« PreviousContinue »
Too mortifying, replied I, to be long dwelt on. us rather your general idea of the sovereign good. This is easy from your own account, however intricate the detail.
Thus then, said he, since you are so urgent, it is thus that I conceive it. The Sovereign Good is that, the possession of which renders us happy. And how, said I, do we possess it? Is it sensual, or intellectual ? There you are entering, said he, upon the detail. This is beyond your question. Not a small advance, said I, to indulge poor curiosity ? Will you raise me a thirst, and be so cruel not to allay it? It is not, replied he, of my raising, but your own. Besides I am not certain, should I attempt to proceed, whether you will admit such authorities as it is possible I may vouch. That said I, must be determined by their weight and character. Suppose, said he, it should be mankind; the whole human race. Would you not think it something strange, to seek of those concerning Good, who pursue it a thousand ways, and ma
of them contradictory? I confess, said I, it seems so. And yet, continued he, were there a point, in which such dissentients ever agreed, this agreement would be 70 mean argument in favour of its truth and justness.But where, replied I, is this agreement to be found?
He answered me by asking, what if it should appear, that there were certain original characteristics and preconceptions of good, which were natural, uniform and common to all men ; which all recognized in their various pursuits ; and that the difference lay only in the applying them to particulars ? This requires, said I, to be illustrated. As if, continued he, a company of trave ellers, in some wide forest, were all intending for one city, but each: by a rout peculiar to himself. The roads indeed would be various, and many perhaps false ? but all who travelled, would have one end in view. It is evident, said I, they would. So fares it then, added he, with mankind in the pursuit of good. The ways indeed are many, but what they seek is one.
For instance : Did you ever hear of any, who in pursuit of their good were for living the life of a bird, an insect, or a fish ? None. And why not? It would be inconsistent, answered I, with their nature. You see then, said he,they all agree in this; that what they pursue,ought to be consistent and agreeable to their proper nature. So ought it, said I, undoubtedly. If so, continued he, one pre-conception is discovered, which is common to good in general. It is, that ail good is supposed something agreeable to nature. This indeed, replied I, seems to be agreed on all hands.
But, again, said he, Is there a man scarcely to be found of a temper so truly mortified, as to acquiesce in the lowest, and shortest necessaries of life? Who aims not, if he be able, at something farther, something better? replied, scarcely one. Do not multitudes pursue, said he, infinite objects of desire, acknowledged, every one of them, to be in no respect necessaries. Exquisite viands, delicious wines, splendid apparel, curious gardens ; magnificent apartments adorned with pictures and sculptures ; music and poetry, and the whole tribe of elegant arts? It is evident, said l. If it be, continued he, it should seem that they all considered the Chief or Sovereign Good, not to be that, which conduces to bare existence or mere being; for to this the necessaries alone are adequate. I replied, they were. But if not this, it must be somewhat conducive to that, which is superior, to mere being. It must. And what, continued he, can this be, but well-being, under the various shapes, in which different opinions paint it? Or can you suggest any thing else? I replied, I could not. Mark here, then,
I continued he, another pre-conception, in which they all agree; the Soveriegn Good is somewhat conducive, not to mere being, but to well-being. I replied, it has so appeared.
Again, continued he. What labour, what expence, to procure those rarities, which our own poor country is unable to afford us! How is the world ransacked to its utmost verges, and luxury and arts imported from every quarter! Nay more : How do we baffle nature herself; invert her order ; seek the vegetables of spring in the rigours of winter, and winter's ice during the heats of summer! I replied we did. And what disappointment, what remorse, when endeavours fail ? It is true. If this then be evident, said he, it would seem, that whatever we desire as our Chief and Sovereign Good, is something which, as far as possible, we would accommodate to all places and times. I answered, so it appeared. See then, said he, another of its characteristics, another preconception.
But farther still ; What contests for wealth! What scrambling for property! What perils in the pursuit ! What solicitude in the maintenance ! And why all this? To what purpose, what end? Or is not the reason plain ? Is it not that wealth may continually procure us whatever we fancy good; and make that perpetual, which would otherwise be transient ? I replied, it seemed so. Is it not farther desired, as supplying us from ourselves ; when without it, we must be beholden to the benevolence of others, and depend on their caprice for all that we enjoy? It is truc, said I, this seems a reason.
Again ; Is not power of every degree as much contested for as wealth ? Are not magistracies, honours, principalities, and empire, the subjects of strife and everlasting contention? I replied, they were.
And why, said he, this ? To obtain what end ? Is it not to help us, like wealth, to the possession of what we desire ? Is it not farther to ascertain, to secure our enjoyments ; that when others would deprive us, we may be strong enough to resist them? I replied it was.
Or, to invert the whole ; Why are there, who seek recesses the most distant and retired ; flee courts and power, and submit to parsimony and obscurity ? Why all this, but from the same intention ? From an opinion
that small possessions, used moderately, are permanent: that larger possessions raise envy, and are more frequently invaded : that the safety of power and dignity is more precarious than that of retreat; and that therefore they have chosen, what is most eligible on the whole : It is not, said I, improbable, that they act by some such motive.
Do you not see then, continued he, two or three more pre-conceptions of the Sovereign Good, which are sought for by all, as essential to constitute it ? And what, said 1, are these? That it should not be transient, nor derived from the will of others, nor in their power to take away ; but be durable, self-derived, and (if I may use the expression) indeprivable. I confess, said I, it appears 80. But we have already found it to be considered, as something agreeable to our nature ; conducire, not to mere being, but to well-being, and what we aim to have accommodated to all places and times. We have.
There may be other characteristics, said he, but these I think sufficient. See then its idea ; behold it, as col-lected from the original, natural and universal pre-conceptions of all mankind. The Sovereign Good they have taught us, ought to be something agreeable to our nature ; conducive to well-being ; accommodated to all places and timeş; durable, self-derived and indepriva able. Your account, said I, appears just.
BRUTO: perished untimely, and Cæsar did no more. These words I was repeating the next day to myself, when my friend appeared, and cheerfully bade me good
I could not return his compliment with an ea
qual gaiety, being intent, somewhat more than usual, on what had passed the day hefore. Seeing this, he proposed a walk into the fields. The face of nature, said he, will perhaps dispel these glooms. No assistance, on my part, shall be wanting, you may be assured. I accepted his proposal : the walk began ; and our former conversation insensibly renewed. Brutus, said he, perished untimely, and Cæsar did no
It was thus, as I remember, not long since, you were expressing yourself. And yet supposed their fortunes to have been exactly parallel-Which would you have preferred ? Would you have been Cæsar, of Brutus ? Brutus, replied I, beyond all controversy. He asked me, Why? Where was the difference, when their fortunes, as we now suppose them, were considered as the sanie? There seems, said I, abstract from their fortunes, something, I know not what, intrinsically preferable in the life and character of Brutus. If that, said he, be true, then must we derive it, not from the success of his endeavours, but from their truth and rectitude. He had the comfort to be conscious, that his cause was a just one. It was impossible the other should have any such feeling. I believe, said I, you have explained it.
Suppose then, continued he, it is but merely an hypothesis) suppose, I say, we were to place the Sovereign Good in such a rectitude of conduct, in the Conduct merely, and not in the Event. Suppose we were to fix our Happiness, not in the actual attainment of that health, that perfection of a social state, that fortunate concurrence of externals, which is congruous to our nature, and which all have a right to pursue : but solely fix it in the mere doing whatever is correspondent to such an end; even though we never attain, or are near attaining it. In fewer words; What if we make our natural state the standard only to determine our conduct ; and place our happiness in the rectitude of this conduct alone ? On such an hypothesis (and we consider it as nothing farther)