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ticulars 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 enquiry, either because the popular or philosophical opinions respecting them appeare: 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, sine no one questions their obligation ; nor has the author so little consulted the pleasure e the reader as to expatiate upon duties simply because they are great. The reader wi. 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 Prirciples—as the compiler of a book of mathematics proposes a variety of examples, no: merely to discover the solution of the particular problem, but to familiarize the applica tion 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 Legis lation, of the Administration of Justice, or of Religious Establishments, is manifest! 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 opinion 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 illus trate, 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.
PRINCIPLES OF MORALITY.
THE WILL OF GOD.
Most men, or most of those with whom we are concerned, agree that this Standard consists in the Will of God. But here the coincidence of opinion
stops. Various and very dissimilar answers are given Foundation of Moral Obligation.
to the question, How is the Will of God to be dis
covered? These differences lead to differing conThere is little hope of proposing a definition of clusions respecting human duty. All the proposed Moral Obligation which shall be satisfactory to every reader ; partly because the phrase is the represen.
modes of discovering his Will cannot be the best nor
the right; and those which are not right are likely tative of different notions in individual minds. No
to lead to erroneous conclusions respecting what his single definition can, it is evident, represent various Will is. notions; and there are probabiy no means by which It becomes therefore a question of very great inthe notions of individuals respecting Moral Obliga- terest—How is the Will of God to be discovered ? tion can be adjusted to one standard. Accordingly, and if there should appear to be more sources than whilst attempts to define it have been very numerous,
one from which it may be deduced- What is that all probably have been unsatisfactory to the majority
source which, in our investigations, we are to regard of mankind. Happily this question, like others many
as paramount to every other? which
upon the world is unable to agree, is of little practical importance. Many who dispute about the definition, coincide in their judgments of what we are obliged to do and to forbear; and so long as the individual
When we say that most men agree in referring to knows that he is actually the subject of Moral Obli
the Will of God as the Standard of Rectitude, we gation, and actually responsible to a superior power,
do not mean that all those who have framed systems it is not of much consequence whether he can criti
of moral philosophy have set out with this proposi. cally explain in what Moral Obligation consists.
tion as their fundamental rule; but we mean that The writer of these pages, therefore, makes no at
the majority of mankind do really believe (with tempts at strictness of definition. It is sufficient for
whatever indistinctness) that they ought to obey the his purpose that man is under an obligation to obey
Will of God; and that, as it respects the systems of his Creator ; and if any one curiously asks “ Why?" philosophical men, they will commonly be found to - he answers, that one reason at least is, that the involve, directly or indirectly, the same belief. He Deity possesses the power, and evinces the intention,
who says that the “ Understanding"* is to be our to call the human species to account for their ac
moral guide, is not far from saying that we are to tions, and to punish or reward them.
be guided by the Divine Will; because the underThere may be, and I believe there are, higher standing, however we define it, is the offspring
of the Divine counsels and power. When Adam grounds upon which a sense of Moral Obligation may be founded; such as the love of goodness for its
Smith resolves moral obligation into propriety arisown sake, or love and gratitude to God for his be- ing from feelings of “Sympathy,” † the conclusion neficence: nor is it unreasonable to suppose that
is not very different; for these feelings are mani. such grounds of obligation are especially approved festly the result of that constitution which God gave by the universal Parent of mankind.
to man. When Bishop Butler says that we ought
Will. Dr Samuel Clarke's philosophy is, that moral
obligation is to be referred to the eternal and neces-
Clarke himself subsequently says, that the duties
are also the express and unalterable will, command, principles of expediency fluctuating and inconsistent- and law of God to his creatures, which he cannot Apriliation of the principles of expediency-Difficulties-
but expect should be observed by them obedience Liability to abuse---Pagans.
to his supreme authority."| Very similar is the It is obvious that to him who seeks the knowledge
• Dr Price : Review of Principal Questions in Morals. of his duty, the first enquiry is, What is the Rule of
+ Theory of Moral Sentiments. Duty? What is the Standard of Right and Wrong? | Evidence of Natural and Revealed Religion.
STANDARD OF RIGHT AND WRONG.
THE COMMUNICATION OF THE WILL OF GOD.
practical doctrine of Wollaston. His theory is, tures in which important decisions must instantly be that moral good and evil consist in a conformity or made, the computation of tendencies to general hapdisagreement with truth—“ in treating every thing piness is wholly impracticable. as being what it is." But then he says, that to act Besides these objections which apply to the sys. by this rule “ must be agreeable to the Will of God, tems separately, there is one which applies to them and if so, the contrary must be disagreeable to it, all-That they do not refer us directly to the Will and, since there must be perfect rectitude in his will, of God. They interpose a medium; and it is the certainly wrong." It is the same with Dr Paley in inevitable tendency of all such mediums to render his far-famed doctrine of Expediency. “ It is the the truth uncertain. They depend not indeed upon utility of any action alone which constitutes the ob- hearsay evidence, but upon something of which the ligation of it ;" but this very obligation is deduced tendency is the same. They seek the Will of God from the Divine Benevolence; from which it is at- not from positive evidence but by implication; and tempted to show, that a regard to utility is enforced we repeat the truth, that every medium that is inby the Will of God. Nay, he says expressly, terposed between the Divine Will and our estimates
Every duty is a duty towards God, since it is his of it, diminishes the probability that we shall estiwill which makes it a duty.”+
mate it rightly. Now there is much value in these testimonies, di- These are considerations which, antecedently to rect or indirect, to the truth--that the Will of God all others, would prompt us to seek the Will of God is the Standard of Right and Wrong. The indirect directly and immediately; and it is evident that this testimonies are perhaps the more valuable of the direct and immediate knowledge of the Divine Will, two. He who gives undesigned evidence in favour can in no other manner be possessed than by his of a proposition, is less liable to suspicion in his mo- own Communication of it. tives.
But, whilst we regard these testimonies, and such as these, as containing satisfactory evidence that the Will of God is our Moral Law, the intelligent en
That a direct communication of the Will of the quirer will perceive that many of the proposed Deity respecting the conduct which mankind shall Theories are likely to lead to uncertain and unsatis
pursue, must be very useful to them, can need little factory conclusions respecting what that Will re
proof. It is sufficiently obvious that they who have quires. They prove that His Will is the Standard,
had no access to the written revelations, have combut they do not clearly inform us how we shall bring monly entertained very imperfect views of right our actions into juxtaposition with it.
and wrong. What Dr Johnson says of the ancient One proposes the Understanding as the means; but every observer perceives that the understand epic poets, will apply generally to pagan philosa.
phers: They were very unskilful teachers of rir. ings of men are often contradictory in their deci
tue," because “they wanted the light of revelation." sions. Indeed many of those who now think their
Yet these men were inquisitive and acute, and it understandings dictate the rectitude of a given ac
may be supposed they would have discovered moral tion, will find that the understandings of the intelli
truth if sagacity and inquisitiveness had been sufii. gent pagans of antiquity came to very different con
cient for the task. But it is unquestionable, that clusions.
there are many ploughmen in this country, who pos. A second proposes Sympathy, regulated indeed
sess more accurate knowledge of morality than all and restrained, but still Sympathy. However inge
the sages of antiquity. We do not indeed sufficientis pious a philosophical system may be, I believe that
consider for how much knowledge respecting the good men find, in the practice of life, that these
Divine Will we are indebted to his own Communicaemotions are frequently unsafe, and sometimes erro
tion of it. “ Many arguments, many truths, both neous guides of their conduct. Besides, the emo
moral and religious, which appear to us the products tions are to be regulated and restrained; which of
of our understandings and the fruits of ratiocination, itself intimates the necessity of a regulating and re
are in reality nothing more than emanations from straining, that is, of a superior power. To say we should act according to the "eternal mitted, and as it were conveyed to our minds in a
Scripture; rays of the Gospel imperceptibly transand necessary differences of things," is to advance a
side light." Of Lord Herbert's book, De Veritate, proposition which nine persons out of ten do not
which was designed to disprove the validity of Reunderstand, and of course cannot adopt in practice; velation, it is observed by the editor of his “ Life," and of those who do understand it, peruaps an
that it is “ a book so strongly embued with the light ecual majority cannot apply it, with even tolerable
of revelation relative to the moral virtues and a facility, to the concerns of life. Why indeed should
future life, that no man ignorant of the Scriptures a writer propose these eternal differences, if he ac
or of the knowledge derived from them, could have knowledges that the rules of conduct which result
written it.”+ A modern system of moral philosophy from them are “the express will and command of is founded upon the duty of doing good to man, be. God?" To the system of a fourth, which says that yirtu, self, that such is his Will. Did those philosophers
cause it appears, from the benevolence of God himconsists in å “ conformity of our actions with truth," then, who had no access to the written expression the objection presents itself-what is truth? or
of his will, discover with any distinctness this seem. how, in the complicated atfairs of life, and in the ingly obvious benevolence of God? No.
“ The heamoment perhaps of sudden temptation, shall the in- | thens failed of drawing that deduction relating to dividual discover what truth is ?
morality, to which, as we should now judge, the Similar difficulties arise in applying the doctrine
most obvious parts of natural knowledge, and such of Utility in “adjusting our actions so as to pro
Ps certainly obtained among them, were sufficient to mote, in the greatest degree, the happiness of man
lead them, namely, the goodness of God.":– We are, kind." It is obviously difficult to apply this doctrine
I say, much more indebted to revelation for moral in practice. The welfare of mankind depends upon circumstances which, if it were possible, it is not easy to foresee. Indeed in many of those conjunc- • Balgny : Tracts Moral and Theological :- Second Letter • Religion of Nature Delineated.
+ 4th Ed., p. 336. + Moral and Political Philosophy.
1 Pearson : Remarks on the Theory of Morals.
to a Deist.
light, than we commonly acknowledge or indeed as well as, perhaps, the authority from which he commonly perceive.
derives them. The difference that exists between But if in fact we obtain from the communication such a mode and that which is actually adopted in of the Will of God, knowledge of wider extent and Scripture, is analogous to that.which exists between of a higher order than was otherwise attainable, is the mode in which a parent communicates his init not an argument that that communicated Will structions to a young child, and that which is em. should be our supreme law, and that, if any of the ployed by a tutor to an intelligent youth. The tuinferior means of acquiring moral knowledge lead tor recommends his instructions by their reasonableto conclusions in opposition to that Will, they ought ness and propriety: the father founds his upon his to give way to its higher authority?
own authority. Not that the father's instructions · Indeed the single circumstance that an Omni- are not also founded in propriety, but that this, in scient Being, and who also is the Judge of mankind, respect of young children, is not the ground upon has expressed his Will respecting their conduct, ap- which he expects their obedience. It is not the pears a sufficient evidence that they should regard ground upon which God expects the obedience of that expression as their paramount rule. They We can, undoubtedly, in general perceive cannot elsewhere refer to so high an authority. If the wisdom of his laws, and it is doubtless right to the expression of his Will is not the ultimate stand- seek out that wisdom; but whether we discover it ard of right and wrong, it can only be on the sup- or not, does not lessen their authority nor alter our position that his Will itself is not the ultimate stand- duties. ard; for no other means of ascertaining that Will In deference to these reasonings, then, we concan be equally perfect and authoritative.
clude, that the communicated Will of God is the Final Another consideration is this, that if we examine Standard of Right and Wrong-that wheresoever those sacred volumes in which the written expres- this will is made known, human duty is determined sion of the Divine Will is contained, we find that and that neither the conclusions of philosophers, they habitually proceed upon the supposition that nor advantages, nor dangers, nor pleasures, nor sufthe Will of God being expressed, is for that reason ferings, ought to have any opposing influence in reour final law. They do not set about formal proofs gulating our conduct. Let it be remembered that that we ought to sacrifice inferior rules to it, but in morals there can be no equilibrium of authority. conclude, as of course, that if the Will of God is If the expressed will of the Deity is not our supreme made known, human duty is ascertained. “ It is rule, some other is superior. This fatal consequence not to be imagined that the Scriptures would refer is inseparable from the adoption of any other ultito any other foundation of virtue than the true one, mate rule of conduct. The Divine law becomes the and certain it is that the foundation to which they decision of a certain tribunal--the adopted rule, the constantly do refer is the Will of God.”. Nor is decision of a superior tribunal—for that must needs this all: they refer to the expression of the Will of be the superior which can reverse the decisions of God. We hear nothing of any other ultimate au- the other. It is a consideration, too, which may thority-nothing of “ Sympathy”-nothing of the reasonably alarm the enquirer, that if once we as"eternal fitness of things”-nothing of the “ pro- sume this power of dispensing with the divine law, duction of the greatest sum of enjoyment;"---but there is no limit to its exercise. If we may superwe hear, repeatedly, constantly, of the Will of God; sede one precept of the Deity upon one occasion, we of the voice of God; of the commands of God. T) may supersede every precept upon all occasions. “ be obedient unto his voice,” † is the condition of Man becomes the greater authority, and God the favour. To hear the “ sayings of Christ and do less. them," # is the means of obtaining his approbation. If a proposition is proved to be true, no contrary To " fear God and keep his commandments, is the reasonings can show it to be false ; and yet it is whole duty of man." $ Even superior intelligences necessary to refer to such reasonings, not indeed for are described as “ doing his commandments, heark- the sake of the truth, but for the sake of those whose ening unto the voice of his word." || In short, the conduct it should regulate. Their confidence in whole system of moral legislation, as it is exhibited truth may be increased if they discover that the in Scripture, is a system founded upon authority. reasonings which assail it are fallacious. To a conThe propriety, the utility of the requisitions are not siderate man it will be no subject of wonder that the made of importance. That which is made of im- supremacy of the expressed Will of God is often portance is, the authority of the Being who legis. not recognized in the writings of moralists or in the lates. “ Thus saith the Lord," is regarded as con- practice of life. The speculative enquirer finds, that stituting a sufficient and a final law. So also it is of some of the questions which come before him, with the moral instructions of Christ. “ He put x Scripture furnishes no solution, and he seeks for the truth of what he taught upon authority."| In some principle by which all may be solved. This the sermon on the mount, I say unto you, is pro- indeed is the ordinary course of those who erect posed as the sole, and sufficient, and ultimate systems, whether in morals or in physics. The moground of obligation. He does not say, “ My pre- ralist acknowledges, perhaps, the authority of recepts will promote human happiness, therefore you velation; but in his investigations he passes away are to obey them :" but he says, They are my
from the precepts of revelation, to some of those precepts, therefore you are to obey them.” So ha subordinate means by which human duties may be bitually is this principle borne in mind, if we may so discovered-means which, however authorized by 1 speak, by those who were commissioned to commu- the Deity as subservient to his great purpose of hu- • micate the Divine Will, that the reason of a precept
man instruction, are wholly unauthorized as ultimate is not often assigned. The assumption evidently standards of right and wrong. Having fixed hisyat
that the Divine Will was all that it was neces- tention upon these subsidiary means, he practically sary for us to know. This is not the mode of en- loses sight of the Divine law which he acknowledges; forcing duties which one man usually adopts in ad
and thus without any formal, perhaps without any dressing another. He discusses the reasonableness conscious, rejection of the expressed Will of God, of his advices and the advantages of following them, he really makes it subordinate to inferior rules.
Another influential motive to pass by the Divine • Pearson: Theory of Mor. c. 1. Deut. iv. 30. 1 Malt. vii. 24.
Eccl. xii. 13.
precepts, operates both upon writers and upon the | f's. ciii. 20.
Paley : Evid. of Chris. p. 2, c. 2. public :—the rein which they hold upon the desires
X and passions of mankind, is more tight than they are titude of an action-whether of the two sball Fe
willing to bear. Respecting some of these precepts prefer and obey ? we feel as the rich man of old felt: we hear the in- We are concerned only with Christian writers. junction and go away, if not with sorrow yet with- Now, when we come to analyze the principles of the out obedience. Here again is an obvious motive to Christian advocates of Expediency, we find precisel; the writer to endeavour to substitute some less rigid the result which we should expect-a perpetual vacil. rule of conduct, and an obvious motive to the reader | lation between two irreconcilable doctrines. A
to acquiesce in it as true without a very rigid scru- Christians, they necessarily acknowledge the authn. · tiny into its foundation. To adhere with fidelity to rity, and, in words at least, the supreme authority of
the expressed Will of Heaven, requires greater confi- the Divine Law: as advocates of the universal a;dence in God than most men are willing to repose, plication of the law of Expediency, they necessarils or than most moralists are willing to recommend. sometimes set aside the Divine Law, because the
But whatever have been the causes, the fact is sometimes cannot deduce, from both laws, the same indisputable, that few or none of the systems of rule of action. Thus there is induced a continua morality which have been offered to the world, have fluctuation and uncertainty both in principles and · uniformly and consistently applied the communicated in practical rules: a continual endeavour to “serve . Will of God in determination of those questions to two masters." which it is applicable. Some insist upon its supreme Of these fluctuations an example is given in the authority in general terms; others apply it in de article, “Moral Philosophy," in Rees's Encyclotermining some questions of rectitude : but where pædia—an article in which the principles of Hartley is the work that applies it always ? Where is the are in a considerable degree adopted. “ The Serig· moralist who holds every thing, Ease, Interest, Re- ture precepts,” says the writer, “are in themselves putation, Expediency, « Honour,”-personal and the rule of life.”—“The supposed tendency of action national,-in subordination to this Moral Law ? can never be put against the law of God as delivered
One source of ambiguity and of error in moral phi- to us by revelation, and should not therefore b losophy, has consisted in the indeterminate use of made our chief guide." This is very explicit. Yet th: , the term, “the Will of God.” It is used without same article says, that the first great rule is, that reference to the mode by which that will is to be we should aim to direct every action so as to prodiscovered- and it is in this mode that the essence duce the greatest happiness and the least misery it of the controversy lies. We are agreed that the our power.” This rule, however, is somewhat diffiWill of God is to be our rule : the question at issue cult of application, and therefore “instead of this is, What mode of discovering it should be primarily most general rule we must substitute others, les adopted! Now the terin, the “Will of God,” has general, and subordinate to it:" of which subordi been applied, interchangeably, to the precepts of nate rules, to "obey the Scripture precepts" is one!Scripture, and to the deductions which have been I do not venture to presume that these writers de made from other principles. The consequence has really mean what their words appear to meanbeen that the imposing sanction," the Will of God," that the law of God is supreme and yet that it is has been applied to propositions of very different subordinate ; but one thing is perfectly clear, that authority.
either they make the vain attempt “to serve two To enquire into the validity of all those principles masters," or that they employ language very laxis which have been proposed as the standard of recti. and very dangerously. tude, would be foreign to the purpose of this essay. The high language of Dr Paley respecting Ex. That principle which appears to be most recom- pediency as a paramount law, is well known :mended by its own excellence and beauty, and which "Whatev:r is expedient is right."*—“ The obliga. obtains the greatest share of approbation in the tion of ev ry law depends upon its ultimate utility." 7world, is the principle of directing "pvery action “It is the utility of any moral rule alone which corso as to produce the greatest happiness and the least stitutes the obligation of it.” | Perjury, Robbery, misery in our power.” The particular forms of de- and Murder, “are not useful, and for that reason, fining the doctrine are various, but they may be con- and that reason only, are not right.” It is obvious veniently included in the one general term—Expe- that this language affirms that utility is a higher audiency.
thority than the expressed Will of God. If the We say that the apparent beauty and excellence utility of a moral rule alone constitutes the obligaof this rule of action are so captivating, its actualtion of it, then is its obligation not constituted by acceptance in the world is so great, and the reason- the divine command. If murder is wrong only be ings by which it is supported are so acute, that if it cause it is not useful, it is not wrong because God cau be shown that this rule is not the ultimate has said, “ Thou shalt not kill." standard of right and wrong, we may safely conclude But Paley was a Christian, and therefore could that none other which philosophy has proposed can neither formally displace the Scripture precepts from make pretensions to such authority. The truth in their station of supremacy, nor avoid formally acdeed is, that the objections to the doctrine of expe- knowledging that they were supreme. Aceordingly diepey will generally be found to apply to every | he says, “ There are two methods of coming at the doctrine which lays claim to moral supremacy—which Will of God on any point : First— By his express application the reader is requested to make for him- declarations, when they are to be had, and which self as he passes along.
must be sought for in Scripture." || Secondly-By Respecting the principle of Expediency—the doc- Expediency. And again, When Scripture precepts trine that we should, in every action, endeavour to are clear and positive, there is an end to all further produce the greatest sum of human happiness--let deliberation."? This makes the expressed Will of it always be remembered that the only question is, God the final standard of right and wrong. And whether it ought to be the paramount rule of human here is the vacillation, the attempt to serve two masconduct. No one doubts whether it ought to in- ters of which we speak: for this elevation of the exfluence us, or whether it is of great importance in press declarations of God to the supremacy, is absoestimating the duties of morality. The sole question is this :- When an expression of the Will of
. Mor. and Pol. Phil. B. 2, c. 6. God, and our calculations respecting human happi
+ B. 6, c. 12.
*B 2, c. 6. Dess, lead to different conclusions respecting the rec- | B. 2, c. 1,
$ B. 2, c. 6.
20. 4: Note,