Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

tages united; an agreeable sentiment, a pleasing consciousness, a good reputation? But of these truths, we may observe, men are, of themselves, pretty much convinced; nor are they deficient in their duty to society, because they would not wish to be generous, friendly, and humane; but because they do not feel themselves such.

Treating vice with the greatest candour, and making it all possible concessions, we must acknowledge, that there is not, in any instance, the smallest pretext for giving it the preference above virtue, with a view to self-interest; except, perhaps, in the case of justice, where a man, taking things in a certain light, may often seem to be a loser by his integrity. And though it is allow: ed, that, without a regard to property, no society could subsist; yet, according to the imperfect way in which human affairs are conducted, a sensible knave, in particular incidents, may think, that an act of iniquity or infidelity will make a considerable addition to his fortune, with: out causing any considerable breach in the social union and confederacy. That honesty is the best policy, may be a good general rule ; but is liable to many exceptions: And he, it may, perhaps, be thought, conducts himself with most wisdom, who observes the general rule, and takes advantage of all the exceptions.

I must confess, that if a man think that this reasoning much requires an answer, it will be a little difficult to find any, which will to him appear satisfactory and convincing. If his heart rebel not against such pernicious maxims, if he feel no reluctance to the thoughts of villany or baseness, he has indeed lost a considerable ino: tive to virtue; and we may expect, that his practice will be answerable to his speculation. But in all ingenuous natures, the antipathy to treachery and roguery is too strong to be counterbalanced by any views of profit or pecuniary advantage. Inward peace of mind, consciousness of integrity, a satisfactory review of our own conduct; these are circumstances very requisite to happiness, and will be cherished and cultivated by every honest man, who feels the importance of them.

Such a one has, besides, the frequent satisfaction of seeing knaves, with all their pretended cunning and abilities, betrayed by their own maxims; and while they purpose to cheat with moderation and secrecy, a tempting incident occurs, nature is frail, and they give into the snare; whence they can never extricate themselves, without a total loss of reputation, and the forfeiture of all future trust and confidence with mankind.

But were they ever so secret and successful, the honest man, if he has any tincture of philosophy, or even common observation and reflection, will discover that they themselves are, in the end, the greatest dupes, and have sacrificed the invaluable enjoyment of a character, with themselves at least, for the acquisition of worthless toys and gewgaws. How little is requisite to supply the necessities of nature? And in a view to pleasure, what comparison between the unbought satisfaction of conversation, society, study, even health and the common beauties of nature, but above all the peaceful reflection on one's own conduct: What comparison, I say, between these, and the feverish, empty amusements of luxury and expence? These natural pleasures, indeed, are really without price; both because they are below all price in their attainment, and above it in their enjoyment.

APPENDIX Í.

CONCERNING MORAL SENTIMENT.

If the foregoing hypothesis be received, it will now be easy for us to determine the question first started *, con cerning the general principles of morals: and though we postponed the decision of that question, lest it should then involve us in intricate speculations, which are unfit. for moral discourses, we may resume it at present, and examine how far either reason or sentiment enters into all décisions of praise or censure.

One principal foundation of moral praise being supposed to lie in the usefulness of any quality or action; it is evident that reason must enter for a considerable share in all decisions of this kind; since nothing but that faculty can instruct us in the tendency of qualities and actions, and point out their beneficial consequences to society and to their possessors. In many cases, this is an affair liable to great controversy: Doubts may arise; opposite interests may occur; and a preference must be given to one side, from very nice views, and a small over balance of utility. This is particularly remarkable in questions with regard to justice ; as is, indeed, natural to suppose, from that species of utility which attends this virtue t. Were 'every single instance of justice, like that of bene- '

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

volence, useful to society ; this would be a more simple state of the case, and seldom liable to great controversy. But as single instances of justice are often pernicious in their first and immediate tendency, and as the advantage to society results only from the observance of the general rule, and from the concurrence and combination of several persons in the same equitable conduct ; the case here becomes more intricate and involved. The various circumstances of society; the various consequences of any practice ; the various interests which may be proposed: These, on many occasions, are doubtfal, and subject tơ great discussion and inquiry. The object of municipal laws is to fix all the questions with regard to justice : The debates of civilians, the reflections of politicians, the precedents of history and public records, are all directed to the same purpose. And a very accurate reason or judgment is often requisite, to give the true determination, amidst such intricate doubts aising froin obscure or opposite utilities.

Blixt though reason, whet fully assisted and improved, be sufficient to instruct us in the pernicious or useful tendency of qualities and actions ; it is not alone sufficient to produce any moral blame of approbation. Utility is only a tendency to a certain end; and were the end totally indifferent to us, we should feel the same indifference towards the means. It is requisite a sentiment should here display itself, in order to give a preference to the useful above the pernicious tendencies. This sentiment can be no other than a feeling for the happiness of mankind, and a resentment of their misery ; since these are the different ends which virtue and vice have a tendency to promote. Here, therefore, reason instructs us in the se. veral tendencies of actions, and bumanity makes a distinction in favour of those which are useful and beneficial.

« ZurückWeiter »