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Of Moral Law, or the Distinction of Good and Evil, and its Systematic Applications.






THE diftinction of physical and moral science has been stated PART II. in the former part of this work; the one being occupied in folv- CHAP. I. ing questions of theory or fact, the other in folving questions of right: But, notwithstanding the proposed method required that queftions of fact, or mere explanation, should be confidered a


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PART. II. part from queftions of estimation and choice; yet the good of which man is fufceptible, and the evil to which he is expofed, having frequently occurred, as facts of the greateft importance relating to him; and the advancement of moral fcience itself having made a confiderable article in the hiftory of his purfuits and attainments; it was impoffible not to touch upon thefe fubjects, in laying the foundation of this more particular difcuffion, in which we are now to proceed.

Having, however, in the former part, chiefly attended to the facts constituent of man's actual ftate, and ferving to form his capacity and give intimation of his future prospects; we are now, in the continuation of our method, come to a point at which the distinction of good and evil, and its applications, are the direct and immediate objects of our inquiry. But as in the past, where the statement of fact was the principal object, we could not always with-hold some view to its confequence; fo now, although our principal object is to pursue the inference to be drawn from facts already ftated; yet, as we may, by referring to former obfervations, fometimes incur the charge of repetition; it is hoped that the favour, due to a fubject fo important, may plead in excufe of the necessary references, even if they should be repeated.

Science, in every application of the term, implies the knowledge of fome one or more general principles with their applications, whether in directing the will, or in explaining appearances, and connecting together our conceptions of things.

The specific principle of moral science is fome general expreffion of what is good, and fit to determine the choice of moral agents in the detail of their conduct.


To investigate fuch a principle relating to man, it will be neceffary to recollect what is known of himself; and of the fitua- SECT. I. tion in which he is placed. Our information is to be collected from his experience of what is agreeable or difagreeable to him, and the refult will amount to a choice of that, on which he is chiefly to rely for his happiness, and to a caution against that, of which he is chiefly to beware as leading to misery.

Thefe first and principal points of choice or rejection being fixed, the lines of moral wisdom and precept will flow from them in every direction, whether leading to the difcernment of perfo nal qualities, the foundations of law, manners, or political eftablishments.

The diftinction of good and evil originates in the capacity of enjoyment and fuffering. Infomuch that, without the intervention of mind, or fome feeling nature, all the varieties of matter and form befides, would be indifferent. Good may be defined, that which being enjoyed conftitutes happiness; and evil, that which being incurred conftitutes mifery.

Philofophers of old employed themselves chiefly in fearch of a fupreme good; and the term was familiar in the language of their times. We are told of two principal opinions which were entertained on this fubject. One, that pleasure, another, that virtue was the chief good. But as the patrons of the first could not propose to affert, that all pleasures were equal, no more could the other mean, that virtue was not a pleasure. They were agreed indeed in the general affertion, that what they termed virtue was the only fecure and true fource of enjoyment; but they defcrib


ed their virtues differently. Though to both it was a state of tranquility and exemption from fear and forrow, this exemption was fuppofed by the one to be obtained by a feclufion from care, and by indifference to all the concerns of mankind, whether private or public. By the other, virtue was fuppofed to confift in the affectionate performance of every good office towards their fellow creatures, and in full refignation to providence for every thing independent of their own choice. Their different fchemes of divinity clearly pointed out their oppofite plans of morality alfo. Both admitted the existence of God. But to one the deity was a retired effence enjoying itself, and far removed from any work of creation or providence *.

The other confidered deity as the intelligent principle of existence and of order in the universe, from whom all intelligence proceeds, and to whom all intelligence will return; whofe power is the irresistible energy of goodness and wisdom, ever present and ever active; bestowing on man the faculty of intelligence, and the freedom of choice, that he may learn, in acting for the general good, to imitate the divine nature; and that, in respect to events independent of his will, he may acquiefce in the determinations of providence. "How great is the privilege of is the privilege of man," fays Antoni"to have it in his power to do what God will approve, and to receive with complacency whatever God fhall ordain."



In conformity with thefe principles, one fect recommended feclufion

* Omnis enim, per fe, divum natura, necefse'ft
Immortali ævo fumma cum pace fruatur,
Semota ab noftris rebus, fejunctaque longe;
Nam privata dolore omni, privata periclis,
Ipfa fuis pollens opibus, nihil indiga noftri,
Nec bene promeritis capitur nec tangitur ira.



clufion from all the cares of family or ftate. The other recom- PART II. mended an active part in all the concerns of our fellow-creatures, and the steady exertion of a mind, benevolent, courageous, and temperate. Here the fects effentially differed, not in words, as is fometimes alledged, but in the views which they entertained of a plan for the conduct of human life and the choice of their actions. The Epicurean was a deferter from the cause of his fellow-creatures, and might justly be reckoned a traitor to the community of nature, of mankind, and even of his country, to which he owed his protection.

The Stoic enlifted himself, as a willing inftrument in the hand of God, for the good of his fellow-creatures. For himself, the cares and attentions which this object required, were his pleafures; and the continued exertion of a beneficent affection, his welfare and his profperity.

It is by no means indifferent what opinions we shall entertain on these subjects. Good and evil are known or apprehended by us under a variety of denominations. And happiness or misery are supposed to be conftituted by the diftribution of these in our lot. If the things we term good be inconfiftent one with another, it is furely of confequence to the most unthinking mind to afcertain where the preference is due; and, when this point is determined, to avoid the distraction of a doubtful choice on any particular occafion. If, on the contrary, the objects stated under the denomination of good, when well understood, coincide in their effects, it is reasonable that we trace them to this point of coincidence, and rest the project of happiness or fafety, not on any partial and exclusive selection; but on the proper ufe and conduct of the whole.



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