Imágenes de páginas

and blame-worthy, even where there is external compulsion that he cannot refift. With sword in hand I run to attack an enemy: my foot flipping, I fall headlong upon him, and by that accident the sword is push'd into his body. The external act was not the effect of Will, but of accident : but my intention was to commit murder, and I am guilty. All men acknowledge, that the Deity is necessarily good. Does that circumstance detract from his praise in common apprehension? On the contrary, he merits from us the highest praise on that very account.

It is commonly said, that there can be no virtue where there is no struggle. Virtue, it is true, is best known from a struggle : a man who has never met with a temptation, can be little confident of his virtue. But the observation taken in a strict sense, is undoubtedly erroneous. A man, tempted to betray his trust, wavers; but after much doubting refuses at last the bribe. Another hesitates not a moment, but rejects the bribe with disdain: duty is obstinate, and will not suffer him even to deliberate. Is there no virtue in the lat


vary in

ter? Undoubtedly more than in the former.

Upon the whole, it appears that praise and blame rest ultimately upon the disposition or frame of mind * Nor is it obvious, that a power to act against motives, could

any degree these moral sentiments. When a man commits a crime, let it be supposed that he could have refifted the prevailing motive. Why then did he not resist, instead of bringing upon himself shame and misery? The answer must be, for no other can be given, that his disposition is vitious, and that he is a detestable creature. Further, it is not a little difficult to conceive, how a man can resist a prevailing motive, without having any thing in his mind that fhould engage

him to resist it. But letting that pass, I make the following fuppofi

* Malice and resentment, tho' commonly joined together, have no resemblance but in producing mischief. Malice is a propensity of nature that o. perates deliberately without paffion : resentment is a passion to which even good-natured people are subject. A malicious character is esteemed much more vitious than one that is irascible. Does not this shew, that virtue and vice conlist more in difposition than in action?

[ocr errors]

tion. A man is tempted by avarice to accept a bribe : if he resist upon the principle of duty, he is led by the prevailing motive: if he resist without having any reason or motive for resisting, I cannot discover any

merit in such resistance : it seems to resolve into a matter of chance or accident, whether he resist or do not refift. Where can the merit lie of refifting a vitious motive, when resistance happens by mere chance ? and where the demerit of resisting a virtuous motive, when it is owing to the same chance? If a man, actuated by no principle, good or bad, and having no end or purpose in view, should kill his neighbour, I see not that he would be more accountable, than if he had acted in his sleep, or were mad.

Human punishments are perfectly conlistent with the necessary influence of motives, without fuppofing a power to withstand them. If it be urged, That a man ought not to be punished for committing a crime when he could not refift: the anfwer is, That as he committed the crime intentionally and with his eyes open, he is guilty in his own opinion, and in the opinion of all men. Here is a just foun



dation for punishment. And its utility is great; being intended to deter people from committing crimes. The dread of punishment is a weight in the scale on the side of virtue, to counterbalance vitious motives.

The final cause of this branch of our nature is admirable. If the necessary inc Auence of motives had the effect either to lefsen the merit of a virtuous action, or the demerit of a crime, morality would be totally unhinged. The most virtuous action would of all be the least worthy of praise; and the most vitious be of all the least worthy of blame. Nor would the evil stop there : instead of curbing inordinate passions, we fhould be encouraged to indulge them, as an excellent excuse for doing wrong. Thus, the moral sentiments of approbation and disapprobation, of praise and blame, are found perfectly consistent with the laws above mentioned that govern human actions, without necessity of recurring to an imaginary power of acting against motives.

The only plausible objection I have met with against the foregoing theory, is the remorse a man feels for a crime he sudVOL. IV,



[ocr errors]

denly commits, and as suddenly repents of. During a fit of bitter remorse for having sain my favourite servant in a violent passion, without just provocation, I accuse myself for having given way to pasfion; and acknowledge that I could and ought to have restrained it. Here we find remorse founded on a system directly opposite to that above laid down ; a system that acknowledges no necessary connection between an action and its motive; but, on the contrary, supposes that it is in a man's power to resist his passion, and that he ought to resist it. What shall be said upon this point ? Can a man be a necessary agent, when he is conscious of the con-. trary, and is sensible that he can act in contradiction to motives? This objection is strong in appearance; and would be invincible, were we not happily reļieved of it by a doctrine laid down in Elements of Criticisin (a) concerning the irregular influence of passion on our opinions and sentiments. Upon examination, it will be found, that the present case may be added to the many examples there given of that irregular influence. (a) Chap. 2. part 5.

« AnteriorContinuar »