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are taught what we ought to do, and what we ought not to do; and by another branch, what we may do, or leave undone. But society would be imperfect, if the moral sense stopped here. There is a third branch that makes us accountable for our conduct to our fellow-creatures; and it will be made evident afterward in the third sketch, that we are accountable to our Maker, as well as to our fellow-creatures.
It follows from the standard of right and wrong, that an action is right or wrong, independent of what the agent may think. Thus, when a man, excited by friendship or pity, rescues a heretic froin the flames, the action is right, even tho' he think it wrong, from a conviction that heretics ought to be burnt. But we apply a different standard to the agent : a man is approved and held to be innocent in doing what he himself thinks right : he is disapproved and held to be guilty in doing what he himself thinks wrong. Thus, to assassinate an atheist for the sake of religion, is a wrong action ; and yet the enthusiast who commits that wrong, may be innocent: and one is VOL. IV,
guilty, who against conscience eats meat in Lent, tho' the adion is not wrong. In short, an action is perceived to be right or wrong, independent of the actor's own opinion : but he is approved or disapproved, held to be innocent or guilty, according to his own opinion.
Laws of Nature respecting our Moral Conduct
А Standard being thus established for
regulating our moral conduct in fociety, we proceed to investigate the laws that result from it. But first we take under consideration, what other principles concur with the moral sense to qualify men for society. When we reflect on
the different branches of human knowledge, it might seem, that of all subjects human nature Thould be the best understood; because very man has daily opportunities to study
it, in his own passions and in his own actions. But human nature, an interesting subject, is seldom left to the investigation of philosophy. Writers of a sweet disposition and warm imagination, hold, that man is a benevolent being, and that every man ought to direct his conduct for the good of all, without regarding himself but as one of the number (a). Those of a cold temperament and contracted mind, hold him to be an animal entirely selfish ; to evince which, examples are accumulated without end (6). Neither of these systems is that of nature. The selfish system is contradicted by the experience of all ages, affording the clearest evidence, that men frequently act for the sake of others, without regarding themselves, and sometimes in direct opposition to their own interest * And however much felfishness
laLord Shaftesbury. (6) Helvetius. * Whatever wiredrawn arguments may be urged for the selfish fystem, as if benevolence were but rea fined felfishness, the emptinefs of such arguments will clearly appear when applied to children, who know no refinement. In them, the rudiments of the focial principle are no less visible than of the
may prevail in action; man cannot be an animal entirely felfish, when all men conspire to put a high estimation upon generosity, benevolence, and other focial virtues : even the most selfish are disgusted with selfishness in others, and endeavour to hide it in themselves. The most zealous patron of the felfish principle, will not venture to maintain, that it renders us altogether indifferent about our fellowcreatures. Laying aside felf-interest with every connection of love and hatred, good fortune happening to any one gives pleasure to all, and bad fortune happening to any one is painful to all. On the other hand, the system of universal benevolence, is no less contradictory to experience ; from which we learn, that men commonly are dispofed to prefer their own interest before that of others, especially where there is no strict connection : nor do we find that fuch bias is condemned by the moral sense. Man in fact is a complex
selfish principle. Nothing is more common, than mutual good-will and fondness between children : which must be the work of nature ; for to reflect upon what is one's interest, is far above the capacity af children.
being, composed of principles, fome benevolent, some selfish : and these principles are so justly blended in his nature, as to fit him for acting a proper part in society. It would indeed be losing time to prove, that without some affection for his fellow-creatures he would be ill qualified for society. And it will be made evident afterward (a), that universal benevolence would be more hurtful to society, than even absolute selfishness *
We are now prepared for investigating the laws that result from the foregoing principles. The several duties we owe to
* “ Many moralists enter so deeply into one paf« fion or bias of human nature, that, to use the “ painter's phrase, they quite overcharge it. Thus “ I have seen a whole system of morals founded “ upon a single pillar of the inward frame ; and " the entire conduct of life and all the characters « in it accounted for, sometimes from fuperftition, “ fometimes from pride, and most commonly from " interest. They forget how various a creature “ it is they are painting; how many springs and • weights, nicely adjufted and balanced, enter into “ the movement, and require allowance to be made “ for their several clogs and impulses, ere you can " define its operation and effects." Enquiry into the life and writings of Homer.
(a) Sest, 4.