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DISSERT. II.

OF THE NATURE OF VIRTUE.

That which renders beings capable of moral government, is their having a moral nature, and moral faculties of perception and of action. Brute creatures are impressed and actuated by various instincts and propensions: so also are we. But, additional to this, we have a capacity of reflecting upon actions and characters, and making them an object to our thought : and on doing this, we naturally and unavoidably approve some actions, under the peculiar view of their being virtuous and of good-desert; and disapprove others, as vicious and of ill-desert. That we have this moral approving and disapproving * faculty, is certain from our experiencing it in ourselves, and recognizing it in each. other. It appears from our exercising it unavoidably, in the approbation and disapprobation even of feigned characters : from the words, right and wrong,

* This way of speaking is taken from Epictetus, † and is made use of, as seeming the most full, and least liable to cavil. And the moral faculty may be understood to have these two epithets, δοκιμαστική and αποδοκιμαστική, upon a double account ; because, upon a survey of actions, whether before or after they are done, it determines them to be good or evil; and also because it determines itself to be the guide of action and of life, in contradistinction from all other faculties, or natural principles of action: in the very same manner, as speculative reason directly and naturally judges of speculative truth and falsehood; and, at the same time, is attended with a consciousness upon reflection, that the natural right to judge of them belongs to it.

+ Arr. Epict. lib. i. cap. I.

odious and amiable, base and worthy, with many others of like signification in all languages, applied to actions and characters : from the many written systems of morals which suppose it; since it cannot be imagined, that all: these authors, throughout all these treatises, had absolutely no meaning at all to their words, or a meaning merely chimerical : from our natural sense of gratitude, which implies a distinction between merely being the instrument of good, and intending it: from the like distinction, every one makes, between injury and mere harm, which, Hobbs says, is peculiar to mankind; and between injury and just punishment, a distinction plainly natural, prior to the consideration of human laws, It is manifest, great part of common language, and of common behaviour over the world, is formed upon supposition of such a moral faculty; whether called con-science, moral reason, moral sense, or divine reason ; whether considered as a sentiment of the understanding or as a perception of the heart, or, which seems the truth, as including both. Nor is it at all doubtful in the general, what course of action this faculty, or practical discerning power within us, approves, and what it disapproves. For, as much as it has been disputed wherein virtue consists, or whatever ground for doubt there may be about particulars, yet, in general, there is in reality an universally acknowledged standard of it. It is that, which all ages and all countries have made profession of in public; it is that, which every man you meet, puts on the shew of; it is that, which the primary and fundamental laws of all civil constitutions, over the face of the earth, make it their business and endeavour to enforce the practice of upon mankind; namely, justice, veracity, and regard to common good. It being manifest then, in general, that we have such a faculty or discernment as this, it may be of use to remark some things, more distinctly, concerning it.

First, It ought to be observed, that the object of this faculty is actions, * comprehending under that name, active or practical principles ; those principles from which men would act, if occasions and circumstances gave them

power ; and which, when 'fixed and habitual in any person, we call, his character. It does not appear, that brutes have the least reflex sense of actions, as distinguished from events; or that will and design, which constitute the very nature of actions as such, are at all an object to their perception. But to ours they are ; and they are the object, and the only one, of the approving and disapproving faculty. Acting, conduct, behaviour, abstracted from all regard to what is, in fact and event, the consequence of it, is itself the natural object of the moral discernment, as speculative truth and falsehood is of speculative reason. Intention of such and such consequences, indeed, is always included; for it is part of the action itself: but though the intended good or bad consequences do not follow, we have exactly the same sense of the action as if they did. In like manner, we think well or ill of characters, abstracted from all consideration of the good or the evil, which persons of such characters have it actually in their power to do. We never, in the moral way, applaud or blame either ourselves or others, for what we enjoy or what we suffer, or, for having impressions made upon us which we consider as altogether out of our power; but only for what we do or would have done, had it been in our power; or for what we leave undone which we might have done, or would have left undone though, .we could have done it.

Secondly, Our sense or discernment of actions, as morally good or evil, implies in it a sense or discernment of them as of good or ill desert. It may be difficult to explain this perception, so as to answer all the

* ουδέ ή αρετή και κακία-εν πείσει, αλλά ενεργεία, M. Anton. lib. 16. Virtutis laus omnis in actione consistit. Cic. Off. lib. I. c. 6.

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questions which might be asked concerning it; but e-
very one speaks of such and actions as deserving pu-
nishment; and it is not, I suppose, pretended, that
they have absolutely no meaning at all to the expres-
sion. Now, the meaning plainly is not, that we con-
ceive it for the good of society, that the doer of such
actions should be made to suffer. For if unhappily it
were resolved, that a man who, by some innocent ac-
tion, was infected with the plague, should be left to
perish, lest, by other people coming near him, the in-
fection should spread ; no one would say, he deserved
this treatment. Innocence and ill desert are inconsist-
ent ideas. lll desert always supposes guilt; and if one
be not part of the other, yet they are evidently and na-
turally connected in our mind. The sight of a man in
misery raises our compassion towards him; and, if this
misery be inflicted on him by another, our indignation
against the author of it. But when we are informed,
that the sufferer is a villain, and is punished only for
his treachery or cruelty; our compassion exceedingly
lessens, and, in many instances, our indignation wbolly
subsides. Now, what produces this effect, is the con-
ception of that in the sufferer, which we call ill desert.
Upon considering, then, or viewing together, our no-
tion of vice and that of misery, there results a third,
that of ill desert. And thus there is in human crea-
tures an association of the two ideas, natural and mo-
ral evil, wickedness and punishment. If this associa-
tion were merely artificial or accidental, it were no-
thing ; but being most unquestionably natural, it great-
ly concerns us to attend to it, instead of endeavour-
ing to explain it away.
It
may

be observed farther, concerning our perception of good and of ill desert, that the former is very weak with respect to common instances of virtue. One reason of which may be, that it does not appear to a spectator, how far such instances of virtue proceed from a virtuous principle, or in what degree this principle is prevalent; since a very weak regard to virtue

may

be sufficient to make men act well in many

common instances. And, on the other hand; our perception of ill desert in vicious actions lessens, in proportion to the temptations men are thought to have had to such vices. For, vice in human creatures consisting chiefly in the absence or want of the virtuous principle, though a man be overcome, suppose, by tortures, it does not from thence appear, to what degree the virtuous principle was wanting. All that appears is, that he had it not in such a degree, as to prevail over the temptation; but possibly he had it in a degree, which would have rendered him proof against common temptations.

Thirdly, Our perception of vice and ill desert arises from, and is the result of, a comparison of actions with the nature and capacities of the agent. For, the mere neglect of doing what we ought to do, would, in many cases, be determined by all men to be in the highest degree vicious. And this determination must arise from such comparison, and be the result of it; because such neglect would not be vicious in creatures of other natures and capacities, as brutes. And it is the same also with respect to positive vices, or such as consist in doing what we ought not. For, every one has a different sense of harm done by an idiot, madman, or child, and by one of mature and common understanding ; though the action of both, including the intention, which is part of the action, be the same : as it may be, since idiots and madmen, as well as children, are capable, not only of doing mischief, but also of intending it. Now, this difference must arise from somewhat discerned in the nature or capacities of one, which renders the action vicious ; and the want of which in the other, renders the same action innocent, or less vicious : and this plainly supposes a comparison, whether reflected upon or not, between the action and capacities of the agent, previous to our determining an action to be vi

And hence arises a proper application of the epithets, incongruous, unsuitable, disproportionate, unfit, to actions which our moral faculty determines to be vicious.

CIOUS.

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