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21.4.-ON THE INHERENT PLEASURE OF THE VIRTUOUS, AND MISERY OF THE VICIOUS AFFECTIONS.
CHALMERS. ['The following is from Dr. Chalmers's Bridgewater Treatise, The Adaptation of external Nature to the Moral and Intellectual Constitution of Man.']
There is a felt satisfaction in the thought of having done what we know to be right; and, in counterpart to this complacency of self-approbation, there is a felt discomfort, amounting often to bitter and remorseful agony, in the thought of having done what conscience tells us to be wrong. This implies a sense of the rectitude of what is virtuous. But, without thinking of its rectitude at all, without viewing it in reference either to the law of conscience or the law of God, with no regard to jurisprudence in the matter, there is, in the virtuous affection itself another and a distinct enjoyment. We ought to cherish and to exercise benevolence; and there is a pleasure in the consciousness of doing what we ought: but beside this moral sentiment, and beside the peculiar pleasure appended to benevolence as moral, there is a sensation in the merely physical affection of benevolence; and that sensation, of itself, is in the highest degree pleasurable. The primary or instant gratification which there is in the direct and immediate feeling of benevolence is one thing: the second or reflex gratification which there is in the consciousness of benevolence as moral is another thing. The two are distinct of themselves; but the contingent union of them, in the case of every virtuous affection, gives a multiple force to the conclusion, that God is the lover, and, because so, the patron or the rewarder, of virtue. He hath so constituted our nature, that in the very flow and exercise of the good affections there shall be the oil of gladness. There is instant delight in the first conception of benevolence ; there is sustained delight in its continued exercise; there is consummated delight in the happy, smiling, and prosperous result of it. Kindness, and honesty, and truth, are of themselves, and irrespective of their rightness, sweet unto the taste of the inner man. Malice, envy, falsehood, injustice, irrespective of their wrongness, have, of themselves, the bitterness of gall and wormwood. The Deity hath annexed a high mental enjoyment, not to the consciousness only of good affections, but to the very sense and feeling of good affections. However closely these may follow on each other-nay, however implicated or blended together they may be at the same moment into one compound state of feeling—they are not the less distinct, on that account, of themselves. They form two pleasurable sensations, instead of one; and their opposition, in the case of every virtuous deed or virtuous desire, exhibits to us that very concurrence in the world of mind which obtains with such frequency and fulness in the world of matter, affording, in every new part that is added, not a simply repeated only, but a vastly multiplied evidence for design, throughout all its combinations. There is a pleasure in the very sensation of virtue; and there is a pleasure attendant on the sense of its rectitude. These two phenomena are independent of each other. Let there be a certain number of chances against the first in a random economy of things, and also a certain number of chances against the second. In the actual economy of things, where there is the conjunction of both phenomena, it is the product of these two numbers which represents the amount of evidence afforded by them, for a moral government in the world, and a moral governor over them.
In the calm satisfactions of virtue, this distinction may not be so palpable as in the pungent and more vividly felt disquietudes which are attendant on the wrong affections of our nature. The perpetual corrosion of that heart, for example, which frets in unhappy peevishness all the day long, is plainly distinct from the bitterness of that remorse which is felt, in the recollection of its harsh and injurious outbreakings on the innocent sufferers within its reach. It is saying much for the moral character of God, that he has placed a conscience within us, which administers painful rebuke on every indulgence of a wrong affection. But it is saying still more for such being the character of our Maker, so to have framed our mental constitution that, in the very working of these bad affections, there should be the painfulness of a felt discomfort and discordancy. Such is the make or mechanism of our nature, that it is thwarted and put out of sorts by rage, and envy, and hatred ; and this irrespective of the adverse moral judgments which conscience passes upon them. Of themselves, they are unsavoury; and no sooner do they enter the heart, than they shed upon it an immediate distillation of bitterness. Just as the placid smile of benevolence bespeaks the felt comfort of benevolence: so, in the frown and tempest of an angry countenance, do we read the unhappiness of that man who is vexed and agitated by his own malignant affections, eating inwardly, as they do, on the vitals of his enjoyment. It is therefore that he is often styled, and truly, a self-tormentor, or his own worst enemy. The delight of virtue, in itself, is a separate thing from the delight of the conscience which approves it. And the pain of moral evil, in itself, is a separate thing from the pain inflicted by conscience in the act of condemning it. They offer to our notice two distinct ingredients, both of the present reward attendant upon virtue, and of the present penalty attendant upon vice, and so enhance the evidence that is before our eyes for the moral character of that administration under which the world has been placed by its author. The appetite of hunger is rightly alleged in evidence of the care wherewith the Deity hath provided for the well-being of our natural constitution; and the pleasurable taste of food is rightly alleged as an additional proof of the same. And so, if the urgent voice of conscience within, calling us to virtue, be alleged in evidence of the care wherewith the Deity hath provided for the well-being of our moral constitution; the pleasurable taste of virtue in itself, with the bitterness of its opposite, may well be alleged as additional evidence thereof. They alike afford the present and the sensible tokens of a righteous administration, and so of a righteous God.
Our present argument is grounded, neither on the rectitude of virtue, nor on its utility in the grosser and more palpable sense of that term, but on the immediate sweetness of it. It is the office of a conscience to tell us of its rectitude. It is by experience that we learn its utility. But the sweetness of it, the dulce of virtue as distinguished from its utile, is a thing of instant sensation. It may be decomposed into two ingredients, with one of which conscience has to do even the pleasure we have, when any deed or affection of ours receives from her a favourable verdict. But it has another ingredient which forms the proper and the distinct argument that we are now urging-even the pleasure we have in the mere relish of the affection itself. If it be a proof of benevolence in God, that our external organs of taste should have been so framed as to have a liking for wholesome food; it is no less the proof both of a benevolent and a righteous God, so to have framed our mental economy, as that right and wholesome morality should be palatable to the taste of the inner man. Virtue is not only seen to be right-it is felt to be delicious. There is happiness in the very wish to make others happy. There is a heart's ease, or a heart's enjoyment, even in the first purposes of kindness, as well as in its subsequent performances. There is a certain rejoicing sense of clearness in the consistency, the exactitude of justice and truth. There is a triumphant'elevation of spirit in magnanimity and honour. In perfect harmony with this, there is a placid feeling of serenity and blissful contentment in gentleness and humility. There is a noble satisfaction in those victories which, at the bidding of principle, or by the power of self-command, may have been achieved over the propensities of animal nature. There is an elate independence of soul, in the consciousness of having nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of. In a word by the constitution of our nature, each virtue has its appropriate charm; and virtue, on the whole, is a fund of varied as well as of perpetual enjoyment, to him who hath imbibed its spirit and is under the guidance of its principles. He feels all to be health and harmony within, and without he seems as if to breathe in an atmosphere of beauteous transparency, proving how much the nature of man and the nature of virtue are in unison with each other. It is hunger which urges to the use of food ; but it strikingly demonstrates the care and benevolence of God, so to have framed the organ of taste as that there shall be a superadded enjoyment in the use of it. It is conscience which urges to the practice of virtue ; but it serves to enhance the proof of a moral purpose, and therefore of a moral character in God, so to have framed our mental economy, that, in addition to the felt obligation of its rightness, virtue should of itself be so regaling to the taste of the inner man.
In counterpart to these sweets and satisfactions of virtue, is the essential and inherent bitterness of all that is morally evil. We repeat, that with this particular argument we do not mix up the agonies of remorse. It is the wretchedness of vice in itself, not the wretchedness which we suffer because of its recollected and felt wrongness, that we now speak of. It is not the painfulness of the compunction felt because of our anger upon which we at this moment insist, but the painfulness of the emotion itself; and the same remark applies to all the malignant desires of the human heart. True, it is inseparable from the very nature of a desire, that there must be some enjoyment or other at the time of its gratification ; but, in the case of these evil affections, it is not unmixed enjoyment. The most ordinary observer of his own feelings, however incapable of analysis, must be sensible, even at the moment of wreaking in full indulgence of his resentment on the man who has provoked or injured him, that all is not perfect and entire enjoyment within ; but that in this, and indeed in every other malignant feeling, there is a sore burden of disquietude-an unhappiness tumultuating in the heart, and visibly pictured on the countenance. The ferocious tyrant who has only to issue forth his mandate, and strike dead at pleasure the victim of his wrath, with any circumstance too of barbaric caprice and cruelty which his fancy in the very waywardness of passion unrestrained and power unbounded might suggest to him he may be said to have experienced through life a thousand gratifications in the solaced rage and revenge, which, though ever breaking forth on some new subject, he can appease again every day of his life by some new execution. But we mistake it if we think otherwise than that, in spite of these distinct and very numerous, nay daily gratifications, if he so choose, it is not a life of fierce internal agony notwithstanding. It seems indispensable to the nature of every desire, and to form part indeed of its very idea, that there should be a distinctly felt pleasure, or, at least, a removal at the time of a distinctly felt pain, in the act of its fulfilment—yet, whatever recreation or relief may have thus been rendered, without doing away the misery, often in the whole amount of it the intense misery, inflicted upon man by the evil propensities of his nature. Who can doubt, for example, the unhappiness of the habitual drunkard ? —and that, although the ravenous appetite, by which he is driven along a stormy career, meets every day, almost every hour of the day, with the gratification that is suited to it. The same may be equally affirmed of the voluptuary, or of the depredator, or of the extortioner, or of the liar. Each may succeed in the attainment of his specific object; andwe cannot possibly disjoin from the conception of success the conception of some sort of pleasure—yet in perfect consistency, we affirm, with a sad and heavy burthen of unpleasantness or unhappiness, on the whole. He is little conversant with our nature who does not know of many a passion belonging to it, that it may be the instrument of many pleasurable, nay delicious or exquisite sensations, and yet be a wretched passion still-the domineering tyrant of a bondsman, who at once knows himself to be degraded and feels himself to be unhappy. A sense of guilt is one main ingredient of this misery; yet physically, and notwithstanding the pleasure or the relief inseparable at the moment from every indulgence of the passions, there are other sensations of bitterness, which of themselves, and apart from remorse, would cause the suffering to preponderate.
There is an important discrimination made by Bishop Butler in his sermons, and by the help of which this phenomenon of apparent contradiction or mystery in our nature may be satisfactorily explained. He distinguishes between the final object of any of our desires, and the pleasure attendant on, or rather inseparable from, its gratification. The object is not the pleasure, though the pleasure be an unfailing and essential accompaniment on the attainment of the object. This is well illustrated by the appetite of hunger, of which it were more proper to say that it seeks for food than that it seeks for the pleasure which there is in eating the food. The food is the object; the pleasure is the accompaniment. We do not here speak of the distinct and secondary pleasure which there is in the taste of food, but of that other pleasure which strictly and properly attaches to the gratification of the appetite of hunger. This is the pleasure, or relief, which accompanies the act of eating; while the ultimate object, the object in which the appetite rests and terminates, is the food itself. The same is true of all our special affections. Each has a proper and peculiar object of its own, and the mere pleasure attendant on the prosecution of the indulgence of the affection, as has been clearly established by Butler and fully reasserted by Dr. Thomas Brown, is not that object. The two are as distinct from each other, as a thing loved is distinct from the pleasure of loving it. Every special inclination has its special and counterpart object. The object of the inclination is one thing ; the pleasure of gratifying the inclination is another ; and, in most instances, it were more proper to say, that it is for the sake of the object than for the sake of the pleasure that the inclination is gratified. The distinctiou that we now urge, though felt to be a subtle, is truly a substantial one, and pregnant both with important principle and important application. The discovery and clear statement of it by Butler may well be regarded as the highest service rendered by any philosopher to moral science ; and that, from the light which it casts both on the processes of the human constitution and on the theory of virtue. As one example of the latter service, the principle in question, so plainly and convincingly unfolded by this great Christian philosopher in his Sermon on The Love of our Neighbour,'* strikes, and with most conclusive effect, at the root of the selfish system of morals--a system which professes that man's sole object, in the practice of all the various moralities, is his own individual advantage. Now, in most cases of a special, and more particularly of a virtuous affection, it can be demonstrated that the object is a something out of himself and distinct from himself. Take compassion for one instance out of the many. The object of this affection is the relief of another's misery, and, in the fulfilment of this, does the affection meet with its full solace and gratification, that is, in a something altogether external from himself. It is true that there is an appropriate pleasure in the indulgence of this affection, even as there is in the indulgence of every other; and in the proportion, too, to the strength of the affection will be the greatness of the pleasure. The man who is doubly more compassionate than his fellow will have doubly a greater enjoyment in the relief of misery; yet that, most assuredly, not because he of the two is the more intently set on his own gratification, but because he of the two is the more intently set on an outward accomplishment, the relief of another's wretchedness. The truth is, that, just because more compassionate than his fellow, the more intent is he than the other on the object of this affection, and the less intent is he than the other on himself the subject of this affection. His thoughts and feelings are more drawn away to the sufferers, and therefore more drawn away from himself
. He is the most occupied with the object of this affection, and on that very account the least occupied with the pleasure of its indulgence. And it is precisely the objective quality of these regards which stamps upon compassion the character of a disinterested affection. He surely is the most compassionate whose thoughts and feelings are most drawn away to the sufferer, and most drawn away from self; or, in other words, most taken up with the direct consideration of him who is the object of this affection, and least taken up with the reflex consideration of the pleasure that he himself has in the indulgence of it. Yet this prevents not the pleasure from being actually felt; and felt, too, in very proportion to the intensity of the com
• Butler has two Sermons on this subject. The Sermon to which Dr. Chalmers alludes in this passage is the first of these.