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T H E
For JANUARY, 1752.
THE SECOND EDITION.
ART. 1. An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals.
By David Hume, Esa; 12mo. 35. Millar.
for us to say any thing in his praise. We shall only observe in general, that clearness and precision of ideas on abstracted and metaphysical subjects, and at the same time propriety, elegance and spirit, are seldom found united
any writings in a more eminent degree than in those of Mr. Hume. The work now before us will, as far as are able to judge, considerably raise his reputation ; and, being free from that sceptical turn which appears in his other pieces, will be more agreeable to the generality of Readers. His subject is important and interesting, and the manner of treating it easy and natural : His design is to fix the just origin of morals, in the execution of which he has Dhewn a great deal of judgment as well as ingenuity, as every candid reader must needs allow, whatever sentence be may pass upon his scheme in general, or how much som ever he may differ from him in regard to what he has ada vanced on the subject of justice.
In the first section of this performance, oùr author treats of the general principles of morals; he introduces it with some general reflections, after which he gives a short but clear view of the principal arguments that are urged to prove that morals are derived from reason, and of those which VOL. VI.
are adduced to thew that they are derived from sentiment. The arguments on both sides he thinks are so plausible, that he is apt to suspect they may, both of them, be folid and satisfactory, and that reason and sentiment concur in almost all moral determinations and conclusions. But tho' this question, says he, concerning the general principle of mora!s, be extremely curious and important ; 'tis needless for us, at present, to employ farther care in our enquiries concerning it. For if we can be so happy, in the course of this enquiry, as to fix the just origin of morals, 'twill then easily appear how far sentiment or reafon enters into all determinations of this nature. Mean while, it will scarce be possible for us, e'er this controversy is fully decided, to proceed in that accurate manner required in the sciences; by beginning with exact definitions of Virtue and vice, which are the objects of our present enquiry. But we shall do what may be justly esteem'd as satisfactory. We shall consider the matter as an object of experience. We shall call every quality or action of the mind, virtuous, which is attended with the general appi obation of mankind : and we thall denomina:e vicious, every quality, which is the object of general blame or censure. These qualities we shall endeavour to collect; and after examining, on both sides, the several circumstances in which they agree, 'tis hoped, we may, at last, reach the foundation of ethics, and find those universal principles, from which all moral blame or approbation is ultimately derived. As this is a question of fact, not of abstract science, we can only expect success, by following this experimental method, and deducing general maxims, from a comparison of particular instances. The other scientifical method, when a general abstract principle is first eitablished, and is afterwards branched out into a va-' riety of inferences and conclusions, may be more perfect in itself, but suits less the imperfection of human nature, and is a common source of illusion and mistake, in this as well as in other subjects. Men are now cured of their passion for hypotheses and systems in natural philofophy, and will hearken to no arguments but those derived from experience. 'Tis fuil time they should begin a like reformation in all moral disquisitions ; and reject every system of ethics, however subtile or ingenious, that is not founded on fact and obfervation.'
Having laid down the method he intends to prosecute, our Author proceeds in the second section to treat of benevolence j and thews how ill-founded that system of morals
is, which resolves all humanity and friendship into felf-love. He makes it clearly appear that there is such a sentimentin human nature as disinterested benevolence; that nothing can bestow more merit on any human creature than the poffeffion of it in an eminent degree ; and that a part, at least, of its merit, arises from its tendency to promote the interests of our species, and bestow happiness on human fociety: . In all determinations of morality, says he, this circumftance of public utility is ever principally in view; and wherever disputes arise, whether in philosophy or common life, concerning the bounds of duty, the question cannot, by any means be decided with greater certainty, than by ascertaining, on any side, the true interests of mankind. If any false opinion, embraced from appearances, has been found to prevail, as soon as farther experience, and founder reasoning have given us jufter notions of human affairs; we retract our first sentiments, and adjust a-new the boundaries of moral good and evil.'
In the third section our author treats of justice, and endeavours to thew that public utility is the sole origin of it, and that refections on its beneficial consequences are the sole foundation of its merit. In order to make this appear, he puts a variety of cases, and supposes extreme abundance or extreme necessity to be produced among men ; perfect moderation and humanity, or perfect rapaciousness and malice iinplanted in their breasts : In all these cases we are told, that by' rendering justice totally useless, we thereby totally destroy its essence, and su pend its obligation upon mankind. · The more, says he, we vary our views of human life; and the newer and more'unusual the lights are, in which we survey it, the more shall we be convinced, that the origin here assigned for the virtue of justice is real and satisfactory.'
Were there a species of creatures, intermingled with men, which, tho' rational, were poffest of such inferior strength, both of body and mind, that they were incapable of all resistance, and could never, upon the highest provocation, make us feel the effects of their resentment; the necessary consequence, I think, is, that we should be bound by the laws of humanitv, to give gentle usage to these creatures, but should not, properly speaking, lie under any restraint of justice with regard to them, nor could they possess any right or property, exclusive of such arbitraa
Our intercourse with them could not be called society, which, fupposés a degree of equality ; but absolute comman on the one side, and servile obedience on the
other. Whatever we covet, they must instantly resign: Our permiffion is the only tenure, by which they hold their poffeffions : Our compallion and kindness the only check, by which they curb our lawless will : And as no inconvenience ever results from the exercise of a power, so firmly established in nature, the restraints of justice and property, being totally useless, would never have a place in so unequal a confideracy.
"Were the human species fo fram’d by nature as that each individual pofleft within himself every faculty, requisite both for his own preservation and for the propagation of his kind : Were all society and intercourse cut off betwixt man and man, by the primary intention of the supreme Creator : It seems evident, that so solitary a being would be as much incapable of justice, as of focial discourse and conversation. Where mutual regards and forbearance ferve to no manner of purpose, they would never direct the conduct of any reasonable man. The headlong course of the passions would be checked by no reflection on future consequences. And as each man is here supposed to love himself alone, and to depend only on himself and his own activity for safety and happiness, he would, on every occasiun, to the utmost of his power, challenge the preference above every other being, to none of which he is bound by any ties, either of nature, or of interest.
< But suppose the conjunction of the sexes to be established in nature, a family immediately arises ; and particular rules being found requisite for its subsistance, these are immediately embraced; tho' without comprehending the rest of mankind within their prescriptions. Suppole, that several families unite together into one society, which is totally disjoined from all others, the rules, which preserve peace and order, enlarge themselves to the utmost extent of that fociety ; but, being entirely useless, lose their force when carried one step farther. But again suppose, that several distinct societies maintain a kind of intercourse for mutual convenience and advantage; the boundaries of justice still grow larger and larger, in proportion to the largeness of men's views, and the force of their mutual connections. History, experience, reason sufficiently instruct us in this natural progress of human sentiments, and the gradual increase of our regards to property and justice in proportion as we become acquainted with the extensive utility of that Virtue.'
After a short section upon political society, our Author proceeds in the fifth to thew why utility pleases. Usefulness, says he, is agreeable, and engages our approbation. This is a matter of fact, confirmed by daily observation. But useful? For what? For somebody's interest surely. Whose intereft then? Not our own only : For our apprcbation frequently extends farther. It must, therefore, be the interest of those, who are serv'd by the character or action approved of; and these we may conclude, however remote, are not totally indifferent to us:-Usefulness is only a tendency 'to a certain end ; and 'tis a contradiction in terms, that any thing pleases as means to an end, where the end itself does no way affect us. If therefore usefulness be a source of moral sentiment, and if this usefulness be not always considered with a reference to self; it follows, that everything which contributes to the happiness of society, recommends itself directly to our approbation and good-will. Here is a principle, which accounts, in great part, for the origin of morality : And what need we seek for abstruse and
remote systems, when there occurs one so obvious and natural ?'.
Our author employs several pages in illustrating this principle, and concludes the section in the following man
"Thus, fays he, in whatever light we take this subject, the merit, ascrib'd to the social virtues, appears ftill uniform, and arises chiefly from that regard, which the natural sentiment of benevolence engages us to pay to the interests of mankind and society. If we consider the principles of the human make, such as they appear to daily experience and observation ; we must, a priori, conclude it impossible for such a creature as man to be totally indiffe
rent to the well or ill-being of his fellow-creatures, and not readily, of himself, to pronounce, where nothing gives him
any particular byass, that what promotes their happi. nefs is good, what tends to their misery is evil, without any farther regard or confideration. Here then are the faint. rudiments, at least, of outlines, of a general distinction betwixt actions ; and in proportion as the humanity of the person is supposed to encrease, his connexion to those injured or benefited, and his lively conception of their misery or happiness ;, his consequent censure or approbation acquires proportionable force and vigour. There is no necessity, that a generous action, barely mentioned in an old history or remote Gazette, should communicate any, Itrong feelings of applause and admiration. Virtue, placed at such a distance,