S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
There is nothing which strengthens faith more than morality. Faith and morality naturally produce each other. A man is quickly convinced of the truth of religion who finds it is not against his interest that it should be true. The pleasure he receives at present, and the happiness which he promises himself from it hereafter, will both dispose him very powerfully to give credit to it, according to the ordinary observation, that we are easy to believe what we wish. It is very certain that a man of sound reason cannot forbear closing with religion upon an impartial observation of it; but at the same time it is as certain that faith is kept alive in us and gathers strength from practice more than from speculation.
Precepts of morality, besides the natural corruption of our tempers which makes us averse to them, are so abstracted from ideas of sense that they seldom get an opportunity for descriptions and images.
To derive [as Dr. Adam Smith does] our moral sentiments, which are as universal as the actions of mankind that come under our review, from the occasional sympathies that warm or sadden us with joys, and griefs, and resentments which are not our own, seems to me very nearly the same sort of error as it would be to derive the waters of an overflowing stream from the sunshine or shade which may occasionally gleam over it.
Men that live according to the right rule and law of reason live but in their own kind, as beasts do in theirs; who justly obey the prescript of their natures, and therefore cannot reasonably demand a reward of their actions, as only obeying the natural dictates of their reason. It will therefore, and must at last, appear that all salvation is through Christ.
Live by old ethics and the classical rules of honesty. Put no new names or notions upon authentic virtues and vices. Think not that morality is ambulatory; that vices in one age are not vices in another; or that virtues which are under the everlasting seal of right reason may be stamped by opinion. And therefore, though vicious times invert the opinions of things, and set up new ethics against virtue, yet hold thou unto old morality; and rather than follow a multitude to do evil, stand like Pompeys pillar conspicuous by thyself, and single in integrity.
Look through the whole of life and the whole system of duties. Much the strongest moral obligations are such as were never the results of our option. I allow, that, if no Supreme Ruler exists, wise to form, and potent to enforce, the moral law, there is no sanction to any contract, virtual or even actual, against the will of prevalent power. On that hypothesis, let any set of men be strong enough to set their duties at defiance, and they cease to be duties any longer.
As to the right of men to act anywhere according to their pleasure, without any moral tie, no such right exists. Men are never in a state of total independence of each other. It is not the condition of our nature: nor is it conceivable how any man can pursue a considerable course of action without its having some effect upon others, or, of course, without producing some degree of responsibility for his conduct. The situations in which men relatively stand produce the rules and principles of that responsibility, and afford directions to prudence in exacting it.
The moral law is not properly a mere act of Gods will considered in itself, or a tyrannical edict, like those of whom it may well be said stat pro ratione voluntas: but it commands those things which are good in their own nature, and prohibits those things which are in their own nature evil; and therefore is an act of his wisdom and righteousness; the result of his wise counsel, and an extract of his pure nature; as all the laws of just lawgivers are not only the acts of their will, but of a will governed by reason and justice, and for the good of the public, whereof they are conservators.
Moral Order is the harmony of intelligent beings in respect to one another, and to their Creator, and is founded upon those relations in which they respectively stand to each other. Thus, Reverence, Adoration, and Gratitude from creatures correspond or harmonize with the idea of a self-existent, omnipotent, and benevolent Being, on whom they depend, and from whom they derive every enjoyment, and love, and good will, and a desire to promote each others happiness, harmonize with the idea of intelligences of the same species mingling together in social intercourses. For it will at once be admitted that affections directly opposite to these, and universally prevalent, would tend to destroy the moral harmony of the intelligent universe, and to introduce anarchy and confusion, and consequently misery, among all the rational inhabitants of the material world.
Whoever attentively peruses [Aristotles] Treatisethe Nicomachian Morals, I meanwill find a perpetual reference to the inward sentiments of the breast. He builds everything on the human constitution. He all along takes it for granted that there is a moral impress on the mind, to which, without looking abroad, we may safely appeal. In a word, Aristotle never lost the moralist in the accountant. He has been styled the Interpreter of Nature, and has certainly shown himself a most able commentator on the law written on the heart. For Ciceroin all his philosophical works, as well as in his Offices, where he treats more directly on these subjects, he shows the most extreme solicitude, as though he had a prophetic glance of what was to happen, to keep the moral and natural world apart, to assert the supremacy of virtue, and to recognize those sentiments and vestiges from which he educes, with the utmost elevation, the contempt of human things. How humiliating the consideration that, with superior advantages, our moral systems should be infinitely surpassed in warmth and grandeur by those of pagan times; and that the most jejune and comfortless that ever entered the mind of man, and the most abhorrent from the spirit of religion, should have ever become popular in a Christian country!
Robert Hall: Sentiments Proper to the Present Crisis.
The sceptical or irreligious system subverts the whole foundation of morals. It may be assumed as a maxim, that no person can be required to act contrary to his greatest good, or his highest interest, comprehensively viewed in relation to the whole duration of his being. It is often our duty to forego our own interest partially, to sacrifice a smaller pleasure for the sake of a greater, to incur a present evil in pursuit of a distant good of more consequence. In a word, to arbitrate among interfering claims of inclination is the moral arithmetic of human life. But to risk the happiness of the whole duration of our being in any case whatever, were it possible, would be foolish; because the sacrifice must, by the nature of it, be so great as to preclude the possibility of compensation.
As the present world, on sceptical principles, is the only place of recompense, whenever the practice of virtue fails to promise the greatest sum of present good,cases which often occur in reality, and much oftener in appearance,every motive to virtuous conduct is superseded; a deviation from rectitude becomes the part of wisdom; and should the path of virtue, in addition to this, be obstructed by disgrace, torment, or death, to persevere would be madness and folly, and a violation of the first and most essential law of nature. Virtue, on these principles, being in numberless instances at war with self-preservation, never can, or ought to, become a fixed habit of the mind.
Infinite toil would not enable you to sweep away a mist; but by ascending a little, you may often look over it altogether. So it is with our moral improvement: we wrestle fiercely with a vicious habit, which could have no hold upon us if we ascended into a higher moral atmosphere.
Of those things which are for direction of all the parts of our life needful, and not impossible to be discerned by the light of nature itself, are there not many which few mens natural capacity hath been able to find out?
Such are the opposite errors which men commit when their morality is not a science but a taste, when they abandon eternal principles for accidental associations. We have illustrated our meaning by an instance taken from history. We will select another from fiction. Othello murders his wife; he gives orders for the murder of his lieutenant; he ends by murdering himself. Yet he never loses the esteem and affection of Northern readers. His intrepid and ardent spirit redeems everything. The unsuspecting confidence with which he listens to his adviser, the agony with which he shrinks from the thought of shame, the tempest of passion with which he commits his crimes, and the haughty fearlessness with which he avows them, give an extraordinary interest to his character. Iago, on the contrary, is the object of universal loathing. Many are inclined to suspect that Shakspeare has been seduced into an exaggeration unusual with him, and has drawn a monster who has no archetype in human nature. Now we suspect that an Italian audience in the fifteenth century would have felt very differently. Othello would have inspired nothing but detestation and contempt. The folly with which he trusts the friendly professions of a man whose promotion he had obstructed, the credulity with which he takes unsupported assertions, and trivial circumstances, for unanswerable proofs, the violence with which he silences the exculpation till the exculpation can only aggravate his misery, would have excited the abhorrence and disgust of the spectators. The conduct of Iago they would assuredly have condemned; but they would have condemned it as we condemn that of his victim. Something of interest and respect would have mingled with their disapprobation. The readiness of the traitors wit, the clearness of his judgment, the skill with which he penetrates the dispositions of others and conceals his own, would have insured to him a certain portion of their esteem.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Machiavelli, March, 1827.
Every age and every nation has certain characteristic vices, which prevail almost universally, which scarcely any person scruples to avow, and which even rigid moralists but faintly censure. Succeeding generations change the fashion of their morals with the fashion of their hats and their coaches; take some other kind of wickedness under their patronage, and wonder at the depravity of their ancestors. Nor is this all. Posterity, that high court of appeal which is never tired of eulogizing its own justice and discernment, acts on such occasions like a Roman dictator after a general mutiny. Finding the delinquents too numerous to be all punished, it selects some of them at hazard, to bear the whole penalty of an offence in which they are not more deeply implicated than those who escape. Whether decimation be a convenient mode of military execution, we know not; but we solemnly protest against the introduction of such a principle into the philosophy of history.
We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality. In general, elopements, divorces, and family quarrels pass with little notice. We read the scandal, talk about it for a day, and forget it. But once in six or seven years our virtue becomes outrageous. We cannot suffer the laws of religion and decency to be violated. We must make a stand against vice. We must teach libertines that the English people appreciate the importance of domestic ties. Accordingly, some unfortunate man, in no respect more depraved than hundreds whose offences have been treated with lenity, is singled out as an expiatory sacrifice. If he has children, they are to be taken from him. If he has a profession, he is to be driven from it. He is cut by the higher orders and hissed by the lower. He is, in truth, a sort of whipping-boy, by whose vicarious agonies all the other transgressors of the same class are, it is supposed, sufficiently chastised. We reflect very complacently on our own severity, and compare with great pride the high standard of morals established in England with the Parisian laxity. At length our anger is satiated. Our victim is ruined and heart-broken. And our virtue goes quietly to sleep for seven years more.
It is clear that those vices which destroy domestic happiness ought to be as much as possible repressed. It is equally clear that they cannot be repressed by penal legislation. It is therefore right and desirable that public opinion should be directed against them. But it should be directed against them uniformly, steadily, and temperately, not by sudden fits and starts. There should be one weight and one measure. Decimation is always an objectionable mode of punishment. It is the resource of judges too indolent and hasty to investigate facts and to discriminate nicely between shades of guilt. It is an irrational practice, even when adopted by military tribunals. When adopted by the tribunal of public opinion, it is infinitely more irrational. It is good that a certain portion of disgrace should constantly attend on certain bad actions. But it is not good that the offenders should merely have to stand the risks of a lottery of infamy, that ninety-nine out of every hundred should escape, and that the hundredth, perhaps the most innocent of the hundred, should pay for all.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Moores Life of Byron, June, 1831.
A mere bookish learning is both troublesome and ungraceful; and though it may serve for some kind of ornament, there is yet no foundation for any superstructure to be built upon it, according to the opinion of Plato, who says that constancy, faith, and sincerity are the true philosophy, and the other sciences, that are directed to other ends, to be adulterate and false.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xxv.
There is in every moral being a faculty or sense by which he is enabled to distinguish right from wrong. There have been a great number of theories among those who have rejected the doctrine of a moral sense. They have succeeded each man in showing every other theory but his own to be baseless. The reductio ad absurdum of every other system which ingenuity has ever framed would alone seem to leave the advocates of a mora! sense in possession of the field. The appeal, after all, must be made to every mans consciousness. And why not? Every other faculty is proved in the same way. Let any one attempt to demonstrate that there is in men a natural taste for beauty. He will be met by precisely the same course of argument as that which attacks the existence of the moral sense, or, as it may well be termed, the taste for moral beauty. All men have it not in the same perfection. In some it is undeveloped, in some it is corrupted. Indeed, the same objections may be urged against the perceptions of the palate or of any other natural sense. That some men love the taste of tobacco by no means proves that there is not a natural faculty in all men which distinguishes between the qualities of sweet and bitter.
Judge George Sharswood: Blackstones Comment.: Of the Nature of Laws in General, note.
The regard to the general rules of morality is what is properly called a sense of duty; a principle of the greatest consequence in human life, and the only principle by which the bulk of mankind are capable of directing their actions. There is scarce any man who, by discipline, education, and example, may not be impressed with a regard to those general rules of conduct as to act upon almost every occasion with tolerable decency, and through the whole of his life avoid a tolerable degree of blame. Without this sacred regard to the general rules of morality, there is no man whose conduct can be much depended upon. It is this which constitutes the most essential difference between a man of principle and honour and a worthless fellow. The one adheres on all occasions steadily and resolutely to his maxims, and preserves through the whole of his life one even tenor of conduct. The other acts variously and accidentally, as humour, inclination, or interest chance to be uppermost.
The morality of an action is founded in the freedom of that principle by virtue of which it is in the agents power, having all things ready and requisite to the performance of an action, either to perform or not perform it.
Suppose the reverse of virtue were solemnly enacted, and the practice of fraud and rapine, and perjury and falseness to a mans word, and all vice, were established by law, would that which we now call vice gain the reputation of virtue, and that which we now call virtue grow odious to human nature?
A positive precept concerns a thing that is right because it is commanded; a moral respects a thing commanded because it is right. A Jew was bound to honour his parents, and also to worship at Jerusalem: the former was commanded because it was right, and the latter was right because it was commanded.