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every allowance have been made for the errors of observation
- of the instruments — and of the various other circumstances connected therewith, which, however, can never be exactly ascertained. In chemistry, medicine, and some other sciences, no primary laws have yet been determined : these may, therefore, be considered as experimental rather than positive sciences, and so far liable to all the uncertainty usually attendant on the process of experiment. Science, therefore, as well as morality, when reduced to practice, can claim nothing better to recommend it than a high degree of probability; but to this we are bound to give our assent, not because the result is absolutely, but physically, certain ; just as in morality, not because the result we may have obtained is demonstrably, but morally, true.
Let us now offer a few remarks on that which has been sometimes termed the science of sciences; namely, metaphysics, for by this religious and moral truth is sometimes judged. Here, then, the mode of inquiry usually resorted to, consists of a comparison and induction of particulars carried on through the medium of words, from which results are obtained that may
not be within the reach of experiment. Of those which are within the reach of experiment or experience (which is here the same thing), little doubt, perhaps, will be entertained as to their truth or falsehood ; and so far we shall always have sufficient grounds for knowing, whether they ought to be received or rejected : but when we rise to speculations involving the character of the Deity, the nature and destinies of the human soul, and the like, all of which will admit of no corrections from experiment, the utmost we can arrive at must be, probabilities far inferior to those arrived at by the application of the sciences, or even to those moral results which admit of correction by experience. For this obvious reason—those notions, which are not obtained immediately through the senses (which, indeed, present the most perfect means of knowledge within our reach), but are acquired by induction carried on through mediums of the steadiness of which there may be reason to doubt, or in the application of which we may often err, can never give their possessor an assurance that he has arrived at the truth, to such a degree, at least, as to be applicable to the purposes of further
ratiocination and inquiry. In every case, then, I think it will be allowed, that all the probability which is really due to such results ought to be ascribed to them, and no more; rising, it may be, from the lowest to the highest, just as the errors likely to attend the process can be cleared away or not; and allowing to the highest our belief, which it will truly deserve, and to the lowest, so much of our assent as will not be likely to involve the loss of some real good.
A man may, however, refuse his assent to every proposition not capable of demonstration; and such anomalies are sometimes to be met with, notwithstanding the fact, that no such capability exists except in the pure mathematics; and the additional one, that every day's life of such individual will virtually prove that he holds no such thing. Others again may be simple enough to believe every thing, however improbable, absurd, or even impossible; and some of this class too, are occasionally to be met with in the vast variety about us. I will only affirm bere, however, what I believe every one will allow to be just, that neither of these characters can be said to be reasonable ; but, that the truly rational man is to be found at the greatest distance from these extremes.
ON THE REASONABLENESS OF THE DOCTRINES, &c. PROPOSED IN
Having stated, then, what we mean when we speak of morality, -of science, pure or mixed, and the right use of reason; we may now proceed with our examination of the book supposed at our outset to have been discovered.
Now I think it may be granted, that if such book has been found, it ought to submit to an investigation as to the question, whether it really is, or is not, the book which it professes to be,-a book containing matter of the highest importance to man. I say, we ought to have good reason for believing that this is not, like many other such claims made, an imposition calculated rather to do mischief than good ; and whether it is not, in the very first step it takes, advancing a falsehood, in order to secure its admission among us. Some will say, perhaps, that this will be allowing human reason too much,—that it will be erecting it into a tribunal on what may turn out to be the word of God; and eventually to advance the wisdom of the creature at the expense of that of the Creator. My answer is, I believe not. We are justified in going so far only as human reason, rightly applied, will carry us; and this, not for the purpose of condemning statements, which such book may contain, and which may have been unknown to us before, but only to ascertain whether, as far as we have knowledge mathematical, physical, or moral, such work does, or does not, contain the useful and highly important matter to which it lays claim. On the supposition, indeed, of such book containing information with which we were not previously acquainted, we may perhaps affirm, that this will constitute no inconsiderable reason for making the proposed inquiry : because in this case, as indeed in every other for which inquiries are usually undertaken and carried on, our stock of knowledge may be greatly augmented. The novelty of the matter, therefore, which may thus be presented to us, will be so far from forming any reason why we should forbear, that it will, on the contrary, constitute a very cogent one for proceeding with our proposed investigation.
I shall now suppose our inquiry commenced, and that we have ascertained the fact, that our book professes to contain one of the simplest, purest, best-supported, and most authoritative systems of morality the world has ever seen ; recommended too, not only because it is good, but because both present and eternal felicity are affirmed to be the undoubted consequence; and urging accordingly, that every sacrifice, even that of life itself if necessary, be made in order to comply with the precept, and for the purpose of securing the end proposed.
A question will now very naturally arise, as to how far the writers of such a work could be authorised, in making these declarations so positively. Supposing they had no other means of information than those which we possess, it may truly be affirmed, that they must have been arrant impostors. No man living, we know, has information suf. ficient to speak thus positively on points so far removed
from human experience. It may be said, indeed, that. something like the matter thus proposed is probable, but nothing more can ; and the consequence must be, that if these writers offer their instruction, on grounds no better than conjecture, morality, or even metaphysics, the whole ought to be branded as a forgery: because we know that neither the one nor the other can arrive at any such results; and, as for the other sciences, they are conversant about no such things. Besides, how good soever the morality recommended may be, it will be a very bad recommendation to it to be ushered into the world with the stamp of imposture upon its face.
Upon a little inquiry, however, we shall find that a higher claim is actually made; and further, that it is most clearly stated, that man as such, has not the means of knowing these things. So far, then, there is no mistake or falsehood discoverable as to the grounds on which these truths, if in reality they are such, are proposed and recommended. Let us now advert to a few other particulars offered on the same grounds, then inquire into their reasonableness; and lastly, investigate the grounds themselves on which these are proposed.
In addition, then, to the morality and the rewards and punishments annexed to it, found in the Scriptures already noticed, we are informed, that God created all things visible and invisible; and that man, which is the only rational agent known to us, is likewise the work of his hands ;--- that this rational being was, indeed, once placed in a state liable to none of the difficulties to which he is now exposed, but that, in consequence of an act of disobedience, no matter what that was, he was thus reduced. It goes on to tell us, that he is in reality much worse in practice than in knowledge, and in no respect fit to stand in the presence of his maker.
It should seem from these statements, that whatever be the authority on which they are made, they do not appear to be put forth for the mere purpose of obtaining currency in the world. Men, whatever else they are, (and they have some truly noble qualities), are not generally pleased with dissertations against the human intellect, or the merit to be attached to human virtue ; nor are they very suddenly led to adopt notions tending to make them less pleased with themselves than it is natural for them to be. To the relation, indeed, that God made the world, and placed man in a state of greater general comfort than he is now found, nothing perhaps very strong can be objected; though many questions may be started of which our Book says nothing. Whether, for example, any other creation took place before this; or whether any and what worlds, had actually been created before, or were then brought into being ?-Whether any and what rational beings, similar, superior, or inferior to ourselves, were then, or at any other time, likewise created ?-And lastly, if there be another state of existence, where that will be found, and what will be the precise nature of those who will be placed in it? It may be answered, once for all, that no such questions as these are decided, discussed, or even hinted at : the end had in view seems to have been, at once to afford the most useful information, and to give weight to the precepts delivered, for the purpose, as it should seem, of insuring compliance, and which, it is positively declared, have been revealed for the good of man. That other worlds may have been formed, and other beings created, ages before this state of things had an existence, is probable enough; and that others may still be going on, is neither unreasonable nor repugnant to this Book : but, as it offers nothing whatever on these subjects, nothing can be said either for or against it on their account. To the existence of other rational beings, indeed, it occasionally refers; but here it affords us no curious particulars as to their origin, characters, or end; and, as there appears to be nothing in all this repugnant to our reason, we must refer its credibility solely to the question of authority, which will hereafter be considered.
Having stated, then, that man is a very imperfect creature, liable to much mistake, error, and sin, (which, indeed, experience abundantly assures us is the fact), our Book goes on to tell us, that God who takes cognizance of this, and considers it as transgression against his law, has, nevertheless, from the merciful and gracious character which he sustains, proposed a means, by which he will extend a full pardon to the offender, freely adopt him as one of his own family and children, and finally bring him into a better state of existence : by which seems to be meant, that he will act towards such an one as a father, and not as a judge— that he will provide