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ourselves and our immediate connections and attachments.
This change in the sentiments and manners of modern times has among its other consequences given birth to a new species of philosophy. We have been taught to affirm, that we can have no express and pure regard for our fellow-creatures, but that all our benevolence and affection come to us through the strainers of a gross or a refined selflove. The coarser adherents of this doctrine maintain, that mankind are in all cases guided by views of the narrowest self-interest, and that those who advance the highest claims to philanthropy, patriotism, generosity and self-sacrifice, are all the time deceiving others, or deceiving themselves, and use a plausible and high-sounding language merely, that serves no other purpose than to veil from observation “ that hideous sight, a naked human heart.”
The more delicate and fastidious supporters of the doctrine of universal self-love, take a different ground. They affirm that “such persons as talk to us of disinterestedness and pure benevolence, have not considered with sufficient accuracy the nature of mind, feeling and will. To understand," they say, “is one thing, and to choose another. The clearest proposition that ever was stated, has, in itself, no tendency to produce voluntary action on the part of the percipient. It can be only something apprehended as agreeable or disagreeable to us, that can operate so as to determine the will.
Such is the law of universal nature. We act from the impulse of our own desires and aversions; and we seek to effect or avert a thing, merely because it is viewed by us as an object of gratification or the contrary. The virtuous man and the vicious are alike governed by the same principle; and it is therefore the proper business of a wise instructor of youth, and of a man who would bring his own sentiments and feelings into the most praise-worthy frame, to teach us to find our interest and gratification in that which shall be most beneficial to others.”
When we proceed to examine the truth of these statements, it certainly is not strictly an argument say,
that the advocate of self-love on either of these hypotheses cannot consistently be a believer in Christianity, or even a theist, as theism is ordinarily understood. The commandments of the author of the Christian religion are, as we have seen, purely disinterested: and, especially if we admit the latter of the two explanations of self-love, we shall be obliged to confess, on the hypothesis of this new philosophy, that the almighty author of the universe never acts in any of his designs either of creation or providence, but from a principle of self-love. In the mean time, if this is not strictly an argument, it is however but fair to warn the adherents of the doctrine I oppose, of the consequences to which their theory leads. It is my purpose to subvert that
ctrine by means of the severest demonstration ;
but I am not unwilling, before I begin, to conciliate, as far as may be, the good-will of my readers to the propositions I proceed to establish.
I will therefore further venture to add, that, upon the hypothesis of self-love, there can be no such thing as virtue. There are two circumstances required, to entitle an action to be denominated virtuous. It must have a tendency to produce good rather than evil to the race of man, and it must have been generated by an intention to produce such good. The most beneficent action that ever was performed, if it did not spring from the intention of good to others, is not of the nature of virtue.' Virtue, where it exists in any eminence, is a species of conduct, modelled upon a true estimate of the good intended to be produced. He that makes a false estimate, and prefers a trivial and partial good to an important and comprehensive one, is vicious a.
It is admitted on all hands, that it is possible for a man to sacrifice his own existence to that of twenty others. But the advocates of the doctrine of self-love must say, that he does this that he may escape from uneasiness, and because he could not bear to encounter the inward upbraiding with which he would be visited, if he acted otherwise. This in reality would change his action from an act of virtue to an act of vice. So far as belongs to the real merits of the case, his own advantage or pleasure is
* Political Justice, Book II, Chap. IV.
a very insignificant consideration, and the benefit to be produced, suppose to a world, is inestimable. Yet he falsely and unjustly prefers the first, and views the latter as trivial ; nay, separately taken, as not entitled to the smallest regard. If the dictates of impartial justice be taken into the account, then, according to the system of self-love, the best action that ever was performed, may, for any thing we know, have been the action, in the whole world, of the most exquisite and deliberate injustice. Nay, it could not have been otherwise, since it produced the greatest good, and therefore was the individual instance, in which the greatest good was most directly postponed to personal gratification”. Such is the spirit of the doctrine I undertake to refute.
But man is not in truth so poor and pusillanimous a creature as this system would represent.
It is time however to proceed to the real merits of the question, to examine what in fact is the motive which induces a good man to elect a generous mode of proceeding.
Locke is the philosopher, who, in writing on Human Understanding, has specially delivered the doctrine, that uneasiness is the cause which determines the will, and urges us to act. He says, “The motive we have for continuing in the same state, is only the present satisfaction we feel in it; the mo
• Political Justice, Book IV, Chap. X.
tive to change is always some uneasiness : nothing setting us upon the change of state, or upon any new action, but some uneasiness. This is the great motive that works on the mind."
It is not my concern to enquire, whether Locke by this statement meant to assert that self-love is the only principle of human action. It has at any rate been taken to express the doctrine which I here
propose to refute. And, in the first place, I say, that, if our business is to discover the consideration entertained by the mind which induces us to act, this tells us nothing. It is like the case of the Indian philosopherd, who, being asked what it was that kept the earth in its place, answered, that it was supported by an elephant, and that elephant again rested on a tortoise. He must be endowed with a slender portion of "curiosity, who, being told that uneasiness is that which spurs on the mind to act, shall rest satisfied with this explanation, and does not proceed to enquire, what makes us uneasy?
An explanation like this is no more instructive, than it would be, if, when we saw a man walking, or grasping a sword or a bludgeon, and we enquired into the cause of this phenomenon, any one should inform us that he walks, because he has feet, and he grasps, because he has hands.
I could not commodiously give to my thoughts their present form, unless I had been previously • Locke on Understanding, Book II, Chap. XIII, Sect. 19.