Изображения страниц
[ocr errors]

itself, but by the mutual assistance and combination of its correspondent parts.

All the laws of nature, which regulate property, as well as all civil laws, are general; and regard alone fome effential circumstances of the case, without taking into confideration the characters, situations and connections of the perfons concerned, or any particular consequences, that may result from the determination of these laws, in every particular cafe that offers. They deprive, without scruple, a beneficent man of all his poffeffions, if acquired by mistake, without a good title in order to bestow them on a felfish mifer, who has already heaped up immense stores of fuperfluous riches. Public utility requires, that property should be regulated by general inflexible rules, and though such rules are adopted as best serve the same end of public 'utility, it is impossible for them to prevent all particular hardthips, or make beneficial consequences result from every individual case. It is sufficient, if the whole plan or scheme be necessary to the support of civil society, and if the balance of good, in the main, does thereby preponderate much above that of evil. Even the general laws of the universe, though planned by infinite wisdom, cannot exclude all evil or inconvenience, in every particular operation.'

After this, our author proceeds to consider in what sense justice may be said to arise from human conventions. « If by convention,' says he, be here meant a promise (which is the most useful sense of the word) nothing can be more absurd, than this position. The observance of promises is itself, one of the most considerable parts of justice ; and we are not surely bound to keep our word, because we have given our word to keep it. But if by convention be meant a sense of common interest; which sense each man feels in his own breast, which he observes in his fellows, and which carries him, in concurrence with others, into a general plan or system of actions, that tends to public utility; it must be owned, that, in this sense, justice arises from human conventions. For if it be allowed (what is, indeed, evident) that the particular consequences of a particular act of justice, may be hurtful to the public as well as to individuals; it follows, that every man, in embracing that virtue, must have an eye to the whole plan or system, and must expect the concurrence of his fellows in the same conduct and behaviour. Were all his views to terminate in the particular consequences of each particular act of

his own, his benevolence and humanity, as well as selflove, might often prescribe to him measures of conduct very different from these, which are agreeable to the strict rules of right and justice.

• Thus two' men pull the oars of a boat, by common convention, for common interest, without any promise or contract; thus gold and silver are made the measures of exchange; thus speech and words and language are fixt, by human convention and agreement. Whatever is advantageous to two or more persons, if all perform their part ; but what loses all advantage, if only one perform, can arise from no other principle. There would otherwise be no motive for any one of them to enter into that scheme of conduct.

The word, natural, is commonly taken in so many "Senses, and is of such loose signification, that it seems to

little purpose to dispute, whether justice is natural or not. If self-love, if benevolence be natural to man ; if reason and fore-thought be also natural ; then may the same epithet be applied to justice, order, fidelity, property, society. Men's inclination, their necessities lead them to combine; their understanding and experience tell them, that this combination is impossible, where each governs himself by no rule, and pays no regard to the possessions of others; and from these passions and reflections conjoined, as soon as we observe like paffions and reflections in others, the sentiment of justice, through all ages, has infallibly and certainly had place, to some degree or other, in every individual of human species. In fo sagacious an animal, whaq necessarily arises from the exertion of his intellectual faculties may juftly be esteemed natural.

Amongst all civilized nations, it has been the constant endeavour to remove every thing arbitrary and partial from the decision of property, and to fix the sentence of judges by such general views and confiderations, as may be equal to every member of the society. For besides, that nothing could be more dangerous than to accustoin the bench, even in the smallest instance, to regard private friendship or enmity; it is certain, that men, where they imagine, that there was no other reason for the preference of their adversary, but personal favour, are apt to entertain the strongest jealousy and ill-will against the magiftrates and judges. When natural reason, therefore, points out no fixt view of public utility, by which a controversy of property can be decided, positive laws are often framed to supply its place, and direct the procedure of all courts of Vol. VI. с


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

judicature. Where these two fail, as often happens, pre-
cedents are called for; and a former decision, though
given itself without any sufficient reason, justly becomes a
fufficient reason for a new decision. If direct laws and
precedents be wanting, imperfect and indirect ones are
brought in aid; and the controverted case is ranged under
them, by analogical reasonings, and comparisons, and fimi-
litudes, and correspondencies, that are often more fanciful
than real. În general, it may easily be asserted, that ju-
rifprudence is, in this respect, different from all the ici-
ences; and in many of its nicer questions, there cannot
properly be said to be truth or falfhood on either side.
If one pleader brings the case under any former law or
precedent, by a refined analogy or comparison, the oppofite
pleader is not at a loss to find an oppofite analogy or compa-
rison; and the preference given by the judge, is often founded
more on taste and imagination than on any folid argument.
Public utility is the general view of all courts of judicature;
and this utility too requires a staple rule in all controversies;
but where several rules, nearly equal and indifferent, pre-
sent themselves, 'tis a very flight turn of thought, which fixes
the decision in favour of either party.'
: Our author concludes his ingenious performance with
a very entertaining dialogue, wherein he presents us with
a picture of Athenian and French manners, to fhew what
wide differences, in the sentiments of morals, are to be
found betwixt different nations. He endeavours to make
it appear, that the principles, upon which men reafon, in
morals, are always the same; though the conclusions they
draw, are often very different. As many ages, fays
he, as have elapsed, since the fall of Greece and Rome,
and such changes as have arrived in religion, language,
laws and customs, none of these revolutions have ever pro-
duced any considerable innovation in the primary sentiments
of morals, more than in those of external beauty. Some
minute differences, perhaps, may be observed in both,
Horace celebrates a low forehead, and Anacreon joined
eye-brows ; but the Apollo and the Venus of antiquity, are
till our models for male and female beauty ; in like manner,
as the character of Scipio continues our standard for the glory
of heroes, and that of Cornelia for the honour of matrons.

• It appears, that there never was any quality, recommended by any one, as a virtue or moral excellence; but on account of its being useful, or agreeable to a man himself, or to others. For what other reason can there ever be


for praise or approbation? Or where would be the sense of extoiling a good character or action, which at the same time, is allowed to be good for nothing? All the differences, therefore, in morals, may be reduced to this one general foundation, and may be accounted for by the different views which people take of these circumstances.'


Political Discourses. By David Hume, Esq; 8vo. 3$. Printed at Edinburgh ; for Kincaid and Donaldson. EW writers are better qualified, either to instruct or

entertain their readers, than Mr. Hume. On whatever subject he employs his pen, he presents us with something new; nor is this his only merit, his writings (as we observed in the preceding article) receive a farther recommendation from that elegance and spirit which appears in them, and that clearness of reasoning, which distinguishes tliem from most others. The discourses now before us, are upon curious and interesting subjects ; abound with solid reflections ; and shew the author's great knowledge of ancient and modern history, and his comprehensive views of things. To such indeed, as have not accuftomed themselves to general reasonings on political subjects, several principles laid down in them, will, doubtless appear too refined and subtile : but, as our author observes, when we reason upon general subjects, it may justly te affirmed, that our speculations can scarce ever be too fine, provided they

The subject of his first discourse is Commerce; it is introduced with some general reflections, after which he proceeds as follows. The greatness of a state, fays he, and the happiness of its subjects, however independent they may be supposed in some respects, are commonly allowed to be infeparable with regard to commerce; and as private men receive greater security, in the poffeffion of their trade and riches, from the power of the public, so the public becomes powerful in proportion to the riches and extensive commerce of private men.

This maxim is true in general ; though I cannot forbear thinking, that it may posibly admit of some exceptions, and that we often establish it with too little reserve and limitation. There may be some circumstance, where the commerce and riches, and luxury of individuals, instead of adding strength to the public, may ferve only to thin its armies, C'2


be juit.

and diminish its authority among the neighbouring nations. Man is a variable being, and susceptible of many different opinions, principles, and rules of conduct. What may be true while he adheres to one way of thinking, will be found false, when he has embraced an opposite set of manners and opinions.

• The bulk of every state may be divided into hufbandmen and manufacturers. The former are employed in the culture of the land. The latter work up the materials furnished by the former, into all the commodities which are necessary or ornamental to human life. As soon as men quit their favage state, where they live chiefly by hunting and fishing, they must fall into these two classes ; tho' the arts of agriculture employ at first the most numerous part of the society. Time and experience improve so much these arts, that the land may easily maintain a much greater number of men, than those who are immediately employed in its cultivation, or who furnish the more necessary manufactures to such as are so employed.

If these superfluous hands be turned towards the finer arts, which are commonly denominated the arts of luxury; they add to the happiness of the state : since they afford to many the opportunity of receiving enjoyments, with which they would otherwise have been unacquainted. But may not another scheme be proposed for the employment of these superfluous hands? may not the fovereign Jay claim to them, and employ them in fleets and armies, to encrease the dominions of the state abroad, and spread its fame over distant nations : 'tis certain, that the fewer desires and wants are found in the proprietors and labourers of land, the fewer hands do they employ; and consequently the superfluities of the land, instead of maintaining tradesmen and manufacturers, may support fleets and armies to a much greater extent, than where a great many arts are required to minister to the luxury of particular persons. Here therefore seems to be a kind of opposition betwixt the greatness of the state, and the happiness of the subjects. A state is never greater, than when all its fuperfluous hands are employed in the service of the public. The ease and convenience of private persons require, that these hands should be employed in their service. The one can never be satisfied, but at the expence of the other. As the ambition of the fovereign must entrench on the luxury of individuals, so the luxury of individuals must diminish the force, and check the ambition of the sovereign.'


[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »