Images de page

suggested by its instincts and experience, and supported by the attachment to life as well as to all its pleasures and enjoyments. The established rules of eating, resting, working, clothing, and sheltering, are usually founded on the best attainable knowledge, and are obeyed under the stimulus of self-preservation.

The rules and maxims of bodily prudence come to be improved and refined upon as intelligence is expanded, and at the same time new motives of obedience are brought into play. As the sense of existence, and the pleasures that it contains, become more rich, more various, and more exquisite, the value of life rises in our estimation, and we are more careful of its maintenance; we deprecate the slightest deviation from the healthy standard, and we are disposed to avoid the most trifling cause of disturbance. The strong primitive instincts of preservation, nourishment, repose, and the desire of securing these for the future, are assisted and refined upon by an Epicurean love of unruffled satisfaction and wellbeing. Such, at least, is the tendency of our improvements in the knowledge and means of nurturing the human frame.

The end of prudential morality may, therefore, be assumed to be the preservation and the pleasure of the individual. The impulse to observe this class of duties is derived from the instincts and appetites that lead every creature to the avoidance of pain, injury, and danger, and direct it to seek the necessaries of life. The most energetic of these constitutional forces of self-preservation, seems to be the natural revulsion against pain of every kind— an energy wrapt up in the very mechanism of every living creature. Whatever wounds the sensitiveness of any animal, is thrown off and repelled with the most decisive vigour; and according as the sensitiveness to harm extends itself by taking in anticipations as well as present aggression, this protective repulsiveness of the frame is extended, and gives a corresponding extension, to the security of the individual being. If the sensitiveness to harmful agencies is languid in an animal, and the reaction faint, the condition of such an animal is very precarious; it will have little stimulus to exert itself either for escaping outward mischief or for controlling its own appetites and impulses. In human beings, the reaction against hurts, injuries, or apprehended evil, is extremely unequal, and this inequality must make the very greatest differences in the prudential and moral character of individuals. The degree of revulsion from actual pain is the measure of our dread of future or possible pain, and in part the measure also of the forethought and energy put forth to avoid it. A high order of the self-preserving virtues is not to be expected in an individual or among a people tame and patient in the endurance of cold,

hunger, disease, or any other infliction hostile to the wellbeing of the bodily frame.

2. In the foregoing remarks on prudential duty, we have abstained from looking at man's position among his fellows. The uniform practice observed among human beings, of forming associations among themselves, and living in mutual dependence, puts a new face upon the necessities, and therefore upon the conduct and duties, of individual men and women. There is a strong instinct in each member of the race to associate with others; a specific pleasure is obtained from the association, and a conscious blank and deprivation felt from the want of it. An enlargement of the circle of pleasures and pains, and of the motives to action that these furnish, is the consequence of man's sociability; moreover, the mere necessities of life, the means of bodily subsistence and security, are better obtained by social co-operation. Pleasurable and luxurious emotion on the one hand, and corporeal advantages on the other, result from the practice of banding together, instead of leading a straggling and uncohering existence apart; hence the preservation of the individual comes to include the preservation of his place or position among others; he must resent and dread the loss of this position as he would the loss of his garments or of his means of livelihood. The most ordinary perception of consequences will make the various members of a society aware, that they owe to the existence of this society the most indispensable advantages and privileges of their existence, and that any injury done to it, anything that puts its continuance at stake, is a suicidal proceeding if committed by one of its members. The revulsion against personal harm is equally excited by a wrong done to the society that protects the person and secures its means of subsistence. A man must no more sin against the order of the society that he lives among, than against his daily bread or nightly shelter. The duties of obedience to social rule are duties of selfpreservation, and have always been felt as such wherever human beings have been drawn into social unions. The affections and sympathies felt by a man towards his fellows may be a source of a disinterested regard to their interests in common with his own; and this power of social adhesion is but second in strength to the self-preserving solicitude of every living creature. If a man is occasionally tempted by some strong appetite or impulse to violate the conditions necessary to the existence of the social compact in his tribe or nation, he is also prompted by the reaction of his nature against what is a ruinous and suicidal act, not to violate those conditions, and there will be at least a struggle before the rebellious side prevail. In maintaining order

in the society where a man is placed, and where he may earn his bread in security, and enjoy the large amount of pleasure that society gives, the motive and the interest are not simply the obtaining a little more happiness than would be gained if the society were dissolved; it is an alternative of subsistence and starvation, of security and anarchy, of tranquillity and boundless dread, of happiness and ruin: hence obedience to law and the social virtues being indispensable to man's very existence, have the highest degree of obligation and imperative force that any consideration in the whole compass of being can possess.

3. There has always been recognised a class of duties and a species of conduct highly obligatory on human beings, and yet supposed to be distinct from the duties of self-preservation and social order. The moral duties, strictly so called, have an implied reference to a kind of conduct demanded as indispensable, in some way or other, to the character of the individual being. Moralists have often attempted to establish, not a distinction merely, but an absolute contrast between the useful and the right.

The question, therefore, arises, what is the foundation or the necessity for a class of actions that seem, from the manner of expressing them, to have no direct utility?

To this we reply, that these actions are not wholly devoid of utility; that, in fact, instead of being devoid of utility, many of them have a most pressing urgency in human life.

When we look at the manner usually adopted in discussing the above-mentioned contrast of the useful on the one hand, and the right or honourable on the other, we find that by usefulness is always meant some extremely narrow and limited utility, generally, in fact, some merely selfish interest; as when a man employs sinister arts to get wealth, or rise in the world. It is of course apparent to every one, that this kind of utility is not enough to base morality upon. But it does not follow that a more comprehensive utility, including the present and future interests of society at large, is insufficient as a moral end and a ground of moral obligation. The partisans of the right, as against the useful, have never yet proceeded upon this view of the useful. They have not clearly shewn, that supposing everything provided for that concerns the wellbeing of human society, considered through its whole duration, there would still remain a class of actions demanding to be enforced in the name of morality.

Of the duties generally recognised as obligatory-apart from mere usefulness—the chief is Integrity. This represents, and, indeed, nearly exhausts, the 'straightforward' and the 'honourable' in human conduct. It includes all the obligations of truth,

consistency, and justice, so far as these are distinctly ascertainable. The great dispute between the opposing schools of moralists, is brought to a point when we put the question, with Paley, 'Why am I obliged to keep my word?'

We shall endeavour to state here what we consider sufficient reasons for maintaining the obligation of Integrity.

1. In the first place, it is involved in social security. That a man shall perform what he undertakes, and what other people rely upon his performing, is one of the most essential conditions of social existence. If no faith could be placed in promises or contracts, society would be impossible; the human race would be reduced to the condition of the wild beasts, where each one trusts only itself. It would not be a matter of inconvenience simply, or of diminished happiness; it would strike at the root of the entire system of life as now constituted.

We find that societies have held together with a very limited portion of integrity on the part of their members. The vice of lying is known to pervade whole communities. But these examples really serve to furnish powerful reasons for upholding the virtue of truth. They shew that society is kept in a low and barbaric condition by the want of trustworthiness-that all improvements are at a stand-still for want of the magic bond of good faith-that if men could but confide in one another, ameliorations without end might be effected in the condition of all classes that the burdens of life would be unspeakably less, if word and deed were one and the same throughout all society. There is no end to the illustration that could be given of the absolute necessity of some degree of integrity, and of the great value of every new accession to its amount. When a slight action produces wide consequences for good or evil, we put a corresponding stress upon it: hence our regard for the social virtue of obedience to law-hence also the motive for enforcing integrity.

2. Under the head of ascertaining and diffusing truth in the world, there is much to be said for integrity. Civilisation and progress depend upon it. The search for truth implies extreme conscientious carefulness in making observations, in sifting evidence, and in using language; and according as these qualities are present will be the success of the pursuit. Integrity assumes its most scrupulous form in this field. If our astronomers had been accustomed to falsify their observations, the laws of the heavens would have still been shrouded in darkness, and the perils of navigation as great as ever. Whatever force we may feel in the motives for carrying forward discovery, the same force attaches to the virtue of integrity in the department of natural laws.

3. The foregoing arguments prove the value of integrity each

within a specific field: the one attests it as regards promises, bargains, and contracts in the business of life; the other, as regards the pursuit of truth. We can, moreover, carry the obligation a step further, by referring to the reasonings of Paley on the necessity of adhering to general rules, and of forming habits of acting. Hardly any case of integrity is indifferent, because of the tendency of the smallest unveracity to excite distrust in greater matters.

If there be any cases where a breach of integrity can produce no evil consequences of any kind, either in relaxing the bonds of society, retarding the cause of truth, inducing a habit of unveracity, or exciting suspicion or distrust, there would scarcely remain any conceivable motive for enforcing the practice of this virtue. In modern times, a sense of personal dignity is associated with integrity; and from such a sense, an individual may be disposed to act it out when no social considerations are involved. But society does not interfere to compel each one to respect his personal dignity; that is left to the care of the individual's ownself.

If we could go a step further, and suppose great social benefits to arise from the remission of integrity, while the evils, counted to the full, should be as nothing in the balance, then there would be, to say the least, a case for abstaining from its enforcement.

There are exceptions to the rigorous carrying out of this virtue-exceptions which prove that a regard to consequences is, after all, the great motive for maintaining its obligation. We allude not to such points as deceiving madmen, and practising false lures with an enemy in the field, but to the practice of reserve in the statement of our full opinions and convictions on every person and every subject. Integrity, carried to its full length, would forbid us from ever allowing a person to carry away a mistaken view of what we thought or felt on any matter; which would often necessitate our speaking out what would give great pain to individuals, and cause good to nobody. In these circumstances, we prefer to be misconceived. We avoid every positive act that would bring on or foster misconception; but in so far as silence misleads, we allow it to do so rather than inflict needless mischief.

With such exceptions as these, the virtue of integrity may be proved to have its roots in the highest necessities and most salient benefits of human life, and to be sufficiently justified by this connection. It has, moreover, the further peculiarity of being a remarkably precise and definable virtue, which makes it peculiarly easy to enforce. When duties are vague and obscure, the law is very chary of enforcing them; but the character of precision eminently attaches to integrity. The virtue of social

« PrécédentContinuer »