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how does this happen? That the ideas of prudence and virtue are as distinct as the terms, seems obvious from the fact, that the terms cannot be confounded in use, without its being immediately perceived and exciting surprise. Should I say of a merchant, that he had made a very virtuous voyage, I should be thought to talk nonsense. When I say of an action, it is prudent, I am understood to mean, that it is adapted to promote the advantage of the agent; when I say, it is virtuous, do I convey the same idea, or no idea at all, or some one different, and yet perfectly intelligible? If the latter, what is it? Should it be alleged, that after declaring an action to be prudent, when I add further, it is virtuous, the term virtuous expresses no idea not included in the term prudent, but only farther developes it, as if I should say of an action, it is virtuous and praiseworthy; we may answer, 1. The terms, prudent and virtuous, are sometimes used in contradistinction to each other. 2. When an action is said to be virtuous and praiseworthy, although the idea of praiseworthiness is really included in virtue; yet when we use both the adjectives, we mean by the word virtuous to denote the quality of the action considered in itself; by praiseworthy, how it ought to be viewed by spectators. But if prudence and virtue are the
same, how can one term develope the other? It is obvious in what sense I have here used the word prudent; as denoting that which tends to the advantage of the agent.
VI. Prudence and imprudence do not excite in the well-informed spectator the same sentiments with virtue and crime. The kind of approbation we feel for the successful prosecution of schemes entirely selfish, is rather an approbation of the foresight, sagacity, or skill of the agent, than of his principles or motives. And when these schemes are in any degree incompatible with equity or benevolence, though the motive continue the same, they are viewed with indignation, and the sagacity itself is denominated cunning. On the other hand, plans of kindness and generosity are approved, not only when managed with judgment, but even when unsuccessful and conducted with rashness and folly. Nay more, a thoughtless improvidence and extravagance are less odious, than a spirit over careful and calculating. We are conscious ourselves that we reflect with the truest satisfaction upon those actions, in which we have least reference to self. So certain is this, that Belsham himself objects the fact to Paley's definition of virtue. He tells us that the essence of virtue is its tendency to promote the happiness of the agent,
and at the same time, that the highest virtue implies a disregard to this tendency.* It is the common sense of men, that the best actions are those which proceed from a regard to virtue itself; but it is the sense of Mr. Belsham, that those actions are the most virtuous, in which there is the least reference to what, according to him, is the very nature and essence of virtue.
* [Mr. Belsham's definition of virtue is as follows:
"Virtue is the tendency of an action, affection, habit or character to the ultimate happiness of the agent." Elements, p. 371.
The following is Dr. Paley's definition.
"Virtue is the doing good to mankind, in obedience to the will of God, and for the sake of everlasting happiness."
Mr. Belsham's remarks upon it, referred to above, are these.
"But this definition, also, excludes from the class of virtues, the most excellent moral habits, when they have attained their disinterested, that is, their highest state. For, according to this account, no action is virtuous, which is not prompted by rational self-interest. But though rational, and even gross self-interest, may be the necessary motives to virtuous actions previous to the generation of virtuous habits; yet when these affections are thus formed and advanced to maturity, they do themselves furnish a sufficient stimulus to virtuous actions, without any explicit regard even to this most refined and rational self-interest. And the expectation of future reward is so far from being essential to the existence of human virtue, that an explicit regard to it as a motive, is even inconsistent with a state of complete, that is, of absolutely disinterested virtue. Self annihilation, as was before observed, being essential to perfect virtue and perfect happiness." Ibid. pp. 435, 436.]
THEORY OF UTILITY.
This theory comprises three propositions:
1. That the essence of right, or, as the schoolmen say, the formal nature of right, is utility, or a tendency to produce happiness.
2. That in particular cases, where acts of injustice, ingratitude, &c. seem to the agent, in that instance, adapted to produce a preponderance of good, the only reason why he may not perform them, is, that others, in different circumstances, may, in consequence of his example, produce evil, which would more than counterbalance the good produced by him; or, in other words, that he would violate a general rule of action, on the whole useful, and the weakening of the authority of which would be an evil, exceeding the good which might follow from its violation in a particular instance.
3. That the moral habit of acting conformably to certain rules, as right, without reference to the consequences, good or bad, is the effect of association, education, custom, &c.
Prop. 1. The essence of right is utility.
If not, then something else is essential to right; which is contrary to the theory.
If it be, then, wherever we see a tendency to good on the whole, there is virtue.
I. Why then do we not view with moral approbation, natural good, as a fruitful field &c.? It may be said, that it is undesigned good; but the only moral excellence of design is its general tendency, which, if found without design, amounts to the same thing. If it be further urged, that the field is only the instrument, not the cause of good, which is God; I answer, though this is true, yet the ancients did not thus trace all natural good to the first cause, nor do the mass of mankind now do this, so habitually, as to counteract the association of the principle maintained, in respect to inanimate objects, if this principle were just.*
II. There are instances of intellectual causes of good, not morally approved, as a genius for useful inventions. Though the motive may be entirely selfish, yet the object and uniform tendency
* [The fairness of mind, with which Professor Frisbie examined every subject, may appear from the following note upon the above argument, written at a subsequent period.
'May not the reason, why inanimate and unconscious causes of utility are not approved, be this? Approbation implies merit in the object, and merit, reward; now that which is unconscious cannot be sensible of reward, or receive pleasure from approbation, and may not the conviction of this fact be the reason, why we do not feel it toward such causes of utility?']