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The deduction above given makes it evident, that the general tendency of right actions is to promote the good of fociety, and of wrong actions, to obstruct that good. Univerfal benevolence is indeed not required of man; because to put it in practice, is beyond his utmost abilities. But for promoting the general good, every thing is required of him that he can accomplish; which will appear from reviewing the foregoing duties. The prohibition of harming others is an easy task ; and upon that account is made universal. Our active duties are very different : man is circumscribed both in capacity and power : he cannot do good but in a low succession; and therefore it is wisely ordered, that his obligation to do good should be confined to his relations, his friends, his benefactors. Even distress makes not benevolence a general duty: all a man can readily do, is to relieve those at hand; and accordingly we hear of diftant misfortunes with little or no con
gives the ałcendant to moral principles. Vice fignifies that difpofition of mind which gives little or no ascendant to moral principles.
But let not the moral system be misapprehended, as if it were our duty, or even lawful, to prosecute what upon the whole we reckon the most beneficial to society, balancing ill with good. The moral sense permits not a violation of any person's right, however trivial, whatever benefit may thereby accrue to another. A man for example in low circumstances, by denying a debt he owes to a rich miser, saves himself and a hopeful family from ruin. In that case, the good effect far outweighs the ill, or rather has no counterbalance : but the moral sense permits not the debtor to balance ill with good ; nor gives countenance to an unjust act, whatever benefit it may produce. And hence a maxim in which all moralists agree,
That we must not do ill to bring about good; the final cause of which shall be given below (a).
(a) Seet. 7.
Principles of Duty and of Benevolence,
HAving thus shortly delineated the mo
ral laws of our nature, we proceed to an article of great importance, which is, to enquire into the means provided by our Maker for compelling obedience to these laws. The moral sense is an unerring guide ; but the most expert guide will not profit those who are not disposed to be led. This consideration makes it evident, that to complete the moral system, man ought to be endued with some principle or propensity, some impulsive power, to enforce obedience to the laws dictated by the moral sense.
The author of our nature leaves none of his works imperfect. In order to render us obfequious to the moral sense as our guide, he hath implanted in our nature the principles of duty, of benevolence, of rewards and punishments, and of repara
tion. It may possibly be thought, that rewards and punishments, of which afterward, are fufficient of theinfelves to enforce the laws of nature, without necef
any other principle. Human laws, it is true, are enforc'd by thefe means; because no higher fanction is under command of a terrestrial legislator. But the celestial legislator, with power that knows no control, and benevolence that knows no bounds, hath enforc'd his laws by means no less remarkable for mildnefs than for efficacy: he employs no external compulsion; but, in order to engage our will on the right side, hath in the breaft of individuals established the principles of duty and of benevolence, which efficaciously excite them to obey the dictates of the moral fenfe.
The restraining and active duties being both of them essential to fociety, our Maker has wisely ordered, that the principle which enforces these duties, should be the most cogent of all that belong to our nature. Other principles may folicit, allure, or terrify; but the principle of duty alfunes authority, cornmands, and infifts
to be obey’d, without giving ear to any opposing motive.
As one great purpose of society, is to furnish opportunities of mutual aid and support; nature feconding that purpose, hath provided the principle of benevolence, which excites us to be kindly, beneficent, and generous. Nor ought it to escape observation, that the author of nature, attentive to our wants and to our well-being, hath endued us with a liberal portion of that principle. It excites us to be kind, not only to those we are connected with, but to our neighbours, and even to those we are barely acquainted with. Providence is peculiarly attentive to objects in distress, who require immediate aid and relief. To the principle of benevolence, it hath fuperadded the passion of pity, which in every feeling heart is irrefistible. To make benevolence more extensive, would be fruitless; because here are objects in plenty to fill the most capacious mind. It would not be fruitless only, but hurtful to fociety : I say hurtful; because frequent disappointments in attempting to gratify our benevolence, would render it a troublesome guest, and Vol. IV,