Front Page Titles (by Subject) Introduction - The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
Return to Title Page for The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Introduction - George Turnbull, The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy, ed. and with an Introduction by Alexander Broadie (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
A preliminary observation upon the essential difference between virtue and vice.
Having thus got clear of the more thorny part of our subject, it being that which is most perplexed with abstruse, subtle, knotty questions, commonly called metaphysical ones; the remaining part will be found more easy and plain.<216>
It was indeed impossible to treat of the divine moral perfection, or answer the objections made against providence, the ways of God to man in particular, without entering a good deal into the explication of virtue and vice; or of the perfection and imperfection belonging to all moral beings: but it is highly proper to take this important subject a little deeper, or at least to consider of it more fully. And here it will of course fall in our way to vindicate more at large than hath been yet done, the frame, constitution and situation of mankind. All the parts of this subject we proposed to handle are so intimately related and connected together, that wherever we set out, in order to explain that particular part as it ought, we are of necessity led to treat of all the rest. We shall, however, endeavour to avoid repetitions as much as is possible, without being delicate to a point of nicety and affectation, unbecoming the gravity and importance of the question under consideration, and of philosophy in general; because it ever indicates a mind more taken up about the form and dress, than the substance; or more desirous to flatter the ear by smooth periods, than to enforce truth on the mind by strong close argument. I shall only, before I go further, premise one observation, which amounts to a demonstration of the essential difference between virtue and vice, and a full refutation of those who make the morality and immorality of actions dependent on the arbitrary will, whether of God or of society: for some, on the one hand, have asserted that it is the will of God which constitutes right and wrong; and some others have taught, that it is human laws which make all the difference between just and unjust, or moral good and evil. Now independently of all consideration of the will or nature of God, or of human society and its civil laws; from the mere consideration of the nature or constitution of any thing that exists, whether natural or artificial, it is necessarily and evidently true,<217>
“That there is a perfect and imperfect state belonging to every thing, to a ship, a watch, or any other machine of human invention; to a plant, a tree, or any other inanimate thing; to a lion, an elephant, a horse, or any other brute animal.” This cannot be denied, without saying every ship is as well contrived and built for the end of a ship as any other; every watch is as well formed for its end as any other; every plant or tree is in as natural and perfect a state as any other; every horse is as sound and good as any other, &c. which is absurd. Now if that be really absurd, it must be equally so to assert, “that there is no such thing as perfection or imperfection, a better or a worse state with respect to moral beings; that is, beings endued with the faculty of reason and reflexion, and invested with a certain sphere of activity and power; but that it is all one whether such a being exercises its moral powers, or not exercises them; exercises them right or wrong; employs them well, or abuses them; is fit to pursue no end at all by them; or fit to pursue this or any other end, all ends being alike, and all means alike.” But if that be absurd, “Then while by virtue is meant, operation with choice and self-approbation, by the best, that is, the properest means, toward the soundest and most perfect state of moral powers, and by vice the contrary, there must be as natural, essential, and immutable a difference between those two, as between being distorted or maimed, and entire or sound; between sickness and health, pleasure and pain; a fresh, vigorous, beautiful tree, and a decayed withered one; a vitious and deformed, or an infirm and ugly horse, and a good, tractable, sprightly and handsom one.” For can it with any shew of reason be said, that there are no such powers in nature as reason, and reflexion, and will; or that these powers alone, of all powers or qualities, have this particularity in them, that every state, and condition of them, is equally good, equally sound, equally beautiful and perfect? Yet if that cannot be said, it must necessarily<218> follow, that no will or law of any being whatsoever, attended with whatever degree of power to make one suffer pain or enjoy happiness, can make that to be the perfect state of moral powers, which is really, in the nature of things, its imperfect state; or those exercises of moral powers tend to produce the former, which are really, in the nature of things, steps towards the production of the latter. Power may as well attempt to make darkness light, bitter sweet, a triangle a circle, a ship a watch, a tree a man, as to make reason and understanding not reason and understanding; or strong, vigorous, clear, well improved reason the same with weak, feeble, dark, unexercised, unimproved reason; or benevolent, generous self-command the same with an ungoverned, mean, mercenary, low, groveling spirit; that is, make it the same excellence, the same perfection in respect of reason, understanding and temper. Suppose any of these two opposite states of moral beings, no matter which, to be attended with ever so great sensitive pleasures constantly, and the other as constantly to raise the greatest, the acutest, the most exquisite sensitive pain; yet such a connexion, whatever disposition it might shew in the Author of such a constitution of things, would not, could not alter the nature of these two opposites; make them not opposites; or render the perfect, the imperfect state, or, vice versa, the imperfect the perfect one; no more than supposing, the perceiving any truth to be such, as, for instance, perceiving all the angles of a triangle to be equal to two rights, to be attended with the violentest pains of body; and ignorance of it, or a mistake about it, to be accompanied with the most delightful bodily sensations; that odd constitution of things could alter the nature of a triangle, or the nature of truth and falshood in general. If the operations of a moral being tending, in the nature of things, to produce the most perfect state of its powers, were attended with bodily sensations of the most painful sort; and the opposite<219> operations had always accompanying them a train or succession of the most pleasant bodily sensations; such a wretched state of things, would indeed shew the contriver and former of it to be an enemy to moral improvements, and a friend to the neglect or abuse of moral powers; and moral beings so situated, would be under the miserable necessity of laying themselves out to act as contrary to their improvement toward their perfection as possibly they can: but still, even in that situation, certain qualities would as necessarily, in their several degrees, be with respect to moral powers, degrees of perfection and imperfection; as various degrees or forces of giving light, for instance, are various degrees of perfection with respect to a candle, or any other body, the end of which is to give light. In such an odd situation of moral beings, interest and virtue, as it hath been defined, would be diametrically opposite to one another. But their being so would not alter the nature of virtue, no more than it would alter the nature of interest: so far from it, that in such a case, it would be as immutably true, that the interest of moral beings is, by being so placed or constituted, basely, vilely placed or constituted; as it is, that he would be a base, a vile, a cruel father, who should choose to make the happiness of his children, or their exemption from constant, violent tortures, depend upon their care to distort their bodies into monstrous forms; for if distortion cannot be the perfect state of the human body, though a tyrant should positively order all his subjects, who were sound or not distorted, to be cruelly tormented all the days of their life; by parity of reason distortion of the mind cannot be its perfect state, though it should be commanded under the severest penalties. Now, having premised this observation, it is manifest, that in treating of virtue, there are two questions to be discussed; the first of which must be, what is the perfect and most excellent state of our<220> powers which constitute us men, and what are the exercises by which that perfect state is acquired or attained to: which enquiry being dispatched, the other that naturally offers itself is, how our interest stands, according to the constitution and connexions of things, with respect to our moral perfection or virtue. And to both these, I hope, a satisfying answer shall be given conjointly in the following explication of the agreeableness of the scripture doctrine concerning virtue and vice with reason, which will be found clearly to shew virtue to be the private good, and vice the private ill or misery of every man, all things fairly considered, even in this present life; which being proved, it must of necessity follow, that the Author of mankind, upon whose will, or whose disposition of things here and hereafter, all our interests depend, is himself supreme virtue, supreme moral perfection, or infinitely good and perfect: And hence it will also follow, that we are not only obliged to pursue virtue, or the perfection to which our moral powers are naturally fitted to attain, by certain means and exercises, as it is our perfection or the dignity and excellence of our nature; but likewise, in the sense of Civilians, when they speak of obligation, i.e. that we are obliged to it in point of interest, in consequence of the connexions of things, constituting our interest by the will of our Creator and ruler; virtue being in this respect properly speaking his law; as it is in the other sense, or considered by itself, our excellence; and, as such, the law of our nature. So St. Paul calls it;a for when the Gentiles which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law, are a law to themselves, i.e. they themselves are a law to themselves: their constitution is to them a law, or rule of conduct, clearly pointing out to them the part they ought to act with regard to their reason, or guiding and ruling principle.<221>
[a. ]Rom. ii. 14.