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The Essence of the virtue and vice of dispositions of the heart and acts of the Will, lies not in their Cause, but their Nature. 136136 This may appear to some to be an identical proposition “The essence of a thing lies in its nature;” but it is not wholly so, and the whole of the proposition is exceedingly important, on account of the negative part, or the incidental proposition it contains, viz. The essence of virtue and vice lies not in their cause. A single consideration may be sufficient to show the truth and importance of one part of this last proposition. If the essence of virtue lay in its cause, how could the first cause, or the uncaused nature, be virtuous? If therefore the first cause be virtuous, or have the essence of virtue, as all atheists will allow, it is plain that essence must lie in the nature of that cause itself. Hence, as God is the standard of all moral excellence, created natures are morally excellent in proportion as they resemble him. And as virtue is an imitable excellence, and as good reason can be assigned why the resemblance should not hold in this particular, it is highly probably, a priori, that, in reference to created natures, the essence of their virtue lies not in its cause. To demonstrate this last, is the design of the present section. Again, as the essence of virtue lies not in its cause, so neither does the essence of vice lie in its cause. But the philosophical ground of this part of the general proposition demands more particular attention. And as this proposition—“the essence of vice lies not in its cause,” affects the whole system of morals, and indeed of theology, we beg leave to propose a series of remarks which, it is hoped, will cast some light on the subject. 1. Causes are of two kinds, and of two only, either positive or negative. Positive causes produce positive effects, from the first cause through all secondary causes: and these positive secondary causes are nothing else but so may decretive antecedents, which act physically and their consequences follow from the nature of things; even as number follows the repetition of units, or happiness results from true virtue. 2. The term “cause” is applied less properly to express a negative idea; for it expresses merely an antecedent of a consequent. For instance, if we say that a man cannot read because he is blind, or cannot walk because he has no legs, or cannot go to heaven because he does not love God, and the like; it is manifest that blindness, want of legs, and want of love to God, are “causes” only as antecedents are causes to their consequents, without positive influence. 3. Negative causes, though they have no positive operations in producing their consequents, are no less the ground of certainty than those causes, properly so called, which exist in physical operations. For the consequent follows the antecedent with equal certainty, whether the connexion be formed by decretive will and energy, as in all positive causes, or by the nature of things only, which is essential truth, as in all negative causes. 4. The cause of vicious acts, is a vicious disposition; in other words, it is the want, or the absence of a virtuous disposition. The essence of the vicious act, however, is not in the cause, or disposition. The vice of the disposition is one thing, and the vice of the act is another. For as the nature of the disposition, and the nature of the act, are different; so the vice, or the moral badness of the one, is a different badness from that of the other. The one and the other is a bad thing whatever be the cause, and irrespective of any. Hence, 5. Evil dispositions or acts should be denominated such, not from their cause but from their nature. Were it otherwise, personal fault, or blame, could never exist; for the vicious act would transfer the blame to the disposition, and the disposition to the cause of that; whereby persons would be free from blame, and this would attach to principles only. But to suppose a moral agent incapable of blameworthiness, which on the supposition would be the case, is a gross absurdity. It would be to suppose an accountable being, who at the same time can be accountable for nothing; and it would be to impute blame to principles, or a principle, which is incapable of moral agencies. 6. The cause of virtuous acts, or, if we may so speak, the soil in which they grow, is a previous inclination or disposition to good, before any actual choice takes place. This may be called a virtuous inclination, or disposition. But the original and predisposing cause of that, is divine energy, influx, or influence; in other words, an assimilating emanation form the holy nature and decretive will of God. 7. Nevertheless, this is not a good, or a virtue, attributable to man, until he is actually possessed of it, or it becomes his, as a quality of his nature. God, the Father of lights, from whom every good and perfect gift proceedeth, is the cause of that virtuous disposition; but while the virtue remained in the cause, and not in the man, it was no human virtue. Nor does the essence of human virtue lie in the communication itself, for this was the effect of divine will; but no will can alter the nature of virtue: therefore, the essence of virtue consists not in the cause, whether we understand by “cause”, the Will that communicates the virtuous disposition, or the communication itself. Consequently, the absence of virtue is so completely confined to the disposition of the agent, and the consequent acts, as to exclude every thing else that may be termed its cause. 8. The cause of vicious acts, whatever it be, is opposite to the cause of virtuous acts; for these acts have diametrically opposite effects. That vicious acts have a cause, as well as virtuous ones, cannot be denied by any reflecting person, for this plain reason, that there is nothing in the universality of things, beings, qualities, &c. but had a cause, either positive or negative, as before explained. Neither agency, liberty, nor nay thing else, considered as an effect, or a consequent, can exist without a cause, or antecedent. The denial of this, and universal scepticism, are the same thing. Then all reasoning, and all common sense, vanish. Then body and spirit, cause and effects, good and evil, &c. are huddled up in endless confusion, without either first or last, great or small, order or proportion. 9. The original, predisposing cause of a vicious disposition, is the very opposite of the original, predisposing cause of a virtuous disposition. This last, it has been shown, is divine energy, which is a positive cause; the other, the opposite of this, is a negative cause. The cause of good, as before observed, is a cause properly so called, in the way of physical influence; but the cause of evil is called “a cause” improperly, as it implies no physical influence, but only stands as an antecedent to a consequent; from which however the consequent may be inferred with as much certainty as if the influence were physical and mechanical. Whether you suppose positive quantities, or negative quantities, consequences are equally certain, it is no less true that 5-2=3, than 1-33=6. Whether you say, If the sun were not, it would cause darkness; or say, If the sun shine, it will cause light; the difference is only in the nature of the cause, as either positive or negative, not in the certainty of the consequence. 10. It would be very absurd and contradictory to say that the cause of vice is vicious. For that would be the same as to say, that a thing was before it existed. To be vicious is to have vice; and for this to be the cause of vice, is for it to be the cause of itself, or self-caused, which is absurd. It is therefore impossible that the cause of vice should be vicious; consequently the essence of vice is no where but in its own proper nature, to the exclusion of every cause whatever. And yet, as it is an effect, it must have a cause. 11. The principle question to be determined, in this investigation, is, What is precisely the original, predisposing, negative cause of a vicious disposition? The answer is plain and short; it is that property of a creature which renders it absolutely dependent for its being and well-being. Or, it is that property which is the very opposite too independence, self-sufficiency, and immutability: and therefore is a property peculiar to a creature, and cannot belong to God. 12. Nor can this be said to be an actually existing property form eternity; since it cannot belong to God, and nothing, the only alternative, has no property. It is not therefore the Manichean eternal evil principle, if by this be meant any thing actually existing, as coeval with a good principle. Good is a principle positively eternal; but what we speak of is a mere negative principle, and owes its existence as a property to a created nature; and were every creature annihilated, this property would also cease to be. 13. But what shall we call this principle, property, or predisposing cause of vice? Shall we call it defectibility, defect, limitation, or imperfection of existence? Not the first; for the question would return, What makes a creature defectible? Not the second; for the term is ambiguous, as there are several kinds of defect, natural and moral, and therefore, as the word is of common use, and of frequent occurrence, it would require perpetual explanations. Not the third, or the fourth; for the same reason. A term therefore not ambiguous, and sufficiently expressive, should be employed; as we employ technical terms to express a specific object. For this purpose, no term, perhaps, is less exceptionable, or more suitable, than passive power; for it is free from ambiguity, and is sufficiently expressive of the idea already explained. The idea of passivity is clearly implied in the name, as in the thing; and the term power seems preferable to property, or quality, because less ambiguous, and yet more expressive to convey the intended idea of metaphysical influence of cause and effect. 14. To which we may add, That “passive power” is by no means a new coined expression; but has often been used to express the very idea to which it is here applied. Thus, above a century and a half ago, that eminently pious and profoundly learned divine, Theophilus Gale, in his “Court of the Gentiles,” says: “The root and origin of all creatural dependence, is the creature’s passive power, and God’s absolute dominion over it. - Now all limits as to nature and essence speak a mixture of nihility, passive power and dependence resulting therefrom; whence Damascene adds, ‘The Deity only is impassible;’ namely, because exempt form nihility, passive power, and dependence. This nihility or nothingness of the creature is the same with its passive power either physic or metaphysic, natural or obediential; whereby it is limited, and confined to such or such a degree of entity, existence, and operation.” (Court of Gent. Part IV. B. ii. Ch. xi. 4.) 15. Now that the essence of vice consisteth not in this property is plain, in that passive power is essential to a creature, which vice neither is nor can be. It is the soul in which vice grows, and without which it could not grow, or have existence, but is not itself vicious; otherwise we should be forced to seek the cause of that cause in perpetual retrogradation, and move from one difficulty to another into endless absurdity. The predisposing cause of vice, therefore, is passive power which in itself is not vicious, or morally evil. But how moral evil came to exist, and what is its true origin, will be more conveniently considered in a subsequent part of this work. 16. As the essence of the virtue and vice of disposition and acts lies not in their cause, so neither does it lie in their effects; that is, dispositions and acts are not to be denominated virtuous or vicious on account of their effects or consequences, such as their being productive of happiness or misery. For as the properties of any thing must be different from those of its cause, however similar, so must those properties differ from their effects. The immediate effect of virtue is—not happiness to the individual, for instance, but—that the agent is approvable or praiseworthy. But were the essence of virtue to consist in “its tendency to ultimate happiness,” as some have affirmed, immediate approbation and praise could not be safely given to any individual act or disposition, as its relation to ultimate happiness could not be ascertained but by the final event. If the essence of the virtue or vice were not in the act or disposition, but to be denominated from its effects, many other absurdities would follow. For instance, 17. That supposition, the supreme excellence of Jehovah would not be approvable and praiseworthy on its own account, or its intrinsic excellency, but only because of its effects and consequences. On that principle, to hate God would be nothing bad, it would have no intrinsic demerit; or to love God would be nothing good, nothing in itself praiseworthy, were it not for consequences. Which is not only absurd, but blasphemous also and shocking. 18. That sentiment is evidently founded on the supposition that every thing, property, quality, and event, is the fruit of divine will; and therefore that every thing must be equally good in itself, though relatively good or bad to the individual: even as matter and motion, and their laws, are equally good in themselves, but not relatively so to the individuals who suffer from them. But this is a great mistake, as it confounds things totally distinct in their nature, such as positive and negative causes, natural necessity and moral certainty. Decretive positions and their consequences are one ground of certainty; negative causes and their consequences are another; therefore, from the certainty of result in the divine view we cannot rightly infer that all results are decreed. Decretive positions comprehend neither negative causes, nor the nature of things. For an intelligent being to love God, is agreeable to the nature of things; it is what ought to be independent of any decretive position, or legal demand in reference to the case. In like manner, for an intelligent being to hate God is a voluntary contradiction to the nature of things—or the essence of eternal truth which is above all will, or is not founded in will—as well as to constitued law. Again, 19. To deny the “intrinsic merit and demerit of voluntary actions independent on their consequences,” as some do, (Belaham’s Elements, p. 309.) is to deny the nature of things; and this is nothing less than an attempt to divide eternal unity, to give the lie direct to essential truth, and to convert the first uncaused essence in to contradictory contingencies. The nature of things is nothing else, radically, but the nature of God, which is essential truth as well as essential goodness. Decretive positions, or an arbitrary constitution of things by divine will, therefore can no more alter the intrinsic merit or demerit of actions, affections, habits, or characters, then divine will can alter the character of essential truth, or choose real contradictions. Moreover, 20. Ultimate happiness is the effect or consequence of virtue as a reward. Now to make the merit or excellence of virtue to depend on ultimate happiness, while happiness is the reward of virtue, is most inconsistent; it is to reward for nothing rewardable. If virtue be not of intrinsic worth, it must be a mere moral nothing, as to rewardableness, and therefore ultimate happiness would be a reward for a mere moral nothing; that is, happiness would be no reward, which is contradictory. 21. As to vice, its consequence is punishment. If indeed this consequence were the mere effect of arbitrary positions, or sovereign appointment: if it were the plan of God first to cause the existence of vice, and then to punish the subject of it, as what the good of the whole required, there would be great plausibility in the sentiment we oppose. But the assumption itself is fundamentally erroneous. It confounds hypothetical antecedents, as the whole of decretive plans may be termed, with that eternal truth which connects them with their consequences. To suppose the hatred of God, for instance, to have no intrinsic demerit in it, or that it is bad only as dependent on its consequences; is the same as to say, it is agreeable to the nature of things, comformable to eternal truth, that God should be hated, and therefore that he must approve of it—only to the agent it is attended with bad consequences. That is, on the supposition, God has appointed misery as the consequent, for doing nothing that is in itself bad; yea for doing what is perfectly innocent, agreeable to the nature of things, comformable to eternal truth, and acceptable to God, as every thing which he appoints must be. Whether such a sentiment be nearest a-kin to “profound philosophy” or to something else, let the competent reader judge.—W.
One main foundation of the reasons, which are brought to establish the forementioned notions of liberty, virtue, vice, &c. is a supposition, that the virtuousness of the dispositions, or acts of the Will, consists not in the nature of these dispositions or acts of the Will, but wholly in the Origin or Cause of them: so that if the disposition of the mind, or acts of the Will, be never so good, yet if the Cause of the disposition or act be not our virtue, there is nothing virtuous or praiseworthy in it; and, on the contrary, if the 58 Will, in its inclination or acts, be never so bad, yet unless it arises from something that is our vice or fault, there is nothing vicious or blameworthy in it. Hence their grand objection and pretended demonstration, or self- evidence, 59 against any virtue and commendableness, or vice and blameworthiness, of those habits or acts of the Will, which are not from some virtuous or vicious determination of the Will itself.
Now, if this matter be well considered, it will appear to be altogether a mistake, yea, a gross absurdity; and that it is most certain, that if there be any such thing, as a virtuous or vicious disposition, or volition of mind, the virtuousness or viciousness of them consists not in the Origin or Cause of these things, but in the Nature of them.
If the Essence of virtuousness or commendableness, and of viciousness or fault, does not lie in the Nature of the dispositions or acts of mind, which are said to be our virtue or our fault, but in their Cause, then it is certain it lies no where at all. Thus, for instance, if the vice of a vicious act of Will, lies not in the Nature of the act, but the Cause; so that its being of a bad Nature will not make it at all our fault, unless it arises from some faulty determination of ours, as its Cause, or something in us that is our fault; then, for the same reason, neither can the viciousness of that Cause lie in the Nature of the thing itself, but in its Cause: that evil determination of ours is not our fault, merely because it is of a bad Nature, unless it arises from some Cause in us that is our fault. And when we are come to this higher Cause, still the reason of the thing holds good; though this Cause be of a bad Nature, yet we are not at all to blame on that account, unless it arises from something faulty in us. Nor yet can blameworthiness lie in the Nature of this Cause, but in the Cause of that. And thus we must drive faultiness back from step to step, from a lower Cause to a higher, in infinitum; and that is, thoroughly to banish it from the world, and to allow it no possibility of existence any where in the universality of things. On these principles, vice, or moral evil, cannot consist in any thing that is an effect; because fault does not consist in the Nature of things, but in their Cause; as well as because effects are necessary, being unavoidably connected with their Cause: therefore the Cause only is to blame. And so it follows, that faultiness can lie only in that Cause, which is a Cause only, and no effect of anything. Nor yet can it lie in this; for then it must lie in the Nature of the thing itself; not in its being from any determination of ours, nor anything faulty in us which is the Cause, nor indeed from any Cause at all; for, by the supposition, it is no effect, and has no Cause. And thus, he that will maintain, it is not the Nature of habits or acts of Will that makes them virtuous or faulty, but the Cause, must immediately run himself out of his own assertion; and in maintaining it, will insensibly contradict and deny it.
This is certain, that if effects are vicious and faulty, not from their Nature, or from any thing inherent in them, but because they are from a bad Cause, it must be on account of the badness of the Cause: a bad effect in the Will must be bad, because the Cause is bad, or of an evil Nature, or has badness as a quality inherent in it: and a good effect in the Will must be good, by reason of the goodness of the Cause, or its being of a good Kind and Nature. And if this be what is meant, the very supposition of fault and praise lying not in the Nature of the thing, but the Cause, contradicts itself, and does at least resolve the Essence of virtue and vice into the Nature of things, and supposes it originally to consist in that.—And if a caviler has a mind to run from the absurdity, by saying, “No, the fault of the thing, which is the Cause, lies not in this, that the Cause itself is of an evil Nature, but that the Cause is evil in that sense, that it is from another bad Cause.” Still the absurdity will follow him; for, if so, then the Cause before charged is at once acquitted, and all the blame must be laid to the higher Cause, and must consist in that’s being evil, or of an evil Nature. So now, we are come again to lay the blame of the thing blameworthy, to the Nature of the thing, and not to the Cause. And if any is so foolish as to go higher still, and ascend from step to step, till he is come to that which is the first Cause concerned in the whole affair, and will say, all the blame lies in that; then, at last, he must be forced to own, that the faultiness of the thing, which he supposes alone blameworthy, lies wholly in the Nature of the thing, and not in the Original or Cause of it; for the supposition is, that it has no Original, it is determined by no act of ours, is caused by nothing faulty in us, being absolutely without any Cause. And so the race is at an end, but the evader is taken in his flight.
It is agreeable to the natural notions of mankind, that moral evil, with its desert of dislike and abhorrence, and all its other ill deservings, consists in a certain deformity in the Nature of certain dispositions of the heart and acts of the Will; and not in the deformity of something else, diverse from the very thing itself; which deserves abhorrence, supposed to be the Cause of it. Which would be absurd, because that would be to suppose a thing that is innocent and not evil, is truly evil and faulty, because another thing is evil. It implies a contradiction; for it would be to suppose, the very thing, which is morally evil and blameworthy, is innocent and not blameworthy; but that something else, which is its Cause, is only to blame. To say, that vice does not consist in the thing which is vicious, but in its Cause, is the same as to say, that vice does not consist in vice, but in that which produces it.
It is true, a Cause may be to blame, for being the Cause of vice: it may be wickedness in the Cause that it produces wickedness. But it would imply a contradiction, to suppose that these two are the same individual wickedness. The wicked act of the Cause in producing wickedness, is one wickedness; and the wickedness produced, if there be any produced, is another. And therefore, the wickedness of the latter does not lie in the former, but is distinct from it; and the wickedness of both lies in the evil Nature of the things which are wicked.
The thing, which makes sin hateful, is that by which it deserves punishment; which is but the expression of hatred. And that, which renders virtue lovely, is that on account of which it is fit to receive praise and reward; which are but the expressions of esteem and love. But that which makes vice hateful, is its hateful Nature; and that which renders virtue lovely, is its amiable Nature. It is a certain beauty or deformity that are inherent in that good or evil will, which is the soul of virtue and vice (and not in the occasion of it,) which is their worthiness of esteem or disesteem, praise or dispraise, according to the common sense of mankind. If the Cause or occasion of the rise of a hateful disposition or act of Will, be also hateful; suppose another antecedent evil will; that is entirely another sin, and, deserves punishment by itself, under a distinct consideration. There is worthiness of dispraise in the Nature of an evil volition, and not wholly in some foregoing act, which is its Cause; otherwise the evil volition, which is the effect, is no moral evil, any more than sickness, or some other natural calamity, which arises from a Cause morally evil.
Thus, for instance, ingratitude is hateful and worthy of dispraise, according to common sense; not because something as bad, or worse than ingratitude, was the Cause that produced it; but because it is hateful in itself, by its own inherent deformity. So the love of virtue is amiable, and worthy of praise, not merely because something else went before this love of virtue in our minds, which caused it to take place there—for instance, our own choice; we choose to love virtue, and, by some method or other, wrought ourselves into the love of it—but because of the amiableness and condecency of such a disposition and inclination of heart. If that was the case, that we did choose to love virtue, and so produced that love in ourselves, this choice itself could be no otherwise amiable or praiseworthy, than as love to virtue, or soma other amiable inclination, was exercised and implied in it. If that choice was amiable at all, it must be so on account of some amiable quality in the Nature of the choice. If we chose to love virtue, not in love to virtue, or any thing that was good, and exercised no sort of good disposition in the 60 choice, the choice itself was not virtuous nor worthy of any praise, according to common sense, because the choice was not of a good Nature.
It may not be improper here to take notice of something said by an author, that has lately made a mighty noise in America. “A necessary holiness (says he 137137 Scrip. Doc. Of Original Sin, p. 180. 3d Edit. ) is no holiness.—Adam could not be originally created in righteousness and true holiness, because he must choose to be righteous, before he could be righteous. And therefore he must exist, he must be created, yea, he must exercise thought and reflection, before he was righteous.” There is much more to the same effect, (p. 437, 438, 439, 440.) If these things are so, it will certainly follow, that the first choosing to be righteous is no righteous choice; there is no righteousness or holiness in it, because no choosing to be righteous goes before it. For he plainly speaks of choosing to be righteous, as what must go before righteousness; and that which follows the choice, being the effect of the choice, cannot be righteousness or holiness: for an effect is a thing necessary, and cannot prevent the influence or efficacy of its Cause; and therefore is unavoidably dependent upon the Cause; and he says a necessary holiness is no holiness. So that neither can a choice of righteousness be righteousness or holiness, nor can any thing that is consequent on that choice, and the effect of it, be righteousness or holiness; nor can any thing that is without choice, be righteousness or holiness. So that by his scheme, all righteousness and holiness is at once shut out of the world, and no door left open, by which it can ever possibly enter into the world.
I suppose, the way that men came to entertain this absurd inconsistent notion—with respect to internal inclinations and volitions themselves, (or notions that imply it,) viz. that the Essence of their moral good or evil lies not in their Nature, but their Cause—was, that it is indeed a very plain dictate of common sense, that it is so with respect to all outward actions, and sensible motions of the body; that the moral good or evil of them does not lie at all in the motions themselves; which, taken by themselves, are nothing of a moral nature; and the Essence of all the moral good or evil that concerns them, lies in those internal dispositions and volitions which are the Cause of them. Now, being always used to determine this, without hesitation or dispute, concerning external Actions; which in the common use of language are signified by such phrases, as men’s actions or their doings; hence, when they came to speak of volitions, and internal exercises of their inclinations, under the same denomination of their actions, or what they do, they unwarily determined the case must also be the same with these as with external actions; not considering the vast difference in the Nature of the case.
If any shall still object and say, why is it not necessary that the Cause should be considered, in order to determine whether any thing be worthy of blame or praise? is it agreeable to reason and common sense, that a man is to be praised or blamed for that which he is not the Cause or author?
I answer, such phrases as being the Cause, being the author, and the like, are ambiguous. They are most vulgarly understood for being the designing voluntary Cause, or Cause by antecedent choice: and it is most certain, that men are not, in this sense, the Causes or authors of the first act of their Wills, in any case; as certain as any thing is, or ever can be; for nothing can be more certain, than that a thing is not before it is, nor a thing of the same kind before the first thing of that kind; and so no choice before the first choice.—As the phrase, being the author, may be understood, not of being the producer by an antecedent act of Will, but as a person may be said to be the author of the act of Will itself, by his being the immediate agent, or the being that is acting, or in exercise in that act; if the phrase of being the author, is used to signify this, then doubtless common sense requires men being the authors of their own acts of Will, in order to their being esteemed worthy of praise or dispraise, on account of them. And common sense teaches, that they must be the authors of external actions, in the former sense, namely, their being the Causes of them by an act of Will or choice, in order to their being justly blamed or praised: but it teaches no such thing with respect to the acts of the Will themselves.—But this may appear more manifest by the things which will be observed in the following SECTION.
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