Page images


the selfish theory of morals, so long inculcated, has not wholly corrupted society; so it is that men are often better and worse than their theories; so it is that God holds in check the evils that would naturally flow from the errors of men.





THE difficulties mentioned in the last lecture as obstructing the progress of moral science would also render it less desirable as a subject for a course of popular lectures. But with those difficulties it has two decided advantages.

The first is, that it appeals directly to the consciousness of the hearer. No learning is needed; no science, no apparatus, no information from distant countries. " It is nigh thee, even in thy heart." Some familiarity with terms may be required; but there is that in every man which may, and ought to make him a competent judge of all questions pertaining to this science. Let a lecturer but state the facts simply and truly, thus interpreting every man's consciousness to himself, and he may hope to carry his audience with him. Thus to state the facts will be my endeavor.

The second advantage is, that the questions involved are among the deepest and most vital that belong to our nature.

We proceed, then, to our subject, and begin with facts.

That men regard some actions with approbation, and others with disapprobation, is a fact, just as it is a fact that they regard some portions of matter as hard, and others as soft. Of those actions which they approve, they say that they ought to be done; of those which they disapprove, they say that they ought not to be done.

In these facts we have our subject. Moral philosophy respects the character and conduct of men only as there are acts which they ought, or ought not to do. Wherever the word ought, indicating duty, can go, there is its domain; and the point beyond which that cannot go fixes its limit. Whoever can answer, in all cases, these three questions, 1st. What ought to be done? 20. Why ought it to be done? and, 3d. How ought it to be done? has mastered the science of morals.

In answering these questions we may seek aid in various directions. I propose to inquire, at present, what aid we may derive from a consideration of ends as they stand related to all rational and moral action.

In acting morally, man also acts rationally; but it is the characteristic of rational action that it involves the conception of an end. Except in the apprehension of an end, there is nothing that a rational being can do, or that a moral being ought to do.

This relation of an end to all rational action may be seen if we observe what occurs in the production, study, and use of works produced by design.

In these the designer first conceives of the end, and then of the thing designed with reference to that. It is, therefore, the end in view that controls the structure.

In studying a work produced by design, we may first gain a conception of the structure, and pass from that to the end; but our interest in the study of the structure is from its apprehended relation to an end; and we are never satisfied with a knowledge of structure without that of the end.

The perfection of a work of design must consist in its



adaptation to attain its proposed end; and all use of it except for this end must be either inappropriate or wrong. Hence, a conception of the end must control not only the structure, but the use.

If the relation between the structure and the end be at once perceived, there will be no need of rules. If not, rules may be needed. These must grow out of the relation of the structure to its end, and will always express some mode in which the structure must be used to attain the end.

What is true of rules is true also of laws. These have often been confounded, but are essentially different. law is imperative; a rule is not. A law has sanctions; a rule has not. A law tells us what to do; a rule, how to do it. A command to put forth continuous action directly, and without the use of means, as to love God, would be a law, but not a rule, and no rule could be given by which we could do it. But though there are laws which cannot become rules, yet rules may become laws when the observance of them is commanded, and enforced by a penalty. While, therefore, a rule prescribes a course of action that would lead to an end, a law may prescribe one that is itself an end. But even then, as a rule derives its value from its relation to an end, so must a law derive its value from what it is regarded as an end.

Again, regarding man as a moral being, if no end valuable in itself be supposed, it will be found impossible to conceive of him as under obligation to act in any particular way. For the very conception of obligation that of an end is a condition.

We see, therefore, that in all rational action the central conception is that of an end. In works of design it controls the structure in the mind of the designer; it is essential to a right understanding of the structure by him who would study it; it is in its relation to this that the structure has its perfection and appropriate use; and from this that the value of all rules and laws for, and in its use arises. Of whatever can be comprehended and used, even of man himself, all this may be affirmed.

Let us, then, apply these principles to man.

As man was made by a wise and good being, he must have been made for some end, and the conception of this end must have controlled the formation and adjustment of every part of his complex structure.

From the study of this structure we may gain some knowledge of its end. Aside from revelation, this is our only knowledge on this point. Nor is the amount of knowledge to be thus gained small. Of some parts of the body, as the hands, the feet, the eyes, the teeth, the end is revealed at once in the structure. It is this knowledge of structure as related to use that gives comprehension. Only in the light of it can we have complacency in the structure when right, or the power to correct it when wrong. In the same way the faculties of the mind, in their relation to each other, reveal their end, and thus the law of their use. An intelligent being whose end should not be revealed in itself would be an absurdity. If the end were not revealed to itself, it would be lost. It is the possibility and measure of such knowledge that determines the possibility and measure of any philosophy of man.

The perfection of man, viewed merely as a product of divine power, must consist in his adaptation and capacity to attain the end for which he was made.

That, and that only, is the right use of the faculties of man,- of all his susceptibilities and powers of agency, by which they attain the end for which they were made.

« PreviousContinue »