« PreviousContinue »
the revolving seasons, are alike to all. In the same way men agree in their practical judgments on the great subjects of morals. By their original nature there is within them a guiding light by which the learned and unlearned alike may walk. But in either case, when science began its work, and asked for causes, and reasons, and classifications, there were conjectures and diversities of opinion without end. Of the apparent movement of the heavens, and of a virtuous or heroic act, men judged alike; of the cause of that movement, or of the nature of virtue itself, they did not judge alike. Practically, men could agree in both; but in everything pertaining to the science of either nothing could be more discrepant than their opinions, or, for ages, more discouraging and apparently hopeless than the attempt to establish any one doctrine that should be generally accepted.
If, now, the inquiry had been made in the early period of these sciences which of them would soonest reach perfection, the unbesitating answer would doubtless have been, — that of which the phenomena are within us, which are immediately testified to by our consciousness, and are always subject to our notice. Whether man would ever be able to perfect a science of the heavens, might well have been doubted; but that he should do this sooner than perfect the science of that which pertained to his own most intimate being, and which stood in the closest relation to his highest interests, could not have been believed. But so it has been. After ages of observation and conjecture, during which the phenomena seemed in hopeless confusion; after exhausting the efforts of some of the best minds in every age, the central truth of astronomy at length dawned, and the chaos of conjecture became the order of science. From a science of observation, astronomy has
MORAL SCIENCE AND ASTRONOMY.
now become one of deduction, and if not altogether complete, is more nearly so than any other.
The'success thus achieved in the field of astronomy was a great stimulus and encouragement to effort in other departments. From the vastness of its distances, the magnitude of its objects, the complexity of its phenomena, and from its inconceivable forces and velocities, there was connected with success here an excitement and sublimity which greatly heightened the purely scientific pleasure, and which inspired a confidence of future triumphs in whatever should be attempted. Nor was this confidence without a basis. In the advance of every form of physical science then known, no period of the world can be compared with that since the time of Kepler and of Newton. Meantime, forms of science then unknown, as chemistry and geology, have sprung into giant proportions; while the application of science to the arts, employing every substance, and harnessing every force in nature for the service of man, is revolutionizing not only society, but the face of nature herself.
In mental and moral science there has, too, been greater activity than ever before; but we are not, perhaps, in a position as yet to say how much there has been of prog
There are still discordant voices, and different schools, and those that say “Lo, here,” and “Lo, there; and perhaps the variety of systems proposed, especially in morals, was never greater.
Thus situated, it is an encouragement to think of the seas of doubt through which astronomy has waded. We remember that the perplexities of its votaries were once as great as ours can be now, and hope for a similar deliverance. The end of investigation is attained when we either comprehend all that is brought before us, or can draw the
line which shall fix the natural limits set by God to our knowledge; and we are not of that desponding, or rather indolent class, who distrust the powers of the human mind to do, in all cases, one or the other of these.
So far as our present subject is concerned, it may aid us in doing this if we inquire for a little how it has happened that physical science, and especially astronomy, has so far outstripped moral science. What are the causes of a result so impossible to have been anticipated ?
And first, we may mention a difficulty much insisted on by Chalmers, as pertaining to the observation of all mental phenomena. This arises from the fact that the mind is both the observer and the thing observed, and that some of its states at least (they say all) are of such a character as to preclude examination at the moment they exist. Thus, when a man is thoroughly angry his whole thought is directed to the object of his anger, and nothing can be conceived more incompatible with the state of an angry man than that he should be engaged in taking psychological observations on himself. The moment he turns his attention from the object of his anger to himself for the purpose of observing it, the anger is gone.
It cannot, therefore, be studied directly, as we study the objects of our senses, but only as it is remembered.
This holds in all cases of violent emotion and should have its just weight, but not in the ordinary states of thought and feeling. If the view of Chalmers and of Brown before him were adopted in its strictness, no man would ever know his own present state, but only the states he had been in, and so could never deal with his present, but only with his past self. The moment his attention should be so far called to himself as to inquire whether he was angry, his anger must cease; and the
REASONS FOR ITS SLOWER PROGRESS.
prophet of old who thought he was angry, and said he did well to be, was mistaken. In thinking, we know not only the object of our thought, but ourselves as thinking. The consciousness is so far complex as to embrace both. So in the feelings. There is no more difficulty in supposing such a complexity of the consciousness as to embrace both an act and a feeling caused by an act, than there is in supposing that the same consciousness can embrace the remembrance of an act and the feeling caused by that remembrance.
There is doubtless at this point a real difficulty, but we think it less formidable than it is made by Chalmers and others.
To a successful investigation the first requisite is a clear apprehension of the subject to be investigated as distinguished from everything with which it may be confounded, or to which it is related. This discrimination in regard to morals has often failed to be made. This is the second
Language accommodates itself, after a time, to the exigencies of thought; and when clear discriminations are generally or persistently made, there will be terms to express them. In the Latin language, the word for conscience and for consciousness was the same; it is so still in the French, Italian, and Spanish, and this was formerly true of the English. But if the moral consciousness were not now partitioned off, and its phenomena grouped by a word of its own, we may easily see how difficult it would be to disentangle those phenomena from the mass of other things covered by the same word; and while the language remained in that state it was scarcely possible that much progress should be made in the science. But as thought was concentrated and analysis progressed, that which was
consciousness par eminence, the moral consciousness, appropriated the term conscience; and yet no one can now read even the scientific writers on the subject and not perceive that they still use the term with a wide diversity of signification.
It was this state of the language, or more properly of the public mind represented by it, that rendered possible in the Scotch universities such a state of things as is complained of by Chalmers. He says: “In the hands of some of our most celebrated professors, it” (i. e. moral philosophy) “has been made to usurp the whole domain of humanity, insomuch that every emotion which the heart can feel, and every deed which the hand can perform, have, in every one aspect, whether relating to moral character or not, come under the cognizance of moral philosophy.” He calls the science as there treated “a strange concretion," "a vast and varied miscellany," which he wished to marshal aright into proper and distinct groups.”
How this subject has been regarded in England we may learn from an introductory lecture to a course on Moral Philosophy delivered in London by Sidney Smith. “Moral philosophy," he says, “properly speaking, is contrasted to natural philosophy; comprehending everything spiritual, as that comprehends everything corporeal, and constituting the most difficult and the most sublime of those two divisions under which all human knowledge must be arranged.” “In this sense,” he proceeds, “Moral Philosophy is used by Berkley, by Hartley, by Hutcheson, by Adam Smith, by Howe, by Reid, and by Stewart. In this sense it is taught in the Scotch universities, where alone it is taught in this island; and in this sense it comprehends all the intellectual, active and moral faculties of man; the laws by which they are governed; the