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We are formed capable of perceiving and of feeling moral truth; but it is truth which has an existence independently of our perceptions and feelings. Every theory, therefore, which represents moral distinctions as having no existence apart from the mind that perceives them :--that is, that teaches us to regard morality as altogether a matter of sensation or feeling, appears to me to have a sceptical and dangerous tendency.
Nor can I admit that the theory of the acute and learned Dr. Brown on this subject, however much guarded by its author, is free from this objection. While he discards the doctrine of moral sense, he con. tends for the doctrine of moral emotions ;—that is, he reduces all our moral perceptions into feelings ;-a doctrine which appears to me to be nearly the same as that which he rejects, and to have precisely the same tendency. His reasoning in support of moral distinctions is, indeed, very powerful, accompanied as it is with the eloquence of a virtuous and generous heari ; and the words in which it is concluded shew the concern which he felt that those whom he instructed should, on this most important topic, receive the truth only.
We have now," says he, “ examined very fully the great question, as to the distinctions which we find man everywhere to have made of actions, as morally right or wrong; and I trust, for the sake of your happiness in life, at least, as much as for the accuracy of your philosophy, that you are not
, inclined to withhold your logical assent from the doctrine of the moral distinction of vice and virtue,-a
doctrine which seems to me to have every character of truth, as a faithful picture of the phenomena of the mind; and which it would, therefore, be as erroneous, as it would be miserable, to deny *.”
My objection, then, to Dr. Brown's theory is, that it appears to me, not as subversive of morality, to use his own words in reference to a different theory, but as fixing morality on a basis that is not sufficiently firm; with the discovery of the instability of which, therefore, the virtues that are represented as supported on it, might be considered as themselves unstable ; as the statue, though it be the image of a god, or the column, though it be a post of the sacred temple, may fall, not because it is not sufficiently cohesive and firm in itself, but because it is too massy for the feeble pedestal on which it has been placed.
Moral truth is perceived and judged of by the understanding, as well as felt and loved by the heart. The distinctions which relate to it are fixed, immu. table, and eternal, independently of any perceptions and feelings, and are as much included in necessary truth, as that three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles. That a being endowed with certain powers is bound to love and obey the Creator and Preserver of all, is truth, whether I perceive it or no; and we cannot conceive it possible that it can ever be reversed.
* Brown's Lectures on Moral Philosophy, Vol. IV. p. 18.
OF THE MEASURE, OR RULE OF VIRTUE.
By the will of God, we understand the determination or the pleasure of Him who is holy, and just, and good, and whose determinations and enactments, there. fore, are founded in justice and in judgment. Few will deny that his will is the measure or rule of obligation to all intelligent and accountable creatures. While this is manifested to us in various ways, it is comprehensively and definitely expressed in that perfect law which he has given us, as the measure of virtue and the rule of conduct.
Before proceeding to point out the perfection of this law, arising from its intrinsic excellency, and the universality of its application, and to prove that it is the only infallible rule to man, I shall make a few observations on the doctrine of expediency, which, according to some, furnishes the rule and the standard of moral 'conduct.
According to this doctrine, the sole measure of the right or the wrong of every action, is utility, while, at the same time, the agent is the sole judge of that utility. In modern times it has been maintained, if not first, at least, with the greatest ability, by Mr. Hume, and afterwards by Dr. Paley. It is but just, however, to remark, that while they are agreed as to the principle, they greatly differ as to the source from whence it is derived, and the grounds on which its obligations are maintained :-the latter, considering the rule as proceeding from the will of God, and enforced by the prospect of rewards and punishments in the life to come: while the former views it merely as suggested by nature, and as being enforced only by the present consequences of adopting or disregard
The method by which Dr. Paley attempts to derive his rule of moral obligation from the will of God, is extremely plausible, and of a nature well adapted to procure for it a favourable reception with pious minds.
a “ God Almighty,” says he, “ wills and wishes the happiness of his creatures: and, consequently, those actions which promote that will and wish must be agreeable to him; and the contrary:-the method of coming at the will of God concerning any action by the light of nature is, to inquire into the tendency of that action to promote or diminish the general hapa piness :-But who shall judge of the expediency? Every man for himself. The danger of error and abuse is no objection to the rule of expediency, because every other rule is liable to the same or greater; and every rule that can be propounded on the subject, must, in the application, depend on private judgment." He even affirms, that every moral rule is, on the ground of expediency, in particular cases, liable to be dispensed with: so that on such occasions it may be as great a duty to supersede the rule, as it is on others to observe it. “ Moral Philosophy,” continues he, “cannot pronounce that any rule of morality is so rigid as to bend to no exceptions ; nor, on the other land, can she comprise these exceptions within any