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the same definition of virtue, and argue from it with great advantage to their cause. Hume, in his Essays, places all virtue in utility, and represents every quality of a man, whether intellectual or corporal, which is agreeable and useful, as a constituent part of his moral character. But there is no infidel writer, who has so openly and boldly advocated the doctrine, that virtue solely consists in utility, as Godwin, in his inquiry concerning Political Justice. In that work, he abundantly asserts that happiness is the supreme good, and that any thing whatever, whether animate or inanimate, which tends to promote it, is really virtuous. I will cite a few out of many of his expressions to this import. "Moraity is that system of conduct, which is determined by a consideration of the greatest general good: he is entitled to the highest moral approbation, whose conduct is, in the greatest number of instances, or in the most momentous instances, governed by views of benevolence, and made subservient to public utility.”* "Morality consists entirely in an estimate of conse⚫ quences; he is truly the virtuous man who produces the greatest portion of benefit his situation will ad mit." "Morality is nothing else but a calculation of consequences, and an adoption of that mode of conduct which, upon the most comprehensive view, appears to be attended with a balance of general pleasure and happiness." "An action, however pure may be the intention of the actor, the tendency of which is mischievous, or which shall merely be nugatory and useless in its character, is not a virtuous action."§
In deciding the merits of others, we are bound for the most part to proceed in the same manner, as in deciding the merits of inanimate substances. The turning point is UTILITY. Intention is of no farther value than * Vol. 1, page 109. † Page 187. + Page 275. § Page 129
as it leads to utility: it is the means, and not the end.”* "The result of this part of the subject is, that those persons have been grossly mistaken, who taught that virtue was to be pursued for its own sake. Virtue is upon no other account valuable, than as it is the instrument of the most exquisite pleasure."+ All, who suppose that virtue consists in utility, agree in maintaining, that virtue has no intrinsic excellence, as an end, but only a relative excellence, as a mean to promote the only ultimate end in nature, that is, HAPPINESS. Since happiness is, in their view, the supreme good, and misery the supreme evil, they conclude, that the whole duty of men consists in pursuing happiness, and avoiding misery. Upon this single principle, that virtue wholly consists in its tendency to promote natural good, in distinction from natural evil, Godwin has founded a scheme of sentiments, which, carried into practice, would subvert all morality, religion, and government.
II. I proceed to demonstrate the absurdity of supposing that "gain is godliness," or that virtue essentially consists in utility. This sentiment is not only false, but absurd, because it contradicts the plainest dictates of reason and conscience.
1. To suppose that virtue consists in utility, is to suppose that virtue may be predicated of inanimate objects. These have a natural tendency, in various ways to promote human happiness. The whole material system, with which we are connected, was made for our habitation, convenience, and benefit, and constantly answers these useful and important purposes. But not to wander in so wide a field of material objects, let us fix our attention upon the Sun, whose influence is the most extensive and beneficial. By its
diurnal and annual revolutions, it diffuses light and heat over the face of the whole earth, and promotes the life and growth of every rational and irrational creature. And if utility constitutes moral virtue, where shall we find a more virtuous object, than this beautiful and beneficent luminary? The sun has been dispensing innumerable benefits to mankind for many thousands years, and if its moral virtue be in proportion to its utility, there is not a moral agent on earth, whose moral worth is equal to the moral excellence of this material, inanimate, unconscious object. Those who admit, that virtue consists in utility, cannot deny this consequence, however absurd it appears. Nor does Godwin pretend to deny it, but expressly allows that virtue may be predicated of inanimate, senseless matter. These are his own words: "There are two considerations relative to any particular being, that generate approbation, and this whether the being be possessed of consciousness or not. These considerations are capacity and the application of capacity. We approve of a sharp knife rather than a blunt one, because its capacity is greater. We approve of its being employed in carving food, rather than in maiming men or other animals, because that application of its capacity is preferable. But all approbation or preference is relative to utility or general good. A knife is as capable as a man of being employed in purposes of utility, and the one is no more free than the other as to its employment. The mode in which a knife is made subservient to these purposes is by material impulse. The mode in which a man is made subservient is by inducement and persuasion. But both are equally the affair of necessity. The man differs from the knife as the iron candlestick differs from the brass one; he has one more way of being acted upon. This additional
way in man is motivé, in the candlestic it is magnetism."* Such is the natural and avowed consequence of the doctrine, that virtue consists in utility. It necessarily implies, that mere material objects may be really virtuous; and some material objects may have more virtue than the most benevolent of the human race. And this is an idea, as repugnant to every dictate of common sense, as the doctrine of transubstantiation,
2. To suppose that virtue consists in utility, is to suppose that virtue may be predicated of the mere animal creation. The beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea, administer largely to our comfort and support. And if virtue consists in utility, it may be predicated of these, and of every thing that has the least portion of life and sensation. But is it in the power of our minds to conceive, that creatures which are totally destitute of moral discernment, and which cannot distinguish between right and wrong, are nevertheless capable of doing moral actions, which are worthy of praise or blame? Can the bare beneficial tendency of their actions render them virtuous? Was there any moral virtue in the gagling of the geese, which saved the city of Rome from destruction? It is no less absurd to ascribe virtue to the utility of animals, than to ascribe virtue to a refreshing shower, or a fruitful field.
3. To suppose that virtue consists in utility, is to suppose that men may be virtuous, without any intention to do good. They certainly may be very useful, without having utility in view. Their actions may have a natural tendency to promote useful and important designs, which they had no thought or intention of promoting. When Jesse sent David to see and comfort his brethren in the army, he had no thought
of raising him to the throne of Israel, and, in that way of promoting the general welfare of the nation. Men are every day performing actions, which have a tendency to promote that public good, which lies beyond all their views and intentions. But let any man, or any body of men, do ever so much good, while they have no intention of doing it, and the tendency of their conduct will not render it in the least degree virtuous. It is contrary to the dictates of every man's conscience, to place the virtue of an action in its utility, or bare tendency to promote happiness. He cannot, if he tries, separate the virtue of an action from the intention of the agent. But the doctrine under consideration places all virtue in the tendency of an action, and not in the intention of the actor. This is the very inference which Godwin himself draws from his own principle. In estimating the morality of actions he says, "The turning point is UTILITY. INTENTION is of no further value than as it leads to UTILITY." This is stripping moral virtue of every moral quality, which is a gross absurdity.
4. To suppose that virtue consists in utility, is to suppose that men may be virtuous in acting, not only without any intention, but from a positively bad intention. If the virtue of an action consists altogether in its tendency, it may be as virtuous when it flows from a bad intention, as when it flows from a good intention. or from no intention at all. The intention of an agent does not alter the tendency of his action. A man may do that from a good intention, which has a tendency to do evil; or he may do that from a bad intention, which has a tendency to do good. Some actions done from the worst intentions, have been the most beneficial to mankind. Joseph's brethren were extremely ma levolent in selling him into Egypt; but their malevolent conduct promoted the dignity and happiness of