« AnteriorContinuar »
prohibiting and punishing an action (and this reason may be called the guilt of the action, if you please) will always be in proportion to the whole mischief that would arise from the general impunity and toleration of actions of the same sort.
“Whatever is expedient is right.” But then it must be expedient on the whole, at the long run, in all its effects collateral and remote, as well as in those which are immediate and direct; as it is obvious, that, in computing consequences, it makes no difference in what way or at what distance they ensue.
To impress this doctrine on the minds of young readers, and to teach them to extend their views beyond the immediate mischief of a crime, I shall here subjoin a string of instances, in which the particular consequences is comparatively insignificant; and where the malignity of the crime, and the severity with which human laws pursue it, is almost entirely founded upon the general consequence.
The particular consequence of coining is the loss of a guinea or of half a guinea to the person who receives the counterfeit money : the general consequence (by which I mean the consequence that would ensue, if the same practice were generally permitted) is to abolish the use of money.
The particular consequence of forgery is a damage of twenty or thirty pounds to the man who accepts the forged bill: the general consequence is the stoppage of paper currency.
The particular consequence of sheep-stealing or horse-stealing is a loss to the owner, to the amount of the value of the sheep or horse stolen : the general consequence is that the land could not be occupied, nor the market supplied with this kind of stock.
The particular consequence of breaking into a house empty of inhabitants is the loss of a pair of silver candlesticks or a few spoons: the general consequence is that nobody could leave their house empty.
The particular consequence of smuggling may be a deduction from the national fund too minute for computation : the general consequence is the destruction of one entire branch of public revenue; a proportionable increase of the burden upon other branchés ; and the ruin of all fair and open trade in the article smuggled.
The particular consequence of an officer's breaking his parole is the loss of a prisoner, who was possibly not worth keeping: the general consequence is that this mitigation of captivity would be refused to all others.
And what proves incontestably the superior impor-, tance of general consequences is that crimes are the same, and treated in the same manner, though the particular consequence be very different. The crime and fate of the house-breaker is the same, whether his booty be five pounds or fifty. And the reason is. that the general consequence is the same. .
The want of this distinction between particular and general consequences, or rather, the not sufficiently attending to the latter, is the cause of that perplexity which we meet with in ancient moralists. On the one hand, they were sensible of the absurdity of pronouncing actions good or evil, without regard to the good or evil they produced. On the other hand, they were startled at the conclusion to which a steady adherence to consequences seemed sometimes to conduct them. To relieve this difficulty they contrived the rò perov, or the honestum, by which terms they meant to constitute a measure of right, distinct from utility. Whilst the utile served them, that is, whilst it corresponded with their habitual notions of the rectitude of actions, they went by it. When they fell in with such cases as those mentioned in the sixth chapter, they took leave of their guide, and resorted to the honestum. The only account they could give of the matter was, that these actions might be useful; but, because they were not at the same
time honesta, they were by no means to be deemed just or right.
From the principles delivered in this and the two preceding chapters, a maxim may be explained, which is in every man's mouth, and in most men's without meaning, viz. “ not to do evil, that good may come;" that is, let us not violate a general rule for the sake of any particular good consequence we may expect: which is for the most part a salutary caution, the advantage seldom compensating for the violation of the rule. Strictly speaking, that cannot be “evil” from which “good comes ;" but in this way, and with a view to the distinction between particular and general consequences, it may.
We will conclude this subject of consequences with the following reflection. ' A man may imagine, that any action of his, with respect to the public, must be inconsiderable: so also is the agent. If his crime produce but a small effect upon the universal interest, his punishment or destruction bears a small proportion to the sum of happiness and misery in the creation.
OF RIGHT. Right and obligation are reciprocal; that is, whereever there is a right in one person, there is a corresponding obligation upon others. If one man has a
right” to an estate; others are “obliged” to abstain from it:--If parents have a “right” to reverence from their children; children are “ obliged” to reverence their parents ;-and so in all other instances.
Now, because moral obligation depends, as we have seen, upon the will of God; right, which is correlative to it, must depend upon the same. Right therefore signifies consistency with the will of God.
But if the Divine will determine the distinction of right and wrong, what else is it but an identical proposition, to say of God, that he acts right? or how is it possible to conceive even that he should act wrong? Yet these assertions are intelligible and significant. The case is this : By virtue of the two principles, that God wills the happiness of his creatures, and that the will of God is the measure of right and wrong, we arrive at certain conclusions; which conclusions become rules; and we soon learn to pronounce actions right or wrong, according as they agree or disagree with our rules, without looking any further : and when the habit is once established of stopping at the rules, we can go back and compare with these rules even the Divine conduct itself; and yet it may be true (only not observed by us at the time) that the rules themselves are deduced from the Diyine will.
Right is a quality of persons or of actions.
Of persons; as when we say, such a one has a “ right” to this estate; parents have a “right” to reverence from their children; the king to allegiance from his subjects; masters have a “ right” to their servants' labour; a man has not a “right" over his own life.
Of actions; as in such expressions as the following: it is “ right” to punish murder with death; his behaviour on that occasion was "right;" it is not"right" to send an unfortunate debtor to gaol; he did or acted “right,” who gave up his place, rather than vote against his judgment.
In this latter set of expressions, you may substitute the definition of right above given for the term itself; e. g. it is “ consistent with the will of God” to punish murder with death ;-his behaviour on that occasion was “consistent with the will of God;"--it is not “ consistent with the will of God" to send an unfortunate debtor to gaol;—he did, or acted, “ consistently with the will of God," who gave up his place rather than vote against his judgment.
In the former set, you must vary the construction a little, when you introduce the definition instead of the terni. Such a one has a “right" to this estate; that is, it is " consistent with the will of God” that such a one should have it ;—parents have a “right to reverence from their children; that is, it is “ consistent with the will of God” that children should reverence their parents ;—and the same of the rest.
THE DIVISION OF RIGHTS.
Natural or adventitious :
Perfect or imperfect.
Natural rights are such as would belong to a man, although there subsisted in the world no civil government whatever.
Adventitious rights are such as would not.
Natural rights are a man's right to his life, limbs, and liberty; his right to the produce of his personal labour; to the use, in common with others, of air, light, water. If a thousand different persons, from a thousand different corners of the world, were cast together upon a desert island, they would from the • first be every one entitled to these rights.
Adventitious rights are the right of a king over his subjects; of a general over his soldiers ; of a judge over the life and liberty of a prisoner; a right to elect or appoint magistrates, to impose taxes, decide disputes, direct the descent or disposition of property ; a right, in a word, in any one man, or particular body of men, to make laws and regulations for the rest. For none of these rights would exist in the newly inhabited island.
And here it will be asked, how adventitious rights