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or is acquainted with of his designs, may take his measures in many cases with safety, and presume with great probability how his master would have him act on most occasions that arise; but if he have his commission and instructions in his pocket, it would be strange not to look into them. He will be directed by both rules: when his instructions are clear and positive, there is an end to all further deliberation (unless, indeed, he suspect their authenticity) where his instructions are silent or dubious, he will endeavour to supply or explain them by what he has been able to collect from other quarters of his master's general inclination or intentions.
Mr Hume, in his fourth Appendix to his Principles of Morals, has been pleased to complain of the modern scheme of uniting Ethics with the Christian Theology. They who find themselves disposed to join in this complaint, will do well to observe what Mr Hume himself has been able to make of morality without this union. And for that purpose, let them read the second part of the ninth section of the above essay, which part contains the practical application of the whole treatise-a treatise which Mr Hume declares to be 'incomparably the best he ever wrote.' When they have read it over, let them consider whether any motives there proposed are likely to be found sufficient to withhold men from the gratification of lust, revenge, envy, ambition, avarice; or to prevent the existence of these passions. Unless they rise up from this celebrated essay with stronger impressions upon their minds than it ever left upon mine, they will acknowledge the necessity of additional sanctions. But the necessity of these sanctions is not now the question. If they be in fact established, if the rewards and punishments held forth in the Gospel will actually come to pass, they must be considered. Such as reject the Christian religion, are to make the best shift they can to build up a system, and lay the foundation of morality without it. But it appears to me a great inconsistency in those who receive Christianity, and expect something to come of it, to endeavour to keep all such expectations out of sight in their reasonings concerning human duty.
The method of coming at the will of God, concerning any action, by the light of nature, is to inquire into 'the tendency of the action to promote or diminish the general happiness.' This rule proceeds upon the presumption, that God Almighty wills and wishes the happiness of his creatures; and, consequently, that those actions which promote that will and wish, must be agreeable to him; and the contrary.
As this presumption is the foundation of our whole system, it becomes necessary to explain the reasons upon which it rests.
THE DIVINE BENEVOLENCE.
When God created the human species, either he wished their happiness, or he wished their misery, or he was indifferent and unconcerned about both.
If he had wished our misery, he might have made sure of his purpose by forming our senses to be so many sores and pains to us, as they are now instruments of gratification and enjoyment; or by placing us amidst objects so ill-suited to our perceptions, as to have continually offended us, instead of ministering to our refreshment and delight. He might have made, for example, everything we tasted bitter; everything we saw loathsome; everything we touched a sting; every smell a stench; and every sound a discord.
If he had been indifferent about our happiness or misery, we must impute to our good fortune (as all design by this supposition is excluded) both the capacity of our senses to receive pleasure, and the supply of external objects fitted to produce it.
But either of these (and still more both of them) being too much to be attributed to accident, nothing remains but the first supposition, that God, when he created the human species, wished their happiness, and made for them the provision which he has made with that view and for that purpose.
The same argument may be proposed in different terms, thus: contrivance proves design; and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer. The world abounds with contrivances; and all the contrivances which we are acquainted with, are directed to beneficial purposes. Evil no doubt exists, but is never, that we can perceive, the object of contrivance. Teeth are contrived to eat, not to ache; their aching now and then is incidental to the contrivance, perhaps inseparable from it or even if you will, let it be called a defect in the contrivance; but it is not the object of it. This is a distinction which well deserves to be attended to. In describing implements of husbandry, you would hardly say of the sickle, that it is made to cut the reaper's fingers, though, from the construction of the instrument, and the manner of using it, this mischief often happens. But if you had occasion to describe instruments of torture or execution, this engine, you would say, is to extend the sinews -this to dislocate the joints-this to break the bones-this to scorch the soles of the feet. Here, pain and misery are the very objects of the contrivance. Now, nothing of this sort is to be found in the works of nature. We never discover a train of contrivance to bring about an evil purpose. No anatomist ever
discovered a system of organisation calculated to produce pain and disease; or, in explaining the parts of the human body, ever said, this is to irritate this to inflame-this duct is to convey the gravel to the kidneys-this gland to secrete the humour which forms the gout. If by chance he come at a part of which he knows not the use, the most he can say is, that it is useless: no one ever suspects that it is put there to incommode, to annoy, or to torment. Since, then, God hath called forth his consummate wisdom to contrive and provide for our happiness, and the world appears to have been constituted with this design at first, so long as this constitution is upholden by him, we must in reason suppose the same design to continue.
The contemplation of universal nature rather bewilders the mind than affects it. There is always a bright spot in the prospect upon which the eye rests; a single example, perhaps, by which each man finds himself more convinced than by all others put together. I seem, for my own part, to see the benevolence of the Deity more clearly in the pleasures of very young children, than in anything in the world. The pleasures of grown persons may be reckoned partly of their own procuring; especially if there has been any industry, or contrivance, or pursuit, to come at them; or if they are founded, like music, painting, &c., upon any qualification of their own acquiring. But the pleasures of a healthy infant are so manifestly provided for it by another, and the benevolence of the provision is so unquestionable, that every child I see at its sport affords to my mind a kind of sensible evidence of the finger of God, and of the disposition which directs it.
But the example which strikes each man most strongly, is the true example for him; and hardly two minds hit upon the same, which shews the abundance of such examples about us.
We conclude, therefore, that God wills and wishes the happiness of his creatures; and this conclusion being once established, we are at liberty to go with the rule built upon it—namely, 'that the method of coming at the will of God, concerning any action, by the light of nature, is to inquire into the tendency of that action to promote or diminish the general happiness.'
So, then, actions are to be estimated by their tendency.1 Whatever is expedient, is right. It is the utility of any moral rule alone which constitutes the obligation of it.
But to all this there seems a plain objection-viz., that many actions are useful which no man in his senses will allow to be right. There are occasions in which the hand of the assassin would be very useful. The present possessor of some great estate employs his influence and fortune to annoy, corrupt, or oppress all about him. His estate would devolve, by his death, to a successor of an opposite character. It is useful, therefore, to despatch such a one as soon as possible out of the way, as the neighbourhood will exchange thereby a pernicious tyrant for a wise and generous benefactor. It might be useful to rob a miser, and give the money to the poor; as the money, no doubt, would produce more happiness by being laid out in food and clothing for half-a-dozen distressed families, than by continuing locked up in a miser's chest. It may be useful to get possession of a place, a piece of preferment, or of a seat in parliament, by bribery or false swearing; as by means of them we may serve the public more effectually than in our private station. What then shall we say? Must we admit these actions to be right, which would be to justify assassination, plunder, and perjury; or must we give up our principle, that the criterion of right is utility?
It is not necessary to do either.
The true answer is this: that these actions, after all, are not useful, and for that reason, and that alone, are not right.
To see this point perfectly, it must be observed that the bad consequences of actions are twofold-particular and general.
The particular bad consequence of an action is the mischief which that single action directly and immediately occasions.
The general bad consequence is, the violation of some necessary or useful general rule.
Thus, the particular bad consequence of the assassination above described, is the fright and pain which the deceased underwent ; the loss he suffered of life, which is as valuable to a bad man as
1 Actions in the abstract are right or wrong according to their tendency; the agent is virtuous or vicious according to his design. Thus, if the question be, Whether relieving common beggars be right or wrong? we inquire into the tendency of such a conduct to the public advantage or inconvenience. If the question be, Whether a man remarkable for this sort of bounty is to be esteemed virtuous for that reason? we inquire into his design, whether his liberality sprang from charity or from ostentation? It is evident that our concern is with actions in the abstract.
to a good one, or more so; the prejudice and affliction, of which his death was the occasion, to his family, friends, and dependents. The general bad consequence is the violation of this necessary general rule that no man be put to death for his crimes but by public authority.
Although, therefore, such an action have no particular bad consequences, or greater particular good consequences, yet it is not useful, by reason of the general consequence, which is of more importance, and which is evil. And the same of the other two instances, and of a million more which might be mentioned.
But as this solution supposes that the moral government of the world must proceed by general rules, it remains that we shew the necessity of this.
THE NECESSITY OF GENERAL RULES.
You cannot permit one action and forbid another, without shewing a difference between them; consequently, the same sort of actions must be generally permitted or generally forbidden. Where, therefore, the general permission of them would be pernicious, it becomes necessary to lay down and support the rule which generally forbids them.
Thus, to return once more to the case of the assassin. The assassin knocked the rich villain on the head, because he thought him better out of the way than in it. If you allow this excuse in the present instance, you must allow it to all who act in the same manner, and from the said motive—that is, you must allow every man to kill any one he meets whom he thinks noxious or useless; which, in the event, would be to commit every man's life and safety to the spleen, fury, and fanaticism of his neighbour—a disposition of affairs which would soon fill the world with misery and confusion, and ere long put an end to human society, if not to the human species.
The necessity of general rules in human government is apparent; but whether the same necessity subsist in the Divine economy, in that distribution of rewards and punishments to which a moralist looks forward, may be doubted.
I answer, that general rules are necessary to every moral government, and by moral government I mean any dispensation whose object is to influence the conduct of reasonable creatures. For if, of two actions perfectly similar, one be punished, and the other be rewarded or forgiven, which is the consequence of rejecting general rules, the subjects of such a dispensation would no longer know either what to expect or how to act. Rewards