(1.) Compassion and benevolent exertion are due towards alleviating the distresses of others. This exercise of them, in many instances, calls for a decided sacrifice of personal interest, and, in others, for considerable personal exertion. We feel our way to the proper measure of these sacrifices, by the high principle of moral duty, along with that mental exercise which places us in the situation of others, and, by a kind of reflected self-love, judges of the conduct due by us to them in our respective circumstances.—The details of this subject would lead us into a field too extensive for our present purpose. Pecuniary aid, by those who have the means, is the most easy form in which benevolence can be gratified, and that which often requires the least, if any, sacrifice of personal comfort or self-love. The same affection maybe exercised in a degree much higher in itself, and often much more useful to others, by personal exertion and personal kindness. The former, compared with the means of the individual, may present a mere mockery of mercy; while the latter, even in the lowest walks of life, often exhibit the brightest displays of active usefulness that can adorn the human character. This high and pure benevolence not only is dispensed with willingness, when occasions present themselves; but seeks out opportunities for itself, and feels in want of its natural and healthy exercise when deprived of an object on which it may be bestowed.
(2.) Benevolence is to be exercised towards the reputation of others. This consists not only in avoiding any injury to their characters, but in exertions to protect them against the injustice of others,—to correct misrepresentations,—to check the course of slander, and to obviate the efforts of those who would poison the confidence of friends, or disturb the harmony of society.
(3.) Benevolence is to be exercised towards the character and conduct of others; especially when these have been in opposition to our personal interest or self-love. This consists in viewing their conduct with indulgence and forbearance, assigning the most favourable motives,—and making every allowance for their feelings, and the circumstances in which they were placed. It leads us also to avoid all suspicions and jealousies which are not clearly justified by fact; and to abstain to the utmost from taking offence,—by putting upon the conduct of others the best construction of which it will possibly admit. It extends still farther to the actual forgiveness of injuries, and the repaying of evil with good,—a conduct represented in the sacred writings as one of the highest attainments the human character can reach, in so far as regards its relation to other men.
(4.) Benevolence is to be exercised towards the feelings of others; and this applies to many situations in which neither their interest nor their character is concerned. It includes those exercises of the kindly affections which produce so powerful an influence in all the relations of life, but which it is impossible for any description to delineate. It comprehends all our social and civil connexions, but seems peculiarly to belong to our intercourse with inferiors and dependents. Its most anxious exercise may often relate merely to trifles, but it extends to innumerable circumstances in which we may surrender our own feelings to those of others, and our own convenience or gratification to theirs. It implies solicitude to avoid wounding the feelings by pride, selfishness, or fretfulness,—by suspicions, imputations, and jealousies,—or by allowing insignificant things to ruffle the temper and derange the social comfort. Many, who are not deficient in what we usually call deeds of benevolence, are too apt to forget, that a most important exercise of true benevolence consists in the habitual cultivation of courtesy, gentleness, and kindness; and that on these dispositions often depends our influence upon the comfort and happiness of others, in a greater degree than on any deeds of actual beneficence.—To this department, also, we may refer the high character of the peace-maker, whose delight it is to allay angry feelings, even when he is in no degree personally interested, and to bring together as friends and brethren, those who have assumed the attitude of hatred and revenge.
(5.) Benevolence is to be exercised in regard to the moral degradation of others, including their ignorance and vice. This prevents us from deriving satisfaction from moral evil, even though it should contribute to our advantage, as might often happen from the misconduct of rivals or enemies. It implies also that highest species of usefulness which aims at raising the moral condition of man,—by instructing the ignorant, rescuing the unwary, and reclaiming the vicious. This exalted benevolence will therefore also seek to extend the light of divine truth to nations that sit in moral darkness; and looks anxiously for the period when the knowledge of Christianity shall dispel every false faith, and put an end to the horrors of superstition.
In our mental impressions relating to veracity, we have a striking illustration of the manner in which we rely on this class of moral feelings, as instinctive in the constitution of the mind. On a certain confidence in the veracity of mankind is founded so much of the knowledge on which we constantly depend, that, without it, the whole system of human things would go into confusion. It relates to all the intelligence which we derive from any other source than our own personal observation:—for example, to all that we receive through the historian, the traveller, the naturalist, or the astronomer. Even in regard to the most common events of a single day, we often proceed on a confidence in the veracity of a great variety of individuals. There is, indeed, a natural tendency to truth in all men, unless where this principle is overcome by some strong selfish purpose to be answered by departing from it:—and there is an equally strong tendency to rely on the veracity of others, until we have learnt certain cautions by our actual experience of mankind. Hence children and inexperienced persons are easily imposed upon by unfounded statements:—and the most practised liar confides in the credulity of those whom he attempts to deceive. Deception, indeed, would never accomplish its purpose, if it were not from the impression that men generally speak truth. It is obvious also, that the mutual confidence which men have in each other, both in regard to veracity of statement, and to sincerity of intention respecting engagements, is that which keeps together the whole of civil society. In the transactions of commerce it is indispensable, and without it all the relations of civil life would go into disorder. When treating of the intellectual powers in another work, I considered the principles which regulate our confidence in human testimony; and it is unnecessary to recur to them in this place. Our present object is briefly to analyze the elements which are essential to veracity, when we view it as a moral emotion, or a branch of individual character. These appear to be three,—correctness in ascertaining facts,—accuracy in relating them,—and truth of purpose, or fidelity in the fulfilment of promises.
(1.) An important element of veracity is correctness in ascertaining facts. This is essential to the Love of Truth. It requires us to exercise the most anxious care respecting every statement which we receive as true; and not to receive it as such, until we are satisfied that the authority on which it is asserted is of a nature on which we can fully rely, and that the statement contains all the facts to which our attention ought to be directed. It consequently guards us against those limited views, by which party spirit or a love of favourite dogmas leads a man to receive the facts which favour a particular opinion, and neglect those which are opposed to it. The sound exercise of judgment, which is connected with this love of truth, differs therefore from the art of ingenious disputation, and is often found directly at variance with it. The same principle is applicable to the truths which are derived as deductions from processes of reasoning. It is thus opposed to all sophistical arguments, and partial or distorted reasonings, by which disputants strive to establish particular systems, instead of engaging in an honest and simple inquiry after truth. The love of truth, therefore, is of equal importance in the reception of facts, and in the formation of opinions; and it includes also a readiness to relinquish our own opinions, when new facts or arguments are presented to us which are calculated to overturn them. The practice of this sincere and candid search after truth, on every subject to which the mind may be directed, ought to be cultivated in early life with the most assiduous care. It is a habit of the mind which must exercise a most important influence in the culture both of moral and intellectual character.
In the reception of truth, especially on the evidence of testimony, we acquire by experience a degree of caution, arising from having been sometimes deceived. In minds of a certain description, this may be allowed to produce a suspicion with regard to all evidence,—in other words, Scepticism. The want of the necessary and proper caution, again, leads to Credulity. It is the part of a well-regulated mind to avoid both these extremes, by attentively weighing the evidence and the character of the witnesses, and giving to each circumstance its due influence in the conclusion.
(2.) Closely connected with the love of truth in receiving, is the exercise of veracity in the statement of facts, whether derived from our personal observation or received by testimony from others. It consists not only in the most scrupulous accuracy of relation, but also in giving it in such a manner as to convey a correct impression to the hearer. It is consequently opposed to all those methods by which either a false statement may be made to assume the appearance of truth, or one essentially true may be so related as to convey a false impression.
Direct fallacy may consist in the alleged facts being absolutely false, or in some of them being so,—in facts being wanting or kept out of view which would give a different import to the whole statement,—or in some of the facts being disguised, distorted, or coloured, so as to alter materially the impression conveyed by them. But, besides such actual fallacy, there are various methods by which a statement literally true may be so related as to convey an erroneous impression. Facts may be connected together in such a manner as to give the appearance of a relation of cause and effect, when they are in truth entirely unconnected;—or an event may be represented as common which has occurred only in one or two instances. The character of an individual may be assumed from a single act, which, if the truth were known, might be seen to be opposed to his real disposition, and accounted for by the circumstances in which he happened at the time to be placed. Events may be connected together, which were entirely disjoined, and conclusions deduced from this fictitious connexion, which are of course unfounded. Several of these sources of fallacy may be illustrated by a ludicrous example. A traveller from the continent has represented the venality of the British House of Commons to be such, that, whenever the minister of the Crown enters the house, there is a general cry for "places." It may be true that a cry of "places" has gone round the house at certain times, when business was about to commence, or to be resumed after an interval,—meaning, of course, that members were to take their seats. It is very probable, that, on some occasion, this may have occurred at the moment when the minister entered,—so that the statement of the traveller might, in point of fact, be strictly true. The erroneous impression which he endeavours to convey by it, arises from three sources of fallacy, which the anecdote will serve to illustrate, namely,—the false meaning he gives to the word employed,—connecting it with the entrance of the minister as cause and effect,—and representing the connexion as uniform which happened to occur in that particular instance. In the same manner it will appear, that a false impression may be conveyed respecting the conduct of an individual,—by assigning motives which are entirely imaginary,—by connecting things together which have no relation,—by keeping out of view circumstances which would afford an explanation or palliation of his conduct,—or by attaching to his words a different meaning from that which he intended to convey by them. The common saying, that there are two ways of telling a story, does not therefore refer to what is strictly to be called fabrication or falsehood; but to those distortions or colourings of circumstances, which, however slight in themselves, have the effect of essentially changing the impression made by the whole.
To veracity, under this department, we are also to refer the rule,—of giving to others an honest and fair impression of our views, motives, and intentions. This is Sincerity. It is opposed to hypocrisy, that unworthy display of human character, in which a man disguises his real sentiments, and, on the contrary, professes principles which he neither feels nor values, merely for the purpose of promoting his selfish interests. Such a character exhibits a singular combination of moral delinquencies. It is founded on the lowest selfishness, and includes a departure from veracity and honesty. But besides, it implies a knowledge of virtuous principles, and of their proper tendencies, while there is a practical denial of their influence. Sincerity is also opposed to flattery, which tends to give a man a false impression of our opinion, and of our feelings towards him, and likewise leads him to form a false estimate of his own character. It is opposed also to simulation or double dealing, by which a man, for certain purposes professes sentiments towards another which he does not feel, or intentions which he does not entertain.
(3.) The third element of veracity is Truth of Purpose, or fidelity in the fulfilment of promises. This is opposed to actual departure from what was distinctly promised; likewise to all those evasions by which one may convey an impression, or excite the hope of an intention which he does not mean to fulfil,—or avoid the performance of a real or implied engagement on any other ground than inability to perform it. By this straight-forward integrity of purpose, an individual gives a clear impression of what he honestly intends to perform; and performs it, though circumstances may have occurred to make the fulfilment disagreeable or even injurious to himself:—"he sweareth to his own hurt," says a sacred writer, "and changeth not."
IV. FRIENDSHIP, LOVE, AND GRATITUDE.
These affections are so nearly allied, that, in this slight analysis, they may be taken together. They consist in a personal and peculiar attachment to an individual, founded either upon some qualities in himself, or some benefits he has conferred on us, or on some one in whom we are interested. The feelings and conduct to which they give rise correspond with those referred to under the preceding affections, with this difference, that, in many instances, they lead to a much greater sacrifice of personal interest and comfort, than usually proceeds either from justice or simple benevolence. The exertions arising out of them are directed, according to the division formerly given, to promoting the interest or comfort of the object of our regard,—preserving, defending, or advancing his reputation,—treating his feelings with peculiar tenderness,—and his failings with peculiar indulgence,—receiving his opinions with peculiar favour,—and anxiously endeavouring to improve his intellectual and moral condition. This last consideration is justly reckoned the highest office of friendship;—it is to be regretted that its operation is sometimes impeded by another feeling, which leads us to be blind to the failings and deficiencies of those whom we love.—In exercising simple love and friendship, we rejoice in the advantage and happiness of the object, though they should be accomplished by others,—but, in exercising gratitude, we are not satisfied unless they be effected in some measure by ourselves.
Patriotism is, perhaps, not properly to be considered as a distinct principle of our nature; but rather as a result of a combination of the other affections. It leads us, by every means in our power, to promote the peace and the prosperity of our country,—and to discourage, to the utmost of our ability, whatever tends to the contrary. Every member of the community has something in his power in this respect. He may set an example, in his own person, of dutiful and loyal respect to the first authority, of strict obedience to the laws, and respectful submission to the institutions of his country. He may oppose the attempts of factious individuals to sow among the ignorant the seeds of discontent, tumult, or discord. He may oppose and repress attempts to injure the revenue of the state; may aid in the preservation of public tranquillity, and in the execution of public justice. Finally, he may zealously exert himself in increasing the knowledge and improving the moral habits of the people,—two of the most important means by which the conscientious man, in any rank of life, may aid in conferring a high and permanent benefit on his country.
VI. THE DOMESTIC AFFECTIONS.
In this extensive and interesting class are included, conjugal affection,—the parental feelings,—filial reverence,—and the ties of brothers and sisters.—These call forth, in a still higher degree, the feelings and exertions already referred to, and a still greater sacrifice of personal ease, advantage, and comfort, in the anxious and diligent discharge of the duties resulting from them. In the conjugal relation, they lead us to the tenderness, the confidence, the mutual forbearance, the united exertions of those, who have one hope, one interest, and one course of duty. The parental relation implies the highest possible degree of that feeling which studies the advantage of the object of our care,—the promotion of his happiness,—the improvement of his mind,—the culture of his affections,—the formation of his habits; the anxious watching over the development of his character, both as an intellectual and a moral being. The filial relation requires, in an equal degree, respect, affection, submission, and confidence,—a deference to parental opinion and control; and an impression that those parts of parental management, which may often be disagreeable, are guided by a sincere desire to promote the highest interests of the object of this affectionate regard.
Among the feelings of our nature "which have less of earth in them than heaven," are those which bind together the domestic circle in the various sympathies, affections, and duties, which belong to this class of tender relations. It is beautiful also to observe, how these affections arise out of each other, and how the right exercise of them tends to their mutual cultivation.—The father ought to consider the son as, of all earthly concerns, the highest object of his anxious care;—and should watch over the development of his intellectual character, and the culture of his moral feelings. In the zealous prosecution of this great purpose, he should study to convey a clear impression, that he is influenced purely by a feeling of solemn responsibility, and an anxious desire to promote the highest interests. When parental watchfulness is thus mingled with confidence and kindness, the son will naturally learn to estimate alike the conduct itself, and the principles from which it sprung, and will look to the faithful parent as his safest guide and counsellor, and most valued earthly friend. If we extend the same principles to the relation between the mother and the daughter, they apply with equal or even greater force. In the arrangements of society, these are thrown more constantly into each other's company; and that watchful superintendence may be still more habitually exercised, which, along with the great concern of cultivating the intellectual and moral being, neglects not those graces and delicacies which belong peculiarly to the female character. It is not by direct instruction alone, that, in such a domestic circle, the highest principles and best feelings of our nature are cultivated in the minds of the young. It is by the actual exhibition of the principles themselves, and a uniform recognition of their supreme importance;—it is by a parental conduct, steadily manifesting the conviction, that, with every proper attention to the acquirements, the accomplishments, and the comforts of life, the chief concern of moral beings relates to the life which is to come. A domestic society, bound together by these principles, can retire, as it were, from the haunts of men, and retreat within a sanctuary where the storms of the world cannot enter.—When thus met together in the interchange of mutual affection and mutual confidence, they present the anticipation of that period, when, after the tumults of life are over, they shall meet again, "no wanderer lost, a family in heaven".
THE DEFENSIVE AFFECTIONS.
The feelings of jealousy, anger, and resentment, are, not less than the other affections, to be considered as part of our moral constitution; and they are calculated to answer important purposes, provided they are kept under the strict control of reason and the moral principle. Their proper object is primarily a sense of blameable conduct in others; and they lead us to use proper measures for protecting ourselves against such conduct. While we thus disapprove of the character and conduct of men in certain circumstances, we are led, by our feelings of justice and benevolence, to take part with the injured and oppressed against the oppressors,—or to protect those who are threatened with injuries, by measures for defeating the schemes of their enemies. A still more refined exercise of this class of feelings leads us to seek the reformation of the offender, and to convert him from an enemy into a friend.
Resentment, in cases which concern the public peace, naturally leads to the infliction of punishment; the object of which is to prevent similar conduct in others, not to gratify personal vengeance. Hence it is required to be done in a public manner,—with proper deliberation and coolness,—and with an exact adaptation of the penalty to the offence, and to the object to be attained. The person injured is not likely to do this with the requisite impartiality and candour; for we are apt to feel too deeply injuries offered to ourselves, and not to make the propel allowance for the feelings of others, and the circumstances which led to the offence. The higher degrees, indeed, of these tendencies usually go together,—they, who are most susceptible of offences, and most irritable under them, being generally least inclined to make allowances for others. Hence, in all cases, our disapprobation of personal vengeance, or of a man taking the law into his own hands; and our perfect sympathy with the protectors of the public peace, when they dispassionately investigate a case of injury, and calmly adapt their measures to the real object to be attained by them,—the protection of the community.
The defensive affections are exercised in an unwarranted manner, when they are allowed to be excited by trifling causes; when they are, in degree, disproportioned to the offence, or prolonged in a manner which it did not require; and when they lead, in any measure, to retaliation or revenge. The sound exercise of them, therefore, is opposed to that irascibility which takes fire on trivial occasions, or without due consideration of the intentions of the agent, or the circumstances in which he was placed,—to a disposition to resentment on occasions which do not warrant it,—and, on all occasions, to harbouring the feeling after the offence and all its consequences have passed over.
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Before concluding the subject of the affections, there are three points respecting them which remain to be mentioned as briefly as possible,—the influence of Attention, combined with a certain act of Imagination,—the influence of Habit,—and the estimate of the feeling of Moral Approbation which the exercise of the affections is calculated to produce.
I. In every exercise of the affections, a most important influence is produced by Attention, aided by a certain act of imagination. This consists of directing the mind intensely and habitually to all the considerations which ought to guide us in the particular relation to which the affection refers. It leads us to place ourselves in the situation of others, and, with a kind of personal, or almost selfish interest, to enter into their wants, their anxieties, and their feelings; and thus, in their place, to judge of the emotions and the conduct which are due from us to them. Such is the exercise of one who wishes to follow the great rule of doing to others as he would that they should do to him. He is not satisfied with the merely decent discharge of the duties which arise from the affections, but studies intensely the requirements which attach to his particular situation,—searches out the individuals, towards whom they ought to be exercised, and enters into their condition and their feelings with minute and tender interest. Many who shew no want of friendly and benevolent affection, when an individual case is strongly brought before them, are deficient in the kind of exercise which would lead them, in this manner, to find their way to that correct exercise of the affections which really belongs to a scene of moral discipline. Such an exercise is adapted to every situation in life, and tends to guard a man, in his various relations, against the hindrances which indolence, self-love, and pure inattention are apt to bring in the way of his peculiar duties,—and of his discharging them with due regard to the feelings of others.
This mental exercise, of extensive application to the benevolent affections, constitutes what is usually called Sympathy. It is composed of an act of Imagination and Self-love, by which we transfer ourselves, as it were, into the situation of other men, and thereby regulate our conduct towards them. It is however to be kept in mind, that the principle of self-love, thus brought into action, is the test, not the rule of our conduct. This is a point on which there has been much vague and useless speculation; and from not attending to the distinction, some have referred our ideas of benevolence entirely to the principle of selfishness. Such discussions are equally unsound and unprofitable, and are to be placed on a footing with the speculations of the scholastic philosophy, which we now look back upon merely as matters of historical curiosity. The application of self-love, in the manner which has been referred to, is chiefly useful in enabling us fully to appreciate the facts of the individual case, as we would do if we were personally interested. The rule of our conduct is quite distinct from this, and rests on those fundamental principles of justice and compassion which form a part of our moral constitution. In the practical application of them, they are very much aided by the moral principle or conscience.
The man, who acts habitually under the influence of these rules, learns to question himself rigidly respecting the claims and duties which result from his moral relations; and the feelings and circumstances of those with whom they bring him into contact. What, (he asks himself) is the line of action which belongs to me in regard to that individual,—what are his feelings in his present situation,—what are the feelings and conduct which he expects from me,—and what are those which I would expect from him were I in his circumstances and he in mine? It is not a due regulation of the affections alone that arises from this wholesome state of mental discipline. It is a moral culture to the mind itself, which may often be fraught with the most important results. For the man who exercises it realizes to himself the feelings of poverty,—the agonies of bereavement, the impressions of the bed of death;—and thus, without the pain of suffering, he may reap a portion of those important moral benefits which suffering is calculated to yield.
There is another view still to be taken of the advantages derived from that mental discipline which consists in attention to all the relations included under the affections. When habitually exercised, it may often bring before the mind important circumstances in our moral relations, which are apt to make an inadequate impression amid the distractions of present things. When the parent, for example, looks around the objects of his tender affection, what a new impulse is communicated by the thought, that the present life is but the infancy of their being; and that his chief and highest concern is to train them for immortality. A similar impulse must be given to the philanthropist, when he considers that the individuals, who share his benevolent attentions, are, like himself, passing through a scene of discipline to a higher state of existence, where they will assume a place corresponding to their rank in the scale of moral beings. The refined philanthropy thus arising, while it neglects no proper attention to the distresses of the present life, will seek chiefly to contend with those greater evils which degrade the moral nature, and sever the immortal spirit from its God. He, who judges upon this extended principle, will learn to form a new estimate of the condition of man. Amid the pride of wealth and the splendour of power, he may mourn over a being lost to every feeling of his high destiny; and, by the death-bed of the peasant, amid discomfort and suffering, he may contemplate with interest a purified spirit rising to immortality.
II. Next to the power of attention, we have to notice the influence produced upon the affections by Habit. This is founded upon a principle of our nature, by which a remarkable relation exists between the affections and the actions which arise out of them. The tendency of all emotions is to become weaker by repetition, or to be less acutely felt the oftener they are experienced. The tendency of actions, again, as we have seen when treating of the Intellectual Powers, is to become easier by repetition,—so that those, which at first require close and continued attention, come to be performed without effort, and almost without consciousness. Now an affection properly consists of an emotion leading to an action; and the natural progress of the mind, in the proper exercise of the affection, is, that the emotion becomes less acutely felt, as the action becomes easier and more familiar.—Thus, a scene of wretchedness, or a tale of sorrow, will produce in the inexperienced an intensity of emotion not felt by him whose life has been devoted to deeds of mercy; and a superficial observer is apt to consider the condition of the latter as one of insensibility, produced by familiarity with scenes of distress. It is, on the contrary, that healthy and natural progress of the mind, in which the emotion is gradually diminished in force as it is followed by its proper actions,—that is, as the mere intensity of feeling is exchanged for the habit of active benevolence. But that this may take place in the sound and healthy manner, the emotion must be steadily followed by the action which belongs to it. If this be neglected, the harmony of the moral process is destroyed, and, as the emotion becomes weakened, it is succeeded by cold insensibility or barren selfishness.
This is a subject of much importance,—and there are two conclusions which arise out of it respecting the cultivation of the benevolent affections. The one relates to the bad effects of fictitious scenes of sorrow, as represented on the stage, or in works of fancy. The evil arising from these appears to be that which has now been referred to;—the emotion is produced without the corresponding action, and the consequence is likely to be a cold and useless sentimentalism, instead of a sound cultivation of the benevolent affections.—The second is,—that, in cultivating the benevolent affections in the young, we should be careful to observe the process so clearly pointed out by the philosophy of the moral feelings. They should be familiarized with actual scenes of suffering, but this ought to be accompanied by deeds of minute and active kindness, so as to produce a full and lively impression of the wants and feelings of the sufferer. On this ground, also, I think we should at first even abstain, in a great measure, from giving young persons the cautions they will afterwards find so requisite, respecting the character of the objects of their benevolence, and the impositions so frequently practised by the poor. Suspicions of this kind might tend to interfere with the important moral process which ought to be our first object,—the necessary cautions will afterwards be learned with little difficulty.
The best mode of contending with the evils of pauperism, on the principles of political economy, is a problem on which I presume not to enter. But, on the principles of moral science, a consideration of the utmost importance should never be forgotten,—the great end to be answered by the varieties of human condition in the cultivation of the benevolent affections. Political science passes its proper boundary when it is permitted in any degree to interfere with this high principle;—and, on the other hand, it is not to be denied, that this important purpose is in a great measure frustrated by many of those institutions, which cut off the direct intercourse of the prosperous and the wealthy with those whom providence has committed to them, in this scene of moral discipline, as the objects of their benevolent care.
III. The third point, which remains to be briefly mentioned, is the feeling of moral approbation, or rather the impression of merit, which is frequently attached to the exercise of the affections. This important subject has been already referred to. When the mother, with total disregard to her health and comfort, devotes herself to watching over her child, she is not influenced by any sense of duty, nor do we attach to her conduct the feeling of moral approbation. She acts simply upon an impulse within, which she perceives to be a part of her constitution, and which carries her forward with unshrinking firmness in a particular course of laborious and anxious service. She may, indeed, be sensible that the violation of these feelings would expose her to the reprobation of her kind; but she does not imagine that the zealous fulfilment of them entitles her to any special praise. The same principle applies to all the affections. They are a part of our moral constitution, intended to bind men together by certain offices of justice, friendship, and compassion; and have been well named by a distinguished writer, "the voice of God within us." They serve a purpose in our moral economy, analogous to that which the appetites answer in our physical system. The appetite of hunger, for example, ensures a regular supply of nourishment, in a manner which could never have been provided for by any process of reasoning; though an exercise of reason is still applicable to preserving over it a certain regulation and control. In the same manner, the various feelings of our moral nature have each a defined purpose to answer, both in respect to our own mental economy and our relations to our fellow-men; and in the due exercise of them they ought to be controlled and regulated by the moral principle. The violation of these feelings, therefore, places man below the level of a moral being; but the performance of them does not entitle him to assume the claim of merit. He is merely bearing his part in a certain arrangement, from which he is himself to derive benefit, as a being holding a place in that system of things which these feelings are intended to keep together in harmony and order. In regard to the great principles of veracity and justice, every one perceives this to be true. In all mercantile transactions, for example, a character for high honour and integrity leads not only to respect, but to that confidence which is closely connected with prosperity.—These qualities, indeed, are as essential to a man's own interest as they are to his duty to other men; and if he does gain an advantage by fraud and deceit, it is only when he escapes detection;—that is, while he preserves the reputation of the very qualities which he has violated. But this truth applies equally to the affections more strictly benevolent. The man who lives in the habitual exercise of a cold and barren selfishness, and seeks only his own gratification or interest, has indeed, in some sense, his punishment in the contempt and aversion with which he is viewed by his fellow-men. Much more than this, however, attaches to such a character;—he has violated the principles given him for his guidance in the social system;—he has fallen from his sound condition as a moral being; and incurs actual guilt in the eye of a righteous Governor, whose will the order of this lower world is intended to obey. But it by no means follows, that the man, who performs in a certain manner the relations of justice, friendship, and compassion, is thereby entitled to claim merit in the view of the Almighty Governor of the universe. He merely acts his part in the present system of moral economy, for which he has been adapted. He is so constituted as to derive satisfaction from the exercise of these affections; and, on the other hand, he receives an appropriate reward in the reciprocal exercise of similar affections by other men, and in the general harmony of society which results from them. An extensive culture of the affections, therefore, may go on without the recognition of the moral principle, or that state of mind which habitually feels the presence of the Deity, and desires to have the whole character in subjection to his will. We are not entitled to acknowledge the operation of that great principle, unless when the affections are exercised in circumstances which imply a strong and decided sacrifice of self-love to the authority of God. This appears to correspond with the distinction so strikingly stated in the sacred writings—"If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?"—"I say unto you, love your enemies,—bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you."
On this branch of the subject it is also to be observed, that there is a kind of compensating power among the affections themselves, by which, in the intercourse of men, they act as checks upon each other. Thus resentment acts as a check upon injustice; and the dread of exciting anger in others has probably an influence, in preserving the peace and harmonies of society, which we often ascribe to a higher principle. In regard to the affections more strictly benevolent, these are also influenced, in a similar manner, by the feeling of disapprobation which attends any remarkable departure from their requirements. When we keep in mind, along with this consideration, the manner in which all men are influenced, in one degree or another, by the love of approbation or regard to character, we perceive in the moral system a beautiful principle of compensation, tending to promote in it a certain degree of harmony. This is remarkably illustrated, for example, in the general feeling of disapprobation which is attached to ingratitude, and to violation of filial affection or parental duty, and even to any marked neglect of the common calls of humanity. Along with this we are also to keep in mind, that a man is universally considered as in the lowest state of human nature, who, in these respects, has become regardless of character,—that is, of the estimation with which his conduct is viewed by his fellow-men.
In regard to both the affections and the desires, we are farther to remember that deep and extensive influence, upon the happiness of the individual himself, which results from a due regulation of these feelings;—the pure mental enjoyment of him whose affections are under sound regulation, and whose desires are habitually directed to those objects which are in the highest degree worthy of being sought after. This mental tranquillity is also represented to us, in a very striking manner, by the influence of those dispositions which we usually refer to the head of Temper. What a constant source of pure enjoyment is a meek and placid spirit, the desires of which are moderate and under due regulation,—which puts upon every thing the best construction it will admit of,—is slow to take offence,—seeks no distinction,—but views itself with humility, and others with candour, benevolence, and indulgence. Such a disposition makes the man happy in himself, and a source of happiness and peace to all around him. On the other hand, what an unceasing source of mental disquiet and turbulence is the opposite disposition,—jealous, envious, and censorious,—ready to take offence at trifles, and often to construe incidental occurrences into intended and premeditated insults,—prone to put unfavourable constructions upon the conduct of others, and thus continually to surround itself with imaginary enemies, and imaginary neglects and injuries. Such a temper is a continual torment to the individual himself, and the cause of disputes and jealousies among those with whom he is connected. We cannot fail, also, to perceive that the man of ill-regulated passions injures his own true interest and happiness, as much as he violates his duty to others, and that his course of life is often productive of degradation, disease, and wretchedness. In all this we see a beautiful example of the wise arrangements of the Creator, who, in the structure of our moral nature, has connected our own peace and happiness with a state of feeling calculated to promote the happiness and peace of all around us. We cannot be at a loss to conclude what a different scene the world would present, if such feelings were universally cultivated; and, on the other hand, we must observe how much of the actual misery that exists in the world arises from derangement of moral feeling, and the various consequences which result from it both to individuals and communities. We find also, by innumerable examples, the remarkable influence produced, by a due cultivation of these feelings, in alleviating, both in ourselves and others, the physical evils which are inseparable from the present state. It is farther to be remarked, as a fact worthy of the deepest attention, that the only distinct information conveyed to us in Scripture, respecting the happiness of the righteous in a future state, is,—that it will consist chiefly in a perfect knowledge of the divine character, and a conformity of the soul to the moral perfections of the Deity. "It doth not yet appear," says the sacred writer, "what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
In concluding the whole subject of the affections, I have only farther to remark,—that the regulated state of the moral feelings, which has been the subject of the preceding observations, seems to correspond with the quality so emphatically described in the sacred writings under the name of Charity. It is there uniformly represented as the great test of the moral condition; and we find exposed, in the most striking manner, the worthlessness of all endowments which are not accompanied by this regulation of the whole character. We cannot, therefore, conclude this subject in a more appropriate manner, than by a passage in which, by a few most powerful expressions, a code of ethical science is laid before us with a clearness and a force, which put to nought all human composition:—"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth; but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophecy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three,—but the greatest of these is charity."
There has been some dispute respecting the term Self-love, both as to its general propriety, and as to the mental feelings which ought to be referred to it. There can be no doubt that there is, in our constitution, a principle or propensity which leads us to study our own interest, gratification, and comfort; and that, in many instances, it becomes the ruling principle of the character. It is in this sense that I use the term self-love, without entering into any discussion regarding the strict logical propriety of it. Like the other mental feelings, it is to be considered as part of our moral constitution, and calculated to answer important purposes, provided it be kept in its proper place, and do not encroach upon the duties and affections which we owe to other men. When thus regulated, it constitutes prudence, or a just regard to our own interest, safety, and happiness; when it becomes morbid in its exercise, it degenerates into selfishness.
A sound and rational self-love ought to lead us to seek our own true happiness, and should prove a check upon those appetites and passions which interfere with this; for many of them, it must be allowed, may be not less adverse to our own real interest and comfort, than they are to our duty to other men. It should lead us, therefore, to avoid every thing, not only that is opposed to our interest, but that is calculated to impair our peace of mind, and that harmony of the moral feelings without which there can be no real happiness. This includes a due regulation of the desires, and a due exercise of the affections, as a moral condition which promotes our own welfare and comfort. Self-love, viewed in this manner, appears to be placed as a regulating principle among the other powers,—much inferior indeed to the great principle of conscience, so far as regards the moral condition of the individual,—but calculated to answer important purposes in promoting the harmonies of society. The impression, on which its influence rests, appears to be simply the comfort and satisfaction which arise to ourselves from a certain regulation of the desires, and a certain exercise of the affections, while feelings of an opposite kind follow a different conduct. These sources of satisfaction are manifold. We may reckon among them the pleasure attached to the exercise of the affections themselves, a feature of our moral constitution of the most interesting kind,—the true mental peace and enjoyment which spring from benevolence, friendship, meekness, forgiveness, and the whole train of the kindly feelings,—the gratitude of those who have experienced the effects of our kindness,—the respect and approbation of those whose esteem we feel to be valuable,—and the return of similar affections and good offices from other men. On the other hand, we have to keep in mind the mental agony and distraction which arise from jealousy, envy, hatred, and resentment,—the sense of shame and disgrace which follow a certain line of conduct,—and the distress which often arises purely from the contempt and disapprobation of our fellow-men. "Disgrace," says Butler, "is as much avoided as bodily pain;" we may safely say that it is much more avoided, and that it inflicts a suffering of a much more severe and permanent nature. It must likewise accord with the observation of every one, that among the circumstances, which most frequently injure our peace and impair our comfort, are those which ruffle the mind by mortifying our self-love. There is also a feeling of dissatisfaction and self-reproach which follows any neglect of a due exercise of the affections, and which, in a well regulated mind, disturbs the mental tranquillity fully as much as the disapprobation of other men. It is farther evident, that the man of ungoverned passions, and ill-regulated affections, impairs his own peace and happiness as much as he violates his duties to others,—for his course of life is productive, not only of degradation in the eyes of his fellow-men, but often of mental anguish, misery, disease, and premature death. There is not, perhaps, a state of more intense suffering, than when the depraved heart, disappointed of those gratifications to which it is enslaved, and shut up from the excitements by which it seeks to escape from the horrors of reflection, is thrown back upon itself to be its own tormentor. To run the risk of such consequences, for the gratification of a present appetite or passion, is clearly opposed to the dictates of a sound self-love, as has been distinctly shewn by Bishop Butler; and when in such a case, self-love prevails over an appetite or passion, we perceive it operating as a regulating principle in the moral system. It does so, indeed, merely by the impression, that a certain regulation of the moral feelings is conducive to our own true and present happiness; and thus shews a wonderful power of compensation among these feelings, referable entirely to this source. But it is quite distinct from the great principle of conscience, which directs us to a certain line of conduct on the pure and high principle of moral duty, apart from all considerations of a personal nature,—which leads a man to act upon nobler motives than those which result from the most refined self-love, and calls for the mortification of all personal feelings, when these interfere, in the smallest degree, with the requirements of duty. This distinction I conceive to be of the utmost practical importance; as it shews a principle of regulation among the moral feelings themselves, by which a certain exercise of the affections is carried on in a manner which contributes in a high degree to the harmonies of society, but which does not convey any impression of moral approbation or merit that can be applied to the agent.
Self-love, then, leads us to consult our own feelings, and to seek directly our own interest and happiness. The affections lead us to allow for the feelings, and consider the advantage and comfort of other men; and a certain balance between these principles is essential to the healthy state of the moral being. It is seldom that the affections are likely to acquire an undue influence, but there is great danger of self-love degenerating into selfishness, which interferes with the duties we owe to others. We have formerly alluded to the means, referable to the due exercise of the affections, and even to a sound and rational self-love, by which this should be in part prevented. When these are not sufficient, the appeal is to conscience; or a distinct reference of individual cases is made to the great principle of moral rectitude. We find, accordingly, this principle called into action, when a man has become sensible of important defects in his moral habits. Thus, we may see a man, who has long given way to a peevish or irascible disposition, that is, to selfish acting upon his own feelings, without due regard to the feelings of others, setting himself to contend with this propensity upon the score of moral duty; while another, of a placid disposition, has no need of bringing the principle into action for such a purpose. In the same manner, a person who has indulged a cold contracted selfishness may, under the influence of the same great principle, perform deeds of benevolence and kindness. Thus we perceive that the moral principle or sense of duty, when it is made the regulating motive of action, is calculated to control self-love, and preserve the proper harmony between it and the exercise of the affections.
When the principle of self-love becomes deranged in its exercise and objects, it leads to those habits by which a man seeks his own gratification, in a way which interferes with his duties to other men. This he may do by an undue pursuit of any of the desires,—whether avarice, ambition, love of eminence, or love of fame;—and the desire of knowledge itself may be so indulged as to assume the same character. Even deeds of benevolence and kindness may be performed on this principle,—as when a man, by such actions, seeks only the applause of the public, or the approbation of certain individuals from whom, it may be, he expects to derive advantage.—Hence the value we attach, in the exercise of all the affections, to what we call disinterested conduct,—to him who does good by stealth, or who performs acts of exalted justice, generosity, or forbearance, under circumstances which exclude every idea of a selfish motive,—or when self-interest and personal feeling are strongly and obviously opposed to them. Such conduct commands the cordial approbation of all classes of men; and it is striking to remark how, in the highest conception of such a character that fancy can delineate, we are met by the sublime morality of the sacred writings, impressed upon us by the purest of all motives, the imitation of Him who is the giver of all good;—"love your enemies,—bless them that curse you;—do good to them that hate you,—and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you;—that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."—"If any man will be my disciple," says the same great author of Christianity,—"let him deny himself."
OF THE WILL.
Will or Simple Volition is that state of mind which immediately precedes action;—We will a certain act; and the act follows, unless it be prevented either by external restraint, or by physical inability to perform it.
The actions thus produced arise out of the mental emotions formerly treated of,—the desires, and the affections.—We desire an object, or we experience one of the affections;—the next mental act, according to the regular course of a reflecting mind, is proposing to ourselves the question,—shall we gratify the desire,—shall we exercise the affection. Then follows the process of considering or deliberating.—We perceive, perhaps, a variety of considerations or inducements,—some of which are in favour of gratifying the desire or exercising the affection, others opposed to it. We therefore proceed to weigh the relative force of these opposing motives, with the view of determining which of them we shall allow to regulate our decision. We, at length, make up our mind on this, and resolve, we shall suppose, to do the act;—this is followed by the mental condition of willing or simple volition.
In the chain of mental operations which, in such a case, intervene between the desire and the volition, a class of agents is brought into view which act upon the mind as moral causes of its volitions;—these are usually called motives,—or principles of action. When treating of this subject as a branch of the philosophy of the intellectual powers, I endeavoured to shew the grounds on which we believe, that there are facts, truths, motives, or moral causes, which have a tendency thus to influence the determinations of the mind, with a uniformity similar to that which we observe in the operation of physical causes. For the due operation of moral causes, indeed, certain circumstances are required in the individual on whom they are expected to operate, and, without these, they may fail in their operation. It is necessary that he should be fully informed in regard to them as truths addressed to his understanding,—that he direct his attention to them with suitable intensity, and exercise his reasoning powers upon their tendencies,—and that he be himself in a certain healthy state of moral feeling. In all our intercourse with mankind, accordingly, we proceed upon an absolute confidence in the uniformity of the operation of these causes, provided we are acquainted with the moral condition of the individual. We can foretel, for example, the respective effects which a tale of distress will have upon a cold-hearted miser, and a man of active benevolence, with the same confidence with which we can predict the different actions of an acid upon an alkali and upon a metal;—and there are individuals in regard to whose integrity and veracity, in any situation in which they can be placed, we have a confidence similar to that with which we rely on the course of nature. In this manner we gradually acquire, by experience, a knowledge of mankind; precisely as, by observation or experiment, we acquire a knowledge of the operation of physical agents. Thus we come to know that one man is absolutely to be relied on, in regard to a particular line of conduct in given circumstances;—and that another is not to be relied on, if any thing should come in the way, affecting his own pleasure or interest. In endeavouring to excite various individuals to the same conduct in a particular case, we learn, that in one, we have to appeal only to his sense of duty,—in another, to his love of approbation;—while, on a third, nothing will make any impression except what bears upon his interest or his pleasure. Again, when we find that, in a particular individual, certain motives or truths fail of the effects which we have observed them to produce in others, we endeavour to impress them upon his mind, and to rouse his attention to their bearings and tendencies;—and this we do from the conviction, that these truths have a certain uniform tendency to influence the volitions of a moral being, provided he can be induced seriously to attend to them, and provided he is in that moral condition which is required for their efficiency.
In all such cases, which are familiar to every one, we recognise, therefore, a uniform relation between certain moral causes or motives, and the determinations of the human mind in willing certain acts. It is no objection to this, that men act in very different ways with the same motives before them;—for this depends upon their own moral condition. When treating of the intellectual powers, I alluded to the metaphysical controversies connected with this subject, and I do not mean to recur to them here. Our present object is entirely of a practical nature,—namely, to investigate the circumstances which are required for the due operation of motives or moral causes, and the manner in which the moral feelings may be so deranged, that these fail of producing their natural or proper effects.
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Let us, then, suppose an individual deliberating in regard to the line of conduct he shall pursue in a particular case;—the circumstances or impressions which are calculated to act upon him as moral causes in determining his volition,—that is, in deciding his conduct, are chiefly the following: (1.) Self-love, which prompts him to seek his own ease, interest, or gratification. (2.) Certain affections which lead him to take into view duties which he owes to other men; such as, justice, benevolence, &c. (3.) The impression of moral rectitude or moral responsibility. This is derived from the great principle of conscience, aided by the truths of religious belief. (4.) We ought to add reason of judgment, which leads him to perceive certain tendencies of actions, apart from their moral aspect. Now, in deciding on his conduct in any particular instance, one man makes every thing bend to his own interest or pleasure,—with little regard to the interests of others;—unless in so far as the absolute requirements of justice are concerned, the infringement of which might expose him to loss of reputation, or even to punishment.—Another surrenders a certain portion of his personal gratification to the advantage or comfort of others, purely as an exercise of feeling from which he experiences satisfaction;—influenced, also, probably, in some measure, by a regard to character, or the love of approbation. In such a man, it becomes, in individual instances, a matter of calculation, what degree of the sacrifice of personal ease, interest, of feeling, is to be made to this principle of action. A third contemplates the case purely as one of duty of moral responsibility, and acts upon this principle, though it may involve a degree of personal exertion, or a sacrifice of personal feeling, in itself disagreeable or even injurious to him; that is, though the strongest personal motives would lead to a different conduct. Let the case, again, refer to one of the desires, bearing no immediate relation to the interests of other men. One man goes directly into the gratification of it, without any consideration. Another, who feels the same desire, considers the influence which the indulgence would be likely to have on his health, interest, or reputation.—This may be considered as simply an exercise of judgment, combined with a certain operation of self-love. A third views the aspect of the deed purely as a question of moral responsibility,—and, if he sees cause, decides against it on this ground alone;—though he should perceive that it might be gratified without any danger to his health, interest, or reputation, or even that it might contribute to his advantage.
We have thus presented to us three characters;—one who acts upon the high and pure ground of moral principle;—one who acts from motives of a more contracted and personal nature, though, in certain instances, his conduct may be the same;—and one who goes straight forward to the gratification of a ruling desire or governing propensity, without attending to motives of either class. The first is a uniform character, on whose conduct we depend in any given circumstances, with a confidence similar to that with which we rely on the operation of physical agents. For we know the uniform tendencies of the motives or moral causes by which he is habitually influenced, and we know his moral temperament. We have nearly the same kind of knowledge respecting him, which we have of the tendencies of chemical agents towards each other, and which enables us with perfect confidence to foretel their actions. The third has also a uniformity of conduct, though of a very different kind. We know, likewise, his moral condition, and, to predict his conduct, we require only to learn the particular inducements or temptations to which he is exposed in a given instance. The second we cannot rely or calculate upon; for we have not the means of tracing the conflicting views by which he may be influenced in a particular case, or the principle on which he may ultimately decide between them. They involve the strength of the inclination,—and the degree of power exerted over it by the class of personal or selfish motives by which he is influenced.—In regard to various instances of ill-regulated desire, we must add his hope of evading detection,—as on this depends, in a great measure, the kind of evils dreaded by him in reference to the indulgence. These taken together imply a complicated moral calculation, of which it is impossible for another man to trace the result.
There cannot be an inquiry of more intense interest than to investigate the causes in which originate the differences among these three characters; or, in other words, the principles on which we can explain the fact, that the will of individuals may be influenced so differently with the same motives before them. These appear to be referable to three heads,—Knowledge,—Attention,—and Moral Habits.
I. A primary and essential element, in the due regulation of the will, is a correct knowledge of the truths and motives which tend to influence its determinations. The highest class of these comprehends the truths of religious belief,—a series of moral causes, the tendencies of which are of the most important kind, and calculated to exert a uniform power over every man who surrenders himself to their guidance. For this purpose, a correct knowledge of them is required, and, to all who have this knowledge within their reach, the careful acquisition involves a point of the deepest moral responsibility. The sacred writers speak in the strongest terms of the guilt attached to voluntary ignorance: and this must be obvious to every one who considers the clearness with which the highest truths are disclosed, and the incontrovertible evidence by which they are supported. This applies equally to the principles both of natural and of revealed religion. The important truths of natural religion are partly matters of the most simple induction from the phenomena of nature which are continually before us; and partly impressed upon our own moral constitution in the clearest and most forcible manner. From the planet revolving in its appointed orbit, to the economy of the insect on which we tread, all nature demonstrates, with a power which we cannot put away from us, the great incomprehensible One, a being of boundless perfections and infinite wisdom. In regard to his moral attributes, also, he has not left himself without a witness; for a sense of these he has impressed upon us in the clearest manner in that wondrous part of our constitution,—the moral principle or conscience. From these two sources may be derived a knowledge of the character of the Deity, and of our relation to him as moral beings;—and the man is left entirely without excuse who fails to direct to them his most earnest attention, and to make the impressions derived from them the habitual rule of his volitions, and the guide of his whole character. "He hath the rule of right within," says Butler, "all that is wanting is,—that he honestly attend to it."
Similar observations apply with equal or greater force to the truths of revealed religion. These are supported by a weight of miraculous evidence, and are transmitted to us by a chain of testimony, carrying absolute conviction to the mind of every candid inquirer. They are farther confirmed by a probability, and a force of internal evidence, which fix themselves upon the moral feelings of every sound understanding with a power which is irresistible. The whole is addressed to us as rational beings; it is pressed upon our attention as creatures destined for another state of existence; and the duty is imposed upon every individual seriously to examine and to consider. Every man is in the highest degree responsible for the care with which he has informed himself of these evidences, and for the attention with which he has given to every part of them its due weight in the solemn inquiry. He is farther responsible for the influence of previously formed prejudice, or that vitiated state of his moral feelings, which prevents him from approaching the subject with the simplicity of a mind which is seriously desirous of the truth. From the want of these essential elements of character, it may very often happen, that a man may fancy he has formed his opinions after much examination, while the result of his prejudiced or frivolous inquiry has been only to fix him in delusion and falsehood. Among the singular sophistries, indeed, by which some men shut their minds against inquiries of the highest import, is a kind of impression, not perhaps distinctly avowed in words, but clearly recognised in practice, that these subjects of belief are in great measure matters of opinion,—instead of being felt to rest upon the basis of immutable and eternal truth. Can any thing be more striking than the manner in which a late distinguished poet expresses himself on the subject of a future life,—as if this truth were a mere opinion which could be taken up or laid down at pleasure, to suit the taste of the individual inquirer;—"Of the two, I should think the long sleep better than the agonized vigil. But men, miserable as they are, cling so to any thing like life, that they probably would prefer damnation to quiet. Besides, they think themselves so important in the creation, that nothing less can satisfy then pride,—the insects!" Such is the frivolous sophistry by which one, who holds a high rank in the literature of his country, could put away from him the most momentous inquiry that can engage the attention of a rational being.
[Footnote 1: Byron's Letters, Moore's Life, Vol. II, p. 581.]
II. Next to the acquisition of knowledge, and the formation of opinions, calculated to act upon us as moral beings, is the important rule of habitually attending to them, so as to bring their influence to bear upon our volitions. He, who honestly attends to what is passing within, will perceive that this is a voluntary exercise of his thinking and reasoning faculties. When a particular desire is present to his mind, he has the power to act upon the first impulse, or upon a very partial and limited, perhaps a distorted, view of the considerations and motives by which he ought to be influenced;—and he has the power to suspend acting, and direct his attention deliberately and fully to the facts and principles which are calculated to guide his determination. This is the first great step in that remarkable chain of sequences which belong to the regulation of the will. It is what every one is conscious of; and, putting aside all those metaphysical subtleties in which the subject has been involved, this constitutes man a free and responsible agent. In this important process, the first mental state is a certain movement of one of the desires or one of the affections;—we may use the term Inclination as including both. The second is a reference of the inclination to the moral causes or motives which more peculiarly apply to it,—especially the indications of conscience, and the principles of moral rectitude.—If these be found to harmonize with the inclination, volition and action follow, with the full concurrence of every moral feeling. If the inclination be condemned by these, it is, in a well-regulated mind, instantly dismissed, and the healthy condition of the moral being is preserved. But this voluntary and most important mental process may be neglected;—the inclination may be suffered to engross the mind and occupy fully the attention:—the power may not be exercised of directing it to moral causes and motives, and of comparing with them the inclination which is present. The consequence may be, that the man runs heedlessly into volition and action, from which the due exercise of this process of the mind might have preserved him.
But a third condition may take place which presents a subject of the highest interest. The moral causes may be so far attended to, as to prevent the inclination from being followed by action; while the inclination is still cherished, and the mind is allowed to dwell, with a certain feeling of regret, on the object which it had been obliged to deny itself. Though the actual deed be thus prevented, the harmony of the moral feelings is destroyed;—and that mental condition is lost which is strictly to be called purity of heart. For this consists in the desires and affections, as well as the conduct, being in strict subjection to the indications of conscience and the principles of moral rectitude. The inclination, thus cherished, gradually acquires greater ascendency over the moral feelings;—at each succeeding contest, it more and more occupies the mind; the attention is less and less directed to the moral truths and motives which are opposed to it; the inclination at length acquires the predominance, and is followed by volition. This is what we mean by a man being carried away by passion, in opposition to his moral conviction; for passion consists in a desire or an affection which has been allowed to engross the mind, until it gradually overpowers the moral causes which are calculated to counteract its influence. Now in the whole of this course each single movement of the mind is felt to be entirely voluntary. From that step, which constitutes the first departure from moral purity, the process consists in a desire being cherished which the moral feelings condemn; while, at each succeeding step, the influence of these feelings is gradually weakened, and finally destroyed. Such is the economy of the human heart, and such the chain of sequences to be traced in the moral history of every man, who, with a conviction upon his mind of what is right, has followed the downward course which gradually led him astray from virtue. When we trace such a process backwards in a philosophical point of view, the question still recurs,—what was the first step, or that by which the mind was led into the course which thus terminated in favour of vice. In the wonderful chain of sequences, which has been established in the mental constitution, it would appear that a very slight movement only is required for deranging the delicate harmony which ought to exist among the moral feelings; but this each individual feels to be entirely voluntary. It may consist in a desire being cherished which the moral feelings disapprove;—and, though the effect at first may be small, a morbid influence has arisen, which gains strength by continuance, and at last acquires the power of a moral habit. The more the desire is cherished, the less is the attention directed to the considerations or moral causes by which it might be counteracted. In this manner, according to the mental economy, these causes gradually lose their power over the volitions or determinations of the mind, and, at a certain period of this progress, the judgment itself comes to be changed respecting the moral aspect of the deed.
There is still another mental condition to be mentioned in connexion with this subject; in which the harmony of the moral feelings may be destroyed, without the action following. This takes places when the inclination is cherished, as in the former case, in opposition to the indications of conscience; while the action is opposed by some inferior motives,—as a regard to reputation or interest. The deed may thus be prevented, and the interests of society may benefit by the difference; but, so far as regards the individual himself, the disruption of moral harmony is the same; and his moral aspect must be similar in the eye of the Almighty One, who regards not the outward appearance alone, but who looketh into the heart. In this manner it may very often happen, that strong inducements to vice are resisted from motives referring merely to health, or to character. But this is not to overcome temptation,—it is only to balance one selfish feeling against another.
III. From the state of mind which has now been referred to, there gradually results a Moral Habit. This is a mental condition, in which a desire or an affection, repeatedly acted upon, is, after each repetition, acted upon with less and less effort,—and, on the other hand, a truth or moral principle, which has been repeatedly passed over without adequate attention, after every such act makes less and less impression, until at length it ceases to exert any influence over the moral feelings or the conduct. I had occasion to illustrate this remarkable principle in another point of view, when treating of the connexion between the emotions of sympathy and benevolence, and the conduct which naturally arises out of them. This conduct at first may require a certain effort, and is accompanied by a strong feeling of the emotion which leads to it. But, after each repetition, the acts go on with less feeling of the emotion, and less reference to the principle from which they spring, while there is progressively forming the habit of active benevolence. It is precisely the same with habits of vice. At first a deed requires an effort,—and a powerful contest with moral principles, and it is speedily followed by that feeling of regret, to which superficial observers give the name of repentance. This is the voice of conscience, but its power is more and more diminished after each repetition of the deed;—even the judgment becomes perverted respecting the first great principles of moral rectitude; and acts, which at first occasioned a violent conflict, are gone into without remorse, or almost without perception of their moral aspect. A man in this situation may still retain the knowledge of truths and principles which at one time exerted an influence over his conduct; but they are now matters of memory alone. Their power as moral causes is gone, and even the judgment is altered respecting their moral tendencies. He views them now perhaps as the superstitions of the vulgar, or the prejudices of a contracted education; and rejoices, it may be, in his emancipation from their authority. He knows not,—for he has not the moral perception now to know, that he has been pursuing a downward course, and that the issue, on which he congratulates himself, consists in his last degradation as a moral being. Even in this state of moral destitution, indeed, the same warning principle may still raise its voice,—unheeded but not subdued,—repelled as an enemy, not admitted as a friendly monitor and guide. "I have not the smallest influence over Lord Byron, in this particular," writes one of the chosen friends of that distinguished individual,—"if I had, I certainly should employ it to eradicate from his great mind the delusions of Christianity, which, in spite of his reason, seem perpetually to recur, and to lay in ambush for the hours of sickness and distress." It would be interesting to know what the particular impressions were, from which this sympathizing friend was anxious to rescue the poet. They were probably the suggestions of a power within, which, in certain seasons of reflection, compelled his attention in spite of his attempts to reason against it,—pleading with authority for a present Deity, and a life to come.
The principle of Habit, therefore, holds a most important place in the moral condition of every man; and it applies equally to any species of conduct, or any train of mental operations, which, by frequent repetition, have become so familiar, as not to be accompanied by a recognition of the principles in which they originated. In this manner good habits are continued without any immediate sense of the right principles by which they were formed; but they arose from a frequent and uniform acting upon these principles, and on this is founded the moral approbation which we attach to habits of this description. In the same manner, habits of vice, and habits of inattention to any class of duties, are perpetuated without a sense of the principles and affections which they violate; but this arose from a frequent violation of these principles, and a frequent repulsion of these affections, until they gradually lost their power over the conduct; and in this consists the guilt of habits. Thus, one person acquires habits of benevolence, veracity, and kindness,—of minute attention to his various duties,—of correct mental discipline,—and active direction of his thoughts to all those objects of attention which ought to engage a well regulated mind:—Another sinks into habits of listless vacuity or frivolity of mind,—of vicious indulgence and contracted selfishness,—of neglect of important duties, disregard to the feelings of others, and total indifference to all those considerations and pursuits which claim the highest regard of every responsible being; and the striking fact is, that, after a certain period, all this may go on without a feeling that aught is wrong either in the moral condition, or the state of mental discipline; such is the power of a moral habit.
The important truth, therefore, is deserving of the deepest and most habitual attention, that character consists in a great measure in habits, and that habits arise out of individual actions and individual operations of the mind. Hence the importance of carefully weighing every action of our lives, and every train of thought that we encourage in our minds; for we never can determine the effect of a single act, or a single mental process, in giving that influence to the character, or to the moral condition, the result of which shall be decisive and permanent. In the whole history of habits, indeed, we see a wondrous display of that remarkable order of sequences which has been established in our mental constitution, and by which every man becomes, in an important sense, the master of his own moral destiny. For each act of virtue tends to make him more virtuous; and each act of vice gives new strength to an influence within, which will certainly render him more more vicious.
These considerations have a practical tendency of the utmost interest. In subduing habits of an injurious character, the laws of mental sequences, which have now been referred to, must be carefully acted upon. When the judgment, influenced by the indications of conscience, is convinced of the injurious nature of the habit, the attention must be steadily and habitually directed to the truths which produced this impression. There will thus arise desire to be delivered from the habit,—or, in other words, to cultivate the course of action that is opposed to it. This desire, being cherished in the mind, is then made to bear upon every individual case in which a propensity is felt towards particular actions, or particular mental processes, referable to the habit. The new inclination is at first acted upon with an effort, but, after every instance of success, less effort is required, until at length the new course of action is confirmed, and overpowers the habit to which it was opposed. But that this result may take place, it is necessary that the mental process be followed, in the manner distinctly indicated by the philosophy of the moral feelings; for if this is not attended to, the expected effect may not follow, even under circumstances which appear, at first sight, most likely to produce it. On this principle we are to explain the fact, that bad habits may be long suspended by some powerful extrinsic influence, while they are in no degree broken. Thus, a person addicted to intemperance will bind himself by an oath to abstain, for a certain time, from intoxicating liquors. In an instance which has been related to me, an individual under this process observed the most rigid sobriety for five years, but was found in a state of intoxication the very day after the period of abstinence expired. In such a case, the habit is suspended by the mere influence of the oath; but the desire continues unsubdued, and resumes all its former power whenever this artificial restraint is withdrawn. The effect is the same as if the man had been in confinement during the period, or had been kept from his favourite indulgence by some other restraint entirely of an external kind; the gratification was prevented, but his moral nature continued unchanged.
These principles may be confidently stated as facts in the moral constitution of man, challenging the assent of every candid observer of human nature. Several conclusions seem to arise out of them, of the utmost practical importance. We perceive, in the first place, a state which the mind may attain, in which there is such a disruption of its moral harmony, that no power appeals in the mind itself capable of restoring it to a healthy condition. This important fact in the philosophy of human nature has been clearly recognised, from the earliest ages, on the mere principles of human science. It is distinctly stated by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics, where he draws a striking comparison between a man who, being first misled by sophistical reasonings, has gone into a life of voluptuousness, under an impression that he was doing no wrong,—and one who has followed the same course in opposition to his own moral convictions. The former he contends might be reclaimed by argument; but the latter he considers as incurable. In such a state of mind, therefore, it follows, by an induction which cannot be controverted, either that the evil is irremediable and hopeless, or that we must look for a power from without the mind which may afford an adequate remedy. We are thus led to perceive the adaptation and the probability of the provisions of Christianity, where an influence is indeed disclosed to us, capable of restoring the harmony which has been lost, and raising man anew to his place as a moral being. We cannot hesitate to believe that the Power, who framed the wondrous fabric, may thus hold intercourse with it, and redeem it from disorder and ruin. On the contrary, it accords with the highest conceptions we can form of the benevolence of the Deity, that he should thus look upon his creatures in their hour of need; and the system disclosing such communication appears, upon every principle of sound philosophy, to be one of harmony, consistency, and truth. The subject, therefore, leads our attention to that inward change, so often the scoff of the profane, but to which so prominent a place is assigned in the sacred writings, in which a man is said to be created anew by a power from Heaven, and elevated in his whole views and feelings as a moral being. Sound philosophy teaches us, that there is a state in which nothing less than such a complete transformation can restore the man to a healthy moral condition, and that, for producing it, nothing will avail but an influence from without the mind,—a might and a power from the same Almighty One who originally framed it. Philosophy teaches, in the clearest manner, that a portion of mankind require such a transformation; Christianity informs us that it is required by all. When the inductions of science and the dictates of revelation harmonize to this extent, who shall dare to assert that the latter are not truth. Who, that places himself in the presence of a being of infinite purity, will say, he requires not such a change; or that, for the production of it, he needs no agency, beyond the resources of his own mind. If none be found who is entitled to believe he forms the exception, we are forced into the acknowledgement of the truth, so powerfully impressed upon us in the sacred writings, that, in the eye of the Almighty One, no man in himself is righteous; and that his own power avails not for restoring him to a state of moral purity.
From the whole of this inquiry, we see the deep influence of habits, and the fearful power which they may acquire over the whole moral system; considerations of the highest practical interest to those who would prevent the formation of habits of an injurious nature, or who, feeling their influence, strive to be delivered from them. There is indeed a point in this downward course, where the habit has acquired undisputed power, and the whole moral feelings yield to it unresisting submission. Peace may then be within, but that peace is the stillness of death; and, unless a voice from heaven shall wake the dead, the moral being is lost. But, in the progress towards this fearful issue, there maybe a tumult, and a contest, and a strife, and the voice of conscience may still command a certain attention to its warnings. While there are these indications of life, there is yet hope of the man; but on each moment is now suspended his moral existence. Let him retire from the influence of external things; and listen to that voice within, which, though often unheeded, still pleads for God. Let him call to aid those high truths which relate to the presence and inspection of this being of infinite purity, and the solemnities of a life which is to come. Above all, let him look up in humble supplication to that pure and holy One, who is the witness of this warfare,—who will regard it with compassion, and impart his powerful aid. But let him not presumptuously rely on this aid, as if the victory were already secured. The contest is but begun; and there must be a continued effort, and unceasing watchfulness,—a habitual direction of the attention to those truths which, as moral causes, are calculated to act upon the mind,—and a constant reliance upon the power from on high which is felt to be real and indispensable. With all this provision, his progress may be slow; for the opposing principle, and the influence of established moral habits, may be felt contending for their former dominion; but by each advantage that is achieved over them, their power will be broken, and finally destroyed. Now in all this contest towards the purity of the moral being, each step is no less a process of the mind itself than the downward course by which it was preceded. It consists in a surrender of the will to the suggestions of conscience, and a habitual direction of the attention to those truths which are calculated to act upon the moral volitions. In this course, the man feels that he is authorized to look for a might and an influence not his own. This is no imaginary or mysterious impression, which one may fancy that he feels, and then pass on contented with the vision; but a power which acts through the healthy operations of his own mind; it is in his own earnest exertions, as a rational being, to regulate these operations, that he is encouraged to expect its communication; and it is in feeling these assuming the characters of moral health, that he has the proof of its actual presence.
And where is the improbability that the pure and holy One, who framed the wondrous moral being, may thus hold intercourse with it, and impart an influence in its hour of deepest need. According to the utmost of our conceptions, it is the highest of his works,—for he has endowed it with the power of rising to the contemplation of himself, and with the capacity of aspiring to the imitation of his own moral perfections. We cannot, for a moment, doubt, that his eye must reach its inmost movements, and that all its emotions, and desires, and volitions, are exposed to his view. We must believe that he looks with displeasure when he perceives them wandering from himself; and contemplates with approbation the contest, when the spirit strives to throw off its moral bondage, and to fight its way upwards to a conformity to his will. Upon every principle of sound philosophy, all this must be open to his inspection; and we can perceive nothing opposed to the soundest inductions of reason in the belief, that he should impart an influence to the feeble being in this high design, and conduct him to its accomplishment. In all this, in fact, there is so little improbability, that we find it impossible to suppose it could be otherwise. We find it impossible to believe, that such a mental process could go on without the knowledge of him whose presence is in every place,—or that, looking upon it, he should want either the power or the willingness to impart his effectual aid.
But, independently of our conviction of an actual communication from the Deity, there is a power in the mind itself, which is calculated to draw down upon it an influence of the most efficient kind. This is produced by the mental process which we call Faith: and it may be illustrated by an impression which many must have experienced. Let us suppose that we have a friend of exalted intelligence and virtue, who has often exercised over us a commanding influence,—restraining us from pursuits to which we felt an inclination,—exciting us to virtuous conduct,—and elevating, by his intercourse with us, our impressions of a character on which we wished to form our own. Let us suppose that we are removed to a distance from this friend, and that circumstances of difficulty or danger occur, in which we feel the want of a guide and counsellor. In the reflections which the situation naturally gives rise to, the image of our friend is brought before us; an influence is conveyed analogous to that which was often produced by his presence and his counsel;—and we feel as if he were actually present, to tender his advice and watch our conduct. How much would this impression be increased, could we farther entertain the thought, that this absent friend was able, in some way, to communicate with us, so far as to be aware of our present circumstances, and to perceive our efforts to recall the influence of his character upon our own.—Such is the intercourse of the soul with God.—Every movement of the mind is known to him; his eye is present with it, when, in any situation of duty, distress, or mental discipline, the man, under this exercise of faith, realizes the presence and character of the Deity, and solemnly inquires how, in the particular instance, his moral feelings and his conduct will appear in the eye of him who seeth in secret. This is no vision of the imagination, but a fact supported by every principle of sound reason,—the influence which a man brings down upon himself, when, by an effort of his own mind, he thus places himself in the immediate presence of the Almighty. The man who does so in every decision of life is he who lives by faith;—and, whether we regard the inductions of reason, or the dictates of sacred truth, such a man is taught to expect an influence greater and more effectual still. This is a power immediately from God, which shall be to him direction in every doubt,—light in every darkness,—strength in his utmost weakness,—and comfort in all distress;—a power which shall bear upon all the principles of his moral nature, when he carries on the mighty conflict of bringing every desire and every volition under a conformity to the divine will. We again hazard with confidence the assertion, that in all this there is no improbability;—but that, on the contrary, the improbability is entirely on the other side,—in supposing that any such mental process could take place, without the knowledge and the interposition of that incomprehensible One, whose eye is upon all his works.
OF THE MORAL PRINCIPLE, OR CONSCIENCE.
There has been much dispute respecting the nature and even the existence of the Moral Principle, as a distinct element of our mental constitution; but this controversy may probably be considered as allied to other speculations of a metaphysical nature, in regard to which a kind of evidence was sought of which the subjects are not susceptible. Without arguing respecting the propriety of speaking of a separate power or principle, we simply contend for the fact, that there is a mental exercise, by which we feel certain actions to be right and certain others wrong. It is an element or a movement of our moral nature which admits of no analysis, and no explanation; and is referable to no other principle than a simple recognition of the fact, which forces itself upon the conviction of every man who looks into the processes of his own mind. Of the existence and the nature of this most important principle, therefore, the evidence is entirely within. We appeal to the consciousness of every man, that he perceives a power which, in particular cases, warns him of the conduct which he ought to pursue, and administers a solemn admonition when he has departed from it. For, while his judgment conveys to him an impression, both of the tendencies and certain of the qualities of actions, he has, besides this, a feeling by which he views the actions with approbation or disapprobation, in reference purely to their moral aspect, and without any regard to their consequences. When we refer to the sacred writings, we find the principle of conscience represented as a power of such importance,—that, without any acquired knowledge, or any actual precepts, it is sufficient to establish, in every man, such an impression of his duty as leaves him without excuse in the neglect of it:—"For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, then conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another." We even find a power assigned to the decisions of conscience, differing in extent only, but not in kind, from the judgment of the Almighty;—"If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things."
The province of conscience then appears to be, to convey to man a certain conviction of what is morally right and wrong, in regard to conduct in individual cases,—and to the general exercise of the desires or affections. This it does independently of any acquired knowledge, and without reference to any other standard of duty. It does, so, by a rule of right which it carries within itself,—and by applying this to the primary moral feelings, that is, the desires and affections, so as to indicate among them a just and healthy balance towards each other. The desires direct us to certain gratifications which we feel to be worthy of acquirement, and the affections lead us to a certain course of conduct which we feel to be agreeable to ourselves, or useful to others. But, to act under the influence of conscience is to perform actions, simply because we feel them to be right, and to abstain from others, simply because we feel them to be wrong,—without regard to any other impression, or to the consequences of the actions either to ourselves or others. He, who on this principle performs an action, though it may be highly disagreeable to him, or abstains from another though it may be highly desirable, is a conscientious man. Such a man, under the influence of habit, comes to act more and more easily under the suggestions of conscience, and to be more and more set free from every feeling and propensity that is opposed to it. Conscience seems therefore to hold a place among the moral powers, analogous to that which reason holds among the intellectual;—and, when we view it in this relation, there appears a beautiful harmony pervading the whole economy of the mind.