The Philosophy of the Moral Feelings
by John Abercrombie
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V. P. R. S. E.





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In a former work, the Author endeavoured to delineate, in a simple and popular form, the leading facts relating to the Intellectual Powers, and to trace the principles which ought to guide us in the Investigation of Truth. The volume which he now offers to the public attention, is intended as a sequel to these Inquiries; and his object in it is to investigate, in the same unpretending manner, the Moral Feelings of the Human Mind, and the principles which ought to regulate our volitions and our conduct as moral and responsible beings. The two branches of investigation are, in many respects, closely connected; and, on this account, it may often happen, that, in the present work, principles are assumed as admitted or proved, which, in the former, were stated at length, with the evidence by which they are supported.

In presenting a fifth edition of this volume, the Author feels most deeply the favourable manner in which it has been received, and the notice which has been bestowed upon it by those whose approbation he regards as a distinction of the most gratifying kind. He had two objects chiefly in view when he ventured upon this investigation. The one was to divest his inquiry of all unprofitable speculation, and to shew that the philosophy of the moral feelings bears directly upon a practical purpose of the highest moment,—the mental and moral culture of every rational being. The other was to shew the close and important relation which exists between this science and the doctrines of revealed religion, and the powerful evidence which is derived, for the truth of both, from the manner in which they confirm and illustrate each other. These two sources of knowledge cannot be separated, in the estimation of any one who feels the deep interest of the inquiry, and seriously prosecutes the important question,—what is truth. If we attempt to erect the philosophy of morals into an independent science, we shall soon find that its highest inductions only lead us to a point beyond which we are condemned to wander in doubt and in darkness. But, on the other hand, by depreciating philosophy, or the light which is derived from the moral impressions of the mind, we deprive ourselves of a most important source of evidence in support of revelation. For it is from these impressions, viewed in connexion with the actual state of man, that we learn the necessity, and the moral probability, of a revelation; and it is by principles existing in the mind that we are enabled to feel the power of that varied and incontrovertible evidence, by which revelation comes to the candid inquirer with all the authority of truth.

EDINBURGH, November 1838.

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Division of the Mental Powers into Intellectual and Moral 1

Harmony which ought to exist between these classes 3

Causes by which this harmony is interrupted,—and means of counteracting them 3

Interest of the science of the Moral Feelings 5

Peculiar sources of Knowledge bearing upon it, from the light of Conscience, and of Divine Revelation 7



Analogy between First Truths, or Intuitive Principles of Belief, in Intellectual, and in Moral Science 11

Classification of First Truths in Moral Science, as impressions arising out of each other, by an obvious chain of relations 16

1. Perception of the nature and quality of actions, as just or unjust,—right or wrong;—and a conviction of duties which a man owes to other men.

2. Conviction of the existence and attributes of a Great First Cause, and Moral Governor.

3. Conviction of Moral Responsibility.

4. Impression of Future Existence.

Importance of these convictions, as intuitive articles of belief 18

* * * * *


Analysis of Man as a Moral Being 27





* * * * *





1. Desire of the Animal Propensities 37

2. Desire of Wealth—Avarice 38

3. Desire of Power—Ambition 39

4. Desire of Superiority—Emulation 40

5. Desire of Society 41

6. Desire of Esteem or Approbation 42

7. Desire of Knowledge 46

8. Desire of Moral Improvement 47

— Desire of Action 49

Importance of a Due Regulation of the Desires 50




1. Justice to the Interests of others—Integrity 59

2. Justice to the Freedom of Action of others 59

3. Justice to the Reputation of others 60

4. Justice in estimating the Conduct and Character of others 61

5. Justice to the Opinions of others—Candour 62

6. Justice to the Feelings of others 63

7. Justice to the Moral Condition of others 64


1. Benevolence towards the Distresses of others 69

2. Benevolence towards the Reputation of others 70

3. Benevolence towards the Character and Conduct of others,—including Forgiveness of Injuries 71

4. Benevolence towards the Feelings of others 71

5. Benevolence towards improving the Moral Condition of others 73


1. The Love of Truth, in the Reception of it 76

2. Veracity in delivering statements,—including Sincerity 78

3. Truth of Purpose, or Correct fulfilment of Promises 82





Important Influence produced upon the Exercise of the Affections,

By Attention 92

By Habit 97

Feeling of Moral Approbation attached to the Exercise of the Affections 100

Happiness arising from a due Exercise of the Affections;—Influence of Temper 106



Sense in which the term is employed 111

Tendency of a true and Rational Self-love 111

Morbid Exercise of it,—Selfishness 116

Disinterested Conduct and Self-denial 117

* * * * *



Simple Volition, its Origin from one of the Desires or Affections 119

Operation of Moral Causes on the Will 120

Nature of these Causes, and Source of the Diversity of their operation in different individuals 123

Circumstances required for the Uniformity of their Operation:—

1. Knowledge 128

Truths of Natural and Revealed Religion.

2. Attention 132

Its influence on Moral Decisions.

3. Moral Habits 137

Origin and Progress of Derangement of Moral Harmony.

Influence of Habits upon Character 142

Means of Correcting Injurious Moral Habits 143

Practical Conclusions from these Principles. Important Influence of Moral Habits 145

Necessity and Probability of Divine Aid in correcting Moral Derangement 149

Influence of the Mental operation called Faith 152

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Proofs of the Existence of Conscience as a Distinct Principle of the mind 156

Nature of its Operation as the Regulating Principle 157

Analogy between it and Reason 158

Its Influence in conveying an Impression of the Moral Attributes of the Deity 163

Knowledge derived from this Source 164

Comparison of the Divine Attributes with the Actual State of Man 167

Difficulties arising from this Comparison removed only by the Christian Revelation 169

Mental Process by which the Regulating Power of Conscience is Impaired or Lost 172

Influence of this Condition upon the Judgment in regard to Moral Truth 176

Influence of Attention in Moral Decisions 179

Man's responsibility for his belief 182 Important relation between Moral Emotions and voluntary Intellectual Processes 183



Origin of Our Idea of Virtue and Vice 193

System of Mandeville 195

System of Clarke and Wollaston 197

System of Utility 198

Selfish System 199

System of Paley 201

Defect of these Systems in not acknowledging the Supreme Authority of Conscience 206

Objections to the belief of a uniformity of Moral Feeling which have been founded on the practices of barbarous nations 216

System of Dr. Smith, or Theory of Sympathy 219

Province of Reason in Moral Decisions 222

Remarks on the Observations of some late Writers respecting the Corruption of Conscience 227


Consistency of Character arising from this Harmony,—and Defects of Character to which it is opposed 237

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View of the Divine Character in reference to this Regulation 244

Regulation of the Moral Feelings which ought to arise out of it 245

1. Habitual effort to cultivate a Sense of the Divine Presence, and to regulate the Moral Feelings and Character by it 245

2. Submission to the appointments of Providence 252

3. Sense of Moral Imperfection and Guilt, and Supplication for Mercy, with Reliance on Divine Aid 254

4. Sense of Gratitude, Affection, and Love 255

Conduct and Character arising out of this Condition of the Moral Feelings 256

Means of Cultivating it 262

Nature and Operation of Faith 264

Province of Faith in the Philosophy of the Moral Feelings 269

Truths which are its more Immediate Object 273

Its Influence on the Moral Condition 276

Province of Faith in the Scheme of Christianity 282

Certain Errors regarding Faith 287

Harmony of Christian Truth with the Philosophy of the Moral Feelings 290




Man is to be contemplated as an intellectual, and as a moral being. By his intellectual powers, he acquires the knowledge of facts, observes their connexions, and traces the conclusions which arise out of them. These mental operations, however, even in a high state of cultivation, may be directed entirely to truths of an extrinsic kind,—that is, to such as do not exert any influence either on the moral condition of the individual, or on his relations to other sentient beings. They may exist in an eminent degree in the man who lives only for himself, and feels little beyond the personal wants, or the selfish enjoyments of the hour that is passing over him.

But, when we contemplate man as a moral being, new relations open on our view, and these are of mightier import. We find him occupying a place in a great system of moral government, in which he has an important station to fill and high duties to perform. We find him placed in certain relations to a great moral Governor, who presides over this system of things, and to a future state of being for which the present scene is intended to prepare him. We find him possessed of powers which qualify him to feel these relations, and of principles calculated to guide him through the solemn responsibilities which attend his state of moral discipline.

These two parts of his mental constitution we perceive to be remarkably distinct from each other. The former may be in vigorous exercise in him who has little feeling of his moral condition,—and the latter may be in a high state of culture in the man, who, in point of intellectual acquirement, knows little beyond the truths which it most concerns him to know,—those great but simple principles which guide his conduct as a responsible being.

In a well-regulated mind, there is an intimate harmony and co-operation between these two departments of the mental economy. Knowledge, received through the powers of sensation and simple intellect, whether relating to external things, or to mental phenomena,—and conclusions derived from these through the powers of reasoning, ought all to contribute to that which is the highest state of man,—his purity as a moral being. They ought all to lend their aid towards the cultivation of those principles of his nature which bind him to his fellow-men;—and those higher principles still, which raise his feeble powers to the Eternal Incomprehensible One, the first great cause of all things, and the moral Governor of the universe.

A slight degree of observation is sufficient to convince us, that such a regulated condition of the mental constitution does not exist in the generality of mankind. It is not my present purpose to inquire into the causes by which this is primarily deranged; but it may be interesting to trace some of the circumstances which bear a part in producing the derangement. In our present state of being, we are surrounded with objects of sense; and the mind is kept, in a great degree, under the influence of external things. In this manner it often happens, that facts and considerations elude our attention, and deeds escape from our memory, in a manner which would not occur, were the mind left at liberty to recall its own associations, and to feel the influence of principles which are really part of the mental constitution. It is thus that, amid the bustle of life, the attention is apt to be engrossed by considerations of a local and an inferior character;—while facts and motives of the highest moment are overlooked, and deeds of our own, long gone by, escape from our remembrance. We thus lose a correct sense of our moral condition, and yield to the agency of present and external things, in a manner disproportioned to their real value. For our highest concern as moral beings is with things future, and things unseen, and often with circumstances in our own moral history, long past, and perhaps forgotten. Hence the benefit of retirement and calm reflection, and of every thing that tends to withdraw us from the impression of sensible objects, and lends us to feel the superiority of things which are not seen. Under such influence, the mind displays an astonishing power of recalling the past and grasping the future,—and of viewing objects in their true relations, to itself and to each other. The first of these, indeed, we see exemplified in many affections, in which the mind is cut off, in a greater or less degree, from its intercourse with the external world, by causes acting upon the bodily organization. In another work I have described many remarkable examples of the mind, in this condition, recalling its old impressions respecting things long past and entirely forgotten; and the facts there stated call our attention in a very striking manner to its inherent powers and its independent existence.

This subject is one of intense interest, and suggests reflections of the most important kind, respecting the powers and properties of the thinking principle. In particular, it leads us to a period, which we are taught to anticipate even by the inductions of intellectual science, when, the bodily frame being dissolved, the thinking and reasoning essence shall exercise its peculiar faculties in a higher state of being. There are facts in the mental phenomena which give a high degree of probability to the conjecture, that the whole transactions of life, with the motives and moral history of each individual, may then be recalled by a process of the mind itself, and placed, as at a single glance, distinctly before him. Were we to realize such a mental condition, we should not fail to contemplate the impressions so recalled, with feelings very different from those by which we are apt to be misled amid the influence of present and external things.—The tumult of life is over;—pursuits, principles, and motives, which once bore an aspect of importance, are viewed with feelings more adapted to their true value.—The moral principle recovers that authority, which, amid the contests of passion, had been obscured or lost;—each act and each emotion is seen in its relations to the great dictates of truth, and each pursuit of life in its real bearing on the great concerns of a moral being;—and the whole assumes a character of new and wondrous import, when viewed in relation to that Incomprehensible One, who is then disclosed in all his attributes as a moral governor.—Time past is contracted into a point, and that the infancy of being;—time to come is seen expanding into eternal existence.

* * * * *

Such are the views which open on him who would inquire into the essence by which man is distinguished as a rational and moral being. Compared with it, what are all the phenomena of nature,—what is all the history of the world,—the rise and fall of empires,—or the fate of those who rule them. These derive their interest from local and transient relations,—but this is to exist for ever. That science, therefore, must be considered as the highest of all human pursuits, which contemplates man in his relation to eternal things. With its importance we must feel its difficulties; and, did we confine the investigation to the mere principles of natural science, we should feel these difficulties to be insurmountable. But, in this great inquiry, we have two sources of knowledge, to which nothing analogous is to be found in the history of physical science, and which will prove infallible guides, if we resign ourselves to their direction with sincere desire to discover the truth. These are,—the light of conscience,—and the light of divine revelation. In making this statement, I am aware that I tread on delicate ground,—and that some will consider an appeal to the sacred writings as a departure from the strict course of philosophical inquiry. This opinion, I am satisfied, is entirely at variance with truth,—and, in every moral investigation, if we take the inductions of sound philosophy, along with the dictates of conscience, and the light of revealed truth, we shall find them to constitute one uniform and harmonious whole, the various parts of which tend, in a remarkable manner, to establish and illustrate each other. If, indeed, in any investigation of moral science, we disregard the light which is furnished by the sacred writings, we resemble an astronomer who should rely entirely on his unaided sight, and reject those optical inventions which extend so remarkably the field of his vision, as to be to him the revelation of things not seen. Could we suppose a person thus entertaining doubts respecting the knowledge supplied by the telescope, yet proceeding in a candid manner to investigate its truth, he would perceive, in the telescopic observations themselves, principles developed which are calculated to remove his suspicions. For, in the limited knowledge which is furnished by vision alone, he finds difficulties which he cannot explain, apparent inconsistencies which he cannot reconcile, and insulated facts which he cannot refer to any known principle. But, in the more extended knowledge which the telescope yields, these difficulties disappear, facts are brought together which seemed unconnected or discordant, and the universe appears one beautiful system of order and consistency. It is the same in the experience of the moral inquirer, when he extends his views beyond the inductions of reason, and corrects his conclusions by the testimony of God. Discordant principles are brought together, doubts and difficulties disappear, and beauty, order, and harmony are seen to pervade the government of the Deity. In this manner there also arises a species of evidence for the doctrines of revelation, which is entirely independent of the external proofs of its divine origin; and which, to the candid mind, invests it with all the characters of authenticity and truth.

From these combined sources of knowledge, thus illustrating and confirming each other, we are enabled to attain, in moral inquiries, a degree of certainty adapted to their high importance. We do so when, with sincere desire to discover the truth, we resign ourselves to the guidance of the light which is within, aided as it is by that light from heaven which shines upon the path of the humble inquirer. Cultivated on these principles, the science is fitted to engage the most powerful mind; while it will impart strength to the most common understanding. It terminates in no barren speculations, but tends directly to promote peace on earth, and good-will among men. It is calculated both to enlarge the understanding, and to elevate and purify the feelings, and thus to cultivate the moral being for the life which is to come. It spreads forth to the view, becoming smoother and brighter the farther it is pursued; and the rays which illuminate the path converge in the throne of Him who is Eternal.



The knowledge which we receive through our intellectual powers is referable to two classes. These may be distinguished by the names of acquired knowledge, and intuitive or fundamental articles of belief. The former is procured by the active use of our mental powers, in collecting facts, tracing their relations, and observing the deductions which arise out of particular combinations of them. These constitute the operations which I have referred to in another work, under the heads of processes of investigation, and processes of reasoning. The full exercise of them requires a certain culture of the mental faculties, and consequently is confined to a comparatively small number of men. We perceive, however, that such culture is not essential to every individual,—for many are very deficient in it who yet are considered as persons of sound mind, and capable of discharging their duties in various situations of life in a creditable and useful manner.

But the knowledge which we derive from the other source is of immediate and essential importance to men of every degree; and, without it, no individual could engage, with confidence, in any of the common transactions of life, or make any provision for his protection or comfort, or even for the continuance of his existence. These are the principles also treated of, in a former work, under the name of First Truths. They are not, like our knowledge of the other kind, the result of any process either of investigation or of reasoning, and, for the possession of them, no man either depends upon his own observation, or has recourse to that of other men. They are a part of his mental constitution, arising, with a feeling of absolute certainty, in every sound mind; and, while they admit of no proof by processes of reasoning, sophistical objections brought against them can be combated only by an appeal to the consciousness of every man, and to the absolute conviction which forces itself upon the whole mass of mankind.

If the Creator has thus implanted in the mind of man principles to guide him in his intellectual and physical relations, independently of any acquired knowledge, we might naturally expect to find him endowed, in the same manner, with principles adapted to his more important relations as a moral being. We might naturally expect, that, in these high concerns, he would not be left to the knowledge which he might casually acquire, either through his own powers of investigation or reasoning, or through instruction received from other men. Impressions adapted to this important end we accordingly find developed in a remarkable manner,—and they are referable to that part of our constitution, which holds so important a place in the philosophy of the mind, by which we perceive differences in the moral aspect of actions, and approve or disapprove of them as right or wrong. The convictions derived from this source seem to occupy the same place in the moral system, that first truths, or intuitive articles of belief, do in the intellectual. Like them, also, they admit of no direct proofs by processes of reasoning; and, when sophistical arguments are brought against them, the only true answer consists in an appeal to the conscience of every uncontaminated mind;—by which we mean chiefly the consciousness of its own moral impressions, in a mind which has not been degraded in its moral perceptions by a course of personal depravity. This is a consideration of the utmost practical importance; and it will probably appear that many well-intended arguments, respecting the first principles of moral truth, have been inconclusive, in the same manner as were attempts to establish first truths by processes of reasoning,—because the line of argument adopted in regard to them was one of which they are not susceptible. The force of this analogy is in no degree weakened by the fact, that there is, in many cases, an apparent difference between that part of our mental constitution, on which is founded our conviction of first truths, and that principle from which is derived our impression of moral truth:—For the former continues the same in every mind which is neither obscured by idiocy nor distorted by insanity; but the moral feelings become vitiated by a process of the mind itself, by which it has gradually gone astray from rectitude. Hence the difference we find in the decisions of different men, respecting moral truth, arising from peculiarities in their own mental condition;—and hence that remarkable obscuration of mind, at which some men at length arrive, by which the judgment is entirely perverted respecting the first great principles of moral purity. When, therefore, we appeal to certain principles in the mental constitution, as the source of our first impressions of moral truth, our appeal is made chiefly to a mind which is neither obscured by depravity, nor bewildered by the refinements of a false philosophy:—it is made to a mind in which conscience still holds some degree of its rightful authority, and in which there is a sincere and honest desire to discover the truth. These two elements of character must go together in every correct inquiry in moral science; and, to a man in an opposite condition, we should no more appeal, in regard to the principles of moral truth, than we should take from the fatuous person or the maniac our test of those first principles of intellectual truth, which are allowed to be original elements of belief in every sound mind.

To remedy the evils arising from this diversity and distortion of moral perception, is one of the objects of divine revelation. By means of it there is introduced a fixed and uniform standard of moral truth; but, it is of importance to remark, that, for the authority of this, an appeal is made to principles in the mind itself, and that every part of it challenges the assent of the man in whom conscience has not lost its power in the mental economy.

* * * * *

Keeping in view the distinction which has now been referred to, it would appear, that there are certain first principles of moral truth, which arise in the mind by the most simple process of reflection,—either as constituting its own primary moral convictions, or as following from its consciousness of these convictions by a plain and obvious chain of relations. These are chiefly the following.

I. A perception of the nature and quality of actions, as just or unjust,—right or wrong;—and a conviction of certain duties, as of justice, veracity, and benevolence, which every man owes to his fellow-men. Every man, in his own case, again, expects the same offices from others; and, on this reciprocity of feeling, is founded the precept, which is felt to be one of universal obligation, to do to others as we would that they should do to us.

II. From this primary moral impression, there arises, by a most natural sequence, a conviction of the existence and superintendence of a great moral Governor of the universe,—a being of infinite perfection and infinite purity. A belief in this Being, as the first great cause, is derived, as we have formerly seen, by a simple step of reasoning, from a survey of the works of nature, taken in connexion with the First Truth, that every event must have an adequate cause. Our sense of his moral attributes arises, with a feeling of equal certainty, when, from the moral impressions of our own minds, we infer the moral attributes of him who thus formed us.

III. From these combined impressions, there naturally springs a sense of moral responsibility;—or a conviction, that, for the due performance of the duties which are indicated by the conscience, or moral consciousness, man is responsible to the Governor of the universe;—and farther, that to this Being he owes, more immediately, a certain homage of the moral feelings, entirely distinct from the duties which he owes to his fellow-men.

IV. From this chain of moral convictions, it is impossible to separate a deep impression of continued existence, or of a state of being beyond the present life,—and of that as a state of moral retribution.

* * * * *

The consideration of these important objects of belief will afterwards occur to us in various parts of our inquiry. They are briefly stated here, in reference to the place which they hold as First Truths, or primary articles of moral belief, which arise by a natural and obvious chain of sequence, in the moral conviction of every sound understanding. For the truth of them we appeal not to any process of reasoning, properly so called, but to the conviction which forces itself upon every regulated mind. Neither do we go abroad among savage nations, to inquire whether the impression of them be universal; for this may be obscured in communities, as it is in individuals, by a course of moral degradation. We appeal to the casuist himself, whether, in the calm moment of reflection, he can divest himself of their power. We appeal to the feelings of the man who, under the consciousness of guilt, shrinks from the dread of a present Deity and the anticipation of a future reckoning. But chiefly we appeal to the conviction of him, in whom conscience retains its rightful supremacy, and who habitually cherishes these momentous truths, as his guides in this life in its relation to the life that is to come.

In applying to these important articles of belief the name of First Truths, or primary principles of moral conviction, I do not mean to ascribe to them any thing of the nature of innate ideas. I mean only that they arise, with a rapid or instantaneous conviction entirely distinct from what we call a process of reasoning, in every regulated mind, when it is directed, by the most simple course of reflection, to the phenomena of nature without, and to the moral feelings of which it is conscious within. It appears to be a point of the utmost practical importance, that we should consider them as thus arising out of principles which form a part of our moral constitution; as it is in this way only that we can consider them as calculated to influence the mass of mankind. For, if we do not believe them to arise, in this manner, by the spontaneous exercise of every uncorrupted mind, there are only two methods by which we can suppose them to originate;—the one is a direct revelation from the Deity,—the other is a process of reasoning or of investigation, properly so called, analogous to that by which we acquire the knowledge of any principle in natural science. We cannot believe that they are derived entirely from revelation, because we find the belief existing where no revelation is known, and because we find the sacred writers appealing to them as sources of conviction existing in the mental constitution of every man. There is an obvious absurdity, again, in supposing that principles, which are to regulate the conduct of responsible beings, should be left to the chance of being unfolded by processes of reasoning, in which different minds may arrive at different conclusions, and in regard to which many are incapable of following out any argument at all. What is called the argument a priori for the existence and attributes of the Deity, for instance, conveys little that is conclusive to most minds, and to many is entirely incomprehensible. The same observation may be applied to those well-intended and able arguments, by which the probability of a future state is shewn from analogy and from the constitution of the mind. These are founded chiefly on three considerations,—the tendency of virtue to produce happiness, and of vice to be followed by misery,—the unequal distribution of good and evil in the present life,—and the adaptation of our moral faculties to a state of being very different from that in which we are at present placed. There is much in these arguments calculated to elevate our conceptions of our condition as moral beings, and of that future state of existence for which we are destined; and there is much scope for the highest powers of reasoning, in shewing the accordance of these truths with the soundest inductions of true philosophy. But, notwithstanding all their truth and all their utility, it may be doubted whether they are to any one the foundation of his faith in another state of being. It must be admitted, at least, that their force is felt by those only whose minds have been in some degree trained to habits of reasoning, and that they are therefore not adapted to the mass of mankind. But the truths which they are intended to establish are of eternal importance to men of every degree, and we should therefore expect them to rest upon evidence which finds its way with unerring aim to the hearts of the unlearned. The unanswerable reasonings of Butler never reached the ear of the gray-haired pious peasant, but he needs not their powerful aid to establish his sure and certain hope of a blessed immortality. It is no induction of logic that has transfixed the heart of the victim of deep remorse, when he withers beneath an influence unseen by human eye, and shrinks from the anticipation of a reckoning to come. In both, the evidence is within,—a part of the original constitution of every rational mind, planted there by him who framed the wondrous fabric. This is the power of conscience;—with an authority, which no man can put away from him, it pleads at once for his own future existence, and for the moral attributes of an omnipotent and ever-present Deity. In a healthy state of the moral feelings, the man recognises its claim to supreme dominion. Amid the degradation of guilt, it still raises its voice and asserts its right to govern the whole man; and, though its warnings are disregarded, and its claims disallowed, it proves within his inmost soul an accuser that cannot be stilled, and an avenging spirit that never is quenched.

Similar observations apply to the uniformity of moral distinctions, or the conviction of a certain line of conduct which man owes to his fellow-men. There have been many controversies and various contending systems in reference to this subject, but I submit that the question may be disposed of in the same manner as the one now mentioned. Certain fixed and defined principles of relative duty appear to be recognised by the consent of mankind, as an essential part of their moral constitution, by as absolute a conviction as that by which are recognised our bodily qualities. The hardened criminal, whose life has been a course of injustice and fraud, when at length brought into circumstances which expose him to the knowledge or the retribution of his fellow-men, expects from them veracity and justice, or perhaps even throws himself upon their mercy. He thus recognises such principles as a part of the moral constitution, just as the blind man, when he has missed his way, asks direction of the first person he meets,—presuming upon the latter possessing a sense which, though lost to him, he still considers as belonging to every sound man. In defending himself, also, the criminal shews the same recognition. For, his object is to disprove the alleged facts, or to frame excuses for his conduct;—he never attempts to question those universal principles by which he feels that his actions must be condemned, if the facts are proved against him. Without such principles, indeed, thus universally recognised, it is evident that the whole system of human things would go into confusion and ruin. Human laws may restrain or punish gross acts of violence and injustice; but they can never provide for numberless methods by which a man may injure his neighbour, or promote his own interest at the expense of others. There are, in fact, but a very few cases which can be provided for by any human institution; it is a principle within that regulates the whole moral economy. In its extent and importance, when compared with all the devices of man, it may be likened to those great principles which guide the movements of the universe, contrasted with the contrivances by which men produce particular results for their own convenience; and one might as well expect to move a planet by machinery, or propel a comet by the power of steam, as to preserve the semblance of order in the moral world, without those fundamental principles of rectitude which form a part of the original constitution of every rational being.

Farther, as each man has the consciousness of these principles in himself, he has the conviction that similar principles exist in others. Hence arises the impression, that, as he judges of their conduct by his own moral feelings, so will they judge of him by corresponding feelings in themselves. In this manner is produced that reciprocity of moral impression, by which a man feels the opinion of his fellow-men to be either a reward or a punishment; and hence also springs that great rule of relative duty, which teaches us to do to others as we would that they should do to us. This uniformity of moral feeling and affection even proves a check upon those who have subdued the influence of these feelings in themselves. Thus, a man who has thrown off all sense of justice, compassion, or benevolence, is still kept under a certain degree of control by the conviction of these impressions existing in those by whom he is surrounded. There are indeed men in the world, as has been remarked by Butler, in whom this appears to be the only restraint to which their conduct is subjected.

Upon the whole, therefore, there seems to be ground for assuming, that the articles of belief, which have been the subject of the preceding observations, are primary principles arising with an immediate feeling of conviction in our moral constitution; and that they correspond with those elements in our intellectual economy, which are commonly called First Truths,—principles which are now universally admitted to require no other evidence than the conviction which forces itself upon every sound understanding.




When we analyze the principles which distinguish man as a moral being, our attention is first directed to his actions, as the external phenomena by which we judge of his internal principles. It is familiar to every one, however, that the same action may proceed from very different motives, and that, when we have the means of estimating motives or principles, it is from these that we form our judgment respecting the moral condition of the individual, and not from his actions alone. When we consider separately the elements which enter into the economy of an intelligent and responsible agent, they seem to resolve themselves into the following:—

I. His actual conduct, or actions.

II. In determining his conduct, the immediate principle is his will, or simple volition. He wills some act,—and the act follows of course, unless it be prevented by restraint from without, or by physical inability to perform it. These alone can interfere with a man following the determination of his will, or simple volition.

III. The objects of will or simple volition are referable to two classes,—objects to be obtained,—and actions to be performed to others;—and these are connected with two distinct mental conditions, which exist previously to the act of volition. In regard to objects to be obtained, this mental condition is Desire;—in regard to actions towards others, it is Affection. The Desires and Affections, therefore, hold a place in the mind previous to volition. From one of them originates the mental state which, under certain regulations, leads to volition, or to our willing a certain act. The act, which is then the result of the volition, consists either in certain efforts towards attaining the object desired,—or in certain conduct towards other men, amusing out of our affections or mental feelings towards them. The Desires and Affections, therefore, may be considered as the primary or moving powers, from which our actions proceed. In connection with them we have to keep in view another principle, which has an extensive influence on our conduct in regard to both these classes of emotions. This is Self-love;—which leads us to seek our own protection, comfort, and advantage. It is a sound and legitimate principle of action when kept in its proper place;—when allowed to usurp an undue influence, it degenerates into selfishness; and it then interferes in a material degree with the exercise of the affections, or, in other words, with our duty to other men.

IV. We have next to attend to the fact, that every desire is not followed by actual volition towards obtaining the object;—and that every affection does not lead to the conduct which might flow from it. Thus a man may feel a desire which, after consideration, he determines not to gratify. Another may experience an affection, and not act upon it;—he may feel benevolence or friendship, and yet act, in the particular case, with cold selfishness;—or he may feel the impulse of anger, and yet conduct himself with forbearance. When, therefore, we go another step backwards in the chain of moral sequences, our attention is directed to certain principles by which the determination is actually decided,—either according to the desire or affection which is present to the mind, or in opposition to it. This brings us to a subject of the utmost practical importance:—and the principles, which thus decide the determination of the mind, are referable to two heads.

(1.) The determination or decision may arise out of a certain state of arrangement of the moving powers themselves, in consequence of which some one of them has acquired a predominating influence in the moral system. This usually results from habit, or frequent indulgence, as we shall see in a subsequent part of our inquiry. A man, for example, may desire an object, but perceive that the attainment would require a degree of exertion greater than he is disposed to devote to it. This is the preponderating love of ease, a branch of self-love. Another may perceive that the gratification would impair his good name, or the estimation in which he is anxious to stand in the eyes of other men;—this is the predominating love of approbation, or regard to character. In the same manner, a third may feel that it would interfere with his schemes of avarice or ambition,—and so in regard to the other desires. On a similar principle, a man may experience a strong impulse of anger, but perceive that there would be danger in gratifying it, or that he would promote his reputation or his interest by not acting upon it;—he may experience a benevolent affection, but feel that the exercise would interfere too much with his personal interest or comfort.

(2.) The determination may arise from a sense of duty, or an impression of moral rectitude, apart from every consideration of a personal nature. This is the Moral Principle or Conscience;—in every mind in a state of moral health, it is the supreme and regulating principle, preserving among the moving powers a certain harmony to each other, and to the principles of moral rectitude. It often excites to conduct which requires a sacrifice of self-love, and so prevents this principle from interfering with the sound exercise of the affections. It regulates the desires, and restrains them by the simple rule of purity;—it directs and regulates the affections in the same manner by the high sense of moral responsibility; and it thus maintains order and harmony in the whole moral system.

One of the chief diversities of human character, indeed, arises from the circumstance of one man being habitually influenced by the simple and straight-forward principle of duty, and another merely by a kind of contest between desires and motives of a very inferior or selfish nature. Thus also we acquire a knowledge of the moral temperament of different men, and learn to adapt our measures accordingly in our transactions with them. In endeavouring, for example, to excite three individuals to some act of usefulness, we come to know, that in one we have only to appeal to his sense of duty; in another to his vanity or love of approbation; while we have no hope of making any impression on the third, unless we can make it appear to bear upon his interest.

V. The principles referred to under the preceding heads are chiefly those which regulate the connexion of man with his fellow-men. But there is another class of emotions, in their nature distinct from these; though, in a practical point of view, they are much connected. These are the emotions which arise out of his relation to the Deity. The regulation of the moral feelings, in reference to this relation, will therefore come to be considered in a department of the inquiry devoted to themselves, in connexion with the views of the character and attributes of God, which we obtain from the light of reason and conscience.

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This analysis of the principles which constitute the moral feelings indicates the farther division of our inquiry in the following manner:—

I. The Desires,—the Affections,—and Self-love.

II. The Will.

III. The Moral Principle, or Conscience.

IV. The moral relation of man towards the Deity.

These constitute what may be called the active principles of man, or those which are calculated to decide his conduct as a moral and responsible being. In connexion with them, there is another class of feelings, which may be called passive or connecting emotions. They exert a considerable influence of a secondary kind; but, in an Essay which is meant to be essentially practical, it perhaps will not be necessary to do more than enumerate them in such a manner as to point out their relation to the active principles.

When an object presents qualities on account of which we wish to obtain it, we feel desire. If we have reason to think that it is within our reach, we experience hope; and the effect of this is to encourage us in our exertions. If we arrive at such a conviction as leaves no doubt of the attainment, this is confidence, one of the forms of that state of mind which we call faith. If we see no prospect of attaining it, we give way to despair,—and this leads us to abandon all exertion for the attainment. When we obtain the object we experience pleasure or joy; if we are disappointed, we feel regret. If, again, we have the prospect of some evil which threatens us, we experience fear, and are thereby excited to exertions for averting it. If we succeed in doing so, we experience joy; if not, we feel sorrow. If the evil seem unavoidable, we again give way to despair, and are thus led to relinquish all attempts to avert it.—Similar emotions attend on the affections. When we experience an affection, we desire to be able to act upon it. When we see a prospect of doing so, we hope; if there seem to be none, we despair of accomplishing our object. When we have acted upon a benevolent affection, or according to the dictates of the moral principle, we experience self-approbation; when the contrary, we feel remorse. When either a desire or an affection has acquired an undue influence, so as to carry us forward in a manner disproportioned to its real and proper tendencies, it becomes a passion.





Desire is the immediate movement or act of the mind towards an object which presents some quality on account of which we wish to obtain it. The objects of desire, therefore, embrace all those attainments and gratifications, which mankind consider worthy of being sought after. The object pursued in each particular case, is determined by the views, habits, and moral dispositions of the individual. In this manner, one person may regard an object, as above every other worthy of being sought after, which to another appears insignificant or worthless. The principles which regulate these diversities, and consequently form one of the great differences in human character, belong to a subsequent part of our inquiry.

In forming a classification of the desires, we must be guided simply by the nature of the various objects which are desired. Those which may be specified as the most prevalent, and the most clearly to be distinguished as separate, may be referred to the following heads.

I. The gratification of the animal propensities,—commonly called the appetites. These, which we possess in common with the lower animals, are implanted in us for important purposes; but they require to be kept under the most rigid control, both of reason and of the moral principle. When they are allowed to break through these restraints, and become leading principles of action, they form a character the lowest in the scale, whether intellectual or moral; and it is impossible to contemplate a more degraded condition of a rational and moral being. The consequences to society are also of the most baneful nature. Without alluding to the glutton or to the drunkard, what accumulated guilt, degradation, and wretchedness follow the course of the libertine,—blasting whatever comes within the reach of his influence, and extending a demoralizing power alike to him who inflicts and to those who suffer the wrong. Thus is constituted a class of evils, of which no human law can take any adequate cognizance, and which therefore raise our views, in a special and peculiar manner, to a supreme Moral Governor.

II. The Desire of Wealth, commonly called Avarice;—though avarice is perhaps justly to be regarded as the morbid excess or abuse of the propensity. This is properly to be considered as originating in the desire to possess the means of procuring other gratifications. But, by the influence of habit, the desire is transferred to the thing itself, and it often becomes a kind of mania, in which there is the pure love of gain, without the application of it to any other kind of enjoyment. It is a propensity which may, in a remarkable manner, engross the whole character, acquiring strength by continuance, and it is then generally accompanied by a contracted selfishness, which considers nothing as mean or unworthy that can be made to contribute to the ruling passion. This may be the case even when the propensity is regulated by the rules of justice;—if it break through this restraint, it leads to fraud, extortion, deceit, and injustice,—and, under another form, to theft or robbery. It is therefore always in danger of being opposed to the exercise of the benevolent affections, leading a man to live for himself, and to study only the means calculated to promote his own interest.

III. The Desire of Power, or Ambition. This is the love of ruling,—or giving the law to a circle whether more or less extensive. When it becomes the governing propensity, the strongest principles of human nature give way before it,—even those of personal comfort and safety. This we see in the conqueror, who braves every danger, difficulty, and privation, for the attainment of power; and in the statesman, who sacrifices for it every personal advantage, perhaps health and peace. The principle, however, assumes another form, which, according to its direction, may aim at a higher object. Such is the desire of exercising power over the minds of men; of persuading a multitude, by arguments or eloquence, to deeds of usefulness; of pleading the cause of the oppressed;—a power of influencing the opinions of others, and of guiding them into sound sentiments and virtuous conduct. This is a species of power, the most gratifying by far to an exalted and virtuous mind, and one calculated to carry benefit to others wherever it is exerted.

IV. The Desire of Superiority, or Emulation. This is allied to the former, except that it does not include any direct wish to rule, but aims simply at the acquirement of pre-eminence. It is a propensity of extensive influence, and not easily confined within the bounds of correct principle. It is apt to lead to undue means for the accomplishment of its object; and every real or imagined failure tends to excite hatred and envy. Hence it requires the most careful regulation and, when much encouraged in the young, is not free from the danger of generating malignant passions. Its influence and tendency, as in other desires, depend in a great measure on the objects to which it is directed. It may be seen in the man who seeks to excel his associates in the gaiety of his apparel, the splendour of his equipage, or the luxury of his table. It is found in him whose proud distinction is to be the most fearless rider at a steeple-chase or a fox-hunt,—or to perform some other exploit, the only claim of which to admiration consists in its never having been performed before. The same principle, directed to more worthy objects, may influence him who seeks to be distinguished in some high pursuit, calculated to confer a lasting benefit upon his country or on human kind.

V. The Desire of Society. This has been considered by most writers on the subject as a prominent principle of human nature, shewing itself at all periods of life, and in all conditions of civilization. In persons shut up from intercourse with their fellow-men, it has manifested itself in the closest attachment to animals; as if the human mind could not exist without some object on which to exercise the feelings intended to bind man to his fellows. It is found in the union of men in civil society and social intercourse,—in the ties of friendship, and the still closer union of the domestic circle. It is necessary for the exercise of all the affections; and even our weaknesses require the presence of other men. There would be no enjoyment of rank or wealth, if there were none to admire;—and even the misanthrope requires the presence of another to whom his spleen may be uttered. The abuse of this principle leads to the contracted spirit of party.

VI. The Desire of Esteem and Approbation. This is a principle of most extensive influence, and is in many instances the source of worthy and useful displays of human character. Though inferior to the high sense of moral obligation, it may yet be considered a laudable principle,—as when a man seeks the approbation of others by deeds of benevolence, public spirit, or patriotism,—by actions calculated to promote the advantage or the comfort either of communities or individuals. In the healthy exercise of it, a man desires the approbation of the good;—in the distorted use of it, he seeks merely the praise of a party, or perhaps, by deeds of a frivolous or even vicious character, aims at the applause of associates whose praise is worthless. According to the object to which it is directed, therefore, the desire of approbation may be the attribute either of a virtuous or a perverted mind. But it is a principle, which, in general, we expect to find operating in every well-regulated mind, under certain restrictions. Thus a man who is totally regardless of character,—that is, of the opinion of all others respecting his conduct, we commonly consider as a person lost to correct virtuous feeling. On the other hand, however, there may be instances in which it is the quality of a man of the greatest mind to pursue some course to which from adequate motives, he has devoted himself, regardless alike of the praise or the disapprobation of other men. The character in which the love of approbation is a ruling principle is therefore modified by the direction of it. To desire the approbation of the virtuous, leads to conduct of a corresponding kind, and to steadiness and consistency in such conduct. To seek the approbation of the vicious, leads, of course, to an opposite character. But there is a third modification, presenting a subject of some interest, in which the prevailing principle of the man is a general love of approbation, without any discrimination of the characters of those whose praise is sought, or of the value of the qualities on account of which he seeks it. This is vanity; and it produces a conduct wavering and inconsistent,—perpetually changing with the circumstances in which the individual is placed. It often leads him to aim at admiration for distinctions of a very trivial character,—or even for qualities which he does not really possess. It thus includes the love of flattery. Pride, on the other hand, as opposed to vanity, seems to consist in a man entertaining a high opinion of himself, while he is indifferent to the opinion of others;—thus we speak of a man who is too proud to be vain.

Our regard to the opinion of others is the origin of our respect to character, in matters which do not come under the higher principle of morals; and is of extensive influence in promoting the harmonies, proprieties, and decencies of society. It is thus the foundation of good breeding, and leads to kindness and accommodation in little matters which do not belong to the class of duties. It is also the source of what we usually call decorum and propriety, which lead a man to conduct himself in a manner becoming his character and circumstances, in regard to things which do not involve any higher principle. For, apart entirely from any consideration either of morality or benevolence, there is a certain line of conduct which is unbecoming in all men; and there is conduct which is becoming in some, though it might not in other men,—and in some circumstances, though it might not be so in others. It is unnecessary to add, how much of a man's respectability in life often depends upon finding his way, with proper discrimination, through the relations of society which are amenable to this principle; or, by how many actions, which are not really wrong, a man may render himself despised and ridiculous. The love of esteem and approbation is also of extensive influence in the young,—both in the conduct of education and the cultivation of general character; and it is not liable to the objections, formerly referred to, which apply to the principle of Emulation. It leads also to those numerous expedients by which persons of various character seek for themselves notoriety or a name: or desire to leave a reputation behind them, when they are no more. This is the love of posthumous fame, a subject which has afforded an extensive theme both for the philosopher and the humorist.

VII. The Desire of Knowledge, or of Intellectual Improvement,—including the principle of Curiosity. The tendency of this high principle must depend, as in the former cases, on its regulation, and the objects to which it is directed. These may vary from the idle tattle of the day, to the highest attainments in literature or science. The principle may be applied to pursuits of a frivolous or useless kind, and to such acquirements as lead only to pedantry or sophism;—or it may be directed to a desultory application, which leads to a superficial acquaintance with a variety of subjects, without a correct knowledge of any of them. On the other hand, the pursuit of knowledge may be allowed to interfere with important duties which we owe to others, in the particular situation in which we are placed. A well-regulated judgment conducts the propensity to worthy objects; and directs it in such a manner as to make it most useful to others. With such due regulation, the principle ought to be carefully cultivated in the young. It is closely connected with that activity of mind which seeks for knowledge on every subject that comes within its reach, and which is ever on the watch to make its knowledge more correct and more extensive.

VIII. The Desire of Moral Improvement. This leads to the highest state of man: and it bears this peculiar character, that it is adapted to men in every scale of society, and tends to diffuse a beneficial influence around the circle with which the individual is connected. The desire of power may exist in many, but its gratification is limited to a few:—he who fails may become a discontented misanthrope; and he who succeeds may be a scourge to his species. The desire of superiority or of praise may be misdirected in the same manner, leading to insolent triumph on the one hand, and envy on the other. Even the thirst for knowledge may be abused, and many are placed in circumstances in which it cannot be gratified. But the desire of moral improvement commends itself to every class of society, and its object is attainable by all. In proportion to its intensity and its steadiness, it tends to make the possessor both a happier and a better man, and to render him the instrument of diffusing happiness and usefulness to all who come within the reach of his influence. If he be in a superior station, these results will be felt more extensively; if he be in a humble sphere, they may be more limited; but their nature is the same, and their tendency is equally to elevate the character of man. This mental condition consists, as we shall afterwards have occasion to shew more particularly, in a habitual recognition of the supreme authority of conscience over the whole intellectual and moral system, and in a habitual effort to have every desire and every affection regulated by the moral principle, and by a sense of the divine will. It leads to a uniformity of character which can never flow from any lower source, and to a conduct distinguished by the anxious discharge of every duty, and the practice of the most active benevolence.

The Emotions which have been now briefly mentioned seem to include the more important of those which pertain to the class of Desires. There is, however, another principle which ought to be mentioned as a leading peculiarity of human nature, though it may be somewhat difficult to determine the class to which it belongs. This is the Desire of Action,—the restless activity of mind, which leads it to require some object on which its powers must be exercised, and without which it preys upon itself and becomes miserable. On this principle we are to explain several facts which are of frequent observation. A person accustomed to a life of activity longs for ease and retirement, and, when he has accomplished his purpose, finds himself wretched. The frivolous engagements of the unoccupied are referable to the same principle. They arise, not from any interest which such occupations really possess, but simply from the desire of mental excitement,—the felicity of having something to do. The pleasure of relaxation, indeed, is known to those only who have regular and interesting employment. Continued relaxation soon becomes a weariness; and, on this ground, we may safely assert, that the greatest degree of real enjoyment belongs, not to the luxurious man of wealth, or the listless votary of fashion, but to the middle classes of society, who, along with the comforts of life, have constant and important occupation. Apart, indeed, from actual suffering, I believe there is nothing in the external circumstances of individuals, of greater or more habitual importance for promoting personal happiness, than stated, rational, and interesting employment.

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The mental condition which we call Desire appears to lie in a great measure at the foundation of character;—and, for a sound moral condition, it is required that the desires be directed to worthy objects,—and that the degree or strength of them be accommodated to the true and relative value of each of these objects. If the desires are thus directed, worthy conduct will be likely to follow in a steady and uniform manner. If they are allowed to break from the restraints of reason, and the moral principle, the man is left at the mercy of unhallowed passion, and is liable to those irregularities which naturally result from such a derangement of the moral feelings. If, indeed, we would see the evils produced by desire, when not thus controlled, we have only to look at the whole history of human kind. What accumulated miseries arise from the want of due regulation of the animal propensities, in the various forms in which it degrades the character of rational and moral beings.—What evils spring from the love of money, and from the desire of power;—from the contests of rivals, and the tumults of party,—what envy, hatred, malignity, and revenge.—What complicated wretchedness follows the train of ambition,—contempt of human suffering, countries depopulated, and fields deluged with blood. Such are the results of desire, when not directed to objects worthy of a moral being, and not kept under the rigid control of conscience, and the immutable laws of moral rectitude. When, in any of these forms, a sensual or selfish propensity is allowed to pass the due boundary which is fixed for it by reason and the moral principle, the mental harmony is destroyed, and even the judgment itself comes to be impaired and distorted in that highest of all inquiries, the search after moral truth.

The desires, indeed, may exist in an ill-regulated state, while the conduct is yet restrained by various principles, such as submission to human laws, a regard to character, or even a certain feeling of what is morally right, contending with the vitiated principle within. But this cannot be considered as the healthy condition of a moral being. It is only when the desire itself is sound, that we can say the man is in moral health. "He who grieves at his abstinence," says Aristotle, "is a voluptuary;"—and this also is the great principle so often and so strikingly enforced in the sacred writings; "Keep thy heart with all diligence, because out of it are the issues of life." "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Thus, there are desires which are folly, and there are desires which are vice, even though they should not be followed by indulgence; and there are desires which tend to purify and elevate the moral nature, though their objects should be beyond the reach of our full attainment in the present state of being. Perfect moral purity is not the lot of man in this transient state, and is not to be attained by his own unaided efforts. But, subservient to it is that warfare within, that earnest and habitual desire after the perfection of a moral being, which is felt to be the great object of life, when it is viewed in relation to the life which is to come. For this attainment, however, man must feel his total inadequacy,—and the utmost efforts of human reason have failed in unfolding the requisite aid. The conviction is thus forced upon us, that a higher influence is necessary, and this influence is fully disclosed by the light of revealed truth. We are there taught to look for a power from on high, capable of effecting what human efforts cannot accomplish,—the purification of the heart.

Sect. II.

The Affections.

As the desires are calculated to bring some gratification to ourselves, the Affections lead us to our relations to other men, and to a certain line of conduct which arises out of these relations. They are to be viewed as original principles of our nature, planted in us for wise purposes, and the operation of them is to be considered as distinct, both from that of the moral principle and of reason,—that is, from any sense of duty or the moral rectitude of the conduct to which they lead, and from any calculation of its propriety and utility. Thus, when the mother devotes her attention by day and night to her infant, if from sickness or helplessness in want of her special care, and perseveres in doing so, with total disregard to her own ease, health, or comfort, she is not influenced either by a sense of duty, or by any feeling of the utility of her conduct: she acts upon an impulse within, which she feels to be a part of her constitution, and which carries her forward in a particular course of anxious and protracted exertion by the power of itself alone. This distinction appears to be of the utmost practical importance, and we shall have occasion to refer to it more particularly in the sequel.

An Affection, therefore, maybe considered as an original feeling or emotion existing in ourselves, which leads us to a particular conduct towards other men, without reference to any principle except the intuitive impulse of the emotion itself. The Affections have been divided into the Benevolent and Malevolent; but these titles appear to be incorrect, especially the latter,—as the due exercise of the emotions to which it refers does not properly include what is called malevolence. They only tend to guard us against certain conduct in other men; and, when they are allowed to go beyond this, that is, to actual malevolence or revenge, the application is morbid. It will therefore accord better with the nature of these emotions, to give them the names of Uniting, and Defensive Affections;—the former including justice, benevolence, veracity, friendship, love, gratitude, patriotism, and the domestic affections;—the latter, jealousy, disapprobation, and anger.


There may be some difference of opinion in regard to the propriety of including justice among the affections; but it seems to be more nearly allied to them than to any of the other classes of moral emotions which have been mentioned, and it may, therefore, as a mere matter of arrangement, be conveniently introduced here. Strictly speaking, it might perhaps be considered as a combined operation of an affection and the moral principle; but this is matter of speculation alone. The important consideration relating to it is,—that, in whatever manner it arises, the sense of Justice is a primary and essential part of our moral constitution, conveying the distinct impression of certain conduct which a man owes to his fellow-men, without regard to any considerations of a personal nature, and apart from all positive enactments or laws, either divine or human. The requirements of Justice embrace certain points in which every man has an absolute right, and in regard to which it is the absolute duty of every other man not to interfere with him. These rights have usually been divided into three classes;—what I have a right to possess, and no man has any right to take from me,—what I have a right to do, and no man has any title to prevent me from doing,—what I have a right to expect from other men, and it is their absolute duty to perform. These principles form the basis of what is called Natural Jurisprudence, a code of relative duty deriving its authority from impressions which are found in the moral feelings of all mankind, without regard to the enactments of any particular civil society. In the actual arrangements of civil communities, these great principles of justice are combined with others which are derived merely from utility or expediency, as calculated to promote the peace or the advantage of the community. These may differ in different countries, and they cease to be binding when the enactments on which they rest are abrogated or changed. But no difference of place can alter, and no laws can destroy, the essential requirements of justice.

In these observations, it will be remarked, the word Justice is used as expressing a principle of individual character; and it is in this sense that it is to be properly classed with the affections. The term is employed in another sense, namely, that of distributive and corrective justice, which regulates the claims of individuals in a community, requires restitution or compensation for any deviation from such claims, or punishes those who have violated them. It is in the former sense that justice is properly to be considered as a branch of the philosophy of the moral feelings; but the same general principles apply to both.

The sense of Justice, therefore, consists in a feeling experienced by every man, of a certain line of conduct which he owes to other men in given circumstances; and this seems to be referable to the following heads,—attending to their interest,—not interfering with their freedom of action,—preserving their reputation,—estimating their character and motives,—judging of their opinions,—consulting their feelings,—and preserving or improving their moral condition. As a guide for his conduct in particular instances, a man has usually a distinct impression of what he thinks due by other men towards himself; justice requires that he rigidly extend to others the same feelings and conduct which, in similar circumstances, he expects from them.

(1.) Justice is due to the persons, property, and interest of others. This constitutes Integrity or Honesty. It, of course, implies abstaining from every kind of injury, and preserving a conscientious regard to their rights. In this last respect, it allows us to exercise a prudent attention to our own interest, provided the means be fair and honourable, and that we carefully abstain from injuring others by the measures we employ for this purpose. The great rule for our guidance, in all such cases, is found in the immutable principles of moral rectitude; the test of our conduct in regard to individual instances is, that it be such as, were our own interest concerned, we should think fair and honourable in other men.

(2.) Justice requires us not to interfere with the freedom of action of others. This constitutes personal liberty;—but in all civil communities the right is liable to certain restrictions;—as when a man uses his freedom of action to the danger or injury of other men. The principles of justice may also recognise a man's surrendering, to a certain extent, his personal liberty, by mutual and voluntary compact, as in the case of servants, apprentices, soldiers, &c.; but they are opposed to slavery, in which the individual concerned is not a party to the arrangement.

(3.) Justice enjoins a regard to the reputation of others. This consists in avoiding every thing that could be injurious to their good name, either by direct evil speaking, or such insinuations as might give rise to suspicion or prejudice against them. It must extend also to the counteracting of such insinuations, when we hear them made by others, especially in circumstances in which the individual injured has no opportunity of defending himself. It includes, farther, that we do not deny to others, even to rivals, any praise or credit which is justly due to them. There is, however, one modification, equally consistent with justice, to which the former of these rules is liable; namely, that, in certain cases, we may be required to make a statement prejudicial to an individual, when duty to a third party or to the public makes it incumbent on us to do so. In such a case, a person guided by the rules of justice will go no farther than is actually required by the circumstances; and will at all times beware of propagating a report injurious to another, though he should know it to be strictly true, unless he is called upon by special duty to communicate it.

(4.) Justice requires us not only to avoid injuring an individual in the estimation of other men, but to exercise the same fairness in forming our own opinion of his character, without being misled or biased by passion or prejudice. This consists in estimating his conduct and motives with calmness and impartiality; in regard to particular instances, making full allowance for the circumstances in which he was placed, and the feelings by which he was, or might be, at the time, naturally influenced. When an action admits of being referred to different motives, justice consists in taking the more favourable view, if we can do so with strict regard to truth, instead of harshly and hastily assigning a motive which is unworthy. Such justice in regard to character and motives we require to exercise with peculiar care, when the conduct referred to has been in any way opposed to our own self-love. In these cases we must be especially on our guard against the influence of the selfish principle, which might lead to partial and distorted views of actions and motives, less favourable to others, and more favourable to ourselves, than justice warrants. When viewed in this manner, we may often perceive, that conduct, which gave rise to emotions of displeasure as injurious to us, was fully warranted by some conduct on our own part, or was required by some higher duty which the individual owed to another.

(5.) Justice is to be exercised in judging of the opinions and statements of others. This constitutes Candour. It consists in giving a fair and deliberate hearing to opinions, statements, and arguments, and weighing fairly and honestly their tendency. It is, therefore, opposed to prejudice, blind attachment to preconceived opinions, and that narrow disputatious spirit which delights in captious criticism, and will hear nothing with calmness that is opposed to its own views; which distorts or misrepresents the sentiments of its opponents, ascribing them to unworthy motives, or deducing from them conclusions which they do not warrant. Candour, accordingly, may be considered as a compound of justice and the love of truth. It leads us to give due attention to the opinions and statements of others,—in all cases to be chiefly solicitous to discover truth, and, in statements of a mixed character, containing perhaps much error and fallacy, anxiously to discover and separate what is true. It has accordingly been remarked, that a turn for acute disputation, and minute and rigid criticism, is often the characteristic of a contracted and prejudiced mind; and that the most enlarged understandings are always the most indulgent to the statements of others,—their leading object being to discover truth.

(6.) Justice is due to the feelings of others; and this applies to many circumstances which do not affect either their interest or their reputation. Without injuring them in any of these respects, or in our own good opinion, we may behave to them in such a manner as to wound their feelings. There are minds of an extreme delicacy, which, in this respect, are peculiarly sensitive;—towards these a person of correct feelings strives to conduct himself with suitable tenderness. We may find, however, persons of honest and upright minds, who would shrink from the least approach to real injury, but yet neglect the necessary attention to the feelings; and may even confer a real benefit in such a manner as to wound the individual to whom they intended kindness. The lower degrees of this principle pertain to what is called mere good breeding, which has been defined "benevolence in trifles;" but the higher degrees may restrain from conduct which, without any real injury, inflicts permanent pain. To this head we may perhaps also refer a due regard to the estimate which we lead a man to form of himself. This is opposed to flattery on the one hand, and on the other to any unnecessary depreciation of his character. Flattery indeed is also to be considered as a violation of veracity.

(7.) While, upon the principles which have been referred to, we abstain from injuring the interests, the reputation, or the feelings of others, there is another class of injuries, of still higher magnitude, which the conscientious mind will avoid with peculiar anxiety, namely, injuries done to the moral principles of other men. These form a class of offences of which no human law takes any adequate cognizance, but we know that they possess a character of the deepest malignity. Deep guilt attaches to the man who, by persuasion or ridicule, has unhinged the moral feelings of another, or has been the means of leading him astray from the paths of virtue. Of equal, or even greater malignity, is the aspect of the writer, whose works have contributed to violate the principles of truth and rectitude,—to pollute the imagination, or corrupt the heart. Inferior offenders are promptly seized by public authority, and suffer the award of public justice; but the destroyer of the moral being often walks securely through his own scene of moral discipline, as if no power could reach the measure of his guilt but the hand of the Eternal.

To the same head we are to assign the extensive and important influence of example. There are few men who have not in this respect some power, but it belongs more particularly to persons in situations of rank and public eminence. It is matter of deep regret, both to the friend of virtue and the friend of his country, when any of these are found manifesting disregard to sacred things, or giving an air of fashion to what is calculated to corrupt the moral principles of the unthinking classes of society. If they are restrained by no higher motive, the feelings of patriotism, and even of personal safety, ought to produce a solemn caution; and it becomes them seriously to consider, whether they may not thus be sowing among the ignorant multitude the seeds of tumult, revolution, and anarchy.


Great diversity exists in the condition of different individuals in the present state,—some being in circumstances of ease, wealth, and comfort,—others of pain, deprivation, and sorrow. Such diversities we must consider as an arrangement established by the great Disposer of all things, and calculated to promote important purposes in his moral government. Many of these purposes are entirely beyond the reach of our faculties; but, as holding a prominent place among them, we may safely reckon the cultivation of our moral feelings, especially the affections of compassion and benevolence. The due exercise of these is, therefore, calculated to promote a double object, namely, the alleviation of distress in others,—and the cultivation in ourselves of a mental condition peculiarly adapted to a state of moral discipline. By bringing us into contact with individuals in various forms and degrees of suffering, they tend continually to remind us, that the present scene is but the infancy of our existence,—that the beings whom we thus contemplate are the children of the same Almighty Father with ourselves, inheriting the same nature, possessed of the same feelings, and soon to enter upon another state of existence, when all the distinctions which are to be found in this world shall cease for ever. They tend thus to withdraw us from the power of self-love, and the deluding influence of present things; and habitually to raise our views to that future life, for which the present is intended to prepare us. The due cultivation of the benevolent affections, therefore, is not properly to be considered as the object of moral approbation, but rather as a process of moral culture. They may enable us in some degree to benefit others, but their chief benefit is to ourselves. By neglecting them, we both incur much guilt, and deprive ourselves of an important mean of improvement. The diligent exercise of them, besides being a source of moral advantage, is accompanied with a degree of mental enjoyment which carries with it its own reward. Such appears to be the correct view which we ought to take of the arrangement established by the Creator in this part of our constitution. It is calculated to correct a misconception of an important kind, which considers the exercise of the benevolent affections as possessing a character of merit. To this subject we shall have occasion to refer more particularly in the sequel.

The exercise of the benevolent affections may be briefly treated of, under nearly the same heads as those referred to when considering the principle of Justice;—keeping in mind that they lead to greater exertion for the benefit of others, and thus often demand a greater sacrifice of self love, than is included under the mere requirements of justice. On the other hand, benevolence is not to be exercised at the expense of Justice; as would be the case, if a man were found relieving distress by such expedients as involve the necessity of withholding the payment of just debts, or imply the neglect or infringement of some duty which he owes to another.

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