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How Men come to chuse ill.       §56. These things duly weigh’d, will give us, as I think, a clear
view into the state of humane Liberty. Liberty ’tis plain consists in
a Power to do, or not to do; to do, or forbear doing as we will.
This cannot be deny’d. But this seeming to comprehend only the
actions of a Man consecutive to volition, it is farther enquired,
whether he be at Liberty to will, or no? and to this it has been
answered, that in most cases a Man is not at Liberty to forbear the
act of volition; he must exert an act of his will, whereby the action
proposed, is made to exist, or not to exist. But yet there is a case
wherein a Man is at Liberty in respect of willing, and that is the
chusing of a remote Good as an end to be pursued. Here a Man may
suspend the act of his choice from being determined for or against
the thing proposed, till he has examined, whether it be really of a
nature in it self and consequences to make him happy, or no. For
when he has once chosen it, and thereby it is become a part of his
Happiness, it raises desire, and that proportionably gives him
uneasiness, which determines his will, and sets him at work in
pursuit of his choice on all occasions that offer. And here we may see
how it comes to pass, that a Man may justly incur punishment,
though it be certain that in all the particular actions that he wills,
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he does, and necessarily does will that, which he then judges to be
good. For though his will be always determined by that, which is
judg’d good by his Understanding, yet it excuses him not: Because,
by a too hasty choice of his own making, he has imposed on himself
wrong measures of good and evil; which however false and falla-
cious, have the same influence on all his future conduct, as if they
were true and right. He has vitiated his own Palate, and must be
answerable to himself for the sickness and death that follows from it.
The eternal Law and Nature of things must not be alter’d to comply
with his ill-order’d choice. If the neglect or abuse of the Liberty he
had, to examine what would really and truly make for his Happiness,
misleads him, the miscarriages that follow on it, must be imputed
to his own election. He had a Power to suspend his determination:
It was given him, that he might examine, and take care of his own
Happiness, and look that he were not deceived. And he could never
judge, that it was better to be deceived, than not, in a matter of so
great and near concernment.
What has been said, may also discover to us the Reason, why Men
in this World prefer different things, and pursue Happiness by
contrary Courses. But yet since Men are always constant, and in
earnest, in matter of Happiness and Misery, the Question still
remains, How Men come often to prefer the worse to the better; and to
chuse that, which, by their own Confession, has made them
miserable.
Locke Hum II, 21, §56, pp. 270-271