« ZurückWeiter »
MORAL philosophy, or the science of
human nature, may be treated after two I different manners ; each of which has its
peculiar merit, and may contribute to the entertainment, instruction, and reformation of mankind. The one considers man chiefly as born for action ; and as influenc'd in his actions by taste and sentiment; pursuing one abject: and avoiding' another, according to the value; which these objects seem to possess, and according to the light,, in which they present themselves. :Virtue, of all .objects, is the most valuable and lovely, and accordingly this species of philosophers paint het in the most amiable colours, borrowing all helps from poetry and elo. quence, and treating their subject in an easy and obvious manner, such as is best fitted to please the ima. gination, and engage the affections. They select the
most striking observations and instances from com. mon life ; place opposite characters in a proper cortraft; and alluring us into the paths of virtue, by the views of glory and happiness, direct our steps in these paths, by the soundest precepts and most illustrious examples. They make us feel the diffe. rence betwixt vice and virtue ; they excite and regu. late our sentiments ; and so they can but bend our hearts to the love of probity and true honour, they think, that they have fully attained the end of all their labours.
The other species of philosophers treat man ra. ther as a reasonable than an active being, and endeavour to form his understanding more than cultivate his manners. They regard mankind as a subject of speculation ; and with a narrow scrutiny examine human nature, in order to find those principles, which regulate our understandings, excite our senti. ments, and make us approve of blame any particular object, action, or behaviour. *They think it a reproack.co; all literature; that philosophy should not yet have fixt, beyond confroversy, the foundation of morals, reasoning, and criticism ; and should for ever talk of 'truth and falfhood, vice and virtue,
beauty and deformity, without being able to deter· mine the source of these distinctions. While they attempt this arduous talk, they are deter'd by no
difficulties; but proceeding from particular instances to general principles, they kill push on their enquiries to principles more general, and reft not satisfy'd till they arrive at those original principles, by which, in every science, all human curiosity must be bounded. Tho'their speculations seem abstract and even unintel- ; ligible to common readers, they please themselves with the approbation of the learned and the wife : and think themselves sufficiently compensated for the labours of their whole lives, if they can discover some hidden truths, which may contribute to the in, struction of posterity.
' 'Tis certain, that the easy and obvious philosophy will always, with the generality of mankind, have the preference to the accurate and abftrufe ; and by many will be recommended, not only as more agree. able, but more useful than the other. It enters more into common life ; moulds the heart and affections ; and, by touching those principles, which actuate men, reforms their conduct, and brings them nearer that model of perfection, which it describes. On the contrary, the abstruse philosophy, being founded on a turn of mind, which cannot enter into businela and action, vanishes when the philosopher leaves the shade and comes into open day ; nor caň its precepts and principles easily retain any influence over our conduct and behaviour. The feelings of our sentiments,
the agitations of our passions, the vehemence of our affections, dislipate all its conclusions, and redosa the profound philosopher to a meie plebeian.
This also must be confessd, that themoft durable, nas well as juftest fame has been acquir:d: by the ealyan philosophy, and that abstract reasoners feem hitherton to have enjoy'd only a momentary: reparation, from the caprice or ignorance of their own age, but have . not been able to support their reñown with more »
equitable posterity. 'Tis eafy for a profound philo befopher to commit a mistake in his fubtile reasonings, : and one mistake is the necessary. päront of another
while he pushes on his consequences; and is not de ter'd from embracing any conclusion, by its unusual appearance, or its contradiction to popular opinion. But a philosopher, who proposes only to represent the common sense of mankind in more beautiful and more engaging colours, if by accident fie commits a mistake, goes no farther ; but renewing his appeal to common sense, and the natural sentiments of the mind, returns into the right path, and secures him self from any dangerous illusions. The fame of Cicéro flourishes at present ; but that of Aristotle is in terly decay'd. La Bruyere passes the seas, and lift maintains his reputation : But the glory of Aials. branche is confin’d to his own nation and to his owo
age. And Addison, perhaps, will be read with plea. sure, when Locke shall be entirely forgotten.
The mere philosopher is a character which is commonly but little acceptable in the world, as being suppos’d to contribute nothing either to the advantage or pleasure of society; while he lives remote from communication with mankind, and is wrapt up in principles and notions equally remote from their comprehension. On the other hand, the mere ignorant is still more despis’d; nor is any thing esteem'd a surer sign of an illiberal genius, in an age and nation where the sciences flourish, thàn to be entirely void of all taste and relish for those noble en. tertainments. The most perfect character is suppos’d to lie betwixt those extremes ; retaining an equal ability and taste for books, company, and business ; preserving in conversation that discernment and delicacy which arise from polite letters ; and in busi. ness, that probity and accuracy which are the natural result of a juft philosophy. In order to diffuse and cultivate so accomplish'd a character, nothing can be more useful than compositions of the easy style and manner, which draw not too niuch from life require no deep application or retreat to be comprehended, and send back the student among mankind full of noble sentiments and wise precepts, appli. cable to every emergence of human life. By means