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Self-love is the unwholesome, infectious atmosphere in which he dwells; and, however he may seek to rise, the wings of his soul will eternally be drawn downwards, and he cannot be pervaded, as he might have been, with the free spirit of genuine philanthropy. To be consistent, he ought continually to grow colder and colder; and the romance, which fired his youth, and made him forget the venomous potion he had swallowed, will fade away in age, rendering him careless of all but himself, and indifferent to the adversity and sufferings of all of whom he hears, and all with whom he is connected.
On the other hand, the man who has embraced the creed of disinterested benevolence, will know that it is not his fitting element, to "live for himself, or to die for himself." Whether he is under the dominion of family-affection, friendship, patriotism, or a zeal for his brethren of mankind, he will feel that he is at home. The generous man therefore looks forward to the time when the chilling and wretched philosophy of the reign of Louis the Fourteenth shall be forgotten, and a fervent desire for the happiness and improvement of the human species shall reign in all hearts.
I am not especially desirous of sheltering my opinions under the authority of great names: but, in a question of such vital importance to the true welfare of men in society, no fair advantage should be neglected. The author of the system of "selflove the source of all our actions" was La Roche
foucault; and the whole herd of the French philosophers have not been ashamed to follow in the train of their vaunted master. I am grieved to say, that, as I think, the majority of my refining and subtilising countrymen of the present day have enlisted under his banner. But the more noble and generous view of the subject has been powerfully supported by Shaftesbury, Butler, Hutcheson and Hume. On the last of these I particularly pique myself; inasmuch as, though he became naturalised as a Frenchman in a vast variety of topics, the greatness of his intellectual powers exempted him from degradation in this.
That however which I would chiefly urge in the way of authority, is the thing mentioned in the beginning of this Essay, I mean, the sentiments that have animated the authors of religion, that characterise the best ages of Greece and Rome, and that in all cases display themselves when the loftiest and most generous sentiments of the heart are called into action. The opposite creed could only have been engendered in the dregs of a corrupt and emasculated court; and human nature will never shew itself what it is capable of being, till the last remains of a doctrine, invented in the latter part of the seventeenth century, shall have been consigned to the execration they deserve.
OF THE LIBERTY OF HUMAN ACTIONS.
THE question, which has been attended with so long and obstinate debates, concerning the metaphysical doctrines of liberty and necessity, and the freedom of human actions, is not even yet finally and satisfactorily settled.
The negative is made out by an argument which seems to amount to demonstration, that every event requires a cause, a cause why it is as it is and not otherwise, that the human will is guided by motives, and is consequently always ruled by the strongest motive, and that we can never choose any thing, either without a motive of preference, or in the way of following the weaker, and deserting the stronger motivea.
Why is it then that disbelief or doubt should still subsist in a question so fully decided?
For the same reason that compels us to reject many other demonstrations. The human mind is so constituted as to oblige us, if not theoretically, at least practically, to reject demonstration, and adhere to our senses.
The case is thus in the great question of the nonexistence of an external world, or of matter. HowPolitical Justice, Book IV, Chap. VII.
ever much the understanding may be satisfied of the truth of the proposition by the arguments of Berkeley and others, we no sooner go out into actual life, than we become convinced, in spite of our previous scepticism or unbelief, of the real existence of the table, the chair, and the objects around us, and of the permanence and reality of the persons, both body and mind, with whom we have intercourse. If we were not, we should soon become indifferent to their pleasure and pain, and in no long time reason ourselves into the opinion that the one was not more desirable than the other, and conduct ourselves accordingly.
But there is a great difference between the question of a material world, and the question of liberty and necessity. The most strenuous Berkleian can never say, that there is any contradiction or impossibility in the existence of matter. All that he can consistently and soberly maintain is, that, if the material world exists, we can never perceive it, and that our sensations, and trains of impressions and thinking go on wholly independent of that existence.
But the question of the freedom of human actions is totally of another class. To say that in our choice we reject the stronger motive, and that we choose a thing merely because we choose it, is sheer nonsense and absurdity; and whoever with a sound understanding will fix his mind upon the state of the question will perceive its impossibility. In the mean time it is not less true, that every
man, the necessarian as well as his opponent, acts on the assumption of human liberty, and can never for a moment, when he enters into the scenes of real life, divest himself of this persuasion. Let us take separately into our consideration the laws of matter and of mind. We acknowledge generally in both an established order of antecedents and consequents, or of causes and effects. This is the sole foundation of human prudence and of all morality. It is because we foresee that certain ef fects will follow from a certain mode of conduct, that we act in one way rather than another. It is because we foresee that, if the soil is prepared in a certain way, and if seed is properly scattered and covered up in the soil thus prepared, a crop will follow, that we engage in the labours of agriculture. In the same manner, it is because we foresee that, if lessons are properly given, and a young person has them clearly explained to him, certain benefits will result, and because we are apprised of the operation of persuasion, admonition, remonstrance, menace, punishment and reward, that we engage in the labours of education. All the studies of the natural philosopher and the chemist, all our journeys by land and our voyages by sea, and all the systems and science of government, are built upon this principle, that from a certain method of proceeding, regulated by the precepts of wisdom and experience, certain effects may be expected to follow.