Slike strani

interests; to form those laws, which may have a tendency to prevent a direct opposition; to provide for a reparation of injuries, and punishments for the restraint of wanton violence. Still the progress is slow; it is long before men can be persuaded to accept merely a reparation for injuries, and submit to society the sole right of punishing for prevention which comes in the place of revenge. The right to revenge private injuries, in the most improved state of society, in the highest refinement of manners, never wholly ceases ; nor is it demanded. There will exist many little oppositions, many little injuries, to which the law cannot descend, and which if neglected, become the source of greater violence. The exercise of hatred and revenge, by the party injured, is still the only restraint in these cases.

In a state of improvement, however, in a well regulated civil society, these passions stripped of their violence, and under the restraint of laws and moral discipline, are hardly known for the same passions. Still they are the same, only chastised and accommodated to a more improved state of society. Before, justified by the law of self preservation, they acted a primary part as sovereign in the distribution of punishments.--Now they act a subordinate part in coming in aid of the law, in matters of smaller moment. They are however, under every guard of law and of morals, liable at times to great abuses; and what, when left to the direction of a fallible being, is not liable to abuse? We should be ill fitted for society, without them. In an improved and well regulated society, the abuse can never be very extensive in its consequences. Let us not rashly attempt to correct the wisdom of Deity, much better is it for us that we should suffer the abuse of them than the total extinction.

Envy, malice, and avarice have been accounted instances of natural passions which are dissocial, and tend to prove, that man is little fitted for happiness in society. I will not here contend about the term natural. It is true that man is capablc of these passions, and of many other vicious passions and habits; a little reflection, however, will discover that these are not original in his nature ; but have their origin in the abuse of those natural passions, which are necessary to his happiness, both as a social being and as an individual. Envy is generally said to be


emulation carried to excess. This is undoubtedly correct ; but in the exercise it certainly partakes of the passion of revenge. Emulation is a desire to excel others, in the public estimation. While a person strives by the acquisition of superior excellence, to deserve a preference in the public opinion, it may emphatically be called the strife of virtue.The happiness of society is interested in the contest. When a person deserts the prime object, the acquisition of real excellence, and strives, by the depression of a competitor, to enjoy the public estimation unrivalled, it has degenerated into envy, and is now the contest of vice. A person under the dominion of this passion is prone to exaggerate every little fault in a competitor, and to convert' even his virtuous actions into vices by attributing them to corrupt motives. Every excellence in a rival is viewed as hostile, every advance as a personal injury. To complete the turpitude of the passion, and fill up the measure of vice, the passion of revenge is called into its aid.

Malice is a disposition to inflict evil on others without just cause. This disposition, by indulgence, is inflamed into a permanent passion, the most detestable, as well as pernicious in its effects. It may be called a perpetual anger, and is equally irrational with that passion in the extreme. Some persons appear to derive from their organization, an irritability of mind, which easily admits this disposition. In general, malice prevails most among a people of fierce and rough manners, where the common tone of the mind borders upon anger. It is more rare in an improved state of society and manners, and where it is discovered, may generally be traced to its source, in disappointments, insults, and hard usage, which have habituated the mind to a state of irritation. In all these cases it is easily perceived, that a malicious disposition is, originally, no part of the common nature of man, but is wholly adventitious. It is a vicious habit of mind admitted and confirmed by a too ready indulgence of the irritable feelings. Avarice is the excess of that passion which accompanies the hoarding appetite; the passion which prompts man to provide for his future necessities or convenience. It is the foundation of all his providence. Like other passions it is liable to abuse, to be


converted into avarice, and become indirectly an incentive to the most horrid vices. There are passions which originate in habit; every habit gives rise to an attendant passion, which impels to the indulgence of the habit. Vicious habits are attended with vicious passions, many of which have the most pernicious consequences in society. Such passions have no pretence of being natural or original, in the mind of man. The habits from which they are derived, are formed in the mind, through the neglect or abuse of some natural power, faculty, or propensity. They may like every vice be admitted or excluded at the election of the mind ;-they may, therefore, withthe greatest propriety, be denominated, adventitious. That any of the passions, faculties, or propensities of man may be abused, proves only that he is a moral agent capable, in his actions, of choosing between good and evil, or that he is imperfect and liable to deception, and sometimes to aberrations from virtue, without designing the consequences. Were it an objection to any passion, propensity, power, or faculty, that it might be abused to the injury of mankind, not one would escape condemnation. The faculty of reason would not be exempt. Generosity must be accounted an evil, because it sometimes misjudges and sometimes turns to prodigality.

Upon a candid view of the whole subject, the conclusion is undeniable, that man is, by the laws of his common nature as constituted by the Author of his being, fitted for a state of society and social improvements; that his happiness depends on the right use of his passions, appetites, powers, and faculties agreeable to the laws of social nature; that as a moral being, capable of vicious as well as virtuous actions, he may deviate from his destination, and disturb his own happiness, as well as the happiness of others.




Of the moral faculty, or moral constitution of man.

In the preceding book, we have seen that man, as far as depends on his natural appetites, powers, and propensities, is fitted, and intended, for the social state. We shall now inquire, how far he is fitted for government to be the subject of civil institutions and laws.

The first thing, that presents itself in this inquiry, is the moral faculty, or the moral constitution of man; moral perception or the power of discerning what is morally right or wrong in human actions, both as it relates to himself and others; and a sense of obligation to do what is right accordingly, and to forbear what is wrong. Without such power of perception and sense of obligation, he could not be a subject of government, could be subject to no laws, human or divine, except to the laws of instinct and to those physical laws, which are appointed for the lower orders of the animal creation, and which are to them, laws of necessity, not of obligation. I shall endeavor to investigate fully, but with as much brevity as is consistent with perspicuity, the nature of that constitution, the origin of the moral faculty, and the nature of moral obligation, and in what way it renders him a proper subject of government and laws.

Before entering upon this inquiry I shall briefly notice some


opinions of Mr. Paley, who sustains a very eminent character as a moral writer. In his treatise of moral philosophy, he

very justly discards the notions of innate maxims, of an instinctive perception of moral right and wrong, or what may be called a moral instinct. He admits that man has, from nature, a capability of attaining the perception of moral right and wrong, and accounts for his approbation of the one and disapprobation of the other, in the following manner. “Having experienced in some instances, a particular conduct to be beneficial to ourselves, or observed that it would be so, a sentiment of approbation arises in the mind, and which sentiment afterwards accompanies the idea or mention of the same conduct, although the private advantage, which first excited it, no longer exists," and e converso of a conduct injurious. He farther attributes the continuation of such sentiments, or as I understand him, their propagation, and what renders them common in society, to imitation, of which he says—" The efficacy of this principle is most observable in children; indeed, ify there is anything in them, which deserves the name of instinct, it is the propensity to imitation.” However just these observations may be, and however applicable to the manner in which moral sentiments become habitual, and the manner in which they are frequently propagated, they do not at all serve to explain the original principle of the moral faculty, in the common nature of man.

That there is such a common principle, is evident from the common and universal effect.-Every man endued with human faculties is found capable of moral sentiments, and of attaining the perception of the moral quality of actions. This common principle, I shall endeavor, presently, to demonstrate. The same author when treating of moral obligation, says, “When I first turned my thoughts to moral speculations, an air of mystery appeared to hang over the whole subject, which arose, I believe, from hence, that I supposed, with many authors, whom I had read, that to be obliged to do a thing was very different from being induced to do it, and that the obligation to practice virtue, do what is right, just &c., was quite another thing and another kind, than the obligation, which the soldier is under to obey his officer, a servant his master, or any of the other civil and ordinary obligations of

« PrejšnjaNaprej »