Page images
PDF
EPUB

provement, and is also liable to be corrupted and depraved, and is subject to various imperfections. Human Reason is far from being infallible ; for many men are deceived by fallacious arguments, and fall into various errors ; and there are great varieties in the opinions formed by different persons. Yet no one would on that ground deny that Man is a rational Being. And again, you may occasionally see great variations even in the bodily senses, and in the bodily formation, of different individuals. But we do not consider these variations as doing away with all general rules. Some are born idiots, and some blind; some have been born with only one arm, and some with neither arms nor legs. Yet we speak of Man as a Being possessing reason, and having eyes, and arms, and legs. And again, to a person in fever, sweet things taste bitter; and some have a taste so depraved by disease or by habit as to prefer bitter or sour things to sweet. Yet no one would deny that wormwood is bitter, and honey sweet; or would say that aloes has naturally a pleasanter taste than honey. And it would be equally absurd to deny that there is anything naturally odious in ingratitude, or that justice and beneficence are natural and proper objects of approbation.'

It is very strange, yet such appears to be the case, that Paley apparently considers it the same thing to disprove the existence of Moral Maxims, and to disprore a Moral-faculty. Yet what would be thought of any one who should maintain that there is no such thing as an ear for music, because there are no innate tunes ?

As the point now before us is one of great importance, I will take the liberty of citing, in reference to it, an extract from Bishop Fitzgerald's preliminary dissertation to his selection from Aristotle's Moral Philosophy.

'It is strange to see how this confusion, between an innate moral faculty and innate maxims of morality, has imposed upon some of the clearest thinkers. Paley himself, after relating the story of Caius Toranius, proposes the probable feelings of Peter the wild boy on hearing it, as a proper experimentum crucis,-a test of the reality of a natural moral sense. 'The question is,' says he, whether such a one would feel, upon the relation, any degree of that sentiment of disapprobation of Toranius' conduct which we feel or not;' and then he proceeds: 'They who maintain the existence of a moral sense ; of innate maxims ; of a natural conscience; that the love of virtue and hatred of vice are instinctive ; or the perception of right and wrong intuitive (all which are only different ways of expressing the same opinion); affirm that he would.' Is it not plain that this singularly perspicacious writer was labouring all along under the mistaken notion that, in showing that there are no innate general maxims of morality, he was disproving the existence of the moral faculty ? and is it not equally plain that in this he fell into the same error as if he were to doubt the existence of human Reason, because it is much to be questioned whether that same unprejudiced savage could have been made to understand that the angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are demonstrably equal to each other?

That this was really the confusion in Paley's mind becomes more and more evident at every step. He tells us, for instance, that there is scarcely a single vice which, in some age or country of the world, has not been countenanced by public opinion ; that in one country it is esteemed an office of piety in children to sustain their aged parents, in another to despatch them out of the way. Now, those who deem it pious to despatch their aged parents, approve the action, because they regard deliverance from a wretched old age the highest service they can render them, and because they believe the practice to be sanctioned by the Superior Beings who are the authors of their religion. Here the rational faculty is at least as much in fault as the moral; and the truth is, that such instances as these militate as much against any theory of morals, which claims support in any principle of human nature, as against that which makes Conscience its foundation.

These objections tacitly assume that where the objects approved and disapproved really are the same, there, they appear the same to the minds of those who, nevertheless, pass such opposite judgments ;—that every essential element of the whole case, as it really subsists, is, in every such instance, present to the mind; and that it is upon such a survey of the case, that the moral sentirnents in question arise. But in the great mass of cases, in which one set of men pronounce that praiseworthy or innocent which another censure as vicious, it will be found that, on one side or the other, there is some imaginary element in the mind, which is not in the object,—some confused blending of a virtuous element with a vicious one which it accidentally resembles,—or the presence of some predominating passion, which prevents the mind from attending to those characters of the object which, but for that disturbing influence, it would be able to perceive, and which, whenever that influence is removed, it does perceive. In a word, all the known causes of error in the rational, are possible causes of error in the moral faculty ; and the test of error is in both cases the same. What either pronounces true or just respectively in any case, it implicitly pronounces true or just, under the same circumstances, in all cases. The first step, therefore, towards correction, is to generalize the phenomena ; and it is acutely remarked by Aristotle that, in moral syllogisms, the mistake is made much oftener in the particular Minor than in the universal Major premise. The nation which encouraged their boys to pilfer, did not regard with approval the disposition to abstract the property of others, nor did they commend such pilfering as the result of such a disposition, but under a totally different aspect ; and so in other cases. The statements of those who love to dwell upon these anomalies of the moral-sense, owe much of their effect to their being expressed in general terms, and will · lose a great deal of their weight when it is remembered that, though, in this form, they doubtless state the case as it really is, they do not state it as it was before the minds of the persons concerned.

'But the most amazing circumstance in that remarkable chapter of Paley's Moral Philosophy, is the total unconsciousness which the author seems to exhibit of there being anything peculiar or specific in our feeling of moral approbation. He seems to think that, as soon as he has shown that the approval which we bestow upon things because they are useful, may become by habit immediately attached to them, after the perception of their utility has dropped out of the mind, he has done all that could be reasonably expected by his antagonists; or, in other words, he seems to imagine that no one can possibly suppose the emotion which approves the virtue of a man, to differ specifically from that which commends the proportions of a doorway, or the elegance of a tweezer-case.'

· Aristotle lays it down as a self-evident and fundamental Maxim,

that Nature intended Barbarians to be slaves.' This gross misrepresentation, doubtless, did not arise from designed falsification on Paley's part, but from his carelessly giving credence to some report at second or third hand, without taking the trouble himself to look into the author.

What Aristotle does say,' is, that the only kind of person who can be regarded as [dovlog puokl] a 'slave by nature,' is one who, though capable of acting under another's direction, is incapable of acting rationally by himself; and that as soon as he becomes capable of being his own master, he has a natural right to freedom, though he may be retained by force in a state of slavery.

One of the worst evils however of slavery as an institution, is, that the master's interest is generally not to train his slaves so as to become qualified for freedom, but on the contrary, to keep them in a state of ignorance and degradation.

The laws of ancient Greece and Rome did not encourage, but, on the other hand, did not prohibit (as in some slave-states in our day) the education of slaves.”

CHAPTER VI.

HUMAN HAPPINESS.

THE word happy is a relative term : that is, when we call a

I man happy, we mean that he is happier than some others, with whom we compare him,—than the generality of others ;-or than he himself was in some other situation. Thus, speaking of one who has just compassed the object of a long pursuit,—Now,' we say, 'he is happy; and in a like comparative sense,-com. pared, that is, with the general lot of mankind, -we call a man happy who possesses health and competency.

In strictness, any condition may be denominated happy, in

1 In the Politics.

2 See American Slavery. Longmans.

which the amount or aggregate of pleasure exceeds that of pain; and the degree of happiness depends upon the quantity of this excess.

And the greatest quantity of it ordinarily attainable in human life, is what we mean by happiness, when we inquire or pronounce what human happiness consists in.

In which inquiry I will omit much usual declamation on the dignity and capacity of our nature; the superiority of the soul to the body, of the rational to the animal part of our constitution; upon the worthiness, refinement, and delicacy of some satisfactions, or the meanness, grossness, and sensuality, of others; because I hold that pleasures differ in nothing but in continuance and intensity : from a just computation of which, confirmed by what we observe of the apparent cheerfulness, tranquillity, and contentment, of men of different tastes, tempers, stations, and pursuits, every question concerning human happiness must receive its decision.

It will be our business to show, if we can,
I. What Human Happiness does not consist in :
II. What it does consist in.

First, then, Happiness does not consist in the pleasures of sense, in whatever profusion or variety they be enjoyed. By the pleasures of sense, I mean, as well the animal gratifications

1 If any positive signification, distinct from what we mean by pleasure, can be affixed to the term happiness,' I should take it to denote a certain state of the nervous system in that part of the human frame in which we feel joy and grief, passions and affections. Whether this part be the heart, which the turn of most languages would lead us to believe, or the diaphragin, as Buffon, or the upper orifice of the stomach, às Van Helmont thought; or rather be a kind of fine network, lining the whole region of the præcordia, as others have imagined; it is possible, not only that each painful sensation may violently shake and disturb the fibres at the time, but that a series of such may at length so derange the very texture of the system, as to produce a perpetual irritation, which will show itself by fretfulness, impatience, and restlessness. It is possible also, on the other hand, that a succession of pleasurable sensations may have such an effect upon this subtile organization, as to cause the fibres to relax, and return into their place and order, and thereby to recover, or, if not lost, to preserve, that harmonious conformation which gives to the mind its sense of complacency and satisfaction. This state may be denominated happiness, and is so far distinguishable from pleasure, that it does not refer to any particular object of enjoyment, or consist, like pleasure, in the gratification of one or more of the senses, but is rather the secondary effect which such objects and gratifications produce upon the nervous system, or the state in which they leave it. These conjectures belong not, however, to our province. The comparative sense, in which we have explained the term Happiness, is more popular, and is sufficient for the purpose of the present chapter.

« PreviousContinue »