« PreviousContinue »
Of the ruling passion, and an estimate of
the propriety and value of the different pursuits of mankind.
AVING given this general delinea
tion of the various passions and affections of human nature, which may be called the springs of all our actions (since every thing that we do is something that we are prompted to by one or more of them,) I shall now proceed to examine them separately, in order to ascertain how far we ought to be influenced by any of them, and in what cases, or degrees, the indulgence of any of them becomes wrong and criminal.
Actuated as we are by a variety of paffions, it can hardly be, but that some of them will have more influence over us than others. These are sometimes called
ruling passions, because, whenever it happens that the gratification of some interferes with that of others, all the rest will give place to these. If; for instance, any man's ruling passion be the love of money, he will deny himself any of the pleasures of life for the sake of it ;
whereas, if the love of pleasure were his ruling passion, he would often run the risque of impoverishing himself, rather than not procure his favourite indulgence.
It must be of great importance, therefore, to know which ought to be our ruling passions through life, or what are those gratifications and pursuits to which we ought to sacrifice every thing else. This is the object of our present inquiry, in conducting which we must consider how far the indulgence of any particular passion is consistent with our regard to the four rules of conduct that have been explained; namely, the will of God, our own best interest, the good of others, and the natural dictates of our conscience; and
in estimating the value of any particular enjoyment, with respect to the happiness we receive from it, we must confider how great or intense it is, how long it will continue, whether we regard the nature of the sense from which it is derived, or the opportunities we may have of procuring the gratification of it, and lastly, how far it is consistent, or inconsistent, with other pleasures of our nature, more or less valuable than itself.
§ 1. Of the pleasures of sense.
Since no appetite or passion belonging to our frame was given us in vain, we may conclude, that there cannot be any thing wrong in the simple gratification of any desire that our maker has implanted in us, under certain limitations and in certain circumstances; and if we consider the proper object of any of our appetites, or the end it is calculated to answer, it will be a rule for us in determining how far the divine being intended that they should be
indulged. Now some of our sensual appetites have for their proper object the support of life, and others the propagation of the species. They should, therefore, be indulged as far as is necessary for these purposes, and where the indulgence is not so excessive, or so circumstanced, as to interfere with the greater good of ourselves and others.
1. But to make the gratification of our fenses our primary pursuit, must be abfurd; for the appetite for food is given us for the sake of supporting life, and not life for the sake of consuming food. The like may be faid of other sensual appetites. Since, therefore, we certainly err from the intention of nature when we make that an end, which was plainly meant to be no more than a means to some farther end; whatever this great' end of life be, we' may conclude that it cannot be the gratification of our sensual appetites, for they themselves are only a means to something else.
2. To make the gratification of our bodily fenfes the chief end of living would tend to defeat itself; for a man who should have no other end in view would be
apt so to overcharge and surfeit his senses, that they would become indisposed for their proper functions, and indulgence would occasion nothing but a painful loathing. By intemperance also in eating and drinking, and in all other corporeal pleasures, the powers of the body itself are weakened, and a foundation is laid for disorders the most loathsome to behold, the most painful to endure, and the most fatal in their tendencies and issues. The ingenuity of man cannot contrive any torture so exquisite, and at the same time of so long continuance, as those which are occasioned by the irregular indulgence of the senses ; whereas temperance, and occasional abstinence, is a means of keeping all the bodily organs and senses in their proper tone, disposed to relish their proper gratifications; so that they shall give a man the most true