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done little either to analyse the principle by which the virtue of an action is perceived, or that variety in the decisions of this principle, and that instability in its operations, which the annals of our race exhibit, the fact of its existence is not the less ascertained. For it must be admitted by every one who has either reflected on the operations of his own mind, or observed with any degree of attention its phenomena in actual life, that there is some principle implanted in every man who is not so degraded as to have forfeited all claim to that title by which the Creator designated the last and noblest of his works, in consequence of whose operations one class of actions and opinions is condemned, and another is approved. Est quidem vera lex, recta ratio, naturæ congruens, diffusa in omnes, constans, sempiterna : quæ vocet ad officium jubendo, ventando a fraude deterreat!
It may at first sight perhaps appear to be an instance of rather unwarranted presumption, to make a charge of unsatisfactoriness so bold and unlimited against the theories which have been successively * formed in order to explain the nature of virtue. A single reflection,
however, may suffice to satisfy the phrenologist at least, that such a charge is by no means groundless. The philosophers by whom these theories were formed were unacquainted with the real constitution of the human mind. And therefore, allowing all that is unquestionably due to the capabilities of the gigantic minds which have been employed in this investigation, it is apparent that this ignorance must necessarily be fatal to their success.
Until we obtain a knowledge of all the primitive faculties of the mind, it is morally impossible to analyse, with any considerable degree of precision, the principles which different combinations of these faculties may produce. The truth of this assertion is strikingly tested by the fact, that the very existence of a faculty which every phrenologist must hold to be a prime element in a virtuous character, I mean Conscientiousness, has been a subject of dispute down even to the present age. I need only mention the names of Hobbes, Mandeville, and Hume.
As these philosophers, however, in forming their theories of virtue, seldom, if ever, fell into the error of assuming the existence of faculties which had in reality no place in the buman mind, although their mode of conducting investigations, in regard to its constitution, necessarily left them in ignorance of some of its most influential elements, there is perhaps not one of these theories which does not contain some 'portion of truth; while it would be equally difficult to find one entirely free from error. We may apply to them, indeed, the words used by Dr. Adam Smith in relation to the theories which he imagined were to be displaced by his own. It is to be feared, however, that it too must feel the influence of its author's criticism. “ As they are all of them in this respect founded upon natural principles, they are all of them in some measure in the right. But as many of them are derived from a partial and imperfect view of human nature, there are many of them, too, in some respects in the wrong."
These theories, with one exception, afterwards to be noticed, may be arranged in three classes, in which Propriety, Prudence, and Benevolence, are severally held to be the constituents or measures of virtue. Now, with respect to those of the first class, as in every virtuous action there is certainly “a suitableness of the affection from which we act to the object which excites it,” there is no doubt in every such action a manifest propriety. Yet as it is equally obvious that such propriety may be no less apparent in actions to which the title of virtuous would be an absurdity, it follows that propriety cannot be the measure of a quality of whose existence it is by no means an invariable index. The same observation will apply with equal force to either of the other two classes. It is certainly demonstrable, that in the practice of virtue there is the truest prudence ; but the fact is equally unquestionable, that this virtue has in innumerable instances been exhibited, while the intellect was unable to see the chain of causation which would have led to the same result as a matter of prudence. The decision of Aristides, on the project of treacherously burning the ships of the other states then at profound peace with the Athenians, may be mentioned as an illustrious instance of this truth. “ Aristides,” observes Mr. Combe, in the valuable work he has recently published, “reported to his fellow. citizens, that nothing could be more advantageous, but nothing more unjust, than such a project. His intellect appeared to view the execution of the scheme as beneficial and prudent, while, at the same time, he felt it to be morally wrong.” The same remark may also be added in reference to prudence which has been offered in relation to the first class of theories, That many actions partake largely of the quality of prudence, which it were nevertheless an abuse of language to characterise as virtuous. In reference to the benevolent systems, exactly the converse of this might be easily demonstrated in bar of their claim to universality of application, That while we would readily accede the title of virtuous to every action emanating from the impulse of a well-regulated Benevolence, we would claim the very same appellation for many actions, by which Benevolence, instead of being gratified, is painfully wounded. An instance, to which we would refer, is to be found in one of the many interesting productions of the author of Waverly. Jeanie Deans, at the risk of giving up a lovely and beloved sister to a miserable and disgraceful death, and thereby bringing down the gray hairs of a father she revered in sorrow to the grave, gave the fatal evidence related in the story, every benevolent feeling of the witness must have been writhing in agony; and yet it is just because she refused to listen to their affecting appeal, that we pronounce the action to be one of the most beautiful triumphs of true virtue which history, either real or fictitious, has on record.
The theories we have thus noticed, like all other speculations upon the mental phenomena which successive ages have produced in ignorance of the primitive faculties in which these phenomena have their origin, proceeded on partial and imperfect views of human nature. Consciousness being the chief source from whence their authors were supplied with information on the subject of the mental constitution, they looked' upon the world to observe how this particular mind would act in certain circumstances, and how it would be affected by certain objects, rather than to ascertain why different minds acted so diversely in precisely the same circumstances, and were so variously affected by precisely the same objects. Accord. ingly, just as the mind of each successive theorist had a nearer or more distant resemblance to that of his predecessor, their opinions differed or coincided. If nature had stamped on its constitution the impress of Philanthropy, Virtue and Benevolence became convertible terms. If prudential and selfish feelings predominated, virtue was then made to consist in the judicious pursuit of our own private interest and happiness.
This fact of each theory exbibiting a portrait of its author's mind, is well noticed by Mr. Combe while treating of the functions of Conscientiousness. Hobbes, he remarks, denied every natural senti. ment of justice, and erected the laws of the civil magistrate into the standard of morality. This doctrine would appear natural and sound to a person in whom Conscientiousness was very feeble ; who never experienced in his own mind a single emotion of justice, but who was alive to fear, to the desire of property, and other affections which would render security and regular government desirable. Mandeville again makes selfishness the basis of all our actions ; but admits a strong appetite for praise, the desire for which, he says, leads men to abate other enjoyments for the sake of obtaining it. If we conceive Mandeville to have possessed a deficient Conscientiousness and a large Love of Approbation, this doctrine would be the natural language of his mind. Hume, continues Mr. Combe, erects utility to ourselves or others into the standard of virtue ; and this would be the natural feeling of a mind in which Benevolence and Reflection were strong, and Conscientiousness weak.
In addition to the errors discoverable in these theories, naturally arising, as we have seen, from an acquaintance with the real constitution of that mind whose phenomena it was their object to explain, another capital source of perplexity and misapprehension, in the greater number of them, is found in the circumstance of their con. sidering the action itself as the object of their investigation, instead of looking to the state of mind in which it originated, and of which the action is nothing more than an external and by no means infallible expression. Hence arose all those questions as to what it is that constitutes the moral obligation to perform an action acknowledged to be virtuous. Whence arises the notion of duty ? Why do we conceive of merit as attaching to him by whom any virtuous action is performed? Thus establishing, as they conceived, a series of distinct propositions, in the true elucidation of which the success of the investigation was essentially involved. I have already alluded to an exception to the general mode of philosophising on this inte. resting subject. That exception is to be found in Dr. Thomas Brown, the late distinguished professor of moral philosophy in our University, who had the merit of clearing away much of the obscurity in which this subject had been involved. With that power of analysis, by which he sisted the theories of his predecessors, scatter. ing to the winds the chaff in which the truth had been often buried, and sometimes lost, while he preserved what was truly valuable, and presented it simple and unencumbered, he refers the virtuous action at once to that moral principle in the mind whose operation in indi. cates. Instead of measuring virtue by a standard, of which national as well as individual varieties of character would lead to ever varying estimates, he held virtue to be nothing more than a term expressive of the relation of certain emotions of our mind to certain actions contemplated by us. He does not first inquire into the amount of Propriety, Prudence, or Benevolence involved in any given action, and then determine whether it merits the appellation of virtuous. Does the action, he asks, upon being contemplated by the mind, call forth the approbation of this moral emotion ?- if so, then is the action virtuous. If, on the other hand, this emotion be excited only to condemn, then is the action vicious or immoral. As to the moral obligation, duty, and merit, involved in the action, and considered as distinct from its virtue, he has endeavoured to show that the several propositions founded on these points had nothing beyond a verbal difference between them. That they were, in truth, merely different forms of the same propositions. “Distinctions," he remarks, “which seemed to those who made them to be the result of nice and accurate analysis, but in which the analysis was verbal only, not real; or at least related to the varying circumstances of the action, not the moral sentiment which the particular action in certain particular circumstances excited. It is all which we mean by moral obligation,” he continues, " when we think of the agent as feeling previous to the action, that if he were not to perform it, he would have to look on himself with disgust, and with the certainty that others would look on him in abhorrence. It is all which we mean by the virtue of the agent, when we consider him as acting in conformity with this view. It is merit, when we consider him to have acted in this way. The term we use varying in all these cases, as the action is regarded by us as past, present, or future, and the moral sentiment in all alike being only that one simple vivid feeling which rises immediately on the contemplation of the action.”
There is an expression in this last sentence which suggests the first point in which we presume to differ from the opinion of this justly-venerated philosopher. He carries us entirely along with him, by holding virtue to be a term expressive, in a strict sense, only of the relation of certain moral emotions of our minds to cer. tain actions contemplated by us, and by maintaining that the virtue, obligation, and even the merit of the action, in so far as ibat merit is intrinsic and moral, are all perceived and recognised by the same moral principle; but when he affirms this moral principle to be one simple vivid feeling, we venture to object. And we think it will be unnecessary to examine more than one of the examples by which he so eloquently illustrates the operation of this principle, in order to convince a phrenologist, at least, that its simplicity or singleness is something more than doubtful. In explaining the temporary obstructions to which this principle is subject in human nature, he cites the following instance :- “ He who has lived for years in the hope of revenge, and who has at length laid his foe at his feet, may, indeed, while he pulls out the dagger from the breast that is quivering beneath it, be incapable of feeling the crime he has committed ; but would he at that time be abler to tell the square of four or the cube of two ? All in his mind at that moment is one wild state of agitation, which allows nothing to be felt but the agitation itself.” Here is an action which, so soon as its real nature is perceived by the agent, after the temporary paroxysm of revenge has subsided, will be immediately condemned by the moral emotion then resuming its influence. This is just as true as it is phrenological; but we do not thence inser that the source of such moral disapprobation is simple and single. It is, in truth, nothing less than a compound-in so far