Sec 4a: The Rules of Morality

Section 4: How Different Authors Treated The Practical Rules of Morality

7.4.1. Part 3 explained that the rules of justice are the only moral rules which are precise.

  • The rules of justice may be compared to the rules of grammar.
  • The rules of all the other virtues are loose, vague, and indeterminate.
    • These may be compared to rules which critics use to create a sublime and elegant work.
      • It gives us a general idea of the perfection we should aim for.
      • But it does not give us any certain and infallible directions for acquiring that perfection.


7.4.2. The different moral rules admit different degrees of accuracy.

  • The authors who tried to collect and digest them into systems have done it in two ways:
    1. One set followed the loose method naturally directed by one species of virtues
      • This set wrote like critics.
    2. Another set universally tried to introduce an accuracy of which only some virtues are susceptible.
      • This set wrote like grammarians.


7.4.3. I. The first set include the ancient moralists.

  • They have contented themselves with:
    • describing the different vices and virtues generally, and
    • pointing out the:
      • deformity and misery of vice, and
      • propriety and happiness of virtue.
  • They did not give many precise rules that hold unexceptionably in all cases.
  • They only tried to ascertain:
    1. What sentiment each virtue is founded on
      • What internal feeling is the essence of:
        1. friendship, humanity, generosity, justice, magnanimity, and the other virtues
        2. the vices which are opposed to those virtues
    2. What is:
      1. the general way of acting
      2. the ordinary tone of conduct which those sentiments direct us, or
      3. how a friendly, generous, brave, just, and humane man, would ordinarily act


7.4.4. A delicate and an accurate pencil is required to characterize on which sentiment each virtue is founded.

  • This task may be done with some exactness.
    • It is impossible to express all the variations of each sentiment.
      • They are endless.
      • Language lacks names for them.
    • For example, the sentiment of friendship which we feel for an old man is different from that which we feel for a young man.
      • The friendship we entertain for an austere man is different from that which we feel for a gentler man.
        • That again is different from what we feel for one of gay vivacity and spirit.
      • The friendship we conceive for a man is different from that with which we conceive for a woman, even where there is no mixture of any grosser passion.
    • Who could enumerate these and all the other infinite varieties of friendship?
  • But general friendship, and its familiar attachment, may be ascertained with accuracy.
    • The general picture of friendship will always be incomplete.
      • However, it may resemble the specific kind of friendship that we see.
        • We may even distinguish general friendship from other similar sentiments such as good-will, respect, esteem, admiration.


7.4.5. It is still easier to describe the ordinary way of acting according to each virtue.

  • It is impossible to describe the emotion on which each virtue is founded, without describing how each virtue prompts us to act.
    • It is impossible by language to express the invisible features of all the modifications of passion within.
  • The only way to distinguish them from one another is by describing their effects without their alterations in the behaviour, resolutions, and actions they cause.
  • Thus:
    • Cicero tries to direct us to the practice of the four cardinal virtues in the first book of his Offices.
    • Aristotle points out to us, in the practical parts of his Ethics, the habits to regulate our behaviour, such as:
      • liberality,
      • magnificence,
      • magnanimity, and even
      • jocularity and good-humour
        • He thought that these qualities were worthy of being in the catalogue of virtues.
          • Even if the lightness of our natural approbation on them does not seem to entitle them to called as virtues.



7.4.6. Such works present us with agreeable and lively pictures of manners.

  • By the vivacity of their descriptions, they:
    • inflame our natural love of virtue, and
    • increase our abhorrence of vice.
  • By the justness and delicacy of their observations, they may often:
    • help to correct our natural sentiments regarding the propriety of conduct,
    • suggest many nice and delicate attentions, and
    • form us to a more exact justness of behaviour than what we would normally think of.

Ethics consists in treating of the rules of morality in this way.

  • It is a science which is highly useful and agreeable, even if it is not precise like criticism.
  • Of all sciences, it is the most susceptible of the embellishments of eloquence.
    • Those embellishments bestow a new importance on the smallest rules of duty.
  • When its precepts are dressed and adorned, they can produce the noblest and most lasting impressions on the flexibility of youth.
    • They fall in with the natural magnanimity of that generous age.
    • For some time, they can inspire the most heroic resolutions.
    • Thus, they establish and confirm the best and most useful habits man is susceptible to.
  • In this way, ethics delivers whatever precept and exhortation is needed to animate us to the practice of virtue.


7.4.7. 2. The second set of moralists include:

  • all the casuists of the christian church, and
  • those who have treated of natural jurisprudence in the 18th and 17th centuries.

They are not content in characterizing generally that conduct which they recommend to us.

  • They try to lay down exact and precise rules for our behaviour.
  • They chiefly considered justice because justice is the only virtue to which such exact rules can properly be given.
    • However, they treat of justice in a very different way.


7.4.8. Those who write on the principles of jurisprudence only consider what the person, to whom the obligation is due, should think himself entitled to exact by force.

  • It is what:
    • every impartial spectator would approve of him for exacting, or
    • his judge should oblige the other person to suffer or perform.
  • On the other hand, the casuists do not examine much:
    • what might be properly exacted by force, and
    • what the owing person should think himself bound to perform from the most:
      • sacred and scrupulous regard to the general rules of justice
      • conscientious dread of:
        • wronging his neighbour or
        • violating his own character’s integrity.
  • The end goal of jurisprudence is to prescribe rules for the decisions of judges.
    • By observing all the rules of jurisprudence, we expect only to be free from external punishment.
  • The end goal of casuistry is to prescribe rules for the conduct of a good man.
    • By observing the rules of casuistry, we expect praise for our behaviour.


7.4.9. Frequently, a good man should:

  • think himself bound from a sacred and conscientious regard to the general rules of justice
  • perform many things which should not be extorted from him nor imposed by any judge by force

For example, a highwayman fearing death obliges a traveler to promise him money.

  • It has been very much debated whether such a promise, extorted by unjust force, should be regarded as obligatory.


7.4.10. As a mere question of jurisprudence, the answer cannot be doubted.

  • The highwayman cannot be entitled to use force to make the other perform.
    • He would deserve the highest punishment for the crime of extorting the promise.
    • Extorting the performance would only add another crime.
  • The highwayman cannot complain of being deceived by the person he could have killed.
  • It would be ridiculous to expect a judge to enforce the obligation of such promises.


7.4.11. But if we consider it as a question of casuistry, it cannot be so easily answered.

  • A good man might think himself bound to perform it, from a conscientious regard to that most sacred rule of justice.
    • Justice commands the observance of all serious promises.
  • It cannot be disputed that:
    • no regard is due to the highwayman’s disappointment
    • no injury is done to the robber
    • the robber is unable to extort anything by force
  • We may reasonably ask whether the question deals with the victim’s own:
    • dignity and honour
    • honesty
  • The casuists accordingly are greatly divided about it.
    • One party which includes:
      • Cicero, among the ancients
      • Puffendorf, Barbeyrac his commentator, and above all the late Dr. Hutcheson, among the moderns.
        • Dr. Hutcheson was not a loose casuist.
          • Without any hesitation, he determines that:
            • no regard is due to any such promise
            • to think otherwise is mere weakness and superstition
    • Another party includes some:
      • of the ancient fathers of the church
      • very eminent modern casuists
        • They have judged all such promises obligatory.


7.4.12. If we consider it according to mankind’s common sentiments, we shall find that some regard would be due even to this kind of promise.

  • But it is impossible to determine by how much, by any general rule that will apply to all cases without exception.
    • We should not choose for our friend a man who made such promises easily and broke them easily.
  • A gentleman who promises a highwayman £5 and breaks it, would incur some blame.
    • However, if the sum promised was very big, the proper thing to be done would be unclear.
      • It would appear criminal if its payment was so big as to:
        • entirely ruin the promiser’s family
        • be sufficient for promoting other useful purposes
      • It would be extremely improper to throw it to the robber for the sake of procedure.
  • The rich man who beggars himself by throwing away £100,000 for the sake of observing such a parole with a thief, would appear most absurd and extravagant.
    • Such profusion would seem inconsistent with:
      • his duty
      • what he owed to himself and others
      • what such kind of promise could authorise
  • However, it would be impossible to fix by any precise rule what:
    • regard should be paid into it, or
    • might be the biggest sum to be given
  • This would vary according to:
    • the characters of the persons
    • their circumstances
    • the solemnity of the promise , and even
    • the incidents of the encounter
  • If the promiser was treated with much gallantry, it would seem more due than on other occasions.
  • In general, exact propriety requires the observance of all such promises, wherever it is consistent with some other duties that are more sacred, such as a regard to the public interest.
    • Gratitude, natural affection, or the laws of proper beneficence prompts us to provide for the public.
  • But we have no precise rules to determine:
    • what external actions are due from a regard to such motives
    • consequently, when those virtues are inconsistent with the observance of such promises.


7.4.13. However, whenever such promises are violated even for the most necessary reasons, it is always with some dishonour to the promiser.

  • After they are made, we may be convinced of the impropriety of observing them.
    • But still there is some fault in having made them.
    • It is at least a departure from the highest and noblest maxims of magnanimity and honour.
  • A brave man would rather die than to make a promise which he cannot:
    • keep without folly or
    • violate without ignominy
      • Some degree of ignominy always attends this kind of situation.
  • Treachery and falsehood are dangerous and dreadful vices.
    • It is also so easily and safely indulged in.
      • We are more jealous of those vices than of almost any other.
  • Therefore, our imagination attaches the idea of shame to all violations of faith.
    • They resemble the violations of chastity in women.
      • Chastity is a virtue which we are excessively jealous of, for the similar reasons.
  • Our sentiments are not more delicate with regard to the violations of faith, than with regard to the violations of chastity.
  • Breach of chastity dishonours irretrievably.
    • No circumstances, no solicitation can excuse it.
    • No sorrow, no repentance can atone for it.
    • We are so nice in this respect that even a rape dishonours.
    • The mind’s innocence cannot wash out the body’s pollution.
  • It is the same case with the violation of faith when it has been solemnly pledged.
    • Fidelity is such a necessary virtue.
      • We generally expect it even from those whom:
        • nothing else is due
        • we think it lawful to kill and destroy
  • It is useless for a person who makes a promise and then breaks it to argue that he broke it because it was inconsistent with another respectable duty to keep it.
    • These circumstances may alleviate, but cannot entirely wipe out his dishonour.
    • He has broken a promise which he had solemnly avowed to maintain.
    • His character has at least a ridicule affixed to it.
      • This would be very difficult to erase entirely.
    • I imagine no man, who had gone through this, would be fond of telling his story.


7.4.14. That example may show the difference between casuistry and jurisprudence even with regard to the obligations of the general rules of justice.


7.4.15. This difference is real and essential.

  • Those two sciences propose quite different ends.
  • The sameness of the subject has made such a similarity between them.
  • Most of the authors on jurisprudence answered those questions:
    • sometimes according to the principles of jurisprudence
    • sometimes according to the principles of casuistry
  • They did not distinguish and perhaps were not aware when they did the one and when the other.


7.4.16. However, the doctrine of the casuists is not confined to the conscientious regard to the general rules of justice demanded of us.

  • It embraces many other parts of Christian and moral duty.
  • The custom of confession was introduced by the Roman Catholic superstition in times of barbarism and ignorance.
    • It principally created the cultivation of this kind of science.
    • Through confession, the most secret actions and thoughts suspected of violating the rules of Christian purity were revealed to the confessor.
      • The confessor informed his penitents:
        • whether and how they had violated their duty
        • what penance they should undergo to absolve them in the name of the offended Deity.


7.4.17. The awareness or suspicion of having done wrong is a load on every mind.

  • It is accompanied with anxiety and terror in people not hardened by long habits of immoral behaviour.
  • In this and all other distresses, men are naturally eager to disburden themselves of the oppression on their thoughts.
    • They do this by disclosing their mind’s agony to some person whose secrecy and discretion they can confide in.
    • They suffer shame from this acknowledgment.
      • This shame is fully compensated by the removal of their uneasiness from the sympathy of this person.
      • It relieves them to find that:
        • they are not unworthy of regard
        • their present disposition is:
          • at least approved of
          • perhaps sufficient to compensate their past bad conduct, to maintain them in esteem with their friend
  • Many artful clergy had insinuated themselves into the confidence of almost every private family.
    • They possessed all the little learning which those superstitious times could afford.
    • Their rude and disorderly manners were polished and regular compared with those of their times.
    • Therefore, they were regarded as the great directors of all religious and moral duties.
    • Their familiarity gave reputation to whoever was so happy as to have it.
    • Their disapprobation stamped the deepest ignominy on those unlucky to receive it.
    • They were considered as the great judges of right and wrong.
    • They were naturally consulted about all the scruples that occurred.
    • It made sense for anyone to have it known that he:
      • told those holy men all such secrets
      • took no important step without their advice and approbation
  • It was easy for the clergy to get it established as a general rule, that they should be entrusted with:
    • what had already become fashionable to entrust to them
    • what they generally would have been entrusted, though no such rule had been established
  • To qualify themselves for confessors became a necessary part of the study of churchmen.
    • They were led to collectcases of conscience.
      • These are nice and delicate situations in which it is hard to determine where the propriety of conduct may lie.
      • They imagined that such works might be useful to:
        • the directors of consciences
        • those who were to be directed
      • Hence the origin of books of casuistry.


7.4.18. The moral duties which fell under the casuists’ consideration were chiefly those which can be circumscribed within general rules.

  • Their violation is naturally attended with some remorse and dread of punishment.
  • Punishment was instituted to appease those terrors of conscience created by the infringement of moral duties.
    • But not every defect of virtue creates such kind of remorse.
    • No one asks his confessor for absolution if he did not do the most generous, friendly, or magnanimous action possible.
      • In such kind of failures, the violated rule is commonly not very determinate.
        • The violation also does not create positive blame, censure, or punishment.
  • The casuists seem to have regarded the exercise of such virtues as works of supererogation.
    • These could not be very strictly exacted.
      • Therefore, it was unnecessary for them to treat it.

Words: 2,779

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