« AnteriorContinuar »
The contemplation of universal nature rather bewilders the mind than affects it. There is always a bright ipot in the prospect, upon which the eye rests; a single example, perhaps, by which each man finds himself more convinced than by all others put together. I seem, for my own part, to see the benevolence of the Deity more clearly in the pleasures of very young children, than in any thing in the world. The pleasures of grown persons may be reckoned partly of their own procuring ; especially if there has been any industry, or contrivance, or pursuit, to come at them; or if they are founded, like music, painting, &c. upon any qualification of their own acquiring. But the pleasures of a healthy infant are so manifestly provided for it by another, and the benevolence of the provision is so unquestionable, that every child I see at its sport affords to my mind a kind of senfible evidence of the finger of God, and of the disposition which directs it.
But the example, which strikes each man most strongly, is the true example for him; and hardly two minds hit upon the same; which shews the abundance of such examples about
We conclude therefore, that God wills and
wishes the happiness of his creatures. And this conclusion being once established, we are at liberty to go on with the rule built upon it, namely, “ that the method of coming at the “ will of God, concerning any action, by the “ light of nature, is, to inquire into the ten" dency of that action to promote or diminish “ the general happiness."
CH A P. VI.
Co then actions are to be estimated by their
tendency. * Whatever is expedient is right. It is the utility of any moral rule alone which constitutes the obligation of it.
* Actions in the abstract are right or wrong, according to their tendency; the agent is virtuous or vicious, according to his design. Thus, if the question be, Whether relieving common beggars be right or wrong? we inquire into the tendency of such a conduct to the public advantage or inconvenience. If the question be, Whether a man, remarkable for this sort of bounty, is to be esteemed virtuous for that reason? we inquire into his design, whether his liberality sprung from charity or from oftentation. It is evident that our con. cern is with actions in the abstract.
But to all this there seems a plain objection, viz. that many actions are useful, which no man in his senses will allow to be right. There are occasions, in which the hand of the assassin would be very useful. The present possessor of some great estate employs his influence and fortune, to annoy, corrupt, or oppress all about him. His estate would devolve, by his death, to a successor of an opposite character. It is useful, therefore, to dispatch such a one as soon as possible out of the way; as the neighbourhood will exchange thereby a pernicious tyrant for a wise and generous benefactor. It may be useful to rob a miser, and give the money to the poor; as the money, no doubt, would produce more happiness, by being laid out in food and clothing for half a dozen distressed families, than by continuing locked up in a miser's chest. It may be useful to get possession of a place, a piece of preferment, or of a seat in parliament, by bribery or false swearing; as by means of them we may serve the public more effectually than in our private station. What then shall we say? Must we admit these actions to be right, which would be to justify affaffination, plunder, and perjury; or must we give up our principle, that the criterion of right is utility?
It is not necessary to do either.
The true answer is this; that these actions, after all, are not useful, and for that reason, and that alone, are not right.
To see this point perfectly, it must be observed, that the bad consequences of actions are twofold, particular and general.
The particular bad consequence of an action, is the mischief which that single action directly and immediately occasions.
The general bad consequence is, the violation of some necessary or useful general rule.
Thus the particular bad consequence of the affaffination above described, is the fright and pain which the deceased underwent; the lofs he fuffered of life, which is as valuable to a bad man, as to a good one, or more so; the prejudice and affliction, of which his death was the occasion, to his family, frier.ds, and dependants. thority.
The general bad consequence is the violation of this necessary general rule, that no man be put to death for his crimes, but by public authority.
Although, therefore, such an action have no particular bad consequence, or greater particular good consequences, yet it is not useful, by reason of the general consequence, which is of
more importance, and which is evil. And the fame of the other two instances, and of a million more, which might be mentioned.
But as this solution supposes, that the moral government of the world must proceed by general rules, it remains that we shew the necessity of this.
CHA P. VII.
THE NECESSITY OF GENERAL RULES.
V OU cannot permit one action and forbid
1 another, without shewing a difference between them. Consequently, the same sort of actions must be generally permitted or generally forbidden. Where, therefore, the general permiffion of them would be pernicious, it becomes necessary to lay down and support the rule which generally forbids them.
Thus, to return once more to the case of the assassin. The affassin knocked the rich villain on the head, because he thought him better out of the way than in it. If you allow this excuse in the present instance, you must allow it