« ForrigeFortsæt »
previously to our approving of an action as right, or of disapproving of it as wrong: and being conscious that we love virtue and hate vice without reference to consequences, merely because they are virtue and vice, we justly infer, that it is not on account of their consequences that virtue is lovely and vice hateful, that the one produces the emotion of approbation and the other of disapprobation.
This much the patrons of the doctrine of expediency do virtually acknowledge, when they admit, as all must, that there is a material difference between the views and feelings with which we contemplate a steam-engine and the virtuous actions of a moral agent. A steam-engine is useful, and so is a virtuous living agent; but the admiration which we bestow on the one is of a nature far different from the love we give to the other,-a circumstance which Hume and his followers admitted, and in the admission have virtually granted the fallacy of the principle on which their system rests. Even according to their own concession, utility is not the sole measure and rule of virtue. If the qualifications requisite to constitute a moral agent are necessary to give to his useful actions the qualities which awaken our feelings of right and wrong, of good desert and ill desert, of course, it is these qualities, and not utility, that make virtue the object of our moral love and approbation.
The doctrine of Paley, therefore, which represents the sole motive to virtue to be the happiness of the agent himself, is necessarily false. So far is this from the truth, that we find by appealing to our consciences, that moral agents rise in our estimation
just in proportion as they keep themselves out of sight in the good actions they perform. The man who does good without ever thinking of the advantages which he individually is to derive from it, we regard as, in every respect, more deserving of our love and approbation, than he who does good from selfish considerations. Benevolence is pure only as it is disinterested; and it is only as it is pure that it claims our gratitude or admiration.
THE PRINCIPLE OF EXPEDIENCY PROVED TO BE FALSE, BY A
CONSIDERATION OF THE EVILS OF WHICH ITS ADOPTION
WOULD NECESSARILY BE PRODUCTIVE, The abuse of a principle is certainly no valid objec. tion to its legitimate use; but when it can be shewn that it has a natural and direct tendency to produce evils, and that it has been urged in all ages by the oppressors and scourgers of mankind in vindication of their atrocities, we are surely required to reject it as furnishing a rule of moral conduct.
If expediency be the only rule of action, and if every man is to judge for himself, concerning the utility of his own conduct, may not the perjurer, the betrayer of the interests of his country, the fanatic, and the assassin, be persuaded, each in his own mind, that his actions are, in their consequences, beneficial, and entitled to reward? This much is admitted by the great advocate of expediency, Mr. Hume: “ According to the imperfect way, in which human affairs are conducted, a sensible knave, in particular incidents, may think that an act of iniquity or infidelity will make a considerable addition to his fortune, without causing any
considerable breach in the social union and confederacy. That honesty is the best policy, may be a good general rule; but it is liable to many exceptions: and he, it may perhaps be judged, conducts himself with most wisdom, who observes the general rule, and takes advantage of all the exceptions *.”
This, it is candidly acknowledged, is the use to which the principle of utility may be applied by a sensible knave. To prevent this natural application of it, when adopted as a rule of conduct, we can only say in the words of Mr. Hume, “ If his heart does not rebel against such pernicious maxims, if he feels no reluctance to the thoughts of villany and baseness, he has indeed lost a considerable motive to virtue; and we may expect, that his practice will be answerable to his speculation !” If, however, his heart does not rebel against such pernicious maxims, but if, on the contrary, he persuades himself that their utility in regard to him, at least, proves that they are not pernicious, on what ground, according to the principles of expediency, can he be condemned, for making his practice agree with his speculation ?
If we suppose this rule to be adopted by men possessed of sovereign power, whose decisions affect the happiness and the destiny of nations, would it not prove most favourable to the establishment of that system of policy, however pernicious, to which they inclined? We can easily perceive that a virtuous
• Inquiry concerning Morals, p. 193.
ruler, misled by this principle, would prosecute plans, and from the purest intentions, most detrimental to the good of the governed. Without principle, but endowed with talents, and influenced by ambition, a prince would find, in the rule of expediency, every thing suited to his views. It would accommodate itself to every variation in his conduct and government. Would it not supply him with a reason to vindicate every act of injustice, and a plausible pretext for every stretch of power? How soon might he be persuaded of the utility of destroying civil and religious liberty, and convinced of the utility of such a measure; and having power to effect it, why should he not thus exercise it? The most relentless persecution, on this principle, would appear to its author as an act of duty.
Expediency has been alleged in justification of the greatest inhumanity and injustice. It has been acted upon by persecutors and tyrants in every age of the world. It has been the rule of conduct to all who have found a courtly morality convenient. The Inquisition referred to it for its vindication in the cruelties which it inflicted, and in the fires which it kindled. That society which is most dangerous to the stability of thrones, and to the virtue and happiness of mankind,
the Jesuits, have made this the foundation of their pernicious maxims, their intriguing counsels, and unchristian compliances. Its general adoption “ would be,” to use the words of Mr. Paley, “ to commit every man's life and safety to the spleen, fury, and fanaticism of his neighbour; a disposition of affairs which would soon fill the world with misery Vol. II,
and confusion; and, ere long, put an end to human society, if not to the human species.”
The adoption of this principle in private life and it is adopted in too many instances would be productive of the greatest vice and misery. It is not too much to affirm, that no one will steadfastly, and in opposition to his apparent interest, love the things that are true, and honest, and just, in all their bearings on human life, unless the principles of religion be so firmly fixed in his mind, as to operate like active stimulants, impelling to the practice of duty. It is not enough that he is aware of the utility of integrity and honesty to society; for though he daily feels the necessity of these virtues in the character of others, OCcasions will occur, when the desire of some present advantage will induce him to make an exception in his own case, and when no ideas of expediency will have sufficient force to counteract the influence of temptation.
In the progress of life, how numerous are the instances in which the present advantage of a virtuous action
may be very doubtful; and in which obvious loss accompanies the onward road of rectitude and truth. In such cases, will it infallibly preserve us from deviating from the path of duty, to know that honesty, on the whole, is more useful to society than fraud ? Or, that if it be allowable in us, for private ends, to do wrong, there can be no reason shewn why the same advantage ought not be given to every member of the community. If even that divine religion which begins its operation on the heart, and which