Moral Science; a Compendium of Ethics eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 487 pages of information about Moral Science; a Compendium of Ethics.

Chapter VI. is on the cases where the Sense of Duty should be the sole motive of conduct; and on those where it ought to join with other motives.  Allowing the importance of religion among human motives, he does not concur with the view that would make religious considerations the sole laudable motives of action.  The sense of duty is not the only principle of our conduct; it is the ruling or governing one.  It may be a question, however, on what occasions we are to proceed strictly by the sense of duty, and on what occasions give way to some other sentiment or affection.  The author answers that in the actions prompted by benevolent affections, we are to follow out our sentiments as much as our sense of duty; and the contrary with the malevolent passions.  As to the selfish passions, we are to follow duty in small matters, and self-interest in great.  But the rules of duty predominate most in cases where they are determined with exactness, that is, in the virtue of Justice.


Chapter I. is on the Beauty arising out of Utility.  It is here that the author sets forth the dismal career of ’the poor man’s son, whom heaven in the hour of her anger has curst with ambition,’ and enforces his favourite moral lesson of contentment and tranquillity.

Chapter II. is the connexion of Utility with Moral Approbation.  There are many actions possessing the kind of beauty or charm arising from utility; and hence, it may be maintained (as was done by Hume) that our whole approbation of virtue may be explained on this principle.  And it may be granted that there is a coincidence between our sentiments of approbation or disapprobation, and the useful or hurtful qualities of actions.  Still, the author holds that this utility or hurtfulness is not the foremost or principal source of our approbation.  In the first place, he thinks it incongruous that we should have no other reason, for praising a man than for praising a chest of drawers.  In the next place, he contends at length that the usefulness of a disposition of mind is seldom the first ground of our approbation.  Take, for example, the qualities useful to ourselves—­reason and self-command; we approve the first as just and accurate, before we are aware of its being useful; and as to self-command, we approve it quite as much for its propriety as for its utility; it is the coincidence of our opinion with the opinion of the spectator, and not an estimate of the comparative utility, that affects us.  Regarding the qualities useful to others—­humanity, generosity, public spirit and justice—­he merely repeats his own theory that they are approved by our entering into the view of the impartial spectator.  The examples cited only show that these virtues are not approved from self-interest; as when the soldier throws away his life to gain something for his sovereign.  He also puts the case of a solitary human being, who might see fitness in actions, but could not feel moral approbation.

Project Gutenberg
Moral Science; a Compendium of Ethics from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook