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particular conduct to be beneficial to ourselves, « or observed that it would be so, a sentiment
of approbation rises up in our minds, which “ sentiment afterwards accompanies the idea or “ mention of the same conduct, although the “ private advantage which first excited it no “ longer exist."
And this continuance of the passion, after the reason of it has ceased, is nothing more, say they, than what happens in other cases; especially in the love of money, which is in no person so eager, as it is oftentimes found to be in a rich old miser, without family to provide for, or friend to oblige by it, and to whom consequently it is no longer (and he may be fensible of it too) of any real use or value: yet is this man as much overjoyed with gain, and mortified by losses, as he was the first day he opened his shop, and when his very subsistence depended upon his success in it. · By these means the custom of approving certain actions commenced; and when once such a custom hath got footing in the world, it is no difficult thing to explain how it is tranfmitted and continued; for then the greatest part of those who approve of virtue, approve of it from authority, by imitation, and from a habit of ap
proving such and such actions, inculcated in early youth, and receiving, as men grow up, continual accessions of strength and vigour, from censure and encouragement, from the books they read, the conversations they hear, the current application of epithets, the general turn of language, and the various other causes, by which it universally comes to pass, that a fociety of men, touched in the feeblest degree with the same paffion, soon communicate to one another a great, degree of it.* This is the case with most of us at present; and is the cause also, that the process of asociation, described in the last paragraph but one, is little now either perceived or wanted.
Amongst the causes assigned for the continuance and diffusion of the fame moral sentiments
* « From instances of popular tumults, seditions, factions, « panics, and of all passions, which are shared with a multi« tude, we may learn the influence of society, in exciting « and supporting any emotion; while the most ungovernable « disorders are raised, we find, by that means, from the « fightest and most frivolous occasions. He must be more or « less than man, who kindles not in the common blaze. " What wonder then, that moral sentiments are found of « such influence in life, though springing from principles, « which may appear, at first sight, somewhat small and de« licate?"
Hume's Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals,
amongst mankind, we have mentioned imitations
Another considerable objeâion to the system of moral instincts is this, that there are no maxims in the science, which can well be deemed innate, as none perhaps can be assigned, which are absolutely and universally true; in other words, which do not bend to circumstances. Veracity, which seems, if any be, a natural duty, is excused in many cases towards an enemy, a thief, or a madınan. The obligation of promises, which is a first principle in morality, de
. pends upon the circumstances under which they were made: they may have been unlawful, or become so fince, or inconsistent with former promises, or erroneous, or extorted; under all which cases, instances may be suggested, where the obligation to perform the promise would be very dubious, and so of most other general rules, when they come to be actually applied.
An argument has been also proposed on the fame side of the question of this kind. Together with the instinct, there must have been implanted, it is said, a clear and precise idea of the object upon which it was to attach. The instinct and the idea of the object are inseparable even in imagination, and as necessarily accompany each other as any correlative ideas whatever : that is, in plainer terms, if we be prompted by nature to the approbation of particular actions, we must have received also from nature a distinct conception of the action we are thus prompted to approve ; which we certainly have not received.
But as this argument bears alike against all instincts, and against their existence in brutes as well as in men, it will hardly, I suppose, produce conviction, though it may be difficult to find an answer to it. : VOL. 1.
C . Upon
Upon the whole, it seems to me, either that there exist no such instincts as compose what is called the moral sense, or that they are not now to be distinguished from prejudices and habits; on which account they cannot be depended upon in moral reasoning : I mean that it is not a safe way of arguing, to assume certain principles as so many dictates, impulses, and instin&ts of nature, and then to draw conclusions from these principles, as to the rectitude or wrongness of actions, independent of the tendency of such actions, or of any other confideration whatever.
Aristotle lays down, as a fundamental and self-evident maxim, that nature intended barbarians to be slaves; and proceeds to deduce from this maxim a train of conclusions, calculated to justify the policy which then prevailed. And I question whether the same maxim be not still self-evident to the company of merchants trading to the coast of Africa.
Nothing is fo foon made as a maxim; and it appears from the example of Aristotle, that authority and convenience, education, prejudice, and general practice, have no small share in the making of them; and that the laws of custom are very apt to be mistaken for the order of na