Chapter 5a: The Authority of the General Moral Rules properly seen as the Laws of the Deity
100 The sense of duty is the regard to the general rules of conduct.
- It is a principle of the greatest consequence in human life.
- It is the only principle by which most of mankind can direct their actions.
- Many men behave very decently.
- They perhaps never felt the sentiment on propriety.
- They might have acted merely from a regard to the established rules of behaviour.
- The man who has received great benefits from another person may feel just a small gratitude.
- However, if he has been virtuously educated, he will often have been made to observe:
- how odious ungrateful actions are, and
- how amiable grateful actions are
- Though his heart is not warmed with any grateful affection, he will strive to act as if it were.
- He will try to pay all those regards and attentions to his patron with the liveliest gratitude.
- He will visit him regularly.
- He will behave to him respectfully.
- He will only talk of him:
- with the highest esteem, and
- of the many obligations which he owes to him.
- He will carefully embrace every opportunity of making a proper return for past services.
- He may do all this too without any:
- hypocrisy or blamable dissimulation,
- selfish intention of obtaining new favours, and
- design of imposing on his benefactor or the public.
- His motives may be no other than:
- a reverence for the established rule of duty, and
- a serious and earnest desire of acting according to the law of gratitude.
- In the same way, a wife may sometimes not feel that tender regard for her husband suitable to their marriage.
- However, if she has been virtuously educated, she will try to:
- act as if she felt it,
- be careful, officious, faithful, and sincere, and
- be attentive to her husband.
- The sentiment of conjugal affection would have prompted her to do this.
- Such a friend or wife are not the very best of their kinds, even if they seriously wanted to fulfill their duty.
- Yet they will fail in many nice and delicate regards.
- They will miss many opportunities of obliging.
- They could never have overlooked such opportunities if they had the proper sentiment.
- They are perhaps the second best of their kind.
- If the regard to the general rules of conduct has been very strongly impressed on them, neither of them will fail in any very essential part of their duty.
Only those of the happiest mould can:
- precisely and justly suit their sentiments and behaviour to the smallest difference of situation, and
- always act with the most delicate and accurate propriety.
The coarse clay of which the bulk of mankind are formed, cannot be wrought up to such perfection.
- However, anyone with discipline, education, and example, might be so impressed with a regard to general rules, as to:
- act on almost always with tolerable decency, and
- avoid any considerable degree of blame through his whole life.
101Without this sacred regard to general rules, no one's conduct can be much depended on.
- This constitutes the most essential difference between a man of principle and honour and a worthless fellow.
- The man of principle always adheres steadily and resolutely to his maxims
- He preserves through his whole life one even tenour of conduct.
- The worthless man acts variously and accidentally, as humour, inclination, or interest chance to be uppermost.
- Everyone is subject to such inequalities of humour.
- Without this principle, the man who, in his cool hours, had the most delicate sensibility to the propriety of conduct, might often be led to act absurdly on the most frivolous occasions.
- It might be impossible to assign any serious motive for his behaving this way.
- Your friend makes you a visit when you happen to be in a humour which makes it disagreeable to receive him.
- In your present mood, his civility is very apt to appear an impertinent intrusion.
- If you were to give way to your current views of things, you would behave to him with coldness and contempt, though your temper was civil.
- Your regard to the general rules of civility and hospitality renders you incapable of such a rudeness.
- Those rules prohibit rudeness.
- That habitual reverence which your former experience has taught you for these, enables you to act on all such occasions, with nearly equal propriety
- It hinders those inequalities of temper, to which all men are subject, from influencing your conduct in any very sensible degree.
- The duties of politeness are so easily observed.
- One can scarce have any serious motive to violate it.
- The duties of justice, truth, chastity, and fidelity are often so difficult to observe
- There may be so many strong motives to violate them.
- What would become of these duties if the general rules and the duties of politeness would be so frequently violated?
- But the very existence of human society depends on the tolerable observance of these duties.
- It would crumble into nothing if mankind were not impressed with a reverence for those important rules of conduct.
102 This reverence is still further enhanced by an opinion which is first impressed by nature.
- It is afterwards confirmed by reasoning and philosophy that those important rules of morality are the commands and laws of the Deity.
- The Deity will finally reward the obedient and punish the transgressors of their duty.
103 This opinion or apprehension seems first to be impressed by nature.
- People are naturally led to ascribe all their sentiments and passions to those mysterious beings which happen to be the objects of religious fear.
- They cannot conceive any other to ascribe them to.
- Those unknown, imaginary, but unseen intelligences, must necessarily be formed with some resemblance to those intelligences they have experienced.
- During the ignorance and darkness of pagan superstition, mankind formed the ideas of their divinities with so little delicacy.
- Men indiscriminately ascribed to them all the passions of human nature, those not excepted which do the least honour to our species, such as lust, hunger, avarice, envy, revenge.
- They had the highest admiration for the excellence of the nature of those beings.
- Men ascribed to them those sentiments and qualities which are the great ornaments of humanity.
- The following qualities were raised to divine perfection:
- the love of virtue and beneficence
- the abhorrence of vice and injustice
- The man who was injured called on Jupiter to witness the wrong done to him.
- He could not doubt that Jupiter:
- would behold it with the same indignation which animated the meanest of mankind
- looked on when injustice was committed
- The man who did the injury felt himself to be the proper object of mankind's detestation and resentment.
- His natural fears led him to impute the same sentiments to those awful beings.
- He could not avoid their presence.
- He could not resist their power.
These natural hopes, fears, and suspicions, were propagated by sympathy and confirmed by education.
- The gods were universally represented and believed to be:
- the rewarders of humanity and mercy, and
- the avengers of perfidy and injustice.
- Thus religion, even in its rudest form, gave a sanction to the rules of morality long before the age of artificial reasoning and philosophy.
- The natural sense of duty was too important to mankind's happiness for nature to leave it to the slowness and uncertainty of philosophical researches.
- It was thus enforced by the terrors of religion.
104 However, these researches confirmed those original anticipations of nature.
- The foundation of our moral faculties were given to us to direct of our conduct in this life, whether those foundations are from:
- a modification of reason,
- an original instinct called a moral sense, or
- some other principle of our nature.
- They carry along with them the most evident badges of this authority.
- These denote that they were set up within us to:
- be the supreme arbiters of all our actions,
- superintend all our senses, passions, and appetites, and
- judge how far each of them was to be indulged or restrained.
Some have pretended wrongly that our moral faculties:
- are on a level with the other faculties of our nature
- have no more right to restrain our other faculties, than our other faculties restrain our moral faculties
No other faculty or principle of action judges of any other.
- Love does not judge of resentment, nor resentment of love.
- Those two passions may be opposite to one another.
- But they cannot, with any propriety, be said to approve or disapprove of one another.
- But it is the peculiar office of those faculties now under our consideration to judge, to bestow censure or applause on all the other principles of our nature.
- They may be considered as a sort of senses of which those principles are the objects.
- Every sense is supreme over its own objects.
- There is no appeal from:
- the eye with regard to the beauty of colours,
- the ear with regard to the harmony of sounds, and
- the taste with regard to the agreeableness of flavours.
- Each of those senses judges in the last resort of its own objects.
- Whatever gratifies the taste is sweet.
- Whatever pleases the eye is beautiful.
- Whatever soothes the ear is harmonious.
- The very essence of each of those qualities consists in its being fitted to please the sense to which it is addressed.
- In the same way, it belongs to our moral faculties to determine:
- when the ear should be soothed,
- when the eye should be indulged,
- when the taste should be gratified, and
- when and how far every other principle of our nature should be indulged or restrained.
- What is agreeable to our moral faculties, is fit, right, and proper.
- The contrary is wrong, unfit, and improper.
- The sentiments which they approve of are graceful and becoming.
- The contrary are ungraceful and unbecoming.
- The very words, right, wrong, fit, improper, graceful, unbecoming, mean only what pleases or displeases those faculties.
105 These were plainly intended to be the governing principles of human nature
- The rules which they prescribe are to be regarded as the laws of the Deity.
- These were promulgated by those deputies he has set up within us.
All general rules are commonly denominated laws.
- Thus the general rules which bodies observe in motion, are called the laws of motion.
- But those general rules which our moral faculties observe in judging feelings or actions can be more justly called as the laws of morals.
- They have a much greater resemblance to laws which the sovereign lays down to direct his subjects' conduct.
- Like them, they are rules to direct the free actions of men.
- They are prescribed most surely by a lawful superior.
- They are also attended with the sanction of rewards and punishments.
Those deputies of God within us, never fail to:
- punish their violation by the torments of inward shame and self-condemnation, and
- always reward obedience with:
- tranquility of mind, and
106 There are innumerable other considerations which serve to confirm the same conclusion.
- The happiness of mankind and all other rational creatures seems to be the original purpose intended by the Author of nature when he brought them into existence.
- No other end seems worthy of that supreme wisdom and divine benignity which we necessarily ascribe to him.
- We are led to this opinion by the abstract consideration of his infinite perfections.
- This opinion is still more confirmed by examining the works of nature.
- They seem all intended to:
- promote happiness, and
- guard against misery.
By acting according to the dictates of our moral faculties, we necessarily pursue the most effective means for promoting mankind's happiness.
- We may therefore be said in some sense to:
- cooperate with the Deity, and
- advance the plan of Providence as far as we can.
- On the contrary, by acting in other ways, we seem to:
- obstruct the scheme which the Author of nature established for the world's happiness and perfection, and
- declare ourselves the enemies of God.
- Hence we are naturally encouraged to:
- hope for his extraordinary favour and reward in the one case, and
- dread his vengeance and punishment in the other case.
107 There are many other reasons and natural principles which confirm and inculcate the same salutary doctrine.
- Despite the world's disorder, every virtue naturally meets with:
- its proper reward, and
- the recompense most fit to encourage and promote it.
A very extraordinary concurrence of circumstances is required to entirely disappoint it.
- What is the reward most proper for encouraging industry, prudence, and circumspection?
- Success in every sort of business.
- Can these virtues fail of attaining it in one's whole life?
- Wealth and external honours are their proper recompense.
- These virtues can seldom fail to acquire the recompense.
- What reward is most proper for promoting the practice of truth, justice, and humanity?
- The confidence, the esteem, and love of those we live with.
- Humanity does not desire to be great, but to be beloved.
- Truth and justice would rejoice in being trusted and believed and not in being rich.
- Truth and justice almost always recompenses with being trusted and believed.
- By some very extraordinary and unlucky circumstance, a good man may be suspected of a crime he was not capable of.
- He might be most unjustly exposed to mankind's horror and aversion for the rest of his life.
- By this accident, he may lose his all, despite his integrity and justice, in the same way as a cautious man may be ruined by an earthquake or a flood, despite his utmost circumspection.
- However, accidents of the first kind are perhaps more rare.
- It is more contrary to the common course of things than those of the second.
The practice of truth, justice, and humanity chiefly aim at the confidence and love of those we live with.
- The practice of such virtues is a certain and almost infallible method of acquiring such confidence and love.
- A person may be very easily misrepresented with regard to a particular action.
- But it impossible that he should be so with regard to the general tenor of his conduct.
An innocent man may be believed to have done wrong.
- However, this will rarely happen.
- On the contrary, the established opinion of the innocence of his manners will often lead us to absolve him when he has really been in the fault, despite very strong presumptions.
- In the same way, a knave may escape censure or even be applauded for a particular knavery, in which his conduct is not understood.
- But no innocent man was ever habitually blamed for a wrong action without being:
- almost universally known to be a knave, and
- frequently suspected of guilt.
- Thus, vice and virtue can be commonly met with something more than exact and impartial justice.
Next: Chapter 5b: How Nature balances the distribution of prosperity