Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

too had an end and object to his being, a call to glory and virtue? Had not Plato gone yet further in the same inquiry? Did he not sift to the very bottom the great moral problems of life? And then, again, comes Aristotle, and leaves us, in his Ethics, that imperishable memorial of his genius; a noble system of morals, based purely on a contemplation of the nature and constitution of man, without regard to future rewards or punishments, without thought even of a future life, which Aristotle, in this very treatise, denies to have any existence. How is it possible, in the face of such evidence, to deny, to question, the existence of a moral sense? Whence did these works come, if not from its utterances ? Whence did all the Greek words for moral subjects get their origin and being, if man have in himself no moral sense, if he do not hold within him the aŭtodidaktos šowbev Quuós, the self-taught heart, of which Æschylus tells us?

The dispute is, whether a thing can be, after the clearest evidence that it is. If the cellars of Scepsis had done their mischief far more effectually than they did to the Mss. of Aristotle; and if Plato and Xenophon had been subjected to a like fatality, —we should have been deprived, indeed, of the most splendid moral discussions of antiquity, but the evidence of the existence of a high moral nature in man, of noble moral conclusions actually and definitely arrived at, not only without the aid of any outward Revelation, but before Christianity, would not have been less conclusive than now it is. For the whole history of ancient philosophy is an incontestable evidence to the existence of a natural morality. Whence came the conflicts of Stoics against Epicureans, of soul against sense; the endless questionings and debatings,-if not from the moral nature of man, protesting, and struggling, and fighting against the selfish nature of the individual, and the selfish customs of the race?

Moral philosophy, moral notions, moral words, every thing which had to do with morality amongst the ancients, have about them every mark of being natural growths and developments of human nature : so that there is no pretence for referring them to some remote tradition of a revelation handed down through long ages. And what is still more remarkable is, that all these moral conceptions are growths which have forced their way up into light against the pressure of selfishness. Lust, greed, passion, in a word, self, always have opposed, and must oppose, the growth of morality; and the more strongly the antagonists of the moral sense insist on the extent and power of these selfish feelings, the more remarkable are the facts, and the more inexplicable on their theory: for it is beyond doubt that morality grew up into a noble tree, of stately

a

trunk and abundant shade, in spite of all this opposition. If selfishnesy were, in fact, the only motive on which men acted, how came they to think of other inotives, to invent names for them, to reduce them to rank, and order, and form? Whence did morality, as a science, gain its origin or its existence? Nay, whence came its stately growth, but from the native properties of the soil in which it grew? Whence came there amidst the intense selfishness of the heathen world, the no less intense sense of a moral principle in man that was opposed to it?

" Who forged that other influence,

That heat of inward evidence,

By which he doubts against the sense ?" It had been no wonder if the selfishness of man had permanently extinguished and silenced the voice of our moral feelings. But this was not the only foe it had to deal with; for the system of the world has seemed to men as much at variance with their moral sentiments as the selfish part of their own being. For what is it but a confused medley, where the good and the evil have about equal chances of success and happiness: except, indeed, that the wicked seem to be more free from restraint, and so the better off in the scramble; and virtue has seemed to tie the hands and to lame the leg in the pursuit of what all men desire ? If the order of the world had given any assurance of reward to a certain line of self-denying conduct, it would have given some support to a scheme of conduct different from that of rude selfinterest; and men who played for the present or the deferred enjoyments and rewards might have been distinguished by the respective names of selfish and virtuous. But the world gives no such assurance or certain prospect of rewards; and mankind have been bewailing, from Job downwards, that the moral order of the world bestows no blessing on virtue, and no punishment on vice. The good are in distress; the wicked are in prosperity. “ They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men,” is the complaint of Asaph; and the heathen world responded to the plaint:

Marmoreo Licinus tumulo jacet; at Cato parvo,

Pompeius nullo : quis putet esse deos ?” Why,” says Cotta, in Cicero's treatise on the Nature of the Gods, arguing against a moral government of the world, —“why did the Carthaginian overbear in Spain the two Scipios, the bravest and the best of men? Why did Maximus bury his already consular son? Why did Hannibal slay Marcellus? Why did the field of Cannæ snatch away Paullus? Why was the body of Regulus given up to the cruelty of the Pæni? Why did not his own roof cover our Africanus ? • . The day would fail

.

a

a

me were I to tell of the evils that have befallen the righteous; nor less so were I to recount the successes of the wicked. For why did Marius die so happily in his home in a ripe old age, and consul for a seventh time? Or why did Cinna, the cruellest of all men, rule so long?” (lib. iii. c. 32.)

So that, upon the simple selfish theory of human nature, the existence of such a thing as morality,-- of such a treatise, for instance, as Aristotle's Ethics,—is the most absurd, unaccountable, causeless thing. It is a plant that not only has been choked from its very birth by the thorns of self-interest, and the cold blasts of the world's neglect (for this is too true); but on this theory it had no soil in which to grow, no root from which to be nourished, and no air to breathe. It is a sheer impossibility: but yet there it is, a tall strong plant, the most perverse

obstinate thing in the world.

The question between the two schools of moral philosophy is nothing but an issue of fact—Is there a moral faculty distinct from our selfish feelings and desires ? Is there “any thing peculiar and specific in our feeling of moral approbation”? (p. 30). Is there an inherent difference between the good and the useful? Or is all moral approbation but the same sense of pleasure that we derive froin successful selfishness ? are virtue and bread-andcheese, after all, one and the same thing? The question may be submitted to trial in a variety of ways—by an appeal to our consciousness, or to our actions, or to our words. Paley suggests that it should be tried by telling the horrible story about Caius Toranius to the wild boy found in Hanover, or to some similar savage, and seeing what sentiment the wild boy would experience on the relation of this story: which is much as if the doctor should propose experimenting on the bodies of birds caught by putting salt on their tails.

But what says the appeal to consciousness? Let a man ask himself, not whether all his good actions may hereafter redound to his own happiness, not whether they may be justified by an enlightened selfishness, but whether self has been the motive, and the only motive, in all that he has done, or thought, or hoped of the noble and the good ? If not, what has been that other motive, except a moral feeling? The generous and the selfish motives in the heart of man are, no doubt, strangely intermingled and confused; and the keenest self-analysis will not always reveal their actual proportion; our mental geometry will not always resolve the resultant along which we move into the co-efficient forces of generosity and selfishness. But did ever a man who thought about himself independently of theory, deny that he had unselfish as well as selfish emotions? Does not every one feel that the more self preponderates, the less moral he is, the less deserving of approbation; that the more the love of others, and of the true and good, the more praiseworthy his conduct is? Specious as it sometimes may seem, the selfish theory will not explain the real beatings of the heart, though it may afterwards justify, if need be, the doings of the man: selfish as men are, they are not always selfish, not always utilitarian; there are passions, there are emotions, that wait not on calculations of interest, that are unbribed by the prospect of present pleasure, are not bought by the mere hope of heaven, or scared alone by the fear of bell.

We repeat, that the mere fact that an action may be explained by utility, is not enough to show that a generous motive had no part in its production. Thus, for instance, in affectionate and tender actions, it may be and is true that they react on the doer with pleasure, by exciting affection in the heart and conduct of the recipient; but we must not hence conclude that there is no emotion of love but self-love. It is not enough for the selfish theory to show that some regard for self entered into the action, it must be shown that no regard for another was any ultimate ingredient in it. The degree in which these moral sentiments may prevail in our conduct, what may be their power in opposition to the selfishness of our natures, is not now the question; but only this, whether they do or do not exist. Be the unselfish and moral sentiment "ever so short, be it ever low a degree, or ever so unhappily confined, it proves,” to borrow Bishop Butler's language, “the assertion, and points out what we were designed for as really as though it were in a higher degree and more extensive.”

Our own motives we can know; the actions of others we can less perfectly know and less surely interpret. But the appearances, past and present, of the world are certainly opposed to man's being a merely selfish being, with no moral sentiments. . True that, as to the present, it is difficult to say how far the hope of reward or the fear of punishment in another world may be operating, as no doubt it is to a large extent; but how are we to account for all the noble deeds of heathen men, done without any such hope or fear, and done oftentimes under circumstances which prevented their ever reaping any reward here, even in the shape of honour or fame? For it is very hard to understand how mere regard for self could ever carry men to death, which by them was regarded as the extinction of self; and accordingly we see that selfish men, who will do brave things so long as they repay them with the praise of their fellows, often prove cowards when a brave death would put an end to the possibility of payment. One is almost ashamed to speak of Leonidas; but it may be worth while to consider whether any being without a purely

66

6

moral basis to his nature, could have died as he and his fellows did on that little hillock in the pass of Thermopylæ.

There can be no manner of question that Paley's theory of morals is opposed to the habitual feelings of men, as expressed in their ordinary words and phrases. All morality, according to him, consists in being urged by a violent motive resulting from the command of another-in being swayed by the desire of reward. Now nothing can be more certain than that men who speak and think naturally, and without regard to theory, will refuse to call or to consider any action as good and worthy of moral approbation, which is done under violent compulsion, which is due to the command of another, which is influenced by the hope of reward. Men do, in fact, consider freedom of action and disinterestedness of sentiment as essential to good actions; foolish they may be in so doing, but all we now say is, that such is the fact. And so the language of men ever bears evidence to their belief in this momentous distinction between virtue and expediency, between the honestum and the utile. “ All the ancient heathen writers,” as Archbishop Whately observes (p. 62), "use words which evidently signify what we call * virtue, “duty,' “moral-goodness ;' which words could not possibly have found their way into the languages of men destitute (as most of them were) of any belief in a future state of retribution, if Paley's theory were correct. It is disproved, not by any supposed truth and soundness in the views of the ancient writers, but by the very words they employ."

Paley's theory, it will at once be seen, does away with the distinction between duty and prudence; a distinction so old, so obvious, and so natural, that it shows no little courage to propose its abolition in the way he does, more especially as he candidly admits that this difference has always been understood and recognised. His statement and solution of the question are given in the following words: “Now in what, you will ask, does the difference consist? inasmuch as, according to our account of the matter, both in the one case and the other, --in acts of duty as well as acts of prudence,—we consider solely what we ourselves shall gain or lose by the act. The difference, and the ouly difference, is this: that in the one case, we consider what we shall gain or lose in the present world; in the other case, we consider also what we shall gain or lose in the world to come” (p. 59).

It is almost enough refutation to state Paley's own reasoning in his own words, because every one, we suppose, must feel that a time-difference is not the only difference between virtue and prudence. It is evident, on this view of the matter, that to a man not believing in future rewards and punishments, the one distinction between virtue and prudence vanishes, and

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »