This lecture was typed in by Eugene Detweiler.
FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION.
6. THEORY OF MORAL ORDER.
7. THEORY OF NATURE AND RELATIONS.
8. THEORY THAT THE IDEA OF DUTY IS THE FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION.
9. COMPLEX THEORY.
6. I now come to consider the philosophy which teaches that moral order is the foundation of moral obligation.
But what is moral order? The advocates of this theory define it to be identical with the fit, proper, suitable. It is, then, according to them, synonymous with the right. Moral order must be, in their view, either identical with law or with virtue. It must be either an idea of the fit, the right, the proper, the suitable, which is the same as objective right; or it must consist in conformity of the will to this idea or law, which is virtue. It has been repeatedly shown that right, whether objective or subjective, cannot by any possibility be the end at which a moral agent ought to aim, and to which he ought to consecrate himself. If moral order be not synonymous with right in one of these senses, I do not know what it is; and all that I can say is, that if it be not identical with the highest well-being of God and of the universe, it cannot be the end at which moral agents ought to aim, and cannot be the foundation of moral obligation. But if by moral order, as the phraseology of some would seem to indicate, be meant that state of the universe in which all law is universally obeyed, and, as a consequence, a state of universal well-being, this theory is only another name for the true one. It is the same as willing the highest well-being of the universe with the conditions and means thereof.
Or if it be meant, as other phraseology would seem to indicate, that moral order is a state of things in which either all law is obeyed, or in which the disobedient are punished for the sake of promoting the public good;--if this be what is meant by moral order--it is only another name for the true theory. Willing moral order is only willing the highest good of the universe for its own sake, with the condition and means thereof.
But if by moral order be meant the fit, suitable, in the sense of law, physical or moral, it is absurd to represent moral order as the foundation of moral obligation. If moral order is the ground of obligation, it is identical with the object of ultimate choice. Does God require us to love moral order for its own sake? Is this identical with loving God and our neighbour? "Thou shalt will moral order with all thy heart, and with all thy soul!" Is this the meaning of the moral law? If this theory is right, benevolence is sin. It is not living to the right end.
7. I will next consider the theory that maintains that the nature and relations of moral beings are the true foundation of moral obligation.
(1.) The advocates of this theory confound the conditions of moral obligation with the foundation of obligation. The nature and relations of moral agents to each other, and to the universe, are conditions of their obligation to will the good of being, but not the foundation of the obligation. What! the nature and relations of moral beings the foundation of their obligation to choose an ultimate end. Then this end must be their nature and relations. This is absurd. Their nature and relations, being what they are, their highest well-being is known to them to be of infinite and intrinsic value. But it is and must be the intrinsic value of the end, and not their nature and relations, that imposes obligation to will the highest good of the universe as an ultimate end.
(2.) If their nature and relations be the ground of obligation, then their nature and relations are the great object of ultimate choice, and should be willed for their own sakes, and not for the sake of any good resulting from their natures and relations. For, be it remembered, the ground of obligation to put forth ultimate choice must be identical with the object of this choice, which object imposes obligation by virtue of its own nature.
(3.) The natures and relations of moral beings are a condition of obligation to fulfil to each other certain duties. For example, the relation of parent and child is a condition of obligation to endeavour to promote each other's particular well-being, to govern and provide for, on the part of the parent, and to obey, &c., on the part of the child. But the intrinsic value of the good to be sought by both parent and child must be the ground, and their relation only the condition, of those particular forms of obligation. So in every possible case. Relations can never be a ground of obligation to choose unless the relations be the object of the choice. The various duties of life are executive and not ultimate acts. Obligation to perform them is founded in the intrinsic nature of the good resulting from their performance. The various relations of life are only conditions of obligation to promote particular forms of good, and the good of particular individuals.
If this theory is true, benevolence is sin. Why do not its advocates see this?
Writers upon this subject are often falling into the mistake of confounding the conditions with the foundation of moral obligation. Moral agency is a condition, but not the foundation of obligation. Light, or the knowledge of the intrinsically valuable to being, is a condition, but not the foundation of moral obligation. The intrinsically valuable is the foundation of the obligation; and light, or the perception of the intrinsically valuable, is only a condition of the obligation. So the nature and relations of moral beings is a condition of their obligation to will each other's good, and so is light, or a knowledge of the intrinsic value of their blessedness; but the intrinsic value is alone the foundation of the obligation. It is, therefore, a great mistake to affirm "that the known nature and relations of moral agents is the true foundation of moral obligation."
8. The next theory that demands attention is that which teaches that moral obligation is founded in the idea of duty.
According to this philosophy, the end at which a moral agent ought to aim, is duty. He must in all things "aim at doing his duty." Or, in other words, he must always have respect to his obligation, and aim at discharging it.
Then disinterested benevolence is, and must be, sin. It is not living to the right end.
It is plain that this theory is only another form of stating the rightarian theory. By aiming, intending, to do duty, we must understand the advocates of this theory to mean the adoption of a resolution or maxim, by which to regulate their lives--the formation of a resolve to obey God--to serve God--to do at all times what appears to be right--to meet the demands of conscience--to obey the law--to discharge obligation, &c. I have expressed the thing intended in all these ways because it is common to hear this theory expressed in all these terms, and in others like them. Especially in giving instruction to inquiring sinners, nothing is more common than for those who profess to be spiritual guides to assume the truth of this philosophy, and give instructions accordingly. These philosophers, or theologians, will say to sinners: Make up your mind to serve the Lord; resolve to do your whole duty, and do it at all times; resolve to obey God in all things--to keep all his commandments; resolve to deny yourselves--to forsake all sin--to love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself. They often represent regeneration as consisting in this resolution or purpose.
Such-like phraseology, which is very common and almost universal among rightarian philosophers, demonstrates that they regard virtue or obedience to God as consisting in the adoption of a maxim of life. With them, duty is the great idea to be realized. All these modes of expression mean the same thing, and amount to just Kant's morality, which he admits does not necessarily imply religion, namely; "act upon a maxim at all times fit for law universal," and to Cousin's, which is the same thing, namely, "will the right for the sake of the right." Now I cannot but regard this philosophy on the one hand, and utilitarianism on the other, as equally wide from the truth, and as lying at the foundation of much of the spurious religion with which the church and the world are cursed. Utilitarianism begets one type of selfishness, which it calls religion, and this philosophy begets another, in some respects more specious, but not a whit the less selfish, God-dishonouring and soul-destroying. The nearest that this philosophy can be said to approach either to true morality or religion, is, that if the one who forms the resolution understood himself he would resolve to become truly moral instead of really becoming so. But this is in fact an absurdity and an impossibility, and the resolution-maker does not understand what he is about, when he supposes himself to be forming or cherishing a resolution to do his duty. Observe: he intends to do his duty. But to do his duty is to form and cherish an ultimate intention. To intend to do his duty is merely to intend to intend. But this is not doing his duty, as will be shown. He intends to serve God, but this is not serving God, as will also be shown. Whatever he intends, he is neither truly moral nor religious, until he really intends the same end that God does; and this is not to do his duty, nor to do right, nor to comply with obligation, nor to keep a conscience void of offence, nor to deny himself, nor any such-like things. God aims at, and intends, the highest well-being of himself and the universe, as an ultimate end, and this is doing his duty. It is not resolving or intending to do his duty, but is doing it. It is not resolving to do right for the sake of the right, but it is doing right. It is not resolving to serve himself and the universe, but is actually rendering that service. It is not resolving to obey the moral law, but is actually obeying it. It is not resolving to love, but actually loving his neighbour as himself. It is not, in other words, resolving to be benevolent, but is being so. It is not resolving to deny self, but is actually denying self.
A man may resolve to serve God without any just idea of what it is to serve him. If he had the idea of what the law of God requires him to choose, clearly before his mind--if he perceived that to serve God, was nothing less than to consecrate himself to the same end to which God consecrates himself, to love God with all his heart and his neighbour as himself, that is, to will or choose the highest well-being of God and of the universe, as an ultimate end--to devote all his being, substance, time, and influence to this end;--I say, if this idea were clearly before his mind, he would not talk of resolving to consecrate himself to God--resolving to do his duty, to do right--to serve God--to keep a conscience void of offence, and such-like things. He would see that such resolutions were totally absurd and a mere evasion of the claims of God. It has been repeatedly shown, that all virtue resolves itself into the intending of an ultimate end, or of the highest well-being of God and the universe. This is true morality, and nothing else is. This is identical with that love to God and man which the law of God requires. This then is duty. This is serving God. This is keeping a conscience void of offence. This is right, and nothing else is. But to intend or resolve to do this is only to intend to intend, instead of at once intending what God requires. It is resolving to love God and his neighbour, instead of really loving him; choosing to choose the highest well-being of God and of the universe, instead of really choosing it. Now this is totally absurd, and when examined to the bottom will be seen to be nothing else than a most perverse postponement of duty and a most God-provoking evasion of his claims. To intend to do duty is gross nonsense. To do duty is to love God with all the heart, and our neighbour as ourselves, that is, to choose, will, intend the highest well-being of God and our neighbour for its own sake. To intend to do duty, to aim at doing duty, at doing right, at discharging obligation, &c. is to intend to intend, to choose to choose, and such-like nonsense. Moral obligation respects the ultimate intention. It requires that the intrinsically valuable to being shall be willed for its own sake. To comply with moral obligation is not to intend or aim at this compliance as an end, but to will, choose, intend that which moral law or moral obligation requires me to intend, namely, the highest good of being. To intend obedience to law is not obedience to law, for the reason that obedience is not that which the law requires me to intend. To aim at discharging obligation is not discharging it, just for the reason that I am under no obligation to intend this as an end. Nay, it is totally absurd and nonsensical to talk of resolving, aiming, intending to do duty--to serve the Lord, &c. &c. All such resolutions imply an entire overlooking of that in which true religion consists. Such resolutions and intentions from their very nature must respect outward actions in which is no moral character, and not the ultimate intention, in which all virtue and vice consist. A man may resolve or intend to do this or that. But to intend to intend an ultimate end, or to intend to choose it for its intrinsic value, instead of willing and at once intending or choosing that end, is grossly absurd, self-contradictory, and naturally impossible. Therefore this philosophy does not give a true definition and account of virtue. It is self-evident that it does not conceive rightly of it. And it cannot be that those who give such instructions, or those who receive and comply with them, have the true idea of religion in their minds. Such teaching is radically false, and such a philosophy leads only to bewilder, and dazzles to blind.
It is one thing for a man who actually loves God with all his heart and his neighbour as himself, to resolve to regulate all his outward life by the law of God, and a totally different thing to intend to love God or to intend his highest glory and well-being. Resolutions may respect outward action, but it is totally absurd to intend or resolve to form an ultimate intention. But be it remembered, that morality and religion do not belong to outward action, but to ultimate intentions. It is amazing and afflicting to witness the alarming extent to which spurious philosophy has corrupted and is corrupting the church of God. Kant and Cousin and Coleridge have adopted a phraseology, and manifestly have conceived in idea, a philosophy subversive of all true love to God and man, and teach a religion of maxims and resolutions instead of a religion of love. It is a philosophy, as we shall see in a future lecture, which teaches that the moral law or law of right, is entirely distinct from and may be opposite to the law of benevolence or love. The fact is, this philosophy conceives of duty and right as belonging to mere outward action. This must be, for it cannot be confused enough to talk of resolving or intending to form an ultimate intention. Let but the truth of this philosophy be assumed in giving instructions to the anxious sinner, and it will immediately dry off his tears, and in all probability lead him to settle down in a religion of resolutions instead of a religion of love. Indeed this philosophy will immediately dry off, (if I may be allowed the expression,) the most genuine and powerful revival of religion, and run it down into a mere revival of a heartless, Christless, loveless philosophy. It is much easier to persuade anxious sinners to resolve to do their duty, to resolve to love God, than it is to persuade them really to do their duty, and really to love God with all their heart and with all their soul, and their neighbour as themselves.
9. We now come to the consideration of that philosophy which teaches the complexity of the foundation of moral obligation.
This theory maintains that there are several distinct grounds of moral obligation; that the highest good of being is only one of the grounds of moral obligation, while right, moral order, the nature and relations of moral agents, merit and demerit, truth, duty, and many such like things, are distinct grounds of moral obligation; that these are not merely conditions of moral obligation, but that each one of them can by itself impose moral obligation. The advocates of this theory, perceiving its inconsistency with the doctrine that moral obligation respects the ultimate choice or intention only, seem disposed to relinquish the position that obligation respects strictly only the choice of an ultimate end, and to maintain that moral obligation respects the ultimate action of the will. By ultimate action of the will they mean, if I understand them, the will's treatment of every thing according to its intrinsic nature and character; that is, treating every thing, or taking that attitude in respect to every thing known to the mind, that is exactly suited to what it is in and of itself. For example, right ought to be regarded and treated by the will as right, because it is right. Truth ought to be regarded and treated as truth for its own sake, virtue as virtue, merit as merit, demerit as demerit, the useful as useful, the beautiful as beautiful, the good or valuable as valuable, each for its own sake; that in each case the action of the will is ultimate, in the sense that its action terminates on these objects as ultimates; in other words, that all those actions of the will are ultimates that treat things according to their nature and character, or according to what they are in and of themselves.--See Moral Philosophy. Now in respect to this theory I would inquire:--
(1.) What is intended by the will's treating a thing, or taking that attitude in respect to it that is suited to its nature and character? Are there any other actions of will than volitions, choice, preference, intention,--are not all the actions of the will comprehended in these? If there are any other actions than these, are they intelligent actions? If so, what are those actions of will that consist neither in the choice of ends nor means, nor in volitions or efforts to secure an end? Can there be intelligent acts of will that neither respect ends nor means? Can there be moral acts of will when there is no choice or intention? If there is choice or intention, must not these respect an end or means? What then can be meant by ultimate action of will as distinguished from ultimate choice or intention? Can there be choice without there is an object of choice? If there is an object of choice, must not this object be chosen either as an end or as a means? If as an ultimate end, how does this differ from ultimate intention? If as a means, how can this be regarded as an ultimate action of the will? What can be intended by actions of will that are not acts of choice nor volition? I can conceive of no other. But if all acts of will must of necessity consist in willing or nilling, that is in choosing or refusing, which is the same as willing one way or another, in respect to all objects of choice apprehended by the mind, how can there be any intelligent act of the will that does not consist in, or that may not and must not, in its last analysis be resolvable into, and be properly considered as the choice of an end, or of means, or in executive efforts to secure an end? Can moral law require any other action of will than choice and volition? What other actions of will are possible to us? Whatever moral law does require, it must and can only require choices and volitions. It can only require us to choose ends or means. It cannot require us to choose as an ultimate end any thing that is not intrinsically worthy of choice--nor as a means any thing that does not sustain that relation.
(2.) Secondly, let us examine this theory in the light of the revealed law of God. The whole law is fulfilled in one word--love.
Now we have seen that the will of God cannot be the foundation of moral obligation. Moral obligation must be founded in the nature of that which moral law requires us to choose. Unless there be something in the nature of that which moral law require us to will that renders it worthy or deserving of choice, we can be under no obligation to will or choose it. It is admitted that the love required by the law of God must consist in an act of the will, and not in mere emotions. Now, does this love, willing, choice, embrace several distinct ultimates? If so, how can they all be expressed in one word--love? Observe, the law requires only love to God and our neighbour as an ultimate. This love or willing must respect and terminate on God and our neighbour. The law says nothing about willing right for the sake of the right, or truth for the sake of the truth, or beauty for the sake of beauty, or virtue for the sake of virtue, or moral order for its own sake, or the nature and relations of moral agents for their own sake; nor is, nor can any such thing be implied in the command to love God and our neighbour. All these and innumerable other things are, and must be, conditions and means of the highest well-being of God and our neighbour. As such, the law may, and doubtless does, in requiring us to will the highest well-being of God and our neighbour as an ultimate end, require us to will all these as the necessary conditions and means. The end which the revealed law requires us to will is undeniably simple as opposed to complex. It requires only love to God and our neighbour. One word expresses the whole of moral obligation. Now certainly this word cannot have a complex signification in such a sense as to include several distinct and ultimate objects of love, or of choice. This love is to terminate on God and our neighbour, and not on abstractions, nor on inanimate and insentient existences. I protest against any philosophy that contradicts the revealed law of God, and that teaches that anything else than God and our neighbour is to be loved for its own sake, or that anything else is to be chosen as an ultimate end than the highest well-being of God and our neighbour. In other words, I utterly object to any philosophy that makes anything obligatory upon a moral agent that is not expressed or implied in perfect good will to God, and to the universe of sentient existences. "To the word and to the testimony; if any philosophy agree not therewith, it is because there is no light in it." The revealed law of God knows but one ground or foundation of moral obligation. It requires but one thing, and that is just that attitude of the will toward God and our neighbour that accords with the intrinsic value of their highest well-being; that God's moral worth shall be willed as of infinite value, as a condition of his own well-being, and that his actual and perfect blessedness shall be willed for its own sake, and because, or upon condition, that he is worthy; that our neighbour's moral worth shall be willed as an indispensable condition of his blessedness, and that if our neighbour is worthy of happiness, his actual and highest happiness shall be willed. The fact is, that all ultimate acts of will must consist in ultimate choices and intentions, and the revealed law requires that our ultimate choice, intention, should terminate on the good of God and our neighbour, thus making the foundation of moral obligation simple, moral action simple, and all true morality to be summed up in one word--love. It is impossible, with our eye upon the revealed law, to make more than one foundation of moral obligation; and it is utterly inadmissible to subvert this foundation by any philosophisings whatever. This law knows but one end which moral agents are under obligation to seek, and sets at nought all so-called ultimate actions of will that do not terminate on the good of God and our neighbour. The ultimate choice with the choice of all the conditions and means of the highest well-being of God and the universe, is all that the revealed law recognizes as coming within the pale of its legislation. It requires nothing more and nothing less.
But there is another form of the complex theory of moral obligation that I must notice before I dismiss this subject. In the examination of it I shall be obliged to repeat some things which have been in substance said before. Indeed, there has been so much confusion upon the subject of the nature of virtue, or of the foundation of moral obligation, as to render it indispensable in the examination of the various false theories and in removing objections to the true one, frequently to repeat the same thought in different connections. This I have found to be unavoidable, if I would render the subject at all intelligible to the common reader.