Page images
PDF
EPUB

Another reason why these natural principles and affections are mistaken for true virtue, is, that in several respects they have the same effect which true virtue tends to ; especially in these two ways:

1. The present state of the world is so constituted by the wisdom and goodness of its supreme Ruler, that these natural principles, for the most part, tend to the good of mankind. So do natural pity, gratitude, parental affection, &c. Herein they agree with the tendency of general benevolence, which seeks and tends to the general good. But this is no proof that these natural principles have the nature of true virtue. For self-love is exceeding useful and necessary; and so are the natural appetites of hunger, thirst, &c. Yet nobody will assert that these have the nature of true virtue.

2. These principles have a like effect with true virtue in this respect, that they tend several ways to restrain vice, and prevent many acts of wickedness. So natural affection, love to our party, or to particular friends, tends to keep us from acts of injustice towards these persons ; which would be real wick. edness. Pity preserves from cruelty, which would be real and great moral evil. Natural conscience tends to restrain sin in general. But this cannot prove these principles themselves to be of the nature of true virtue. For so is this present state ordered by a merciful God, that even self-love often restrains from acts of true wickedness; and not only so, but puts men upon seeking true virtue ; yet is not itself true virtue, but is the source of all the wickedness that is in the world,

Another reason why these inferior affections, especially some of them, are accounted virtuous, is, that there are affections of the same denomination which are truly virtuous. Thus, for instance, there is a truly virtuous pity, or a compassion to others under affliction or misery, from general benevolence. Pure benevolence would be sufficient to excite pity to another in calamity, if there were no particular instinct, or any other principle determining the mind thereto. It is easy to see how benevolence, which seeks another's good, should cause us to desire his deliverance from evil. And this is a source of pity far more extensive than the other. It excites compassion in eases that are overlooked by natural instinct; and even in those cases to which instinct extends, it mixes its influence with the natural principle, and guides and regulates its operations. And when this is the case, the pity which is exercised may be called a virtuous compassion. So there is a virtuous gratitude; or a gratitude that arises not only from self-love, but from a superior principle of disinterested general benevolence. As when we receive kindness from such as we love already, we are more disposed to gratitude, and disposed to greater degrees of it, than when the mind is destitute of any such friendly prepossession. Therefore when the superior principle of virtuous love has a governing hand, and regulates the affair, it may be called a virtuous gratitude. There is also a virtuous love of justice, arising from pure benevolence to being in general; as that naturally and necessarily inclines the heart, that every particular being should have such a share of benevolence as is proportioned to its dignity, consisting in the degree of its being and the degree of its virtue. And thus it is easy to see, how there may be a virtuous sense of desert different from what is natural and common; and a virtuous conscientiousness, or a sanctified conscience. And as, when natural affections have their operations mixed with the influence of virtuous benevolence, and are directed and determined thereby, they may be called virtuous ; so there may be a virtuous love of parents to children, and between other near relatives ; a virtuous love of our town, or country, or nation. Yea, and a virtuous love between the sexes, as there may be the influence of virtue mingled with instinct ; and virtue may govern with regard to the particular manner of its operation, and may guide it to such ends as are agreeable to the great purposes of true virtue.

Genuine virtue prevents that increase of the habits of pride and sensuality, which tend to diminish the exercises of the useful and necessary principles of nature. And a principle of general benevolence softens and sweetens the mind, makes it more susceptible of the proper influence of the gentler natural instincts, directs every one into its proper channel, determines the exercise to the proper manner and measure, and guides all to the best purposes.*

*

* In this chapter our very ingenious and judicious author has assigned several reasons why many things are commonly thought to be virtuous which in reality are not so, or have no claim to moral goodness in the proper acceptation of these words.

It is with some reluctance that we notice in this place a writer, who by his masterly attack on modern infidelity and atheism, has rendered such important service to the cause of truth and virtue ; but who seems either to have been dissatisfied with these reasons, or to have omitted a strict examination of them when duty required it. We shall not here inquire into the candour of Mr. Robert Hall's remarks in associating President Edwards with modern infidels on the subject of virtue ; nor on the congruity of the business, whereby a definition implying, and an explication declaring the love of God to be essential to true virtue, is made to coincide with a definition adopted by infidels, and consistent with atheo ism itself. These are his words:

It is somewhat singular, that many of the fashionable infidels have hit upon a definition of virtue which perfectly coincides with that of certain metaphysical divines in America, first invented and defended by that most acute reasoner, JoNATHAN EDWARDS. They both place virtue exclusively in a passion for the general good; or, as Mr. EDWARDS expresses it, love to in general: so that our love is always to be proportioned to the magnitude of its object in the scale of being, which is liable to the objections I have already stated, as well as to many others which the limits of this note will not permit me to enumerate. Let it suke fice to remark, (1) That virtue, on these principles, is an utter impossibility: for the system of being, comprehending the great Supreme, is infinite; and therefore,

CHAP. VIII.

In what respects Virtue or moral good is founded in sentiment;

and how far it is founded in the Reason and Nature of Things.

Virtue is a certain kind of beautiful nature, form, or quality. That form or quality is called beautiful, which appears in itself

to maintain the proper proportion, the force of particular attention must be infinitely less than the passion for the general good: but the limits of the human mind are not capable of any emotions so infinitely different in degree. (2) Since our vieros of the extent of the universe are capable of perpetual enlargement, admitting the sum of existence is ever the same, we must return back at each step to diminish the strength particular affections, or they will become disproportionate; and consequently, on these principles, vicious : so that the balance must be continually fluctuating, by the weights being taken out of one scale and put into the other. (3) If virtue consist exclusively in love to being in general, or attachment to the general good, the particular affections are, to every purpose of virtue, useless, and even pernicious; for their immediate, nay, their necessary tendency is to attract to their objects a proportion of attention which far exceeds their comparative value in the general scale. To allege that the general good is promoted by them, will be of no advantage to the defence of this system, but the contrary, by confessing that a greater sum of happiness is attained by a deviation from, than an adherence to its principles; unless its advocates mean by the love of being in general, the same thing as the private affections, which is to confound all the distinctions of language, as well as all the operations of mind Let it be remembered we have no dispute respecting what is the ultimate end of virtue, which is allowed on both sides to be the greatest sum of happiness in the universe. The question is merely what is virtue itself; or, in other words, what are the means appointed for the attainment of that end?"""

There is little doubt, from some parts of Mr. Godwin's work, entitled “ Pelitical Justice,” as well as from his early habits of reading, that he was indebted to Mr. Edwards for his principal arguments against the private affections; though, with a daring consistence, he has pursued his principles to an extreme from which that most excellent man would have revolted with horror. The fundamental error of the whole system arose, as I conceive, from a mistaken pursuit of simplicity; from a wish to construct a moral system without leaving sufficient scope for the infinite variety of moral phenomena and mental combination; in consequence of which its advocates were induced to place virtue exclusively in some one disposition of nind: and since the passion for the general good is undeniably the noblest and most extensive of all others, when it was once resolved to place virtue in any one thing, there remained little room to hesitate which should bo preferred. It might have been worth while to reflect, that in the natural world ihere are two kinds of attraction; one, which holds several parts of individual bodies in contact; another, which maintains the union of bodies themselves with the general system, and that, though the union in the former case is much more intimate than in the latter, each is equally essential to the order of the world. Similar to this is the relation which the public and private affections bear to each other, and their use in the moral system.” (Modern Infidelity considered, p. 62, &c. Note, sixth edition.)

On this note, so very uncongenial with the body of the work, we were going to say, as unseemly when connected with the discourse, as a deforming wart on a fair countenance, justice constrains us make a few remarks.

1. “Singular” indeed would it be to find an ATAEIST, or an infidel, who should even approve of EDWARDS' definition, and still more singular" to find them maintaining, in conformity with his explanation of that definition, that supreme love to God is of the essence of true virtue. But so far are their definitions from“ coinciding,” that they differ foto ceto. A passionate attachment for the wet

agreeable or comely, or the view of which is immediately pleasant to the mind. I say agreeable in itself, and immedi

fare of a country, or “a passion for the general good,” in any sense wherein this expression can be ascribed to infidels, is a representation not more different from that of President EDWARD's, than Mr. Hall is different from Voltaire or D’ALENBERT. Our author's meaning, as explained by himself

, is as truly sublime as theirs is truly selfish and contracted. For their definition had no regard to the Being of beings; but this adorable Being is necessarily included in Mr. E.'s definition, and essential to it. We say, is “included," because the Supreme Being, together with every derived existence, is contained in “being in general.”

2. If by a “metaphysical divine” be meant a “most acute reasoner," we feel no objection in having the term “ metaphysical" applied to our author, for few, if any, have deserved it better. If error and absurdity appeal to metaphysical discussions, and involve the truth in a labyrinth of sophisms, surely hard would be the casc of a man who should be called by an opprobrious name, for venturing into that labyrinth by the light of essential principles, in order to detect and exposc false reasoning.

3. Mr. H. objects to the sentiment," that our love is always to be proportioned to the magnitude of its object in the scale of being.” We presume however he will allow, that the whole systein of being is in itself the most worthy of being prized, other things being equal. But if so, the nature of true virtue requires this regard to the whole system of being, compared with its parts. Nor does it follow from this, that the same principle, in the progress of its operations, disregards the smalier circle of attachments. Surely a virtuous person, loving God supremély, is not on that account less qualified for personal and domestic duties. Besides, Mr. E. does not maintain that our love is always to be proportioned to the magnitude of its object in the scale of being, except where other things are equal. This he expressly and repeatedly mentions—“other things being equal.” To this important distinction Mr. H. does not appear to have adverted ; his representation of the case therefore is defective, and calculated to mislead the unwary,

Mr. H's statement in the first objection, does not distinguish between the nature of the attachment and its force or degree. A little reflection will fully shew, that these are entirely distinct considerations. The greatest force, or the highest degree of attachment, may exist, when the nature of it is not at all virtuous. If indeed attachment be made to include accurate knowledge, a divine relish, and deliberate esteem in appreciating the worth of any object, then the degree of attachment may be justly considered as proportionate to the “magnitude of the object in the scale of being,” but not otherwise. A truly virtuous mother, for instance, may have a great force of affection for her child, or husband, and be more conscious of it than of her love to God; but let her be put to the test of deliberate esteem, and she would sooner part with child, husband, or life itself, than renounce her supreme love to God

5. Our author's representation of true virtue by no means implies, as Mr. H. supposes, that the degree or force of attachment, in its operation, should bear an exact proportion to the magnitude of its object. The nature of virtue indoed is to be denominated according to its object, but its degree must necessarily be measured pro captu agentis. The nature of love to God may be the same in the heart of a child, as in that of an angel, because the object of it is the same; but the degree of it will be as differently varied as the views and capacities of the subjects. It is not a little surprising how Mr H came to imagine, that our author held the sentiment he is pleased to ascribe to him, a sentiment so absurd as to be held, we apprehend, by no person in the world ; a sentiment which requires an infinite force of affection from a finite being, an affection equal in degree to that of his Maker.

6. So far is the exercise of virtue, according to Mr. E's definition, from being an impossibility, that we think he has fully proved there can be no true virtue on any other principle. To illustrate this, suppose a man has a strong attachment to himself, but none to his family; will that force of affection constitute him virtuous ? Again, suppose his affection, with any assignable force, be extended to his family but repels the well founded claims of a whole nation, can that he virtuous ? Or if he extend his force of affection to a whole nation, if it repels all the human race beside, can it be virtuous ? Moreover, suppose his ardent affection embrace

ately pleasant, to distinguish it from things which in themselves are not so, but either indifferent or disagreeable; which yet

the whole human kind, can it be virtuous while it repels all other created beings ? Or if, together with himself, he feels an affectionate attachment, in different and proportionate degrees, to every created being, but repels the Creator of all, can ihat forcible and orderly affection be denominated truly virtuous : If the reply be in the affirmative, then an atheist may be virtuous, which is absurd. Therefore attachment to the supreme Being, or to being in general, is essential to the very nature of true virtue.

7 No one yet denied, except those who deny the being of a God, that supreme love to him is virtuous, if any thing be so. The great Supreme is infinite, and if he ought not to be loved accorsing to his greatness, what constitutes the crime of Idolatry? And if supreme love to an infinite being were inconsistent with subordinate attachinints, we ought to e tinguish the supremacy of our love to God, before we could discharge our duty to our fellow creatures, which every one must allow to be preposterous.

8 As the second objection is founded on the same principle which was assumed in the first, it has been already virtually answered. But it may be controverted on another account. That "e tended views,” diininish the strength of particular affections does not appear consonant with experience Is it consistent with experience, that the acquisition of a second friend must rob the first of a moiety of his friendly affection? Does a parent experience any diminution of affection to a first child, in proportion to a subsequent increase of number? Has a tenth child but a tenth part of a mother's former affection to her first ? Does a man love his neighbour the less because his views are extended to an infinite object? Or when the heart, or supremacy of affection, is fixed on God, is virtuous affection to man diminished ?

9. Besides, this objection proceeds on another gratuitous principle, víz that there may be true virtue, or virtuous affection, when our views of existence do not include God For if we view him, we view an object infinite and unchangeable, who is all in all, and the sum of existence That our views of the extent of the created universe are capable of perpetual enlargement, is no good reason why“ particular affections” should fluctuate, become disproportionate, or vicious; any more than the love of God should constitute the love of our neighbour criminal. So that there is no necessity for “the balance to be continually fluctuating by the weights being taken out of one scale and put into the other ;” except it be by correcting past mistakes, as those do, who when grown up to manhood, put away childish things.

10. Virtuous love, however forcible to oneself, to relatives, to a nation, to man. kind, or to the whole created universe, is not virtuous because of this particular, private, or limite! attachment, but because of its tendency to God, except we prostitute the term virtue to signify something claimed equally by the worst and the best of men. And this general attachment, or love to God and universal being, does not at all counteract, or even lessen, the cominendable force of private ones, any more than the force of general gravity teads to destroy the force of cohesion.

11. Mr H.'s ihird and last objection, like the preceding ones, rests on a mis. taken apprehension of Mr. E.'s real sentiment. Mr. H. still confounds the nature of attachment with its de ree. If virtue, according to Mr. E. consists exclusively in love to being in general, his meaning is, that no force of affection which has not universal bein; for its ultimate object, can be virtuous in the most proper sense of the word. He cannot mean that there is no virtuous love to particular beings; for, in perfect consistency with his views, even a love of ourselves may be virtuous, as well as a love of our neighbour What he maintains then is, that the love of ourselves, of our neighbour, our nation, or any private system whatever, if detached from a tendency of affection to unitersal being, is not truly virtuous. And what is this, more or less, than what all judicious divines have maintained, that he who does not really love God, does not truly love his neighbour ? If Mr. E uses language more philosophically exact, and investigates the principle on which a commonly received truth is founded, he certainly deserves commendation rather than blame.

12. On Mr. E.'s principles, the particular affections are so far from being " useless,” that their operations are not at all affested by those principles, except

« PreviousContinue »