Front Page Titles (by Subject) WILLIAM PALEY The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy - British Moralists, being Selections from Writers principally of the Eighteenth Century, vol. 2
Return to Title Page for British Moralists, being Selections from Writers principally of the Eighteenth Century, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
WILLIAM PALEY The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
WILLIAM PALEY The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy
[First edition, 1785.]
1013Virtue is, ‘the doing good to mankind, obedience to the will of God, and for the sake of everlasting happiness.’
According to which definition, ‘the good of mankind’ is the subject, the ‘will of God ‘the rule, and ‘everlasting happiness’ the motive of human virtue.* * * * * * *
1014 WHY am I obliged to keep my word? Because it is right, says one.—Because it is agreeable to the fitness of things, says another.—Because it is comfortable to reason and nature, says a third.— Because it is conformable to truth, says a fourth.—Because it promotes the public good, says a fifth.—Because it is required by the will of God, concludes a sixth.
Upon which different accounts, two things are observable:
1015 FIRST, that they all ultimately coincide.
The fitness of things means their fitness to produce happiness: the nature of things means that actual constitution of the world, by which some things, as such and such actions, for example, produce happiness, and others misery: reason is the principle, by which we discover or judge of this constitution: truth is this judgment expressed or drawn out into propositions. So that it necessarily comes to pass, that what promotes the public happiness, or happiness upon the whole, is agreeable to the fitness of things, to nature, to reason, and to truth; and such (as will appear by and by) is the divine character, that what promotes the general happiness is required by the will of God; and what has all the above properties must needs be right: for right means no more than conformity to the rule we go by, whatever that rule be. And this is the reason that moralists, from whatever different principles they set out, commonly meet in their conclusions; that is, they enjoin the same conduct, prescribe the same rules of duty, and, with a few exceptions, deliver upon dubious cases the same determinations.
1016Secondly, it is to be observed, that these answers all leave the matter short; for the enquirer may turn round upon his teacher with a second question, in which he will expect to be satisfied, namely, why am I obliged to do what is right; to act agreeably to the fitness of things; to conform to reason, nature, or truth; to promote the public good, or to obey the will of God?
The proper method of conducting the enquiry is, FIRST, to examine what we mean, when we say a man is obliged to do any thing, and THEN to shew why he is obliged to do the thing which we have proposed as an example, namely, ‘to keep his word.’
1017 A Man is said to be obliged, ‘when he is urged by a violent motive resulting from the command of another.’
I. ‘The motive must be violent.’ If a person, who has done me some little service, or has a small place in his disposal, ask me for my vote upon some occasion, I may possibly give it him, from a motive of gratitude or expectation; but I should hardly say, that I was obliged to give it him, because the inducement does not rise high enough. Whereas, if a father or a master, any great benefactor, or one on whom my fortune depends, require my vote, I give it him of course; and my answer to all who ask me why I voted so and so, is, that my father or my master obliged me; that I had received so many favours from, or had so great a dependence upon such a one, that I was obliged to vote as he directed me.
1018Secondly,’ It must result from the command of another.’ Offer a man a gratuity for doing any thing, for seizing, for example, an offender, he is not obliged by your offer to do it; nor would he say he is; though he may be induced, persuaded, prevailed upon, tempted. If a magistrate, or the man's immediate superior command it, he considers himself as obliged to comply, though possibly he would lose less by a refusal in this case, than in the former. I will not undertake to say that the words obligation and obliged are used uniformly in this sense, or always with this distinction; nor is it possible to tie down popular phrases to any constant signification: but, wherever the motive is violent enough, and coupled with the idea of command, authority, law, or the will of a superior, there, I take it, we always reckon ourselves to be obliged.
1019 And from this account of obligation it follows, that we can be obliged to nothing, but what we ourselves are to gain or lose something by; for nothing else can be a ‘violent motive’ to us. As we should not be obliged to obey the laws, or the magistrate, unless rewards or punishments, pleasure or pain, some how or other depended upon our obedience; so neither should we, without the same reason, be obliged to do what is right, to practise virtue, or to obey the commands of God.
1020Let it be remembered, that to be obliged, ‘is to be urged by a violent motive, resulting from the command of another.’ And then let it be asked, Why must I obliged to keep my word? and the answer will be, because I am ‘urged to do so by a violent motive,’ (namely, the expectation of being after this life rewarded, if I do, or punished for it, if I do not) ‘resulting from the command of another,’ (namely, of God). This solution goes to the bottom of the subject, as no farther question can reasonably be asked.
Therefore, private happiness is our motive, and the will of God our rule.
1021 When I first turned my thoughts to moral speculations, an air of mystery seemed to hang over the whole subject; which arose, I believe, from hence—that I supposed, with many authors whom I had read, that to be obliged to do a thing, was very different from being induced only to do it; and that the obligation to practise virtue, to do what is right, just, &c. was quite another thing, and of another kind, than the obligation which a soldier is under to obey his officer, a servant his master, or any of the civil and ordinary obligations of human life. Whereas, from what has been said it appears, that moral obligation is like all other obligations; and that all obligation is nothing more than an inducement of sufficient strength, and resulting, in some way, from the command of another.
1022 There is always understood to be a difference between an act of prudence and an act of duty. Thus, if I distrusted a man who owed me money, I should reckon it an act of prudence to get another bound with him; but I should hardly call it an act of duty. On the other hand, it would be thought a very unusual and loose kind of language, to say, that, as I had made such a promise, it was prudent to perform it; or that as my friend, when he went abroad, placed a box of jewels in my hands, it would be prudent in me to preserve it for him ‘till he returned.
Now, in what, you will ask, does the difference consist? Inasmuch, as according to our account of the matter, both in the one case and the other, in acts of duty as well as acts of prudence, we consider solely what we shall gain or lose by the act? The difference, and the only difference, is this; that, in the one ease we consider what we shall gain or lose in the present world; in the other case, we consider also what we shall gain or lose in the world to come.
Those who would establish a system of morality, independent of a future state, must look out for some different idea of moral obligation; unless they can shew that virtue conducts the possessor to certain happiness in this life, or to a much greater share of it, than he could attain by a different behaviour.* * * * * * *