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Joseph, the preservation of their father and family, as well as the general good of the Egyptians and surrounding nations. The perfidy of Judas in betraying his Master was a malevolent action; but that action, however malignant in its nature, was in its tendency infinitely beneficial to the whole world. If then utility be the essence of virtue, the conduct of Judas and of Joseph's brethren was highly meritorious and virtu
But can any man of moral discernment, discover any moral virtue in those malevolent actions? The conscience of an Heathen would condemn them. Seneca, in his Morals, has a chapter upon the nature of virtue, in which he maintains, that virtue consists in the intention of the agent to do good, and not in the utility of his actions. And he illustrates this by a very pertinent and striking example. He says a cer
tain man stabbed another in his side, with an intention to kill him, but the wound instead of proving fatal, opened an abscess and proved the occasion of saving his life. Upon this he remarks, that the man, who stabbed his enemy, was as criminal as if he had perpetrated the murder he intended. With this opinion all mankind concur; for they never fail to condemn any action as criminal, which appears to proceed from a bad intention, whatever may be its tendency to promote either individual or public good. But, perhaps, it may be here objected, that no malevolent action has a natural or direct tendency to promote happiness, though it may be over-ruled to produce a good effect; and in such a case the indirect tendency of an action cannot constitute it virtuous. Be it so, that no malevolent action has a natural or direct tendency to promote happiness; yet if virtue consists in utility, the good effect of a malevolent action is just as virtuous as the good effect of a benevolent one. For the doctrine we
are considering, places all virtue in the tenden cy of an action, and not in the intention of the agent. And upon this principle, it is wholly immaterial, whether the agent has no intention, a good intention, or a bad intention. If tendency alone determines the moral quality of actions, then the most malevolent ones when over-ruled for good, may be the most virtuous. Hence the notion, that virtue consists in utility, necessarily carries in it this palpable absurdity, that men may be truly and eminently virtuous in their most malevolent conduct.
5. To suppose that virtue consists in utility, is to suppose that there is nothing right nor wrong in the nature of things, but that virtue and vice depend entirely upon mere accidental and mutable circumstances. There are certain relations, which men bear to each other, and which they bear to their Creator, which create obligations that never can be violated without committing a moral crime. One man is always bound to love another as himself, and it is alIt is always ways wrong to violate this obligation. right that men should love God supremely, and it is always wrong to hate such an infinitely amiable and glorious Being. Right and wrong in these cases does not depend in the least measure upon circumstances. No circumstances can render it right for one man to feel or express malevolence towards another, nor for any created being to feel or express enmity against God. There are innumerable instances in which the duty of moral agents depends upon the nature of things, and in all such instances it cannot be altered by any change of circumstances. But if the essence of virtue consists in utility, it will necessarily follow, that any thing which is right to-day, may be wrong tomorrow; or any thing which is right in one situation, may be wrong in another. A man may think to-day,
under present circumstances, it will be for the general good to preserve his neighbor's life, and this will be his duty; but to-morrow circumstances may be so altered, that he may think it will be for the general good, to take away the life of his neighbor, and this will then be his duty. But it is perfectly absurd to suppose, that it can ever be right, under any circumstances, to commit murder. This inference so naturally and necessarily results from the doctrine, that virtue consists in utility, that Godwin is constrained, though with apparent reluctance, to own that it is right, in some cases, to do that which is wrong in the rature of things. He makes this concession in regard to lying. "Wherever a great and manifest evil arises from disclosing the truth, and that evil appears to be greater than the evil to arise from violating in this instance the general barrier of human confidence and virtue, there the obligation of sincerity is suspended!!* This concession applies with equal force to theft, robbery, perjury, murder, and every atrocious action, which is absolutely wrong in the nature of things. Whoever admits, that virtue consists in utility, must avow this absurd consequence, that there is no essential and immutable difference between virtue and vice. Or in other words, he must admit, that the highest malevolence towards God and man, may be as amiable and virtuous, in one situation, as the highest benevolence in another; and that it is the duty (if there be any such thing as duty,) of every man to exercise the one or the other, according to the circumstances in which he finds himself placed; which palpably contradicts every principle of morality.
6. To suppose that virtue consists in utility, is to suppose that there is nothing in the universe intrin
sically good or evil, but happiness and misery. This idea is so necessarily contained in Godwin's notion of virtue, that he undertakes to state it with peculiar accuracy and precision. "Evil is a term which differs from pain only as it has a more comprehensive meaning. It may be defined to signify whatever is painful in itself, or is connected with pain as an antecedent is connected with its consequent. Thus explained, it appears that a thing not immediately painful may be evil, but in somewhat improper and imperfect sense. It bears the name of evil not on its own account. Nothing is evil in the fullest sense but pain. To this it may be added, that pain is always evil. Pleasure and pain, happiness and misery, constitute the whole ultimate subject of MORAL INQUIRY. There is nothing desirable, but the obtaining of the one, and the avoiding of the other. All the researches of human imagination cannot add a single article to this SUMMARY OF GOOD."* But pleasure and pain, happiness and misery, are so far from constituting the whole ultimate object of moral inquiry, that they do not constitute the least part of it. Moral inquiry properly embraces only virtue and vice, or moral good and moral evil, in distinction from natural good and natural evil, or mere pleasure and pain. If there were no moral good in virtue, nor moral evil in vice, then there would be no propriety in using the word moral in any case, or making any distinction between the kinds of good and evil. But if there be an intrinsic excellence in virtue, which is worthy of praise, and an intrinsic turpitude in vice, which is worthy of blame, then there is a propriety in distinguishing moral good and evil, from natural pleasure and pain. Now, that there is such a distinction between things moral and natural, is
Vol. i, page 166, 167.
intuitively evident to every reflecting mind. Every man clearly discerns an intrinsic good in virtue, which he cannot discern in happiness; and an intrinsic evil in vice, which he cannot discern in misery. He feels praise-worthy for benevolence, but not for happiness; and he feels blame-worthy for malevolence, but not for pain or misery. Agreeably to these moral feelings, sound divines have maintained, that virtue is to be loved for its own sake, and sin hated for its own sake; and also that God is to be loved for what he is in himself, and not merely for the happiness he enjoys, or bestows. But to suppose that pleasure is the only good, and pain the only evil, in the universe, is to suppose that, could the universe enjoy as much happiness without holiness as with it, the universal reign of sin would be as desirable as the universal reign of righteousness. This is totally repugnant to every feeling of benevolence, and to every dictate of that moral faculty, by which we judge of moral things.
7. To suppose that virtue consists in utility, is to suppose that there is really no such thing as either virtue or vice in the world. If the actions of free agents are either good or evil, solely on account of their tendency to promote either pleasure or pain, then nothing can be predicated of them but advantage or disadvantage. Actions which promote happiness may be denominated advantageous, but not virtuous; and actions which produce misery may be denominated disadvantageous, but not vicious. For there is no virtue in the tendency of an action to do good, aside from the intention of the agent; and there is no criminality in the tendency of an action to do hurt, aside from the intention of the agent. Hence it necessarily follows, that if there be any virtue or vice in an action, it must consist not in its tendency to produce pleasure or pain.