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JOHN BALGUY THE FOUNDATION OF MORAL GOODNESS - Lewis Amherst Selby-Bigge, British Moralists, being Selections from Writers principally of the Eighteenth Century, vol. 2 
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. 2.
Part of: British Moralists, being Selections from Writers principally of the Eighteenth Century, 2 vols.
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JOHN BALGUY THE FOUNDATION OF MORAL GOODNESS
[First edition, 1728. Reprinted here from the fourth edition, included in ‘A Collection of Tracts Moral and Theological,’ 1734.]
BALGUY The Foundation of Moral Goodness Part I.
526The ingenious Author of the Enquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, has written both his Books with so good a Design, is every where so instructive or entertaining, and discovers upon all Occasions such a Fund of good Nature, as well as good Sense, that I find myself much more inclined to join with the Publick in his just Praise, than offer any Objections against his Performance. And indeed it is not without Pain, that I attempt to point out some Particulars, wherein I apprehend he has erred. I should scarce content myself with the old Excuse of magis amica Veritas, if the Mistakes which I think he has committed, did not appear to be of the utmost Consequence; if they did not lie at the Foundations of Morality, and, like Failures in Ground-work, affect the whole of the building.* * * * * * *
527 That the Author of Nature has planted in our Minds benevolent Affections towards others, cannot be denied without contradicting Experience, and falsifying our own Perceptions. Whoever carefully reflects on what passes within his own Breast, may soon be convinced of this Truth, and even feel the Evidences of it. Nor can it be doubted but these Affections were given us in order to engage, assist and quicken us in a Course of virtuous Actions. They may be looked upon as Auxiliaries, aiding us in our Duty, and supporting and seconding our Reason and Reflection.—But from the Passages I have produced, and others of the like Nature, it plainly appears that our Author does not consider this natural Affection or Instinct, merely as a Help or Incentive to Virtue, but as the true Ground and Foundation of it. He makes Virtue entirely to consist in it, or flow from it.
I must confess myself prejudiced, in some measure, against this Notion, and cannot forbear expressing my Hopes that it will not prove to be just. If the two Instructs of Affection and moral Sense be the only Pillars on which moral Goodness rests, how secure it may stand I know not, but am afraid its Honour, its Dignity, its Beauty will suffer in the Eyes of a great Part of the rational World. I am as unwilling, as our Author can be, that Virtue should be looked upon as wholly artificial. Let it by all means be represented as Natural to us; let it take its Rise, and flow unalterably from the Nature of Men and Things, and then it will appear not only natural but necessary. I mean necessary in itself, tho’ not in respect of its Votaries, as being the Object of their free Choice.—Let it be allowed that Virtue has a natural Right and Authority antecedently to every Instinct, and every Affection, to prescribe Laws to all moral Agents, and let no Bounds be set to its Dominions. More particularly let it reign without a Rival in every human Mind; but let its Throne be erected in the highest Part of our Nature; let Truth and right Reason be its immediate supporters; and let our several Senses, Instincts, Affections and Interests, attend as ministerial and subservient to its sacred Purposes.— But instead of representing this Matter to my Readers’ Imaginations, my Business is to appeal to their understandings. And in the
528 First Place, It seems an insuperable Difficulty in our Author's Scheme, that Virtue appears in it to be of an arbitrary and positive Nature, as entirely depending upon Instincts, that might originally have been otherwise, or even contrary to what they now are, and may at any time be altered or inverted, if the Creator pleases. If our Affections constitute the Honestum of a Morality, and do not presuppose it, it is natural to ask, What it was that determined the Deity to plant in us these Affections rather than any other? This our Author answers by supposing a certain Disposition essential to the Deity, corresponding to the Affections he has given us. As he also supposes something analogous in the Deity to our moral Sense. By such a Disposition he imagines the Deity would naturally be inclined to give us the kind Affections in Preference to any other. I ask then further, Is such a Disposition a Perfection in the Deity, or is it not? Is it better than a contrary, or than any other Disposition would have been; more worthy of his Nature, and more agreeable to his other Perfections? If it be not, let us not presume to ascribe it to Him. Whatever is in the Deity must be absolutely good, and sui generis the very best. On the other Hand, if this Disposition be absolutely good, and really better than any other, then the Question will be, why, and upon what Account it is so? Whatever shall be assigned as the Ground or Reason of that Goodness or Betterness, that we may securely pitch upon, as a proper Foundation for Virtue. If no Reason can be given why the Deity should be benevolently disposed, and yet we suppose him to be so; will it not follow, that he is influenced and acted by a blind unaccountable Impulse?— In Matters perfectly indifferent, it is needless and absurd to have recourse to Mr. Leibnitz's Principle of a sufficient Reason j and where several Means equally conduce to a proposed End, it is certainly indifferent which of them are chosen. But it can never be thought an indifferent Matter how the Deity is disposed or affected towards his Creatures. Either therefore it must be concluded, that he is determined by the Reason of the Thing, and that this is the Ground of his Benevolence; or else it must be said, that such a Disposition is necessary in the Deity: If the latter, I ask, In what Sense is it necessary? A moral Necessity is manifestly nothing to the Purpose; and if a physical or natural Necessity be meant, that is utterly inconsistent with our Ideas of Goodness. As far as any Acts of Kindness are unchosen and unavoidable, so far they are no Kindness at all, neither infer they any Obligation. But of this more afterwards.
529 Our Author in his Enquiry into the original Idea of Virtue, has made the following Observation, That our first Ideas of moral Good depend not on laws, may plainly appear from our constant Enquiries into the Justice of Laws themselves; and that not only of human Laws, but also of the Divine. What else can be the Meaning of that universal Opinion, that the Laws of God are just, and holy, and good? Very right. But I wonder much this Sentiment should not have led the Author to the true original Idea of moral Goodness. For after we have made such Enquiries, do we find Reason to conclude that any Laws are good, merely from their being conformable to the Affections of the Legislator? And in respect of the divine Laws, what is it that convinces us that they are just, and holy, and good? Is it their Conformity to a certain Disposition which we suppose in the Deity? On the contrary, is it not a Perception of the intrinsick Reasonableness of them, and their Tendency to the Publick Good? If we impartially consult our Ideas, I am persuaded we shall find that moral Goodness no more depends originally on Affections and Dispositions, than it does on Laws; and that there is something in Actions, absolutely good, antecedent to both.
530 2. Another Objection to our Author's Account of moral Good, is, that according thereto, if God had not framed our Natures with such a Propensity, and given us this benevolent Instinct, we should have been altogether incapable of Virtue; and notwithstanding Intelligence, Reason, and Liberty, it would have been out of our Power to perform one Action in any Degree morally good. It is evident that this is a direct Consequence of his Notion; and how a Notion should be true, that labours under such a Consequence as this, I cannot understand. Let it be supposed, that we had been formed destitute of natural Affection; and more particularly, that we found in our Hearts no kind Instinct towards our Benefactors: Would Gratitude, upon this Supposition, have been absolutely out of our Power? Might we not nevertheless, by the Help of Reason and Reflection, discover ourselves to be under Obligations, and that we ought to return good Offices or Thanks, according to our Abilities? If we did not, certainly it would be owing to great Inadvertency and Absence of Thought.—Or, supposing us void of natural Compassion, as well as Benevolence; might we not possibly be induced to attempt the Relief of a Person in Distress, merely from the Reason of the Thing, and the Rectitude of the Action? Might we not, by considering the Nature of the Case, and the Circumstances of the Sufferer, perceive some Fitness, some Reasonableness in an Act of Succour? Might not some such Maxim as that of doing as we would be done unto, offer itself to our Minds, and prevail with us to stretch out a helping Hand upon such an Occasion? In short, if we made any Use of our Understandings, they would not fail, I think, to discover our Duty in such a Case. Nay, they would prompt us to undertake it, and condemn us if we omitted it. He who now declines such an Office, incurs the Imputation of Inhumanity and Cruelty. And even upon the supposition I am speaking of, who would scruple to pronounce him unreasonable and unjust? Considering tile Frailties and Thoughtlessness of Mankind, it is but too manifest that we stand in need of Instincts and Inclinations to prompt us to what is good, and stimulate us to our Duty: and good reason there was, why we should not be trusted to ourselves, and the Dictates of our Reason, without them. But still such Virtues would surely have been practicable, tho’ they might have been more practised.—Whoever is led by Instinct to the Performance of a good Action, follows the Biass of his Nature. What shall we say then of him who performs the same Action in Obedience to the Reason of his own Mind? Is it not as natural for a reasonable Creature to act reasonably, as for an affectionate one to act affectionately? It should be more so; because tho’ both Principles are natural, yet the former is greatly superior, as being of a nobler and sublimer kind. To represent a rational Agent as incapable of performing or approving Actions morally good, without presupposing certain Instincts, seems to me inverting the Frame of our Nature, and transferring the Supremacy from the highest Principle to the lowest.
531 3. Another Difficulty in our Author's Scheme is, that it seems to expose him to the Necessity of allowing some Degree of Virtue to Brutes, when in describing a moral Action, he directs and confines our Affections to rational Objects. This Limitation, as I before took notice, appears to have been only casual, for as much as in other Places, he takes in all sensitive Beings. And indeed, there is no Reason to doubt, but Brutes, as they are capable of being treated by us either mercifully or cruelly, may be the Objects either of Virtue or Vice. But the present Question is, whether, according to our Author's Account of moral Good, they are not also in some measure Subjects of Virtue? For if Virtue be only kind Instincts, or Affections, or Actions consequent upon them, how shall we be able to disprove or deny the Virtue of Brutes? They pursue the Instincts and Impulses of Nature, more steadily and regularly than Men; they shew Affection to their respective Kinds, and a strong Degree of Love and Tenderness towards their Off-spring. And if a Perception, or a Consciousness of the Reasonableness of Actions, be not required to constitute those Actions virtuous, what is there wanting to render many of theirs truly such?—If it be alledged that they know not what they do, and that they are neither capable of intending Good, nor sensible of any Effects of their Love: my Answer is, that they have kind Affections and suitable Actions; which is our Author's Idea of Virtue: Besides, I cannot allow all those Suppositions to pass for Facts, till some Proof appear. In the mean while, it seems to me that these Creatures’ Incapacity for Morals, is to be ascribed chiefly, and perhaps wholly, to their utter Ignorance of the Reasons and Relations of Things: from whence it may be justly concluded, that whatever Ideas they may have of natural Good, they can have none of moral.
532 4. Another Argument against our Author's Origin of Virtue, is, that if Virtue consist in kind Affections, then the stronger those Affections, the greater the Virtue. I presume this Consequence is very clear, and yet, if I mistake not, it is both contrary to Fact, and to our Author's own Declarations. He tells us, that in equal Moments of Good produced by two Agents, when one acts from a general Benevolence, the other from a nearer Tye, there is greater Virtue in the Agent who produces greater good from the weaker Attachment.—Thus in co-operating with Gratitude, natural Affection, or Friendship, we evidence less Virtue in any given Moment of Good produced, than in equally important Actions of general Benevolence. From hence I think it follows, that if equal Good were supposed to be produced by an Agent, without any Affection or Attachment at all, his Virtue would still be greater in the same Proportion. How then should that be the true Ground or Principle of Virtue, by the total Absence of which Virtue is mightily increased, and which lessens it when present, in proportion to the Degree of its own Strength and Influence? How to reconcile the fore going Passage with the Author's Idea of Virtue, I must confess myself at a loss.—However, the Passage seems to me to contain nothing but what is evidently true. An Act of Kindness done to a Child or a dear Friend, is certainly less Virtue than doing the same to a Stranger. And what can be the Reason of it? Are not the Actions equally reasonable? Or, rather, is not the former more reasonable than the latter? Why then less virtuous? Because the Impulse is so strong as to supersede Reflection, and over-rule, in a great measure, the Freedom of Choice. To be determined to the doing a good Action merely by the Reason and Right of the Thing, is genuine Goodness; this is the purest and most perfect Virtue of which any Agent is capable. As far as we are influenced by Instincts and Affections, so much is to be discounted in the Estimate of our Beneficence; as I shall soon have further Occasion to observe. On the other hand, the stronger the Instinct, the more vicious is the Violation of it, as our Author takes notice. A barbarous Action committed against a Child or a Friend, is vastly more criminal than against a Stranger; as in this Case a Man breaks through much stronger Ties and Obligations, and shamefully counter-acts both Reason and Affection in their utmost Force.
533 But to proceed; Let us hear what Reason our Author gives for those Actions appearing less amiable, which flow from the nearer Attachments of Nature. He tells us, the Reason is plainly this, These strong Instincts are by Nature limited to small Numbers of Mankind.—As I do not apprehend this to be the right Reason, so neither do I think it affords any Solution of the forementioned Difficulty; for however a general Affection may be preferable to a limited and partial one, yet certainly, according to our Author's Scheme, the Degree of an Agent's Virtue must depend upon the Strength of his Affections, as well as the Extent and Diffusiveness of them. If Virtue consists only in Affection and the Effects it produces, this Consequence is unavoidable.—Supposing then that Men had the same natural Affection for their whole Species, that they have now for their Off-spring, I ask, Whether would this increase or diminish the Virtue and Merit of their good Offices? If it be said, that it would diminish the Virtue of them, how is that to be reconciled with our Author's Opinion, who derives all Virtue from Affection, and makes it entirely consist in it? If it be said that it would increase it, how is that consistent either with the fore-cited Passages, or the Truth of the Case? Not with those Passages, because Actions are there represented as less virtuous, when flowing from near Attachments or strong Affections: Not with the Truth of the Case, because upon this Supposition, universal Kindness would be almost unavoidable, while little or no room was left for the Influence of Reason.—And this I take to be the true Cause why parental Kindness is less meritorious and less virtuous than other Species of Benevolence; for in this Case, the Instincts and Impulses of Nature are generally so strong as to lay a kind of a Constraint upon Parents, and engage them almost irresistably in a Series of good Offices. Their Virtue therefore is diminished in proportion to the Strength of this natural Bias, and the Weight that is laid upon their Wills; and so it would be in respect of general Benevolence, upon the foregoing Supposition. On the contrary, supposing the στοργὴ, or natural Affection suspended, or taken off, the Virtue of those Parents who nevertheless discharged their Duty, would be exceedingly increased.—However, we cannot but acknowledge and admire the Wisdom and Goodness of the Creator, in not trusting to the Reflection of frail Man for the Performance of so necessary a Duty. It is much better that the Balance of natural Affection be too strong, as we commonly find it is, than that helpless Infants should be committed to the Care of unaffectionate Parents.
534 But to return; In order to be satisfied of the Truth of the foregoing Observation, let us imagine the Head of some numerous Family, large enough for a little Colony, carrying them away with him into some remote and desolate Island, and there forming a petty Principality; his Care in enacting good Laws, and executing them faithfully and prudently, his indefatigable Endeavours to promote the Welfare of his Descendants, and his governing them with all the Mildness, Gentleness and Clemency, that were consistent with an orderly Administration, would doubtless be laudable and virtuous.— But let us imagine another Legislator. presiding over an equal Number of People, where there was no such near Attachments of Nature, no Tye of Consanguinity, and yet ruling with equal Care, Prudence, Gentleness and Moderation; whether of these Characters would appear more amiable and deserving? Whether should we more approve and admire? In the former Case, a great Share of the Merit would be placed to the Account of natural Affection, commonly so called. In the latter, excepting the weaker Attachment of common Humanity, we discover nothing but pure Virtue, and a Sense of Honour and Duty; for as to external Motives, I suppose them equal in both Cases.—And if instead of small Governments, large and populous Kingdoms could have been supposed thus circumstantiated, the different Merit of the Legislators would still have appeared in the same Light. From whence we may justly conclude, that the true Reason why parental or any other Benevolence, that flows from the near Attachments of Nature, appear less amiable and virtuous, is not its being limited to small Numbers of Mankind, as our Author has represented it. What appears to me the just and right Way of accounting for it has been already observed, and need not here be repeated.
535 5. Lastly, It may deserve to be considered (though I have touched upon it already) how much Virtue is depreciated and dishonoured by so ignoble an Original. In our Author's Scheme it is resolved ultimately into mere Instinct, and made to consist in it; and even that universal Approbation which it meets with from intelligent Creatures, is ascribed to a certain Sense, and made to depend wholly on it. Now if Virtue and the Approbation of Virtue, be merely instinctive, we must certainly think less highly and less honourably of it, than we should do if we looked upon it as rational; for I suppose it will readily be allowed, that Reason is the nobler Principle: It is therefore to be wished that it may be found to have the first and chief Place in the original Idea of Virtue, and the Exclusion of it must, I think, be a Disparagement to both — Some will not allow, our Author tells us1 , any Merit in Actions flowing from kind Instincts, the Operation of which, they say, is not voluntary but necessary. Has our Author any where denied their operating in this Manner? Or has he attempted to shew that they may produce meritorious Actions, notwithstanding such a Manner of Operation? I cannot find that he has done either; and indeed it seems utterly impossible to reconcile Virtue with any kind of Necessity. As far as any Actions spring from a necessary Principle, so far they must be, in a moral Sense, worthless. If it be said that Instructs do not force the Mind, but only incline it; I answer, that as much Room as they leave for the Use of Liberty and the Exercise of Reason, so much Room they leave for Virtue; but then this Virtue consists in a rational Determination, and 536 not in a blind Pursuit of the Instinct. What he objects to this will be considered in its proper Place; in the mean time, to his Query concerning the Meaning of the Words Merit or Praise-worthiness; I answer, that they denote the Quality in Actions which not only gains the Approbation of the Observer, but which also deserves or is worthy of it. Approbation does not constitute Merit, but is produced by it; is not the Cause of it, but the Effect. An Agent might be meritorious, though it were in the Power of all other Beings to with-hold their Approbation, he might deserve their Praise, tho’ we suppose him at the same Time under an universal Censure. Notwithstanding all that our Author has alledged in behalf of Instincts, I think it appears, even from what has been already said, that they are so far from constituting Virtue or moral Goodness, that, other Things being equal, we always account those Actions most virtuous which have the least Dependance upon Instincts; and tho’ in some Sense we approve of those Actions which flow from Instructs, yet there are others which we approve much more, as flowing from a superior Principle, and meriting our Approbation in themselves, and upon their own account.
537 I shall now proceed to consider the other of the two Instincts which our Author has offered for the Support of Morality, viz. The moral Sense, the Object of which seems to me not sufficiently specified.—Virtue, or moral Goodness, may be considered either under the Notion of Pulchrum or Honestum. As to the Pulchrum or Beauty of Virtue, it seems to me somewhat doubtful and difficult to determine, whether the Understanding alone be sufficient for the Perception of it, or whether it be not necessary to suppose some distinct Power superadded for that Purpose. It should seem indeed, as an ingenious Writer has observed1 , that our Faculty of Understanding is of itself sufficient for such a Perception, that the Beauty of Virtue inseparably and necessarily adheres to the Ideas themselves, which whenever presented to the Mind, appear invariably the same, always amiable and always beautiful. But when I consider, what perhaps is the Case in fact, that Perceptions of the Pulchrum and of the Honestum, seem not equally universal, or if universal, yet in very different Degrees; that while every rational Creature clearly and uniformly perceives, in all ordinary Cases, what is fit, and just, and right; many Men have little or no Perception of that Beauty in Actions, with which others are wonderfully charmed: And when I further consider, that some Actions appear to all Men more beautiful than others, tho’ equally right and fit; as in the Case of Social and Self-Duties; I find myself obliged to suspend, and to wait for further Evidence1 .—Especially in respect of the Pleasure resulting from such Perceptions. For however Ideas, beautiful in themselves, may be seen by the Understanding, yet Pleasure is not seen, but felt; and therefore seems to be an Object of some other Faculty than that which we are used to consider as merely visive. If the purest Pleasures be Sensations, of some kind or other; the Mind in reechoing them, must be looked upon, not as intelligent, but sensible. And indeed, Sensibility seems to be as distinct from the Understanding, as the Understanding is from the Will. We should not therefore confound them in our Conceptions.
538 But this is a Speculation somewhat Foreign to my present Purpose. It was not the Beauty of Virtue, or the Pleasure arising from the Perception of it, that I proposed to enquire into. My Intention was only to consider the Nature, and search for the Origin of Moral Rectitude. For the Perception of this, I presume it will appear, that the Faculty of Understanding is altogether sufficient, without the Intervention of our Author's Moral Sense. But before I enter into this Matter, it may be proper to consider how improbable it is, that our Perceptions of Right and Wrong, and the Approbation or Disapprobation consequent thereupon, should depend on such a Sense, or Instinct, as he has advanced for that purpose. And here I shall only need to observe, that this Opinion is liable to the very same Objections, and labours under the same Difficulties with the former.—Thus, as deriving Virtue merely from natural Affection, implies it to be of an arbitrary and changeable Nature; our judging and approving of it by a Moral Sense implies the same: Forasmuch as this Sense, as well as that Affection, might possibly have been quite contrary to what it is at present; or may be altered at any Time hereafter. Accordingly our Author grants, There is nothing in this surpassing the Natural Power of the Deity. But I humbly apprehend he is mistaken; and that it is no more in the Power of the Deity to make rational Beings approve of Ingratitude, Perfidiousness, &c. than it is in his Power to make them conclude, that a Part of any thing is equal to the Whole. —In like manner, as according to our Author's Scheme, we should have been utterly incapable of Virtue without Natural Affection; so without a Moral Sense, we could never have approved of it; nor ever have had any Idea at all of Moral Goodness; so that in this respect, our Understandings would have been entirely useless. As if intelligent Creatures could not, as such, perceive the most obvious Relations, and judge of a plain Action, as well as a plain Truth!—Again, as it seems to follow from our Author's Idea of Virtue, that Brutes may be in some degree capable of practising it; so upon the same Supposition of a moral Sense, why may they not, in some measure, approve of such a Practice? It is not to be doubted but they are sensible of Pleasure, in the Exercise of their natural Affections. Supposing them then endued with a Moral Sense, or something corresponding thereto, why might they not see with Complacency others of their own Species exercising and exerting the same Affections? And indeed, if the Reasons and Relations of Things are out of the Question, and this moral Sense means no more than a natural Determination to receive agreeable or disagreeable Ideas of certain Actions; I think it will be very difficult to prove Brutes 539 incapable of such a Sense.—Thus again, as I think it follows from our Authors Notion, that the stronger Men's Affections are, the greater must be their Virtue; so it may be concluded, that the stronger and quicker their moral Sense is, the higher must their Approbation of virtuous Actions rise. Let the Perceptions of Beauty, and the Pleasure which attends them, be supposed as different and various as the Author thinks fit. But to make the Rectitude of moral Actions dependant upon Instinct, and in proportion to the Warmth and Strength of the moral Sense, rise and fall like Spirits in a Thermometer, is depreciating the most sacred Thing in the World, and almost exposing it to Ridicule. I believe no Man living is further from such an intention than our Author: But I am obliged to examine his Opinion as if it was not his. If what I have now observed be not a real Consequence from it, I must be answerable for the Mistake: But if it be, as I presume it is, it seems heavy enough to sink any Opinion in the World. It might as well be said, that eternal and necessary Truths may be altered and diversified, increased or lessened by the Difference of Men's Understandings; as that Virtue or Moral Rectitude should be capable of such a Variation. It can receive no Change, no Alteration any way, much less in consequence 540 of a Sense or an Instinct.—Lastly, as I took notice how Virtue was dishonoured by so ignoble an Original as that of Instinct, so the same Observation may be applied to the Notion of a moral Sense, with this Addition, that at the same time that it depreciates Virtue, it also debases the Faculty of Reason: The Former it does by ascribing to a blind Impulse that Approbation which Virtue eternally claims in its own Right; the Latter by representing our Understandings as incapable, and as insufficient of themselves, to judge and approve of it. And what can be more disparaging to Reason, than to deny it a Power of distinguishing, m the most ordinary Cases, between Right and Wrong, Good and Evil! Suppose a Man deprived of what our Author calls the moral Sense; and according to his Hypothesis, whatever Reason and Philosophy the Man may be possessed of, the Characters of Antonius and Caligula, of Socrates and Apicius, shall appear to him in the same Light, and their Conduct equally praiseworthy, or rather equally indifferent: Than which I cannot easily imagine a more shocking Absurdity.
541 Thus I think it appears that our Author's Opinions concerning the two Instincts of Affection and moral Sense, stand equally exposed to the same Objections. From whence we may observe how nicely they are matched, and how exactly they tally to each other.—Let us then seek out for some other Original of our Ideas, and enquire whether Virtue or moral Goodness do not stand on a surer and nobler Foundation. Perhaps we may find it independent of all Instincts, necessarily fixed, and immoveably rooted in the Nature of Things. And perhaps also we may find Reason or Intelligence a proper Faculty to perceive and judge of it, without the Assistance of any adventitious Power; only let it be remembred, that it is not the Beauty or Pleasure, but only the Rectitude of moral Actions that we are enquiring after.
542 Our Author observes, as I before took notice, that other Ways of speaking have been introduced, which seem to signify something different from the two opposite Opinions before mentioned. And he concludes, that to render these intelligible, the moral Sense must be presupposed. These Ways of speaking, as he calls them1 , are, That Morality of Actions consists in Conformity to Reason, and Deformity from it. That Virtue is acting according to the absolute Fitness of Things, or agreeably to the Natures and Relations of Things. That there are eternal and immutable Differences of Things, absolutely and antecedently; that there are also eternal and unalterable Relations in the Natures of the Things themselves; from which arise Agreements and Disagreements, Congruities and Incongruities, Fitness and Unfitness of the Application of Circumstances to the Qualifications of Persons, &c. And here the Author refers us to that excellent, that inestimable Book, Dr. S. Clarke's Boyle's Lectures; from which, how it happened that a Person of his Discernment and Penetration rose dissatisfied, in relation to the Points before us, I am not able to imagine, unless I may have leave to attribute it to too close an Attachment to the celebrated Author of the Characteristicks.
To these Ways of speaking might be added some others; as, that Virtue consists in the Conformity of our Wills to our Understandings. That it is a rational Endeavour of producing Happiness in capable Subjects. But since both these and the former appear to me coincident, and to center in the same Idea, I shall not examine them severally, but content myself with laying down the Notion contained in them in the following Definitions and Explications. And this Method I therefore pitch upon, because our Author has complained of the Darkness or Ambiguity of several of the Terms.
543 1. Virtue, or moral Goodness, is the Conformity of our moral Actions to the Reasons of Things. Vice the contrary.
544 2. Moral Actions are such as are knowingly directed toward some Object intelligent or sensible.—I do not add their springing from free Choice; because without this they could not really be Actions.—To treat or use an insensible Object conformably to Reason, or according to what it is, tho’ it may be a right Action, yet is indifferent in respect of Morality; which only concerns our Behaviour to such Beings as are, at least, sensible. But as I exclude not here, Beings merely sensible, so neither do I exclude the Agent himself. To promote his own real Welfare, in subordination to that of the Publick, is in its Kind true Virtue.
545 3. The Conformity of such Actions to Reason, or the Rectitude of them, is their Agreeableness to the Nature and Circumstances of the Agents and the Objects.—A social Action is then right, when it is suitable to the Nature and Relations of the Persons concerned. Thus a Person obliged acts rightly and reasonably, when his Actions are answerable to the Relation of Gratitude between him and his Benefactor.
546 4. Relations between Things or Persons, are their comparative States or Modes of Existence, necessarily arising from their different Natures or Circumstances.—Whether Relations be Qualities inherent in external Natures, or not; or however they may be defined, or conceived, they are certainly real, unalterable, and eternal. That is, supposing those Natures always continuing to be what they are, the Relations interceding between them are invariable. However, the Relations between Ideas are strictly necessary and unchangeable; the Ideas themselves being so in the divine Understanding.
547 5. Obligation may be considered as either external or internal. Of external, which arises from just Authority, I have no Occasion to speak—Internal Obligation is a State of the Mind into which it is brought by the Perception of a plain Reason for acting, or forbearing to act, arising from the Nature, Circumstances, or Relations of Persons or Things—The Internal Reasons of Things are the supreme Law1 , inducing the strongest Obligation, and affecting 2 all intelligent Beings. Tho’ we are certainly obliged to do whatever appears to be the Will of God, merely because it is his Will, and in consequence of that Right which He has to prescribe Laws to us; yet our Obligation to act conformably to Reason is even superior to this, because the Divine Will itself is certainly subject to the original Law or Rule of Action.—To suppose reasonable Beings unconcerned with the Reasons of Things, is to suppose them reasonable and unreasonable at the same time. The Reasons of Things are to Men, in respect of Practice, what Evidence is in Speculation. Assent in one Case, and Approbation in the other, are equally and irresistibly gained; only there is this Difference, that the Will has Power to rebel, and the Understanding has not. But when ever the Will does rebel, the immediate Consequence is an odious Perception of Wrong, and a Consciousness of Guilt, which may be looked upon as natural Sanctions of the Law of Nature.
548 6. Reason, or Intelligence, is a Faculty enabling us to perceive, either immediately or mediately, the Agreement or Disagreement of Ideas, whether natural or moral.—This last Cause, otherwise superfluous, is inserted upon our Author's Account; who seems to exclude moral Ideas, and to consider them as Objects of another Faculty. And indeed, if he had thought our Understandings capable of moral Perceptions, he would have had no Occasion for introducing his moral Sense, except in Relation to the τὸ καλὸν, concerning which I have already acknowledged myself undetermined. But it is visible, that he ascribes our Perceptions of the Rectitude of virtuous Actions to this moral Sense, or rather makes that Rectitude entirely consist in their Correspondence with it. Whereas if there be a real Rectitude in such Actions, I cannot doubt but our Understandings are capable of perceiving it. We have confessedly Ideas of Actions and Agents, and find a manifest Difference among them. We find likewise that some Actions are agreeable, others disagreeable, to the Nature and Circumstances of the Agent and the Object, and the Relations interceding between them. Thus, for Instance, we find an Agreement between the Gratitude of A and the Kindness of B and a Disagreement between the Ingratitude of C and the Bounty of D. These Agreements and Disagreements are visible to every intelligent Observer, who attends to the 549 several Ideas. The Question then is, Whether we perceive them by our Understanding, or by what our Author calls a moral Sense? And might it not as well be asked, How it is that we perceive the Agreement between the three Angles of a Triangle, and two Right ones? Will our Author say, that we perceive this by an Intellectual Sense superadded to our Understanding? I believe he will not. Why then does he ascribe the other Perceptions to a moral one? If1 the Agreement or Disagreement of one Sort of Ideas be proper Objects of our Understandings, why not those of another? Especially, since in many Cases, they are perceived with equal Clearness and Evidence. Let therefore our intelligent Faculty either be pronounced insufficient in both Cases, or in neither. Nay, since moral Perceptions are more useful and important than any other, there is peculiar Reason to conclude, that they. belong to our supreme Faculty. It is not to be imagined, that the wise Author of Nature would frame our Minds in such a Manner, as to allot them only Instincts for the Purposes of Morality and Virtue, and at the same time grant them Reason and Intelligence for inferior Uses. This seems to me neither consistent with the Dignity of Virtue, nor the Supremacy of our rational Faculty.
550 7. Truth, objectively considered, is either of Words, Ideas, or Things. By which last I mean external Natures. Verbal Truth, or the Truth of Propositions, is their Conformity to one or both of the other two. Ideal Truth is the Agreement or Disagreement of Ideas, Truth of Things is the relative Nature of Things themselves, or the agreement or Disagreement of one Thing with another.—That Ideas correspond or differ, agree or disagree with each other, will readily be allowed, whether such Agreements or Disagreements be formed into Propositions or no. The Differences among them constitute various Relations, which are fixed and certain, independently of our Observation.—In like manner external Natures, in virtue of their essential or circumstantial Differences, abound in real Relations to one another, independently of Propositions, and in some sense, even of Ideas. The Things indeed themselves could never have existed without a Mind, and antecedent Ideas. But when they are once brought into Existence, and constituted in such or such a Manner, those Agreements or Disagreements, wherein Truth consists, flow necessarily from their respective Constitutions; and by Consequence, neither depend on the Perceptions of intelligent Beings, nor on the Will of the Creator himself. A cylindrical Body would be bigger than a conical one, of the same Base and Height, and spherical Particles fitter for Motion than angular, whether any Beings perceived it, or no.—There are also the same real Agreements and Disagreements between Actions, Agents, and Objects, as any other Things. Some Actions are very different from and even contrary to others. There is likewise a wide Difference between the Nature of rational Creatures, and that of Brutes; and between the Nature of Brutes, and that of inanimate Things. They require therefore respectively a suitable Treatment. To treat Men in the same Way we treat Brutes, and to treat Brutes in the same Way we do Stocks and Stones, is manifestly as disagreeable and dissonant to the Natures of Things, as it would be to attempt the forming of an Angle with two parallel Lines I would not call such a Conduct acting a Lye, because that is confounding objective and subjective Truth, and introducing needless Perplexities. I would not call it a Contradiction to some true Proposition, because that neither comes up to the Case, nor is a Way of speaking strictly proper; but I would call it a Counter-action 551 to the Truth, or real Natures of Things.—From hence it appears, how far, and with what Propriety a morally good Action may be said to be conformable to Truth, or to consist in such a Conformity. If by Truth be meant the Truth of Things, then I think it may properly be said, that the moral Goodness of an Action consists in a Conformity thereto. It may therefore be called either a true or a right Action; tho’ for Distinction sake, and the avoiding of Ambiguity and Confusion, I should constantly prefer the latter. However, since this Truth of Things is, in Morals, the Standard and Measure Of true Propositions, which are no otherwise true, than as they agree with it; it is evidently more proper to represent moral Goodness as founded on the former, rather than the latter.— 552 If it be asked, why it is not as proper to found it on Ideal Truth, as the Truth of Things? I answer, that in respect of divine Ideas it is the very same, all Things being created and framed according to those Models. But though external Natures are only Copies of the divine Ideas, yet in respect of ours, they are Originals, since our Ideas are all taken from them, as far as Morality is concerned. It is true, indeed, in Mathematicks our Ideas themselves are the Standards, Nature supplying no Figures so exact as that Science requires: But in Morals our Ideas are only Representations of Natures and Relations actually existing. As far as our Ideas are conformable thereto, so far they are just; but we cannot in all Instances be absolutely secure that they are so. In some nicer Cases we may misapprehend the States and Circumstances of moral Agents, and the Relations between them. In Strictness therefore, the Foundations of Morality must be laid either in the Truth or Nature of Things themselves, or in the divine Ideas, which comes to the same Thing.
553 Nevertheless, in ordinary Cases, we may securely rely on our own Perceptions, the Objects of which, even in Morals, are often self-evident Truths, and almost always resolvable into such. The Reasons of Things, and the Relations between moral Agents, seldom fail of appearing to us in a clear Light; and that, as I before observed, without the Help of an additional Faculty. For the most part we perceive and understand what is right and what is wrong in Actions, as plainly and distinctly as we understand what is true, and what is false, in Propositions; and both consist in the Relations discoverable between our Ideas; so that we have all the Grounds that can be, to conclude them equally Objects of Intelligence.—To give Pain, without Cause, to a sensible Creature, is an Action self-evidently wrong, as being directly repugnant to the Nature of the Object, and the Circumstances of the Agent: The Iniquity of it is as manifest to every Understanding, as the Difference between a curve and a Straight-Line. We are certainly informed by our Senses, that Pain is a natural Evil; here is therefore a plain and perpetual Reason against the Infliction of it, when no stronger intervenes to make it requisite—In like manner we certainly know that Pleasure is a natural Good; here is therefore a plain and perpetual Reason for the Production of it, whenever we have it in our Power, and are not hindered by a stronger.—Are then these Things, strictly speaking, unintelligible? Is it entirely owing to one Instinct, that we are guided by such Rules, and to another that we approve of them? Upon the whole, if we really have such a Faculty as Understanding, and its proper Object be Truth, we need not doubt but it is capable of discerning moral Rectitude, since this is entirely founded upon Truth, and ultimately consists in an Agreement with it.
554 If it be objected to this Account of Virtue, that so small a Regard is had in it to Affections and Temper; my Answer is, that tho’ I grant the Reality of such Affections, and the Usefulness of them, in respect of human Nature, yet I can by no means look upon them as essential to Virtue; nor can I think that any Instinct has a Place in its Constitution. To speak properly, Reason was not given us to regulate natural Affection, but natural Affection was given us to reinforce Reason, and make it more prevalent. The inferior Principle must be intended as subservient to the superior, and not vice versa. Let Affection be allowed, if you will, antecedent in Order of Time; I neither know nor enquire how far in point of Use and Exercise it may get the start of Reason and Reflection: This will neither give it Pre-eminence, nor make it equal in Dignity; Sense and Memory are prior to the Use of Judgment, but still are inferior Principles.—A benevolent Instinct is a very proper Introduction to Virtue; it may lead us, as it were, by the Hand, till we arrive at a Conduct truly virtuous, and that is founded on rational Principles; and even afterwards it may continue to quicken us in our Pursuits. But yet, as far as our Wills are determined, either by Instinct, or any thing else besides Reason, so far, I think, we can have no Pretension to Merit or Moral Goodness. However, as Instinct has a Tendency to moral Good, so it actually produces a great Share of natural Good. Doubtless, a great Proportion of the Benefits and good Offices that are done in the World, are to be ascribed to natural Affection, either wholly or chiefly. And tho’ this be no Proof of the Prevalence of true Virtue among Mankind, but rather an Argument of the contrary, yet most certainly it is a signal Instance of the Wisdom and Goodness of the Creator, in providing such a wonderful Supply both for our natural Wants and our moral Defects. But other and larger Concessions are to be made in behalf of Affection, tho’ of a different Kind from that of Instinct.
555 It seems to me an useful and material Distinction, to consider the Affection of Benevolence, either as instinctive, or as rational, as natural, or as acquired; acquired, I mean, by Reason, Reflection, and a consequent Practice. If we attend to the Reasons on which moral Goodness is founded, we discover its Rectitude and intrinsick Fitness. Why then may not this very Perception produce benevolent Affection, or a real Desire of Publick Good? and this Desire continue prompting Men to generous Pursuits, and be strengthened by suitable Practice? Is not such a rational Benevolence more agreeable to rational Natures, and more meritorious than a blind Instinct that we have in common with inferior Creatures, and which operates, as it were, mechanically, both on their Minds and ours? I have already granted, that we could not, without great Inconvenience, have wanted such an Impulse, and that great and good Effects are produced by it. I have also granted, that a natural Bias was proper to draw us into the right Path, and to prevent our being led astray, during the Infancy of our Reason; but still I must maintain, that this Impulse or Bias is not Virtue; nor can any thing be Virtue, but what consists in a rational Determination of the Mind. As our Fellow-Creatures are a proper Object of a natural Affection, so are they a proper Object of a rational one; and as that is good and useful, this is laudable and truly virtuous.—It cannot, I think, be denied, but that calm, universal Benevolence, in Praise and Preference of which our Author often speaks, is more owing to Reason and Reflection than natural Instinct, where-ever it appears. And supposing us naturally void of publick Affection, I doubt not but Reason and Reflection would raise such a Benevolence as this, in considerate Minds.—I shall only add, that tho’ an instinctive and a rational Benevolence may make the same amiable Appearance in the Eyes of Men, who cannot indeed distinguish them in any Minds but their own; yet in the Sight of the Deity, I doubt not but the latter is much more acceptable and meritorious.
556 Again, if Virtue must be derived from some Affection, why not that Affection, of which Reason itself is the Object? And here again, I mean no Instinctive Determination of the Mind. As I spoke before of a rational Benevolence, of which Mankind is the Object; so here I speak of a rational Love of Complacency, the Object of which is Reason or moral Good-. ness itself. Whatever is good, absolutely good, will produce the Affection either of Complacency or Desire, in such Beings as are capable and willing to attend to its Excellence. Virtue then, or moral Rectitude, being good in this Sense, will not fail to recommend itself to all rational Minds that duly consider it. The Congruity between the Object and the Faculty is not arbitrary, as in other Cases, but necessary and unchangeable.—As to the Beauty of Virtue, that is a further Charm, as the Pleasure attending the Perception of it is an additional Recommendation. Whether these, especially the latter of them, belong not so some other Faculty than that of Intelligence, I leave to be enquired and determined by others: What I contend for at present, is, that without regarding, or thinking of the Pleasure it may yield, we esteem Virtue or moral Rectitude upon its own Account; that our Affection for it, is not an instinctive Determination, but raised and produced in the Mind by the intrinsick Worth and Goodness of the Object. Most other Objects are therefore good, because they are adapted to our Faculties, or our Faculties to them. But Truth and Virtue are good in themselves, and necessarily appear so to all Beings capable of perceiving them: Their Excellence is not borrowed or adventitious, but inherent and essential: They reflect not a foreign Light, but shine like the Sun, with their own proper Rays and native Lustre.
557 Our Author, in his Nature and Conduct of the Passions, makes mention of a rational Desire; and takes notice of such Affections as seem to arise necessarily from a rational Apprehension of Good or Evil. I cannot avoid thinking, that he would have done more Justice both to Virtue and Human Nature, if he had laid more Stress upon such Affections as these, and less upon Instincts. He grants, (speaking of Virtue) that the lovely Form never fails to raise Desire, as soon as it appears. But this Desire, according to his Notion, is only an instinctive Affection, suited and accommodated to its Object. And even this Object, Virtue itself, which he calls a lovely Form, appears, I think, in his Representation, far less lovely than it really is. For he has represented this Loveliness, not as absolute and necessarily inherent, but as factitious and communicated. According to him, suppose but the moral Sense inverted, and then Vice, as we now call it, becomes the lovely Form. But surely this is a Misrepresentation of Virtue, the Excellence of which is not precarious nor derived, but essential, absolute, and independant.
558 But to return; the Rational Affections before mentioned, springing from so noble a Principle, and operating jointly upon the Mind, along with natural Propensity, must needs constitute an excellent disposition. The best and most desirable Temper in the World, must, I think, be that which consists in a Rational universal Benevolence, and an habitual Complacency in Virtue. Whether such Affections be considered as grafted upon natural Benevolence, or as distinct Principles co-operating with it; I venture to affirm, that the more any Temper is influenced by Reason and Reflexion, the better and nobler Effects it will produce, and render the Possessor more amiable and more deserving.
559 But the great Difficulty in our Author's Apprehension, is yet behind: He wants to be informed what are the Motives, Inducements, or exciting Reasons for the Choice of Virtue, and what the justifying Reasons of our Approbation of it. He seems to think these Questions are not to be answered upon the Scheme I am defending ‘ Let us then try whether this Difficulty be not surmountable without the Help of those Instincts which he has introduced for that Purpose.—What is the Reason exciting a Man to the Choice of a virtuous Action? I answer, his very Approbation of it is itself a sufficient Reason, where-ever it is not over-ruled by another more powerful. What can be more just, what more natural, than chusing of a thing that we approve, and even chusing it for that very Reason?—But why then do we approve? or what justifies our Approbation of it? I answer in one Word, Necessity. The same Necessity which compels Men to assent to what is true, forces them to approve what is right and fit. And I cannot but wonder, that our Author should demand a Reason for the one more than for the other. In both Cases the Mind necessarily acquiesces, without regarding or considering the Effects or Tendencies of either.
560 If it be needful to enlarge upon this Matter, or take a further View of it, we need only call to mind what was before observed, viz. That Virtue being intrinsically worthy and excellent, fails not to produce a real Affection for itself, in all Minds that attentively consider it; it not only makes itself approved, but admired; not only admired, but loved, by those that contemplate it in a proper Manner: And the better any one is acquainted with it by Contemplation and Practice, the more amiable it becomes, and the higher his Affection rises. Is it then to be wondered, that rational Beings should chuse what they love, or, in other Words, embrace an Object of their Affections Much less is it to be wondered in the present Case, where the peculiar Dignity and Excellence of the Object is confessed.—Our Author grants, that all Affections justify themselves: What can this mean, but that they justify our Approbation and Choice of their respective Objects? If therefore it be true that we have, or may have, such an Affection for Virtue, or moral Goodness, as I have been speaking of, we shall need to seek no further, either for Excitements to Election, or Grounds of Approbation. Whether this Affection be looked upon as natural or adventitious, it will abundantly justify itself, and all the Regards that may be shewn for its Object.
561 But our Author tells us, that in every calm rational Action, some End is desired or intended. And accordingly, he expects to hear, what is the End which a Man proposes in the Choice of Virtue, upon the present Scheme. He affirms that under Benevolence, Self-love, and their Opposites, all Affections are included; and concludes from thence, that there can be no exciting Reason but what arises from some or other of them.—Before I examine this Objection, I desire to know whether that Esteem, Admiration, Complacency which Virtue produces, be no Affection? and, whatever they may be called, whether they may not excite to Election? Is Virtue no otherwise good or amiable, than as it conduces to publick or private Advantage? Is there no absolute Goodness in it? Are all its Perfections relative and instrumental? Have we no other Idea of the Honestum and the Pulchrum but this? Is the lovely Form to be considered only as a kind of Cornucopia?
562 But to return: Our Author's Question amounts plainly to this: What does a reasonable Creature propose in acting reasonably? Or what is it that induces his Will to take Counsel of his Understanding? As if this were not the very Essence of a rational Action! The Question therefore might as well have been put thus: What is it that induces a Man to be a rational Agent, when he has it in his Power to be otherwise? Besides the internal Reasons which I am speaking of, there are indeed likewise external Reasons, if Considerations of Interest may properly be called so. Call them what we will, they must, and will be regarded by such Creatures as Men. But clamorous and importunate as they are, they leave us at liberty, in most Cases, to attend to those internal Reasons which I have been considering. The still Voice of Conscience may generally be heard amidst all the Bustle and 563 Tumult of our Appetites and Passions.—But to come to the Point, if by the End which our Author enquires after, he means nothing hut some Advantage or natural Good; my Answer is, that we may chuse reasonable or virtuous Actions, without Intention or View of any such End. But if I may be allowed to take the Word in another Signification, then I answer as follows. — The End of rational Actions and rational Agents, considered as such, is Reason or moral Good. As this is the proper Object of our moral Capacity, and the Affection corresponding thereto, it may properly be said to be our End as moral Agents. This Affection, like others, reaches out to its proper Object, and rests in the Possession of it, as its true End, whether it be, or be not connected with Happiness. The End of the Speculatist is Truth, whether it redound to his Advantage, or his Disadvantage. The End of the Moralist is Rectitude, whether it conduce to his Interest or no. Considered as Moral, this is precisely the Mark that he aims at; his Judgment directing, and his Affection prompting to this Object, as in a peculiar Sense, self-worthy and self-eligible. In short, moral Good is an End, an ultimate 564 End of one Kind, as natural Good is of another. And these Ends are so closely united and interwoven, that it is sometimes difficult to separate them even in our Conceptions. In the Pursuit of Pleasure, we have often the Consent and Concurrence of Reason; and when we pursue Reason or Virtue, Pleasure accompanies and follows. If we propose to make ourselves happy, we have Reason on our Side; and if we determine to act reasonably, Pleasure is the Consequence.— Nevertheless, they are in themselves, distinct Objects, and distinct Ends. However Pleasure may be the Consequence or Appendage of Virtue, yet, strictly speaking, it is not the End of a moral Agent, nor the Object of a moral Affection, but Virtue alone, antecedent to all Considerations, and abstracted from every natural Good. As Man is a sensible Creature, as well as moral, I deny not but certain Circumstances may be supposed, wherein, these Ends interfering, the moral Good would certainly be postponed to the natural, and the external Reasons unavoidably prevail over the internal: But such Cases can never come into Fact, and therefore need not be regarded. As God has framed our Natures in such a manner as makes it necessary for us to approve and pursue both these Ends, we may infallibly conclude, that he does not intend to suffer them finally to interfere.
565 If our Author denies that any Affection can have such an Object, or such an End, as is not advantageous or naturally good, I must refer him to an Observation of his own. He himself produces a remarkable Instance of an Affection continuing in pursuit of its Object, when known to be utterly useless and incapable of contributing, in any degree, to the Advantage of the Pursuer. The Object I speak of is future Fame, which he supposes would be desired even at the Point of Annihilation. Should he here be asked for an exciting Reason, he would answer, Affection; or for a justifying Reason, he would still answer, Affection; all Affections justifying themselves. I wish then, he would tell why abstracting all Other Motives, Affection may not excite us to chuse Virtue as well as Fame; and at least equally justify the Choice.— By the absolute Fitness of Virtue, which appears so unintelligible to our Author, no more is meant, than that inherent Goodness, that Self-Worth, which renders it fit to be chosen, pursued, practised, loved by every rational Being. As Truth is absolutely fit to be assented to; so Virtue, which is founded on Truth, Is absolutely fit to be approved and practised.
566 I would further observe, that Virtue, in this View, is no less disinterested, than in that of our Author's. As he does not allow that the Pleasure which attends benevolent Actions, makes them interested, because the Agent is not excited or influenced by it; so neither can I allow that the Love of Virtue is interested, whatever Pleasure it may be attended with; forasmuch as Pleasure is no more the Motive or Excitement in this Case, than m the other.—Both publick Affection, and the Love of Virtue, gratify the Mind; but the Mind does not, or at least needs not, intend its own Gratification in either. Tho’ they be Affections of a different kind, yet they are, or may be, equally generous and disinterested. Whatever Pleasure Virtue may give in the Contemplation or Practice, that Pleasure is not the chief or primary Reason of our Approbation and Esteem. We approve and esteem it for its own intrinsick Worth, antecedently to every other Consideration.—I shall only observe further, that as in Fact, we often pursue speculative Truths without so much as thinking of any Interest, and when we have found them, acquiesce in them: So good Men often propose and undertake good Actions, without thinking of any Advantage or Pleasure at all. And when the Actions are social and directed to publick Interest, yet still the Love of Reason and moral Rectitude is often the leading Principle. The Agents are beneficent and kind, in obedience to the Dictates of Reason.
567 While we act up to the Character of rational Agents, we shall be sure to follow Reason, whether it call us out in quest of publick or private Good. Reason is the perpetual Arbitress of our several Claims and Pretensions, will inform us what we are to do for others, and what for ourselves; prevent the interfering of publick and private Interest, and adjust all imaginary Differences and Competitions between them. Reason may be considered as paramount and superior to every Interest, even that of the Publick, however it may decide in favour thereof. It would be improper and absurd to say, that we hearken to Reason for the sake of our Fellow-Creatures; but it is very just and proper to say that we oblige and serve our Fellow-Creatures, because Reason requires it. Reason both enjoins the Duty, and prescribes the Measures of it.
568 It is manifest that Reason has placed every private Interest in Subordination to publick, and if Cases may be imagined, where this Order is inverted, it is certain that such Cases can never actually happen, and therefore it is needless to take Notice of them. Were the World without a Governor, or. without a Governor of infinite Wisdom and Perfection, the Nature and Circumstances of Mankind would be a Scene of mere Disorder and Confusion. They would be frequently distracted between opposite and contradictory Obligations. Since we are sensible as well as rational Creatures, Reason alone can never be self-sufficient, tho’ it may be, and is self-eligible. Exclude the Belief of Providence and a future State, and in many Cases it must be owned, Virtue would not be able to support itself. Adversity and great Misery would make Men deaf to the Dictates of their own Minds; would bring them down, as it were, from Reason to Sense; as the extreme Anguish and Torture of some Distempers have forced Men to quit their erect Posture, and crawl upon the Ground.
569 But tho’ this be a strong Argument for a future State, it is none against the Dignity of Virtue, or the Supremacy of a rational Principle. There can never be in Fact, a Necessity for opposing this, or departing from it; whatever there may be in Supposition or Speculation: However therefore Men may happen to counter-act their present Interest, it is unquestionably their Duty to follow where-ever Reason and Virtue lead them. He who formed them reasonable Creatures, and thereby unavoidably subjected them to the Dictates of Reason, will assuredly take Care that they be not finally Sufferers by their Adherence thereto. He will make abundant Compensation for every Loss, and every Disadvantage hereby occasioned. To imagine otherwise, is, in effect, to suppose Inconsistentcy and Contrariety in the very Frame of our Nature.
570 I know not whether I need to observe, that our Author ever seems to take it for granted there is no absolute Good but natural Good; and that moral Good is no otherwise such, than as it is subservient and conductive to natural Good. On the contrary, I affirm and maintain, that tho’ moral Good greatly promotes natural Good, it is moreover in itself an absolute Good. What Proof can we give of the absolute Goodness of Pleasure, but that we approve of it, upon its own Account, and pursue it for its own sake? The same Proof we have of the absolute Goodness of Virtue, which, considered by itself, and abstract from every other Thing, necessarily extorts our Approbation, and appears worthy of our Choice. Our approving and admiring it ante-undeniable to those Satisfactions which flow from it, is an undeniable Proof of its absolute and inherent Worth.—And as Virtue is absolute Good, as well as Pleasure, so that it is of a different and superior Kind, evidently appears from this single Consideration; that whereas natural Objects are only therefore good, because they gratify; moral Objects therefore gratify, because they are good. Natural Good is mere Gratification. In moral Good there is Gratification likewise, and that of the best and noblest Kind; but it is the Consequence of original and essential Goodness. The Correspondence or Congruity between natural Objects and their Faculties, is arbitrary and mutable; between moral Objects and their Faculties, necessary and immutable.
571 Of this Sentiment of our Author, which I last mentioned, the Opinion of the Stoicks seems to have been the Reverse. They had noble Ideas of Virtue, and clear Apprehensions of its Excellence, but unaccountably forgot, or overlooked the Constitution of Human Nature: And hence they fell into great Extravagance, and a kind of Enthusiasm. Wrapt up in Admiration of moral Good, they seemed not to acknowledge or regard any other. Had they considered that they were sensible Beings as welt as moral, they could not easily have imagined that Virtue alone was self-sufficient. Their Scheme therefore must be unnatural and indefensible; I mean exclusively of a future State, the only Support of Virtue in Adversity and extreme Cases.
572 But to return; our Author lays it down, that no Reason can excite to Action previously to some End. To which I answer, that if Reason or Virtue were not itself an End to a Moral Agent, in the Manner explained above; it would still follow, that there might be a Reason exciting to Action without an End. Our Approbation of Virtue, and Affection for it, would certainly be such a Reason. That which is necessarily approved and beloved upon its own Account, may undoubtedly be chosen without any additional Motive. Though our Approbation of Virtue be necessary, yet that Necessity is only a Consequence of the intrinsic Goodness and Excellence of Virtue. Virtue is therefore worthy of that Approbation which it gains; and if worthy of our Approbation, why not of our Choice? Why should not that Worth which makes us necessarily approve of it in Speculation, recommend it to our Practice? Why should we not freely conform our Actions to our Judgments? If we plainly perceive that a Thing is right and fit to be done, and yet refuse to do it without further Excitements, do we not justly incur the double Imputation of Unreasonableness and Interestedness? If external Reasons be wanting, here is a strong internal one: a Compliance with which is, if I mistake not, the most perfect and most disinterested Virtue. I humbly presume the Goodness of the Deity himself proceeds from this Principle, and rests upon this Foundation. A perpetual Regard and Attachment to the internal Reasons of Things is the utmost Perfection of a moral Agent. Whether our Author will allow them to be an End, or Excitements without an End, must be left to his own Determination. But I think he must necessarily allow ether the one or the other.
573 He adds, that no End can be proposed without some Instinct or Affection. To which I answer, that it has been already acknowledged, that moral Agents have, and must have, an Affection for Virtue. But why must this Affection be an Instinct? Whatever Reasons there may be for an instinctive Benevolence, I can see none for an instinctive Love of Virtue. An Object that is and appears Self-good, or intrinsically excellent, must necessarily produce Esteem and Admiration in all Minds capable of perceiving it. We find our Minds necessarily determined in favour of Virtue. But I presume such a Determination is not antecedent, but consequent to our Perceptions of this amiable Object. Even the Desire of natural Good seems to be in Reality no Instinct, tho’ commonly called and reputed such. Our Affections indeed for particular Objects are manifestly instinctive, as it was requisite they should; but I see no need of supposing a previous Determination of the Mind, either to natural Good in general, or to moral. As soon as ether comes to be perceived, it necessarily determines the Mind towards itself. But this Determination being consequent to Perception, is, if I mistake not, improperly called Instruct. It is indeed Affection, but that Affection, I suppose, is produced in the Mind, not antecedently planted in it.
574 Our Author observes, that if by determining ourselves freely, we mean, acting, without any Motive or exciting Reason, by mere Election; such kind of Action can never gain any one's Approbation. Now I readily grant there is no Merit in acting without any Motive or Reason. On the other hand, it may be affirmed that neither is there any Merit in Actions to which an Agent is driven by natural Instinct. The one of these is a worthless Use of Freedom, the other no Freedom at all. In the former Case the Man acts, but to no Purpose. In the latter he does not act, but is acted upon. Or, however, he is passive in proportion to the Influence and Operation of the Instinct. But determining ourselves freely to act and to do what appears conformable to Reason, is making the best use of both Faculties that we possibly can. And if there be no Merit in such a Conduct, we are capable of none. It is no Diminution of this Merit, that Virtue necessarily engages our Approbation, and attracts our Esteem. If all things were indifferent, and no Reasons appeared to incline our Wills one way more than another, we should have Liberty to no purpose. But surely there is a manifest and wide Difference between a rational Determination, and a mere Impulse of Nature. It is only Reason, or the Appearance of Reason, that can justify the Choice of a moral Agent; who is no further Praise-worthy, than as he acts in Conformity thereto. Instinctive Goodness is the Creator's Goodness, not the Creature's; so far, I mean, as it proceeds from Instinct, and is owing thereto.
575 Let us suppose two Persons equally producing any given Quantity of Beneficence, or Moment of Good; the one merely from a sweet Disposition, and a high Degree of good Nature; the other from Reason, Reflection, and Resolution, without any such good natural Disposition, or in Opposition to a bad one; do I need to ask whether of these Characters is more meritorious and virtuous? The one steers his Course with the Advantage of a fair Wind, and a strong Tide; the other works his Way through a rough and stormy Sea, with great Care, Industry, and Application. They may appear perhaps equally amiable in the undistinguishing Eye of the World, but far otherwise in the Sight of Heaven.—In short, I cannot have any other Idea of moral Merit, than conforming, or endeavouring to conform, our Actions to the Reasons of Things. And this, I am persuaded, is the real Foundation of all Goodness, whether human or divine.
Our Author's Reasonings concerning this Matter, being all built on the Principles which I have already considered, it is needless to proceed to a more particular Examination of them. —Nor shall I trouble the Reader with a Train of Corollaries that might easily be deduced from the foregoing Account. But the two following seeming more material and important than the rest, may deserve not only to be mentioned, but set forth particularly and at large.
576 The one is, that Virtue may be taught, or promoted by Instruction; in Opposition to our Author, who denies it: Agreeably enough, I confess, to his own Principles, which naturally lead him to such a Conclusion. For if Virtue consists in an Instinct, and the Effects of that Instinct, it is evident that Instruction can avail little or nothing. But if, according to the foregoing Account, Virtue consist in the Conformity of Men's Actions to the Reasons of things; the Advantage of moral Instruction must be very manifest. For hereby the Ignorant may be assisted in discovering and perceiving, which Actions are conformable, and which repugnant to the Nature and Circumstances of Agents, and the Relations thence arising. In ordinary Cases the Difference between Right and Wrong is so evident and notorious, that the most ignorant perceive it without Instruction. And yet even in these Cases it may be very useful, as it is very practicable, to shew more particularly and distinctly, the Reasonableness, the Fitness, and the Excellence of a virtuous Practice; and the Unreasonableness and Unfitness, the Odiousness and Baseness, of a vicious Conduct. By these and other Topicks, properly insisted on, Men may acquire a Veneration for Virtue, and an Abhorrence of Vice. Good Dispositions may be raised or cherished in their Minds, and evil ones checked or rooted out.—And in respect of other Duties not self-evident, their Connection with such as are, may be discovered and laid open; or they may be unfolded and resolved into simple Truths, and self-evident Propositions. And as the Ignorant may thus learn what their several Duties are, so they may be induced and prevailed upon to comply with them, not only by external Motives, but by internal Reasons drawn from the Nature of Morality and Virtue. And surely it must turn to some Account, and tend to inspire Men with right Sentiments, and virtuous Purposes, to convince them how reasonable it is to do well, and how unreasonable to do ill. Such Instruction must be useful to the Ignorant, and may contribute to reclaim the Vicious. It doubtless tends to produce such an Effect. However, it must, I think, be allowed, that since Men are reasonable Creatures, and Virtue the most reasonable thing m the World; there can be no Impossibility of reconciling, by Reason and Argument, the one to the other. Virtue therefore may be promoted by Instruction; or, in other Words, may be properly taught.
577 I cannot but observe, that amiable Conceptions of our Fellow-creatures are represented by our Author as necessary for the producing of Benevolence. Moral Goodness must be discovered in them, in order to raise our Love. But does he not confound the Affections of Benevolence and Complacency? Whether our Fellow-creatures be amiable or un-amiable, deserving or undeserving, they are sensible, and, as such, Objects of our Benevolence. Their very Sensibility is their Title, which holds good where there is nothing else to be pleaded in their Behalf.—Here then is an Instance of the Benefit and Usefulness of Instruction. Men are too apt to imagine that the Worthless and the Wicked have no claim to their Regard. But they may be informed and convinced, that such Objects have a Claim to their Benevolence, and can never forfeit it, till they become insensible.
578 The other Consequence of the foregoing Account is, that there may be real Virtue in such Actions as respect the Agent himself, and arc directed to his own Advantage. If Virtue consist in acting conformably to Reason, and if Reason not only allows, but requires the Agent (as it certainly does) to regard his own Good, in Subordination to that of the Publick; it must needs follow, that such a Conduct is, or may be virtuous. On the contrary, our Author does not allow such Actions to be virtuous, any otherwise than as they conduce to publick Good, and are directed thereto. Thus Temperance, for Instance, he grants to be laudable and virtuous under the foresaid Reference, but not otherwise. In no other Respect will he allow it to be morally good, however naturally good, or advantageous to Health.
579 But I presume there is other Merit besides this, in the Discharge of what we may call Self-duties. Were any Man supposed alone, without any Fellow-creatures in the Universe; would there be no Merit, non moral Goodness, in the highest Improvement of his Faculties, and the exactest Government of his Appetites and Inclinations? Tho’ he conformed all his Actions to the Rules of right Reason; checking every Desire, and denying himself every Gratification inconsistent therewith; would there be nothing laudable, nothing meritorious in such a Conduct as this? On the contrary, would it not be very acceptable to the Deity, and procure the Man his Approbation and Favour? Why then, and upon what Account would it be thus acceptable? I suppose it will be answered, as the Man was hereby better fitted for the Discharge of those Duties which were owing to his Maker. But surely it must be granted, that his Maker would be incapable of receiving the least Benefit from such a Conduct. What Advantage therefore, or natural Good the Man proposed, must terminate in himself, and be directed accordingly. But prior to this View must be supposed his Regard to Moral Good. Those Acts of Praise, Adoration and Thanksgiving, which were offered by him to the Creator, must primarily and immediately flow from a regard to the intrinsick Reason and Rectitude of the Thing, which is Moral Good; and secondarily (as Reason permits and prescribes) to his own Advantage or Natural Good; which indeed would be all the natural Good that he could have in view. Such an Homage, and such a Deference paid to that sacred Law of eternal Truth and Rectitude, which obliges even the Deity himself, and whose Will therefore it must be, is the truest Glory that can be given by a Creature to the Creator. It may be looked upon not only as a Submission to the Divine Will, but as a Conformity to the Divine Understanding; on the Agreement of which is founded that Goodness which is infinitely perfect.
580 But to return to the Supposition of the solitary Agent; if he only aimed at that Self-good to which Reason directed, and pursued it by the most reasonable and laudable Means; what could be wanting to denominate and constitute such a Behaviour truly virtuous? If neglecting the Care and Culture of his Mind, he gave himself up to sensual Pleasure, and subjected his Reason to his Appetites; as he must renounce all Pretension to Virtue, so he would grossly neglect his own Interest. But as he is supposed to take a quite contrary Method; he must either be reputed virtuous, or pronounced incapable of Virtue.—And as a due Performance of the Self-duties would be laudable and virtuous upon such a Supposition; so is It without the Supposition, though differently circumstanced. The Co-existence of innumerable Fellow-creatures makes room for other Duties, and another kind of Virtue; but does not cancel the Obligation we are speaking of, nor extinguish the Merit and moral Rectitude of such Actions as respect ourselves.
581 The primary Dictate of Right Reason is, that every moral Agent intend the Good of the Whole, or aim at universal Good. In this universal Good, the private Good of every Individual is included. From hence it follows, that if any Agent, in the View and Pursuit of common Good, could be supposed to exclude his own; such an Intention and such a Conduct would be less virtuous than if he had included it. It must therefore be granted, that for any Man to aim at his own Welfare, in Subordination to that of the Publick, is not only innocent, but morally good.—But tho’ such Self-views as these are perfectly right and reasonable in themselves; yet the Question is, how they are affected by the Circumstances of the Agent. Tho’ it be at least as reasonable to consult his own Good, as that of any other Individual; yet it must be allowed that a good Office done to another, appears generally more amiable, and even more virtuous, than a like Kindness done to himself. How then comes it to pass, that Social and Self-kindness make such a different Appearance? Is there some peculiar Grace and Beauty superadded to our Perceptions of the former, by an internal Sense implanted in our Minds for that Purpose?
582 However that be, the foresaid Difference is easily accounted for. Our Self-affections are so much stronger than natural Benevolence, and our private Instincts than publick ones; that the Regard shewn, and the Good done to ourselves appear in a great measure necessary. Considered in this Light, they must needs seem less amiable, and less meritorious than Actions done merely, or chiefly, in Conformity to Reason. What I observed before of parental Kindness, may be here applied to Self-love; whether it be considered as an Instinct, or as a necessary Consequence of experienced Good. But though this circumstance renders Self-kindness less amiable, and less meritorious; yet it does by no means set it upon a Level with Actions morally indifferent. And in some Cases it leaves room for a Conduct highly virtuous.—However useful our Instincts may be, when under the Direction of Reason, as Nature designed; yet they are very insufficient Guides of themselves, for human Nature; and in many Cases would lead Men aside from their true Interest, instead of bringing them to it. Consider them as undirected by Reason, and we shall find that they prompt us to prefer a trivial Enjoyment that is present, to a very great one at a Distance. That they prompt us also to pursue sensual Gratifications to the Neglect of more refined Pleasures, and sublimer Enjoyments. These Instincts therefore, strong and powerful as they are, must be often restrained and resisted by the Reason of every Man who pretends to act either virtuously or wisely. In many Cases, instead of gratifying, he must oppose his keenest Appetites, and most urgent Inclinations, by a generous Self-denial. He must curb and keep in his eager Passions, lest instead of being subservient to a higher Principle, they run away with it. On these Accounts there is abundant room for the Exercise of Self-virtue, notwithstanding the Strength and Prevalence of Self-love. Accordingly we find that such a Conduct appears not only reasonable and right, but beautiful and lovely; and that it is beheld by others with Pleasure, as well as Approbation. To see a Man engaged in a resolute Struggle with a froward Disposition; to see him resisting a clamorous Appetite, or subduing a headstrong Passion, resisting cannot but be-agreeable to intelligent Spectators, whether they regard his Actions in relation to Society or no. And indeed were the Agent alone in the World, according to the foregoing Supposition such a Conduct would still be amiable, still meritorious. Thus, I think, it plainly appears, that aiming at private Welfare is not inconsistent with real Virtue; but when rightly circumstantiated, productive of it.—I shall only add, that the greatest Self-good which a Man can possibly propose, is the perpetual Enjoyment of Virtue. Such an Aim will be allowed to be virtuous, as the Good aimed at is necessarily connected with publick Interest, or the Good of the Whole. And yet it is manifest in this Case, that private Advantage is a real Part of the Object desired. Nevertheless this is so far from lessening the Goodness of the Pursuit, that it increases it, as I before observed. To be influenced in our Conduct by the Prospect of such a Reward, can be no Diminution of our present Virtue; but is, on the contrary, an Addition to it.
583 Upon the whole, our End and our Business, as Men and Moral Agents, is to pursue Virtue, leaving the Consequence to our Maker; who, as he has made us capable of Truth, Virtue, and Happiness, will undoubtedly take care to make them finally compatible and co-incident. So great is, or will be, the Harmony among them, that they may rather be looked upon as one and the same End, than as distinct and several. The Foundation of Virtue is Truth, and the Foundation of Happiness, Virtue.
Illustrat. Sect. 5.
Letter in the London-Journal, Numb. 450.
Since the first Publication of these Papers, I have been convinced, that all Beauty, whether Moral or Natural, is to be reckoned and reputed as a Species of Absolute Truth; as resulting from, or consisting in, the necessary Relations and unchangeable Congruities of Ideas: and, by Consequence, that in order to the Perception of Beauty, no other Power need to be supposed, than what is merely intellectual. And as to the Diversity of Perceptions above mentioned, the natural or accidental Differences of Men's Understandings seem now to me sufficient to account for it.
Illustrat. pp. 207, 211.
Σαν το βήγλτιστον Φανόμενον εστω σοι νόμος άπαάβατος Epict. cap. 75.
Éternum quiddam quod universum mundum regeret imperandi prohibendique sapientia.’ Cic. de Leg. lib. 2.
‘Nam ut vera & falsa sua sponte, non aliena, juicantur; sic constans & perpetua ratio vité, qué est virtus—sua natura probatur.” Cic. de Leg. lib. 1.