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DIALOGUE BETWEEN PHILOCLES AND HORATIO, MEETING ACCIDENTALLY IN THE FIELDS, CONCERNING VIRTUE AND PLEASURE.
FROM THE PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE, JUNE 23, 1730.
Philocles. My friend Horatio! I am very glad' to see you. Prithee, how came such a man as you alone? And musing too 1 What misfortune in your pleasures has sent you to philosophy for relief? .
Horatio. You guess very right, my dear Philocles; we pleasure-hunters are never without them; and yet, so enchanting is the game, we cannot quit the chase. How calm and undisturbed is your life! How free from present embarrassments and future cares! I know you love me, and look with compassion upon my conduct; show me then the path which leads up to that constant and invariable good, which I have heard you so beautifully describe, and which you seem so fully to possess.
Phil. There are few men in the world I value more than you, Horatio; for, amidst all your foibles and painful pursuits of pleasure, I have oft observed in you an honest heart, and a mind strongly bent towards virtue. I wish, from my soul, I could assist you in acting steadily the part of a reasonable creature; for, if you would not think it a paradox, I should tell you I love you better than you do yourself.
Hor. A paradox indeed! Better than I do myself! When I love my dear self so well, that I love every thing else for my own sake.
Phil. He only loves himself well, who rightly and judiciously loves himself.
Hor. What do vou mean by that, Philocles? You
men of reason and virtue are always dealing in mysteries, though you laugh at them when the church makes them. I think he loves himself very well and very judiciously too, as you call it, who allows himsell to do whatever he pleases.
Phil. What, though it be to the ruin and destruction of that very self which he loves so well? That man alone loves himself rightly, who procures the greatest possible good to himself through the whole of his existence; and so pursues pleasure as not to give for it more than it is worth.
Hot. That depends all upon opinion. Who shall judge what the pleasure is worth? Suppose a pleasing form of the fair kind strikes me so much, that I can enjoy nothing without the enjoyment of that one object; or, that pleasure in general is so favorite a mistress, that I will take her as men do their wives, for better, for worse; minding no consequences, nor regarding what is to come. Why should I not do it?
Plat. Suppose, Horatio, that a friend of yours entered into the world about two-and-twenty, with a healthful vigorous body, and a fair plentiful estate of about five hundred pounds a year; and yet, before he had reached thirty, should, by following his own pleasures, and not as you duly regarding consequences, have run out of his estate, and disabled his body to that degree, that he had neither the means nor capacity of enjoyment left, nor any thing else to do but wisely shoot himsell* through the head to be at rest; what would you say to this unfortunate man's conduct? Is it wrong by opinion or fancy only? Or is there really a right and wrong in the case? Is not one opinion of life and action juster than another? Or one sort of conduct preferable to another? Or does that miserable son of pleasure appear as reasonable and lovely a being in your eyes, as a man who, by prudently and rightly gratifying his natural passions, had preserved his body in full health, and his estate entire, and enjoyed both to a good old age, and then died with a thankful heart for the good things he had received, and with an entire submission to the will of Him who first called him into being? Say, Horatio, are these men equally wise and happy? And is every thing to be measured by mere fancy and opinion, without considering whether that fancy or opinion be right?
Hor. Hardly so neither, I think; yet sure the wise and good Author of nature could never make us to plague us. He could never give us passions, on purpose to subdue and conquer them; nor produce this self of mine, or any other self, only that it may be denied; for that is denying the works of the great Creator himself. Self-denial, then, which is what I suppose you mean by prudence, seems to me not only absurd, but very dishonorable to that Supreme Wisdom and Goodness, which is supposed to make so ridiculous and contradictory a creature, that must be always fighting with himself .in order to be at rest, and undergo voluntary hardships in order to be happy. Are we created sick, only to be commanded to be sound 1 Are we born under one law, our passions, and yet bound to another, that of reason? Answer me, Philocles, for I am warmly concerned for the honor of Nature, the mother of us all.
Phil. I find, Horatio, my two characters have affrighted you; so that you decline the trial of what is good, by reason; and had rather make a bold attack upon Providence, the usual way of you gentlemen of fashion, who, when by living in defiance of the eternal rules of reason, you have plunged yourselves into a thousand difficulties, endeavour to make yourselves easy by throwing the burden upon Nature. You are, Horatio, in a very miserable condition indeed; for you say you cannot be happy if you control your passions; and you feel yourself miserable by an unrestrained gratification of them; so that here is evil, irremediable evil, either way.
Hor. That is very true; at least it appears so to me. Pray what have you to say, Philocles, in honor of Nature or Providence? Methinks I am in pain for her. How do you rescue her, poor lady?
Phil. This, my dear Horatio, I have to say; that what you find fault with and clamor against, as the most terrible evil in the world, self-denial, is really the greatest good, and the highest self-gratification. If, indeed, you use the word in the sense of some weak moralists, and much weaker divines, you will have just reason to laugh at it; but if you take it, as understood by philosophers and men of sense, you will presently see her charms, and fly to her embraces, notwithstanding her demure looks, as absolutely necessary to produce even your own darling sole good, pleasure; for self-denial is never a duty, or a reasonable action, but as it is a natural means of procuring more pleasure than you can taste without it; so that this grave, saintlike guide to happiness, as rough and dreadful as she has been made to appear, is in truth the kindest and most beautiful mistress in the world.
Hor. Prithee, Philocles, do not wrap yourself in allegory and metaphor. Why do you tease me thus? I long to be satisfied, what is this philosophical selfdenial, the necessity and reason of it; I am impatient, and all on fire. Explain, therefore, in your beautiful, natural, easy way of reasoning, what I am to understand by this grave lady of yours, with so forbidding, downcast looks, and yet so absolutely necessary to
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my pleasures. I stand to embrace her, for, you know, pleasure I court under all shapes and forms.
Phil. Attend, then, and you will see the reason of this philosophical self-denial. There can be no absolute perfection in any creature; because every creature is derived from something of a superior existence, and dependent on that source for its own existence. No created being can be all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful, because his powers and capacities are finite and limited; consequently whatever is created must, in its own nature, be subject to error, irregularity, excess, and imperfectness. All intelligent, rational agents find in themselves a power of judging what kind of beings they are, what actions are proper to preserve them, and what consequences will generally attend them, what pleasures they are for, and to what degree their natures are capable of receiving them. All we have to do then, Horatio, is to consider, when we are surprised with a new object, and passionately desire to enjoy it, whether the gratifying that passion be consistent with the gratifying other passions and appetites, equally if not more necessary to us; and whether it consists with our happiness to-morrow, next week, or next year; for, as we all wish to live, we are obliged by reason to take as much care for our future, as our present happiness, and not build one upon the ruins of the other. But if, through the strength and power of a present passion, and through want of attending to consequences, we have erred and exceeded the bounds which nature and reason have set us; we are then, for our own sakes, to refrain, or deny ourselves a present momentary pleasure for a future, constant, and durable one. So that this philosophical self-denial is only refusing to do an action which you strongly desire, because it is inconsistent with health, convenience, or