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major vis would be the only rule of right
But such uniformity of sentiment, tho' general, is not altogether universal: men there are, as above mentioned, who differ from the common sense of mankind with respect to various points of morality. What ought to be the conduct of such men? ought they to regulate their conduct by that standard, or by their private conviction ? There will be occasion afterward to observe, that we judge of others as we believe they judge of themselves ; and that private conviction is the standard for rewards and punishments (a). But with respect to every controversy about property and pecuniary interest, and, in general, about every civil right and obligation, the common sense of mankind is to every individual the standard, and not private conviction or conscience; for proof of which take what follows.
We have an innate sense of a common nature, not only in our own species, but in every species of animals. And that our perception holds true in fact, is verified by experience ; for there appears a re(a) Sect. 5.
markable uniformity in creatures of the same kind, and a difformity, no less remarkable, in creatures of different kinds. It is accordingly a subject of wonder, to find an individual deviating from the common nature of the species, whether in its internal or external structure: a child born with averfion to its mother's milk, is a wonder, no less than if born without a mouth, or with more than one.
Secondly, This sense dictates, that the common nature of man in particular, is invariable as well as universal; that it will be the same hereafter as it is at present, and as it was in time past; the same among all nations, and in all corners of the earth : nor are we deceived'; because, allowing for flight differences occasioned by culture and other accidental circumstances, the fact corresponds to our perception.
Thirdly, We perceive that this common nature is right and perfect, and that it ought to be a model or standard for
every human being. Any remarkable deviation from it in the structure of an individual, appears imperfect or irregular; and raises a painful emotion: a monstrous birth, exciting curiosity in a philosopher, fails not
at the same time to excite aversion in every spectator.
This sense of perfection in the common nature of man, comprehends every branch of his nature, and particularly the common sense of right and wrong; which accordingly is perceived by all to be perfect, having authority over every individual as the ultimate and unerring standard of morals, even in contradiction to private conviction. Thus, a law in our nature binds us to regulate our conduct by that standard : and its authority is universally acknowledged ; as nothing is more ordinary in every dispute about meum et tuum, than an appeal to common sense as the ultimate and unerring standard.
At the same time, as that standard, through infirmity or prejudice, is not confpicuous to every individual; many are milled into erroneous opinions, by miftaking a false standard for that of nature. And hence a distinction between a right and a wrong sense in morals; a distinction which every one understands, but which, unless for the conviction of a moral standard, would have no meaning. The final cause of this branch of our
nature is conspicuous. Were there no standard of right and wrong for determining endless controversies about matters of interest, the strong would have recourse to .force, the weak to cunning, and society would diffolve. Courts of law could afford no remedy ; for without a standard of morals, their decisions would be arbitrary, and of no authority. Happy it is for men to be provided with such a standard : it is necessary in society that our actions be uniform with respect to right and wrong; and in order to uniformity of action, it is necessary that our perceptions of right and wrong be also uniform: to produce such uniformity, a standard of morals is indispensable. Nature has provided us with that standard, which is daily apply'd by courts of law with fuccess (a).
In reviewing what is said, it must afford great satisfaction, to find morality established upon the solid foundations of intuitive perception; which is a single mental act complete in itself, having no dependence on any antecedent proposition, The most accurate reasoning affords not fa) See Elements of Criticism, vol. 2. p. 490. edit. 5.
equal conviction ; for every sort of reasoning, as explained in the sketch immediately foregoing, requires not only felf-evident truths or axioms to found
upon, but employs over and above various propositions to bring out its conclusions, By intuitive perception folely, without reasoning, we acquire knowledge of right and
wrong ; of what we may do, of what we ought to do, and of what we ought to abstain from: and considering that we have thus greater certainty of moral laws than of any proposition discoverable by reasoning, man may well be deemed a favourite of heaven, when he is so admirably qualified for doing his duty. The moral sense or conscience is the voice of God within us; constantly admonishing us of our duty, and requiring from us no exercise of our faculties but attention merely. The celebrated Locke ventured what he thought a bold conjecture, That moral duties are susceptible of demonftration : how agreeable to him would have been the discovery, that they are founded upon intuitive perception, still more convincing and authoritative!
By one branch of the moral sense, we