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JOHN GAY Concerning the Fundamental Principle of Virtue or Morality - 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 GAY Concerning the Fundamental Principle of Virtue or Morality
[Rev. John Gay, Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.
Dissertations prefixed to the first edition of Edmund Law's translation of Archbishop King's Essay on the Origin of Evil, 1731. Reprinted here from the fifth edition of that work, 1781.]
849Though all writers of morality have in the main agreed what particular actions are virtuous and what otherwise, yet they have, or at least seem to have differed very much, both concerning the Criterion of Virtue, viz. what it is which denominates any action virtuous; or, to speak more properly, what it is by which we must try any action to know whether it be virtuous or no; and also concerning the Principle, or motive, by which men are induced to pursue Virtue.
As to the former, some have placed it in acting agreeably to nature, or reason; others in the fitness of things; others in a conformity with truth; others an promoting the common good; others in the will of God, &c. This disagreement of moralists concerning the rule or Criterion of Virtue in general, and at the same tram their almost perfect agreement concerning the particular branches of it, would be apt to make one suspect, either that they had a different Criterion (though they did not know or attend to it) from what they professed; or (which perhaps is the true as well as the more favourable opinion) that they only talk a different language, and that all of them have the same Criterion m reality, only they have expressed it in different words.
850 And there will appear the more room for this conjecture, if we consider the ideas themselves about which morality is chiefly conversant, viz. that they are all mixed modes, or compound ideas, arbitrarily put together, having at first no archetype or original existing, and afterwards no other than that which exists in other men's minds. Now since men, unless they have these their compound ideas, which are signified by the same name, made up precisely of the same simple ones, must necessarily talk a different language; and since this difference is so difficult, and in some cases impossible to be avoided, it follows that greater allowance and indulgence ought to be given to these writers than any other: and that (if we have a mind to understand them) we should not always take their words in the common acceptation, but in the sense in which we find that particular author which we are reading used them. And if a man interpret the writers of morality with this due candour, I believe their seeming inconsistencies and disagreements about the Criterion of Virtue, would in a great measure vanish; and he would find that acting agreeably to nature, or reason, (when rightly understood) would perfectly coincide with the fitness of things; the fitness of things (as far as these words have any meaning) with truth; truth with the common good; and the common good with the will of God.
But whether this difference be real, or only verbal, a man can scarce avoid observing from it, that mankind have the ideas ot most particular Virtues, and also a confused notion of Virtue in general, before they have any notion of the Criterion of it; or ever did, neither perhaps can they, deduce all or any of those Virtues from their idea of Virtue in general, or upon any rational grounds shew how those actions (which the world call moral, and most, if not all men evidently have ideas of) are distinguished from other actions, or why they approve of those actions called moral ones, more than others.
851 However, since the idea of Virtue among all men (notwithstanding their difference in other respects) includes either tacitly or expressly, not only the idea of approbation as the consequence of it; but also that it is to every one, and in all circumstances, an object of choice; it is incumbent on all writers of morality, to shew that that in which they place Virtue, whatever it be, not only always will or ought to meet with approbation, but also that it is always an object of choice: which is the other great dispute among Moralists, viz. What is the Principle or Motive by which men are induced to pursue Virtue.
852 For some have imagined that that is the only object of choice to a rational creature, which upon the whole will produce more happiness than misery to the chooser; and that men are, and ought to be guided wholly by this Principle; and farther, that Virtue will produce more happiness than misery, and therefore is always an object of choice: and whatever is an object of choice, that we approve of.
But this, however true in Theory, is insufficient to account for matter of fact, i. e. that the generality of mankind do approve of Virtue, or rather virtuous actions, without being able to give any reason for their approbation; and also, that some pursue it without knowing that it tends to their own private happiness; nay even when it appears to be inconsistent with and destructive of their happiness.
853 And that this is a matter of fact, the ingenious Author of the Enquiry into the Original of our Idea of Virtue has so evidently made appear by a great variety of instances, that a man must be either very little acquainted with the World, or a mere Hobbist in his temper to deny it.
And therefore to solve these two difficulties, this excellent Author has supposed (without proving, unless by shewing the insufficiency of all other schemes) a moral sense to account for the former, and a public or benevolent affection for the latter: And these, viz. the moral sense and public affection, he supposes to be implanted in us like instincts, independent of reason, and previous to any instruction; and therefore his opinion is, that no account can be given, or ought to be expected of them, any more than we pretend to account for the pleasure or pain which arises from sensation; i.e. Why any particular motion produced in our bodies should be accompanied with pain rather than pleasure, and vice versa.
854 But this account seems still insufficient, rather cutting the knot than untying it; and if it is not akin to the doctrine of innate ideas, yet I think it relishes too much of that of occult qualities. This ingenious author is certainly in the right in his observations upon the insufficiency of the common methods of accounting for both our election and approbation of moral actions, and rightly infers the necessity of supposing a moral sense (i. e. a power or faculty whereby we may perceive any action to be an object of approbation, and the agent of love) and public affections, to account for the principal actions of human life. But then by calling these instincts, I think he stops too soon, imagining himself at the fountain-head, when he might have traced them much higher, even to the true principle of aU our actions, our own happiness.
855 And this will appear by shewing that our approbation of morality, and all affections whatsoever, are finally resolved into reason pointing out private happiness, and are conversant only about things apprehended to be means tending to this end; and that whenever this end is not perceived, they are to be accounted for from the association of ideas, and may properly enough be called habits.
For if this be clearly made out, the necessity of supposing a moral sense or public affections to be implanted in us, since it ariseth only from the insufficiency of all other schemes to account for human actions, will immediately vanish. But whether it be made out or no, we may observe in general, that all arguments ad ignorantiam, or that proceed a remotione only (as this, by which the moral sense and public affections are established to be instincts, evidently does) are scarce ever perfectly satisfactory, being for the most part subject to this doubt, viz. Whether there is a full enumeration of all the parts; and liable also to this objection, viz. That though I cannot account for phenomena otherwise, yet possibly they may be otherwise accounted for.
But before we can determine this point, it will be necessary to settle all the terms: We shall in the first place therefore enquire what is meant by the Criterion of Virtue.
856The Criterion of any thing is a rule or measure by a conformity with which any thing is known to be of this or that sort, or of this or that degree. And in order to determine the criterion of any thing, we must first know the thing whose criterion we are seeking after. For a measure presupposes the idea of the thing to be measured, otherwise it could not be known, whether it was fit to measure it or no, (since what is the proper measure of one thing is not so of another). Liquids, cloth, and flesh, have all different measures; gold and silver different touchstones. This is very intelligible and the method of doing it generally clear, when either the quantity, or kind of any particular substance is thus ascertained.
But when we extend our enquiries after a Criterion for abstract, mixed modes, which have no existence but in our minds, and are so very different in different men; we arc apt to be confounded, and search after a measure for we know not what. For unless we are first agreed concerning the thing to be measured, we shall in yam expect to agree in our criterion of it, or even to understand one another.
857 But it may be said, If we are exactly agreed in any mixed mode, what need of any criterion? or what can we want farther? What we want farther, and what we mean by the criterion of it, is this; viz. to know whether any particular thing do belong to this mixed mode or no. And this is a very proper enquiry. For let a man learn the idea of intemperance from you never so clearly, and if you please let this be the idea, viz. the eating or drinking to that degree as to injure his understanding or health; and let him also be never so much convinced of the obligation to avoid it; yet it is a very pertinent question in him to ask you, How shall I know when I am guilty of intemperance?
858 And if we examine this thoroughly, we shall find that every little difference in the definition of a mixed mode will require a different criterion, e. g. If murder is defined the wilful taking away the life of another, it is evident, that to enquire after the Criterion of Murder, is to enquire how we shall know when the life of another is taken away wilfully; i. e. when one who takes away the life of another does it with that malicious design which is implied by wilfulness. But if murder be defined the guilty taking away the life of another, then to enquire after the criterion of murder, is to enquire how it shall be known when guilt is contracted in the wilful taking away the life of another. So that the criterion of murder, according to one or other of these definitions, wilt be different. For wilfulness perhaps will be made the criterion of guilt; but wilfulness itself, if it want any, must have some farther criterion; it being evident that nothing can be the measure of itself.
If the criterion is contained in the idea itself, then it is merely nominal, e. g. If virtue is defined, the acting agreeably to the will of God: to say the will of God is the criterion of virtue, is only to say, what is agreeable to the will of God is called Virtue. But the real criterion, which is of some use, is this, How shall I know what the Wilt of God is in this respect?
859 From hence it is evident, that the criterion of a mixed mode is neither the definition of it, nor contained in it. For, as has been shewn, the general idea is necessarily to be fixed; and if the particulars comprehended under it are fixed or known also, there remains nothing to be measured; because we measure only things unknown. The general idea then being fixed, the criterion which is to measure or determine inferiors, must be found out and proved to be a proper rule or measure, by comparing it with the general idea only, independent of the inferior things to which it is to be applied. For the truth of the measure must be proved independently of the particulars to be measured, otherwise we shall prove in a circle.
860 To apply what has been said in general to the case in hand. Great enquiry is made after the criterion of virtue; but it is to be feared that few know distinctly what it is they are enquiring after; and therefore this must be clearly stated. And in order to this, we must (as has been shewn) first fix our idea of Virtue, and that exactly; and then our enquiry will be, how we shall know this or that less general or particular action to be comprehended under virtue. For unless our idea of virtue is fixed, we enquire after the criterion of we know not what. And this our idea of virtue, to give any satisfaction, ought to be so general, as to be conformable to that which all or most men are supposed to have. And this general idea, I think, may be thus expressed.
Virtue is the conformity to a rule of life, directing the actions ot all rational creatures with respect to each other's happiness; to which conformity every one in all cases is obliged: and every one that does so conform, is or ought to be approved of, esteemed and loved for so doing. What is here expressed, I believe most men put into their idea of Virtue.
For Virtue generally does imply some relation to others: where self is only concerned, a man is called prudent, (not virtuous) and an action which relates immediately to God, is styled religious.
I think also that all men, whatever they make virtue to consist in, yet always make it to imply obligation and approbation.
861 The idea of Virtue being thus fixed, to enquire after the criterion of it, is to enquire what that rule of life is to which we are obliged to conform; or how that rule is to be found out which is to direct me in my behaviour towards others, which ought always to be pursued, and which, if pursued, will or ought to procure me approbation, esteem, and love.
But before I can answer this enquiry: I must first see what is meant by Obligation.
862 Obligation is the necessity of doing or omitting any action in order to be happy: i. e. when there is such a relation between an Agent and an action that the Agent cannot be happy without doing or omitting that action, then the agent is said to be obliged to do or omit that action. So that obligation is evidently founded upon the prospect of happiness, and arises from that necessary influence which any action has upon present or future happiness or misery. And no greater obligation can be supposed to be laid upon any free agent without an express contradiction.
863 This obligation may be consider'd four ways, according to the four different manners in which it is induced: First, that obligation which ariseth from perceiving the natural consequences of things, i. e. the consequences of things acting according to the fix'd laws of nature, may be call'd natural. Secondly, that arising from merit or demerit, as producing the esteem and favour of our fellow creatures, or the contrary, is usually styled virtuous. Thirdly, that arising from the authority of the civil magistrate, civil. Fourthly, that from the authority of Cod, religious.
Now from the consideration of these four sorts of obligation (which are the only ones) it is evident that a full and complete obligation which will extend to all cases, can only be that arising from the authority of God; because God only can in all cases make a man happy or miserable: and therefore, since we are always obliged to that conformity called Virtue, it is evident that the immediate rule or criterion of it, is the will of God.
864 The next enquiry therefore is, what that Will of God in this particular is, or what it directs me to do?
Now it is evident from the nature of God, viz. his being infinitely happy in himself from all eternity, and from his goodness manifested in his works, that he could have no other design in creating mankind than their happiness; and therefore he wills their happiness; therefore the means of their happiness: therefore that my behaviour, as far as it may be a means of the happiness of mankind, should be such. Here then we are got one step farther, or to a new criterion: not to a new criterion of virtue immediately, but to a criterion of the will of God. For it is an answer to the enquiry, How shall I know what the Will of God in this particular is? Thus the will of God is the immediate criterion of Virtue, and the happiness of mankind the criterion of the wilt of God; and therefore the happiness of mankind may be said to be the criterion of virtue, but once removed.
865 And since I am to do whatever lies in my power towards promoting the happiness of mankind, the next enquiry is, what is the criterion of happiness: i.e. How shall I know what in my power is, or is not, for the happiness of mankind?
Now this is to be known only from the relations of things, (which relations, with respect to our present enquiry some have called their fitness and unfitness.) For some things and actions are apt to produce pleasure, others pain; some are convenient, others inconvenient for a society; some are for the good of mankind; others tend to the detriment of it; therefore those are to be chosen which tend to the good of mankind, the others to be avoided.
Thus then we are got one step farther, viz. to the criterion of the happiness of Mankind. And from this criterion we deduce all particular virtues and vices.
866 The next enquiry is, How shall I know that there is this fitness and unfitness in things? or if there be, how shall I discover it in particular cases? And the answer is either from experience or reason. You either perceive the inconveniences of some things and actions when they happen; or you foresee them by contemplating the nature of the things and actions.
Thus the criterion of the fitness or unfitness of things may in general be said to be reason: which reason, when exactly conformable to the things existing, i.e. when it judges of things as they are, is called right reason. And hence also we sometimes talk of the reason of things, i.e. properly speaking, that relation which we should find out by our reason, if our reason was right.
The expressing by outward signs the relation of things as they really are, is called truth; and hence by the same kind of metaphor, we are apt to talk of the truth, as well as reason of things. Both expressions mean the same: which has often made me wonder why some men who cry up reason as the criterion of virtue, should set dislike Mr Wollaston's notion of truth being its criterion.
867 The truth is, all these just mentioned, viz. the happiness of mankind; the relations, or fitness and unfitness of things; reason and truth; may in some sense be said to be criterions of virtue; but it must always be remembered that they are only remote criterions of it; being gradually subordinate to its immediate and proper criterion, the will of God.
And from hence we may perceive the reason of what I suggested in the beginning of this treatise, viz. That the dispute between moralists about the criterion of virtue is more in words than meaning; and that this difference between them has been occasioned by their dropping the immediate criterion, and choosing some a more remote, some a less remote one. And from hence we may see also the inconvenience of defining any mixed mode by its criterion. For that in a great measure has occasioned all this confusion; as may easily be made appear in all the pretended criterions of virtue above mentioned.
Thus those who either expressly exclude, or don't mention the will of God, making the immediate criterion of virtue to be the good of mankind; must either allow that virtue is not in all cases obligatory (contrary to the idea which all or most men have of it) or they must say that the good of mankind is a sufficient obligation. But how can the good of mankind be any obligation to me, when perhaps in particular cases, such as laying down my life, or the like, it is contrary to my happiness?
Those who drop the happiness of mankind, and talk of the relations, the fitness and unfitness of things, are still more remote from the true criterion. For fitness, without relation to some end, is scarce intelligible.
Reason and truth come pretty near the relations of things, because they manifestly presuppose them; but are still one step farther from the immediate criterion of virtue.
868 What has been said concerning the criterion of virtue as including our constant obligation to it, may perhaps be allowed to be true; but still it will be urged, that it is insufficient to account for matter of fact, viz. that most persons, who are either ignorant of, or never considered these deductions, do however pursue virtue themselves, and approve of it in others. I shall in the next place therefore give some account of our approbations and affections.
869 Man is not only a sensible creature; not only capable of pleasure and pain, but capable also of foreseeing this pleasure and pain in the future consequences of things and actions; and as he is capable of knowing, so also of governing or directing the causes of them, and thereby in a great measure enabled to avoid the one and to procure the other: whence the principle of all action. And therefore, as pleasure and pain are not indifferent to him, nor out of his power, he pursues the former and avoids the latter; and therefore also those things which are causes of them are not indifferent, but he pursues or avoids them also, according to their different tendency. That which he pursues for its own sake, which is only pleasure, is called an End; that which he apprehends to be apt to produce pleasure, he calls Good, and approves of, i.e. judges a proper means to attain his end, and therefore looks upon it as an object of choice; and that which is pregnant with misery he disapproves of and stiles evil. And this good and evil are not only barely approved of, or the contrary; but whenever viewed in imagination (since man considers himself as existing hereafter, and is concerned for his welfare then as well as now) they have a present pleasure or pain annexed to them, proportionable to what is apprehended to follow them in real existence; which pleasure or pain arising from the prospect of future pleasure or pain is properly called Passion, and the desire consequent thereupon, Affection.
870 And as by reflecting upon pleasure there arises in our minds a desire of it; and on pain, an aversion from it (which necessarily follows from supposing us to be sensible creatures, and is no more than saying, that all things are not physically indifferent to us) so also by reflecting upon good or evil, the same desires and aversions are excited, and are distinguished into love and hatred. And from love and hatred variously modified, arise all those other desires and aversions which are promiscuously stiled passions or affections; and are generally thought to be implanted in our nature originally, like the power of receiving sensitive pleasure or pain. And when placed on inanimate objects, are these following; hope, fear, despair and its opposite, for which we want a name.
ApprobationandAffectionconsidered with regard toMerit, or theLawofEsteem.
871If a man in the pursuit of pleasure or happiness (by which is meant the sum total of pleasure) had to do only with inanimate creatures, his approbation and affections would be as described in the foregoing section. But, since he is dependent with respect to his happiness, not only on these, but also on all rational agents, creatures like himself, which have the power of governing or directing good and evil, and of acting for an end; there will arise different means of happiness, and consequently different pursuits, though tending to the same end, happiness; and therefore different approbations and affections, and the contrary; which deserve particularly to be considered.
872 That there will arise different means of happiness, is evident from hence, viz. that rational agents, in being subservient to our happiness, are not passive, but voluntary. And therefore since we are in pursuit of that, to obtain which we apprehend the concurrence of their wills necessary, we cannot but approve of whatever is apt to procure this concurrence. And that can be only the pleasure or pain expected from it by them. And therefore as I perceive that my happiness is dependent on others, I cannot but judge whatever I apprehend to be proper to excite them to endeavour to promote my happiness, to be a means of happiness, i.e. I cannot but approve it. And since the annexing pleasure to their endeavours to promote my happiness is the only thing in my power to this end, I cannot but approve of the annexing pleasure to such actions of theirs as are undertaken upon my account. Hence to approve of a rational agent as a means of happiness, is different from the approbation of any other means; because it implies an approbation also of an endeavour to promote the happiness of that agent, in order to excite him and others to the same concern for my happiness for the future.
And because what we approve of we also desire (as has been shewn above) hence also we desire the happiness of any agent that has done us good. And therefore love or hatred, when placed on a rational object, has this difference from the love and hatred of other things, that it implies a desire of, and consequently a pleasure in the happiness of the object beloved; or if hated, the contrary.
873 The foundation of this approbation and love (which, as we have seen, consists in his voluntary contributing to our happiness) is called the merit of the agent so contributing, i. e. that whereby he is entitled (upon supposition that we act like rational, sociable creatures; like creatures, whose happiness is dependent on each other's behaviour) to our approbation and love: demerit the contrary.
And this affection or quality of any action which we call merit, is very consistent with a mans acting ultimately for his own private happiness. For any particular action that is undertaken for the sake of another, is meritorious, i. e. deserves esteem, favour, and approbation from him for whose sake it was undertaken, towards the doer of it. Since the presumption of such esteem, &c. was the only motive to that action; and if such esteem, &c. does not follow, or is presumed not to follow it, such a person is reckoned unworthy of any favour, because he shews by his actions that he is incapable of being obliged by favours.
874 The mistake which some have run into, viz. that merit is inconsistent with acting upon private happiness, as an ultimate end, seems to have arisen from hence, viz. that they have not carefully enough distinguished between an inferior, and ultimate end; the end of a particular action, and the end of action in general: which may be explained thus. Though happiness, private happiness, is the proper or ultimate end of all our actions whatever, yet that particular means of happiness which any particular action is chiefly adapted to procure, or the thing chiefly aimed at by that action; the thing which, if possessed, we would not undertake that action, may, and generally is called the end of that action. As therefore happiness is the general end of all actions, so each particular action may be said to have its proper and peculiar end: thus the end of a beau is to please by his dress; the end of study, knowledge. But neither pleasing by dress, nor knowledge, are ultimate ends, they still tend or ought to tend to something farther; as is evident from hence, viz. that a man may ask and expect a reason why either of them are pursued: now to ask the reason of any action or pursuit, is only to enquire into the end of it: but to expect a reason, i.e. an end, to be assigned for an ultimate end, is absurd. To ask why I pursue happiness, will admit of no other answer than an explanation of the terms.
Why inferior ends, which in reality are only means, are too often looked upon and acquiesced in as ultimate, shall be accounted for hereafter.
875 Whenever therefore the particular end of any action is the happiness of another (though the agent designed thereby to procure to himself esteem and favour, and looked upon that esteem and favour as a means of private happiness) that action is meritorious. And the same may be said, though we design to please God, by endeavouring to promote the happiness of others. But when an agent has a view in any particular action distinct from my happiness, and that view is his only motive to that action, though that action promote my happiness to never so great a degree, yet that agent acquires no merit, i. e. he is not thereby entitled to any favour or esteem: because favour and esteem are due from me for any action, no farther than that action was undertaken upon my account. If therefore my happiness is only the pretended end of that action, I am imposed on if I believe it real, and thereby think myself indebted to the agent; and I am discharged from any obligation as soon as I find out the cheat.
But it is far otherwise when my happiness is the sole end of that particular action, i. e. (as I have explained myself above) when the agent endeavours to promote my happiness as a means to procure my favour, i.e. to make me subservient to his happiness as his ultimate end: though I know he aims at my happiness only as a means of his own, yet this lessens not the obligation.
There is one thing, I confess, which makes a great alteration in this case, and that is, whether he aims at my favour in general, or only for some particular end. Because, if he aim at my happiness only to serve himself in some particular thing, the value of my favour will perhaps end with his obtaining that particular thing: and therefore I am under less obligation (céteris paribus) the more particular his expectations from me are; but under obligation I am.
876 Now from the various combinations of this which we call merit, and its contrary, arise all those various approbations and aversions; all those likings and dislikings which we call moral.
As therefore from considering those beings which are the involuntary means of our happiness or misery, there were produced in us the passions or affections of love, hatred, hope, fear, despair and its contrary: so from considering those beings which voluntarily contribute to our happiness or misery, there arise the following. Love and hatred, (which are different from that love or hatred placed on involuntary beings; that placed on involuntary beings being only a desire to possess or avoid the thing beloved or hated; but this on voluntary agents being a desire to give pleasure or pain to the agent beloved or hated) gratitude, anger, (sometimes called by one name, resentment) generosity, ambition, honour, shame, envy, benevolence: and if there be any other, they are only, as these are, different modifications of love and hatred.
877 Love and hatred, and the foundation of them (viz. the agent beloved or hated being apprehended to be instrumental to our happiness) I have explained above. Gratitude is that desire of promoting the happiness of another upon account of some former kindness received. Anger, that desire of thwarting the happiness of another, on account of some former diskindness or injury received. Both these take place, though we hope for, or fear nothing farther from the objects of either of them, and this is still consistent with acting upon a principle of private happiness.
For though we neither hope for, nor fear any thing farther from these particular beings; yet the disposition shewn upon these occasions is apprehended to influence the behaviour of other beings towards us: i. e. other beings will be moved to promote our happiness or otherwise, as they observe how we resent favours or injuries.
878 Ambition is a desire of being esteemed. Hence a desire of being thought an object of esteem; hence of being an object of esteem; hence of doing laudable, i. e. useful actions. Generosity and benevolence are species of it. Ambition in too great a degree is called pride, of which there are several species. The title to the esteem of others, which ariseth from any meritorious action, is called honour. The pleasure arising from honour being paid to us, i. e. from others acknowledging that we are entitled to their esteem, is without a name. Modesty is the fear of losing esteem. The uneasiness or passion which ariseth from a sense that we have lost it, is called shame. So that ambition, and all those other passions and affections belonging to it, together with shame, arise from the esteem of others: which is the reason why this tribe of affections operate more strongly on us than any other, viz. because we perceive that as our happiness is chiefly dependent on the behaviour of others, so we perceive also that this behaviour is dependent on the esteem which others have conceived of us; and consequently that our acquiring or losing esteem, is in effect acquiring or losing happiness, and in the highest degree. And the same may be said concerning all our other affections and passions, to enumerate which, what for want of names to them, and what by the confusion of language about them, is almost impossible.
Envy will be accounted for hereafter, for a reason which will then be obvious.
879 Thus having explained what I mean by obligation and approbation; and shewn that they are founded on and terminate in happiness: having also pointed out the difference between our approbations and affections as placed on involuntary and voluntary means of happiness; and farther proved that these approbations and affections are not innate or implanted in us by way of instinct, but are all acquired, being fairly deducible from supposing only sensible and rational creatures dependent on each other for their happiness, as explained above: I shall in the next place endeavour to answer a grand objection to what has here been said concerning approbations and affections arising from a prospect of private happiness.
The objection is this.
880 The reason or end of every action is always known to the agent; for nothing can move a man but what is perceived; but the generality of mankind love and hate, approve and disapprove, immediately, as soon as any moral character either occurs in life, or is proposed to them, without considering whether their private happiness is affected with it or not: or if they do consider any moral character in relation to their own happiness, and find themselves, as to their private happiness, unconcerned in it; or even find their private happiness lessened by it in some particular instance, yet they still approve the moral character, and love the agent: nay they cannot do otherwise. Whatever reason may be assigned by speculative men why we should be grateful to a benefactor, or pity the distressed; yet if the grateful or compassionate mind never thought of that reason, it is no reason to him. The enquiry is not why he ought to be grateful, but why he is so. These after-reasons therefore rather shew the wisdom and providence of our Maker, in implanting the immediate powers of these approbations (i. e. in Mr. Hutcheson's language, a moral sense) and these public affections in us, than give any satisfactory account of their origin. And therefore these public affections, and this moral sense, are quite independent on private happiness, and in reality act upon us as mere instincts.
881 The matter of fact contained in this argument, in my opinion, is not to be contested; and therefore it remains either that we make the matter of fact consistent with what we have before laid down, or give up the cause.
Now, in order to shew this consistency, I beg leave to observe, that as in the pursuit of truth we do not always trace every proposition whose truth we are examining, to a first principle or axiom, but acquiesce, as soon as we perceive it deducible from some known or presumed truth; so in our conduct we do not always travel to the ultimate end of our actions, happiness: but rest contented, as soon as we perceive any action subservient to a known or presumed means of happiness. And these presumed truths and means of happiness whether real or otherwise, always influence us after the same manner as if they were real. The undeniable consequences of mere prejudices are as firmly adhered to as the consequences of real truths or arguments; and what is subservient to a false (but imagined) means of happiness, is as industriously pursued as what is subservient to a true one.
882 Now every man, both in his pursuit after truth, and in his conduct, has settled and fixed a great many of these in his mind, which he always acts upon, as upon principles, without examining. And this is occasioned by the narrowness of our understandings: we can consider but a few things at once; and therefore, to run every thing to the fountain-head would be tedious, through a long series of consequences: to avoid this we choose out certain truths and means of happiness, which we look upon as RESTING PLACES, in which we may safely acquiesce, in the conduct both of our understanding and practice; in relation to the one, regarding them as axioms; in the other, as ends. And we are more easily inclined to this, by imagining that we may safely rely upon what we call habitual knowledge, thinking it needless to examine what we are already satisfied in. And hence it is that prejudices, both speculative and practical, are difficult to be rooted out, viz. few will examine them.
883 These RESTING PLACES are so often used as principles, that at last, letting that slip out of our minds which first inclined us to embrace them, we are apt to imagine them, not as they really are, the substitutes of principles, but, principles themselves.
And from hence, as some men have imagined innate ideas, because they forget how they came by them; so others have set up almost as many distinct instincts as there are acquired principles of acting. And I cannot but wonder why the pecuniary sense, a sense of power and party, &c. were not mentioned, as well as the moral, that of honour, order, and some others.
884 The case is really this. We first perceive or imagine some real good, i. e. fitness to promote our natural happiness, in those things which we love and approve of. Hence (as was above explained) we annex pleasure to those things. Hence those things and pleasure are so tied together and associated in our minds, that one cannot present itself, but the other will also occur. And the association remains even after that which at first gave them the connection is quite forgot, or perhaps does not exist, but the contrary. An instance or two may perhaps make this clear. How many men are there in the world who have as strong a taste for money as others have for virtue; who count so much money, so much happiness; nay, even sell their happiness for money; or to speak more properly, make the having money, without any design or thought of using it, their ultimate end? But was this propensity to money, born with them? or rather, did not they at first perceive a great many advantages from being possessed of money, and from thence conceive a pleasure of having it, thence desire it, thence endeavour to obtain it, thence receive an actual pleasure in obtaining it, thence desire to preserve the possession of it? Hence by dropping the intermediate steps between money and happiness, they join money and happiness immediately together, and content themselves with the phantastical pleasure of having it, and make that which was at first pursued only as a means, be to them a real end, and what their real happiness or misery consists in. Thus the connection between money and happiness remains in the mind; though it has long since ceased between the things themselves.
885 The same might be observed concerning the thirst after knowledge, fame, &c., the delight in reading, building, planting, and most of the various exercises and entertainments of life. These were at first entered on with a view to some farther end, but at length become habitual amusements; the idea of pleasure is associated with them, and leads us on still in the same eager pursuit of them, when the first reason is quite vanished, or at least out of our minds. Nay, we find this power of association so great as not only to transport our passions and affections beyond their proper bounds, both as to intenseness and duration; as is evident from daily instances of avarice, ambition, love, revenge, &c., but also that it is able to transfer them to improper objects, and such as are of a quite different nature from those to which our reason had at first directed them. Thus being accustomed to resent an injury done to our body by a retaliation of the like to him that offered it, we are apt to conceive the same kind of resentment, and often express it in the same manner, upon receiving hurt from a stock or a stone; whereby the hatred which we are used to place on voluntary beings, is substituted in the room of that aversion which belongs to involuntary ones. The like may be observed in most of the other passions above mentioned.
886 From hence also, viz. from the continuance of this association of ideas in our minds, we may be enabled to account for that (almost diabolical) passion called envy, which we promised to consider.
Mr. Locke observes, and I believe very justly, that there are some men entirely unacquainted with this passion. For most men that are used to reflection, may remember the very time when they were first under the dominion of it.
Envy is generally defined to be that pain which arises in the mind from observing the prosperity of others: not of all others indefinitely, but only of some particular persons. Now the examining who those particular persons whom we are apt to envy are, will lead us to the true origin of this passion. And if a man will be at the pains to consult his mind, or to look into the world, he'll find that these particular persons are always such as upon some account or other he has had a rivalship with. For when two or more are competitors for the same thing, the success of the one most necessarily tend to the detriment of the other, or others: hence the success of my rival and misery or pain are join'd together in my mind; and this connection or association remaining in my mind, even after the rivalship ceases, makes me always affected with pain whenever I hear of his success, though in affairs which have no manner of relation to the rivalship; much more in those that bring that to my remembrance, and put me in mind of what I might have enjoyed had it not been for him.
Thus also we are apt to envy those persons that refuse to be guided by our judgments, and persuaded by us. For this is nothing else than a rivalship about the superiority of judgment; and we take a secret pride, both to let the World see, and in imagining ourselves, that we are in the right.
887 There is one thing more to be observed in answer to this objection, and that is, that we do not always (and perhaps not for the most part) make this association ourselves, but learn it from others: L e. that we annex pleasure or pain to certain things or actions because we see others do it, and acquire principles of action by imitating those whom we admire, or whose esteem we would procure: Hence the son too often inherits both the vices and the party of his father, as well as his estate: Hence national virtues and vices, dispositions and opinions: And from hence we may observe how easy it is to account for what is generally call'd the prejudice of education; how soon we catch the temper and affections of those whom we daily converse with; how almost insensibly we are taught to love, admire or hate; to be grateful, generous, compassionate or cruel, &c.
What I say then in answer to the forementioned objection is this: ‘That though it be necessary in order to solve the principal actions of human life to suppose a moral sense (or what is signified by that name) and also publick affections; yet I deny that this moral sense, or these public affections, are innate or implanted in us. They are acquired either from our own observation or the imitation of others.’