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In what respects virtue or moral good is founded in sentiment; and how far it is founded in the reason and nature of things.
Virtue is a certain kind of beautiful nature, form or quality. That form or quality is called beautiful, which appears in itself agreeable or comely, or the view of which is immediately pleasant to the mind. I say, agreeable in itself, and immediately pleasant, to distinguish it from things which in themselves are not so, but either indifferent or disagreeable; which yet appear eligible, and agreeable indirectly, for something else with which they are connected. Such indirect agreeableness, or eligibleness in things not for themselves, but for something else, is not beauty. But when a form or quality appears lovely, pleasing, and delightful in itself, then it is called beautiful; and this agreeableness 141 or gratefulness of the idea is beauty. It is evident, that the way we come by the idea of beauty, is by immediate sensation of the gratefulness of the idea called beautiful; and not by finding out by argumentation any consequences, or other things with which it stands connected; any more than tasting the sweetness of honey, or perceiving the harmony of a tune, is by argumentation on connexions and consequences. The manner of being affected with the immediate presence of the beautiful idea depends not on any reasonings about the idea, after we have it, before we can find out whether it be beautiful or not; but on the frame of our minds, whereby they are so made, that such an idea, as soon as we have it, is grateful, or appears beautiful.
Therefore, if this be all that is meant by them who affirm that virtue is founded in sentiment, and not in reason, that they who see the beauty of true virtue do not perceive it by argumentation on its connexions and consequences, but by the frame of their own minds, or a certain spiritual sense given them of God—whereby they immediately perceive pleasure in the presence of the idea of true virtue in their minds, or are directly gratified in the view or contemplation of this object—this is certainly true. But if thereby be meant, that the frame of mind, or inward sense given them by God, whereby the mind is disposed to delight in the idea of true virtue, is given arbitrarily, so that if he had pleased he might have given a contrary sense and determination of mind, which would have agreed as well with the necessary nature of things, this I think is not true.
Virtue, as I have observed, consists in the cordial consent or union of being to being in general. And that frame of mind, whereby it is disposed to relish and be pleased with view of this, is benevolence, or union of heart, to being in general; or it is an universally benevolent frame of mind. Because, he whose temper is to love being in general, must therein have a disposition to approve and be pleased with love to being in general. Therefore, now the question is, whether God, in giving this temper to a created mind, acts so arbitrarily, that there is nothing in the necessary nature of things to hinder, but that a contrary temper might have agreed or consisted as well with that nature of things as this?
And in the first place, to assert this would be a plain absurdity, and contrary to the very supposition. For here it is supposed, that virtue in its very essence consists in agreement or consent of being to being. Now certainly agreement itself to being in general must necessarily agree better with general existence, than opposition and contrariety to it.
I observe, secondly, that God in giving to the creature such a temper of mind, gives that which is agreeable to what is by absolute necessity his own temper and nature. For, as observed, God himself is in effect being in general; and without all doubt it is in itself necessary, that God should agree with himself, be united with himself, or love himself: and therefore, when he gives the same temper to his creatures, this is more agreeable to his necessary nature, than the opposite temper: yea, the latter would be infinitely contrary to his nature.
Let it be noted, thirdly, that by this temper only can created beings be united to and agree with one another. This appears, because it consists in consent and union to being in general: which implies agreement and union with every particular being, except in such cases wherein union with them is by some means inconsistent with union to general existence. But certainly, if any particular created being were of a temper to oppose being in general, that would infer the most universal and greatest possible discord, not only of creatures with their Creator, but of created beings one with another.
Fourthly, There is no other temper but this, whereby a man can agree with himself, or be without self-inconsistence, i.e. without having some inclinations and relishes repugnant to others; and that for these reasons. Every being that has understanding and will necessarily loves happiness. For, to suppose any being not to love happiness, would be to suppose he did not love what was agreeable to him; which is a contradiction: or at least would imply, that nothing was agreeable or eligible to him, which is the same as to say that he has no such thing as choice, or any faculty of will. So that every being who has a faculty of will, must of necessity have an inclination to happiness. And therefore, if he be consistent with himself, and has not some inclinations repugnant to others, he must approve of those inclinations whereby beings desire the happiness of being in general, and must be against a disposition to the misery of being in general: because otherwise he would approve of opposition to his own happiness. For if a temper inclined to the misery of being in general prevailed universally, it is apparent, it would tend to universal misery. But he that loves a tendency to universal misery, in effect loves a tendency to his own misery: and as he necessarily hates his own misery, he has then one inclination repugnant to another. And besides, it necessarily follows from self-love, that men love to be loved by others; because in this others’ love agrees with their own love. But if men love hatred to being in general, they would in effect love the hatred of themselves; and so would be inconsistent with themselves, having one natural inclination contrary to another.
These things may help us to understand why that spiritual and divine sense, by which those who are truly virtuous and holy perceive the excellency of true virtue, is in the sacred Scriptures called by the name of light, knowledge, understanding, &c. If this divine sense were a thing arbitrarily given, without any foundation in the nature of things, it would not properly be called by such names. For if there were no correspondence, or agreement, in such a sense with the nature of things, any more than there would have been in a contrary sense, the idea we obtain by this spiritual sense could in no respect be said to be a knowledge or perception of any thing besides what was in our own minds. For this idea would be no representation of any thing without. But since it is agreeable, in the respects above mentioned, to the nature of things; and especially since it is the representation of the moral perfection and excellency of the Divine Being; hereby we have a perception of that moral excellency, of which we could have no true idea without it. And hereby persons have that true knowledge of God, which greatly enlightens the mind in the knowledge of divine things in general, and which, as might be shown, if it were necessary to the main purpose of this discourse, in many respects, assists persons to a right understanding of things in general; viz. to see the nature and truth of them, in their proper evidence. Whereas, the want of this spiritual sense, and the prevalence of those dispositions which are contrary to it, tends to darken and distract the mind, and dreadfully to delude and confound men’s understandings.
Nor can that moral sense, common to mankind, which there is in natural conscience, be truly said to be no more than a sentiment arbitrarily given by the Creator, without any relation to the necessary nature of things: but rather, this is established in agreement with the nature of things; so established, as no sense of mind that can be supposed of a contrary nature and tendency could be. This will appear by these two things:
1. This moral sense—if the understanding be well informed, exercised at liberty, and in an extensive manner, without being restrained to a private sphere—approves the very same things which a spiritual and divine sense approves; and those things only; though not on the same grounds, nor with the same kind of approbation. Therefore, as that divine sense is agreeable to the necessary nature of things, as already shown; so this inferior moral sense, being so far correspondent to that, must also so far agree with the nature of things.
2. It has been shown, that this moral sense consists in approving the uniformity and natural agreement there is between one thing and another. So that, by the supposition, it is agreeable to the nature of things. For therein it consists, viz. a disposition of mind to consent to, or like, the agreement of the nature of things, or the agreement of the nature and form of one thing with another. And certainly, such a temper of mind is more agreeable to the nature of things than an opposite temper.
The use of language is to express our sentiments, or ideas, to each other; so that those terms by which things of a moral nature are signified, express those moral sentiments which are common to mankind. Therefore, that 142 moral sense which is in natural conscience, chiefly governs the use of language, and is the mind’s rule of language in these matters. It is indeed the general natural rule which God has given to all men, whereby to judge of moral good and evil. By such words, right and wrong, good and evil, when used in a moral sense, is meant in common speech, that which deserves praise or blame, respect or resentment; and mankind in general have a sense of desert, by this natural moral sense.
Therefore, here is a question which may deserve to be considered: seeing sentiment is the rule of language, as to what is called good and evil, worthy and unworthy; and it is apparent that sentiment, at least as to many particulars, is different, in different persons, especially in different nations—that being thought to deserve praise by one, which by others is thought to be worthy of blame—how therefore can virtue and vice be any other than arbitrary; not at all determined by the nature of things, but by the sentiments of men with relation to the nature of things?
In order to the answering of this question with clearness, it may be divided into two: viz. Whether men’s sentiments of moral good and evil are casual and accidental? And, whether their way of using words in what they call good and evil, is not arbitrary, without respect to any common sentiment conformed to the nature of things?
As to the first, I would observe, that the general disposition or sense of mind, exercised in a sense of desert of esteem or resentment, may be the same in all: though as to particular objects and occasions with regard to which it is exercised, it may be very various in different men, or bodies of men, through the partiality or error that may attend the view or attention of the mind. In all, a notion of desert of love or resentment, may consist in the same thing, in general—a suitableness, or natural uniformity and agreement, between the affections and acts of the agent, and the affections and treatment of others some way concerned—and yet occasions and objects, through a variety of apprehensions about them, and the various manner in which they are viewed, by reason of the partial attention of the mind, may be extremely various. Besides, example, custom, education, and association, may contribute to this, in ways innumerable. But it is needless to enlarge here, since what has been said by others, Mr. Hutchison in particular, may abundantly show, that the differences which are to be found among different persons and nations, concerning moral good and evil, are not inconsistent with a general moral sense, common to all mankind.
Nor, secondly, is the use of the words, good and evil, right and wrong, when used in a moral sense, altogether unfixed and arbitrary, according to the variety of notions, opinions, and views, that occasion the forementioned variety of sentiment. For though the signification of words is determined by particular use, yet that which governs in the use of terms, is general or common use. And mankind, in what they would signify by terms, are obliged to aim at a consistent use: because it is easily found that the end of language, which is to be a common medium of manifesting ideas and sentiments, cannot be obtained any other way than by a consistent use of words; both that men should be consistent with themselves, and one with another, in the use of them. But men cannot call any thing right or wrong, worthy or ill-deserving, consistently, any other way than by calling things so, which truly deserve praise or blame, i.e. things, wherein all things considered there is most uniformity in connecting with them praise or blame. There is no other way in which they can use these terms consistently with themselves. Thus if thieves or traitors may be angry with informers that bring them to justice, and call their behaviour by odious names; yet herein they are inconsistent with themselves; because, when they put themselves in the place of those who have injured them, they approve the same things they condemn. And therefore, such are capable of being convinced, that they apply these odious terms in an abusive manner. So, a nation that prosecutes an ambitious design of universal empire, by subduing other nations with fire and sword, may affix terms, that signify the highest degrees of virtue, to the conduct of such as show the most engaged, stable, resolute spirit in this affair, and do most of this bloody work. But yet they are capable of being convinced, that they use these terms inconsistently, and abuse language in it, and so having their mouths stopped. And not only will men use such words inconsistently with themselves, but also with one another, by using them any otherwise than to signify true merit or ill deserving, as before explained. For there is no way else wherein men have any notion of good or ill desert, in which mankind in general can agree. Mankind in general seem to suppose some general standard, or foundation in nature, for an universal consistence in the use of the terms whereby they express moral good and evil; which none can depart from but through error and mistake. This is evidently supposed in all their disputes about right and wrong; and in all endeavours used to prove that any thing is either good or evil, in a moral sense.
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