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suspected to have done so, he is not chargeable with any mischief from the example; nor does his punishment seem necessary, in order to save the authority of any general rule.
In the first place, those who reason in this manner do not observe, that they are setting up a general rule, of all others the least to be endured ; namely, that secrecy, whenever secrecy is practicable, will justify any action.
Were such a rule admitted, for instance, in the case above produced; is there not reason to fear that people would be disappearing perpetually ?
In the next place, I would wish them to be well satisfied about the points proposed in the following queries :
1. Whether the Scriptures do not teach us to expect that, at the general judgment of the world, the most secret actions will be brought to light.'
2. For what purpose can this be, but to make them the objects of reward and punishment ?
3. Whether, being so brought to light, they will not fall under the operation of those equal and impartial rules, by which God will deal with his creatures ?
They will then become examples, whatever they be now; and require the same treatment from the judge and governor of the moral world, as if they had been detected from the first.
ANNOTATIONS. s If, of two actions perfectly similar, the one be punished and
the other rewarded,' &c. It is usually understood that general rules' apply to cases which though coming under the same class, are not 'precisely şimilar in all points. And if, as Paley's language would seem to imply, the absence of this perfect similarity is to be allowed to be the ground of an exception to the general rule, then his
1. In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.' Rom. xi. 16. Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart.'— Cor. iv. 5.
supposed assassin might justify himself for killing the rich mişer, on the ground that this case is far from being 'perfectly similar to that of killing a good man.
"A general rule ... that secrecy will justify any action.'
This is not quite a correct statement. The general rule which he is objecting to (very rightly, though on insufficient grounds) is only that secrecy will justify any action whose immediate effects are not hurtful.
• They will then become examples.' It is difficult to understand how, or to whom, anything can be an example, at the end of the world, when Man's probation is over and past.
THE CONSIDERATION OF GENERAL CONSEQUENCES PURSUED.
THE general consequence of any action may be estimated, by I asking what would be the consequence, if the same sort of actions were generally permitted.—But suppose they were, and a thousand such actions perpetrated under this permission ; is it just to charge a single action with the collected guilt and mischief of the whole thousand ? I answer, that the reason for prohibiting and punishing an action (and this reason may be called the guilt of the action, if you please) will always be in proportion to the whole mischief that would arise from the general impunity and toleration of actions of the same sort. . “Whatever is expedient is right. But then it must be expedient on the whole, at the long run, in all its effects collateral and remote, as well as in those which are immediate and direct; as it is obvious, that, in computing consequences, it makes no difference in what way or at what distance they ensue.
To impress this doctrine on the minds of young readers, and to teach them to extend their views beyond the immediate mischief of a crime, I shall here subjoin a string of instances, in
which the particular consequence is comparatively insignificant; and where the malignity of the crime, and the severity with which human laws pursue it, is almost entirely founded upon the general consequence.
The particular consequence of coining is, the loss of a guinea, or of half a guinea, to the person who receives the counterfeit money : the general consequence (by which I mean the consequence that would ensue, if the same practice were generally permitted) is, to abolish the use of money. · The particular consequence of forgery is, a damage of twenty or thirty pounds to the man who accepts the forged bill: the general consequence is, the stoppage of paper currency.
The particular consequence of sheep-stealing, or horse-steal. ing, is a loss to the owner to the amount of the value of the sheep or horse stolen : the general consequence is, that the land could not be occupied, nor the market supplied, with this kind of stock.
The particular consequence of breaking into a house empty of inhabitants, is, the loss of a pair of silver candlesticks, or a few spoons: the general consequence is, that nobody could leave their house empty.
The particular consequence of smuggling may be a deduction from the national fund too minute for computation : the general consequence is, the destruction of one entire branch of public revenue; a proportionable increase of the burthen upon other branches; and the ruin of all fair and open trade in the article smuggled.
The particular consequence of an officer's breaking his parole is, the loss of a prisoner, who was possibly not worth keeping; the general consequence is, that this mitigation of captivity would be refused to all others.
And what proves incontestably the superior importance of general consequences is, that crimes are the same, and treated in the same manner, though the particular consequence be very different. The crime and fate of the house-breaker is the same, whether his booty be five pounds or fifty. And the reason is, that the general consequence is the same. .
The want of this distinction between particular and general consequences, or rather, the not sufficiently attending to the latter, is the cause of that perplexity which we meet with in ancient moralists. On the one hand, they were sensible of the absurdity of pronouncing actions good or evil, without regard to the good or evil they produced. On the other hand, they were startled at the conclusions to which a steady adherence to consequences seemed sometimes to conduct them. To relieve this difficulty, they contrived the Tò pétrov, or the honestum, by which terms they meant to constitute a measure of right, distinct from utility. Whilst the utile served them, that is, whilst it corresponded with their habitual notions of the rectitude of actions, they went by it. When they fell in with such cases as those mentioned in the sixth chapter, they took leave of their guide, and resorted to the honestum. The only account they could give of the matter was, that these actions might be useful ; but, because they were not at the same time honesta, they were by no means to be deemed just or right.
From the principles delivered in this and the two preceding chapters, a maxim may be explained, which is in every man's mouth, and in most men's without meaning, viz. 'not to do evil, that good may come :' that is, let us not violate a general rule, for the sake of any particular good consequence we may expect. Which is for the most part a salutary caution, the advantage seldom compensating for the violation of the rule. Strictly speaking, that cannot be 'evil,' from which 'good comes ;' but in this way, and with a view to the distinction between particular and general consequences, it may.
We will conclude this subject of consequences with the following reflection. A man may imagine, that any action of his, with respect to the Public, must be inconsiderable: so also is the agent. If his crime produce but a small effect upon the universal interest, his punishment or destruction bears a small proportion to the sum of happiness and misery in the creation.
DIGHT and obligation are reciprocal ; that is, wherever there is IV a right in one person, there is a corresponding obligation upon others. If one man has a right to an estate ; others are obliged' to abstain from it :-If parents have a righť to
reverence from their children; children are obliged to reverence their parents :—and so in all other instances.
Now, because moral obligation depends, as we have seen, upon the will of God; right, which is correlative to it, must depend upon the same. Right therefore signifies, consistency with the will of God.
But if the divine will determine the distinction of right and wrong, what else is it but an identical proposition to say of God, that He acts right ? or how is it possible to conceive even that He should act wrong? Yet these assertions are intelligible and significant. The case is this : By virtue of the two principles, that God wills the happiness of his creatores, and that the will of God is the measure of right and wrong, we arrive at certain conclusions; which conclusions become rules; and we soon learn to pronounce actions right or wrong, according as they agree or disagree with our rules, without looking any further : and when the habit is once established of stopping at the rules, we can go back and compare with these rules even the divine conduct itself : and yet it may be true (only not observed by us at the time) that the rules themselves are deduced from the divine will.
Right is a quality of persons or of actions. . Of persons; as when we say, such a one has a right to this estate; parents have a right to reverence from their children; the king to allegiance from his subjects ; masters have a right to their servants' labour; a man has not a right over his own life.
Of actions; as in such expressions as the following: it is (right to punish murder with death ; his behaviour on that occasion was right; it is not right to send an unfortunate debtor to gaol ; he did or acted right,' who gave up his place rather than vote against his judgment. .
In this latter set of expressions, you may substitute the defi. nition of right above given, for the term itself : e.g. it is consistent with the will of God' to punish murder with death ;his behaviour on that occasion was consistent with the will of God'—it is not consistent with the will of God' to send an unfortunate debtor to gaol ;-he did, or acted, consistently with the will of God, who gave up his place rather than vote against his judgment.