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ISPUTES with men pertinaciously obstinate in
their principles, are of all others the most irkIome; 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 fame blind adherence to their own arguments is to be expected in both; the same contempt of their antagonists; and the same passionate vehemence in enforcing sophistry and falsehood: And as reasoning is not the source whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect that any
gic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace founder principles.
Those who have denied the reality of moral diftinctions, 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, that 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 no scepticism fo 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.
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, 4
in general, seem to consider morals as deriving their existence from taste and sentiment. On the other hand, our modern enquirers, 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 moft abstract principles of the understanding. Such confusion 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 no body, till very lately, was ever sensible of it. The elegant Lord SHAFTESBURY, who first gave occasion to remark this distinction, and who, in general, ad. hered to the principles of the ancients, is not, himself, entirely free from the same confusion.
It must be acknowledged, that both sides of the question are fufceptible of specious arguments. Moral distinctions, 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 chain of proofs often produced on both sides; the examples cited, the authorites appealed to, the analogies employed, the fallacies detected, the inferences drawn, and the several conclufions adjusted to their proper principles? Truth is disputable; not tafte: What exists in the nature of things is the standard of our judgment; what each man feels within himself is the ftandard of sentiment. Propofitions in geometry may be proved, systems in phyfics may be controverted; but the harmony of verse, the tenderness of passion, 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?
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 or effence. But can reason or argumentation distribute these different epithets to any subjects, and pronounce before-hand, that this must produce love, and that hatred? Or what other reason can we ever afsign for these affections, but the original fabric and formation of the human mind, which is naturally adapted to receive them?
The end of all moral speculations is to teach us our duty and, by proper representations of the deformi. ty of vice and beauty of virtue, beget correspondent habits, and engage us to avoid the one and embrace the other. But is this ever to be expected from inferences and conclusions 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 averfion, they can have no influence on conduct and behaviour., What is honourable, what is fair, what is 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 is probable, what is true, procures only the cool aflent of the understanding; and gratifying a speculative curiosity, puts an end to our researches.
Extinguish all the warm feeling and prepossessions in favour of virtue, and all disgust or aversion to vice; render men totally indifferent towards these distinctions; and morality is no longer a practical study,
nor has any tendency to regulate our lives and acs tions
These arguments on each side (and many more might be produced) are so plausible, that I am apt to suspect, they may, the one as well as the other, be folid and satisfactory, and that reason and sentiment concur in almoft all moral determinations and conclusions. The final fentence, it is probable, which pronounces characters and actions amiable or odious, praise-worthy or blameable; that which stamps on them the mark of honour or infamy, approbation or censure ; that which renders morality an active principle, and constitutes virtue our happiness, and vice our misery : It is probable, I say, that this final fentence depends on some internal sense or feeling, which nature has made universal in the whole species. For what else can have an influence of this nature? But in order to pave the way for such a sentiment, and give a proper discernment of its object, it is often necessary, we find, that much reasoning should precede, that nice distinctions be made, just conclusions drawn, distant comparisons formed, complicated relations examined, and general facts fixed and ascertained. Some species of beauty, efpecially the natural kinds, on their first appearance, command our affection and approbation; and where they fail of this effect, it is impossible for any reasoning to redress their influence, or adapt them better to our taste and sentiment. But in many orders of beauty, particularly those of the finer arts, it is requisite to employ much reasoning, in order to feel the proper fentiment; and a false relish may frequently be corrected by argument and reflection. There are just grounds to conclude that moral beauty partakes much of this latter fpecies, and dentands the assistance of ourintellectual faculties, in order to give it a suitable influence on the human mind· But though this question, concerning the general principles of morals, be curious and important, it is