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this term, except we speak of a being in the exercise of volition.
Duty then means that which may justly be required of a human creature in the possession of liberty of action. It includes in its proper sense the conception of the empire of will, the notion that mind is an arbiter, that it sits on its throne, and decides, as an absolute prince, this way or that.
Duty is the performance of what is due, the discharge of a debt (debitum). But a knife owes nothing, and can in no sense be said to be held to one sort of application rather than another; the debt can only belong to a human being in possession of his liberty, by whom the knife may be applied laudably or otherwise.
A multitude of terms instantly occur to us, the application of which is limited in the same manner as the term duty is limited: such are, to owe, obligation, debt, bond, right, claim, sin, crime, guilt, merit and desert. Even reward and punishment, however they may be intelligible when used merely in the sense of motives employed, have in general acceptation a sense peculiarly derived from the supposed freedom of the human will.
The mode therefore in which the advocates of the doctrine of necessity have universally talked and written, is one of the most memorable examples of the hallucination of the human intellect. They have at all times recommended that we should translate the phrases in which we usually express
ourselves on the hypothesis of liberty, into the phraseology of necessity, that we should talk no other language than that which is in correspondence with the severest philosophy, and that we should exert ourselves to expel all fallacious notions and delusions so much as from our recollection. They did not perceive what a wide devastation and destruction they were proposing of all the terms and phrases that are in use in the communications between man and man in actual life. They might as well have recommended that we should rigorously bear in mind on the ordinary occasions of life, that there is no such thing as colour, that which we ordinary call by that name having no existence in external objects, but belonging only to our way
of perceiving them.
The language which is suggested to us by the conception of the freedom of human actions, moulds the very first articulations of a child, “I will,” and “I will not;" and is even distinctly conveyed by his gestures, before he arrives at the power of articulation. This is the explanation and key to his vehement and ungovernable movements, and his rebellion. The petulance of the stripling, the fervent and energetic exertions of the warrior, and the calm and unalterable resolution of the sage, all imply the same thing. Will, and a confidence in its efficiency,“ travel through, nor quit us till we die.” It is this which inspires us with invincible perseverance, and heroic energies, while without it
we should be the most inert and soulless of blocks, the shadows of what history records and poetry immortalises, and not men.
Free will is an integral part of the science of man, and may be said to constitute its most important chapter. We might with as much propriety overlook the intelligence of the senses, that medium which acquaints us with an external world or what we call such, we might as well overlook the consideration of man's reason, his imagination or taste, as fail to dwell with earnest reflection and exposition upon that principle which lies at the foundation of our moral energies, fills us with a moral enthusiasm, prompts all our animated exertions on the theatre of the world, whether upon a wide or a narrow scale, and penetrates us with the most lively and fervent approbation or disapprobation of the acts of ourselves and others in which the forwarding or obstructing human happiness is involved.
But, though the language of the necessarian is at war with the indestructible feelings of the human mind, and though his demonstrations will for ever crumble into dust, when brought to the test of the activity of real life, yet his doctrines, to the reflecting and enlightened, will by no means be without
In the sobriety of the closet, we inevitably assent to his conclusions ; nor is it easy to conceive how a rational man and a philosopher abstractedly can entertain a doubt of the necessity of human actions. And the number of these persons
is perpetually increasing; enlarged and dispassionate views of the nature of man and the laws of the universe are rapidly spreading in the world. We cannot indeed divest ourselves of love and hatred, of the sentiments of praise and blame, and the ideas of virtue, duty, obligation, debt, bond, right, claim, sin, crime, guilt, merit and desert. And, if we could do so, the effects would be most pernicious, and the world be rendered a blank. We shall however unquestionably, as our minds grow enlarged, be brought to the entire and unreserved conviction, that man is a machine, that he is governed by external impulses, and is to be regarded as the medium only through the intervention of which previously existing causes are enabled to produce certain effects. We shall see, according to an expressive phrase, that he “could not help it,” and, of consequence, while we look down from the high tower of philosophy upon the scene of human affairs, our prevailing emotion will be pity, even towards the criminal, who, from the qualities he brought into the world, and the various circumstances which act upon him from infancy, and form his character, is impelled to be the means of the evils, which we view with so profound disapprobation, and the existence of which we so entirely regret.
There is an old axiom of philosophy, which counsels us to “think with the learned, and talk with the vulgar;" and the practical application of this axiom runs through the whole scene of human
affairs. Thus the most learned astronomer talks of the rising and setting of the sun, and forgets in his ordinary discourse that the earth is not for ever at rest, and does not constitute the centre of the universe. Thus, however we reason respecting the attributes of inanimate matter and the nature of sensation, it never occurs to us, when occupied with the affairs of actual life, that there is no heat in fire, and no colour in the rainbow.
In like manner, when we contemplate the acts of ourselves and our neighbours, we can never divest ourselves of the delusive sense of the liberty of human actions, of the sentiment of conscience, of the feelings of love and hatred, the impulses of praise and blame, and the notions of virtue, duty, obligation, right, claim, guilt, merit and desert. And it has sufficiently appeared in the course of this Essay, that it is not desirable that we should do so. They are these ideas to which the world we live in is indebted for its crowning glory and greatest lustre. They form the highest distinction between men and other animals, and are the genuine basis of self-reverence, and the conceptions of true nobility and greatness, and the reverse of these attributes, in the men with whom we live, and the men whose deeds are recorded in the never-dying page of history.
But, though the doctrine of the necessity of human actions can never form the rule of our intercourse with others, it will still have its use. It will moderate our excesses, and point out to us that