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The Reader will perceive that this work is not described in the Title as having Moral Philosophy for its subject, but is entitled Elements of Morality. The distinction between the two subjects to which these two terms may be most appropriately applied, is important. Morality, and the Philosophy of Morality differ in the same manner and in the same degree as Geometry, and the Philosophy of Geometry. Of these two subjects, Geometry consists of a series of positive and definite Propositions, deduced one from another, in succession, by rigorous reasoning, and all resting upon certain Definitions and Self-evident Axioms. The Philosophy of Geometry is quite a different subject ; it includes such Inquiries as these :—Whence is the Cogency of Geometrical proof? What is the Evidence of the Axioms and Definitions ? What are the Faculties by which we become aware of their truth ? and the like. The two kinds of speculation have been pursued, for the most part, by two different classes of persons ;—the Geometers, and the Metaphysicians ; for it has been far more the occupation of Metaphysicians than of Geometers, to discuss such questions as I have stated, the nature of Geometrical Proofs, Geometrical Axioms, the Geometrical Faculty, and the like. And if we construct a complete System of Geometry, it will be almost exactly the same, whatever be the views which we take on these Metaphysical questions. To construct such a System, requires labour and thought of quite a different kind from that which is requisite in the discussion of the questions, whether Geometry rest upon Axioms? whether man has a Geometrical Faculty ? and the like. But though Geometry is a very different thing from such Philosophy of Geometry, the existence of a Scientific System of Geometry is very requiBite for the progress of such philosophy. If we had had no Euclid, we should have had no dissertations on such philosophical ques. tions as I have mentioned. It was the familiar possession of a body of Geometrical Truth, systematically arranged and solidly demonstrated, which led men to inquire, in virtue of what conditions, and what human faculties, such a body of truth was possible. Men would never have discussed whether and why Geometrical Truth was possible, if they had not had before them an undeniable collection of such Truth. Or if, without having any certainty or knowledge of Geometrical Propositions, men had speculated and disputed, as to whether they could have such knowledge and such certainty ; we cannot suppose that they could have arrived at any distinct or stable result of such speculations. The construction of the Elements of Geometry, besides being the creation of a precious and imperishable body of Scientific Truth, was the first step in the Philosophy of Geometry.
It has long appeared to me that the relation which thus subsists between Geometry and the Philosophy of Geometry, must subsist also between Morality and the Philosophy of Morality. If we had a View of Morality, in which Moral Propositions were deduced from Axioms, by successive steps of reasoning, so far as to form a connected System of Moral Truth ; we should then have before us definite Problems, if we proceeded to inquire, what is the nature and evidence of Moral Axioms; and what are the Faculties by which we know them to be true. On this account, it seemed to me that the Construction of Elements of Morality ought to precede any attempt to settle the disputed and doubtful questions which are regarded as belonging to the Philosophy of Morality.
Of course, as in the case of Geometry, the Construction of a Systematic Body of Truth in Morality, if it could be achieved, would have other, and perhaps far higher advantages, than the mere aid it would afford to the prosecution of the Philosophy of Morality. In Morality, indeed, this independent value of the Truth, could hardly fail to be more evident and more eminent than in any other Subject. A sure and connected knowledge of the Duties of man, of the Supreme Rules and Highest Objects of human action, would naturally throw most important light upon all the greatest concerns of man, both theoretical and practical.
It is true, that the difficulty of constructing a solid System of Morality may be expected to be, in some degree, great, in proportion to its great value and extensive bearings, when once constructed. But on the other hand, this acknowledged difficulty in the task will, it may be hoped, procure sone indulgence to him who undertakes it, if he perform his labour patiently, and as far as he can, consistently. Even if he be not wholly successful, he may produce a result of which some part may have a permanent value, and which may be rendered more complete by his successors.
I do not know whether these general reflections will appear superfluous, to the Reader of the System of Morality now offered to his notice. I am desirous that he should understand that, though I do not speak of my work as a Philosophy of Morality, I have tried to inake it a work of rigorous reasoning, and therefore, so far at least, philosophical.
I have, at the same time, used, as much as possible, the lan. guage in which moral opinions and moral arguments are expressed on common occasions ; only attempting to give so much of precision to the meaning of the terms used, as may make the reasoning good. If the reasoning be really rigorous, it is, I conceive, a presumptive evidence of the truth of the System, that the arguments are expressed in language familiarly recognized as significant and convincing : just as the demonstrations of Geometry may, in many instances, be best expressed in the language of the practical land-measurer.
The Principles which are the foundation of the reasoning in this System of Morality are those which are given in Articles 269, 270, and 271, as the Express Principles of Humanity, Justice, Truth, Purity, Order, Earnestness, and Moral Ends. These Principles may be considered as, in some measure, analogous, in Morality, to the Axioms in Geometry. I have attempt. ed to show how we are led to these Principles. But I hope I may once more refer to the analogy of Geometry ; and remind the reader, that all the controversies which turn on matters below the Axioms do not affect the Superstructure which is built upon them. If any one believe that Humanity, Justice, Truth, Purity, Order, Earnestness, and Moral Purpose, are fundamental Principles of human action ; in whatever manner he arrives at this conviction, he will be able to go along with me from this point ; and to follow me into the Doctrines of the Morality of Reason, the Morality of Religion, Polity, and International Law.
I hope the Reader will find the convenience which I seem to myself to have found, in the Division of the general trunk of Morality into Five Branches : Jurisprudence; the Morality of Reason; the Morality of Religion ; Polity; International Law. These five provinces, though intimately connected, appear to be distinct, and their boundaries well defined. The subjects belonging to each, and even the general style of treating them, are different. I hope, in particular, that the separation of the Morality of Religion from that of mere Reason, will be considered an improvement. It enables us to trace the guidance of human Reason, consistently and continuously, retaining a due sense of the superiority of Religion ; and it shows that, in many places, this guidance of human Reason is insufficient without Religion, and points to Religion as a necessary higher guide.
By going through the subject in this shape, I have been unavoidably led to treat of subjects which are of a professional kind; and in which, therefore, an unprofessional writer is in great danger of error. This is especially the case with the first subject, Jurisprudence. I can scarcely hope that Jurists and Lawyers will not find, in what I have written, mistakes as to laws and legal expressions. These I hope they will pardon ; seeing what
I trust I have made manifest, that some details on that subject were an essential part of my plan. This portion of my work has had the great advantage of being read and remarked on by my friend Mr. William Empson. I have taken the liberty of using some of his remarks, especially in the Notes on this Second Book. To him I am indebted also for a general reference to the Act of Crimes and Punishments, now under the consideration of the Legislature ; of which I have made some use. Besides the common English law-books, I have referred to some American ones, especially Chancellor Kent's Commentaries on American Law, Judge Story's Commentaries on Equity, and his conflict of Laws. In the Fifth Book, on Polity, I have made free use of many excellent works of my Contemporaries ; especially Mr. Hallam’s Middle Ages, and English Constitution; Mr. Allen's Inquiry into the Royal Prerogutive ; Sir Francis Palgrave's History of the English Commonwealth ; Mr. Jones's work on Rent, and (particularly in the Chapter on the Representative System) Lord Brougham's Political Philosophy.
I have necessarily had to deliver opinions which bear, more or less closely, upon questions now agitated with a view to practical results. In doing this, I trust that I have said nothing but what belongs to a system of Morality, and that I shall be judged inere. ly as a Moralist.
CONTENTS OF THE FIRST VOLUME.