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V.—: OF MORALS - Thomas Reid, Selections from the Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense 
Selections from the Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense, edited, with an introduction by G.A. Johnston (Chicago: Open Court, 1915).
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Of Benevolent Affection in General
There are various principles of action in man, which have persons for their immediate object, and imply, in their very nature, our being well or ill affected to some person, or, at least, to some animated being.
Such principles, I shall call by the general name of affections, whether they dispose us to do good or hurt to others.
The principles which lead us immediately to desire the good of others, and those that lead us to desire their hurt, agree in this, that persons, and not things, are their immediate object. Both imply our being some way affected towards the person. They ought, therefore, to have some common name to express what is common in their nature; and I know no name more proper for this than affection.
Taking affection, therefore, in this extensive sense, our affections are very naturally divided into benevolent and malevolent, according as they imply our being well or ill affected towards their object.
There are some things common to all benevolent affections, others wherein they differ.
They differ both in the feeling or sensation, which is an ingredient in all of them, and in the objects to which they are directed.
They all agree in two things—to wit, That the feeling which accompanies them is agreeable; and, That they imply a desire of good and happiness to their object.
A thing may be desired either on its own account, or as the means in order to something else. That only can properly be called an object of desire, which is desired upon its own account; and it is only such desires that I call principles of action. When anything is desired as the means only, there must be an end for which it is desired; and the desire of the end is, in this case, the principle of action. The means are desired only as they tend to that end; and, if different, or even contrary means, tended to the same end, they would be equally desired.
On this account, I consider those affections only as benevolent, where the good of the object is desired ultimately, and not as the means only, in order to something else.
To say that we desire the good of others, only in order to procure some pleasure or good to ourselves, is to say that there is no benevolent affection in human nature.
This, indeed, has been the opinion of some philosophers, both in ancient and in later times. I intend not to examine this opinion in this place, conceiving it proper to give that view of the principles of action in man, which appears to me to be just, before I examine the systems wherein they have been mistaken or misrepresented.
I observe only at present, that it appears as unreasonable to resolve all our benevolent affections into self-love, as it would be to resolve hunger and thirst into self-love.
These appetites are necessary for the preservation of the individual. Benevolent affections are no less necessary for the preservation of society among men, without which man would become an easy prey to the beasts of the field.
We are placed in this world by the Author of our being, surrounded with many objects that are necessary or useful to us, and with many that may hurt us. We are led, not by reason and self-love only, but by many instincts, and appetites, and natural desires to seek the former and to avoid the latter.
But of all the things of this world, man may be the most useful or the most hurtful to man. Every man is in the power of every man with whom he lives. Every man has power to do much good to his fellow-men, and to do more hurt.
We cannot live without the society of men; and it would be impossible to live in society, if men were not disposed to do much of that good to men, and but little of that hurt, which it is in their power to do.
But how shall this end, so necessary to the existence of human society, and consequently to the existence of the human species, be accomplished?
If we judge from analogy, we must conclude that in this, as in other parts of our conduct, our rational principles are aided by principles of an inferior order, similar to those by which many brute animals live in society with their species; and that, by means of such principles, that degree of regularity is observed, which we find in all societies of men, whether wise or foolish, virtuous or vicious.
The benevolent affections planted in human nature appear therefore no less necessary for the preservation of the human species, than the appetites of hunger and thirst.1
There are Rational Principles of Action in Man
Mechanical principles of action produce their effect without any will or intention on our part. We may, by a voluntary effort, hinder the effect; but, if it be not hindered by will and effort, it is produced without them.
Animal principles of action require intention and will in their operation, but not judgment. They are, by ancient moralists, very properly called cæcæ cupidines, blind desires.
Having treated of these two classes, I proceed to the third—the rational principles of action in man; which have that name, because they can have no existence in beings not endowed with reason, and, in all their exertions, require, not only intention and will, but judgment or reason.
That talent which we call Reason, by which men that are adult and of a sound mind are distinguished from brutes, idiots, and infants, has, in all ages, among the learned and unlearned, been conceived to have two offices—to regulate our belief, and to regulate our actions and conduct.
Whatever we believe, we think agreeable to reason, and, on that account, yield our assent to it. Whatever we disbelieve, we think contrary to reason, and, on that account, dissent from it. Reason, therefore, is allowed to be the principle by which our belief and opinions ought to be regulated.
But reason has been no less universally conceived to be a principle by which our actions ought to be regulated.
To act reasonably, is a phrase no less common in all languages, than to judge reasonably. We immediately approve of a man’s conduct, when it appears that he had good reason for what he did. And every action we disapprove, we think unreasonable, or contrary to reason.
A way of speaking so universal among men, common to the learned and the unlearned in all nations and in all languages, must have a meaning. To suppose it to be words without meaning, is to treat, with undue contempt, the common sense of mankind.
Supposing this phrase to have a meaning, we may consider in what way reason may serve to regulate human conduct, so that some actions of men are to be denominated reasonable, and others unreasonable.
I take it for granted, that there can be no exercise of Reason without Judgment, nor, on the other hand, any judgment of things, abstract and general, without some degree of reason.
If, therefore, there be any principles of action in the human constitution, which, in their nature, necessarily imply such judgment, they are the principles which we may call rational, to distinguish them from animal principles, which imply desire and will, but not judgment.
Every deliberate human actions must be done either as the means, or as an end; as the means to some end, to which it is subservient, or as an end, for its own sake, and without regard to anything beyond it.
That it is a part of the office of reason to determine what are the proper means to any end which we desire, no man ever denied. But some philosophers, particularly Mr Hume, think that it is no part of the office of reason to determine the ends we ought to pursue, or the preference due to one end above another. This, he thinks, is not the office of reason, but of taste or feeling.
If this be so, reason cannot, with any propriety, be called a principle of action. Its office can only be to minister to the principles of action, by discovering the means of their gratification. Accordingly, Mr Hume maintains, that reason is no principle of action; but that it is, and ought to be, the servant of the passions.
I shall endeavour to shew that, among the various ends of human actions, there are some, of which, without reason, we could not even form a conception; and that, as soon as they are conceived, a regard to them is, by our constitution, not only a principle of action, but a leading and governing principle, to which all our animal principles are subordinate, and to which they ought to be subject.
These I shall call rational principles; because they can exist only in beings endowed with reason, and because, to act from these principles, is what has always been meant by acting according to reason.
The ends of human actions I have in view, are two—to wit, What is good for us upon the whole, and What appears to be our duty. They are very strictly connected, lead to the same course of conduct, and co-operate with each other; and, on that account, have commonly been comprehended under one name—that of reason. But, as they may be disjoined, and are really distinct principles of action, I shall consider them separately.1
Of Regard to Our Good on the Whole
It will not be denied that man, when he comes to years of understanding, is led, by his rational nature, to form the conception of what is good for him upon the whole.
How early in life this general notion of good enters into the mind, I cannot pretend to determine. It is one of the most general and abstract notions we form.
Whatever makes a man more happy or more perfect, is good, and is an object of desire as soon as we are capable of forming the conception of it. The contrary is ill, and is an object of aversion.
In the first part of life, we have many enjoyments of various kinds; but very similar to those of brute-animals.
They consist in the exercise of our senses and powers of motion, the gratification of our appetites, and the exertions of our kind affections. These are chequered with many evils of pain, and fear, and disappointment, and sympathy with the sufferings of others.
But the goods and evils of this period of life are of short duration, and soon forgot. The mind, being regardless of the past, and unconcerned about the future, we have then no other measure of good but the present desire; no other measure of evil but the present aversion.
Every animal desire has some particular and present object, and looks not beyond that object to its consequences, or to the connections it may have with other things.
The present object, which is most attractive, or excites the strongest desire, determines the choice, whatever be its consequences. The present evil that presses most, is avoided, though it should be the road to a greater good to come, or the only way to escape a greater evil. This is the way in which brutes act, and the way in which men must act, till they come to the use of reason.
As we grow up to understanding, we extend our view both forward and backward. We reflect upon what is past, and, by the lamp of experience, discern what will probably happen in time to come. We find that many things which we eagerly desired, were too dearly purchased, and that things grievous for the present, like nauseous medicines, may be salutary in the issue.
We learn to observe the connexions of things, and the consequences of our actions; and, taking an extended view of our existence, past, present, and future, we correct our first notions of good and ill, and form the conception of what is good or ill upon the whole; which must be estimated, not from the present feeling, or from the present animal desire or aversion, but from a due consideration of its consequences, certain or probable, during the whole of our existence.
That which, taken with all its discoverable connexions and consequences, brings more good than ill, I call good upon the whole.
That brute-animals have any conception of this good, I see no reason to believe. And it is evident that man cannot have the conception of it, till reason is so far advanced that he can seriously reflect upon the past, and take a prospect of the future part of his existence.
It appears, therefore, that the very conception of what is good or ill for us upon the whole, is the offspring of reason, and can be only in beings endowed with reason. And if this conception give rise to any principle of action in man, which he had not before, that principle may very properly be called a rational principle of action.
I observe, in the next place—That as soon as we have the conception of what is good or ill for us upon the whole, we are led, by our constitution, to seek the good and avoid the ill; and this becomes not only a principle of action, but a leading or governing principle, to which all our animal principles ought to be subordinate.
To prefer a greater good, though distant, to a less that is present; to choose a present evil, in order to avoid a greater evil, or to obtain a greater good, is, in the judgment of all men, wise and reasonable conduct; and, when a man acts the contrary part, all men will acknowledge that he acts foolishly and unreasonably. Nor will it be denied, that, in innumerable cases in common life, our animal principles draw us one way, while a regard to what is good on the whole, draws us the contrary way. Thus the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these two are contrary. That in every conflict of this kind the rational principle ought to prevail, and the animal to be subordinate, is too evident to need, or to admit of proof.
Thus, I think, it appears, that, to pursue what is good upon the whole, and to avoid what is ill upon the whole, is a rational principle of action grounded upon our constitution as reasonable creatures.
It appears that it is not without just cause, that this principle of action has in all ages been called reason, in opposition to our animal principles, which in common language are called by the general name of the passions.
The first not only operates in a calm and cool manner, like reason, but implies real judgment in all its operations. The second—to wit, the passions—are blind desires of some particular object, without any judgment or consideration, whether it be good for us upon the whole, or ill.
It appears also, that the fundamental maxim of prudence, and of all good morals—That the passions ought, in all cases, to be under the dominion of reason—is not only self-evident, when rightly understood, but is expressed according to the common use and propriety of language.1
Of the Notion of Duty, Rectitude, Moral Obligation
A being endowed with the animal principles of action only may be capable of being trained to certain purposes by discipline, as we see many brute-animals are, but would be altogether incapable of being governed by law.
The subject of law must have the conception of a general rule of conduct, which, without some degree of reason, he cannot have. He must likewise have a sufficient inducement to obey the law, even when his strongest animal desires draw him the contrary way.
This inducement may be a sense of interest, or a sense of duty, or both concurring.
These are the only principles I am able to conceive, which can reasonably induce a man to regulate all his actions according to a certain general rule or law. They may therefore be justly called the rational principles of action, since they can have no place but in a being endowed with reason, and since it is by them only that man is capable either of political or of moral government.
Without them human life would be like a ship at sea without hands, left to be carried by winds and tides as they happen. It belongs to the rational part of our nature to intend a certain port, as the end of the voyage of life; to take the advantage of winds and tides when they are favourable, and to bear up against them when they are unfavourable.
A sense of interest may induce us to do this, when a suitable reward is set before us. But there is a nobler principle in the constitution of man, which, in many cases, gives a clearer and more certain rule of conduct, than a regard merely to interest would give, and a principle, without which man would not be a moral agent.
A man is prudent when he consults his real interest; but he cannot be virtuous, if he has no regard to duty.
I proceed now to consider this regard to Duty as a rational principle of action in man, and as that principle alone by which he is capable either of virtue or vice.
I shall first offer some observations with regard to the general notion of duty, and its contrary, or of right and wrong in human conduct, and then consider, how we come to judge and determine certain things in human conduct to be right, and others to be wrong.
With regard to the notion or conception of Duty, I take it to be too simple to admit of a logical definition.
We can define it only by synonymous words or phrases, or by its properties and necessary concomitants, as when we say that it is what we ought to do—what is fair and honest—what is approvable—what every man professes to be the rule of his conduct—what all men praise—and, what is in itself laudable, though no man should praise it.
I observe, in the next place, That the notion of duty cannot be resolved into that of interest, or what is most for our happiness.
Every man may be satisfied of this who attends to his own conceptions, and the language of all mankind shews it. When I say, This is my interest, I mean one thing; when I say, It is my duty, I mean another thing. And, though the same course of action, when rightly understood, may be both my duty and my interest, the conceptions are very different. Both are reasonable motives to action, but quite distinct in their nature.
I presume it will be granted, that, in every man of real worth, there is a principle of honour, a regard to what is honourable or dishonourable, very distinct from a regard to his interest. It is folly in a man to disregard his interest, but to do what is dishonourable, is baseness. The first may move our pity, or, in some cases, our contempt; but the last provokes our indignation.
As these two principles are different in their nature, and not resolvable into one, so the principle of honour is evidently superior in dignity to that of interest.
No man would allow him to be a man of honour who should plead his interest to justify what he acknowledged to be dishonourable; but to sacrifice interest to honour never costs a blush.
It likewise will be allowed by every man of honour, that this principle is not to be resolved into a regard to our reputation among men, otherwise the man of honour would not deserve to be trusted in the dark. He would have no aversion to lie, or cheat, or play the coward, when he had no dread of being discovered.
I take it for granted, therefore, that every man of real honour feels an abhorrence of certain actions, because they are in themselves base, and feels an obligation to certain other actions, because they are in themselves what honour requires, and this independently of any consideration of interest or reputation.
This is an immediate moral obligation. This principle of honour, which is acknowledged by all men who pretend to character, is only another name for what we call a regard to duty, to rectitude, to propriety of conduct. It is a moral obligation which obliges a man to do certain things because they are right, and not to do other things because they are wrong.
Ask the man of honour why he thinks himself obliged to pay a debt of honour? The very question shocks him. To suppose that he needs any other inducement to do it but the principle of honour, is to suppose that he has no honour, no worth, and deserves no esteem.
There is, therefore, a principle in man, which, when he acts according to it, gives him a consciousness of worth, and, when he acts contrary to it, a sense of demerit.
From the varieties of education, of fashion, of prejudices, and of habits, men may differ much in opinion with regard to the extent of this principle, and of what it commands and forbids; but the notion of it, as far as it is carried, is the same in all. It is that which gives a man real worth, and is the object of moral approbation.
Men of rank call it honour, and too often confine it to certain virtues that are thought most essential to their rank. The vulgar call it honesty, probity, virtue, conscience. Philosophers have given it the names of the moral sense, the moral faculty, rectitude.
If we examine the abstract notion of Duty, or Moral Obligation, it appears to be neither any real quality of the action considered by itself, nor of the agent considered without respect to the action, but a certain relation between the one and the other.
When we say a man ought to do such a thing, the ought, which expresses the moral obligation, has a respect, on the one hand, to the person who ought; and, on the other, to the action which he ought to do. Those two correlates are essential to every moral obligation; take away either, and it has no existence. So that, if we seek the place of moral obligation among the categories, it belongs to the category of relation.
There are many relations of things, of which we have the most distinct conception, without being able to define them logically. Equality and proportion are relations between quantities, which every man understands, but no man can define.
Moral obligation is a relation of its own kind, which every man understands, but is, perhaps, too simple to admit of logical definition. Like all other relations, it may be changed or annihilated by a change in any of the two related things—I mean the agent or the action.
Perhaps it may not be improper to point out briefly the circumstances, both in the action and in the agent, which are necessary to constitute moral obligation. The universal agreement of men in these, shews that they have one and the same notion of it.
With regard to the action, it must be a voluntary action, or prestation of the person obliged, and not of another. There can be no moral obligation upon a man to be six feet high. Nor can I be under a moral obligation that another person should do such a thing. His actions must be imputed to himself, and mine only to me, either for praise or blame.
I need hardly mention, that a person can be under a moral obligation, only to things within the sphere of his natural power.
As to the party obliged, it is evident there can be no moral obligation upon an inanimate thing. To speak of moral obligation upon a stone or a tree is ridiculous, because it contradicts every man’s notion of moral obligation.
The person obliged must have understanding and will, and some degree of active power. He must not only have the natural faculty of understanding, but the means of knowing his obligation. An invincible ignorance of this destroys all moral obligation.
The opinion of the agent in doing the action gives it its moral denomination. If he does a materially good action, without any belief of its being good, but from some other principle, it is no good action in him. And if he does it with the belief of its being ill, it is ill in him.
Thus, if a man should give to his neighbour a potion which he really believes will poison him, but which, in the event, proves salutary, and does much good; in moral estimation, he is a poisoner, and not a benefactor.
These qualifications of the action and of the agent, in moral obligation, are self-evident; and the agreement of all men in them shews that all men have the same notion, and a distinct notion of moral obligation.
We are next to consider, how we learn to judge and determine, that this is right, and that is wrong.
The abstract notion of moral good and ill would be of no use to direct our life, if we had not the power of applying it to particular actions, and determining what is morally good, and what is morally ill.
Some philosophers, with whom I agree, ascribe this to an original power or faculty in man, which they call the Moral Sense, the Moral Faculty, Conscience.
In its dignity it is, without doubt, far superior to every other power of the mind; but there is this analogy between it and the external senses, That, as by them we have not only the original conceptions of the various qualities of bodies, but the original judgment that this body has such a quality, that such another; so by our moral faculty, we have both the original conceptions of right and wrong in conduct, of merit and demerit, and the original judgments that this conduct is right, that is wrong; that this character has worth, that demerit.
The testimony of our moral faculty, like that of the external senses, is the testimony of nature, and we have the same reason to rely upon it.
The truths immediately testified by the external senses are the first principles from which we reason, with regard to the material world, and from which all our knowledge of it is deduced.
The truths immediately testified by our moral faculty, are the first principles of all moral reasoning, from which all our knowledge of our duty must be deduced.
By moral reasoning, I understand all reasoning that is brought to prove that such conduct is right, and deserving of moral approbation; or that it is wrong; or that it is indifferent, and, in itself, neither morally good nor ill.
I think, all we can properly call moral judgments, are reducible to one or other of these, as all human actions, considered in a moral view, are either good, or bad, or indifferent.
I know the term moral reasoning is often used by good writers in a more extensive sense; but, as the reasoning I now speak of is of a peculiar kind, distinct from all others, and, therefore, ought to have a distinct name, I take the liberty to limit the name of moral reasoning to this kind.
Let it be understood, therefore, that in the reasoning I call moral, the conclusion always is, That something in the conduct of moral agents is good or bad, in a greater or a less degree, or indifferent.
All reasoning must be grounded on first principles. This holds in moral reasoning, as in all other kinds. There must, therefore, be in morals, as in all other sciences, first or self-evident principles, on which all moral reasoning is grounded, and on which it ultimately rests. From such self-evident principles, conclusions may be drawn synthetically with regard to the moral conduct of life; and particular duties or virtues may be traced back to such principles, analytically. But, without such principles, we can no more establish any conclusion in morals, than we can build a castle in the air, without any foundation.1
Observations concerning Conscience
I shall now conclude this essay with some observations concerning this power of the mind which we call Conscience, by which its nature may be better understood.
The first is, That, like all our other powers, it comes to maturity by insensible degrees, and may be much aided in its strength and vigour by proper culture.
A second observation is, That Conscience is peculiar to man. We see not a vestige of it in brute animals. It is one of those prerogatives by which we are raised above them.
The next observation is—That Conscience is evidently intended by nature to be the immediate guide and director of our conduct, after we arrive at the years of understanding.
It judges of every action before it is done. For we can rarely act so precipitately but we have the consciousness that what we are about to do is right, or wrong, or indifferent. Like the bodily eye, it naturally looks forward, though its attention may be turned back to the past.
To conceive, as some seem to have done, that its office is only to reflect on past actions, and to approve or disapprove, is, as if a man should conceive that the office of his eyes is only to look back upon the road he has travelled, and to see whether it be clean or dirty; a mistake which no man can make who has made the proper use of his eyes.
Conscience prescribes measures to every appetite, affection, and passion, and says to every other principle of action—So far thou mayest go, but no farther.
We may indeed transgress its dictates, but we cannot transgress them with innocence, nor even with impunity.
We condemn ourselves, or, in the language of scripture, our heart condemns us, whenever we go beyond the rules of right and wrong which conscience prescribes.
Other principles of action may have more strength, but this only has authority. Its sentence makes us guilty to ourselves, and guilty in the eyes of our Maker, whatever other principle may be set in opposition to it.
It is evident, therefore, that this principle has, from its nature, an authority to direct and determine with regard to our conduct; to judge, to acquit, or to condemn, and even to punish; an authority which belongs to no other principle of the human mind.
It is the candle of the Lord set up within us, to guide our steps. Other principles may urge and impel, but this only authorizes. Other principles ought to be controlled by this; this may be, but never ought to be controlled by any other, and never can be with innocence.
The authority of conscience over the other active principles of the mind, I do not consider as a point that requires proof by argument, but as self-evident. For it implies no more than this—That in all cases a man ought to do his duty. He only who does in all cases what he ought to do, is the perfect man.
The last observation is—That the Moral Faculty or Conscience is both an Active and an Intellectual power of the mind.
It is an active power, as every truly virtuous action must be more or less influenced by it. Other principles may concur with it, and lead the same way; but no action can be called morally good, in which a regard to what is right has not some influence. Thus, a man who has no regard to justice, may pay his just debt, from no other motive but that he may not be thrown into prison. In this action there is no virtue at all.
The moral principle, in particular cases, may be opposed by any of our animal principles. Passion or appetite may urge to what we know to be wrong. In every instance of this kind, the moral principle ought to prevail, and the more difficult its conquest is, it is the more glorious.
In some cases, a regard to what is right may be the sole motive, without the concurrence or opposition of any other principle of action; as when a judge or an arbiter determines a plea between two different persons, solely from a regard to justice.
Thus we see that conscience, as an active principle, sometime concurs with other active principles, sometimes opposes them, and sometimes is the sole principle of action.
I conclude with observing, That conscience, or the moral faculty, is likewise an intellectual power.
By it solely we have the original conceptions or ideas of right and wrong in human conduct. And of right and wrong there are not only many different degrees, by many different species. Justice and injustice, gratitude and ingratitude, benevolence and malice, prudence and folly, magnanimity and meanness, decency and indecency, are various moral forms, all comprehended under the general notion of right and wrong in conduct, all of them objects of moral approbation or disapprobation, in a greater or a less degree.
The conception of these, as moral qualities, we have by our moral faculty; and by the same faculty, when we compare them together, we perceive various moral relations among them. Thus, we perceive that justice is entitled to a small degree of praise, but injustice to a high degree of blame; and the same may be said of gratitude and its contrary. When justice and gratitude interfere, gratitude must give place to justice, and unmerited beneficence must give place to both.
Many such relations between the various moral qualities compared together, are immediately discerned by our moral faculty. A man needs only to consult his own heart to be convinced of them.
All our reasonings in morals, in natural jurisprudence, in the law of nations, as well as our reasonings about the duties of natural religion, and about the moral government of the Deity, must be grounded upon the dictates of our moral faculty, as first principles.
As this faculty, therefore, furnishes the human mind with many of its original conceptions or ideas, as well as with the first principles of many important branches of human knowledge, it may justly be accounted an intellectual as well as an active power of the mind.1
That Moral Approbation implies a Real Judgment
The approbation of good actions, and disapprobation of bad, are so familiar to every man come to years of understanding, that it seems strange there should be any dispute about their nature.
Whether we reflect upon our own conduct, or attend to the conduct of others with whom we live, or of whom we hear or read, we cannot help approving of some things, disapproving of others, and regarding many with perfect indifference.
These operations of our minds we are conscious of every day and almost every hour we live. Men of ripe understanding are capable of reflecting upon them, and of attending to what passes in their own thoughts on such occasions; yet, for half a century, it has been a serious dispute among philosophers what this approbation and disapprobation is, Whether there be a real judgment included in it, which, like all other judgments, must be true or false; or, Whether it include no more but some agreeable or uneasy feeling, in the person who approves or disapproves.
Mr Hume observes very justly, that this is a controversy started of late. Before the modern system of Ideas and Impressions was introduced, nothing would have appeared more absurd than to say, that when I condemn a man for what he has done, I pass no judgment at all about the man, but only express some uneasy feeling in myself.
Nor did the new system produce this discovery at once, but gradually, by several steps, according as its consequences were more accurately traced, and its spirit more thoroughly imbibed by successive philosophers.
Des Cartes and Mr Locke went no farther than to maintain that the Secondary Qualities of body—Heat and Cold, Sound, Colour, Taste, and Smell—which we perceive and judge to be in the external object, are mere feelings or sensations in our minds, there being nothing in bodies themselves to which these names can be applied; and that the office of the external senses is not to judge of external things, but only to give us ideas of sensations, from which we are by reasoning to deduce the existence of a material world without us, as well as we can.
Arthur Collier and Bishop Berkeley discovered, from the same principles, that the Primary, as well as the Secondary, Qualities of bodies, such as Extension, Figure, Solidity, Motion, are only sensations in our minds; and, therefore, that there is no material world without us at all.
The same philosophy, when it came to be applied to matters of taste, discovered that beauty and deformity are not anything in the objects, to which men, from the beginning of the world, ascribed them, but certain feelings in the mind of the spectator.
The next step was an easy consequence from all the preceding, that Moral Approbation and Disapprobation are not Judgments, which must be true or false, but barely agreeable and uneasy Feelings or Sensations.
Mr Hume made the last step in this progress, and crowned the system by what he calls his hypothesis—to wit, That Belief is more properly an act of the Sensitive than of the Cogitative part of our nature.
Beyond this I think no man can go in this track; sensation or feeling is all, and what is left to the cogitative part of our nature, I am not able to comprehend.
I have had occasion to consider each of these paradoxes, excepting that which relates to morals, in “Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man”; and, though they be strictly connected with each other, and with the system which has produced them, I have attempted to shew that they are inconsistent with just notions of our intellectual powers, no less than they are with the common sense and common language of mankind. And this, I think, will likewise appear with regard to the conclusion relating to morals—to wit, That moral approbation is only an agreeable feeling, and not a real judgment.
To prevent ambiguity as much as possible, let us attend to the meaning of Feeling and of Judgment. These operations of the mind, perhaps, cannot be logically defined; but they are well understood, and easily distinguished, by their properties and adjuncts.
A feeling must be agreeable, or uneasy, or indifferent. It may be weak or strong. It is expressed in language either by a single word, or by such a contexture of words as may be the subject or predicate of a proposition, but such as cannot by themselves make a proposition. For it implies neither affirmation nor negation; and therefore cannot have the qualities of true or false, which distinguish propositions from all other forms of speech, and judgments from all other acts of the mind.
That I have such a feeling, is indeed an affirmative proposition, and expresses testimony grounded upon an intuitive judgment. But the feeling is only one term of this proposition; and it can only make a proposition when joined with another term, by a verb affirming or denying.
As feeling distinguishes the animal nature from the inanimate; so judging seems to distinguish the rational nature from the merely animal.
Though judgment in general is expressed by one word in language, as the most complex operations of the mind may be; yet a particular judgment can only be expressed by a sentence, and by that kind of sentence which logicians call a proposition, in which there must necessarily be a verb in the indicative mood, either expressed or understood.
Every judgment must necessarily be true or false, and the same may be said of the proposition which expresses it. It is a determination of the understanding, with regard to what is true, or false, or dubious.
In judgment, we can distinguish the object about which we judge, from the act of the mind in judging of that object. In mere feeling there is no such distinction. The object of judgment must be expressed by a proposition; and belief, disbelief, or doubt, always accompanies the judgment we form. If we judge the proposition to be true, we must believe it; if we judge it to be false, we must disbelieve it; and if we be uncertain whether it be true or false, we must doubt.
These two operations of mind, when we consider them separately, are very different, and easily distinguished. When we feel without judging, or judge without feeling, it is impossible, without very gross inattention, to mistake the one for the other.
But in many operations of the mind, both are inseparably conjoined under one name; and when we are not aware that the operation is complex, we may take one ingredient to be the whole, and overlook the other.
But in most of the operations of mind in which judgment or belief is combined with feeling, the feeling is the consequence of the judgment, and is regulated by it.
Let me now consider how I am affected when I see a man exerting himself nobly in a good cause. I am conscious that the effect of his conduct on my mind is complex, though it may be called by one name. I look up to his virtue, I approve, I admire it. In doing so, I have pleasure indeed, or an agreeable feeling; this is granted. But I find myself interested in his success and in his fame. This is affection; it is love and esteem, which is more than mere feeling. The man is the object of this esteem; but in mere feeling there is no object.
I am likewise conscious that this agreeable feeling in me, and this esteem of him, depend entirely upon the judgment I form of his conduct. I judge that this conduct merits esteem; and, while I thus judge, I cannot but esteem him, and contemplate his conduct with pleasure. Persuade me that he was bribed, or that he acted from some mercenary or bad motive, immediately my esteem and my agreeable feeling vanish.
In the approbation of a good action, therefore, there is feeling indeed, but there is also esteem of the agent; and both the feeling and the esteem depend upon the judgment we form of his conduct.
When I exercise my moral faculty about my own actions or those of other men, I am conscious that I judge as well as feel. I accuse and excuse, I acquit and condemn, I assent and dissent, I believe and disbelieve, and doubt. These are acts of judgment, and not feelings.
Suppose that, in a case well known to both, my friend says—Such a man did well and worthily, his conduct is highly approvable. This speech, according to all rules of interpretation, expresses my friend’s judgment of the man’s conduct. This judgment may be true or false, and I may agree in opinion with him, or I may dissent from him without offence, as we may differ in other matters of judgment.
Suppose, again, that, in relation to the same case, my friend says—The man’s conduct gave me a very agreeable feeling.
This speech, if approbation be nothing but an agreeable feeling, must have the very same meaning with the first, and express neither more nor less. But this cannot be, for two reasons.
First, Because there is no rule in grammar or rhetoric, nor any usage in language, by which these two speeches can be construed so as to have the same meaning. The first expresses plainly an opinion or judgment of the conduct of the man, but says nothing of the speaker. The second only testifies a fact concerning the speaker—to wit, that he had such a feeling.
Another reason why these two speeches cannot mean the same thing is, that the first may be contradicted without any ground of offence, such contradiction being only a difference of opinion, which, to a reasonable man, gives no offence. But the second speech cannot be contradicted without an affront: for, as every man must know his own feelings, to deny that a man had a feeling which he affirms he had, is to charge him with falsehood.
If moral approbation be a real judgment, which produces an agreeable feeling in the mind of him who judges, both speeches are perfectly intelligible, in the most obvious and literal sense. Their meaning is different, but they are related, so that the one may be inferred from the other, as we infer the effect from the cause, or the cause from the effect. I know, that what a man judges to be a very worthy action, he contemplates with pleasure; and what he contemplates with pleasure must, in his judgment, have worth. But the judgment and the feeling are different acts of his mind, though connected as cause and effect. He can express either the one or the other with perfect propriety; but the speech, which expresses his feeling, is altogether improper and inept to express his judgment, for this evident reason, that judgment and feeling, though in some cases connected, are things in their nature different.1
[1 ]“Essays on the Active Powers of Man,” Works, vol. ii. pp. 558-560. (In reprinting this and the following sections on Morals several passages have been silently omitted.)
[1 ]Ibid., pp. 579-580.
[1 ]Ibid., pp. 580-581.
[1 ]Ibid., pp. 586-590.
[1 ]Ibid., pp. 594-599.
[1 ]Ibid., pp. 670-673.