« PrécédentContinuer »
and punishments would cease to be such—would become accidents. Like the stroke of a thunderbolt, or the discovery of a mine, like a blank or a benefit-ticket in a lottery, they would occasion pain or pleasure when they happened; but following in no known order, from any particular course of action, they could have no previous influence or effect upon the conduct.
An attention to general rules, therefore, is included in the very idea of reward and punishment; consequently, whatever reason there is to expect future reward and punishment at the hand of God, there is the same reason to believe that he will proceed in the distribution of it by general rules.
Before we prosecute the consideration of general consequences any further, it may be proper to anticipate a reflection, which will be apt enough to suggest itself in the progress of our argument.
As the general consequence of an action, upon which so much of the guilt of a bad action depends, consists in the example—it should seem, that if the action be done with perfect secrecy, so as to furnish no bad example, that part of the guilt drops off. In the case of suicide, for instance, if a man can so manage matters as to take away his own life, without being known or suspected to have done so, he is not chargeable with any mischief from the example; nor does his punishment seem necessary, in order to save the authority of any general rule.
In the first place, those who reason in this manner do not observe, that they are setting up a general rule, of all others the least to be endured-namely, that secrecy, whenever secrecy is practicable, will justify any action.
Were such a rule admitted, for instance, in the case above produced, is there not reason to fear that people would be disappearing perpetually?
In the next place, I would wish them to be well satisfied about the points proposed in the following queries :
1. Whether the Scriptures do not teach us to expect that, at the general judgment of the world, the most secret actions will be brought to light ?1
2. For what purpose can this be, but to make them the objects of reward and punishment ?
3. Whether, being so brought to light, they will not fall under the operation of those equal and impartial rules by which God will deal with his creatures ?
1 'In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ'Rom. ii. 16. Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.'-1 Cor. iv. 5.
They will then become examples, whatever they be now, and require the same treatment from the judge and governor of the moral world, as if they had been detected from the first.
CONSIDERATION OF GENERAL CONSEQUENCES
The general consequence of any action may be estimated by asking what would be the consequence if the same sort of actions were generally permitted. But suppose they were, and a thousand such actions perpetrated under this permission, is it just to charge a single action with the collected guilt and mischief of the whole thousand ? I answer, that the reason for prohibiting and punishing an action (and this reason may be called the guilt of the action, if you please) will always be in proportion to the whole mischief that would arise from the general impunity and toleration of actions of the same sort.
"Whatever is expedient, is right. But then it must be expedient on the whole, at the long-run, in all its effects collateral and remote, as well as in those which are immediate and direct; as it is obvious that, in computing consequences, it makes no difference in what way or at what distance they ensue. To impress this doctrine on the minds of young readers, and to teach them to extend their views beyond the immediate mischief of a crime, I shall here subjoin a string of instances in which the particular consequence is comparatively insignificant, and where the malignity of the crime, and the severity with which human laws pursue it, is almost entirely founded upon the general consequence.
The particular consequence of coining is, the loss of a guinea, or of half a guinea, to the person who receives the counterfeit money; the general consequence (by which I mean the consequence that would ensue if the same practice were generally permitted) is, to abolish the use of money.
The particular consequence of forgery is, a damage of twenty or thirty pounds to the man who accepts the forged bill; the general consequence is, the stoppage of paper-currency.
The particular consequence of sheep-stealing or horse-stealing is, a loss to the owner to the amount of the value of the sheep or horse stolen; the general consequence is, that the land could not be occupied, nor the market supplied with this kind of stock.
The particular consequence of breaking into a house empty of inhabitants is, the loss of a pair of silver candlesticks, or a few spoons; the general consequence is, that nobody could leave their house empty
The particular consequence of smuggling may be a deduction from the national fund too minute for computation; the general consequence is, the destruction of one entire branch of public revenuea proportionable increase of the burden upon other branches—and the ruin of all fair and open trade in the article smuggled.
The particular consequence of an officer's breaking his parole is, the loss of a prisoner, who was possibly not worth keeping; the general consequence is, that this mitigation of captivity would be refused to all others.
And what proves incontestably the superior importance of general consequences is, that crimes are the same, and treated in the same manner, though the particular consequence be very different. The crime and fate of the housebreaker is the same whether his booty be five pounds or fifty; and the reason is, that the general consequence is the same.
The want of this distinction between particular and general consequences, or rather, the not sufficiently attending to the latter, is the cause of that perplexity which we meet with in ancient moralists. On the one hand, they were sensible of the absurdity of pronouncing actions good or evil, without regard to the good or evil they produced ; on the other hand, they were startled at the conclusions to which a steady adherence to consequences seemed sometimes to conduct them. To relieve this difficulty, they contrived the tò agstov, or the honestum, by which terms they meant to constitute a measure of right, distinct from utility. Whilst the utile served them—that is, whilst it corresponded with their habitual notions of the rectitude of actions—they went by it. When they fell in with such cases as those mentioned in the sixth chapter, they took leave of their guide, and resorted to the honestum. The only account they could give of the matter was, that these actions might be useful; but, because they were not at the same time honesta, they were by no means to be deemed just or right.
From the principles delivered in this and the two preceding chapters, a maxim may be explained, which is in every man's mouth, and in most men's without meaning-namely, 'not to do evil that good may come;' that is, let us not violate a general rule for the sake of any particular good consequence we may expect; which is for the most part a salutary caution, the advantage seldom compensating for the violation of the rule. Strictly speaking, that cannot be 'evil'from which 'good comes;' but in this way, and with a view to the distinction between particular and general consequences, it may.
We will conclude this subject of consequences with the following reflection. A man may imagine that any action of his, with respect to the public, must be inconsiderable; so also is the agent.
If his crime produce but a small effect upon the universal interest, his punishment or destruction bears a small proportion to the sum of happiness and misery in the creation.
[It has been generally felt by the readers of Paley, that he has disposed of the question of Moral Obligation in too summary a manner—in fact, evading its real difficulties. The great problem is, to determine not what motive or authoritative impulse ought to be sufficient to a Christian man, but what are the actual influences that have in all times maintained the order of society and the morality of individuals, such as they have been; and what motives may be brought to bear upon the followers of all religions. The more imperative duties of men spring out of their common nature, a fact which alone can account for the universal maintenance of social order; for, excepting the outward creation, and the constitution of humanity itself, no one influence, opinion, or belief has been present to men throughout every ramification of the race.
In our analysis of the Moral Sense, or the discerning faculty of moral right, we specified nine different contributing impulses, all which are, properly speaking, of the nature of moving forces, still more than of mere percipient or judging instruments. Every one of those constituents of our moral sense is a prime mover of our actions, and is therefore a part of the force that obliges us to act in a particular way. The revulsion against harm or injury to ourselves; the extension of this motive others by the influence of the strong affections arising out of sympathy and tenderness; the intellectual craving for similarity, consistency, and equality of conduct; the sense of the beautiful and the becoming; enlarged prudence, or a view of what is for the good of the individual on the whole; the feeling of the good of society or humanity; imitation, education, custom, opinion, traditions, and authority, or the wide class of influences from without; legal sanctions; and individual peculiarities of sentiment or belief-are all so many
forces urge to the fundamental duties of morality. Some of them are much stronger than others; thus the instinctive dread of harm to ourselves and those that share our affections on the one hand, and the combined mass of influences from without on the other, are perhaps as strong as all the rest put together. In the more refined natures, the demand for intellectual consistency -yielding motives to justice, truth, and integrity--with the sentiment of the becoming, have a paramount obligation. In some minds, an enlarged prudence takes a deep hold of the constitution, and gives all the energy of an irresistible sway. There are individuals that identify themselves in a more than ordinary degree with the good of the society around them; and to these any infraction of the rule of social good is felt as peculiarly thwarting and agonising. Nor must we omit the eccentric class that form a moral standard to themselves out of their own peculiar tastes and sentiments of what is true, noble, useful, or becoming, and derive consolation and moral satisfaction by a scrupulous adherence to something not required by the popular conscience.
Self-preservation, social affection, intellect, taste, utility, fear of punishment, education, and individuality—these are the great sources of the obligatory force of duty. Every one of them is a power in itself. It is easy to sail in the stream along with them; it is painful and difficult, generally speaking, to row against them, although there are not wanting helps that make this last easy, enough at times. In cases where all these concur, they make an overwhelming combination of moral force, such as is not usually resisted: it is their division that lets in the enemy, and enables the anarchical side of humanity to prevail.
The most formidable opponents of the motives entering into moral obligation are the resentful, irascible, and egotistical emotions, the strong bodily appetites, the more vehement desires and passions, and the repugnance to restraint in all its forms.
In order to shew how the foregoing enumeration of human impulses can suffice to make up the sense of obligation or the authoritative conscience, we must first advert to the exact difficulties that surround the problem that is to be solved. The chief difficulty was stated long ago by Bishop Butler, when he observed that there was a felt distinction between the dictates of conscience and the dictates of any other passion; there being in the one a sense of legitimacy, rightness, or lawful authority, whereas the other might move us very strongly, might indeed have a higher operative force than conscience itself, but did not carry with it this feeling of lawful sovereignty. To oppose conscience is something like rebellion, disloyalty, or treason; to oppose ambition, the love of sport, or the outbursts of rage, gives no such impression. Both classes of motives may be looked at in the character of forces, and the strongest will rule; but under one sway there is an inward satisfaction; under the other, there is a strong sense of disobedience, coupled with remorse.
In a word, the question is, among the moving powers of man's nature: How does might become right?