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a desultory curiosity, partly from the relation of the subject to my professional pursuits, my attention was attracted to this branch of science. A very cursory examination of existing systems sufficed to create an impression on my mind, that the subject was capable of receiving much additional light. It appeared to me, that, in all the discussions I had seen, wherever what appeared to me the truth was stated, it was stated but indefinitely, and even inaccurately; — that it was scattered over a variety of contending arguments ; - and that, to reconcile these, and distinguish, in each, the sound from the unsound, there was room and occasion for a more minute and exact analysis, than had yet been attempted, of the moral perceptions - both in regard to their nature, as mental acts, and their subjects as a species of truth. It seemed to me in short that, if the chief problems in the theory of morals had been solved at all, the true solutions were yet insufficiently distin guished from such as were erroneous : those insufficiently vindicated, these insufficiently exposed : -- that, even if upon bases not entirely new, there was scope for a new classification of phenomena; that new junctures and connexions were required new harmonies and fittings; in short, a new combination - a new system. It need not then be reckoned a derogation from the value of such a work as this, that it does not offer what might be called a new theory — as meaning that the more considerable of the doctrines maintained are such as have never been stated before. A new theory, in this sense, might, indeed, at this time of day, be safely set down as a false theory. There are few of the more considerable problems in theoretical morality, of which the true solution may not somewhere be found. But truth not established, is truth not known; and he who can distinguish, among a variety of statements pretending to be true, and each having its share of acceptation as true, which is really true
may not unfairly claim to rank as a discoverer. - Whether I have done this or not, is another question. I now vindicate the purpose not the execution.
It has always been a favourite mental exercise with me, to examine and compare various processes of reasoning employed on the same subject :
to discern, amid apparent contradiction, when they moved (so to speak) in parallel lines -- each
establishing really independent and consistent conclusions ; — when (to continue the metaphor,) starting from different points, they ultimately converged to the same result ; — when, starting together, they diverged into various, but not conflicting issues ; — and, finally and chiefly - in the case of their crossing or becoming implicated with one another - where, in any of them, was the exact point of divergence from the truth, by the correction of which the subsequent knots and perplexities might be disentangled. To a taste for employment of this kind, such a subject as ethical philosophy promised full scope. Always finding, however, a greater pleasure, as respects such subjects as thought alone is the instrument of investigating, in speculation, than in reading — the mode in which I felt disposed to enter on the pursuit I had chosen, was that recommended by Paley :- not, however, on account of his recommendation (for it was then unknown to me) but because it promised most entertainment to myself. It is thus he describes it :
My method of writing has constantly been this: to extract what I could from my own stores and my own reflections in the first place; to put
down that, and afterwards to consult, upon each subject, such readings as fell in my way: which order, I am convinced, is the only one whereby any person can keep his thoughts from sliding into other men's trains."
Accordingly, after having obtained, by a cursory perusal of some of the principal theories of morals, a general notion of the problems to be discovered, and of the more material points of dispute to which they had given rise, I thenceforth left, for a time, my instructors, and proceeded to explore the almost unknown region by myself; nor did I again return to them, for the purpose of asking directions or otherwise, until I had enabled myself to compare observations with them on an equal footing, and as one who had personally travelled over the same, or as great an extent of territory as themselves. If, by this method, I have sometimes lost my way, and wandered far about, in order to arrive at a point to which a guide would have conducted me by a short route, I have, in return, seen many sights I should otherwise have missed; gained a better knowledge of the country in general, and the relative position of its various localities; and, sometimes, it may be,
fallen upon a shorter cut than the ordinary track would have furnished.
Some of my statements, then, though corresponding, perhaps to the letter, with those of other writers, have really been, in respect to the mode of their formation, original ; and I have reason to suspect that I have, in a few instances, uttered, with the air of one who produces a novelty, sentiments which are neither new nor unknown. In disavowing any intentional attempt to claim credit for discoveries already appropriated, and in explaining what may have occasioned the appearance of such intention, I trust I shall be reckoned as offering a sufficient apology for what, perhaps, after all, is but an insignificant trespass. Even where I may be found in the closest company with another, I think it will be seen that I have joined him by a road of my own. I
may now just briefly allude to the chief subjects discussed.--For some years past, the current of philosophical opinion has seemed to me to run somewhat decidedly in favour of the hypothesis that moral approbation, or its contrary, must resolve ultimately into a feeling; and that any thing of a thinking or reasoning character which takes