« AnteriorContinua »
er part, the arguments of Clarke and others, in vindication of liberty, seemed quite satisfying; others owned themselves puzzled with the subtilties of those, who took the opposite side of the question ; some reposed full confidence on that consciousness of liberty which every man feels in his own breast : in a word, as far as my experience goes, I have found all the impartial, the most sagacious and virtuous part of mankind, enemies to fatality in their hearts; willing to consider the arguments for it as rather specious than solid; and disposed to receive, with joy and thankfulness, a thorough vindication of human liberty, and a logical consutation of the opposite doctrine.
It has been said, that philosophers are answerable, not for the consequences, but only for the truth of their tenets; and, that if a doctrine be true, its being attended with disagreeable consequences will not render it false. We readily acquiesce in this remark; but we imagine it cannot be meant of any truth but what is certain and incontrovertible. No genuine truth did ever of itself produce effects inconsistent with real utility. But many principles pass for truth, which are far from deserving that honourable appellation. Some give it to all doctrines which have been defended with subtilty, and which, whether seriously believed, or not, have never been logically consuted. But to affirm that all such doctrines are certainly true, would arguc the most contemptible ignorance of human language, and human nature. It is therefore absurd to say, that the bad consequences of admitting such doctrines ought not to bc urged as arguments against them.--Now, there are many persons in the world, of most respectable understanding, who would be extremely averse to acknowlekge that the doctrine of necessity has ever been demonstrated beyond all possibility of doubt. I may, therefore be permitted to consider it as a controvertible tenet, and to ex, pose the absurdities and dangerous consequences with which the belief of it may, and must be attended.
Mr. Hume endeavours to raise a prejudice against this method of refutation. He probably foresaw, that the tendency of his principles would be urged as an argument against them; and being somewhat apprehensive of the consequences, as well he might, he insinuates, that all such reasoning is no better than personal invective.
“ There is no method of reasoning," says he, “more common, and yet more blameable, than in philosophical debates to endeavour the refutation of any hypothesis,
by a pretence of its dangerous consequences to religion and morality. When any opinion leads into absurdities, it is certainly false ; but it is not certain that an opinion is false, because it is of dangerous consequence. Such topics, therefore, ought entirely to be forborne, as serving nothing to the discovery of truth, but only to make the person of an antagonist odious.” If your philosophy be such, that its consequences cannot be unfolded, with. . out rendering your person odious, pray, Mr. Hume, who is to blame? you, who contrive, and publish it, or I, who criticise upon it? There is a kind of philosophy,so salutary in its effects, as to endear the person of the author, to every good man; why is not yours of this kind ? If it is not, as you yourself seem to apprehend, do you think that I ought to applaud your principles, or suffer them to pass unexamined, even though I am certain of their pernicious tendency? or that, out of respect to your person, I ought not to put others on their guard against them. Surely you cannot be so blinded by self-admiration, as to think it the duty of any man to sacrifice the interest of mankind to your interest, or rather to your reputation as a metaphysical writer. If you think so, I must take the liberty to differ from your judgment in this, as in many other matters.
agree to what our author says of this method of reasoning, that it tends nothing to the discovery of truth. Does not every thing tend to the discovery of truth that disposes men to think for themselves, and to consider opinions with attention, before they adopt them ? And have not many well-meaning persons rashly adopted a plausible opinion on the supposition of its being harmless, who, if they had been aware of its bad tendency, would have proceeded with more caution, and made a better use of their understanding ?
This is truly a notable expedient for determining controversy in favour of licentious theories. An author publishes a book, in which there are many doctrines fatal to human happiness, and subversive of human society, Jl, from a regard to truth, and to mankind, we endeavour to expose them in their proper colours, and, by displaying their dangerous and absurd consequences, to deter men from rashly adopting them without examination; our adversary immediately exclaims, “ This is not fair reasoning: this is personal inyective." Were the sentiments of the public to be regulated by this exclamation, licentious writers might do what mischief they pleased, and no man durst appear
in opposition, without being hooted at for want of breeding. It is happy for us, that the law is not to be brow-beaten by insinuations of this kind, otherwise we should hear some folks exclaim against it every day, as one of the most ungenerous things in the world. And truly they would have reason ; for it cannot be denied, that an indictment at the old Bailey has much the air of . a personal invective; and banishment, or burning in the hand, amounts nearly to a personál assault; nay, both have often this express end, to make the person of the criminal odious: and yet, in his judgment, perhaps, there was no great harm in picking a pocket of a handkerchief, value thirteen pence, provided it was done with a good grace. Let not the majesty of the science be offended by this allusion ; I mean not to argue from it, for it is not quite similar to the case in hand. That those men act the part of good citizens, who endeavour to overturn the plainest principles of human knowledge, and to subvert the foundations of all religion, I am far from thinking; but I would be extremely sorry to see any other weapons employed against them than those of reason and ridicule, chastised by decency and truth. Other weapons this cause requires not; nay in this cause, all other weapons would do more harm than good. And let it still be remembered, that the object of our strictures is not men, but books; and that these incur our censure, not because they bear certain names, but because they contain certain principles.
Some of the fatalists are willing to reconcile their system with our natural notions of moral good and evil; but all they have been able to do is, to remove the difficulty a step or two farther off. But the most considerable of that party are not solicitous to render these points consistent. If they can establish necessity, they leave natural religion to shift for itself. Mr. Hume, in particular, affirms, that on his principles it is impossible for natural reason to vindicate the character of the Deity. Had this author been possessed of one grain of that modesty which he recommends in the conclusion of his Essay; had he thought it worth his while to sacrifice a little pittance of ignominious applause to the happiness of human kind; he would have shuddered at the thought of inculcating a doctrine which he knew to be irreconcileable with this great first principle of religion; and of which, therefore, he must have known, that it tended to overturn the only durable foundation of human society and human happiness.
The asserters of human liberty have always maintained, that to believe all actions and intentions necessary, is the same thing as to believe that man is not an accountable being, or, in other words, not a moral agent. And indeed this notion is natural to every person who has the courage to trust his own experience, without seeking to puzzle plain matter of fact with verbal distinctions and metaphysical refinement. But, it is said, the sense of moral beauty and turpitude still remains with us, even after we are convinced that all actions and intentions are necessary; that this sense maketh us moral agents; and therefore, that our moral agency is perfectly consistent with our necessary agency. But this is nothing to the purpose; it is putting us off with mere words. For what is moral agency, and what is implied in it? This at least must be implied in it, that we ought to do some things and not to do others. But if every intention and action of my life is fixed by eternal laws, which I can neither elude nor alter, it is as absurd to say, to me, You ought to be honest tomorrow, as to say, You ought to stop the motion of the planets to-morrow. Unless some events, depend upon my determination, ought, and ought not, have no meaning when applied to me. Moral agency further implies that we are accountable for our conduct; and that if we do what we ought not to do, we deserve blame and punishment. My conscience tells me, that I am accountable for those actions only that are in my power; and neither blames nor approves, in myself or in others, that conduct which is the effect, not of choice, but of necessity. Convince me that all my actions are equally necessary, and you silence my conscience forever; or, at least, prove it to be a fallacious and impertinent monitor : you will then convince me that all circumspection is unnecessary, and all remorse absurd. And is it a matter of little moment, whether I believe my moral feelings authentic and true, or equivocal and fallacious? Can any principle be of more fatal consequence to me, or to society, than to believe, that the dictates of conscience are false, unreasonable, or insignificant? Yet this is one certain effect of my becoming a fatalist, or even sceptical in regard to moral liberty.
I observe that when a man's understanding begins to be so far perverted by debauchery, as to make him imagine his crimes unavoidable, from that moment he begins to think them inno
cent, and deems it a sufficient apology, that, in respect of them, he is no longer a free, but a necessary agent. The drunkard pleads his constitution, the blasphemer urges the invincible force of habit, and the sensualist would have us believe, that his appe. tites are too strong to be resisted. Suppose all men so far perverted as to argue in the same manner with regard to crimes of every kind ;-then it is certain, that all men would be equally disposed to think all crimes innocent. And what would be the consequence ? · Licentiousness, misery, and desolation, irremediable and universal. If God intended that men should be happy, and that the human race should continue for many generations, he certainly intended also that men should believe themselves free, moral, and accountable creatures,
JEHOIR OF MR. GEORGE SHADFORD.
(Continued from page 95.) Having preached occasionally for part of two years in the Epworth Circuit, and been a great blessing to many, he was, at the Bristol Conference, in the year 1768, appointed to labour in the west of Cornwall. “ This (saith he,) was a good year to me. I often wondered how the people could bear with my weakness; but the Lord owned his poor servant, and gave me to see the fruit of my labours. I was one day in great danger of losing my
life the first time I crossed Hale ; but two men, at a distance, suddenly called aloud, bidding me stop and come back. Had I gone a few yards further, myself and horse must have been inevitably swallowed up in a quicksand. I felt thankful, and went on admiring the watchful providence of God, my gracious and almighty Deliverer.”
Mr. S. laboured the following year in Kent, where he was exercised with various trials ; but in the midst of them all he was powerfully supported, and had the great happiness of seeing several sinners brought to a saying acquaintance with God. In 1770, he was sent to Norwich, and appointed to be what was then termed the Assistant, but since the death of Mr. Wesley, the