« AnteriorContinuar »
sirable to him? This very desire is the surrender of the whole theory; it is the acknowledgment of the benevolent principles as the origin of benevolence, the most dignified of all the moral virtues. If it be answered, that public utility is regarded only as it involves the interest of self, and is the best security for it, the theory of general utility, as the origin of moral judgment, resolves itself into the selfish scheme, and must stand or fall with it. To this therefore I advert in few words, and ask the defenders of the selfish system,
Is it a prominent fact in human nature, that the moral judgment is measured by the interest of the judging mind? Is it a fact, that the eye of the mind is turned upon self, upon its own convenience, utility, and advantage, before it darès to pronounce the sentence of right and wrong, of approbation and disapprobation? Are no moral verdicts recorded, where the subject on which the sentence passes can hardly by any ingenuity be þrought home to self; or, if it can,
, where the advantage
advantage to self is so remote, and involved in so many chances, that it can hardly be deemed to weigh a feather in the scale? Or, if even this evanescent advantage be allowed to influence, Are not these moral judgments pronounced, where the very idea of a selfish interest is not present to the thought; and therefore, being a nonentity to the mind, cannot possibly contribute any thing whatever to its judgment? Is not the sacrifice of self often, and in the most important instances, the immediate
consequence of the moral sentence; but yet, in despite of the strong remonstrances of self, something in the constitution of the mind demands the sentence, and it startles with a kind of horror at the thought of a contrary decision? I would ask also, Whether the sacrifice of self be not essential to the acknowledgment of a praiseworthy deed; whether the rate at which the deed is estimated be not in proportion to the magnitude of the sacrifice ; and whether the praise be not univerally withdrawn, if an act of the highest moral form be discovered to P. 2
have sprung from a selfish motive? Is not the hero in morals always represented, and always the more admired, in the conflict with difficulties and dangers, in the exposure of self to every thing which is alarming and awful to self, in the sacrifice even of life; and all through the imperious influence of an image of the mind, which is for ever allur.' ing, beautiful, sublime?
I give no answer to these queries; I submit them, gentlemen, to your consideration, as suggesting a more than probable error, which enters into the fabrication of such theories, and the necessity of recalling inquiry to the only way, whereby, if possible, error may be avoided in explaining and ascertaining the true theory of moral mind,
ON IMITATION AND FASHION.
To be the author of a system in physics or morals has been the pride of men, who wish to lead in the dance of opinion, and think themselves honoured in the crowd that follow them. This is the muse, divinity, or dæmon, which has inspired the tribe of philosophers from Moses down to lord Monboddo, and dictated those writings, which it is fully sufficient for the herd to read and understand if they can. Moses appears to be the first on the record of history, though it is probable, that he was preceded by others in the agreeable vanity of dictatir :: to man in opinion on whatever subject. He has indeed, whether from modesty, or from a shrewd policy, kept himself out of view, and delivered as the communications of the Deity those dogmata, which we read in his
writings concerning the system of the world, religion, morals, and laws. But the wise ones, who think behind the curtain, know how to allow for this finesse, and give him equal credit for his pretended interviews and converse with the one Supreme Intelligence, as to Numa Pompilius for his convenient tête-à-tête on every difficulty with the nymph Egeria. His example, however, whether the first or no, has been gloriously imitated by the wits of every age; insomuch that we have almost as many different systems as writers on every subject, which the philosophy of body or mind can comprehend.
Stimulated by these examples, I have dipped my bucket also into the great ocean of system, and am ready to pour forth its contents before you;
in which, if I shall be found to have more success than my predecessors, I desire modestly to impute it to my skimming only the surface, contrary to the usage of all before me, who have mistakenly thought, that they could not penetrate too