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From this principle I have accounted for that species of probability, derived from analogy, where we transfer our experience in past instances to objects which are resembling, but are not exactly the same with those concerning which we have had experience.
In proportion as the resemblance decays, the probability diminishes; but still has some force as long as there remain any traces of the resemblance.
This observation we may carry farther; and may remark, that though custom be the foundation of all our judgments, yet sometimes it has an effect on the imagination in opposition to the judgment, and produces a contrariety in our sentiments concerning the same object.
I explain myself.
In almost all kinds of causes there is a complication of circumstances, of which some are essential, and others superfluous; some are absolutely requisite to the production of the effect, and others are only conjoined by accident.
Now we may observe, that when these superfluous circumstances are numerous, and remarkable, and frequently conjoined with the essential, they have such an influence on the imagination, that even in the absence of the latter they carry us on to t-he conception of the usual effect, and give to that conception a force and vivacity, which make it superior to the mere fictions of the fancy.
We may correct this propensity by a reflection on the nature of those circumstances: but it is still certain, that custom takes the start, and gives a biass to the imagination.
To illustrate this by a familiar instance, let us consider the case of a man, who, being hung out from a high tower in a cage of iron cannot forbear trembling, when he surveys the precipice below him, though he knows himself to be perfectly secure from falling, by his experience of the solidity of the iron, which supports him; and though the ideas of fall and descent, and harm and death, be derived solely from custom and experience.
The same custom goes beyond the instances, from which it is derived, and to which it perfectly corresponds; and influences his ideas of such objects as are in some respect resembling, but fall not precisely under the same rule.
The circumstances of depth and descent strike so strongly upon him, that their influence can-not be destroyed by the contrary circumstances of support and solidity, which ought to give him a perfect security.
His imagination runs away with its object, and excites a passion proportioned to it.
That passion returns back upon the imagination and inlivens the idea; which lively idea has a new influence on the passion, and in its turn augments its force and violence; and both his fancy and affections, thus mutually supporting each other, cause the whole to have a very great influence upon him.
But why need we seek for other instances, while the present subject of philosophical probabilities offers us so obvious an one, in the opposition betwixt the judgment and imagination arising from these effects of custom? According to my system, all reasonings are nothing but the effects of custom; and custom has no influence, but by inlivening the imagination, and giving us a strong conception of any object.
It may, therefore, be concluded, that our judgment and imagination can never be contrary, and that custom cannot operate on the latter faculty after such a manner, as to render it opposite to the former.
This difficulty we can remove after no other manner, than by supposing the influence of general rules.
We shall afterwards take [SECT. 15.] notice of some general rules, by which we ought to regulate our judgment concerning causes and effects; and these rules are formed on the nature of our understanding, and on our experience of its operations in the judgments we form concerning objects.
By them we learn to distinguish the accidental circumstances from the efficacious causes; and when we find that an effect can be produced without the concurrence of any particular circumstance, we conclude that that circumstance makes not a part of the efficacious cause, however frequently conjoined with it.
But as this frequent conjunction necessity makes it have some effect on the imagination, in spite of the opposite conclusion from general rules, the opposition of these two principles produces a contrariety in our thoughts, and causes us to ascribe the one inference to our judgment, and the other to our imagination.
The general rule is attributed to our judgment; as being more extensive and constant.
The exception to the imagination, as being more capricious and uncertain.
Thus our general rules are in a manner set in opposition to each other.