Front Page Titles (by Subject) section ii: Of Man's Duty to Himself. Of the Nature of Good, and the Chief Good - The Elements of Moral Philosophy
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section ii: Of Man’s Duty to Himself. Of the Nature of Good, and the Chief Good - 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).
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Of Man’s Duty to Himself. Of the Nature of Good, and the Chief Good
Divisions of GoodEvery Creature, by the Constitution of his Nature, is determined to love himself, to pursue whatever tends to his Preservation and Happiness, and to avoid whatever tends to his Hurt and Misery. Being endued with Sense and Perception, he must necessarily receive Pleasure from some Objects, and Pain from others. Those Objects which give Pleasure are called good, and those which give Pain, evil. To the former he feels that Attraction or Motion we call Desire, or Love: to the latter that Impulse we call Aversion, or Hatred. To Objects which suggest neither Pleasure nor Pain, and are apprehended of no Use to procure one, or ward off the other, we feel neither Desire nor Aversion, and such Objects are called indifferent. Those Objects which do not of themselves procure Pleasure or Pain, but are the Means of procuring either, we call useful or noxious. Towards them we are affected in a subordinate manner, or with an indirect or reflective, rather than a direct and immediate Affection. All the original and particular Affections of our Nature, lead us out to, and ultimately rest in, the first kind of Objects, viz. those which give immediate Pleasure, and which we therefore call good, directly so. The calm Affection of Self-love alone is conversant about such Objects as are only consequentially good, or merely useful to ourselves.
Moral GoodBut besides those Sorts of Objects which we call good, merely and solely as they give Pleasure, or are Means of procuring it, there is an higher and nobler Species of Good, towards which we feel that peculiar Movement we call Approbation, or Moral Complacency, and which we therefore denominate Moral Good. Such are our Affections, and the consequent Actions to them. The Perception of this is, as has been already observed, quite distinct in kind from the Perception of the other Species; and though it may be connected with Pleasure or Advantage, by the benevolent Constitution of Nature, yet it constitutes a Good independent of that Pleasure and that Advantage, and far superior not in Degree only, but in Dignity to both. The other, viz. the Natural Good, consists in obtaining those Pleasures which are adapted to the peculiar Senses and Passions susceptible of them, and is as various as are those Senses and Passions. This, viz. the Moral Good, lies in the right Conduct of the several Senses and Passions, or their just Proportion and Accommodation to their respective Objects and Relations; and this is of a more simple and invariable kind.
Human HappinessBy our several Senses we are capable of a great Variety of pleasing Sensations. These constitute distinct Ends, or Objects ultimately pursuable for their own Sake. To these Ends, or ultimate Objects, correspond peculiar Appetites or Affections, which prompt the Mind to pursue them. When these are attained, there it rests and looks no farther. Whatever therefore is pursuable, not on its own Account, but as subservient or necessary to the Attainment of something else that is intrinsically valuable or for its own Sake, be that Value ever so great, or ever so small, we call a Mean, and not an End. So that Ends, and not Means, constitute the Materials, or the very Essence of our Happiness. Consequently Happiness, i.e. human Happiness, cannot be one simple uniform Thing, in Creatures constituted as we are, with such various Senses of Pleasure, or such different Capacities of Enjoyment. Now the same Principle, or Law of our Nature, which determines us to pursue any one End, or Species of Good, prompts us to pursue every other End, or Species of Good, of which we are susceptible, or to which our Maker has adapted an original Propension. But amidst the great Multiplicity of Ends or Goods, which form the various Ingredients of our Happiness, we perceive an evident Gradation or Subordination, suited to that Gradation of Senses, Powers, and Passions, which prevails in our mixed and various Constitution, and to that ascending Series of Connections, which open upon us in the different Stages of our progressive State.
Gradation of GoodsThus the Goods of the Body, or of the external Senses, seem to hold the lowest Rank in this Gradation or Scale of Goods. These we have in common with the Brutes; and tho’ many Men are brutish enough to pursue the Goods of the Body with a more than brutal Fury; yet when at any time they come in Competition with Goods of an higher Order, the unanimous Verdict of Mankind, by giving the last the Preference, condemns the first to the meanest Place. Goods consisting in exterior social Connections, as Fame, Fortune, Power, Civil Authority, seem to succeed next, and are chiefly valuable as the Means of procuring natural or moral Good, but principally the latter. Goods of the Intellect are still superior, as Taste, Knowledge, Memory, Judgment, &c. The highest are moral Goods of the Mind, directly and ultimately regarding ourselves, as Command of the Appetites and Passions, Prudence, Fortitude, Benevolence, &c. These are the great Objects of our Pursuit, and the principal Ingredients of our Happiness. Let us consider each of them, as they rise one above the other in this natural Series or Scale, and touch briefly on our Obligations to pursue them.
The Brevity of this Work will not permit us minutely to weigh the real or comparative Moment of the different kinds of Goods, which offer themselves to the Mind, or to scrutinize the particular Pleasures of which we are susceptible, either as to Intenseness or Duration, and the Enjoyment of which depends on Accidents rather than our Attention and Industry. We shall therefore confine ourselves to the Consideration of such Goods as lie properly within our own Sphere, and being the Objects of our Attention and Care, fall within the Verge of Duty.
Goods of the BodyThose of the Body are Health, Strength, Agility, Hardiness, and Patience of Change, Neatness, and Decency.
Good HealthGood Health, and a regular easy Flow of Spirits, are in themselves sweet natural Enjoyments, a great Fund of Pleasure, and indeed the proper Seasoning which gives a Flavour and Poignancy to every other Pleasure. The Want of Health unfits us for most Duties of Life, and is especially an Enemy to the social and human Affections, as it generally renders the unhappy Sufferer peevish and sullen, disgusted at the Allotments of Providence, and consequently apt to entertain suspicious and gloomy Sentiments of its Author. It obstructs the free Exercise and full Improvement of our Reason, makes us a Burthen to our Friends, and useless to Society. Whereas the uninterrupted Enjoyment of good Health, is a constant Source of good Humour, and good Humour is a great Friend to Openness and Benignity of Heart, enables us to encounter the various Ills and Disappointments of Life with more Courage, or to sustain them with more Patience; and, in short, conduces much, if we are otherwise duly qualified, to our acting our Part, in every Exigency of Life, with more Firmness, Consistency, and Dignity. Therefore, it imports us much to preserve and improve an Habit or Enjoyment, without which every other external Entertainment is tasteless, and most other Advantages of little Avail.How preserved And this is best done by a strict Temperance in Diet and Regimen, by regular Exercise, and by keeping the Mind serene and unruffled by violent Passions, and unsubdued by intense and constant Labours, which greatly impair and gradually destroy, the strongest Constitutions.
Strength, Agility, &c.Strength, Agility, Hardiness, and Patience of Change, suppose Health, and are unattainable without it; but they imply something more, and are necessary to guard it, to give us the perfect Use of Life and Limbs, and to secure us against many otherwise unavoidable Ills. The Exercise of the necessary manual, and of most of the elegant, Arts of Life, depends on Strength and Agility of Body; personal Dangers, private and public Dangers, the Demands of our Friends, our Families, and Country, require them; they are necessary in War, and ornamental in Peace; fit for the Employments of a Country and a Town Life, and they exalt the Entertainments and Diversions of both.How attained They are chiefly obtained by moderate and regular Exercise.
Patience of ChangeFew are so much raised above Want and Dependence, or so exempted from Business and Care, as not to be often exposed to Inequalities and Changes of Diet, Exercise, Air, Climate, and other Irregularities. Now what can be so effectual to secure one against the Mischiefs arising from such unavoidable Alterations, as Hardiness and a certain Versatility of Constitution, which can bear extraordinary Labours, and submit to great Changes, without any sensible Uneasiness or bad Consequences.How attained This is best attained, not by an over-great Delicacy and minute Attention to Forms, or by an invariable Regularity in Diet, Hours, and Way of Living, but rather by a bold and discreet Latitude of Regimen. Besides, Deviations from established Rules and Forms of Living, if kept within the Bounds of Sobriety and Reason, are friendly to Thought and original Sentiment, animate the dull Scene of ordinary Life and Business, and agreeably stir the Passions, which stagnate or breed ill Humour in the Calms of Life.
Neatness, Decency, &c.Neatness, Cleanliness, and Decency, to which we may add Dignity of Countenance, and Demeanour, seem to have something refined and moral in them. At least we generally esteem them Indications of an orderly, genteel, and well-governed Mind, conscious of inward Worth, or the Respect due to one’s Nature. Whereas Nastiness, Slovenliness, Aukwardness, and Indecency, are shrewd Symptoms of something mean, careless, and deficient, and betray a Mind untaught, illiberal, unconscious of what is due to one’s self or to others. How much Cleanliness conduces to Health needs hardly be mentioned; and how necessary it is to maintain one’s Character and Rank in Life, and to render us agreeable to others as well as to ourselves, is as evident.—There are certain Motions, Airs and Gestures, which become the human Countenance and Form, in which we perceive a Comeliness, Openness, Simplicity, Gracefulness; and there are others, which, to our Sense of Decorum, appear uncomely, affected, disingenuous, and aukward, quite unsuitable to the native Dignity of our Face and Form. The first are in themselves the most easy, natural, and commodious, give one Boldness and Presence of Mind, a modest Assurance, an Address both awful and alluring, they bespeak Candour and Greatness of Mind, raise the most agreeable Prejudices in one’s Favour, render Society engaging, command Respect, and often Love, and give Weight and Authority both in Conversation and Business; in fine, they are the Colouring of Virtue, which shews it to the greatest Advantage in whomsoever it is; and not only imitate, but in some measure supply it where it is wanting. Whereas the last, viz. Rudeness, Affectation, Indecorum, and the like, have all the contrary Effects; they are burthensome to one’s self, a Dishonour to our Nature, and a Nusance in Society.How attained The former Qualities or Goods are best attained by a liberal Education, by preserving a just Sense of the Dignity of our Nature, by keeping the best and politest Company, but above all, by acquiring those virtuous and ennobling Habits of Mind, which are Decency in Perfection, which will give an Air of unaffected Grandeur, and spread a Lustre truly engaging over the whole Form and Deportment.
Goods of exterior social ConnectionsWe are next to consider those Goods which consist in exterior social Connections, as Fame, Fortune, Civil Authority, Power.
FameThe first has a twofold Aspect, as a Good, pleasant in itself, or gratifying to an original Passion, and then as expedient or useful towards a farther End. Honour from the Wise and Good, on Account of a virtuous Conduct, is regaling to a good Man; for then his Heart re-echoes to the grateful Sound. There are few quite indifferent, even to the Commendation of the Vulgar. Tho’ we cannot approve that Conduct which proceeds entirely from this Principle, and not from good Affection or Love of the Conduct itself, yet as it is often a Guard and additional Motive to Virtue in Creatures, imperfect as we are, and often distracted by interfering Passions, it might be dangerous to suppress it altogether, however wise it may be to restrain it within due Bounds, and however laudable to use it only as a Scaffolding to our Virtue, which may be taken down when that glorious Structure is finished, but hardly till then. To pursue Fame for itself, is innocent; to regard it only as an Auxiliary to Virtue, is noble; to seek it chiefly as an Engine of public Usefulness, is still more noble, and highly praise-worthy. For tho’ the Opinion and Breath of Men are transparent and fading Things, often obtained without Merit, and lost without Cause; yet, as our Business is with Men, and as our Capacity of serving them is generally increased in proportion to their Esteem of us, therefore sound and well-established moral Applause may, and will be modestly, not ostentatiously sought after by the Good; not indeed as a solitary refined Sort of Luxury, but as a public and proper Instrument to serve and bless Mankind. At the same time they will learn to despise that Reputation which is founded on Rank, Fortune, and any other Circumstances or Accomplishments that are foreign to real Merit, or to useful Services done to others, and think that Praise of little avail which is purchased without Desert, and bestowed without Judgment.
Fortune, Power, &c.Fortune, Power, and Civil Authority, or whatever is called Influence and Weight among Mankind, are Goods of the second Division, that is, valuable or pursuable only as they are useful, or as Means to a farther End, viz. the procuring or preserving the immediate Objects of Enjoyment or Happiness to ourselves or others. Therefore to love such Goods on their own Account, and to pursue them as Ends, not the Means of Enjoyment, must be highly preposterous and absurd. There can be no Measure, no Limit to such Pursuit; all must be Whim, Caprice, Extravagance. Accordingly such Appetites, unlike all the natural ones, are increased by Possession, and whetted by Enjoyment. They are always precarious, and never without Fears, because the Object lies without one’s self; they are seldom without Sorrow and Vexation, because no Accession of Wealth or Power can satisfy them. But if those Goods are considered only as the Materials or Means of private or public Happiness, then the same Obligations which bind us to pursue the latter, bind us likewise to pursue the former.How far pursuable We may, and no doubt we ought, to seek such a Measure of Wealth as is necessary to supply all our real Wants, to raise us above servile Dependence, and to provide us with such Conveniences as are suited to our Rank and Condition in Life. To be regardless of this Measure of Wealth, is to expose ourselves to all the Temptations of Poverty and Corruption, to forfeit our natural Independency and Freedom, to degrade, and consequently to render the Rank we hold, and the Character we sustain in Society, useless, if not contemptible. When these important Ends are secured, we ought not to murmur or repine that we possess no more; yet we are not secluded by any Obligation, moral or divine, from seeking more, in order to give us that happiest and most god-like of all Powers, the Power of doing Good. A supine Indolence in this respect is both absurd and criminal; absurd, as it robs us of an inexhausted Fund of the most refined and durable Enjoyments; and criminal, as it renders us so far useless to the Society to which we belong.Avarice “That Pursuit of Wealth which goes beyond the former End, viz. the obtaining the Necessaries, or such Conveniencies of Life, as, in the Estimation of Reason, not of Vanity or Passion, are suited to our Rank and Condition, and yet is not directed to the latter, viz. the doing Good, is what we call Avarice.” And “that Pursuit of Power,Ambition which, after securing one’s self, i.e. attained the proper Independence and Liberty of a rational social Creature, is not directed to the Good of others, is what we call Ambition, or the Lust of Power.” To what Extent the strict Measures of Virtue will allow us to pursue either Wealth, or Power, and Civil Authority, is not perhaps possible precisely to determine. That must be left to Prudence, and the peculiar Character, Condition, and other Circumstances of each Man. Only thus far a Limit may be set, that the Pursuit of either must encroach upon no other Duty or Obligation which we owe to ourselves, to Society, or to its Parent and Head. The same Reasoning is to be applied to Power as to Wealth. It is only valuable as an Instrument of our own Security, and of the free Enjoyment of those original Goods it may, and often does, administer to us, and as an Engine of more extensive Happiness to our Friends, our Country, and Mankind. In this Degree it may, and unless a greater Good forbids it, ought to be sought after; and when it is either offered to us, or may be obtained, consistently with a good Conscience, it would be criminal to decline it, and a selfish Indolence to neglect the necessary Means of acquiring it.
How Fame and Power are attainedNow the best, and indeed the only Way to obtain a solid and lasting Fame, is an uniform inflexible Course of Virtue, the employing one’s Ability and Wealth in supplying the Wants, and using one’s Power in promoting or securing the Happiness, the Rights and Liberties of Mankind, joined to an universal Affability and Politeness of Manners. And surely one will not mistake the Matter much, who thinks the same Course conducive to the acquiring greater Accessions both of Wealth and Power; especially if he adds to those Qualifications a vigorous Industry, a constant Attention to the Characters and Wants of Men, to the Conjunctures of Times, and continually varying Genius of Affairs, and a steddy intrepid Honesty, that will neither yield to the Allurements, nor be over-awed with the Terrors of that corrupt and corrupting Scene in which we live. We have sometimes heard indeed of other Ways and Means, as Fraud, Dissimulation, Servility, and Prostitution, and the like ignoble Arts, by which the Men of the World (as they are called, shrewd Politicians, and Men of Address!) amass Wealth, and procure Power: but as we want rather to form a Man of Virtue, an honest, contented, happy Man, we leave to the Men of the World their own Ways, and permit them, unenvied, and unimitated by us, to reap the Fruit of their Doings.
Goods of the IntellectThe next Species of Objects in the Scale of Good, are the Goods of the Intellect, as Knowledge, Memory, Judgment, Taste, Sagacity, Docility, and whatever else we call intellectual Virtues. Let us consider them a little, and the Means as well as Obligations to improve them.
Their MomentAs Man is a rational Creature, capable of knowing the Differences of Things and Actions;—as he not only sees and feels what is present, but remembers what is past, and often foresees what is future;—as he advances, from small Beginnings, by slow Degrees, and with much Labour and Difficulty, to Knowledge and Experience:—as his Opinions sway his Passions,—as Passions influence his Conduct,—and as his Conduct draws Consequences after it, which extend, not only to the present, but to the future Time, and therefore is the principal Source of his Happiness or Misery, it is evident, that he is formed for intellectual Improvements, and that it must be of the utmost Consequence for him to improve and cultivate his intellectual Powers, on which those Opinions, those Passions, and that Conduct depend.*
The Pleasures they giveBut besides the future Consequences and Moment of improving our intellectual Powers, their immediate Exercise on their proper Objects yields the most rational and refined Pleasures. Knowledge and a right Taste in the Arts of Imitation and Design, as Poetry, Painting, Sculpture, Music, Architecture, afford not only an innocent, but a most sensible and sublime Entertainment. By these the Understanding is instructed in ancient and modern Life, the History of Men and Things, the Energies and Effects of the Passions, the Consequences of Virtue and Vice; by these the Imagination is at once entertained and nourished with the Beauties of Nature and Art, lighted up and spread out with the Novelty, Grandeur, and Harmony of the Universe; and in fine, the Passions are agreeably rouzed, and suitably engaged with the greatest and most interesting Objects that can fill the human Mind. He who has a Taste formed to these ingenious Delights, and Plenty of Materials to gratify it, can never want the most agreeable Exercise and Entertainment, nor once have reason to make that fashionable Complaint of the Tediousness of Time. Nor can he want a proper Subject for the Discipline and Improvement of his Heart. For being daily conversant with Beauty, Order, and Design,Knowledge and Taste in inferior Subjects, he bids fair for growing, in due Time, an Admirer of what is fair and well-proportioned in the Conduct of Life, and the Order of Society, which is only Order and Design exerted in their highest Subjects. He will learn to transfer the Numbers of Poetry to the Harmony of the Mind, and of well-governed Passions; and from admiring the Virtues of others in moral Paintings, come to approve and imitate them himself. Therefore to cultivate a true and correct Taste, must be both our Interest and our Duty, when the Circumstances of our Station give Leisure and Opportunity for it, and when the doing it is not inconsistent with our higher Obligations or Engagements to Society and Mankind.
How attainedIt is best attained by reading the best Books, where good Sense has more the Ascendant than Learning, and which retain more to Practice than to Speculation; by studying the best Models, i.e. those which profess to imitate Nature most, and approach the nearest to it, and by conversing with Men of the most refined Taste, and the greatest Experience in Life.
Moment of intellectual GoodsAs to the other intellectual Goods, what a Fund of Entertainment must it be to investigate the Truth and various Relations of Things, to trace the Operations of Nature to general Laws, to explain by these its manifold Phaenomena, to understand that Order by which the Universe is upheld, and that Oeconomy by which it is governed; to be acquainted with the human Mind, the Connections, Subordinations, and Uses of its Powers, and to mark their Energy in Life! How agreeable to the ingenious Enquirer, to observe the manifold Relations and Combinations of individual Minds in Society, to discern the Causes why they flourish or decay, and from thence to ascend, through the vast Scale of Beings, to that general Mind which presides over all, and operates unseen in every System, and in every Age, through the whole Compass and Progression of Nature! Devoted to such Entertainments as these, the Contemplative have abandoned every other Pleasure, retired from the Body, so to speak, and sequester’d themselves from social Intercourse; for these the Busy have often preferred to the Hurry and Din of Life, the calm Retreats of Contemplation; for these, when once they come to taste them, even the Gay and Voluptuous have thrown up the lawless Pursuits of Sense and Appetite, and acknowledged these mental Enjoyments to be the most refined, and indeed the only Luxury. Besides, by a just and large Knowledge of Nature, we recognize the Perfections of its Author; and thus Piety, and all those pious Affections which depend on just Sentiments of his Character, are awakened and confirmed; and a thousand superstitious Fears, that arise from partial Views of his Nature and Works, will of course be excluded. An extensive Prospect of human Life, and of the Periods and Revolutions of human Things, will conduce much to the giving a certain Greatness of Mind, and a noble Contempt of those little Competitions about Power, Honour, and Wealth, which disturb and divide the Bulk of Mankind; and to promote a calm Indurance of those Inconveniencies and Ills that are the common Appendages of Humanity. Add to all, that a just Knowledge of human Nature, and of those Hinges upon which the Business and Fortunes of Men turn, will prevent our thinking either too highly, or too meanly of our Fellow-Creatures, give no small Scope to the Exercise of Friendship, Confidence, and Good-will, and, at the same time, brace the Mind with a proper Caution and Distrust, those Nerves of Prudence, and give a greater Mastery in the Conduct of private as well as public Life. Therefore, by cultivating our Intellectual Abilities, we shall best promote and secure our Interest, and be qualified for acting our Part in Society with more Honour to ourselves, as well as Advantage to Mankind. Consequently to improve them to the utmost of our Power is our Duty; they are Talents committed to us by the Almighty Head of Society, and we are accountable to him for the use of them. But be it remembered withal, that how engaging soever the Muses and Graces are, they are chiefly valuable, as they are Handmaids to usher in and set off the Moral Virtues, from whose Service if they are ever divorced, they become Retainers to the meaner Passions, Panders to Vice, and convert Men (if we may use the Expression) into a refined Sort of Savages.
How attainedThe Intellectual Virtues are best improved by accurate and impartial Observation, extensive Reading, and unconfined Converse with Men of all Characters, especially with Those who, to private Study, have joined the widest Acquaintance with the World, and greatest Practice in Affairs; but above all, by being much in the World, and having large Dealings with Mankind. Such Opportunities contribute much to divest one of Prejudices and a servile Attachment to crude Systems, to open one’s Views, and to give that Experience on which the most useful, because the most practical, Knowledge is built, and from which the surest Maxims for the Conduct of Life are deduced.
Moral GoodsThe highest Goods which enter into the Composition of Human Happiness are Moral Goods of the Mind, directly and ultimately regarding ourselves: as Command of the Appetites and Passions, Prudence and Caution, Magnanimity, Fortitude, Humility, Love of Virtue, Love of God, Resignation, and the like. These sublime Goods are Goods by way of Eminence, Goods recommended and enforced by the most intimate and awful Sense and Consciousness of our Nature; Goods that constitute the Quintessence, the very Temper of Happiness, that Form and Complexion of Soul which renders us approveable and lovely in the Sight of God; Goods, in fine, which are the Elements of all our future Perfection and Felicity.
Their MomentMost of the other Goods we have considered depend partly on ourselves, and partly on Accidents which we can neither foresee nor prevent, and result from Causes which we cannot influence or alter. They are such Goods as we may possess to-day and lose to-morrow, and which require a Felicity of Constitution, and Talents to attain them in full Vigour and Perfection, and a Felicity of Conjunctures to secure the Possession of them. Therefore did our Happiness depend altogether or chiefly on such transitory and precarious Possessions, it were itself most precarious, and the highest Folly to be anxious about it.—But though Creatures, constituted as we are, cannot be indifferent about such Goods, and must suffer in some degree, and consequently have our Happiness incomplete without them, yet they weigh but little in the Scale, when compared with Moral Goods. By the benevolent Constitution of our Nature these are placed within the Sphere of our Activity, so that no Man can be destitute of them unless he is first wanting to himself. Some of the wisest and best of Mankind have wanted most of the former Goods, and all the external kind, and felt most of the opposite Ills, such at least as arise from without; yet by possessing the latter, viz. the Moral Goods, have declared they were happy, and to the Conviction of the most impartial Observers have appeared happy. The worst of Men have been surrounded with every outward Good and Advantage of Fortune, and have possessed great Parts; yet, for want of Moral Rectitude, have been, and have confessed themselves, notoriously and exquisitely miserable. The Exercise of Virtue has supported its Votaries, and made them exult in the midst of Tortures almost intolerable; nay, how often has some false Form or Shadow of it sustained even the greatest Villains* and Bigots under the same Pressures! But no external Goods, no Goods of Fortune have been able to alleviate the Agonies, or expel the Fears of a guilty Mind, conscious of the deserved Hatred and Reproach of Mankind, and the just Displeasure of Almighty God. The other Senses and Capacities of Enjoyment are gratified when they obtain their respective Objects, and the Happiness of the corresponding Passions depends on their Success in their several Pursuits. Thus the Love of Honour, of Pleasure, of Power, and the like, are satisfied only when they obtain the desired Honour, Pleasure, or Power: when they fail of attaining these, they are disappointed, and Disappointment gives Disgust. But Moral Good is of so singular and sublime a Nature, that when the Mind is in pursuit of it, though it should prove unsuccessful in its Aims, it can rest in the Conduct without repining, without being dejected at the ill Success; nay, the Pleasure attending the Consciousness of upright Aims and generous Efforts absorbs the Disappointment, and makes inferior Ends disappear as of no amount in the great Aggregate or Surplusage of Good that remains. So that though Human Happiness, in the present State, consists of many separate and little Rivulets, which must often be left dry in the perpetual Flux and Reflux of Human Things, yet the main Stream, with which those lesser ones do generally communicate, flows from within, from the Heart of Man, and, if this be sound and clear, rolls on through Life with a strong and equal Current. Yet as many small Articles make up a pretty large Sum, and as those inferior Goods which enter into the Account, Health, Fame, Fortune, and the like, are often, even after our utmost Care, unattainable, or at least precarious, it is evidently of the utmost Consequence to be prepared against the Want or Loss of them, by having our Desires moderate, and our Passions under due Command. And let it be remembered, that it is not only of great Importance to our Ease and Security against Ill, but one of the highest Improvements of Virtue, to contemn those Things, the Contempt of which is truly great and heroic, and to place our Happiness chiefly in those virtuous Exercises and Affections which arise from a pure and well-disposed Mind; an Happiness which no Condition of Life can exclude, no Change of Fortune interrupt or destroy. This will arm and fortify the Mind against the Want of those inferior Goods, and against those Pains which result to the Generality of Mankind from the contrary Evils.
The mixed Condition of Human Life requires particular VirtuesAs the present Condition of Human Life is wonderfully chequered with Good and Ill, and as no Height of Station, no Affluence of Fortune, can absolutely insure the Good, or secure against the Ill, it is evident that a great Part of the Comfort and Serenity of Life must lie in having our Minds duly affected with regard to both, i.e. rightly attempered to the Loss of one and the Sufferance of the other. For it is certain that outward Calamities derive their chief Malignity and Pressure from the inward Dispositions with which we receive them. By managing these right, we may greatly abate that Malignity and Pressure, and consequently diminish the Number, and weaken the Moment of the Ills of Life, if we should not have it in our Power to obtain a large Share of its Goods. There are particularly three Virtues which go to the forming this right Temper towards Ill, and which are of singular Efficacy, if not totally to remove, yet wonderfully to alleviate the Calamities of Life. These are Fortitude, or Patience, Humility, and Resignation. Let us consider them a little, and the Effects they produce.
FortitudeFortitude is that calm and steddy Habit of Mind, which either moderates our Fears, and enables us bravely to encounter the Prospect of Ill, or renders the Mind serene and invincible under its immediate Pressure. It lies equally distant from Rashness and Cowardice, and though it does not hinder us from feeling, yet prevents our complaining or shrinking under the Stroke. It always includes a generous Contempt of, or at least a noble Superiority to, those precarious Goods of which we can insure neither the Possession nor Continuance. The Man therefore who possesses this Virtue in this ample Sense of it, stands upon an Eminence, and sees human Things below him; the Tempest indeed may reach him, but he stands secure and collected against it upon the Basis of conscious Virtue, which the severest Storms can seldom shake, and never overthrow.
HumilityHumility is another Virtue of high Rank and Dignity, though often mistaken by proud Mortals for Meanness and Pusillanimity. It is opposed to Pride, which commonly includes in it a false or over-rated Estimation of our own Merit, an Ascription of it to ourselves as its only and original Cause, an undue Comparison of ourselves with others, and, in consequence of that supposed Superiority, an arrogant Preference of ourselves, and a supercilious Contempt of them. Humility, on the other hand, seems to denote that modest and ingenuous Temper of Mind, which arises from a just and equal Estimate of our own Advantages compared with those of others, and from a Sense of our deriving all originally from the Author of our Being. Its ordinary Attendants are Mildness, a gentle Forbearance, and an easy unassuming Humanity with regard to the Imperfections and Faults of others; Virtues rare indeed, but of the fairest Complexion, the proper Offspring of so lovely a Parent, the best Ornaments of such imperfect Creatures as we are, precious in the Sight of God, and which sweetly allure the Hearts of Men.—This Virtue was not altogether unknown to the more sober Moralists among the Ancients, who place Submissio Animi among the Train of Virtues; but it is taught in its highest Perfection, and enforced by the greatest Examples, and the strongest Motives, in the Christian Religion, which recommends and exalts this, as well as every other Moral and Divine Virtue, beyond every other System of Religion and Philosophy that ever appeared in the World; and teaches us throughout the whole of it, to refer every Virtue, and every Endowment, to their original Source, the Father of Lights, from whom descends every good and perfect Gift. Humility is a Virtue which highly adorns the Character in which it resides, and sets off every other Virtue; it is an admirable Ingredient of a contented Mind, and an excellent Security against many of those Ills in Life which are most sensibly felt by People of a delicate Nature. To be persuaded of this, we need only remember how many of our Uneasinesses arise from the Mortifications of our Pride—how almost every Ill we suffer, and all the Opposition we meet with, is aggravated and sharpened by the Reflection on our imaginary Merit, or how little we deserved those Ills, and how much we were entitled to the opposite Goods. Whereas, a sober Sense of what we are, and whose we are, and a Consciousness how far short our Virtue is of that Standard of Perfection to which we ought to aspire, will blunt the Edge of Injuries and Affronts, and make us sit down contented with our Share of the Goods, and easy under the Ills of Life, which this quick-sighted, unassuming Virtue will teach us often to trace to our own Misconduct, and consequently to interpret as the just and wholesome Correction of Heaven.
ResignationResignation is that mild and heroic Temper of Mind, which arises from a Sense of an infinitely wise and good Providence, and enables one to acquiesce, with a cordial Affection, in its just Appointments. This Virtue has something very peculiar in its Nature, and sublime in its Efficacy. For it teaches us to bear Ill not only with Patience and as being unavoidable, but it transforms, as it were, Ill into Good, by leading us to consider it, and every Event that has the least Appearance of Ill, as a Divine Dispensation, a wise and benevolent Temperament of Things, subservient to universal Good, and, of course, including that of every Individual, especially of such as calmly stoop to it. In this Light, the Administration itself, nay, every Act of it, becomes an Object of Affection, the Evil disappears, or is converted into a Balm which both heals and nourishes the Mind. For, though the first expected Access of Ill may surprize the Soul into Grief, yet that Grief, when the Mind calmly reviews its Object, changes into Contentment, and is by degrees exalted into Veneration and a divine Composure. Our private Will is lost in that of the Almighty, and our Security against any real Ill rests on the same Bottom as the Throne of him who lives and reigns for ever. He, therefore, who is provided with such Armour, taken, if we may say so, from the Armory of Heaven, may be proof against the sharpest Arrows of Fortune, and defy the Impotence of human Malice; and though he cannot be secure against those Ills which are the ordinary Appendages of Man’s Lot, yet may possess that quiet contented Mind which takes off their Pungency, and is next to an Exemption from them. But we can only touch on these Things; a fuller Detail of our Obligations to cultivate and pursue these Moral Goods of the Mind, and the best Method of doing it, must be reserved to another and more proper Place.
Chief Good Objective and FormalBefore we finish this Section, it may be fit to observe, that as the Deity is the supreme and inexhausted Source of Good, on whom the Happiness of the whole Creation depends; as he is the Object in Nature, and the only Object who is fully proportioned to the Intellectual and Moral Powers of the Mind, in whom they ultimately rest and find their most perfect Exercise and Completion, he is therefore termed the chiefGood of Man, objectively considered. And Virtue, or the proportioned and vigorous Exercise of the several Powers and Affections on their respective Objects, as above described, is, in the Schools, termed the chiefGood, formally considered, or its formal Idea, being the inward Temper and native Constitution of Human Happiness.
From the Detail we have gone thro’, the following Corollaries may be deduced.
CorollariesFirst, It is evident that the Happiness of such a Progressive Creature as Man can never be at a stand, or continue a fixed invariable Thing. His finite Nature, let it rise ever so high, admits still higher Degrees of Improvement and Perfection. And his Progression in Improvement, or Virtue, always makes way for a Progression in Happiness. So that no possible Point can be assigned in any Period of his Existence in which he is perfectly happy, that is, so happy as to exclude higher Degrees of Happiness. All his Perfection is only comparative. 2. It appears that many Things must conspire to complete the Happiness of so various a Creature as Man, subject to so many Wants, and susceptible of such different Pleasures. 3. As his Capacities of Pleasure cannot be all gratified at the same time, and must often interfere with each other in such a precarious and fleeting State as Human Life, or be frequently disappointed, perfect Happiness, i.e. the undisturbed Enjoyment of the several Pleasures of which we are capable, is unattainable in our present State. 4. That State is most to be sought after, in which the fewest Competitions and Disappointments can happen, which least of all impairs any Sense of Pleasure, and opens an inexhausted Source of the most refined and lasting Enjoyments. 5. That State which is attended with all those Advantages, is a State or Course of Virtue. 6. Therefore, a State of Virtue, in which the Moral Goods of the Mind are attained, is the HappiestState.
[*] Vid Philos. Sinic. Confuc. Lib. I. §. 3, 4, &c. [Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, sive Scientia sinensis latine exposita. Studio & opera Prosperi Intorcetta, Christiani Herdtrich, Francisci Rougemont, Philippi Couplet… . (Paris: Daniel Horthemels, 1687). This volume of Confucius’s sayings, along with additional material, was edited and authored by four Jesuit priests and was the primary source of information about Confucian thought in eighteenth-century Europe.]
[*] As Ravilliac, who assassinated Henry the Fourth of France; and Balthasar Geraerd, who murdered William the First Prince of Orange. [The assassinations committed by François Ravaillac (1578–1610) and Balthazar Gerard (1557–84) were religiously motivated, in each case a Catholic assassin killing a royal who was sympathetic to Protestant interests.]