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other words, a certain character of action or disposition is a necessary mean to a certain end; that end may be various; suppose the ultimate end, or that to which all others are to be referred, is the greatest happiness of the agent, then it follows that the tendency to the greatest happiness of the agent is that criterion, by which we are to ascertain whether or not it is obligatory. To such a tendency we give the denomination of virtue. 14. Many sources of obligation have been pointed out by different philosophers. That is, to the question, Why ought I to act in a certain way which we call virtuously many answers have been given. Some of the most important are the following 15. It is agreeable, say some, to the eternal and necessary fitness of things.This leaves the distinction between virtue and vice altogether arbitrary; for it depends upon the perception of a fitness or unfitness, which can only be ascertained by investigations, whose conclusions will differ in different individuals. Besides it has justly been asked, What are those moral fitnesses fit for 2 1s the fitness or unfitness of actions means any thing different from their tendency to produce happiness or misery, the expression is unintelligible. We may safely use the expression, for there is certainly a beauty and propriety in virtue, which increas. es in our estimation as virtue itself gains an influence in our breasts; but still, when we speak of it as an obligation, we find the question returning, Why ought I to act agreeably to the fitness of things 16. It is agreeable, say others, to the dictates of right reason. Unless you can show me a reason, independently of your assertion, in what way am I bound to comply with what you call the rules of virtue Besides, in what respect can an action be said to be agreeable to the dictates of right reason, but as it possesses some tendency to something 2 and what that something is, it leaves us to estimate for ourselves, and consequently does not bring us to the ultimate obligation which we are inquiring for. 17. It is the opinion of some, whose own confirmed habits of virtue probably were in some measure the cause of the opinion, that virtue carries in itself its own obligation; that the understanding represents a certain action, or set of actions as right, and that therefore it ought to be performed.—It is objected, with great justice to this system, that it leaves
the matter where it found it; for the question recurs, Why am I obliged to perform an action which my understanding represents to me as right Further, it is arguing in a circle. My understanding represents such an action as right; that is obligatory ; and therefore I am obliged to perform it. Why does my understanding represent this action as right : Besides, it refers to a kind of infallible judge within, whose dictates appear, in fact, to be very different in different persons. Felton believed that he did what was right, that, in short, he performed an action which was highly meritorious, when he murdered the Duke of Buckingham. According to this, he was under an obligation to do it.—There cannot be a doubt that it is the part of true wisdom to endeavour to cultivate the moral powers, and then leave the actions entirely (except in extreme cases) to their sug. gestions. But to state, that an action is obligatory, because the understanding, or the conscience (for it comes to the same thing) represents it as right, is to sanction, as virtuous, some of the most depraved actions; some of the most depraved actions have been performed by those who thought it right to perform them.—The fact appears to be, that the advocates for this system, having spent much of their lives in cultivating their moral ideas, and finding them always correct, have acquired the habit of acting implicitly upon them, and hence have judged, that because they were represented by our conscience as right, therefore they were obligatory. This appears a sufficient obligation for those who have well-cultivated consciences; but it will answer in no other cases, and the question still recurs, Why is this action obligatory 18. Because, say others, it is agreeable to the dictates of the conscience.—The observations under the last head have anticipated what might be made here. When we analyze the grounds of the moral feelings and sentiments (See PhILosophy, mental), we shall see, that they cannot be safely made the infallible rule of our conduct, still less can they furnish the ground of obligation.—It cannot, however, be too strongly impressed upon the mind, that correct dictates, and the exaction of implicit obedience to those dictates, constitute the perfection of the conscience. 19. But when we say it is agreeable to the will of God, we seem incapable of advancing further. We surely are obliged to perform the will of God by every consideration.—Most true, and yet we are not come to the last obligation. Even in the sentence we have just used, we have, without intending it, referred to some other.—Under the dominion of a wise and good God, there cannot be a doubt, that obedience to his commands is the highest wisdom ; but why It is a question that admits of an answer, and may therefore be put, though reverently : Why am I obliged to do the will of God? And the answer is obvious. Obedience to the commands of a benevolent God must be productive of the greatest ultimate happiness. Not that it is necessary frequently to take this into consideration; for when we have ascertained that we are walking surely, we may walk safely, without that degree of attention which, before such ascertainment, might have been necessary. To obey the will of God in all things is the highest point of wisdom ; and he is most obedient, who obeys because he loves. 20. Every question, Why is any one obliged to perform a certain action gives us an ultimate answer ; because it tends to the greatest ultimate happiness of the agent. When we arrive at this point, it is obvious we can go no further. And, though true wisdom undoubtedly directs, that, in order to attain the highest point of moral excellence, we must leave our own happiness out of consideration, yet there cannot be a doubt, that there could be no obligation to any conduct in opposition to happiness on the whole. If self must be annihilated, it is because self-annihilation, or self. oblivion is necessary for the attainment of the highest possible happiness. Here, then, we come to the ultimate obligation, and upon this ground we shall build our moral superstructure. Though the principle appears a selfish one, it will be found, that the deductions from it are completely the reverse. It has been remarked in favour of this as the ultimate obligation, that no nearer obligation could ever be admitted, which cannot at last be resolved into this ultimate one: that happiness is the end of the whole creation, though the means by which it is to be obtained are not always in themselves happiness; and that revelation itself assumes this as the ultimate reason of all its requiSitions. 21. We now proceed to the second enquiry (§ 8). What are those affections, conduct, and character, which tend to the greatest ultimate happiness
of the agent; and in considering this the third will receive an answer. We shall chiefly confine our inquiries to the affections, for the reasons already stated, (§ 7) and we shall make an estimate of the value of the different pleasures and pains of the mind. This will lead to what we deem an indisputable conclusion, from the laws of the mental frame, that the love of man, of God, and of duty, (in other words, the affections of benevolence and of piety, and the moral sense), should be the primary objects of our aim ; and this because he will be most happy, in whom those affections exist in the greatest strengh and vigour. We have already stated (PHILosophy, mental, S. 73–99.) the Hartleyan classification offeelings; and we shall here pre
suppose that our readers are acquainted with it.
I. ESTIMATE OF SENSIBLE PLEASURES.
22. The first pleasures and pains of the human being are obviously those of sensation, and they form one source of enjoyment, and still more of suffering, dur
-ing the whole of life. It is from these that
the whole round of mental or intellectual pleasures and pains is composed. To estimate the value of these pleasures, in their uncompounded state, take the extreme case, that if any one pursued them as a primary object, laying aside all restraint from the virtues of temperance and chastity, he would soon destroy his bodily faculties, thus rendering the objects of sensible pleasure useless; and he would precipitate himself into pain, diseases, and death, evils of the first magnitude in the eyes of the voluptuous. “This is a plain matter of observation, verified every day by the sad example of loathsome, tortured wretches, that occur which way soever we turn our eyes, in the streets, in private families, in hospitals, in palaces.” Positive misery, and the loss even of sensible pleasure, are too inseparably connected with intemperance and lewdness, to leave room for doubt even to the most sceptical. The sensual appetites must therefore be regulated by, and made subservient to, some other part of our natures, else we shall miss even the sensible pleasures which we might have enjoyed, and shall fall into the opposite pains, which are in general far greater and more exquisite than the sensible pleasures. 23. The same conclusion also follows from the fact, that inordinate indulgence in sensual gratifications destroys the mental faculties, exposes to external inconveniencies and pains, is totally inconsistent with the duties and pleasures of benevolence and piety, and is all along attended with the secret reproaches of the moral sense, and the horrors of a guilty mind. Such is the constitution of our mental frame, that the formation of mental feelings and affections cannot be altogether prevented; but that an inordinate pursuit of sensible pleasures converts the mental affections into a source of pain, and impairs and cuts off the intellectual pleasures.
24. The same thing may be concluded from the fact, that the sensible pleasures are formed first, and the mental pleasures from them, by the associative power. Now it is a general principle in the order of nature, that the prior state or means is less perfect and important than the posterior state or the means. Hence the sensible pleasures cannot be of equal value aud dignity with the mental, to the generation of which they are made subservient. This inference may be drawn from the analogy of nature, without reference to the infinite benevolence of the Supreme Being, which, however, makes it more satisfactory.
25. Further, the mental pleasures are more consistent with the gentle, gradual decay of the body, than the sensible pleasures, because, as they are formed from the combination and coalescence of many sensible pleasures, they more affect the sensible system at large; while the sensible pleasures principally affect the particular parts of the system to which they belong, and therefore, when indulged to excess, they injure or destroy their respective organs before the whole body comes to a period.
26. Lastly, the duration of mere sensible pleasure is necessarily very short, and cannot, even when free from guilt, afford any pleasing recollections; whereas one of the principal tendencies of our nature is, and must be, the pleasures of reflection and consciousness. In like
manner, the evident use and restriction'
of one of the chief sensible pleasures, to preserve life and health, with all the consequent mental faculties and executive bodily powers; of the other to continue the species, and to generate and enlarge benevolence, makes the subordinate nature of both manifest in an obvious way.
REGULATIoN Fort THE PURsult of sex sir; LE PLEASUREs.
27. The foregoing remarks prove, that the pleasures of sensation ought not to be made the primary pursuit of life, but require to be regulated and restrained by some foreign regulating power. That they should be submitted to the precepts of benevolence, piety, and the moral sense, may be proved, by showing that by this means they will contribute both to their own improvement, and to that of other parts of our natures. Now benevolence requires that the pleasures of sense should be made entirely subservient to health of body and of mind, so that each person may best fill his place in life; best perform the several relative duties of it; and, as far as in him lies, prolong his days to their utmost period, free from great diseases and infirmities. All gratifications, therefore, which tend to produce diseases of body, or irregularities of mind, are forbidden by benevolence, and the most wholesome diet as to quantity and quality enjoined by it. It also most strictly forbids all gratifications, by which the health or virtue of other individuals is injured, or by which encouragement is given to others to depart from the rules of chastity and temperance. The precepts of piety are to the same purpose, whether they are deduced from our relation to God, as our common father and benefactor, who wills that all his children should use his blessings so as to promote the common good; or from the natural manifestations of his will, in the immediate pleasures and advantages arising from moderate refreshment, and the manifest inconveniencies and injuries caused by excess in quantity or quality; or from his revealed will, by which temperance in all sensible pleasures is commanded, and intemperance severely threatened. In like manner the moral sense directs implicitly to the same moderation, whether it be derived explicitly from the ...; rules of benevolence and piety, or from ideas of decency, rational self-interest, the practice of wise and good men, the disgusting nature of the diseases consequent on intemperance, the odiousness and mischief of violent passions, &c. It is evident, therefore, that all these guides of life lead to the same end, viz. great moderation in sensible enjoyments, though they differ somewhat in their motives, and in the commodiousness of their application, as a rule in the particular oc. currences of life.
28. By this steady adherence to moderation, we are no losers even with respect to sensible pleasures themselves; for by these means our senses and bodily powers are preserved in their best state, and as long as is consistent with the necessary decay of the body; and this moderation, and its beneficial consequences, directly tend to inspire the mind with perpetual serenity, cheerfulness, and good-will, and with gratitude to the Giver of all good.—In the common intercourse of Tife, associated circumstances add greatly to the pleasures of sensation: thus the pleasure of receiving a thing from a friend, or sharing it with a friend, sociality and mirth at the time of enjoyment, &c. greatly enhance the gratification of taste. Much more then will the pure and exalted pleasures of piety and benevolence increase these pleasures. 29. We are, then, great gainers on the whole by religious moderation as to sensible pleasures; still more so as to the sensible pains and sufferings which the intemperate bring on themselves. These are of the most exquisite kind, and often of long duration, especially when they give intervals of respite. They impair the bodily and mental powers, so as to render most other enjoyments insipid and imperfect; they dispose to peevishmess, passion, and murmuring against Providence, and are attended with the pangs of a guilty mind.—On the whole, the proper method of avoiding the sensible pains, whether the result of excess, or such as occur in the daily discharge of the duties of life, and of obtaining the sensible pleasures in their best and most lasting state, is not to aim at either directly, but in every thing to be guided by the dictates of benevolence, piety, and the moral sense. It is evident that luxury, self-indulgence, and an indolent aversion to perform the duties of a man’s station, not only bring on gross bodily diseases, but, previously to this, often produce such a degree of anxiety and fearfulness in minute affairs, as to make persons inflict upon themselves greater torments than the most cruel tyrants could inflict.—There are cases, however, in which persons are obliged, from a sense of duty, from benevolence, from adherence to true religion, &c. to forego pleasure, and to endure pain; and this, where there is no probability of a recompense in this life. Here the hopes of futurity lend their aid; and the present pleasure which these afford is, in some cases, so great, as to overpower, and almost annihilate the opposite pains.
Rules respecting Sensible Pleasures.
30. “The only rule with respect to our diet,” says Dr. Priestley, in his Institutes, “is to prefer those kinds, and that quantity, of food, which most conduce to the health and vigour of our bodies. Whatever in eating or drinking is inconsistent with, and obstructs, this end, is wrong, and should carefully be avoided ; and every man’s own experience, assisted with a little information from others, will be sufficient to inform him what is nearly the best for himself in both these respects; so that no persen is likely to injure himself through mere mistake.”
31. It is sufficiently obvious, that it is the benevolent affections which give the chief value and highest interest to the sensible pleasures arising from the intercourse of the sexes; and it also appears that these pleasures were designed, by the great Author of our frame, to be one chief means of transferring our affection and concern from ourselves to others. If, therefore, this great source of benevolence be corrupted or perverted, the social affections depending on it will also be perverted, and degenerate into selfishness or malevolence. These considerations of themselves point to marriage as the only justifiable mode of indulging the sexual passion.—Unrestrained promiscuous intercourse would produce the greatest evils, public and private: by being unrestrained, it would destroy the health, and prevent the propagation of the species; by being promiscuous, it would be ineffectual to promote the tender and benevolent charities, either between the individuals themselves, or towards their offspring, and would produce endless contentions among mankind. Now, though scarcely any known nation has allowed of such entire licentiousness, yet the evils arising from any great degree of it, are so abundantly obvious and important, that they have almost universally led to some such regulation of sexual intercourse as that of marriage, and proves its necessity for the well-being of society.—Further (to use the words of Paley, whose excellent remarks on this subject we shall freely employ, as suits our purpose), the public use of marriage institutions, also, consists in their promoting the production of the greatest number of healthy children, their better education, and the making of due provision for their settlement in life; and, in their promoting the private comfort of individuals, and particularly of the female sex. It may be true, all are not interested in this last reason: nevertheless, it is a reason to all for abstaining from any conduct which tends, in its general consequence, to obstruct marriage; for whatever promotes the happiness of the majority is binding upon the whole—These considerations prove that the restraint of marriage institutions is an essentially important obligation. It may be violated by vagrant concubinage, or by cohabitation limited to a single individual. The former will be the object of the next paragraph : the latter cannot be placed upon the same footing with it, in several respects; but as it can answer the primary public ends of marriage in only a few cases, as it tends to annihilate the individual advantages which are naturally derived from it (both as to moral welfare and to comfort), and as it decidedly discountenances marriage, and consequently, in the present state of society, countenances fornication, it follows that it is immoral. “Laying aside the injunctions of the Scriptures,” says Paley, “the plain account of the |. seems to be this: it is immoral, because it is pernicious that men and women should cohabit, without undertaking certain irrevocable obligations, and mutually conferring certain civil rights; if, therefore, the law has annexed these rights and obligations to certain forms, so that they cannot be secured or undertaken by any other means, which is the case here (for whatever the parties may promise to each other, nothing but the marriage ceremony can make their promise irrevocable), it becomes in the same degree immoral, that men and women should cohabit without the interposition of these forms.” 52. With respect to the crime of fornication, it is to be observed that promiscuous concubinage tends greatly to discourage marriage, and therefore to defeat the several beneficial purposes spoken of in the last paragraph. The reader will learn to comprehend the magnitude of this mischief by attending to the importance and variety of the uses to which marriage is subservient; and by recollecting that the malignity and moral quality of each crime is not to be estimated by the particular effect of one offence, or of one person’s offending, but by the general tendency and consequence of crimes of the same nature. If one instance of licentious indulgence be innocent or allowable, why should not more ? and if allowable in one, why should not licentiousness become general and if it
were so, what dreadful consequences would follow * Every instance of licentious conduct has the direct and decided effect of leading to these dreadful consequences (which none but a purely malevolent being could contemplate without horror); and every instance is therefore criminal, altogether independent of its individual effects and tendencies. Again, fornication supposes prostitution, and prostitution brings and leaves the victims of it to almost certain misery. It is no small quantity of misery in the aggregate, which, between want, disease, and insult, is suffered by those outcasts of human society who infest populous cities: the whole of which is a general consequence of fornication, and to the increase and continuance of which every act and instance of fornication contributes. Further, fornication produces habits of ungovernable lewdness, which introduce the more aggravated crimes of seduction, adultery, violation, &c. Of this passion it has been truly said, that irregularity has no limits; that one excess draws on to another; that the most easy, therefore, as well as the most excellent way of being virtuous, is to be so entirely. However it be accounted for, the criminal intercourse of the sexes corrupts and depraves the mind and moral character more than any single species of vice whatsoever. That ready perception of guilt, that prompt and decisive resolution against it, which constitutes a virtuous character, is seldom found in persons addicted to these indulgences. They prepare an easy admission for every sin that seeks it; are, in low life, usually the first stage in men's progress to the most desperate wickedness; and, in high life, to that lamented dissoluteness of principle, which manifests itself in a profligacy of public conduct, and a contempt of the obligations of religion and moral probity. Add to this, that habits of libertinism incapacitate and indispose the mind for all intellectual, moral, and religious pleasures; which is a great loss to any man’s happiness. Lastly, fornication perpetuates a disease, which may be accounted one of the sorest maladies of human nature; and the effects of which are said to visit the constitution of even distant generations. The passion being natural, proves that it was intended to be gratified; but under what restrictions, or whether without any, must be collected from other considerations.— If fornication be criminal, all those incentives which lead to it are accessaries to the crime, and as such are criminal (inde