PART I. Of Virtue and Vice in general.
SECT. I. Moral Distinctions not deriv'd from Reason.
THERE is an inconvenience which attends all abstruse rea∣soning, that it may silence, without convincing an antago∣nist, and requires the same intense study to Page 2 make us sensible of its force, that was at first requisite for its invention. When we leave our closet, and engage in the common affairs of life, its conclusions seem to vanish, like the phantoms of the night on the ap∣pearance of the morning; and 'tis difficult for us to retain even that conviction, which we had attain'd with difficulty. This is still more conspicuous in a long chain of reasoning, where we must preserve to the end the evidence of the first propositions, and where we often lose sight of all the most receiv'd maxims, either of philosophy or common life. I am not, however, with∣out hopes, that the present system of phi∣losophy will acquire new force as it ad∣vances; and that our reasonings concerning morals will corroborate whatever has been said concerning the understanding and the passions. Morality is a subject that interests us above all others: We fancy the peace of society to be at stake in every decision con∣cerning it; and 'tis evident, that this concern must make our speculations appear more real and solid, than where the subject is, in a great measure, indifferent to us. What affects us, we conclude can never be a chi∣mera; and as our passion is engag'd on the one side or the other, we naturally think Page 3 that the question lies within human compre∣hension; which, in other cases of this na∣ture, we are apt to entertain some doubt of. Without this advantage I never should have ventur'd upon a third volume of such ab∣struse philosophy, in an age, wherein the greatest part of men seem agreed to convert reading into an amusement, and to reject every thing that requires any considerable degree of attention to be comprehended.
IT has been observ'd, that nothing is ever present to the mind but its perceptions; and that all the actions of seeing, hearing, judg∣ing, loving, hating, and thinking, fall under this denomination. The mind can never exert itself in any action, which we may not comprehend under the term of perception; and consequently that term is no less appli∣cable to those judgments, by which we distinguish moral good and evil, than to every other operation of the mind. To ap∣prove of one character, to condemn ano∣ther, are only so many different perceptions.
NOW as perceptions resolve themselves into two kinds, viz. impressions and ideas, this distinction gives rise to a question, with which we shall open up our present enquiry concerning morals, Whether 'tis by means ofPage 4our ideas or impressions we distinguish be∣twixt vice and virtue, and pronounce an action blameable or praise-worthy? This will immediately cut off all loose discourses and declamations, and reduce us to something precise and exact on the present subject.
THOSE who affirm that virtue is nothing but a conformity to reason; that there are eternal fitnesses and unfitnesses of things, which are the same to every rational being that considers them; that the immutable measures of right and wrong impose an ob∣ligation, not only on human creatures, but also on the Deity himself: All these systems concur in the opinion, that morality, like truth, is discern'd merely by ideas, and by their juxta-position and comparison. In or∣der, therefore, to judge of these systems, we need only consider, whether it be possible, from reason alone, to distinguish betwixt moral good and evil, or whether there must concur some other principles to enable us to make that distinction.
IF morality had naturally no influence on human passions and actions, 'twere in vain to take such pains to inculcate it; and no∣thing wou'd be more fruitless than that mul∣titude of rules and precepts, with which all moralists abound. Philosophy is commonly Page 5 divided into speculative and practical; and as morality is always comprehended under the latter division, 'tis supposed to influence our passions and actions, and to go beyond the calm and indolent judgments of the under∣standing. And this is confirm'd by common experience, which informs us, that men are often govern'd by their duties, and are de∣ter'd from some actions by the opinion of injustice, and impell'd to others by that of obligation.
SINCE morals, therefore, have an in∣fluence on the actions and affections, it fol∣lows, that they cannot be deriv'd from rea∣son; and that because reason alone, as we have already prov'd, can never have any such influence. Morals excite passions, and pro∣duce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not con∣clusions of our reason.
NO one, I believe, will deny the justness of this inference; nor is there any other means of evading it, than by denying that principle, on which it is founded. As long as it is allow'd, that reason has no influence on our passions and actions, 'tis in vain to pretend, that morality is discover'd only by a deduction of reason. An active principle Page 6 can never be founded on an inactive; and if reason be inactive in itself, it must remain so in all its shapes and appearances, whether it exerts itself in natural or moral subjects, whether it considers the powers of external bodies, or the actions of rational beings.
IT would be tedious to repeat all the arguments, by which I have prov'd, a that reason is perfectly inert, and can never either prevent or produce any action or affection. 'Twill be easy to recollect what has been said upon that subject. I shall only recal on this occasion one of these arguments, which I shall endeavour to render still more conclusive, and more applicable to the pre∣sent subject.
REASON is the discovery of truth or falshood. Truth or falshood consists in an agreement or disagreement either to the real relations of ideas, or to real existence and matter of fact. Whatever, therefore, is not susceptible of this argeement or disagreement, is incapable of being true or false, and can never be an object of our reason. Now 'tis evident our passions, volitions, and actions, are not susceptible of any such agreement or disagreement; being original facts and reali∣ties, compleat in themselves, and implying Page 7 no reference to other passions, volitions, and actions. 'Tis impossible, therefore, they can be pronounced either true or false, and be either contrary or conformable to reason.
THIS argument is of double advantage to our present purpose. For it proves directly, that actions do not derive their merit from a conformity to reason, nor their blame from a contrariety to it; and it proves the same truth more indirectly, by shewing us, that as reason can never immediately prevent or produce any action by contradicting or ap∣proving of it, it cannot be the source of moral good and evil, which are found to have that influence. Actions may be lauda∣ble or blameable; but they cannot be reason∣able or unreasonable: Laudable or blameable, therefore, are not the same with reasonable or unreasonable. The merit and demerit of actions frequently contradict, and sometimes controul our natural propensities. But rea∣son has no such influence. Moral distinctions, therefore, are not the offspring of reason. Reason is wholly inactive, and can never be the source of so active a principle as con∣science, or a sense of morals.
BUT perhaps it may be said, that tho' no will or action can be immediately contra∣dictory to reason, yet we may find such a Page 8 contradiction in some of the attendants of the action, that is, in its causes or effects. The action may cause a judgment, or may be obliquely caus'd by one, when the judg∣ment concurs with a passion; and by an abusive way of speaking, which philosophy will scarce allow of, the same contrariety may, upon that account, be ascrib'd to the action. How far this truth or falshood may be the source of morals, 'twill now be pro∣per to consider.
IT has been observ'd, that reason, in a strict and philosophical sense, can have an influence on our conduct only after two ways: Either when it excites a passion by informing us of the existence of something which is a proper object of it; or when it discovers the connexion of causes and effects, so as to afford us means of exerting any passion. These are the only kinds of judg∣ment, which can accompany our actions, or can be said to produce them in any manner; and it must be allow'd, that these judgments may often be false and erroneous. A person may be affected with passion, by supposing a pain or pleasure to lie in an object, which has no tendency to produce either of these sensations, or which produces the contrary to what is imagin'd. A person may also Page 9 take false measures for the attaining his end, and may retard, by his foolish conduct, in∣stead of forwarding the execution of any project. These false judgments may be thought to affect the passions and actions, which are connected with them, and may be said to render them unreasonable, in a figurative and improper way of speaking. But tho' this be acknowledg'd, 'tis easy to observe, that these errors are so far from be∣ing the source of all immorality, that they are commonly very innocent, and draw no manner of guilt upon the person who is so unfortunate as to fall into them. They ex∣tend not beyond a mistake of fact, which moralists have not generally suppos'd crimi∣nal, as being perfectly involuntary. I am more to be lamented than blam'd, if I am mistaken with regard to the influence of ob∣jects in producing pain or pleasure, or if I know not the proper means of satisfying my desires. No one can ever regard such errors as a defect in my moral character. A fruit, for instance, that is really disagreeable, ap∣pears to me at a distance, and thro' mistake I fancy it to be pleasant and delicious. Here is one error. I choose certain means of reaching this fruit, which are not proper for my end. Here is a second error; nor is there Page 10 any third one, which can ever possibly enter into our reasonings concerning actions. I ask, therefore, if a man, in this situation, and guilty of these two errors, is to be re∣garded as vicious and criminal, however un∣avoidable they might have been? Or if it be possible to imagine, that such errors are the sources of all immorality?
AND here it may be proper to observe, that if moral distinctions be deriv'd from the truth or falshood of those judgments, they must take place wherever we form the judg∣ments; nor will there be any difference, whe∣ther the question be concerning an apple or a kingdom, or whether the error be avoid∣able or unavoidable. For as the very es∣sence of morality is suppos'd to consist in an agreement or disagreement to reason, the other circumstances are entirely arbitrary, and can never either bestow on any action the character of virtuous or vicious, or deprive it of that character. To which we may add, that this agreement or disagreement, not ad∣mitting of degrees, all virtues and vices wou'd of course be equal.
SHOU'D it be pretended, that tho' a mi∣stake of fact be not criminal, yet a mistake of right often is; and that this may be the source of immorality: I would answer, that Page 11 'tis impossible such a mistake can ever be the original source of immorality, since it supposes a real right and wrong; that is, a real di∣stinction in morals, independent of these judgments. A mistake, therefore, of right may become a species of immorality; but 'tis only a secondary one, and is founded on some other, antecedent to it.
AS to those judgments which are the ef∣fects of our actions, and which, when false, give occasion to pronounce the actions con∣trary to truth and reason; we may observe, that our actions never cause any judgment, either true or false, in ourselves, and that 'tis only on others they have such an influence. 'Tis certain, that an action, on many occa∣sions, may give rise to false conclusions in others; and that a person, who thro' a win∣dow sees any lewd behaviour of mine with my neighbour's wife, may be so simple as to imagine she is certainly my own. In this re∣spect my action resembles somewhat a lye or falshood; only with this difference, which is material, that I perform not the action with any intention of giving rise to a false judg∣ment in another, but merely to satisfy my lust and passion. It causes, however, a mi∣stake and false judgment by accident; and the falshood of its effects may be ascribed, Page 12 by some odd figurative way of speaking, to the action itself. But still I can see no pre∣text of reason for asserting, that the tenden∣cy to cause such an error is the first spring or original source of all immorality a.
THUS upon the whole, 'tis impossible, that the distinction betwixt moral good and evil, Page 13 can be made by reason; since that distinction has an influence upon our actions, of which reason alone is incapable. Reason and judg∣ment may, indeed, be the mediate cause of an action, by prompting, or by directing a Page 14 passion: But it is not pretended, that a judg∣ment of this kind, either in its truth or falshood, is attended with virtue or vice. And as to the judgments, which are caused by our judgments, they can still less bestow those moral qualities on the actions, which are their causes.
BUT to be more particular, and to shew, that those eternal immutable fitnesses and unfitnesses of things cannot be defended by sound philosophy, we may weigh the fol∣lowing considerations.
IF the thought and understanding were alone capable of fixing the boundaries of right and wrong, the character of virtuous and vicious either must lie in some relations of objects, or must be a matter of fact, which is discovered by our reasoning. This consequence is evident. As the operations of human understanding divide themselves into two kinds, the comparing of ideas, and the inferring of matter of fact; were virtue discover'd by the understanding; it must be an object of one of these operations, nor is there any third operation of the understand∣ing, which can discover it. There has been an opinion very industriously propagated by certain philosophers, that morality is suscep∣tible of demonstration; and tho' no one has Page 15 ever been able to advance a single step in those demonstrations; yet 'tis taken for gran∣ted, that this science may be brought to an equal certainty with geometry or algebra. Upon this supposition, vice and virtue must consist in some relations; since 'tis allow'd on all hands, that no matter of fact is capa∣ble of being demonstrated. Let us, therefore, begin with examining this hypothesis, and endeavour, if possible, to fix those moral qualities, which have been so long the ob∣jects of our fruitless researches. Point out distinctly the relations, which constitute morality or obligation, that we may know wherein they consist, and after what man∣ner we must judge of them.
IF you assert, that vice and virtue consist in relations susceptible of certainty and de∣monstration, you must confine yourself to those four relations, which alone admit of that degree of evidence; and in that case you run into absurdities, from which you will never be able to extricate yourself. For as you make the very essence of morality to lie in the relations, and as there is no one of these relations but what is applicable, not only to an irrational, but also to an inanimate object; it follows, that even such objects must be susceptible of merit or demerit. Page 16Resemblance, contrariety, degrees in quality, and proportions in quantity and number; all these relations belong as properly to matter, as to our actions, passions, and volitions. 'Tis unquestionable, therefore, that morality lies not in any of these relations, nor the sense of it in their discovery b.
SHOU'D it be asserted, that the sense of morality consists in the discovery of some relation, distinct from these, and that our enumeration was not compleat, when we comprehended all demonstrable relations un∣der four general heads: To this I know not what to reply, till some one be so good as to point out to me this new relation. 'Tis impossible to refute a system, which has ne∣ver Page 17 yet been explain'd. In such a manner of fighting in the dark, a man loses his blows in the air, and often places them where the enemy is not present.
I MUST, therefore, on this occasion, rest contented with requiring the two following conditions of any one that wou'd undertake to clear up this system. First, As moral good and evil belong only to the actions of the mind, and are deriv'd from our situation with regard to external objects, the rela∣tions, from which these moral distinctions arise, must lie only betwixt internal actions, and external objects, and must not be appli∣cable either to internal actions, compared among themselves, or to external objects, when placed in opposition to other external objects. For as morality is supposed to at∣tend certain relations, if these relations cou'd belong to internal actions consider'd singly, it wou'd follow, that we might be guilty of crimes in ourselves, and independent of our situation, with respect to the universe: And in like manner, if these moral relations cou'd be apply'd to external objects, it wou'd follow, that even inanimate beings wou'd be susceptible of moral beauty and deformity. Now it seems difficult to imagine, that any relation can be discover'd betwixt our pas∣sions, Page 18 volitions and actions, compared to ex∣ternal objects, which relation might not be∣long either to these passions and volitions, or to these external objects, compar'd among themselves.
BUT it will be still more difficult to ful∣fil the second condition, requisite to justify this system. According to the principles of those who maintain an abstract rational dif∣ference betwixt moral good and evil, and a natural fitness and unfitness of things, 'tis not only suppos'd, that these relations, being eternal and immutable, are the same, when consider'd by every rational creature, but their effects are also suppos'd to be necessarily the same; and 'tis concluded they have no less, or rather a greater, influence in direct∣ing the will of the deity, than in governing the rational and virtuous of our own spe∣cies. These two particulars are evidently distinct. 'Tis one thing to know virtue, and another to conform the will to it. In order, therefore, to prove, that the measures of right and wrong are eternal laws, obligatory on every rational mind, 'tis not sufficient to shew the relations upon which they are founded: We must also point out the con∣nexion betwixt the relation and the will; and must prove that this connexion is so Page 19 necessary, that in every well-disposed mind, it must take place and have its influence; tho' the difference betwixt these minds be in other respects immense and infinite. Now besides what I have already prov'd, that even in human nature no relation can ever alone produce any action; besides this, I say, it has been shewn, in treating of the under∣standing, that there is no connexion of cause and effect, such as this is suppos'd to be, which is discoverable otherwise than by experience, and of which we can pretend to have any security by the simple consideration of the objects. All beings in the universe, consider'd in themselves, appear entirely loose and independent of each other. 'Tis only by experience we learn their influence and connexion; and this influence we ought never to extend beyond experience.
THUS it will be impossible to fulfil the first condition required to the system of eter∣nal rational measures of right and wrong; because it is impossible to shew those rela∣tions, upon which such a distinction may be founded: And 'tis as impossible to fulfil the second condition; because we cannot prove a priori, that these relations, if they really existed and were perceiv'd, wou'd be universally forcible and obligatory.
Page 20 BUT to make these general reflections more clear and convincing, we may illu∣strate them by some particular instances, wherein this character of moral good or evil is the most universally acknowledged. Of all crimes that human creatures are ca∣pable of committing, the most horrid and unnatural is ingratitude, especially when it is committed against parents, and appears in the more flagrant instances of wounds and death. This is acknowledg'd by all man∣kind, philosophers as well as the people; the question only arises among philosophers, whether the guilt or moral deformity of this action be discover'd by demonstrative reason∣ing, or be felt by an internal sense, and by means of some sentiment, which the reflect∣ing on such an action naturally occasions. This question will soon be decided against the former opinion, if we can shew the same relations in other objects, without the notion of any guilt or iniquity attending them. Reason or science is nothing but the com∣paring of ideas, and the discovery of their relations; and if the same relations have different characters, it must evidently follow, that those characters are not discover'd merely by reason. To put the affair, therefore, to this trial, let us chuse any inanimate object, Page 21 such as an oak or elm; and let us suppose, that by the dropping of its seed, it produces a sapling below it, which springing up by degrees, at last overtops and destroys the parent tree: I ask, if in this instance there be wanting any relation, which is discover∣able in parricide or ingratitude? Is not the one tree the cause of the other's existence; and the latter the cause of the destruction of the former, in the same manner as when a child murders his parent? 'Tis not suffi∣cient to reply, that a choice or will is want∣ing. For in the case of parricide, a will does not give rise to any different relations, but is only the cause from which the action is deriv'd; and consequently produces the same relations, that in the oak or elm arise from some other principles. 'Tis a will or choice, that determines a man to kill his parent; and they are the laws of matter and motion, that determine a sapling to destroy the oak, from which it sprung. Here then the same relations have different causes; but still the relations are the same: And as th•… discovery is not in both cases attended with a notion of immorality, it follows, that that notion does not arise from •uch a dis∣covery.
Page 22 BUT to chuse an instance, still more re∣sembling; I would fain ask any one, why incest in the human species is criminal, and why the very same action, and the same relations in animals have not the smallest moral turpitude and deformity? If it be answer'd, that this action is innocent in ani∣mals, because they have not reason sufficient to discover its turpitude; but that man, be∣ing endow'd with that faculty, which ought to restrain him to his duty, the same action instantly becomes criminal to him; should this be said, I would reply, that this is evi∣dently arguing in a circle. For before rea∣son can perceive this turpitude, the turpitude must exist; and consequently is independent of the decisions of our reason, and is their object more properly than their effect. Ac∣cording to this system, then, every animal, that has sense, and appetite, and will; that is, every animal must be susceptible of all the same virtues and vices, for which we ascribe praise and blame to human creatures. 〈◊〉 the difference is, that our superior reason may serve to discover the vice or virtue, and by that means may augment the blame or praise: But still this discovery supposes a separate being in these moral distinctions, and a being, which depends only on the Page 23 will and appetite, and which, both in thought and reality, may be distinguish'd from the reason. Animals are susceptible of the same relations, with respect to each other, as the human species, and therefore wou'd also be susceptible of the same morality, if the essence of morality consisted in these rela∣tions. Their want of a sufficient degree of reason may hinder them from perceiving the duties and obligations of morality, but can never hinder these duties from existing; since they must antecedently exist, in order to their being perceiv'd. Reason must find them, and can never produce them. This argument deserves to be weigh'd, as being, in my opinion, entirely decisive.
NOR does this reasoning only prove, that morality consists not in any relations, that are the objects of science; but if examin'd, will prove with equal certainty, that it consists not in any matter of fact, which can be discover'd by the understanding. This is the second part of our argument; and if it can be made evident, we may conclude, that morality is not an object of reason. But can there be any difficulty in proving, that vice and virtue are not matters of fact, whose existence we can infer by reason? Take any action allow'd to be vicious: Wil∣ful Page 24 murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but 'tis the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your na∣ture you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar'd to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, ac∣cording to modern philosophy, are not qua∣lities in objects, but perceptions in the mind: And this discovery in morals, like that other in physics, is to be regarded as a con∣siderable advancement of the speculative sciences; tho', like that too, it has little or no influence on practice. Nothing can be more real, or concern us more, than our Page 25 own sentiments of pleasure and uneasiness; and if these be favourable to virtue, and un∣favourable to vice, no more can be requisite to the regulation of our conduct and be∣haviour.
I cannot forbear adding to these reasonings an observation, which may, perhaps, be found of some importance. In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning hu∣man affairs; when of a sudden I am sur∣priz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not con∣nected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new rela∣tion can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; Page 26 and am persuaded, that this small attention wou'd subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv'd by reason.
SECT. II. Moral distinctions deriv'd from a moral sense.
THUS the course of the argument leads us to conclude, that since vice and virtue are not discoverable merely by reason, or the comparison of ideas, it must be by means of some impression or senti∣ment they occasion, that we are able to mark the difference betwixt them. Our decisions concerning moral rectitude and de∣pravity are evidently perceptions; and as all perceptions are either impressions or ideas, the exclusion of the one is a convincing argument for the other. Morality, there∣fore, is more properly felt than judg'd of; tho' this feeling or sentiment is commonly so soft and gentle, that we are apt to con∣found it with an idea, according to our com∣mon Page 27 custom of taking all things for the same, which have any near resemblance to each other.
THE next question is, Of what nature are these impressions, and after what manner do they operate upon us? Here we cannot re∣main long in suspense, but must pronounce the impression arising from virtue, to be agreeable, and that proceding from vice to be uneasy. Every moment's experience must convince us of this. There is no spectacle so fair and beautiful as a noble and generous action; nor any which gives us more abhor∣rence than one that is cruel and treacherous. No enjoyment equals the satisfaction we re∣ceive from the company of those we love and esteem; as the greatest of all punish∣ments is to be oblig'd to pass our lives with those we hate or contemn. A very play or romance may afford us instances of this plea∣sure, which virtue conveys to us; and pain, which arises from vice.
NOW since the distinguishing impressions, by which moral good or evil is known, are nothing but particular pains or pleasures; it follows, that in all enquiries concerning these moral distinctions, it will be sufficient to shew the principles, which make us feel a satis∣faction or uneasiness from the survey of any Page 28 character, in order to satisfy us why the cha∣racter is laudable or blameable. An action, or sentiment, or character is virtuous or vicious; why? because its view causes a pleasure or uneasiness of a particular kind. In giving a reason, therefore, for the plea∣sure or uneasiness, we sufficiently explain the vice or virtue. To have the sense of virtue, is nothing but to feel a satisfaction of a par∣ticular kind from the contemplation of a character. The very feeling constitutes our praise or admiration. We go no farther; nor do we enquire into the cause of the sa∣tisfaction. We do not infer a character to be virtuous, because it pleases: But in feeling that it pleases after such a particular man∣ner, we in effect feel that it is virtuous. The case is the same as in our judgments con∣cerning all kinds of beauty, and tastes, and sensations. Our approbation is imply'd in the immediate pleasure they convey to us.
I HAVE objected to the system, which establishes eternal rational measures of right and wrong, that 'tis impossible to shew, in the actions of reasonable creatures, any rela∣tions, which are not found in external ob∣jects; and therefore, if morality always at∣tended these relations, 'twere possible for inanimate matter to become virtuous or vi∣cious. Page 29 Now it may, in like manner, be ob∣jected to the present system, that if virtue and vice be determin'd by pleasure and pain, these qualities must, in every case, arise from the sensations; and consequently any object, whether animate or inanimate, rational or ir∣rational, might become morally good or evil, provided it can excite a satisfaction or un∣easiness. But tho' this objection seems to be the very same, it has by no means the same force, in the one case as in the other. For, first, 'tis evident, that under the term plea∣sure, we comprehend sensations, which are very different from each other, and which have only such a distant resemblance, as is requisite to make them be express'd by the same abstract term. A good composition of music and a bottle of good wine equally produce pleasure; and what is more, their goodness is determin'd merely by the plea∣sure. But shall we say upon that account, that the wine is harmonious, or the music of a good flavour? In like manner an inani∣mate object, and the character or sentiments of any person may, both of them, give sa∣tisfaction; but as the satisfaction is different, this keeps our sentiments concerning them from being confounded, and makes us ascribe virtue to the one, and not to the other. Page 30 Nor is every sentiment of pleasure or pain, which arises from characters and actions, of that peculiar kind, which makes us praise or condemn. The good qualities of an enemy are hurtful to us; but may still command our esteem and respect. 'Tis only when a character is considered in general, without reference to our particular interest, that it causes such a feeling or sentiment, as deno∣minates it morally good or evil. 'Tis true, those sentiments, from interest and morals, are apt to be confounded, and naturally run in∣to one another. It seldom happens, that we do not think an enemy vicious, and can distin∣guish betwixt his opposition to our interest and real villainy or baseness. But this hinders not, but that the sentiments are, in them∣selves, distinct; and a man of temper and judgment may preserve himself from these illusions. In like manner, tho' 'tis certain a musical voice is nothing but one that natu∣rally gives a particular kind of pleasure; yet 'tis difficult for a man to be sensible, that the voice of an enemy is agreeable, or to allow it to be musical. But a person of a fine ear, who has the command of himself, can se∣parate these feelings, and give praise to what deserves it.
Page 31Secondly, We may call to remembrance the preceding system of the passions, in or∣der to remark a still more considerable dif∣ference among our pains and pleasures. Pride and humility, love and hatred are excited, when there is any thing presented to us, that both bears a relation to the object of the pas∣sion, and produces a separate sensation rela∣ted to the sensation of the passion. Now virtue and vice are attended with these cir∣cumstances. They must necessarily be plac'd either in ourselves or others, and excite ei∣ther pleasure or uneasiness; and therefore must give rise to one of these four passions; which clearly distinguishes them from the pleasure and pain arising from inanimate ob∣jects, that often bear no relation to us: And this is, perhaps, the most considerable effect that virtue and vice have upon the human mind.
IT may now be ask'd in general, con∣cerning this pain or pleasure, that distin∣guishes moral good and evil, From what principles is it derived, and whence does it arise in the human mind? To this I reply, first, that 'tis absurd to imagine, that in every particular instance, these sentiments are produc'd by an original quality and pri∣mary constitution. For as the number of Page 32 our duties is, in a manner, infinite, 'tis im∣possible that our original instincts should ex∣tend to each of them, and from our very first infancy impress on the human mind all that multitude of precepts, which are con∣tain'd in the compleatest system of ethics. Such a method of proceeding is not con∣formable to the usual maxims, by which na∣ture is conducted, where a few principles produce all that variety we observe in the universe, and every thing is carry'd on in the easiest and most simple manner. 'Tis necessary, therefore, to abridge these primary impulses, and find some more general prin∣ciples, upon which all our notions of mo∣rals are founded.
BUT in the second place, should it be ask'd, Whether we ought to search for these prin∣ciples in nature, or whether we must look for them in some other origin? I wou'd re∣ply, that our answer to this question depends upon the definition of the word, Nature, than which there is none more ambiguous and equivocal. If nature be oppos'd to mi∣racles, not only the distinction betwixt vice and virtue is natural, but also every event, which has ever happen'd in the world, ex∣cepting those miracles, on which our religion is founded. In saying, then, that the senti∣ments Page 33 of vice and virtue are natural in this sense, we make no very extraordinary discovery.
BUT nature may also be opposed to rare and unusual; and in this sense of the word, which is the common one, there may often arise disputes concerning what is natural or unnatural; and one may in general affirm, that we are not possess'd of any very precise standard, by which these disputes can be de∣cided. Frequent and rare depend upon the number of examples we have observ'd; and as this number may gradually encrease or diminish, 'twill be impossible to fix any ex∣act boundaries betwixt them. We may only affirm on this head, that if ever there was any thing, which cou'd be call'd natural in this sense, the sentiments of morality cer∣tainly may; since there never was any nation of the world, nor any single person in any nation, who was utterly depriv'd of them, and who never, in any instance, shew'd the least approbation or dislike of manners. These sentiments are so rooted in our con∣stitution and temper, that without entirely confounding the human mind by disease or madness, 'tis impossible to extirpate and de∣stroy them.
BUT nature may also be opposed to arti∣fice, as well as to what is rare and unu∣sual; Page 34 and in this sense it may be disputed, whether the notions of virtue be natural or not. We readily forget, that the designs, and projects, and views of men are principles as necessary in their operation as heat and cold, moist and dry: But taking them to be free and entirely our own, 'tis usual for us to set them in opposition to the other principles of nature. Shou'd it, therefore, be demanded, whether the sense of virtue be natural or ar∣tificial, I am of opinion, that 'tis impossible for me at present to give any precise answer to this question. Perhaps it will appear af∣terwards, that our sense of some virtues is ar∣tificial, and that of others natural. The discussion of this question will be more pro∣per, when we enter upon an exact detail of each particular vice and virtue a.
MEAN while it may not be amiss to ob∣serve from these definitions of natural and unnatural, that nothing can be more unphi∣losophical than those systems, which assert, that virtue is the same with what is natural, and vice with what is unnatural. For in the first sense of the word, Nature, as opposed to miracles, both vice and virtue are equally na∣tural; and in the second sense, as oppos'd to Page 35 what is unusual, perhaps virtue will be found to be the most unnatural. At least it must be own'd, that heroic virtue, being as un∣usual, is as little natural as the most brutal barbarity. As to the third sense of the word, 'tis certain, that both vice and virtue are equally artificial, and out of nature. For however it may be disputed, whether the notion of a merit or demerit in certain ac∣tions be natural or artificial, 'tis evident, that the actions themselves are artificial, and are perform'd with a certain design and intention; otherwise they cou'd never be rank'd under any of these denominations. 'Tis impossible, therefore, that the character of natural and unnatural can ever, in any sense, mark the boundaries of vice and virtue.
THUS we are still brought back to our first position, that virtue is distinguished by the pleasure, and vice by the pain, that any action, sentiment or character gives us by the mere view and contemplation. This decision is very commodious; because it re∣duces us to this simple question, Why any action or sentiment upon the general view or survey, gives a certain satisfaction or unea∣siness, in order to shew the origin of its mo∣ral rectitude or depravity, without looking for any incomprehensible relations and qua∣lities, Page 36 which never did exist in nature, nor even in our imagination, by any clear and distinct conception. I flatter myself I have executed a great part of my present design by a state of the question, which appears to me so free from ambiguity and obscurity.