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WHETHER MORALITY BELONGS TO PRINCIPLES AS WELL AS ACTS, OR IS CONFINED TO ACTS ALONE.
Moral principles prior to volition. IT seems to be generally agreed, that in the human soul there exist certain principles from which actions proceed, as streams from a fountain; and that the character of the actions corresponds with that of the principle. Those, however, who maintain that the will possesses a self-determining power, independent of motives, deny the existence of any such principles lying back of the acts of the mind, especially in moral exercises. They hold that the evil of an act arises entirely from the exercise of free will, and that there is no propriety in referring it to any thing previously existing in the mind. They allege that nothing can be of a moral nature but that which is voluntary, 148and therefore that virtue or vice can be predicated of nothing but actions. They argue, however, that to make virtue and vice consist in the occult qualities of the soul, is to conceive of the essence of the soul as corrupt; and that this would be to make sin a physical quality, existing without any relation to the will. It would be entirely out of place, here, to consider the bearing of this controversy on certain theological points, concerning which polemics have waged an interminable war. We have, at present, nothing to do with any principles or questions but such as may be learned from reason and experience.
Principles argued from effects. In the first place, let it be observed, that we know nothing of the soul but by its acts. We have no consciousness of any thing but acts of different kinds; yet we know as certainly that we have a soul, as that we think and feel. So, also, we are not conscious of the existence of what is called disposition, temper, principle; but we as intuitively believe in the existence of these, as in the existence of the soul itself. If 149we see one man doing evil whenever he has the temptation, and another as habitually doing good, we cannot help considering that the one is actuated by an evil disposition which dwells in him, and that the other is influenced by a good disposition.
Morality predicable of principles. Whether moral good and evil may with propriety be predicated of these hidden tempers of the mind, must be determined by an appeal to the common judgment of mankind; and this, I think, is manifestly in favour of the affirmative. When a man is observed to manifest wicked, malignant passions as often as occasion serves to elicit them, all men agree that he possesses a malignant temper. The soul of such a man, when his acts of iniquity are finished, cannot be free from every taint, until he again put forth a voluntary act. The doctrine of a uniform series of evil acts, is irreconcilable with the doctrine that all evil consists in self-determined acts, unless the will itself be corrupt, for why should all acts be of one kind, when no cause exists why they should be one thing rather than another? We might suppose such a power would act as frequently 150one way as another. But if there be any causes without the will, which give a uniform character to its acts, then the will cannot be free. It is determined by something without itself, which is incompatible with the hypothesis.
Moral evil predicable of principles. Again: the fountain must partake of the quality of the streams. If these are uniformly evil, it is fair to conclude that the fountain is polluted. Voluntary wickedness is nothing else but bringing into act what before existed in principle in the soul. If malice in act is sinful, surely malice in principle must be evil.
Crime infer a bad principle. No man can bring himself to believe that the wretch who has perpetrated thousands of base crimes, and stands ready to commit others of the same kind, has no evil inherent in his soul, by which he is distinguished from the most innocent person.
Proof from omission of duty. Another evidence that men do judge something to be sinful besides sinful acts, is that men who palpably omit important duty, are considered equally guilty with those who offend by positive act. That man who neglects to rescue 151from death a human being, when it is easily in his power to do so, is by all men reckoned guilty of a great crime, though he performs no act of any kind. Suppose a helpless woman or infant to fall overboard from a boat, in which there is a strong man who might afford relief, but makes no attempt to do so. Is there a person in the world who would not view such a neglect as a great sin? Now, on what principle do we censure the person who has committed no act of transgression? Evidently on the ground that he ought to have felt a regard for the life of a fellow-creature. We blame his indifference to the welfare of his neighbour.
Disposition, in what sense voluntary. As to the maxim, that nothing is sinful which is not voluntary, it relates to positive acts, not to dispositions of the mind. But as was explained before in regard to desires and affections, so in regard to dispositions, we say they are in a sense voluntary. They properly belong to the will, taking the word in a large sense. In judging of the morality of voluntary 152acts, the principle from which they proceed is always included in our view, and comes in for its full share of the blame. Thus Bishop Butler, in his excellent essay on the “Nature of Virtue,” says, in speaking of the moral faculty, “It ought to be observed that the object of this faculty is actions, comprehending under that name active or practical principles.” This sagacious man saw that it would not do to confine virtue to positive acts, but that principles must come in for their full share of approbation or disapprobation.
Proof from character. The character which a man acquires by a series of acts, is not merely the estimation of a person who has performed such acts, but it is of a person possessing dispositions or principles which gave rise to such acts. Our notion of a bad man is of one who not only has perpetrated wicked acts, but is still disposed to do the same; and we disapprove the principle as much as the acts. The notion that corrupt principles must vitiate the essence of the soul, is without foundation. The soul is the subject of many affections 153which are not essential to it. Natural affections may be extirpated, and yet the soul remain unchanged. Moral qualities may be entirely changed, without any change in the essence of the soul. The faculties remain, while the moral principles which govern them may be changed from good to bad, or from bad to good. The same faculties which are employed in the performance of virtuous actions, may be occupied as instruments of wickedness. That inherent moral qualities may exist in the soul, has been the belief of all nations, and is the sentiment of every common man whose judgment has not been warped by false philosophy.
Common judgment of mankind. Who can believe that the soul of a cruel murderer, whose heart cherishes habitual hatred and revenge towards his fellow creatures, is, when asleep, or occupied with indifferent matters, in the same state of purity or exemption from evil, as the soul of the most virtuous man in the world? It cannot be believed. We cannot help thinking, when we see a uniform course of action whether it be good or bad, that there must be 154corresponding dispositions which lead to such actions. Every effect must have an adequate cause. Let it be granted, for the sake of argument, that the self-determining power is an adequate cause for any single act of any kind; yet it can be no sufficient cause for a series of acts of the same kind. This, however, must be left to the intuitive belief of every man. It is a subject for the judgment of common sense, rather than reason.155
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