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Of the Nature of Virtue.

HAT which renders Beings capable of Diss. TH

moral Government, is their having a II. moral Nature, and moral Faculties of Perm ception and of Action. Brute Creatures are impressed and actuated by various Instincts and Propensions : so also are We. But additional to this, We have a Capacity of reflecting upon Actions and Characters, and making them an Object to our Thought : And on doing this, we naturally and unavoidably approve some Actions, under the peculiar View of their being virtuous and of Gooddesert ; and disapprove Others, as vicious and of Ill-desert. "That we have this moral

approving and disapproving a Faculty, is certain

a This way of speaking is taken from Epitetus *, and is made use of as seeming the most full, and least liable to Cavil. And the moral Faculty may be understood to have these two Epithets, δοκιμαστική and αποδοκιμαστική, upon a double Account :

: Because, upon a Survey of Actions, whether before or after they are done, it determines them to be good or evil ; and also because it determines itself to be the Guide of Action and of Life, in Contradiftinction from all other Faculties, or nátural Principles of Action in the very same Manner, as speculative Reason dire&tly and naturally judges of speculative Truth and Fallhood ; and, at the fame Time, is attended with a Consciousness upon Reflection, that the natural Right to judge of them belongs to it. * Arr. Epict. L. 1. C. I. G g 2


Diss. from our experiencing it in Ourselves, and II. recognizing it in each other. It appears

from our exercising ic unavoidably, in the Approbation and Disapprobation even of feigned Characters : From the Words, right and wrong, odious and amiable, base and worthy, with many others of like Signification in all Languages, applied to Actions and Characters : From the many written Systems of Morals which suppose it ; since it cannot be imagined, that all these Authors, throughout all these Treatises, had absolutely no Meaning at all to their Words, or a Meaning merely chimerical : From our natural Sense of Gratitude, which implies a Distinction between merely being the Instrument of Good, and intending it: From the like Distinction, every one makes, between Injury and mere Harm, which, Hobbs says, is peculiar to Mankind ; And between Injury and just Punishment, a Distinction plainly natural, prior to the Consideration of human Laws. It is manifest great Part of common Language, and of common Behaviour over the World, is formed upon Supposition of such a Moral Faculty ; whether called Conscience, moral Reason, moral Sense, or divine Reason whether considered as a Sentiment of the Understanding, or as a Perception of the Heart, or, which seems the Truth, as including both. Nor is it at all doubtful in the


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general, what Course of Action this Facul-D is s.
ty, or practical discerning Power within us, II.
approves, and what it disapproves. For, as me
much as it has been disputed wherein Virtue
confifts, or whatever Ground for Doubt there
may be about Particulars ; yet, in general,
there is in reality an universally acknowledged
Standard of it. It is That, which all Ages
and all Countries have made Profeffion of in
Publick : it is That, which

meet, puts on the Shew of: it is That,
which the primary and fundamental Laws of
all civil Constitutions, over the Face of the
Earth, make it their business and Endeavour
to enforce the Practice of upon Mankind :
namely, Justice, Veracity, and Regard to
common Good. It being manifest then, in
general, that we have such a Faculty or Dif-
cernment as this; it may be of Use to re-
mark some things, more distinctly, concern-

every Man

ing it.

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First, It ought to be observed, that the Object of this Faculty is Actions", comprehending under that Name active or practical Principles : those Principles from which Men would act, if Occasions and Circumstances


6 ουδ ή αρετή και κακία -ώ πείσει, αλλά ενεργεία. Μ. ΑuL. 9.

16. Virtutis laus omnis in Actione confiftit. Cic. Off. 1. 1. c. 6. Gg3


D i s s. gaye them Power ; and which, when fixed II. and habitual in any Person, we call, his

Character. It does not appear, that Brutes have the least reflex Sense of Actions, as diftinguished from Events : or that Will and Design, which constitute the very Nature of Actions as such, are at all an Object to their Perception. But to ours they are : And they are the Object, and the only one, of the approving and dispapproving Faculty. Acting, Conduct, Behaviour, abstracted from all Regard to what is, in fact and Event, the Consequence of it, is itself the natural Object of the moral Discernment; as speculative Truth and Fallhood is, of speculative Reason. Intention of such and such Consequences, indeed, is always included; for it is Part of the Action itself: but though the intended good or bad Consequences do not follow, we have exactly the same Sense of the Action as if they did. In like Manner we think well or ill of Characters, abstracted from all Consideration of the good or the evil, which Persons of such Characters have it actually in their power to do. We never, in the moral Way, applaud or blame either ourselves or others, for what we enjoy or what we suffer, or for having Impressions made upon us which we consider as altogether out of our Power ; but only for what


we do, or would have done had it been in Diss. our Power ; or for what we leave undone II. which we might have done, or would have left undone though we could have done it.

Secondly, Our Sense or Discernment of Actions as morally good or evil, implies in it a Sense or Discernment of them as of good or ill Desert. It


be difficult to explain this Perception, so as to answer all the Questions which may be asked concerning it. But every one speaks of such and such A&ions as deserving Punishment ; and it is not, I suppose, pretended that they have absolutely no Meaning at all to the Expresfion. Now the Meaning plainly is not, that we conceive it for the Good of Socia ety, that the Doer of such Actions should be made to suffer. For if unhappily it were resolved, that a Man who, by some innocent Action, was infected with the Plague, should be left to perish, left, by other Peoples coming near him, che Infection should spread: no one would say, he deserved this Treatment. Innocence and Ildefert are inconsistent Ideas. Ill-defert always supposes Guilt : and if one be not Part of the other, yet they are evidently and naturally connected in our Mind. The Sight of a Man in Misery raises our Compassion



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