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politeness, which may proceed from a disposition or habit of doing that which is agreeable, or of avoiding that which is offenfive to others; a disposition in its own nature exquifitely amiable, and whofe effects are esteemed proportionally to the evidence they bear of its reality; although, from the mere occafions on which it is exerted, the highest measure of virtue could not be inferred.
In comparing fuch examples together, we find. though without any precife diftinction of name, a gradation in the fcale of merit, by which men in the course of life are unequally the objects of approbation or esteem.
At the fame time, there is a corresponding gradation in the fcale of demerit, which is not perhaps more obvious; but is thought to require a more pointed discrimination of names, fuch as thofe of crimes, offences, and faults.
Crimes, or actions of the highest demerit, are `fuch as proceed from malice, under any of its ordinary forms, whether of envy, emulation, jealoufy or revenge; or fuch as proceed from habit or paffion, as from covetousness, fenfuality, or amany bition, in gratifying of which the criminal has occafion deliberately to trespass on the rights, or to disturb the peace of his fellow creatures.
When the crime proceeding from one or other of these motives is committed under circumstances of peculiar truft, or against perfons peculiarly entitled to respect and affection, the atrocity of guilt or degree of demerit is rated accordingly; and pernicious actions, performed deliberately, intentionally or knowingly, though not originally suggested by malice, yet as they imply great
defect of the oppofite good difpofitions of humanity or candour, PART II. and thereby give evidence of great depravity, have a correspond- SECT. VII. ing degree of demerit.
The person who without having entertained any malice, nevertheless deliberately kills that he may rob, is justly reckoned guilty of murder; and he who knowingly performs an action nicious to his neighbour, though only from a motive of interest or conveniency to himself otherwife allowable, is nevertheless in fuch inftances, juftly reckoned guilty of a heinous crime.
As perfons thus deliberately offending are not likely, from mere recollection, to repent of the actions, which, under a recollected perception of their pernicious nature, they already performed; the peace of fociety, and the fafety of innocence, require, that fuch perfons should be restrained by the fear of punishment; and, if not reclaimable, that they fhould be removed by exile or death from the fociety they disturb or molest.
What in the scale of reprobation is qualified with the more venial name of offence, may, in respect to the external effect, be equally hurtful with what is denominated a crime.
Under this title of an offence, the peace of fociety may be dif turbed, or a citizen may fuffer in his perfon or effects; but when this proceeds not from malice, nor from an ordinary habit of indifference to the rights of others, but from a fudden and occasional emotion or paffion, which may hurry a mind, otherwife difpofed to innocence and good will, into an action pernicious or hurtful to those whom it may concern, the demerit is proportionally alleviated,
Such offenders, on the returns of reflection, are capable of SECT. VII. fincere repentance, and they may be reclaimed by fuch measures of punishment or animadverfion as awaken their remorse, and put them on their guard against like flips of temper or effects of provocation.
Under the latter denomination of a fault, we may conceive, and often have occafion to admit, a lower degree of demerit than is implied in either of the former titles. Of this a person may be guilty, if, from ignorance or inadvertency, he fhall be the cause of harm to his fellow creatures, although he have not either the deliberate intention of the criminal, nor the unruly paffion of the offender.
Faults of inadvertency, or of ignorance may have unequal degrees of demerit. Where the cafe by its general importance, or by any peculiar circumftances of perfonal concern calls up the attention in a special degree, inadvertency is proportionally inexcufeable, and may justly incur high measures of punishment.
Ignorance of what, by the general condition of our nature, by our profeffion, or by any peculiar opportunities of instruction, we ought specially to know, becomes faulty in proportion as these circumstances accumulate.
On this account it is a juft maxim in the cognizance of crimes, that ignorance of the fact may be admitted as a plea of innocence, but that ignorance of the law never can be admitted to justify what is illegal. Thus a perfon, who, in fhooting his arrow to a distance, fhall wound his fellow creature, may plead
his ignorance of the fact, or his ignorance that there was any PART. II. perfon in the way of being so wounded; but he cannot plead SECT. VII ignorance of the law, or that he did not know it was a crime to injure or wound his fellow creature.
The law of nature, fuggefted by the regard which a man naturally has for mankind, cannot be fuppofed unknown, without an implication of the greatest depravity; and if any one, accufed of an action pernicious to his neighbour, fhould plead that he did not know it was wrong to do harm, he would, in that very plea, establish a heavier charge of depravity against himself, than any occafional or tranfient action could imply.
The fum of this argument is, that although external actions confidered apart from will, intention, or disposition of mind, like mechanical caufes of any other fort, may be productive of benefit or harm; yet they do not appear to be vested with any moral quality, until the movement performed is traced to its connection with the difpofition of mind from which it proceeds. This is admitted not only with respect to involuntary or convulfive motions, in which the arm of one man, in a fit, may be fo thrown about as to wound another: It is admitted, alfo, with respect to voluntary actions, in which a person may cafually, or without any blameable inadvertency be the physical cause of harm to another.
The distinction of moral good and evil cannot be ascertained in the defcription of mere external action; nor can the merit or demerit of a man be known until he has acted. Infomuch, that although in abstraction we may take afunder, and state apart, qualities of the mind and movements of the body, yet thefe in
reality are combined together in the conception which men mutually form of their moral diftinctions.
Wisdom and goodness are the constituents of merit; proper and beneficent actions are the evidence of wisdom and goodness. A feries of beneficent actions implies benevolence; a series of pernicious actions implies malice; proper conduct implies wifdom; improper conduct implies folly: And, wherever wisdom and goodness exist, proper and beneficent conduct will follow, as the tree produces its fruit, or the cause in any other inftance is followed by its effect.
External action, confidered as a feature of the human character, or as an emanation of good or ill difpofition, is a proper fubject of moral approbation or cenfure, or comes properly within the direction of moral government or law.
The fame law, that recommends the love of mankind as an excellence and a bleffing to the mind of man, must likewise recommend beneficent actions under the predicament of moral duty; and the law which reprobates malice must reprobate pernicious. actions alfo.
When we have thus traced the approbation of external actions to that wisdom and goodness, which is the fource of fuch actions, we may suppose a question to be put on the subject of moral action, the fame as that we fuppofed on the fubject of natural beauty; If external actions be approved on account of the wifdom and goodness from which they proceed, on what account And we are wifdom and goodness themfelves approved? And may repeat, That wisdom and goodness are approved on their own account: Or, if this answer fhould not be fatisfactory, we may change the terms, and fay, That wisdom and goodness are approved