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ness of another, and by what means this may be done. Justice is right; this implies a knowledge of the rights of others, and how they may be affected by actions. Again, the perception of right may imply reasoning and judgment An action, in itself an expression of gratitude, may be unjust. Here then is occasion for comparison, reasoning and judgment. If it be admitted, that it is intuitively perceived, that a man ought to promote the interest of his family and his country; it does not follow, that it must be also intuitively perceived, how these ends are to be accomplished, or how reconciled, when they seem incompatible, or which is to yield when they are really so.
This is not peculiar to morals. Suppose that a sovereign sets out with determining to make his subjects wealthy; will he find no use for reasoning and judgment in comparing and reconciling the different means; will he make no mistakes; and will all sovereigns, who proceed on the same fundamental rule, proceed in the same way?
Mathematical axioms are admitted to be intuitive; yet considerable intellectual improvement is necessary to understand them in their simplest forms; and in their various applications to the relations of quantity and number, what sagacity, what power of reasoning is required.
Neither does it follow from the doctrine, that virtue is intuitively perceived, that it must be always perceived. Whether it shall be observed or not, will depend upon the attention of the mind, and this attention is much affected by habit, custom of the country, fashion, &c. In this respect, the perception of right is exactly analogous to the perception of other intuitive truths. We may attend to one relation of actions, without observing others, as we may to the relations of numbers. A man may, for years, add 2, 4 and 8, and perceive that their sum is equal to 14, without ever observing, what is intuitively true, that these numbers are in geometrical ratio. All the relations of quantity, in respect to their equality or difference, are deduced ultimately from intuitive perceptions; yet there is an immense variety in different minds in their capacity of observing these relations, according to their different habits of attention, and their different degrees of cultivation.
The wrong judgments of men upon the morality of actions, are not so extensive as we may, at first thought, imagine. Many, and, in corrupt states of society, the majority, are not controlled by their moral judgments, but merely by public sentiment. All the latitude which this will give, they are sure to take, without any consideration of right.
When was ever a society more corrupt than that of Rome during the reigns of Tiberius and Nero? Yet where in all antiquity do we find more correct moral views, than in the writings of Seneca and Tacitus? So, too, the age of Louis XIV. produced a Fenelon.
It is admitted, that there have been, in different ages and nations, many false moral judgments; but I think it will be found that a large proportion of these refer to actions which virtue is conceived to permit, not to require, in which her office is to limit, not to forbid. Many of these false judgments have related, for example, to indulgence in the pleasures of the senses. Other false judgments refer to actions which involve various and remote principles, actions which are complex, combining good and evil, which have different relations, and may be viewed in different lights. In all the cases which have been mentioned, it is not in the least inconsistent with the principle we have maintained, that men should be misled by ignorance, passion and custom. In approving or condemning such actions, the dispute would not be so much concerning first principles, as their application.
The fact that many actions are complex and mixed, and may be regarded in different relations,
is very important to be attended to, in reference to the present subject. An action may be, in some of its relations, undoubtedly innocent or virtuous; while in others it is undoubtedly wrong. To relieve a worthy person in distress is right; not to pay my debts, when I have the means, is wrong; may I then relieve such distress with the money promised to my creditor? To determine questions of this sort, many circumstances are sometimes to be taken into view, some of which may be overlooked by one, which are observed by another.
We must likewise remember the influence of association in varying moral judgments. In complex impressions, the character of the whole is derived from the character of the most striking parts. Our moral taste is thus affected in the same manner as our literary taste.
If these considerations be well attended to and applied, will there be any greater difficulty in reconciling the variety in the moral judgments of mankind with the theory of intuitive perception, than with any other? That surely can be no objection to an hypothesis, which it might be proved, a priori, would follow from the hypothesis itself.
To a being of perfect knowledge and wisdom, all moral, as well as all other truth, must be intui
tive, because all possible relations are completely present to his mind at once; but by finite minds, as some of these relations may be either unknown or unattended to, and different relations observed by different persons, there will be different judg
GENERAL PRINCIPLES RESPECTING RIGHT ACTIONS.
1. The general tendency of right actions is to produce good or happiness; but the perception of right is distinct from the perception of utility.
2. Though right leads to good, it is not always the greatest good; as it would be, if utility alone were the rule of right; but it is often the good of particular individuals, rather than the general good; according as such individuals stand related to the agent, or have certain rights in regard to him.
3. All men have certain rights, either natural or adventitious; and actions are wrong which violate these rights; and actions are right, which are conformable to them.
4. There are relations which do not give the perfect rights just referred to, which yet render those actions right, that tend to prevent harm, or to