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In like manner, a telescope will enable a man possessing the sense of sight, to see objects invisible to the naked eye. But the revelation of a divine command could no more originate the notion of Duty, generally, in a Being destitute of Moral Faculty, and to whom, therefore, the word “duty' would have no meaning at all (though he might be afraid to disobey), than a telescope could confer sight on a blind man.
"He who would establish a system of Morality independent of a
future state, must look out for a different idea of Moral obligation. But on Paley's theory, they manifestly could not possibly form any such idea at all. For if, as he maintains, the only foundation of that idea is the expectation of reward and punishment in the next world, those who have no knowledge or no belief of this, could never have a notion of such a thing as Duty. It would be thought ridiculous to say 'Men see with their eyes, and cannot see any otherwise ; and those who have no eyes, must see as well as they can without them.'
Yet it is an indisputable fact that the ancient Heathen did, without the knowledge of a future state, entertain a notion of Duty. Whether their views of it were or were not reasonable and well-founded, is nothing to the present purpose. The fact, that they did entertain some, is a disproof of the theory in question.
Such as reject the Christian religion are to make the best shift
they can to build up a system and to lay the foundation of Morality without it.'
On this point I will cite a passage from a Sermon of mine preached before the University of Oxford, which Bishop Fitzgerald extracted, with my permission, from the MS., and printed in his edition of selections from Aristotle.
'Since it is acknowledged that the morality of the heathen writers is not universally unexceptionable, and that their errors are corrected by the principles of the Gospel, which alone are pure and perfect, it might seem, at first sight, as if the systems of ethics which have been or may be founded on christian principles must be alone worthy of attention; and that, when we are studying the moral treatises which unassisted human reason has produced, we are following an insufficient guide when a better is at hand.
But there is an objection of great importance to the exclusive study of christian writers on morality, that since they naturally and rightly are disposed to sanction every precept, where they can, by the authority of divine revelation, they are likely either themselves to adopt, or to lead their readers to adopt the notion that the commands of God, as delivered in Scripture, are the sole foundation of morality. There is, at first glance, a show of piety in thus referring at once to the divine will as the standard of right and wrong, which has contributed to recommend such a doctrine. But its inevitable consequence is to derogate from God's honour, and to deprive the christian revelation of part of its just evidence ; for it is nugatory to speak of the moral attributes of the Deity, and to praise the pure morality of the Gospel, if the Gospel itself, and the express commands of the Deity, are the source from which we derive all our notions of morality. To call the will of God righteous and good, if our original ideas of righteousness and goodness imply merely a conformity to the divine will, is an empty truism. It is, in fact, no more than saying that the will of God is the will of God; and, if we dwell on the excellence of the christian morality at the same time that we make Christianity the sole and original standard of moral excellence, we are evidently arguing in a vicious circle, and merely attributing to the Gospel the praise of being conformable to the rules derived from itself. Dr. Paley, accordingly, who acknowledges, and all along proceeds upon the doctrine that all our moral sentiments are derived entirely from considering what is the will of the Supreme Being, with his usual candour distinctly states, and does not attempt to extenuate the inevitable consequence, that the moral attributes of the Deity are hereby nullified, and that, when we speak of God's justice and goodness, we mean no more than a conformity to those principles which we have learned solely from observing what He Himself has appointed. All our ideas of virtue and vice, according to this writer, consist in this, that the one will be rewarded and the other punished by the Almighty in the next world ; and all the
difference betweenita that, in the one case, we shall gain in the
difference between an act of prudence and an act of duty is, as he distinctly admits, that, in the one case, we consider what we shall gain in this life, in the other what we shall gain in the next life; so that sin does not lead to suffering because it is sin, but it is sin because it leads to suffering ; whence it follows that the ignorance or disbelief of a future state not only absolves from all moral obligation, but destroys even the very idea of moral obligation, except so far as virtue shall appear to bring the larger share of enjoyment in this life.
‘By such doctrines all fair appeal to the morality of the precepts of the Gospel, in confirmation of its divine origin, is entirely taken away. Those, says Dr. Paley, who have no knowledge of a future state of retribution, must frame the best system of morals they can without it. But he ought to have considered that, if his view be correct, they could not possibly have framed any. It is not enough to say that they had no sufficient grounds on which to build their distinction of virtue and vice; no sufficient sanction to enforce a conformity to their precepts. Still it may be asked, how came they by any notions at all of virtue and vice, correct or incorrect? How could the idea of such a thing as a moral precept ever enter their minds? According to Dr. Paley's principles it is evidently impossible, and yet we know that it did take place. His principles, therefore, are completely refuted by such a work, e. g., as Aristotle's Treatise of Ethics. I do not mean, on the supposition that the doctrines of that treatise are sound, and the work valuable, but simply from the circumstance that it exists. No such work could have been even attempted if Man were what Dr. Paley describes him—a Being totally destitute of a moral faculty, and incapable of forming any notion of virtue and vice except from a reference to the arbitrary will of a superior Being, who will reward and punish them respectively in another world. For Aristotle seems to have had no expectation of future retribution, nor makes any reference to the will of the Deity. His moral doctrines, therefore, being derived from unassisted reason, alone afford a plain proof that unassisted reason can furnish us with some knowledge of Duty, however insufficient it may be to supply an adequate motive for the practice of it. Thus, the moral writings of the ancient Pagans, conformable as they are in all the most fundamental points to the morality of the
Gospel, furnish an independent and unexceptionable testimony in favour of the Gospel. If the Author of the universe and the Author of Christianity, the Giver of reason and of revelation, be, as we contend, the same Being, it is to be expected that the declarations of His will which we meet with in revelation should correspond with the dictates of the highest and most perfect Reason; and the testimony of the heathen moralists proves that such is the fact.
*As for the differences in many points between the morality of the heathen writers, and that of the Gospel, they seem to establish still more firmly the conclusion which is drawn from their general coincidence; for, all the peculiarities of the Gospel morality appear manifestly, on an attentive inspection, to consist not in departures from natural morality, but in the correction, completion, and exaltation of what had been laid down by human moralists. It is not in contradiction, but in conformity to the purest ethical principles that Christianity amends what is faulty, supplies what is deficient, and improves what is right in human systems. As far as any moralist has fallen short of the Gospel-precepts, or been at variance with them, so far has he been inconsistent with his own principles rightly considered and duly followed up. The forgiveness of injuries, e. g., might be proved to a candid heathen to be more magnanimous upon his own moral principles than revenge.
"The advantage, in point of internal evidence, which Christianity thus gains from the study of human systems of ethics, is furnished in the highest degree by heathen systems, which must, of course, furnish the most evidently unbiassed testimony in its favour. Other Christian writers, indeed, there are, who have not adopted the same principles as Dr. Paley ; but we can never be sure how far the ethical system of any author familiar with the christian revelation, though he may profess and intend to inquire what are the moral principles that may be ascertained by unaided reason,-we can never be certain, I say, even though he be an infidel, how far this system may be in reality drawn from the christian Scriptures ; and as far as it is (whatever may be the advantages gained in other respects) the testimony which his conclusions bear to the excellence of the Gospel morality is in the same degree weakened. Whereas the unconscious testimony of the unenlightened Pagans is, in this respect, perfectly unexceptionable. And this evidence becomes most powerful and convincing when it is considered that the morality which thus coincides in the main with the deductions of the greatest philosophers, and thus excels them where it differs from them, was brought into the world not by learned Greeks, but by obscure Jewish peasants and fishermen.
'But the argument is still much more confirmed when we contemplate not only the general agreement of Christianity with the moral systems which men have devised, but also its disagreement with their religious systems. Men having, as we have seen, the power to so great a degree of ascertaining the nature of virtue and its conduciveness to man's happiness in this life, they would, one might have supposed, have been naturally led to
conclude that this line of conduct would be the principal thing · to secure the favour of the gods, and the attainment of the greatest happiness in the future life. For if the same God be the Author and the Governor of this world and the next, it is reasonable to suppose that such a course of behaviour as, generally speaking, leads to the greatest and most exalted enjoyments in the present world, should coincide in most respects with that which the Deity prescribes as tending to the happiness of the other world. Such, however, is not, in fact, the principle on which any systems of religion devised by human ingenuity do actually proceed. The means which they prescribe for attaining the favour of the Deity and the enjoyments of the next life, are chiefly such as are either unconnected with Man's welfare in this life, or completely adverse to it; consisting either in rich offerings, splendid shows, and empty ceremonies, or in wearisome pilgrimages, painful and unnatural privations, and self-inflicted tortures ; often, indeed, in acts of impurity and cruelty. The constitution and course of Nature are sufficient to detect the imposture of such pretended religions. In the christian system, on the contrary, that kind of life which is most fitted to promote the welfare of Man in this world is prescribed and principally insisted on as necessary to secure the divine favour, and the promised happiness of the next world. This alone is a presumption that the Author of this world is, indeed, the Author of our religion. But this presumption is much strengthened when we find that no other pretended scheme of religion exhibits this conformity; and the force of the argu