صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني



Of Virtue and Vice.

WHen, in the manner of last section, we have resolved the excellence and beauty of this created frame into the wisdom and goodness of God; and return from this contemplation of nature to confider, what is the specific excellence of man; we must recognize in him at once a constitution or form received from his Maker, and together with the gifts of intelligence and free will, a perfonage and character to be ascribed to himself. In respect to either, he is distinguished in nothing fo much as in this power and disposition to perceive, with delight, an intelligent and beneficent Author in the fyftem of things around him. Were he thus to judge of any human production, his perception of beauty in the work would argue fome participation in the genius of its Author. May we not therefore, conceive, that his admiration of what appears in the universe of God, implies fome qualification to participate in the godlike principles of beneficence and wisdom. In this system, of which he is a part, the measures of providence are taken, and the design is carried into execution; he too is destined to act: But when we confider the magnitude of

this fyftem, and in how many ways, of which he cannot trace PART II. CHAP. I. any tendency to the purpose of univerfal good, he himself may be SECT. IV. affected, his concurrence in the design is likely to be merely paffive, or fofar only as to make him bear with complacency what the general order requires, rather than to call upon him for any active exertion directed to a purpose so far extended beyond his comprehenfion.

Even when we confider the world of men and animals, how ir extended beyond the reach of any active interpofition of the ndividual for its general good, we must fuppofe that the character of goodness, applicable to man, in refpect to this object alfo, confifts in pious refignation to the will of God; or, at most in perfect good will to mankind, in every instance in which the active power of an individual can apply. Fortunately for him, when he acts in particular instances, for his friend, his neighbour, his country, or for any of the human race, there occurs, an occafion to practise and to promote that mutual affection, fidelity, justice, and humanity, which in fact are a common blessing to mankind; infomuch, that for him to adopt and to communicate the effect of these characters, is to act for the good of his fellow-creatures; and, fo far he becomes an able and a willingnistrument in the hand of God for the beneficent ends of his providence..

The merit of this character, however, is more a subject of consciusness, orintuitive judgement, than of difcuffion or reasoning; and heywho are, in common life, moft decided in their choice of good ctions, proceed upon the ground of their affections and fentinents, more than upon any information derived by investigation r research. In attempts at fcience, however, we must defcend › particulars, and endeavour to collect, by induction from the phenomena

E 2

PART. II. phenomena of that nature we are confidering, what may be its destination, and what the ftandard by which its worth is to be eftimated.



Among fubjects organized, we have already obferved that man is distinguished as living and active; among the living and active, he is distinguished as intelligent; or endowed with powers of difcernment, apprised of the distinction of good and evil, and invested with freedom of choice. Among the gregarious animals, he is diftinguished as affociating and political, and confcious of his ftation. as a member in the community of his fellow creatures. The order of nature itself is in a certain degree manifeft to him; he is fitted to hold communication with its Author, to apprehend his will, and to become a willing inftrument in promoting the ends of his government.

In striving to conceive the destination of fuch a being, we may with great confidence reject the idea of its being limited to the preservation of mere animal life, or even, as Epicurus affumed, to the poffeffion of mere pleafing thoughts or fenfations of any fort. There is an active character to be fuftained, and a part to be filled up; first,in the community of men,who are partners in the joint cause of humanity and justice. There is a world of still and living nature, in the midst of which this active being must acquit himself, with fenfibility in respect to fome, and with circumfpection and care respecting the whole. There is a commanding order of things, to which he must accommodate himself, which he is required to study, and concerned to know; and to which, even where it exceeds his comprehenfion, he must with fubmiffion furrender his will.

To fill

up fuch a part are required fkill, difcernment, or knowledge, fit difpofition, application, and force: Hence the four car

dinal virtues, celebrated in the schools of philofophy, Wisdom, PART II. Juftice, Temperance, and Fortitude.


Wisdom is the virtue of intelligence, or a just discernment of the confiderations on which we are to rely for happiness, and the undisturbed poffeffion of the faculties which are given for the government of life. Man, in his character of intelligent being, is active in a form, and to an extent, greatly fuperior to any of the other animals. Every quality of his nature is an energy, not a quiefcent mode of existence; and, whatever be the limits within which he is deftined to exert his faculties, within the fame limits, and in the fame form of active exertion, are to be found his excellencies and defects, his enjoyments and fufferings.

The lot of man is not, like that of the other animals, at once completely furnished by nature; he is invefted with powers, and left to employ them for his own advantage, or that of his fellowcreatures. He merits the praise of wisdom, or he incurs the imputation of folly, according to the ufe which he makes of his intelligent faculties; and in this, perhaps, gives the first and most striking specimen of the excellence or defect, of which he is fufceptible. His powers of conception, when well employed, lay the foundations of wifdom; when mifapplied or neglected, lay the foundations of folly; and fo far present him to his fellowcreatures, as an object either of esteem and respect, or of contempt and derifion.

With the exception of a few determinate instincts, fuch as direct him on particular occafions to the means of felf preservation or fuch as connect the individual with his kind, man, we have obferved, is left to follow the dictates of his own obfervation, difcernment and




PART II experience. In nonage or infancy, indeed, he is committed to the difcretion of his parent; but, in the more advanced periods of life, he is committed to his own. His instincts and appetites are feldom to him, as they are to the other animals, determinate guides in the application of means to the attainment of his end, or feldom secure him in the proper choice and measure of his gratifications. When urged by hunger, though in the midst of plenty, if the fruit or fpecies of food prefented to him be new or untried, he muft proceed with caution in the use of it, and examine well, before he ventures to tafte; much more before he ventures to feed on viands unknown, though of the fairest appearance.

Although his gratifications, like thofe of the other animals, when the purpose of nature is ferved, frequently determine or pall on the fenfe; and fatiety, even in his case, might be fufficient to guard him against excefs; yet he is, by an error of his imagination, frequently led to exceed even these limits, and to seek for pleasure, where it is not any longer to be found, in the object of a fatiated appetite. In him, therefore, the defects of instinct must be supplied by reflection; and, he is to be taught, by experience and obfervation alone, to distinguish the real fources of permanent happiness.

As to man, therefore, the errors of his own imagination, as well as the defects of his instinct, are occafions of evil, they are to be fupplied or corrected by the proper use of his intelligent powers. And it may be asked, Are we to confider the intelligence of man as a mere fubftitute for the correctnefs of choice to which the other animals are formed by nature, and to estimate its value, by its apparent destination to do for him what inftinct, and the want of imagination, have done for the brutes? This were to fuppofe him deftined to at

« السابقةمتابعة »