and pain; and accordingly directing us to the proper principle and end of virtue, private happiness, in each individual; as well as laying down the adequate rule and only solid ground of moral obligation, the divine will. From whence also it may well be concluded that moral propositions are equally capable of certainty, and that such certainty is equally reducible to strict demonstration here as in other sciences, since they consist of the very same kind of ideas [viz. general abstract ones, the true and only ground of all general knowledge]: provided always that the terms be once clearly settled, in which lies the chief difficulty, and are constantly applied (as surely they may be) with equal steadiness and precision: which was undoubtedly Mr. Locke’s meaning in that assertion of his which drew upon him so many solicitations to set about such a systematic demonstration of morals.
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13. Connected in some sort with the forementioned essay, and in their way equally valuable, are his tracts on Education and the early Conduct of the Understanding; both worthy, as we apprehend, of a more careful perusal than is commonly bestowed upon them, the latter more especially, which seems to be little known and less attended to. It contains an easy popular illustration of some discoveries in the foregoing essay, particularly that great and universal law of nature, the support of so many mental powers, (v. g. that of memory under all its modifications) and which produces equally remarkable effects in the intellectual, as that of gravitation does in the material world;—I mean the association of ideas: the first hint whereof did not appear till the fourth edition of his essay, and then came in as it were by the by, under some very peculiar circumstances, and in comparatively trivial instances; the author himself seeming not to be sufficiently aware of its extensiveness, and the many uses to which it is applicable, and has been applied of late by several of our own writers. The former tract abounds with no less curious and entertaining than useful observations on the various tempers and dispositions of youth: with proper directions for the due regulation and improvement of them, and just remarks on the too visible defects in that point; nor should it be looked upon as merely fitted for the instruction of schoolmasters or nurses, but as affording matter of reflection to men of business, science, and philosophy. The several editions of this treatise, which has been much esteemed by foreigners, with the additions made to it abroad, may be seen in Gen. Dict. Vol. VII. p. 145.