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JOHN BALGUY The Foundation of Moral Goodness, Part II - 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, Part II
[First edition, 1729. Reprinted here from the third edition, included in ‘A Collection of Tracts Moral and Theological,’ 1734.]
714Article I. You define Reason to be a Faculty enabling us to perceive, either immediately, or mediately, the Agreement, or Disagreement of Ideas, whether Natural or Moral. This Agreement, or Disagreement, you do not suppose to he any Likeness or Unlikeness in the Ideas, hut only such a Conformity as makes them concur towards the forming of some Proposition or Conclusion. Thus by the Agreement of the Ideas of the Numbers 3, 3, with that of 5, it follows that 2 and 3 are equal to 5; not for any Likeness, or Resemblance that there may be in those Ideas, but that in the Essence of those Ideas that Truth is necessarily included. I have no Objection to the Definition, taken in this Sense.
Answer. By that Agreement of Ideas which I make to be the Object of Reason or Intelligence, I do not mean any particular Agreement, but any, or every kind of Agreement that we are capable of discovering in our Ideas. As Ideas themselves are of various Kinds, so the Relations interceding between them are conformably different. The Agreement of Arithmetical Ideas is, I suppose, either that of Equality, or that of Proportion; and their Disagreement either that of Inequality, or Disproportion. Between the Numbers 2, 3, and that of 5, the Relation or Agreement is that of Equality. Between the Numbers 1 and 4, and 4 and 16, the Relation or Agreement is that of Proportion. And such Relations necessarily and eternally belong to such Ideas, whether any Propositions or Conclusions be formed about them or not.
715Art. II. But then it must be observed, that the Agreement which we find between Gratitude and Bounty, and the Disagreement of Ingratitude with Kindness received, are Expressions, which, If used with any Truth, must be taken in a quite different Meaning from that wherein they are to be understood in the Definition above.
Ans. Since Moral Ideas are very different from all others, especially Arithmetical ones, no Wonder if they exhibit different Relations. Between the ideas of Bounty and Gratitude there is a manifest Congruity, which is commonly called Moral Fitness. Whatever Terms or Expressions may be used about them, the Ideas themselves correspond, and, as it were, tally to each other with great Exactness. No disposition of Mind can possibly be thought of so suitable to the Case and Circumstance of a Person obliged, as that of Gratitude, or any Actions so just and proper, and fit, as those which flow from thence. The Ideas of Bounty and Gratitude are so closely connected, and the Agreement between them is so visible and clear, that no Man can overlook it, or be insensible of it. The most ignorant understand it, as the most vicious ‘are forced to acknowledge it.—What is it then that knits these Ideas together, and establishes the Conformity between them? Is the Agreement arbitrary, or dependent on the Will of any Agent? No, not even the Creator's. It springs from the same Necessity of Nature that makes the Three Angles of a Triangle equal to two Right ones; or that fixes a certain Proportion between a Cone, and a Cylinder of the same Base and Height. Can then such an Equality or Proportion be ascribed to those Moral Ideas, as belongs to these Mathematical ones? Those Terms are used and applied to both Kinds, but not precisely in the same Sense. They belong originally to Ideas of Quantity; and when they are used to denote Moral Fitness, their Signification is somewhat figurative. But concerning the Meaning, or Propriety of Terms, I have no Dispute at present. However the Agreement between Moral Ideas may be denominated or distinguished, what I contend for is, that the Ideas themselves invariably bear such Relations to each other; which are no less certain, and oftentimes more immediately evident than the Equality or Proportion between the forementioned Angles and Figures.
716Art. III. The Ideas of Bounty and Gratitude are, if you please, Moral Ideas; but no Moral Proposition can rightly be deduced from them: Or however, no such Proposition as includes any sort of Obligation. From the mere Idea of Gratitude, it will no more follow that Men ought to be grateful, than from the Idea of Ingratitude, that they ought to be ungrateful, if we suppose no Sentiment.
Ans. If Moral Ideas had no Relations belonging to them, or if these Relations were imperceptible to Human Understandings; then it might justly be said, that our Moral Ideas yielded us no Propositions. But since some of these Ideas agree, and others differ, as much at least as any other Ideas; and since these Agreements and Differences are commonly very evident to all who will attend, it follows, that Moral Ideas must needs be equally fruitful of Propositions.—The Idea of Gratitude cannot properly be said to infer any Obligation. But when a Man compares the Idea of Gratitude with that of a Benefaction received, and examines the Relation between them, he cannot avoid inferring, or concluding that he ought to be grateful. This will be farther considered under the three following Articles.
717Art. IV. If we had otherwise no Idea of Obligation. the Ideas of Gratitude, Ingratitude, and Bounty, could never so much as afford us a general Idea of Obligation it self; or inform us what is meant by that Term; much less could we be able to deduce the particular Obligation to Gratitude from these Ideas.
Ans. If receiving of Benefits be a good Reason, as it certainly is, why the Receiver should be grateful, then it obliges him so to be. I observed in my former Papers, that the Perception of such a Reason perpetually binds all Rational Agents, and is indeed the first and highest of all Moral Obligations. The Dictates and Directions of Right Reason are the very Rule which the Deity Himself inviolably observes, and which therefore must needs affect all intelligent Creatures.—The ideas of Benefits and Obligations are so closely connected, that to do a Man a Kindness, and to oblige him, are used promiscuously, as Expressions of the same Signification.—Every Man who receives a Benefit, receives along with it a Reason for Gratitude: And that Reason he must perceive, if he be not quite thoughtless. What Instinct prompts him to, his Understanding will immediately second and confirm. His Reason will readily suggest to him what Behaviour is due to his Benefactor, and inform him that no Actions but grateful ones, can be in any degree suitable or fit. To be injuriously, or even indifferently affected towards him, will appear as absurd, as incongruous, as contrary to the Nature of Things, as it would be for a Husbandman, after a full Crop to cover his Ground with Flints instead of Manure. No Affections, no Actions, and by Consequence, no Ideas, can possibly be more unsuitable, or mismatched, than Kindness and Ingratitude.— Moral Actions, like other Things, agree or disagree, essentially and unalterably. Hence flow those Relations and Reasons whereon Morality is founded, and which derive Obligations upon all Agents capable of perceiving them.
718Art. V. If you will affirm, that by comparing these Ideas in your Mind, you can perceive any such Moral Proposition necessarily mcluded, viz. that a Man ought to be grateful; I ask, Whether you see that necessary Consequence immediately upon comparing these Ideas, or mediately by the Help of some intermediate Reasoning or Proof? If you see such a Connection immediately, or, as it were, intuitively, I wonder every body else cannot see it. If you have any intermediate Reasonings or Proofs, pray let us have them.
Ans. That a Man ought to be grateful to his Benefactors, may be looked upon as equivalent to a self-evident Proposition. If it need any Proofs, they are so obvious and clear, that the Mind perceives them in an Instant, and immediately allows the Truth of the Proposition. Between Bounty and Gratitude there is a plain Congruity of Moral Fitness; and between Bounty and Ingratitude a plain Incongruity, or Unfitness.—Therefore Gratitude is reasonable, and Ingratitude unreasonable.—Therefore the one ought to be observed, and the other detested. As these Conclusions appear to me incontestable, so I presume the Principle from whence they flow is strictly self-evident. Ingratitude is not only shocking to Natural Affection, but necessarily appears to the Understanding irregular, disproportioned, monstrous.—But if this Principle, and the Connection of those Conclusions with it, be so plain and evident, how happens it that they are ever called in question? I answer, That Mens Understandings, like their Eyes, may possibly be sometimes dazled with too much Light. Doubts and Scruples have been raised, one time or other, concerning the plainest and most evident Truths in the World, even by Philosophers and Men of Letters. But as to the Points before us, I may appeal to the general Judgment of Mankind.—Let any illiterate Man be asked these plain Questions: Is not Ingratitude to a Benefactor very unfitting?—Is it not therefore very unreasonable?—Ought it not therefore to be abhorred and avoided by every body? To each of these Questions, he will, I doubt not, without any Hesitation answer in the Affirmative. Should he be further asked, Whether he really understood these Truths? he would not only make the same Answer, but be surprised at the Question.
719Art. VI. I know not well what you mean by this Expression, viz. That our Understandings are capable of Moral Perceptions I believe every body agrees that in some Sense they are; that is, that the Mind is capable of receiving or forming Moral Ideas: But it will not follow from hence, that Obligation is deducible merely from our Moral Ideas, without supposing any Sentiment.
Ans. In saying that our Understandings are capable of Moral Perceptions, I mean, that they are not only capable of forming Ideas of Agents and Actions, but of perceiving likewise the Relations of Agreement and Disagreement between them. From these Relations, Obligation is plainly deducible in the Manner beforementioned. But I shall here lay it down more particularly. —I have already observed, that between such and such Agents, Actions, and Objects, naturally and necessarily intercede certain Relations of Agreement or Disagreement, Fitness or Unfitness Conformably whereto, the same Relations are observable between their respective Ideas; which, when just, always correspond to Things themselves. For the Reality of these Relations, every Man must be referred to his own Perceptions, since they admit of no other Proof. Such Fitnesses or Unfitnesses are as manifest to our Understandings, as it is visible to our Eyes that Blue is not Green, or Scarlet, Yellow; or to our Imaginations, that a Triangle is not a Circle, or a Cone, a Cube.
The next Point to be considered, is, whether Actions thus fit, be not therefore reasonable, and Actions unfit, therefore unreasonable. If this Moral Fitness of certain Actions be not a Reason for the doing of them, I see not how any Thing can be a Reason for any Thing. Moral Fitness is Conformity to Order and Truth; and if our Reason did not approve of this, we should have Cause to conclude it an irregular, disorderly Faculty. But it is certain that our Reason does approve of it, and that necessarily. The intrinsick Goodness of such Actions is an irresistible Recommendation to our Minds and Judgments, and by Consequence, is a perpetual Reason for the Concurrence of our Wills. Those Actions therefore which our Reason approves as self-worthy, and which are chosen and done with that View, and upon that Account, must not only be reasonable, in the strictest Sense of the Word, but in the highest Degree that our Actions are capable of. However, we must either allow those Actions to be reasonable, for the doing of which a good Reason may be given, and which our Faculty of Reason approves of; or it will follow, that none of our Actions are or can be reasonable.
720 What remains, is to deduce from hence the Obligation that we are now enquiring after. How does it appear that we ought to do what is reasonable? As Moral Agents, we are either obliged to this, or nothing. But what is it we mean by Obligation? Certainly not Compulsion. Since Obligation supposes Liberty, it must be something consistent with Liberty. It supposes likewise some Perception in the Mind, since no Agent can be obliged to or by any thing while he is ignorant of it. What is it then, which as soon as perceived, produces that State of Mind which we call Obligation? It must be some Motive, some Inducement, some Reason, that is fit to influence and incline the Will, and prevail with it to chuse and act accordingly.—Is not then Interest or Pleasure such an Inducement? It is in respect of sensible Agents, considered as such. And thus it is that Men, as sensible Agents, are obliged to pursue Pleasure or Natural Good; which as soon as they have experienced, they naturally and necessarily approve: But considered as Moral Agents, they have no Concern with Natural Good. I took notice in my former Papers, that Moral Good is the only Object of Moral Affection, and the only Aim or End of Moral Agents, who are influenced and attracted by it, as sensible Agents are by Natural Good. As the latter therefore are obliged to pursue their End, which I call Interest or Pleasure; so the former are obliged to pursue theirs, which is Moral Rectitude, Reason, or Virtue.—I intend not by this to set Natural and Moral Obligations on a Level, but to shew the Nature and Grounds of Obligation in general. In what Respects they differ, and how far the one are superior to the other are Points not to be now discussed without too long a Digression.
721 I proceed therefore to observe, That the Obligation which arises from Authority, may be looked upon as compounded of the other two. Laws affect us in one Capacity, and Sanctions in another. As sensible Agents we are obliged to aim at Rewards, and avoid Punishments: As Moral Agents, we may be doubly obliged. It is morally fit and just to pay Obedience to a rightful Legislator, in all Cases not over-ruled by some higher Authority; and if, moreover, his Laws be in themselves morally good, our Obligations rise in Proportion.
722 It appears, I think, from what has been said, that Moral Obligations are strictly connected with Moral Fitness, and the Reasons of Things. To resolve all Obligations into Interest, or natural Good, seems to me confounding Morality with Sensibility. It is in effect to say that Virtue is not good in itself, nor any otherwise good, than as it does us good. Whereas it is certainly self-amiable, and self-worthy; and as such, mast be exceedingly fit to operate on the Wills of Moral Agents, as it never fails to engage their Judgments. And indeed whatever appears worthy of Approbation and Esteem, as Virtue does in the highest degree, must needs appear worthy of Choice: And what appears worthy of Choice, ought to be chosen; or in other Words, Men are obliged to chuse it. In short, whatever Agent is said to be under an Obligation to the Performance of any Action, the true Meaning of such an Expression, as it appears to me, is, that he perceives some good Reason, either internal or external, Moral or Natural, for the Performance of it. What falls short of this, can be no Obligation; and what goes beyond it, must be Coaction.* * * * * * *
723Art. VII. I cannot deny that there is an Agreement between Bounty and Gratitude, and a Disagreement between Bounty and Ingratitude; but this only relatively to our Sentiment. Gratitude is agreeable to our Sentiment, and Ingratitude the contrary. I cannot conceive any other Agreement or Disagreement between them.
Ans. If there be not a real and objective Agreement between the Ideas of Bounty and Gratitude, how shall we he able to discover or determine that there is any such thing as real, absolute Truth? Why may not all Ideal Agreements be looked upon as relative to some internal Sense? The Agreement between twice Three, and Six, does not appear to me plainer or more evident, than that between Bounty and Gratitude. From whence I am forced to conclude, that either both are real, or both relative. Upon the former Supposition, I see no Occasion for any Sentiment or internal Sense, since our Understandings are sufficient for the Perception of real Agreements. Upon the latter Supposition our Understandings are quite useless.—For any thing that appears to the contrary, we perceive the Agreements of Moral Ideas in the same way, and by the same Faculty that we do those of Numbers; and why we should ascribe the Perception of the one to the Understanding, and the Perception of the other to an internal Sense, I am not able to comprehend.* * * * * * *
724Art. XI. Reason can never be a Rule to us what Ends to propose to our selves, since an End is properly what we follow merely for its own sake. To give a Reason why any Object ought to be pursued as an End, is to shew that Object is not really an End, but only the Means leading to it. Nature alone can recommend to us the Ends of our Pursuit; Reason can only discover the most probable Means of obtaining them.* * * * * * *
Ans. It is upon his own Account, and for his own Sake, that every sensible Agent pursues Pleasure, or Gratification; which therefore, in Strictness, should not be called absolute, but relative1 Good: Especially since it is no otherwise good, than as it suits his Faculties, and gratifies his Mind. For I can only consider Pleasure as a certain Modification of Mind resulting from the Agreement between Object and Faculty. We discover nothing more in it, than that it is grateful to us, or good for us. It cannot therefore, I think, be properly called an absolute, or self-good. Or if it may, yet it must be in another Sense, than what is meant by the absolute Goodness of Virtue. For in Virtue there is an inherent Worth, an objective Perfection. It is essentially good in it self, and has no Dependance on any Agents, or any Faculties. As such, it is upon its own Account, and for its own Sake, worthy to be chosen and pursued by moral Agents, who cannot but acknowledge and admire its intrinsick Excellence.
725 It may also be questioned, whether Pleasure can, in Strictness, be called the ultimate End of a sensible Agent. Considered as sensible, he seems to be rather himself his own ultimate End. He pursues it for his own Sake, regards it always with reference to himself, and all his Views about it terminate in himself. However, in an objective Sense, it is manifestly his ultimate End; since he neither intends nor knows any Thing beyond it.—But Virtue is the ultimate End of a Moral Agent, in the strictest Sense. As there is nothing beyond it to which it may be referred, but his View terminates in it; so he pursues it upon its own Account, and for its own Sake. In the Pursuit of Pleasure, Self is not only regarded, and included, but the Idea is perpetually uppermost. In the Pursuit of Virtue, Self is quite overlooked. A perfect moral Agent, unmindful of himself, keeps his Thoughts fixed on the Worth and Dignity of his Object. That is, he acts virtuously, not because it is profitable, or pleasing; but because it is, in it self, right and fit so to do.
726 I think it appears from the foregoing Considerations, that Virtue is the ultimate End of a Moral Agent, at least in a higher and stricter Sense, than Pleasure is of a sensible Agent. Even this, we see, cannot properly be said to be followed merely for its own Sake. Much less can subordinate Ends, which are only pursued for the sake of the Pleasure which is produced or occasioned by them. A Reason may always be given for the Pursuit of them; and that Reason is Gratification. And it comes to the same Thing, whether we call them Means, or subordinate Ends.—Thus, for Instance, why does any Man pursue Fame, or the Esteem and Praise of his Fellow-Creatures? Considered as a sensible Agent, the Reason is Pleasure; Nature having given him a Faculty for the Relish of such an Object, and thereby rendered it delightful to him. In respect of a Moral Agent, the Reason is its Subservience to Morality; as it gives more Room for the Exercise of his Virtues, and enables him to be more useful and beneficial.—If it be alledged, that we are led to the Pursuit of this, and other natural Objects, by an instinctive Determination, or Affection, antecedent to all Reasons, Views, or Designs, I readily grant it. But this very Instinct implies Pleasure, which always accompanies it, whether it be intended or no. And indeed without this, we could not have any Affection for any Objects; excepting such as are self-eligible, or intrinsically and absolutely Good. We may consider Pleasure as the Ligament which ties every natural Affection to its proper Object.—Besides, as soon as we are capable of reflecting and exercising our Reason; instead of indulging such Instructs, and cherishing such Affections, we should certainly check and resist them, ff we neither found Pleasure in them, nor any moral Usefulness. Nothing but their Subservience to one or both of these Ends, could possibly induce us to continue the Pursuit of them.
727 Upon this Account I do not understand, how Nature can recommend any particular Objects to our Choice and Pursuit, any otherwise than by annexing Pleasure to the Perception of them. If they have no absolute objective Worth, they must have some relative Goodness: And what can this be but either Pleasure, or a Tendency thereto? That is, either immediate, or mediate; in Possession, or in Prospect.
As various Senses are given us, both external and internal, for the Perception of Pleasure, or natural Good; so we have a Faculty of a higher Kind for the Perception of Rectitude, or moral Good. Reason or Intelligence, both discovers the Worth of this Object, and recommends it to our Pursuit. Reason cannot indeed inform us what Objects they are which gratify us, or are good for us; but it can discover Objects good in themselves, and recommend them accordingly.
728Art. XXI. You think Mr. Hutchinson makes Moral Rectitude to consist in nothing else but a Correspondence with Sentiment. He does so, and the Nature of the Thing requires it. It is also on this Account, that it is agreeable to Reason. For upon these Principles the Reasonableness of Morality may be demonstrated.
Ans. Why is any Moral Action right? And why does the Mind approve it as such? According to Mr. Hutchinson, the Answers are, Because such an Action is agreeable to an implanted Affection, and appears conformable to the Moral Sense. If this Scheme be true, it seems to me that nothing in Morality is capable of being demonstrated. I have no other Idea of Demonstration, but that of shewing how one thing necessarily follows from another, and is essentially connected with it. But what room is there for this in Morality on Mr. Hutchinson's Principles? Such an Action agrees not with my Taste; or is repugnant to my Moral Sense. What does this prove? Nothing more than that the Action appears wrong to me. It is so far from proving it to be wrong in itself, that it does not prove the Action must have such an Appearance to any other Person. Another Man's Moral Sense may possibly be quite different from mine. And either his or mine may possibly be altered the next Minute. The bare Possibility of this, is an effectual Bar to such a Proof.* * * * * * *
729 If Morality was founded on Instincts, we could no more demonstrate the intrinsick Preferableness of one Action to another, than that of one Colour to another. Every Agent would know, or, to speak more properly, would be sensible, which Actions pleased him, and which displeased him; but in themselves they would be all equally valuable, or rather equally worthless.
But are not those Actions right and fit, which conduce to the End proposed by the Agent? In this respect I allow they are. But this is only a relative, extrinsick Rectitude. The procuring of a rich Perfume, or a fine Prospect, is right and reasonable in the same sense. Certainly nothing of this kind can deserve the name of Moral Rectitude.
730 Actions relatively right, that is conducing to some End of the Agent, may not only want Moral, but even Natural Rectitude: Thus when, with some View of private Interest, a Mechanick departs from the Truth and Regularity of Workmanship; or an Architect transgresses the Rules of Order and Proportion, however their Actions may conduce to the proposed End, they are neither right according to Art, nor Nature. Whatever they may be in a relative Sense, they are absolutely and intrinsically wrong. Works of Art are more or less perfect in Proportion to their Conformity to Truth. And this Conformity to Truth, when carried on to Life and Manners, commences Moral Rectitude. I need not observe, how much more important those Actions must be, which are directed to sensible and intelligent Objects, than those which are directed to inanimate ones. The Relations interceding between Mind and Mind, must needs be of great Weight and Moment, and that Moment be increased in Proportion to the Dignity of the Agent and Object. But it may not be improper to take notice, that Communication of Natural Good, is by no means an essential Ingredient of a Moral Rectitude.—If no Natural End, if the Happiness of no Being whatever could possibly be promoted by it, it would still be the Duty of every intelligent Creature to reverence and worship the Deity. What is it then that makes such an Action reasonable in such a Circumstance? Or upon what Account is the Agent obliged to perform it? On Account of its inherent, essential Fitness, which cannot be disregarded without a gross Violation of Order and Truth. The Supremacy, and infinite Perfection of such an Object infinitely heightens that Fitness, and makes it in the highest Degree reasonable, even supposing no Advantage did or could redound from it to any Agent whatever. And hence, I think, it plainly appears, that Moral Rectitude, considered abstractedly from all other Views, is it self the true and ultimate End of all Rational Beings.* * * * * * *
731Art. XXIII. But I think this Foundation of Virtue very honourable. For these Moral Sentiments seem to be the universal Taste of Nature, and not only yours or mine. All Signs of the contrary manifestly arise from the Disorder of Nature.
Ans. Such a Foundation of Virtue seems to me dishonourable, because it takes away the Merit of virtuous Actions. For how can any Action be meritorious, to which the Agent is determined by the Force of a mere Impulse? By such a Weight the Mind is drawn, as it were, mechanically; and as far as that is the Case, I can see no more Moral Worth in the Actions thereby produced, than in the Movements of a Clock, or the Vibrations of a Pendulum. Besides, Reason is hereby placed in Subordination to inferior Powers and Principles; and such” as Brutes themselves are possessed of. Nor is any other Employment allotted it, than that of being ministerial to Instinct, and contriving Means for the gratifying of a Natural Inclination.—The Universality of a Moral Affection, and a Moral Sense, does not remove the Imputation we are speaking of. Hunger and Thirst are universal Instincts; but however suitable they may be to our present condition, they are never reckoned honourable to Human Nature.—Undoubtedly Men may contract such Dispositions and Habits as are contrary to Nature; and in respect of the present Constitution of Mankind, such Dispositions may be called Disorders. But in strictness, if there be real Order in Things and Actions, there can be no real Disorder. However, if Virtue be founded on Instinct, and according to the foregoing Supposition, this Instinct may possibly be worn out, and a contrary Affection acquired; in this Case the Agent has changed his End, and those Actions must be reputed reasonable which conduce to this new End. He still acts conformably to a prevailing Sentiment, and pursues the Bias of his corrupt Nature; and if Reason and Moral Rectitude be thrown out of the Question, who can convict him of doing wrong?* * * * * * *
732Art. XXV. It is no Objection to say, that no Reason can be given for the Preference of these Sentiments to contrary ones. For the Choice of Ends is no way a Matter of Reason. But I think this Objection may be very well retorted. For without supposing such a Sentiment, I can find no Reason for ever preferring one Action to another.
Ans. Ends are either Ultimate or Subordinate. Ultimate Ends determine themselves, as being necessarily approved. The ultimate End of the Deity in all his Acts of Creation and Providence, I humbly suppose to be Moral Good. Every Thing is to be referred to this, and resolved into it. Why did he at first produce the Universe? Why does he still preserve and cherish it? Why replenish it continually with Variety of Good? Because he sees it to be absolutely right and fit so to do. Or in other Words, because the purest and most perfect Reason directs him to it. Though therefore Reason, or Intelligence, considered as an Attribute, do not make this End; yet it discovers it to be, what it really is in it self, an absolute, essential, and necessary Good; and by Consequence, the true ultimate End not only of the supreme Being, but of every Moral Agent.—We are so immersed in the Enjoyments and Desires of Natural Good, that the Ideas of Pleasure and Profit are continually obtruding themselves upon us; even in those Enquiries where they have no Concern. It seems evident to me, that making Pleasure of any Kind the End of a Moral Agent, is as absurd, as making Truth or Virtue the End of a sensible Agent. What a Moral Agent primarily proposes, is to act reasonably; let the Consequence be as it may. If it be asked, why a Moral Agent proposes to act reasonably; then I ask, why a sensible Agent proposes to act pleasurably? Our Faculty of Reason does not constitute the one a Good; hut perceives it to be such. Our Faculties of Sense do not constitute the other a Good;but find and feel it to be such. The one is good, merely because it is grateful; the other is good and amiable in its own Nature, antecedently to all Events or Operations.
733 As to subordinate Ends, and particular Objects of natural Affection, though these likewise are not determinable by our Reason, yet it does by no means follow, that there was originally no Reason or Ground for any Preference among them. It was in the Creator's Power, as it became his infinite Wisdom, to determine and appoint for all his Creatures such Ends. Objects, and Affections as would be most conducive to the Order and Harmony, the Welfare and Perfection of the whole. These Affections are no otherwise dependent on our Reason, than as it may represent to us, that they ought to be regulated and restrained, when they grow exorbitant; and likewise suggest to us proper Means for effecting it.—If by the Choice of Ends, be meant any thing more than the Approbation of them; then it belongs not to our perceptive Faculties, but the Will, which very often rejects what those approve.
734 Tho’ without supposing Sentiment, no Reason can be given for the Preference of one of these Objects before another, or the Pursuit of any of them; yet in respect of Moral Actions, I apprehend the Case to be widely different. We prefer one Action before another, because we perceive it to be intrinsically better. Moral Goodness derives not its Worth from any Sentiments, or any Faculties; but is necessarily approved and admired by all Beings that are capable of understanding it. It does indeed promote many natural Ends in the highest and most effectual Manner; but this is not its only Excellence, nor even its chief Perfection. Virtue is it self, and in its own Nature, of all Objects, the noblest, over all Ends, supreme.* * * * * * *
735Art. XXIX It is true, if we do not act rationally, our Actions are not justifiable, or Praise-worthy: But it is not the Reasonableness of them that makes them so. Error is certainly a Defect; but that Defect is not always criminal It is not Error, but wilful Error, that we condemn. Therefore it is not Reason, but some other Faculty that is upon Trial, when we judge of the Justifiableness of any Action.
Ans. By the Reasonableness of an Action, may either be meant its Conformity to the true Reasons and Relations of Things; or to the Understanding of the Agent. The Compliance of the Will with a mis-informed Understanding, justifies the Agent, in respect of that Action. The Compliance of the Will with a well-informed Understanding, not only justifies the Agent, but is really in it self a right Action. An involuntary Error is certainly blameless. But tho’ it can never be reputed a Crime, it may be, and often is, an Incapacity. It may disable the Agent so far, as to obstruct the Rectitude and Perfection of his Actions. What is it then that acquits and justifies an erroneous Agent? The Reasonableness of his Actions. For tho’ they are not conformable to the true Reasons of Things, yet they are conformable to his own Reason and Judgment. And indeed by all the Reason in the world he is to be acquitted, and even commended, for following the best Light that he was able to get. As I know no’-other Faculty, besides that of Reason, that can possibly judge of such a Case; so I see not the least Occasion for introducing or supposing any other. Tho’ the real Relations of Things are the true Rule of a Moral Agent; yet when that Rule is out of his Reach, Reason allows and directs him to be governed by apparent ones.
736Art. XXX. We pity Error, but we condemn Malice. To judge wrong, which is purely a Matter of Reason, we only look upon as a Misfortune: but not to hearken to our Judgments, which is a Matter of Sentiment, we always take to be a Crime. Therefore it is the Intention, and not the Judgment, which constitutes the Worth of a Moral Action.
Ans. Tho’ a right Judgment contribute to the Perfection of Actions, yet that alone is not sufficient to constitute them morally good. The Rectitude of Actions must not only be perceived, but intended. And this, I presume, may very well be done without Sentiment. If moral Rectitude be self-amiable, and self-eligible, it must be approved; and by Consequence, may be intended and pursued without any other View. And why may not a Rational Approbation recommend it to our Choice, with, or without a Natural Propensity? It is granted that a virtuous Intention is essential to Virtue. This is perfectly agreeable to the Rational Scheme; according to which, the chief End or Aim of the Agent is Virtue it self. But how is it consistent with the instinctive Scheme; according to which, the Agent only follows the Bias of his Nature, and the Tendencies and Pre-determinations of his own Mind. Even here the End or the Intention is confessedly good; but, as I apprehend, the Praise of it belongs to the Creator, not to the Creature.
In the former Part (above, § 570), Pleasure was called absolute Good, but perhaps unadvisedly; or however, less properly.