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§. 256. Feelings of obligation simple and not susceptible of definition.

In view of what has been said we assert with confidence, that feelings of moral obligation or obligatory feelings, in distinction from the antecedent acts of the Moral Sensibility, which consist in mere approval and disapproval, actually have an existence. In looking into their nature, in distinction from the mere fact of their existence, although we do not flatter ourselves with being able, by a mere verbal statement, to give a satisfactory notion of them, we would direct the attention to some characteristic marks. And the first observation to be made is, that these states of mind are simple. We cannot resolve them into parts, as we can any complex state of mind. And as a necessary consequence of this, they are not susceptible of definition. Still we cannot admit, that this simplicity and the consequent inability to define them renders men ignorant of their nature. It is true, that the man, who has never experienced the sentiment of obligation in his own bosom, can have no better means of knowing it from the descriptions of others, than the blind man can have for understanding the nature of the colors of the rainbow. But such a case is hardly a supposable one; among all the tribes of men and amid all the varieties of human degradation, it will probably not be found to exist; and we may therefore say with confidence, that every man knows what the feeling of obligation is, not less than he knows what the feeling of joy, of sorrow, and of approval is. In other words, men have as ready and clear an idea of it, as of any other simple notion or feeling.

§. 257. They are susceptible of different degrees.

In obtaining this knowledge, however, which evidently cannot be secured to us by any mere process of defining, we must consult our consciousness. We are required to turn the mind inward on itself, and to scrutinize the process of interior operation, on the various occasions of endurance, trial, and action, which so often intersect the paths of life. The same consciousness, which gives us a knowledge of the existence of the feeling and of its general nature, assures us furthermore, that it exists in various degrees. This fact may be illustrated by remarks formerly made in reference to another state of mind. The word belief is the name of a simple mental state; but no one doubts, that belief exists in different degrees, which we express by a number of terms, such as presumption, probability, high probability, and certainty. In like manner, the feeling of obligation may evidently exist in various degrees, and we often express this variety of degrees by different terms and phrases, such as moral inducement, slight or strong inducement, imperfect obligation, perfect obligation, &c.

§. 258. Of their authoritative and enforcing nature.

It may be remarked further in respect to obligatory feelings, that they always imply action, something to be done. And again, they never exist, except in those cases, where not only action, but effective action is possible, or is supposed to be so. We never feel under moral obligation to do any thing, which we are convinced at the same time is beyond our power. It is within these limits the feeling arises; and while we cannot define it, we are able to intimate, though somewhat imperfectly, another characteristic. What we mean will be understood by a reference to the words enforcement, constraint, or compulsion. Every one is conscious, that there is something in the nature of feelings of moral obligation, approaching to the character of enforcement or compulsion; yet not by any means in the material sense of those terms. There is no enforcement, analogous to that which may be applied to the body, and which may be made irresistible.

The apostle Paul says, "the love of Christ constraineth us." What is the meaning of this? Merely that the mercy of

Christ, exhibited in the salvation of men, excited such a sentiment of obligation, that they found in themselves a great unwillingness to resist its suggestions, and were determined to go forth, proclaiming that mercy, and urging all men to accept it. And it is in reference to this state of things we so frequently assert, that we are bound, that we are obliged, or even that we are compelled to pursue a particular course in preference to another course; expressions, which, in their original import, intimate the existence of a feeling, which is fitted by its very nature strongly to control our volition. But, although these expressions point to this trait of the feeling, they do it but imperfectly and indistinctly, and consciousness alone can give a full understanding of it.

§. 259. Feelings of obligation differ from those of mere approval and disapproval.

It is possible that the question may be started why we do not class these feelings with Emotions, particularly those of a moral kind. And recognizing the propriety of avoiding an increase of classes, where it is not obviously called for, we shall endeavor to say something, in addition to what has already been intimated in the preceding chapter, in answer to this question.We have not classed the mental states under examination with Emotions, in the first place, because they do not appear to be of that transitory nature, which seems to be characteristic of all emotions. Ordinarily they do not dart into the soul with the same rapidity, shining up, and then disappearing like the sudden lightning in the clouds; but taking their position more slowly and gradually, they remain like the sun bright and permanent. In the course of an hour a person may experience hundreds and even thousands of emotions of joy or grief, of beauty or sublimity, and various other kinds. They come and go, return and depart again in constant succession and with very frequent changes; but it probably will not be pretended, that the feelings of duty, which are destined to govern man's conduct, and which constitute his most important principles of action, are of such a rapid, variant, and evanescent nature. A man feels the sentiment of duty now, and it is reasonable to anticipate, unless the facts, presented to his mind, shall essen

tially alter, that he will feel the same to-morrow, next week, next month, and next year. He may as well think of altering and alienating the nature of the soul itself, as of eradicating these feelings, when they have once taken root, so long as the objects, to which they relate, remain the same in the mind's view.

§. 260. Feelings of obligation have particular reference to the future.

A second reason for not classing feelings of obligation with emotions, particularly moral ones, is the fact, that obligatory sentiments have special reference to the future. Moral emotions are of a peculiar kind; they have a character of their own, which is ascertained by consciousness; but they merely pronounce upon the character of objects and actions, that are either past or present; upon the right or wrong of what has actually taken place in time past, or is taking place at the present moment; with the single exception of hypothetical cases, which are brought before the mind for a moral judgment to be past upon them. But even in these cases, as far as the action of the moral sense is concerned, the objects of contemplation are in effect present. The conscience passes its judgment upon the objects in themselves. considered; and that is all. It goes no further.

But it clearly seems to be different with the feelings under consideration. The states of mind, involving obligation and duty, have reference to the future; to something, which is either to be performed, or the performance of which is to be avoided. They bind us to what is to come. They can have no possible existence, except in connection with what is to be done, either in the inward feeling or the outward effort. The past is merged in eternity, and no longer furnishes a place for action. Obligation and duty cannot reach it, and it is given over to retribution.

§. 261. Feelings of obligation subsequent in time to the moral emotions of approval and disapproval.

Another and third important circumstance to be taken into view, in making out the distinction under our notice, is, that the sentiments or feelings of obligation are always subsequent in point of time to moral emotions; and cannot pos

sibly exist, unless preceded by them. The statement is susceptible of illustration in this way. Some complicated state of things, involving moral considerations, is presented before us; we inquire and examine into it; emotions of approval or disapproval then arise. And this is all that takes place, if we ourselves have, in no way whatever, any direct and active concern, either present or future. But if it be otherwise, the moral emotions are immediately succeeded by a distinct and imperative feeling, the sentiment of obligation, which binds us, as if it were the voice of God speaking in the soul, to act or not to act, to do or not to do, to favor or to oppose.

How common a thing it is for a person to say, that he feels no moral obligation to do a thing, because he does not approve it; or on the contrary, that, approving any proposed course, he feels under obligation to pursue it; language, which undoubtedly means something, and which implies a distinction between the mere moral emotion and the feeling of obligation; and which tends to prove the prevalence of the common belief, that obligation is subsequent to, and dependent on approval or disapproval. On looking at the subject in these points of view, we cannot come to the conclusion to rank feelings of obligation with moral emotions, or with any other emotions; but are induced to assign them a distinct place. But it is not surprising on the whole, that moral emotions are often confounded with them, when we consider the invariable connection between the two just spoken of, and when also we consider the imperfection of language, which not unfrequently applies the same terms to both classes of mental states.

§. 262. Feelings of obligation differ froin desires.

For the reasons which have now been stated, feelings of obligation are not classed with Emotions. We are next asked perhaps, why they are not classed under the general head of Desires.. And in answering this question, we say in the FIRST place, that consciousness clearly points out a difference. It is believed, that few matters come within the reach and cognizance of consciousness, which can be more readily decided upon, than the difference between our desires and our

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