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HENRY HOME, LORD KAMES Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion - 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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HENRY HOME, LORD KAMES Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion
[First edition, 1751. Reprinted here from the second edition, 1758.]
OF THE FOUNDATION AND PRINCIPLES OF THE LAW OF NATURE.
910In searching for the foundation of the laws of our nature, the following reflections readily occur. In the first place, two things cannot be more intimately connected than a being and its actions: for the connection is that of cause and effect. Such as the being is, such must its actions be. In the next place, the several classes into which nature has distributed living creatures, are not more distinguishable by an external form, than by an internal constitution, which manifests itself m a certain uniformity of conduct, peculiar to each species. In the third place, any action conformable to the common nature of the species, is considered by us as regular and good. It is according to order, and according to nature. But if there exist a being, with a constitution different from that of its kind, the actions of this being, though conformable to its own peculiar constitution, will, to us, appear whimsical and disorderly. We shall have a feeling of disgust, as if we saw a man with two heads or four hands. These reflections lead us to the foundation of the laws of our nature. They are to be derived from the common nature of man, of which every person partakes who is not a monster.
911 As the foregoing observations make the groundwork of all morality, it may not be improper to enlarge a little upon them. Looking around, we find creatures of very different kinds, both as to their external and internal constitutions. Each species having a peculiar nature, ought to have a peculiar rule of action resulting from its nature. We find this to hold in fact; and it is extremely agreeable to observe, how accurately the laws of each species are adjusted to the external frame of the individuals which compose it, and to the circumstances in which they are placed, so as to procure the conveniences of life in the best manner, and to produce regularity and consistency of conduct. To give but one instance: The laws which govern sociable creatures, differ widely from those which govern the savage and solitary. Among solitary creatures, who have no mutual connection, there is nothing more natural, or more orderly, than to make food one of another. But for creatures in society to live after this manner, behoved to be the effect of jarring and inconsistent principles. No such disorderly appearance is discovered upon the face of this globe. There is, as above observed, a harmony betwixt the internal and external constitution of the several classes of animals; and this harmony obtains so universally, as to afford a delightful prospect of deep design, effectively carried into execution. The common nature of every class of beings is perceived by us as perfect; and if, in any instance, a particular being swerve from the common nature of its kind, the action, upon that account, is accompanied with a sense of disorder and wrong. In a word, it is according to order, that the different sorts of living creatures should be governed by laws adapted to their peculiar nature. We consider it as fit and proper that it should be so; and it is a beautiful scene to find creatures acting according to their nature, and thereby acting uniformly, and according to a just tenor of life.
912 The force of this reasoning cannot, at any rate, be resisted by those who admit of final causes. We make no difficulty to pronounce, that a species of beings are made for such and such an end, who are of such and such a nature. A lion is made to purchase the means of life by his claws. Why? because such is his nature and constitution. A man is made to purchase the means of life by the help of others, in society. Why? because, from the constitution both of his body and mind, he cannot live comfortably but in society. It is thus we discover for what end we were designed by nature, or the author of nature. And the same chain of reasoning points out to us the laws by which we ought to regulate our actions: for acting according to nature, is acting so as to answer the end of our creation.
913Having shown that the nature of man is the foundation of the laws that ought to govern his actions, it will be necessary, with all possible accuracy, to trace out human nature, so far as regards the present subject. If we can happily accomplish this part of our undertaking, it will be easy, in the synthetical method, to deduce the laws which ought to regulate our conduct. And we shall examine, in the first place, after what manner we are related to beings and things around us: for this speculation will lead to the point in view.
As we are placed in a great world, surrounded with beings and things, some beneficial, some hurtful; we are so constituted, that scarce any object is indifferent to us. It either gives pleasure or pain. Sounds, tastes, and smells, are either agreeable or disagreeable. This is the most of all remarkable in the objects of sight, which affect us in a more lively manner than the objects of any other external sense. Thus, a spreading oak, a verdant plain, a large fiver, are objects which afford great delight. A rotten carcase, a distorted figure, create aversion, which, in some cases, goes the length of horror.
914 With regard to objects of sight, whatever gives pleasure, is said to be beautiful; whatever gives pain, is said to be ugly. The terms beauty and ugliness, in their original signification, are confined to objects of sight. And indeed such objects, being more highly agreeable or disagreeable than others, deserve well to be distinguished by a proper name. But though this be the proper meaning of the terms beauty and ugliness; yet, as it happens with words which convey a more lively idea than ordinary, the terms are applied in a figurative sense to almost every thing which carries a high relish or disgust, where these sensations have not a proper name of their own. Thus, we talk of a beautiful theorem, a beautiful thought, and a beautiful passage in music. And this way of speaking has, by common use, become so familiar, that it is scarce reckoned a figurative expression.
915 Objects considered simply as existing, without relation to any end proposed, or any designing agent, are to be placed in the lowest rank or order with respect to beauty and ugliness. But when external objects, such as works of art, are considered with relation to some end proposed, we feel a higher degree of pleasure or pain. Thus, a building regular in all its parts, pleases the eye upon the very first view: but considered as a house for dwelling in, which is the end proposed, it pleases still more, supposing it to be well fitted to its end. A similar sensation arises in observing the operations of a well-ordered state, where the parts are nicely adjusted to the ends of security and happiness.
916 This perception of beauty, in works of art or design, which is produced not barely by a sight of the object, but by viewing the object in a certain light, as fitted to some use, and as related to some end, includes in it what is termed approbation: for approbation, when applied to works of art, means precisely our being pleased with them, or conceiving them beautiful in the view of being fitted to their end. Approbation and disapprobation do not apply to the first or lowest class of beautiful and ugly objects. To say that we approve a sweet taste, or a flowing river, is really saying no more, than barely that we are pleased with such objects. But the term is justly applied to works of art, because it means more than being pleased with such an object merely as existing. It imports a peculiar beauty, which is perceived, upon considering the object as fitted to the use intended.
917 It must be further observed, to avoid obscurity, that the beauty which arises from the relation of an object to its end, is independent of the end, itself, whether good or bad, whether beneficial or hurtful: for the perception arises from considering its fitness to the end proposed, whatever that end be.
918 When we take the end itself under consideration, there is discovered a beauty or ugliness of a higher kind than the two former. A beneficial end proposed, strikes us with a very peculiar pleasure: and approbation belongs also to this feeling. Thus, the mechanism of a ship is beautiful, in the view of means well fitted to an end. But the end itself, of carrying on commerce, and procuring so many conveniencies to mankind, exalts the object, and heightens our approbation and pleasure. By an end, I mean that to which any thing is fitted, which it serves to procure and bring about, whether it be an ultimate end, or subordinate to something farther. Hence, what is considered as an end in one view, may be considered as a means in another. But so far as it is considered as an end, the degree of its beauty depends upon the degree of its usefulness. Approbation, in many instances, terminates upon the thing itself, abstracted from the intention of an agent. This intention, as good or bad, coming into view, gives rise to a species of beauty or deformity, different from those above set forth; as shall be presently explained. Let it be only kept in view, that as the end or use of a thing is an object of greater dignity and importance than the means, the approbation bestowed on the former rises higher than that bestowed on the latter.
919 These three orders of beauty may be blended together in many different ways, to have very different effects. If an object in itself beautiful, be ill fitted to its end, it will, upon the whole, be disagreeable. This may be exemplified, in a house, regular in its architecture, and beautiful to the eye, but incommodious for dwelling. If there be in an object an aptitude to a bad end, it will, upon the whole, be disagreeable, though it have the second modification of beauty in the greatest perfection. A constitution of government, formed with the most perfect art for inslaving the people, may be an instance of this. If the end proposed be good, but the object not well fitted to the end, it will be beautiful or ugly, as the goodness of the end, or unfitness of the means, are prevalent. Of this instances will occur at first view, without being suggested.
920 The foregoing modifications of beauty and deformity, apply to all objects, animate and inanimate. A voluntary agent produceth a peculiar species of beauty and deformity, which may readily be distinguished from all others. The actions of living creatures are more interesting than the actions of matter. The instincts, and principles of action of the former, give us more delight, than the blind powers of the latter; or, in other words, are more beautiful. No one can doubt of this fact, who is in any degree conversant with the poets. In Homer every thing lives. Even darts and arrows are endued with voluntary motion. And we are sensible, that nothing animates a poem more than the frequent use of this figure.
921 Hence a new circumstance in the beauty and deformity of actions, considered as proceeding from intention, deliberation, and choice. This circumstance, which is of the utmost importance in the science of morals, concerns chiefly human actions: for wc discover little of intention, deliberation and choice, in the actions of inferior creatures. Human actions are not only agreeable or disagreeable, beautiful or deformed, in the different views above mentioned, but are further distinguished in our perception of them, as fit, right, and meet to be done, or as unfit, unmeet, and wrong to be done. These are simple perceptions, capable of no definition, “and which cannot otherways be explained, than by making use of the words that are appropriated to them. But let any man attentively examine what passeth in his mind, when the object of his thought is an action proceeding from deliberate intention, and he will soon discover the meaning of these words, and the perceptions which they denote. Let him but attend to a deliberate action, suggested by filial piety ^ or suggested by gratitude; such action will not only be agreeable to him, and appear beautiful, but will be agreeable and beautiful, as fit, right, and meet to be done. He will approve the action in that quality, and he will approve the actor for having done his duty. This distinguishing circumstance intitles the beauty and deformity of human actions to peculiar names: they are termed moral beauty and moral deformity. Hence the morality and immorality of human actions; and the power or faculty by which we perceive this difference among actions, passeth under the name of the moral sense.
922 It is but a superficial account which is given of morality by most writers, that it depends upon approbation and disapprobation. For it is evident, that these terms are applicable to works of art, and to objects beneficial and hurtful, as well as to morality. It ought further to have been observed, that the approbation or disapprobation of actions, are very distinguishable from what relate to the objects now mentioned. Some actions are approved as good, and as fit, right, and meet to be done; others are disapproved, as bad and unfit, unmeet and wrong to be done. In the one case, we approve the actor as a good man; in the other, disapprove him as a bad man. These perceptions apply not to objects as fitted to an end, nor even to the end itself, except as proceeding from deliberate intention. When a piece of work is well executed, we approve the artificer for his skill, not for his goodness, Several things, inanimate as well as animate, serve to extreme good ends. We approve these ends as useful in themselves, but not as morally fit and right, where they are not considered as the result of intention.
923 Of all objects whatever, human actions are the most highly delightful or disgustful, and possess the highest degree of beauty or deformity. In these every circumstance concurs: the fitness or unfitness of the means; the goodness or badness of the end; the intention of the actor; which gives them the peculiar character of fit, right, and meet, or unfit, wrong, and unmeet.
Thus we find the nature of man so constituted, as to approve certain actions, and to disapprove others; to consider some actions as fit, right, and meet to be done, and to consider others as unfit, unmeet, and wrong. What distinguisheth actions, to make them objects of the one or the other perception, will be explained in the following chapter. And with regard to some of our actions, another circumstance may perhaps be discovered, different from any that have been mentioned, which will be a foundation for the well-known terms of duty and obligation, and consequently for a rule of conduct, that, in the strictest sense, may be termed a law. But at present it is sufficient to have explained in general, that we are so constituted, as to perceive a right and wrong in actions. And this is what strongly characterises the laws which govern the actions of mankind. With regard to all other beings, we have no data to discover the laws of their nature, other than their frame and constitution. We have the same data to discover the laws of our own nature. We have, over and above, a peculiar sense of approbation and disapprobation, to point out to us what we ought to do, and what we ought not to do. And one thing extremely remarkable will be explained afterwards, that the laws which are fitted to the nature of man, and to his external circumstances, are the same which we approve by the moral sense.
924Though these terms are of the utmost importance in morals, I know not that any author hath attempted to explain them, by pointing out those principles or perceptions which they express. This defect I shall endeavour to supply, by tracing these terms to their proper source, without which the system of morals cannot be complete, because these terms point out to us the most precise and essential branch of morality.
Lord Shaftesbury, to whom the world is much indebted for his inestimable writings, has clearly and convincingly made out, ‘that virtue is the good, and vice the ill of every one.’ But he has not proved virtue to be our duty, otherways than by showing it to be our interest; which comes not up to the idea of duty. For this term plainly implies somewhat indispensable in our conduct; what we ought to do, what we ought to submit to. Now, a man may be considered as foolish, for acting against his interest; but he cannot be considered as wicked or vitious. His Lordship indeed, in his essay upon virtue, approaches to an explanation of duty and obligation, by asserting the subordinacy of the self affections to the social. But though he states this as a proposition to be made out, he drops it in the after part of his work, and never again brings it into view.
925 Hutcheson, in his essay upon beauty and virtue, founds the morality of actions on a certain quality of actions, which procures approbation and love to the agent. But this account of morality is imperfect, because it scarce includes justice, or any thing which may be called duty. The man who, confining himself strictly to duty, is true to his word, and avoids harming others, is a just and moral man; is intitled to some share of esteem; but will never be the object of love or friendship. He must show a disposition to the good of mankind, of his friends at least, and neighbours; he must exert acts of humanity and benevolence, before he can hope to procure the affection of others.
926 But it is chiefly to be observed, that, in this account of morality, the terms right, obligation, duty, ought and should, have no distinct meaning; which shows, that the entire foundation of morality is not taken in by this author. It is true, that, towards the close of his work, he attempts to explain the meaning of the term obligation. But as criticizing upon authors, those especially who have promoted the cause of virtue, is not an agreeable task; I would not chuse to spend time, in showing that he is unsuccessful in his attempt. The slightest attention to the subject will make it evident. For his whole account of obligation is no more than, either ‘a motive from self-interest, sufficient to determine all those who duly consider it, to a certain course of action;’ which surely is not moral obligation: or ‘a determination, without regard to our own interest, to approve actions, and to perform them; which determination shall also make us displeased with ourselves, and uneasy upon having acted contrary to it;’ in which sense, he says, there is naturally an obligation upon all men to benevolence. But this account falls far short of the true idea of obligation; because it makes no distinction betwixt it and that simple approbation of the moral sense, which can be applied to heroism, magnanimity, generosity, and other exalted virtues, as well as to justice. Duty however belongs to the latter only; and no man reckons himself under an obligation to perform any action that belongs to the former.
927 Neither is the author of the treatise upon human nature more successful, when he endeavours to resolve the moral sense into pure sympathy1 . According to this author, there is no more in morality, but approving or disapproving an action, after we discover, by reflection, that it tends to the good or hurt of society. This would be by far too faint a principle to control our irregular appetites and passions. It would scarce be sufficient to restrain us from incroaching upon our friends and neighbours; and, with regard to strangers, would be the weakest of all restraints. We shall, by and by, show, that morality has a more solid foundation. In the mean time, it is of importance to observe, that, upon this author's system, as well as Hutcheson's, the noted terms of duty, obligation, ought and should, &c. are perfectly unintelligible.
928 We shall now proceed to explain these terms, by pointing out the perceptions which they express. And, in performing this task, there will be discovered a wonderful and beautiful contrivance of the author of our nature, to give authority to morality, by putting the self affections in a due subordination to the social. The moral sense has, in part, been explained above; that by it we perceive some actions, as being fit, right, and meet to be done, and others, as being unfit, unmeet, and wrong. When this observation is applied to particulars, it is an evident fact, that we have a sense of fitness in kindly and beneficent actions; we approve ourselves and others for performing actions of this kind: as, on the other hand, we disapprove the unsociable, peevish, and hard-hearted. But in one set of actions, there is an additional circumstance which is regarded by the moral sense. Actions directed against others, by which they are harmed in their persons, in their fame, or in their goods, are the objects of a peculiar perception. They are perceived not only as unfit to be done, but as absolutely wrong to be done, and what, upon no account, we ought to do. What is here asserted, is a matter of fact, which can admit of no other proof than an appeal to every man's own perceptions. Lay prejudice aside, and give fair play to what passes in the mind. I ask no other concession. There is no man, however irregular in his life and manners, however poisoned by a wrong education, but must be sensible of this fact. And indeed the words which are to be found in all languages, and which are perfectly understood in the communication of sentiments, are an evident demonstration of it. Duty, obligation, ought and should, in their common meaning, would be empty sounds, unless upon supposition of such a perception.
929 The case is the same with regard to gratitude to benefactors, and performing of engagements. We perceive these to be our duty in the strictest sense, and what we are indispensably obliged to. We do not consider them as in any degree under our own power. We have the consciousness of necessity, and of being bound and tied to performance, as if we were under some external compulsion.
930 It is proper here to be remarked, that benevolent and generous actions are not objects of this peculiar sense. Hence, such actions, though considered as fit and right to be done, are not however considered to be our duty, but as virtuous actions beyond what is strictly our duty. Benevolence and generosity are more beautiful, and more attractive of love and esteem, than justice. Yet, not being so necessary to the support of society, they are left upon the general footing of approbatory pleasure; while justice, faith, truth, without which society could not at all subsist, are objects of the foregoing peculiar sense, to take away all shadow of liberty, and to put us under a necessity of performance.
931 Dr. Butler, a manly and acute writer, hath gone farther than any other, to assign a just foundation for moral duty. He considers conscience or reflection1 , ‘as one principle of action, which, compared with the rest as they stand together in the nature of man, plainly bears upon it marks of authority over all the rest, and claims the absolute direction of them all, to allow or forbid their gratification.’ And his proof of this proposition is, ‘that a disapprobation of reflection is in itself a principle manifestly superior to a mere propension.’ Had this admirable writer handled the subject more professedly than he had occasion to do in a preface, it is more than likely he would have put it m a clear light. But he has not said enough to afford that light the subject is capable of. For it may be observed, in the first place, that a disapprobation of reflection is far from being the whole of the matter. Such disapprobation is applied to moroseness, selfishness, and many other partial affections, which are, however, not considered in a strict sense as contrary to our duty. And it may be doubted, whether a disapprobation of reflection be, in every case, a principle superior to a mere propension. We disapprove a man who neglects his private affairs, and gives himself up to love, hunting, or any other amusement: nay, he disapproves himself. Yet from this we cannot fairly conclude, that he is guilty of any breach of duty, or that it is unlawful for him to follow his propension. We may observe, in the next place, what will be afterwards explained, that conscience, or the moral sense, is none of our principles of action, but their guide and director. It is still of greater importance to observe, that the authority of conscience does not consist merely in an act of reflection. It arises from a direct perception, which we have upon presenting the object, without the intervention of any sort of reflection. And the authority lies in this circumstance, that we perceive the action to be our duty, and what we are indispensably bound to perform. It is in this manner that the moral sense, with regard to some actions, plainly bears upon it the marks of authority over all our appetites and passions. It is the voice of God within us which commands our strictest obedience, just as much as when his will is declared by express revelation.
932 What is above laid down is an analysis of the moral sense, but not the whole of it. A very important branch still remains to be unfolded. And, indeed, the more we search into the works of nature, the more opportunity there is to admire the wisdom and goodness of the sovereign architect. In the matters above mentioned, performing of promises, gratitude, and abstaining from harming others, we have not only the peculiar sense of duty and obligation: in transgressing these duties, we have not only the sense of vice and wickedness, but we have further the sense of merited punishment, and dread of its being inflicted upon us. This dread may be but slight in the more venial transgressions. But, in crimes of a deep dye, it rises to a degree of anguish and despair. Hence that remorse of conscience, the most severe of all tortures, which histories are full of, upon the commission of certain crimes. This dread of merited punishment operates for the most part so strongly upon the imagination, that every unusual accident, every extraordinary misfortune, is by the criminal judged to be a punishment purposely inflicted upon him. During prosperity, he makes a shift to blunt the stings of his conscience. But no sooner does he fall into distress, or into any depression of mind, than his conscience lays fast hold of him: his crime stares him in the face; and every accidental misfortune is converted into a real punishment. ‘And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us; and we would not hear: therefore is this distress come upon us. And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore behold also, his blood is required1 .’
933 One material circumstance is here to be remarked, which widens the difference still more betwixt the primary and secondary virtues. As justice, and the other primary virtues, are more essential to society, than generosity, benevolence, or any other secondary virtue, they are likewise more universal. Friendship, generosity, softness of manners, form peculiar characters, and serve to distinguish one man from another. But the sense of justice, and of the other primary virtues, is universal. It belongs to man as such. Though it exists in very different degrees of strength, there perhaps never was a human creature absolutely void of it. And it makes a delightful appearance in the human constitution, that even where this sense is weak, as it is in some individuals, it notwithstanding retains its authority as the director of their conduct. If there be any sense of justice, or of abstaining from injury, it must distinguish right from wrong, what we ought to do from what we ought not to do; and, by that very distinguishing faculty, justly claims to be our guide and governor. This consideration may serve to justify human laws, which make no distinction among men, as endued with a stronger or weaker sense of morality.
934 And here we must pause a moment, to indulge some degree of admiration upon this part of the human system. Man is evidently intended to live in society; and because there can be no society among creatures who prey upon one another, it was necessary, in the first place, to provide against mutual injuries. Further, man is the weakest of all creatures separately, and the very strongest in society; therefore mutual assistance is the principal end of society; and to this end it was necessary, that there should be mutual trust and reliance upon engagements, and that favours received should be thankfully repaid. Now, nothing can be more finely adjusted, than the human heart, to answer these purposes. It is not sufficient that we approve every action which is essential to the preservation of society. It is not sufficient, that we disapprove every action which tends to its dissolution. Approbation or disapprobation merely, is not sufficient to subject our conduct to the authority of a law. But the approbation m this case has the peculiar modification of duty, that these actions are what we ought to perform, and what we are indispensably bound to perform. This circumstance converts into a law, what without it can only be considered as a rational measure, and a prudential rule of conduct. Nor is any thing omitted to give it the most complete character of a law. The transgression is attended with apprehension of punishment, nay with actual punishment; as every misfortune which befalls the transgressor is considered by him as a punishment. Nor is this the whole of the matter. Sympathy is a principle implanted in the breast of every man: we cannot hurt another without suffering for it, which is an additional punishment. And we are still further punished for our injustice or ingratitude, by incurring thereby the aversion and hatred of mankind.* * * * * * *
935In the three chapters immediately foregoing, we have taken some pains to inquire into the moral sense, and to analyze it into its different parts. Our present task must be to inquire into those principles in our nature which move us to action. These must be distinguished from the moral sense; which, properly speaking, is not a principle of action. Its province, as shall forthwith be explained, is to instruct us, which of our principles of action we may indulge, and which of them we must restrain. It is the voice of God within us, regulating our appetites and passions, and showing us what are lawful, what unlawful.
936 In a treatise upon the law of nature, it is of great importance to trace out the principles by which we are incited to action. It is above observed, that the laws of nature can be no other than rules of action adapted to our nature. Now, our nature, so far as concerns action, is made up of appetites and passions, which move us to action, and of the moral sense, by which these appetites and passions are governed. The moral sense, of itself, is in no case intended to be the first mover: but it is an excellent second, by the most authoritative of all motives, that of duty. Nature is not so rind to us her favourite children, as to leave our conduct upon the motive of duty solely. A more masterly and kindly hand is visible in the architecture of man. We are impelled to motion by the very constitution of our nature; and to prevent our being carried too far, or in a wrong direction, conscience is set as at the helm. That such is our nature, may be made evident from induction. Were conscience alone, in any case, to be the sole principle of action, it might be expected in matters of justice, of which we have the strongest sense, as our indispensable duty. We find this however no exception from the general plan. For is not love of justice a principle of action common to all men? This principle gives the first impulse, which is finely seconded by the influence and authority of conscience. It may safely therefore be pronounced, that no action is a duty, to the performance of which we are not prompted by some natural motive or principle. To make such an action our duty, would be to lay down a rule of conduct contrary to our nature, or that has no foundation in our nature. Actions to which we are incited by a natural principle, are some of them authorised, others condemned by conscience; but conscience, or the moral sense, is not, in any case, the sole principle or motive of action. Nature has assigned it a different province. This is a truth which has been little attended to by those who have given us systems of natural laws. No wonder they have gone astray. Let this truth be kept close in view, and it will put an end to many a controversy about these laws. If, for example, it be laid down as a primary law of nature, That we are strictly bound to advance the good of all, regarding our own interest no farther than as it makes a part of the general happiness, we may safely reject such a law, as inconsistent with our nature; unless it be made appear, that there is a principle of benevolence in man which prompts him to an equal pursuit of the happiness of all. To found this disinterested scheme wholly upon the moral sense, would be a vain attempt. The moral sense, as above observed, is our guide only, not our mover. Approbation or disapprobation of these actions, to which, by some natural principle, we are antecedently directed, is all that can result from it. If it be laid down, on the other hand, That we ought to regard ourselves only in all our actions; and that it is folly, if not vice, to concern ourselves for others; such a law can never be admitted, unless upon the supposition that self-love is our only principle of action.* * * * * * *
937 A full account of our principles of action would be an endless theme. But as it is proposed to confine the present short essay to the laws which govern social life, we shall have no occasion to inquire into any principles of action, but what are directed upon others; dropping those which have self alone for their object. And, in this inquiry, we set out with the following question, In what sense are we to hold a principle of universal benevolence, as belonging to human nature? This question is of importance in the science of morals: for, as observed above, universal benevolence cannot be a duty, if we be not antecedently prompted to it by a natural principle. When we consider a single man, abstracted from all circumstances and all connections, we are not conscious of any benevolence to him; we feel nothing within us that prompts us to advance his happiness. If one be agreeable at first sight, and attract any degree of affection, it is owing to looks, manners, or behaviour.* * * * * * *
Dogs have, by nature, an affection for the human species; and upon this account, puppies run to the first man they see, show n/arks of fondness, and play about his feet. There is no such general fondness of man to man by nature. Certain circumstances are always reqmred to produce and call it forth. Distress indeed never fails to beget sympathy. The misery of the most unknown gives us pain, and we are prompted by nature to afford relieE But when there is nothing to call forth our sympathy; where there are no peculiar circumstances to interest us, or beget a connection, we rest in a state of indifference, and are not conscious of wishing either good or ill to the person. Those moralists, therefore, who require us to lay aside all partial affection, and to act upon a principle of equal benevolence to all men, require us to act upon a pnnciple, which, in truth, has no place in our nature.
938 In the manner now mentioned, a principle of universal benevolence does certainly not exist in man. Let us next require if it exist in any other manner. The happiness of mankind is an object agreeable to the mind in contemplation; and good men have a sensible pleasure in every study or pursuit by which they can promote it. It must indeed be acknowledged, that benevolence is not equally directed to all men, but gradually decreaseth, according to the distance of the object, till it dwindle away to nothing. But here comes in a happy contrivance of nature, to supply the want of benevolence towards distant objects; which is, to give power to an abstract term, such as, our religion, our country, our govermnent, or even mankind, to raise benevolence or public spirit in the mind. The particular objects under each of these classes, considered singly and apart, may have little or no force to produce affection; but when comprehended under one general view, they become an object that dilates and warms the heart. In this manner, a man is enabled to embrace in his affection all mankind: and, in this sense, man, without question, is endued with a principle of universal benevolence.
939 That man must have a great share of indifference in his temper, who can reflect upon this branch of human nature without some degree of emotion. There is perhaps not one scene to be met with, in the natural or moral world, where more of design, and of consummate wisdom, are displayed, than in this under consideration. The authors, who, impressed with reverence for human nature, have endeavoured to exalt it to the highest pitch, could none of them stretch their imagination beyond a principle of equal benevolence to every individual. And a very fine scheme it is in idea. But, unluckily, it is entirely of the Utopian kind, altogether unfit for life and action. It hath escaped the consideration of these authors, that man is by nature of a limited capacity, and that his affection, by multiplication of objects, instead of being increased, is split into parts, and weakened by division. A principle of universal equal benevolence, by dividing the attention and affection, instead of promoting benevolent actions, would in reality be an obstruction to them. The mind would be distracted by the multiplicity of objects that have an equal influence, so as to be eternally at a loss where to begin. But the human system is better adjusted, than to admit of such disproportion between ability and affection. The chief objects of a man's love are his friends and relations. He reserves some share to bestow on his neighbours. His affection lessens gradually, in proportion to the distance of the object, till it vanish altogether. But were this the whole of human nature, with regard to benevolence, man would be but an abject creature. By a very happy contrivance, objects which, because of their distance, have little or no influence, are made by accumulation, and by being gathered together in one general view, to have the very strongest effect; exceeding, in many instances, the most lively affection that is bestowed upon a particular object. By this happy contrivance, the attention of the mind, and its affections, are preserved entire, to be bestowed upon general objects, instead of being dissipated among an endless number of individuals. Nothing more ennobles human nature than this principle or spring of action; and at the same time, nothing is more wonderful, than that a general term, to which a very faint, if any idea, is affixed, should be the foundation of a more intense affection than is bestowed, for the most part, upon particular objects, how attractive soever. When we talk of our country, our religion, our government, the ideas annexed to these general terms are, at best, obscure and indistinct. General terms are extremely useful in language; serving, like mathematical signs, to communicate our thoughts in a summary way. But the use of them is not confined to language. They serve for a much nobler purpose; to excite us to generous and benevolent actions, of the most exalted kind; not confined to individuals, but grasping whole societies, towns, countries, kingdoms, nay all manldnd. By this curious rnechanism, the defect of our nature is amply remedied. Distant objects, otherways insensible, are rendered conspicuous. Accumulation makes them great, and greatness brings them near the eye. The affection is preserved, to bc bestowed entire, as upon a single object. And, to say all in one word, this system of benevolence, which is really founded in human nature, and not the invention of man, is infinitely better contrived to advance the good and happiness of mankind, than any Utopian system that ever has been produced by the warmest imagination.
940 Upon the opposite system, of absolute selfishness, there is no occasion to lose a moment. It is evidently chimerical, because it has no foundation m human nature. It is not more certain, that there exists the creature man, than that he hath principles of action directed entirely upon others; some to do good, and others to do mischief. Who can doubt of this, when friendship, compassion, gratitude, on the one hand; and, on the other, malice and resentment, are considered? It hath indeed been observed, that we indulge such passions and affections merely for our own gratification. But no person can relish this observation, who is in any measure acquainted with human nature. The social affections are in fact the source of the deepest afflictions, as well as of the most exalted pleasures, as has been fully laid open in the foregoing essay. In a word, we are evidently formed by nature for society, and for indulging the social, as well as the selfish passions; and therefore to contend, that we ought to regard ourselves only, and to be influenced by no principles but what are selfish, is directly to fly in the face of nature, and to lay down a rule of conduct inconsistent with our nature.
941 These systems being laid aside, as deviating from the nature of man, the way lles open to come at what arc his true and genuine principles of action. The first thing that nature consults, is the preservation of her creatures. Hence the love of life is made the strongest of all instincts. Upon the sarne foundation, pain is in a greater degree the object of aversion, than pleasure is of desire. Pain warns us of what tends to our dissolution, and thereby is a strong guard to self-preservation. Pleasure is often sought after unwarily, and by means dangerous to health and life. Pain comes in as a monitor of our danger; and nature, consulting our preservation in the first place, and our gratification in the second only, wisely gives pain more force to draw us back, than it glves pleasure to push us forward.
942 The second principle of action is self-love, or desire of our own happiness and good. This is a stronger principle than benevolence, or love bestowed upon others; and in that respect is wisely ordered; because every man has more power, knowledge, and opportunity, to promote his own good than that of others. Thus the good of indlviduals is principally trusted to their own care. It is agreeable to the limited nature of such a creature as man, that it should be so; and, consequently, it is wisely ordered, that every man should have the strongest affection for himself.
943 The foregoing principles having self for their object, come not properly under the present undertaking. They are barely mentioned, to illustrate, by opposition, the following principles, which regard others. Of this sort, the most universal is the love of justice, without which there could be no society. Veracity is another principle not less universal. Fidelity, a third principle, is circumscribed within narrower bounds; for it cannot exist without a peculiar connection betwixt two persons, to found a reliance on the one side, which requires on the other a conduct corresponding to the reliance. Gratitude is a fourth principle of action, universally acknowledged. And benevolence possesses the last place, diversified by its objects, and exerting itself more vigorously or more faintly, in proportion to the distance of particular objects, and the grandeur of those that are general. This principle of action has one remarkable quality, that it operates with much greater force to relieve those in distress, than to promote positive good. In the case of distress, sympathy comes to its aid; and, in that circumstance, it acquires the name of compassion.
944 These several principles of action are ordered with admirable wisdom, to promote the general good, in the best and most effectual manner. We act for the general good, when we act upon these principles, even when it is not our immediate aim. The general good is an object too remote, to be the sole impulsive motive to action. It is better ordered, that, in most instances, individuals should have a limited aim, which they can readily accomplish. To every man is assigned his own task. And if every man do his duty, the general good will be promoted much more effectually, than if it were the aim in every single action.
945 The above-mentioned principles of action belong to man as such, and constitute what may be called the common nature of man. Many other principles exert themselves upon particular objects, in the instinctive manner, without the intervention of any sort of reasoning or reflection, which also belong to man as such; appetite for food, animal love, &c. Other particular appetites, passions, and affections, such as ambition, avarice, envy, &c. constitute the peculiar nature of individuals; because these are distributed among individuals in very different degrees. It belongs to the science of ethics, to treat of these particular principles of action. All that needs here be observed of them is, that it is the aim of the general principle of self-love, to obtain gratification to these particular principles.* * * * * * *
946Justice is that moral virtue which guards property, and gives authority to covenants. And as it is made out above, that justice, being essentially necessary to the maintenance of society, is one of those primary virtues which are enforced by the strongest natural laws, it would be unnecessary to say more upon the subject, were it not for a doctrine espoused by the author of a treatise upon human nature, that justice, so far from being one of the primary virtues, is not even a natural virtue, but established in society by a sort of tacit convention, founded upon a notion of public interest. The figure which this author deservedly makes in the learned world, is too considerable, to admit of his being passed over in silence. And as it is of great importance to creatures who live in society, to be made sensible upon how firm a basis justice is erected, a chapter expressly upon that subject may perhaps not be unacceptable to the reader.
Our author's doctrine, so far as it concerns that branch of justice by which property is secured, comes to this: That, in a state of nature, there can be no such thing as property; and that the idea of property arises, after justice is established by convention, whereby every one is secured in his possessions. In opposition to this singular doctrine, there is no difficulty to make out, that we have an idea of property, antecedent to any sort of agreement or convention; that property is founded on a natural principle; and that violation of property is attended with remorse, and a sense of breach of duty. In prosecuting this subject, it will appear how admirably the springs of human nature are adapted one to another, and to external circumstances.
947 The surface of this globe, which scarce yields spontaneously food for the wildest savages, is by labour and industry made so fruitful, as to supply man, not only with necessaries, but even with materials for luxury. Man originally made shift to support himself, partly by prey, and partly by the natural fruits of the earth. In this state he in some measure resembled beasts of prey, who devour instantly what they seize, and whose care is at an end when the belly is full. But man was not designed by nature to be an animal of prey. A tenor of life where food is so precarious, requires a constitution that can bear long fasting and immoderate eating, as occasion offers. Man is of a different make. He requires regular and frequent supplies of food, which could not be obtained in his original occupations of fishing and hunting. He found it necessary therefore to abandon this manner of life, and to become shepherd. The wild creatures, such of them as are gentle and proper for food, were brought under subjection. Hence herds of cattle, sheep, goats, &c. ready at hand for the sustenance of man. This contrivance was succeeded by another. A bit of land is divided from the common; it is cultivated with the spade or plough; grain is sown, and the product is stored for the use of a family. Reason and reflection prompted these improvements, which are essential to our well-being, and in a good measure necessary even for bare existence. But a matter which concerns self-preservation, is of too great moment to be left entirely to the conduct of reason. This would not be according to the analogy of nature. To secure against neglect or indolence, man is provided with a principle that operates instinctively without reflection; and that is the hoarding disposition, common to him with several other animals. No author, I suppose, will be so bold as to deny this disposition to be natural and universal. It would be shameless to deny it, considering how solicitous every man is after a competency, and how anxious the plurality are to swell that competency beyond all bounds. The hoarding appetite, while moderate, is not graced with a proper name. When it exceeds just bounds, it is known by the name of avarice.
948 The compass I have taken is large, but the shortest road is not always the smoothest or most patent. I come now to the point, by putting a plain question, What sort of creature would man be, endued as he is with a hoarding principle, but with no sense or notion of property? He hath a constant propensity to hoard for his own use; conscious at the same time that his stores are not less free to others than to himself;–racked thus perpetually betwixt the desire of appropriation, and consciousness of its being scarce practicable. I say more; the hoarding principle is an instinct obviously calculated for assisting reason, in moving us to provide against want. This instinct, like all others in the human soul, ought to be a cause adequate to the effect which is intended to be accomplished by it. But this it cannot be, independent of a sense of property. For what effectual provision can be made against want, when the stores of every individual are, without any check from conscience, left free to the depredations of the whole species? Here would be a palpable defect or inconsistency in the nature of man. If I could suppose this to be his case, I should believe him to be a creature made in haste, and left unfinished. I am certain there is no such inconsistency to be found in any other branch of human nature; nor indeed, so far as we can discover, in any other creature that is endued with the hoarding principle. Every bee inhabits its own cell, and feeds on its own honey. Every crow has its own nest; and punishment is always applied, when a single stick happens to be pilfered. But we find no such inconsistency in man. The cattle tamed by an individual, and the field cultivated by him, were held universally to be his own from the beginning. A relation is formed betwixt every man and the fruits of his own labour, the very thing we call property, which he himself is sensible of, and of which every other is equally sensible. Yours and mine are terms in all languages, familiar among savages, and understood even by children. This is a matter of fact, which every human creature can testify.
949 This reasoning may be illustrated by many apt analogies. I shall mention one in particular. Veracity, and a disposition to believe what is affirmed for truth, are corresponding principles, which make one entire branch of the human nature. Veracity would be of no use were men not disposed to believe; and, abstracting from veracity, a disposition to believe, would be a dangerous quality; for it would lay us open to fraud and deceit. There is precisely the same correspondence betwixt the hoarding principle and the sense of property. The latter is useless without the former; witness animals of prey, who having no occasion for property, have no notion of it. The former again, without the latter, is altogether insufficient to produce the effect for which it is intended by nature.
950 Thus it appears clear, that the sense of property does not owe its existence to society. But in a matter of so great importance in the science of morals, I cannot rest satisfied with a successful defence. I aim at a complete victory, by insisting on a proposition directly opposite to that of my antagonist, viz. That society owes its existence to the sense of property; or at least, that without this sense no society ever could have been formed. In the proof of this proposition, we have already made a considerable progress, by evincing, that man by his nature is a hoarding animal, and loves to store for his own use. In order to the conclusion, we have but one farther step to make; which is, to consider what originally would have been the state of man, supposing him destitute of the sense of property. The answer is extremely obvious, That it would have been a state of universal war;—of men preying upon each other;—of robbing and pilfering the necessaries of life, where-ever found, without regard to industry, or the connection that is formed betwixt an individual and the fruits of his own labour. Courage and bodily strength would have stood in place of right, and nothing left for the weak, but to hide themselves and their goods, under ground, or in inaccessible places. And to do Hobbes justice, who, as well as our author, denies the sense of property to be natural, he fairly owns this reasoning to be just, and boldly asserts, that the state of nature is a state of war, all against all. In a word, destitute of the sense of property, men would naturally be enemies to each other, not less than they am to wolves and foxes at present. Now, if this must have been the original condition of man, let our author say, by what over-ruling power, by what miracle, individuals so disposed ever came to unite in society. We may pronounce with great assurance, that so signal a revolution in the state of man conkl never have been compassed by natural means. Nothing can be more evident, than that relying upon the sense of property, and the prevalence of justice, a few individuals ventured at first to unite for mutual defence and mutual support; and finding the manifold comforts of such a state, that they afterwards gradually united into larger and larger societies.
951 It must not be overlooked, that the sense of property is fortified by another principle. Every man has a peculiar affection for what he calls his own. He applies his skill and industry with great alacrity to improve his own subject: his affection to it grows with the time of his possession; and he puts a much greater value upon it, than upon any subject of the same kind that belongs to another.
952 But this is not all that is involved in the sense of property. We not only suffer pain in having our goods taken from us by force; for that would happen were they destroyed or lost by accident. We have the sense of wrong and injustice. The person who robs us has the same sense, and every mortal who beholds the action, considers it as vitious, and contrary to right.
953 Judging it not altogether sufficient to have overturned the foundation of our author's doctrine, we proceed to make some observations upon it, in order to show how ill it hangs together.
And, in the first place, he appears to reason not altogether consistently in making out his system. He founds justice on a general sense of common interest1 . And yet, at no greater distance than a few pages, he endeavours to make out2 . and does it successfully, that public interest is a motive too remote and too sublime to affect the generality of mankind, and to operate, with any force, in actions so contrary to private interest, as are frequently those of justice and common honesty.
954 In the second place, abstracting from the sense of property, it does not appear, that a sense of common interest would necessarily lead to such a regulation, as that every man should have the undisturbed enjoyment of what he hath acquired by his industry or good fortune. Supposing no sense of property, I do not see it inconsistent with society, to have a Lacedemonian constitution, that every man may lawfully take what by address he can make himself master of, without force or violence. The depriving us of that to which we have no right, would be doing little more than drinkmg in our brook, or breathing in our air. At any rate, such a refined regulation would never be considered of importance enough, to be established upon the very commencement of society. It must come late, if at all, and be the effect of long experience, and great refinement in the art of living. It is very true, that, abstaining from the goods of others, is a regulation, without which society cannot well subsist. But the necessity of this regulation ariseth from the sense of property, without which a man would suffer little pain in losing his goods, and would have no notion of wrong or injustice. There appears not any way to evade the force of this reasoning, other than peremptorily to deny the reality of the sense of property. Others may, but our author, after all, cannot with a good grace do it. An appeal may be safely made to his own authority. For is it not evidently this sense, which hath suggested to him the necessity, in the institution of every society, to secure individuals in their possessions? He cannot but be sensible, that, abstracting from the affection for property, the necessity would be just nothing at all. But our perceptions operate calmly and silently; and there is nothing more common, than to strain for far-fetched arguments in support of conclusions which are suggested by the simplest and most obvious perceptions.
955 A third observation is, that since our author resolves all virtue into sympathy, why should he with-hold the same principle from being the foundation of justice? Why should not sympathy give us a painful sensation, in depriving our neighbour of the goods he has acquired by industry, as well as in depriving him of his life or limb? For it is a fact too evident to be denied, that many men are more uneasy at the loss of their goods, than at the loss of a member.
956 And, in the last place, were justice founded on a general sense of common interest only, it behoved to be the weakest sense in human nature; especially where injustice is committed against a stranger, with whom we are not in any manner connected. Now, this is contrary to all experience. The sense of injustice is one of the strongest that belongs to humanity, and is also of a peculiar nature. It involves a sense of duty which is transgressed, and of meriting punishment for the transgression. Had our author hut once reflected upon these peculiarities, he never could have been satisfied with the slight foundation he gives to justice; for these peculiarities are altogether unaccountable upon his system.
957 I shall close this reasoning with one reflection in general upon the whole. The subject in dispute is a strong instance how dangerous it is to erect schemes, and assert propositions, without relation to facts and experiments;—not less dangerous in morals than in natural philosophy. Had our author examined human nature, and patiently submitted to the method of induction, by making a complete collection of facts, before venturing upon general propositions; I am positive he would have been as far as any man from maintaining, that justice is an artificial virtue, and that property is the child of society. Discovering this edifice of his to be a mere castle in the air, without the slightest foundation, he would have abandoned it without any reluctance.* * * * * * *
Vol iii. pt. 3.
Preface to the later editions of his sermons.
Genesis xlii. 21, 22.
Vol iii. p. 59.
Vol. iii. p. 43