« AnteriorContinuar »
matter, both in the one case and the other, in acts of duty as well as acts of prudence, we consider solely what we ourselves shall gain or lose by the act. The difference, and the only difference, is this; that, in the one case, we consider what we shall gain or lose in the present world; in the other case, we
consider also what we shall gain or lose in the world
to COme. They who would establish a system of morality, independent of a future state, must look out for some different idea of moral obligation; unless they can show that virtue conducts the possessor to certain happiness in this life, or to a much greater share of it than he could attain by a different behaviour. To us there are two great questions: I. Will there be after this life any distribution of rewards and punishments at all? II. If there be, what actions will be rewarded, and what will be punished? The first question comprises the credibility of the Christian Religion, together with the presumptive proofs of a future retribution from the light of nature. The second question comprises the province of morality. Both questions are too much for one work. The affirmative therefore of the first, although we confess that it is the foundation upon which the whole fabric rests, must in this treatise be taken for granted.
As the will of God is our rule; to inquire what is our duty, or what we are obliged to do, in any instance, is, in effect, to inquire what is the will of God in that instance? which consequently becomes the whole business of morality.
Now there are two methods of coming at the will of God on any point:
I. By his express declarations, when they are to be had, and which must be sought for in Scripture.
II. By what we can discover of his designs and disposition from his works; or, as we usually call it, the light of nature.
And here we may observe the absurdity of separating natural and revealed religion from each other. The object of both is the same—to discover the will of God;—and, provided we do but discover it, it matters nothing by what means.
An ambassador, judging by what he knows of his sovereign's disposition, and arguing from what he has observed of his conduct, or is acquainted with of his designs, may take his measures in many cases with safety, and presume with great probability how his master would have him act on most occasions that arise: but if he have his commission and instructions in his pocket, it would be strange not to look into them. He will be directed by both rules: when his instructions are clear and positive, there is an end to all further deliberation (unless indeed he suspect their authenticity): where his instructions are silent or dubious, he will endeavour to supply or explain them, by what he has been able to collect from other quarters of his master's general inclination or intentlOnS.
Mr. Hume, in his fourth Appendix to his Principles of Morals, has been pleased to complain of the modern scheme of uniting Ethics with the Christian Theology. They who find themselves disposed to join in this complaint will do well to observe what Mr. Hume himself has been able to make of morality without this union. And for that purpose let them read the second part of the ninth section of the above essay; which part contains the practical application of the whole treatise, a treatise which Mr. Hume declares to be “incomparably the best he ever wrote.” When they have read it over, let them consider, whether any motives there proposed are likely to be found sufficient to withhold men from the gratification of lust, revenge, envy, ambition, avarice; or to prevent the existence of these passions. Unless they rise up from this celebrated essay with stronger impressions
upon their minds than it ever left upon mine, they will
acknowledge the necessity of additional sanctions. But the necessity of these sanctions is not now the question. If they be in fact established, if the rewards and punishments held forth in the gospel will actually come to pass, they must be considered. Such as reject the Christian religion are to make the best shift they can to build up a system, and lay the foundation of morality, without it. But it appears to me a great inconsistency in those who receive Christianity, and expect something to come of it, to endeavour to keep all such expectations out of sight in their reasonings concerning human duty. –7
The method of coming at the will of God, concerning any action, by the light of nature, is to inquire into “the tendency of the action to promote or diminish the general happiness.” This rule proceeds upon the presumption, that God Almighty wills and wishes the happiness of his creatures; and, consequently, that those actions which promote that will and wish must be agreeable to him; and the contrary.
As this presumption is the foundation of our whole system, it becomes necessary to explain the reasons upon which it rests.
WHEN God created the human species, either he
wished their happiness, or he wished their misery, or
he was indifferent and unconcerned about both. If he had wished our misery, he might have made
sure of his purpose, by forming our senses to be so many sores and pains to us, as they are now instruments of gratification and enjoyment: or by placing us amidst objects so ill suited to our perceptions, as to have continually offended us, instead of ministering to our refreshment and delight. He might have made, for example, every thing we tasted bitter; every thing we saw loathsome; every thing we touched a sting; every smell a stench; and every sound a discord. If he had been indifferent about our happiness or misery, we must impute to our good fortune (as all design by this supposition is excluded) both the capacity of our senses to receive pleasure, and the supply of external objects fitted to produce it. But either of these (and still more both of them) being too much to be attributed to accident, nothing remains but the first supposition, that God, when he created the human species, wished their happiness; and made for them. the provision which he has made, with that view, and for that purpose. The same argument may be proposed in different terms, thus: Contrivance proves design; and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer. The world abounds with contrivances; and all the contrivances which we are acquainted with are directed to beneficial purposes. Evil, no doubt, exists; but is never, that we can perceive, the object of contrivance. Teeth are contrived to eat, not to ache; their aching now and then is incidental to the contrivance, perhaps inseparable from it; or even, if you will, let it be called a defect in the contrivance; but it is not the object of it. This is a distinction which well deserves to be attended to. In describing implements of husbandry, you would hardly say of the sickle, that it is made to cut the reaper's fingers, though, from the construction of the instrument, and the manner of using it, this mischief often happens. But if you had occasion to describe instruments of torture or execution. This engine, you would say, is to extend the sinews; this to dislocate the joints; this to break the bones; this to scorch the soles of the feet. Here pain and misery are the very objects of the contrivance. Now, nothing of this sort is to be found in the works of nature. We never discover a train of contrivance to bring about an evil purpose. No anatomist ever discovered a system of organization calculated to produce pain and disease; or, in explaining the parts of the human body, ever said, This is to irritate; this to inflame; this duct is to convey the gravel to the kidneys; this gland to secrete the humour which forms the gout: if by chance he come at a part of which he knows not the use, the most he can say is, that it is useless; no one ever suspects that it is put there to incommode, to annoy, or to torment. Since then God hath called forth his consummate wisdom to contrive and provide for our happiness, and the world appears to have been constituted with this design at first; so long as this constitution is upholden by him, we must in reason suppose the same design to continue. The contemplation of universal nature rather bewilders the mind than affects it. There is always a bright spot 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 toge-A ther. I seem, for my own part, to see the benevolence of the Deity more clearly in the pleasures of very young children, than in anything in the world. The t 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 sensible