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· THE QUESTION, WHY AM I OBLIGED TO KEEP
MY WORD? CONSIDERED.
W HY am I obliged to keep my word ?
Because it is right, says one. Because it is agreeable to the fitness of things, says another.Because it is conformable to reafon and nature, fays a third.—Because it is conformable to truth, says a fourth. --Because it promotes the public good, says a fifth.—Because it is required by the will of God, concludes a sixth.
Upon which different accounts, two things are observable :
FIRST, that they all ultimately coincide.
The fitness of things, means their fitness to produce happiness: the nature of things, means that actual constitution of the world, by which some things, as such and such actions, for example, produce happiness, and others misery : reason is the principle, by which we discover or judge of this constitution : truth is this judgment expressed or drawn out into propofitions. So that it necessarily comes to pass, that what promotes the public happiness, or happiness upon the whole, is agreeable to the fitness of things, to nature, to reason, and to truth; and such (as will appear by and by) is the divine character, that what promotes the general happiness is required by the will of God; and what has all the above properties must needs be right; for right means no more than conformity to the rule we go by, whatever that rule be.
And this is the reason that moralists, from whatever different principles they set out, commonly meet in their conclusions ; that is, they enjoin the same conduct, prescribe the same rules of duty, and, with a few exceptions, deE 4
liver upon dubious cases the same determinations.
Secondly, it is to be observed, that these answers all leave the matter short; for the inquirer may turn round upon his teacher with a second question, in which he will expect to be satisfied, namely, why am I obliged to do what is right; to act agreeably to the fitness of things; to conform to reason, nature, or truth; to promote the public good, or to obey the will of God?
The proper method of conducting the inquiry is, First, to examine what we mean, when we say a man is obliged to do any thing, and THEN to shew why he is obliged to do the thing which we have proposed as an example, namely, “ to “ keep his word.”
CH A P.
CHA P. II.
WHAT WE MEAN WHEN WE SAY A MAN IS
OBLIGED TO DO A THING.
A MAN is said to be obliged, “ when he is 11“ urged by a violent motive resulting from “ the command of another.”
I. “ The motive must be violent.” If a perfon, who has done me some little service, or has a small place in his disposal, ask me upon some occasion for my vote, I may possibly give it him, from a motive of gratitude or expectation ; but I should hardly say, that I was obliged to give it him, because the inducement does not rise high enough. Whereas, if a father or a master, any great benefactor, or one on whom my fortune depends, require my vote, I give it him of course; and my answer to all who ask me why I voted so and so, is, that my father or my master obliged me; that I had received so many favours from, or had so great a dependence upon such a
one, that I was obliged to vote as he directed me.
SECONDLY, “ It must result from the com6 mand of another.” Offer a man a gratuity for doing any thing, for seizing, for example, an offender, he is not obliged by your offer to do it; nor would he say he is ; though he may be induced, persuaded, prevailed upon, tempted. If a magistrate, or the man's immediate superior command it, he considers himself as obliged to comply, though possibly he would lose less by a refusal in this case, than in the former.
I will not undertake to say that the words obligation and obliged are used uniformly in this sense, or always with this distinction; nor is it possible to tie down popular phrases to any constant signification : but, wherever the motive is violent enough, and coupled with the idea of command, authority, law, or the will of a superior, there, I take it, we always reckon ourselves to be obliged.
And from this account of obligation it follows, that we can be obliged to nothing, but what we ourselves are to gain or lose something by ; for nothing else can be a “ violent motive” to us. As we should not be obliged to obey the laws, or the magistrate, unless rewards or punish