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ing object it is to obey reason, cultivate moral purity, and secure the favor of God, is not to be found on the earth.
Finally: Our opinion of mankind is generally, perhaps, universally less favorable, in proportion to our converse with the world.
If a man is credulous, and readily presumes on the correct views of men, it is commonly and justly remarked, that he is ignorant of mankind; and that further acquaintance will teach him better. This sentiment is usually expressed without the most distant apprehension of the inference, to which it leads.
From the preceding remarks, it appears, that whatever theory we adopt in accounting for the perverseness of man, the fact is undeniable: and further, whether there is in man by nature, a wrong tendency, a moral taint, or not, facts and appearances are, and always have been precisely as if the doctrine were true; and extremely different from what they probably would have been, had the doctrine been false. Greater disorder could not have been expected, had men been by nature inclined to evil: much less, would have been rationally expected, were they not thus inclined.
THOUGH many facts have been mentioned in the preceding lectures, highly dishonorable to the moral character of man, there are others of a contrary aspect, which are supposed to invalidate the conclusion, to which the former would lead. If there is much vice among men, there is likewise, it may be thought, much virtue. If there is much perfidy, idleness, dissipation, and profanity; there is undeniably much truth, fidelity, diligence, and temperance, and much decency of manner, in treating things sacred.
I answer, that advocates for the doctrine of human depravity, do not deny the existence of real virtue or holiness among men. They only deny, that this is the native production of the human heart, or ever exists there, without the particular agency of the Almighty. They further suppose, that the qualities, which have been mentioned, such as ve. racity, temperence, industry, &c. are by no means to be considered, as conclusive evidence of real virtue: i. e. of such a state of heart, as God and reason require; since these qualities are generally conducive to worldly advantage. Without veracity a man can neither enjoy reputation, nor conveniently transact business. Without temperance and indus try, he will be subject to the like embarrassments. Profaneness of language, or levity in regard to things sacred, exposes
a man to the displeasure of many, whom it is his interest not to offend. An atheist therefore, were he a man of prudence, would be guilty of none of these vices.
But there are many, you say, whose regularity of deportment evidently arises not from considerations of present convenience, but from their belief in a future retribution. The fact is not to be controverted. But, before we can use it in proof of moral goodness, it is necessary to ascertain, whether this abstinence from crimes, proceeds from a love to moral rectitude, as such, or from the fear of future'punishment. For, whether human actions proceed from the fear of temporal, or eternal punishment, they are essentially the If the fear of being disgraced, or imprisoned tomorrow, be a motive, insufficient to constitute an action virtuous, it cannot be constituted such by the fear of being disgraced or punished beyond the grave. All, that can be proved in favor of a person, thus actuated, is, that a wrong disposition has not the same degree of ascendency over him, which it might have over some others, in the like circumstances. It will hardly be asserted by any person, in the least habituated to contemplate moral subjects, that fear of personal disadvantage or suffering is essentially virtuous. Therefore, so far, as that regularity, observable among men, is the result of no higher principal, than fear, it affords no evidence of human virtue. It only proves, that vice or moral corruption, has not taken such entire possession of the mind, as to exclude from it all considerations of reason and personal in
A plausible objection to the doctrine, we are endeavoring to prove, may be supposed to arise from those social feelings, and those attachments of consanguinity, which are extensively if not universally discoverable among men.
I answer; if these social feelings are indeed virtuous, or morally good, the objection is much to the purpose; and although it would not invalidate the proofs, already adduced of general depravity, it would prove that there is, in the heart of man, by nature, real virtue, yet remaining.
Social feelings, parental affection, &c. are amiable qualities, essential to the existence of civil society, and extreme-ly conducive to the happiness of man: but there is nothing in them, I apprehend, either virtuous or vicious. One man is naturally inclined to cheerfulness; another to gravity. This -difference probably arises from bodily organization.
But whether it does or does not, there is nothing of morality in it. To ascertain the moral character of a man, we do not inquire, whether he is naturally cheerful or gloomy.
The reasons for believing, that social feelings, parental affection, &c. though they may be under the influence of moral principles are not of themselves moral qualities, are the following:
I. They are by no means proportionate, to the good or bad characters of men. In some persons, whose lives are dishonest, impure and profane, you perceive parental affection, as strong as it is in the most virtuous. Crimes the most atrocious have been perpetrated under the influence of parental feelings. Nor does the strongest friendship for an individual necessarily prove any real love of virtue. It was the excessive fondness of Achilles for Patroclus, which induced him to sacrifice human victims, and to express the barbarous desire of feeding on the body of Hector. It was the friendship of Zophyrus for Darius, which induced him voluntarily to mangle and mutilate his own person: But these sufferings were, in regard to the Babylonians, the covering of deep dissimulation, and perfidy.
Virtue sometimes requires, not indeed to eradicate these feelings; but to act in opposition to their dictates. Instance the elder Brutus, whom, as magistrate, duty required to punish his own sons for conspiring against the Statc. Now, if the social parental affections, were in themselves morally good, the stronger those affections were, the more, other things being equal, would there be of moral goodness: or, if these affections be the result of moral goodness, when they are strongest the heart must of necessity be the most virtuous.
It may be replied that in the cases, above mentioned, the
irregularity proceeds from the excess of a virtuous principle. By the term virtuous principle, must be meant either virtue itself, or something distinct from it. If the latter, i. e. if social affections be something distinct from virtue, it is precisely what I have endeavored to prove. But, if by virtuous principle, is meant virtue or moral goodness; the objection implies, that moral evil arises from an excess of moral goodness. Now moral goodness consists in conformity to the requirements of God. It is therefore just as absurd to speak of excess in virtue, as of excess in the straightness of a line. It is just as absurd, to say that criminal irregularity can arise from excess of virtue, as to say, that two lines may coincide so precisely, as not to coincide at all.
II. My other reason for believing, that the social feelings, and the attachments of consanguinity, are neither virtuous nor vicious, is, that they are not peculiar to moral agents. Many irrational animals, by associating together, contract a fondness for each other: and, as to the quality of attachment to their young, it is no less strong in the lion and tyger, than in the sheep and the dove. Now, if these qualities are common to all animals, whether they possess reason or not, and whether their natures be mild or ferocious, their existence in man proves nothing, as to his moral character.
You will reply, perhaps, that however plausible this conclusion appears, there must be some sophistry in the argu. ment, as St. Paul, in his epistles to the Romans, and to Timothy, (Rom. i. 31. 2 Tim. iii. 3.) mentions the want of natural affection, as evincing extreme wickedness. If the quality itself were not morally good, its absence you imagine, could not be evil.
I answer, that this inference is not the legitimate offspring of the premises. It does not certainly follow, that a quality is morally good, because the want of it proves moral disorder. Were a judge on the bench, after examining the evidence on both sides, clearly to perceive where the truth lay, no person would, from this circumstance merely, form any conclusion, as to his moral character. His perception of the