« VorigeDoorgaan »
perform a grateful action as a duty incumbent on me: and I fight for my country in order to repel its enemies. At the same time, there are human actions that are not governed by reason, nor are done with any view to consequences. Infants, like brutes, are mostly governed by instinct, without the least view to any end, good or ill. And even adult persons act sometimes iostinctively: thus one in extreme hunger snatches at food, without the slightest consideration whether it be salutary: avarice prompts to accumulate wealth, without the least view of use; and thereby absurdly converts means into an end: and animal love often hurries to fruition, without a thought even of gratification.
A passion when it flames so high as to impel us to aci blindly without any view to consequences, good or ill, may in that state be termed instinctive; and when it is so moderate as to admit reason, and to prompt actions with a view to an end, it may in that state be termed deliberative, i
With respect to actions exerted as means to an end, desire to bring about the end is what determines one to exert the action; and desire considered in that view is termed a motive: thus the same mental act that is termed desire with respect to an end in view, is termed a motive with respect to its power of determining one to act. Instinctive actions have a cause, namely, the impulse of the passion ; but they cannot be said to have a motive, because they are not done with any view to consequences.
We learn from experience, that the gratification of desire is pleasant; and the foresight of that pleagure becomes often an additional motive for acting. Thus a child eats by the mere impulse of hunger : a young man thinks of the pleasure of gratification, which being a motive for him to eat, fortifies the original impulse : and a man farther advanced in life, hath the additional motive, that it will contribute to his health.*
From these premises, it is easy to determine with accuracy, what passions and actions are selfish, what social. It is the end in view that ascertains the class to which they belong: where the end in view is my own good, they are selfish ; where the end in view is the good of another, they are social. Hence it follows, that instinctive actions, where we act blindly and merely by impulse, cannot be reckoned either social or selfish : thus eating, when prompted by an impulse merely of nature, is nei. ther social nor selfish; but add a motive, that it will contribute to my pleasure or my health, and it becomes in a measure selfish. On the other hand, when affection moves me to exert an action to the end solely of advancing my friend's happiness, without regard to my own gratification, the action is justly denominated social; and so is also the affection that is its cause : if another motive be added, that gratifying the affection will also contribute to my own happiness, the action becomes partly selfish. If charity be given with the single view of relieving a person from distress, the action is purely social; but if it be partly in view to enjoy the pleasure of a virtuous act, the action is so far selfish.t Animal love when carried into action by natural impulse singly, is neither social nor selfish : when exerted with a view to gratification, it is sel. fish : when the motive of giving pleasure to its object is superadded, it is partly social, partly selfish. A just action, when prompted by the principle of duty solely, is neither social nor selfish.) When I perform an act of justice with a view to the pleasure of gratification, the action is selfish : I pay a debt for my own sake, not with a view to benefit my creditor. But
* One exception there is, and that is remorse, when it is so violent as to make a man desire to punish himself. The gratification here is far from being pleasant. See Part vii. s 9, of this chapter. But a single exception, instead of overturning a general rule, is rather'a confirmation of it.
† A selfish motive proceeding from a social principle, such as that mentioned, is the most respectable of all selfish motives. To enjoy the pleasure of a virtuous action, one must be virtuous; and to enjoy the pleasure of a charitable action, one must think charity laudable at least, if not a duty. It is otherwise where a man gives charity merely for the sake of ostentation ; for this he may do without having any pity or benevolence in his temper.
But suppose the money has been advanced by a friend without interest, purely to oblige me: in that case, together with the motive of gratification, there arises a motive of gratitude, which respects the creditor solely, and prompts me to act in order to do him good; and the action is partly social, partly selfish. Suppose again I meet with a surprising and unexpected act of generosity, that inspires me with love to my benefactor, and the utmost gratitude: I burn to do him good : he is the sole object of my desire ; and my own pleasure in gratifying the desire, vanisheth out of sight: in this case, the action I perform is purely social. Thus it happens, that when a social motive becomes strong, the action is exerted with a view singly to the object of the passion, and self never comes in view. The same effect of stifling selfish motives, is equally remarkable in other passions that are in no view social. An action, for example, done to gratify my ambitious views, is selfish ; but if my ambition become headstrong, and blindly impel me to action, the action is neither selfish nor social. A slight degree of resentment, where my chief view in acting is the pleasure arising to myself from gratifying the passion, is justly denominated selfish: where revenge flames so high as to have no other aim but the destruction of its object,
it is no longer selfish ; but, in opposition to a social passion, may be termed dissocial.*
When this analysis of human nature is considered, not one article of which can with truth be con. troverted, there is reason to be surprised at the blindness of some philosophers, who, by dark and confused notions, are led to deny all motives to action but what arise from self-love. Man, for aught appears, might possibly have been so framed, as to be susceptible of no passions but what have self for their object : but man thus framed, would be ill fitted for society : his constitution, partly selfish, partly social, fits him much better for his present situation.t
Of self, every one hath a direct perception; of other things we have no knowledge but by means of their attributes : and hence it is, that of self the perception is more lively than of any other thing. Self is an agreeable object; and for the reason now given, must be more agreeable than any other object. Is this sufficient to account for the prevalence of self-love?
In the foregoing part of this chapter it is suggested, that some circumstances make beings or things fit objects for desire, others not.) This hint ought to be pursued. It is a truth ascertained by universal experience, that a thing which in our apprehension is beyond reach, never is the object of desire ; no man, in his right senses, desires to walk on the clouds, or to descend to the centre of the earth: we may amuse ourselves in a reverie, with building castles in the air, and wishing for what can never happen; but soch things never move desire. And indeed a desire to do what we are sensible is beyond our power, would be altogether absurd. In the next place, though the difficulty of attainment with respect to things within reach, often inflames desire; yet, where the prospect of attainment is faint, and the event extremely uncertain, the object, however agreeable, seldom raiseth any strong desire : thus beauty, or any other good quality, in a woman of rank, seldom raises love in a man greatly her inferior. In the third place, different objects, equally within reach, raise emotions in different degrees; and when desire accompanies any of these emotions, its strength, as is natural, is proportioned to that of its cause. Hence the remarkable difference among desires directed to beings inanimate, animate, and rational : the emotion caused by a rational being, is out of measure stronger than any caused by an animal without reason; and an emotion raised by such an animal, is stronger than what is caused by any thing inanimate. There is a separate reason why desire of which a rational being is the object, should be the strongest: our desires swell by partial gratification ; and the means we have of gratifying desire, by benefiting or harming a rational being, are without end : desire directed to an inanimate being, susceptible nei. ther of pleasure nor pain, is not capable of a higher gratification than that of acquiring the property.
* This word, hitherto not in use, seems to fulfil all that is required by Demetrius Phalereus (Of Elocution, Sect. 96.) in coining a new word : first, that it be perspicuous; and next, that it be in the tone of the language; that we may not, says our author, introduce among the Grecian vocables, words that sound like those of Phrygia or Scythia.
† As the benevolence of many human actions is beyond the possi. bility of doubt, the argument commonly insisted on for reconciling such actions to the selfish system, is, that the only motive I can have to perform a benevolent action, or an action of any kind, is the pleasure that it affords me. So much then is yielded, that we are pleased when we do good to others: which is a fair admission of the principle of benevolence; for without that principle, what pleasure could one have in doing good to others? And admitting a principle of benevo. lence, why may it not be a motive to action, as well as selfishness is, or any other principle?