Page images

suppose the prostrate columns and rough stones to be as much designed as those that were erect and perfect; the other would sketch out in his own mind something like the perfect structure of which he beheld only a part; and though he might not be able to explain how it came to be unfinished, or decayed, would conclude that some such design was in the mind of the builder : though this same man, if he were contemplating a mere rude heap of stones which bore no marks of design at all, would not in that case draw such a conclusion.

Or again, suppose two persons, one having an ear for music, and the other totally destitute of it, were both listening to a piece of music imperfectly heard at a distance, or half drowned by other noises, so that only some notes of it were distinctly caught, and others were totally lost, or heard imperfectly; the one might suppose that the sounds he heard were all that were actually produced, and think the whole that met his ear to be exactly such as was designed; but the other would form some notion of a piece of real music, and would conclude that the interruptions and imperfections of it were not parts of the design, but were to be attributed to his imperfect hearing : though if he heard on another occasion, a mere confusion of sounds without any melody at all, he would not conclude that anything like music was designed.

The application is obvious : the wisdom and goodness discernible in the structure of the universe, but imperfectly discerned, and blended with evil, leads a man who has an innate approbation of those attributes, to assign them to the Author of the universe, though he be unable to explain that admixture of evil ; but if Man were destitute of moral sentiments, the view of the universe, such as it appears to us, would hardly lead him to that conclusion.'

· When the edition of Archbishop King's discourse appeared (from the Appendix to which the above passage is extracted) a gentleman belonging to a University in which Paley's Moral Philosophy is a text-book, published a vindication of him from the charge of denying the existence of a Moral-faculty. He sent me, along with a very courteous letter, a copy of his work. I expressed, in answer, my very great surprise that there should exist any difference of opinion, not, as to the soundness of Paley's view, but of what it is that he does say; considering how very perspicuous his style is. And I transcribed a short passage from the Moral Philosophy, giving a reference to several others; all to the same purpose. In

* God wills and wishes the happiness of his creatures.'


When Paley goes on from this to speak about doing good to Mankind,' it doubtless never occurred to him, or to thousands of his readers, that nothing had been said to warrant a preference, on our part, of our fellow-men, to the brute creation, or even to vegetables. That there is something nobler and more virtuous and more congenial to the best feelings of our nature, in increasing the number and promoting the welfare of the human species, than in multiplying and protecting brutes, and propagating thistles or any other plants, seems too obvious to need being even stated. But this is because every man-Paley amongst the rest—must possess something—more or less—of those Moral Sentiments whose existence his theory denies.

. It is excessively difficult to put one's-self in imagination, completely in the condition of a Being wholly destitute of those sentiments. It is as difficult as it is to realize (according to the American phrase) the condition of a deaf-mute, of a blind-born man, or of a savage. Most people make mistakes when they attempt to do so. But if you will steadily reflect on the state of judgment, and feelings, and notions, of an imaginary Being, possessing intelligence, but wholly indifferent to justice or injustice, kindness or cruelty (which is Paley's view of Man's natural state), and suppose him looking merely to the Works of the Deity, in order to ascertain by what conduct he is to earn reward, and escape punishment, you will perceive, that from a view of the manifest contrivances for the protection, for instance, of thistles, and their dissemination, he would infer that he is quite as much furthering the designs of Providence, in cultivating these, as in doing good to Mankind.

reply, the writer of the vindication confessed that he had overlooked these passages, which did, he admitted, fully bear out my remarks.

I was indeed well prepared to believe, that many persons hear much, and talk much, of Paley's works, while they have read little or nothing of them. But that any one should publish a commentary on a work which he had not read with even moderate attention, overlooking a statement which is no slight incidental remark, but the very basis of the whole system,—this did seem to me very strange.



O then actions are to be estimated by their tendency."

Whatever is expedient, is right. It is the utility of any moral rule alone, which constitutes the obligation of it.

But to all this there seems a plain objection, viz. that many actions are useful, which no man in his senses will allow to be right. There are occasions, in which the hand of the assassin would be very useful. The present possessor of some great estate employs his influence and fortune, to annoy, corrupt, or oppress, all about him.

His estate would devolve, by his death, to a successor of an opposite character. It is useful, therefore, to dispatch such a one as soon as possible out of the way; as the neighbourhood will exchange thereby a pernicious tyrant for a wise and generous benefactor. It might be useful to rob a miser, and give the money to the poor : as the money, no doubt, would produce more happiness, by being laid out in food and clothing for half a dozen distressed families, than by continuing locked up in a miser's chest. It may be useful to get possession of a place, a piece of preferment, or of a seat in parliament, by bribery or false swearing : as by means of them we may serve the public more effectually than in our private station. What then shall we say? Must we admit these actions to be right, which would be to justify assassination, plunder, and perjury; or must we give up our principle, that the criterion of right is utility ?

It is not necessary to do either.

The true answer is this; that these actions, after all, are not useful, and for that reason, and that alone, are not right.

To see this point perfectly, it must be observed that the bad consequences of actions are twofold, particular and general.

Actions in the abstract are right or wrong, according to their tendency; the agent is virtuous or vicious, according to his design. Thus, if the question be, Whether relieving common beggars be right or wrong ? we inquire into the tendency of such a conduct to the public advantage or inconvenience. If the question be, Whether a man remarkable for this sort of bounty is to be esteemed virtuous for that reason ? we inquire into his design, whether his liberality sprang from charity or from ostentation ? It is evident that our concern is with actions in the abstract.

The particular bad consequence of an action, is the mischief which that single action directly and immediately occasions.

The general bad consequence is, the violation of some necessary or useful general rule.

Thus, the particular bad consequence of the assassination above described, is the fright and pain which the deceased underwent; the loss he suffered of life, which is as valuable to a bad man, as to a good one, or more so; the prejudice and affliction, of which his death was the occasion, to his family, friends, and dependents.

The general bad consequence is the violation of this necessary general rule, that no man be put to death for his crimes but by public authority.

Although, therefore, such an action have no particular bad consequences, or greater particular good consequences, yet it is not useful, by reason of the general consequence, which is of more importance, and which is evil. And the same of the other two instances, and of a million more which might be mentioned.

But as this solution supposes, that the moral government of the world must proceed by general rules, it remains that we show the necessity of this.




DU cannot permit one action and forbid another, without

showing a difference between them. Consequently, the same sort of actions must be generally permitted or generally forbidden. Where, therefore, the general permission of them would be pernicious, it becomes necessary to lay down and support the rule which generally forbids them.

Thus, to return once more to the case of the assassin. The assassin knocked the rich villain on the head, because he thought him better out of the way than in it. If


allow this excuse in the present instance, you must allow it to all who act in the same manner, and from the said motive; that is, you must allow every man to kill any one he meets, whom he thinks noxious or

[blocks in formation]

useless; which, in the event, would be to commit every man's life and safety to the spleen, fury, and fanaticism, of his neighbour ;-a disposition of affairs which would soon fill the world with misery and confusion; and ere long put an end to human society, if not to the human species.

The necessity of general rules in human government is apparent: but whether the same necessity subsist in the divine economy,—in that distribution of rewards and punishments to which a moralist looks forward,-may be doubted.

I answer, that general rules are necessary to every moral government: and by moral government I mean any dispensation, whose object is to influence the conduct of reasonable creatures.

For if, of two actions perfectly similar, one be punished, and the other be rewarded or forgiven, which is the consequence of rejecting general rules, the subjects of such a dispensation would no longer know either what to expect or how to act. Rewards and punishments would cease to be such, --would become accidents. Like the stroke of a thunderbolt, or the discovery of a mine, like a blank or a benefit-ticket in a lottery, they would occasion pain or pleasure when they happened; but, following in no known order, from any particular course of action, they could have no previous influence or effect upon the conduct.

An attention to general rules, therefore, is included in the very idea of reward and punishment. Consequently, whatever reason there is to expect future reward and punishment at the hand of God, there is the same reason to believe, that He will proceed in the distribution of it by general rules.

Before we prosecute the consideration of general consequences any further, it may be proper to anticipate a reflection, which will be apt enough to suggest itself, in the progress of our argument.

As the general consequence of an action, upon which so much of the guilt of a bad action depends, consists in the example ; it should seem, that if the action be done with perfect secrecy, so as to furnish no bad example, that part of the guilt drops off. In the case of suicide, for instance, if a man can so manage matters, as to take away his own life, without being known or

« PreviousContinue »