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tions which arise from our consideration of the conduct of others. It is to these emotions that we must look for our primary notions of virtue.”
If we rightly understand these and other remarks of the author on the subject of conscience, he is of opinion that its emotions cannot give us ideas of good and evil, unless in so far as these emotions are dependent on our moral ideas already formed by contemplating the conduct of others. Our spontaneous moral approbation and disapprobation of the actions of our fellow-beings give us primary notions of right and wrong; but we never could, by any possibility, have these notions in connexion with any feeling of self-approbation or self-condemnation, unless we had first obtained them from the above source. Now on this principle, it would follow that a solitary human being, whatever intelligence he might possess, could never, by means of his own moral nature, acquire the notion of moral obligation. This is certainly opposed to the general opinion of ethical writers: who have considered one department of morals to be the relation of man to himself, from which they deduce rules of personal morality, such as would belong to one shut up in a desert island. Those who doubt that there is such a branch of natural ethics, should read the writings of Epictetus, or Marcus Aurelius. A human being supposed to be situated as described, would, moreover, sustain relations to his Maker, which would not be altered by the fact of his isolated existence; and which, it is not difficult to suppose, might be perceived without the contingent that there should be more than one human being. If the conception of certain actions as belonging to another, gives rise to approving or condemning emotions in us, what reason is there why the conception of actions as our own, should not be followed by self-approving or self-condemning emotions? Otherwise, if we imagine a perfect creature alone in the creation, and intelligently adoring his Creator, we must conclude that he could feel no such consciousness of doing right as should encourage him to continue in this his path of duty.
On the subject of natural ethics, we are glad to find that Mr. Spalding dissents from the opinion that the introduction of moral evil into the world has affected the intellectual powers and the moral constitution of man, to an extent which renders almost useless any attempt to discover a correct theory of morals from an examination of the human mind. We quote the following remarks:—
“If it had not been for the depravation of man's nature, all subjects would have been considered worthless in comparison with ethics. The knowledge of the laws of matter would have been considered as nothing in comparison with that subject which teaches man the original dignity of his nature, its capacities for virtue, its relationship to God, and its capabilities of continued and eternal development in moral power. The most obvious effect, then, of the fall, is to turn men's minds away from the contemplation of the subject: man does not like to retain God in his knowledge.’ It is important, however, to distinguish between general and particular consequences. The real question is, not what have been its effects on man in general, but what effect it has had on the minds of those whose attention has been specially turned to the subject; those whose aversion to the subject has been counteracted, from whatever source that counteraction has arisen. That in general their conclu. sions have not been vitiated by depravity, or other causes, may be argued on many grounds, and especially from the great majority of the lessons which they inculcate. In fact, ethical writers with but very few exceptions, either in ancient or modern times, do not contend for any state of mind as virtuous, which is not, in one relation or other, represented as virtuous in the Bible. That they have not agreed on some higher parts of the system, must be admitted. The reason is that the subject is one of immense difficulty. It is not surprising that in the higher parts of the science there is a diversity of opinion. There is no such diversity of opinion, however, on what is most important to the interests of man. There is, indeed, a striking difference as to the source of our notions of virtue and vice; but as to the notions themselves, there is a striking conformity. Men in different ages, in different countries, with various temperaments, of opposite character, while differing with regard to the rank of particular virtues, all agree upon the broad distinction between moral good and evil. This striking agreement, therefore, on so important a subject, is a sufficient proof that God has written the broad line of duty in deepest characters in the human mind. If, indeed, man could cease to know the distinction between virtue and vice, he would be reduced to the condition of a brute, and his responsibility would be at an end.”
The question, however, to which Mr. Spalding proposes more particularly to apply himself, is that which relates to the nature of virtue. Our readers will be aware that this is an inquiry which has for its object to discover that state of mind, in a moral agent, to which we apply the epithet virtuous. This problem is, of course, quite distinct from the former, in which the question was, by what faculty or faculties of the mind do we acquire the notion of virtue? Our author admits that there is truth in the statements; virtue is that which tends to produce the greatest personal happiness; it is a mean between two extremes; it is that which causes moral approbation of ourselves or of others; it is useful to mankind: but he justly regards these facts as only partial and inadequate answers to the question, what is virtue? In advancing towards the exposition of his own views on the subject, he properly distinguishes between outward actions and the state of mind with which they are performed. For it is evident that the same actions, merely as to what we may term the matter of them, are compatible with very different subjective conditions or states of mind in the agents.
* The mother who sacrifices her child to false gods, may feel the highest complacency when she reflects on her conduct, because it is considered by her as the decisive evidence of her consecration to those idols which she vainly adores. The inhabitant of Europe feels the greatest horror and indignation at such crime; but it is only because to him such an action is the index to a very different state of mind. He understands, in some measure, the relations in which he is placed; he knows that God abhors such sacrifices; he sees in the natural and instantaneous tenderness of a mother's bosom towards her hapless offspring, not only the expression of the Divine will, but also the overflowing goodness of the Divine mind itself, toward the same object; and therefore he cannot but regard such an action as a certain indication of the want of that love from which perhaps, in some instances, it actually proceeds. The Hottentot does not therefore approve of what is j Man, whether civilized or uncivilized, approves of devotion to God; the judgment respecting the manner in which it is to be displayed is different; the one conceives it to be evinced in a mode which is uniformly the effect of vice in the country to which the other belongs, and the latter cannot but hold it in detestation and abhorrence.”
The above just remarks illustrate the obvious importance of distinguishing between what the agent does, and the agent himself: an action, viewed objectively, may be conformable to the highest relations in which man is placed; while the agent’s state of mind may be deficient, or wrong. On the other hand, the agent's intention may be right, while the action itself is not conformable to the moral order of the universe, that is, to the relations of the agent. Again: for an agent to be moral, he must berational, and voluntary: to be virtuous in the highest sense, both his intention, and his action itself, must be in harmony with the various relations in which he is placed. An agent may act from a right motive, while he may err in the manner in which he carries his intention out into act. On this distinction, which, in some of its bearings, involves considerations which have always been perplexing and painful to reflective minds, it will be allowed that, at all events, Mr. Spalding makes some luminous and discriminating remarks, founded on an instance recorded by Dr. Adam Smith, and on the case of infant immolation among pagans.
In his chapter on ancient systems of morals, our author reviews the definitions of virtue given by Aristotle, Epicurus, and the school of Zeno. He regards their theories that virtue consists in a certain mediocrity of the affections, or in seeking an agreeable life, or in living conformably to the law of nature, as either deficient, or erroneous, or obscure; but he, nevertheless, pays a high and deserved compliment to the superior elevation and sublimity of the morals of the Porch. He next discusses the opinions of some of the modern writers on the nature of virtue; Clarke, Wollaston, Payne, Hutcheson, Edwards, Hume, and Brown: who have, respectively, placed the essence of virtue in acting conformably to the fitness of things, or to truth, or to the relation in which we are placed, in universal benevolence, in what is the same thing benevolence to being in general, in a utility which excites approbation, and in the relation of certain actions to certain emotions. To each of these theories Mr. Spalding more or less objects, though his own views on the nature of virtue come nearest to those of Hutcheson and Edwards, who make it to consist in universal benevolence. He excepts against Dr. Payne's definition, which is nearly identical with that of Clarke and others, that it would render mere pathological affections virtuous: thus the desire of knowledge, for example, though in harmony with our relative situation, is not necessarily virtuous. ‘Virtue,” says our author, ‘must lie, not in the conformity merely, but in the state of mind which produces it.” Now if we understand Dr. Payne aright, this is exactly what he would say: maintaining that virtue is such a conformity of man's affections and actions to the relations in which he stands, as is produced by a voluntary aim to do right. We observe, also, that, in connection with the above remark of the author, he states that Dr. Payne is ‘not of the intellectual school’ of morals: this, however, is incorrect according to Mr. Spalding's own description of that school as holding that right and wrong are perceived directly by the understanding. For, as we have seen above, Dr. Payne clearly maintains that moral judgments must always precede moral emotions. It is probable that this writer's views of conscience as strictly an emotion, though consequent on moral judgment, may have led Mr. Spalding into this oversight. Whatever view we may take of the theory that conscience is an emotion, and that our motions of right and wrong originate purely in judgment, it is evident that the two statements are by no means incompatible. The disadvantages under which the lamented author of the interesting volume before us composed it, (for he was away from home, and in a foreign country,) and the fact of its posthumous publication, demand that a candid interpretation should be put on these and some other blemishes which would, probably, have disappeared under the final revision and editorship of the author himself: we allude to errors in the orthography of proper names, and occasional confusion of sense, possibly arising from the state of the manuscript. After having discussed the different theories above alluded to, our author proceeds to state his own views of the nature of virtue, which, as we have before remarked, he regards as consisting in the single affection of benevolence.
“When we say that all virtue consists in the supremacy of this one affection, it must be carefully remembered that we do not wish to deny the term to many others which are currently esteemed virtuous. The proposition we wish to maintain is that love, chosen by the mind as its governing principle, and hence giving it the determination to act in accordance with the various relations in which we are placed, is the first great cause of these moral emotions; that this is the original source to which all other virtuous states of mind must be ultimately referred; and that these latter become the object of moral approbation only in consequence of the relation in which they stand to the great principle of benevolence; apart from which they would possess no moral virtue whatever. In a word, just as we have shown that actions are not virtuous, but merely the evidence of a virtuous state of mind, so certain states of mind, deemed virtuous, are only so many evidences that we possess the great principle of love to God or his creatures.’
Since, according to our author, we say that an agent has done virtuously when, on contemplating his conduct, we find it producing in us a certain emotion, (or as others would say a certain perception of relations, or a certain moral judgment;) it may be contended that, if virtue and benevolence are identical, then whenever we thus say that an agent has acted rightly, we ought to have in our minds the distinct impression that his impelling motive was benevolence. Now is this actually the case? When the truth is spoken, for instance, or an act of justice is done, no doubt we see exemplified a general principle which benefits society, but do we demand that the idea of this benefit as a motive, shall be in the mind of the agent, before we pronounce his conduct, as far as it goes, virtuous? Suppose a person in a court of justice giving evidence decidedly against his own personal interest and advantage, and that we could know that no motive is present to his mind but that of doing what is right in itself: undoubtedly, we should approve his conduct, though the motion of benevolence does not present itself in connexion with it. Objections of this kind are made by Butler, Price, and Brown, to the theory that virtue is always identical with benevolence; and we think they are not fully rebutted by our author. . We would not, however, be supposed for a moment to question that benevolence to man is an essential element in by far the greater number of those modes of conduct, having a direct bearing on society, which are denominated virtuous, as being objects