« Prev CHAPTER VII. The reasons of many mistakes Next »
CHAP. VII.

The reasons why those things that have been mentioned, which have not the essence of virtue, have yet by many been mistaken for true virtue.

The first reason may be this, that although they have not the specific and distinguishing nature and essence of virtue, yet they have something that belongs to the general nature of virtue. The general nature of true virtue is love. It is expressed both in love of benevolence and complacence; but primarily in benevolence to persons and beings, and consequently and secondarily in complacence in virtue, as has been shown. There is something of the general nature of virtue in those natural affections and principles that have been mentioned, in both those respects.

In many of these natural affections there appears the tendency and effect of benevolence, in part. Others have truly a sort of private benevolence, but which in several respects falls short of the extent of true virtuous benevolence, both in its nature and object. Pity to others in distress, though not properly of the nature of love, as has been demonstrated, yet has partly the same influence and effect with benevolence. One effect of true benevolence is for persons to be uneasy when the objects of it are in distress, and to desire their relief. And natural pity has the same effect.

Natural gratitude, though not properly called love—because persons may be moved with a degree of gratitude towards others on certain occasions for whom they have no real and proper friendship as in the instance of Saul towards David, once and again, after David’s sparing his life, when he had so fair opportunity to kill him—yet has the like operation and effect with friendship, in part, for a season, and with regard to so much of the welfare of its object, as appears a deserved requital of kindness received. And in other instances, it may have a more general and abiding influence, so as more properly to be called by the name of love. So that many times men, from natural gratitude, do really with a sort of benevolence, love those who love them. From this, together with some other natural principles, men may love their near friends, their own party, their country, &c. The natural disposition there is to mutual affection between the sexes, often operates by what may properly be called love. There is oftentimes truly a kind both of benevolence and complacence. As there also is between parent and children.

Thus these things have something of the general nature of virtue. What they are essentially defective in, is, that they are private in their nature; they do not arise from any temper of benevolence to being in general, nor have they a tendency to any such effect in their operation. But yet agreeing with virtue in its general nature, they are beautiful within their own private sphere, i.e. they appear beautiful if we confine our views to that private system, and while we shut out all other things to which they stand related from our consideration. If that private system contained the sum of universal existence, their benevolence would have true beauty; or, in other words, would be beautiful, all things considered; but now it is not so. These private systems are so far from containing the sum of universal being, or comprehending all existence to which we stand related, that it contains but an infinitely small part of it. The reason why men are so ready to take these private affections for true virtue, is the narrowness of their views; and above all, that they are so ready to leave the Divine Being out of their view, and to neglect him in their consideration, or to regard him in their thoughts, as though he did not properly belong to the system of real existence, but was a kind of shadowy, imaginary being. And though most men allow that there is a God, yet, in their ordinary view of things, his being is not apt to come into the account, and to have the influence and effect of real existence, as it is with other beings which they see, and are conversant with, by their external senses. In their views of beauty and deformity, and in their inward sensations of displicence and approbation, it is not natural to them to view the Deity as part of the system, and as the head of it, in comparison of whom all other things are to be viewed with corresponding impressions.

Yea, we are apt, through the narrowness of our views, in judging of the beauty of affections and actions, to limit our consideration to only a small part of the created system. When private affections extend themselves to a considerable number, we are ready to look upon them as truly virtuous, and accordingly to applaud them highly. Thus it is with respect to a man’s love to a large party, or a country. For though his private system contains but a small part even of the world of mankind, yet, being a considerable number, they—through the contracted limits of his mind, and the narrowness of his views—are ready to engross his sight, and to seem as if they were all. Hence, among the Romans, love to their country was the highest virtue; though this affection of theirs, so much extolled, was employed as it were for the destruction of the rest of mankind. The larger the number is, to which that private affection extends, the more apt men are, through the narrowness of their sight, to mistake it for true virtue; because then the private system appears to have more of the image of the universal.

And this is the reason why self-love is not mistaken for true virtue. For though there be something of the 138 general nature of virtue in it, as love and good will, yet the object is so private, the limits so narrow, that it by no means engrosses the view; unless it be of the person himself, who through the greatness of his pride may imagine himself as it were all. The minds of men are large enough to take in a vastly greater extent. And though self-love is far from being useless in the world, yea, it is exceeding necessary to society; yet every body sees that if it be not subordinate to, and regulated by, another more extensive principle, it may make a man a common enemy to the general system. And this is as true of any other private affection, notwithstanding its extent may be to a system that contains millions of individuals. And though private systems bear no greater proportion to the whole of universal existence, than one alone; yet, they bear a greater proportion to the view and comprehension of men’s minds, and are more apt to be regarded as if they were all, or at least as some resemblance of the universal system.

Thus I have observed how many of these natural principles resemble virtue in its primary operation, which is benevolence. Many of them also have a resemblance of it in its secondary operation, which is its approbation of and complacence in virtue itself. Several kinds of approbation of virtue, are not of the nature of a truly virtuous approbation, consisting in a sense and relish of the essential beauty of virtue. As particularly, the approbation of conscience, from a sense of the inferior and secondary beauty which there is in virtue, consisting in uniformity; and from a sense of desert, consisting in a sense of the natural agreement of loving and being beloved, showing kindness and receiving kindness. So, from the same principle, there is a disapprobation of vice, from a natural opposition to deformity and disproportion; and a sense of evil desert, or the natural agreement there is between hating and being hated, opposing and being opposed, &c. together with a painful sensation naturally arising from a sense of self-opposition and inconsistence. Approbation of conscience is the more readily mistaken for a truly virtuous approbation, because by the wise constitution of the great Governor of the world, when conscience is well informed, and thoroughly awakened, it agrees with him fully and exactly, as to the object approved, though not as to the ground and reason of approving. It approves all virtue, and condemns all vice. It approves true virtue, and indeed approves nothing that is against it, or that falls short of it; as was shown before. Natural conscience is implanted in all mankind, to be as it were in God’s stead, as internal judge or rule, whereby to distinguish right and wrong.

It has also been observed, how that virtue, consisting in benevolence, is approved; and vice, consisting in ill will, is disliked; from the influence of self-love, together with the association of ideas. In the same manner, men dislike those qualities in things without life or reason, with which they have always connected the ideas of hurtfulness, malignancy, perniciousness; but approve those things with which they habitually connect the ideas of profit, pleasantness, &c. This approbation of virtue, and dislike of vice, is easily mistaken for true virtue, not only because those things are approved by it that have the nature of virtue, and the things disliked have the nature of vice; but because here is a great resemblance of virtuous approbation, it being complacence from love; the difference only lying in this, that it is not from love to being in general, but from self-love.

There is also, as before shown, a liking of some virtues, and a dislike of some vices, from the influence of the natural instinct of pity. This we are apt to mistake for the exercise of true virtue on many accounts. Here is not only a kind of complacence, and the objects of complacence have the nature of virtue, and the virtues themselves are very amiable, such as humanity, mercy, tenderness of heart, &c. and the contrary very odious; but besides, the approbation is not merely from self-love, but from compassion; an affection that respects others, and resembles benevolence, as before explained.

Another reason why the things mentioned are mistaken for true virtue, is, that there is indeed a true negative moral goodness in them. By a negative moral goodness, I mean the negation or absence of true moral evil. They have this negative moral goodness, because being without them would be an evidence of a much greater moral evil. Thus the exercise of natural conscience in such and such degrees, wherein appears such a measure of sensibility, though it be not of the nature of real positive virtue, or true moral goodness, yet has a negative moral goodness; because in the present state of things, it is an evidence of the absence of that higher degree of wickedness, which causes great insensibility, or stupidity of conscience. For sin is not only against a spiritual and divine sense of virtue, but is also against the dictates of that moral sense which is in natural conscience. No wonder, that this sense, being long opposed and often conquered, grows weaker. All sin has its source from selfishness, or from self-love, not subordinate to a regard to being in general. And natural conscience chiefly consists in a sense of desert, or the natural agreement between sin and misery. But if self were indeed all, and so more considerable than all the world besides, there would be no ill desert in a man regarding himself above all, and making all other interests give place to private interest. And no wonder that men, by long acting from the selfish principle, and by being habituated to treat themselves as if they were all, increase in pride, and come to look on themselves as all, and so to lose entirely the sense of ill desert in their making all other interests give place to their own. And no wonder that any, by often repeating acts of sin without punishment, or visible appearance of approaching punishment, have less and less present sense of the connexion of sin with punishment.

That sense which an awakened conscience has of the desert of sin, consists chiefly in a sense of its desert of resentment from the Deity, the fountain and head of universal existence. But no wonder that, by a long continued worldly and sensual life, men more and more lose all sense of the Deity, who is a spiritual and invisible Being. The mind being long involved in, and engrossed by, sensitive objects, becomes sensual in all its operations, and excludes all views and impressions of spiritual objects, and is unfit for their contemplation. Thus conscience and general benevolence, are entirely different principles; and thus a sense of conscience differs from the holy complacence of a benevolent and truly virtuous heart. Yet wickedness may by long habitual exercise greatly diminish a sense of conscience. so that there may be negative moral goodness, in sensibility of conscience, as it may be an argument of the absence of that higher degree of wickedness, which causeth stupidity of conscience.

So with respect to natural gratitude; though there may be no virtue merely in loving them that love us, yet the contrary may be an evidence of a great degree of depravity, as it may argue a higher degree of selfishness, so that a man is come to look upon himself as all, and others as nothing, and so their respect and kindness as nothing. Thus an increase of pride diminishes gratitude. So doth sensuality, or the increase of sensual appetites; which, coming more and more under the power and impression of sensible objects, tends by degrees to make the mind insensible to any thing else. Those appetites take up the whole soul; and, through habit and custom, the water is all drawn out of other channels, in which it naturally flows, and is all carried as it were into one channel.

In like manner, natural affection, and natural pity, though not of the nature of virtue, may be diminished greatly by the increase of pride and sensuality; and, as the consequence of this, be habitually disposed to envy, malice, &c. These lusts, when they prevail to a high degree, may overcome and diminish the exercise of those natural principles; even as they often overcome and diminish common prudence in a man, who seeks his own private interest in point of health, wealth, or honour; and yet no one will think it proves that a man being cunning in seeking his own personal and temporal interest, has any thing of the nature and essence of true virtue.

Another reason why these natural principles and affections are mistaken for true virtue, is, that in several respects they have the same effect which true virtue tends to; especially in these two ways:

1. The present state of the world is so constituted by the wisdom and goodness of its supreme Ruler, that these natural principles, for the most part, tend to the good of mankind. So do natural pity, gratitude, parental affection, 139 &c. Herein they agree with the tendency of general benevolence, which seeks and tends to the general good. But this is no proof that these natural principles have the nature of true virtue. For self-love is exceeding useful and necessary; and so are the natural appetites of hunger, thirst, &c. Yet nobody will assert that these have nature of true virtue.

2. These principles have a like effect with true virtue in this respect, that they tend several ways to restrain vice, and prevent many acts of wickedness. So natural affection, love to our party, or to particular friends, tends to keep us from acts of injustice towards these persons; which would be real wickedness. Pity preserves from cruelty, which would be real and great moral evil. Natural conscience tends to restrain sin in general. But this cannot prove these principles themselves to be of the nature of true virtue. For so is this present state ordered by a merciful God, that even self-love often restrains from acts of true wickedness; and not only so, but puts men upon seeking true virtue; yet is not itself true virtue, but is the source of all the wickedness that is in the world.

Another reason why these inferior affections, especially some of them, are accounted virtuous, is, that there are affections of the same denomination which are truly virtuous. Thus, for instance, there is a truly virtuous pity, or a compassion to others, under affliction or misery, from general benevolence. Pure benevolence would be sufficient to excite pity to another in calamity, if there were no particular instinct, or any other principle determining the mind thereto. It is easy to see how benevolence, which seeks another’s good, should cause us to desire his deliverance from evil. And this is a source of pity far more extensive than the other. It excites compassion in cases that are overlooked by natural instinct; and even in those cases to which instinct extends, it mixes its influence with the natural principle, and guides and regulates its operations. And when this is the case, the pity which is exercised, may be called a virtuous compassion. So there is a virtuous gratitude; or a gratitude that arises not only from self-love, but from a superior principle of disinterested general benevolence. As, when we receive kindness from such as we love already, we are more disposed to gratitude, and disposed to greater degrees of it, than when the mind is destitute of any such friendly prepossession. Therefore, when the superior principle of virtuous love has a governing hand, and regulates the affair, it may be called a virtuous gratitude. There is also a virtuous love of justice, arising from pure benevolence to being in general; as that naturally and necessarily inclines the heart, that every particular being should have such a share of benevolence as is proportioned to its dignity, consisting in the degree of its being, and the degree of its virtue. And thus it is easy to see, how there may be a virtuous sense of desert different from what is natural and common; and a virtuous conscientiousness, or a sanctified conscience. And as, when natural affections have their operations mixed with the influence of virtuous benevolence, and are directed and determined thereby, they may be called virtuous; so there may be a virtuous love of parents to children, and between other near relatives; a virtuous love of our town, or country, or nation. Yea, and a virtuous love between the sexes, as there may be the influence of virtue mingled with instinct; and virtue may govern with regard to the particular manner of its operation, and may guide it to such ends as are agreeable to the great purposes of true virtue.

Genuine virtue prevents that increase of the habits of pride and sensuality, which tend to diminish the exercises of the useful and necessary principles of nature. And a principle of general benevolence softens and sweetens the mind, makes it more susceptible of the proper influence of the gentler natural instincts, directs every one into its proper channel, determines the exercise to the proper manner and measure, and guides all to the best purposes. 231231    In this chapter our very ingenious and judicious author has assigned several reasons why many things are commonly thought to be virtuous which in reality are not so, or have no claim to moral goodness in the proper acceptation of these words. It is with some reluctance that we notice in this place a writer, who by his masterly attack on modern infidelity and atheism, has rendered such important service to the cause of truth and virtue: but who seems either to have been dissatisfied with these reasons, or to have omitted a strict examination of them when duty required it. We shall not here inquire into the candour of Mr. Robert Hall’s remarks, in associating President Edwards with modern infidels on the subject of virtue: nor on the congruity of the business, whereby a definition implying, and an explication declaring, the love of God to be essential to true virtue, is made to coincide with a definition adopted by infidels, and consistent with atheism itself. These are his words: “It is somewhat singular, that many of the fashionable infidels have hit upon a definition of virtue which perfectly coincides with that of certain metaphysical divines in America, first invented and defended by that most acute reasoner, Jonathan Edwards. They both place virtue exclusively in a passion for the general good; or, as Mr. Edwards expresses it, love to being in general: so that our love is always to be proportioned to the magnitude of its object in the scale of being: which is liable to the objections I have already stated, as well as to many others which the limits of this note will not permit me to enumerate. Let it suffice to remark, (1) That virtue, on these principles, is an utter impossibility: for the system of being, comprehending the great Supreme, is infinite: and therefore, to maintain the proper proportion, the force of particular attachment must be infinitely less than the passion for the general good: but the limits of the human mind are not capable of any emotions so infinitely different in degree. (2) since our views of the extent of the universe are capable of perpetual enlargement, admitting the sum of existence is ever the same, we must return back at each step to diminish the strength of particular affections, or they will become disproportionate: and consequently, on these principles, vicious: so that the balance must be continually fluctuating, by the weights being taken out of one scale and put one into the other. (3) If virtue consist exclusively in love to being in general, or attachment to the general good, the particular affections are, to every purpose of virtue, useless, and even pernicious: for their immediate, nay, their necessary tendency is to attract to their objects a proportion of attention which far exceeds their comparative value in the general scale. To allege that the general good is promoted by them, will be of no advantage to the defence of this system, but the contrary, by confessing that a greater sum of happiness is attained by a deviation from, than an adherence to, its principles: unless its advocates mean by the love of being in general, the same thing as the private affections, which is to confound all the distinctions of language, as well as all the operations of mind. Let it be remembered we have no dispute respecting what is the ultimate end of virtue, which is allowed on both sides to be the greatest sum of happiness in the universe. The question is merely what is virtue itself; or, in other words, what are the means appointed for the attainment of that end? There is little doubt, from some parts of Mr. Godwin’s work, entitled ‘Political Justice,’ as well as from his early habits of reading, that he was indebted to Mr. Edwards for his principal arguments against the private affections; though, with a daring consistence, he has pursued his principles to an extreme from which that most excellent man would have revolted with horror.—The fundamental error of the whole system arose, as I conceive, from a mistaken pursuit of simplicity: from a wish to construct a moral system, without leaving sufficient scope for the infinite variety of moral phenomena and mental combination; in consequence of which its advocates were induced to place virtue exclusively in some one disposition of mind; and, since the passion for the general good is undeniably the noblest and most extensive of all others, when it was once resolved to place virtue in any one thing, there remained little room to hesitate which should be preferred. It might have been worth while to reflect, that in the natural world there are two kinds of attraction; one, which holds several parts of individual bodies in contact; another, which maintains the union of bodies themselves with the general system; and that, though the union in the former case is much more intimate than in the latter, each is equally essential to the order of the world. Similar to this is the relation which the public and private affections bear to each other, and their use in the moral system.” (Modern Infidelity considered, p. 62, &c. Note, sixth edition.) On this note, so very uncongenial with the body of the work we were going to say, as unseemly, when connected with the discourse, as a deforming wart on a fair countenance, justice constrains us to make a few remarks. 1. “Singular” indeed would it be to find an Atheist, or an infidel, who should even approve of Edwards’s definition, and still more “singular” to find them maintaining, in conformity with his explanation of that definition, that supreme love to God is of the essence of true virtue. But so far are their definitions from “coinciding,” that they differ toto cælo. A passionate attachment for the welfare of a country, or “a passion for the general good,” in any sense wherein this expression can be ascribed to infidels, is a representation not more different from that of President Edwards, than Mr. Hall is different from Voltaire or D’Alembert. Our author’s meaning, as explained by himself, is as truly sublime as theirs is truly selfish and contracted. For their definition had no regard to the Being of beings; but this adorable Being is necessarily included in Mr. E’s definition, and essential to it. We say, is “included,” because the Supreme Being, together with every derived existence, is contained in “being in general.” 2. If by “a metaphysical divine” be meant “a most acute reasoner,” we feel no objection having the term “metaphysical” applied to our author, for few, if any, have deserved it better. If error and absurdity appeal to metaphysical discussions, and involve the truth in a labyrinth of sophisms, surely hard would be the case of a man who should be called by an opprobrious name, for venturing into that labyrinth by the light of essential principles, in order to detect and expose false reasoning. 3. Mr. H. objects to the sentiment, “that our love is always to be proportioned to the magnitude of its object in the scale of being.” We presume, however, he will allow, that the whole system of being is in itself the most worthy of being prized, other things being equal. But if so, the nature of true virtue requires this regard to the whole system of being, compared with its parts. Nor does it follow from this, that the same principle in the progress of its operations, disregards the smaller circle of attachments. Surely a virtuous person, loving God supremely, is not, on that account, less qualified for personal and domestic duties. Besides, Mr. E. does not maintain that our love is always to be proportioned to the magnitude of its object in the scale of being, except where other things are equal. This he expressly and repeatedly mentions—“other things being equal.” To this important distinction Mr. H. does not appear to have adverted; his representation of the case, therefore, is defective, and calculated to mislead the unwary. 4. Mr. H’s statement in the first objection, does not distinguish between the nature of the attachment and its force or degree. A little reflection will fully show, that these are entirely distinct considerations. The greatest force, or the highest degree of attachment, may exist, when the nature of it is not at all virtuous. If, indeed, attachment be made to include accurate knowledge, a divine relish, and deliberate esteem in appreciating the worth of any object, then the degree of attachment may be justly considered as proportionate to the “magnitude of the object in the scale of being,” but not otherwise. A truly virtuous mother, for instance, may have a great force of affection for her child, or husband, and be more conscious of it than of her love to God: but let her be put to the test of deliberate esteem, and she would sooner part with child, husband, or life itself, than renounce her supreme love to God. 5. Our author’s representation of true virtue, by no means implies, as Mr. H. supposes, that the degree or force of attachment, in its operation, should bear an exact proportion to the magnitude of its object. The nature of virtue indeed is to be denominated according to its object, but its degree must necessarily be measured pro captu agentis. The nature of love to God may be the same in the heart of a child, as in that of an angel, because the object of it is the same: but the degree of it will be as differently varied as the views and capacities of the subjects. It is not a little surprising how Mr. H. came to imagine, that our author held the sentiment he is pleased to ascribe to him, a sentiment so absurd as to be held, we apprehend, by no person in the world: a sentiment which requires an infinite force of affection from a finite being, an affection equal in degree to that of his Maker. 6. So far is the exercise of virtue, according to Mr. E’s definition, from being an impossibility, that we think he has fully proved, there can be no true virtue on any other principle. To illustrate this, suppose a man has strong attachment to himself, but none to his family: will that force of affection constitute him virtuous? Again, suppose his affection, with any assignable force, be extended to his family, but repels the well-founded claims of a whole nation, can that be virtuous? Or if he extend his force of affection to a whole nation, if it repels all the human race beside, can it be virtuous? Moreover, suppose his ardent affection embrace the whole human kind, can it be virtuous while it repels all other created beings? Or if, together with himself, he feels an affectionate attachment, in different and proportionate degrees, to every created being, but repels the Creator of all, can that forcible and orderly affection be denominated truly virtuous? If the reply be in the affirmative, then an atheist may be virtuous, which is absurd. Therefore, attachment to the Supreme Being. or to being in general, is essential to the very nature of true virtue. 7. No one yet denied, except those who deny the being of a God, that supreme love to him is virtuous, if any thing be so. The great Supreme is infinite, and if he ought not to be loved according to his greatness, what constitutes the crime of Idolatry? And if supreme love to an infinite being were inconsistent with subordinate attachments, we ought to extinguish the supremacy of our love to God, before we could discharge our duty to our fellow-creatures, which every one must allow to be preposterous. 8. As the second objection is founded on the same principle which was assumed in the first, it has been already virtually answered. But it may be controverted on another account. That “extended views” diminish the strength of particular affections, does not appear consonant with experience. Is it consistent with experience, that the acquisition of a second friend must rob the first of a moiety of his friendly affection? Does a parent experience any diminution of affection to a first child, in proportion to a subsequent increase of number? Has a tenth child but a tenth part of a mother’s former affection to her first? Does a man love his neighbour the less because his views are extended to an infinite object? Or when the heart, or supremacy of affection, is fixed on God, is virtuous affection to man diminished? 9. Besides, this objection proceeds on another gratuitous principle, viz. that there may be true virtue, or virtuous affection, when our views of existence do not include God. For if we view him, we view an object infinite and unchangeable, who is all in all, and the sum of existence. That our views of the extent of the created universe are capable of perpetual enlargement, is no good reason why “particular affections” should fluctuate, become disproportionate, or vicious: any more than the love of God should constitute the love of our neighbour criminal. So that there is no necessity for “the balance to be continually fluctuating by the weights being taken out of one scale and put into the other:” except it be by correcting past mistakes, as those do, who, when grown up to manhood, put away childish things. 10. Virtuous love, however forcible to oneself, to relatives, to a nation, to mankind, or to the whole created universe, is not virtuous because of this particular, private, or limited attachment, but because of its tendency to God, except we prostitute the term virtue to signify something claimed equally by the worst and the best of men. And this general attachment, or love to God and universal being, does not at all counteract, or even lessen, the commendable force of private ones, any more than the force of general gravity tends to destroy the force of cohesion. 11. Mr. H’s third and last objection, like the preceding ones, rests on a mistaken apprehension of Mr. E’s real sentiment. Mr. H. still confounds the nature of attachment with its degree. If virtue, according to Mr. E. consists exclusively in love to being in general, his meaning is, that no force of affection which has not universal being for its ultimate object, can be virtuous, in the most proper sense of the word. He cannot mean that there is no virtuous love to particular beings: for, in perfect consistency with his views, even a love of ourselves may be virtuous, as well as a love of our neighbour. What he maintains, then, is, that the love of ourselves, of our neighbour, our nation, or any private system whatever, if detached from a tendency of affection to universal being, is not truly virtuous. And what is this, more or less, than what all judicious divines have maintained, that he who does not really love god, does not truly love his neighbour? If Mr. E. uses language more philosophically exact, and investigates the principle on which a commonly received truth is founded, he certainly deserves commendation, rather than blame. 12. On Mr. E’s principles, the particular affections are so far from being “useless,” that their operations are not at all affected by those principles, except in being more exalted and refined. When the heart is enlarged to the love of being in general, it includes all particular objects: and then the attachment to them is for the sake of the whole system of being. Thus a truly virtuous love of our neighbour, springs from our love to God: or without a supreme regard to God, there is no genuine, or, in the highest sense, praiseworthy, love to our neighbour. And so far are particular affections from being “pernicious,” on Mr. E’s principles, that they are highly useful. Those objects which contain, or are apprehended to contain, only a secondary beauty, attract a particular affection which is useful in various respects, as explained by our author; and those which contain the primary beauty, attract affections still more useful. For governors, and subjects, and friends, and relatives to feel attachment to their subjects, governors, friends, and relatives, must be useful, even when not virtuous; but when these attachments are animated, regulated, and ennobled by the love of God, or benevolence to universal being, they must be still more so. Benevolent affections are like a pleasant flame; a flame which is not lessened by an addition of fuel. Zeal at home is not found in fact to be weakened by the extension of zealous and benevolent affections abroad. National reform, and religious revival, will not be impeded by a truly benevolent missionary spirit. Neither will the love of God, or of universal being, prove detrimental to “particular affections.” 13. Respecting the “particular affections,” Mr. H. remarks, that “their immediate, nay their necessary tendency is, to attract to their object a proportion of attention, which far exceeds their comparative value in the general scale.” But surely “attention” is a very different thing from “attachment.” A man who is about to buy a horse, has his attention attracted very forcibly to the size, the shape, the age, and the action of the animal; but does this imply attachment. The word Satan may attract our “attention” to the malevolent being signified by it; but does this prove that the “immediate, nay the necessary tendency” of the word is to attract to this object any degree of “attachment?” It would be difficult to find either man, woman, or child, but has much “attention attracted’ to what he does not esteem, and to which he feels no attachment. If a person feels an attachment to any object not founded on the “comparative value” of that object, let the “particular affection” be denominated as we please, but let us not attach to it the idea of true virtue. For why should we be tempted to call that truly virtuous which has no relation to God, the object and fountain of all excellence? 14. It is but justice to our author to say, that his definition of virtue, against which Mr. H. objects, by no means countenances that perversion of our powers which is but too justly ascribed to modern infidels. No one acting on the principles of this Dissertation, will be less amiable in private life, than when acting on any others which Mr. H. might point out. This hypothesis, which we believe is the scriptural one, and which, in substance, has been maintained by theological writers and holy men of every age, pours no chilling influence on the affections, encourages no unscriptural disregards or antipathies in society, nor does it countenance any neglect of private duties under pretence of public utility. We are assured, by an authority from which, in the views of Christians, there lies no appeal, that “to love God with all our heart,” is the first and great commandment. We would fain know, if knowable, wherein this requisition differs from that which is implied in Mr. E’s notion of true virtue? Moreover, whether loving God with ALL our heart is calculated to render “the particular affections, to every purpose of virtue, useless, and even pernicious?” And, once more, whether that act of the mind which is compatible with a rejection of what the divine oracle thus requires, can in any propriety of language, among Christians, be termed virtuous? 15. “To allege,” Mr. H. observes, “that the general good is promoted by them will be no advantage to the defence of this system.” We apprehend he means, that some may be disposed to allow, that the private affections, though not virtuous, may yet promote the general good, on some other account. But the objector is under a mistake, if he suppose, as he apparently does, that Mr. E. held any notion of true virtue which will admit no private or “particular affections” to be virtuous. In fact, the system explained in this Dissertation excludes no particular affection: but fully admits that any, yea, that all of them may be virtuous, by a proper direction. Supreme love to God, or attachment to universal being, is virtue per se; but any other affection, however public or private, particular or general, is a virtue only relatively; that is, only so far as it is a tendency to universal being. When the affection terminates on any particular object, without any relation in its tendency to universal existence, it is not a mean of ultimate happiness in itself commendable, and therefore is not virtuous. 16. “We have no dispute,” says Mr. H. “respecting what is the ultimate end of virtue—the question is, What is virtue itself?” Very true; what is it? We say, a love, an attachment, or a tendency of mind, to general or universal existence; whatever be the immediate object of the will or affections. If the affection be, for instance, that of parent to a child, however strong in its operation, it is no further truly virtuous, than there is a regard to God in it: or, a tendency to general being. But what is virtue itself, according to Mr. H.? The answer is not given. Had Mr. H. thought proper to give us a definition of virtue, we might compare notes, and form an estimate. It is much easier to find fault than to amend it; but this we feel disposed to promise, that if the objector produce what he thinks a better definition than what he opposes, we will endeavour too examine it with impartiality. 17. Mr. H. supposes that the author of the work entitled “Political Justice” was “indebted to Mr. Edwards for his principal arguments against the private affections.” Surely that author must possess a most perverse kind of ingenuity, who could deduce any thing from the works of President Edwards against the private affections. Such ingenuity as an infidel some times employs, when he is indebted to the writers of the Old or New Testament for his principal arguments against religion, and in favour of infidelity. 18. “A mistaken pursuit of simplicity,” Mr. H. supposes, attaches to this system, whereby its advocates “place virtue exclusively in some one disposition of mind.” We conceive, there is just as much propriety in this remark, as in the following: A mistaken pursuit of simplicity led a certain writer to place conformity to law “exclusively” in some one disposition of mind, where he says, that the law is fulfilled in one word, love. We are not aware that it is a matter of doubt, whether moral acts, and consequently virtue, proceed from the will, or the heart? and, as every exercise of will or affection is not virtuous, it requires no long “pursuit of simplicity” to determine that the virtuous character of the affection must arise from its nature, rather than its degree; and from its being directed to a worthy, rather than an unworthy object. 19. Mr. H. illustrates his meaning by two kinds of attraction; and so does Mr. E. illustrate his. Private affections, or instincts, irrespective of their virtuous quality, may be represented by the attraction of cohesion, whereby the several parts of individual bodies are held in contact. A truly virtuous affection may be represented by the attraction of gravitation, which maintains the union of bodies themselves with the general system. And, “though the union in the former case is much more intimate, than in the latter,” and “each is equally essential to the order of the world:” yet, private affections, irrespective of their tendency to God, can with no more propriety be respected as virtues, than cohesion can be termed gravitation.—W. 140


« Prev CHAPTER VII. The reasons of many mistakes Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |