Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

So far we have been led in a beaten track; but in attempting to proceed, we are entangled in mazes and intricacies. An action well intended may happen to produce no good ; and an action ill intended may happen to produce no mischief: a man overawed by fear, may be led to do mischief against his will; and a person, mistaking the standard of right ånd wrong, may be innocently led to do acts of injustice. By what rule, in such cases, are rewards and punishments to be applied ? Ought a man to be rewarded when he does no good, or punished when he does no mischief: ought he to be punished for doing mischief against his will, or for doing mischief when he thinks he is acting innocently? These questions suggest a doubt, whether the standard of right and wrong be applicable to rewards and punishments.

We have seen that there is an invariable standard of right and wrong, which depends not in any degree on private opinion or conviction. By that standard, all pecuniary claims are judged, all claims of property, and, in a word, every demand founded on interest, not excepting reparation, as will afterward appear. But with respect to the moral characters of men, and with respect to rewards and punishments, a different standard is erected in the common sense of mankind, neither rigid nor inflexible; which is, the opinion that men have of their own actions. It is mentioned above, that a man is esteemed innocent in doing what he himself thinks right, and guilty in doing

what

K3

what he himself thinks wrong. In applying this standard to rewards and punishments, we reward those who in doing wrong are however convinced that they are innocent; and punish those who in doing right are however convinced that they are guilty *. Some, it is true, are so perverted by improper education or by superstition, as to espouse numberless absurd tenets, contradictory to the standard of right and wrong; and yet such men are no exception from the general rule: if they act according to conscience, they are innocent, and safe against punishment however wrong the action may be ; and if they act against conscience they are guilty and punishable however right the action may be; it is abhorrent to every moral perception, that a guilty person be rewarded, or ani innocent person punished. Further, if mischief be done contrary to will, as where a man-is compelled by fear or by torture, to reveal the secrets of his party; he may be grieved for yielding to the weakness of his nature, contrary to his firmest resclves; but he has no check of conscience, and upon that account is not liable to punishment. And lastly, in order that personal merit and denerit may not in any measure depend on chance,

:we

Virtuous and vicious, innocent and guilty, signify qualities both of men and of their actions. Approbation and disapprobation, praise and blame, signify certain emotions of sentiments of those who see or contemplate men and their dee

we are so constituted as to place innocence and guilt, not on the event, but on the intention of doing right or wrong; and accordingly, whatever be the event, a man is praised for an action wellintended, and condemned for an action ill-intended.

But what if a man intending a certain wrong happen by accident to do a wrong he did not intend; as, for example, intending to rob a warren by shooting the rabbits, he accidentally wounds a child unseen behind a bush? The delinquent ought to be punished for intending to rob; and he is also subjected to repair the hurt done to the child : but he cannot be punished for the accidental wound; because our nature -regulates punishment by the intention, and not by the event *. K4

A

* During the infancy of nations, pecuniary compositions for crimes were universal; and during that long period, very little weight was laid upon intention. This proceeded from the cloudiness and obscurity of moral perceptions among bara barians, making no distinction between reparation and pecuniary punishment. Where a man does mischief intentionally, or is versans in illicito, as expressed in the Roman law, he is justly bound to repair all the harm that ensues, however ac- . cidentally, and from the resemblance of pecuniary punishment to reparation, the rule was childishly extended to punishment. But this rule, so little consistent with moral principles, could not long subsist after pecuniary compositions gave place to corporal punishment; and accordingly, among civilized nations, the law of nature is restored, which prohibits punishment for any mischief that is not intentional.

The

A crime against any primary virtue is attended with severe and never failing punishment, more efficacious than any that have been invented to enforce municipal laws : on the other hand, the preserving primary virtues inviolate, is attended with little merit. The secondary virtues are directly opposite : the neglecting them is not attended with any punishment; but the practice of them is attended with illustrious rewards. Offices of undeserved kindness, returns of good for ill, generous toils and sufferings for our friends or for our country, are attended with consciousness of self-merit, and with universal praise and admi.

/

ration;

The English must be excepted, who, remarkably tenacious of their original laws and customs, preserve in force, even as to capital punishment, the above-mentioned rule that obtained among barbarians, when pecuniary compositions were in vigour. The following passage is from Hales, (Pleas of the Crown, chap. 39.) • Regularly he that voluntarily and “knowingly intends hurt to the person of a man, as for ex

ample to beat him, though he intend not death, yet if death ensues, it excuseth not from the guilt of murder, or man

slaughter, at least, as the circumstances of the case happen." And Foster, in his Crown law, teaches the same doctrine, never once suspecting in it the least deviation from moral principles. “A shooteth at the poultry of B, and by, accident “ killeth a man : if his intention was to steal the poultry, “ which must be collected from circumstances, it will be mur" der, by reason of that felonious intent; but if it was done

wantonly and without that intention, it will be barely manslaughter." (P. 259.)

ration ;. the highest rewards a generous mind is susceptible of.

From what is said, the following observation will occur: The pain of transgressing justice, fidelity, or any duty, is much greater than the pleasure of performing : but the pain of neglecting a generous action, or any secondary virtue, is as nothing compared with the pleasure of performing. Among the vices opposite to the primary virtues, the most striking moral deformity is found; among the secondary virtues, the most striking moral beauty.

SECT. VI.

Laws respecting Reparation.

THE

"HE principle of reparation is made a branch

of the moral system for accomplishing two ends : which are, to repress wrongs that are not criminal, and to make up the loss sustained by wrongs of whatever kind. With respect to the former, reparation is a species of punishment : with respect to the latter, it is an act of justice, These ends will be better understood, after ascertaining the nature and foundation of reparation; to which the following division of actions is necessary. First, actions that we are bound to perforn, Second, actions that we perform in prose

« ForrigeFortsæt »