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We chose to consider this set of duties in
Method. the last place, because though prior in dignity and excellency, they seem to be last in order of time, as thinking it the most simple and easy method to follow the gradual progress of nature as it takes its rise from individuals, and spreads through the social system, and still ascends upwards, till at length it stretches to its almighty Parent and head, and so terminates in those duties which are highest and best. The duties resulting from these relations
Piety. are reverence, gratitude, love, resignation, dependence, obedience, worship, praise ; which, according to the model of our finite capacities, must maintain some sort of proportion to the grandeur and perfection of the object whom we venerate, love, and obey. “ This proportion or harmony is expressed by the general name of piety or devotion,” which is always stronger or weaker, according to the greater or less apprehended excellency of its object. This sublime principle of virtue is the enlivening soul which animates the moral system, and that cement which binds and sustains the other duties which man owes to himself or to society. From hence, as will appear afterwards, they derive not only the firmest support, but their highest relief and lustre.
This then is the general temper and consti- Division of tution of virtue, and these are the principle conscience. lines and divisions of duty. To those good dispositions which respect the several objects of our duty, and to all actions which flow from such dispositions, the mind gives its sanction or testimony. And this sanction or judgment concerning the moral quality, or the goodness of actions or dispositions, moralists call conscience. When it judges of an action that is to be performed, it is called an antecedent conscience, and when it passes sentence
Goodness of on an action which is performed, it is called an action,
a subsequent conscience. The tendency of an action to produce happiness, or its external conformity
to a law is termed its material goodness. But Material.'
the good dispositions from which an action proceeds, or its conformity to law in every respect conFormal. stitutes its forinal goodness.
Some moralists, of no mean figure, reckon
it necessary to constitute the formal goodness of an action, “ that we reflect on the action with moral complacency and approbation, for mere affection, or a good temper, whether it respects others or ourselves, they call natural or instinctive goodness, of wbich the brutes are equally capable with man
But when that affection or temper is viewed with approbation, and made the object of a new affection, this, they say, constitutes moral goodness or virtue, in the strict sense of the word, and is the characteristic of moral or rational agents." Whether ap
It must be acknowleged, that men may be necessary to partially good, i.e. may indulge some kind afcomplete fections, and do some kind actions, and yet virtue. may be vicious or immoral on the whole. Thus å man may be affectionate to his child, and injurious to his neighbour; or compassionate to his neighbour, and cruel to his country; or zealous for his country, and yet inhuman to mankind. It must also be acknowledged, that to make every degree and act of good affection the frequent object of our attention,—to reflect on these with moral approbation and delight,--to be convinced, on a full and impartial review, that virtue is most amiable in itself, and attended with the most happy consequences, is sometimes a great support to virtue, in many instances necessary to complete the virtuous character, and always of use to give uniformity and stability to virtuous prin
ciples, especially amidst the numberless trials to which they are exposed in this mixed scene of human life. Yet how many of our fellow-creatures do we esteem and loyg, who perhaps never coolly reflected on the beauty or fair proportions of virtue, or turned it into a subject of this moral approbation and complacency! Philosophers, or contemplative men, may very laudably amuse themselves with such charıning theories, and often do contemplate every the minutest trace of virtue about themselves with a parental fondness and adıniration, and by those amiable images reflected from themselves, they may perhaps be çonfirmed in the esteein of whatever is honest and praise worn thy. However, it is not generally ainong this recluse set of men that we expect to find the highest flights of virtue; but rather among men of action and business, who, through the prevalence of a natural good temper, or from generous affections to their friends, their country, or mankind, are truly and transcendently good. Whatever that qua,
. lity is which we approve in any action, and count worthy our esteem, and which excites an esteem and love of the agent, we call the virtue, merit, or formal goodness of that action. And if actions invested with such a quality have the ascendant in a character, we call that character virtuous or good: now it is certain that those qualities or principles mentioned above, especially those of the public and benevolent kind, how simple, how instinctive soever, are viewed with approbation and love. The very nature of that principle we call conscience, which approves these benevolent affections; and whatever is done through their influence intįmates that virtue or merit is present in the mind before conscience is exercised, and that its office is only to observe it there, or to applaud it. For if virtue is something that deserves our esteem and love, then it must exist before conscience is exerted, or gives its testimony, Therefore to say 9 N 2
say that the testimony of conscience is necessary to the being or form of a virtuous action, is, in plain terms, to affirm that virtue is not virtue till it is reflected on and approved as virtue. The proper business of reason, in forming the virtuous character, is to guide the several affections of the mind to their several objects, and to direct us to that conduct, or to those measures of action, which are the most proper means of acquiring them. Thus, with respect to benevolence, which is the virtue of a character, or a principal ingredient of merit, its proper object is the public good. The business of reason then is to inform us wherein consists the greatest public good, what conduct and which actions are the most effectual means of promoting it. After all, the motions of the mind are so quick and imperceptible, and so complicated with each other, that perhaps seldom do any indulge the virtuous or good affections without an approving consciousness; and certainly the more that virtue is contemplated wiib admiration and love, the more firm and inflexible will tbe spectator be in his attachment to it. Divisions of When the mind is ignorant or uncertain consciezce.
about the moment of an action, or its tendency to private or public good, or when there are several circumstances in the case, some of which, being doubtful, render the mind dubious concerning the morality of the action, this is called a doubtful or scrupulous conscience; if it mistakes concerning these, it is called án erroneous conscience. If the 'error or ignorance is involuntary or invincible, the action proceeding from that error, or from that ignorance, is reckoned innocent, or not imputable. If the error 'or ignorance is supine or affected, i. e. the effect of negligence, or of affectation and wilful inadvertence, the conduct flowing from such error, or such ignorance, is criminal and imputable. Not to follow one's conscience, though erroneous and ill-in
formed, is criminal, as it is the guide of life; and to counteract it, shews a depraved and incorrigible spirit. Yet to follow an erroneous conscience is likewise criminal, if that error which misled the conscience was the effect of inattention, or of any criminal passion*. If it be asked, “ how an erroneous con- How consci
ence is to be science shall be rectified, since it is supposed rectified. to be the only guide of life, and judge of moralsi" We answer in the very same way that we would rectify reason if at any time it should judge wrong, as it often does, viza by giving it proper and sufficient materials for judging right, i. e. by inquiring into the whole state of the case, the relations, connections, and several obligations of thc actor, the consequences and other circumstances of the action, or the surplusage of private or public good which results, or is likely to result, from the action or from the omission of it. If those circumstances are fairly and fully stated, the conscience will be just and impartial in its decision: for, by a necessary law. of our nature, it approves and is well affected to the moral form; and if it seems to approve of vice or immoralily, it is always under the notion or mask of some virtue. So that, strictly speaking, it is not conscience which errs; for its sentence is always conformable to the view of the case which lies before it : and is just, upon the supposition that the case is truly such as it is represented to it. All the fault is to be inputed to the agent, who neglects to be better informed, or who, through weakness or wickedness, hastens to pass sentence from an imperfect evidence. Thus he who persecutes another for the sake of conscience, or a mistake in religious opinion, does not approve of injustice or cruelty any more than his mistaken neighbour who suffers by it; but, thinking the severity he uses conformable to
Vid. Hutches. Moral Inst. Lib. II. Chap. 3.