« ZurückWeiter »
tainly it is not in those countries alone, but in countries also where even a perfect rule of conduct is known and admitted, that we find evil perpetrated in the name of good, or even without this excuse. Ingratitude is no very rare phenomenon in society, pagan or christian; but where was it ever contended that ingratitude was a virtue? or that children ought not, as a general duty, to honour their parents? The want of a due sense of religious obligation is surely not uncommon among men; but in what community was it denied that reverence was due to acknowledged deity, believed to take cognizance of human affairs? What moralist ever condemned the principles of generous forgiveness exercised towards a personal enemy, or inculcated private revenge as a virtue? Where did benevolence and cruelty, as such, change places, or stand on an equal footing of indifference in the moral estimation of mankind? Awful as are the perversions of elementary moral principle and the examples of degeneracy which are to be found in the moral history of our race, it would not, perhaps, be a difficult task, in all cases of moral agency, to detect an original element, often deeply disguised, and strangely warped from its destined purpose, but still in itself good, or at least not evil. A convex mirror grotesquely distorts and caricatures the features, but we can still discern the traces of nature. Appetites and passions, and self-interest, may, we know, outrage all morality: but this does not prove that appetites and passions, and a rational selflove, are not original parts of the human constitution; or that there is no inward principle whose proper office it is to testisfy against crime and to reward virtue. It only proves that, by some disorder and derangement in the action of the moral powers, the inferior impulses have gained the ascendancy, which we are too aware may take place even where reason and conscience are informed by revelation—where christianity is perpetually pointing to duty, and lifting her voice against evil. The dormant testimony of the inner man to virtue, is often revived even in the most unfavourable circumstances. We learn from christian missionaries that even pagans may be induced, by reasoning with them, to admit the evil of the most flagrant disorders of appetite and passion, and of the more deliberate courses of conduct which, in the form of superstition, are opposed to objective morality. Before we deny that there remain in man the elementary principles of a natural morality, we must take into the account the morbid growth of these organic elements, besides the revolt of the will against reason and conscience. If the Hindoo mother sacrifices her infant to the god of the Ganges, what do we here see but a melancholy perversion of the sentiment of religion? We have an example in the VOL. XVII. R. B.
Mosaic history of a divine command overcoming the parental instinct, and all previous moral considerations, in the case of Abraham, who in consequence prepared to sacrifice his son; and we shall not be misunderstood to palliate infanticide in admitting the fact that superstition may produce the same outward action as a genuine call of religious. duty, intended as a trial of faith. Locke speaks of a practice, in some countries, of putting to death children who have lost their mothers, or who are pronounced by the astrologer to have unhappy stars:’ but may we not discern in cases of this kind a sentiment, however spurious, of benevolence? If we are compelled, in some of the examples adduced by the above distinguished writer, granting their authenticity, to admit the operation of a gross selfishness, as in the case of the neglect of aged and infirm parents; we may again remark that it will hardly be denied that examples of intense selfishness, amounting almost to the extinction of natural affection, might be found where the written law of christianity is known. That a theoretical agreement among mankind as to the prime elements of morality may be detected in a final analysis of the principles on which men everywhere admit they ought to govern their conduct, we have no doubt, however passion, self-interest, evil custom, superstition, or the like, may often give a wrong direction to these elements, overpower their force, or even appear to destroy them. The existing low moral condition of pagans, is no more incompatible with a moral constitution in man which, if properly heeded, would lead to virtue, than the existing moral evils in christian countries are incompatible with a knowledge of the letter of the Christian law of duty; and that they are not incompatible with such knowledge is only too evident a fact. It may further be remarked that the ‘law written on the heart’ is the criterion by which we judge of one most important portion of the general evidences of christianity, namely the internal. For why do we feel that the precepts of the New Testament, its laws of supreme love to God, love to our neighbour as ourselves, doing to others as we would they should do to us, the forgiveness of injuries, benevolence to all, and the like, recommend themselves to our consciences, but because they harmonize with this very law there written—because, however conscience may be benumbed, perverted, or enchained, the utterances of pure moral truth and beauty are no sooner made decidedly to arrest the attention of the mind, than conscience is felt to give them a distinct echo and response from her inmost and apparently most obstructed recesses? If we could for a moment suppose that our sacred books inculcated, as duties, what we now regard as breaches of morality, or declared that the Deity was a being whose moral attributes were injustice, falsehood, impurity, and malignity, instead of justice, truth, holiness, and benevolence, no reflective person could receive the testimony, any more than the most thoughtful men of classic antiquity really believed all the legends of the gods. The very constitution of our nature would as effectually prevent our recognizing such a communication as worthy of respect and belief, as though it contained a geometry which set out with a denial of those axioms, or primary and common notions, which are presupposed in all demonstration; or as though it propounded a sceptical metaphysics which should demy the objective reality of the ‘me,” or our conviction of the universality and necessity of causation wherever there is change in the natural world. As, then, there is a constitution of the human frame which is the foundation of physiology, or the doctrine of the normal functions, animal and organic, notwithstanding all the morbid changes and deviations which take place in disease; so there is a constitution of man’s moral nature which is the foundation of a natural ethics, or the doctrine of the normal functions of that nature, notwithstanding man's departure from the line of rectitude. That the cases are not strictly parallel we admit. Ill health may be only temporary to the individual, and is always partial in the race; while the fact of man's departure from the rule of right has been universal, in all ages and nations. Reason and conscience are always liable to be more or less blinded and perverted by the morbid condition of the will, in the abnormal exercise of which lies the essence of moral obliquity: and besides; there are duties dependent on revelation which reason never could discover in detail. We are not, however, contending that nature is, or can be, a complete and perfect guide. But to deny that the general elements of true ethical science may be gathered from the mind and the relations of man—the elements of a theory much superior to the average practical morality of mankind, is to overlook the fact that Socrates ever taught, or that Plato, and Aristotle, and Confucius, and Cicero, ever wrote. On the other hand, the abuse of natural ethics, wherever christianity is known, is to treat it as a complete and final science, instead of regarding it merely as a fragment of a great whole, corroborative, so far as it extends, of christianity, which adds authority to the voice within the breast, and alone can solve the still higher problems relating to man's destiny—those problems on which natural ethics, and natural theism, have either been dumb, or sceptical, or fabulous. Then only is an inductive philosophy of ethics legitimate, when it professes to be what it is, or what it ought to be ; namely, an attempt to ascertain how far a system of moral principles and rules may be framed from a careful inquiry into the constitution and faculties of man, the various relations he sustains, and the actual moral phenomena which he exhibits. It must come forth with the express warning that it is not to be regarded as a substitute for revelation, but as only preliminary to it: so that where matural ethics leave off as insufficient, there Christianity enters her own more peculiar province. We have already suggested that a natural system of moral philosophy can present no points which are really at variance with the representations of Christianity. There is also another criterion which may be applied à priori as a test of the possible truth of any system; namely, its consistency with the fundamental idea of ethics, the idea of a law of obligation. For instance; a necessity that precludes the power of forming resolves, destroys the essential subjective preliminary to such a law; for by shutting out human freedom it renders obedience and disobedience equally impossible. Thus Anthony Collins maintained that man is in such a sense a necessary agent, that there neither is nor can be such a thing as liberty. On this principle, of course, there could be neither virtue nor vice. The Pantheistic system, also, is inconsistent with ethics, by denying the personality of moral agents. According to Spinoza, man is only a mode of the development of Deity. Our souls are forms of divine thought, our bodies of divine extension. Pantheism sees in man only a phenomenon, not a reality; the only reality is God, the one sole being, the one sole cause. Man has no causation; his acts are not his own; they are the acts of the One-All. Man is thus deprived of his individuality, and therefore of his capacity of sustaining the character of a moral being. The sceptical philosophy, too, from its birth in Greece to the modern Pyrrhonism of Hume, is only consistent when it boldly denies all moral distinctions. This necessarily follows from the assertion, common to Carneades, Sextus Empiricus, and the whole school, that every thing is mere appearance, and nothing can be known as truth: an assertion respecting which Kant has acutely remarked, that it assumes both a distinction between mere appearance and real truth, and some mark of that distinction; consequently it presupposes some knowledge of truth, and thus contradicts itself. It is evident that, on the principles of philosophical scepticism, there can be no certain ethics; and, therefore, no definite moral obligation. Again; wide as was the chasm between scepticism and mysticism, when swarms of the population of Egypt retired to the deserts of the Thebais to be wrapped in contemplation, and when the sublime truths of christianity were blended with the wild vagaries of theurgy, and the perfection of man was deemed to consist in a kind of slumber of the spirit, in which it dreamed, but did not act, a state of passive ecstatic reverie, in which it was lost to all converse with the affairs of men, and was entranced in an ideal world, where all activity of every kind, bodily and mental, was alien from the grand object of being absorbed in the unseen : the tendency of this mysticism was evidently to weaken and at last to confound those moral distinctions which an active engagement in the duties of life tends so much to keep before the view of the mind. Hence the mystic Piotinus boldly denied the difference of actions, and asserted that there was neither good nor evil. If the above systems preclude, a priori, in different ways, the operation of a law of obligation, there are others which virtually deny it. Such are all the systems of self-interest, of which, among the ancients, Epicurus, and in modern times, Hobbes, may be regarded as the leading representatives. For if selfinterest is the only law and guide of man, there is no room for the ordinary ideas of right and duty; all is determined by a calculation of which self is at once the spring and the object: the pursuit of personal well-being, either as aimed at immediately, or as seen to mix itself up with the well-being of society, is the principle of morality. In this eudemonism, disinterested motive is lost sight of; duty and self-interest are synonymous terms. The modern form of the ancient system of Epicurus may be found in the theory of Paley: also in the utilitarianism of Bentham; who, however, as a jurist, rendered great service to society by applying the principles of utility to legislation, a far more legitimate sphere for them than the sphere of morals. The same general theory of ethics is maintained, in its strongest form, by an able recent writer, Mr. Mill; who states that the utility of an action and its morality are two names for the same thing, and that motives have no moral character. Other systems recognize the fact of disinterested motives; but differ widely from each other, both as to the objectivity of virtue, and the subjective faculty by which it is distinguished. Some find virtue solely in the constitution of the human mind; while others recognize an absolute objective rectitude, distinct from the benefit which good actions produce, and distinct from the faculties of man; a good founded in the eternal nature of things. Each of these two classes of moral systems also differ among themselves as to the nature of the moral faculty. Some represent the actual distinction between right and wrong as a matter of sentiment or feeling, in the form either of an instinctive impulse, an inward kind of sense or tact, or a susceptibility of emotion. Others refer the distinction to the operation of Judgment or reason. To the school of sentiment belong, with various modifications,