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ART. 1. An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. By David Hume, Efq; 12mo. 35. Millar.
HE reputation this ingenious author has acquir'd
as a fine and elegant writer, renders it unneceffary for us to fay any thing in his praife. We fhall: only obferve in general, that clearness and precifion of ideas on abftracted and metaphyfical fubjects, and at the fame time propriety, elegance and fpirit, are feldom found united in any writings in a more eminent degree than in thofe of Mr. Hume. The work now before us will, as far as we are able to judge, confiderably raife his reputation; and, being free from that fceptical turn which appears in his other pieces, will be more agreeable to the generality of Readers. His fubject is important and interefting, and the manner of treating it eafy and natural: His defign is to fix the juft origin of morals, in the execution of which he has fhewn a great deal of judgment as well as ingenuity, as every candid reader muft needs allow, whatever fentence he may pafs upon his fcheme in general, or how much foever he may differ from him in regard to what he has advanced on the fubject of justice.
In the firft fection of this performance, our author treats of the general principles of morals; he introduces it with fome general reflections, after which he gives a fhort but clear view of the principal arguments that are urged to prove that morals are derived from reafon, and of thofe which VOL. VI.
are adduced to shew that they are derived from fentiment. The arguments on both fides he thinks are fo plaufible, that he is apt to fufpect they may, both of them, be folid and fatisfactory, and that reafon and fentiment concur in almoft all moral determinations and conclufions. 'But tho' this queftion, fays he, concerning the general principle of morals, be extremely curious and important; 'tis needlefs for us, at prefent, to employ farther care in our enquiries concerning it. For if we can be fo happy, in the course of this enquiry, as to fix the just origin of morals, 'twill then eafily appear how far fentiment or reafon enters into all determinations of this nature. Mean while, it will scarce be poffible for us, e'er this controverfy is fully decided, to proceed in that accurate manner required in the sciences; by beginning with exact definitions of VIRTUE and VICE, which are the objects of our prefent enquiry. But we shall do what may be justly esteem'd as fatisfactory. We fhall confider the matter as an object of experience. We fhall call every quality or action of the mind, virtuous, which is attended with the general app obation of mankind: and we fhall denominate vicious, every quality, which is the object of general blame or cenfure. Thefe qualities we fhall endeavour to collect; and after examining, on both fides, the feveral circumftances in which they agree, 'tis hoped, we may, at laft, reach the foundation of ethics, and find thofe univerfal principles, from which all moral blame or approbation is ultimately derived. As this is a queftion of fact, not of abstract science, we can only expect fuccefs, by following this experimental method, and deducing general maxims, from a comparison of particular inftances. The other fcientifical method, when a general abstract principle is firft eftablished, and is afterwards branched out into a variety of inferences and conclufions, may be more perfect in itself, but fuits lefs the imperfection of human nature, and is a common fource of illufion and mistake, in this as well as in other fubjects. Men are now cured of their paffion for Hypothefes and systems in natural philofophy, and will hearken to no arguments but thofe derived from experience. Tis full time they fhould begin a like reformation in all moral difquifitions; and reject every fyftem of ethics, however fubtile or ingenious, that is not founded on fact and obfervation.'
Having laid down the method he intends to profecute, our Author proceeds in the second section to treat of benevolence; and fhews how ill-founded that fyftem of morals
is, which refolves all humanity and friendship into felf-love. Hé makes it clearly appear that there is fuch a fentiment in human nature as difinterefted benevolence; that nothing can bestow more merit on any human creature than the poffeffion of it in an eminent degree; and that a part, at leaft, of its merit, arifes from its tendency to promote the interefts of our species, and beftow happiness on human fociety. In all determinations of morality, fays he, this circumftance of public utility is ever principally in view; and wherever difputes arife, whether in philofophy or common life, concerning the bounds of duty, the queftion cannot, by any means be decided with greater certainty, than by afcertaining, on any fide, the true interefts of mankind. any false opinion, embraced from appearances, has been found to prevail, as foon as farther experience, and founder reasoning have given us jufter notions of human affairs; we retract our first sentiments, and adjust a-new the boundaries of moral good and evil.'
In the third fection our author treats of justice, and endeavours to fhew that public utility is the fole origin of it, and that reflections on its beneficial confequences are the fole foundation of its merit. In order to make this appear, The puts a variety of cafes, and fuppofes extreme abundance or extreme neceffity to be produced among men; perfect moderation and humanity, or perfect rapaciousness and malice implanted in their breasts: In all these cafes we are told, that' by rendering juftice totally ufelefs, we thereby totally deftroy its effence, and fufpend its obligation upon mankind. The more, fays he, we vary our views of human life; and the newer and more unusual the lights are, in which we furvey it, the more fhall we be convinced, that the origin here affigned for the virtue of justice is real and fatisfactory.'
Were there a fpecies of creatures, intermingled with men, which, tho' rational, were poffeft of fuch inferior ftrength, both of body and mind, that they were incapable of all refiftance, and could never, upon the highest provocation, make us feel the effects of their refentment; the neceffary confequence, I think, is, that we should be bound by the laws of humanity, to give gentle ufage to thefe creatures, but should not, properly fpeaking, lie under any restraint of justice with regard to them, nor could they poffefs any right or property,, exclufive of fuch arbitra ry Lords. Our intercourfe with them could not be called fociety, which, fuppofés a degree of equality; but abfolute command on the one fide, and fervile obedience on the
other. Whatever we covet, they muft inftantly refign: Our permiffion is the only tenure, by which they hold their poffeffions: Our compaffion and kindness the only check, by which they curb our lawlefs will: And as no inconvenience ever refults from the exercife of a power, fo firmly eftablished in nature, the restraints of justice and property, being totally useless, would never have a place in fo unequal a confederacy.
• Were the human fpecies fo fram'd by nature as that each individual poffeft within himself every faculty, requifite both for his own prefervation and for the propagation of his kind: Were all fociety and intercourfe cut off betwixt man and man, by the primary intention of the fupreme Creator: It feems evident, that fo folitary a being would be as much incapable of justice, as of focial difcourfe and converfation. Where mutual regards and forbearance ferve to no manner of purpose, they would never direct the conduct of any reasonable man. The headlong courfe of the paffions would be checked by no reflection on future confequences. And as each man is here fuppofed to love himself alone, and to depend only on himself and his own activity for fafety and happiness, he would, on every occafion, to the utmoft of his power, challenge the preference above every other being, to none of which he is bound by any ties, either of nature, or of interest.
But fuppofe the conjunction of the fexes to be eftablished in nature, a family immediately arifes; and particular rules being found requifite for its fubfiftance, thefe are immediately embraced; tho' without comprehending the reft of mankind within their prefcriptions. Suppofe, that feveral families unite together into one fociety, which is totally disjoined from all others, the rules, which preferve peace and order, enlarge themfelves to the utmoft extent of that fociety; but, being entirely useless, lose their force when carried one ftep farther. But again fuppofe, that feveral diftinct focieties maintain a kind of intercourfe for mutual convenience and advantage; the boundaries of justice fill grow larger and larger, in proportion to the largenefs of men's views, and the force of their mutual connections. Hiftory, experience, reafon fufficiently inftruct us in this natural progress of human fentiments, and the gradual increase of our regards to property and juftice in proportion as we become acquainted with the extenfive utility of that
After a fhort section upon political fociety, our Author proceeds in the fifth to fhew why utility pleafes. Ufefulness, fays he, is agreeable, and engages our approbation. This is a matter of fact, confirmed by daily obfervation. But ufeful? For what? For fomebody's intereft furely. Whole intereft then? Not our own only: For our apprcbation frequently extends farther. It muft, therefore, be the intereft of those, who are ferv'd by the character or action approved of; and these we may conclude, however remote, are not totally indifferent to us.-Usefulness is only a tendency to a certain end; and 'tis a contradiction in terms, that any thing pleases as means to an end, where the end itself does no way affect us. If therefore usefulness be a fource of moral fentiment, and if this usefulness be not always confidered with a reference to felf; it follows, that every thing which contributes to the happiness of society, recommends itself directly to our approbation and good-will. Here is a principle, which accounts, in great part, for the origin of morality: And what need we feek for abftrufe and remote fyftems, when there occurs one fo obvious and natural?'.
Our author employs feveral pages in illuftrating this principle, and concludes the fection in the following manner. Thus, fays he, in whatever light we take this fubject, the merit, afcrib'd to the focial virtues, appears ftill uniform, and arifes chiefly from that regard, which the natural fentiment of benevolence engages us to pay to the interefts of mankind and fociety. If we confider the principles of the human make, fuch as they appear to daily experience and obfervation; we muft, a priori, conclude it impoffible for fuch a creature as man to be totally rent to the well or ill-being of his fellow-creatures, and not readily, of himself, to pronounce, where nothing gives him any particular byafs, that what promotes their happinefs is good, what tends to their mifery is evil, without any farther regard or confideration. Here then are the faint rudiments, at leaft, of outlines, of a general diftinction betwixt actions; and in proportion as the humanity of the person is fuppofed to encrease, his connexion to those injured or benefited, and his lively conception of their mifery or happinefs; his confequent cenfure or approbation acquires proportionable force and vigour. There is no neceffity, that a generous action, barely mentioned in an old history or remote Gazette, fhould communicate any ftrong feelings of applause and admiration. Virtue, placed at fuch a diftance,