Obrázky na stránke

But still, I say, they are originally and essentially different from this perception.

For, first of all, it seems impossible that the approbation of virtue should be a sentiment of the same kind with that, by which we appprove of a convenient and well-contrived building; or, that we should have no other reason for praising a man, than that for which we commend a chest of drawers.

And, secondly, it will be found, upon examination, that the usefulness of any disposition of mind is seldom the first ground of our approbation; and that the sentiment of approbation always involves in it a sense of propriety, quite distinct from the perception of utility.'

[ocr errors]

He thus explains in what manner philosophers may have been led to consider utility, as the proper object of moral approbation.

'When a philosopher goes to examine why humanity is approved of, or cruelty condemned, he does not always form to himself, in a very clear and distinct manner, the conception of any one particular action either of cruelty or humanity, but is commonly contented with the vague and indeterminate idea which the general names of those qualities suggest to him. But it is in particular instances only, that the propriety or impropriety, the merit or demerit, of actions is very obvious and discernible. It is only when particular examples are given, that we perceive distinctly either the concord or disagreement between our

own affections and those of the agent, or feel a social gratitude arise towards him in the one case, or a sympathetic resentment in the other. When we consider virtue and vice in an abstract and general manner, the qualities by which they excite these several sentiments seem in a great measure to disappear, and the sentiments themselves become less obvious and discernible. On the contrary, the happy effects of the one, and the fatal consequences of the other, seem then to rise up to the view, and, as it were, to stand out and distinguish themselves from all the qualities of either.'

With these views of Dr. Smith we are much inclined to agree entirely. The popular doctrine of Paley, which, at first, seems to furnish so easy an explication of the difficulties which embarrass the theory of morals, will be found, we are pursuaded, the more it is examined, more and more inconsistent with sound philosophy and safe practice.

Thus we have finished our account of that portion of Dr. Smith's essay, which treats of the origin and formation of our moral sentiments. These sentiments, the reader will recollect, are properly three. In the first place, as we find that we can or cannot enter into the motives of actions, we have the sentiment of approbation or disapprobation: secondly, from sympathy with the gratitude or the resentment of the object of a benefit

or of an injury, we have a sense of the merit or demerit of the agent: and thirdly, from the perception, that an action is agreeable to the laws accoring to which the two preceding sympathies usually operate, arises the sense of duty. To these is added the emotion, which springs from the observation of the useful or hurtful tendencies of actions. This last, however, although it mingles with all the former, and enlivens their effect, is not specifically moral; since it is not peculiar to conduct, but is equally excited by whatever is salutary or pernicious in nature or art; by a fruitful field or wellcontrived machine.

There are many incidental discussions in this work of great interest, upon which we have not touched. Our remarks have been exclusively confined to its fundamental principles. And although in these we do not agree with the author, yet we cannot sufficiently admire the ingenuity, acuteness, and eloquence, with which the whole is executed. In the numerous illustrations, which abound in the work, a great variety of curious facts are brought together and analyzed, and many collateral and important points, which naturally occur in the course of the inquiry, are investigated and explained with singular skill and justness. These together form perhaps

a more complete natural history of our active powers, and the economy of our moral constitution, than is to be found in any one work with which we are acquainted. They compose much the larger portion of the treatise, and as the intelligent reader will, with little difficulty, disembarrass them of that characteristic phraseology which grows out of the author's peculiar views, they are of equal importance, whatever theory he may adopt. The general sympathies of our nature will be allowed by all, to hold a most powerful influence over our moral perceptions and feelings. This influence is developed, and the various modifications: that these perceptions and feelings receive from circumstances, and from other principles and passions, are detected and illustrated, with the greatest acuteness and felicity; and the whole combined with practical lessons of conduct, in a style the most engaging and impressive.

Still however, even in the execution of this part of the work, some faults may be pointed out. The style is often vague and diffuse, and rather that of a popular essay, than a philosophical discussion. Many ideas, which individually considered may be presented with sufficient clearness, yet want that exactness of form, which is necessary to determine their application to other ideas, and their

precise bearing upon the point in question. This is especially the case in the frequent use of indefinite terms, where they should be particular, and of limited terms, when the argument requires those which are universal. His illustrations, in themselves so pertinent, are often stated in a manner better suited to enforce received truth, than to settle what is doubtful, or elucidate what is obscure. Although they may involve the principle to be explained, they are not always applied to it with such directness and particularity as to make it clear to the reader. Thus in chapter second of part third, Dr. Smith states a distinction between the love of praise, and the love of praise-worthiness, and endeavors to shew in what manner a fact, in its first aspect so adverse to his theory, may be reconciled with it. This distinction he proceeds to illustrate and explain at great length; yet in the multiplicity of examples, and from neglecting to apply them as he goes along, he seems to lose sight of the great difficulty in the case; and although the reader, when he finishes the chapter, will be fully satisfied that the difference exists, he will be at a loss to say in what manner the author accounts for it.

We notice these defects, not as critics, but philosophers. They are not mere errors of style;

« PredošláPokračovať »