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those who may deem the following pages worthy of their attention, to carry their perusal regularly from beginning to end; as part of what is necessary for the elucidation of the subsequent passages will often be found to have been anticipated in those which precede.
Sir James on a great Philosophical Error.
Sir James says, that moral inquiries“ relate to at least two perfectly distinct subjects. 1. Thę nature of the distinction between right and wrong in human conduct; and, 2. The nature of those feelings with which right and wrong are contemplated by human beings.” *
Sir James does not go the length of claiming this distinction as his own. But he says expressly that nobody but himself has understood the value of it.
The first of the two subjects he calls, “ the nature of the distinction between right and wrong.” The nature of the distinction between
• Dissert. Sect. I.
two things depends (does it not ?) upon the nature of the things distinguished. The things to be distinguished here are, right, and wrong. We must therefore know what right is, and what wrong, before we can know what the difference between them is.
He gives us another expression for the same thing. He says the investigation of “the nature of the distinction BETWEEN right and wrong in human conduct,” is the same with “investigation into the criterion of morality in action.”
This expression is not more satisfactory than the former. The word criterion commonly means something by which another thing is tried, or tested, and shown to be what it is. Thus chemists have a number of tests or criteria by which they determine what things are, one to test an alkali, another an acid ; and so on. But what thing is it by which we test morality ? And, above all, because that is the previous question, what is morality? A test, is a test of a thing known, not of a thing unknown. When a man desires a touchstone, a test, or criterion of gold, he knows beforehand what gold is—he only knows not whether such a piece of matter be gold or not.
The test does not show what gold is ; so neither does a test of morality show what morality is. When we know morality, we shall not be much in difficulty about the criterion of it.
Morality in action” is Sir James's expression.