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BOOK I. Part III. - Lewis Amherst Selby-Bigge, British Moralists, being Selections from Writers principally of the Eighteenth Century, vol. 1 
British Moralists, being Selections from Writers principally of the Eighteenth Century, edited with an Introduction and analytical Index by L.A. Shelby-Bigge in two volumes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897). Vol. 1.
Part of: British Moralists, being Selections from Writers principally of the Eighteenth Century, 2 vols.
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BOOK I. Part III.
21 The Nature of Virtue consisting (as has been explain'd) in a certain just Disposition, or proportionable Affection of a rational Creature towards the moral Objects of Right and Wrong; nothing can possibly in such a Creature exclude a Principle of Virtue, or render it ineffectual, except what,
On the other side, nothing can assist, or advance the Principle of Virtue, except what either in some manner nourishes and promotes a Sense of Right and Wrong; or preserves it genuine and uncorrupt; or causes it, when such, to be obey'd, by subduing and subjecting the other Affections to it.
We are to consider, therefore, how any of the above-mention'd Opinions on the Subject of a Deity, may influence in these Cases, or produce either of these three Effects.
I. As to the first Case; The taking away the natural Sense of Right and Wrong.
It will not surely be understood, that by this is meant the taking away the Notion of what is good or ill in the Species, or Society. For of the Reality of such a Good and Ill, no rational Creature can possibly be insensible. Every one discerns and owns a publick Interest, and is conscious of what affects his Fellowship or Community. When we say therefore of a Creature, 'That he has wholly lost the Sense of Right and Wrong; we suppose that being able to discern the Goad and Ill of his Species, he has at the same time no Concern for either, nor any Sense of Excellency or Baseness in any moral Action, relating to one or the other. So that except merely with respect to a private and narrowly confin'd Self-good, 'tis suppos'd there is in such a Creature no Liking or Dislike of Manners; no Admiration, or Love of any thing as morally good; nor Hatred of any thing as morally ill, he it ever so unnatural or deform'd.
There is in reality no rational Creature whatsoever, who knows not that when he voluntarily offends or does harm to anyone, he cannot fail to create an Apprehension and Fear of like harm, and consequently a Resentment and Animosity in every Creature who observes him. So that the Offender must needs be conscious of being liable to such Treatment from every-one, as if he had in some degree offended All.
Thus Offence and Injury are always known as punishable by every-one; and equal Behaviour, which is therefore call'd Merit, as rewardable and well-deserving from every-one. Of this even the wickedest Creature living must have a Sense. So that if there be any further meaning in this Sense of Right and Wrong; if in reality there be any Sense of this kind which an absolute wicked Creature has not; it must consist in a real Antipathy or Aversion to Injustice or Wrong, and in a real Affection or Love towards Equity and Right, for its own sake, and on the account of its own natural Beauty and Worth.
22 'Tis impossible to suppose a mere sensible Creature originally so ill-constituted, and unnatural, as that from the moment he comes to be try'd by sensible Objects, he shou'd have no one good Passion towards his Kind, no foundation either of Pity, Love, Kindness, or social Affection. 'Tis full as impossible to conceive, that a rational Creature coming first to be try'd by rational Objects, and receiving into his Mind the Images or Representations of Justice, Generosity, Gratitude, or other Virtue, shou'd have no Liking of these, or Dislike of their contrarys; but be found absolutely indifferent towards whatsoever is presented to him of this sort. A Soul, indeed, may as well be without Sense, as without Admiration in the Things of which it has any knowledg. Coming therefore to a Capacity of seeing and admiring in this new way, it must needs find a Beauty and a Deformity as well in Actions, Minds, and Tempers, as in Figures, Sounds, or Colours. If there be no real Amiableness or Deformity in moral Acts, there is at least an imaginary one of full force. Tho perhaps the Thing itself shou'd not be allow'd in Nature, the Imagination or Fancy of it must be allow'd to be from Nature alone. Nor can any thing besides Art and strong Endeavour, with long Practice and Meditation, overcome such a natural Prevention, or Prepossession of the Mind, in favour of this moral Distinction.
23 Sense of Right and Wrong therefore being as natural to us as natural Affection itself, and being a first Principle in our Constitution and Make; there is no speculative Opinion, Persuasion or Belief, which is capable immediately or directly to exclude or destroy it. That which is of original and pure Nature, nothing beside contrary Habit and Custom (a second Nature) is able to displace. And this Affection being an original one of earliest rise in the Soul or affectionate Part; nothing beside contrary Affection, by frequent check and controul, can operate upon it, so as either to diminish it in part, or destroy it in the whole.
'Tis evident in what relates to the Frame and Order of our Bodys; that no particular odd Mein or Gesture, which is either natural to us, and consequent to our Make, or accidental and by Habit acquir'd, can possibly be overcome by our immediate Disapprobation, or the contrary Bent of our Will, ever so strongly set against it. Such a Change cannot be effected without extraordinary Means, and the intervention of Art and Method, a strict Attention, and repeated Check. And even thus, Nature, we find, is hardly mastcr'd; but lies sullen, and ready to revolt, on the first occasion. Much more is this the Mind's Case in respect of that natural Affection and anticipating Fancy, which makes the sense of Right and Wrong. 'Tis impossible that this can instantly, or without much Force and Violence, be effac'd, or struck out of the natural Temper, even by means of the most extravagant Belief or Opinion in the World.
Neither Theism therefore, nor Atheism, nor Dœmonism, nor any religious or irreligious Belief of any kind, being able to operate immediately or directly in this Case, but indirectly, by the intervention of opposite or of favourable Affections casually excited by any such Belief; we may consider of this Effect in our last Case, where we come to examine the Agreement or Disagreement of other Affections with this natural and moral one which relates to Right and Wrong.
24 II. As to the second Case, viz. The Wrong Sense or false Imagination of Right and Wrong.
This can proceed only from the Force of Custom and Education in opposition to Nature; as may be noted in those Countrys where, according to Custom or politick Institution, certain Actions naturally foul and odious are repeatedly view'd with Applause, and Honour ascrib'd to them. For thus 'tis possible that a Man, forcing himself, may eat the Flesh of his Enemys, not only against his Stomach, but against his Nature; and think it nevertheless both right and honourable; as supposing it to be of considerable service to his Community, and capable of advancing the Name, and spreading the Terror of his Nation.
But to speak of the Opinions relating to a Deity; and what effect they may have in this place. As to Atheism, it does not seem that it can directly have any effect at all towards the setting up a false Species of Right or Wrong. For notwithstanding a Man may thro' Custom, or by licentiousness of Practice, favour'd by Atheism, come in time to lose much of his natural moral Sense; yet it does not seem that Atheism shou'd of it-self be the cause of any estimation or valuing of any thing as fair, noble, and deserving, which was the contrary. It can never, for instance, make it be thought that the being able to eat Man's Flesh, or commit Bestiality, is good and excellent in it-self. But this is certain, that by means of corrupt Religion, or Superstition, many things the most horridly unnatural and inhuman, come to be receiv'd as excellent, good, and laudable in themselves.* * * * * * *
As to this second Case therefore; Religion (according as the kind may prove) is capable of doing great Good, or Harm; and Atheism nothing positive in either way. For however it may be indirectly an occasion of Mens losing a good and sufficient Sense of Right and Wrong; it will not, as Atheism merely, be the occasion of setting up a false Species of it; which only false Religion, or fantastical Opinion, deriv'd commonly from Superstition and Credulity, is able to effect.
25 Now as to the last Case, The Opposition made by other Affections to the natural Sense of Right and Wrong.
'Tis evident, that a Creature having this sort of Sense or good Affection in any degree, must necessarily act according to it; if it happens not to be oppos'd, either by some settled sedate Affection towards a conceiv'd private Good, or by some sudden, strong and forcible Passion, as of Lust or Anger, which may not only subdue the Sense of Right and Wrong, but the very Sense of private Good itself; and overrule even the most familiar and receiv'd Opinion of what is conducing to Self-interest.
But it is not our business in this place to examine the several Means or Methods by which this Corruption is intro-duc'd or increas'd. We are to consider only how the Opinions concerning a Deity can influence one way or another.
That it is possible for a Creature capable of using Reflection, to have a Liking or Dislike of moral Actions, and consequently a Sense of Right and Wrong, before such time as he may have any settled Notion of a God, is what will hardly be question'd: it being a thing not expected, or any-way possible, that a Creature such as Man, arising from his Childhood, slowly and gradually, to several degrees of Reason and Reflection, shou'd, at the very first, be taken up with those Speculations, or more refin'd sort of Reflections, about the Subject of God's Existence.
Let us suppose a Creature, who wanting Reason, and being unable to reflect, has, notwithstanding, many good Qualitys and Affections; as Love to his Kind, Courage, Gratitude, or _Pity. 'Tis certain that if you give to this Creature a reflecting Faculty, it will at the same instant approve of Gratitude, Kindness, and Pity; be taken with any shew or representation of the social Passion, and think nothing more amiable than this, or more odious than the contrary. And this is to be capable of Virtue, and to have a Sense of Right and Wrong.
Before the time, therefore, that a Creature can have any plain or positive Notion one way or other, concerning the Subject of a God, he may be suppos'd to have an Apprehension or Sense of Rigth and Wrong, and be possess'd of Virtue and Vice in different degrees; as we know by Experience of those, who having liv'd in such places, and in such a manner as never to have enter'd into any serious Thoughts of Religion, are nevertheless very different among themselves, as to their Characters of Honesty and Worth: some being naturally modest, kind, friendly, and consequently Lovers of kind and friendly Actions; others proud, harsh, cruel, and consequently inclin'd to admire rather the Acts of Violence and mere Power.* * * * * * *