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ON THE IMPORTANCE OF RELIGION, BOTH
To SOCIETY AND THE INDIVIDUAL;
On the Importance of Religion, both to
: Society and the Individual.
COME late pretended philosophers, in
order to set aside the importance of religion, have endeavoured to establish an opinion, that a wise legislation is all that is necessary to make the world virtuous and happy; and, consequently, that all the evils. which mankind have hitherto laboured under, are to be ascribed to the fault or imper-'
fection of their political institutions. Now, allowing that whatever evils have arisen from bad government are capable of correction by the contrary, still it may be true, that such as made their way into the world, previous to all civil government whatsoever, may require remedies which no human means can provide or apply.
Let us, however, for a moment, listen to these political sages. Virtue, according to their great doctor Helvetius, consists in the knowledge (why not the practice?) of those duties we owe one to another, and therefore supposes the formation of societies. “ A man,” says he, “ born in a desert isle, and abandoned to himself, would remain without vice and without virtue.” “What then,” he proceeds, “ must we understand by the words virtuous and vicious, but actions either useful or injurious to the public *?" The same is held by others of this philosophic school : I shall only subjoin a passage from Raynall: “Since society," he observes, “ should be useful to all its members, they ought every one in return to be useful to society : so, to be virtuous is to be useful, and to be vicious is to be useless or hurtful: behold, the sum of morality*.” Hence it is but supposing that virtue and vice relate only to society, and that the state of society depends only upon the laws, and the conclusion follows, That nothing is wanting to reform the world but a wise legislation.
* “Vertu—consiste dans la connoissance de ce que les hoinmés se doivent les uns aux autres-elle suppose pas consequent la formation des sociétés. Né dans une isle deserte, abandonné a moi-même, J'y vis sans vice et sans vertu—Que faut il donc entendre par ces mots ver's
What such writers mean by being useful to society, we may collect from their ideas of human happiness. “I maintain,” says Helvetius, “ that man, from his very frame
tueuses et vicieuses ? Les actions utiles ou nuisible à la société.”
Helv. de l'homme, sect. ii. ch. xvi. (note 9.) .. *“Puisque la société doit être utile à chacun de ses membres, il est de la justice que chacun de ses membresi soit utile a la société. Ainsi être vertueux, c'est être utile; être vicieux, c'est être inutile ou nuisible. Voila la morale."
RAYN. Hist. Phil. liv. xix. p: 298:
and constitution, is only capable of the pleasures of sense*.” Again, “ Physical sensibility constitutes man himself, and is the foundation of all that pertains to his being t.” Hence he infers, that neither our desires or knowledge can extend beyond the senses. Accordingly, he considers those as the only saints who add to the public stock of sensitive enjoyments by inventing some new pleasure 1.
* " Te dis que l'homme, n'etant, par sa nature, sensible qu'aux plaisirs des sens, ces plaisirs, par consequent, sunt l'unique objet de ses desirs.”
Helv. de l'esprit. disc. iii. ch. x. + “ La sensibilité physique est l'homme lui-même et le principe de tout ce qu'il est. Aussi ses connoissances n'atteignent elles jamais au de-là de ses seng.” Id. de l'Homme, Recap. ch. ii.
See de l'Homme, sect. i. ch. xiii.- What a pity that this sublime philosopher had not the good fortune to have lived under the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, who might have preferred him to the head of his office, à voluptatibus *, in which capacity, by exerting his great genius, he might have added some new pleasure to the imperial stock. .
• Novum officium instituit à voluptatibus, præposito equite Romano T. Cæsonio Prisco. Suetonius in vitá. Tib. c. 42.
These are notions at which Epicurus might have blushed; who, by placing the supreme good of man in indolence of body and tranquillity of mind, affected at least a kind of philosophic superiority to mere animal gratifications.
Again : The doctrine of this school, that truth alone is sufficient for regenerating mankind, is certainly new, and worthy of its authors. Philosophers have formerly been used to lament the feebleness of reason, which, when single and unsupported, they found was commonly overborne and trampled under foot amidst the scuffle and tumult of the world. They have lamented that the judgments of men were so much governed by their passions, especially by their interest; of which a witty poet, who wanted the illumination of modern philosophy, thus describes the wonderful power:
“ What makes all doctrines plain and clear?
Prove false again ?-Two hundred more.” Nor have they less lamented the inefficacy of truth, after full conviction, to produce