« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
fufficiently account for the establishment of the general law, and where mankind are allowed perfect freedom of investigation, it is impoffible that any well-founded rational fentiment, univerfally received, can ever be fuperfeded by an opinion at once false, abfurd, and ridiculous.
ESSA Y VII.
On the Connection between VIRTUE and HAPPINESS.
N one of the admired difcourfes published fome years fince by a celebrated Professor of Rhetoric, we meet with the following paffage: "Unjust are our complaints of the promiscuous "diftribution made by Providence of its favours among men; from fuperficial views fuch com"plaints arife. The diftribution of the goods of "fortune indeed may often be promiscuous, that "is, difproportioned to the moral characters of 66 men; but the allotment of real happiness is
never fo." Now I confefs that fuch a view and representation of human life as this, appears to me no better than a romance; and I am at a lofs to conceive what good purpose can be answered by attempting to disguise the real truth, especially when it lies fo open to every man's experience and obfervation. In order to form any juft conclufion, the preacher indeed tells us, that "we must have a faculty by which we can look into the infide of hearts;" but as I presume the learned Profeffor does not mean to intimate that he is exclufively endowed with any fuch power, I think myself at K 2 full
full liberty to argue from the usual data; and, notwithstanding the peremptory tone of this decifion, I will venture to affirm, that according to the most accurate obfervations I have been able to make on human life, Virtue and Happinefs are not inseparably united; that when they are found In actual union, it feldom happens that the degree of Happiness enjoyed by any individual bears an exact proportion to the degree of Virtue he poffeffes; and in no inftance perhaps is that precife degree of Happiness the fole and neceffary refult of the virtuous principle. It may be thought that these are very dangerous conceffions, fuch as tend to weaken the interefts of Virtue, and if generally received, to discourage mankind from the practice of it; but I have myfelf no idea that the interests of Virtue can ever be promoted by deferting the interefts of truth, nor do I admit that any truth can be stiled dangerous, if exhibited in a just light, and in its proper connection. If weak and erroneous arguments are employed to induce men to become virtuous, it feems to me a real fervice to the general caufe of Virtue, to expose the fallacy of them, and to erect her empire upon a firm and permanent bafis. A man who enters life under a perfuafion that Virtue and Happinefs are infeparably united, and that Happinefs bears a certain and determinate ratio to Virtue, and who forms a refolution of leading a life of Virtue upon fo narrow and selfish a principle, will find the ground upon which he ftands very
very unstable and flippery; and when that perfuafion is once fhaken, which will infallibly happen from a more enlarged acquaintance with the world, he must be in imminent danger of apostatizing from thofe principles and refolutions upon which he propofed to regulate his conduct. In attempting to ascertain the importance of a virtuous conduct and difpofition, we muft proceed upon one of these three fuppofitions :-First, That it is abfolutely certain, mankind are deftined for a future state of existence, and that their happiness or mifery in that state will bear an exact proportion to the degrees of moral excellence or depravity to which they have arrived in the prefent life. Secondly, That it is not certain that this will, but only probable that this may, be the cafe ; and the degree of this probability may be infinitely varied in the apprehenfion of different individuals, according to the different light in which they may happen to view the evidences of this great truth.-Or, Thirdly, That there is no evidence whatever of a future ftate, and that death will certainly put a final period to our exiftence. Upon the first of these fuppofitions it would be very fuperfluous to multiply arguments to prove that it is our highest interest to adopt that mode of conduct which is beft calculated to fecure our happinefs throughout the endlefs duration to which we are deftined. On the fecond fuppofition alfo it must be allowed, that extreme folly only can poffibly induce any man to deviate from the paths
of Virtue, if there only remains a mere proba. bility that by fuch deviation his future and ever, lafting interests may be effentially affected. Of this, therefore, I may fpare myself the trouble of adducing any formal proof; but upon the third fuppofition, it becomes a very nice and curious question indeed, how far it is the intereft of a man to adhere inviolably, and in all circumstances, to the undeviating line of rectitude. In the general, I think it cannot poffibly be doubted by any one, that Virtue is more favourable to Happiness than vice; but I fhould regard myself as undertaking an arduous task, if I attempted to perfuade a man whofe views extended no farther than this life, that his highest happiness depended upon his fcrupulously conforming to the dictates of a pure and perfect morality. I fhould expect him to reply, if he fpake the language of his heart, "I am fenfible that it is my intereft to adhere to Virtue in the main, i. e. fo far as my reputation in the world is at stake, so far as is necessary to restrain my paffions or fenfual indulgences within the bounds of moderation: in a word, I know it is my intereft to preferve a found mind in a found body; but still there are exceptions to a plan of perfect rectitude, which it is also my interest to take advantage of; for instance, I hold an office of public truft, and I have an opportunity of embezzling large fums without the poffibility of a difcovery. By my perfonal attractions, I am enabled to captivate the affections of