The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4
Moral Philosophy. — Lecture I. On the Foundation of Moral Science
Lecture I. On the Foundation of Moral Science.
Questions distinct, What actions are virtuous? and what constitutes them such?—Answer to the former comparatively easy—Human constitution indicates certain courses of action to be right—Necessity for studying that constitution and its relations, in order to ascertain what renders an action virtuous or vicious—Conflicting opinions of philosophers on the moral constitution of man—Phrenology assumed as a valuable guide—Possibility of the existence of Moral Philosophy as a natural science—No faculty essentially evil, though liable to be abused—Deductions of well-constituted and well-informed minds to be relied on in moral science—Scripture not intended as an all-sufficient guide of conduct—Faculties revealed by Phrenology, and illustrations of their uses and abuses—Adaptation of human constitution to external nature—The objects of Moral Philosophy are, to trace the nature and legitimate sphere of action of our faculties and their external relations, with the conviction that to use them properly is virtue, to abuse them vice—Cause of its barren condition as a science—Bishop Butler's view of the supremacy of conscience acceded to—Those actions virtuous which accord with the harmonious dictates of all our faculties—Preceding theories imperfect, though partially correct—Cause of this imperfection; qualities of actions are discovered by the intellect, and the moral sentiments then decide whether they are right or wrong—Plan of the present course of Lectures.
In an introductory discourse on Moral Philosophy, the lecturer unfortunately has few attractions to offer. His proper duty is, not to descant in glowing terms on the dignity of moral investigations, and on the importance of sound ethical conclusions both to public and to private happiness, but to give an account of the state in which his science at present exists, and of what he means to teach in his subsequent prelections. No subject can be conceived more destitute of direct attraction. I must beg your indulgence, therefore, for the dryness of the details, and the abstractness of the argument, in this lecture. I make these observations, that you may not feel discouraged by an appearance of difficulty in the commencement. I shall use every effort to render the subject intelligible; and I promise you that the subsequent discourses shall be more practical and less abstruse than the present.
Our first inquiry is into the basis of morals regarded as a science; that is, into the natural foundations of moral obligation.
There are two questions—very similar in terms, but widely different in substance—which we must carefully distinguish. The one is, What actions are virtuous? and the other, What constitutes them virtuous? The answer to the first question, fortunately, is not difficult. Most individuals acknowledge that it is virtuous to love our neighbour, to reward a benefactor, to discharge our proper obligations, to love God, and so forth; and that the opposite actions are vicious. But when the second question is put, "Why is an action virtuous—why is it virtuous to love cur neighbour, or to manifest gratitude or piety? the most contradictory answers are given by philosophers. The discovery of what constitutes virtue is a fundamental point in moral philosophy; and hence the difficulties of the subject meet us at the very threshold of our inquiries.
It is generally admitted that man has received definite mental and bodily constitutions; and it is in them and their relations that we must seek for the natural foundations of virtue. The knowledge of these constitutions possessed by philosophers has been very imperfect; and hence has arisen much of the obscurity of moral science.
Philosophers have never been agreed about the existence or non-existence in man even of the most important moral emotions,—such as benevolence, and the sentiment of justice; and, being uncertain whether such emotions exist or not, they have had no stable ground from which to start in their inquiries into the foundation of virtue. Since the publication of the writings of Hobbes, in the 17th century, there has been a constant series of disputes among philosophers on this subject. Hobbes taught that the laws which the civil magistrate enjoins are the ultimate standards of morality. Cudworth endeavoured to shew that the origin of our notions of right and wrong is to be found in a particular faculty of the mind which distinguishes truth from falsehood. Mandeville declares that the moral virtues are mere sacrifices of self-interest made for the sake of public approbation, and calls virtue the "political offspring which flattery begot upon pride." Dr Clarke supposes virtue to consist in acting according to the fitnesses of things. Mr Hume endeavoured to prove that "utility is the constituent or measure of virtue." Dr Hutcheson maintains that it originates in the dictates of a moral sense. Dr Paley does not admit such a faculty, but declares virtue to consist "in doing good to mankind in obedience to the will of God, and for the sake of everlasting happiness." Dr Adam Smith endeavours to shew that sympathy is the source of moral approbation. Dr Ried, Mr Stewart, and Dr Thomas Brown, maintain the existence of a moral faculty. Sir James Mackintosh describes conscience to be compounded and made up of associations. Dr Ralph Wardlaw, of Glasgow, in a work on Ethics, published in 1834, can see nothing in Conscience except Judgment.
Here, then, we discover the most extraordinary conflict of opinion prevailing concerning the foundation of virtue. But this does not terminate the points of dispute among philosophers in regard to moral science. Its very existence, nay, the very possibility of its existence, as a philosophical study, is called in question. Dr Wardlaw says, "Suppose that a chemist were desirous to ascertain the ingredients of water. What estimate should we form of his judgement, if, with this view, he were to subject to his analysis a quantity of what had just passed in the bed of a sluggish river, through the midst of a large manufacturing city, from whose common sewers, and other outlets of impurity, it had received I every possible contamination which either by simple page 2 admixture or by chemical affinity, had become incorporated with the virgin purity of the fountain; and if, proceeding on such analysis, he were to publish to the world his thesis on the composition of water? Little less preposterous must be the conduct of those philosophers who derive their ideas of what constitutes rectitude in morals from human nature as it is. They analyze the water of the polluted river, and refuse the guide that would conduct them to the mountain spring of its native purity."—(Christian Ethics, p. 44.)
In these remarks Dr Wardlaw evidently denies the possibility of discovering, in the constitution of the human mind, a foundation for a sound system of Ethics. He supports his denial still more strongly in the following words:—"According to Bishop Butler's theory, human nature is ' adapted to virtue' as evidently as ' a watch is adapted to measure time But suppose the watch, by the perverse interference of some lover of mischief, to have been so thoroughly disorganised,—its moving and its subordinate parts and power so changed in their collocation and their mutual action, that the result has become a constant tendency to go backward instead of forward, or to go backwards and forwards with irregular, fitful, and ever-shifting alternation, so as to require a complete remodelling, and especially a readjustment of its great moving power, to render it fit for its original purpose;—would not this be a more appropriate analogy for representing the present character of fallen man? The whole machine is out of order. The mainspring has been broken; and an antagonist power works all the parts of the mechanism. It is far from being with human nature, as Butler, by the similitude of the watch, might lead his readers to suppose. The watch, when duly adjusted, is only, in his phrase, ' liable to be out of order.' This might suit for an illustration of the state of human nature at first, when it received its constitution from its Maker. But it has lost its appropriateness now. That nature, alas! is not now a machine that is merely ' apt to go out of order—it is out of order; so radically disorganized, that the grand original power which impelled all its movements has been broken and lost, and an unnatural power, the very opposite of it, has taken its place; so that it cannot be restored to the original harmony of its working, except by the interposition of the omnipotence that framed it." (P. 126.)
The ideas here expressed by Dr Wardlaw are entertained, with fewer or more modifications, by large classes of highly respectable men, belonging to different religious denominations.
How, then, amidst all this conflict of opinion as to the foundation, and even possibility of the existence, of moral science, is any approach to certainty to be attained?
I have announced that this course of Lectures will be founded on Phrenology. I intend it for those hearers who have paid some attention to this science;—who have seen reasonable evidence that the brain consists of a congeries of organs,—that each organ manifests a particular mental faculty,—and that, other conditions being equal, the power of manifesting each faculty bears a proportion to the size of its organs. To those individuals who have not seen sufficient evidence of the truth of these positions, I fear that I have little that can be satisfactory to offer. To them, I shall appear to stand in a condition of helplessness equal to that of all my predecessors whose conflicting opinions I have cited. These eminent men have drawn their conclusions, each from his individual consciousness, or from observing human actions, without having the means of arriving at a knowledge of the fundamental faculties of the mind itself. They have, as it were, seen men commit gluttony and drunkenness; and, in ignorance of the functions of the stomach, have set down these vices as original tendencies of human nature, instead of viewing them as abuses merely of an indispensable appetite. Without Phrenology I should find no resting-place for the soles of my feet; and I at once declare, that, without its aid, I should as soon have attempted to discover the perpetual motion, as to throw any light, by the aid of reason alone, on the foundation of moral science. The ground of this opinion I have stated in the preface, Unless we are agreed concerning what the natural constitutions of the body and of the mind are, we have no means of judging of the duties which these constitutions prescribe. Once for all, therefore, I beg permission to assume the great principles and leading doctrines of Phrenology to be true; and I shall now proceed to shew you in what manner I apply them to unravel the Gordian knot of Ethics, which at present appears so straitly drawn and so deeply entangled. I do not despair of revealing to your understandings principles and relations resembling, in their order, beauty, and wisdom, the works of the Diety in other departments of nature.
First, then, in regard to the possibility of moral philosophy existing as a natural science. Dr Wardlaw speaks of the human mind as of a watch that has the tendency to go backwards, or fitfully backward, and forwards; as having its mainspring broken; and as having all the parts of the mechanism worked by an antagonist power. This description might appear to be sound to persons who, without great analytic powers of mind, resorted to no standard except the dark pages of history, by which to test its truth: but the Phrenologist appeals at once to the organs of the mind. Assuming that the brain is a congeries of mental organs, I ask, who formed it? Who endowed it with its functions? Only one answer can be given—It was God. When, therefore, we study the mental organs and their functions, we go directly to the fountain-head of true knowledge regarding the natural qualities of the human mind. Whatever we shall ascertain to be written in them, is doctrine imprinted by the finger of God himself. If we are certain that these organs were constituted by the Creator, we may rest assured that they have all a legitimate sphere of action. Our first step is to discover this sphere, and to draw a broad line of distinction between it and the sphen of their abuses; and here the superiority of our method over that of philosophers who studied only their own consciousness and the actions of men becomes apparent. They confounded abuses with uses; and because man is liable to abuse his faculties, they drew the conclusion, prematurely and unwarrantably, that his whole nature is in itself evil. Individual men may err in attempting to discover the functions and legitimate spheres of action of the mental organs, and may dispute about the conclusions thence to be drawn; but this imputes no spuriousness to the organs themselves, and casts no suspicion on the principle that they must have legitimate modes of manifestation. There they stand; and they are as undoubtedly the workmanship of the Creator, as the sun, the planets, or the entire universe itself. Error may be corrected by more accurate observations; and whenever we interpret their constitution aright, we shall assuredly be in possession of divine truth.
Dr Wardlaw might as reasonably urge the disorder of human nature as an argument against the possibility of studying the science of optics, as against that of cultivating ethical philosophy. Optics is founded on the structure, functions, and relations of the eye; and ethics on the structure, functions, and relations of the mental organs. Against op- page 3 tics he might argue thus:—" The eye is no longer such as it was when it proceeded from the hands of the Creator; it is now liable to blindness; or if, in some more favoured individuals, the disorder of its condition does not proceed so far as to produce this dire effect, yet universal experience proves that human nature now labours under opaque eyes, squinting eyes, long-sighted eyes, and short-sighted eyes; and that many individuals have only one eye. The external world also is no longer what it originally was. There are mists which obscure the rays of light, clouds which intercept them, air and water which refract them; and almost every object in creation reflects them. Look at a straight rod half plunged into water, and you will see it crooked. Can a science founded on such organs, which operate in such a medium, and are related to such objects, be admitted into the class of ascertained truths, by which men are to regulate their conduct?" He might continue, "Astronomy, with all its pompous revelations of countless suns, attended by innumerable worlds rolling through space, must also be laid in the dust, and become a fallen monument of human pride and mental delusion. It is the offspring of this spurious science of optics. It pretends to record discoveries effected in infinite space by means of these perverted human eyes, acting through the dense and refracting damps of midnight air. Away with such gross impositions on the human understanding! Away with all human science, falsely so called!"
There would be as much truth in an argument like this, as in that urged by Dr Wardlaw against moral philosophy, founded on the study of nature. The answer to these objections against optics as a science, is, that the constitution, functions, and relations of the eye have been appointed by the Creator; that, although some unsound eyes exist, yet we have received judgment to enable us to discriminate between sound eyes and diseased or imperfect eyes. Again, we admit that mists occasionally present themselves; but we ascertain the laws of light by observations made at times when these are absent. Certain media also unquestionably refract the luminous rays; but they do so regularly, and their effects can be ascertained and allowed for. When, therefore, we observe objects by means of sound eyes, and use them in the most favourable circumstances, the knowledge which we derive from them is worthy of our acceptance as truth.
The parallel holds good in regard to the mind, to a much greater extent than many persons probably imagine. The Creator has fashioned all the organs of the human mind, determined their functions, and appointed their relations. We meet with some individuals, in whom the organs of the selfish propensities are too large, and the moral organs deficient: these are the morally blind. We see individuals who, with moderate organs of the propensities, have received large organs of Benevolence and Veneration, but deficient organs of Conscientiousness: these have a moral squint. But we meet also with innumerable persons in whom the organs of the propensities are moderate, and the moral and intellectual organs well developed; who thereby enjoy the natural elements of a sound moral vision; and who need only culture and information to lead them to moral truths, as sound, certain, and applicable to practice, as the conclusions of the optician himself.
he would be leading a life very unlike what a Christian's should be."
'Is it so nominated in the bond?'
In my humble opinion, it is only an erroneous view of human nature, on the one side or the other, that can lead to such contradictory opinions as these. are bishop Whately's view appears to me correct.
Considering these in detail, as I have done in my previous courses, and in my System of Phrenology, and as I now assume that all of you have done, we do not find one of them that man has made, or could have made, himself. Man can create nothing. Can we fashion for ourselves a new sense, or add a new organ, a third eye for instance, to those we already possess? Impossible. All those organs, therefore, are the gifts of the Creator; and in speaking of them as such, I am bound to treat them with the same reverence that should be paid to any of his other works. Where, then, I ask, do we, in contemplating the organs, find the evidence of the mainspring being broken? Where do we find the antagonist power, which works all the mechanism contrary to the original design? Has it an organ? I cannot answer these questions: I am unable to discover either the broken mainspring, or an organ for the antagonist power. I see and feel—as who does not?—the crimes, the errors, and miseries of human beings, to which Dr Wardlaw refers as proofs of the disorder of which he speaks; but Phrenology gives a widely different account of their origin. We observe, for example, that individual men commit murder or blasphemy, and we all acknowledge that this is in opposition to virtue; but we do not find an organ of murder, or an organ whose office it is to antagonize all the moral faculties, and to commit blasphemy. We perceive that men are guilty of gluttony and drunkenness; but we nowhere find organs instituted whose function is to commit these immoralities. All that we discover is, that man has been created an organized being; that, as such, he needs food for nourishment; that, in conformity with this constitution, he has received a stomach calculated to digest the flesh of animals and to convert it into aliment; and that he sometimes abuses the functions of the stomach: and when he does so, we call this abuse gluttony and drunkenness. We observe farther, that in aid of his stomach he has received carnivorous teeth; and, in order to complete the system of arrangements, he has received a propensity having a specific organ, prompting him to kill animals that he may eat them. In accordance with these endowments, animals to be killed and page 4 eaten are presented to him in abundance by the Creator. A man may abuse this propensity and kill animals for the pleasure of putting them to death—this is cruelty; or he may go a step farther—ho may wantonly, under the instigation of the same propensity, kill his fellow-men—and this is murder. But this is a widely different view of human nature from that which supposes it to be endowed with positively vicious and perverse propensities—with machinery having a tendency only to go backwards, or to go alternately and fitfully backwards and forwards. Those individuals, then, who commit murder, abuse their faculty of Destructiveness by directing it against their fellow-men. We have evidence of this fact: The organ is found large in those who have a tendency so to abuse it, and in them, in general, the moral organs are deficient.
Again, it is unquestionable that men steal, cheat, lie, blaspheme, and commit many other crimes; but we in vain look in the brain for organs destined to perpetrate these offences, or for an organ of a power antagonist to virtue, and whose proper office is to commit crimes in general. We discover organs of Acquisitiveness, which have legitimate objects, but which, being abused, lead to theft; organs of Secretiveness, which have a highly useful sphere of activity, but which, in like manner, when abused, lead to falsehood and deceit; and so with other organs.
These organs, I repeat, are the direct gifts of the Creator; and if the mere fact of their existence be not sufficient evidence of this proposition, we may find overwhelming proof in its favour by studying their relations to external nature. Those who deny that the human mind is constitutionally the same now as it was when it emanated from the hand of the Creator, generally admit that external nature at least is the direct workmanship of the Deity. They do not say that man, in corrupting his own dispositions, altered the whole fabric of the universe—that he infused into animals new instincts, or imposed on the vegetable kingdom a new constitution, and different laws. They admit that God created all these such as they exist. Now, in surveying vegetable organization, we perceive production from an embryo,—sustenance by food,—growth, maturity, decay, and death,—woven into the very fabric of their existence. In surveying the animal creation, we discover the same phenomena, and the same results: and on turning to ourselves, we find that we too are organized, that we assimilate food, that we grow, that we attain maturity, and that our bodies die. Here, then, there is an institution by the Creator, of great systems (vegetable and animal) of production, growth, decay, and death. It will not be doubted that these institutions owe their existence to the divine will.
If it be asserted that men's delinquencies offended the Deity, and brought his wrath on the offenders; and that the present constitution of the world is the consequence of that displeasure; philosophy offers no answer to this proposition. She does not inquire into the motives which induced the Creator to constitute the world, physical and mental, such as we see it; but, in pointing to the existence and constitution of vegetables, of animals, and of man, she respectfully maintains that all these God did constitute, and endow with their properties and relationships; and that in studying them we are investigating his genuine workmanship.
Now, if we find on the one hand a system of decay and death in external nature, animate and inanimate, we find also in man a faculty of Destructiveness which is pleased with destruction, and which places him in harmony with the order of creation:—if we find on the one hand an external world, in which there exist—fire calculated to destroy life by burning, water by drowning, and cold by freezing,—ponderous and moving bodies capable of injuring us by blows, and a great power of gravitation exposing us to danger by falling; we discover, also, in surveying our own mental constitution, a faculty of Cautiousness, whose office it is to prompt us to take care, and to avoid these sources of danger. In other words, we see an external economy admirably adapted to our internal economy; and hence we receive an irresistible conviction that the one of these arrangements has been designedly framed in relation to the other. External destruction is related to our internal faculty of Destructiveness; external danger to our internal faculty of Cautiousness.
I have frequently remarked that one of the most striking proofs of the existence of a Deity, appears to me to be obtained by surveying the roots of a tree, and its relationship to the earth. These are admirably adapted; and my argument is this:—The earth is a body which knows neither its own existence nor the existence of the tree: the tree, also, knows neither its own qualities nor those of the earth. Yet the adaptation of the one to the other is a real and useful relation, which we, as intelligent beings, see and comprehend. That adaptation could not exist, unless a mind had conceived, executed, and established it; the mind that did so is not of this world; therefore, a Deity, who is that mind, exists, and every time we look on this adaptation, we sec His power and wisdom directly revealed to us. The same argument applies, and with equal force, to the mental faculties and external nature. We see natural objects, threatening us with danger, and we find in ourselves a faculty prompting us to take care of our own safety. This adaptation is assuredly divine; but you will observe that if the adaptation be divine, the things adaptod must also be divine: the external world threatening danger must have been deliberately constituted such as it is; and the human mind must have been deliberately constituted such as it is; otherwise this adaptation could not exist.
Again, we find that the human body needs both food and raiment, and on surveying the external world we discover that in a great portion of the earth there are winter's barren frosts and snows. But in examining the human mind, we find a faculty of Constructiveness, prompting and enabling us to fabricate clothing; and Acquisitiveness, prompting us to acquire and store up articles fitted for our sustenance and accommodation, so as to place us in comfort when the chill winds blow and the ground yields us no support. We discover also, that nature presents us with numberless raw materials, fitted to be worked up, by means of our faculties, into the very commodities of which our bodies stand in need. All these gifts and arrangements, I repeat, are assuredly of divine institution; and although individual men, by abusing the faculty of Constructiveness, often-times commit forgeries, pick locks, and perpetrate other crimes; and, by abusing Acquisitiveness, steal, this does not prove that these faculties are in themselves evil.
There is a wide difference, then, between Dr Wardlaw's views and mine, in regard to human nature. His broken mainspring and antagonist power are nowhere to be met with in all the records of real philosophy; while the crimes which he ascribes to them are accounted for by abuses of organs clearly instituted by the Creator, having legitimate spheres of action, and wisely adapted to a world obviously arranged by Him in relation to them.
Dr Wardlaw appears to have studied human nature chiefly in the actions of men, and he has not distinguished between the faculties bestowed by the page 5 Creator and the abuses of them, for which individual delinquents alone are answerable.
If these views be well founded, moral philosophy, as a scientific study, becomes not only possible, but exceedingly interesting and profitable. Its objects are evidently to trace the nature and legitimate sphere of action of all our bodily functions and mental faculties, and their relations to the external world, with the conviction that to use them properly is virtue, to abuse them is vice. These principles, also, if sound, will enable us to account for the barren condition of moral philosophy as a science.
The numerous errors, the confusion and contradiction of previous moralists, are to be ascribed to their having no adequate physiological knowledge of the structure and functions of the body, and no stable philosophy of mind. In particular, they possessed no knowledge of the mental organs, and no sufficient means of discriminating between what is natural and what incidental in human conduct. Sir James Mackintosh remarks, that "there must be primary pleasures, pains, and even appetites, which arise from no prior state of mind, and which, if explained at all, can be derived only from bodily organization; for," says he, "if there were not, there could be no secondary desires. What the number of the underived principles may be, is a question to which the answers of philosophers have been extremely various, and of which the consideration is not necessary to our present purpose. The rules of philosophizing, however, require that causes should not be multiplied without necessity."
With all deference to Sir James Mackintosh's authority, I conceive that the determination of "the number of the underived principles" of mind, is the first step in all sound mental science, and especially in ethics; and when he admits that these "can be derived only from bodily organization," it is unphilosophical in him to add, "that the rules of philosophizing require that causes (faculties?) should not be multiplied without necessity." Who would think of attempting either to multiply or diminish senses, feelings, or intellectual powers depending on "bodily organization," unless he could multiply and diminish, make and unmake, corresponding bodily organs at the same time?
In my System of Phrenology I have presented you with a view of the underived faculties of mind, connected with specific organs, in so far as these have been ascertained; I have endeavoured to point out the sphere of action of each, and to explain the effects of size in the organs on the power of manifesting the faculties. These points being assumed, an intelligible foundation is laid for ethical science. Bearing in mind the three great divisions of the human faculties into Animal Propensities, Moral Sentiments, and Intellectual Powers, let us attend to Bishop Butler's exposition of the groundwork of moral philosophy.
Bishop Butler, in the preface to his Sermons, says, "It is from considering the relations which the several appetites and passions in the inward frame have to each other, and, above all, the supremacy of reflection, or conscience, that we get the idea of the system or constitution of human nature. And from the idea itself it will as fully appear, that this our nature, i. e. constitution, is adapted to virtue, as from the idea of a watch it appears that its nature, i. e. constitution or system, is adapted to measure time.
"Mankind has various instincts and principles of action, as brute creatures have; some leading most directly and immediately to the good of the community, and some most directly to private good.
"Man has several which brutes have not; particularly reflection or conscience, an approbation of some principles or actors and disapprobation of others.
"Brutes obey their instincts or principles of action according to certain rules; suppose the constitution of their body, and the objects around them.
"The generality of mankind also obey their instincts and principles, one and all of them; those propensions we call good, as well as the bad, according to the same rules, namely, the constitution of body, and the external circumstances which they are in.
"Brutes, in acting according to the rules before mentioned, their bodily constitution and circumtances, act suitably to their whole nature.
"Mankind also, in acting thus, would act suitably to their whole nature, if no more were to be said of man's nature than what has been now said; if that, as it is a true, were also a complete, adequate account of our nature.
"But that is not a complete account of man's nature. Somewhat further must be brought in to give us an adequate notion of it; namely, that one of those principles of action, conscience, or reflection, compared with the rest, as they all stand together in the nature of man, plainly bears upon it marks of authority over all the rest, and claims the absolute direction of them all, to allow or forbid their gratification; a disapprobation of reflection being in itself a principle manifestly superior to a mere propension. And the conclusion is, that to allow no more to this superior principle or part of our nature, than to other parts; to let it govern and guide only occasionally in common with the rest, as its turn happens to come, from the temper and circumstances one happens to be in; this is not to act comformably to the constitution of man : neither can any human creature be said to act conformably to his constitution of nature, unless he allows to that superior principle the absolute authority which is due to it."—(Butler's Works, vol. ii. Preface.)
I agree with Butler in thinking, that, in cases of conflict between our various desires, certain of our faculties are intended to rule and others to obey; and that the belief that it is so is intuitive in well-constituted minds.
According to Phrenology, the human faculties consist of animal propensities, moral sentiments, and intellectual powers. Each of these has a legitimate sphere of action, but each is also liable to abuse. That rule of action is virtuous or right which is in harmony with them all, each performing its proper office. But occasionally conflicting desires and emotions arise in the mind; a man, for example, may desire to acquire his neighbour's property without compensation, or to do him an injury, in gratification of the feeling of revenge; these impulses proceed from Acquisitiveness, Destructiveness, and Self-Esteem, in a state of vivid excitement. But if the organs of the moral and intellectual faculties be largely developed, and enlightened by knowledge, the individual will experience counter emotions rising in his mind, inconsistent with these desires, disapproving of them, and denouncing them as wrong. Which class of faculties, in such instances, is entitled to rule? I answer, that the moral and intellectual powers are superior in kind to the animal propensities, and that every well-constituted mind feels that, in cases of conflict, they are entitled to restrain the inferior desires. This is the sense in which I speak of the supremacy of the moral sentiments and intellect.
Although the moral and intellectual faculties are by nature superior in kind to the animal propensities, they need the assistance of these inferior powers in judging of what is right. For example, a mother, if extremely deficient in Philoprogenitiveness, could not arrive, by means of the moral and intellectual faculties alone, at the Fame sound and effective perceptions of duty towards her children, which she page 6 could reach if she possessed an ample development of that organ acting in harmonious combination with the moral and intellectual powers.
In applying these principles to our present subject, I observe that the organ of Philoprogenitiveness, for example, exists, and that its function is to produce the love of children. This affection in itself is good, but when manifested in action it may produce a variety of effects. It may prompt us to gratify every desire of the child, however fantastic, if the indulgence will give it pleasure for a moment; but when the intellect is employed to trace the consequences of this gratification, and sees that it is injurious to the health, the temper, the moral dispositions, and the general happiness of the infant, then Benevolence disapproves of that mode of treatment, because. it leads to suffering, which Benevolence dislikes; Conscientiousness disapproves of it, because it is unjust to the child to misdirect its inclinations through ignorant fondness; and Veneration is offended by it, because our duty to God requires that we should improve all his gifts to the best advantage, and not prepare an infant for crime and misery, by cultivating habits of reckless self indulgence, regardless of all ultimate results. If, in any individual mother, Philoprogenitiveness exist very large, in combination with weak organs of the moral sentiments and intellect, she may abuse this beautiful instinct, by pampering and spoiling her children; but it is an error to charge the conduct of an ill-constituted, and perhaps an ill-informed individual mind, against human nature in general, as if all its faculties were so perverted that they could manifest themselves only in abuses. My object will be to expound the courses of action to which we are prompted by all our faculties when acting in harmonious combination; and I shall admit all actions to be virtuous or right which are approved of by these combined powers, and treat all as vicious or wrong which are disavowed by them; and ray doctrine is, that it is accordance with the dictates of all the faculties enlightened by knowledge, harmoniously combined, which constitutes certain actions virtuous, and discordance with them which constitutes other actions vicious.
We are now able to understand the origin of the various theories of the foundation of virtue to which I alluded at the commencement of this lecture, and which have been the themes of so much discussion among philosophers. Most of the authors whom I have quoted recognise one of these three great foundations of virtue: According to them, 1st, All actions are virtuous which tend to promote the happiness of sentient and intelligent beings, and they are virtuous because they possess this tendency; 2dly, All actions are virtuous which are conformable to the will of God, and they are so for this reason, and no other; 3dly, All actions are virtuous which are in conformity with the dictates of our moral sense or moral faculty, which conformity is the sole characteristic of virtue. The partizans of each of these foundations of virtue have denied the reality or sufficiency of the other foundations. These differences of opinion may be thus accounted for.
The sentiment of Benevolence desires universal happiness, or the general good of all beings. When we wantonly sacrifice the happiness of any being, it is pained, and produces uneasy emotions in our minds. Those philosophers who place the foundation of virtue in the tendency of the action judged of, to produce happiness, are right in so far, because this is one foundation; but they are wrong in so far as they teach that it is the only foundation of virtue.
In like manner the organ of Veneration desires to yield obedience to the will of God, and it experiences painful emotions when we knowingly contravene its dictates. Those philosophers who place the essence of virtue in obedience to the will of God, are sound in their judgment, in so far as this is one essential foundation of virtue; but they err in so far as they represent it to be the only one.
And, thirdly, Conscientiousness produces the feelings of duty, obligation, and incumbency. It desires to do justice in all things. It enforces the dictates of our other moral faculties. Benevolence, for instance, from its own constitution, desires to communicate happiness, and Conscientiousness enforces its dictates by proclaiming that it is our duty to act in conformity with them. It causes us to feel that we are guilty or criminal if we wantonly destroy or impair the enjoyment of any being. It enforces also the aspirations of Veneration, and tells us that we are guilty if we disobey the will of God. Further, its own special function is to enforce justice, when our own rights and feelings, and those of other men, come into competition. Those philosophers who founded virtue in a moral sense, were right in so far as this faculty is one most important foundation of virtue; but it is not the only one.
Each of the moral sentiments produces the feeling of right and wrong in its own sphere; Benevolence proclaims cruelty to be wrong, and Veneration condemns profanity: But each is liable to err when it acts singly. There are men, for example, in whom Benevolence is very strong, and Conscientiousness very weak, and who, following the dictates of the former, without reference to those of the latter sentiment, often perpetrate great wrongs by indulging in an extravagant generosity at the expense of others. They are generous before they are just. Charles Surface, in the School for Scandal, is the personification of such a character. Veneration acting singly is liable to sanction superstitious observances; or acting in combination with Destructiveness, without Benevolence and Conscientiousness, it may approve of cruel persecution for the sake of preserving the purity of the faith which it has embraced. Farther, as each of the inferior propensities has a legitimate sphere of action, it has legitimate demands, and the moral and intellectual faculties must give due effect to these, before their decisions can be regarded as just and right. For these reasons, I consider the virtue of an action to consist in its being in harmony with the dictates of all the faculties acting in harmonious combination, and duly enlightened.
The moral faculties often do act singly, and while they keep within the limits of their virtuous sphere, the dictates of all of them harmonize. We have a similar example in music. Melody and time both enter into the constitution of music, but we may have time without melody, as in beating a drum; or melody without time, as in the sounds of an Æolian harp. But the two faculties which take cognizance of melody and time are constituted so as to be capable of acting in harmony, when they are both applied to the same object. So it is in regard to the moral sentiments. If a man fall into the sea, another individual, having a large organ of Benevolence, and who can swim, may be prompted, by the instinctive impulse of benevolence, instantly to leap into the water and save him, without, in the least, thinking of the will of God, or the obligations of duty. But when we calmly contemplate the action, we perceive it to be one falling within the legitimate sphere of Benevolence. It is approved of by enlightened intellect, and is also conformable at once to the divine will, and to the dictates of Conscientiousness. In like manner, every action that is truly conformable to the will of God, or agreeable to Veneration, when acting within its proper sphere, will be found just and beneficial in its consequences, or in harmony also with Conscientiousness and Be- page 7 nevolence. And every just and right action will be discovered to be beneficial in its consequences, and also in harmony with the will of God. It will be discovered also to be in harmony with the legitimate demands of all the propensities.
There is a distinction between virtue and merit, which it is important to understand. Virtue, as I have said, consists in actions in harmony with all our faculties; merit, in actions performed in obedience to the dictates of the moral sentiments and enlightened intellect, in opposition to the solicitations of the propensities. This distinction is ably elucidated by a writer in the Phrenological Journal. "The idea of merit," says he, "emanates solely from the operation of the selfish feelings and desires." "It is evident that Conscientiousness can see no merit in being just, for inclination can never perceive merit in its own gratification. In the same way, Veneration can discover no merit in yielding that deferential homage to superiority, which is its natural tribute. And Benevolence is equally blind to the perception of merit, in being kind and charitable. Yet merit is a word which, in reference to justice, veneration, and charity, conveys a distinct idea, and we are bound, therefore, to account for its existence." "When we contemplate the noble Regulus eloquently pleading for the very decree which must consign him to the fury of his enemies," "it is in virtue neither of Conscientiousness nor Veneration that his great merit is perceived, because these faculties discover nothing in the action beyond the simple obedience to their own dictates. But Cautiousness, with its dark forebodings of pain, and misery, and death; and Adhesiveness, with its yearning after the objects of its fond desire, tell us of the terrible assaults which Conscientiousness and Veneration must have sustained in maintaining their supremacy. And the different degrees of merit which different minds will discover in this action, will be in exact proportion to the vigour in these minds of the two higher sentiments which produced the action in relation to the power of the two selfish feelings by which it would have been opposed." "The clamorous outcries of these selfish feelings tell us of the snares with which Conscientiousness and Veneration were, in this instance, environed, and it is, therefore, we attach merit to the supremacy they maintained."—Phren. Journ. No. XII.
When one of these faculties acts independently of the other, it does not necessarily err, but it is more liable to do so than when all operate in concert. This is the reason that any theory of morals, founded on only one of them, is generally imperfector unsound.
The idea of resolving morality into intellectual perceptions of utility, into obedience to the will of God, or into any other single principle, has arisen, probably, from the organ of the mental faculty, on which that one principle depends, having been largest in the brain of the author of the theory, in consequence of which he felt most strongly the particular emotion which he selected as its foundation. Those individuals again, who deny that there is any natural basis for moral science, and who regard the Bible as the only foundation of moral and religious duty, are generally deficient in the organs either of Conscientiousness or Benevolence, or of both; and because they feebly experience the dictates of a natural conscience, they draw the inference that the same holds good with all mankind.
Another question remains—What means do we possess for discovering the qualities of actions, so that our whole faculties may give emotions of approval or disapproval upon sound data? For example—Veneration disposes us to obey the will of God, but how shall we discover what the will of God is? It is the office of the intellect to make this discovery. For instance—A young lady from England had been taught from her infancy that God had commanded her to keep Good Friday holy, and sacred to religious duties. When she came to Scotland for the first time, and saw no sanctity attached to that day, her Veneration was disagreeably affected; and if she also had treated the day with indifference, her conscience would have upbraided her. In a few weeks afterwards, the half-yearly fast-day of the Church of Scotland came round, but in her mind no sanctity whatever was attached to it;—her intellect had never been informed that either God or the Church had appointed that day to be held sacred; she desired to follow her usual occupations, and was astonished at the rigid solemnity with which the day was observed by the Scotch. Here the English and Scotch intellect had obtained dissimilar information, and, in each case, Veneration acted according to its own lights.
The intellect must be employed, therefore, to discover the motives, relations, and consequences of the actions to be judged of, and the propensities and moral sentiments will give emotions of approval or disapproval, according to the aspects presented to them. In many ordinary cases no difficulty in judging occurs; for instance, the mere perception of a fellow-creature struggling in the water, is sufficient to rouse Benevolence, and to inspire us with the desire to save him. But when the question is put, Is an hospital for foundling children benevolent?—if we look only at one result (saving the lives of individual children), and listen to Philoprogenitiveness exclusively, we should say that it is; but if the intellect observes all the consequences;—for instance, first, the temptation to vice afforded by provision being made for illegitimate children;—secondly, the mortality of the infants, which is enormous, from their being withdrawn from maternal care and entrusted to mere hireling keepers;—thirdly, the isolation of the children so reared from all kindred relationship with the rest of the race;—and, fourthly, the expense which is thrown away in this very questionable arrangement: I say, after the intellect has discovered and contemplated all these facts and results, neither Philoprogenitiveness nor the moral sentiments would be gratified with foundling hospitals, but both would desire to apply the public funds to more purely beneficent institutions. Without intellect, therefore, the propensities and sentiments have not knowledge; and without propensities and moral sentiments, the intellect sees merely facts and results, and is destitute of feeling. The harmonious action of the whole gives the rule of virtue.
Phrenology shews that different individuals possess the mental organs in different degrees: I do not mean, therefore, to say that, whatever the proportions of these may be in each individual, the dictates of his animal, moral, and intellectual powers, acting in harmonious combination, are rules of conduct not to be disputed. On the contrary, in most individuals one or several of the organs are so deficient, or so excessive, in size, in proportion to the others, that their perceptions of duty will differ from the highest standards. The dictates of the animal, moral, and intellectual powers, therefore, acting in harmonious combination, which constitute rules of conduct, are the collective dictates of the best endowed and best balanced minds, illuminated by the greatest knowledge.
If, then, this theory of our moral constitution be well founded, it explains the darkness and confusion of the opinions entertained by previous philosophers on the subject.
Dr Wardlaw's antagonist power is merely single faculties, or particular groups of them, acting with undue energy, and breaking the bounds prescribed page 8 to them by the rest. They will be most liable to do this in those individuals in whom the organs are most unequally combined; but there is no organ or faculty in itself immoral, or necessarily opposed to the harmonious action of the whole, as Dr Wardlaw seems to suppose.
To be able, then, to discover what courses of action are in harmony with all our powers, we must use our intellectual faculties in examining nature. Believing that both man and the external world are the workmanship of the Creator, I propose, in the following Lectures, to consider—
1st, The constitution of man as an individual; and to endeavour to discover what duties are prescribed to him by its qualities and objects.
2dly, I shall consider man as a domestic briny, and endeavour to discover the duties prescribed to him by his constitution, as a husband, a father, and a child.
3dly, I shall consider man as a social being, and discuss the duties arising from his social qualities. This will involve the principles of government and political economy.
4thly, I shall consider man as a religious being, and discuss the duties which he owes to God, so far as these are discoverable from the light of nature.