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PART I - Henry Home, Lord Kames, Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion 
Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, Corrected and Improved, in a Third Edition. Several Essays Added Concerning the Proof of a Deity, Edited and with an Introduction by Mary Catherine Moran (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
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Our Attachment to Objects of Distress
A noted French critic,* treating of poetry and painting, undertakes a subject attempted by others unsuccessfully, which is, to account for the strong attachment we have to objects of distress, imaginary as well as real.
It is not easy (says he) to account for the pleasure we take in poetry and painting, which has often a strong resemblance to affliction, and of which the symptoms are sometimes the same with those of them ostlively sorrow. The arts of poetry and painting are never more applauded than when they succeed in giving pain. A secret charm attaches us to representations of this nature, at the very time our heart, full of anguish, rises up against its proper pleasure. I dare undertake this paradox, (continues our author), and to explain the foundation of this sort of pleasure which we have in poetry and painting; an undertaking that may appear bold, if not rash, seeing it promises to account to every man for what passes in his own breast, and for the secret springs of his approbation and dislike.
Let us attend him in this difficult undertaking. The following proposition is laid down by him as fundamental:
That man by nature is designed an active being: that inaction, whether of body or mind, draws on languor and disgust: and that this is a cogent motive to fly to any sort of occupation for relief. Thus (adds he) we fly by instinct to every object that can excite our passions, and keep us in agitation, notwithstanding the pain such objects often gives, which causes vexatious days and sleepless nights: but man suffers more by being without passions, than by the agitation they occasion.1
This is the sum of his first section. In the second he goes on to particular instances. The first he gives is compassion; which makes us dwell upon the miseries and distresses of others, though thereby we are made to partake of their sufferings; an impulse that he observes is entirely owing to the foregoing principle, which makes us chuse occupation, however painful, rather than be without action. Another is public executions.
We go in crouds (says he) to a spectacle the most horrid that man can behold, to see a poor wretch broken upon the wheel, burnt alive, or his intrails torn out. The more dreadful the scene, the more numerous the spectators. Yet one might foresee, even without experience, that the cruel circumstances of the execution, the deep groans and anguish of a fellow-creature, must make an impression, the pain of which is not effaced but in a long course of time. But the attraction of agitation prevails more than the joint powers of reflection and experience.
He goes on to mention the strange delight the Roman people had in the entertainments of the amphitheatre; criminals exposed to be torn to pieces by wild beasts, and gladiators in troops hired to butcher one another. He takes this occasion to make the following observation upon the English nation.
So tender-hearted are that people, that they observe humanity towards their greatest criminals. They allow not of torture; alledging it better to leave a crime unpunished, than to expose an innocent person to those torments authorised in other Christian countries to extort a confession from the guilty. Yet this people, so respectful of their kind, have an infinite pleasure in prize-fighting, bull-baiting, and such other savage spectacles.
He concludes with showing, that it is this very horror of inaction, which makes men every day precipitate themselves into play, and deliver themselves over to cards and dice.
None but fools and sharpers (says he) are moved to play by hope of gain. The generality are directed by another motive. They neglect those diversions where skill and address are required, chusing rather to risk their fortunes at games of mere chance, which keep their minds in continual motion, and where every throw is decisive.2
Here is our author’s account, fairly stated. It has, I acknowledge, an air of truth; but the following considerations made me doubt. In the first place, if the pain of inaction be the motive which carries us to the spectacles above mentioned, we must expect to find them frequented by none but those who are oppressed with idleness. But this does not hold. All sorts of persons flock to them. Pictures of danger, or of distress, have a secret charm which attracts men from the most serious occupations, and operate equally upon the active and the indolent. In the next place, were there nothing in these spectacles to attract the mind, abstracting from the pain of inaction, there would be no such thing as a preference of one object to another, upon any other ground than that of agitation; and the more the mind was agitated, the greater would be the attraction of the object. But this is contrary to experience. There are many objects of horror and distaste that agitate the mind exceedingly, which even the idlest fly from. And a more apt instance need not be given, than what our author himself cites from Livy;* who, speaking of Antiochus Epiphanes, has the following words. Gladiatorum munus Romanae consuetudinis, primo majore cum terrore hominum insuetorum ad tale spectaculum, quam voluptate dedit. Deinde saepius dando, et familiare oculis gratumque id spectaculum fecit, et armorum studium plerisque juvenum accendit. This spectacle we see was at first so far from being attractive to the Greeks, that it was their aversion, till custom rendering it familiar, and less agitating, it came at last to be relished. Upon the same account, the bear-garden, which is one of the chief entertainments of the English, is held in abhorrence by the French, and other polite nations. It is too savage an entertainment, to be relished by those of a refined taste.
Were man a being whose only view, in all his actions, is either to attain pleasure, or to avoid pain; which our author lays down as a preliminary, borrowed from Mr Locke (chap. Of Power, sect. 37 and 43.);3 it would, upon that supposition, be hard if not impossible, to give any satisfactory account why we should incline, with our eyes open, to frequent entertainments that must necessarily give us pain. But when we more attentively examine human nature, we discover many and various impulses to action, independent of pleasure and pain. Let us prosecute this thought, because it may probably lead to a solution of the problem.
When we attend to the emotions raised in us by external objects, or to any of our emotions, we find them greatly diversified. They are strong or weak, distinct or confused, &c. There is no division of emotions more comprehensive than into agreeable or disagreeable. It is unnecessary, and would perhaps be in vain, to search for the cause of these differences. More we cannot say, but that such is the constitution of our nature, so contrived by the Author of all things, in order to answer wise and good purposes.
There is another circumstance to be attended to in these emotions; that affection enters into some of them, aversion into others. To some objects we have an affection, and we desire to possess and enjoy them: other objects raise our aversion, and move us to avoid them. No object can move our affection but what is agreeable, nor our aversion but what is disagreeable. Whether it be the effect of every agreeable object to raise affection, we have no occasion at present to inquire. But it is of importance to observe, that many objects are disagreeable, perhaps painful, that raise not aversion in any degree. Objects of horror and terror, loathsome objects, and many others raise aversion. But there are many emotions or passions, some of them of the most painful sort, that raise no aversion. Grief is a most painful passion, and yet is not accompanied with any degree of aversion. On the contrary, it is attractive, no less so than many of our pleasant emotions: we cling to the object that raises our grief, and love to dwell upon it. Compassion is an instance of the like nature. Objects of distress raise no aversion in us, though they give us pain. On the contrary, they draw us to them, and inspire us with a desire to afford relief.
During infancy, appetite and desire are our sole impulses to action. But in the progress of life, when we learn to distinguish the objects around us as productive of pleasure or pain, we acquire by degrees impulses to action of a different sort. Self-love is a strong motive to search about for every thing that may contribute to happiness. Self-love operates by means of reflection and experience; and every object, as soon as discovered to contribute to our happiness, raises in us of course a desire of possessing. Hence it is, that pleasure and pain are the only motives to action, as far as self-love is concerned. But our appetites and passions are not all of them of this kind. They frequently operate by direct impulse, without the intervention of reason, in the same manner as instinct does in brute creatures. As they are not influenced by any sort of reasoning, the view of shunning misery or acquiring happiness, makes no part of the impulsive motive. It is true, that the gratification of our passions and appetites, is agreeable; and it is also true, that, in giving way to a particular appetite, the view of pleasure may, by a reflex act, become an additional motive to the action. But these things must not be confounded with the direct impulse arising from the appetite or passion; which, as I have said, operates blindly, and in the way of instinct, without any view to consequences.
To ascertain the distinction betwixt actions directed by self-love and actions directed by particular appetites and passions, it must be further remarked, that the aim of self-love is always to make us happy, but that other appetites and passions have frequently a very different tendency. This will be plain from induction. Revenge gratified against the man we hate, is agreeable. It is a very different case, where we have taken offence at a man we love. Friendship will not allow me, however offended, to hurt my friend. “I cannot find in my heart to do him mischief; but I would have him made sensible of the wrong he has done me.” Revenge thus denied a vent, recoils, and preys upon the vitals of the person offended. It displays itself in peevishness and bad humour; which must work and ferment, till time or acknowledgment of the wrong, carry it off. This sort of revenge is turned against the man himself who is offended; and examples there are of persons in this pettish humour, working great mischief to themselves, in order to make the offenders sensible of the wrong. Thus, no example is more common, than that of a young woman disappointed in love, who prone to augment her distress, throws herself away upon any worthless man that will ask her the question. My next example will be still more satisfactory. Every one must have observed, that when the passion of grief is at its height, the very nature of it is to shun and fly from every thing that tends to give ease or comfort. In the height of grief, a man rushes on to misery, by a sort of sympathy with the person for whom he is grieved. Why should I be happy when my friend is no more, is the language of this passion. In these circumstances, the man is truly a self-tormentor. And here we have a singular phaenomenon in human nature; an appetite after pain, an inclination to render one’s self miserable. This goes farther than even self-murder; a crime that is never perpetrated but in order to put an end to misery, when it rises to such an height as to be insupportable.
We now see how imperfect the description is of human nature, given by Mr Locke, and by our French author. They acknowledge no motive to action, but what arises from self-love; measures laid down to attain pleasure, or to shun pain. Many appetites and passions, with the affection and aversion involved in them, are left entirely out of the system. And yet we may say, with some degree of probability, that we are more frequently influenced by these than by self-love. So various is human nature, and so complicated its acting powers, that it is not readily to be taken in at one view.
We return to our subject, after havin gun folded those principles of action with which it is connected. It may be gathered from what is above laid down, that nature, which designed us for society, has linked us together in an intimate manner, by the sympathetic principle, which communicates the joy and sorrow of one to many. We par take the afflictions of our fellows: we grieve with them and for them; and, in many instances, their misfortunes affect us equally with our own. Let it not therefore appear surprising, that, instead of shunning objects of misery, we chuse to dwell upon them; for this is truly as natural as indulging grief for our own misfortunes. And it must be observed at the same time, that this is wisely ordered by providence: were the social affections mixed with any degree of aversion, even when we suffer under them, we should be inclined, upon the first notice of an object in distress, to drive it from our sight and mind, instead of affording relief.
Nor must we judge of this principle as any way vitious or faulty: for besides that it is the great cement of human society, we ought to consider, that, as no state is exempt from misfortunes, mutual sympathy must greatly promote the security and happiness of mankind. That the prosperity and preservation of each individual should be the care of many, tends more to happiness in general, than that each man, as the single in habitant of adesert island, should be left to stand or fall by himself, without prospect of regard or assistance from others. Nor is this all. When we consider our own character and actions in a reflex view, we cannot help approving this tenderness and sympathy in our nature. We are pleased with ourselves for being so constituted: we are conscious of inward merit; and this is a continual source of satisfaction.
To open this subject a little more, it must be observed, that naturally we have a strong desire to be acquainted with the history of others. We judge of their actions, approve or disapprove, condemn or acquit; and in this the busy mind has a wonderful delight. Nay, we go farther. We enter deep into their concerns, take a side; we partake of joys and distresses with those we favour, and show a dislike to others. This turn of mind makes history, novels, and plays, the most universal and favourite entertainments. It is natural to man as a sociable creature; and we venture to affirm, that the most sociable have the greatest share of this sort of curiosity, and the strongest attachment to such entertainments.
Tragedy is an imitation or representation of human characters and actions. It is a feigned history, which commonly makes a stronger impression than what is real; because, if it be a work of genius, incidents will be chosen to make the deepest impressions; and will be so conducted as to keep the mind in continual suspense and agitation, beyond what commonly happens in real life. By a good tragedy, all the social passions are excited. We take a sudden affection to some of the personages represented: we come to be attached to them as to our bosom-friends; and we hope and fear for them, as if the whole were a true history.
To a dry philosopher, unacquainted with theatrical entertainments, it may appear surprising, that imitation should have such an effect upon the mind, and that the want of truth and reality should not prevent the operation of our passions. But whatever may be the physical cause, one thing is evident, that this aptitude of the mind of man to receive impressions from feigned as well as from real objects, contributes to the noblest purposes of life. Nothing contributes so much to improve the mind and confirm it in virtue, as being continually employed in surveying the actions of others, entering into the concerns of the virtuous, approving their conduct, condemning vice, and showing an abhorrence at it; for the mind acquires strength by exercise, as well as the body. But were this sort of discipline confined to scenes in real life, the generality of men would be little the better for it, because such scenes rarely occur. They are not frequent even in history. But in compositions where liberty is allowed of fiction, it must be want of genius, if the mind be not sufficiently exercised, till it acquire the greatest sensibility, and the most confirmed habits of virtue.
Thus, tragedy engages our passions, no less than true history. Friendship, concern for the virtuous, abhorrence of the vitious, compassion, hope, fear, and the whole train of the social passions, are roused and exercised by both of them equally.
This may appear to be a fair account of the attachment we have to theatrical entertainments: but when the subject is more narrowly examined, some difficulties occur, to which the principles above laid down will scarce afford a satisfactory answer. It is not wonderful that young people flock to such entertainments. The love of novelty, desire of occupation, beauty of action, are strong attractions: and if one be once engaged, of whatever age, by entering into the interests of the personages represented, the attraction becomes strong; and the foresight of running into grief and affliction will not disengage us. But we generally become wise by experience; and it may appear surprising, when distress is the never-failing effect of such entertainments, that persons of riper judgment do not shun them altogether. Doth self-love lie asleep in this case, which is for ordinary so active a principle? One should naturally think, that as repeated experience must make us sufficiently wise to keep out of harm’s way; deep tragedies would be little frequented by persons of reflection. Yet the contrary is true in fact; the deepest tragedies being the most frequented by persons of all ages, by those especially of delicate feelings upon whom the strongest impressions are made. A man of that character, who is scarce relieved from the deep distress he was thrown into the night before by a well-acted tragedy, does, in his closet, coolly and deliberately resolve to go to the next entertainment of the kind, without feeling the smallest obstruction from self-love.
This leads to a speculation, perhaps one of the most curious that belongs to human nature. Contrary to what is generally understood, the foregoing speculation affords a palpable proof, that even self-love does not always operate to avoid pain and distress. In examining how this is brought about, there will be discovered an admirable contrivance in human nature, to give free scope to the social affections. Keeping in view what is above laid down, that of the painful passions some are accompanied with a version, some with affection; we find, upon the strictest examination, that those painful passions, which, in the direct feeling, are free from any degree of aversion, have as little of it in the reflex act. Or, to express the thing more familiarly, when we reflect upon the pain we have suffered by our concern for others, there is no degree of aversion mixed with the reflection, more than with the pain itself which was raised by a sight of the object. For illustration’s sake, let us compare the pain which arises from compassion with any bodily pain. Cutting one’s flesh is not only accompanied with strong aversion in the direct feeling, but with an aversion equally strong in reflecting upon the action afterward. We feel no such aversion in reflecting upon the mental pains above described. On the contrary, when we reflect upon the pain which the misfortune of a friend gave us, the reflection is accompanied with an eminent degree of satisfaction. We approve ourselves for suffering with our friend, value ourselves the more for that suffering, and are ready to undergo chearfully the like distress upon the like occasion. Self-love gives no opposition.
When we examine those particular passions, which, though painful, are yet accompanied with no aversion; we find they are all of the social kind, arising from that eminent principle of sympathy, which is the cement of human society. The social passions are accompanied with appetite for indulgence when they give us pain, no less than when they give us pleasure. We submit willingly to such painful passions, and reckon it no hardship to suffer under them. In being thus constituted, we have the consciousness of regularity and order, and that it is right and meet we should suffer after this manner. Thus the moral affections, even such of them as produce pain, are none of them attended with any degree of aversion, not even in reflecting upon the distress they often bring us under. Sympathy in particular attaches us to an object in distress so powerfully as even to overbalance self-love, which would make us fly from it. Sympathy accordingly, though a painful passion, is attractive; and in affording relief, the gratification of the passion is not a little pleasant. And this observation tends to set the moral affections in a very distinguished point of view, in opposition to those that are either malevolent, or selfish.
Many and various are the springs of action in human nature, and not one more admirable than what is now unfolded. Sympathy is an illustrious principle, which connects persons in society by ties stronger than those of blood. Yet compassion, the child of sympathy, is a painful emotion; and were it accompanied with any degree of aversion, even in reflecting upon the distress it occasioned, that aversion would by degrees blunt the passion, and at length cure us of what we would be apt to reckon a weakness or disease. But the Author of our nature hath not left his work imperfect. He has given us this noble principle entire, without a counterbalance, so as to have a vigorous and universal operation. Far from having any aversion to pain occasioned by the social principle, we reflect upon such pain with satisfaction, and are willing to submit to it upon all occasions with chearfulness and heart-liking, just as much as if it were a real pleasure. And, thus, tragedy is allowed to seize the mind with all the different charms which arise from the exercise of the social passions, without the least obstacle from self-love.
Had the principle of sympathy occurred to our author, he would have found it sufficient to explain our voluntarily partaking with others in their distress, without having need of so imperfect a cause as aversion to in action. Without entering deep into philosophy, he might have had hints in abundance from common life to explain it. In every corner, persons are to be met with of such a sympathising temper, as to chuse to spend their lives with the diseased and distressed. They partake with them in the irafflictions, enter heartily into their concerns, and sigh and groan with them. These pass their lives in sadness and despondency, without having any other satisfaction than what arises upon the reflection of having done their duty.
And if this account of the matter be just, we may be assured, that those who are the most compassionate in their temper, will be the fondest of tragedy, which affords them a large field for indulging the passion. Admirable indeed are the effects brought about by this means: for passions, as they gather strength by indulgence, so they decay by want of exercise. Persons in prosperity, unacquainted with distress and misery, are apt to grow hard-hearted. Tragedy is an admirable resource in such a case. It serves to humanize the temper, by supplying feigned objects of pity, which have nearly the same effect to exercise the passion that real objects have. And thus, we are carried by a natural impulse to deal deep in affliction, occasioned by representations of feigned misfortunes; and the passion of pity alone would throng such representations, were there nothing else to attract the mind, or to afford satisfaction.
It is owing to curiosity, that public executions are so much frequented. Sensible people endeavour to correct an appetite, the indulging of which produces pain; and upon reflection is attended with no degree of self-approbation. Hence it is, that such spectacles are the entertainment of the vulgar chiefly, who allow themselves blindly to be led by curiosity with little attention whether it will contribute to their good or not.
With respect to prize-fighting and gladiatorian shews, nothing animates and inspires us more than examples of courage and bravery. We catch the spirit of the actor, and turn bold and intrepid as he appears to be. On the other hand, we enter into the distresses of the vanquished, and have a sympathy for them in proportion to the gallantry of their behaviour. No wonder then that such shews are frequented by persons of the best taste. We are led by the same principle that makes us fond of perusing the lives of heroes and of conquerors. And it may be observed by the bye, that such spectacles have an admirable good effect in training up the youth to boldness and resolution. In this therefore I see not that foreigners have reason to condemnthe English taste. Spectacles of this sort deserveen couragement from the state, and to be made an object of public police.
As for gaming, I cannot bring myself to think that there is any pleasure in having the mind kept in suspense, and as it were upon the rack, which must be the case of those who venture their money at games of hazard. Inaction and idleness are not by far so hard to bear. I am satisfied that the love of money is at the bottom. Nor is it a solid objection, That people will neglect games of skill and address, to venture their money at hazard; for this may be owing to indolence, diffidence, or impatience. There is indeed a curious speculation with regard to this article of gaming, that pleasure and pain attend good and bad success at play, independent of the money lost or win. It is plain, that good luck raises the spirits, as bad luck depresses them, without regard to consequences: and to that is owing our concern at game, when we play for trifles. To what principle in our nature that concern is owing, I leave to be investigated by others, as it is not necessarily connected with the subject of the present Essay.
I lay hold of the present edition to investigate the point left open in the former. This earth produces little for the use of man but what requires the preparation both of art and industry; and man, by nature artful and industrious, is well fitted for his situation. Were every thing furnished to his hand without thought or labour, he would sink below the lowest of the brute creation. I say, below, because the lowest creature perfect in its kind, is superior to a creature of whatever kind that is corrupted. Self-love moves us to labour for ourselves; benevolence to labour for others. And emulation is added to enforce these principles. Emulation is visible even in children, striving for victory without knowing what moves them. Instriving for fame, power, riches, emulation makes a splendid figure: it operates vigorously in works of skill, nor does it lye dormant in competitions that depend mostly or intirely on chance, such as playing with cards or dice. It is true, that the pleasure of victory without a view to gain, is extremely faint; and it pains me to observe that the desperate risks voluntarily submitted to in games of chance, are mostly, if not intirely instigated by avarice.
Foundation and Principles of Moralityi
Superficial knowledge produces the boldest adventurers, because it gives no check to the imagination when fired by a new thought. Shallow writers lay down plans, contrive models, and are hurried on to execution by the pleasure of novelty, without considering whether, after all, there be any solid foundation to support the spacious edifice. It redounds not a little to the honour of some late inquirers after truth, that, subduing this bent of nature, they have submitted to the slow and more painful method of experiment; a method that has been applied to natural philosophy with great success. The accurate Locke, in the science of logics, has pursued the same method, and has been followed by several ingenious writers. The mistress-science alone is neglected; and it seems hard that less deference should be paid to her than to her hand-maids. Every author gives a system of morals, as if it were his privilege to adjust it to his own taste and fancy. Regulations for human conduct are daily framed, without the least consideration, whether they arise out of human nature, or can be accommodated to it. And hence many airy systems, that relate not to man nor to any other being. Authors of a warm imagination and benevolent temper, exalt man to the angelic nature, and compose laws for his conduct, so refined as to be far above the reach of humanity. Others of a contrary disposition, forcing down all men to a level with the very lowest of their kind, assign them laws more suitable to brutes than to rational beings. In abstract science, writers may more innocently indulge their fancies. The worst that can happen is, to mislead us in matters where error has little influence on practice. But they who deal in moral philosophy ought to be cautious; for their errors seldom fail to have a bad tendency. The exalting of nature above its standard, is apt to disgust the mind, conscious of its weakness, and of its inability to attain such an uncommon degree of perfection. The debasing of nature tends to break the balance of the affections, by adding weight to the selfish and irregular appetites. Beside these bad effects, clashing opinions about morality are apt to tempt men who have any hollowness of heart, to shake off all principles, and to give way to every appetite: and then adieu to a just tenor of life, and consistency of conduct.
These considerations give the author of this essay a just concern to proceed with the utmost circumspection in his inquiries, and to try his conclusions by their true touchstone, that of facts and experiments. Had this method been strictly followed, the world would not have been perplexed with that variety of inconsistent systems, which unhappily have rendered morality a difficult and intricate science. An attempt to restore it to its original simplicity and authority, must be approved, however short one falls in the execution. Writers differ about the origin of the laws of nature, and they differ about the laws themselves. As the author is not fond of controversy, he will attempt a plan of the laws of nature, drawn from their proper source, laying aside what has been written on this subject.
Foundation of Morality
In searching for the foundation of the laws of our nature, the following reflections occur. In the first place, two things cannot be more intimately connected than a being and its actions: for the connection is that of cause and effect. Such as the being is, such must its actions be. In the next place, the several classes into which nature has distributed living creatures, are not more distinguishable by an external form, than by an internal constitution, which manifests itself in an uniformity of conduct, peculiar to eachspecies. In the third place, any action conformable to the common nature of the species, is considered by us as regular and proper. It is according to order, and according to nature. But if there exist a being of a constitution different from that of its kind, the actions of this being, though conformable to its own peculiar constitution, will, to us, appear whimsical and disorderly. We shall have a feeling of disgust, as if we saw a man with two heads or four hands. These reflections lead us to the foundation of the laws of our nature. They are to be derived from the common nature of man, of which every person partakes who is not a monster.
As the foregoing observations make the groundwork of all morality, it may not be improper to enlarge a little upon them. Looking around, we find creatures of very different kinds, both as to external and internal constitution. Each species having a peculiar nature, ought to have a peculiar rule of action resulting from its nature. We find this to hold in fact; and it is extremely agreeable to observe, how accurately the laws of each species are adjusted to the frame of the individuals which compose it, so as to procure the conveniencies of life in the best manner, and to produce regularity and consistency of conduct. To give but one instance: the laws which govern sociable creatures, differ widely from those which govern the savage and solitary. Among solitary creatures, who have no mutual connection, there is nothing more natural nor more orderly, than to make food one of another. But for creatures in society to live after that manner, must be the effect of jarring and inconsistent principles. No such disorderly appearance is discovered upon the face of this globe. There is, as above observed, a harmony betwixt the internal and external constitution of the several classes of animals; and this harmony affords a delightful prospect of deep design, effectively carried into execution. The common nature of every class of beings is perceived by us as perfect; and if, in any instance, a particular being swerve from the common nature of its kind, the action produces a sense of disorder and wrong. In a word, it is according to order, that the different sorts of living creatures should be governed by laws adapted to their peculiar nature. We consider it as fit and proper that it should be so; and it is beautiful to find creatures acting according to their nature.
The force of these observations cannot be resisted by those who admit of final causes. We make no difficulty to pronounce, that a species of beings who have such or such a nature, are made for such or such an end. A lion has claws, because nature made him an animal of prey. A man has fingers, because he is a social animal made to procure food by art not by force. It is thus we discover for what end we were designed by nature, or the Author of nature. And the same chain of reasoning points out to us the laws by which we ought to regulate our actions: for acting according to nature, is acting so as to answer the end of our creation.
Having made out that the nature of man is the foundation of the laws that ought to govern his actions, it will be necessary to trace out human nature, so far as regards the present subject. If we can happily accomplish this part of our undertaking, it will be easy, in the synthetical method, to deduce the laws that ought to regulate our conduct. And we begin with examining in what manner we are related to beings and things around us; a speculation that will lead to the point in view.
As we are placed in a great world, surrounded with beings and things, some beneficial, some hurtful; we are so constituted, that scarce any object is indifferent to us: it either gives pleasure or pain; witness sounds, tastes, and smells. This is the most remarkable in objects of sight, which affect us in a more lively manner than objects of any other external sense. Thus, a spreading oak, a verdant plain, a large river, are objects that afford delight. A rotten carcase, a distorted figure, create aversion; which, in some instances, goes the length of horror.
With regard to objects of sight, whatever gives pleasure is said to be beautiful: whatever gives pain, is said to be ugly. The terms beauty and ugliness, in their proper signification, are confined to objects of sight. And indeed such objects, being more highly agreeable or disagreeable than others, deserve well to be distinguished by a proper name. But, as it happens with words that convey a more lively idea than ordinary, the terms are applied in a figurative sense to almost every thing that gives a high relish or disgust. Thus, we talk of a beautiful theorem, a beautiful thought, and a beautiful passage in music. And this way of speaking has become so familiar, that it is scarce reckoned a figurative expression.
Objects considered simply as existing, without relation to any end orany designing agent, are in the lowest rank or order with respect to beauty and ugliness; a smooth globe for example, or a vivid colour. But when external objects, such as works of art, are considered with relation to some end, we feel a higher degree of pleasure or pain. Thus, a building regular in all its parts, pleases the eye upon the very first view: but considered as a house for dwelling in, which is the end purposed, it pleases still more, supposing it to be well fitted to its end. A similar sensation arises in observing the operations of a well-ordered state, where the parts are nicely adjusted to the ends of security and happiness.
This perception of beauty in works of art or design, which is produced not barely by a sight of the object, but by viewing the object as fitted to some use, and as related to some end, includes in it what is termed approbation: for approbation, when applied to works of art, means our being pleased with them or conceiving them beautiful, in the view of being fitted to their end. Approbation and disapprobation are not applicable to the lowest class of beautiful and ugly objects. To say, that we approve a sweet taste, or a flowing river, is really saying no more but that we are pleased with such objects. But the term is justly applied to works of art, because it means more than being pleased with such an object merely as existing. It imports a peculiar beauty, which is perceived, upon considering the object as fitted to the use intended.
It must be further observed to avoid obscurity, that the beauty which arises from the relation of an object to its end, is independent of the end itself, whether good or bad, whether beneficial or hurtful: it arises from considering its fitness to the end purposed, whatever that end be.
When we take the end itself under consideration, there is discovered a beauty or ugliness of a higher kind than the two former. A beneficial end strikes us with a peculiar pleasure; and approbation belongs also to this feeling. Thus, the mechanism of a ship is beautiful, in the view of means well fitted to an end. But the end itself, of carrying on commerce and procuring so many conveniencies to mankind, exalts the object, and heightens our approbation and pleasure. By an end, I mean what it serves to procure and bring about, whether it be an ultimate end, or subordinate to something farther. Considered with respect to its end, the degree of its beauty depends on the degree of its usefulness. Let it be only kept in view, that as the end or use of a thing is an object of greater dignity and importance than the means, the approbation bestowed on the former rises higher than that bestowed on the latter.
These three orders of beauty may be blended together in many different ways, to have very different effects. If an object in itself beautiful be ill fitted to its end, it will, upon the whole, be disagreeable. This may be exemplified in a house regular in its architecture and beautiful to the eye, but incommodious for dwelling. If there be in an object an aptitude to a bad end, it will, upon the whole, be disagreeable, though it have the second modification of beauty in perfection. A constitution of government formed with the most perfect art for enslaving the people, may be an instance of this. If the end be good but the object not well fitted to the end, it will be beautiful, or ugly, as the goodness of the end, or unfitness of the means, is prevalent. Of this instances will occur at first view, without being suggested.
The foregoing modifications of beauty and deformity, apply to all objects, animate and inanimate. A voluntary agent produceth a peculiar species of beauty and deformity, which may be distinguished from all others. The actions of living creatures are more interesting than the actions of matter. The instincts and principles of action of the former, give us more delight than the blind powers of the latter; or, in other words, are more beautiful. No one can doubt of this fact, who is in any degree conversant with the poets. In Homer every thing lives: even darts and arrows are endued with voluntary motion. And we are sensible, that nothing animates a poem more than the frequent use of this figure.
Hence a new circumstance in the beauty and deformity of actions, considered as proceeding from intention, deliberation, and choice. This circumstance, which is of the utmost importance in the science of morals, concerns chiefly human actions: for we discover little of intention, deliberation, and choice, in the actions of inferior creatures. Human actions are not only agreeable or disagreeable, beautiful or deformed, in the different views above mentioned, but are further distinguished in our perception of them, as fit and meet to be done, or as unfit and unmeet. These are simple perceptions, capable of no definition. But let any man attentively examine what passeth in his mind, when the object of his thought is an action proceeding from deliberate intention, and he will soon discover the meaning of these words, and the perceptions which they denote. Let him reflect upon a signal act of generosity to a person of merit, relieving him from want or from a cruel enemy: let him reflect on a man of exemplary patriotism bearing patiently rank oppression, rather than break the peace of society. Such conduct will not only be agreeable to him, and appear beautiful, but will be agreeable and beautiful, as fit and meet to be done. He will approve the action in that quality, and he will approve the actor for his humanity and disinterestedness. This distinguishing circumstance intitles the beauty and deformity of human actions to peculiar names: they are termed moral beauty and moral deformity. Hence the morality and immorality of human actions; founded on a faculty termed the moral sense.
It gives no clear notion of morality, to rest it upon simple approbation, as some writers do. I approve a well constructed plough or waggon for its usefulness. I approve a fine picture or statue for the justness of its representation; and I approve the maker for his skill. I approve an elegant dress on a fine woman; and I approve her taste. But such approbation is far from being the same with that which is occasioned by human actions deliberately done in order to some end. If the end be beneficial, the action is approved as right and fit to have been done: if hurtful, it is disapproved as wrong and unfit to have been done. None of these qualities are applicable to the instances first given.ii
Of all objects whatever, human actions are the most highly delightful or disgustful, and possess the highest degree of beauty or deformity. In these every circumstance concurs: the fitness or unfitness of the means, the goodness or badness of the end, the intention of the actor; which give them the peculiar character of fit and meet, or unfit and unmeet.
Thus we find the nature of man so constituted, as to approve certain actions, and to disapprove others; to consider some actions as fit and meet to be done, and others as unfit and unmeet. What distinguisheth actions to make them objects of the one or the other perception, will be explained in the following chapter. And with regard to some of our actions, another circumstance will be discovered, different from what have been mentioned, sounding the well known terms of duty and obligation, directing our conduct, and constituting what in the strictest sense may be termed a law. With regard to other beings, we have no data to discover the laws of their nature, other than their frame and constitution. We have the same data to discover the laws of our own nature; and over and above, a peculiar sense of approbation or disapprobation, termed the moral sense. And one thinge xtremely remarkable will be explained afterwards, that the laws which are fitted to the nature of man and to his external circumstances, are the same that we approve by the moral sense.
Duty and Obligation
Though these terms are of the utmost importance in morals, I know not that any author hath attempted to explain them, by pointing out those principles or perceptions which they express. This defect I shall endeavour to supply, by tracing these terms to their proper source, without which the system of morals cannot be complete; because these terms point out to us the most precise and essential branch of morality.
Lord Shaftesbury, to whom the world is greatly indebted for his inestimable writings, has clearly and convincingly made out, “that virtue is the good, and vice the ill of every one.”1 But he has not proved virtue to be our duty, other ways than by showing it to be our interest; which comes not up to the idea of duty. For this term plainly implies somewhat indispensable in our conduct; what we ought to do, what we ought to submit to. Now, a man may be considered as foolish for acting against his interest; but he cannot be considered as wicked or vitious. His Lordship indeed, in his essay upon virtue,* approaches to an explanation of duty and obligation, by asserting the subordinancy of the self-affections to the social. But though he states this as a proposition to be made out, he drops it in the subsequent part of his work, and never again brings it into view.
Hutcheson, in his essay upon beauty and virtue,* founds the morality of actions on a certain quality of actions, that procures approbation and love to the agent. But this account of morality is also imperfect, as it makes no distinction between duty and simple benevolence. It is scarce applicable to justice; for the man who, confining himself strictly to it, is true to his word and avoids harming others, is a just and moral man, is in titled to some share of esteem; but will never be the object of love or friendship. He must show a disposition to the good of mankind, of his friends at least and neighbours, he must exert acts of humanity and benevolence; before he can hope to procure the affection of others.
But it is chiefly to be observed, that in this account of morality, the terms obligation, duty, ought and should, have no distinct meaning; which shows, that the entire foundation of morality is not taken in by this author. It is true, that toward the close of his work, he attempts to explain the meaning of the term obligation; but without success. He explains it to be, either, “a motive from self-interest, sufficient to determine those who duly consider it to a certain course of action;” which surely is not moral obligation; or “a determination, without regard to our own interest, to approve actions, and to perform them; which determination shall also make us displeased with ourselves, and uneasy upon having acted contrary to it;” in which sense, he says, there is naturally an obligation upon all men to benevolence.2 But this account falls short of the true idea of obligation; because it makes no destinction betwixt it and that simple approbation of the moral sense which can be applied to heroism, magnanimity, generosity, and other exalted virtues, as well as to justice. Duty however belongs to the latter only; and no man reckons himself under an obligation to perform any action that belongs to the former.
Neither is the author of the treatise upon human nature more successful, when he endeavours to resolve the moral sense into pure sympathy.* According to that author, there is no more in morality, but approving or disapproving an action, after we discover by reflection that it tends to the good or hurt of society. This would be too fainta principle to control our irregular appetites and passions. It would scarce be sufficient to restrain us from in croaching upon our friends and neighbours; and, with regard to strangers, would be the weakest of all restraints. We shall by and by show, that morality has a more solid foundation. In the mean time, it is of importance to observe, that, upon this author’s system, as well as Hutcheson’s, the noted terms of duty, obligation, ought and should, &c. have no meaning.
We shall now proceed to explain these terms, by pointing out the perceptions which they express. And, in performing this task, there will be discovered a wonderful and beautiful contrivance of the Author of our nature, to give authority to morality, by putting the self-affections in a due subordination to the social. The moral sense has in part been explained above; that by it we perceive some actions to be fit and meet to be done; and others to be unfit and unmeet. When this observation is applied to particulars, it is an evident fact, that we have a sense of fitness in kindly and beneficent actions: we approve ourselves and others for performing actions of this kind; as, on the other hand, we disapprove the unsociable, peevish, and hard-hearted. But in one class of actions, an additional circumstance is regarded by the moral sense. Submission to parents, gratitude to benefactors, and the acting justly to all, are perceived not only as fit and meet, but as our indispensable duty. On the other hand, the injuring others in their persons, in their fame, or in their goods are perceived not only as unfit to be done, but as absolutely wrong to be done, and what, upon no account, we ought to do. What is here asserted, is a matter of fact, which can admit of no other proof than an appeal to every man’s own perceptions. Lay prejudice aside, and give fair play to what passes in the mind: I ask no other concession. There is no man, however irregular in his life and manners, however poisoned by a wrong education, but must be sensible of these perceptions. And indeed the words which are to be found in all languages, and which are perfectly understood in the communication of sentiments, are an evident demonstration of it. Duty, obligation, ought and should, would be empty sounds, unless upon supposition of such perceptions. We do not consider actions that come under the notion of duty or obligation, or prohibited by them, as in any degree under our own power. We have the consciousness of necessity, and of being bound and tied to performance, as if under some external compulsion.
It is proper here to be remarked, that benevolent and generous actions are not objects of this peculiar sense. Hence, such actions, though considered as fit and right to be done, are not however considered to be our duty, but as virtuous actions beyond what is strictly our duty. Benevolence and generosity are more beautiful, and more attractive of love and esteem, than justice. Yet, not being so necessary to the support of society, they are left upon the general footing of approbatory pleasure; while justice, faith, truth, without which society cannot subsist, are objects of the foregoing peculiar sense, to take away all shadow of liberty, and to put us under a necessity of performance. The virtues that are exacted from us as duties, may be termed primary: the other which are not exacted as duties, may be termed secondary.
Dr. Butler, a manly and acute writer, hath gone farther than any other, to assign a just foundation for moral duty. He considers conscience or reflection,*
as one principle of action, which, compared with the rest as they stand together in the nature of man, plainly bears upon it marks of authority over all the rest, and claims the absolute direction of them all, to allow or forbid their gratification.
And his proof of this proposition is, “that a disapprobation or reflection is in itself a principle manifestly superior to a mere propension.” Had this admirable writer handled the subject more professedly than he had occasion to do in a preface, it is more than likely he would have put it in a clear light. But he has not said enough to afford that light the subject is capable of. For it may be observed, in the first place, that a disapprobation of reflection is far from being the whole of the matter. Such disapprobation is applied to moroseness, selfishness, and many other partial affections, which are, however, not considered in a strict sense as contrary to our duty. And it may be doubted, whether a disapprobation of reflection be, in every case, a principle superior to a mere propension. We disapprove a man who neglects his private affairs, and gives himself up to love, hunting, or any other amusement: nay, he disapproves himself. Yet from this we cannot fairly conclude, that he is guilty of any breach of duty, or that it is unlawful for him to follow his propension. We may observe, in the next place, what will be afterward explained, that conscience, or the moral sense, is none of our principles of action, but their guide and director. It is still of greater importance to observe, that the authority of conscience does not consist merely in an act of reflection. It arises from a direct perception, which we have upon presenting the object, without the intervention of any sort of reflection. And the authority lies in this circumstance, that we perceive the action to be our duty, and what we are indispensably bound to perform. It is in this manner that the moral sense, with regard to some actions, plainly bears upon it the marks of authority over all our appetites and passions. It is the voice of God within us, which commands our strictest obedience, just as much as when his will is declared by express revelation.
What is here stated will I hope clearly distinguish duty or moral obligation from benevolence: I know of no words in our language to make the distinction more clear. The overlooking this distinction is a capital defect in the writers who acknowledge morality to be founded on an innate sense: it has led them to reduce the whole of virtue to benevolence; and consequently, to hold mankind as bound to perform the highest acts of benevolence, because such acts produce the highest approbation. This doctrine cannot be altogether harmless, because it converts benevolence into indispensable duty, contrary to the system of nature. A young man who enters the world full of such notions soon discovers it to be above his power to conform his conduct to them. Will he not be naturally led to consider morality as a romance or chimera? If he escape that conclusion, he may justly consider himself as remarkably fortunate.iii
A very important branch of the moral sense remains still to be unfolded. In the matters above mentioned, performing of promises, gratitude, and abstaining from harming others, we have the peculiar sense of duty and obligation: but in transgressing these duties, we have not only the sense of vice and wickedness, but we have further the sense of merited punishment, and dread of its being inflicted upon us. This dread may be but slight in the more venial transgressions. But, in crimes of a deep dye, it rises to a degree of anguish and despair. Hence remorse of conscience, which, upon the commission of certain crimes, is a dreadful torture. This dread of merited punishment operates for the most part so strongly upon the imagination, that every unusual accident, every extraordinary misfortune, is by the criminal judged to be a punishment purposely inflicte dupon him. During prosperity, he makes a shift to blunt the stings of his conscience. But no sooner does he fall into distress or into any depression of mind, than his conscience lays fast hold of him: his crime stares him in the face; and every accidental misfortune is converted into a real punishment. “Andthey said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us; and we would not hear: therefore is this distress come upon us. And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore behold also, his blood is required.”*
One material circumstance is here to be remarked, which widens the difference still more betwixt the primary and secondary virtues. As justice, and the other primary virtues, are more essential to society, than generosity, benevolence, or any other secondary virtue, they are more indispensable. Friendship, generosity, softness of manners, form peculiar characters, and serve to distinguish one person from another. But the sense of justice and of the other primary virtues, belongs to man as such. Though it exists in very different degrees of strength, there perhaps never was a human creature altogether void of it. And it makes a delightful appearance in the human constitution, that even where this sense is weak, as it is in some individuals, it notwithstanding retains its authority as the director of their conduct. If there be a sense of justice, it must distinguish right from wrong, what we ought to do from what we ought not to do; and, by that very distinguishing faculty, justly claims to be our guide and governor. This consideration may serve to justify human laws, which make no distinction among men, as endued with a stronger or weaker sense of justice.
And here we must pause a moment, to indulge some degree of admiration upon this part of the human system. Man is evidently intended to live in society; and because there can be no society among creatures who prey upon one another, it was necessary, in the first place, to provide against mutual injuries. Further, man is the weakest of all creatures separately, and the very strongest in society; therefore mutual assistance is the chief end of society; and to this end it was necessary, that there should be mutual trust and reliance upon engagements, and that favours received should be thankfully repaid. Now, nothing can be more finely adjusted than the human heart, to answer these purposes. It is not sufficient that we approve every action that is essential to the preservation of society: it is not sufficient, that we disapprove every action that tends to its dissolution. Approbation or disapprobation merely, is not sufficient to subject our conduct to the authority of a law. These sentiment shave in this case the peculiar modification of duty, that such actions are what we ought to perform, and what we are indispensably bound to perform. This circumstance converts into a law, what without it can only be considered as a rational measure, and a prudential rule of conduct. Nor is any thing omitted to give it the most complete character of a law. The transgression is attended with apprehension of punishment, nay with actual punishment; as every misfortune which befals the transgressor is considered by him as a punishment. Nor is this the whole of the matter. Sympathy is a principle implanted in the breast of every man; we cannot hurt another without suffering for it, which is an additional punishment. And we are still further punished for our injustice or ingratitude, by incurring the aversion and hatred of all men.
Different Ranks of Moral Virtues
It is a truth universally admitted, that no man thinks so highly of himself or of another, for having done a just, as for having done a generous action: yet every one must be sensible, that justice is to society more essential than generosity; and why we should place the greater merit upon the less essential action, may appear unaccountable. This matter deserves to be examined, because it discloses more and more the science of morals; and to this examination we shall proceed, after making some further observations upon the subject of the preceding chapter.iv
The primary virtues, as observed in that chapter, being duties essential to the subsistance of society, are entirely withdrawn from our election and choice. They are perceived as indispensably obligatory upon us; and the transgression of them as laws of our nature, is attended with severe and never-failing punishment. In a word, there is not a characteristic of positive law which is not applicable, in the strictest sense, to the selaws of our nature; with this material difference, that the sanctions of these laws are greatly more efficacious than any that have been invented to enforce municipal laws. The secondary virtues, which contribute to the improvement of society, but are not strictly necessary to its subsistence, are left to our own choice. They have not the character of necessity impressed upon them, nor is the forbearance of them attended with a sense of guilt. On the other hand, the actions which belong to this class, are objects of the strongest perceptions of moral beauty; of the highest degree of approbation, both from ourselves and others. Offices of undeserved kindness, requital of good for evil, generous toils and sufferings for the good of our country, come under this class. These are not made our duty. There is no motive to the performance, which in any proper sense can be called a law. But there are the strongest motives that can consist with perfect freedom. The performance is rewarded with a consciousness of self-merit, and with the praise and admiration of all the world, which are the highest and most desirable rewards human nature is susceptible of.
There is so much of enthusiasm in this branch of moral beauty, that it is not wonderful to find persons of a free and generous turn of mind captivated with it, who are less attentive to the primary virtues. The magnanimous, who cannot bear restraint, are guided more by generosity than by justice. The sense however of strict duty is, with the bulk of mankind, a more powerful incitement to honesty, than praise and self-approbation are to generosity. And there cannot be a more pregnant instance of wisdom than in this part of the human constitution; it being far more essential to society, that all men be just and honest, than that they be patriots and heroes.
From what is above laid down, the following observation naturally arises, that with respect to the primary virtues, the pain of transgressing our duty is much greater than the pleasure which results from obeying it. The contrary holds in the secondary virtues. The pleasure which arises from performing a generous action is much greater than the pain of neglect. Among the vices opposite to the primary virtues, the most striking appearances of moral deformity are found; among the secondary virtues, the most striking appearances of moral beauty.
We are now prepared to carry on the speculation suggested in the beginning of this chapter. In ranking the moral virtues according to their dignity and merit, one would readily imagine, that the primary virtues should be intitled to the highest class, as being more essential to society than the secondary. But, upon examination, we find that this is not the order of nature. The first rank in point of dignity is assigned to the secondary virtues, which are not the first in point of utility. Generosity, in the sense of mankind, hath more merit than justice; and other secondary virtues, undaunted courage, magnanimity, heroism, rise still higher in our esteem. Is not nature whimsical and irregular, in ranking after this manner the moral virtues? One at first view would think so. But, like other difficulties that meet us in contemplating the works of nature, this arises from partial and obscure views. When the whole is surveyed as well as its several parts, we discover, that nature has here taken her measures with peculiar foresight and wisdom. Let us only recollect what is inculcated in the foregoing part of this essay, that justice is enforced by natural sanctions of the most effectual kind, by which it becomes a law in the strictest sense, a law that never can be transgressed with impunity. To extend this law to generosity and the other secondary virtues, and to make these our duty, would produce an in consistency in human nature. It would make universal benevolence a strict duty, to which the limited capacity and more limited abilities of man, bear no proportion. Generosity, therefore, heroism, and all the extraordinary exertions of virtue, must be left to our own choice, without annexing any punishment to the forbearance. Day-light now begins to break in upon us. If the secondary virtues must not be enforced by punishment, it becomes necessary that they be encouraged by reward; for without such encouragement, examples would be rare of sacrificing one’s own interest to that of others. And after considering the matter with the utmost attention, I cannot imagine any reward more proper than that actually bestowed, which is to place these virtues in the highest rank, to give them a superior dignity, and to make them productive of grand and lofty emotions. To place the primary virtues in the highest rank, would no doubt be a strong support to them. But as this could not be done without displacing the secondary virtues, detruding them into a lower rank, and consequently depriving them of their reward, the alteration would be ruinous to society. It would indeed more effectually prevent injustice and wrong; but would it not as effectually prevent the exercise of benevolence, and of numberless reciprocal benefits in a social state? If it would put an end to our fears, so it would to our hopes. And, to say all in one word, we would, in the midst of society, become solitary beings; worse if possible than being solitary in a desart. Justice at the same time is not left altogether destitute of reward. Though it reaches not the splendor of the more exalted virtues, it gains at least our esteem and approbation; and, which is still of greater importance, it never fails to advance the happiness of those who obey its dictates, by the mental satisfaction it bestows.
Principles of Action
In the three chapters immediately foregoing, we have taken pains to inquire into the moral sense, and to analyze it into its different parts. Our present task must be to inquire into those principles in our nature which move us to action. These must be distinguished from the moral sense; which, properly speaking, is not a principle of action. Its province, as shall forthwith be explained, is to instruct us, which of our principles of action we may indulge, and which of them we must restrain. It is the voice of God within us, regulating our appetites and passions, and showing us what are lawful, what unlawful.
Our nature, as far as concerns action, is made up of appetites and passions which move us to act, and of the moral sense by which these appetites and passions are governed. The moral sense is not intended to be the first mover: but it is an excellent second, by the most authoritative of all motives, that of duty. Nature is not so rigid to us her favourite children, as to leave our conduct upon the motive of duty solely. A more masterly and kindly hand is visible in the architecture of man. We are impelled to motion by the very constitution of our nature; and to prevent our being carried too far, or in a wrong direction, conscience is set as at the helm. That such is our nature, may be made evident from induction. Were conscience alone, in any case, to be the sole principle of action, it might be expected to be so in matters of justice, of which we have the strongest sense as our indispensable duty. We find however justice not to be an exception from the general plan. For is not love of justice a principle of action common to all men; and is not affection between parents and children equally so, as well as gratitude, veracity, and every primary virtue? These principles give the first impulse, which is finely seconded by the influence and authority of conscience. It may therefore be safely pronounced, that no action is a duty, to the performance of which we are not prompted by some natural motive or principle. To make such an action our duty, would be to lay down a rule of conduct contrary to our nature; or that has no foundation in our nature. This is a truth little attended to by those who have given us systems of natural laws. No wonder they have gone astray. Let this truth be kept close in view, and it will put an end to many a controversy about these laws. If, for example, it be laid down as a primary law of nature, That we are strictly bound to advance the good of all, regarding our own interest no farther than as it makes a part of the general happiness; we may safely reject such a law, unless it be made appear, that there is a principle of benevolence in man prompting him to pursue the happiness of all. To found this disinterested scheme wholly upon the moral sense, would be a vain attempt. The moral sense, as above observed, is our guide only, not our mover. Approbation or disapprobation of those actions, to which, by some natural principle, we are antecedently directed, is all that can result from it. If it be laid down on the other hand, That we ought to regard ourselves only in all our actions; and that it is folly, if not vice, to concern ourselves for others; such a law can never be admitted, unless upon the supposition that self-love is our only principle of action.
It is probable, that in the following particular, man differs from the brute creation. Brutes are entirely governed by principles of action, which, in them, obtain the name of instincts. They blindly follow their instincts, and are led by that instinct which is strongest for the time. It is meet and fit they should act after this manner, because it is acting according to the whole of their nature. But for man to suffer himself to be led implicitly by instinct or by his principles of action, without check or control, is not acting according to the whole of his nature. He is endued with a moral sense or conscience, to check and control his principles of action, and to instruct him which of them he may indulge, and which of them he ought to restrain. This account of the brute creation is undoubtedly true in the main: whether so in every particular, is of no importance to the present subject, being suggested by way of contrast only, to illustrate the peculiar nature of man.
A full account of our principles of action would be an endless theme. But as it is proposed to confine the present short essay to the laws which govern social life, we shall have no occasion to inquire into any principles of action, but what are directed to others; dropping those which have self alone for their object. And in this inquiry, we set out with the following question, In what sense are we to hold a principle of universal benevolence, as belonging to human nature? This question is of importance in the science of morals: for, as observed above, universal benevolence cannot be a duty, if we be not antecedently promp[t]ed to it by a natural principle. When we consider a single man, abstracted from all circumstances and all connections, we are not conscious of any benevolence to him; we feel nothing within us that prompts us to advance his happiness. If one be agreeable at first sight and attract any degree of affection, it is owing to looks, manners, or behaviour. And for evidence of this we are as apt to be disgusted at first sight, as to be pleased. Man is by nature a shy and timorous animal. Every new object gives an impression of fear, till upon better acquaintance it is discovered to be harmless. Thus an infant clings to its nurse, upon the sight of a new face; and this natural dread is not removed but by experience. If every human creature did produce affection in every other at first sight, children, by natural instinct, would be fond of strangers. But no such instinct discovers itself. The fondness of a child is confined to the nurse, the parents, and those who are most about it; till by degrees it opens to a sense of other connections. This argument may be illustrated by a low, but apt instance. Dogs have by nature an affection for the human species; and puppies run to the first man they see, show marks of fondness, and play about his feet. There is no such general fondness of man to man by nature. Certain circumstances are always required to produce and call it forth. Distress indeed never fails to beget sympathy. The misery of the most unknown gives us pain, and we are prompted by nature to afford relief. But when there is nothing to call forth our sympathy; where there are no peculiar circumstances to interest us or beget a connection, we rest in a state of indifference, and are not conscious of wishing either good or ill to the person. Those moralists therefore who require us to lay aside all partial affection and to act upon a principle of equal benevolence to all men, require us to act upon a principle, which has no place in our nature.
In the manner now mentioned, a principle of universal benevolence does certainly not exist in man. Let us next inquire if it exist in any other manner. The happiness of mankind is an object agreeable to the mind in contemplation; and good men have a sensible pleasure in every study or pursuit by which they can promote it. Benevolence, not equally directed to all men, gradually decreaseth according to the distance of the object, till it dwindles away to nothing. But here comes in a happy contrivance of nature, to supply the want of benevolence to distant objects; which is, to give power to an abstract term, such as our religion, our country, our government, or even mankind, to raise benevolence or public spirit. The particular objects under each of these classes, considered singly and apart, may have little or no force to produce affection; but when comprehended under one general view, they become an object that dilates and warms the heart. In this manner, a man is enabled to embrace in his affection all mankind: and in this sense man is endued with a principle of universal benevolence.
Any person who can reflect upon this branch of human nature without some degree of emotion, must be of a very cold temperament. There is perhaps not one scene to be met with in the natural or moral world where more of design and of consummate wisdom are displayed, than in this under consideration. The authors, who, impressed with reverence for human nature, have endeavoured to exalt it the highest, could none of them stretch their imagination beyond a principle of equal benevolence to every individual. And a very fine scheme it is in idea; but, unluckily it is entirely of the Utopian kind, altogether unfit for life and action. It hath escaped the consideration of these authors, that man is by nature of a limited capacity; and that his affection, by multiplication of objects, instead of being increased, is split into parts, and weakened by division. A principle of universal equal benevolence, by dividing the attention and affection, instead of promoting benevolent actions, would be an obstruction to them. The mind would be distracted by the multiplicity of objects that have an equal influence, so as to be eternally at a loss where to begin. But the human system is better adjusted than to admit of such disproportion betwixt ability and affection. The chief objects of a man’s love are his friends and relations. He reserves some share to bestow on his neighbours. His affection lessens gradually, in proportion to the distance of the object, till it vanish altogether. But were this the whole of human nature with regard to benevolence, man would be but an abject creature. By a very happy contrivance, objects which, because of their distance, have little or no influence, are gathered together in one general view, and made to have the very strongest effect; exceeding, in many instances, the most lively affection that is bestowed on a particular object. By this happy contrivance, the attention of the mind, and its affections are preserved entire, to be bestowed upon general objects, instead of being dissipated among an endless number of individuals. Nothing more ennobles human nature than this principle of action: nor is there any thing more wonderful, than that a general term which has no precise meaning, should be the foundation of a more intense affection than is bestowed, for the most part, upon particular objects, even the most attractive. When we talk of our country, our religion, our government, the ideas annexed to these general terms, are obscure and indistinct. General terms are extremely useful in language; serving, like mathematical signs, to communicate our thoughts in a summary way. But the use of them is not confined to language: they serve for a much nobler purpose, that of exciting us to generous and benevolent actions of the most exalted kind; not confined to individuals, but grasping whole societies, towns, countries, kingdoms, nay all mankind. By this curious mechanism, the defect of our nature is amply remedied. Distant objects, other ways invisible, are rendered conspicuous: accumulation makes them great; and greatness brings them near the eye: affection is preserved, to be bestowed entire, as upon a single object. And, to say all in one word, this system of benevolence, which is really founded on human nature and not the invention of man, is infinitely better contrived to advance the good and happiness of mankind, than any Utopian system that ever has been produced by the warmest imagination.
Upon the opposite system of absolute selfishness, there is no occasion to lose a moment. It is evidently chimerical, because it has no foundation in human nature. It is not more certain that there exists the creature man, than that he hath principles of action directed entirely upon others; some to do good, and others to do mischief. Who can doubt of this, when friendship, compassion, gratitude, on the one hand; and on the other, malice and resentment, are considered? It hath indeed been observed, that we indulge such passions and affections merely for our own gratification. But no person can relish this observation, who is in any measure acquainted with human nature. The social affections are in fact the source of the deepest afflictions, as well as of the most exalted pleasures, as has been fully laid open in the foregoing essay. In a word, we are evidently formed by nature for society, and for indulging the social as well as the selfish passions; and therefore to contend, that we ought to regard ourselves only and to be influenced by no principles but what are selfish, is directly to fly in the face of nature, and to lay down a rule of conduct inconsistent with it.
These systems being laid aside, as deviating from the nature of man, the way lies open to come at what are his true and genuine principles of action. The first thing that nature consults, is the preservation of her creatures. Hence the love of life is made the strongest of all instincts. Upon the same foundation, pain is in a greater degree the object of aversion, than pleasure is of desire. Pain warns us of what tends to our dissolution: pleasure is often sought after unwarily, and by means dangerous to health and life. Pain comes in as a monitor of our danger; and nature, consulting our preservation in the first place and our gratification in the second only, wisely gives pain more force to draw us back, than it gives pleasure to push us on.
The second principle of action is self-love, or desire of our own happiness and good. This is a stronger principle than benevolence, or love bestowed upon others: wisely so ordered; because every man has more power, knowledge, and opportunity, to promote his own good than that of others. Thus individuals are mostly left to their own care. It is agreeable to the limited nature of such a creature as man, that it should be so; and, consequently, it is wisely ordered, that every man should have the strongest affection for himself.
The foregoing principles having self for their object, come not properly under the present undertaking. They are barely mentioned, to illustrate, by opposition, the following principles, which regard others. Of this sort, the most universal is the love of justice, without which there can be no society.v Veracity is another principle, no less universal. Fidelity, a third principle, is circumscribed within narrower bounds; for it cannot exist without a peculiar connection betwixt two persons, to found a reliance on the one side, which requires on the other a conduct corresponding to the reliance. Gratitude is a fourth principle, universally acknowledged. And benevolence possesses the last place, diversified by its objects, and exerting itself more vigorously or more faintly, in proportion to the distance of particular objects, and the grandeur of those that are general. This principle of action has one remarkable quality, that it operates with much greater force to relieve those in distress, than to promote positive good. In the case of distress, sympathy comes to it said; and, in that circumstance, it acquires the name of compassion.
These several principles of action are ordered with admirable wisdom, to promote the general good in the best and most effectual manner. When we act on these principles, we act for the general good, even when it is not our immediate aim. The general good is an object too remote, to be the sole impulsive motive to action. It is better ordered, that in most instances individuals should have a limited aim, what they can readily accomplish. To every man is assigned his own task; and if every man do his duty, the general good will be promoted much more effectually, than if it were the aim in every single action.
The above-mentioned principles of action belong to man as such, and constitute what may be called the common nature of man. Many other principles exert themselves upon particular objects in the instinctive manner, without the intervention of any sort of reasoning or reflection; appetite for food, animal love, &c. Other particular appetites, passions, and affections, such as ambition, avarice, envy, &c. constitute the peculiar nature of some individuals; being distributed in different proportions. It belongs to the science of ethics, to treat of these particular principles of action.
Justice and Injustice
Justice is that moral virtue which guards the persons, the property, and the reputation of individuals, and gives authority to promises and covenants. And as it is made out above, that justice is one of those primary virtues which are enforced by the strongest natural laws, it would be unnecessary to say more upon the subject, were it not for a doctrine espoused by the author of a treatise upon human nature, that justice, so far from being one of the primary virtues, is not even a natural virtue, but established in society by a sort of tacit convention, founded upon a notion of public interest.3 The figure this author deservedly makes in the learned world, will not admit of his being passed over in silence. To people beside who live in society, it cannot but be agreeable to learn how solidly founded the principle of justice is, and how finely contrived to protect them from injury.
Our author’s doctrine, as far as concerns that branch of justice by which property is secured, comes to this: That, in a state of nature, there can be no such thing as property; and that the idea of property arises, after justice is established by convention, securing every one in their possessions. In opposition to this singular doctrine, there is no difficulty to make out, that property is founded on a natural sense independent altogether of agreement or convention; and that violation of property is attended with remorse, and a perception of breach of duty. In prosecuting this subject, it will appear how admirably the springs of human nature are adapted one to another, and to external circumstances.
The surface of this globe, which scarce yields spontaneously food for the wildest savages, is by labour and industry made so fruitful, as to supply man, not only with necessaries, but even with materials for luxury. Men originally made shift to support themselves, partly by prey, and partly by the natural fruits of the earth. In this state they in some measure resemble beasts of prey, who devour instantly what they seize, and whose care is at an end when the belly is full. But man was not designed by nature to be an animal of prey. A tenor of life where food is so precarious, requires a constitution that can bear long fasting and immoderate eating, as occasion offers. Man is of a different make. He requires regular and frequent supplies of food, which could not be obtained in his original occupations of fishing and hunting. He found it necessary therefore to abandon this manner of life, and to become shepherd. The wild creatures, such of them as are gentle and proper for food, were brought under subjection. Hence herds of cattle, sheep, goats, &c. ready at hand for sustenance. This contrivance was succeeded by another. A bit of land is divided from the common; it is cultivated with the spade or plough; grain is sown, and the product is stored for the use of a family. Reason and reflection prompted these improvements, which are essential to our well-being, and in a good measure necessary even for bare subsistence. But self-preservation, is of too great moment to be left entirely to the conduct of reason. To secure against neglect or indolence, man is provided with a principle that operates instinctively without reflection; and that is the hoarding appetite, common to him with several other animals. No author, I suppose, will be so bold as to deny this disposition to be natural and universal, considering how solicitous every man is for a competency, and how anxious the plurality are to swell that competency beyond bounds. The hoarding appetite, while moderate, is so natural and so common as not to be graced with a proper name. When it exceeds just bounds, it is known by the name of avarice.
The compass I have taken is wide, but the shortest road is not always the smoothest or most patent. I come now to the point, by putting a plain question, What sort of creature would man be, endued as he is with a hoarding appetite, but with no sense or notion of property? He hath a constant propensity to hoard for his own use; conscious at the same time that his stores are no less free to others than to himself;—racked thus perpetually betwixt the desire of appropriation, and consciousness of its being in vain. I say more: the hoarding appetite is an instinct obviously contrived for assisting reason, in moving us to provide against want. This instinct, like all others in the human soul, ought to be a cause adequate to the effect intended to be accomplished by it. But this it cannot be, independent of a sense of property. For what effectual provision can be made against want, when the stores of every individual are, without any check from conscience, left free to the depredations of the whole species? Here would be a palpable defect or inconsistency in the nature of man. If I could suppose this to be his case, I should believe him to be a creature made in haste, and left unfinished. I am certain there is no such inconsistency to be found in any other branch of human nature; nor indeed, as far as we can discover, in any other creature that is endued with the hoarding appetite. Every bee inhabits its own cell, and feeds on its own honey. Every crow has its own nest; and punishment is always applied, when a single stick happens to be pilfered. But we find no such inconsistency in man. The cattle tamed by an individual, and the field cultivated by him, were held universally to be his own from the beginning. A relation is formed betwixt every man and the fruits of his own labour, the very thing we call property, which he himself is sensible of, and of which every other is equally sensible. Yours and mine are terms in all languages, familiar among savages, and understood even by children. This is a fact, which every human creature can testify.
This reasoning might be illustrated by many apt analogies. I shall mention but one. Veracity, and a disposition to believe what is affirmed for truth, are corresponding principles, which make one entire branch of the human nature. Veracity would be of no use were men not disposed to believe; and, abstracting from veracity, a disposition to believe, would be a dangerous quality; for it would lay us open to fraud and deceit. There is precisely the same correspondence betwixt the hoarding appetite and the sense of property. The latter is useless without the former; witness animals of prey, who having no occasion for property, have no notion of it. The former again, without the latter, is altogether insufficient to produce the effect for which it is intended by nature.
Thus it is clear, that the sense of property owes not its existence to society. But in a matter of so great importance in the science of morals, I cannot rest satisfied with a successful defence. I aim at a complete victory, by insisting on a proposition directly opposite to that of my antagonist, namely, That society owes its existence to the sense of property; or at least, that without this sense no society ever could have been formed. In the proof of this proposition, we have already made a considerable progress, by evincing that man by his nature is a hoarding animal and loves to store for his own use. In order to the conclusion, we have but one farther step to make; which is, to consider what originally would have been the state of man, supposing him destitute of the sense of property. The answer is extremely obvious, That it would have been a state of universal war—of men preying upon each other—of robbing and pilfering the necessaries of life where ever found, without regard to industry, or the connection that is formed betwixt an individual and the fruits of his own labour. Courage and bodily strength would have stood in place of right, and nothing left for the weak, but to hide themselves and their goods. And to do Hobbes justice, who, as well as our author, denies the sense of property to be natural, he fairly owns this reasoning to be just, and boldly asserts that the state of nature is a state of war, all against all. In a word, destitute of the sense of property, men would naturally be enemies to each other, no less than they are to wolves and foxes at present. Now, if this must have been the original condition of man, let our author say, by what over-ruling power, by what miracle, individuals so disposed ever came to unite in society. We may pronounce with great assurance, that so signal a revolution in the state of man could never have been compassed by natural means. Nothing can be more evident than that relying upon the sense of property and of justice, a few individuals ventured at first to unite for mutual defence and mutual support; and finding the manifold comforts of such a state, that they afterward gradually united into larger and larger societies.vi
It must not be overlooked, that the sense of property is fortified by another principle. Every man has a peculiar affection for what he calls his own. He applies his skill and industry with great alacrity to improve his own subject: his affection to it grows with the time of his possession; and he puts a much greater value upon it, than upon any subject of the same kind that belongs to another.vii
But this is not all that is involved in the sense of property. We not only suffer pain in having our goods taken from us by force; for that would happen were they destroyed or lost by accident: we have the sense of wrong and injustice. The person who robs us has the same sense; and every mortal who beholds the action, considers it as vitious, and contrary to right.
Holding it not altogether sufficient to have overturned our author’s doctrine, we proceed to make some observations upon it, in order to show how ill the parts of it hang together.
And, in the first place, he appears to reason not altogether consistently in making out his system. He founds justice on a general sense of common interest.* And yet, at no greater distance than a few pages, he endeavours to make out,† and does it successfully, that public interest is a motive too remote and too sublime to affect the generality of mankind, and to operate with any force in actions so contrary to private interest, as are frequently those of justice and common honesty.4
In the second place, abstracting from the sense of property, it does not appear that a sense of common interest would necessarily lead to such a regulation, as that every man should have the undisturbed enjoyment of what he hath acquired by his industry or good fortune. Supposing no sense of property, I do not see it inconsistent with society to have a Lacedemonian constitution, that every man may lawfully take what by address he can make himself master of, without force or violence.5 The depriving us of that to which we have no right, would be doing little more than drinking in our brook, or breathing in our air. At any rate, a regulation so refined would never be considered of such importance as to be established at the very commencement of society. It must come late, if at all, and be the effect of long experience and great refinement in the art of living. It is very true, that, abstaining from the goods of others, is a regulation, without which society cannot subsist. But the necessity of this regulation ariseth from the sense of property, without which a man would suffer little pain in losing his goods, and would have no notion of wrong or injustice. There appears not any way to evade the force of this reasoning, but to deny the reality of the sense of property. Others may, but our author cannot with a good grace. An appeal may be safely made to his own authority. For what else but that sense has suggested to him the necessity in the institution of every society, to secure individuals in their possessions? He cannot but be sensible, that, abstracting from the affection for property, the necessity would be just nothing at all. But our perceptions operate calmly and silently; and there is nothing more common, than to strain for far-fetched arguments in support of conclusions which are suggested by the simplest and most obvious perceptions.
A third observation is, that since our author resolves all virtue into sympathy, why should he with-hold the same principle from being the foundation of justice? Why should not sympathy give us a painful sensation, in depriving our neighbour of the goods he has acquired by industry, as well as in depriving him of his life or limb? For it is a fact too evident to be denied, that many men are more uneasy at the loss of their goods, than at the loss of a member.
And, in the last place, were justice founded on a general sense of common interest only, it would be the weakest sense in human nature; especially where in justice is committed against a stranger, with whom we are not in any manner connected. Now, this is contrary to all experience. The sense of injustice is one of the strongest that belongs to humanity, and is also of a peculiar nature. It involves a sense of duty transgressed, and of punishment merited for the transgression. Had our author but once reflected upon these peculiarities, he never could have been satisfied with the slight foundation he gives to justice; for these peculiarities are altogether unaccountable upon his system.
I shall close this reasoning with a reflection upon the whole. The subject debated is a strong instance how dangerous it is to erect schemes and assert propositions, without regard to facts and experiments—no less dangerous in morals than in natural philosophy. Had our author examined human nature, and patiently submitted to the making a complete collection of facts, before venturing upon general propositions; I am positive he would have been as far as any man from maintaining that justice is an artificial virtue, or that property is the child of society. Discovering this edifice of his to be a mere castle in the air, without the slightest foundation, he would have abandoned it without any reluctance.
If a man’s property be guarded by justice against the violence of others, still more his person and reputation.
That branch of justice which regards promises and covenants, hath also a solid foundation in human nature; notwithstanding what is laid down by our author in two distinct propositions,* “That a promise would not be intelligible, before human conventions had established it; and, That, even if it were intelligible, it would not be attended with any moral obligation.”6 As man is framed for society, mutual trust and confidence, without which there can be no useful society, enter into the character of the human species. Corresponding to these, are the principles of veracity and fidelity. Veracity and fidelity would be of no significancy, were men not disposed to have faith, and to rely upon what is said to them, whether in the way of evidence or engagement. Faith and trust, on the other hand, would be very hurtful principles, were mankind void of veracity and fidelity. For upon that supposition, the world, as observed above, would be over-run with fraud and deceit. If that branch of justice which restrains us from harming each other, be essential to the very existance of society, fidelity and veracity are not less essential to its well-being: for from them spring mostly the advantages that are peculiar to the social life. It is justly observed by our author, that man in a solitary state is the most helpless of beings; and that by society only he is enabled to supply his defects, and to acquire a superiority over his fellow-creatures; that, by conjunction of forces, our power is augmented; by partition of employments, we work to better purpose; and, by mutual succour, we acquire security. But, without mutual fidelity and trust, we could enjoy none of these advantages; without them, we could not have any comfortable intercourse with each other. Hence it is, that treachery is the vilest of crimes, held in utter abhorrence. It is worse than murder, because it forms a character, and is directed against all mankind; whereas murder is but a transitory act, directed against a single person. Infidelity is of the same species with treachery. The essence of both crimes is the same, to wit, breach of trust. Treachery has only this aggravating circumstance, that it turns the confidence reposed in me against the friend who trusts me. Now, breach of promise is a species of infidelity; and therefore our author has but a single choice: he must maintain either that treachery is no crime, or that breach of promise is a crime. And, in fact, that it is so, every man can bear evidence from his own feelings. The performance of a deliberate promise has, in all ages, been considered as a duty. We have that sense of a promise, as what we are strictly bound to perform; and the breach of promise is attended with the same natural stings which attend other crimes, namely remorse, and a sense of merited punishment.
Our author’s notion of a promise is extremely imperfect, as he takes under consideration the person only who makes the promise.* In this act two persons are concerned; the person who makes the promise, and the person to whom the promise is made. Were there by nature no trust nor reliance upon promises, breach of promise would be a matter of indifferency. The reliance upon us, produced by our own act, constitutes the obligation. We feel ourselves bound to perform; we consider it as our duty. And when we violate our engagement, we have a sense of moral turpitude in disappointing the person who relied upon our faith.
We shall close this subject concerning the foundation of justice, with a general reflection. Running over every branch of our duty, what concerns ourselves as well as our neighbours, we find, that nature has been more provident than to trust us entirely to the guidance of cool reason. If man be a social being, and justice essential to society, it is not agreeable to the analogy of nature, that we should be left to investigate this branch of our duty by a chain of reasoning; especially where the reasoning, according to our author, turns upon so remote an object as public good. May we not apply to justice, what is so beautifully reasoned concerning society, in a dialogue upon happiness,* “If society be thus agreeable to our nature, is there nothing within us to excite and lead us to it? no impulse; no preparation of faculties? It would be strange if there should not.” If we be fitted by our nature for society; if pity, benevolence, friendship, love, dislike of solitude and desire of company, be natural affections, all of them conducive to society, it would be strange if there should be no natural affection, no preparation of faculties, to direct us to do justice, which is so essential to society. But nature has not failed us here, more than in the other parts of our constitution. We have a sense of property; we have a sense of obligation to perform our engagements; and we have a sense of wrong in incroaching upon property, and in being untrue to our engagements. Society could not subsist without these affections, more than it could subsist without the social affections, properly so called. We have reason, a priori, to conclude equally in favour of both; and we find upon examination that our conclusion is just.
Primary Laws of Nature
We are now arrived at what is chiefly the purpose of the present essay; and that is, to give a slight sketch, or cursory view, of the primary laws of nature, deduced from human nature, their true source. This task I undertake as a specimen merely of that sort of reasoning which belongs to the subject; for a complete treatise is far beyond my reach. Action ought to be the object of all our inquiries; without which, moral as well as met a physical reasonings are but empty speculation. And as life and manners are more peculiarly the object of the moral science, the weight and importance of the subject, one would imagine, should have brought authors to one way of thinking. But it is lamentable to find the world divided about these primary laws, almost as much as they commonly are about the most airy and abstract points. Some authors acknowledge no principle in man, and consequently no duty, but what is altogether selfish; and it is curious to observe how they wrest and torture every social principle to give it the appearance of selfishness. Others exalt human nature much above its just standard, give no quarter to selfishness, but consider man as bound to direct every action to the good of the whole, and not to prefer his own interest to that of others. The celebrated Lord Shaftesbury goes so far, as not to admit of any thing like partial benevolence; holding, that if it be not entire and directed to the whole species, it is not benevolence at all.7 It is not difficult to assign a cause for such difference in opinion; though it may appear strange, that authors should differ so widely about the nature of man, which every man ought to be acquainted with. There is nothing more common in philosophy, as well as in action, than to build castles in the air. Impatient of the slow and cold method of induction, every writer takes the liberty of framing systems according to his own taste and fancy. Fond of the fabric which he hath erected, it is far from his thoughts to try whether it will stand the test of stubborn facts. Men of narrow minds and contracted principles, naturally fall in with the selfish system. The system of universal benevolence attracts the generous and warm-hearted. In the midst of various and opposite opinions, the purpose of this essay is, by the patient method of induction, to search for truth; and, after what is above laid down, it will not be difficult to find it.
Let us only recapitulate, that the principles of action impel to action, and that the moral sense is given as an instructor to regulate our actions, to enforce one principle, to restrain another, and to prefer one to another when they are in opposition. Hence the laws of nature may be defined to be, Rules of our conduct founded on natural principles approved by the moral sense, and enforced by natural rewards and punishments.
In searching for these laws, it must be obvious from what is above said, that, by the moral sense, a difference is clearly established among our principles of action. Some are enforced by the consciousness of duty; some are left in a measure upon our own will. With respect to the former, we have no liberty, but ought to proceed to action; with respect to the latter, we may freely indulge every natural impulse, where the action is not disapproved by the moral sense. From this short sketch may be readily deduced all the laws of nature which govern human actions; though, in the present essay, the duty which a man owes to himself, where others are not concerned, is not comprehended.
Among the principles of action that compel us to do our duty, the principle of justice takes the lead. It consists of two branches, one to abstain from harming others, and one to perform our positive engagements. With respect to both, we have no liberty; but are bound to perform every act of justice as our indispensible duty. Veracity, fidelity, and gratitude, are principles of action which come under the same class. And with respect to the whole, it ought not to be overlooked, that the internal constitution of man is adjusted with admirable wisdom to his external circumstances as a social being. Were we allowed to prey upon one another like savage animals, there could be no society; and were there nothing in our nature that could bind us to instruct, to comfort, to benefit each other, society would be deprived of all its advantages, and man, in the midst of society, would be a solitary being. Benevolence is another principle of action, which, in many circumstances, by means of peculiar connections, becomes also an indispensible duty. Witness the connection of parent and child. We are obliged to provide for our children; it is strict duty, and the neglect of it causes remorse. In the case of other blood-relations, an only brother for example who depends entirely on us, we feel the same obligation, though in a weaker degree; and thus, through other connections, it diminisheth by successive gradations, till at last the sense of duty is lost in simple approbation, without any obligatory feeling. This is universally the course that nature holds. Her transitions are soft and gentle: she makes things approximate so nicely one to another, as to leave no gap or chasm. One other instance of a connection that produceth a sense of obligation, shall suffice. In the general case of procuring positive good to others or advancing happiness, without any connection save merely that of humanity, it is self-approbation and not strict obligation that is felt. But let us put the case of a person in distress. By this single circumstance, though it forms no intimate connection, the moral sense is influenced, and now it becomes a positive duty to exert our benevolence, by affording relief. The neglect of this duty is attended with remorse and self-condemnation; though not so pungent as where we betray our trust, or are the authors of positive mischief to others. Thus charity is by all men considered as a duty to which we are strictly bound.viii
With respect to principles of action that are not enforced by consciousness of duty, these we may restrain at pleasure, but may not always indulge at pleasure. For in various circumstances, the moral sense interposes, and forbids the gratification. Self-preservation is the strongest of all our principles of action, and the means are infinite which may be put in motion for that end. Yet here the moral sense frequently interposes, and gives no indulgence to the transgression of any positive duty, even for the preservation of life. Self-preservation, however it may alleviate, will not justify any wrong done to an innocent person: it will not justify treachery, nor infidelity. For once admitting it lawful to deprive a man of a hand or a foot in order to save my life; why not kill another to save my life? Both must be lawful or neither. The doctrine thus laid down in general, may be liable to misconstruction; and therefore it must be further explained. Self-preservation, it is certain, will not justify an immoral action. But then, in the circumstances of imminent danger, several actions become lawful, which are unlawful in ordinary circumstances. For example, to prevent dying of hunger, a man may take food at short-hand without consulting the proprietor. Seizing upon what belongs to another, is in ordinary circumstances an unlawful act: but in a case that can bear no delay, the act is lawful, because the approbation of the proprietor will be presumed. At any rate, it is his duty to relieve the distressed; and what he ought to give, may justly be forced from him when the delay of applying to a judge would be fatal. Another example, is the case of two men in a shipwreck, laying hold at the same instant of a plank which cannot support both. In this case it becomes lawful to struggle for the sole possession, though one must perish in the struggle: for each has an equal title to act for self-preservation; and if both cannot be preserved, mere force is the only method by which the controversy can be determined. If the moral sense have such authority over the principle of self-preservation, its authority must, if possible, be still more complete over the inferior principles that belong to the same class.
These are the outlines of the laws which govern our actions, comprehending what we may do, what we ought to do, and what we ought not to do. The two latter, as matter of duty, are the proper objects of law, natural and municipal. And no more seems requisite but to point out our duty, by informing us of what we ought to do, and what we ought not to do; seeing actions that come not under the character of duty, may be safely left to our own will. With regard then to what may be called our duty, the first and primary law is the law of restraint, by which we are prohibited to hurt others in their persons, goods, or whatever else is dear to them. This is a law which dictates to us what ought not to be done; and so sacred it is, as to yield to none of our principles of action, not even that of self-preservation. The second, which is a law dictating what we ought to do, binds us to the performance of our promises and covenants. Veracity occupies the next place. This law excludes not fable, nor any liberty of speech which tends to amusement. It excludes deceit only, and obliges us to adhere to truth where truth is expected from us. Fidelity is a fourth law, not less vigorous, though more confined, than veracity; for, as observed above, fidelity presupposes a peculiar connection betwixt two persons, to found a reliance on the one side, and on the other an obligation to fulfil what is justly expected. Gratitude comes next, limited, like fidelity, to particular objects, but more arbitrary as to what it requires of us. Gratitude, without doubt, is strictly our duty; but the measure of performance, and the kind, are left pretty much to our own choice. Benevolence occupies the last place; which, considered abstractly, is not a positive duty. But there are many connections of different sorts that make it a duty. I shall slightly mention a few. The connection of parent and child is one of the strongest, for it makes mutual benevolence an indispensible duty. Benevolence among other blood-relations becomes also a duty in particular circumstances, though here we seldom feel ourselves so firmly bound as in the former connection. Many are the connections, some intimate, some more slight, which come under the law of equity, and which bind us to the performance of certain acts of benevolence. I shall add but one connection more, namely, that which subsists betwixt us and a person in distress. Benevolence in that case becomes the duty of every one who can afford relief.
These several laws are admirably adjusted to our nature and circumstances, and tend in the most perfect manner to promote the ends of society. In the first place, as man is limited in power and capacity, the foregoing laws are accommodated to his nature, ordering and forbidding nothing but what falls within his power. In the second place, peace and security in society are amply provided for, by tying up the hands, as it were, of every person from harming others. In the third place, man is prompted in an admirable manner to be useful to others. It is his positive duty, to relieve the distressed and to perform his engagements. Boundless are the good offices that are enforced by veracity, fidelity, and gratitude. We are incited to do all the good we can, by the pleasure of being useful, and by grateful returns from the persons obliged. And, lastly, in competition betwixt a man himself and others, though his principles of action directed to himself, may be stronger than those directed to others; the superior rewards bestowed by the constitution of our nature upon the latter, may be deemed a sufficient counterbalance to give an ascendant to the social affections, even such of them as are left to our own will.
It may seem strange, that the municipal law of all countries is so little regardful of the laws of nature, as to adopt but a very few of them. There never was a general law in any country, to punish ingratitude, if it was not among the ancient Persians.8 There is no positive law to enforce compassion, and to relieve those in distress, if the maintenance of the poor be excepted; which, in some countries, is provided for by law. No notice is taken of breach of friendship, by statute; nor of the duty we owe our children, further than of supporting them while they are under age. But municipal laws, being of human invention, are of no great extent. They cannot reach the heart nor its intentions, further than as expressed by outward acts. And these are to be judged of cautiously, and with reserve; because they form a language, dark, and at best full of ambiguities. At the same time, the object of human laws is man, considered singly in the quality of a citizen. When society is formed, and government submitted to, every private right inconsistent with society and government is surrendered. But, in every other respect, individuals reserve their independency and their private rights. Whether a man be virtuous, is not the concern of the society, at least not of its laws; but only whether he transgress the regulations that are necessary to the preservation of society. In this view, great attention is given by legislators to enforce the natural law of restraint. The like attention is given to enforce the natural obligation of engagements, and of fidelity, at least as far as relates to commerce; for infidelity in love and friendship are left to the natural law. Ingratitude is not punished by human laws, because it may be guarded against by positive engagements; nor hard-heartedness with regard to objects of distress, because society may subsist without such a law, and mankind are scarce yet arrived at such refinement in manners, as to have an abhorrence of this crime sufficient to make it an object of human punishment.
There is another substantial reason that confines municipal laws within a much narrower compass than the laws of nature. It is essential to municipal laws, that they be clear, plain, and readily applicable to particular cases; without which judges would be arbitrary, and law made a handle for oppression. For this reason, none of our actions can be the object of positive law, but what are reducible to a precise rule. Ingratitude therefore cannot be the object of municipal laws, because the quality of the crime depends upon a multiplicity of circumstances, which can never be reduced to a precise rule. Duty to our children, friends, and relations, is mostly in the same case. The duty of relieving the distressed, depends upon many circumstances; the nature of the distress, the connection betwixt the parties, the opportunity and ability of affording relief. The abstinence from mutual harm, and the performance of promises, are capable to be brought under a precise rule, and consequently to be objects of municipal law. The chief attention of the legislature in all countries, was at first to explain and enforce the natural law of restraint, without which society cannot have a being. Municipal law was afterward extended to support promises and covenants and to enforce performance, without which society may exist, but cannot flourish. Gradual improvements in the arts of life, have in later times extended municipal law still farther. The duty of benevolence arising from certain peculiar connections among individuals, is susceptible in many cases of a precise rule. So far benevolence is also taken under the authority of the legislature, and enforced by rules passing commonly under the name of the law of equity.
Law of Nations
If we can trust history, the original inhabitants of this earth were a brutish and savage race. And we have little reason to doubt of the fact, when, even at this day, we find in distant corners the same sort of people. The state of nature is accordingly represented by most writers, as a state of war; nothing but rapine and bloodshed. From this picture of the first men, one would be apt to conclude, that man is a wild and rapacious animal, little better than a beast of prey, till he be moulded by society into a rational creature. If this conclusion be just, we cannot help being in some pain for the principles above laid down. Brutish manners imply brutish principles of action; and, from this view of the original state of mankind, it might seem that moral virtues are not natural, but acquired by means of education and example in a well-regulated society; in a word, that the whole moral part of the human system is artificial, as justice is represented by a late writer.
But to be satisfied of the error of this conclusion, we need only look back to what has already been said upon the moral sense. If the perception of beauty and deformity in external existences be natural to man, the perception of beauty and deformity, and of a right and wrong, in actions, is equally so. The influence of education may be great upon a docile mind; but it would be miraculously great, could it create but any one sense. That miracle is reserved for our Maker. Education may well cherish and improve the plants of nature’s formation; but cannot introduce any new or original plant. We must therefore attribute the foregoing appearances to some other cause than want of a moral sense; and these appearances may easily be explained, from peculiar circumstances, that over balance them oral sense, and produce in appearance the same effects which would result from a total absence of that sense. Let us point out these circumstances; for the subject is worthy of our strictest attention. In the first place, we must look back to the original state of man, destitute entirely of those arts which produce the conveniencies of life. In this state, man, a most indigent creature, would be incited by self-preservation to supply his wants the best way he could, without much obstruction from the moral sense. Debates and differences would multiply to be determined by the strong-hand; there being no established rules of conduct to appeal to, nor judges to apply rules to particular cases. In this state, barbarity, roughness, and cruelty, formed the character of the human species. For, in the practice and habit of war, the malevolent principles gain strength and vigour, as the benevolent principles do by the arts of peace. And to this consideration may be added, that man is by nature shy and timorous; and consequently cruel to those he masters. The security obtained in a regular society, puts an end in a great measure to our fears. Man becomes a magnanimous and generous being, not easily daunted, and therefore not easily provoked to acts of cruelty.
It may be observed in the next place, that the rude and illiterate are governed by their appetites and passions, more than by general principles. We have our first impressions from external objects. It is by education and practice that we acquire a facility in forming complex ideas and abstract propositions. The ideas of a common interest, of a country, of a people, of a society under government, of public good, are complex, and not soon acquired even by the thinking part of mankind. They are scarce ever acquired by rustics; and consequently can scarce make any impression on them. One’s own interest, considered in general, is too complex an object for the bulk of mankind; and therefore it is, that appetites and passions, aiming at particular objects, are stronger motives to action with the ignorant and unthinking, than the principle of self-love, or even of self-preservation, when it is not excited by some object that threatens danger. And the same must hold more strongly with regard to the affections of benevolence, charity, and such like, when there is no particular object in view, but only, in general, the good of others.
Man is a complex machine, composed of various principles of motion, which may be conceived as so many springs or weights, counteracting or balancing one another. When these are accurately adjusted, the movement of life is beautiful, because regular and uniform. But if some springs or weights be withdrawn, those which remain, acting now without opposition from their antagonists, will disorder the balance, and derange the whole machine. Remove those principles of action, which, being directed to general and complex objects, are conducted by reflection; the force of the appetites and passions, which act by blind impulse, will of course be doubled. This is precisely the condition of those, who, abandoning the authority of reason, surrender themselves to every appetite. They are tyrannized by passion, and have no consistent rule of conduct. It is no cause of wonder, that the moral sense should not have sufficient authority to command obedience in such a case. This is the character of savages. We have no reason then to conclude from the foregoing picture, that even the greatest savages are destitute of the moral sense. Their defect rather lies in the weakness of their general principles of action, which are directed to objects too complex for savages readily to comprehend. This defect is remedied by education and reflection; and then it is, that the moral sense, in concert with these general principles, acquires its full authority, which is openly recognised, and chearfully submitted to.
The contemplation is beautiful, when we compare our gradual improvement in knowledge and in morality. Beginning with surveying particular objects, we lay in a stock of simple ideas. Our affections keep pace, being all directed to particular objects; and during this period, we are governed chiefly by out passions and appetites. As soon as we begin to form complex and general ideas, these also become the objects of our affections. Then it is, that love to our country begins to unfold itself, benevolence to our neighbours and acquaintance, affection for our relations. We acquire by degrees the taste of public good, and of being useful in life. The pleasures of society are more and more relished, selfish passions are tamed and subdued, and social affections gain the ascendant. We refine upon the pleasures of society, because our happiness consists chiefly in social intercourse. We learn to submit our opinions: we affect to give preference to others, and readily accommodate ourselves to whatever may render society more complete. The malevolent passions above all, are brought under the strictest discipline, if not totally eradicated. Instead of unbounded revenge for the smallest injury, we acquire a degree of self-denial to overlook trifling wrongs, and in greater wrongs to be satisfied with moderate reparation.
The moral sense also, though rooted in the nature of man, admits of great refinements by culture and education. It improves gradually, like our other powers and faculties, till it comes to be productive of the strongest as well as the most delicate feelings. I will endeavour to explain in what manner this happens. Every one must be sensible of the great advantages of education and imitation. The most polished nations differ only from savages in refinement of taste, which is a source of pleasure and pain, more exquisite than savages are susceptible of. Hence it is, that many actions which make little impression upon savages, appear to us elegant and beautiful; as, on the other hand, actions which give them no pain, raise in us aversion and disgust. This may be illustrated by a comparison betwixt the English and French dramatic performances. The English, a rough and hardy people, take delight in representations, which more refined manners render insupportable to the French. The distresses, on the other hand, represented on the French theatre, are too slight for an English audience: their passions are not raised; they feel no concern. In general, horror, which denotes the highest degree of pain and aversion that can be raised by a harsh action, is an emotion seldom felt among fierce and savage nations where humanity is little regarded. But when the tender affections are improved by society, horror is more easily raised, and objects which move horror, become more frequent.
The moral sense not only accompanies our other senses in their gradual refinement, but receives additional strength upon every occasion from these other senses. For example, a savage inured to acts of cruelty, feels little pain or aversion in putting an enemy to death in cold blood; and consequently, will have no remorse at such an action, other than what proceeds from the moral sense acting by its native strength. But let us suppose a person of so delicate feelings, as scarce to endure a common operation of phlebotomy, and who cannot behold without some degree of horror the amputation of a fractured member; such a person will be shocked to the highest degree, if he see an enemy put to death in cold blood. The grating emotion thus raised in him, must communicate itself to the feelings of the moral sense, and render them more acute. And thus, refinement in taste and manners, operating by communication upon the moral sense, occasions a stronger perception of immorality in every vitious action, than what would arise before such refinement. Upon the whole, the operations of the moral sense in a savage, bear no proportion to its operations in a person possessed of all the advantages of which human nature is susceptible by refined education.
I never was satisfied with the description given of the law of nations, commonly so called, That it is a law established among nations by common consent, for regulating their conduct with regard to each other. This foundation of the law of nations I take to be chimerical. For upon what occasion was this covenant made, and by whom? If it be said, that the sense of common good gradually brought this law into force; I answer, that the sense of common good is too complex and too remote an object to be a solid foundation for any positive law, if it have no other foundation. But there is no necessity to recur to so slender a foundation. What is just now observed, will lead us to a more rational account of these laws. They are no other but gradual refinements of the original law of nature, accommodating itself to the improved state of mankind. The law of nature, which is the law of our nature, cannot be stationary: it must vary with the nature of man, and consequently refine gradually as human nature refines. Putting an enemy to death in cold blood, raises at present distaste and horror, and therefore is immoral; though it was not always so in the same degree. It is considered as barbarous and inhuman to fight with poisoned weapons; and therefore is more remarkably disapproved by the moral sense than it was originally. Influenced by general objects, we have enmity against France, our natural enemy. But this enmity is not directed against individuals; conscious, as we are, that it is the duty of subjects to serve their king and country. Therefore we treat the prisoners of war with humanity. And now it is creeping in among civilized nations, that in war a cartel should be established for exchange of prisoners. The function of an ambassador has ever been held sacred. To treat him ill was originally immoral; because it is treating as an enemy the man who comes to us with friendly intentions. But the improved manners of later times have refined upon the privileges of an ambassador, and extended them far beyond what they were originally. It is true, that these refinements of the law of nature gain strength and firmness from constant exercise. Hereby they acquire the additional support of common consent. And as every nation trusts that these laws will be observed, it is upon that account a breach of faith to transgress them. But this is not peculiar to these institutions which pass under the name of the law of nations. There is the same adventitious foundation for all the laws of nature, which every man trusts will be observed, and upon that faith directs his conduct.
Various Opinions concerning the Foundation of Morality
As truth cannot be confirmed more successfully than by setting it in opposition to error, a view of erroneous opinions concerning the foundation of morality must be acceptable to every reader who is anxious about truth.
That morality depends entirely on the will of God, and that his will creates the only obligation we lie under to be virtuous, is the opinion of several writers. This opinion in one sense, is true; but far from being true in their sense who inculcate it. And, true or false, it does not advance us a single step in the knowledge of our duty. For what does it avail to know that morality depends upon the will of God, till we once know what his will is? If it be said, there is an original revelation of it to us in our nature; this can only mean, that our nature itself makes us perceive the distinction betwixt virtue and vice, which is the very doctrine above laid down. But, say they, God, from the purity and rectitude of his nature, cannot but approve good actions, and disapprove such as are other ways. They do not advert, that this argument supposes a distinction betwixt virtue and vice, antecedent to the will of God. For if, abstracting from his will, virtue and vice were indifferent, which is supposed in the proposition, we have no data from the purity of God’s nature, or from any other principle, to conclude, that virtue is more the object of his choice than vice. But further, the very supposition of the purity and rectitude of the nature of the divine Being, presupposes a sense or knowledge in us of an essential difference betwixt virtue and vice. Therefore it can never be said, in any proper sense, that our only obligation to virtue is the will of God; seeing that an obligation to virtue is wrought into the very frame of our nature.
In one sense indeed it is true, that morality depends upon the will of God, as he made us with a moral sense to distinguish virtue from vice. But this is saying no more, but that it is God’s will, or that it is agreeable to him, we should be virtuous. It is another thing to maintain, that man is indifferent to virtue and vice, and that he is under no obligation to the one more than to the other, unless as far as he is determined by the arbitrary will of a superior or sovereign. That a being may be so framed as to answer this description, may be yielded. But, taking man as he is, endued with a moral sense, it is a direct contradiction to hold, that he is under no obligation to virtue, other than the mere will of God. In this sense, morality no more depends upon the will of God, than upon our own will.
We shall next take a view of a doctrine which may be set in opposition to the foregoing; and that is Dr. Clarke’s demonstration of the unalterable obligation of moral duty. His proposition is,
That, from the eternal and necessary differences of things, there naturally and necessarily arise certain moral obligations, which are of themselves incumbent on all rational creatures, antecedent to all positive institution, and to all expectation of reward or punishment.
And this proposition he demonstrates in the following manner.
That there is a fitness of certain circumstances to certain persons, and an unfitness of others, antecedent to positive laws; and that, from the different relations of different things, there arises a fitness and unfitness of certain behaviour of some persons. For instance, God is superior to man, and therefore it is fit that man should worship him.9
If this demonstration, as it is called, be the only or chief foundation of morals, unlucky it is, that a doctrine of such importance should have so long been hid from mankind. And now that the important discovery is made, it is not however likely to do great service; considering how little the bulk of mankind are able to enter into abstruse reasoning, and how little influence such reasoning generally has when apprehended.
But abstruseness is not the only imperfection of this celebrated argument. It appears to me entirely inconclusive. Laying aside the moral sense, upon which the Doctor founds no part of his demonstration, I should be utterly at a loss, from any given relation betwixt persons, to draw a conclusion of the fitness or unfitness of a certain course of behaviour. “God is our superior, and therefore it is fit we should worship him.” I put the question, Upon what principle of reason does this conclusion rest? where is the connecting proposition by means of which the inference is drawn? It is clear to me, that the terms fitness and unfitness, in their present signification, depend entirely upon the moral sense. Fitness and unfitness with regard to a certain end or purpose, are qualities of actions which may be gathered from experience. But fitness or unfitness of actions, as importing right or wrong, as denoting what we ought to do, or abstain from, have truly no meaning, unless upon supposition of a moral sense, which this learned divine never once dreams of founding upon. The Doctor’s error is a common one, that he endeavours to substitute reason in place of sentiment. The fitness of worshipping our Creator was obvious to him, as it is to every person, because it is founded on our very nature. It is equally obvious with the preference of honesty to dishonesty. His only mistake is, that, over-looking the law written in his own heart, he vainly imagines that his metaphysical argument is just, because the consequence he draws from it happens to be true. And to satisfy even his most devoted disciples that this is the case, let us only suppose, that man by nature had no approbatory or disapprobatory sense of actions; it could never be evinced by any abstract argument, that the worship of the Deity is his duty, or, in the moral sense of fitness, that it is more fit for him to be honest than to be dishonest.
We will take the liberty to add, because it is of importance to the subject in general, that, supposing our duty could be made plain to us by an abstract chain of reasoning, yet we have good ground to conclude, that the Author of nature has not left our actions to be directed by so weak a principle as reason: and a weak principle it must be to the bulk of mankind, who have little capacity to enter into abstract reasoning; whatever effect it may have upon the learned and contemplative. Nature has dealt more kindly by us. We are compelled by cogent principles, to perform all the different duties of life. Self-preservation is not left to the conduct of reason, but is guarded by the strongest instinct, which makes us carefully, or rather mechanically, avoid every appearance of danger. The propagation of the species is enforced by the most importunate of all appetites; and the care of our offspring, by a lively and constant affection. Is nature so deficient, as to leave the duty we owe our neighbour, which stands in the first rank of duties, to be directed by cool reasoning? This is not according to the analogy of nature: nor is it fact; witness compassion, friendship, benevolence, and all the tribe of the social affections. Neither is common justice left upon this footing, the most useful, though not the most exalted virtue. We are compelled to it by a principle common to all men; and every transgression of it is attended with a sense of disapprobation, and of merited punishment.
A late author,* whom I shall just mention by the way, gives a whimsical system of morals. He endeavours to reduce all crimes to that of telling a lie; and, because telling a lie is immoral, he concludes, that the several crimes he mentions are immoral.10 Robbery, for example, is acting or telling a lie; because it is in effect saying, that the goods I seize are mine. Adultery is acting or telling a lie, because it is in effect maintaining, that my neighbour’s wife is not his, but mine. But not to insist upon the absurdity of giving all crimes the same character and confounding their nature, it is evident, that in this argument the very thing is taken for granted that is undertaken to be proved. For why is it a virtual lie to rob one of his goods? Is it not by imposing upon mankind, who must presume those goods to be mine which I take as my own? But does not this evidently presuppose a difference betwixt meum and tuum, and that I ought not to make free with another’s property without his consent? For what other reason are the goods presumed to be mine, but that it is unlawful to meddle with what belongs to another? The same observation is applicable to all his other transmutations; for, in acting or telling the lie, it is constantly taken for granted, that the action is wrong in itself. And this very wrong is the circumstance which, by the author’s supposition, imposes upon the spectators. The error therefore of this author is of the same nature with Dr. Clarke’s. It is an evident begging of the question: the very thing is taken for granted which is undertaken to be proved. With regard to the present subject, we shall only further observe, that when this curious author draws so strong consequences from telling a lie, it was incumbent upon him to set in the clearest light the immorality of that action. But this he does not so much as attempt, leaving it upon the conviction of one’s own mind. This indeed he might safely do; but not more safely than to leave upon the same conviction all the other crimes he treats of.ix
A system that resolves every moral sensation of sentiment into sympathy, shall next be introduced. Listen to the author himself.
As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of it but by imagining what we ourselves would feel in the like situation. Our senses will never inform us of what a man suffers on the rack. They cannot carry us beyond our own persons; and it is by the imagination only that we can form any perception of what he suffers. Neither can that faculty help us to this, any other way than by representing to us what would be our own sufferings if we were in his place. His agonies when thus brought home to ourselves, begin at last to affect us; and we then tremble and shudder at the thought of what he feels.*
The foundation here assigned for the various sentiments of morality, ought to have been very strictly examined before venturing to erect so weighty a superstructure upon it. Is it certain that this play of imagination will necessarily raise the passion of sympathy? The celebrated Rousseau affirms the contrary. “Pity is sweet, says he, because in putting ourselves in place of the person who suffers, we feel the pleasure of not suffering as he does.”† And considering that the rack is a punishment reserved for atrocious criminals, I should be inclined to think with Rousseau, that the sight of an odious wretch on the rack, instead of sympathizing in his pain, would make one feel pleasure in not suffering as he does; precisely as a ship in a storm makes the spectators at land rejoice in their own security.
But however that may be, my respect to the author of this system as a man of genius and learning, cannot make me blind to a difficulty that appears unsurmountable. If the torments of a man on the rack be not obvious to my sight from his violent perturbation, nor to my hearing from dismal screams and groans, what can I learn from imagining myself to be in his place? He may be happy for ought I know. To give that act of imagination any effect, I ought before hand to know that the person on the rack is suffering violently. Then indeed, the bringing his case home to myself, would naturally inflame my sympathy. I have another argument against this system, which, being more simple and popular, will probably be more relished. That a man should conceive himself to be another, is no slight effort of imagination; and to make sympathy depend on that effort, confines it to persons who have given much exercise to a ductile imagination. Dull people and illiterate rustics are intirely excluded; and yet, among such there appears no defect of sympathy to associates and blood-relations. Nay, we find sympathy eminent even in children; and yet, it would be a hard task to make a child imagine itself to be what it is not. This shows clearly, that sympathy must proceed from some natural principle inherent in all human beings, the young as well as the old.
This principle will appear from the following facts, which every thinking person knows to be true. First, every passion stamps on the countenance certain signs appropriated to it by nature. Next, being taught by nature to connect every external sign with the passion that caused it; we can read in every man’s countenance his internal emotions. Third, certain emotions, thus made known, raise in beholders the passion of sympathy.* With respect to the last, nothing is more natural than that a social being should be affected with the passions of its fellows. Joy is infectious: so is grief. Fear communicates itself to the beholders; and in an army, the fright of a few spreads the infection till it becomes an universal panic. These facts are clear and certain; and applying them to the subject before us, is it not evident, that the distress we read in a person’s countenance, directly moves our sympathy, without needing any aid from imagination? I appeal to any man who has seen a person on the rack, whether his sympathy was not raised by sight merely, without any effort of imagination. Thus, in the sympathetic system under examination, an intricate circuit is made in order to account for a passion that is raised by a single glance. The system indeed is innocent; but did it hold in fact, its consequences would not be so. Sympathy is but one of many principles that constitute us moral beings; and yet is held furth as the foundation of every moral sentiment. Had not morality a more solid foundation in our nature, it would give very little obstruction to vicious desires or unjust actions. It is observed above, that, according to this system, sympathy would be rare among the lower ranks. And I now add, that if moral sentiments had no foundation but the imagining myself to be another, the far greater part of mankind would be destitute of any moral sentiment.
So much for the sake of truth: in every other view controversy is my aversion. One observation more, and I conclude. This system is far from comprehending all our moral sentiments. It may pretend to account for my sentiments regarding others; but my sentiments regarding myself are entirely left out. My distress upon losing an only son, or my gratitude for a kindly office, are sentiments that neither need to be explained by imagining myself to be another person, nor do they admit of such explanation.
The selfish system shall be more strictly examined. The sympathetic system is a harmless conceit; but a system that resolves all morality into self-love, cannot but be dangerous among luxurious nations whose bent to selfish pleasures is already too strong.
Man is a being composed of many parts, external and internal. He has passions that move him; some to advance his own interest, some to advance the interest of others; a few that prompt him to harm himself, many that prompt him to harm others. A variety of connections with persons and things, require these different springs of action. Yet there are writers more ambitious of singularity than of truth, who hold that self-love is the only motive to action; and that in every action, even the most disinterested in appearance, our own good is always the prime mover. With shallow thinkers the selfish system naturally prevails. During childhood, our desires terminate mostly on ourselves; which is wisely ordered, as children have little power to give aid or assistance to others. But as soon as we acquire ability to do good, the social principle is felt. One thing is certain, that however much selfishness may prevail in practice, it never meets with any degree of approbation. All agree to condemn actions that are eminently selfish; and no wonder, for if absolute selfishness be the system of nature, man is little superior to the brute: heroism, magnanimity, generosity, are degraded from an exalted station to be no better than self-love in a mask. And what is still more humbling, every moral duty and obligation are torn up by the root, not a single fibre left to spring again.* These horrid consequences notwithstanding, the selfish system is adopted without disguise by every French writer. Considering the humanity and benevolence of that nation in general, an attempt to vilify their own people along with the rest of mankind, was little to be expected from French writers. One of their profound philosophers, Helvetius, boldly maintains, that man is superior to a horse in nothing but in having ten fingers.11 I owe the following thoughts to an ingenious correspondent.*
From what I learn, the French writers have all become rank Epicureans. One would think that French politesse might consort well with disinterested benevolence. But if we believe themselves, it is all grimace: it is flattering in order to be flattered; like a horse who scratches his fellow that he may be scratched. I detest all systems that depretiate human nature. If it be a delusion to think that the constitution of man is worthy of its Author, let me live and die in that delusion, rather than to behold the vileness of my species. Every good man finds his stomach rise against those who disparage his kindred or his country. Why should it not rise against those who disparage his species? Were it not that extremes sometimes meet, I should think it strange to see your Atheist and your high-shod divine contending who should give the blackest representation of human nature. The Atheist acts the more consistent part; for surely, such representations tend more to promote Atheism than to promote religion.12
As the selfish system consorts the best with the degeneracy of the present times, any plausible attempt to establish it as the true system of nature, must tend to spread the infection, and to make actions the most grossly selfish pass even without a blush. All good men will join in disgracing it; and I shall think myself happy to contribute a mite. I hope to evince, not only that it gives a false representation of human nature, but that the arguments urged in its defence are weak and inconclusive.
To prevent the being imposed on by words substituted for things, I beg in with marking out the distinction between social and selfish actions. The end in view denominates the action to be social or selfish. When I have nothing in view but my own interest, the action is purely selfish: when my only view is the interest of another, the action is purely social. Thus, when affection moves me to serve my friend for his sake, without regard to myself, the action is entirely social: if done partly from the prospect of its affording me a pleasant recollection, it is so far selfish. Instinctive actions which proceed without having any end in view, are neither social nor selfish; as where one is impelled by hunger to eat, without even thinking of its being necessary for health. But when we have in view that eating will contribute to health or to pleasure, the action so far is selfish. An action prompted by the principle of duty solely, is neither social nor selfish: if desire of approbation be added, it is so far selfish. If desire of approbation be the sole motive, it is entirely selfish: I pay a debt for my own sake, not for the sake of arigorous creditor: if gratitude to a benefactor who assisted me with money at a pinch, be in my view, the action so far is social.* In a word, it is not the motive or impulsive cause that determines an action to be social or selfish, but the end which the actor has in view.
In bringing the selfish system to trial, I begin with enquiring how far the advocates for it admit man to be a social being. Rousseau excepted, I know no writer but who acknowledges in man an appetite for society; and I am willing to believe that a morose and solitary disposition influenced him more to form that opinion, than reason or experience.† An inclination to communicate thoughts and sentiments and to express wishes and wants, is inherent in the human race. For that end was the blessing of speech bestowed on man; and hence books without end. An appetite to be esteemed by our fellow-creatures will readily be admitted by my opponents, as being selfish. Is any thing more natural than to wish well to our benefactors, and ill to our enemies? These gentlemen probably will also admit, that to retaliate upon the latter is equally natural. If so, is not a grateful return to a benefactor, also natural? If a man can act with the sole view of doing mischief to his enemy, what is it in nature that bars him from acting with the sole view of doing good to his friend? A late French writer, pinched with this argument, finds it necessary to deny that there is in man any such principle as benevolence. He discards by the lump good will to others, parental affection, and even love between the sexes. He holds the expression improper, I love my father, my friend, my mistress; observing that the expression ought to be, I love myself in my father, in my friend, in my mistress. This, it must be acknowledged, is arguing consequentially, however absurdly. Yet with great assurance he condemns the English writers as being strangely bewildered about morality.
Hutcheson, says he, talks of a moral sense, as if he had never read Locke, who banishes innate ideas, and demonstrates, that we can have no ideas, but from external objects.13
I readily yield to these gentlemen, that a man may justly prefer his own interest before that of others; which is wisely ordered even for the general good, as it lies more within a man’s reach to benefit himself than others. But cases daily occur when I can serve others without prejudice to myself. If self-interest make no opposition, what can obstruct my benevolence from operating?
Writers for the selfish system seem to entertain some obscure notion of benevolence being inconsistent with self-love. On the contrary, so friendly is the social principle to the selfish, that every thing I do for the sake of another, is a pleasure to myself. Is there a sweeter pleasure than what one feels in having relieved a man of merit from oppression, in having comforted a friend in affliction, in having served the public at a critical time?
Every one perceives intuitively the comfort of food and raiment, of a snug dwelling, of riches; but that the doing good to others will make us happy, is not so evident; feeding the hungry for example, or cloathing the naked. This truth is seen but obscurely by the gross of mankind. The superior pleasure that follows the exercise of benevolence, of friendship, and of every social principle, is not clearly understood till it be frequently felt. To perceive the social principle in its triumphant state, a man, like an unconcerned spectator, must direct his thoughts upon the conduct of his fellow creatures: he will feel a secret charm in every passion that tends to the good of others, and a secret aversion against every unfeeling heart that is indifferent to their happiness and distresses.* Here the superiority of social affections is conspicuous; as little or no pleasure of that kind arises from those that are selfish.
The pleasure a man feels in doing acts of benevolence, has misled selfish writers to think that that pleasure is the only motive we have for doing good to others. They maintain, that in serving my father, my friend, or my mistress, my motive is not affection to them, but a prospect of the pleasure or satisfaction that will result to myself. And they obstinately deny, that there is in nature such a thing as serving those we love for their sake, independent of our own. But a simple denial cannot be thought sufficient against numberless instances of serving those we love, without the least appearance of self-interest. Such instances must be decisive, unless these writers be able to prove, that to serve others without regard to ourselves, is inconsistent with the nature of man. If they succeed in that proof, the selfish system will be established upon a sure foundation. But without that proof, hitherto not attempted, they must submit. Let them therefore prove, or abandon their system altogether: there is no medium.
But not satisfied with reducing my opponents to this dilemma, I undertake to prove, tho’ not incumbent on me, that benevolence frequently operates independent altogether of self-love. I admit that the prospect of consequent pleasure may be an additional motive for doing a benevolent action; and so far the action is selfish; but that it cannot be the only motive, will appear as follows. That pleasure attends benevolent actions, we learn from experience only. Therefore, such an action done by one who has no experience, must proceed from some motive independent of the consequent pleasure. Children have no experience, nor are they capable of foreseeing distant consequences: yet children express good will to others by kindly acts; from what motive other than benevolence?
But even with respect to those who have felt pleasure in doing good, what gloss will my opponents put upon the following facts? If we give credit to history, or if we can rely on our own experience, there are in stances without number of persons acting for the sake of those they love, even against their own interest. What motive other than duty and affection can prompt a man to sacrifice himself for others, stepping in for example to intercept a deadly blow aimed at his father or his prince? Here, the certainty of death admits not any prospect of consequent pleasure. In a shipwreck, people on shore venture their lives to save the crew: the case is urgent, and they have not a moment for reflection. Nor would any faint thought of consequent pleasure be sufficient among the low and illiterate, to over balance their danger. Sympathy with fellow creatures in deep distress, is with such people the only motive; and that motive operates like a charm. Gratitude for a slight favour, is commonly attended with a selfish motive. But a great and unexpected favour, swells my heart, and inflames my gratitude to my worthy benefactor: I burn to repay his generosity, without a single thought of gratification to myself. The power of stifling selfish motives, is equally remarkable in dissocial passions. Resentment for a slight injury is often accompanied with a prospect of gratification; and so far is selfish. But revenge instigated by an atrocious injury, admits not a thought but against the offender, whom it devotes to destruction; and in that state the action is neither social nor selfish. There is not a man of a benevolent disposition but who can inform you, that he has often acted for the sake of his friend, without any view to himself. These are subborn facts not easily subdued. Will my opponents have the assurance to affirm, that this is all a deceit; and that their assertion ought to be adopted against the testimony of all others?
But now, even in the case of experience I am ready to demonstrate, that the prospect of gratification can never be the sole motive for acting. To prepare the reader for that demonstration, I premise the following data, First, that the accomplishment of desire produces a pleasant feeling, termed gratification of the passion.* Next, that where there is no desire, there is no gratification. I have no desire to pay a certain debt, but am compelled by a decree: the payment far from producing any gratification, is not a little unpleasant. I make a rash promise, which I have no desire to perform: the performance affords me no gratification. The more vigorous my desire is to do a benevolent deed, the more exquisite is my gratification: the more faint my desire is, the more faint is my gratification. Therefore, where there is no desire, there can be no gratification.
And now to the demonstration. Those who hold self-love to be the only motive to action, maintain that the prospect of gratification is the only motive one can have for voluntary deeds of benevolence. I ask these gentlemen a plain question, When I have it in view to do a benevolent deed, whence arises the prospect of gratification? They must admit that it arises from my desire of performing the benevolent deed; for if I have no desire to perform, the performance will not gratify me, nor consequently will it afford me an antecedent prospect of gratification. It clearly follows, that as the desire to do a benevolent deed must always precede the prospect of gratification, the latter never can be the sole motive. The prospect of gratification may be an additional motive to act, but never can stand single. Let a man attend to what passes in his mind when he acts for the good of one he loves: he will find, that desire to accomplish his purpose is his primary motive; and that the prospect of gratification, is only a consequent view. I am sensible how difficult it is to convince one of an error that has long been disguised under the mask of truth. And yet I entertain some hope, that this demonstration, for it is truly such, will oblige my opponents to abandon their favourite system, and rest satisfied with self-love, as one only of many principles that govern the actions of men.
They who acknowledge no motive to action but self-love, know little of human nature. How will they account for instinctive actions, which have no end in view, social or selfish? how will they account for revenge, which often impels a man to act more against his own interest than against that of the offender? how will they account for my killing my friend in a sudden fit of passion; and wishing the moment after to have rather put an end to my own life? Can actions instigated by envy or peevishness be owing to self-love? Gratification, attending such actions, may be a motive; but is the impulse of the passion no motive? In stormy and impetuous passions, there is seldom a thought of gratification; and the slight and momentary gratification that follows, is immediately suffocated by remorse and repentance. Can a prospect of these consequences be a motive for any action? On the contrary, the prospect is powerfully dissuasive, though overbalanced by the violence of the passion. The nature of man is wonderfully various. Avarice, far from consulting my interest, is a bitter enemy to self-love: it locks up my stores, and deprives me of every comfort that wealth can afford. Can self-love account for those singular passions which prompt people to hurt themselves? A man in deep distress is prone to afflict himself, rejecting all consolation. The vexation of a man for having treated his son harshly, is painted in the genuine colours of nature by Terence in the Heautontimorumenos.
Nature goes still farther in this tract. Instances are not extremely rare of persons, stung with remorse for secret crimes, delivering themselves up to justice, in order to suffer condign punishment. Nor shall my opponents escape here under their favourite pretext of gratification; malevolent passions directed against self, being in every stage of their progress unpleasant. Such passions, inveterate foes to self-love, admit not of any selfish motive. This suggests a reflection that must have influence. Seeing there are passions so contrary to self-love as to excite a man to afflict and even to destroy himself; why should we doubt of passions, perfectly concordant with self-love, exciting a man to serve those he loves for their sake?
To conclude, far from admitting self-love to be the sole mover in human actions; it is my firm opinion, that it is rather too sparingly distributed among men, the instances being extremely rare of its prevailing over any impetuous passion. I should willingly give my vote for a larger portion, were it not the hazard of making it over balance the social principle. To envigorate that principle in proportion, would indeed remove the objection; but it would be at the cost of the impetuous passions. And why not, it will be said, for would it not be a great improvement to bridle such passions? It appears so.—And yet, an attempt to mend the works of the Almighty, is to tread on forbidden ground. What might be the consequences cannot readily be for seen; only, that it would leave without exercise many exalted virtues. But this interesting subject does not necessarily enter into the present speculation; and is handled at large in Sketches of the History of Man.*
The only author I know who holds up utility as the chief foundation of morality, is David Hume Esq.; first in A Treatise of Human Nature, and more fully in a following work entitled An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. The latter shows uncommon genius exerted in a pleasing stile. The author has given great scope to invention, but has been little attentive to facts and principles. Love of simplicity has betrayed him into the same error with the authors above-mentioned; that of founding morality upon a single principle, overlooking the complex nature of man, composed of many principles. Utility indeed is not made the sole foundation of morality; for it is admitted that benevolence is founded on a moral sense. The author so far is more cautious than the French writers, who reject every principle but self-love. But he denies that we have any original sense of justice, affirming it to be an artificial virtue, of which public good is the only foundation. It must appear to every one, even upon the most superficial view, that if this doctrine hold true, human nature must be an irregular and disjointed machine. Benevolence indeed is an amiable virtue, tending greatly to make society comfortable. Justice however is a virtue of much higher importance, as without it there can be no society among men; more than among lions and tigers. Here then is a system that distinguishes the less useful virtue by marks of pre-eminence, that ingrafts it upon our nature, and inforces it by a moral sense; while the more useful virtue is left to the fluctuating notions of men; and extremely fluctuating these notions must be where public good is the object. Is it not surprising, that so acute a philosopher who acknowledges benevolence to be founded upon an innate sense, should refuse that privilege to a virtue much more essential? Does not this look as if he thought that man was made by chance? Yet, a very slight survey of human nature and of our principles of action, must have discovered to him, that justice is founded upon an innate sense as well as benevolence. He must have seen, that notions of right and wrong make an appearance even among children, who cannot have any conception of public good. Had our perceptions of right and wrong no foundation but utility, there never could have prevailed any uniformity of opinion concerning them. Our notions of utility from partiality and prejudice, would be so various, as to leave no shadow of uniformity.
But impartiality will not suffer us to stop our ears against our author’s arguments in behalf of his system. His proposition is, “That public utility is the sole origin of justice, and that reflections on the beneficial consequences of this virtue, are the sole foundation of its merit.”15 Before entering into particulars, it must be observed, that here two very different propositions are jumbled together, as if they were necessary members of a single proposition. It is granted, that the end of justice is public utility, and that its merit consists in contributing to that end. But it cannot be granted that public utility is the sole origin of justice; because it would be to grant, that there is no such thing in man as a moral sense, or a natural faculty to distinguish right from wrong, just from unjust. If our author can make out this negative proposition, it must be yielded to him, that public utility is not only the sole end of justice but its sole origin. These things premised, it belongs to the reader to judge, whether our author’s following arguments tend to evince that negative proposition.
He supposes a golden age where even luxuries are in superfluity, and where friendship and generosity universally prevail. “It would follow, says he, that men could not have the least idea of justice, nor of separate property.”* Whence he concludes that justice derives its existence from its use in our present state. This conclusion does not follow. It only follows, that there may be circumstances in which there would be no occasion to enforce justice by courts of law, nor for separate property. With respect to the former, did friendship and generosity universally prevail, were all men upright and honest, there would indeed be little occasion for courts of law. But does it follow, that therefore man has no sense of right and wrong? The direct contrary follows; for the goodness and rectitude supposed must be founded on a more vivid sense of right and wrong than is common among men. Society would be an uncomfortable state, were the stern authority of a magistrate always necessary to compel men to do their duty. The people of Switzerland, we are told, are so fair in their dealings, as to make a law-suit seldom necessary. Will this infer that these good people have no sense of justice? Is it not a lively sense of justice that makes them so fair in their dealings? With respect to separate property, I have no difficulty to yield, that in a country superabounding with every necessary of life ready for use, there would be no necessity for separate property more than in the air we breathe. But because in one state of things separate property is unnecessary, is it a good inference, that it is necessary in no state. This has not even a plausible appearance. A philosopher ought to be ashamed of such an argument. Would it not be a gross imperfection in man, to be fitted, not for the state he is placed in, but for an imaginary state, that never existed, nor probably ever will exist?
Reverse, says our author, in any considerable circumstance the condition of man; produce extreme abundance or extreme necessity; implant in the human breast moderation and equity, or perfect rapaciousness or malice: by rendering justice totally useless, you totally destroy its essence and suspend its obligation on mankind.†
To have the exercise of justice suspended in certain circumstances, and to have its essence totally destroyed, are widely different. It is admitted above, that universal moderation and equity would render courts of law very little useful; and I also admit, that perfect rapaciousness and malice would make men ungovernable. But does it follow from either of these admissions, that man is destitute of a moral sense? Benevolence is admitted by our author to be inherent in the nature of man. A state may be supposed so flourishing as to afford no objects for compassion, a branch of benevolence: its exercise would be suspended; but would its essence be totally destroyed? Let proper objects appear, and it will not lie dormant. Why not the same in justice? I add in general, that more solid evidence is necessary than bare suppositions to prove or disprove controverted facts.
“But, says he, in some cases that actually happen, such as that of famine or a city besieged, the distinctions of property are overthrown, and the obligation to justice ceases.” It is far from being clear, that either property or justice ceases even in these cases of extremity.16 But supposing them to cease, does the argument prove more than that in such cases the great law of self-preservation prevails over that of property?
These, to the best of my understanding, are all the arguments adduced by Mr. Hume to prove that public good is the sole origin of justice; and consequently that there is not in the nature of man a moral sense: whether they are conclusive, every reader must judge for himself. Much labour is bestowed upon proving a proposition that no mortal controverts, namely, that public good is the sole end of justice; which is perfectly consistent with what is all along inculcated in the present Essay, that the moral sense is bestowed on man to fit him for society. Nothing can be more simple than to distinguish between the means and the end, or between the cause and the effect: yet the subject is handled as if the origin and end of justice were the same; and that to prove either is to prove both. He accordingly bends his whole force to prove that public utility is the end of justice; taking for granted, as it would appear, that the same proof would serve to make it also the origin of justice.
Justice, I acknowledge, goes for the most part hand in hand with utility: there are however cases where they differ widely. Take the following example. A large sum is deposited privately in my hand by an intimate friend. He dies suddenly, leaving an overgrown fortune to his heir, who is ignorant of the deposit. Every argument from utility would justify me in retaining this sum, as the only fund I have for educating and providing a numerous family of children. But if even in this trying case I stand bound in conscience to restore, of which no honest man can doubt, it follows necessarily, that justice must have a foundation independent of utility. The only answer that can be given is, that justice is founded upon public utility, what concerns the whole society, without regarding the interest of one or other individual. With respect to this case I cannot enter into the distinction. Robbery, it is true, or murder may benefit me; and yet upon the whole may be detrimental to the public. But in the example given, as no person is hurt, the public suffers no prejudice. But letting it pass that my retaining this sum is hurtful to the public, I am greatly mistaken if our author’s theory can stand upon that foundation. To complete that theory, it was incumbent on him to show, that there can exist a public, a regular government, independent of an original sense of justice. This however he has not made out, nor attempted to make out. To me it is evident, that without an original sense of justice, there never could have existed any public, any society under government; far less a government with authority sufficient to subdue the rapacity of man, his love of power, and his other selfish and unruly passions. Were there no law antecedent to society but major vis, every man would shun those of his own kind, as he would a savage tiger: war would be perpetual of all against all, as happily expressed by Mr. Hobbes.17 There is in man, it is true, an appetite for society; but that appetite would be blasted in the bud by selfish and dissocial passions. Our author here has been guilty of a palpable error: he founds justice upon public utility; instead of making justice the foundation of every republic that exists or has existed among men. The cause is mistaken for the effect: nor is this the single instance of the kind that occurs in the enquiry.
It is agreed on all hands, that justice is established among men for making them good citizens, or, in our author’s words, for public utility; consequently that public utility is the sole end of justice. It ought however carefully to be attended to, that in no case is it made our duty to act for the public good: we are left at liberty by the moral sense to act for the public good if we incline; but the moral sense lays us under no obligation. The good of mankind, or even of our own country, resulting from an endless variety of combined circumstances, is an object too complex and intricate to be taken under consideration by a creature so limited in capacity as man. And were it made our duty to take public good under consideration, a wide door would be opened to partiality and passion: the opinions of men would be as various as their faces, which would disqualify them entirely for society. Behold the art that is displayed in this branch of our nature! It is more wisely ordered, even for the general good, that we are strictly bound to perform or to forbear certain plain and simple acts, incapable of a mistake; leaving the consequences to providence. We must be obedient to our parents and to magistrates. We must be grateful to our benefactors, kindly to our relations, and faithful to our engagements. We are forbidden to rob, to lie, or in any other way to injure others. These precepts, simple and perspicuous, are made our duty; and we are not left at liberty to act by any other rule.
Mr. Hume holds “public good to be the foundation of justice, and justice to be the foundation of property.”18 The first proposition being discussed above, it occurs upon the other, that at any rate it is too extensive; for surely, it is not meant that duty to parents, performance of promises, or other obligations of that kind, are the foundation of property; but only that justice as relative to subjects of property is its foundation. Now, with respect to the proposition thus limited, I beg leave to refer the reader for a proof of the contrary, to the sixth chapter of the present essay, where the following propositions are clearly demonstrated, First, that property is founded on an innate sense; and that every violation of property is a moral wrong, attended with remorse, a severe punishment. Next, that property as well as justice are essential to society; and that no society can exist without them. The cause here is mistaken for the effect, precisely as in the other proposition affirming public utility to be the foundation of justice.
A stronger objection cannot lie against any moral system, than that it discords with human nature. Were utility the only foundation of morals, justice would be intitled to a higher degree of approbation, than patriotism, generosity, or any other secondary virtue; because justice undoubtedly is more essential to the public than any of these. The contrary however holds in truth. The transgression of justice meets indeed with severe punishment, remorse in the transgressor and disapprobation from others; while the neglect of any secondary virtue passes with impunity. But the exercise of justice meets with little approbation compared with what is bestowed upon the exercise of any secondary virtue. The reason of the difference is obvious. Generosity and other secondary virtues being voluntary, the man thinks himself highly obliged who profits by them. No man thinks himself obliged by an act of justice, because every one is bound to be just.
I conclude this branch of the system with a few reflections. That man is a social animal, is evident from his appetite for society, and from various principles directing his conduct in it. Were he not endued with a sense of property and with a sense of right and wrong, he would in society resemble lions and leopards that have no appetite for society. Even in so simple a thing as the taking nourishment, he is not left to reason as his sole guide; but is provided with an appetite for food, a faithful monitor, directing both the time and the quantity. But your great philosophers take no pleasure to dissect the human heart; though that anatomy be necessary for unfolding the true system of nature. They love to surprise the world with some pompuous system, entirely their own. A complete system of morals is erected upon self-love, or upon benevolence, or upon utility, or upon a play of imagination. Such bold structures may charm by their novelty; but cannot long stand the test of cool investigation. The late Lord Bolinbroke, the vainest of writers, exceeds all in affectation of singularity. He gravely maintains, that compassion has not for its foundation any instinct or innate principle.19 Yet for this strange doctrine he can find no better reason, than that savages and men-eaters seem to have as strong an instinct for cruelty as for compassion. Could that profound philosopher be ignorant of what every school-boy knows, that man is composed of different principles and passions, prevailing, sometimes one, sometimes another, according to circumstances? But whatever may be imagined by writers ambitious of singularity, men of plain sense will tell them, that both justice and compassion are natural principles; to prove which there is no need of reasoning; because every man who has not a system to defend will acknowledge, that these principles are engraved on his own heart.
Not satisfied with deriving justice and even property from utility as its genuine offspring, the same taste for simplicity has prompted our author to derive also from utility every virtue, so as to rank in the same class with the primary virtues almost every thing that is useful. His notion is, that whatever in character or conduct we approve as useful, is virtue, intitled to moral approbation. He accordingly includes in the class of virtues, every intellectual ability, penetration for example, secrecy, courage, industry. These qualities are indeed useful to the possessor; but to call every thing virtue that is useful, is strangely to pervert the meaning of words. But he does not stop there: moral approbation is applied to qualities still inferior, such as cheerfulness, politeness, wit, and even cleanliness. Nay, he employs a whole section to make out, that bodily strength, beauty, riches, enter into the same class with the primary virtues. He even admits into the same class that quality in a male which characterizes him a good woman’s-man, “a like principle, says he, operating more extensively is the general source of moral affection and approbation.”* What more effectual service to vice could any person do, than in this manner to depretiate virtue?
But virtue will maintain its dignity in spite of all the engines that can be levelled against it. The sense of right and wrong in voluntary actions, is what eminently distinguishes virtue from the many trifling qualities confounded with it by this author. He jumbles all of them into one mass by the test of approbation; and yet has not attempted to give any precise meaning to that term. We approve every thing that is either agreeable or useful; but such approbation is far inferior to what is bestowed on virtuous actions. Is the approbation of a pleasant prospect, of a fine picture, of a commodious habitation, sufficient to denominate such objects virtuous? Our author admits, that it is not sufficient.
For, says he, though a species of approbation attends inanimate objects when beneficial, it is so weak and so different from the approbation bestowed on beneficial magistrates or statesmen, that they ought not to be ranked under the same class or appellation.*
This is a most unwary concession; for it overturns at one stroke his darling system of utility. A strong approbation is now to be held the criterion of virtue, not utility. A criterion more vague and arbitrary, never certainly entered into the mind of any thinking person: to one of a lively imagination an object would be virtuous, not to one who has but a small share of that faculty: nay, to the same person it would be virtuous or not, as the spirits are high or low. If it be this author’s plan to exclude from the moral system inanimate objects, it cannot be from defect of utility; for as many objects of that kind afford both food and raiment, they are highly useful.
I do not recollect that our author has delivered an opinion, whether any of the brute creation ought to be included in his moral system. If utility be made the criterion, all of them cannot be excluded; as many are highly useful by their labour and by affording food and raiment. Upon his rectified system some of them must be included, such as merit high approbation for their many admirable properties; witness the faithfulness of a dog to his master, zeal to serve him, and care of his property. Reflect only upon the gratitude of a lion to Androcles, and many instances of the same kind.20 This is a pregnant instance how far a man’s fancy can mislead him, when he once deviates from the path of nature and truth. As the moral sense is the true criterion of virtue, virtue undoubtedly is confined to the human species, and cannot in any just sense be attributed to any inferior being.
When a system is not founded on nature and truth, it requires much attention to avoid contradictions. Our author here has fallen into a palpable contradiction. He refuses moral approbation to the inanimate objects above mentioned; and yet more than once bestows moral approbation upon riches. They are indeed useful; but is not a fine garden or a commodious habitation also useful? Here I have an opportunity to retort our author’s argument.
Though a species of approbation attends riches, it is so weak and so different from the approbation bestowed on beneficial magistrates or statesmen, that they ought not to be ranked under the same class or appellation.
To soften this contradiction, he admits that the approbation given to riches, to bodily strength, and to other particulars mentioned above, is inferior in degree to what is given to justice and humanity; but still insists, that in both the approbation is of the same kind. If they be of the same kind, disapprobation of their contraries must be also of the same kind. One man betrays his trust, is inhuman to his parents, or in grateful to his benefactor: another is a sloven, means well but frequently blunders, or is aukward in his address, or blunt in his manners. I appeal to any person, whether the disapprobation be of the same kind in these two examples; whether we feel the least of that indignation against the sloven, which we feel against the betrayer. To this strange conclusion our author is led by making approbation depend entirely on utility. Was he ignorant, that approbation, as far as concerns virtue, is founded on the moral sense? By that sense certain actions are perceived to be right, and are approved accordingly as virtuous. The most illiterate rustic would have told him simply, that to be honest or to be grateful is right; and there he would stop, never having thought of their useful tendency. Does not this evince, that men are directed by the internal light of conscience to approve virtuous actions? Could our author hope to escape a sneer, in contending that female chastity has no foundation but a conviction of its utility?* That it is a virtue highly beneficial to society, will readily be admitted. But when the chastity of a virtuous woman is attacked, did he seriously think, that there is nothing to protect her innocence, but regard to public utility? Is there no such thing as a principle of chastity, of honour, or of pride, to guard her in the critical minute?
An objection lies against this system, still more weighty. If utility be the sole foundation of morality, it is to me evident, that duty and obligation have no meaning that can distinguish them from benevolence, generosity, or friendly affection. In the section on that head, duty is resolved into a motive from interest, directing us to acquire those laudable qualities which experience points out to be so useful. This confounds all, as no perception differs more from another than that of duty from that of interest. That they often appear in opposition is severely felt by the interested, when barred by duty from doing what would redound much to their profit. From the beginning to the end of the Enquiry, Mr. Hume appears to have totally overlooked that innate sense of duty, that authority of conscience, which is a law to man, regulating his conduct in society. Had he given more attention to facts and less scope to invention he could not have erred. If there be ideas corresponding to the words duty, obligation, ought and should, they undoubtedly imply something beyond an interested motive. If not, the miser is under the same obligation to augment his stores, that the honest man is to pay a debt or perform a promise.
But now having followed this author through many intricate mazes, it appears to me demonstrable even from his own admission, that utility cannot be the foundation of morals. He fairly admits, that benevolence is in some measure the object of immediate approbation; but at the same time contends, “that at least a part of the merit of benevolence arises from its tendency to promote the interest of our species and to bestow happiness on human society.”* I admit on my part, that not a part only, but the whole merit of benevolence arises from that tendency; and that the same holds of every social virtue. But this will not answer the author’s intention of elevating utility above benevolence. On the contrary, the whole merit of utility arises evidently from benevolence. Is it not benevolence that interests me in the welfare of a fellow creature, that makes me rejoice with him in good fortune, and sympathise with him in affliction? Laying aside benevolence, it would not concern me whether my neighbours or even my relations, are happy or miserable. Here then, as in some former instances, the author has mistaken the effect for the cause. Actions done to promote the happiness of others, are approved: but is not benevolence the ground of the approbation? Supposing envy or malice to be the universal passion, utility would be odious in the sight of all men.
But though I am clear that the merit of utility is derived from benevolence, I am far from adopting Doctor Hutcheson’s system, of morality being entirely founded on benevolence. Benevolence is justly entitled to a decisive vote in every action that is left to our own choice; but in none that concern right and wrong has it any authority. It would be iniquity in a judge to make benevolence his rule in any decision. Justice enforces payment of debt and performance of covenants, without regard to the circumstances of the person bound, whether rich or poor. Benevolence will not justify a man for a donation even to the most indigent, if his funds be not sufficient for every claim that can justly be made upon him. I repeat it again and again, that the true and solid foundation of morality is the moral sense, independent of which the terms right and wrong, approbation and disapprobation, praise and blame, would have no meaning when apply’d to human actions.
I am not however for banishing utility out of the moral system. I admit, that by a reflex mental act, it may become an additional motive to justice and to every other moral action. Justice with regard to utility resembles food. Justice is useful, so is food; and nature has provided us with an appetite for both. But appetite, not utility, is the fundamental cause that moves us to do justice as well as to take food. Utility indeed, by a reflex act, may be an additional motive for both.
I conclude with observing, that man is a complex machine, complex no less in mind than in body. The only way to acquire knowledge of either, is carefully and patiently to investigate its various springs and movements. We are at least more likely to discover the truth in that way, than by seizing hastily a single principle, and erecting upon it an entire system. Morality lays claim to the first place among the sciences; and justly, because its tendency is to regulate our conduct. It therefore concerns all men to have the principles of that science firmly established, and their consequences accurately traced. In many branches of knowledge, we may err without much prejudice to ourselves or to others; but in the moral system, there is scarce an error but what is fatal.
Will the reader indulge me a few words more, to express some concern I feel for myself. The arguments urged in the Enquiry, appear inferior to the other productions of an author, who was justly esteemed the greatest philosopher of his time; and people will be apt to suspect, that I have disguised these arguments, in order for victory. The world will judge, as I have quoted chapter and verse. I am fond however of any apology I can make for Mr. Hume. That justice is an artificial virtue, was a favorite doctrine of his, early adopted, so as to become in him a sort of natural principle. And every one knows, that arguments upon a favourite opinion, commonly appear conclusive, while arguments against it are heard with a deaf ear, or rejected without examination. It is indeed mortifying, to find human reason so frequently led astray by partiality and prejudice, not only in religious matters, but in every science. Did controversial writers keep this bias always in view, they would be more moderate than they commonly are. Whatever prejudice I may have against the doctrines of the Enquiry, my conscience acquits me of any prejudice against the author. Our friendship was sincere while he lived, without ever a difference, except in matters of opinion. I never was addicted to controversy; and would have avoided the attacking a gentleman who had both my love and esteem, had it been consistent with the plan of the present work.
Liberty and Necessity
When we apply our thoughts to final causes, no subject more readily presents itself than the material world, which is stamped with the brightest characters of wisdom and goodness. The moral world, being less in view, hath been generally overlooked, though it yields not to the other in rich materials. Man’s inward system will be found no less admirable, than the external system of which he makes a part. The subject is the more curious, that the traces of wisdom and design discernible in our internal frame, lie more out of common sight. They are touches, as it were, of a finer pencil and of a nicer hand, than are discovered in the material world. Thought is more subtile than motion; and more of exquisite art is displayed in the laws of voluntary action, than in the laws of mere matter.i
That nothing can happen without a cause, is a principle embraced by all men, the illiterate and ignorant as well as the learned. Nothing that happens is conceived as happening of itself, but as an effect produced by some other thing. However ignorant of the cause, we notwithstanding conclude, that every thing which happens must have a cause. We should perhaps be at a loss to deduce this proposition from any premises, by a chain of reasoning. But perception affords conviction, where reason leaves us in the dark. We perceive the proposition to be true. Curiosity is one of the earliest emotions that are discovered in children; and about nothing are they more curious, than to have causes and reasons given them, why such a thing happened or how it came about. Historians and politicians make it their chief concern, to trace the causes of actions, the most mysterious not excepted. Be an event ever so extraordinary, the sense of its being an effect, is not in the least weakened, even with the vulgar; who, rather than assign no cause, recur to the operation of invisible powers. What is a cause with respect to its proper effect, is considered as an effect with respect to some prior cause, and so backward, without end. Events thus viewed in a chain of causes and effects, should naturally be considered, one would think, as necessary and fixed: for the relation betwixt a cause and its effect implies somewhat precise and determinate, and leads our thoughts to what must be, and cannot be other ways than it is.
That we have such a sense as is above described, cannot be controverted; and yet, when we search farther into human nature, a sense of chance or contingency in events seems to be no less deeply rooted in our nature than the former. This sense of chance or contingency is most conspicuous when we look forward to future events. Some things we indeed always consider as certain or necessary; such as, the revolution of seasons, and the rising and setting of the sun. These as experience teacheth, are regulated by fixed laws. But many things appear to us loose, fortuitous, uncertain; uncertain not only with respect to us on account of our ignorance of the cause, but uncertain in themselves, or not tied down and predetermined to fall out by any invariable law. We naturally make a distinction betwixt things that must be, and things that may be, or may not be. Thus, with respect to future events, we have a sense of chance, or of contingency, which seems to banish the other sense of the dependency of events upon precise and determinate causes.
When we consider in what view our own actions are perceived by the mind, there is somewhat equally strange and mysterious. It is admitted by all men, that we act from motives. The plain man, as well as the philosopher, perceives the connection betwixt an action and its motive to be so strong, that from this perception both of them reason with full confidence about the future actions of others. That an avaritious man will take every fair opportunity of acquiring riches, is as little doubted, as that rain and sunshine will make plants grow. The motive of gain is judged to operate as certainly and infallibly upon his temper, as heat and moisture upon the soil, each to produce its proper effect. If we be uncertain what part any particular man will act, the uncertainty ariseth not from our doubting whether he will act from a motive, for this is never called in question: it ariseth from our not being able to judge, what motive will prevail. If so, it should seem, that all the train of human actions would occur to the mind as necessary and fixed. Yet human actions do not always appear to us in that light. Previous to any particular action, we indeed always judge, that it will be the necessary result of some motive. But in a retrospect the judgment seems to vary. Hath a man done what is wrong and shameful? we accuse, and we condemn him for acting the wrong and shameful part. We conceive that he had power to act otherwise, and ought to have acted otherwise. Nay he himself gives the same impartial judgment of his conduct. The whole train of our perceptions, in a moment, accommodate themselves to the supposition of his being a free agent.
These are phaenomena in human nature of a singular kind; perceptions that clash with each other; every past event admitted to have a necessary cause, and yet many future events supposed contingent; every future action admitted to be necessary, and yet many actions, in an after view, judged free. Our perceptions are no doubt the test of truth; and the few exceptions that are discovered by reason or experience, serve the more to confirm the general rule. But the perceptions now laid open can be no test of truth; because, in contradictory propositions, truth cannot lie on both sides. There is no other way to get out of this labyrinth of doubts and difficulties, but to enter upon a strict survey both of the material and moral world, which may possibly lead to a discovery of what is really the truth. Let us then proceed with impartiality and attention, to inquire what we are to believe concerning contingency in events, and liberty or necessity in human actions: whether our perceptions can be reconciled to each other, and reconciled to truth; or whether there be not here some delusion.
Taking a view of the material world, we find all things there proceeding in a fixed and settled train of causes and effects. It is a point indisputable, that all the changes produced in matter and all the different modifications it assumes, are the result of fixed laws. Every effect is so precisely determined, that no other effect could, in such circumstances, have resulted from the operation of the cause: which holds even in the minutest changes of the different elements, as all philosophers admit. Casual and fluctuating as these seem, even their slightest variations are the result of pre-established laws. There is a chain of causes and effects which hang one upon another, running through this whole system; and not the smallest link of the chain can be broken, without altering the whole constitution of things, or suspending the regular operation of the laws of nature. Here then, in the material world, there is nothing that can be called contingent; nothing that is left loose; but every thing must be precisely what it is, and be found in that state in which we find it.
In the moral world, this necessary chain of causes and effects appears not so clearly.
Man is the actor here. He is endued with will, and he acts from choice. He hath a power of beginning motion, which is subject to no mechanical laws; and therefore he is not under what is called physical necessity. He hath appetites and passions which prompt him to gratify them: but he is under no necessity of blindly submitting to their impulse. For reason hath a power of restraint. It suggests motives from the cool views of good and evil. He deliberates upon these. In consequence of his deliberation he chuseth: and here lies our liberty.1
Let us examine to what this liberty amounts. That motives have some influence in determining the mind, is certain; and that they have this influence in different degrees, is equally certain. The sense of honour and gratitude for example, are powerful motives with a man to serve a friend. Let the man’s private interest concur; and the motives become more powerful. Add the certain prospect of poverty, shame, or bodily suffering, if he shall act a different part; and you leave him no choice; the motives to action become irresistible. Motives being once allowed to have a determining influence in any degree, it is easy to suppose the influence so augmented, whether of the same or of accumulated motives, as to leave little freedom to the mind, or rather none at all. In such a case, there is no denying that we are under a necessity to act. And though this arises from the constitution of the mind, not from external compulsion; yet in this case the consequence is no less certain, fixed, and unavoidable, than in that of external compulsion. So evident this is, that, in some instances, moral and physical necessity seem to coincide, or scarcely to be distinguished. A criminal walks to the scaffold in the midst of his guards. No man will deny that he is under an absolute necessity in this case. Why? because he knows, that if he refuse to go, they will drag him. I ask, Is this a physical or a moral necessity? The answer at first view is not obvious. And yet, strictly speaking, the necessity is only moral: for it is the force of a motive that determines the criminal to walk to the scaffold; to wit, that resistence is vain. The idea of necessity however in the mind of the spectators, when they view the criminal in this situation, is no less strong, than if they saw him bound and carried on a sledge. Nothing is more common, than to talk of an action which one must do, and cannot avoid. He was compelled to it, we say, and it was impossible he could act otherwise; when all the compulsion we mean, is only the application of some very strong motive to the mind. This shows, that, in the judgment of all men, a motive may, in certain circumstances, carry in it the power of rendering an action necessary. In other words, we expect such an action in consequence of such a motive, with equal confidence, as when we expect to see a stone fall to the ground when dropped from the hand.
This, it will be said, may hold in some instances, but not in all. For, in the greater part of human actions, there is really a sense of liberty. When the mind hesitates betwixt two things, examines and compares, and at last resolves, is there any compulsion or necessity here?2
No compulsion, it is granted; but as to necessity, let us pause, and examine more accurately. The resolution being taken, the choice being made, upon what is it founded? Certainly upon some reason or motive, however silent or weak. No man in his senses ever made choice of one thing before another, without being able to assign a reason, weak or strong, for the preference. It would be a pregnant mark of idiocy, to say that one has come to are solution and cannot say why. If this be an undoubted fact, it follows that the determination must result from that motive which has the greatest influence for the time; or from what appears the best and most eligible upon the whole. If motives be different with regard to strength and influence, which is plainly the case; it is involved in the very idea of the strongest motive, that it must have the strongest effect in determining the mind. This can no more be doubted, than that in a balance the greater weight must turn the scale.
Here perhaps we shall be interrupted. “Men are not always rational in their determinations: they often act from whim, passion, humor, motives loose and variable as the wind.” This is admitted. But suppose the motive that determines the mind to be as whimsical and unreasonable as you please; its influence however is equally necessary with that of the most rational motive. An indolent man, for example, is incited to action, by the strongest considerations that reason, virtue, interest, can suggest. He wavers and hesitates: at last resists them all, and folds his arms. What is the cause of this odd choice? Is it that he is less under the power of motives than another man? Love of rest is his motive, his prevailing passion; which is as effectual to fix him in his place, as the love of glory or riches are to actuate the vain or the covetous. In short, if motives be not under our power or direction, which is confessedly the fact, we are necessary agents. In acting by blind impulse or instinct, we are obviously necessary agents: and with regard to matters that admit deliberation and choice, such is our constitution, that we cannot exert a single action, but with some view, aim, or purpose. And when two opposite motives present themselves, we have not the power of an arbitrary choice: we are necessarily determined to prefer the stronger motive.
It is true, that, in debating upon human liberty, a man may attempt to show that motives have no necessary influence, by eating perhaps the worst apple that is before him, or, in some such trifling matter, preferring an obviously less good to a greater. But is it not plain, that the humor of showing that he can act against motives, is the very motive of the whimsical preference?
Comparing the laws that govern human actions with those that govern the actions of matter, they will be found equally operative, and their effects equally necessary. Where the motives to any action are perfectly full, cogent, and clear, the sense of liberty, as we showed before, entirely vanisheth. In other cases, where the field of choice is wider, and where opposite motives counter balance and work a gains teach other, the mind fluctuates for a while, and feels itself more loose: but at last, must as necessarily be determined to the side of the most powerful motive, as the balance, after several vibrations, to the side of the preponderating weight. The laws of mind, and the laws of matter, are in this respect perfectly similar; though, in making the comparison, we are apt to deceive ourselves. In forming a notion of physical necessity, we seldom think of any force, but what hath visibly a full effect. A man in prison, or tied to a post, must remain there: if dragged along, he cannot resist. Whereas motives, which are very different, do not always produce sensible effects. Yet, when the comparison is accurately instituted, the very same thing holds in the actions of matter. A weak motive makes some impression: but, in opposition to one more powerful, it has no effect to determine the mind. In the precise same manner, a small force will not overcome a great resistance; nor an ounce in one scale, counter balance a pound in the other. Comparing together the actions of mind and of matter, similar causes will in both equally produce similar effects.
But admitting all that hath been contended for, of the necessary influence of motives to bring on the choice or last judgment of the understanding, it is urged by Dr. Clarke, that man is still a free agent, because he hath a power of acting or beginning motion according to his will. In this he placeth human liberty, that motives are not physical efficient causes of motion.*ii Man is a free agent undoubtedly, because he acts as he wills; but he is equally a necessary agent, as being necessarily influenced by motives to act. The motive, according to his own concession, necessarily determines the will; and the will necessarily produces the action, unless it be obstructed by some foreign force. “But,” says he, “it is only a moral necessity which is produced by motives; and a moral necessity is no necessity at all, being consistent with the highest liberty.” The Doctor’s error lies in opposing moral necessity to liberty. Man is a free agent, because he acts according to his own will. He is at the same time a necessary agent, because his will is necessarily influenced by motives. These are perfectly consistent. The laws of action which respect the human mind, are as fixed as those which respect matter. The idea of necessary, certain, unavoidable, equally agrees to both.
One great source of confusion, in reflecting upon this subject, seems to be, our not distinguishing betwixt necessity and constraint. In common language, these are used as equivalent terms; but they ought to be distinguished when we treat of this subject. A person having a strong desire to escape, remains in prison because the doors are guarded. Finding his keepers gone, he makes his escape. His escape now is as necessary, i.e. as certain and infallible a consequence of the circumstances he finds himself in, as his confinement was before; though in the one case there is constraint, in the other none. When, being under no constraint, we act according to our inclination and choice, our actions are justly reckoned free. At the same time they are strictly necessary; because every inclination and choice is unavoidably caused or occasioned by the prevailing motive.
The preceding reasonings may perhaps make a stronger impression upon being reduced into a short argument, after the following manner. When a being acts merely by instinct and without any view to consequences, every one must see that it acts necessarily. Though not so obvious, the case comes to the same where an action is exerted in order to bring about some end or event. This end or event must be the object of desire; for no man in his senses who uses means in order to a certain end, but must desire the means to be effectual: if we do not desire to accomplish an event, we cannot possibly act in order to bring it about. Desire and action are then intimately connected; so intimately, that no action can be exerted where there is no antecedent desire: the event is first the object of desire, and then we act in order to bring it about. This being so, it follows clearly, that our actions cannot be free in any sense opposed to their being morally necessary. Our desires obviously are not under our own power, but are raised by means that depend not upon us. And if our desires are not under our power, neither can our actions be under our power. Liberty, as opposed to moral necessity, if it have any meaning, must signify a power to act in contradiction to desire; or, in other words, a power to act in contradiction to any view, purpose, or design, we can have in acting; which power, beside that no man was ever conscious of it, seems to be an absurdity altogether inconsistent with a rational being.
With regard to things supposed so equal as to found no preference of one to another, it is not necessary to enter into any intricate inquiry how the mind in such cases is directed. Though it should be admitted, that where there is no motive to influence the mind, it may act arbitrarily; this would not affect the preceding reasonings, which suppose the existence of a prevailing motive. Objects balanced one against another with perfect equality, if such are to be found, must be so few and in matters so trivial (as in the common instance of eggs) that they cannot have any considerable influence upon the chain of causes and effects. It may well admit of a doubt, whether the mind be in any case left altogether destitute of a motive to determine its choice betwixt two objects: for though the objects should in themselves be perfectly equal, yet various unobserved circumstances of fancy, custom, proximity of place, &c. may turn the scale in favour of one of the objects. In this state of suspense, betwixt two things equally balanced, the uneasiness one feels, searching and casting about for some ground of choice, proves, that to act altogether arbitrarily is unnatural, and that our constitution fits us to be determined by motives.
As there is scarce room for overdoing in explaining the doctrine of moral necessity, which in some particulars goes cross to vulgar notions, I shall endeavour to set it in a clear light, by opposing it to physical necessity. In the first place, a man under the influence of a physical cause is passive: he is acted upon, and doth not act. Under the influence of a moral cause, he himself acts; and the moral cause operates by influencing and determining him to act. Secondly, a physical cause is generally exerted against a man’s inclination and will. If the force applied overcome his resistance, he must submit; and in this case, the necessity is involuntary: it is constraint or coaction.* On the other hand, moral necessity is always voluntary. A moral cause operates not by force or coaction, but by solicitation and persuasion. It applies to the judgment, and generally affords conviction. But whether or no, it never fails to succeed with the sensitive part of our nature, by raising desire; and when a man is under no restraint, he naturally and necessarily proceeds to action, in order to accomplish his desire. The action is performed as a means to an end. It is directed by will, and is in the strictest sense voluntary. It is at the same time necessary: for such is the nature of man, that desire always determines the will. The necessity here is of the same kind with that of being pleased with a beautiful object, or of being displeased with one that is ugly. But as this necessity is altogether voluntary, it is directly opposite to what arises from external force. Thirdly, physical necessity, except when voluntary which rarely happens, is extremely disagreeable. But moral necessity, which is always voluntary, is for that reason always agreeable. To nothing is human nature more averse than to constraint: on the other hand, our condition is always agreeable when we enjoy the freedom of our own will. Fourthly, a man impelled by a physical cause and acted upon involuntarily, must be sensible of the force and coaction, and consequently of the necessity he is under. A moral cause is in a very different condition. As it influences by persuasion, and not force, it may well be supposed to operate without discovering itself to be a necessary cause. And in fact that it so operates, is evident from constant experience. And hence the ignorance, almost universal, of our being necessary agents.
And this luckily suggests a comparison between moral necessity, and a power to act against motives, termed commonly liberty of indifference. To convince men that they are necessary agents, is I am sensible a difficult undertaking. Voluntary necessity is in the course of life never felt; and for that reason we find in common language no term for it. It is not other ways discoverable, but by a long chain of abstract reasoning. It is there fore known to philosophers only, who give it the name of moral necessity. Hence it is, that when we talk of necessity, the gross of mankind are apt to take the alarm; because they can form no idea of necessity, different from that of constraint, where the necessity is involuntary. We have thus natural prejudice and prepossession to struggle with, which are not to be surmounted till the heart be prepared to receive a favourable impression. The comparison proposed will, I am hopeful, place moral necessity in a light to be generally relished. Moral necessity, as has been observed, is always agreeable. An action, provided it be voluntary, is not the less agreeable by being necessary: so far from it, that the necessity and agreeableness are in separable, as proceeding from the same cause. An action is necessary, because it is directed by desire: it is at the same time agreeable, because it tends to the accomplishment of desire. And from this it clearly follows, that the greater the necessity is, the greater must also be the pleasure. And now to the other member of the comparison. It is difficult to form a conception of a power to act, without motives or any thing to influence the mind. But supposing such a power, it must be devoid of all pleasure or satisfaction, even when exercised without crossing any appetite or passion. It is still more difficult to form a conception of a power to act in contradiction to motives, or in other words in contradiction to desire. But such power, if it can exist, must be extremely disagreeable: for here a man acting in contradiction to his desires, must of course render himself miserable. In this particular, liberty of indifference resembles perfectly physical necessity: for when a man lies open to have his most rational and best-concerted schemes disappointed, it comes to the same in point of distress, whether the disappointment be occasioned by an internal or an external cause. Imagine a person constantly at my elbow, who contradicts me in every thing, would not I be a miserable being? Instead of such a person, imagine a power within the breast of every man, ready to cross all his inclinations, his most innocent desires, his firmest resolves, would any thing be wanting to render him the most unhappy of all beings?
But now a thought comes across the mind that demands attention. How hard is the lot of the human species, to be thus tied down, and fixed by motives; subjected by a necessary law to the choice of evil, if evil happen to be the prevailing motive, or if it mislead us under the form of our greatest interest or good! How happy to have had a free independent power of acting contrary to motives, when the prevailing motive hath a bad tendency! By this power we might have pushed our way to virtue and happiness, whatever motives were suggested by vice and folly to draw us back; or we might by arbitrary will have refrained from acting the bad part, though all the power of motives concurred to urge us on. So far well. But may not this arbitrary power be exerted against good motives as well as against bad ones? If it do good in restraining us from vice, may it not do ill in restraining us from virtue? and so shall we not be thrown loose altogether? At this rate, we could not rely on any man. Promises, oaths, vows, would be vain; for nothing can ever bind or fix one who is influenced by no motive. The distinction of characters would be at an end; for a person cannot have a character who hath no fixed nor uniform principle of action. Nay, moral virtue itself and all the force of law, rule, and obligation, would upon this hypothesis be nothing; for no creature can be the subject of rational or moral government, whose actions, by the constitution of its nature, are independent of motives, and whose will is capricious and arbitrary. To exhort, to instruct, to promise, to threaten, would be to no purpose. In short, such a creature, if such could exist, would be a most bizarre and unaccountable being; a mere absurdity in nature, whose existence could serve no end. Were we so constituted as always to be determined by the moral sense, even against the strongest counter motives; this would be consistent with human nature, because it would preserve entire the connection unalterably established betwixt the will and the prevailing motive. But to break this connection altogether; to introduce an unbounded arbitrary liberty in opposition to motives, would be, instead of amending, to deform and unhinge the human constitution. No reason have we therefore to regret, that we find the will necessarily subjected to motives; unless we would have man to be a whimsical and ridiculous being.iii
In the course of this reasoning, we have abstracted from all controversies about divine prescience and decree. Though from what hath been proved it appears, that the Divine Being decreed all future events: for he who gave such a nature to his creatures, and placed them in such circumstances, as that a certain train of actions must necessarily follow; did certainly resolve or decree, that events should fall out, and men should act as they do. Prescience indeed is not, properly speaking, any cause of events: for events do not happen because they are foreseen, but because they are to happen, they are capable of being foreseen. Though prescience doth not cause, yet it undoubtedly supposes, the certain futurition (as schoolmen speak) of events. And were there not causes that render the existence of future events certain, it would involve a contradiction to maintain, that future events could be certainly foreseen.iv
In Sketches of the History of Man, the argument here insisted on is brought within a narrow compass.
With respect to instinctive actions, no man I presume thinks there is any freedom: an infant applies to the nipple, and a bird builds a nest, no less necessarily than a stone falls to the ground. With respect to voluntary actions, the necessity is the same, tho’ less apparent at first view. The external action is determined by the will, the will is determined by desire, and desire by what is agreeable or disagreeable. Here is a chain of causes and effects, not one link of which is arbitrary, or under command of the agent. He cannot act but according to his will: he cannot will but according to his desire: he cannot desire but according to what is agreeable or disagreeable in the objects perceived. Nor do these qualities depend on his inclination or fancy: he has no power to make a beautiful woman appear ugly, nor to make a rotten car case smell sweet.*
Thus, after a deep and diligent investigation, it is discovered, that moral necessity and prescience in the Deity are perfectly consistent with liberty or absolute freedom in acting; a seeming paradox which that acute and penetrating philosopher Mr. Locke despaired ever to explain. In a letter to Mr. Molyneux he writes,
I own freely to you the weakness of my understanding, that though it be unquestionable that there is omnipotence and omniscience in God our Maker, and though I cannot have a clearer perception of any thing than that I am free; yet I cannot make freedom in man consistent with omnipotence and omniscience in God, though I am as fully persuaded of both as of any truth I most firmly assent to: and therefore I have long since given off the consideration of that question; resolving all into this short conclusion, That if it be possible for God to make a free agent, then man is free, though I see not the way of it.
The sum of what is discovered concerning the impressions we have of contingency in events, and liberty in actions, is this. Comparing together the moral and the material world, every thing is as much the result of established laws in the one as in the other. There is nothing in the whole universe that can properly be called contingent, that may be, or may not be; nothing loose and fluctuating in any part of nature: but every motion in the material, and every action in the moral world, are directed by immutable laws; so that, whilst these laws remain in force, not the smallest link of the universal chain of causes and effects can be broken, nor any one thing be otherwise than it is.*
Against this system I know but of one objection that appears formidable. It is observed above, that though with respect to any future event we constantly judge that it will be the result of some motive, yet that after the event happens the judgement varies: looking back upon any shameful action, we condemn the author as having done wrong; have a conviction that he ought to have acted a better part; and the author himself has the same conviction. Is not this an appeal to every man’s own conviction, that he is not a necessary agent; and can he be a necessary agent when he is conscious of the contrary? Let any man consider his own case when stung with remorse for having committed a gross crime: he will acknowledge his being convinced that he might and ought to have restrained his passion, that he is ashamed of himself and repents bitterly. I consider my own case. In a fit of remorse for having injured my best friend, conscience stares me in the face, and condemns me for a deed that even the most violent passion cannot excuse. “I was not deprived of my senses: I knew what I was doing; and yet yielded to an outragious passion, which I ought to have restrained.” This objection is stated in the former editions;4 and the only answer I could find was, that this sentiment relates to physical power only, “that I was compelled by no force, and that I could have acted a right part had I been so inclined.” One is easily convinced of a favourite opinion; and in the heat of composition I was satisfied with that answer. But upon a long interval the subject becoming in a measure new again, I perceived the answer to be insufficient. After much perplexity, I discovered an answer, which I am confident will be found solid and satisfactory. I take it for granted, that during a fit of passion instigating one to perpetrate a lawless deed, there is not the slightest notion of a power to resist; will being the necessary consequence of desire, as the external act is of will. But no sooner does remorse make its appearance, than we find it accompanied with the notion of are straining power. From the example now given, and from a thousand of the same kind that may be recollected, there is reason to believe that the notion of a restraining power constantly attends remorse; and so far they are connected. Further, that the connection is so entire as that the notion of a restraining power never appears alone, will be evident from the following example. A man who had long professed himself my friend, takes advantage of the confidence I have in him, to corrupt my wife. Inflamed with revenge, I put the infamous betrayer to death. This, it is true, is a crime prohibited by the law of the land; but I cannot repent of it, nor have any remorse. My constant reflection is, that not a man of spirit but would have done the same; and that my revenge was not only just but unavoidable. This example is given as a copy of human nature, representing what every man of feeling would think on the like occasion. If so, it follows that where there is no remorse, there is no notion of liberty or a restraining power after the deed is committed more than before. Thus, we find that remorse and the notion of a restraining power are constant companions; and in particular that the latter never appears without the former. What remains for giving complete satisfaction, is to make out that it is the nature of remorse to produce that delusive notion. For this I refer to Elements of Criticism,* where is handled the irregular influence of passion on our opinions and sentiments. All passions, especially those that are violent, are prone to their gratification. Remorse for an atrocious crime, makes the man odious in his own eyes: it gratifies his remorse to find himself guilty; and to leave him without excuse, the passion forces upon him a conviction that he might and ought to have done other ways. If the unlawful act be so slight or so natural as to give no remorse, the man sees what he has done in its true light, without the disguise of passion. During the act he is not conscious of any restraining power; and as little after. Let any action of that kind be analised, and it will be found, that any notion of a power to act against motives, is intirely owing to the irregular influence of passion. So mighty indeed is its influence, as to force upon a man a sort of conviction of guilt, even where the fact done was accidental so as to admit no notion of are straining power. Agentleman, directing his pistol to a troublesome cur biting his horse’s heels, most unhappily lodged the ball in the breast of a young girl crossing the way. In his cool moments he was conscious of innocence; but at whatever time his imagination painted the sweet and beautiful creature lying dead at his feet, his tender and sensible heart stung him with a sort of remorse, and he could not help condemning himself as rash, impetuous, and in a degree criminal. If the reader wish more light on this curious subject, he will please to cast his eye on Sketches of the History of Man.* What is here observed with respect to the author himself, is equally applicable to the by standers. Remorse is gratified in the criminal by a conviction that it was in his power to have restrained his passion. The indignation of the bystanders is equally gratified, by thinking as the guilty person does. But with respect to any slight wrong that raises little or no indignation in others, there is nothing to bias them against truth, more than to bias the actor himself. And now having proved, I hope to the satisfaction of my readers, that this formidable objection is no better than a bugbear, and that any notion we have of a power to act against motives is a delusion of passion not of nature, I rest with entire satisfaction in the necessary chain of causes and effects, which I am thoroughly convinced to be the system of nature.v
The doctrine of universal necessity being thus laid open and proved to be the system of nature, we proceed to a most importants peculation; which is to consider how far that system is consistent with our moral sentiments, and in particular with those of praise, blame, merit, demerit, guilt, &c. While we continue uncertain as to that point, we cannot have any just or accurate notion of morals. The doctrine of liberty and necessity is in that view worthy of great attention; and in that view chiefly was it undertaken. To find our actions governed by a law repugnant to the foregoing moral sentiments, which are natural and universal, would in the human constitution be a puzzling circumstance. It would argue a defect or inconsistence, not uncommon in works of art, but rare if at all to be found in any work of nature. And yet we have occasion to be alarmed, when we hear the advocates for liberty of indifference reason in the following manner.
If human actions be necessary, and if we know them to be so, what ground can there be for reprehension and blame, for self condemnation and remorse? If a clock were sensible of its own motions, knowing that they proceed according to necessary laws, could it find fault with itself for striking wrong? Would it not rather blame the artist, who had ill-adjusted the wheels on which its movements depend? They urge accordingly, that upon the system of necessity, the moral constitution of our nature is totally over turned; that there is an end to all the operations of conscience about right and wrong; and that man is no longer a moral agent, nor the subject of praise or blame for what he does.
This is a strong attack upon human nature; and better a thousand times give up the system we have been contending for, than acknowledge that man is incapable of morality. But let us not rashly relinquish a system that is so well supported. Upon a narrower inspection, it may possibly be discovered, that the moral sense is concordant with necessity, and that the connection betwixt desire and will is no obstacle to approbation and disapprobation, praise and blame. To have a just conception of this matter, we must examine carefully by what particular circumstances these moral sentiments are occasioned. I observe, in the first place, that an action is always approved when it proceeds from a virtuous motive, and consequently hath a good aim or tendency. The connection betwixt the motive and the action, so far from diminishing, is the very circumstance that constitutes the morality of the action: the greater the influence of the motive, the greater the virtue of the actor, and the more warm our approbation. Do we not even praise one for modesty or sweetness of temper? The Deity is an object of the highest praise, for the very reason that he is necessarily good. On the other hand, an action is disapproved when it proceeds from a vitious motive; and the more influence the motive had on the agent, the greater his vice, and the more warm our disapprobation. We are so constituted, as to blame ourselves, even when we have the clearest conviction of inability to behave better. A coward is conscious that he has no heart to encounter danger, and that he will certainly turn his back upon the approach of an enemy. Though he cannot overcome this weakness, yet he accuses and blames himself: he cannot help censuring himself in this manner, more than he can help his weakness, or more than he can help being ashamed of it. Upon the same foundations are evidently built our notion of rewards and punishments. If virtue ought to be rewarded, the man hath the best claim who is virtuous by the constitution of his nature, and upon whom a vitious motive hath no influence. On the other hand, no man is more guilty or more deserving of punishment, than he who by his nature hath the strongest propensity to vice, and upon whom virtuous motives have little or no effect.
But in the foregoing instances it will be urged, that the man we praise or blame had it in his power to act a different part; that we praise him for a benevolent action, or blame him for one that is sordid, because such action was his choice when he could have abstained from it. I admit, that in all our moral sentiments it is understood that the person acts voluntarily, and according to the dictates of his own heart. A man, in doing what is worthy of praise or blame, must be free from external coaction, and at liberty to follow his own choice. This power or freedom, which is perfectly consistent with moral or voluntary necessity, is evidently the only power that morality requires. Supposing only a man to be free to act as he pleases, we currently praise or blame him for the part he acts, without requiring any other condition. We demand not that he should have a power to act in contradiction to his own desire and choice. The idea of such a power enters not into any of our moral sentiments: on the contrary, if the nature of any individual be either so good or so bad, as that he could not avoid being determined to the choice he made, he on that very account is the more praised or blamed.
We then find, that the moral sentiments have their full swing, without supposing liberty of indifference, or any thing like a power to act against our own will. Nor can I even conceive, that such a power, supposing it real, could add any spring or force to the moral sense. When a man commits a crime, let us suppose that he could have resisted the prevailing motive. Why then did he not resist? why did he yield to the vitious motive, and bring upon himself shame and misery? The answer must be, for no other can be given, That his disposition was bad, that he is a wretch, and deserves to be detested and abhorred. Here we clearly see, upon the present supposition as well as upon that of necessity that praise and blame rest ultimately upon the disposition or frame of mind; that a virtuous disposition is the only object of praise, and a vitious disposition the only object of blame. It is therefore a fond conceit, to espouse the chimerical system of liberty of indifference, as necessary to explain our moral sentiments. These sentiments are perfectly concordant with the system of voluntary necessity; and supposing liberty of indifference, we cannot even conceive how it should make man a more proper subject of moral sentiments, than in fact he is, considered as a necessary being.
I proceed one step farther; which is, to make out, that liberty of indifference, far from being implied in the moral sentiments of praise and blame, would in some measure cramp the moral sense, and blunt the sentiments arising from it. In order to put this matter in its true light, I shall state a case. A man tempted to betray his trust, deliberates, wavers, but at last rejects the offered bribe, and adheres to his duty. Another man, without the least deliberation, rejects with disdain the bribe, and considers the offer as a high injury. Which of these persons is the most virtuous and the most praise-worthy, no one is at a loss to say. A power of resisting the strongest motive, must imply a wavering and fluctuation of the mind, betwixt the motive, and the power of resistance; for, by the supposition, the mind has both to chuse on. If so, a man endued with liberty of indifference is justly represented by the person first described, fluctuating and wavering betwixt a virtuous and vitious motive; and upon that account the actions of a man endued with liberty of indifference, will, in the estimation of all mankind, be less praise or blame worthy, than the actions of a man who is unerringly directed by the strongest motive without wavering or fluctuating. And indeed, it would sound extremely harsh, that a good or an evil tendency, so slight as to leave power in the mind to resist it, should be an object of greater praise or blame, than a tendency so strong as to leave no power of resistance. Viewing the matter in this light, it evidently appears, that a power to act against motives, so far from being necessary to found praise or blame, would, if it really did exist, detract considerably from both.
Having showed that our moral sentiments are perfectly concordant with moral necessity; I urge, in the next place, that no other system of action can lay a better foundation for praise or blame, or for any moral sentiment, than the system of voluntary necessity doth. It is, I hope, made evident, that liberty of indifference or a power to act against motives, lays not so good a foundation; and yet I cannot imagine another system that will better answer the purpose. In judging of moral sentiments, an error is extremely apt to creep in. We have a clear conception, that a man under coaction or external force acts involuntarily, and can neither be praised nor blamed for what he doth. This reflection we unwarily apply to moral necessity, not adverting to the substantial difference betwixt a voluntary and involuntary action. A man in his own conscience is made accountable for every voluntary action: it is not regarded whether he had or had not a power of resistance. And it has been proved, that were that power to be regarded, so far from contributing to praise or blame, it would have no other effect but to lessen both.
The strong prepossession in favour of liberty of indifference, ariseth, I am sensible, from a laudable cause: it is conceived to be more consistent with our sentiments of morality, than the system of necessity is. This opinion is found to be erroneous. A man who is necessarily good or bad by the constitution of his nature, deserves more to be praised or blamed, than if he had a power of resisting all motives, and acting against them. And indeed as every action doth proceed from a virtuous or vitious temper as its primary cause; praise or blame must ultimately rest upon that cause, and not upon the external action, or the power of acting. This consideration ought to make us chearfully abandon a chimerical system, which at the same time is less concordant with the moral sense, than the system of necessity is.
And this leads me to enquire, whence is derived the delusive notion of liberty of indifference; for surely it could not be generally espoused without some foundation. It has been observed, that we have no intuitive perception or direct consciousness of our being necessary agents; and that this branch of our nature is hid from the generality of mankind. The knowledge of it, not being necessary for our well-being, is left to be gathered by reasoning and reflection. We are however intuitively conscious of freedom of action, and of a power existing in us to act according to our will and choice. This power is far from being the same with that of willing and chusing in an arbitrary manner; and yet, in superficial thinking, we are apt to confound these two powers, and to consider them as the same. Power indeed is with mankind a favourite idea, and we are prone to adopt any system which seems to extend it. The operations of the will, beside, are subtile and delicate; and, with the bulk of mankind, a power to chuse, and a power to act according to our choice, though essentially distinct, pass readily for being the same.
Having discovered, that the moral sense is perfectly concordant with moral or voluntary necessity, as also, that we have no such thing naturally as a sense of power to act in contradiction to our inclination and choice; I proceed to a more particular examination of the sense of contingency, in the view chiefly to discover, if possible, whether it have any deeper root in our nature, than the erroneous conviction of liberty of indifference. In our ordinary train of thinking, it is certain, that all events appear not to us as necessary. A multitude of events seem to be under our power to cause or to prevent; and we readily make a distinction betwixt events that are necessary, i.e. that must be, and events that are contingent, i.e. that may be or may not be. This distinction is void of truth; for all things that fall out either in the material or moral world, are, as we have seen, alike necessary, and alike the result of fixed laws. Yet whatever may be the conviction of a philosopher, the distinction betwixt things necessary and things contingent, possesses his common train of thought, as much as those of the most illiterate. We act universally upon that distinction: nay, it is in truth the cause of all the labour, care, and industry of mankind. I illustrate this doctrine by an example. Constant experience hath taught us, that death is a necessary event. The human frame is not made to last for ever in its present condition; and no man thinks of more than a temporary existence upon this globe. But the particular time of our death appears a contingent event: however certain it be, that the time and manner of a man’s death is determined by a train of preceding causes, and is not less fixed than the hour of the sun’s rising or setting; yet no person is affected by that doctrine. In the care of prolonging life, we are directed by the supposed contingency of the time of death; which, to a certain term of years, we consider as depending in a great measure on ourselves, by caution against accidents, due use of food, exercise, &c. These means are prosecuted with the same diligence, as if there were in fact no necessary train of causes to fix the period of life. In short, whoever attends to his own practical ideas, whoever reflects upon the meaning of the following words, which occur in all languages, of things possible, contingent, that are in our power to cause or prevent; whoever, I say, reflects upon these words, will clearly see, that they suggest certain perceptions or notions, repugnant to the doctrine above established of universal necessity.*
So stands the fact, and the question is, Whence proceeds this delusive sense of contingency? Is it original, or can it otherwise be accounted for? Reflecting upon this subject, I find that uniform events are understood to be necessary, such as day and night, winter and summer, death, &c.; but that events in which there are any degrees of variety, such as the time of death, good or bad weather, &c. are generally understood to be contingent. Does our sense of contingency arise from the uncertainty of the event? Hardly so; for uncertainty cannot naturally have any other effect upon the mind, than to produce a consciousness of our ignorance. The sense of contingency, then, with respect to things uncertain, must be pronounced an original law in our nature. By this law we are made to conceive many future events as in themselves uncertain, and as having no determined cause of existence. Contingency in this view may justly be considered as a secondary quality, which hath no real existence in things; but, like other secondary qualities, is made to appear as an attribute of events, in order to serve the purposes of human life.
This sense of contingency in events, regards not only events in the material world, but also what arise from moral causes, or from the activity of man. The event of a pitched battle betwixt two armies equal in numbers and in discipline, every one deems to be in some measure contingent. When a man wavers in his resolutions, the course he will steer is reckoned a matter of chance or contingency. But how can the sense of contingency in this case be reconciled to the doctrine of our being necessary agents? A sense of necessity would, no doubt, be directly contradictory to the sense of contingency; and both could not subsist together. To make way for the sense of contingency, the necessary connection betwixt desire and will is kept out of sight; and by this contrivance it is, that we are not sensible of being necessary agents. The discovery that we are so, proceeds from a long train of reasoning; and the conviction that arises from a process of reasoning, is too faint to counter balance an intuitive perception or original sense of contingency.vi
The Deity is the primary cause of all things. In his infinite mind he formed the great plan of government, which is carried on by laws fixed and immutable. These laws produce a regular train of causes and effects in the moral as well as material world, bringing about those events which are comprehended in the original plan, and admitting the possibility of none other. This universe is a vast machine, winded up and set a-going: the several springs and wheels operate unerringly one upon another: the hand advanceth and the clock strikes, precisely as the artist had determined. Whoever hath just ideas, will see this to be the real theory of the universe; and that other ways there can be no general order, no whole, no plan, no means nor end in its administration. In this plan, man bears his part, and fulfils certain ends for which he was designed. He must be an actor, and must act with consciousness of spontaneity. He exercises thought and reason, and his nature is improved by the due use of these powers. Consequently, it is necessary, that he should have some notion of things depending upon himself to cause, that he may be led to a proper exercise of that activity for which he was designed. But as a sense of necessity would be a perpetual contradiction to that activity, it was well ordered, that his being a necessary agent should be hid from him. To have had his perceptions and ideas formed upon the plan of universal necessity, to have seen himself a part of that great machine, winded up and set a-going by the author of his nature; would have been inconsistent with the part that is allotted him to act. Then indeed the ignava ratio, the inactive doctrine of the Stoics, would have followed. Conceiving no thing to be contingent, or depending upon himself to cause, there would have been no room for forethought about futurity, nor for any sort of industry and care. He would have had no motives to action, but immediate sensations of pleasure and pain. He must have been formed like the brutes, who have no other principle of action but mere instinct. The few instincts he is at present endued with, would have been insufficient. He must have had an instinct to sow, another to reap; he must have had instincts to pursue every conveniency, and perform every office of life. In short, reason and thought could not have been exercised in the way they are, had not man been furnished with a sense of contingency, and been kept in ignorance of his being a necessary agent. Let the philosopher meditate in his closet upon abstract truth; let him be ever so much convinced of the settled necessary train of causes and effects, which leaves nothing, properly speaking, in his power; yet the moment he comes forth into the world, he acts as a free agent. And, what is wonderful, though in this he acts upon a false supposition, yet he is not thereby misled from the ends of action, but, on the contrary, fulfils them to better advantage.vii
So far the second edition, which, with respect to the present article, is preserved entire as expressing the notion of chance and contingency hitherto universally admitted. But time, productive of many changes, has upon the thinking part of mankind a great influence in detecting errors. It is now my opinion, that there is no such thing in nature as a sense of chance or contingency, such as is described above; that on the contrary our notions of them are entirely consonant to the system of universal necessity, and therefore not in any degree delusive. To clear that important subject, I lay down a preliminary proposition which will have the voice of every thinking person, namely, that nothing can happen without a cause. This proposition is the work of nature, and familiar even among children, who are ever solicitous to learn, why such a thing happened, or how it came about. The most singular events are not made an exception: rather than rest satisfied without a cause, the vulgar commonly recur to invisible powers. It is indeed true, that our conviction of a cause is not always equally entire. With respect to events that happen regularly, such as summer, winter, rising and setting of the sun, we have an entire conviction of a cause. It is less entire with respect to irregular events, such as alterations in the weather; and least of all entire with respect to events that are not only irregular but that seldom fall out, such as a meteor, a water-spout, or an earthquake. But with respect to no event whatever, does our conviction of a cause vanish so entirely, as to give way to a notion of any thing happening without a cause. Chance is applied to events that have happened: contingency, to future events. By the expression that such a thing happened by chance, it cannot be meant that it happened without a cause, or that chance was the cause; for no one ever imagined that an effect can exist without a cause, or that chance can act and produce effects. Nothing is or can be meant, but that we are ignorant of the cause, and that for ought we know the event might have happened or not happened. With respect to contingency, future events are said to be contingent when they cannot be foreseen; not that they will happen without a cause. Chance and contingency thus explained are entirely consistent with the conviction of universal necessity: they are expressive of our ignorance only, not of any looseness in the course of events. The first opportunity I had of publishing this discovery, was in Sketches of the History of Man;* where it is more fully handled; particularly, that a firm conviction of universal necessity has no tendency to make us relax in our pursuits, either for our own good or for that of others; more than a delusive sense of contingency would have.* And here I finish the present Essay with the satisfaction of finding the system of universal necessity firmly established, and free from any delusive sense.
Every man by nature has a sense of himself and of his own existence; which, for the most part, accompanies every thought and action. I say, for the most part, because this sense does not always operate. In a dead sleep we have no consciousness of self. And even some of our waking thoughts pass without it: during a reverie, the mind never thinks of itself. Without this sense, mankind would be in a perpetual reverie: ideas constantly floating in the mind without ever being connected with self. Neither would there be any notion of personal identity; for a man cannot consider himself to be the same person at different times, when he has no consciousness of himself at all.
This consciousness is of a lively kind. Self-preservation is every one’s peculiar care; and the vivacity of that consciousness makes us attentive to our own interest, particularly to shun every appearance of danger: a man in a reverie has no attention to himself. It is remarkable, that one seldom falls asleep till this consciousness vanisheth: its vivacity preserves the mind in motion so as to bar sleep. A purling stream disposes to sleep: it fixes the attention both by sound and sight; and without creating any agitation in the mind, occupies it so much as to make it forget itself. The reading of some books, by similar means, produces the same effect.
The consciousness of self leads me to attribute self to others as I do to myself. When I talk to a person, I say yourself. When I talk of a person, I say his self. When I talk of a thing, I say itself.
I know not by what wrong bias many learned men have been led to think that nothing is to be believed but what can be demonstrated logically. How came they to overlook the evidence of their senses, internal and external, which in instances without number produces conviction superior to that of the strictest demonstration? The celebrated Des Cartes was a great mathematician; and so much accustomed to demonstration, that he would admit no truth but what could be demonstrated in form. So arrant a Quixote was he on this subject, that he was pleased to doubt even of his own existence, till he discovered that notable argument cogito, ergo sum.1 Had he not as good reason to doubt of his thinking as of his existing? Strange! that in a long life the absurdity of this argument never occurred to him. A plain man would have informed him, that every human being has as thorough a conviction of his existence without reasoning, as the most expert mathematician can have with it.
So much for self. We proceed to personal identity. Animals are divided by nature into kinds or species, the individuals of each kind having uniformly the same external figure and internal disposition; but differing in both from the individuals of other kinds. Hence identity of kind in contradistinction to every other kind. Next, though the corporeal part of an animal is continually changing by perspiration and admission, yet it continues the same animal from birth to dissolution, the same with respect to its life, its faculties, its temper and disposition. Thus identity is predicated of an animal in contradistinction to every other animal. What is here said with respect to animals is equally applicable to plants.
Identity is also attributed to works of art, changes in the component parts notwithstanding. A ship may have been repaired at different times, till not a single original rope or plank be left. It is however held to be the same ship, not now from its component parts, but from the same idea being applied to it in all its changes. Law conforms itself to this sort of identity: a man is entitled to have a watch he had lost restored to him, considerable alterations in its constituent parts notwithstanding. The identity of a river cannot depend on the water, which is continually flowing; nor on the bed, which frequently changes, but on the same idea being invariably attributed to it in all its changes. The name of a ship, of a river, or of any work of art, tends to keep the mind steady in its idea of their identity. The identity of an animal or of a plant is the work of nature, independent of our ideas: the identity of a work of art through its different changes, depends intirely on our ideas.
Every one knows that there are different species of animals and plants, and can readily apply identity to one species in contradistinction to others. It is still more obvious to apply identity to an individual, in contradistinction to any other individual of whatever species. The means by which that knowledge is obtained, require to be explained, for they are not obvious. There is no difficulty with respect to works of art, the identity of which depends on our own ideas. But the identity of the works of nature is independent of our ideas, and is not obvious to any of our external senses. To explain our knowledge of that identity, I begin with the knowledge that every man hath of his own identity, as the simplest case. The consciousness that every man hath of himself and of his own existence, qualifies all his actions. I am eating, I am walking, I am speaking. This is so natural, that even children distinguish themselves from others. Now, if self qualify every present thought and action, it must also qualify every idea of memory; because that faculty recals to the mind things as they happened: I was present at the King’s coronation; and, at a greater distance of time, I saw the first stone laid of the Ratcliff library at Oxford. It is thus that I am made acquainted with my personal identity; that is, with being the person who saw the things mentioned above, and every other thing recorded in my memory as said, done, or suffered by me; the same person, without regard to what changes my body may have undergone.
The same sense that by the help of memory discovers to me my own identity, discovers to me also the identity of other beings. A child who sees a dog of a certain shape and colour, knows it to be the same it saw yesterday. I am assured of my own identity by connecting every thing I thought and did with myself. The knowledge I have of the identity of other beings is from remembering their appearance to be the same at different times.
Our knowledge of the identity of a species is derived from the same sense. The eye serves us to distinguish a horse from a cow, as different individuals; but it can carry us no farther. It is nature that teaches us, that the horse belongs to one species and the cow to another. Other animals can distinguish one individual from another, as well as we can; but it is not probable, that brute animals have any conception of different species.
The knowledge I have of my personal identity, is what constitutes me a moral agent, accountable to God and to man for every action of my life. Were I kept ignorant of my personal identity, it would not be in my power to connect any of my past actions with myself: I could not think myself accountable for them, more than if done by another person. It would answer no good purpose, to reward me for a benevolent act or to punish me for a crime, if I could not connect them with myself as the author. The reward would be considered by me as foolish or whimsical: the punishment, as grossly unjust. Personal identity therefore is the corner-stone of morality, and of laws human and divine.
As I have a sense of my own identity, I have a conviction from the light of nature, that all of my own species have the same sense of their identity. From that conviction it is, that magistrates and judges have authority to reward and to punish.
Will the reader here indulge me a short episode, connected intimately with the principal subject? That man is finely adjusted internally as well as externally to his situation on this earth, is made evident from a thousand instances. I give one more, not a little interesting. Did every individual animal differ from every other in shape and nature, deplorable would be the condition of man. His experience of one would afford him no light with respect to others: he would be utterly at a loss to distinguish the noxious from the innocent, or to select what are proper for food and for other uses. But the author of nature leaves nothing disjointed in his works. He himself has taught man to know animals, and to bring under subjection such as can serve his purposes. The means employed for that important end, merit our attention. Animals are divided into kinds or species, differing in their internal character as well as external figure; and the individuals that compose a species have all of them the same character and figure. Unless we were made acquainted with these particulars, we would be left to starve in the midst of plenty. Experience evidently would be an instructor by far too slow: it would require ages to give us the perfect knowledge of animals by that means. Instruction is conveyed to us by an internal sense as above mentioned; a most compendious method of opening to us all the knowledge of animals that is necessary for our well-being.
We have an innate sense of a common nature, not only in our own species, but in every species of animals. And our conviction holds true; there being a remarkable uniformity in creatures of the same kind, and a disformity no less remarkable in creatures of different kinds.*
This subject leads to a thought, which will be more fully displayed in handling the veracity of our senses. Any doctrine that tends to a distrust of our senses, must land in absurd scepticism. If our senses be not admitted as the evidence of truth, I see not that we can be certain of any fact whatever: from what is now observed it appears, that we cannot be certain even of our own existence, nor of our being the same person at different times.
With respect to liberty and necessity, our author’s doctrine may be comprised under the following heads. 1. That man is a rational being endued with liberty. 2. That his liberty consists in acting voluntarily, or according to his inclination and choice. 3. That his will is necessarily, that is infallibly and certainly, determined by motives; or, in the style of the schools, voluntas necessario sequitur ultimum judicium intellectus practici. 4. That, consequently, liberty of in difference, or an arbitrary power of acting without or against motives, is no part of human nature. 5. That though human actions proceed in a fixed train, this is owing to no blind fate, but to the predestination or decree of God, who is the first cause of all things.
Concerning these points, philosophers and divines may differ in opinion, and each side will impute error to the other; but, that by any of the church of Scotland such opinions should be censured as unsound or heterodox, shows great ignorance, considering that they are espoused by our first great reformers, and inculcated in all the most noted systems of theology, composed by calvinist divines and taught in our universities. With us it is a fundamental principle, That God from all eternity hath fore ordained whatever comes to pass; that all events are immutably and necessarily fixed by the decree of God, and cannot happen in any other way than he hath predetermined. The most orthodox divines agree with our author, not only in his doctrine of necessity as founded on the decree of God; but like ways in distinguishing moral necessity which effects the mind only, from physical necessity which affects the body only; and they acquiesce in his explanation of moral necessity as produced by the operation of motives on the will. They hold with him, that liberty is opposed, not to necessity, but to constraint; that it consists not in indifference, but in spontaneity, or lubentia rationalis;2 and that the will necessarily follows the last judgment of the understanding. They show, that none of the consequences follow that are endeavoured to be laid upon our author; but that virtue and vice, rewards and punishments, are consistent with a necessity of this sort. Thus, for instance, the great Calvin reasons in the following manner,
Seeing we have often mentioned the distinction betwixt necessity and constraint, upon which this whole controversy turns, we must now explain it a little more accurately. They who defend free will in opposition to divine grace, maintain, that there can be neither virtue nor vice where there is necessity. We answer, That God is necessarily good; and that his goodness though necessary is not upon that account the less worthy of praise. Again, that the devil is necessarily wicked; and yet his wickedness is not the less criminal. Nor is this any invention of ours; for in the same manner St. Augustine and St. Bernard reason.———Our adversaries insist, That what is voluntary, cannot at the same time be necessary. We shew them, that both these qualities are found in the goodness of God. They pretend it to be absurd, that men should be blamed for actions they must unavoidably perform. By the instance above given, we show, that there is in this no absurdity.———They object again, That unless virtue and vice proceed from a free choice, according to their sense of freedom, there can be no reason either for inflicting punishments, or bestowing rewards. As to punishments, I answer, That they are justly inflicted on those who commit evil; because it makes no difference, whether their choice was free, i.e. arbitrary, or whether they were under the influence of bad motives; provided only they were voluntary in their guilt.———As to rewards there is certainly no absurdity in our saying, that these are bestowed rather according to the goodness of God, than the merit of men.
Calvin. Tractat. Theolog. p. 152. edit. Amstelod. 1667.3
The learned Francis Turretine, Professor in Geneva, whose authority as an orthodox divine will be allowed to be of the greatest weight, examines this question fully in his Institut. Theolog. under the head de Libero Arbitrio, vol. 1. p. 728. to 737. and maintains the same doctrine with our author.4 He represents it as the capital and fundamental heresy of the Pelagians and Arminians, that they hold liberty to consist in indifference, not in spontaneity; and that they maintain every kind of necessity to be inconsistent with liberty. With great accuracy and strength of reason, he considers the several kinds of necessity. He shows, that two of them, coaction, and physical necessity arising from the laws of matter, are destructive of liberty. But that rational or moral necessity, which arises from the constitution of the mind as necessarily determined by motives, and the necessity which arises from the divine decree, are perfectly consistent with liberty in its orthodox sense. He removes the objection against this doctrine of its making man a mere machine; and, much in the same manner with our author, shows, that upon the Arminian liberty of indifference, or an arbitrary power of counteracting all motives, man would be a most irrational and unaccountable being, to whom argument and reasoning, precept and command, would be addressed in vain. The following are his words, (p. 566. vol. 1.),
There are only two kinds of necessity which are inconsistent with liberty; physical necessity, and the necessity of constraint. The other kinds of necessity, which arise either from the decree or influence of God, or from the object itself and the last judgment of the understanding, are so far from over throwing liberty, that they rather establish it; because they do not constrain the will, but persuade it; and produce a voluntary choice in one that was before unwilling. For whatever a man does according to his inclination, with judgment and understanding and with the full consent of his will, it is impossible but he must do freely, although in another sense he does it necessarily. This holds, from whatever quarter we suppose the necessity laid upon him to arise; whether it be from the existence of the thing itself, or from the motive effectually determining his will, or from the decree and concourse of the first cause.
Benedict Pictet, Turretine’s successor in the chair of Geneva, and acknowledged in the universities of this country as an author of the soundest principles, establishes the same doctrine in so clear a manner, as that words cannot be more precise and express.
Before we discourse of free will we must explain the meaning of the term. By free will we understand nothing else, but a power of doing what we please, with judgment and understanding, without any external compulsion. To this free will two things are opposed. First, physical or natural necessity; such as we see in inanimate beings; for instance, the necessity by which fire burns. Next, the necessity of constraint; which arises from external violence, imposed against the inclination of him who suffers it; as when a man is hurried to prison, or to an idol-temple. But we must not oppose to free will that necessity of dependence on God which all creatures lie under, and from which no rational being can be exempted; nor that rational necessity which arises from the last judgment of the understanding; as when I necessarily chuse that which appears to me best; for my choice, though necessary, is notwithstanding free. Wherefore, all that is requisite to freedom is, that one should act spontaneously, and with understanding: which clearly follows from this, that God is the freest of all beings, and yet he is necessarily determined to good. The same holds of saints and angels. Liberty therefore does not consist in indifference: for if so, God would not be a free being; and the more man was determined to good, or the more perfect he was, the less liberty he would enjoy; which is absurd. This is further confirmed by the following reasoning. We all chuse what appears to us our chief good or happiness with entire liberty: for who is not hearty and voluntary in such choice? Yet to this choice we are determined by a strong and irresistible necessity: for no man has any freedom of indifference in this case. No man can wish himself miserable, or can chuse evil as such. Liberty therefore by no means consists in indifference.
Theolog. Christ. l. 4. cap. 6. § 4.5
Of the modern Calvinist writers who agree with our author, we shall give one example, the Reverend Mr. Jonathan Edwards minister of Stock-bridge in New England, in his late treatise, intitled, A careful and strict inquiry into the modern prevailing notions of that freedom of will which is supposed to be essential to moral agency, virtue and vice, reward and punishment, praise and blame. Published at Boston 1754.6 The piety and orthodoxy of this author, it is presumed, none but Arminians will adventure to call in question. Nothing can be better calculated than this book to answer all the objections against our author’s doctrine of moral necessity, to shew its consistency with reason and scripture, and the injustice of ascribing to it any bad tendency. To quote particular passages is unnecessary; for the whole book, from beginning to end, is one continued chain of argumentation in favour of this doctrine. He every where holds and maintains,
That the will is in every case necessarily determined by the strongest motives, and that this moral necessity (p. 24.) may be as absolute as natural necessity; that is, that a moral effect may be as perfectly connected with its moral cause, as a natural effect is with its natural cause.
For, says he, (p. 22.), “The difference between these two does not lie so much in the nature of the connection, as in the two terms connected.” He rejects the notion of liberty, as implying any self-determining power in the will, any indifference or contingency, p. 29.; and shews in several chapters, p. 135.-192. that those notions of liberty which the Arminians hold, are so far from being necessary to accountableness, to virtue or vice, to praise or blame, that, on the contrary, they are inconsistent with virtue, which must always suppose the determining power of motives.
He examines the passages of scripture that relate to this doctrine. He shews, that the acts of the will of the human soul of Christ were necessarily holy, yet virtuous, praise-worthy, and rewardable. He answers the objection to this doctrine of its making God the author of sin, exactly in the same way with our author, by distinguishing between the intention of God and the intention of the sinner.
Though no man, who either knows the character of this author or peruses his book, can entertain the least doubt of his zeal for religion; yet it appears, that in New England as well as elsewhere, the worthiest persons are liable to be calumniated and traduced. For Mr. Edwards, when concluding his book, observes (p. 285.)
It is not unlikely that some who value themselves on the supposed rational principles of modern fashionable divinity, will have their indignation raised at the subject of this discourse, and will renew the usual exclamations about the fate of the Heathens, Hobbes’s necessity, and making men mere machines; accumulating the terrible epithets of fatal, inevitable, irresistible, and it may be with the addition of horrid and blasphemous; and perhaps much skill may be used, to set the things which have been said in colours which shall be shocking to the imagination, and moving to the passions of those who have either too little capacity, or too much confidence of the opinions they have imbibed, and contempt of the contrary, to try the matter by any serious and circumspect examination; or some particular things may be picked out, which they think will sound harshest in the ears of the generality; and these may be glossed and descanted on with tart and contemptuous words, and from thence the whole treated with triumph and insult.
How unbecoming and indecent, such methods are, and how unlike the conduct of a fair and impartial inquirer after truth, the Reverend author fully shews; nor can I entertain any doubt that my readers will join with him in condemning such a spirit.
To relieve myself a little from the languid uniformity of a continued defence, I will upon this single occasion change hands, and try my fortune in making an attack. Let us approach a little nearer to this liberty of indifference, which in late times has become so mighty a favourite even with some who would be thought Calvinists, and let us examine whether it will bear a narrow inspection. Perhaps upon a cool survey, it will be found a favourite not worthy to be contended for. Liberty of indifference in chusing betwixt two things of equal importance, is abundantly palatable, and may pass without objection. But liberty of indifference is not confined to cases of this nature. It is asserted of man, that he has a power to will and act, without having any reason or motive whatever to influence his will. A thing still more extraordinary is asserted with equal assurance, that man has a power to will and act, not only without motives, but in direct contradiction to the strongest motives that can influence the mind. It might well be urged, that this doctrine is a bold attack upon the common sense of mankind; and not the less bold, that it is taken for granted without the least evidence, or so much as a single experiment to support it. Such a being there may possibly be as is described; but every man who has not a cause to defend, will bear witness that this is not his case. I venture to affirm, that when the proper questions are put to any plain man who is ignorant of the controversy, his answers to every one of them will be repugnant to liberty of indifference as above explained. But waving this consideration at present, my attack shall be made from a different quarter, by examining the consequences of such a power, supposing it for argument’s sake to be inherent in man. In the essay upon liberty and necessity, it is inculcated at full length, that man endued with this power would be an absurd and unaccountable being: he could not be relied on: oaths and engagements would be but brittle ties; and therefore he would be quite unqualified for the social life. I add, that this power, which is imagined to exist in man in order to bestow on him the greater self-command, has in reality the contrary effect. At the instant perhaps of willing or acting, man, upon this supposition, must have a sway over himself, altogether arbitrary: but then, no measures adjusted before hand, not even the most prudent and sagacious, can have any influence: all may be overturned, no person can say why, at the instant of beginning action. The very moment before, no man can say what he will choose, or how he will act. It is evident from the nature of the thing, that even the Deity can have no foresight of actions that are altogether arbitrary, and independent of all connections internal or external.
I make a second attack, different from the former. I consider man as acting in the great theatre of the world, in which all things are governed by the providence of an almighty Being. As it appears to me, the directing influence of providence, is altogether excluded from human actions by this supposed liberty of indifference. The operations of matter are governed by steady laws, and thereby contribute unerringly to the great designs of providence. But to what rule can the actions of men be subjected, which are supposed to be altogether arbitrary, and under no control? They cannot be under the direction of the Deity; for that supposition effectually annihilates liberty of indifference. The influence of the Deity must be superior to all other motives in determining the will; and consequently, must have the effect to make man a necessary agent in the sense of moral necessity. Man then, by this supposed power, is withdrawn from under the government of providence, and left at large to the most bizarre and most absurd course of action, independent of motives from good or ill, independent of reason, and independent of every view, purpose, or end. Here is chance clearly introduced in its most ugly form, so far as human actions can have an influence. This displays a dismal scene, sufficient to raise horror in every one who has feeling. After this, let not the Arminians cry out against blind fatality; a very uncomfortable doctrine indeed. But is blind fatality worse than blind chance? Could I possibly be convinced of either, I should dread the falling into despair, and the being tempted to deny the being of a God.
But enough of this dismal scene. I return to a thought occasionally thrown out above, that liberty of indifference is an imaginary scheme, unsupported by facts, and of which no man was ever conscious. This leads me to say, that it never was embraced seriously in its true import by any man; not even by the most zealous Arminian. Those who espouse this doctrine, do certainly take up with words, neglecting to examine things as they truly are: for what man of plain sense ever imagined, that he can resolve and will, without being prompted by any consideration, good or bad, and without having any end or purpose in view? When a man acts, it is expected that he can say, what moves him. If he can give no account, every one considers him as a changeling or madman. As a consequence from this, I venture further to say, that the doctrine of moral necessity is that which is universally embraced by men of plain sense, whose minds are not warped by the tenets of a sect. This doctrine, I say, is universally embraced; though not carried its utmost length, nor seen in its full extent, except by the studious and contemplative. With regard to acting, every man indeed conceives himself to be free; because he is conscious that he acts voluntarily, and according to his own choice. He is however at the same time conscious, that he has not the power of chusing or willing arbitrarily or indifferently: his will is regulated by desire, which he is sensible is not under his arbitrary power. And if this be once admitted, the chain of moral necessity is established. For no plain man, at the time of the action, entertains the least doubt, that his will is influenced by desire; which puts a final end to liberty of indifference.
In the foregoing light to me appears unavoidably the celebrated doctrine of liberty of indifference: and when such is my conviction, I can as little avoid thinking that the author of the Essays has done well in contributing to banish the Arminian doctrine out of our Church. It is my serious opinion, that to embrace it with all its necessary consequences, is in effect introducing into this world, blind chance, confusion, and anarchy; which are the high road to Atheism. Far be it however from my thoughts, to accuse Arminians of Atheism, or of irreligion in any degree. I am sensible, that the Arminian doctrine has been and is espoused by many good and pious men. But this I must take the liberty to affirm, that these men stop short at the threshold, without pushing their way forward to behold the ugly appearances within doors. These appearances are now laid open to them. If the doctrine can be moulded into some new shape, to make it square with religion and morality, such improvement must be agreeable to every well-disposed mind, because of the comfort it will afford to those who adhere to liberty of indifference. But, without pretending to the gift of prophecy, I venture to fortel, that it will be extremely difficult to stop any where short of moral necessity; and that any solid reformation of the Arminian doctrine, must infallibly lead to the principles of Calvin, and of our other reformers.
[* ]l’Abbé du Bos.
[1. ]Jean-Baptiste Dubos (1679–1742), Réflexions critiques sur la poésie et sur la peinture (Paris, 1719), Introduction, p. 1; pt. 1, sec. 1, pp. 5–7.
[2. ]Ibid., pt. 1, sec. 2, pp. 12–13, 19, 22.
[* ]Lib. 41 [“Gladiatorial contest exhibited in Roman fashion frightened the spectators, who were unused to such sights, more than it pleased them. By frequently giving these exhibitions, he familiarised the eyes of his people to them so that they learned to enjoy them and he created amongst most of the younger men a passion for arms.” Livy, History of Rome (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1912), vol. 4, 41.20.]
[3. ]John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (London, 1690; reprint, ed. Peter H. Nidditch, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), II.xxi.37, pp. 254–5; II.xxi.43, pp. 259–60.
[1. ]Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713), Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit, in Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (London, 1711; reprint, ed. Lawrence E. Klein, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 230. First published in 1699, the Inquiry argued that man has a “natural sense of right and wrong,” which Shaftesbury called a “moral” sense (pt. 3, sec. 1, pp. 177–9.)
[* ]Page 98.
[* ]Page 101.
[2. ]Francis Hutcheson’s An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (London, 1725) consists of two separate essays bound in one volume. Kames quotes from the second essay (Inquiry II), An Inquiry concerning the Original of our Ideas of Virtue or Moral Good, pp. 249–51. Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746) was Chair of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, where he taught his famous successor Adam Smith, and a major influence on the generation of literati associated with the high point of the Enlightenment in Scotland. Hutcheson drew upon Shaftesbury’s somewhat looser notion of a natural moral sense to posit an innate moral sense, a distinctive faculty of perception, analogous to the external senses, through which people recognize and distinguish between vice and virtue.
[* ]Vol. 3 Part 3 [David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (London, 1739; reprint, ed. David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 3.3.7–12, pp. 368–70.]
[* ]Preface to the later editions of his sermons. [Preface to the 2d ed. (1729) and to subsequent editions of Joseph Butler (1692–1752), Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel (1st ed., London, 1726); in The Works of Joseph Butler, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896; reprint, Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1995), 2:13. Against the psychologicalegoism of Thomas Hobbes, Butler argued that human nature is a complex system in which the principles of self-love and benevolence are guided by conscience or reflection.]
[* ]Genesis xlii. 21, 22.
[3. ]“The sense of justice and injustice is not deriv’d from nature, but arises artificially, tho’ necessarily from education, and human conventions” (Hume, Treatise, 22.214.171.124, p. 311).
[* ]Vol. 3. p. 59.
[† ]Vol. 3. p. 43.
[4. ]Kames cites from Hume’s Treatise, 126.96.36.199, pp. 319–20; 188.8.131.52, p. 309.
[5. ]A reference to the Spartan practice of permitting and even encouraging boys to steal food, as described by Xenophon in the “Constitution of the Lacedaemonians” (2.1.6–9) and by Plutarch in Lycurgus (17).
[* ]P. 102.
[6. ]Hume, Treatise, 184.108.40.206, p. 331.
[* ]Vol. 3. p. 102. [Arguing that the performance of promises is not natural but artificial and conventional, Hume considers the case of a man “unacquainted with society” in order to demonstrate that “I promise” makes no sense outside the context of the social conventions which have already created a sense of obligation to keep one’s promises. Treatise, 220.127.116.11, p. 331.]
[* ]Page 155. [Not traced.]
[7. ]Shaftesbury argues that “partial affection, or social love in part, without regard to a complete society or whole, is in itself an inconsistency and implies an absolute contradiction” (Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit, pt. II, sec. i, p. 205).
[8. ]Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (1.2.6–7) reported that Persian boys learned justice at school, where they brought each other to trial for any number of offences, including that of ingratitude.
[9. ]Samuel Clarke, A Discourse Concerning the Unalterable Obligations of Natural Religion, in A Discourse concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of Christian Revelation (9th ed., London, 1738), pp. 176–7. First published in 1711, the Discourse concerning the Being and Attributes of God consists of the two series of Boyle lectures that Clarke delivered at St Paul’s Cathedral in 1704 and 1705, bound together in one volume. The first set of Boyle lectures, A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, was first published in 1705, while the second set, A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion, was first published in 1706. Samuel Clarke (1675–1729), Anglican clergyman and rationalist theologian, sought to counter both atheism and deism by demonstrating the existence and attributes of God and the moral certainty of Christianity through a series of incontrovertible proofs that no rational person could deny.
[10. ]William Wollaston, The Religion of Nature Delineated (London, 1724). Wollaston (1660–1724) defined the morality of an act in terms of its compatibility with universal moral truths, and asserted that “no act (whether word or deed) of any being, to whom moral good and evil are imputable, that interferes with any true proposition, or denies any thing to be as it is, can be right” (p. 16).
[* ]Theory of Moral Sentiments, p. 2. [Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759; reprint, ed. D. D. Raphael and A. L. Macfie, Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1982), 18.104.22.168, p. 9. By “sympathy” Smith means not only benevolence or compassion but “our fellow-feeling with any passion whatsoever” (22.214.171.124, p. 10).]
[† ]Emile, liv. 4. [Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, ou de l’éducation (1762); Emile, or, On Education, ed. and trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1979), bk. 4, p. 221.]
[* ]See Elements of Criticism, vol. I. page 446. Edit. 5th. [Kames refers to the chapter on “External Signs of Emotions and Passions” in his Elements of Criticism, 5th ed., 2 vols. (Edinburgh and London: 1774), vol. 1, chap. 15. First published in 1762, the Elements of Criticism ran through six editions (the sixth edition, with Kames’s final revisions, was published in 1785; reprint, Peter Jones, ed., 2 vols., Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005), with many reprints in both Britain and America.]
[* ]Observe how far one may be carried in contradiction to moral principles by adopting zealously selfishness as our only rule of conduct. Lord Chesterfield, in a series of letters to his favorite son, takes great pains to initiate him in this poisonous system. The young man is instructed to regard nothing but his own interest; and to boggle at no wickedness that can advance it. Friendship is nothing; blood-relation nothing; dissimulation and treachery are to be no obstacles in the way of his preferment. One lesson I give for a specimen, which is sedulously inculcated, that one sure way of coming at a man’s secret, is under the mask of friendship to corrupt his wife. [Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of (1694–1773), Letters written by the late Right Honourable Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, to his son, Philip Stanhope, Esq., 2 vols. (London, 1774). Though Chesterfield’s Letters were enormously popular and frequently reprinted, many Scottish moralists shared Samuel Johnson’s opinion that “they teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.” James Boswell, Life of Johnson (London, 1791; reprint, ed. R. W. Chapman, New York: Oxford University Press, 1980, p. 188.)]
[11. ]“If, instead of hands with flexible fingers, nature had finished our wrists with hooves like a horse, who can doubt that humans, without useful arts, without dwellings, without defenses against other animals, completely occupied in securing a subsistence and in avoiding ferocious beasts, would still be wandering in the forests?” (Claude-Adrien Helvétius [1715–1771], De l’esprit [Paris, 1758], pt. 1, chap. 1, p. 2). Helvétius’s materialist account of human nature, combined with his resolutely anti-clerical stance, made him one of the most controversial of the Enlightenment philosophes. His Del’esprit (translated as Essays on the Mind in 1759) was banned by the Sorbonne and publicly burned at Paris, and Helvétius was forced to write three recantations.
[* ]Doctor Reid.
[12. ]Kames quotes from a letter by Thomas Reid, 27 February 1778, the full text of which can be found in The Correspondence of Thomas Reid, ed. Paul Wood (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002), pp. 96–8. Thomas Reid (1710–1796), who succeeded Adam Smith as Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow (a position he held from 1764 to 1780), is best known as the founder of the Scottish school of Common Sense philosophy.
[* ]See Elements of Criticism, vol. I. p. 47, Edit. 5th. [Kames, Elements of Criticism, vol. 1, chap. 2, pt. 1, sec. i.]
[† ]“It is the weakness of man, says he, that renders him social. If a man had no use for others, he would never think of an union with them. A being truly happy is a solitary being. I have no conception, that the man who needs nothing can love any thing.”(Emile liv. 4.) Not a word here of an appetite for society, though it makes a principal branch in the nature of man; and is the chief cause that makes men flock together. Nor in his famous discourse upon the origin of inequality among men, is there the least hint of it. If he had acknowledged this appetite, one of the most urgent that belongs to human nature, he would never have preferred the savage state before that of society. It is indeed strange, that an eloquent writer, who paints so deliciously the passions even in their nicest tints, should betray such ignorance in accounting for them. Pity, like the appetite for society, is an original branch of human nature, which is raised at the very first sight of a person in distress. Yet observe how far this author goes out of the road to account for this the simplest of all passions.
[13. ]Not traced. Possibly a reference to Helvétius, whose posthumously published De L’Homme (1772) took aim at the “absurdity” of the “much vaunted moral sense” of “les schaftesburystes” (sec. 5, chap. 3, pp. 12–13).
[* ]Elements of Criticism, vol. I. page 195. Edit. 5th.
[* ]Elements of Criticism, vol. I. page 46. Edit. 5th.
[14. ]“I have come to this conclusion, Chremes, that I do my son a less injury, while I am unhappy; and that it is not right for me to enjoy any pleasure here, until such time as he returns home safe to share it with me.” The speaker here, Menedemus, has exiled himself to the country to lead a life of self-imposed hardship and privation out of remorse for having driven his son from home (Terence, Heautontimorumenos: The Self-Tormentor, 1.1.147–9, in The Comedies of Terence, ed. Henry Thomas Riley, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1874).
[* ]Vol. II. p. 204. Edit. 2d. [A reference to the chapter (or “sketch”) on “Appetite for Society—Origin of National Societies” in Kames, Henry Home, Lord, Sketches of the History of Man, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh, 1778), vol. 2, bk. 2, sketch 1.]
[15. ]David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751; reprint, ed. Tom L. Beauchamp, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 3.1, p. 83.
[* ]Page 34, 35. [Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, 3.2–3, p. 83. Kames does not quote verbatim but paraphrases Hume’s statement that,“ in such a happy state, every other social virtue would flourish . . . but the cautious, jealous virtue of justice would never once have been dreamed of. For what purpose make a partition of goods, when every one has already more than enough? Why give rise to property, where there cannot possibly be any injury?”]
[† ]Page 41. [Ibid., 3.8, p. 85.]
[16. ]Kames’s paraphrase is not entirely accurate. Hume argues that in cases of famine, shipwreck, and other emergencies, “the strict laws of justice are suspended ” in favor of “the stronger motives of necessity and self-preservation” (Ibid.).
[17. ]“Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition that is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man” (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan or the Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civill [1651; reprint, ed. Richard Tuck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], pt. 1, ch. 13, pp. 88–9).
[18. ]Not a direct quote, but Kames’s paraphrase of Hume’s position that the interest of society is “the sole foundation of justice and property” (An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, 3.34, n. 12, p. 93).
[19. ]In his Reflections Concerning Innate Moral Principles (published in 1752, though written in 1724 while he was in exile in France), Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke (1678–1751) argued that self-love was innate while benevolence had to be cultivated by education and experience.
[* ]Page 135. [“’Tis a general remark, that those we call good women’s men, who have either signaliz’d themselves by their amorous exploits, or whose make of body promises any extraordinary vigour of that kind, are well receiv’d by the fair sex, and naturally engage the affections even of those, whose virtue prevents any design of ever giving employment to those talents.” Hume, Treatise, 126.96.36.199.]
[* ]Page 75. [Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, 5.1, fn. 17, pp. 104–5.]
[20. ]“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls” is the moral of Aesop’s tale of Androcles, in which the escaped slave nursed a wounded lion back to health and the two lived together until both man and lion were captured. When Androcles was thrown to the lion as punishment, he faced not a bloodthirsty adversary but his old and grateful friend. Aesop, Fables, retold by Joseph Jacobs, vol. 17, The Harvard Classics (New York: Collier & Son, 1909–14).
[* ]Page 66. [Hume argues that chastity, like justice, is an artificial virtue, based on social utility (An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, 4.5–7, pp. 100–101). Also see the Treatise, 3.2.12. pp. 364–6.]
[* ]Page 31. [An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, 2.22, p. 82.]
[1. ]Here Kames quotes his own words, from Essay III, “Of Liberty and Necessity” (pp. 162–3) of the first edition of his Essays (for textual variations between the three editions, see Appendix).
[2. ]Another direct quotation from the first edition of the Essays (pp. 166–7).
[* ]Vid. his Demonstration of the Being and Attributes, p. 565. fol. edit. and his answer to Collins Passim. [Kames quotes from Proposition X, “The Self-Existent Being, the Supreme Cause of all Things, must of Necessity have Infinite Powers,” of Samuel Clarke’s A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, in A Discourse concerning the Being and Attributes of God, p. 98. Clarke engaged in a series of published exchanges with the freethinker Anthony Collins (1676–1729) over the question of divine will and human agency, and responded to Collins’s Philosophical Inquiry concerning Human Liberty (1717) with his Remarks upon a Book, Entituled, A Philosophical Enquiry concerning Human Liberty (1717).]
[* ]Physical necessity, however, is not always involuntary. Force may be applied to bring about an agreeable event. In this case the necessity is voluntary. A ship having in a storm lost its masts and rigging, is driven towards the port by a violent wind: the seamen being under the power of physical necessity, are entirely passive; but their desire is to be on shore. The necessity they are under, corresponds with their desire, and is thereby voluntary. Elias was translated to heaven in a chariot of fire. The necessity was physical, but it was also voluntary. [The reference to Elias comes from 2 Kings 2:11.]
[* ]Vol. IV. p. 95. Edit. 2d. [From “Liberty and necessity considered with respect to morality,” in Kames, Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 4, bk. 3, sketch 8. As Kames notes at the end of this sketch (p. 118), his discussion is an abridgement of the essay “Of Liberty and Necessity” from the Essays, parts of which were also published in the second edition (1767) of the Principles of Equity (1st ed. 1760).]
[3. ]Locke to Molyneux, Jan. 1692–3, Some Familiar Letters between Locke and several of his Friends, in The Works of John Locke, 12th ed., 10 vols. (London, 1823), 8:304. William Molyneux (1656–1698), Anglo-Irish mathematician and astronomer, translated Descartes’ Meditations into English as Six metaphysical meditations wherein it is proved that there is a God and that mans mind is really distinct from his body (London, 1680). Kames cites from part 7 of Voltaire’s La Henriade (Rouen, France, 1723; English translation, 1728), an epic in ten verses that celebrates the struggles of the Protestant Henry of Navarre (Henri IV) against the Catholic League.
[* ]As to an objection of making God the author of sin, which may seem to arise from our system, it is rather popular than philosophical. Sin, or moral turpitude, lies in the evil intention of him who commits it. It consists in some wrong or depraved affection supposed to be in the sinner. Now the intention of the Deity is unerringly good. The end purposed by him is order and general happiness; and there is the greatest reason to believe, that all events are so directed by him, as to work towards this end. In the present system of things, some moral disorders are indeed included. No doubt it is a considerable difficulty, how evil comes to be in the world, seeing God is perfectly good. But this difficulty is not peculiar to our doctrine; but recurs upon us at last with equal force, whatever hypothesis we embrace. For moral evil cannot exist, without being, at least, permitted by the Deity. And with regard to a first cause, permitting is the same thing with causing; since against his will nothing can possibly happen. All the schemes that have been contrived for answering this objection, are but the tortoise introduced to support the elephant. They put the difficulty a step further off, but never remove it.
[4. ]In the first ed., pp. 197–9; in the second ed., p. 144.
[* ]Chap. 2. Part 5. [Kames refers the reader to his discussion of the “causes of fear and anger” in Elements of Criticism, vol. 1, chap. 2, pt. I, sec. v.]
[* ]Vol. IV. page 113. edition 2d. [“Liberty and necessity considered with respect to morality,” in Kames, Sketches, vol. 4, bk. 3, sketch 8.]
[* ]This deviation of perception from truth, gave rise to the famous debate concerning things possible, among the ancient Stoics, who held the doctrine of universal necessity. Diodorus, as Cicero informs us in his book De Fato, cap. 7, held this opinion, Id solum fieri posse, quod aut verum sit, aut futurum sit verum; at quicquid futurum sit, id dicit fieri necesse esse, et quicquid non sit futurum, id negat fieri posse: that is, He maintained, there is nothing contingent in future events, nothing possible to happen, but that precise event which will happen. This no doubt, was carrying their system its due length: though, in this way of speaking, there is something that contradicts the preceptions of mankind. Chrysippus, on the other hand, maintained, that it is possible for future events to happen other ways than in fact they happen. This was inconsistent with his general system of necessity; and therefore, as Cicero gives us to understand, he was often imbarrassed in the debate with Diodorus: and Plutarch, in his book De Repugnantiis Stoicorum, exposes him for this inconsistency. But Chrysippus chose to follow his natural perceptions, in opposition to philosophy; holding, that Diodorus’s doctrine of nothing being possible but what happens, is ignava ratio, tending to absolute inaction; cui si pareamus, as Cicero expresses it, nihil omnino agamus in vita. So early were philosophers sensible of the difficulty of reconciling speculation with perception, as to this doctrine of fate. [Cicero’s account of the opinion of Diodorus: “For he says that only what either is true or will be true can happen, and he says that whatever is going to happen must necessarily happen, and that whatever will not happen cannot happen.” Cicero, On Fate (De Fato), ed. and trans. R. W. Sharples (Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1991), 7.13, pp. 64–5; 7.28, pp. 76–7. His characterization of ignava ratio (“lazy argument”) reads: “If we obeyed this, we would do nothing at all in life.” As an example of the inaction caused by lazy argument, Cicero writes that some followers of Diodorus maintain there is no point in calling a doctor when ill, since one is fated either to recover or not recover from the illness. Diodorus Cronus (fl. 3rd. c. ) was a philosopher and dialectician known for his love of logical paradoxes. Chrysippus (ca. 280–207 ) was a leading Stoic known for his book on logic. Plutarch (45–125 ) attacked the doctrines of the Stoics in his De Repugnantiis Stoicorum (“On Stoic Self-Contradictions”).]
[* ]Vol. IV. page 118. edition 2d. [Sketches, vol. 4, bk. 3, sketch 8.]
[* ]It appears from Homer, that among the Greeks, an inquisitive and enlightened people, the doctrine of fate or destiny prevailed. Yet when a man’s destiny was foretold, even by the most celebrated Oracle, it had no effect but to make him more diligent to evade the impending evil. Such authority have natural impressions, in opposition to abstract reasoning, and even to what is held divine authority.
[1. ]René Descartes, Discourse on Method (1637; reprint, trans. Donald A. Cress, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1998), pt. 4, p. 18.
[* ]Sketches of Man, edition 2d, Vol. IV. page 20. [From the sketch on the “Principles and progress of morality,” Sketches, vol. 4, bk. 3, sketch 2.]
[1. ]The pamphlet to which Kames refers was entitled Objections against the Essays on Morality and Natural Religion Examined (1756), written in response to a flurry of pamphlets condemning the first edition of the Essays as the work of a dangerous heretic.
[2. ]Rational spontaneity.
[3. ]First published as Jean Calvin, Tract. Theolog. & Comment. (Geneva, 1576). For a more accessible version of this argument, see Institutes of the Christian Religion in Two Volumes, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), vol. 1, II.iii.5, “Man sins of necessity but without compulsion,” pp. 295–6.
[4. ]Franc¸ois Turrettini (1623–1687), Institutio theologiae elencticae, 3 vols. (Geneva, 1679–1685).
[5. ]Benedict Pictet (1655–1724), Theologia Christiana, 2 vols. (Geneva, 1696).
[6. ]Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), A Careful and Strict Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of That Freedom of Will, Which Is Supposed to Be Essentialto Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame (Boston, 1754; London, 1762). Though Kames had initially hoped that his views would be supported by the American Calvinist minister, Edwards saw the matter very differently. In a letter to the Glasgow minister John Ervine, Edwards insisted that “it must be evidencet to every one, who has read both his Essay and my Inquiry, that our schemes are exceedingly different from each other.” Edwards attached this letter to later editions of his Inquiry as an appendix entitled “Remarks on the Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, in a Letter to a minister of the Church of Scotland.”