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arbitrary or discretionary, for want of a more proper designation.
So much for right actions, and their divisions. Wrong actions are of two kinds, criminal and culpable. What are done intentionally to produce mischief, are criminal: rash or unguarded actions that produce mischief without intention, are culpable. The former are restrained by punishment, to be handled in the 5th section; the latter by reparation, to be handled in the 6th.
The divisions of voluntary actions are not yet exhausted. Some there are that, properly speaking, cannot be denominated either right or wrong. Actions done merely for amusement or pastime, without intention to produce good or ill, are of that kind; leaping, for example, running, jumping over a stick, throwing a stone to make circles in the water. Such actions are neither approved nor disapproved: they may be termed indifferent.
There is no cause for doubting the existence of the moral sense, more than for doubting the existence of the sense of beauty, of seeing, or of hearing. In fact, the perception of right and wrong as qualities of actions, is no less distinct and clear, than that of beauty, of colour, or of any other quality; and as every perception is an act of sense, the sense of beauty is not with greater certainty evinced from the perception of beauty, than the moral sense is from the perception of right and wrong.
wrong. We find this sense distributed among individuals in different degrees of perfection: but there perhaps never existed any one above the condition of an idiot, who possessed it not in some degree; and were any man entirely destitute of it, the terms right and wrong would be to him no less unintelligible, than the term colour is to one born blind.
That every individual is endued with a sense of right and wrong, more or less distinct, will probably be granted; but whether there be among men what may be termed a common sense of right and wrong, producing uniformity of opinion as to right and wrong, is not so evident. There is no absurdity in supposing the opinions of men about right and wrong, to be as various as about beauty and deformity. And that the supposition is not destitute of foundation, we are led to suspect, upon discovering that in different countries, and even in the same country at different times, the opinions publicly espoused with regard to right and wrong, are extremely various; that among some nations it was held lawful for a man to sell his children for slaves, and in their infancy to abandon them to wild beasts; that it was held equally lawful to punish children even capitally, for the crime of their parent; that the murdering an enemy in cold blood, was once a common practice; that human sacrifices, impious no less than immoral according to our notions, were of
old universal; that even in later times, it has been held meritorious, to inflict cruel torments for the slightest deviations from the religious creed of the plurality; and that among the most enlightened nations, there are at this day considerable differences with respect to the rules of morality.
These facts tend not to disprove the reality of a common sense in morals: they only prove, that the moral sense has not been equally perfect at all times, nor in all countries. This branch of the history of morality, is reserved for the second part. To give some interim satisfaction, I shall shortly observe, that the savage state is the infancy of man; during which, the more delicate senses lie dormant, leaving nations to the authority of custom, of imitation, and of passion, without any just taste of morals more than of the fine arts. But a nation, like an individual, ripens gradually, and acquires a refined taste in morals as well as in the fine arts: after which we find great uniformity of opinion about the rules of right and wrong; with few exception, but what may proceed from imbecillity, or corrupted education. There may be found, it is true, even in the most enlightened ages, men who have singular notions in morality, and in many other subjects; which no more affords an argument against a common sense or standard of right and wrong, than a monster doth against the stándard that regulates our external form, or than an exception
exception doth against the truth of a general proposition.
That there is in mankind an uniforminy of opinion with respect to right and wrong, is a matter of fact of which the only infallible evidence is observation and experience: and to that evidence I appeal; entering only a caveat, that for the reason above given, the inquiry may be confined to enlightened nations. In the mean time, I take liberty to suggest an argument from analogy. That if there be great uniformity among the different tribes of men in seeing and hearing, in pleasure and pain, in judging of truth and error, the same uniformity ought to be expected with respect to right and wrong. Whatever minute differences there may be to distinguish one person from another, yet in the general principles that constitute our nature, internal and external, there is wonderful uniformity.
This uniformity of sentiment, which may be termed the common sense of mankind with respect to right and wrong, is essential to social beings. Did the moral sentiments of men differ as much as their faces, they would be unfit for society: discord and controversy would be endless, and major vis would be the only rule of right and wrong.,
But such uniformity of sentiment, though general, is not altogether universal: men there are, as above mentioned, who differ from the common sense of mankind with respect to various points of H 3 morality.
morality. What ought to be the conduct of such men; ought they to regulate their conduct by that standard, or by their private conviction? There will be occasion afterward to observe, that we judge of others as we believe they judge of themselves ; and that private conviction is the standard for rewards and punishments *. But with respect to every controversy about property and pecuniary interest, and, in general, about every civil right and obligation, the common sense of mankind is to every individual the standard, and not private conviction or conscience; for proof of which take what follows.
We have an innate sense of a common nature, not only in our own species, but in every species of animals. And that our perception holds true in fact, is verified by experience; for there appears a remarkable uniformity in creatures of the same kind, and a deformity no less remarkable in creatures of different kinds. It is accordingly a subject of wonder to find an individual deviating from the common nature of the species, whether in its internal or external structure: a child born with aversion to its mother's milk, is a wonder, no less than if born without a mouth, or with more than one.
Secondly, this sense dictates, that the common nature of man in particular, is invariable as well as universal; that it will be the same hereafter as it
* Sect. 5.