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which, in proportion to strength and vigour, diffuses its cheering, beneficent, and healing influence through the whole family of mankind.
Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace,
We will now notice two or three principal objections which have been frequently urged against the doctrine of utility.
1st, It has been said that utility is untenable from the consideration that we are not able, from our very limited faculties, to perceive the ultimate consequences of our actions. The effects of a good or an evil action may extend to eternity ; and none but an infinite mind can possibly be conceived to know the final end of it. And even actions which may be considered by the world as of a trivial kind, may nevertheless be productive of very extensive and endless consequences. The truth of this has so frequently forced itself upon the notice of the observers of mankind, that it has given rise to a common proverb upon the subject—that the greatest and most momentous things frequently owe their origin to very trifling, and apparently very inadequate causes. Every person's experience and reflection will furnish him with many instances of this. Can, therefore, a man pronounce upon
the merits of an action, as being generally and finally expedient, by reason of that portion of usefulness which he may, by his limited powers, perceive to follow from it? “Is the degree of expediency which we can discern, in any case, such as to justify us in inferring we have a tolerable insight into general expediency ? Surely no one will answer in the affirmative. As well might an Abyssinian pretend to delineate the whole course of the Nile, in consequence of having traced the windings of the infant river for a few miles contiguous to his hut. As well might a fisherman infer, that his line, which has reached the bottom of the creek in which he exercises his trade, is capable of fathoming the depth of the Atlantic."*
2d, The principle of utility has been considered by some writers as false, from its opposition to divine revelation. The scriptures pre-suppose
that they alone are to furnish mankind with a sufficient rule for their conduct, as well as objects of their faith and hope. The very fact of God giving a law to his creatures, by which they were to regulate their feelings and actions, is tantamount to a declaration that this law must be the sole test or
Gisborne's Principles of Moral Philosophy.
criterion of duty or moral obligation; and that no principle which mere human reason may establish can be a safe foundation for a standard of morals.
There is nothing contained in the scriptures which can warrant us in supposing that any of the duties or commands found therein can be dispensed with, upon the condition of anticipated benefit or utility. They are of the most authoritative nature, and require the most implicit obedience.
« Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might : And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in the house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou riseth up: And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes; and thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.
The principle of utility or expediency is considered contrary to the benevolence which the divine record so earnestly inculcates. Our Saviour commands us to do good, without making any self
* Deut. vi. 5-9.
ish calculations as to the benefits to be derived from our actions :-“ If
you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans do so ?”
3d, It is maintained that utility is opposed to some of the most common and well established principles of our constitution. We approve of actions before we can see their advantages ; and a great deal of what is termed virtue, seems to be performed without any immediate reference to the end produced. The hero who dies for his country receives the warmest homage of our praise, before we have time to take into our consideration the extent of the benefits which will result from his devotedness; and the martyr who gives his life for the testimony to the truth of his religion, receives our praise, though we know not the extent of the good obtained.
There are a few more objections commonly urged against the doctrine of Mr. Hume's ; but as the substance of them will have to be given when we come to review another popular system of morals, which differs from his in little more than in name, we will leave them for the present. In conclusion, it may be observed that “ The Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals” ought to stand very high as a pleasant and instructive performance; and we are told in the biographical notices of its author, that he considered it the best of all his writings. It contains no principles that are directly or pointedly in hostility to the general doctrines of natural or revealed religion ; nor any of those flippant remarks, or coarse sneers, against these important subjects, which are to be found in many other parts of his works. . Had Mr. Hume never written any thing more unphilosophical in its tenets, and mischievous in its influence, than the treatise in question, it would have been better for his lasting fame, and for the permanent interests of mankind. His peculiar style and manner are admirably set off in this part of his works; there is an ease and gracefulness in almost every sentence, which many subsequent writers have tried to imitate, but which few have been fortunate enough to rival.