III.—He says little directly bearing on the constituents of Human Happiness; but that little is all in favour of simplicity of life and cheap pleasures. He does not reflect that the pleasures singled out by him are far from cheap; ’agreeable conversation, society, study, health, and the beauties of nature,’ although not demanding extraordinary wealth, cannot be secured without a larger share of worldly means than has ever fallen to the mass of men in any community.
IV.—As to the substance of the Moral Code, he makes no innovations. He talks somewhat more lightly of the evils of Unchastity than is customary; but regards the prevailing restraints as borne out by Utility.
The inducements to virtue are, in his view, our humane sentiments, on the one hand, and our self-love, or prudence, on the other; the two classes of motives conspiring to promote both our own good and the good of mankind.
V.—The connexion of Ethics with Politics is not specially brought out. The political virtues are moral virtues. He does not dwell upon the sanctions of morality, so as to distinguish the legal sanction from the popular sanction. He draws no line between Duty and Merit.
VI.—He recognizes no relationship between Ethics and Theology. The principle of Benevolence in the human mind is, he thinks, an adequate source of moral approbation and disapprobation; and he takes no note of what even sceptics (Gibbon, for example) often dwell upon, the aid of the Theological sanction in enforcing duties imperfectly felt by the natural and unprompted sentiments of the mind.
Price’s work is entitled, ’A Review of the principal questions in Morals; particularly those respecting the Origin of our Ideas of Virtue, its Nature, Relation to the Deity, Obligation, Subject-matter, and Sanctions.’ In the third edition, he added an Appendix on ’the Being and Attributes of the Deity.’
The book is divided into ten chapters.
Chapter I. is on the origin of our Ideas of Right and Wrong. The actions of moral agents, he says, give rise in us to three different perceptions: 1st, Right and Wrong; 2nd, Beauty and Deformity; 3rd, Good or Ill Desert. It is the first of these perceptions that he proposes mainly to consider.
He commences by quoting Hutcheson’s doctrine of a Moral Sense, which he describes as an implanted and arbitrary principle, imparting a relish or disrelish for actions, like the sensibilities of the various senses. On this doctrine, he remarks, the Creator might have annexed the same sentiments to the opposite actions. Other schemes of morality, such as Self-love, Positive Laws and Compacts, the Will of the Deity, he dismisses as not meeting the true question.
The question, as conceived by him, is, ’What is the power within us that perceives the distinctions of Right and Wrong?’ The answer is, The UNDERSTANDING.