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If we are asked, therefore, what is the principle of moral apSECT. III, probation in the human mind, we may anfwer, It is the Idea

of perfection or excellence, which the intelligent and affociated being forms to himself; and to which he refers in every fentiment of esteem or contempt, and in every expreffion of commendation or cenfure.

Nay, but mankind are not agreed on this subject; they differ no less in what they admire, than in what they enjoy. The idea of pefection no doubt may be affociated with fubjects divested of merit: But notwithstanding the effect of fuch affociation in warping the judgement, virtue is approved as the specific perfection or excellence of man's nature; and as no one ever inquired why perfection fhould be esteemed; it is difficult to conceive why they fhould look for any other account of moral approbation than this.

From the predilections of birth and fortune, few, if any, are altogether blind to the distinctions of wisdom and folly, of benevolence and malice, of fobriety and debauchery, of courage and cowardice. And if these characters of mind could be perceived without the intervention of external figns; the difference of judgement on the fubjects of moral good and evil would, in a great measure diffappear; or there would not be fo much diverfity of opinion as we obferve amongst men, concerning the forms or description of virtue. But the external actions which may refult from any given difpofition of mind being different in different inftances, may occafion a difference of judgement, or a variety of cuftom and manners; and fuggeft the neceffity of a principle or standard of estimation, on which their rate of merit or demerit may be fafely established. We accordingly proceed to the confideration of thefe particulars.




Of the Difficulty of reconciling the different Judgements of Men relating to the Morality of External Actions.

WHEN the reality of any moral distinction is questioned, PART II.

we naturally refer to the general sense of mankind on the fubject. CHAP. I. To give this evidence, however, its full effect, in fupporting the SECT.IV. reality in question, it is fuppofed, that mankind ought to be unanimous in their verdict, and agree, not only in admitting, that there is a distinction, but agree also in the description of fubjects, or in the choice of particulars, to be ranged under the oppofite predicaments of moral good and moral evil.

If men, it may be alleged, have a difpofition to felect objects of commmendation and cenfure, and yet are not agreed in their choice, we must fuppofe their difference of judgement to arife, not from a want of difpofition in them to find out the truth, but from the want of a fufficient difference in the nature of things to lead or to establish their judgement.




Sceptics, accordingly, in order to repel the evidence of reality in matters of moral distinction, refer to the contradictory notions of mankind, on the subject of manners.

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"Mankind," they obferve," blame in one perfon, and in one "cafe, what they applaud in another. Thus, to deceive or to "kill is in one instance condemned, in another is applauded or permitted. What is held forth as a fubject of praise in one age or country, is overlooked or neglected in another. What, in one age or nation, is permitted as allowable or innocent, in an"other is reprobated and abhorred, under fome denomination "of impiety, incest, or blafphemy


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"Certain forms of behaviour, forms of expreffion or gefture, are in one country, or amongst one set of men, required to "good manners, or received with complacency; whilst they are confidered as an unpardonable injury or infult in other na❝tions, or in other companies.

"In one nation, we are told, it is reckoned an act of filial piety "for a fon to kill his fuperannuated parent; in other countries, "this, though we should fuppofe it to be done with confent of the "perfon fuffering, would be detefted as a most horrid instance ❝of murder and parricide.

"The definitions of crimes vary in the laws of different coun"tries: Infomuch, that what is destined to fevere punishment in



* Profana illic omnia, quæ apud nos facra; rurfum conceffa apud illos, quæ nobis incefta.

Tacitus de Judæis, Hift. lib. v. c. 4.


one country,is suffered, in another, to escape with impunity, even PART II. "without cenfure. Thus, theft, which was punished at Athens, was encouraged in Sparta.


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"All men are loud in commendations of virtue; but obferve "their applications of this term, how different in the detail of particulars? Among the antient Romans it meant valour a"lone. Among the Jews it meant zeal for their own inftitutions, " and animofity to the reft of mankind. Among housewives it means œconomy and notable industry In Italy it means a "tafte for antiquities, and curiofities of nature or art.'



From the whole of these instances it is propofed to infer, that there is not any certain rule of approbation or disapprobation respecting the manners or behaviour of men. And notwithstanding the effential felicity and merit of wisdom and goodness as qualities of intelligent being, it must be allowed to follow from such varieties of apprehenfion, refpecting the morality of external action, that the diftinction of right and wrong cannot be taken from the mere physical action itself, or that mere external movements of the body have not the fame power to command our moral feelings, as they have to command our perception of their form and phyfical effect.

When the fhutters of a window are opened, and the light is admitted, every object in the room is illuminated; vifion is dif tinct to all who have organs of fight, and the perceptions of magnitude, figure, and colour are the fame to every one prefent. When certain tremors are produced in the air, every ear is ftruck with the fenfation of found; and however one perfon may differ from another in his conjectures refpecting its caufe, or even reVOL. II.




PART II. fpecting the musical effect, the tone produced is the fame to every one by whom it is heard.

The fame thing may be faid with relation to the form and confequence of any action or movement of the body. All who are prefent perceive the fame phyfical operation, and the fame continuance or change of condition in the subject affected by fuch operation. A life may be taken away or preserved in their fight, and there is no difference of perception refpecting the phyfical caufe or the phyfical confequence. May we not prefume, therefore, that if moral right and wrong were equally a part in the form of an action, as is the physical description of it, the perceptions of men in this refpect alfo would be equally uniform.

The contrary, however, is obferved to be true. The fame physical action in one instance is applauded as a virtue, in another inftance is reprobated as a crime; or rather, to speak with more propriety, where the physical action is the fame, the moral action is altogether different; and is an object of approbation or difapprobation, correfponding to that difference of the moral quality.

For an example, in which the physical action may, in repeated inftances, continue the fame, while the moral action is extremely different; we may fuppofe the death of a man, effected with a fword, in the manner in which executions in fome countries are performed; in which affaffinations are committed ; and battles are fought. In all these instances the physical action may be precifely the fame, and every spectator have the fame perception of it; but the moral action may be, and frequently is, extremely different.


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