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11AVING in the foregoing sections ascertained the reality of a moral fenfe, with its sentiments of approbation and disapprobation, praise and blame; the purpose of the present section is, to shew, that these sentiments are consistent with the laws that govern the actions of man as a ra. tional being. In order to which, it is first necessary to explain these laws; for there has been much controverfy about them, especially among divines of the Arminian and Calvinist fects.
Human actions, as laid down in the first section, are of three kinds : one, where we act by instinct, without any view to consequences ; one, where we act by will in order to produce some effect: and one, where we act againlt will. With respect to the first, the agent acts blindly, without deliberation or choice; and the external act fola lows necessarily from the instinctive impulfe *. Actions done with a view to an end, are in a very different condition : into these, defire, and
* A stonechatter makes its nest on the ground or near it ;' and the young, as soon as they can shift for themselves, leave the nest inftin&tively. An egg of that bird was laid in a swallow's nest, fixed to the roof of a church. The swallow fed all the young equally without distinction. The young stonechatter left the nest at the usual time before it could fly ; and falling to the ground, it was taken up dead. Here is instinct in pus rity, exerting itself blindly without regard to variation of circumstances.The same is observable in our dunghill-fowl. They feed on worms, corn, and other seeds dropt on the ground. In order to discover their food, nature has provided them with an inftin&t to scrape with the foot; and the instinct is so regularly exercised, that they scrape even when they are set upon a heap of corn,
will, enter : desire to accomplish the end goes first; the will to act in order to accomplish the end, is next; and the external act follows of course. It is the will then that governs every external act done as a mean to an end ; and it is desire to accomplish the end that puts the will in motion ; defire in this view being commonly termed the motive to act. Thus hearing that my friend is in the hands of robbers, I burn with defire to free him : desire influences my will to arm my servants and to fly to his relief. Actions done against will come in afterward.
But what is it that raises desire? The answer is ready : it is the prospect of attaining some agreeable end, or of avoiding one that is disagreea. ble. And if it be enquired, What makes an object agreeable or disagreeable ; the answer is equally ready, that our nature makes it fo. Certain visible objects are agreeable, certain sounds, and certain smells : other objects of these senses are disagreeable. But there we must stop ;. for we are far from being so intimately acquainted with our own nature as to assign the causes. These hints are sufficient for my present purpose : if one be cua rious to know more the theory of desire, and of agreeableness and disagreeableness, will be found in Elements of Criticism (a).
With respect to instinctive actions, no person, I presume, thinks that there is any freedom: an infant applies to the nipple, and a bird builds a nest, no less necessarily than a stone falls to the ground. With respect to voluntary actions, donc in order to produce some effect, the necessity is the same, though lefs apparent at first view. The external action is determined by the will: the will is determined by desire : and desire by what is agreeable or disagreeable. Here is a chain
Visible objects archer objects of car for we are
(4) Chap. 2.
to act in contaa."
of causes and effects, not one link of which is arbitrary, or under command of the agent: he cannot will but according to his desire : he cannot desire but according to what is agreeable or disagreeable in the objects perceived: nor do these qualities depend on his inclination or fancy; he has no power to inake a beautiful woman ugly, nor to make a rotten carcase smell sweetly.
Many good men apprehending danger to morality from holding our actions to be necessary, endeavour to break the chain of causes and ef. fects above mentioned, maintaining, “ That what“ ever influence desire or motives may have, it is " the agent himself who is the cause of every " action; that desire may advise, but cannot com
mand ; and therefore that a man is still free " to act in contradiction to desire and to the a strongest motives.” That a being may exist, which in every case acts blindly and arbitrarily, without having any end in view, I can make a shift to conceive : but it is difficult for me even to imagine a thinking and rational being, that has affections and passions, that has a desirable end in view, that can easily accomplish this end ; and yet, after all, can fly off, or remain at rest, with. out any cause, reason, or motive, to sway it. If such a whimsical being can possibly exist, I am certain that man is not the being. There is perhaps not a person above the condition of a change. ling, but can say why he did so and so, what moved him, what he intended. Nor is a single fact stated to make us believe, `that ever a man acted against his own will or desire, who was not compelled by external force. On the contrary, constant and universal experience proves, that human actions are governed, 'by certain inflexible laws; and that a man cannot exert his
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arbitrarily, felf-motive power, but in pursuance of some desire or motive.
Had a motive always the same influence, actions proceeding from it would appear no less necessary than the actions of matter. The various degrees of influence that motives have on dif· ferent men at the same time, and on the same man at different times, occasion a doubt by suggesting a notion of chance. Some motives however have such influence, as to leave no doubt : a timid female has a physical power to throw her. self into the mouth of a lion, roaring for food ; but she is withheld by terror no less effectually than by cords : if the should rush upon the lion, would not every one conclude that she was frantic? A man, though in a deep sleep, retains a physical power to act, but he cannot exert it. A man, though desperately in love, retains a physical power to refuse the hand of his mistress; but he cannot exert that power in contradiction to his own ardent desire, more than if he were fast asleep. Now if a strong motive have a necessary influence, there is no reason for doubting, but that a weak motive must also have its influence, the same in kind, tho' not in degree. Some actions indeed are strangly irregular : but let the wildest action be scrutinized, there will always be discovered some motive or desire, which, however, whimsical or capricious, was what influenced the person to act. Of two contending motives, is it ; not natural to expect that the stronger will prevail, however little its excess may be? If there be any doubt, it must arise froin a supposition that a weak motive can be resisted arbitrarily. Where then are we to fix the boundary between a weak and a strong motive ? If a weak motive can be resisted, why not one a little stronger, and why not the strongest ? In Elements of Criticism (a) Vol. II.
not (a) Chap. 2. part 4.
. . B. III. the reader will find many examples of contrary motives weighing against each other. Let him ponder these with the strictest attention : his conclusion will be, that between two motives, however nearly balanced, a man has not an arbitrary choice, but must yield to the stronger, The mind indeed fluctuates for foine time, and feels itself in a measure loose: at last, however, it is determined by the more powerful motive, as a balance is by the greater weight after many vibrations.
Such then are the laws that govern our voluntary actions. A man is absolutely free to act according to his own will ; greater freedom than which is not conceivable. At the same time, as man is made accountable for his conduct, to his Maker, to his fellow-creatures, and to him. self, he is not left to act arbitrarily; for at that rate he would be altogether unaccountable : his will is regulated by desire ; and desire by what pleafes or displeases him. Where we are subjected to the will of another, would it be our wish, that his will should be under no regulation ? And where we are guided by our own will, would it be reasonable to wish, that it should be under no regulation, but be exerted without reason, without any motive, and contrary to common sense? Thus, with regard to human conduct, there is a chain of laws established by nature, no one link of which is left arbitrary. By that wise system, man is made accountable : by it, he is made a fit subject for divine and hu. man government: by it, persons of fagacity foresee the conduct of others : and by it, the prescience of the Deity with respect to human actions, is clearly established. .
The absurd figure that a man would make acting in contradiction to motives, should be sufi'cient to open our eyes without an argument. What