The self-moving principle is like that in the House of Commons determined by majority so that "so many unthinking members" may compose "one thinking system"

— Pope, Alexander (1688-1744); Arbuthnot, John (bap. 1677, d. 1735)

Place of Publication
Printed by and for George Faulkner
The self-moving principle is like that in the House of Commons determined by majority so that "so many unthinking members" may compose "one thinking system"
Metaphor in Context
On of their chief arguments is that self-consciousness cannot inhere in any system of matter, because all matter is made up of several distinct beings, which never can make up one individual thinking being.

This is easily answered by a familiar instance: in every jack there is a meat-roasting quality, which neither resides in the fly, nor in the weight, nor in any particular wheel of the jack, but is the result of the whole composition. So, in an animal, the self-consciousness is not a real quality inherent in one being (any more than meat-roasting in a jack) but the result of several modes or qualities in the same subject. As the fly, the wheels, the chain, the weight, the cords, etc. make one jack, so the several parts of the body make one animal. As perception or consciousness is said to be inherent in this animal, so is meat-roasting said to be inherent in the jack. As sensation, reasoning, volition, memory, etc. are the several modes of thinking, so roasting of beef, roasting of mutton, roasting of pullets, geese, turkeys, etc. are the several modes of meat-roasting. And as the general quality of meat-roasting, with its several modifications as to beef, mutton, pullets, etc. does not inhere in any one part of the jack, so neither does consciousness, with its several modes of sensation, intellection, volition, etc. inhere in any one, but is the result from the mechanical composition of the whole animal.

Just so, the quality or disposition in a fiddle to play tunes, with the several modifications of this tune-playing quality in playing of preludes, sarabands, jigs and gavottes, are as much real qualities in the instrument as the thought or imagination is in the mind of the person that composes them.

The parts (say they) of an animal body are perpetually changed and the fluids, which seem to be subject of consciousness, are in perpetual circulation; so that the same individual particles do not remain in the brain; from whence it will follow that the idea of individual consciousness must be constantly translated from one particle of matter to another, whereby particle A, for example, must not only be conscious, but conscious that it is the same being with the particle B that went before.

We answer, this is only a fallacy of the imagination, and is to be understood in no other sense than that maxim of the English law, that 'the King never dies.' This power of thinking, self-moving, and governing the whole machine, is communicated from every particle to its immediate successor; who as soon as he is gone, immediately takes upon him the government, which still preserves the unity of the whole system.

They make a great noise about this individuality: how a man is conscious to himself that he is the same individual he was twenty years ago; notwithstanding the flux state of the particles of matter that compose his body. We think this is capable of a very plain answer, and may be easily illustrated by a familiar example.

Sir John Cutler had a pair of black worsted stockings, which his maid darned so often with silk that they became at last a pair of silk stockings. Now supposing those stockings of Sir John's endued with some degree or consciousness at every particular darning, they would have been sensible that they were the same individual pair of stockings both before and after the darning; and this sensation would have continued in them through all the succession of darnings; and yet, after the last of all, there was not perhaps one thread left of the first pair of stockings, but they were grown to be silk stockings, as was said before.

And whereas it is affirmed that every animal is conscious of some individual self-moving, self-determining principle, it is answered that as in a House of Commons all things are determined by a majority, so it is in every animal system. As that which determines the House is said to be the reason of the whole assembly, it is no otherwise with thinking beings, who are determined by the greater force of several particles which, like so many unthinking members, compose one thinking system.

And whereas it is likewise objected that punishments cannot be just that are not inflicted upon the same individual, which cannot subsist without the notion of a spiritual substance. We reply that this is no greater difficulty to conceive than that a corporation, which is likewise a flux body, may be punished for the faults and liable to the debts of their predecessors.
(Chapter XII, pp. 61-3)
At least 16 entries in ECCO and ESTC (1741, 1742, 1752, 1756, 1757, 1758, 1761, 1764, 1766, 1767, 1768, 1772, 1774, 1778, 1779, 1789). Republished in the Works of Pope and of Swift.

See Memoirs of the Extraordinary Life, Works, and Discoveries of Martinus Scriblerus. By Mr. Pope (Dublin: Printed by and for George Faulkner, 1741). <Link to ECCO-TCP>

Reading Memoirs of the Extraordinary Life, Works, and Discoveries of Martinus Scriblerus (London: Hesperus Press, 2002). [From which much of my text was originally transcribed.]
Date of Entry

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.