Imágenes de páginas

What the cause of this feeling might be would either remain an insoluble problem, or the solution must come from some other source than the mere moral sense. The conclusion from this is inevitable. If the problem remained insoluble, there could be no knowledge whatever obtained by the mind of moral distinctions; if the solution came from another source, then the moral sense would be found incompetent to furnish to its possessor an acquaintance with the moral law. It thus appears that, tried by its author's own analogy, this doctrine of a moral sense is utterly inadequate as an answer to the question, How does man arrive at the possession of a standard of right and wrong?

The other aspect under which the doctrine of an internal faculty by which man is educated in morals appears, is that which identifies this faculty with conscience. There is, it is said, a conscience in all men, whose office it is to superintend the active powers, and which of itself dictates to man what he ought to do and what he ought to refrain from doing.

Now as to the existence and the supremacy of conscience, we shall make no question. Nor shall we detain our readers by entering upon the controversies which have arisen as to the nature of conscience ; for our present purpose it is of little moment whether conscience be viewed as the mind judging its own acts, or as the mind visited by remorse on account of its own acts, or as both these together; what we are now concerned to bring into question is the assertion that conscience dictates to man the rule of his moral conduct. And here it is first of all important that we should understand in what sense such an assertion is made. If all that is meant by it is, that conscience guides by its decisions the moral conduct of man, we have little to say in regard to it; for this leaves wholly untouched the question we have now in hand-viz., How does man become acquainted with those principles of right and wrong by which such decisions must be determined? If, however, by this statement, he meant that conscience, as an original authority and source of information, lays before man these principles themselves, we wholly demur to the assertion, and hold it to be erroneous on any of the views usually entertained of conscience. For if we regard conscience as a remorseful emotion, that emotion presupposes some judgment by which it is provoked ; and if we view it as an act of judgment, such an act presupposes the previous possession of a standard by an appeal to which the judgment has been formed; and if we view it as including both, then what holds true of each separately holds no less true of the two together. For ourselves, we do not exactly adopt any of these views of the nature of conscience; not that we think them all wrong, but that we fancy the truth that is in one of them might be better expressed. We should be inclined, if we ventured on a definition of conscience, to say that it is the sense which the mind has of its own guilt or immunity from guilt as tested by that moral standard to which the individual is accustomed to appeal. It implies the possession of a standard

а of right and wrong; a habit of appealing to that standard for the determination of the moral character of actions; and a feeling either of repose or disquietude according as that appeal decides whether the individual's own actions are conformed to it or otherwise. Hence, when we say of a man that he has a good or a bad conscience, we mean that on looking back over his past life, or any part of it, he finds occasion either for composure of mind because of the conformity of his actions to the moral law, or of anxiety and dispeace because of the want of such conformity. So also we speak of a man's having a tender conscience, by which we mean that this feeling of disquietude is easily excited in his bosom by the contemplation of any actual or impending violation on his part of the rule of morality. This view of conscience does not greatly, if at all, differ from that which regards it as an emotion of self-approval or self-disapproval, consequent upon and appearing to co-exist with a judgment on the moral character of the individual ; but as we have stated it, the phraseology used seems to us more exactly to embody the actual sentiment and experience of mankind in the matter. But be this as it may, there is as little in this definition of conscience as in any of the others to authorize the conclusion that conscience is an original source of information as to moral distinctions. Let Conscience have all due reverence as a monitor and a guide, but it is vain to set her up as an original and authoritative teacher.

2. The second objection to which we shall advert is that advanced by the adherents of the sceptical school in morals. It may be thus stated. It is useless to assert that man can by any rational process arrive at the knowledge of fixed and universal notions of right and wrong. The experiment has been tried and has failed. Men have been found entertaining the most opposite views upon this subject--some calling that right which others denounce as wrong; so that it is manifest that no certainty can be gained upon such questions, and the standard prevailing in any place or among any community must just be such as the circumstances or tastes of the community indicate.

This objection, it will be perceived, rests upon the alleged discordance of the judgments at which men in different circumstances have arrived regarding the standard of morals. Now to a certain extent this must be admitted as a matter of fact. Men have thus differed in the conclusions at which they have arrived regarding what is good and what is bad; and some nations have sanctioned what others have denounced. But when this is urged as a reason for denying the capacity of men to arrive at the knowledge of fixed and universal notions in morality, it is necessary to call the attention of the objector to the following considerations, which go entirely, in our judgment, to invalidate the force of his conclusion.

First. It may be questioned whether any nation or body of men ever agreed to call that right in itself which the majority of mankind agreed to regard as wrong. There is a difference between persons agreeing to treat as right what the majority call wrong, and their arriving really and bona fide at the conviction that it is right. Communities may tolerate, or even commend under certain circumstances what in itself and apart from these circumstances, they would at once admit to be immoral. In Sparta, clever thieving, on the part of boys, was thought praiseworthy, because it was believed that this tended to promote the discipline by which that warlike nation sought to train its citizens for the exercises of the field; but no Spartan ever maintained that to make free with the property of another is in itself right; they simply agreed to suffer that wrong to be done, in the belief that thereby they should secure an overbalancing good. And so, we believe it is with most other cases in which vices have been honoured by communities; it is not inability to discover what is vice and what virtue that has led to the anomaly, but simply that certain persons, agreeing with the rest of the world that such a course is vicious, have nevertheless determined to tolerate or encourage the practice of it, for the sake of securing some secular advantage.

Secondly. As the judgment may be thus perverted, it is no less possible to pervert the feelings, so that what at first would excite moral disapprobation in every man, may on the part of some come to be egarded with complacency. An analogous case is supplied by the outward senses. God has made all men to call sweet, sweet, and bitter, bitter ; but a man's palate may be so educated, that he shall delight in that which fills others with nausea, and find his meat in what would prove to other men poison. It is the same with the moral taste. God has made all men to call good, good, and evil, evil; but a man may be educated to reverse this—to put evil for good, and good for evil -to hate holiness, and roll sin as a sweet morsel under his tongue. But here, too, it is not the faculty of moral discern

ment that is wanting; it is the disposition to use that faculty, and to obey it.

Thirdly. In spite of all the differences which have existed on questions of practical morality, there has prevailed a striking uniformity in the conclusions at which men in all ages and in all countries have reached upon such questions. Certainly, the proportion of those who have dissented to those who have agreed cannot be stated at more than that of one in a thousand. Let us, for

argument's sake, assume that it is so. Is it, then, to be argued that, because of every thousand men one has been found to differ from his fellows on moral questions, no certainty exists for man in regard to such questions, and no power is possessed by him of arriving at a fixed and universal standard of morals? Surely so sweeping a scepticism is as unphilosophical as it is disheartening. Would it be tolerated in any other science? Supposing the earth's motion round the sun were doubted by one out of every thousand of our race, would this be held any proof that man is incompetent to ascertain the laws which regulate the celestial motions? Would not such exceptions be put to the score of ignorance, prejudice, caprice, or some such accidental cause? and would not astronomers continue boldly to assert the principles of their science in the confident belief, that in due season all men would see their evidence and embrace them? Why should it be otherwise in morals ?

Despite, therefore, of the fact to which the sceptical moralist so confidently appeals, we maintain that man both can and does attain, with the precision of science, to the knowledge of moral distinctions--that the unanimity of mankind in this matter is all but universal—and that the exceptions to this, which are occasionally found, are to be viewed as mere accidental anomalies, capable of being accounted for, explained, and removed.

3. The last objection to the views above stated to which we shall advert, is that which adduces the fact of human depravity as an argument against the conclusion, that man is capable by an effort of his own of arriving at just views of what is right and good. This objection, as urged by some, is limited in its application to that part of man's knowledge of morality which he is supposed to gather from his own experience or that of others; it is not held to apply to what he may gather from Scripture. This distinction, however, cannot be maintained; the objection must be held as affecting all the sources of man's moral knowledge, or it can affect none of them. The influence of depravity in incapacitating man for perusing the lessons of moral truth embodied in those revelations which God has given of himself, must be the same, whatever be the nature of the revelation which he attempts to peruse. If depravity have injured man's intellect, the injury will make itself apparent as much when he reads the Word of God as when he reads the works of God; to a jaundiced eye nothing appears in its proper colours. If, on the other hand, depravity have left man's intellect sound, but perverted his dispositions, he will be as little prone to receive the lessons of Scripture as to receive those of Nature ; by a diseased taste, nothing is relished aright. It is vain, therefore, to attempt to limit this objection to man's power of acquiring information in morals from the manifestation of God in the uni. verse; if it be worth anything, it no less proves his ability to acquire such information from the manifestation of God in his Word. The objection must be held as involving the assertion that man, in consequence of his depravity, is incapable, either from defective intellect or from perverted tastes, of ascertaining his duty from any source.

Now this doctrine appears to us fraught with the worst consequences to religion and morals. If man be incapable, from whatever cause, of ascertaining his duty, he must stand exempt from all obligation to perform it, and all blame for neglecting it. He is thus delivered from all responsibility so long as he remains in his state of depravity. It is only when, by a special power from Heaven, that depravity is counteracted, that he enters upon his career of probation and responsibility! From this doctrine also it would follow, that man is incapable of ascertaining by his natural reason the claims of Scripture as a divine revelation ; for as this presupposes his belief in the divine existence, and his knowledge of certain, at least, of the divine perfections, and of the moral truths which these involve, it is manifest that, on the supposition of his natural incapacity to arrive at such knowledge and belief, he is not in circumstances either rightly to understand the proposition or to examine the evidence on which it rests. From a doctrine fraught with such melancholy consequences, it behoves every friend of truth and goodness to turn aside.

But it is asked, Is it not a fact that the Fall has led to a sad derangement of man's whole nature, and is not one evidence of this seen in the bias under which the judgment acts in all questions of a moral kind? How, then, can an inquiry into the true principles of morals be conducted successfully by a being whose judgment on all moral questions is biassed? There is something plausible in this; but its force, if we mistake not, is wholly derived from the vagueness of the terms employed. What, let us ask, does the objector precisely mean by the judgment being

« AnteriorContinuar »