« AnteriorContinuar »
ever alien from his thoughts : if the author of the unlawful violence suffer himself to be deceived, he ought to blame himself, not the fpeaker.
It need scarce be mentioned, that the duty of veracity excludes not fable, nor any liberty of speech intended for amusement only.
Active duties, as hinted above, are all of them directed to particular persons. And the first I shall mention, is that between parent and child. The relation of parent and child, the strongest that can exist between individuals, binds these
perfons to exert their utmost powers in mutual good offices. Benevolence among other blood-relations, is also a duty; but not fo indispensable, being proportioned to the inferior degree of relation.
Gratitude is a duty directed to our benefactors. But tho' gratitude is strictly a duty, the mcasure of performance, and the kind, are left mostly to our own choice. It is scarce necessary to add, that the active duties now mentioned, are acknowledged by all to be absolutely inflexible, perhaps more so than the restraining duties : many find excuses for doing harm ; but no one hears with patience an excuse for deviating from truth, friendship, or gratitude.
Distress, tho' it has a tendency to convert benevolence into a duty, is not sufficient without other concurring circumstances; for to relieve every person in distress, is beyond the power
human being. Our relations in distress claim that duty from us, and even our neighbours : but distant distress, without a particular connection, scarce rouses our sympathy, and never is an object of duty. Many other connections, too numerous for this fhort essay, extend the duty of relieving others from distress; and these make a large branch of equity. Tho' in various instances benevolence is converted into a duty by distress, it follows not, that the duty is always proportioned to the degree of distress. Nature has more wisely provided for the support of virtue: a virtuous person in distress commands our pity : a vicious person in distress has much less influence; and if by vice he have brought on the distress, indignation is raised, not pity (a). (a) See Elements of Criticism, vol. 1. p. 187. edit. 5.
One great advantage of society, is the co-operation of many to accomplish some useful work, where a single hand would be insufficient. Arts, manufactures, and commerce, require many hands : but as hands cannot be secured without a previous engagement, the performance of
promises and covenants is, upon that account, a capital duty in society. In their original occupations of hunting and fishing, men living scattered and dispersed, have seldom opportunity to aid and benefit each other; and in that situation, covenants, being of little use, are little regarded : but husbandry, requiring the co-operation of many hands, draws men together for mutual assistance; and then covenants make a figure: arts and commerce make them more and more necefsary; and in a polished society great regard is paid to them.
But contracts and promises are not confined to commercial dealings : they serve also to make benevolence a duty; and are even extended to connect the living with the dead : a man would die with regret, if he thought his friends were not bound by their promises to fulfil his will after his death : and to quiet the minds of men with respect to futurity, the moral sense makes the performing such promises our duty. Thus, if I promise to my friend to erect a monument for him after his death, conscience binds me, even tho' no person alive be entitled to demand performance : every one perceives this to be my duty; and I must expect to suffer reproach and blame, if I neglect my engagement.
To fulfil a rational promise or covenant, deliberately made, is a duty no less inflexible than those duties are which arise independent of confent. But as man is fallible, often misled by ignorance, and liable to be deceived, his condition would be deplorable, did the moral sense compel him to fulfil every engagement, however imprudent or irrational. Here the moral sense gives way to human infirmity : it relieves from deceit, from impofition, from ignorance, from error; and binds a inan by no engagement but what answers the end fairly intended. There is still less doubt that it will relieve us from an engagement extorted by external violence, or by overbearing passion. The dread of torture will force most men to submit to
any terms; and a man in imminent hazard of drowning, will voluntarily promife all he has in the world to save him. The moral sense would be ill suited to the imbecillity of our nature, did it bind men in conscience to fulfil engagements made in such circumstances.
The other branch of duties, those we owe, to ourselves, shall be discussed in a few words. Propriety, a branch of the moral sense, regulates our conduct with respect to ourselves; as Justice, another branch of the moral sense, regulates our conduct with respect to others. Propriety dictates, that we ought to act up to the dignity of our nature, and to the station allotted us by Providence : it dictates in particular, that temperance, prudence, modesty, and uniformity of conduct, are felf-duties, Thefe duties contribute to private happiness, by preferving health, peace of mind, and self-esteem; which are inestimable blessings : they contribute no less to happiness in society, by gaining the love and esteem of others, and aid and support in time of need,
Upon reviewing the foregoing duties respecting others, we find them more or VOL. IV.