Front Page Titles (by Subject) section ii: Of Duty, or Moral Obligation - The Elements of Moral Philosophy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
section ii: Of Duty, or Moral Obligation - David Fordyce, The Elements of Moral Philosophy 
The Elements of Moral Philosophy, in Three Books with a Brief Account of the Nature, Progress, and Origin of Philosophy, ed. Thomas Kennedy (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
About Liberty Fund:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
Of Duty, or Moral Obligation
The Measure of PowersIt is by the End or Design of any Power or Movement, that we must direct its Motions, and estimate the Degree of Force necessary to its just Action. If it want the Force requisite for the obtaining its End, we call it defective; if it has too much, so as to be carried beyond it, we say it is overcharged; and in either Case it is imperfect, and ill-contrived. If it has just enough to reach the Scope, we esteem it right, and as it should be. Let us apply this Reasoning to the Passions.
Measure of the defensive PassionsThe Defence and Security of the Individual being the Aim of the defensive Passions, that Security and Defence must be the Measure of their Strength or Indulgence. If they are so weak as to prove insufficient for that End, or if they carry us beyond it, i.e. raise unnecessary Commotions, or continue longer than is needful, they are unfit to answer their original Design, and therefore are in an unsound and unnatural State. The Exercise of Fear or of Resentment, has nothing desirable in it, nor can we give way to either without painful Sensations. Without a certain Degree of them we are naked and exposed. With too high a Proportion of them we are miserable, and often injurious to others. Thus Cowardice or Timidity, which is the Excess of Fear, instead of saving us in Danger, gives it too formidable an Appearance, makes us incapable of attending to the best Means of Preservation, and disarms us of Courage, our natural Armour. Fool-hardiness, which is a Want of a due measure of Fear, leads us heedlesly into Danger, and lulls us into a pernicious Security. Revenge, i.e. excessive Resentment, by the Violence of its Commotion, robs us of that Presence of Mind which is often the best Guard against Injury, and inclines us to pursue the Aggressor with more Severity than Self-defence requires. Pusillanimity, or the Want of a just Indignation against Wrong, leaves us quite unguarded, and sinks the Mind into a passive enervating Tameness. Therefore, “to keep the defensive Passions duly proportion’d to our Dangers, is their natural Pitch and Tenour.”
Measure of the private PassionsThe private Passions lead us to pursue some positive Species of private Good. That Good therefore, which is the Object and End of each, must be the Measure of their respective Force, and direct their Operation. If they are too weak or sluggish to engage us in the Pursuit of their several Objects, they are evidently deficient; but if they defeat their End by their Impetuosity, then are they strained beyond the just Tone of Nature. Thus Vanity, or an excessive Passion for Applause, betrays into such Meannesses and such little Arts of Popularity, as makes us forfeit the Honour we so anxiously court. On the other hand, a total Indifference about the Esteem of Mankind, removes a strong Guard and Spur to Virtue, and lays the Mind open to the most abandoned Prosecutions. Therefore, “to keep our private Passions and Desires proportioned to ourWants, is the just Measure and Pitch of this Class of Affections.”
Comparative ForceThe defensive and private Passions do all agree in general, in their Tendency or Conduciveness to the Interest or Good of the Individual. Therefore when there is a Collision of Interest, as may sometimes happen, that Aggregate of Good or Happiness, which is composed of the particular Goods to which they respectively tend, must be the common Standard by which their comparative Degrees of Strength are to be measured. That is to say, if any of them in the Degree in which they prevail, are incompatible with the greatest Aggregate of Good, or most extensive Interest of the Individual, then are they unequal and disproportionate. For, in judging of a particular System or Constitution of Powers, we call that the supreme or principal End, in which the Aims of the several Parts or Powers coincide, and to which they are subordinate, and reckon them in due Proportion to each other, and right with regard to the Whole, when they maintain that Subordination or Subserviency. Therefore, “to proportion our defensive and private Passions in such measure to our Dangers and Wants, as best to secure the Individual, and obtain the greatest Aggregate of private Good or Happiness, is their just Balance, or comparative Standard in case of Competition.”
Measure of the public AffectionsIn like manner, as the public or social Affections point at the Good of others, that Good must be the Measure of their Force. When a particular social Affection, as Gratitude or Friendship, which belongs to a particular social Connection, viz. that of a Benefactor or of a Friend, is too feeble to make us act the grateful or friendly Part, that Affection being insufficient to answer its End, is defective and unsound. If, on the other hand, a particular Passion of this Class counteract or defeat the Interest it is designed to promote, by its Violence or Disproportion, then is that Passion excessive and irregular. Thus natural Affection, if it degenerates into a passionate Fondness, not only hinders the Parents from judging coolly of the Interest of their Offspring, but often leads them into a most partial and pernicious Indulgence.
Collision of social AffectionsAs every kind Affection points at the Good of its particular Object, it is possible there may be a Collision of Interests or Goods. Thus the Regard due to a Friend may interfere with that which we owe to a Community. In such a Competition of Interests, it is evident, that the greatest is to be chosen; and that is the greatest Interest, which contains the greatest Sum or Aggregate of public Good, greatest in Quantity as well as Duration. This then is the common Standard, by which the respective Forces and Subordinations of the social Affections must be adjusted. Therefore we conclude, that “this Class of Affections are sound and regular, when they prompt us to pursue the Interest of Individuals in an entire Consistency with the public Good,” or, in other words, “when they are duly proportioned to the Dangers and Wants of others, and to the various Relations in which we stand to Individuals, or to Society.”
Thus we have found by an Induction of Particulars, the natural Pitch or Tenour of the different Orders of Affection, considered apart by themselves. Now as the Virtue or Perfection of every Creature lies in following its Nature, or acting suitably to the just Proportion and Harmony of its several Powers; therefore, “the Virtue of a Creature endow’d with such Affections as Man, must consist in observing, or acting agreeably to their natural Pitch and Tenour.” Let this suffice at least for its first rude Sketch.
Balance of AffectionBut, as there are no independent Affections in the Fabric of the Mind, no Passion that stands by itself, without some Relation to the rest, we cannot pronounce of any one considered apart, that it is either too strong, or too weak. Its Strength and just Proportion must be measured, not only by its Subserviency to its own immediate End, but by the Respect it bears to the whole System of Affection. Therefore, we say a Passion is too strong, not only when it defeats its own End, but when it impairs the Force of other Passions, which are equally necessary to form a Temper of Mind, suited to a certain Oeconomy, or State; and too weak, not merely on account of its Insufficiency to answer its End, but because it cannot sustain its Part or Office, in the Balance of the whole System. Thus the Love of Life may be too strong, when it takes from the Regard due to one’s Country, and will not allow one bravely to encounter Dangers, or even Death on its Account. Again, the Love of Fame may be too weak, when it throws down the Fences which render Virtue more secure, or weakens the Incentives which make it more active and public-spirited.
Limits of private AffectionsIf it be asked, “How far may the Affections towards private Good or Happiness be indulged?” One Limit was before fixed for the particular Indulgences of each, viz. their Subordination to the common Aggregate of Good to the private System. In these therefore, a due Regard is always supposed to be had to Health, Reputation, Fortune, the Freedom of Action, the unimpair’d Exercise of Reason, the calm Enjoyment of one’s self, which are all private Goods. Another Limit now results from the Balance of Affection just named, viz. “The Security and Happiness of others,” or to express it more generally, “a private Affection may be safely indulged, when, by that Indulgence, we do not violate the Obligations which result from our higher Relations, or public Connections.” A just Respect therefore being had to these Boundaries, which Nature has fixed in the Breast of every Man, what should limit our Pursuits of private Happiness? Is Nature sullen and penurious? Or does the God of Nature envy the Happiness of his Offspring?
Collision of InterestsWhether there is ever a real Collision of Interests between the public and private System of Affections, or the Ends which each Class has in view, will be afterwards considered; but where there is no Collision, there is little or no danger of carrying either, but especially the public, Affections to Excess, provided both Kinds are kept subordinate to a discreet and cool Self-love, and to a calm and universal Benevolence, which Principles stand as Guards at the Head of each System.
ResultThis then is the Conduct of the Passions, considered as particular and separate Forces, carrying us out to their respective Ends; and this is their Balance or Oeconomy, considered as compound Powers, or Powers mutually related, acting in conjunction towards a common End, and consequently as forming a System or Whole.
Subordination of PowersNow, whatever adjusts or maintains this Balance, whatever in the human Constitution is formed for directing the Passions, so as to keep them from defeating their own End, or interfering with each other, must be a Principle of a superior Nature to them, and ought to direct their Measures, and govern their Proportions. But it was found that Reason or Reflection is such a Principle, which points out the Tendency of our Passions, weighs their Influence upon private and public Happiness, and shews the best Means of attaining either. It having been likewise found, that there is another directing or controuling Principle, which we call Conscience, or the MoralSense, which, by a native kind of Authority, judges of Affections and Actions, pronouncing some just and good, and others unjust and ill; it follows that the Passions, which are mere Impulses, or blind Forces, are Principles inferior and subordinate to this judging Faculty. Therefore, if we would follow the Order of Nature, i.e. observe the mutual Respects and the Subordination which the different Parts of the human Constitution bear to one another, the Passions ought to be subjected to the Direction and Authority of the leading or controuling Principles.
In what it consistsWe conclude therefore from this Induction, that “The Constitution or just Oeconomy of human Nature, consists in a regular Subordination of the Passions and Affections to the Authority of Conscience, and the Direction of Reason.”
Oeconomy of Nature, or right TemperThat Subordination is regular, when the Proportion formerly mentioned is maintained; that is to say, “When the Defensive Passions are kept proportioned to our Dangers; when the private Passions are proportioned to our Wants; and, when the public Affections are adapted to our publicConnections, and proportioned to the Wants and Dangers of others.” This last Branch is expressed somewhat differently from the two former, in order to include that most important Relation in which we stand, and those indispensible Laws of Duty which we owe to the great Author of our Nature, who, being supremely perfect and happy, has no Wants to supply, and is obnoxious to no Possibility of Change.
Human Virtue and PerfectionBut the natural State, or the sound and vigorous Constitution of any Creature, or the just Oeconomy of its Powers, we call its Health and Perfection; and the acting agreeably to these, its Virtue or Goodness. Therefore, “the Health and Perfection of Man must lie in the aforesaid Supremacy of Conscience and Reason, and in the Subordination of the Passions to their Authority and Direction. And hisVirtue or Goodness must consist in acting agreeably to that Order or Oeconomy.”
How conformable to ReasonThat such an Oeconomy of the Mind, and such a Conduct of its Powers and Passions will stand the Test of Reason, cannot admit of any Dispute. For, upon a fair Examination into the Consequences of Things, or the Relations and Aptitudes of Means to Ends, Reason evidently demonstrates, and Experience confirms it, that “To have our defensive Passions duly proportioned to our Dangers, is the surest way to avoid or get clear of them, and obtain the Security we seek after.”—“To proportion our private Passions to our Wants, is the best Means to supply them;—and, to adapt our public Affections to our social Relations, and the Good of others, is the most effectual Method of fulfilling one, and procuring the other.” In this Sense therefore, Virtue may be said to be a “Conduct conformable to Reason,” as Reason discovers an apparent Aptitude in such an Order and Oeconomy of Powers and Passions, to answer the End for which they are naturally formed.
Connection between Affections and Ends, not the Idea of Moral ObligationIf the Idea of Moral Obligation is to be deduced merely from this Aptitude or Connection between certain Passions, or a certain Order and Balance of Passions, and certain Ends obtained, or to be obtained by them, then is Reason or Reflection, which perceives that Aptitude or Connection, the proper Judge of Moral Obligation; and on this Supposition it may be defined, as hath been done by some, the Connection between the Action and the Motive; for the End is the Motive, or the final Cause, and the Affection is the Action, or its immediate, natural Cause. A Man, from mere Self-love, may be induced to fulfil that Obligation, which is founded on the Connection between the defensive Passions and their Ends, or the private Passions and their Ends; because in that Case his own Interest will prompt him to indulge them in the due Proportion required. But if he has no Affections which point beyond himself, no Principle but Self-love, or some subtle Modification of it, what shall interest him in the Happiness of others, where there is no Connection between it and his own; or what Sense can he have of Moral Obligation to promote it? Upon this Scheme therefore, without public or social Affection there could be no Motive, and consequently no Moral Obligation to a beneficent, disinterested Conduct.
But if the mere Connection between certain Passions, or a certain Order of Passions, and certain Ends, are what constitutes, or gives us the Idea of Moral Obligation, then why may not the Appositeness of any Temper or Conduct, nay, of any Piece of Machinery to obtain its End, form an equally strict Moral Obligation? For the Connection and Aptitude are as strong and invariable in the latter Instances as in the former. But as this is confounding the most obvious Differences of things, we must trace the Idea of Moral Obligation to another and a more natural Source.
Idea of it from ExperienceLet us appeal therefore to our inmost Sense and Experience, “How we stand affected to those different Sets of Passions, in the just Measure and Balance of which we found a right Temper to consist.” For this is entirely a Matter of Experience, in which we must examine as in any other natural Enquiry, “What are the genuine Feelings and Operations of Nature, and what Affections or Symptoms of them appear in the given Instance.”
Why the defensive Passions approv’dThe defensive Passions, as Anger and Fear, give us rather Pain than Pleasure, yet we cannot help feeling them when provoked by Injury, or exposed to Harm. We account the Creature imperfect that wants them, because they are necessary to his Defence. Nay we should in some measure condemn ourselves, did we want the necessary Degree of Resentment and Caution. But if our Resentment exceeds the Wrong received, or our Caution the Evil dreaded, we then blame ourselves for having over-acted our Part. Therefore, while we are in Danger, to be totally destitute of them we reckon a blameable Defect, and to feel them in a just, i.e. necessary Measure, we approve, as suited to the Nature and Condition of such a Creature as Man. But our Security obtained, to continue to indulge them, we not only disapprove as hurtful, but condemn as unmanly, unbecoming, and mean-spirited: Nor will such a Conduct afford any self-approving Joy, when we coolly reflect upon it.
Why the privateWith regard to the private Passions, such as Love of Life, Pleasure, Ease, and the like, as these aim at private Good, and are necessary to the Perfection and Happiness of the Individual, we should reckon any Creature defective, and even blameable, that was destitute of them. Thus, we condemn the Man who imprudently ruins his Fortune, impairs his Health, or exposes his Life; we not only pity him as an unfortunate Creature, but feel a kind of Moral Indignation and Contempt of him, for having made himself such. On the other hand, though a discreet Self-regard does not attract our Esteem and Veneration, yet we approve of it in some Degree, in an higher and different Degree from what we would regard a well-contrived Machine, as necessary to form a finish’d Creature, nay to complete the virtuous Character, and as exactly suited to our present indigent State. There are some Passions respecting private Good, towards which we feel higher Degrees of Approbation, as the Love of Knowledge, of Action, of Honour, and the like. We esteem them as Marks of an ingenuous Mind, and cannot help thinking the Character in which they are wanting, remarkably stupid, and in some degree immoral.
Why the publicWith regard to the social Affections, as Compassion, natural Affection, Friendship, Benevolence, and the like, we approve, admire, and love them in ourselves, and in all in whom we discover them, with an Esteem and Approbation, if not different in kind, yet surely far superior in degree to what we feel towards the other Passions. These we reckon necessary, just, and excellently fitted to our Structure and State; and the Creature which wants them we call defective, ill constituted, a kind of Abortion. But the public Affections we esteem as self-worthy, originally and eternally amiable. We approve and congratulate ourselves in proportion as we indulge them, and reckon those deserving of our Esteem and Friendship who do so.
Distinction between vehement and calm AffectionsBut among the social Affections, we make an obvious and constant Distinction, viz. between those particular Passions, which urge us with a sudden Violence, and uneasy kind of Sensation, to pursue the Good of their respective Objects, as Pity, natural Affection, and the like; and those calm dispassionate Affections and Desires, which prompt us more steddily and uniformly, to promote the Happiness of others. The former we generally call Passions, to distinguish them from the other Sort, which go more commonly by the Name of Affections, or calm Desires. The first kind we approve indeed and delight in; but we feel still higher Degrees of Approbation and moral Complacence towards the last, and towards all Limitations of the particular Instincts, by the Principle of universal Benevolence. The more Objects the calm Affections take in, and the worthier these are, their Dignity rises in proportion, and with this our Approbation keeps an exact Pace. A Character, on the other hand, which is quite divested of these public Affections, which feels no Love for the Species, but instead of it, entertains Malice, Rancour and Ill-will, we reckon totally immoral and unnatural.
Such then are the Sentiments and Dispositions we feel, when these several Orders of Affections pass before the mental Eye.
Moral ObligationTherefore, “that State in which we feel ourselves moved, in the manner above described, towards those Affections and Passions, as they come under the Mind’s Review, and in which we are instantaneously and independently of our Choice or Volition, prompted to a correspondent Conduct, we call a State of MoralObligation.” Let us suppose, for instance, a Parent, a Friend, a Benefactor, reduced to a Condition of the utmost Indigence and Distress, and that it is in our Power to give them immediate Relief. To what Conduct are we obliged? What Duty does Nature dictate and require in such a Case? Attend to Nature, and Nature will tell, will tell with a Voice irresistibly audible and commanding to the human Heart, with an Authority which no Man can silence without being self-condemned, and which no Man can elude but at his Peril; “That immediate Relief ought to be given.” Again, let a Friend, a Neighbour, or even a Stranger, have lodged a Deposit in our Hands, and after some time reclaim it, no sooner do these Ideas of the Confidence reposed in us, and of Property not transferred, but deposited, occur, than we immediately and unavoidably feel, and recognize the Obligation to restore it. In both these Cases, we should condemn and even loath ourselves, if we acted otherwise, as having done, or omitted doing what we ought not, as having acted beneath the Dignity of our Nature;—contrary to our most intimate Sense of Right and Wrong;—we should accuse ourselves as guilty of Ingratitude, Injustice, and Inhumanity;—and be conscious of deserving the Censure, and therefore dread the Resentment of all rational Beings.—But in complying with the Obligation, we feel Joy and Self-approbation,—are conscious of an inviolable Harmony between our Nature and Duty,—and think ourselves entitled to the Applause of every impartial Spectator of our Conduct.
Moral ObligationTo describe therefore what we cannot perhaps define, a State of MoralObligation, is “that State in which a Creature, endued with such Senses, Powers, and Affections as Man, would condemn himself, and think he deserved the Condemnation of all others, should he refuse to fulfil it; but would approve himself, and expect the Approbation of all others, upon complying with it.”
Moral AgentAnd we call him a MoralAgent, who is in such a State, or is subject to Moral Obligation. Therefore as Man’s Structure and Connections often subject him to such a State of Moral Obligation, we conclude that he is a MoralAgent. But as Man may sometimes act without knowing what he does, as in Cases of Frenzy or Disease, or in many natural Functions; or knowing what he does, he may act without Choice or Affection, as in Cases of Necessity or Compulsion, therefore to denominate an Action Moral,Moral Action good and bad i.e. approveable, or blameable, it must be done knowingly and willingly, or from Affection and Choice. “A morally good Action then is to fulfil a Moral Obligation knowingly and willingly.” And a morally bad Action, or an immoral Action, is “to violate a Moral Obligation knowingly and willingly.” The proposed Brevity of the Enquiry will not admit of entering into the minuter Distinctions of Actions.
Moral Character and Temper good and badAs not an Action, but a Series of Actions constitute a Character; as not an Affection, but a Series of Affections constitute a Temper, and as we denominate things by the gross, a fortiori, or by the Qualities which chiefly prevail in them, therefore we call that a “morally good Character, in which a Series of morally good Actions prevail”; and that a “morally good Temper, in which a Series of morally good Affections have the Ascendant.” A bad Character and bad Temper are the Reverse. But where the above-mentioned Order or Proportion of Passions is maintained, there a Series of morally good Affections and Actions will prevail. Therefore, “to maintain that Order and Proportion, is to have a morally good Temper and Character.” But a “morally good Temper and Character, is MoralRectitude, Integrity, Virtue, or the Completion ofDuty.”
How we come by the Idea of Moral ObligationIf it be asked after all, “How we come by the Idea of Moral Obligation or Duty?” We may answer, that we come by it in the same way as by our other original and primary Perceptions. We receive them all from Nature, or the great Author of Nature. For this Idea of Moral Obligation is not a Creature of the Mind, or dependent on any previous Act of Volition, but arises on certain Occasions, or when certain other Ideas are presented to the Mind, as necessarily, instantaneously, and unavoidably, as Pain does upon too near an Approach to the Fire, or Pleasure from the Fruition of any Good. It does not, for instance, depend on our Choice, whether we shall feel the Obligation to succour a distressed Parent, or to restore a Deposit entrusted to us, when it is recalled. We cannot call this a compound Idea made up of one or more simple Ideas. We may indeed, nay we must, have some Ideas antecedent to it, e.g. that of a Parent—in Distress—of a Child,—able to relieve,—of the Relation of one to the other,—of a Trust,—of Right, &c. But none of these Ideas constitute the Perception of Obligation. This is an Idea quite distinct from, and something superadded to, the Ideas of the Correlatives, or the Relation subsisting between them. These indeed, by a Law of our Nature, are the Occasion of suggesting it, but they are as totally different from it, as Colours are from Sounds. By Sense or Reflection we perceive the Correlatives, our Memory recals the Favours or Deposit we received, the various Circumstances of the Case are Matters of Fact or Experience; but some delicate inward Organ or Power, or call it what we please, does, by a certain instantaneous Sympathy, antecedent to the cool Deductions of Reason, and independent of previous Instruction, Art, or Volition, perceive the Moral Harmony, the living, irresistible Charms of Moral Obligation, which immediately interests the correspondent Passions, and prompts us to fulfil its awful Dictates.
The Use of Reason in Moral CasesWe need not apprehend any Danger from the Quickness of its Decisions, nor be frightened, because it looks like Instinct, and has been called so. Would we approve one for deliberating long, or reasoning the Matter much at leisure, whether he should relieve a distress’d Parent, feed a starving Neighbour, or restore the Trust committed to him? Should we not suspect the Reasoner of Knavery, or of very weak Affections to Virtue? We employ Reason, and worthily employ it in examining the Condition, Relations, and other Circumstances of the Agent or Patient, or of those with whom either of them are connected, or, in other words, the State of the Case: And in complicated Cases, where the Circumstances are many, it may require no small Attention to find the true State of the Case; but when the Relations of the Agent or Patient, and the Circumstances of the Action are obvious, or come out such after a fair Trial, we should scarce approve him who demurs on the Obligation to that Conduct which the Case suggests. Thus, suppose one to deposit with us a Sword, which he comes afterwards to reclaim, but in such Circumstances, suppose of Frenzy or Melancholy, as gives us good ground to suspect that he will use it to the Hurt of others, or of himself. In such a Case it belongs to Reason or Prudence, coolly to weigh every Circumstance, the Condition of the Proprietor, the Consequences of restoring the Deposit, and the like; nor should we on this Supposition, condemn the hesitating about the restoring it; but let the Proprietor return to himself, the Obligation to Restitution being now apparent, we should justly suspect the Demurrer of something criminal or knavish.
Instinct consideredAs to that Objection against this original Perception of Moral Obligation, taken from its being an Instinct or necessary Determination of our Nature; are not the Perceptions or Determinations of Reason equally necessary? Does not every intuitive Perception or Judgment necessarily extort our Assent, when the Agreement or Disagreement of the Ideas which are compared is perceived? Instinct indeed has been considered, as something relative merely to bodily Sense and Appetite, a mere brutal Sensation or Impulse, in which the Mind, or our sublimer Powers have no Part; and therefore it is a Term that has been thought obnoxious to great Exceptions in Morals; but is a moral Power of Perception, or a moral Determination the worse for being interwoven with the very Frame, and Constitution of our Nature, for being instantaneous, uniform and steddy in its Operations or Decision? Why should such a Divine Instinct be thought less rational, less suitable to the Dignity of the Mind, than those intuitive Perceptions which are conversant about abstract Truths, and arise necessarily and instantaneously from the obvious Relations of Things? And if Reason with all its Sagacity may sometimes err, nay often does, why should any other Power of Perception be thought infallible, or be condemned as brutal and irrational if it is not?
Pleasure, not the Idea of ObligationFrom what has been said it is evident, that it is not the Pleasures, or agreeable Sensations which accompany the Exercise of the several Affections, nor those consequent to the Actions that constitute MoralObligation, or excite in us the Idea of it. That Pleasure is posterior to the Idea of Obligation, and frequently we are obliged, and acknowledge ourselves under an Obligation, to such Affections and Actions as are attended with Pain; as in the Trials of Virtue, where we are obliged to sacrifice private to public Good, or a present Pleasure to a future Interest. We have Pleasure in serving an aged Parent, but it is neither the Perception nor Prospect of that Pleasure, which gives us the Idea of Obligation to that Conduct.
Therefore, when we use these Terms, Obligation, Duty, Ought, and the like, they stand for a simple Idea, an original uncompounded Feeling or Perception of the human Mind, as much as any Idea whatsoever, and can no more be defined than any other simple Idea; and this Perception is not a Creature of the Mind, but a Ray emanating directly from the Father of Lights, a fair genuine Stamp of his Hand, who impressed every vital and original Energy on the Mind, or if we chuse rather to say, who ordained those Laws of Perception, by which moral Forms attract and charm us with an irresistible Power.
But because the learned Dexterity of human Wit has so marvellously puzzled a plain and obvious Subject, we shall consider some of those ingenious Theories by which Moralists have deduced and explained Moral Obligation.