Imágenes de páginas

answer solid and satisfactory to the two questions above proposed. When we shall have collected and classified all the phenomena of human thought, determined the laws and limits of human research, unfolded the springs and modes of human action, and ascertained the grounds of moral judgment so as to erect á just and final criterion of human conduct; we may say that we have completed the cycle of those sciences which have man, in his immaterial essence, for their object, and have compassed that knowledge of ourselves which, according to one poet, is our proper study,' and, according to another, is commended to us by a special message from Heaven.*

The two questions above specified, though closely connected, are capable of being considered apart. We mean in the present article to confine ourselves to the second of them, which is also the more important.

Of the works which we have placed at the head of this article we do not intend to offer any formal criticism. They all profess to throw light upon the question we have proposed for consideration, and we shall avail ourselves of the aid they afford as occasion may dictate. The first on our list is, in our estimation, by much the most valuable; it comprises a translation, admirably executed, of Kant's Metaphysik der Sitten, and of portions of his Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, with prolegomena, and an Appendix by the translator. Dr. Whewell's Elements of Morality is a work of a more practical character: it is an attempt to deduce, after the analogy of geometry, from certain axioms a whole system of moral rule—an attempt which is, in our judgment, founded on a misconception, and in which the author we think fails, but which has afforded occasion for a vast mass of exceedingly valuable writing upon the subject of Morals. The Lectures on Systematic Morality are designed to form a kind of Commentary on some parts of the Elements; they contain explanations of some points treated of in that work, of the very serious defects of which the author has become conscious. The work of Dr. Wayland embraces both theoretical and practical ethics; it is distinguished by much clearness of perception, shrewdness of observation, and sagacity in the application of principles to practice.

What ought I to do? To this a prompt and popular answer would be—“Your duty. But, on consideration, it would be found that in reality this is no answer at all; it is a mere truism, and affirms nothing more than that we ought to do


*• The proper study of mankind is Man.'-Pope. • Divinum e cælo descendit yowll gravrov.'-Juvenal.

what we ought. For ‘Duty' means something which is owing ; it is debitum, a debt; and as the verb 'ought'expresses simply the relation of its subject to his debts or duties, to say that he ought to do his duty is only analogous to saying that he owes his debts. It is clear, therefore, that this answer will not suffice for anything but a mere evasion of the question.

But though this is no answer to the question, it suggests a process of inquiry by which a satisfactory answer may be reached. Setting out from the undeniable truism that we ought to do our duty, the following questions naturally present themselves. To whom is duty due? or to whom do I owe to do what I ought to do?-By what is this duty determined ?Whence arises the obligation by which the performance of it is enforced? What is the law under which that obligation arises ? And by what means is knowledge of what I am thus under obligation to do to be obtained? If a precise and complete answer can be secured to these questions, it is obvious that the question, What ought I to do? will, as a philosophical problem, be solved.

I. To the first of these inquiries a short answer will suffice. We owe duty to all sentient beings with whom we sustain any relations. The proof of this lies in the fact that there is no sentient being known to us, and connected with us, to whom we do not feel that we have to render something which we class under the head of Duty. To ourselves certain things are felt to be due by us, such as self-preservation, self-respect, purity, &c.; to our fellow creatures we feel that we owe many duties, such as justice, kindness, relative affection, &c.; to our Creator we are sensible that such duties as reverence, gratitude, and obedience, are to be rendered by us; and even to the lower animals we feel that we owe the duties of compassion, carefulness, and such like. Under these four heads are included all sentient and intelligent being with which we have any relations; and to all the objects comprising these classes we feel that something is due by us. Here, then, we have an answer to the first question above proposed; an empirical answer, it is true, but so much the more appropriate, seeing the question itself respects a matter of fact.

II. To the second question an answer no less direct and brief may be given. When it is asked, by what is my duty to the sentient and intelligent beings around me with which I have relations, determined, the answer at once suggests itself. By those relations which form the bond of connexion between the parties. The proof of this is simple. In the first place, it is on the fact of such relationship that duty depends ; for if we destroy the relationship, the duty ceases. We do not owe something to all sentient and intelligent creation, with the existence of which we are acquainted; to the angels, for instance, we owe no duties, though they are beings of whose existence and agency we are fully aware; our obligations are due only to those beings with which we stand in some distinct and definable relation. As relationship, therefore, is the condition sine quâ non of duty, it follows that it is by this that our duties are determined. This appears still further from the consideration, that in proportion as our relations advance in number and nearness, in the same proportion do our duties advance in amount and urgency. The Being to whom our relations are the most numerous, and the most strict, is God; and it is to him, also, that our first and most imperative obligations are due. To our family connexions our relations are greater and more intimate than are our relations to those who are merely our friends, still more so than to the mass of our fellow-countrymen, still more so than to men in general, and still more so than to the lower animals. We have thus a progression of relations; and with this a series of corresponding duties keeps up, pari passu. Now, as it is not the duty which precedes the relationship, but the relationship which precedes the duty, we must take the relationship as not only the measure of the duty, but as the element by which the duty is determined. Out of the relations, therefore, which we sustain to the sentient and intelligent world around us arise the duties which we owe to it.

III. When we come to the third of the questions above proposed, a more complex problem awaits us, and one which has led, consequently, to no small variety in the solutions which have been proposed of it. Without an examination of some of the more important of these, it will be impossible satisfactorily to determine what answer we should give to the question.

Before proceeding, however, to this examination, there is a distinction to which we must call the notice of our readers; one sufficiently obvious in itself, but to which we think due prominence has not been assigned by ethical writers. The distinction to which we refer is that between a motive and an obligation. Generically these two are identical; they both belong to the class of powers by which the will of man is influenced to action. But specifically they differ; the one being more comprehensive than the other, and consequently involving fewer ideas. Every obligation is a motive, but every motive is not an obligation. In the latter the idea of constraint is added to that of simple influence. We are moved to do what we incline to do; we are obliged to do what we cannot but do.


Now the constraint under which men act is of two sorts, outward and inward. The former is that which physically we cannot get past, or set aside, or resist; it is an overmastering power which seizes the physical faculties, and compels them to a certain result. Of this we do not speak here; it has no place in such discussions as that in which we are now engaged ; indeed, there is an impropriety in the very phraseology that

man acts by physical constraint,' as in such a case, strictly speaking, he has ceased to be an agent, and no more acts than does the stick or the stone by which one inflicts a blow. The other species of constraint bears only an analogical resemblance to this. As outward constraint is the consequence of a physical law, so inward constraint is the consequence of a moral law. In both cases it is the law which necessitates the result; but in the former the law secures its effect without the will of the individual, in the latter the law reaches its object through the will of the individual. It is obvious that the constraint in this latter case is of a totally different species from the constraint in the former case; and is nothing more than the sense of awe which the mind has, in reference to a great moral law and the penalty by which that law is sanctioned.

We thus arrive at the true idea of moral obligation. It is not a mere inducement. It is not an outward constraint. It is a constraint arising from a reverential dread of violating a law recognised as of adequate authority to bind and regulate our actions. When, therefore, the question is asked, What is it which obliges any man to render what is due by him to the sentient and intelligent universe around him? the only competent answer is, Reverence for that great moral law under which man has been placed by the Creator. It is this we mean, when we say that it is right, proper, necessary, or imperative, for a man to do his duty. Apart from some law regulating his doings, there can be no obligation; and apart from obligation, no rectitude, propriety, or duty.

These remarks may to some, perhaps, appear supererogatory; but we have made them from a conviction that many of the positions on which ethical writers have sought to rest the claims of duty are unsound, because they have neglected this distinction, and have ascribed to a mere motive what belongs only to an obligation. Thus, to begin with, perhaps, the lowest in the scale, when Bentham tells us that our duties are determined by our interests, and that a desire to avoid pain and to enjoy pleasure alone regulates the actions of men, it is clear that he is thinking of certain motives which induce to action, and has not risen to the idea of obligation at all. When a man pursues one

[ocr errors]

course of conduct rather than another, because the former appears to him more likely to conduce to his physical happiness than the latter, there can be no doubt that in that man's mind no sense of imperativeness has any share in regulating his conduct. The question with him is not one of what he ought to do, but simply one of what he likes to do. To adduce his case, then, as illustrative of what it is which obliges to duty is plainly to adduce a case not to the point; whilst to represent his conduct as the type of all moral action, is to solve a great ethical problem by the cheap and ridiculous process of virtually denying its existence.

The same objection may be urged against all the forms of Epicurean or Utilitarian Ethics. By placing the basis of duty in some physical result consequent on the performance of it, philosophers of this school have set aside the true idea of duty and have substituted for an obligation, without which there can be no duty, a mere motive as the impulse to good actions. To take, for instance, the theory of Paley and Dwight, both of whom place the basis of virtue in utility; it cannot require much reflection to satisfy any one that on this theory the idea of obligation, as distinct from that of motive, is entirely relinquished. For if a certain course is followed by an individual from no other consideration than that he will thereby secure some physical advantage to himself or to others, it is plain that he acts not in obedience to any law, not from reverence to any established order, but simply from the inducement of expected good. In his case, therefore, there is no obligation in the sense above given. He merely acts from a motive; and whether his conduct be good or bad, vicious or virtuous, dutiful or otherwise, must depend entirely upon other considerations than those which have occupied his mind. Paley, indeed, may be regarded as having admitted all this, for he defines moral obligation as equivalent to the urgency of a violent motive resulting from the command of another.'*

It may perhaps be deemed not quite fair to Dr. Dwight,though an advocate of the doctrine which resolves virtue into utility,—to name him as in the same class with Paley, inasmuch as he professes to dissent from that part of Paley's doctrine which we are now more particularly considering. Whilst he holds that virtue is founded in utility, he disclaims the inference that utility becomes, therefore, the measure of virtue, or the rule of our moral conduct.f But whilst there is here an apparent difference between the American and the British divine, it is

* Mor. & Pol. Philosophy, B. ii. c. 2.

† Theology, Sermon 99.

« AnteriorContinuar »