The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY'S
FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION
I now come to consider the philosophy which teaches that moral order is the foundation of moral obligation.
But what is moral order? The advocates of this theory define it to be identical with the fit, proper, suitable. It is, then, according to them, synonymous with the right. Moral order must be, in their view, either identical with law or with virtue. It must be either an idea of the fit, the right, the proper, the suitable, which is the same as objective right; or it must consist in conformity of the will to this idea of law, which is virtue. It has been repeatedly shown that right, whether objective or subjective, cannot by any possibility be the end at which a moral agent ought to aim, and to which he ought to consecrate himself. If moral order be not synonymous with right in one of these senses, I do not know what it is; and all that I can say is, that if it be not identical with the highest well-being of God and of the universe, it cannot be the end at which moral agents ought to aim, and cannot be the foundation of moral obligation. But if by moral order, as the phraseology of some would seem to indicate, be meant that state of the universe in which all law is universally obeyed, and, as a consequence, a state of universal well-being, this theory is only another name for the true one. It is the same as willing the highest well-being of the universe, with the condition and means thereof.
Or if it be meant, as other phraseology would seem to indicate, that moral order is a state of things in which either all law is obeyed, or in which the disobedient are punished for the sake of promoting the public good; if this be what is meant by moral order, it is only another name for the true theory. Willing moral order, is only willing the highest good of the universe for its own sake, with the condition and means thereof.
But if by moral order be meant the fit, suitable, in the sense of law, physical or moral, it is absurd to represent moral order as the foundation of moral obligation. If moral order is the ground of obligation, it is identical with the object of ultimate choice. Does God require us to love moral order for its own sake? Is this identical with loving God and our neighbor? "Thou shalt will moral order with all thy heart, and with all thy soul!" Is this the meaning of the moral law? If this theory is right, benevolence is sin. It is not living to the right end.
Again it is maintained that the nature and relations of moral beings are the true foundation of moral obligation.
The advocates of this theory confound the conditions of moral obligation with the foundation of obligation. The nature and relations of moral agents to each other, and to the universe, are conditions of their obligation to will the good of being, but not the foundation of the obligation. What! The nature and relations of moral beings the foundation of their obligation to choose an ultimate end! Then this end must be their nature and relations. This is absurd. Their nature and relations being what they are, their highest well-being is known to them to be of infinite and intrinsic value. But it is and must be the intrinsic value of the end, and not their nature and relations, that imposes obligation to will the highest good of the universe as an ultimate end.
If their nature and relations be the ground of obligation, then their nature and relations are the great object of ultimate choice, and should be willed for their own sakes, and not for the sake of any good resulting from their nature and relations. For, be it remembered, the ground of obligation to put forth ultimate choice must be identical with the object of this choice, which object imposes obligation by virtue of its own nature.
The natures and relations of moral beings are a condition of obligation to fulfill to each other certain duties. For example, the relation of parent and child is a condition of obligation to endeavor to promote each other's particular well-being, to govern and provide for, on the part of the parent, and to obey, etc., on the part of the child. But the intrinsic value of the good to be sought by both parent and child must be the ground, and their relation only the condition, of those particular forms of obligation. So in every possible case. Relations can never be a ground of obligation to choose, unless the relations be the object of the choice. The various duties of life are executive and not ultimate acts. Obligation to perform them is founded in the intrinsic nature of the good resulting from their performance. The various relations of life are only conditions of obligation to promote particular forms of good, and the good of particular individuals.
Writers upon this subject are often falling into the mistake of confounding the conditions with the foundation of moral obligation. Moral agency is a condition, but not the foundation of obligation. Light, or the knowledge of the intrinsically valuable to being, is a condition, but not the foundation of moral obligation. The intrinsically valuable is the foundation of the obligation; and light, or the perception of the intrinsically valuable, is only a condition of the obligation. So the nature and relations of moral beings are a condition of their obligation to will each other's good, and so is light, or a knowledge of the intrinsic value of their blessedness; but the intrinsic value is alone the foundation of the obligation. It is, therefore, a great mistake to affirm "that the known nature and relations of moral agents are the true foundation of moral obligation."
The next theory that demands attention is that which teaches that moral obligation is founded in the idea of duty.
According to this philosophy, the end at which a moral agent ought to aim, is duty. He must in all things "aim at doing his duty." Or, in other words, he must always have respect to his obligation, and aim at discharging it.
It is plain that this theory is only another form of stating the rightarian theory. By aiming, intending, to do duty, we must understand the advocates of this theory to mean the adoption of a resolution or maxim, by which to regulate their lives--the formation of a resolve to obey God--to serve God--to do at all times what appears to be right--to meet the demands of conscience--to obey the law--to discharge obligation, etc. I have expressed the thing intended in all these ways because it is common to hear this theory expressed in all these terms, and in others like them. Especially in giving instruction to inquiring sinners, nothing is more common than for those who profess to be spiritual guides to assume the truth of this philosophy, and give instructions accordingly. These philosophers, or theologians, will say to sinners: Make up your mind to serve the Lord; resolve to do your whole duty, and do it at all times; resolve to obey God in all things--to keep all His commandments; resolve to deny yourselves--to forsake sin--to love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. They often represent regeneration as consisting in this resolution or purpose.
Such-like phraseology, which is very common and almost universal among rightarian philosophers, demonstrates that they regard virtue or obedience to God as consisting in the adoption of a maxim of life. With them, duty is the great idea to be realized. All these modes of expression mean the same thing, and amount to just Kant's morality, which he admits does not necessarily imply religion, namely: "act upon a maxim at all times fit for law universal," and to Cousin's which is the same thing, namely, "will the right for the sake of the right." Now I cannot but regard this philosophy on the one hand, and utilitarianism on the other, as equally wide from the truth, and as lying at the foundation of much of the spurious religion with which the church and the world are cursed. Utilitarianism begets one type of selfishness, which it calls religion, and this philosophy begets another, in some respects more specious, but not a whit the less selfish, God dishonoring and soul destroying. The nearest that this philosophy can be said to approach either to true morality or religion, is, that if the one who forms the resolution understood himself he would resolve to become truly moral instead of really becoming so. But this is in fact an absurdity and an impossibility, and the resolution maker does not understand what he is about, when he supposes himself to be forming or cherishing a resolution to do his duty. Observe, he intends to do his duty. But to do his duty is to form and cherish an ultimate intention. To intend to do his duty is merely to intend to intend. But this is not doing his duty, as will be shown. He intends to serve God, but this is not serving God, as will also be shown. Whatever he intends, he is neither truly moral nor religious, until he really intends the same end that God does; and this is not to do his duty, nor to do right, nor to comply with obligation, nor to keep a conscience void of offence, nor to deny himself, nor any such like things. God aims at, and intends, the highest well-being of Himself and the universe, as an ultimate end, and this is doing His duty. It is not resolving or intending to do His duty, but is doing it. It is not resolving to do right for the sake of the right, but it is doing right. It is not resolving to serve Himself and the universe, but is actually rendering that service. It is not resolving to love, but actually loving His neighbor as Himself. It is not, in other words, resolving to be benevolent, but is being so. It is not resolving to deny self, but is actually denying self.
A man may resolve to serve God without any just idea of what it is to serve Him. If he had the idea of what the law of God requires him to choose, clearly before his mind--if he perceived that to serve God, was nothing less than to consecrate himself to the same end to which God consecrates Himself, to love God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself, that is, to will or choose the highest well-being of God and of the universe, as an ultimate end--to devote all his being, substance, time, and influence to this end;--I say, if this idea were clearly before his mind, he would not talk of resolving to consecrate himself to God--resolving to do his duty, to do right, to serve God, to keep a conscience void of offense, and such like things. He would see that such resolutions were totally absurd and a mere evasion of the claims of God. It has been repeatedly shown, that all virtue resolves itself into the intending of an ultimate end, or of the highest well-being of God and the universe. This is true morality, and nothing else is. This is identical with that love to God and man which the law of God requires. This then is duty. This is serving God. This is keeping a conscience void of offense. This is right, and nothing else is. But to intend or resolve to do this is only to intend to intend, instead of at once intending what God requires. It is resolving to love God and his neighbor, instead of really loving Him; choosing to choose the highest well-being of God and of the universe, instead of really choosing it.
It is one thing for a man who actually loves God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself, to resolve to regulate all his outward life by the law of God, and a totally different thing to intend to love God or to intend His highest glory and well-being. Resolutions may respect outward action, but it is totally absurd to intend or resolve to form an ultimate intention. But be it remembered, that morality and religion do not belong to outward action, but to ultimate intentions. It is amazing and afflicting to witness the alarming extent to which a spurious philosophy has corrupted and is corrupting the church of God. Kant and Cousin and Coleridge have adopted a phraseology, and manifestly have conceived in idea a philosophy subversive of all true love to God and man, and teach a religion of maxims and resolutions instead of a religion of love. It is a philosophy, as we shall see in a future lecture, which teaches that the moral law or law of right, is entirely distinct from and may be opposite to the law of benevolence or love. The fact is, this philosophy conceives of duty and right as belonging to mere outward action. This must be, for it cannot be confused enough to talk of resolving or intending to form an ultimate intention. Let but the truth of this philosophy be assumed, in giving instructions to the anxious sinner, and it will immediately dry off his tears, and in all probability lead him to settle down in a religion of resolutions instead of a religion of love. Indeed this philosophy will immediately dry off, (if I may be allowed the expression), the most genuine and powerful revival of religion, and run it down into a mere revival of a heartless, Christless, loveless philosophy. It is much easier to persuade anxious sinners to resolve to do their duty, to resolve to love God, than it is to persuade them really to do their duty, and really to love God with all their heart and with all their soul, and their neighbor as themselves.
We now come to the consideration of that philosophy which teaches the complexity of the foundation of moral obligation.
This theory maintains that there are several distinct grounds of moral obligation; that the highest good of being is only one of the grounds of moral obligation, while right, moral order, the nature and relations of moral agents, merit and demerit, truth, duty, and many such like things, are distinct grounds of moral obligation, but that each one of them can by itself impose moral obligation. The advocates of this theory, perceiving its inconsistency with the doctrine that moral obligation respects the ultimate choice of intention only, seem disposed to relinquish the position that obligation respects strictly only the choice of an ultimate end, and to maintain that moral obligation respects the ultimate action of the will. By ultimate action of the will they mean, if I understand them, the will's treatment of everything according to its intrinsic nature and character; that is treating every thing, or taking that attitude in respect to every thing known to the mind, that is exactly suited to what it is in and of itself. For example, right ought to be regarded and treated by the will as right because it is right. Truth ought to be regarded and treated as truth for its own sake, virtue as virtue, merit as merit, demerit as demerit, the useful as useful, the beautiful as beautiful, the good or valuable as valuable, each for its own sake; that in each case the action of the will is ultimate, in the sense that its action terminates on these objects as ultimates; in other words, that all those actions of the will are ultimate that treat things according to their nature and character, or according to what they are in and of themselves.
Now in respect to this theory I would inquire: What is intended by the will's treating a thing, or taking that attitude in respect to it that is suited to its nature and character? Are there any other actions of will than volitions, choice, preference, intention? Are not all the actions of the will comprehended in these? If there are any other actions than these, are they intelligent actions? If so, what are those actions of will that consist neither in the choice of ends nor means, nor in volitions or efforts to secure an end? Can there be intelligent acts of will that neither respect ends nor means? Can there be moral acts of will when there is no choice or intention? If there is choice or intention, must not these respect an end or means? What then can be meant by ultimate action of will as distinguished from ultimate choice or intention? Can there be choice without an object of choice? If there is an object of choice, must not this object be chosen either as an end or as a means? If as an ultimate end, how does this differ from ultimate intention? If as a means, how can this be regarded as an ultimate action of the will? What can be intended by actions of will that are not acts of choice nor volition? I can conceive of no other. But if all acts of will must of necessity consist in willing or nilling, that is in choosing or refusing, which is the same as willing one way or another, in respect to all objects of choice apprehended by the mind, how can there be any intelligent act of the will that does not consist in, or that may not and must not, in its last analysis, be resolvable into, and be properly considered as the choice of an end, or of means, or in executive efforts to secure an end? Can moral law require any other action of will than choice and volition? What other actions of will are possible to us? Whatever moral law does require, it must and can only require choices and volitions. It can only require us to choose ends or means. It cannot require us to choose as an ultimate end anything that is not intrinsically worthy of choice--nor as a means any thing that does not sustain that relation.
Secondly, let us examine this theory in the light of the revealed law of God. The whole law is fulfilled in one word--love. Now we have seen that the will of God cannot be the foundation of moral obligation. Moral obligation must be founded in the nature of that which moral law requires us to choose. Unless there be something in the nature of that which moral law requires us to will that renders it worthy or deserving of choice, we can be under no obligation to will or choose it. It is admitted that the love required by the law of God must consist in an act of the will, and not in mere emotions. Now, does this love, willing, choice, embrace several distinct ultimates? If so, how can they all be expressed in one word--love? Observe, the law requires only love to God and our neighbor as an ultimate. This love or willing must respect and terminate on God and our neighbor. The law says nothing about willing right for the sake of the right, or truth for the sake of the truth, or beauty for the sake of beauty, or virtue for the sake of virtue, or moral order for its own sake, or the nature and relations of moral agents for their own sake; nor can any such thing be implied in the command to love God and our neighbor. All these and innumerable other things are, and must be, conditions and means of the highest well-being of God and our neighbor. As such, the law may, and doubtless does, in requiring us to will the highest well-being of God and our neighbor as an ultimate end, require us to will all these as the necessary conditions and means. The end which the revealed law requires us to will is undeniably simple as opposed to complex. It requires only love to God and our neighbor. One word expresses the whole of moral obligation. Now certainly this word cannot have a complex signification in such a sense as to include several distinct and ultimate objects of love, or of choice. This love is to terminate on God and our neighbor, and not on abstractions, nor on inanimate and insentient existences. I protest against any philosophy that contradicts the revealed law of God, and that teaches that anything else than God and our neighbor is to be loved for its own sake, or that anything else is to be chosen as an ultimate end than the highest well-being of God and our neighbor. In other words, I utterly object to any philosophy that makes anything obligatory upon a moral agent that is not expressed or implied in perfect good will to God, and to the universe of sentient existences. To the word and to the testimony; if any philosophy agree not therewith, it is because there is no light in it. The revealed law of God knows but one ground or foundation of moral obligation. It requires but one thing: and that is just that attitude of the will toward God and our neighbor that accords with the intrinsic value of their highest well-being; that God's moral worth shall be willed as of infinite value, as a condition of His own well-being, and that His actual and perfect blessedness shall be willed for its own sake, and because, or upon condition that He is worthy; that our neighbor's moral worth shall be willed as an indispensable condition of his blessedness, and that if our neighbor is worthy of happiness, his actual and highest happiness shall be willed. This law knows but one end which moral agents are under obligation to seek, and sets at nought all so-called ultimate actions of will that do not terminate on the good of God and our neighbor. The ultimate choice, with the choice of all the conditions and means of the highest well-being of God and the universe, is all that the revealed law recognizes as coming within the pale of its legislation. It requires nothing more and nothing less.
But there is another form of the complex theory of moral obligation that I must notice before I dismiss this subject.
This view admits and maintains that the good, that is, the valuable to being, is the only ground of moral obligation, and that in every possible case the valuable to being, or the good, must be intended as an end, as a condition of the intention being virtuous. In this respect it maintains that the foundation of moral obligation is simple, a unit. But it also maintains that there are several ultimate goods or several ultimates or things which are intrinsically good or valuable in themselves, and are therefore to be chosen for their own sake, or as an ultimate end; that to choose either of these as an ultimate end, or for its own sake, is virtue.
It admits that happiness or blessedness is a good, and should be willed for its own sake, or as an ultimate end, but it maintains that virtue is an ultimate good; that right is an ultimate good; that the just and the true are ultimate goods; in short, that the realization of the ideas of the reason, or the carrying out into concrete existence any idea of the reason, is an ultimate good. For instance: there were in the Divine Mind from eternity certain ideas of the good or valuable, the right, the just, the beautiful, the true, the useful, the holy, the realization of these ideas of the divine reason, according to this theory, was the end which God aimed at or intended in creation; He aimed at their realization as ultimates or for their own sake, and regarded the concrete realization of every one of these ideas as a separate and ultimate good: and so certain as God is virtuous, so certain it is, says this theory, that an intention on our part to realize these ideas for the sake of the realization is virtue. Then the foundation of moral obligation is complex in the sense that to will either the good or valuable, the right, the true, the just, the virtuous, the beautiful, the useful, etc., for its own sake, or as an ultimate end, is virtue; and there is more than one virtuous ultimate choice or intention. Thus any one of several distinct things may be intended as an ultimate end with equal propriety and with equal virtuousness. The soul may at one moment be wholly consecrated to one end, that is, to one ultimate good, and again to another; that is, sometimes it may will one good, and sometimes another good, as an ultimate end, and still be equally virtuous.
In the discussion of this subject I will inquire: In what does the supreme and ultimate good consist?
1. Good may be natural or moral. Natural good is synonymous with valuable. Moral good is synonymous with virtue. Moral good is in a certain sense a natural good, that is, it is valuable as a means of natural good; but the advocates of this theory affirm that moral good is valuable in itself.
2. Good may be absolute and relative. Absolute good is that which is intrinsically valuable. Relative good is that which is valuable as a means. It is not valuable in itself, but valuable because it sustains to absolute good the relation of a means to an end. Absolute good may also be a relative good, that is, it may tend to perpetuate and augment itself. Absolute good is also ultimate. Ultimate good is that good in which all relative good terminates--that good to which all relative good sustains the relation of a means or condition. Relative good is not intrinsically valuable, but only valuable on account of its relations.
The point upon which issue is taken, is, that enjoyment, blessedness, a mental satisfaction, is the only ultimate good.
It has been before remarked, and should be repeated here, that the intrinsically valuable must not only belong to, and be inseparable from, sentient beings, but that the ultimate or intrinsic absolute good must consist in a state of mind. It must be something to be found in the field of consciousness. Take away mind, and what can be a good per se; or what can be a good in any sense?
Again, it should be said that the ultimate and absolute good cannot consist in a choice or in a voluntary state of mind. The thing chosen is, and must be the ultimate of the choice. Choice can never be chosen as an ultimate end. Benevolence then, or the love required by the law, can never be the ultimate and absolute good. It is admitted that blessedness, enjoyment, mental satisfaction, is a good; an absolute and ultimate good. All men assume it. All men seek enjoyment. That it is the only absolute and ultimate good, is a first truth. But for this there could be no activity--no motive to action--no object of choice. Enjoyment is in fact the ultimate good. It is in fact the result of existence and of action. It results to God from His existence, His attributes, His activity, and His virtue, by a law of necessity. His powers are so correlated that blessedness cannot but be the state of His mind, as resulting from the exercise of His attributes and the right activity of His will. Happiness, or enjoyment, results, both naturally and governmentally, from obedience to law both physical and moral. It also shows that government is not an end, but a means. It also shows that the end is blessedness, and the means obedience to law.
The ultimate and absolute good, in the sense of the intrinsically valuable, cannot be identical with moral law. Moral law, as we have seen, is an idea of the reason. Moral law and moral government must propose some end to be secured by means of law. Law cannot be its own end. It cannot require the subject to seek itself as an ultimate end. This were absurd. The moral law is nothing else than the reason's idea, or conception of that course of willing and acting that is fit, proper, suitable to, and demanded by the nature, relations, necessities, and circumstances of moral agents. Their nature, relations, circumstances, and wants being perceived, the reason necessarily affirms that they ought to propose to themselves a certain end, and to consecrate themselves to the promotion of this end, for its own sake, or for its own intrinsic value. This end cannot be law itself. The law is a simple and pure idea of the reason, and can never be in itself the supreme, intrinsic, absolute, and ultimate good.
Nor can obedience, or the course of acting or willing required by the law, be the ultimate end aimed at by the law or the lawgiver. The law requires action in reference to an end, or that an end should be willed; but the willing, and the end to be willed, cannot be identical. The action required, and the end to which it is to be directed, cannot be the same. Obedience to law cannot be the ultimate end proposed by law or government. The obedience is one thing, the end to be secured by obedience is and must be another. Obedience must be a means or condition; and that which law and obedience are intended to secure, is and must be the ultimate end of obedience. The law or the lawgiver aims to promote the highest good, or blessedness of the universe. This must be the end of moral law and moral government. Law and obedience must be the means or conditions of this end. To deny this is to deny the very nature of moral law, and to lose sight of the true and only end of moral government. Nothing can be moral law, and nothing can be moral government, that does not propose the highest good of moral beings as its ultimate end. But if this is the end of law, and the end of government, it must be the end to be aimed at, or intended, by the ruler and the subject. And this end must be the foundation of moral obligation. The end must be good or valuable per se, or there can be no moral law requiring it to be sought or chosen as an ultimate end, nor any obligation to choose it as an ultimate end.
But what is intended by the right, the just, the true, etc., being ultimate goods and ends to be chosen for their own sake? These may be objective or subjective. Objective right, truth, justice, etc., are mere ideas, and cannot be good or valuable in themselves. Subjective right, truth, justice, etc., are synonymous with righteousness, truthfulness, and justness. These are virtue. They consist in an active state of the will, and resolve themselves into choice, intention. But we have repeatedly seen that intention can neither be an end nor a good in itself, in the sense of intrinsically valuable.
Again, constituted as moral agents are, it is a matter of consciousness that the concrete realization of the ideas of right, and truth, and justice, of beauty, of fitness, of moral order, and, in short, of all that class of ideas, is indispensable as the condition and means of their highest well-being, and that enjoyment or mental satisfaction is the result of realizing in the concrete those ideas. This enjoyment or satisfaction then is and must be the end or ultimate upon which the intention of God must have terminated, and upon which ours must terminate as an end or ultimate.
Again, the enjoyment resulting to God from the concrete realization of His own ideas must be infinite. He must therefore have intended it as the supreme good. It is in fact the ultimate good. It is in fact the supremely valuable.
Again, if there is more than one ultimate good, the mind must regard them all as one, or sometimes be consecrated to one and sometimes to another--sometimes wholly consecrated to the beautiful, sometimes to the just, and then again to the right, then to the useful, to the true, etc. But it may be asked, of what value is the beautiful, aside from the enjoyment it affords to sentient existences? It meets a demand of our being, and hence affords satisfaction. But for this in what sense could it be regarded as good? The idea of the useful, again, cannot be an idea of an ultimate end, for utility implies that something is valuable in itself to which the useful sustains the relation of a means, and is useful only for that reason.
Of what value is the true, the right, the just, etc., aside from the pleasure or mental satisfaction resulting from them to sentient existences? Of what value were all the rest of the universe, were there no sentient existences to enjoy it?
Suppose, again, that everything else in the universe existed just as it does, except mental satisfaction or enjoyment, and that there were absolutely no enjoyment of any kind in anything any more than there is in a block of granite, of what value would it all be? and to what, or to whom, would it be valuable? Mind, without susceptibility of enjoyment, can neither know nor be the subject of good or evil, any more than a slab of marble. Truth in that case could no more be a good to mind than mind could be a good to truth; light would no more be a good to the eye, than the eye a good to light. Nothing in the universe could give or receive the least satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Neither natural nor moral fitness nor unfitness could excite the least emotion or mental satisfaction. A block of marble might just as well be the subject of good as anything else, upon such a supposition.
Again, it is obvious that all creation, where law is obeyed, tends to one end, and that end is happiness or enjoyment. This demonstrates that enjoyment was the end at which God aimed in creation.
Again, it is evident that God is endeavoring to realize all the other ideas of His reason for the sake of, and as a means of, realizing that of the valuable to being. This, as a matter of fact, is the result of realizing in the concrete all those ideas. This must then have been the end intended.
It is nonsense to object that, if enjoyment or mental satisfaction be the only ground of moral obligation, we should be indifferent as to the means. This objection assumes that in seeking an end for its intrinsic value, we must be indifferent as to the way in which we obtain that end; that is, whether it be obtained in a manner possible or impossible, right or wrong. It overlooks the fact that from the laws of our own being it is impossible for us to will the end without willing also the indispensable, and therefore the appropriate, means; and also that we cannot possibly regard any other conditions or means of the happiness of moral agents as possible, and therefore as appropriate or right, but holiness and universal conformity to the law of our being. Enjoyment or mental satisfaction results from having the different demands of our being met. One demand of the reason and conscience of a moral agent is that happiness should be conditionated upon holiness. It is therefore naturally impossible for a moral agent to be satisfied with the happiness or enjoyment of moral agents, except upon the condition of their holiness.
But this class of philosophers insist that all the archetypes of the ideas of the reason are necessarily regarded by us as good in themselves. For example: I have the idea of beauty. I behold a rose. The perception of this archetype of the idea of beauty gives me instantaneous pleasure. Now it is said, that this archetype is necessarily regarded by me as a good. I have pleasure in the presence and perception of it, and as often as I call it to remembrance. This pleasure, it is said, demonstrates that it is a good to me; and this good is in the very nature of the object, and must be regarded as a good in itself. To this I answer, that the presence of the rose is a good to me, but not an ultimate good. It is only a means or source of pleasure or happiness to me. The rose is not a good in itself. If there were no eyes to see it, and no olfactory to smell it, to whom could it be a good? But in what sense can it be a good, except in the sense that it gives satisfaction to the beholder? The satisfaction, and not the rose, is and must be the ultimate good. But it is inquired, Do not I desire the rose for its own sake? I answer, Yes; you desire it for its own sake, but you do not, cannot choose it for its own sake, but to gratify the desire. The desires all terminate on their respective objects. The desire for food terminates on food; thirst terminates on drink, etc. These things are so correlated to these appetites that they are desired for their own sakes. But they are not and cannot be chosen for their own sakes or as an ultimate end. They are, and must be, regarded and chosen as the means of gratifying their respective desires. To choose them simply in obedience to the desire were selfishness. But the gratification is a good, and a part of universal good. The reason, therefore, urges and demands that they should be chosen as a means of good to myself. When thus chosen in obedience to the law of the intelligence, and no more stress is laid upon the gratification than in proportion to its relative value, and when no stress is laid upon it simply because it is my own gratification, the choice is holy. The perception of the archetypes of the various ideas of the reason will, in most instances, produce enjoyment. These archetypes, or, which is the same thing, the concrete realization of these ideas, is regarded by the mind as a good, but not as an ultimate good. The ultimate good is the satisfaction derived from the perception of them.
The perception of moral or physical beauty gives me satisfaction. Now moral and physical beauty are regarded by me as good, but not as ultimate good. They are relative good only. Were it not for the pleasure they give me, I could not in any way connect with them the idea of good. The mental eye might perceive order, beauty, physical and moral, or anything else; but these things would no more be good to the intellect that perceived them than their opposites. The idea of good or of the valuable could not in such a case exist, consequently virtue or moral beauty, could not exist. The idea of the good, or of the valuable, must exist before virtue can exist. It is and must be the development of the idea of the valuable, that develops the idea of moral obligation, of right and wrong, and consequently that makes virtue possible. The mind must perceive an object of choice that is regarded as intrinsically valuable, before it can have the idea of moral obligation to choose it as an end. This object of choice cannot be virtue or moral beauty, for this would be to have the idea of virtue or of moral beauty before the idea of moral obligation, or of right and wrong. This were a contradiction. The mind must have the idea of some ultimate good, the choice of which would be virtue, or concerning which the reason affirms moral obligation, before the idea of virtue, or of right or wrong, can exist. The development of the idea of the valuable, or of an ultimate good, must precede the possibility of virtue, or of the idea of virtue, of moral obligation, or of right and wrong. It is absurd to say that virtue is regarded as an ultimate good, when in fact the very idea of virtue does not and cannot exist until a good is presented, in view of which, the mind affirms moral obligation to will it for its own sake, and also affirms that the choice of it for that reason would be virtue.
So virtue or holiness is morally beautiful. Moral worth or excellence is morally beautiful. Beauty is an attribute or element of holiness, virtue, and of moral worth, or right character. But the beauty is not identical with holiness or moral worth, any more than the beauty of a rose, and the rose are identical. The rose is beautiful. Beauty is one of its attributes. So virtue is morally beautiful. Beauty is one of its attributes. But in neither case is the beauty a state of mind, and, therefore, it cannot be an ultimate good.
We are apt to say, that moral worth is an ultimate good; but it is only a relative good. It meets a demand of our being, and thus produces satisfaction. This satisfaction is the ultimate good of being. At the very moment we pronounce it a good in itself, it is only because we experience such a satisfaction in contemplating it. At the very time we erroneously say, that we consider it a good in itself, wholly independent of its results, we only say so, the more positively, because we are so gratified at the time, by thinking of it. It is its experienced results, that is the ground of the affirmation.
Thus we see:
1. That the utility of ultimate choice cannot be a foundation of obligation to choose, for this would be to transfer the ground of obligation from what is intrinsic in the object chosen to the useful tendency of the choice itself. As I have said, utility is a condition of obligation to put forth an executive act, but can never be a foundation of obligation; for the utility of the choice is not a reason found exclusively, or at all, in object of choice.
2. The moral character of the choice cannot be a foundation of obligation to choose, for this reason is not intrinsic in the object of choice. To affirm that the character of choice is the ground of obligation to choose, is to transfer the ground of obligation to choose from the object chosen to the character of the choice itself; but this is a contradiction of the premises.
3. The relation of one being to another cannot be the ground of obligation of the one to will good to the other, for the ground of obligation to will good to another must be the intrinsic nature of the good, and not the relations of one being to another. Relations may be conditions of obligation to seek to promote the good of particular individuals; but in every case the nature of the good is the ground of the obligation.
4. Neither the relation of utility, nor that of moral fitness or right, as existing between choice and its object, can be a ground of obligation, for both these relations depend, for their very existence, upon the intrinsic importance of the object of choice; and besides, neither of these relations is intrinsic in the object of choice, as it must be to be a ground of obligation.
5. The relative importance or value of an object of choice can never be a ground of obligation to choose that object, for its relative importance is not intrinsic in the object. But the relative importance, or value, of an object may be a condition of obligation to choose it, as a condition of securing an intrinsically valuable object, to which it sustains the relation of a means.
6. The idea of duty cannot be a ground of obligation; this idea is a condition, but never a foundation, of obligation, for this idea is not intrinsic in the object which we affirm it our duty to choose.
7. The perception of certain relations existing between individuals cannot be a ground, although it is a condition of obligation, to fulfill to them certain duties. Neither the relation itself, nor the perception of the relation, is intrinsic in that which we affirm ourselves to be under obligation to will or do to them; of course, neither of them can be a ground of obligation.
8. The affirmation of obligation by the reason, cannot be a ground, though it is a condition of obligation. The obligation is affirmed, upon the ground of the intrinsic importance of the object and not in view of the affirmation itself.
9. The sovereign will of God is never the foundation, though it often is a condition of certain forms, of obligation. Did we know the intrinsic or relative value of an object, we should be under obligation to choose it, whether God required it or not.
The revealed will of God is always a condition of obligation, whenever such revelation is indispensable to our understanding the intrinsic or relative importance of any object of choice. The will of God is not intrinsic in the object which He commands us to will, and of course cannot be a ground of obligation.
10. The moral excellence of a being can never be a foundation of obligation to will his good; for his character is not intrinsic in the good we ought to will to him. The intrinsic value of that good must be the ground of the obligation, and his good character only a condition of obligation to will his enjoyment of good in particular.
Good character can never be a ground of obligation to choose anything which is not itself; for the reasons of ultimate choice must be found exclusively in the object of choice. Therefore, if character is a ground of obligation to put forth an ultimate choice, it must be the object of that choice.
11. Right can never be a ground of obligation, unless right be itself the object which we are under obligation to choose for its own sake.
12. Susceptibility for good can never be a ground, though it is a condition, of obligation to will good to a being. The susceptibility is not intrinsic in the good which we ought to will, and therefore cannot be a ground of obligation.
13. No one thing can be a ground of obligation to choose any other thing, as an ultimate; for the reasons for choosing anything, as an ultimate, must be found in itself, and in nothing extraneous to itself.
14. From the admitted fact, that none but ultimate choice or intention is right or wrong per se, and that all executive volitions, or acts, derive their character from the ultimate intention to which they owe their existence, it follows:
(a.) That if executive volitions are put forth with the intention to secure an intrinsically valuable end, they are right; otherwise, they are wrong.
(b.) It also follows, that obligation to put forth executive acts is conditioned, not founded, upon the assumed utility of such acts. Again:
(c.) It also follows, that all outward acts are right or wrong, as they proceed from a right or wrong intention.
(d.) It also follows that the rightness of any executive volition or outward act depends upon the supposed and intended utility of that volition, or act. Their utility must be assumed as a condition of obligation to put them forth, and, of course, their intended utility is a condition of their being right.
(e.) It also follows that, whenever we decide it to be duty to put forth any outward act whatever, irrespective of its supposed utility, and because we think it right, we deceive ourselves; for it is impossible that outward acts or volitions, which from their nature are always executive, should be either obligatory or right, irrespective of their assumed utility, or tendency to promote an intrinsically valuable end.
(f.) It follows also that it is a gross error to affirm the rightness of an executive act, as a reason for putting it forth, even assuming that its tendency is to do evil rather than good. With this assumption no executive act can possibly be right. When God has required certain executive acts, we know that they do tend to secure the highest good, and that, if put forth to secure that good, they are right. But in no case, where God has not revealed the path of duty, as it respects executive acts, or courses of life, are we to decide upon such questions in view of the rightness, irrespective of the good tendency of such acts or courses of life; for their rightness depends upon their assumed good tendency.
But it is said that a moral agent may sometimes be under obligation to will evil instead of good to others. I answer:
It can never be the duty of a moral agent to will evil to any being for its own sake, or as an ultimate end. The character and governmental relations of a being may be such that it may be duty to will his punishment to promote the public good. But in this case good is the end willed, and misery only a means. So it may be the duty of a moral agent to will the temporal misery of even a holy being, to promote the public interests. Such was the case with the sufferings of Christ. The Father willed His temporary misery, to promote the public good. But in all cases when it is duty to will misery, it is only as a means or condition of good to the public, or to the individual, and not as an ultimate end.
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