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only, one may act without intending the effect that follows: a stone thrown by me at random into the market-place, may happen to wound a man without my intending it. One acts by instinct, without either will or intention: voluntary actions, that necessarily produce their effect, imply intention: voluntary actions, when the effect is probable only, are sometimes intended, sometimes not.
Human actions are distinguished from each other by certain qualities, termed right and wrong. But as these make the corner-stone of morality, they are. reserved to the following section.
DIVISION OF HUMAN ACTIONS INTO RIGHT, WRONG AND INDIFFERENT.
HE qualities of right and wrong in voluntary actions, are universally acknowledged as the foundation of morality; and yet philosophers have been strangely perplexed about them. The history of their various opinions, would signify little but to darken the subject the reader will have more satisfaction in seeing these qualities explained, without entering at all into controversy,
No person is ignorant of primary and secondary qualities, a distinction much insisted on by philosophers. Primary qualities, such as figure, cohesion, weight, are permanent qualities, that exist in a subject
subject whether perceived or not. Secondary qualities, such as colour, taste, smell, depend on the percipient as much as on the subject; being nothing when not perceived. Beauty and ugliness are qualities of the latter sort: they have no existence but when perceived; and, like all other secondary qualities, they are perceived intuitively; having no dependence on reason nor on judgment, more than colour has, or smell, or taste *.
The qualities of right and wrong in voluntary actions, are secondary, like beauty and ugliness, and the other secondary qualities mentioned. Like them, they are objects of intuitive perception, and depend not in any degree on reason. No argument is requisite to prove, that to rescue an innocent babe from the jaws of a wolf, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, are right actions : they are perceived to be so intuitively. As little is an argument requisite to prove, that murder, deceit, perjury, are wrong actions: they are perceived to be so intuitively. The Deity has bestowed on man different faculties for different purposes. Truth and falsehood are investigated by the reasoning faculty. Beauty and ugliness are objects of a sense, known by the name of taste. Right and wrong are objects of a sense termed the moral sense or conscience. And supposing these qualities to be hid from our perception, in vain would we
* Elements of Criticism, vol. 1. p. 207. edit. 5.
try to discover them by any argument or process of reasoning the attempt would be absurd; no less so than an attempt to discover by reasoning colour, or taste, or smell *.
Right and wrong, as mentioned above, are qualities of voluntary actions, and of no other kind. An instinctive action may be agreeable, may be disagreeable; but it cannot properly be denominated either right or wrong. An involuntary act is hurtful to the agent, and disagreeable to the spectator; but it is neither right nor wrong. These qualities also depend in no degree on the event. Thus, if to save my friend from drowning, I plunge into a river, the action is right, though I happen to come too late. And if I aim a stroke at a man behind his back, the action is wrong, though I happen not to touch him.
The qualities of right and of agreeable, are inseparable;
* Every perception must proceed from some faculty or power of perception, termed sense. The moral sense, by which we perceive the qualities of right and wrong, may be considered either as a branch of the sense of seeing, by which we perceive the actions to which these qualities belong, or as a sense distinct from all others. The senses by which objects are perceived, are not separated from each other by distinct boundaries: the sorting or classing them, seems to depend more on taste and fancy, than on nature. I have followed the plan laid down by former writers; which is, to consider the moral sense as a sense distinct from others, because it is the easiest and clearest manner of conceiving it.
separable; and so are the qualities of wrong and of disagreeable. A right action is agreeable, not only in the direct perception, but equally so in every subsequent recollection. And in both circumstances equally, a wrong action is disagreeable.
Right actions are distinguished by the moral sense into two kinds, what ought to be done, and what may be done, or left undone. Wrong actions admit not that distinction: they are all prohibited to be done. To say that an action ought to be done, means that we are tied or obliged to perform; and to say that an action ought not to be done, means that we are restrained from doing it. Though the necessity implied in the being tied or obliged, is not physical, but only what is commonly termed moral; yet we conceive ourselves deprived of liberty or freedom, and necessarily bound to act or to forbear acting, in opposition to every other motive. The necessity here described is termed duty. The moral necessity we are under to forbear harming the innocent, is a proper example: the moral sense declares the restraint to be our duty, which no motive whatever will excuse us for transgressing.
The duty of performing or forbearing any action, implies a right in some person to exact performance of that duty; and accordingly, a duty or obligation necessarily infers a corresponding right. My promise to pay L. 100 to John, confers a right on him to demand performance. The
man who commits an injury, violates the right of the person injured; which entitles that person to demand reparation of the wrong.
Duty is twofold; duty to others, and duty to ourselves. With respect to the former, the doing what we ought to do, is termed just the doing what we ought not to do, and the omitting what we ought to do, are termed unjust. With respect to ourselves, the doing what we ought to do, is termed proper: the doing what we ought not to do, and the omitting what we ought to do, are termed improper. Thus, right, signifying a quality of certain actions, is a genus; of which just and proper are species: wrong signifying a quality of other actions, is a genus; of which unjust and improper are species.
Right actions left to our free will, to be done or left undone come next in order. They are like the former, right when done; but they differ, in not being wrong when left undone. To remit a just debt for the sake of a growing family, to yield a subject in controversy rather than go to law with a neighbour, generously to return good for ill, are examples of this species. They are universally approved as right actions: but as no person has a right or title to oblige us to perform such actions, the leaving them undone is not a wrong no person is injured by the forbearance. Actions that come under this class, shall be termed H arbitrary