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I replied, they were. And why, said he, this? To obtain what end? Is it not to help us, like wealth, to the possession of what we desire? Is it not farther to ascertain, to secure our enjoyments; that when others would deprive us, we may be strong enough to resist them? I replied, it was.
Or, to invert the whole; Why are there, who seek recesses the most distant and retired; flee courts and power, and submit to parsimony and obscurity? Why all this, but from the same intention? From an opinion, that small possessions, used moderately, are permanent; that larger possessions raise envy, and are more frequently invaded; that the safety of power and dignity is more precarious than that of retreat; and that therefore they have chosen what is most eligible upon the whole? It is not, said I, improbable, that they act by some such motive.
Do you not see, then, continued he, two or three more preconceptions of the Sovereign Good, which are sought for by all, as essential to constitute it? And what, said I, are these? That it should not be transient, nor derived from the will of others, nor in their power to take away; but be durable, self-derived, and (if I may use the expression) indeprivable. I confess, said I, it appears so. But we have already found it to be considered, as something agreeable to our nature; conducive, not to mere being, but to well-being; and what we aim to have accommodated to all places and times. We have.
There may be other characteristics, said he, but these I think sufficient. See then its idea; behold it as collected from the original, natural, and universal preconceptions of all mankind. The Sovereign Good, they have taught us, ought to be something agreeable to our nature; conducive to well-being; accommodated to all places and times ; durable, self-derived, and indeprivable. Your account, said I, appears just. HARRIS.
THE SAME SUBJECT.
BRUTUS perished untimely, and Cæsar did no more.—These words I was repeating the next day to myself, when my
friend appeared, and cheerfully bade me good morrow. I could not return his compliment with an equal gayety, being intent, somewhat more than usual, on what had passed the day before. Seeing this, he proposed a walk into the fields. The face of Nature, said he, will perhaps dispel these glooms. No assistance, on my part, shall be wanting, you may be assured. I accepted his proposal; the walk began; and our former conversation was insensibly renewed.
Brutus, said he, perished untimely, and Cæsar did no more. It was thus, as I remember, not long since, you were expressing yourself. And yet suppose their fortunes to have been exactly parallel-Which would you have preferred? Would you have been Cæsar, or Brutus? Brutus, replied I, beyond all controversy. He asked me, Why? Where was the difference, when their fortunes, as we now supposed them, were considered as the same? There seems, said I, abstract from their fortunes, something, I know not what, intrinsically preferable in the life and character of Brutus. If that, said he, be true, then must we derive it, not from the success of his endeavours, but from their truth and rectitude. He had the comfort to be conscious, that his cause was a just one. It was impossible the other should have any such feeling. I believe, said I, you have explained it.
Suppose then, continued he (it is but merely an hypothesis), suppose, I say, we were to place the Sovereign Good in such a rectitude of conduct, in the Conduct merely, and not in the Event. Suppose we were to fix our Happiness, not in the actual attainment of that health, that perfection of a social state, that fortunate concurrence of externals, which is congruous to our nature, and which all have a right to pursue; but solely fix it in the mere doing whatever is correspondent to such an end, even though we never attain, or are near attaining it. In fewer words; What if we make our natural state the standard only to determine our conduct, and place our happiness in the rectitude of this conduct alone? On such an hypothesis (and we consider it as nothing farther) we should not want a good, perhaps, to correspond to our preconceptions; for this, it is evident, would be correspondent to them all. Your doctrine, replied I, is so new and strange, that though you have been copious in explaining, I can hardly yet comprehend you.
It amounts all, said he, but to this: Place your happiness where your praise is. I asked, where he supposed that? Not, replied he, in the pleasures which you feel, more than your disgrace lies in the pain; not in the casual prosperity of fortune, more than your disgrace in the casual adversity; but in just complete action throughout every part of life, whatever be the face of things, whether favourable or the contrary.
But why then, said I, such accuracy about externals? so much pains to be informed, what are pursuable, what avoidable? It behoves the pilot, replied he, to know the seas and the winds; the nature of tempests, calms, and tides. They are the subjects about which his heart is conversant. Without a just experience of them he can never prove himself an artist. Yet we look not for his reputation either in fair gales, or in adverse; but in the skilfulness of his conduct, be these events as they happen. In like manner fares it with the moral artist. He for a subject has the whole of human life health and sickness; pleasure and pain; with every other possible incident, which can befal him during his existence. If his knowledge of all these be accurate and exact, so too must his conduct, in which we place his happiness. But if his knowledge be defective, must not his conduct be defective also? I replied, so it should seem. And if his conduct, then his happiness? It is true.
You see then, continued he, even though externals were as nothing; though it was true, in their own nature, they were neither good nor evil; yet an accurate knowledge of them is, from our hypothesis, absolutely necessary. Indeed, said I, you have proved it.
He continued-Inferior artists may be at a stand, because they want materials. From their stubbornness and intractability they may often be disappointed. But as long as life is passing, and Nature continues to operate, the moral artist of life has at all times all he desires. He can never want a subject fit to exercise him in his proper calling; and that with this happy motive to the constancy of his endeavours, that the crosser, the harsher, the more untoward the events, the greater his praise, the more illustrious his reputation.
All this, said I, is true, and cannot be denied. But one circumstance there appears, where your simile seems to fail. The praise indeed of the pilot we allow to be in his conduct;
but it is in the success of that conduct where we look for his happiness. If a storm arise, and the ship be lost, we call him not happy, how well soever he may have conducted it. It is then only we congratulate him, when he has reached the desired haven. Your distinction, said he, is just. And it is here lies the noble prerogative of moral artists above all others. But yet I know not how to explain myself, I fear my doctrine will appear so strange. You may proceed, said I, safely, since you advance it but as an hypothesis.
Thus, then, continued he―The end in other arts is ever distant and removed. It consists not in the mere conduct, much less in a single energy; but in the just result of many energies, each of which is essential to it. Hence, by obstacles unavoidable, it may often be retarded; nay more, may be so embarrassed, as never possibly to be attained. But in the moral art of life the very conduct is the end; the very conduct, I say, itself, throughout its every minutest energy; because each of these, however minute, partakes as truly of rectitude, as the largest combinations of them, when considered collectively. Hence of all arts this is the only one perpetually complete in every instant; because it needs not, like other arts, time to arrive at that perfection, at which in every instant it is arrived already. Hence by duration it is not rendered either more or less perfect: completion, like truth, admitting of no degrees, and being in no sense capable of either intention or remission. And hence, too, by necessary connection (which is a greater paradox than all), even that Happiness or Sovereign Good, the end of this moral art, is itself too, in every instant, consummate and complete; is neither heightened nor diminished by the quantity of its duration, but is the same to its enjoyers, for a moment or a century.
Upon this I smiled. He asked me the reason. It is only to observe, said I, the course of our inquiries. A new hypothesis has been advanced: appearing somewhat strange, it is desired to be explained. You comply with the request, and in pursuit of the explanation make it ten times more obscure and unintelligible than before. It is but too often the fate, said he, of us commentators. But you know in such cases what is usually done. When the comment will not explain the text, we try whether the text will not explain itself. This method, it is possible, may assist us here. The hypo
thesis, which we would have illustrated, was no more than this: That the Sovereign Good lay in Rectitude of Conduct; and that this good corresponded to all our preconceptions. Let us examine, then, whether upon trial this correspondence will appear to hold; and for all that we have advanced since, suffer it to pass, and not perplex us. Agreed, said I, willingly, for now I hope to comprehend you.
Recollect then, said he. Do you not remember, that one preconception of the Sovereign Good was, to be accommodated to all times and places? I remember it. And is there any time, or any place, whence Rectitude of Conduct may be excluded? Is there not a right action in prosperity, a right action in adversity? May there not be a decent, generous, and laudable behaviour, not only in peace, in power, and in health; but in war, in oppression, in sickness, and in death? There may.
And what shall we say to those other preconceptions; to being durable, self-derived, and indeprivable? Can there be any Good so durable, as the power of always doing right? Is there any good conceivable, so entirely beyond the power of others? Or, if you hesitate and are doubtful, I would be willingly informed, into what circumstances may Fortune throw a brave and honest man, where it shall not be in his power to act bravely and honestly? If there be no such, then Rectitude of Conduct, if a Good, is a Good indeprivable. I confess, said I, it appears so.
But farther, said he: Another preconception of the Sovereign Good was, to be agreeable to nature. It was. And can any thing be more agreeable to a rational and social conduct? Nothing. But rectitude of Conduct is with us Rational and Social Conduct. It is.
Once more, continued he: Another preconception of this Good was, to be conducive not to mere being, but to wellbeing. Admitted. And, can any thing, believe you, conduce so probably to the well-being of a rational, social animal, as the right exercise of that reason, and of those social affections? Nothing. And what is this same exercise, but the highest Rectitude of Conduct? Certainly.