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This leads me to observe, in the second place, that no nation ever did deny the distinction between virtue and vice. Though the Spartans allowed their children to take things from others without their knowledge and consent; yet they did not mean to allow them to steal, in order to increase their wealth, and gratify a sordid avaricious spirit. They meant to distinguish between taking and stealing. The former they considered as a mere art, which was suited to teach their children skill and dexterity in their lawful pursuits; but the latter they detested and punished as an infamous crime. So when the Chinese expose their useless children, or their useless parents, they mean to do it as an act of kindness both to their friends and to the public. For in all other cases they abhor murder, or the killing of men from malice prepense, as much as any other nation in the world. There is nothing, therefore, in the practice of the Spartans, nor in the practice of the Chinese, which leads us to suppose, that any nation ever denied the essential distinction between virtue and vice. But though the heathens have never denied this distinction, yet their practice has often shown, that they have mistaken vice for yirtue. The Spartans did in indulging their children in the practice of taking things from others without their knowledge and consent. And the Chinese are guilty of the same mistake, in their conduct towards their superannuated parents, and unpromising children. But these, and all other mistakes of the same nature, are to be ascribed to the corruption of the human heart, which blinds and stupifies the conscience, and prevents it from doing its proper office; which is to discover the nature of moral actions, and distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, in practice. Were it not for the blind, ness of the heart, all men would perceive the eternal
rule of right, and, under the same circumstances, would form precisely the same judgment with respect to their duty. And corrupt as the world now is, mankind generally agree as well in their moral sentiments, as in their political, philosophical or metaphysical opinions. So that the general sentiments and practices of mankind concur with the reasons which we have of fered, to prove the essential distinction between virtue and vice, in the nature of things.
It now remains to make a number of deductions from the important truth, which we have explained and established.
1. If there be an immutable difference between vir. tue and vice, right and wrong; then there is a propri. ety in every man's judging for himself in matters of morality and religion. No man ought to rely upon the bare opinion of others, when he is capable of judging for himself, according to an infallible standard. Right and wrong, truth and falsehood, do not depend upon the opinions of men, but the nature of things. Every person ought, therefore, to examine every moral and religious subject for himself, and form his own judgment, without any regard to the authority. or opinion of others. As God has given men their eyes to
. distinguish colors, and their ears to distinguish sounds; so he has given them their reason and conscience, to distinguish truth and falsehood, right and wrong. And, so long as they enjoy these natural and moral powers, they are under moral obligation, to use them for the purposes, for which they were given. The man who, has eyes is obliged to see. The man who has ears is obliged to hear. And the man who has reason and conscience is obliged to examine and judge for himself, in matters of morality and religion. It is ng less the duty than the right of every man, to deter, mine for himself, what is true and false in theory, and what is right and wrong in practice. As others have no right to impose their opinions upon him; so he has no right to receive their opinions upon trust. It is his indispensable duty to embrace, or reject all moral and religious sentiments, according to his own private judgment. It may be proper and necessary, in a thousand
. cases, to collect evidence from others; but after we have received all the information, which they are able to give us, on any subject, it then lies upon us, to form our own opinions, according to evidence, without any regard to the authority, or opinion of fallible creatures. There is a true and false in principle, and a right and wrong in practice, which we are obliged to discover, and according to which we are obliged to believe and act. 2. If there be a standard of right and wrong, in the
, nature of things; then it is not impossible to arrive at absolute certainty, in our moral and religious sentiments. It is the opinion of many, that we can never attain to certainty in any thing, but what we are capable of demonstrating by figures, or immediately perceiving by our external senses. But there is no foundation for this supposition, if right and wrong, truth and falsehood, result from the nature of things. Many suppose, that moral and mathematical subjects are totally different in respect to certainty. They imagine, that we may attain to certainty in mathematics, but not in morals. But if moral truths as much result from the nature of things as mathematical, then no reason can be assigned, why we may not arrive at certainty in morals as well as in mathematics. For we are as capable of discerning what is right and wrong, as what is true and false, in the nature of things. The author of nature has given us the faculty of reason, to discover mathematical truths, and the fac
ulty of conscience, to discover moral truths. Our cors science as plainly and as certainly tells us, that murder is a crime, as our reason does, that two and two are equal to four. And it is as much out of our power to disbelieve the dictates of our consoience, as the dictates of our reason. Hence we as certainly know moral and religious, as mathematical and philosophical truths. Certainty in mathematics consists in the intuitive perception of the agreement or disagreement between two numbers. And certainty in morals consists in the intuitive perception of the agreement or disagreement between the volitions and obligations of moral agents. It is as easy, therefore, to attain certainty in morals as in mathematics. There are plain and difficult cases in both sciences. That murder is a crime is a plain case in morals, and that three and three are six, is a plain case in mathematics. But there are difficult questions in morals, and no less difficult questions in mathematics. The difficult and doubtful cases, however, are no evidence, that certainty cannot be attained, in more plain and practical cases, and this is allthat we mean to assert. We may attain to a certain knowledge of all those truths in morality and religion, which are necessary to direct us in our moral and religious conduct. And so much certainty we ought to seek after, and not rest satisfied without obtaining. God has given us moral as well as natural powers; and we ought to employ our moral powers in seeking after moral truth, as much as we employ our natural powers in searching after either mathematical, philosophical, metaphysical, or historical truth. We should always endeavor to attain to certainty, in all our researches, as far as we are able to do it; and never rest in conjecture, or uncertainty, only when certainty is beyond our opportunities and capacities.
3. If right and wrong are founded in the nature of things, then it is impossible for any man to become a thorough skeptic in morality and religion. Many, who profess to believe the existence and certainty of sensible objects, yet pretend to disbelieve the reality of virtue and vice, or the difference between moral good and moral evil. Those who are addressed in our text, appear to have been such professed skeptics in matters of a moral and religious nature. But it is as truly impossible for men in their right minds, to doubt of all moral and religious truths, as to doubt of their own existence, or the existence of the objects of sense, with which they are constantly surrounded: For they are as much obliged to believe their mental, as their bodily eyes. When their bodily eyes are open, at noon day, and a picture is presented before them, they are obliged to see it, and believe its exist
So when their eyes are open, at noon day, and an act of barbarous murder is committed before them, they are obliged to see and believe, not only the reality, but the criminality of the action. And it is no more within their power to doubt of the criminality of the murderer, than of the death of the murdered. Moral objects as irresistibly obtrude upon the conscience, as visible objects do upon the eye. And a man can no more avoid seeing and believing moral truths, than he can avoid seeing natural objects, when both are placed before his mind, with equal plainness. Every moral agent is constrained to believe, or doubt, according to the evidence, which he perceives. Doubt. ing as much depends upon evidence as believing. A man may wish to doubt, when it is out of his power to doubt; just as he may wish to believe, when it is out of his power to believe. Believing and doubting are always governed by what the mind perceives to be