HE following Lectures contain criticisms on the views and doctrines of a series of ethical writers; they attempt to point out how far each was right, and in what way he contributed to the progress of moral speculation in this country. It is plain that such judgments must be affected by the views and doctrines of the critic himself. Nor is this a disadvantage in such criticism, if the critic's point of view be definite and evident. In my “Elements of Morality” I have given that view of the grounds and relations of moral truths to which the best parts of all previous moral speculations appear to me to converge; but it may still be of use to explain here, more briefly and pointedly, the System of Morality there presented. Schemes of Morality, that is, modes of deducing the Rules of Human Action, are of two kinds:—those which assert it to be the law of human action to aim at some external object, (external, that is, to the mind which aims,) as for example, those which in ancient or modern times have asserted Pleasure, or Utility, or the Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Number, to be the true end of human action; and those which would regulate human action by an internal principle or relation, as Conscience, or a Moral Faculty, or Duty, or Rectitude, or the Superiority of Reason to Desire. These two kinds of schemes may be described respectively as Dependent and Independent Morality. Now it is here held that Independent Morality is the true scheme. We maintain, with Plato, that Reason has a natural and rightful authority over Desire and Affection; with Butler, that there is a difference of kind in our principles of action; with the general voice of mankind, that we must do what is right at whatever cost of pain and loss. We deny the doctrine of the ancient Epicureans, that pleasure is the supreme good; of Hobbes, that moral rules are only the work of men's mutual fear; of Paley, that what is expedient is right, and that there is no difference among pleasures except their intensity and duration ; and of Bentham, that the rules of human actions are to be obtained by casting up the pleasures which action produce. But though we thus take our stand upon the ground of Independent Morality, as held by previous writers, we hope that we are (by their aid mainly) able to present it in a more systematic and connected form than has yet been done. Let us begin with the doctrine of Plato just referred to ; that Reason has a natural and rightful authority over Desire and Affection, which doctrine Butler has further illustrated. In making this principle the groundwork of morality, we seem to be guilty of an oversight ; for the word rightful already involves a moral notion: that is rightful authority, and that only, which it is immoral to disobey. In order to make our scheme complete, we must define rightful, and prove that the authority of Reason over Desire is rightful. The Definition of rightful, or of the adjective right, is, I conceive, contained in the maxim which I have already quoted as proceeding from the general voice of mankind: namely this, that we must do what is right at whatever cost. That an action is right, is a reason for doing it, which is paramount to all other reasons, and overweighs them all when they are on the contrary side. It is painful: but it is right; therefore we must do it. It is a loss: but it is right; therefore we must do it. It is unkind: but it is right; therefore we must do it. These are self-evident propositions. That a thing is right, is a supreme reason for doing it. Right implies this supreme, unconquerable reason; and does this especially, and exclusively. No other word does imply such an irresistible cogency in its effect, except in so far as it involves the same notion. What we ought to do, what we should do, that we must do, though it bring pain and loss: but why? Because it is right. The expressions all run together in their meaning. And this supreme rule, that we must do what is right, is also the moral rule of human action. Having got this notion of what is right; what we ought to do: what we should do; we are already in the region of morality. What is right ; what it is that we ought to do, we must have some means of determining, in order to complete our moral scheme; but whatever we so determine, we are involved in a moral system, as soon as we begin to use such words as right and ought. Thus then we see that the supreme reason of human actions and the moral nature of them cannot be separated. The two come into our thoughts together, and are in our conceptions identical. And this identity is the foundation, in a peculiar and characteristic manner, of the system of morality to which we have been led. In thus speaking of the reasons of human actions, it is plain that I am using the term reason, not for the Faculty by which we judge, but for the grounds of our judgment; not for the Power of mental seeing, but for something which we see. Reasons and the Reason thus differ nearly as thoughts and Thought. The Reason sees the reasons for human actions: and among these, it sees the supreme reason, which is, that they are right: and because the Reason is the Faculty which sees this, while Desire and Affection tend blindly to their objects, not seeing reasons, but feeling impulses, or at least, seeing reasons only as subordinate things;–therefore it is that we say that the Reason has a natural and rightful authority over Desire and Affection. It is right that Reason should control and direct Desire and Affection, because Reason alone can see what is right; alone can understand that there is such a character as rightness. But though the general statement of the ground of Morality may thus be found at a very early period of ethical speculation, several additional steps are requisite in order to deduce from this principle a systematic scheme ; and some of these steps, it seems to me, have not been previously made in a satisfactory manner. The Reason, we have said, must control and direct the Desires and Affections;—must so control and direct them, that they may act rightly. But how are we to carry this Rule into detail? What are the conditions of acting rightly, in the case of the Desires and Affections? How is the Supreme Rule of Human Action, Rightness, brought into contact with these Impulses, these Springs of Human Action, as we may call them? In order to answer this question, we classify the springs of Human Action, as they commonly exist among men, namely, the Desires and Affections; and we look for conditions of rightness, corresponding to this classification of the Desires and Affections. We shall find such. The task of classifying the Springs of Human Action, the Desires, Affections, and the like, has been attempted by various moralists in modern times, especially by Reid and Dugald Stewart. Their classifications supply useful suggestions, but appear to me to be both defective and redundant. I have had therefore in a great degree to make my own classification. It may be said, I think, that the leading Desires of man, in their largest form, in which they are expressed by means of general terms, and in which they include the Affections, are, The Desire of Personal Safety, the Desire of Having, the Desire of Family Society, (which includes the Family Affections,) and the Desire of Civil Society, (which includes the more general Social Affections). There are other Desires which are not of this primary character, as the Desire of Knowledge, and the like. These primary Desires in their various operation regulate the whole scheme of human life. Men's personal safety, their possessions, their families, and the concerns of the community in which they live, are, in their eyes, the greatest objects which exist. No actions can be conformable to Rule, if the actions which refer to these objects are not conformable to Rule. If these objects are not ordered, secured, respected, reverenced, there can be no order, no security, no respect, no reverence anywhere. However other Desires and Affections be controlled and directed, if these be not, there can be no real control and direction. If these great primary forces are not in equilibrium, or at least in moderated movement, there can be no valid effect . produced by adjusting the smaller and slighter impulses which operate upon man. But the Desires which regard these great primary objects, Personal Safety, Possessions, Family, Civil Society,+how are they to be regulated so that they may conform to the condition which we have assigned ; to the Supreme Rule of Human Action; in short, that they may be right ! That is the question which we have now to answer. We do not at present want a complete answer, but a starting point from which we may proceed towards a complete answer. How the Desires and Affections are to be regulated, so that they may be right in the highest sense, is an inquiry which requires a long train of careful thought: but is there no condition which is obviously requisite, as a general rule, in order that those Desires and Affections may be right? There plainly is such a condition generally established among men. In order that the Desires and Affections with regard to the Personal Safety, Possessions, Family, Civil Condition of other men may be right, they must conform to this primary and universal Condition, that they do not violate the

« ElőzőTovább »