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would not commit a dishonest action to save it. The very mistake of the Spartan, far from proving his insensibility to the superiority of virtue, is of a kind that a brute, or a being having no moral nature, would be incapable of committing. The natural but untrained susceptibility of a child may lead him to prefer the bright colors of a daub, to the masterpiece of a Raphael. But who adduces this fact to disprove the naturalness and universality of the first principles of taste, or to show that the general preference of chaste coloring and correct design is merely arbitrary and conventional ? Yet equally absurd is the reasoning of the sophist, who would deny the existence of natural law, because some savage tribes allow, and even encourage, great deviations from it in practice.
Examined in this way, the number of these dissentient opinions is much reduced, and the consideration of them becomes a secondary matter. We have hazarded these remarks upon them, because, from the space allotted to the subject in Dr. Lieber's work, and the number of instances adduced, he evidently regards them as a formidable obstacle to the establishment of an ethical system. The whole discussion is properly referred to another chapter in ethical inquiries, which relates to the criterion of moral conduct. If habit and early example have so great an influence on our estimate of motives and actions, if a conflict of duties frequently occurs, if complex cases are often presented, which need to be analyzed, before the course of virtue in relation to them is made plain, it is important to ascertain, whether there be not some common element in all virtuous conduct, which may be used as an unerring test of rectitude. Some writers maintain this problem to be solved by the discovery, that all the qualities of mind and action, which are generally approved as right, tend also to the order and well-being of society. Obedience to the moral law may often require selfsacrifice on the part of the individual, but, in its general consequences to others, must always be productive of good. Whatever is right, in the long run is also expedient. But, as it cannot be denied, that the converse of this proposition, in which form only it is useful as a rule, is liable to much abuse, some moralists have earnestly opposed its adoption. On this point, though it is one of vast importance in the theory of moral and political conduct, Dr. Lieber's language is wavering and inconsistent. We cannot perceive, that he espouses either side in the controversy, or has any fixed opinion on the subject.
An unfortunate prejudice against any reference to expediency in doubtful cases has arisen from an ambiguity in the meaning of the term. The only kind of utility, that can be used as a criterion of right, consists in the good of others, of mankind, in the general good. To make private advantage, or the interest of the individual our guide, is mere selfishness. But it is the dictate of pure benevolence, to assume a watchful regard to the interests of our fellow-men, as the rule of moral conduct. We observe, farther, that the use of expediency as a test is a very different thing from assuming it to be the principle of virtuous action. It is only in complex cases,
that we have any need of a criterion at all, and even then, we approve the act, not because it is expedient, but because its expediency proves that it is right. To resolve our whole approbation of virtue into that inward satisfaction which results from the appearance of utility, as Adam Smith observes, is to have “no other reason for praising a man, than that for which we commend a chest of drawers.” But when we contend for nothing more than the invariable coincidence of virtuous conduct with the well-being of society, the remark, that the perception of utility is wholly distinct from the feeling of right, is true, but irrelevant. We avail ourselves of this coincidence only in order to detect one element by the presence of the other ;
of the other ;- never confounding the separate emotions with which the two are properly regarded. Placing the question on this ground, the difference of opinion is very slight. It is only inverting the terms of the proposition. • Whatever is useful, is right,' says the utilitarian; whatever is right, is useful,' says his opponent. There is little room for contest on the theory, therefore, though in practice the difference may
very wide. A single regard to the consequences of actions leads to short-sighted and illiberal views of the real interests of society, to a cold depreciation of remote and elevated good, and an exaggerated estimate of the importance of immediate and tangible effects. It is true, that these evils proceed from the abuse of a principle, which, philosophically considered and properly carried out, affords no support to such degrading opinions and conduct. But, if the tendency to such abuse be so strong, that nearly all the advocates of the principle have fallen into it, then the fact constitutes a well-founded objection to the theory itself; at least, until this last be so far amended, either in its nature or its application, as entirely to obviate the risk of misconception. On the other hand, there
is danger, lest a deep reverence for personal convictions of duty and rectitude, unaided or untrammelled by any reference to expediency, should generate a species of fanaticism in morals, that would be none the less turbulent and destructive in its effects, because accompanied with perfect sincerity of intention and the noblest spirit of self-sacrifice. The existence of this danger is not incompatible with the previous assertion, that all conduct which is right is necessarily expedient ; for, though mischief cannot result from absolute rectitude and justice, it may from individual views and convictions of duty, which, as we have too good reason to acknowledge, may be mistaken and deceptive.
All will admit, that an action, wholly indifferent in itself and in connexion with ordinary circumstances, may acquire, from a change of position and from being related to a different class of events, a decided moral character, either for good or for evil. A responsible agent is then no longer at liberty, as he was formerly, to do or to refrain from doing, as the mere impulse of the moment may direct. The deed may spring from the same motive and be effected by the same physical movement; but, from the change in its relations, it now leads to a different result. He is bound to consider it as a whole, and to govern his conduct by the character of the event which he perceives must inevitably follow. To a rational being, endowed with the capacity of judging of the future from the past, the consequences of the act become a part of the act itself, and he has no right to direct himself by what is confessedly a partial view. Every one acknowledges this when the results are so immediate, that they are commonly blended with the primitive deed. Death is the consequence of the assassin's stroke; but is he not responsible for it? Can he plead that he has only struck a blow with an axe, and therefore incurred no more guilt than the simple artizan, who wields the same implement in his daily toil? This is an extreme case, it is true; but the consequences may become more and more remote by imperceptible degrees, and we may well ask, at what point the obligation to consider them ceases. When does the agent become entitled, in common phrase, only to do his duty in the act itself, and leave the consequences to an overruling Providence ?' Certainly not, while he is able to foresee and provide for those consequences himself, any more than he would be justified in omitting daily labor, and relying for support on Him, who hears
and clothes the lilies of the field. The responsibility of the agent ceases only with his power. When the results of the action extend beyond human ken, when the wisdom of man cannot foresee their character, nor his power provide against their occurrence, then he is justified in leaving them to the goodness of Omnipotence. He is not to wait for absolute certainty in this foresight, but is bound to act on those reasonable grounds of expectation, a regard to which constitutes ordinary prudence. If he is not entitled openly to sacrifice the happiness of others, he has no right to hazard it.
Our remarks on the portion of Dr. Lieber's work, that professes to treat of “ Ethics general and political,” have been extended so far, that we have little space for noticing the second book, which should contain the application of his moral principles to the theory of politics. The want of system in this part of the treatise renders an analysis of it impossible ;-desultory remarks hardly admit of abridgment. Our
author affirms, “ that the only axiom necessary to establish the science of natural law is this: 'I exist as a human being, therefore I have a right to exist as a human being. This once acknowledged, the rights of men in their various relations as individuals, husbands or wives, (!) fathers or mothers, (!) as citizens individually and collectively in the state to other independent states, and to the collective citizens within the state, may consistently and justly be established.” It is unfortunate to stumble at the commencement; but the foregoing enthymeme contains as palpable a non sequitur as was ever stated in print. To infer the rightful existence of a thing from the mere fact, that it does exist, is singular reasoning. Let us apply the same mode of argument to a different subject; immorality and crime exist; therefore immorality and crime should continue to exist;' conclusion, which Dr. Lieber surely will be in no haste to admit. It is fortunate for him, that his subsequent remarks on social and civil rights in no wise depend on the foregoing unlucky proposition, and, in truth, hardly contain an allusion to it; though it is here stated as the first principle of political ethics. To make a statement of this character, and yet to lose sight of it entirely in the reasoning which follows, is only one instance of the want of system, that is apparent throughout the treatise.
The second book opens with a tolerably fair enunciation of the question respecting the origin of government and the duty
of civil obedience. But instead of proceeding at once to discuss this important point, the author Aies off in an idle digression about the institution of property. The advantages of this institution are brought out with some distinctness; but, as the whole inquiry is obviously of a secondary character, its introduction at this point only injures the connexion, and throws no light on the main subject. The consideration of any question relating to property obviously comes after the settlement or determination of that civil authority, which, if it does not create, undoubtedly restrains, modifies, and regulates the institution itself. Some remarks are made on the question of copyright, which has recently attracted much attention at home and abroad, and is now under discussion in the legislatures of several nations. As the most favorable specimen of the author's manner, which the present treatise affords, we extract a portion of the argument on this head.
“Because there was no copyright in early times— because there were no books, or books did not yield any profit to make copyright worth anything - it is believed by many to this day, that copyright is an invented thing, and held as a grant bestowed by the mere grace and pleasure of society ; while, on the contrary, the right of property in a book seems to be clearer and more easily to be deduced from absolute principle, than any other. It is the title of actual production and of preoccupancy. If a canoe is mine because I made it, shall not that be mine, which I actually created — a composition? It has been asserted, that the author owes his ideas to society, therefore he has no particular right in them. Does the agriculturalist not owe his ideas to society, present and past ? Could he get a price for his product except by society? But a work of compilation, it is objected, is not creation or invention. In the form in which it is presented it is invention. The ideas thus connected, though they are, sepårately, common stock, as the wild pigeons, flying over my farm, are the compiler's, are preoccupied by him, and belong to him in their present order and arrangement. The chief difficulty has arisen from the fact that ideas thus treated, thrown into a book, had for a long time no moneyed value to be expressed numerically, and that copyright has therefore not the strength of antiquity on its side. Yet observe how matters still stand with regard to this right. Prussia has passed, only last year, (1837,) an extensive and well-grounded copyright law. In most countries, theatres may make whatever money they can by the performance of a play, without permission of the inventor, that is, they may use - 3D S. VOL. VIII. NO. 1.