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THE Author of this work died in the spring of 1828, leaving in manuscript the three Essays of which it consists. We learn from himself that the undertaking originated in a belief (in which he probably is far from being alone) that the existing treatises on Moral Philosophy did not exhibit the principles nor enforce the obligations of morality in all their perfection and purity; that a work was yet wanted which should present a true and authoritative standard of rectitudeone by an appeal to which the moral character of human actions might be rightly estimated. This he here endeavours to supply.
Rejecting what he considered the false grounds of duty, and erroneous principles of action which are proposed in the most prominent and most generally received of our extant theories of moral obligation, he proceeds to erect a system of morality upon what he regards as the only true and legitimate basis—the Will OF GOD. He makes, therefore, the authority of the Deity the sole ground of duty, and His communicated Will the only ultimate standard of right and wrong; and assumes, "that wheresoever this will is made known, human duty is determined ;-and that neither the conclusions of philosophers, nor advantages, nor dangers, nor pleasures, nor sufferings, ought to have any opposing influence in regulating our conduct.”
The attempt to establish a system of such uncompromising morality, must necessarily bring the writer into direct collision with the advocates of the utilitarian scheme, particularly with Dr. Paley; and accordingly it will be found that he frequently enters the lists with this great champion of Expediency. With what
-how well he exposes the fallacies of that specious but dangerous doctrine --how far he succeeds in refuting the arguments by which it is sought to be maintained, and in establishing another system of obligations and duties and rights upon a more stable foundation, must be left to the reader to determine.
In thus attempting to convert a system of Moral Philosophy, dubious, fluctuating, and inconsistent with itself, into a definite and harmonious code of Scripture Ethics, the Author undertook a task for which, by the original structure of his
mind and his prevailing habits of reflection, he was, perhaps, peculiarly fitted. He had sought for himself, and he endeavours to convey to others, clear percep-·
tions of the true and the right; and in maintaining what he regarded as truth and • rectitude, he shows everywhere an unshackled independence of mind, and a
fearless, unflinching spirit. The work will be found, moreover, if we mistake not, to be the result of a careful study of the writings of moralists, of much thought, of an intimate acquaintance with the genius of the Christian religion, and an extensive observation of human life in those spheres of action which are seldom apt to attract the notice of the meditative philosopher.
In proceeding to illustrate his principles, the Author has evidently sought, as far as might be, to simplify the subject, to disencumber it of abstruse and metaphysical appendages, and, rejecting subtleties and needless distinctions, to exhibit a standard of morals that should be plain, perspicuous, and practicable.
Premising thus much, the work must be left to its own merits. It is the last labour of a man laudably desirous of benefiting his fellow-men; and it will fulfil the Author's wish, if its effect be to raise the general tone of morals, to give distinctness to our perceptions of rectitude, and to add strength to our resolutions to virtue.
Of the two causes of our deviations from Rectitude-want of Knowledge and want of Virtue—the latter is undoubtedly the more operative. Want of Knowledge is, however, sometimes a cause; nor can this be any subject of wonder when it is recollected in what manner many of our notions of right and wrong are acquired. From infancy, every one is placed in a sort of moral school, in which those with whom he associates, or of whom he hears, are the teachers. That the learner in such a school will often be taught amiss, is plain.-So that we want information respecting our duties. To supply this information is an object of Moral Philosophy, and is attempted in the present work,
When it is considered by what excellences the existing treatises on Moral Philosophy are recommended, there can remain but one reasonable motive for adding yet another—the belief that these treatises have not exhibited the Principles and enforced the Obligations of Morality in all their perfection and purity. Perhaps the frank expression of this belief is not inconsistent with that deference which it becomes every man to feel when he addresses the public; because, not to have entertained such a belief, were to have possessed no reason for writing. The desire of supplying the deficiency, if deficiency there be; of exhibiting a true and authoritative Standard of Rectitude, and of estimating the moral character of human actions by an appeal to that Standard, is the motive which has induced the composition of these Essays.
In the FIRST Essay the writer has attempted to investigate the Principles of Morality. In which term is here included, first, the Ultimate Standard of Right and Wrong; and, secondly, those Subordinate Rules to which we are authorised to apply for the direction of our conduct in life. In these investigations he has been solicitous to avoid any approach to curious or metaphysical inquiry. He has endeavoured to act upon the advice given by Tindal, the Reformer, to his friend John Frith : “Pronounce not or define of hid secrets, or things that neither help nor hinder whether it be so or no; but stick you stiffly and stubbornly in earnest and necessary things.”
In the Second Essay these Principles of Morality are applied in the determination of various questions of personal and relative duty. In making this application, it has been far from the writer's desire to deliver a system of Morality. Of the unnumbered particulars to which this Essay might have been extended, he has therefore made a selection; and in making it, has chosen those subjects which appeared peculiarly to need the inquiry, either because the popular or philosophical opinions respecting them appeared to be unsound, or because they were commonly little adverted to in the practice of life. Form has been sacrificed to utility. Many great duties have been passed over, since no one questions their obligation; nor has the author so little consulted the pleasure of the reader as to expatiate upon duties simply because they are great. The reader will also regard the subjects that have been chosen as selected, not only for the purpose of elucidating the subjects themselves, but as furnishing illustration of the General Principles—as the compiler of a book of mathematics proposes a variety of examples, not merely to discover the solution of the particular problem, but to familiarise the application of his general rule.
Of the THIRD Essay, in which some of the great questions of Political Rectitude have been examined, the subjects are in themselves sufficiently important. The application of sound and pure Moral Principles to questions of Government, of Legislation, of the Administration of Justice, or of Religious Establishments, is manifestly of great interest; and the interest is so much the greater because these subjects have usually been examined, as the writer conceives, by other and very different standards.
The reader will probably find, in each of these Essays, some principles or some conclusions respecting human duties to which he has not been accustomed
some opinions called in question which he has habitually regarded as being indisputably true, and some actions exhibited as forbidden by morality which he has supposed to be lawful and right. In such cases I must hope for his candid investigation of the truth, and that he will not reject conclusions but by the detection of inaccuracy in the reasonings from which they are deduced. I hope he will not find himself invited to alter his opinions or his conduct without being shown why; and if he is conclusively shown this, that he will not reject truth because it is new or unwelcome.
With respect to the present influence of the Principles which these Essays illustrate, the author will feel no disappointment if it is not great. It is not upon the expectation of such influence that his motive is founded or his hope rests. His motive is, to advocate truth without reference to its popularity; and his hope is, to promote, by these feeble exertions, an approximation to that state of purity, which he believes it is the design of God shall eventually beautify and dignify the condition of mankind.