Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

is any case so trivial, or so imperfectly recollected, that you cannot tell for what reasons you made the choice, or how you came to choose as you did ; you may dispose of such a case as you please. But as to all instances which are plain, and which are important enough to be remembered, we can easily trace out the process of our minds in making a choice. If in any case there is remaining doubt, it can be removed by a careful observation of new instances of choice. Thus by attending to the operations of our own minds in this respect, we can determine the laws of the mind in regard to choice, as well as we can determine the laws of the mind in any other respect, or the laws of the physical world.

And why may not this same method enable us to solve the question respecting the power of a contrary choice? Examine the facts in the case. All agree that we have power to choose, and power to choose as we do. And we do choose in a great variety of circumstances, and in a great variety of ways; and every choice we make, and just as we make it, is an exercise of our free agency. When various objects of choice are before us, we examine and compare them. We deliberate, that is, weigh the reasons for and against choosing this or that. And finally, we determine in favor of that for which we think we have the best reasons. Is not this precisely the way in which we are accustomed to make a choice? The power of choosing in this way is the power of choice which we have actually exerted in all the important choices we have made ? And is not this all the power which we deem desirable, or which is conceivable in regard to future instances of choice; the power to suspend our judgment, to examine, to deliberate, and finally to choose that for which we think we have the most weighty reasons, or that which is, on the whole, most agreeable to us?

Do you bring up the question, whether we are under a necessity of choosing as we do? My answer is, that we are under no necessity, except that which makes us rational, free, accountable beings. We are under this necessity; and we can never get away from it. It holds us fast; and will do so forever. We have no power to divest ourselves of our rationality, our freedom and accountability, how much soever we may desire it. The necessity which holds us to this, is perfect, absolute and uncontrollable. It is the unchangeable purpose of our almighty Creator and Preserver, that we shall be, and shall forever be free, moral, accountable beings. Many things are

submitted to our choice. But this is not. God has made us, and will continue us moral agents. And we can no more cease to be so, than we can cease to exist ;-can no more annihilate our moral agency, than we can annihilate our being. And every law or principle of action, which essentially belongs to us as moral agents, is also unalterable. It is a law of our being, that, in all our volitions and choices, we shall be influenced by motives, that is, by our inward affections and desires, and our views of outward objects; and who can prevent the operation of this law? Who, even if he could, would wish to prevent the operation of a law, which makes us rational beings, a law which was established by the wisdom of God, and which therefore must be right ? If you suppose this is not an invariable law of the mind, then just produce an instance of volition or choice, which did not take place under the influence of motives. Produce an instance from your own experience. If there has been no instance from your past experience, then rouse your latent powers, and make an instance. Put forth some deliberate, rational choice, which shall be free and accountable, without being influenced by your own inclinations or desires, or by any objects presented before you. Or if you find that you cannot put forth a volition or choice which is wholly uninfluenced by motives, then put forth one which is partly influenced by motives, and partly not. Do this, and you will prove at least, that the above mentioned law is not the only law of our moral being. And by doing the former, you will prove that it is not the invariable law.

The same as to any other case. If you hold that you have a power to act in any particular way, then show that you have it, by some instance in which you exercise it. Surely there is nothing hard in this. If you possess the power in question, can you not easily bring it out to view by some exercise ? It would be very strange for you to say, that the power actually belongs to you, but that you can never exercise it. This, to all intents and purposes, would be the same, as to say that you have no such power ? If you say you have it and can exercise it, then do it, and thus put an end to all doubt.

'I propose, in this way, to settle every question respecting power; and I think the proposal is reasonable, and I am almost certain that it will not be objected to. For myself, I agree to abide by it. If I assert that any power or principle belongs to man, I will adduce plain and acknowledged instances from

otively motiverth a volit before own intet an

[ocr errors]

your experience, as well as my own, and instances as numerous as you please, in which it has been and is exercised. I ask the same of you. It is an equal rule, and it is the same as is commonly applied to similar cases. Suppose a man says, he has power to fly; that is, to rise from the ground and move about in the air. We say, it is impossible, he cannot do it. But by and by he makes a balloon, and by means of it rises to a great height in the air, and after moving to some distance, descends to the earth. In this way he convinces us that he has the power which he professed to have. He has proved it, and we are satisfied. Another man says, he is able to move a carriage or ship, and that very rapidly, by the force of steam. And though for a time we doubt the truth of his declaration, he finally convinces us by successful experiments. Another man says, he is able to produce such and such effects upon the mind and body of another by animal magnetism, that is, by the force of his own will, connected with certain motions of his hands. As philosophers and men of sense, we only ask him to exhibit before us plain, unquestionable, and sufficiently numerous and various experiments, in which he exerts the mysterious power. Let him do this, and we will be satisfied. And suppose that another man makes the singular affirmation, that he is able to fly or to move a ship, without any machinery, or any physical force, by the mere act of his will. Here, again, we only ask for evidence. Let him show, by fair experiments, that he can fly just as he can walk, in obedience to his will, and that, by the mere energy of his will, he can move a ship, just as he can move his arm, and we will dismiss our doubts, and acknowledge that he possesses a power which we never supposed within the province of human nature.

Apply the same principle to any other allegation in regard to power. I affirm, that a moral agent has power to originate or put forth volitions, or choices, under the influence of motives and in conformity with those which are to him the strongest. If you doubt it, I am ready to produce proof. I will point out as many instances as you desire, in which you yourself, and others, have originated or put forth volitions or choices in the way mentioned, and will describe very particularly and very intelligibly, the process of the mind in coming to such choices or determinations. Now suppose you affirm, that a moral agent has power to originate volitions in his own mind, without the influence of motives, or contrary to what are to him the strong

est motives. I must look for evidence of such a power. I inquire, whether you or any others have actually originated volitions in this way. If so, I ask when it was done. And I ask you to describe, as well as you can, the process or processes through which the mind passed in producing such volitions. But what if you fail of finding any instances from past experience? Why, be sure, I will give you a fair chance. I will not consider the investigation ended, but will leave the door wide open for future evidence, and will keep my mind wide open to future conviction. If you say it is a supposable case, and is fairly within the province of human power, that a moral agent should actually choose differently from what he does, all the circumstances of the case, and all the motives acting upon him from within and from without, being in every respect perfectly the same ;-I will not take upon me to contradict the assertion. I only ask for some fact to prove its truth. If there is any such fact, let it appear. And if no fact of the kind should be found in the past history of our race, still I would not close my mind against the influence of facts which may occur in future time. For the mind of man has wonderful resources, which I grant have been but very imperfectly understood; wonderful powers, which have been developed only in part. Perhaps some deep, secret principle, some new spring of mental action may come out to view, in the excercise of which we may do what had never been done before; or we may do clearly, in noonday light, what had been done only obscurely. So great may be the advance made in the improvement of the mind, and in the art of availing ourselves of its hidden resources, that we may be able to put forth volitions independently of motives. Heretofore, we have always been accustomed, in one way or another, to make use of our reason and judgment. But who can say that we may not attain to an ability to act without them ? Heretofore we have made our choices, certainly our important ones, in consequence of something like deliberation, or the weighing of reasons; and we have considered those choices the most perfect, which resulted from the most careful and impartial deliberation, and which conformed most ex-. actly to what we found to be the strongest reasons. But the time may come when, in the exercise of some newly discovered power, or some new application of power, we shall will and choose without any motives; and the volitions and choices which come out in this way, may be of a much higher order,

than the old-fashioned choices, which were always made under the embarrassing, despotic influence of motives, or rational considerations. Who knows but we may rise to such a state of improvement, as to cast off the mental bondage under which we have so long groaned, and to exercise the native energies of our spiritual nature freely, without being any longer tied down to choose and act in view of reasons ? Under the guidance, then, of a just philosophy, I will abstain from any confident affirmations as to what the mind of a free agent may or inay not possibly be capable of, and will patiently wait for more light from future experiments on the powers of our intellectual and moral nature.

In the discussion of this subject, my aim is to make the whole question respecting the powers or capabilities of a moral agent, a question of facts. In this way my own doubts and difficulties have been relieved; for I too, as well as Inquirer and other men who allow themselves to think, have had speculative difficulties in abundance on this subject. And I have thought, that the mode of investigation which has afforded relief to my own mind, may do something towards relieving the minds of others. With this view I make the proposal to any who wish to examine the controverted questions respecting the powers of man, that, instead of pushing, in any case, the abstract inquiry, what it is possible for man to do, or what he has power or ability to do, we should endeavor, first of all, to determine what are the facts in the case,-the facts made known by past and present experience. In what manner and under what influence does man, as an intelligent, moral being, act ? Do not inquire first how he can act, but how he does act. As to his volitions: From what influence, and under what conditions does he put them forth? Is he in fact influenced in his choices by his predominant dispositions, affections and desires ? And how far is he thus influenced ? Does even conscience or the moral sense govern him, except as the inclinations or desires of the heart give force to its dictates ? The same as to every other case. What are the real laws of our moral nature respecting it, as learnt from the history of any mind, and all minds, thus far ? Has the particular thing, concerning which we inquire, ever taken place ? Has man ever done it? And is there any reason to suppose he ever will do it? Whenever the question as to power or ability comes up, put it thus : Has man a power which has ever accomplished the thing; a power which has, in any instance, availed ? Has

« PoprzedniaDalej »