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WHEREIN consist Right and Wrong? - By what test or criterion may we, in doubtful or disputed cases, determine what is any one's duty or right? - are questions, which, even were the solution of them not often required for practical purposes, must always form a subject of deep philosophical interest.
Moral, or ethical science is, in a confined, but, I believe, more common sense, understood to have regard principally to the private duty of individuals; and, in this way, it is associated, in the minds of many people, with disquisitions on temperance, chastity, truth, honesty, diligence, and the like. But to have an idea of the full interest
and importance of the science — (not meaning that the topics now alluded to are uninteresting or unimportant, otherwise than from their triteness and familiarity) — it is necessary to take a wider view of it - as embracing every question of right every question of what is just — fit
- reasonable — fair-proper—that can arise out
of any possible relation between one being, or collective number of beings, and another being, or number of beings — from the Deity down to the meanest insect:
- every question relating to the just and fair rights, or powers, or privileges, which one being can claim over, or from another. In this way the science of ethics forms a basement, at once, to those of theology, jurisprudence, civil and criminal, and politics, - or all that regards the moral justice of laws and government – human and divine. — Never, perhaps, was there a time, when there was more frequent discussion of points relating to these momentous topics, or more need of all the enlightenment that philosophy can shed upon them; and I cannot help expressing my wonder, by the way, that while men (whether beneficially or not) seem intent on divesting themselves of all the trammels of
scription in political affairs — making truth and reason every thing, authority and custom nothing,
there seems an equal disposition, in religious matters, to make a sacrifice of the plainest dictates of common sense, and the clearest truths of revelation, to the most anile prejudices and superstitions.
The question as to the ultimate criterion of right and wrong, has always been more or less mixed up with the other, and more metaphysical, inquiry, which relates to the nature of the mental operation by which moral distinctions are perceived. Indeed the two questions have, even by some of the most acute inquirers, been treated as one. How this confusion (for such I think it) has arisen, will appear in the course of this work. At present, it is sufficient to notice the fact; and to observe that, even had the two questions been always kept apart, a theory of moral distinctions which did not embrace the consideration of both, could not be viewed but as materially defective. — These two questions together may be taken to comprehend all that relates to what is called the Philosophy of Morals.
It is now a good many years, since, partly from