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Author of our nature, whose revealed will contains no greater difficulties than are contained in the order and government which he has established in the world.
Let us make a due practical use of the truths which He has made known to us, either by His providential dispensations, or His more immediate interpositions. Convinced that He hath not been pleased to gratify our curiosity in our researches into the hidden causes of things, let us improve our knowledge of their manifest properties and effects. Let us revere and obey His revealed will. The speculative mariner, or the fastidious philosopher, would not act with greater absurdity in refusing the use of the magnet, till he could understand the nature of the hidden influence of magnetism, than might be imputed to us, if we should refuse to oppose the evil propensities of which we are conscious, or to implore the assistance of God's grace, of which we feel our need, until we could comprehend how the one or the other operates upon our minds.
Let us check such curiosity as would only mislead us, and improve the facts which we know to the advantage of human life; though we must still remain in the
state of children, who are taught to obey the directions of their parents, before they can comprehend the reasons of those commands, which are given for the regulation of their conduct.
ADDITIONAL OBSERVATIONS RESPECTING THE
SUBJECT OF THE PRECEDING PROPOSITIONS
The case of madmen has been thought, by some, to be an unanswerable objection to that notion of moral liberty and responsibility asserted in the preceding observations.
“ Madmen,” say they, “ act voluntarily; their conduct is the effect of their own choice; and, therefore, according to the foregoing notion of responsibility, they are equally responsible for their conduct with other men, and ought to be treated with respect to reward or punishment as moral agents; but this conclusion being universally allowed to be absurd, the premises from whence it clearly follows, must be false.”
Although I have obviated this objection in the preceding propositions, by asserting that they are the voluntary acts of men in their senses, which we determine to be of a moral nature, yet a consideration of the real state respecting moral agency into which insanity brings a man, will throw greater light upon this subject, and tend to evince the truth of the preceding assertions respecting the common notion of responsibility.
The state of madmen, with respect to their actions, is similar to that of men who are dreaming in their sleep. In both cases, a distempered imagination causes a wrong conception in them with regard to their situation and actions ; so that a by-stander can never certainly determine, from appearances, what such persons are doing according to their own apprehensions of things. Supposing a man who is dreaming, who is in a febrile delirium, or who is insane, to throw himself out of his chamber window and to be dashed in pieces in the street, we can never determine this to be an act of suicide, because for aught we know, the man might mistake everything relating to this action, so as to imagine he was plunging himself into some cooling stream of water, with a view to take the pleasure of swimming. Under such a disturbance of the understanding, a man may cut the throat of a brother, whom he dearly loves, and imagine he is saving that brother from the devouring jaws of some wild beast.
In such cases, we cannot question a man with respect to any action, because we have properly no action to fix upon him. Whereas, when a man has a sound understanding, we can have no doubt about the nature of any action in question, provided it be certain that such an action was done by that person. Being certain of the action itself, we have then only to inquire what was the disposition, temper of mind, or volition, which gave rise to that action. And it is owing to the connexion between the external act and the internal volition, that the man becomes responsible for bis conduct.
Neither sleep, nor insanity, annihilate a man's dispositions, nor do they prevent the exercise of them in his actions; but they prevent us from knowing what such a man was doing according to his own conceptions; and therefore prevent our forming any notion of the goodness or badness of the disposition which gave rise to any action under consideration.