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'I am desirous to increase the sum of human happiness, in so far as one man's actions can affect another man's happiness. In carrying out this desire, I admit that there is a large region of happiness produced by each person acting for himself; I admit also, that by my attempting to increase the share that comes from without, I may possibly diminish the share that accrues from within. Of course,
if I see this last consequence manifestly resulting, I forbear, but in general I am quite unable to judge in such a matter. There are, however, certain things wherein a man notoriously injures or benefits his fellow-man, and these things I am at liberty to deal with. But, in truth, I find that the principal things of this description are the social duties, which we must all perform not so much for our happiness as for our existence. What good I can most certainly do for my fellows, is to contribute to the safety of their condition, leaving them to work out their own happiness as they best can, and not troubling myself with the enormous problem of the maximum of human enjoyment.'
On this view, it appears that the greatest happiness principle, considered as the end and standard of common action, is unnecessarily burdened with all that amount of happiness which cannot be reached by the rules of universal duty. It greatly overshoots the mark, and suffers from the inconveniences of its excessive and ambitious grasping. Not distinguishing between what can be accomplished by the means at its disposal, and what is quite out of the reach of those means, it has the appearance of charging itself with more than it can ever effect, and runs the risk of letting slip what is really in its power. The resources of the moralist are not omnipotent; they are extremely limited, and corresponding limits ought, therefore, to be set to his aims. Because benevolent wishes are not satisfied with anything less than the highest welfare of the human race, it does not follow that this vast and incomprehensible sum-total should be taken as the guide of a very limited class of actions, or that we should make a stand for infinity or nothing.
3. We would finally remark, that the direct production of happiness is not the business of the moralist any more than it is the business of the soldier or the policeman. In the exercise of his high function, the moralist has more frequent occasion for taking away happiness than for directly causing it. In the language of Bentham, he is a scout for consequences,' his office is cautionary and restrictive. He has to secure certain conditions that are essential preliminaries to happiness, because in great part necessary to existence; but these conditions being secured, he should go no further. Each person is supposed to be protected by him in his various pursuits, but into the details of individual
happiness he is not allowed to enter. As morality, like industry, is an indispensable element of human life, although not necessarily agreeable to the natural man, it behoves us to adapt ourselves to these necessities, and to extract happiness from them if we can. It is to bring about this desirable end that moral teachers have endeavoured to surround duty with a halo of sentiment, while poets have endeavoured to impart beauty and interest to the drudgery of daily labour.
On the whole, we should feel disposed to contend for the application to morals of the maxim, that our ends should be proportioned to our means, and that more should not be sought by obligatory actions than these are really able to accomplish. Now, as the field of obligation is but a limited one, the ends should be equally limited. When, in our benevolent aspirations, we conceive the highest good of mankind as an object of desire, we must, nevertheless, in urging this great object upon our fellows, refrain from the imperative mood; instead of commanding, we must request, entreat, or persuade.
It is on these grounds that we have adopted the foregoing statement of the chief ends of morality, wherein the strictly obligatory portions are limited to what we regard as the primary necessities of the human being; and the promotion of positive good, with all the virtues and noblenesses of life, are left to be enforced by inducements addressed to men as free to choose their own course in such matters. We believe that, in this arrangement, we conform more to the common practice than if we were to stretch the cord of obligatory duty over all actions that in any degree command our approbation.
There is, however, as already hinted, one mode of conceiving and applying the greatest happiness principle, which comes to the same results as those above given. We might, for example, lay down limits to obligation, and claim the utmost possible scope to human liberty, on the ground, that in this way we promote most effectually the happiness of mankind. This is a perfectly fair and tenable position. We thus maintain the greatest happiness of the whole as the ultimate standard, and yet set bounds to men's interference with each other.
That liberty which, on the system above expounded, we should be disposed to assume from the first, is, by this view, made a matter of concession, justified by the beneficial consequences that are found to flow from it.
In the foregoing remarks, we have confined our attention exclusively to the ethical question of the grounds of obligation,
and have kept this question separate from the other that is usually considered along with it-namely, the psychological nature of obligation, or the specific impulses and feelings of human nature that come in to support the maxims of morality. In a purely ethical discussion, this last subject has no place; it is enough to point out what things are obligatory, and to state these in such a way as to procure the consent of mankind to their obligatory character, by which consent they become bound to act up to them. Whatever be the actual dispositions of men towards the fulfilment of moral duties, these can in no ways alter the imperative nature of such ethical axioms as we have been now discussing. Those axioms rise out of the necessities of our position, and not out of our tastes, dispositions, or favourite line of action.
Nevertheless, for practical purposes, and in the consideration of the means of inducing men under all circumstances to adhere to the maxims of right, it is not out of place to inquire, as we have done, which of the motive forces belonging to the human constitution take the side of morality, and identify themselves with ethical obligation. We again repeat the enumeration. 1. The revulsion against harm, direct or indirect, felt or anticipated, is a force or a prime mover entering into effective obligation. 2. The impulses of tenderness are also powerful motives when coinciding with right, as they do in many instances; indeed, if they did not, right would be but poorly served. 3. The action of the intellect, in asserting its own claims to see equality and consistency prevail, is a positive stimulus to a certain class of duties; which stimulus increases in force as intellect acquires strength and cultivation. The comparative feebleness of the intellectual impulses, as contrasted with the violent passions and emotions, is in part made up by the tenacity and endurance of intellectual impressions. An injury committed against a clear perception of the understanding, leaves a mark behind that will reproduce the sting on many a future day. The portions of our nature that perceive truth, and justice, and consistency, constitute the region of our most indelible impressions, and this indelibility assists in enforcing the demand for intellectual integrity. 4. The feeling of our own good, or enlarged and comprehensive selfishness, is necessarily a powerful contributing stimulus to actions in consistency with it, as rectitude has always been very earnestly asserted to be. 5. The feeling of the general good of mankind, or the enlarged form of sociability and natural tenderness, concurs still more frequently with the primary axioms of morality. In proportion as the sociability of the individual is strong, a delight will be felt in pursuing the comprehensive good of mankind, and a corresponding pain and bitterness, like the pain of wounded
affection, will arise on the sight of anything anti-social or anarchical. 6. The sentiment of the becoming is a prime mover of action, and a source of likings and dislikings, and will operate in giving the spur of obligation to a certain class of duties. 7. The influence of education, custom, and opinion, and the weight of authority, human and divine, are all powerful with the human race, and sometimes serve to maintain the cause of order, independently of almost any other motive. How effective, then, must this combination be, when it is so directed as to coincide with and bind into one compact massive sentiment all the other forces that lie on the side of right! When custom and authority can ally themselves with the dread of harm, the natural affections, the intellect, the good of self, the good of society, and the sentiment of the becoming; when all these natural impulses are trained to flow in one channel, and reinforced by habitual reverence for superior power, we have the maximum of obligatory sentiment, the highest development of conscience. An act of wrong, or a revolt against so much of what is deeply engrained in a man's nature, is then capable of producing an aggravated feeling of remorse, a sickening sense of degradation. The grand difficulty of moral education is to bring about an agreement, among all those predominating elements of a man's being, in favour of any one course of proceeding. 8. The sanction of legal punishment has a peculiar force in itself, and makes an artificial sense of obligation over and above what is derived from other sources. 9. When the individual peculiarities of mind, or the favourite feelings, and the focus of fascination, coincide with any one class of duties, they give a great impetus to the conscientious performance of that whole class. Each human being has a partiality for some peculiar train of feelings, a centre of fascinating emotion, and anything that addresses itself to this point is sure to have very great success. Some minds have an unusually developed sense of justice, and are in consequence keenly alive to the included class of obligations, and feel a more than ordinary degree of painful remorse on being betrayed into any unjust proceeding. Others are more peculiarly sensitive on the point of obedience to law and respect for established authority, and feel an almost superstitious dread of the least flaw in these matters. To such minds, the exact and faithful performance of the duties of loyalty is a high source of gratification, and any appearance of the opposite gives a deep wound in the sensitive part.
It is not necessary here to enter further into the psychological analysis of obligation, or to take up the explanation of all the feelings connected with it--such as moral approbation, remorse, &c. Even what we have attempted in the foregoing remarks, and
in the discussion on the Moral Sense, is something out of the track of strict ethical inquiry, although it is commonly considered an indispensable accompaniment to the investigation of the main subject.]
Right and obligation are reciprocal; that is, wherever there is a right in one person, there is a corresponding obligation upon others. If one man has a 'right' to an estate, others are 'obliged' to abstain from it; if parents have a 'right' to reverence from their children, children are 'obliged' to reverence their parents -and so in all other instances.
Now, because moral obligation depends, as we have seen, upon the will of God, right, which is correlative to it, must depend upon the same. Right, therefore, signifies consistency with the will of God.
But if the Divine will determine the distinction of right and wrong, what else is it but an identical proposition, to say of God, that he acts right? or how is it possible to conceive even that he should act wrong? Yet these assertions are intelligible and significant. The case is this: By virtue of the two principles, that God wills the happiness of his creatures, and that the will of God is the measure of right and wrong, we arrive at certain conclusions, which conclusions become rules-and we soon learn to pronounce actions right or wrong according as they agree or disagree with our rules, without looking any further; and when the habit is once established of stopping at the rules, we can go back and compare with these rules even the Divine conduct itself; and yet it may be true-only not observed by us at the time -that the rules themselves are deduced from the Divine will. Right is a quality of persons or of actions.
Of persons-as when we say, such a one has a 'right' to this estate; parents have a 'right' to reverence from their children; the king to allegiance from his subjects; masters have a 'right' to their servants' labour; a man has not a 'right' over his own life.
Of actions-as in such expressions as the following: it is 'right' to punish murder with death; his behaviour on that occasion was 'right; it is not 'right' to send an unfortunate debtor to jail; he did or acted 'right,' who gave up his place rather than vote against his judgment.
In this latter set of expressions, you may substitute the definition of right above given for the term itself; v.g., it is ' consistent