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Benevolence, therefore, may in fome degree be confidered PART II. as a principle of wisdom, of fortitude, and temperance; and, as SECT. I. it either inspires or requires for its fupport every other good quality of human nature, we cannot greatly err, in affuming it as the fundamental or primary object of moral law. Its external effects, expreffions, or appearances, are the fupreme objects of esteem and complacency; and its reverse, cruel insensibility, and malice, recollected in ourselves, or obferved in others, are the fupreme objects of remorfe, of indignation and hatred.
Hence it is, that the murderer is the common object of detestation to himself and all men; and without waiting for the conviction of external evidence, is fo often betrayed by the hor rors of remorfe which affect his own mind.
Of the firft and more general Applications of Moral Law.
PART II. THE applications of a physical principle are made, either to the
formation of theories, and the explanation of phenomena; or to the production of effects, and the practice of arts.
Physical science is fruitful of arts, or enables the person who is acquainted with the operative laws of nature, to direct its operations to his own purpose. Moral principle being a juft conception or adequate expreffion of what is good, is fruitful of wifdom and proper conduct. Its first application is to form the temper, to correct falfe apprehenfions of things, to confirm the truth, to cultivate just affection, and to direct the energy of a ftrenuous mind in external actions, and to induce and confirm all the habits of a virtuous life.
There is one point of view in which the fciences, whether phyfical or moral, unite their effects. That point to which they se
verally tend, when phyfical fcience becomes comprehenfive of PART II. the order of nature, or lays open the view to infinite goodness and CHAP. II. wisdom; and moral science, abstracting from local forms and obfervances, becomes in the mind a principle of extenfive benevolence, by which the individual states himself as a part in the order of nature, and entirely devoted to the will of its Author.
In these points of view, science may be confidered as the higheft attainment of created intelligence, and its nearest approach to a communication with the fupreme Creator; an approach, in which, through the medium of knowledge, it receives an impreffion, and contemplates a form of beauty, the most likely to command its affections.
The distinctions, which we have been confidering, of enjoyment and fuffering, of excellence and defect, of happiness and mifery, fubfift in the mind, and may be conceived as properties of mind, abstracted from any external effect or appearance whatever.
At the fame time, as every property of the human mind is a modification of an active animal, as well as of an intelligent being, as it is a measure of power, or a direction of will, forming the energy of a nature so mixed, and of which the effects must appear wherever the living nature is destined to range or to ply its exertions, we cannot fuppofe the mind to poffefs any quality, whether of excellence or defect, that is not attended with a suitable consequence in the transactions of life.
Hence it is, that the animal and physical actions of men present an object of moral difcernment, and furnish subjects of commendation and cenfure, more obvious to most men than even the
qualities of mind itself, when they attempt to conceive fuch qualities apart from external expreffions or effects: And, as men, in some instances, do not appear to be affured even of their own thoughts, until they have put them in words; fo they are, with much better reafon, doubtful of what may be the qualifications of any other person, until he has given to his thoughts and difpofitions their effect in his conduct.
Virtue, therefore, in the mixed nature of man, is at once a condition of his mind, an aspect and carriage of his person, and an ordinary series of action, fitted to his fituation, as the member of a community, in which the conduct of every particular perfon contributes its fhare to the good or the evil incident to the whole.
So far the fubject admits of a general statement, in which there is no difficulty. In the more particular treatment of it, however, fome difficulties have arifen, which it may be proper to ftate, before we enter on the detail of moral obligations and duties.
Thefe difficulties relate to the phenomenon of moral approbation, confidered as a fubject of theory; or to the different opinions of men, on the subject of moral actions and duties, confidered as a ftandard of eftimation for mankind.
Relating to thefe fubjects, we may enquire, first of all, upon what principle men proceed, in estimating the morality of actions? Next, Whence the difference of opinion, on the fubject of moral duties? Whence the real gradations of merit and demerit? And, from the obfervations that may occur, endeavour to col
lect some fundamental rule or canon of estimation, respecting the PART II. morality of external actions, and the propriety of manners, before we proceed to consider the variety of fanctions, under which such actions are required; or before we enter on the feparate departments of science, to which the study of morality refers, under the titles of jurisprudence, cafuiftry, and politics.