« PreviousContinue »
HEY who confider virtue as a fubject of mere curiofity, and think that the principles of morals and properties of conic fections ought to be explained with the fame degree of apathy and indifference, will find abundant matter for cenfure in the preceding obfervations. As the author is not very ambitious of the good opinion of fuch theorists, he will not give himself much trouble in multiplying apologies for what, to them, may have the appearance of keenness or severity in the animadverfions he has hitherto made, or may hereafter make, on the principles of certain noted philofophers. He confiders happiness as the end and aim of our being'; and he thinks philofophy valuable only fo far as it may be conducive to this end. Human happiness feemeth to him wholly unattainable, except by the means that virtue and religion provide. He is therefore perfuaded, that while employed in pleading the cause of virtue, and of true fcience, its best auxi
liary, he fupports, in fome measure, the character of a friend to humankind; and he would think his right to that glorious appellation extremely queftionable, if the warmth of his zeal did not bear fome proportion to the importance of his caufe. However fufpicious he may be of his ability to vindicate the rights of his fellow-creatures, he is not fufpicious of his inclination. He feels, that, on fuch a fubject, he must speak from the heart, or not speak at all.-For the genius and manner of his difcourfe he has no other apology to offer and by every person of fpirit, candour, and benevolence, he is fure that this apology will be deemed fufficient.
As to the principles and matter of it, he is lefs confident. Thefe, though neither vifionary nor unimportant, may poflibly be misunderstood. He therefore begs leave to urge a few things, for the further vindication and illuftration of them. To his own mind they are fully fatisfactory; he hopes to render them equally fo to every candid reader. Happy! if he should be as fuccessful in establishing conviction, as others have been in fubverting it.
CHA P. I.
Further remarks on the consistency of these principles with the interefts of Science, and the Rights of Mankind.
T may poffibly be objected to this dif course, That "it tends to discourage free"dom of inquiry, and to promote implicit "faith."
But nothing is more contrary to my defign; as thofe who attend, without prejudice, to the full import of what I have advanced on the fubject of evidence, will undoubtedly perceive. Let me be permitted to repeat, that the truths in which man is moft concerned do not lie exceedingly deep; nor are we to estimate either their importance, or their certainty, by the length of the line of our investigation. The evidences of the philosophy of human nature are found in our own breaft; we need not roam abroad in queft of them; the unlearned are judges of them as well as the learned. Ambiguities have arifen, when the feelings of the heart and understanding were expreffed in words
but the feelings themselves were not ambiguous. Let a man attentively examine himfelf, with a fincere purpose of discovering the truth, and without any bias in favour of particular theories, and he will feldom be at a lofs in regard to those truths, at least, that are most effential to his happiness and duty. If men must needs amuse themfelves with metaphyfical investigation, let them apply it, where it can do no harm, to the diftinctions and logomachies of ontology. In the fcience of human nature it cannot do good, but muft of neceffity do great harm. What avail the obfcure deductions of verbal argument, in illustrating what we fufficiently know by experience? or in fhowing that to be fictitious and falfe, whofe energy we must feel and acknowledge every moment? When therefore I find a pretended principle of human nature evinced by a dark and intricate investigation, I am tempted to fufpect, not without reafon, that its evidence is no where to be found but in the arguments of the theorift; and these, when difguifed by quaint diftinctions, and ambiguous language, it is fometimes hard to confute, even when the heart recoils from the doctrine with contempt or detestation. If the doctrine be true, it must alfo be agreeable to experience: to experience, therefore, let the appeal be made; let the circumstances be pointed out, in which the controverted fentiment arifes, or is fuppofed to arife.
rife. This is to act the philofopher, not the metaphysician; the interpreter of nature, not the builder of fyftems. But let us confider the objection more particularly.
What then do you mean by that implicit faith, to which you suppose these principles too favourable? Do you mean an acquiefcence in the dictates of our own understanding, or in thofe of others? If the former, I must tell you, that fuch implicit faith is the only kind of belief which true philofophy recommends. I have already remarked, that, while man continues in his prefent ftate, our own intellectual feelings are, and must be, the standard of truth to us. All evidence productive of belief, is refolvable into the evidence of consciousness; and comes at last to this point, I believe because I believe, or becaufe the law of rational nature determines me to believe. This belief may be called implicit; but it is the only rational belief of which we are capable: and to say, that our minds ought not to fubmit to it, is as abfurd as to fay, that our bodies ought not to be nourished with food. Revelation itself must be attended with evidence to fatisfy confcioufnefs or common fenfe; otherwife it can never be rationally believed. By the evidence of the gofpel, the rational Chriftian is perfuaded that it comes from God. He acquiefces in it as truth, not because it is recommended by others, but becaufe it fatisfies his own understanding.