Imágenes de páginas

at the fame time to excite averfion in



This fenfe of perfection in the common nature of man, comprehends every branch of his nature, and particularly the common fenfe of right and wrong; which accordingly is perceived by all to be perfect, having authority over every individual as the ultimate and unerring standard of morals, even in contradiction to private conviction. Thus, a law in our nature binds us to regulate our conduct by that standard and its authority is univerfally acknowledged; as nothing is more ordinary in every dispute about meum et tuum, than an appeal to common fenfe as the ultimate and unerring standard.

At the fame time, as that standard, through infirmity or prejudice, is not confpicuous to every individual; many are misled into erroneous opinions, by miftaking a false standard for that of nature. And hence a distinction between a right and a wrong fenfe in morals; a distinction which every one understands, but which, unless for the conviction of a moral standard, would have no meaning.

The final caufe of this branch of our


nature is confpicuous.

Were there no

ftandard of right and wrong for determining endless controverfies about matters of intereft, the strong would have recourse to force, the weak to cunning, and fociety would diffolve. Courts of law could afford no remedy; for without a standard of morals, their decifions would be arbitrary, and of no authority. Happy it is for men to be provided with fuch a ftandard: it is necessary in fociety that our actions be uniform with respect to right and wrong; and in order to uniformity of action, it is neceffary that our perceptions of right and wrong be alfo uniform: to produce fuch uniformity, a standard of morals is indifpenfable. Nature has provided us with that ftandard, which is daily apply'd by courts of law with fuccefs (a).

In reviewing what is faid, it must afford great fatisfaction, to find morality established upon the folid foundations of intuitive perception; which is a fingle mental act complete in itself, having no dependence on any antecedent propofition. The most accurate reafoning affords not


See Elements of Criticifm, vol. 2. p. 490. edit. 5. equal

equal conviction; for every fort of reafoning, as explained in the sketch immediately foregoing, requires not only felf-evident truths or axioms to found upon, but employs over and above various propofitions to bring out its conclufions. By intuitive perception folely, without reafoning, we acquire knowledge of right and wrong; of what we may do, of what we ought to do, and of what we ought to abstain from: and confidering that we have thus greater certainty of moral laws than of any propofition discoverable by reasoning, man may well be deemed a favourite of heaven, when he is fo admirably qualified for doing his duty. The moral fenfe or confcience is the voice of God within us; conftantly admonishing us of our duty, and requiring from us no exercife of our faculties but attention merely. The celebrated Locke ventured what he thought a bold conjecture, That moral duties are fufceptible of demonftration: how agreeable to him would have been the discovery, that they are founded upon intuitive perception, ftill more convincing and authoritative!

By one branch of the moral fenfe, we


are taught what we ought to do, and what we ought not to do; and by another. branch, what we may do, or leave undone. But fociety would be imperfect, if the moral sense stopped here. There is a third branch that makes us accountable for our conduct to our fellow-creatures; and it will be made evident afterward in the third sketch, that we are accountable to our Maker, as well as to our fellow-crea


It follows from the ftandard of right and wrong, that an action is right or wrong, independent of what the agent may think. Thus, when a man, excited by friendship or pity, refcues a heretic from the flames, the action is right, even tho' he think it wrong, from a conviction that heretics ought to be burnt. But we apply a different ftandard to the agent: a man is approved and held to be innocent in doing what he himself thinks right he is disapproved and held to be guilty in doing what he himself thinks wrong. Thus, to affaffinate an atheist for the fake of religion, is a wrong action; and yet the enthufiaft who commits that wrong, may be innocent: and one is guilty,



guilty, who against conscience eats meat in Lent, tho' the action is not wrong. In fhort, an action is perceived to be right or wrong, independent of the actor's own opinion but he is approved or disapproved, held to be innocent or guilty, accor ding to his own opinion.

[blocks in formation]

Laws of Nature refpecting our Moral Conduct in Society.

A Standard being thus established for

regulating our moral conduct in fociety, we proceed to investigate the laws that refult from it. But firft we take under confideration, what other principles concur with the moral fenfe to qualify men for fociety.

When we reflect on the different branches of human knowledge, it might feem, that of all fubjects human nature hould be the best understood; because every man has daily opportunities to study

« AnteriorContinuar »