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the two become absolutely one and the same. But so far from this having been the case, virtue and prudence were never confounded by the ancient moralists; and Aristotle, who, we need not repeat, had no belief in future rewards, allots a very subordinate place in his moral system to prudence, and that whilst defining it in its largest sense as the power of rightly counselling concerning the things that are good and expedient for a man's self with regard to his whole well-being. *
The request of the sons of Zebedee to sit one on the right hand and the other on the left hand of our Lord, probably had reference to a temporal reign on this earth which they were expecting: but let us for a moment suppose that the kingdom of which they spoke was the unseen and future kingdom of God. Here is an act which most of us, in our vulgar ignorance, would think prudent, indeed, and selfish, but not challenging the name of virtue. But from Paley we learn just the contrary: the request having no reference to gain in this world, had nothing to do with prudence; having to do with gain in a world to come, it was an act of virtue. Surely this is a monstrous conclusion; surely selfishness is not virtue, though it postpone its hope of enjoyment to a future and unascertained time.
The distinction between conscience and self-interest, between virtue and prudence, was well stated by Lord Shaftesbury in his Characteristics. “There are two things,” he says, “which to a rational creature must be horridly offensive and grievous, viz. to have the reflection in his mind of any unjust action or behaviour, which he knows to be naturally odious and ill-deserving; or, of any foolish action or behaviour which he knows to be prejudicial to his own interest or happiness. The former of these is alone properly called Conscience, whether in a moral or religious sense: for to have awe and terror of the Deity does not of itself imply conscience. No one is esteemed the more conscientious for the fear of evil spirits, conjurations, enchantments, or whatever may proceed from any unjust, capricious, or devilish nature. Now to fear God any otherwise than as in consequence of some justly blameable and imputable act, is to fear a devilish nature, not a divine one. Nor does the fear of hell or a thousand terrors of the Deity imply conscience; unless where there is an apprehension of what is wrong, odious, morally deformed, and ill-deserving; and where this is the case, there conscience must have effect, and punishment of necessity be apprehended, even though it be not expressly threatened. And thus religious conscience supposes moral or natural conscience; and though the former be understood to carry with it the fear of divine punishment, it has its force, however, from the apprehended moral deformity and odious
Eth. Nic. vi. 5.
ness of any act with respect purely to the divine presence, and the natural veneration due to such a suppos'd being: for in such a presence the shame of villany or vice must have its force independently on that further apprehension of the magisterial capacity of such a being, and his dispensation of particular rewards or punishments in a future state.”*
Those who contend for the utilitarian origin of our moral principles, ground them, of course, on induction; and in so doing, they must either overlook or deny the peculiar axiomatic character which attaches to them. It seems to us that whoever has once conceived of the notion of a duty as such, thereupon conceives of it in all its certainty and all its generality, just as he does with regard to any proposition in Euclid. Whoever,
, for instance, has once understood the moral obligation to truthfulness, has hold of something which can neither be increased nor lessened in its certainty by the result of his experience as to its nature or effects. It may and does require an instance or instances to bring it home to our intellectual apprehension ; it requires still more to bring it home to our moral nature; but once taken hold of by this, it is there in all its extent and fulness. This fact is by no means to be explained by the hypothesis that the moral principle is a result of other inen's experience, collected into a single sentence, and thus brought before us in a compacted form; for the specific difference of the mode in which we apprehend a priori and absolute truths, and a posteriori facts which are the results of experience, depends on the nature of the facts themselves, and not on the mode of their communication; not on the question whether we derive our information from our own experience, or from the experience of others; nor whether we ourselves have gathered the multifarious instances into a single conclusion, or others have done this before us. In either case the a posteriori fact admits of degree; it may be increased or lessened in certainty; the only difference being, that in the one case the more or the less is applied to our own experience, in the other, to the authority of our informant.
How often are men's first thoughts their best thoughts! how often is the instant involuntary sentence of our nature more true and just and honest than our after-thoughts, when we have had room and verge for consideration of the results, and calculations perhaps of self-interest! and how repeatedly do we find persons of little experience, and little capacity to judge of the ultimate effects and workings of things, the most true and just in their moral judgments! which we should not find if moral perception and sensation were but a keen insight into self
* Vol. ii. pp. 119, 120 (edit. 1732).
interest in the end and long-run of things. How often, again, do men, or at least those who think at all about what goes on in their own minds, feel that the doubt about any action depends not at all on a calculation of the general effects of it, but on its relation to their own inner selves! how perpetually do they feel that, so to speak, the strife and the conflict are not without themselves, but within,—that in their hearts and souls, in their contending passions and emotions, lies the stress of the fight!
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When the battle is raging within ? This axiomatic nature of moral truths, of which we have been speaking, has often been more or less recognised. “Such things,” said Hooker, “as soon as they are alleged, all men acknowledge to be good; they require no proof or further discourse to be assured of their goodness."* And philosophers of the most opposite schools — such, for instance, as Kant and Locke—have agreed in attributing to morality the character of an exact science. These theories are, of course, at utter variance with schemes like that of Paley, which reduce it to a question of profit and loss; they attribute to it an origin, not in the arid and ever-shifting sands of expediency, but in the clear and abiding well-spring of the human heart.
We have seen that Paley's theory, denying all distinction between duty and prudence, denies all regard to the motive, as distinguished from the effect, of an action: but this regard to motive, as opposed to effect, is so natural, so inherent to the human mind, that Paley himself, when he comes to consider particular duties, and to determine particular questions, is often fain to resort to it. “ The motives and the effects of actions are the only points of comparison in which their moral quality can differ," says our author, when treating of the contracts of sale (p. 125), and showing the moral equality of designed concealment of some fault and falsehood" in recommendation of the vendor's wares. “But the motive in these two cases is the same," he goes on; which is a very irrelevant remark, if the only motive acknowledged be the selfish desire of gaining by making the effects of our actions coincident with God's will, and so likely to win prizes hereafter. “ As an act of satisfaction or revenge,” he says (p. 134), when speaking of the imprisonment of insolvent debtors, " it is always wrong in the motive;"_language which, to him, ought to have been unmeaning and idle. Nor is it by any means the only instance in which our author is
* Eccl. Pol. i. sect. 8.
grossly inconsistent with himself. After having come to the conclusion that “God wills and wishes the happiness of His creatures” (p. 76), Paley goes on to discuss the relation of actions to the happiness of mankind alone: on which Dr. Whately justly observes :
“When Paley goes on from this to speak about doing good to mankind, it doubtless never occurred to him, or to thousands of his readers, that nothing had been said to warrant a preference, on our part, of our fellow-men to the brute creation, or even to vegetables. That there is something nobler and more virtuous, and more congenial to the best feelings of our nature, in increasing the number and promoting the welfare of the human species, than in multiplying and protecting brutes, and propagating thistles, or any other plants, seems too obvious to need being even stated. But this is because every man
- Paley amongst the rest-must possess something - more or lessof those moral sentiments whose existence his theory denies.” (p. 79.)
The fact is, that a writer who has to express, in words and forms of thought which throughout assume and involve the existence of moral feelings and instincts, a theory which denies such feelings and instincts, is labouring at an immense disadvantage. To use the ordinary language of moral philosophy to inculcate such a theory as Paley's, is like having to write an English essay to prove that the English language has no existence, and never had.
The existence of the conceptions of virtue and goodness has not, of course, been denied by Paley and the opponents of the moral sense; but how are they to be accounted for by them? The explanation which Paley gives is put into the mouths of these supposed disputants; for he professes too great an indifference about this question of pure curiosity" to state any thing about it on his own behalf; and yet, from the subsequent parts of the treatise, it is impossible not to consider the statement as accepted by Paley himself.
“ They say,” says our author, in speaking of these opponents of the moral sense, “that the general approbation of virtue, even in instances where we have no interest of our own to induce us to it, may be accounted for without the assistance of a moral sense, thus : Having experienced in some instance a particular conduct to be beneficial to ourselves, or observed that it would be so, a sentiment of approbation rises up in our minds, which sentiment afterwards accompanies the idea or mention of the same conduct, although the private advantage which first excited it no longer exists. And this continuance of the passion after the reason of it has ceased is nothing more, say they, than what happens in other cases, especially in the love of money, which is in no person so eager as it is oftentimes found to be in a rich old miser, without family to provide for or friend to oblige by it, and to
whom consequently it is no longer (and he may be sensible of it, too) of any real use or value : yet is this man as much overjoyed with gain and mortified by losses as he was the first day he opened his shop, and when his very sustenance depended upon his success in it. By these means the custom of approving certain actions commenced ; and when once such a custom hath got footing in the world, it is no difficult thing to explain how it is transmitted and continued ; for then the greatest part of those who approve of virtue approve of it from authority, by initation, and from a habit of approving such and such actions inculcated in early youth, and receiving as men grow up continual accessions of strength and vigour, from censure and encouragement, from the books they read, the conversations they hear, the current application of epithets, the general turn of language, and the various other causes by which it universally comes to pass, that a society of men touched in the feeblest degree with the same passion soon communicate to one another a great degree of it. This is the case with most of us at present; and is the cause also that the process of association described in the last paragraph but one is little now either perceived or wanted” (pp. 19, 20).
The first suggestion here made to account for the existence of moral sentiments is a false association of ideas. Think of it for a moment: that all that seems noble, generous, unselfish, self-denying, in human nature, in human conduct,--all that thrills us in the great and glorious deeds of all time,-springs, after all, from a blunder of association, from sheer utter stupidity and muddle-headedness, from an incapacity to discriminate between conduct that is beneficial to ourselves, and the like conduct when not beneficial to ourselves. And think how monstrously stupid men must be, when even the fact that this conduct is clearly prejudicial to their own interests will not arouse them to see the distinction, will never dispel that sentiment of approbation which once, in time past, arose because they or their grandfathers fancied a like action to be beneficial to them. If this sentiment arose because the conduct was beneficial in the one case, one would have expected it to vanish when this conduct is clearly the contrary. Men are generally found to know what is and what is not for their interest with tolerable quickness; but this theory supposes just the contrary,—that when once self-interest has approved a particular species of conduct, it goes on in stupid approbation for ever, be the consequence of that conduct what it may, whether for evil or for good to the man's self and his selfish interests, whether for riches or for poverty, for ease or for pain, for life or for death; which is, to say the least, a singular view of human nature.
Custom is the next thing to which resort is had to explain the existence of the sentiments and babits in question. But what is custom but the habit of doing this or that? and the