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SECTION I.: PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS. - Sir James Mackintosh, The Miscellaneous Works 
The Miscellaneous Works. Three Volumes, complete in One. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871).
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There is no man who, in a case where he was a calm bystander, would not look with more satisfaction on acts of kindness than on acts of cruelty. No man, after the first excitement of his mind has subsided, ever whispered to himself with self-approbation and secret joy that he had been guilty of cruelty or baseness. Every criminal is strongly impelled to hide these qualities of his actions from himself, as he would do from others, by clothing his conduct in some disguise of duty, or of necessity. There is no tribe so rude as to be without a faint perception of a difference between Right and Wrong. There is no subject on which men of all ages and nations coincide in so many points as in the general rules of conduct, and in the qualities of the human character which deserve esteem. Even the grossest deviations from the general consent will appear, on close examination, to be not so much corruptions of moral feeling, as ignorance of facts; or errors with respect to the consequences of action; or cases in which the dissentient party is inconsistent with other parts of his own principles, which destroys the value of his dissent; or where each dissident is condemned by all the other dissidents, which immeasurably augments the majority against him. In the first three cases he may be convinced by argument that his moral judgment should be changed on principles which he recognises as just; and he can seldom, if ever, be condemned at the same time by the body of mankind who agree in their moral systems, and by those who on some other points dissent from that general code, without being also convicted of error by inconsistency with himself. The tribes who expose new-born infants, condemn those who abandon their decrepit parents to destruction: those who betray and murder strangers, are condemned by the rules of faith and humanity which they acknowledge in their intercourse with their countrymen. Mr. Hume, in a dialogue in which he ingeniously magnifies the moral heresies of two nations so polished as the Athenians and the French, has very satisfactorily resolved his own difficulties:—“In how many circumstances would an Athenian and a Frenchman of merit certainly resemble each other!—Humanity, fidelity, truth, justice, courage, temperance, constancy, dignity of mind.” “The principles upon which men reason in Morals are always the same, though the conclusions which they draw are often very different.”* He might have added, that almost every deviation which he imputes to each nation is at variance with some of the virtues justly esteemed by both, and that the reciprocal condemnation of each other’s errors which appears in his statement entitles us, on these points, to strike out the suffrages of both when collecting the general judgment of mankind. If we bear in mind that the question relates to the coincidence of all men in considering the same qualities as virtues, and not to the preference of one class of virtues by some, and of a different class by others, the exceptions from the agreement of mankind, in their system of practical morality, will be reduced to absolute insignificance; and we shall learn to view them as no more affecting the harmony of our moral faculties, than the resemblance of our limbs and features is affected by monstrous conformations, or by the unfortunate effects of accident and disease in a very few individuals.*
It is very remarkable, however, that though all men agree that there are acts which ought to be done, and acts which ought not to be done; though the far greater part of mankind agree in their list of virtues and duties, of vices and crimes; and though the whole race, as it advances in other improvements, is as evidently tending towards the moral system of the most civilized nations, as children in their growth tend to the opinions, as much as to the experience and strength, of adults; yet there are no questions in the circle of inquiry to which answers more various have been given than—How men have thus come to agree in the ‘Rule of Life?’ Whence arises their general reverence for it? and, What is meant by affirming that it ought to be inviolably observed? It is singular, that where we are most nearly agreed respecting rules, we should perhaps most widely differ as to the causes of our agreement, and as to the reasons which justify us for adhering to it. The discussion of these subjects composes what is usually called the “Theory of Morals” in a sense not in all respects coincident with what is usually considered as theory in other sciences. When we investigate the causes of our moral agreement, the term “theory” retains its ordinary scientific sense; but when we endeavour to ascertain the reasons of it, we rather employ the term as importing the theory of the rules of an art. In the first case, ‘theory’ denotes, as usual, the most general laws to which certain facts can be reduced; whereas in the second, it points out the efficacy of the observance, in practice, of certain rules, for producing the effects intended to be produced in the art. These reasons also may be reduced under the general sense by stating the question relating to them thus:—What are the causes why the observance of certain rules enables us to execute certain purposes? An account of the various answers attempted to be made to these inquiries, properly forms the history of Ethics.
The attentive reader may already perceive, that these momentous inquiries relate to at least two perfectly distinct subjects:—1. The nature of the distinction between Right and Wrong in human conduct, and 2. The nature of those feelings with which Right and Wrong are contemplated by human beings. The latter constitutes what has been called the ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments;’ the former consists in an investigation into the criterion of Morality in action. Other most important questions arise in this province: but the two problems which have been just stated, and the essential distinction between them, must be clearly apprehended by all who are desirous of understanding the controversies which have prevailed on ethical subjects. The discrimination has seldom been made by moral philosophers; the difference between the two problems has never been uniformly observed by any of them: and it will appear, in the sequel, that they have been not rarely altogether confounded by very eminent men, to the destruction of all just conception and of all correct reasoning in this most important, and, perhaps, most difficult, of sciences.
It may therefore be allowable to deviate so far from historical order, as to illustrate the nature, and to prove the importance, of the distinction, by an example of the effects of neglecting it, taken from the recent works of justly celebrated writers; in which they discuss questions much agitated in the present age, and therefore probably now familiar to most readers of this Dissertation.
Dr. Paley represents the principle of a Moral Sense as being opposed to that of utility.* Now, it is evident that this representation is founded on a confusion of the two questions which have been started above. That we are endued with a Moral Sense, or, in other words, a faculty which immediately approves what is right, and condemns what is wrong, is only a statement of the feelings with which we contemplate actions. But to affirm that right actions are those which conduce to the well-being of mankind, is a proposition concerning the outward effects by which right actions themselves may be recognised. As these affirmations relate to different subjects, they cannot be opposed to each other, any more than the solidity of earth is inconsistent with the fluidity of water; and a very little reflection will show it to be easily conceivable that they may be both true. Man may be so constituted as instantaneously to approve certain actions without any reference to their consequences; and yet Reason may nevertheless discover, that a tendency to produce general happiness is the essential characteristic of such actions. Mr. Bentham also contrasts the principle of Utility with that of Sympathy, of which he considers the Moral Sense as being one of the forms.* It is needless to repeat, that propositions which affirm, or deny, anything of different subjects, cannot contradict each other. As these celebrated persons have thus inferred or implied the non-existence of a Moral Sense, from their opinion that the morality of actions depends upon their usefulness, so other philosophers of equal name have concluded, that the utility of actions cannot be the criterion of their morality, because a perception of that utility appears to them to form a faint and inconsiderable part of our Moral Sentiments,—if indeed it be at all discoverable in them.† These errors are the more remarkable, because the like confusion of perceptions with their objects, of emotions with their causes, or even the omission to mark the distinctions, would in every other subject be felt to be a most serious fault in philosophizing. If, for instance, an element were discovered to be common to all bodies which our taste perceives to be sweet, and to be found in no other bodies, it is apparent that this discovery, perhaps important in other respects, would neither affect our perception of sweetness, nor the pleasure which attends it. Both would continue to be what they have been since the existence of mankind. Every proposition concerning that element would relate to sweet bodies, and belong to the science of Chemistry; while every proposition respecting the perception or pleasure of sweetness would relate either to the body or mind of man, and accordingly belong either to the science of Physiology, or to that of Mental Philosophy. During the many ages which passed before the analysis of the sun’s beams had proved them to be compounded of different colours, white objects were seen, and their whiteness was sometimes felt to be beautiful, in the very same manner as since that discovery. The qualities of light are the object of Optics; the nature of beauty can be ascertained only by each man’s observation of his own mind; the changes in the living frame which succeed the refraction of light in the eye, and precede mental operation, will, if they are ever to be known by man, constitute a part of Physiology. But no proposition relating to one of these orders of phenomena can contradict or support a proposition concerning another order.
The analogy of this latter case will justify another preliminary observation. In the case of the pleasure derived from beauty, the question whether that pleasure be original, or derived, is of secondary importance. It has been often observed that the same properties which are admired as beautiful in the horse, contribute also to his safety and speed; and they who infer that the admiration of beauty was originally founded on the convenience of fleetness and firmness, if they at the same time hold that the idea of usefulness is gradually effaced, and that the admiration of a certain shape at length rises instantaneously, without reference to any purpose, may, with perfect consistency, regard a sense of beauty as an independent and universal principle of human nature. The laws of such a feeling of beauty are discoverable only by self-observation: those of the qualities which call it forth are ascertained by examination of the outward things which are called beautiful. But it is of the utmost importance to bear in mind, that he who contemplates the beautiful proportions of a horse, as the signs and proofs of security or quickness, and has in view these convenient qualities, is properly said to prefer the horse for his usefulness, not for his beauty; though he may choose him from the same outward appearance which pleases the admirer of the beautiful animal. He alone who derives immediate pleasure from the appearance itself, without reflection on any advantages which it may promise, is truly said to feel the beauty. The distinction, however, manifestly depends, not on the origin of the emotion, but on its object and nature when completely formed. Many of our most important perceptions through the eye are universally acknowledged to be acquired: but they are as general as the original perceptions of that organ; they arise as independently of our will, and human nature would be quite as imperfect without them. The case of an adult who did not immediately see the different distances of objects from his eye, would be thought by every one to be as great a deviation from the ordinary state of man, as if he were incapable of distinguishing the brightest sunshine from the darkest midnight. Acquired perceptions and sentiments may therefore be termed natural, as much as those which are more commonly so called, if they be as rarely found wanting. Ethical theories can never be satisfactorily discussed by those who do not constantly bear in mind, that the question concerning the existence of a moral faculty in man, which immediately approves or disapproves, without reference to any farther object, is perfectly distinct, on the one hand, from that which inquires into the qualities of actions, thus approved or disapproved; and on the other, from an inquiry whether that faculty be derived from other parts of our mental frame, or be itself one of the ultimate constituent principles of human nature.
[* ] Philosophical Works, (Edinb. 1826,) vol. iv. pp. 420, 422.
[* ] “On convient le plus souvent de ces instincts de la conscience. La plus grande et la plus same partie du genre humain leur rend témoignage. Les Orientaux, et les Grecs, et les Romains conviennent en cela; et il faudroit être aussi abruti que les sauvages Américains pour approuver leurs coutumes, pleines d’une cruauté qui passe même celle des bétes. Cependant ces mêmes sauvages sentent bien ce que c’est que la justice en d’autres occasions; et quoique il n’y ait point de mauvaise pratique peut-être qui ne soit autorisée quelque part, il y en a peu pourtant qui ne soient condamnées le plus souvent, et par la plus grande partie des hommes.”—Leibnitz, Œuvres Philosophiques, (Amst. et Leipz. 1765, 4to.) p. 49. There are some admirable observations on this subject in Hartley, especially in the development of the 49th Proposition:—“The rule of life drawn from the practice and opinions of mankind corrects and improves itself perpetually, till at last it determines entirely for virtue, and excludes all kinds and degrees of vice.”—Observations on Man, vol. ii. p. 214.
[* ] Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy. Compare book i. chap. v. with book ii. chap. vi.
[* ] Introduction to the Principles of Morality and Legislation, chap. ii.
[† ] Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, part iv. Even Hume, in the third book of his Treatise of Human Nature, the most precise, perhaps, of his philosophical writings, uses the following as the title of one of the sections: “Moral Distinctions, derived from a Moral Sense.”