« ZurückWeiter »
OF THE GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF MORALS.
DISPUTES with men, pertinaciously obstinate in their principles, are, of all others, the most irksome; except, perhaps, those with persons entirely disingenuous, who really do not believe the opinions they defend, but engage in the controversy, from affectation, from a spirit of opposition, or from a desire of showing wit and ingenuity superior to the rest of mankind. The same blind adherence to their own arguments is to be expected in both; the same contempt of their antagonists; and the same passionate vehemence in enforeing sophistry and falsehood. And as reasoning is not the source whence either disputant derives his tenets, it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.
Those who have denied the reality of moral distinctions, may be ranked among the disingenuous disputants ; nor is it conceivable, that any human creature could ever seriously believe, that all characters and actions were alike entitled to the affection and regard of every one. The difference which nature has placed between one man and another, is so wide, and this difference is still so much farther widened by education, example, and habit, that, where the opposite extremes come at once under our apprehension, there is not scep ticism so scrupulous, and scarce any assurance so determined, as absolutely to deny all distinction between them. Let a man's insensibility be ever so great, he must often be touched with the images of RIGHT and WRONG ; and let his prejudices be ever so obstinate, he must observe, that others are susceptible of like impressions. The only way, therefore, of converting an antagonist of this kind, is to leave him to himself. For, finding that nobody keeps up the controversy with him, it is probable he will, at last, of himself, from mere weariness, come over to the side of common sense and reason.. ini . i
. is There has been a controversy started of late, much better worth examination, concerning the general foundation of MORALS; whether they be derived from REASON or from SENTIMENT ; whether we attain the knowledge of them by a chain of argument and induction, or by an immediate feeling and finer internal sense ; whether, like all sound judgment of truth and falsehood, they should be the same to every rational intelligent being; or whether, like the perception of beauty and deformity, they be founded entirely on the particular fabric and constitution of the human species. ...
The ancient philosophers, though they often affirm, that virtue is nothing but conformity to reason, yet, in general, seem to consider morals as deriving their exist ence from taste and sentiment. On the other hand, our modern inquirers though they also talk much of the beauty of virtue, and deformity of vice, yet have commonly endeavoured to account for these distinctions by metaphysical reasonings, and by deductions from the most: abstraet principles of the understanding. Such confusioæ reigned in these subjects, that an opposition
of the greatest consequence could prevail between one system, and another, and even in the parts of almost each individual system ; and yet nobody, till very lately, was ever sensible of it. The elegant Lord SHAFTES BURY, who first gave occasion to remark this distinction, and who, in general, adhered to the principles of the an. cients, is not, himself, entirely free from the same con fusion. i. cinsi im
499 · It must be acknowledged, that both sides of the ques. tion are susceptible of specious arguments. Moral dis. tinctions, it may be said, are discernible by pure reason: Else, whence the many disputes that reign in common life, as well as in philosophy, with regard to this subject. The long ehain of proofs often produced on both sides, the examples cited, the authorities appealed to, the analogies employed, the fallacies detected, the inferences drawn, and the several conclusions adjusted to their proper principles. Truth is disputable ; not taste : What exists in the nature of things is the standard of our judgment; what each man feels within himself is the standard of sentiment. Propositions in geometry may be proved, systems in physics may be controvert. ed; but the harmony of verse, the tenderness of pas.. sion, the brilliancy of wit, must give immediate pleasure. No man reasons concerning another's beauty ; but frequently concerning the justice or injustice of his actions. - In every criminal trial, the first object of the prisoner is to disprove the facts alledged, and deny the actions imputed to him: The second, to prove, that, even if these actions were real, they might be justified as innocent and lawful. It is confessedly by deductions of the understanding, that the first point is ascertained How can we suppose that a different faculty of the mind is employed in fixing the other 097599 comer
1.1°On the other hand, those who would resolve all moral
determinations into sentiment, may endeavour to show, - that it is impossible for reason ever to draw conclusions of this nature. To virtue, say they, it belongs to be amiable, and vice odious. ', This forms their very nature cor esserice. But can reason or argumentation distribute
these different epithets to any subjects, and pronounce i before-hand, that this must produce love, and that hatred? Or what other reason can we ever assign for these affections, but the original, fabric and formation of the human mind, which is naturally adapted to receive : them?, "pospremiered of limentoPropot , lt treet kos.The end of all moral speculations is to teach us our duty; and, by proper representations of the deformity
of vice and beauty of virtue, beget correspondent habits, Cand engage us to avoid the one, and embrace the other.
But is this ever to be expected from inferences and con: clusions of the understanding, which of themselves have
no hold of the affections, or set in motion the active powers of men. They discover truths: But where the truths which they discover are indifferent, and beget no desire or aversion, they can have no influence on conduct v and behavioura: What is honourable, what is fair, what rais becoming, what is noble, what is generous, takes · possession of the heart, and animates, us to embrace and
maintain it. What is intelligible, what is evident, what - sis probable, what is true procures only the cool assent
of the understandings and gratifying a speculative curirosity z puts an end to our researches. He In NMTOTS 2911s Extinguish all the warm feeling and prepossessions in : -favour of virtue, and all disgust or ayersion to vice ; * Tender men totally v indifferent towards these distinc
tions; and morality is no longer a practical study, nor has any tendency to regulate our lives and actions.