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and the relative position of these two influences, one of the chief measures of the moral standing of each individual. Sometimes, in the conflict between the will and a particular desire, the former, either through its own natural strength, or through the natural weakness of its opponent, or through the process of mental discipline I have described, has obtained a supreme ascendency which is seldom or never seriously disturbed. Sometimes, through causes that are innate, and perhaps more frequently through causes for which we are responsible, the two powers exhibit almost an equipoise, and each often succumbs to the other. Between these two positions there are numerous gradations; so that every cause that in any degree intensifies the desires, gives them in some cases a triumph over the will.
The application of these principles to those constantlyrecurring figures which moral statistics present is not difficult. The statistician, for example, shows that a certain condition of temperature increases the force of a passionor, in other words, the temptation to a particular vice; and he then proceeds to argue, that the whole history of that vice is strictly regulated by atmospheric changes. The vice rises into prominence with the rising temperature; it is sustained during its continuance, it declines with its decline. Year after year, the same figures and the same variations are nearly reproduced. Investigations in the most dissimilar nations only strengthen the proof; and the evidence is so ample, that it enables us, within certain limits, even to predict the future. The rivers that rise and fall with the winter torrents or the summer drought; the insect life that is called into being by the
genial spring, and destroyed by the returning frost; the aspect of vegetation, which pursues its appointed changes through the recurring seasons; these do not reflect more faithfully or obey more implicitly external influences, than do some great departments of the acts of man.
This is the fact which statistical tables prove, but what is the inference to be deduced from them? Not, surely, that there is no such thing as free-will, hut, what we should have regarded as antecedently probable, that the degree of energy with which it is exerted is in different periods nearly the saine. As long as the resistance is unaltered, the fluctuations of our desires determine the Auctuations of our actions. In this there is nothing extraordinary. It would be strange indeed if it were otherwise -strange if, the average of virtue remaining the same, or nearly the same, an equal amount of solicitation did not at different periods produce the same, or nearly the same, amount of compliance. The fact, therefore, that there is an order and sequence in the history of vice, and that influences altogether independent of human control contribute largely to its course, in no degrée destroys the freedom of will, and the conclusion of the historian is per-, fectly reconcilable with the principles of the moralist.. From this spectacle of regularity, we simply infer that the changes in the moral condition of mankind are very slow; that there are periods when, certain desires being strengthened by natural causes, the task of the will in opposing them is peculiarly arduous; and that any attempt to write a history of vice without taking into consideration external influences, would be miserably deficient.
Again, if we turn to a different class of phenomena, nothing can be more certain to an attentive observer, than that the great majority even of those who reason much about their opinions have arrived at-their conclusions by a process quite distinct from reasoning. They may be perfectly unconscious of the fact, but the ascendency of old associations is upon them; and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, men of the most various creeds conclude their investigations by simply acquiescing in the opinions they have been taught. They insensibly judge. all questions by a mental standard derived from education; they proportion their attention and sympathy to the degree in which the facts or arguments presented to the support their foregone conclusions; and they thus speedily convince themselves, that the arguments in behalf of their hereditary opinions are irresistibly cogent, and the arguments against them exceedingly absurd. Nor are those who have diverged from the opinions they have been taught necessarily more independent of illegitimate influences. The love of singularity, the ambition to be thought intellectually superior to others, the bias of taste, the attraction of vice, the influence of friendship, the magnetism of genius,—these and countless other influences into which it is needless to enter, all determine conclusions. The number of persons who have a rational basis for their belief is probably infinitesimal; for illegitimate influences not only determine the convictions of those who do not examine, but usually give a dominating bias to the reasonings of those who do. But it would be manifestly absurd to conclude from this, that reason has no part or function in the numerabe commonly at once representative and creative. They embody and regulate the tendencies of their time, but they also frequently materially modify them, and their ideas become the subject or the basis of the succeeding developments. To trace in every great movement the part which belongs to the individual and the part which belongs to general causes, without exaggerating either side, is one of the most delicate tasks of the historian.
formation of opinions. No mind, it is true, was ever altogether free from distorting influences; but in the struggle between the reason and the affection which leads to truth, as in the struggle between the will and the desires which leads to virtuè, every effort is crowned with a measure of success, and innumerable gradations of progress are manifested. All that we can rightly infer is, that the process of reasoning is much more difficult than is commonly supposed ; and that to those who would investigate the causes of existing opinions, the study of predispositions is much more important than the study of arguments.
The doctrine, that the opinions of a given period are mainly determined by the intellectual condition of society, and that every great change of opinion is the consequence of general causes, simply implies that there exists a strong bias which acts upon all large masses of men, and eventually triumphs over every obstacle. The inequalities of civilisation, the distorting influences arising out of special circumstances, the force of conservatism, and the efforts of individual genius, produce innumerable diversities; but a careful examination shows that these are but the eddies of an advancing stream, that the various systems are being all gradually modified in a given direction, and that a certain class of tendencies appears with more and more prominence in all departments of intellect. Individuals may resist the stream; and this power supplies a firm and legitimate standing-point to the theologian: but these efforts are too rare and feeble to have much influence upon the general course.
To this last proposition there is, however, an important exception to be made in favour of men of genius, who are
What I have written will, I trust, be sufficient to show the distinction between the sphere of the historian and the sphere of the theologian. It must, however, be acknowledged that they have some points of contact; for it is impossible to reveal the causes that called an opinion into being without throwing some light upon its intrinsic value. It must be acknowledged, also, that there is a theory or method of research which would amalgamate the two spheres, or, to speak more correctly, would entirely subordinate the theologian to the historian. Those who have appreciated the extremely small influence of definite arguments in determining the opinions either of an individual or of a nation—who have perceived how invariably an increase of civilisation implies a modification of belief, and how completely the controversialists of successive ages are the puppets and the unconscious exponents of the deep under-current of their time, will feel an intense distrust of their unassisted reason, and will naturally look for some guide to direct their judgment. I think it must be admitted that the general and increasing tendency, in the present day, is to seek such a guide in the collective wisdom of mankind as it is displayed in the developments of history.