Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

in the other he proposes to deceive others. A mistake always, a lie never, has the proximate matter of veracity.

The second branch of practical truth requires that our actions correspond with our professions. This is called faithfulness, and consists in fulfilling the engagements and meeting the expectations which we have knowingly and voluntarily excited. This subject is being discussed under the head of veracity; but faithfulness is evidently a mixed virtue, combining the elements of justice and of truth. A promise or a contract creates a right in another party-and the obligation to fulfil it arises accordingly, not simply from the general obligation of veracity, but from the specific obligation, which corresponds to my neighbour's right. Hence, breach of promise is something more than a lie, it is a fraud-it cheats a man of his own.

The third thing involved in practical truth, is consistency or harmony of character. Truth is one, and the life of the good man must be a reflection of its unity. Fluctua

tions and fickleness of opinion, or of conduct, are certain indications of gross dishonesty of heart, or of gross imbecility of understanding. When a man often shifts his principles, it is not truth, but imagined interest that he stands on; and he who is under the frequent necessity, as the phrase goes, of "defining his position," has no position that is worth defining, and is fit for no position of any moment.

These three, sincerity, faithfulness, and consistency, comprise the whole duty of practical veracity. The opposite of the first is deceit, in its protean shapes of lying, hypoc risy and flattery; the opposite of the second is fraud, and the opposite of the third is inconstancy or fickleness.

Before proceeding to a more detailed discussion of these subjects, it may be well to adjust a preliminary question in reference to the grounds of the obligation of veracity. Paley resolves them into contract.* "A lie," says he, "is a breach of promise: for whoever seriously addresses his discourse to another,

* Moral and Political Philosophy.-Book iii. Chap. 5.

tacitly promises to speak the truth, because he knows that the truth is expected." To say nothing of the fact that a promise pre-supposes the veracity of the promiser as the measure of its engagement, that it is nothing and can be nothing except on the supposition that the promiser really conveys the purpose of his mind, the theory labours under another difficulty. It is not enough to constitute a promise that expectations are entertainedthey must be knowingly and voluntarily excited by ourselves. It is nothing worth, therefore, to affirm that because truth is expected when we seriously address our discourse to another, therefore we have tacitly promised to speak it, unless it can be shown that this expectation has been intentionally produced by our agency. We are not bound by any other expectations of men, but those which we have authorized. It is idle, therefore, to pretend to a contract in the case. If Dr. Paley had pushed his inquiries a little further, he might have accounted for this expectation, which certainly exists, independ

ently of a promise, upon principles firmer and surer than any he has admitted in the structure of his philosophy. He might have seen in it the language of our nature proclaiming the will of our nature's God. It is surprising to what an extent this superficial theory of contract has found advocates among divines and moralists. "Upon the principles of natural reason," says South, in a passage of which the extract from Paley may be regarded as an abridgment, "the unlawfulness of lying is grounded upon this, that a lie is properly a sort or species of injustice, and a violation of the right of that person to whom the false speech is directed; for all speaking, or signification of one's mind, implies, in the nature of it, an act or address of one man to another; it being evident that no man, though he does speak false, can be said to lie to himself. Now, to show what this right is, we must know that in the beginnings and first establishments of speech, there was an implicit compact amongst men, founded upon common use and consent, that such and such

words or voices, actions or gestures, should be means or signs, whereby they would express or convey their thoughts one to another; and that men should be obliged to use them for that purpose; forasmuch as without such an obligation, those signs could not be effectual for such an end. From which compact, there arising an obligation upon every one so to convey his meaning, there accrues also a right to every one, by the same signs to judge of the sense or meaning of the person so obliged to express himself; and consequently if these signs are applied and used by him, so as not to signify his meaning, the right of the person, to whom he was obliged so to have done, is hereby violated, and the man, by being deceived and kept ignorant of his neighbour's meaning, where he ought to have known it, is so far deprived of the benefit of any intercourse or converse with him."

If men once existed in a state of solitary independence, as destitute of language as of society, it is impossible to conceive how

« ForrigeFortsæt »