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tions of moral agents; that its requisitions are not arbitrary, but that the very thing and only that is required which is in the nature of things indispensable to the highest wellbeing of moral agents; that God's will does not originate obligation by any arbitrary fiat, but on the contrary that he requires what he does because it is obligatory in the nature of things; that his requirement does not create right, but that he requires only that which is naturally and of necessity right. These and many such like things would irresistibly commend the character of God to the human intelligence as a being worthy to be trusted, and as one to whom submission is infinitely safe and reasonable.
But let the advocates of the theory under consideration but consistently press this theory upon the human intelligence, and the more they do so the less reason can it perceive either for submitting to, or for trusting in God. The fact is, the idea of arbitrary sovereignty is shocking and revolting not only to the human heart, whether unregenerate or regenerate, but also to the human intelligence. Religion, based upon such a view of God's character and government, must be sheer superstition or gross fanaticism.
II. I will next glance at the legitimate results of the theory of the Selfish School.
This theory, as you recollect, teaches that our own interest is the foundation of moral obligation. In conversing with a distinguished defender of this philosophy, I requested the theorist to define moral obligation, and this was the definition given, to wit: "It is the obligation of a moral agent to seek his own happiness." Upon the practical tendency of this theory I remark,
1. It tends directly and inevitably to the confirmation and despotism of sin in the soul. All sin, as we shall abundantly see, resolves itself into a spirit of self-seeking, or into a disposition to seek good to self, and upon condition of its relations to self, and not impartially or disinterestedly. This philosophy represents this spirit of self-seeking as virtue, and onÎy requires that in our efforts to secure our own happiness we should not interfere with the rights of others in also seeking theirs. But here it may be asked, when these philosophers insist that virtue consists in willing our own happiness, and that in seeking it we are bound to have respect to the right and happiness of others, do they mean that we are to have a positive or merely a negative regard to the rights and happiness of others? If they mean that we are to have a posi
tive regard to others' rights and happiness, what is that but giving up their theory and holding the true one, to wit, that the happiness of each one shall be esteemed according to its intrinsic value, for its own sake? That is, that we should be disinterestedly benevolent? But if they mean that we are to regard our neighbor's happiness negatively, that is, merely in such a sense as not to hinder it, what is this but the most absurd thing conceivable? What! I need not care positively for my neighbor's happiness, I need not will it as a good in itself, and for its own value, and yet I must take care not to hinder it. But why? Why, because it is intrinsically as valuable as my own. Now if this is assigning any good reason why I ought not to hinder it, it is just because it is assigning a good reason why I ought positively and disinterestedly to will it; which is the true theory. But if this is not a sufficient reason to impose obligation, positively and disinterestedly to will it, it can never impose obligation to avoid hindering it, and I may pursue my own happiness in my own way without regard to that of any other.
2. If this theory be true, sinful and holy beings are precisely alike, so far as ultimate intention is concerned, in which we have seen all moral character consists. They have precisely the same end in view, and the difference lies only in the means they make use of to promote their own happiness. That sinners are seeking their own happiness, is a truth of universal consciousness. If moral agents are under obligation to seek their own happiness as the supreme end of life, it follows that holy beings do so. So that holy and sinful beings are precisely alike so far as the end for which they live is concerned, the only difference being, as has been observed, in the different means they make use of to promote this end. But observe, no reason can be assigned, in accordance with this philosophy, why they use different means only that they differ in judgment in respect to them, for let it be remembered that this philosophy denies that we are bound to have a positive and disinterested regard to our neighbor's interest, and of course no benevolent considerations prevent the holy from using the same means as do the wicked. Where, therefore, is the difference in their character, although they do use this diversity of means? I say again, there is none. If this difference be not to be ascribed to disinterested benevolence in one and to selfishness in the other, there really is and can be no difference in character between them. According to this theory nothing is right or wrong in itself but the intention to
promote my own happiness, and any thing is right or wrong as it is intended to promote this result or otherwise. For let it be borne in mind that if moral obligation respects strictly the ultimate intention only, it follows that ultimate intention alone is right or wrong in itself, and all other things are right or wrong as they proceed from a right or wrong ultimate intention. This must be true. Also, if my own happiness be the foundation of my moral obligation, it follows that this is the ultimate end at which I ought to aim, and that nothing is right or wrong in itself, in me, but this intention or its opposite, and furthermore that every thing else must be right or wrong in me as it proceeds from this or from an opposite intention. I may do, and upon the supposition of the truth of this theory, I am bound to do whatever will, in my estimation, promote my own happiness, and that, not because of its intrinsic value as a part of universal good, but because it is my own. To seek it as a part of universal happiness, and not because it is my own, would be to act on the true theory, or the theory of disinterested benevolence; which this theory denies.
3. Upon this theory I am not to love God supremely, and my neighbor as myself. If I love God and my neighbor, it is to be only as a means of promoting my own happiness, which is not loving Him but loving myself supremely.
4. This theory teaches radical error in respect both to the character and government of God; and the consistent defender of it can not but hold fundamentally false views in respect to what constitutes holiness or virtue either in God or man. They do not and can not know the difference between virtue and vice. In short, it is impossible that all their views of religion should not be radically false and absurd.
5. The teachers of this theory must fatally mislead all who consistently follow out their instructions. In preaching they must, if consistent, appeal wholly to hope and fear, instead of addressing the heart through the intelligence. All their instructions must tend to confirm selfishness. All the motives they present, if consistent, tend only to stir up a zeal within them to secure their own happiness. If they pray, it will only be to implore the help of God to accomplish their selfish ends.
Indeed it is impossible that this theory should not blind its advocates to the fundamental truths of morality and religion, and it is hardly conceivable that one could more efficiently serve the devil than by the inculcation of such a philosophy as this.
III. Let us in the next place look into the natural, and if its advocates are consistent, necessary results of Utilitarianism.
This theory, you know, teaches that the utility of an action or of a choice, renders it obligatory. That is, I am bound to will good, not for the intrinsic value of the good; but because willing good tends to produce good-to choose an end, not because of the intrinsic value of the end, but because the willing of it tends to secure it. The absurdity of this theory has been sufficiently exposed. It only remains to notice its legitimate practical results.
1. It naturally, and, I may say, necessarily diverts the attention from that in which all morality consists, namely the ultimate intention. Indeed it seems that the abettors of this scheme must have in mind only outward action, or at most executive volitions, when they assert that the tendency of an action, is the reason of the obligation to put it forth. It seems impossible that they should assert that the reason for choosing an ultimate end should or could be the tendency of choice to secure it. This is so palpable a contradiction that it is difficult to believe that they have ultimate intention in mind when they make the assertion. An ultimate end is ever chosen for its intrinsic value, and not because choice tends to secure it. How, then, is it possible for them to hold that the tendency of choice to secure an ultimate end is the reason of an obligation to make that choice? But if they have not their eye upon ultimate intention when they speak of moral obligation, they are discoursing of that which is strictly without the pale of morality. I said in a former lecture, that the obligation to put forth volitions or outward actions to secure an ultimate end must be conditionated upon the perceived tendency of such volitions and actions to secure that end, but while this tendency is the condition of the obligation to executive volition, or outward action, the obligation is founded in the intrinsic value of the end to secure which such volitions tend. So that utilitarianism gives a radically false account of the reason of moral obligation. A consistent ultilitarian therefore can not conceive rightly of the nature of morality or virtue. He can not consistently hold that virtue consists in willing the highest well-being of God and of the universe as an ultimate end or for its own sake, but must, on the contrary, confine his ideas of moral obligation to volitions and outward actions in which there is strictly no morality, and withal assign an entirely false reason for these, to wit their tendency to secure an end rather than the value of the end which they tend to
This is the proper place to speak of the doctrine of expediency, a doctrine strenuously maintained by utilitarians and as strenuously opposed by rightarians. It is this, that whatever is expedient is right for that reason, that is, that the expediency of an action or measure is the foundation of the obligation to put forth that action or adopt that measure. It is easy to see that this is just equivalent to saying that the utility of an action or measure is the reason of the obligation to put forth that action or adopt that measure. But, as we have seen, utility, tendency, expediency, is only a condition of the obligation (in the sense in which obligation can be affirmed of any thing but ultimate intention,) to put forth outward action or executive volition, never the foundation of the obligation, that always being the intrinsic value of the end to which the volition, action or measure sustains the relation of a means. I do not wonder that rightarians object to this, although I do wonder at the reason which, if consistent, they must assign for this obligation, to wit, that any action or volition, (ultimate intention excepted,) can be right or wrong in itself irrespective of its expediency or utility. This is absurd enough and flatly contradicts the doctrine of rightarians themselves, that moral obligation strictly belongs only to ultimate intention. If moral obligation belongs only to ultimate intention, then nothing but ultimate intention can be right or wrong in itself. And every thing else, that is, all executive volitions and outward actions must be right or wrong, (in the only sense in which moral character can be predicated of them,) as they proceed from a right or wrong ultimate intention. This is the only form in which rightarians can consistently admit the doctrine of expediency, that is, that it relates exclusively' to executive volitions and outward actions. And this they can admit only upon the assumption that executive volitions and outward actions have strictly no moral character in themselves but are right or wrong only as and because they proceed necessarily from a right or wrong ultimate intention. All schools that hold this doctrine, to wit, that moral obligation respects the ultimate intention only, must if consistent, deny that any thing can be either right or wrong per se but ultimate intention. Farther they must maintain that utility, expediency, or tendency to promote the ultimate end upon which ultimate intention terminates, is always a condition of the obligation to put forth those volitions and actions that sustain this end the relation of a means. And still further, they must maintain that the obligation to use those means