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pre-supposes the existence of certain principles which are common to all mankind.
170. The influence of education, in diversifying the appearances which human nature exhibits, depends on that law of our constitution, which was formerly called the Association of Ideas : And this law supposes, in every instance, that there are opinions and feelings essential to the human frame, by a combination with which, external circumstances lay hold of the mind, and adapt it to its accidental situation.
171. Education may vary, in particular cases, the opinions of individuals with respect to the beautiful and the sublime. But education could not create our notions of Beauty or Deformity, of Grandeur or Meanness. In like manner, education may vary our sentiments with respect to particular actions ; but could not create our notions of Right and Wrong, of Merit and Demerit.
172. The historical facts which have been alleged to prove, that the moral judgments of mankind are entirely factitious, will be found, upon examination, to be either the effects of misrepresentation; or to lead to a conclusion directly the reverse of what has been drawn from them :-proper allowance being made, 1. For the different circumstances of mankind in different periods of society'; 2. For the diversity of their speculative opinions ;—and 3. For the different moral import of the same action, under different systems of external behaviour.
173. All these doctrines, how erroneous soever, have been maintained by writers not unfriendly to the interests of morality. But some licentious moralists have gone much farther, and have attempted to show, that the motives of all men are fundamentally the same; and that what we commonly call Virtue is mere Hypocrisy.
174. The disagreeable impression, which such representations of human nature leave on the mind, affords a sufficient refutation of their truth. If there be really no essential distinction between virtue and vice, whence is it, that we conceive one class of qualities to be more excellent and meritorious than another? Why do we consider Pride, or Vanity, or Selfishness, to be less wor
thy motives for our conduct, than disinterested Patriotism, or Friendship, or a determined adherence to what we believe to be our duty ? Why does our species appear to us less amiable in one set of philosophical systems than in another?
175. It has been a common error among licentious moralists, to confound the question concerning the actual attainments of mankind, with the question concerning the reality of moral distinctions ; and to substitute a satire on vice and folly, instead of a philosophical account of the principles of our constitution. Admitting the picture which has been sometimes drawn of the real depravity of the world to be a just one; the gloom and dissatisfaction which it leaves on the mind, are sufficient to demonstrate, that we are formed with the love and admiration of moral excellence, and that this is enjoined to us, as the law of our nature. “Hypocrisy itself,” as Rochefoucault has remarked, “is an homage which vice renders to virtue.”
Of the Moral Faculty.
Analysis of our Moral Perceptions and Emotions. 176. AFTER establishing the universality of moral perception, as an essential part of the human constitution, the next question that occurs, is, how our notions of right and wrong are formed ? Are we to refer them to a particular principle in our nature, appropriated to the perception of these qualities, as our external senses are appropriated to the perception of the qualities of matter? -or are they perceived by the same intellectual power which discovers truth in the abstract sciences ?—or are they resolvable into other notions still more simple and general than themselves ? All these opinions have been maintained by authors of eminence. In order to form a judgment on the point in dispute, it is necessary to analyse the state of our minds, when we are spectators
of any good or bad action performed by another person; or when we reflect on the actions performed by ourselves. On such occasions, we are conscious of three different things :
(1.) The perception of an action as Right or wrong.
(2.) An emotion of pleasure or of pain ; varying in its degree, according to the acuteness of our moral sensibility.
(3.) A perception of the merit or demerit of the agent.
I. Of the Perception of Right and Wrong. 177. The controversy concerning the origin of our moral ideas took its rise in modern times, in consequence of the writings of Mr. Hobbes. According to him, we approve of virtuous actions, or of actions beneficial to society, from self-love ; as we know, that whatever promotes the interest of society, has, on that very account, an indirect tendency to promote our own. He farther taught, that, as it is to the institution of government we are indebted for all the comforts and the confidence of social life, the laws which the civil magistrate enjoins are the ultimate standards of morality.
178. Dr. Cudworth, who, in opposition to the system of Mr. Hobbes, first showed in a satisfactory manner, that our ideas of Right and Wrong are not derived from positive law ; referred the origin of these ideas to the power which distinguishes truth from falsehood : and it became, for some time, the fashionable language among moralists to say, that virtue consisted, not in obedience to the law of a superior, but in a conduct conformable to Reason.
179. At the time that Cudworth wrote, no accurate classification had been attempted, of the principles of the human mind. His account of the office of reason, accordingly, in enabling us to perceive the distinction between right and wrong, passed without censure, and was understood merely to imply, that there is an eternal and immutable distinction between right and wrong, no less than between truth and falsehood; and that both
these distinctions are perceived by our rational powers, or by those powers which raise us above the brutes.
180. The publication of Locke's Essay introduced into this part of science, a precision of expression unknown before ; and taught philosophers to distinguish a variety of powers which had formerly been very generally confounded. With these great merits, however, his work has capital defects ; and, perhaps, in no part of it are these defects more important, than in the attempt he has made to deduce the origin of our knowledge entirely from sensation and reflection. These, according to him, are the sources of all our simple ideas; and the only power that the mind possesses, is to perform certain operations of Analysis, Combination, Comparison, &c. on the materials with which it is thus supplied.
181. This system led Mr. Locke to some dangerous opinions, concerning the nature of moral distinctions ; which he seems to have considered as the offspring of Education and Fashion. Indeed, if the words right and wrong neither express simple ideas, nor relations discoverable by reason, it will not be found easy to avoid adopting this conclusion.
182. In order to reconcile Locke's account of the origin of our ideas, with the immutability of moral distinctions, different theories were proposed concerning the nature of virtue. According to one, for example, it was said to consist in a conduct conformable to the Fitness of things : According to another, in a conduct conformable to Truth. The great object of all these theories may be considered as the same ;—to remove Right and Wrong from the class of simple ideas, and to resolve moral rectitude, into a conformity with some relation perceived by reason or the understanding.
183. Dr. Hutcheson saw clearly the vanity of these attempts ; and hence he was led, in compliance with the language of Locke's philosophy, to refer the origin of our moral ideas to a particular power of perception, to which he gave the name of the Moral Sense. “ All the ideas,” says he, “or the materials of our reasoning or judging, are received by some immediate powers of perception, internal or external, which we may call
Senses. Reasoning or intellect seems to raise no new species of ideas, but to discover or discern the relations of those received.”
184. According to this system, as it has been commonly explained, our perceptions of right and wrong are impressions, which our minds are made to receive from particular actions ; similar to the relishes and aversions given us for particular objects of the external or internal
185. From the hypothesis of a moral sense, various sceptical conclusions have been deduced by later writers. The words right and wrong, it has been alleged, signify nothing in the objects themselves to which they are applied, any more than the words sweet and bitter, pleasant and painful; but only certain effects in the mind of the spectator. As it is improper, therefore, (according to the doctrines of modern philosophy,) to say of an object of taste, that it is sweet, or of heat, that it is in the fire ; so it is equally improper, to say of actions, that they are right or wrong. It is absurd to speak of morality as a thing independent and unchangeable ; inasmuch as it arises from an arbitrary relation between our constitution and particular objects.
186. In order to avoid these supposed consequences of Dr. Hutcheson's philosophy, an attempt has been made by some later writers, in particular by Dr. Price, to revive the doctrines of Dr. Cudworth, and to prove that moral distinctions, being perceived by reason or the understanding, are equally immutable with all other kinds of truth.
187. This is the most important question that can be stated, with respect to the theory of morals. The ob. scurity in which it is involved arises chiefly from the use of indefinite and ambiguous terms.
188. That moral distinctions are perceived by a sense, is implied in the definition of a sense which Dr. Hutcheson has given, (S 183.): provided it be granted, (as Dr. Price has done explicitly,) that the words right and wrong express simple ideas, or ideas incapable of analysis.
189. It may be farther observed, in justification of Dr.