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Of particular instincts of nature, which in some respects resemble virtue.
There are various dispositions and inclinations natural to men, which depend on particular laws of nature, determining their minds to certain affections and actions towards particular objects; which laws seem to be established chiefly for the preservation of mankind, and their comfortably subsisting in the world. These dispositions may be called instincts.
Some of these instincts respect only ourselves personally: such are many of our natural appetites and aversions. Some of them are more social, and extend to others: such are the mutual inclinations between the sexes, &c.—some of these dispositions are more external and sensitive: such are those that relate to meat and drink, and the more sensitive inclinations of the sexes towards each other. Others are more internal and mental: consisting in affections which mankind naturally exercise towards some of their fellow-creatures, and in some cases towards men in general. Some of these may be called kind affections; as having something in them of benevolence, or a resemblance of it: and others are of an angry appearance; such as the passion of jealousy between the sexes, especially in the male towards the female.
It is only the former of these two last mentioned sorts that it is to my purpose to consider in this place, viz. those natural instincts which have the appearance of benevolence, and so in some respects resemble virtue. These I shall therefore consider; and shall endeavour to show, that none of them can be of the nature of true virtue.
That kind affection which is exercised one towards another in natural relation, particularly the love of parents to their children, called natural affection, is by many referred to instinct. I have already considered this sort of love as an affection that arises from self-love; and in that view, have shown it cannot be of the nature of true virtue. 136 But if any think, that natural affection is more properly to be referred to a particular instinct of nature than to self-love, as its cause, I shall not think it a point worthy of any controversy or dispute. In my opinion both are true; viz. that natural affection is owing to natural instinct, and also that it arises from self-love. It may be said to arise from instinct, as it depends on a law of nature. But yet it may be truly reckoned as an affection arising from self-love; because, though it arises from a law of nature, yet that is such a law as according to the order and harmony every where observed among the laws of nature, is connected with and follows from self-love; as was shown before. However, it is not necessary to my present purpose to insist on this. For if natural affection to a man’s children, or near relations, is an affection arising from a particular independent instinct of nature—which the Creator in his wisdom has implanted in men for the preservation and well-being of the world of mankind: yet it cannot be of the nature of true virtue. For it has been observed, and, I humbly conceive, proved before, (Chap. 2.) that if any being or beings have by natural instinct, or any other means, a determination of mind to benevolence, extending only to some particular persons or private system, however large that system may be—or however great a number of individuals it may contain, so long as it contains but an infinitely small part of universal existence, and so bears no proportion to this great and universal system—such limited private benevolence, not arising from, not being subordinate to, benevolence to being in general, cannot have the nature of true virtue. However, it may not be amiss briefly to observe now, that it is evident to a demonstration, those affections cannot be of the nature of true virtue, from these two things.
First, That they do not arise from a principle of virtue. A principle of virtue, I think, is owned by the most considerable of late writers on morality to be general benevolence or public affection: and I think it has been proved to be union of heart to being simply considered; which implies a disposition to benevolence to being in general. Now, by the supposition, the affections we are speaking of do not arise from this principle; and that, whether we suppose they arise from self-love, or from particular instincts: because either of those sources is diverse from a principle of general benevolence. And,
Secondly, These private affections, if they do not arise from general benevolence, and they are not connected with it in their first existence, have no tendency to produce it. This appears from what has been observed: for being not dependent on it, their detached and unsubordinate operation rather implies opposition to being in general, than general benevolence; as every one sees and owns with respect to self-love. And there are the very same reasons why any other private affection, confined to limits infinitely short of universal existence, should have that influence, as well as love that is confined to a single person. Now upon the whole, nothing can be plainer than that affections which do not arise from a virtuous principle, and have no tendency to true virtue, as their effect, cannot be of the nature of true virtue.
For the reasons which have been given, it is undeniably true, that if persons have a benevolent affection limited to a party, or to the nation in general, of which they are a part, or the public community to which they belong, though it be as large as the Roman empire was of old; yea, if there could be cause determining a person to benevolence towards the whole world of mankind, or even all created sensible natures throughout the universe, exclusive of union of heart to general existence and of love to God—not derived from that temper of mind which disposes to a supreme regard to him nor subordinate to such divine love—it cannot be of the nature of true virtue.
If what is called natural affection, arises from a particular natural instinct, much more indisputably does that mutual affection which naturally arises between the sexes. I agree with Hutchison and Hume in this, that there is a foundation laid in nature for kind affections between the sexes, diverse from all inclinations to sensitive pleasure, and which do not properly arise from any such inclination. There is doubtless a disposition both to a mutual benevolence and mutual complacence, that are not naturally and necessarily connected with any sensitive desires. But yet it is manifest such affections as are limited to opposite sexes, are from a particular instinct thus directing and limiting them; and not arising from a principle of general benevolence; for this has no tendency to any such limitation. And though these affections do not properly arise from the sensitive desires which are between the sexes, yet they are implanted by the Author of nature chiefly for the same purpose, viz. the preservation or continuation of the world of mankind. Hereby persons become willing to forsake father and mother, and all their natural relations in the families where they were born and brought up; for the sake of a stated union with a companion of the other sex, in bearing and going through that series of labours, anxieties, and pains, requisite to the being, support, and education of a family of children; and partly also for the comfort of mankind as united in a marriage-relation. But I suppose few, if any, will deny, that the peculiar natural dispositions there are to mutual affection between the sexes, arise from an instinct or particular law of nature. And therefore it is manifest, from what has been said already, that those natural dispositions cannot be of the nature of true virtue.
Another affection which is owing to a particular instinct, is that pity which is natural to mankind when they see others in great distress. It is acknowledged, that such an affection is natural to mankind. But I think it evident, that the pity which is general and natural, is owing to a particular instinct, and is not of the nature of true virtue. I am far from saying, that there is no such thing as a truly virtuous pity among mankind; or, that none is to be found, which arises from that truly virtuous divine principle of general benevolence to sensitive beings. Yet at the same time I think, this is not the case with ALL pity, or with that disposition to pity which is natural to mankind in common. I think I may be bold to say, this does not arise from benevolence, nor is it properly called by that name.
If all that uneasiness on the sight of others’ extreme distress, which we call pity, were properly of the nature of benevolence, then they who are the subjects of this passion, must needs be in a degree of uneasiness in being sensible of the total want of happiness, of all such as they would be disposed to pity in extreme distress. For that certainly is the most direct tendency and operation of benevolence or good will, to desire the happiness of its object. But now this is not the case universally, where men are disposed to exercise pity. There are many who would not be sensibly affected with any uneasiness to know that others were dead—yea men, who are not influenced by the consideration of a future state, but view death as only a cessation of all sensibility, and consequently an end of all happiness—who yet would have been moved with pity towards the same persons, if they had seen them under some very extreme anguish. Some would be moved with pity by seeing a brute-creature under extreme and long torments, who yet suffer no uneasiness in knowing that many thousands of them every day cease to live, and so have an end put to all their pleasure. It is the nature of true benevolence to desire and rejoice in the prosperity and pleasure of its object; and that, in some proportion to its degree of prevalence. But persons may greatly pity those that are in extreme pain, whose positive pleasure they may still be very indifferent about. In this case, a man may be much moved and affected with uneasiness, who yet would be affected with no sensible joy in seeing signs of the same person’s enjoyment of very high degrees of pleasure.
Yea, pity may not only be without benevolence, but may consist with true malevolence, or with such ill will as shall cause men not only not to desire the positive happiness of another, but even to desire his calamity. They may pity such an one when his calamity goes beyond their hatred. A man may have true malevolence towards another, desiring no positive good for him, but evil; and yet his hatred not be infinite, but only to a certain degree. And when he sees the person whom he thus hates in misery far beyond his ill will, he may then pity him: because then the natural instinct begins to operate. For malevolence will not overcome the natural instinct, inclining to pity others 137 in extreme calamity, any further than it goes, or to the limits of the degree of misery it wishes to its object. Men may pity others under exquisite torment, when yet they would have been grieved if they had seen their prosperity. And some have such a grudge against another, that they would be far from uneasy at their very death, nay, would even be glad of it. And when this is the case, it is manifest that their heart is void of benevolence towards such persons, and under the power of malevolence. Yet at the same time, they are capable of pitying even these very persons, if they should see them under a degree of misery very much disproportioned to their ill will.
These things may convince us, that natural pity is of a nature very different from true virtue, and not arising from a disposition of heart to general benevolence; but is owing to a particular instinct, which the Creator has implanted, chiefly for the preservation of mankind, though not exclusive of their well being. The giving of this instinct is the fruit of God’s mercy, and an instance of his love to the world of mankind, and an evidence, that though the world be so sinful, it is not God’s design to make it a world of punishment; and therefore has many ways made a merciful provision of relief in extreme calamities. The natural exercises of pity extend beyond those with whom we are nearly connected, especially in cases of great calamity; because, commonly in such cases, men stand in need of the help of others besides their near friends, and because commonly those calamities which are extreme, without relief, tend to their destruction. This may be given as the reason why men are so made by the Author of nature, that they have no instinct inclining as much to rejoice at the sight of others’ great prosperity and pleasure, as to be grieved at their extreme calamity, viz. because they do not stand in equal necessity of such an instinct as that in order to their preservation. But if pure benevolence were the source of natural pity, doubtless it would operate to as great a degree in congratulation, in cases of others’ great prosperity, as in compassion towards them in great misery.
The instincts which in some respects resemble a virtuous benevolence, are agreeable to the state that God designed mankind for here, where he intends their preservation and comfortable subsistence. But in the world of punishment—where the state of the wicked inhabitants will be exceeding different, and God will have none of these merciful designs to answer—we have great reason to think, there will be no such thing as a disposition to pity, in any case; as also no natural affection toward near relations, and no mutual affection between opposite sexes.
To conclude, natural instinct, disposing men to pity others in misery, is also a source of a kind of abhorrence in men of some vices, as cruelty and oppression; and so of a sort of approbation of the contrary virtues, humanity, mercy, &c. which aversion and approbation, however, so far as they arise from this cause only, are not from a principle of true virtue.
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