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No. 588. WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 1, 1714.
Dicitis, omnis in imbecillitate est, et gratia et caritas.
You pretend that all kindness and benevolence is founded in
Man may be considered in two views, as a reasonable and as a sociable being; capable of becoming himself either happy or miserable, and of contributing to the happiness or misery of his fellow-creatures. Suitably to this double capacity, the Contriver of human nature hath wisely furnished it with two principles of action, self-love, and benevolence; designed one of them to render man wakeful to his own personal interest, the other to dispose him for giving his utmost assistance to all engaged in the same pursuit. This is such an account of our frame, so agreeable to reason, so much for the honour of our Maker, and the credit of our species, that it may appear somewhat unaccountable what should induce men to represent human nature as they do under characters of disadvantage; or, having drawn it with a little and sordid aspect, what pleasure they can possibly take in such a picture. Do they reflect that it is their own, and, if we will believe themselves, is not more odious than the original ? One of the first that talked in this lofty strain of our nature was Epicurus. Beneficence, would his followers say, is all founded in weakness; and, whatever be pretended, the kindness that passeth between men and men is by every man directed to himself. This, it must be confessed, is of a piece with the rest of that
hopeful philosophy, which, having patched man up out of the four elements, attributes his being to chance, and derives all his actions from an unintelligible declination of atoms. And for these glorious discoveries the poet is beyond measure transported in the praises of his hero, as if he must needs be something more than man, only for an endeavour to prove that man is in nothing superior to beasts. In this school was Mr. Hobbes instructed to speak after the same manner, if he did not rather draw his knowledge from an observation of his own temper; for he somewhere unluckily lays down this as a rule, that from the similitudes of thoughts and passions of one man to the thoughts and passions of another, whosoever looks into himself and considers what he doth when he thinks, hopes, fears, &c. and upon what grounds, he shall hereby read and know what are the thoughts and passions of all other men upon the like occasion. Now we will allow Mr. Hobbes to know best how he was inclined; but in earnest, I should be heartily out of conceit with myself if I thought myself of this unamiable temper as he affirms, and should have as little kindness for myself as for any body in the world. Hitherto I always imagined that kind and benevolent propensions were the original growth of the heart of man; and however checked and overtopped by counter inclinations that have since sprung up within us, have still some force in the worst of tempers, and a considerable influence on the best. And methinks it is a fair step towards the proof of this, that the most beneficent of all beings is he who hath an absolute fulness of perfection in himself, who gave existence to the universe, and so cannot be supposed to want that which he communicated, without diminishing from the plenitude of his own power and happiness. The philosophers before mentioned have indeed done all
that in them lay to invalidate this argument; for, placing the gods in a state of the most elevated blessedness, they describe them as selfish as we poor miserable mortals can be, and shut them out from all concern for mankind, upon the score of their having no need of us. But if He that sitteth in the heavens wants not us, we stand in continual need of him; and, surely, next to the survey of the immense treasures of his own mind, the most exalted pleasure he receives is from beholding millions of creatures, lately drawn out of the gulf of non-existence, rejoicing in the various degrees of being and happiness, imparted to them. And as this is the true, the glorious character of the Deity, so, in forming a reasonable creature, he would not, if possible, suffer his image to pass out of his hands unadorned with a resemblance of himself in this most lovely part of his nature. For what complacency could a mind whose love is as unbounded as his knowledge, have in a work so unlike himself; a creature that should be capable of knowing and conversing with a vast circle of objects, and love none but himself? What proportion would there be between the head and the heart of such a creature, its affections, and its understanding? Or could a society of such creatures, with no other bottom but self-love on which to maintain a commerce, ever flourish? Reason, it is certain, would oblige every man to pursue the general happiness as the means to procure and establish his own; and yet if, besides this consideration, there were not a natural instinct, prompting men to desire the welfare and satisfaction of others, selflove, in defiance of the admonitions of reason, would quickly run all things into a state of war and confusion. As nearly interested as the soul is in the fate of the body, our provident Creator saw it neoussary, by the constant returns of hunger and thirst, those importunate appetites, to put it in mind of its charge: knowing that if we should eat and drink no oftener than cold abstracted speculation should put us upon these exercises, and then leave it to reason to prescribe the quantity, we should soon refine ourselves out of this bodily life. And, indeed, it is obvious to remark, that we follow nothing heartily unless carried to it by inclinations which anticipate our reason, and, like a bias, draw the mind strongly towards it. In order, therefore, to establish a perpetual intercourse of benefits among mankind, their Maker would not fail to give them this generous prepossession of benevolence, if, as I have said, it were possible. And from whence can we go about to argue its impossibility? Is it inconsistent with self-love? Are their motions contrary? No more than the diurnal rotation of the earth is opposed to its annual ; or its motion round its own centre, which might be improved as an illustration of self-love, to that which whirls it about the common centre of the world, answering to universal benevolence. Is the force of self-love abated, or its interest prejudiced, by benevolence? So far from it, that benevolence, though a distinct principle, is extremely serviceable to self-love, and then doth most service when it is least designed.
But to descend from reason to matter of fact; the pity which arises on sight of persons in distress, and the satisfaction of mind which is the consequence of having removed them into a happier state, are instead of a thousand arguments to prove such a thing as a disinterested benevolence. Did pity proceed from a reflection we make upon our liableness to the same ill accidents we see befal others, it were nothing to the present purpose ; but this is assigning an artificial cause of a natural passion, and can by no means be admitted as a tolerable account of it, because children and persons most thoughtless about their own condition, and incapable of entering into the prospects of futurity, feel the most violent touches of compassion. And then, as to that eharming delight which immediately follows the giving joy to another, or relieving his sorrow, and is, when the objects are numerous, and the kindness of importance, really inexpressible, what can this be owing to but consciousness of a man's having done something praiseworthy, and expressive of a great soul? Whereas, if in all this he only sacrificed to vanity and self-love, as there would be nothing brave in actions that make the most shining appearance, so nature would not have rewarded them with this divine pleasure; nor could the commendations, which a person receives for benefits done upon selfish views, be at all more satisfactory than when he is applauded for what he doth without design; because in both cases the ends of self-love are equally answered. The conscience of approving oneself a benefactor to mankind is the noblest recompense for being so; doubtless it is, and the most interested cannot propose any thing so much to their own advantage; notwithstanding which, the inclination is nevertheless unselfish. The pleasure which attends the gratification of our hunger and thirst is not the cause of these appetites; they are previous to any such prospect; and so likewise is the desire of doing good; with this difference, that, being seated in the intellectual part, this last, though antecedent to reason, may yet be improved and regulated by it; and, I will add, is no otherwise a virtue than as it is so. Thus have I contended for the dignity of that nature I have the honour to partake of; and, after all the evidence produced, think I have a right to conclude, against the motto of this paper, that there is such a thing as generosity in the world. Though, if I were