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We are glad, therefore, to record our acknowledgments to the author of this treatise, for what seems to us a successful unravelling of the tangled web of theoretical ethics, and for the clear presentation of a principle of life which may lead to a consistent course of progressive virtue. According to the view here given, virtue is no obedience to a rule arbitrarily imposed upon human beings, to the non-observance of which a penalty is affixed; the distinction of right and wrong is not an arbitrary distinction, having no relation to the nature of things, nor to the nature of man himself, in whose conduct and character the distinction is to be exemplified and maintained; but the moral law exists necessarily in the nature of things, founded on distinctions properly belonging to the actions and sentiments of rational beings, as the distinctions of equality and inequality belong to numbers, and the distinctions of straightness and crookedness belong to lines. Hence human virtue is a real thing, the strength and goodness of an immortal spirit. The Eternal Right is the true law of our being; to obey it is normal, to disobey it, abnormal. There is no broad road to destruction from which to keep our feet would make us virtuous. There is a narrow way, the divergencies from which radiate in every direction and to every distance, and the first step in such divergency is wrong. It will be seen that the definition of right here presented is considerably different from the idea usually received and avowed in practical life, of an equivocal or doubtful principle.

The relation which virtue bears to the will of God is discussed with great boldness, but with unmistakable reverence, and the conclusion answers the highest claims of piety and religion. “ The moral law not only reigns throughout His creation, (all its behests being enforced therein by His omnipotence,) but is itself the reason why that creation exists. The material universe, with all its laws, and all the events which result therefrom, has but one great purpose and tends to one great end. It is that end which Infinite Love has designed, and which Infinite Power shall accomplish, — the everlasting approximation of all created souls to goodness and to God." In this same connection the essay discusses the relation of happiness to virtue, lighting up with a pure and unselfish spirit the doubts, misgivings, and denials even, which sometimes crowd upon the great fact of Retribution. The evil there is in human life and human experience is represented as growing out of, and harmonizing perfectly with, Infinite Wisdom and Infinite Love, inspiring at once the highest reverence and awakening the deepest confidence towards the fundamental law of our being.

The second chapter, which indicates “ where the moral law is found,” is, in our apprehension, a most valuable explication of this mooted point. There is no point in the whole range of ethical science, not even the existence of a moral law itself, which needs to be so clearly set forth, for it is the hinge upon which the whole matter of right, obligation, and duty in practical life turns; it is the clew that is to guide us amid the conflict of opinion, and lead us to the open plain of correct thought, where the sunlight of Divine Truth shall shine all around the pathway of life, and enable us to see and know and accept the immutable principle of right. Men talk about conscience, and enjoin obedience to what hey call its holy mandates, when they have never yet discovered what conscience is. The most opposite courses of action are continually justified by appeals to this mystical tribunal, whose authority is as manyvoiced as ignorance, passion, and indifference can make it. The true idea of conscience still remains to be disclosed to the common mind, that the absurdities which men are daily practising under the plea of this sacred name may be exposed, and the vagaries of a fallible judgment be no more flaunted in the face of Heaven under the pretence of righteousness or expediency. The theories which have obtained concerning the innate depravity of man, and which have induced him to seek out some objective rule of life, rather than follow the monitions of his higher reason, — the influences of a material and

sensuous philosophy, which have vitiated the very idea of a moral law by appeals to selfishness and expediency, or even practicability,— have led him away from the contemplation and discernment of the universal and irrefragable law, which binds all souls together in the bonds of a common obligation. Hence we see, in our day, the most opposite courses of action justified, the most conflicting purposes vindicated, until there is


hardly a passion in the heart of man which does not plead immunity from condemnation for "conscience sake.” There is no common ground for men to stand upon; there is no common test by which to try their purposes and actions; there is no authority speaking with the same voice to all, and commanding them “all to do the same things"; there

? is no universal principle, whose behests can harmonize human action by gathering all men around it in reverence, confidence, and devotion : but each man is “ a law unto himself”; not because he reveres the admonitions of his own higher. nature, but because he chooses to follow the way. ward passions and grovelling purposes that are awakened and instigated by an unworthy ambition. What is worse than all the rest is, that even teachers of righteousness, who would regenerate and save the world, participating as they do in the false philosophy that has obtained, have actually no ground to stand upon: they are vanquished with their own weapons, contending for the right “as one that beateth the air,” because they have no assurance that what they teach is true, and cannot speak with authority.

The Essay endeavors to demonstrate that the Science of Morals is properly an exact science, and that the principles and truths which constitute it have a right to the same conviction wherewith we hold to the simple truths of arithmetic and geometry. Such a demonstration of course would explode the sophistries of temporal expediency, and while it would present the only possible ground for man's reconciliation with God, the All-wise, the All-holy, the Ruler, Judge, and Sanctifier of all souls, it would afford to the teacher of virtue a confidence in the truthfulness of his own principles, without which all appeals to the conscience and the will are shorn of their authority and deprived of their influence over practical life. The popular idea is, that right in itself is a variable thing, dependent upon the judgment concerning the probable consequences of action, and that each man is only bound to obey the injunctions of right as he understands them while looking at the subject, not reverently as a seeker after truth, and sure to find it in the inspiration of a holy spirit, but for the sake of justifying those peculiar purposes 5th S. VOL. I. NO. III.




and passions he desires to effect and gratify. But if right and duty can be established with the certainty of the mathematics, there is an end to all equivocation, and the hope becomes a reasonable one, that men may be led to perceive their errors, and be inspired with an ambition for the realization on the earth of “ the perfect will of God.”

In order to effect this purpose, the author presents the moral law in the form of an axiom, which the consciousness immediately accepts and which the pure will at once declares ought to be obeyed. As in the mathematics there are certain truths, the consciousness of which is common to all minds, so is it in morals; the axioms of the moral law need no argument to approve their truthfulness: the mind which is intelligent enough to apprehend what they are, perceives intuitively that they are true, as it perceives that two and one make three, and that two right lines cannot enclose space. Reflection will teach us that there is nothing novel, after all, in the fact here asserted. It has always been accepted and always acted upon from the earliest dawn of history; and the teachings of prophets under all dispensations, and under all forms of religion, have been based upon it. The commandments of the Decalogue take for granted this consciousness of right in human nature; the precepts of Jesus presuppose the same thing. And however varied we

. may esteem the teachings of the moral law to be in their application to different stages of society and different developments of individual character, those simple precepts of the Decalogue cover the whole of human life, and all possible virtue is enveloped and included within them.

The idea of the insufficiency of consciousness to meet the requirements of the moral law, and the very common neglect of this consciousness which might be urged against its very existence, is well disposed of by our author in the following passage:

“He who should argue, that because people ignorant of geometry did not know the sesquialterate ratio of the sphere, the cylinder, and cone, therefore no man could know it, or that because they disputed it, therefore it was uncertain, would argue no more absurdly than he who urges the divergencies of half-civilized and barbarian nations

as a reason why no man could know, or know with certainty, the higher propositions of morals. But the axioms, who has questioned these ? Let the sceptic seek again through history, and find a fresh cloud of witnesses to depose that, to their consciousness, Truth, Justice, and Benevolence are wrong, and Falsehood, Injustice, and Malevolence right! Could all that men have thought and felt, since our race began, lie written out before our gaze, surely we should find less tokens of such moral blindness, than in the statistics of physical sight we should find instances of darkness to the light of the sun. Moral blindness, if it really exist at all, is a phenomenon far too rare to be taken into account in the psychology of our race. The goître is, indeed, a melancholy evidence of the evil results of depressing physical conditions; the Chinese woman's foot displays, remarkably, the power of bad training; but the anatomist of healthy humanity does not describe goîtres and club-feet as our normal condition. Even this estimate, however, of the importance of diseased manifestations of our moral nature, is too high. Those few exceptional beings whom we have, for argument's sake, supposed to question the axioms of morals, should be classed, not with the blind, deformed, and crippled, but with idiots such as are unable to recognize the relations of numbers. Man is a rational being, though there may be irrational idiots of his race. Man is a moral being, and possesses a consciousness of moral axioms, though there should be found such a thing as a moral idiot without such consciousness.”

But admitting this universal consciousness of the moral law, there are those who still contend against its validity when we come to consider the practical relations of life. There, they tell us, it fails to indicate what is right, and hence men may honestly differ about the course of action they should pursue in specific cases. The honesty, however, of men is one thing, the righteousness of their conduct may be quite a different thing; and because they in all sincerity believe that a certain course of action is right, is no reason wherefore they should not be condemned for want of judgment, nor become the subjects of repentance and humiliation for wrong-doing.

“ The nature of all exact science is to teach us abstract universal principles. It cannot possibly descend below these to practical applications. It is so in Geometry; it is the same in Morals. Intuition will teach me that I must love my neighbor, and reflection will thence deduce that I am bound to relieve the wants of the poor to the best

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