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times: that, if an inhabitant of the polished nations of Europe be delighted with the appearance, wherever he meets with it, of happiness, tranquillity, and comfort, a wild American is no less diverted with the writhings and contortions of a victim at the stake: that even amongst ourselves, and in the present improved state of moral knowledge, we are far from a perfect consent in our opinions or feelings: that you shall hear duelling alternately reprobated and applauded, according to the sex, age, or station, of the person you converse with: that the forgiveness of injuries and insults is accounted by one sort of people magnanimity, by another meanness : that in the above instances, and perhaps in most others, moral approbation follows the fashions and institutions of the country we live in; which fashions also and institutions themselves have grown out of the exigencies, the climate, situation, or local circumstances of the country; or have been set up by the authority of an arbitrary chieftain, or the unaccountable caprice of the multitude :-all which, they observe, looks very little like the steady hand and indelible characters of Nature. But,
Secondly, because, after these exceptions and abatements, it cannot be denied but that some sorts of actions command and receive the esteem of mankind more than others; and that the approbation of them is general though not universal : as to this they say, that the general approbation of virtue, even in instances where we have no interest of our own to induce us to it, may be accounted for, without the assistance of a moral sense; thus:
“Having experienced, in some instance, “ a particular conduct to be beneficial to “ ourselves, or observed that it would be so, "a sentiment of approbation rises up in our “minds; which sentiment afterwards ac“ companies the idea or mention of the same “conduct, although the private advantage “ which first excited it no longer exist."
And this continuance of the passion, after the reason of it has ceased, is nothing more, say they, than what happens in other cases ; especially in the love of money, which is in no person so eager, as it is oftentimes found to be in a rich old miser, without family to provide for, or friend to oblige by it, and to whom consequently it is no longer (and he may be sensible of it too) of any real
use or value; yet is this man as much overjoyed with gain, and mortified by losses, as he was the first day he opened his shop, and when his very subsistence depended upon his success in it.
By these means the custom of approving certain actions commenced : and when once such a custom hath got footing in the world, it is no difficult thing to explain how it is transmitted and continued; for then the greatest part of those who approve of virtue, approve of it from authority, by imitation, and from a habit of approving such and such actions, inculcated in early youth, and receiving, as men grow up, continual accessions of strength and vigour, from censure and encouragement, from the books they read, the conversations they hear, the current application of epithets, the general turn of language, and the various other causes by which it universally comes to pass, that a society of men, touched in the feeblest degree with the same passion, soon communicate to one another a great degree of it*. This is the case with most of us at
* “From instances of popular tumults, seditions, “ factions, panics, and of all passions which are shared “ with a multitude, we may learn the influence of society, “ in exciting and supporting any emotion; while the
present; and is the cause also, that the process of association, described in the last paragraph but one, is little now either perceived or wanted.
Amongst the causes assigned for the continuance and diffusion of the same moral sentiments amongst mankind, we have mentioned imitation. The efficacy of this principle is most observable in children : indeed, if there be any thing in them, which deserves the name of an instinct, it is their propensity to imitation. Now there is nothing which children imitate or apply more readily than expressions of affection and aversion, of approbation, hatred, resentment, and the like; and when these passions and expressions are once connected, which they soon will be by the same association which unites words with their ideas, the passion will follow the expression, and attach upon the object to which the child has been accustomed to apply the “ most ungovernable disorders are raised, we find, by 6 that means, from the slightest and most frivolous oc“casions. He must be more or less than man, who kin« dles not in the common blaze. What wonder then, that “moral sentiments are found of such influence in life, “ though springing from principles, which may appear, at “ first sight, somewhat small and delicate ?" Hume's Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals,
Sect. ix. p. 326.
epithet. In a word, when almost every thing else is learned by imitation, can we wonder to find the same cause concerned in the generation of our moral sentiments?
Another considerable objection to the system of moral instincts is this, that there are no maxims in the science which can well be deemed innate, as none perhaps can be assigned, which are absolutely and universally true; in other words, which do not bend to circumstances. Veracity, which seems, if any be, a natural duty, is eccused in many cases towards an enemy, a thief, or a madman. The obligation of promises, which is a first principle in morality, depends upon the circumstances under which they were made; they may have been unlawful, or become so since, or inconsistent with former promises, or erroneous, or extorted; under all which cases, instances may be suggested, where the obligation to perform the promise would be very dubious, and so of most other general rules, when they come to be actually ap.
An argument has been also proposed on the same side of the question, of this kind. Together with the instinct, there must have