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perhaps, too simple for being reasoned; but this is because, like many of the most important and undoubted certainties of human belief, it is a truth of instant recognition. When stating the supremacy of conscience, in the sense that we have explained it, we but state what all men feel; and our only argument, in proof of the assertion, is our only argument can be, an appeal to the experience of all men.
10. Bishop Butler has often been spoken of as the first discoverer of this great principle in our nature; though, perhaps, no man can properly be said to discover what all men are conscious of. But certain it is, that he is the first who hath made the natural supremacy of conscience the subject of a full and reflex cognizance—and by this achievement alone hath become the author of one of the most important contributions ever made to moral science. It forms the argument of his three first sermons, in a volume which may safely be pronounced, the most precious repository of sound ethical principles extant in any language. The authority of conscience, says Dugald Stewart,
although beautifully described by many of the ancient moralists, was not sufficiently attended to by modern writers, as a fundamental principle in the science of ethics, till the time of Dr. Butler.” It belongs to the very essence of the principle, that we clearly distinguish, between what we find to be the actual force of conscience, and what we feel to be its rightful authority. These two may exist in a state of separation from each other just as in a Civil Government, the reigning power may, in sea
sons of anarchy, be dissevered from that supreme court or magistrate to whom it rightfully belongs. The mechanism of a political fabric is not adequately or fully described by the mere enumeration of its parts. There must also enter into the description, the relation which the parts bear to each other; and more especially, the paramount relation of rightful ascendancy and direction, which that part, in which the functions of Government are vested, bears to the whole. Neither is the mechanism of man's personal constitution fully or adequately described, by merely telling us in succession the several parts of which it is composed-as the passions, and the appetites, and the affections, and the moral sense, and the intellectual capacities, which make up this complex and variously gifted creature. The particulars of his mental system must not only be stated, each in their individuality; but the bearing or connexion which each has with the rest—else it is not described as a system at all. In making out this description, we should not only not overlook the individual faculty of conscience, but we must not overlook its relative place among the other feelings and faculties of our nature. That place is the place of command.
What conscience lays claim to is the mastery or regulation over the whole man. Each desire of our nature rests or terminates in its own appropriate object, as the love of fame in applause, or hunger in food, or revenge in the infliction of pain upon its object, or affection for another in the happiness and company of the beloved individual. But the object of the moral sense is to arbitrate and direct among all
these propensities. It claims the station and the prerogative of a mistress over them.
Its peculiar office is that of superintendence, and there is a certain feeling of violence or disorder, when the mandates which it issues in this capacity, are not carried into effect. Every affection in our nature is appeased by the object that is suited to it. The object of conscience is the subordination of the whole to its dictates. Without this it remains unappeased, and as if bereft of its rights. It is not a single faculty, taking its own separate and unconnected place among the other feelings and faculties which belong to us. Its proper place is that of a guide or a governor.
It is the ruling power in our nature; and its proper, its legitimate business, is to prescribe that man shall be as he ought, and do as he ought. But instead of expatiating any further at present in language of our own, let us here admit a few brief sentences from Butler himself, that great and invaluable expounder both of the human constitution, and of moral science. “ That principle by which we survey, and either approve or disapprove our own heart, temper, and actions, is not only to be considered as what in its turn is to have some influence, which may be said of every passion, of the basest appetites: but likewise as being superior; as from its very nature manifestly claiming superiority over all others : insomuch that you cannot form a notion of this faculty conscience, without taking in judgment direction and superintendency. This is a constituent part of the idea, that is of the faculty itself: and to preside and govern, from the very economy
and constitution of man, belongs to it. Had it strength, as it has right; had it power, as it has manifest authority; it would absolutely govern the world.” “ This faculty was placed within us to be our proper governor; to direct and regulate all under principles, passions, and motives of action. This is its right and office. Thus sacred is its authority. And how often soever men violate and rebelliously refuse to submit to it, for supposed interest which they cannot otherwise obtain, or for the sake of passion which they cannot otherwise gratify; this makes no alteration as to the natural right and office of conscience.” 66 As the idea of a civil constitution implies in it united strength, various subordinations under one direction that of the supreme authority, the different strength of each particular member of the society not coming into the idea; whereas if you leave out the subordination, the union, and the one direction, you lose it; so reason, several appetites, passions and affections, prevailing in different degrees of strength, is not that idea or notion of human nature, which is meant when virtue is said to consist in following it, and vice in deviating from it; but that nature consists in these several principles considered as having a natural respect to each other, in the several passions being naturally subordinate to the one superior principle of reflection or conscience. Every bias, instinct, propension within, is a real part of our nature, but not the whole : Add to these the superior faculty, whose office it is to adjust, manage and preside over them, and take in this its natural superiority, and you complete the
idea of human nature.
And as in civil government the constitution is broken in upon, and violated by power and strength prevailing over authority; so the constitution of man is broken in upon and violated by the lower faculties or principles within prevailing over that, which is in its nature supreme over them all. Thus when it is said by ancient writers, that tortures and death are not so contrary to human nature as injustice; by this, to be sure, is not meant, that the aversion to the former in mankind is less strong and prevalent than their aversion to the latter : But that the former is only contrary to our nature considered in a partial view, and which takes in only the lowest part of it, that which we have in common with the brutes; whereas the latter is contrary to our nature, considered in a higher sense, as a system and constitution, contrary to the whole economy of man.”
The conclusion on the whole is—that man cannot be considered as a creature left by his Maker to act at random, and live at large up to the extent of his natural power, as passion, human wilfulness, happen
him; which is the condition brute creatures are in; But that from his make, constitution, or nature, he is, in the strictest and most proper sense, a law to himself. He hath the rule of right within : What is wanting is only that he honestly attend to it.”
11. Now it is in these phenomena of Conscience that Nature offers to us, far her strongest argument, for the moral character of God. Had He been an unrighteous Being himself, would He have given to this the obviously superior faculty in man, so