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SUMMARY VIEW OF LIBERTY.
Man intuitively certain that he is free. MAN is conscious of liberty, and nothing can add to the certainty which h e h as that he is a free agent. Objections to self-evident principles, however plausible, should not be regarded; for, in the nature of things, no reasonings can overthrow plain intuitive truths, as no reasonings can be founded on principles more certain. Though we may not be able to understand or explain with precision wherein freedom consists, yet this ignorance of its nature should not disturb our minds. We experience the same difficulty ill regard to other truths of this class without any diminution of our assurance. I am conscious that I have life—but what is life? neither I nor any other human being can tell. But do we, 126because of this ignorance, doubt whether indeed we live? Not in the least. We know that we are free precisely in the same manner that we know that we are living beings, and no plausible reasonings should disturb us in the one case more than in the other.
This certainty undisturbed by errors of reasoning. Again, if in attempting to explain what is essential to free agency, we should fall into any mistake, or conclude that some thing does not belong to it, which does, let it not be said that we deny the freedom of man; for while we may err in regard to our conception of its nature, we know that we cannot err in regard to the actual existence of freedom.
Reason for denying some demands. We are willing to attribute to man every kind and degree of liberty which can properly belong to a dependent creature and a rational being; and if we deny what some think essential to free agency, it is because in our view it would be no real privilege to possess such a power, as not being compatible with the laws by which rational creatures are governed.127
Postulates. It is admitted that man has power to govern his own volitions, and does govern them, according to his own desire. He has the liberty, within the limits of his power, to act as he pleases; and greater liberty, in our judgment, is inconceivable.
Liberty is not power to act independently of all reasons. To suppose, in addition to this, a power to act independently of all reasons and motives, would be to confer on him a power for the exercise of which he could never be accountable. It would be a faculty which would completely disqualify him from being the subject of moral government. In the nature of things, it would be impossible that a creature possessed of such a power could be so governed that his actions could be directed to any end.
First hypothesis. One hypothesis makes man the master of his own actions, but a creature governed by understanding and choice. He may be misled by false appearances, and influenced by wrong motives, but is always governed by some reasons or motives.128
Second hypothesis. On the other hypothesis a man may and does act without any inducement, and without being influenced by any reasons, to do what is contrary to all his inclinations and feeling. I cannot but think that, after all, the abettors of this scheme retain in their minds a certain obscure but lingering persuasion that the free agent feels some reason for acting as he does; and if so, the dispute is at an end, for whatever may be the consideration which induces a man to act in opposition to strong desires, it must be something which is felt by the mind to have force, and to be such a consideration as ought to influence a rational being.
Let us for still further elucidation again suppose a case in which this self-determining power is exerted.
Case supposed for self-determining power. A young man entrusted with the property of his employer, has by undue indulgence in amusements, contracted debts which he is unable to pay. He sees a way by which he can appropriate to his own use some of the 129money in his hands without the possibility of discovery. His wants are urgent, his reputation is at stake, and he feels himself impelled by a powerful motive to the deed; and there are no motives to draw him in an opposite course but such as are derived from conscience and the fear of God. At the moment when about to perpetrate the felonious act, he pauses and resolves that he will not do it. The question is, has he not power to act thus? Is he not the arbiter of his own acts of will? Are we not all conscious that we possess such a power? There is no dispute about the power, if it only pleases the agent to exercise it. He is as free to abstain from embezzling what belongs to another, as to do it. The only question is, will he do it unless some reason, motive, or moral feeling influence him? If so, then indeed it would be the exemplification of the power in question. But when we examine the case carefully we shall be satisfied that where there is a powerful motive on one side, there must be a preponderating motive on the other to prevent a volition in accordance with the first. Suppose the young 130man under the temptation mentioned to have his mind free from all moral considerations, and to have no fear of injuring his reputation, what would restrain him? Or, if without any moral influence, or any other consideration, he should abstain, would there be any virtue in the act? To know whether an act is virtuous, we properly ask, why was it done? what was the motive of the agent? But here there is none, and consequently the act can have no moral character. And if we suppose some faint remonstrance of conscience, and some slight fear of discovery, even these would not prevent the act where the contrary motives were urgent.
But suppose, now, this young man to have had a religious education, and to have been brought up to regard his reputation, and when the temptation is most powerful and he is in danger of yielding, conscience should utter her voice with power, and dictate imperatively that this is a deed which should not be done; and at the same time, a lively apprehension of disgrace should operate with a combined influence on 131his mind, would the operation of these motives in preventing the crime be less rational or less virtuous than if he should act without a motive?132
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