|« Prev||Chapter XVI. Man’s Direction and Government of…||Next »|
MAN’S DIRECTION AND GOVERNMENT OF HIS ACTIONS, AND HIS CONSEQUENT RESPONSIBILITY.
Extremes to be avoided. THERE are two extremes to be avoided here. The first is that which considers man as, in some sense, a passive recipient of influences from without. He is represented as placed in certain circumstances and surrounded by certain objects, in the selection of which he has had no choice; and as he is susceptible of certain impressions which these circumstances and objects are fitted to make upon him, he cannot be considered a free and accountable agent.
The power really from within. In opposition to this false hypothesis we assert that the whole force which governs man is within, and proceeds from himself. External objects are in themselves inert. They exert no 108influence; no power emanates from them. The only power and influence which they can possibly have over any man they derive from the active principles of his nature. We are, indeed, accustomed in popular language to say that external objects excite and inflame the mind; but in philosophical accuracy they are, but the passive objects on which the affections and desires of the mind fasten, and their whole power of moving to action depends upon the strength of the inward affections of the soul. To render this perfectly plain to every mind, it will only be necessary to attend to a few familiar illustrations.
No force in outward objects. To a man who is under the influence of hunger or thirst, bread and water are said, when seen, greatly to excite him, so that he is strongly impelled to appropriate these objects to the craving wants of his nature. But every one sees at once that both the bread and the water are merely passive objects on which the appetite fixes. the real force which impels to action, is not, therefore the external object, but the inward desire 109which is in the soul itself. For where no appetite of hunger or thirst exists, the bread and water, however presented and urged upon the. sense, produce no effect; there is no motive to action experienced.
Force resides in internal principles. Take another case. A man comes into a room where lies a pile of gold. Avarice urges him to seize the beloved object, and appropriate it to himself. Two desires or motives counteract the tendency of avarice; one is a sense of duty or regard to the dictate of conscience, which he knows ought to be obeyed; the other is a regard to reputation, or the good opinion of men. Between these two antagonistical principles, there must of course be a conflict. If avarice be strong, and the power of conscience and desire of the good opinion of men be comparatively weak, the consequence will be that the man will put forth his hand and take the gold, and at the same time will feel conscious that he is doing wrong. But if conscience be fully awake, and especially if a love of moral excellence and a hatred of iniquity have a place in his mind, 110this motive alone will be sufficient to induce him to reject at once the thought of appropriating what belongs to another. In this case it is evident that the gold on the table is altogether passive; there is no secret emanation from the inert metal. The whole power of gold to seduce the mind to evil depends on the strength of the principle of avarice within; and in a mind rightly constituted, or under the influence of good. moral dispositions, it could never so prevail as to induce the person to do an unlawful act for the sake of obtaining it.
Externals are only objects. From these cases it is evident that a man is not governed by any influence from without or separate from himself, but that the true spring of his actions lies entirely in his own inclinations and will, external things having no other influence than as they furnish objects suited to his appetites and other desires.
Motives not separate existences. Some writers on the will, in speaking of the governing power of motives, have expressed themselves in a manner which leads to the opinion that the motives by which the will is determined 111exist without us, or separate from ourselves, whereas those motives which possess an active power and govern our voluntary actions, are within us, and are our own active powers and affections, for which we are as responsible as for any other acts or operations of the mind. Hence it may truly be affirmed that every man possesses a self-determining power by which he regulates and governs his own actions according to his own inclinations.
Self-determining power. The other extreme in regard to this subject is, that the will possesses a self-determining power in itself, independent of all motives, and uninfluenced by any inclination. And it is maintained that such a self-determining power is essential to freedom, and to the existence of an accountable moral agent. If, indeed, this last opinion were correct we should admit the self-determining power of the will, whether we understood its nature or not; for we lay it down as a first principle—from which we can no more depart than from the consciousness of existence—that man 112is free; and therefore stand ready to embrace whatever is fairly included in the definition of freedom. But it is not yet made evident, or even probable, that such a power exists, or that it is at all necessary to free moral agency, or that the possession of such a power would be valuable or desirable.
Not necessary. All that is wanted is to make man the master of his own actions, and this is completely effected by giving him the power to will and act in accordance with his own inclinations. Certainly a man is not the less accountable for his actions because they are in accordance with his desires. Every rational being acts with a view to some end, and his regard or affection for that end is the motive which governs his will and influences his conduct.
Denial of such power does not conflict with liberty. It cannot be justly denied, and is generally admitted, that in most cases the determinations of the will are influenced by strong desires; and when such desires exist, and there are none leading a contrary way, the decisions of the will are 113in fact determined by the previous state of the mind. Now if the prevalence of these desires in such cases is not found to interfere with free agency, there is no reason to think that the belief that the will is invariably determined by the strongest existing desire will lead to any conclusion unfavourable to liberty. If the self-determining power in question is exerted only in trivial cases where motives to action are weak, or when there is an equipoise of motives, it cannot be a power of any great consequence, since most of our moral acts are performed without its aid.
Instances examined. Let us first take an impartial view of the acts of a man in the exercise of the power which all admit he possesses, and then of this imaginary power which some think essential to moral agency.
First case. In the first case the man exercising his reason, apprehends objects which appear to him, on some account, good and desirable. These objects he desires to obtain, and puts forth those volitions which produce the actions requisite to the accomplishment of his object.114
Second case. In the second case the man feels an inclination leading him with more or less force to a certain object; but he has a power which he can at any time exert to arrest his action in the line of his inclinations, and by exerting this power of willing he can counteract any desire, and act in opposition to it. Or if two desires exist, he can by this power give the prevalence to that which is the weaker. The best way to bring this matter to the test of experience is to suppose a case in which such a power is exerted. Suppose the case of a man in whom, by habit and indulgence, the appetite for intoxicating drink is strong; but he is induced by weighty reasons derived from a sense of duty and a regard to his health, reputation, family, and temporal prosperity, to determine not to expose himself to temptation. An old companion calls and solicits him to go with him to a convivial meeting. His appetite strongly pleads for indulgence, if only for this one time; but conscience remonstrates, and a regard to health, reputation, and the like, operates strongly on the other side. Suppose the influence felt 115from these two opposite sources to be almost equally balanced; suppose even a perfect equipoise. Such a state of mind, though possible and frequently experienced, can never last long, for the states of the mind change in some respects every moment, and the least difference in the views of the subject would destroy the balance. But now is the time for the exercise of the power which determines without regard to motive. Suppose, while the scales are thus in equipoise, this power to be exerted, and the man determines in favour of self-denial. Why he did thus determine, seems to be a reasonable inquiry; but if this power exists, such a question is entirely irrelative. There was, according to the supposition, no reason or motive which influenced the determination. Here then is a case for our consideration: Is an action prompted by no motive, and performed without a view to any end, an accountable moral act? If this self-determining power exists, it may be exerted in opposition to the highest and best motives, and neither the person himself nor any body else can tell why it was exerted. If a man under the influence 116of love to his Creator, should be about to engage in the performance of some plain and important duty, the exertion of this power at the most unseasonable time might arrest his action and lead him to a contrary determination. Why would he exert such a power at such a time? That, indeed, is the question. No power to determine against all motives. But if any reason of any kind could be given it would destroy the hypothesis, which is that a man has power to determine in opposition to all existing motives, and where there is a competition can act in conformity with the weakest. Surely such a power is irrational and dangerous in the extreme, and has no tendency to increase that freedom which is requisite to a moral agent.117
|« Prev||Chapter XVI. Man’s Direction and Government of…||Next »|