Lapas attēli
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER IV,

DERIVATION OF A FIRST PRINCIPLE.

§ 1. There will possibly be some for whom the d priori considerations set forth in the foregoing chapter, are too abstract for distinct comprehension. It is easy, however, to reason our way to that first principle of ethical science which we are about to follow out to its consequences, without any appeal to these. And it will be desirable now to do this. Starting afresh, then, from the admitted truth, that human happiness is the Divine will, let us look at the means appointed for the obtainment of that happiness, and observe what conditions they presuppose.

Happiness is a certain state of consciousness. That state must be produced by the action upon consciousness of certain modifying influences—by certain affections of it. All affections of consciousness we term sensations. And amongst the rest, those affections of it which constitute happiness must be sensations.

But how do we receive sensations ? Through what are called faculties. It is certain that a man cannot see without eyes. Equally certain is it that he can experience no impression of any kind, unless he is endowed with some power fitted to take in that impres. sion; that is, a faculty. All the mental states which he calls feelings and ideas, are affections of his consciousness received through the faculties-sensations give en to it by them.

There next comes the question—under what circumstances do the faculties yield those sensations of which happiness consists? The reply is—when they are exercised. It is from the activity of one or more of them that all gratification arises. To the healthful performance of each function of mind or body attaches a pleasurable feeling. And this pleasurable feeling is obtainable only by the performance of the function; that is, by the exercise of the correlative faculty. Every faculty in turn affords its special emotion; and the sum of these constitutes happiness.

Or the matter may be briefly put thus: A desire is the need for some species of sensation. A sensation is producible only by the exercise of a faculty.

Hence no desire can be satisfied except through the exercise of a faculty. But happiness consists in the due satisfaction of all the desires; that is, happiness consists in the due exercise of all the faculties.

§ 2.

Now if God wills man's happiness, and man's happiness can be obtained only by the exercise of his faculties, then God wills that man should exercise his faculties; that is, it is man's duty to exercise his faculties; for duty means fulfilment of the Divine will. That it is man's duty to exercise his faculties is further proved by the fact, that what we call punishment attaches to the neglect of that exercise. Not only is the normal activity of each faculty productive of pleasure, but the continued suspension of that activity is productive of pain. As the stomach hungers to digest food, so does every bodily and mental agent hunger to perform its appointed action. And as the refusal to satisfy the cravings of the digestive faculty is productive of suffering, so is the refusal to satisfy the cravings of any other faculty also productive of suffering, to an extent proportionate to the importance of that faculty. But as God wills man's happi

THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF ACTION.

93

ness, that line of conduct which produces unhappiness is contrary to his will. Therefore the non-exercise of the faculties is contrary to his will. Either way, then, we find that the exercise of the faculties is God's will and man's duty.

But the fulfilment of this duty necessarily presupposes freedom of action. Man cannot exercise his faculties without certain scope. He must have liberty to go and to come, to see, to feel, to speak, to work; to get food, raiment, shelter, and to provide for each and all of the needs of his nature. He must be free to do every thing which is directly or indirectly requisite for the due satisfaction of every mental and bodily want. Without this he cannot fulfil his duty or God's will. But if he cannot fulfil God's will without it, then God commands him to take it. He has Divine authority, therefore, for claiming this freedom of action. God intended him to have it ; that is, he has a right to it.

From this conclusion there seems no possibility of escape. Let us repeat the steps by which we arrive at it. God wills man's happiness. Man's happiness can only be produced by the exercise of his faculties. Then God wills that he should exercise his faculties. But to exercise his faculties he must have liberty to do all that his faculties naturally impel him to do. Then God intends he should have that liberty. Therefore he has a right to that liberty.

§ 3. This however, is not the right of one but of all. All are endowed with faculties. All are bound to fulfil the Divine will by exercising them. All therefore must be free to do those things in which the exercise of them consists. That is, all must have rights to liberty of action.

And hence there necessarily arises a limitation. For if men have like claims to that freedom which is needful for the exercise of their faculties, then must the freedom of each be bounded by the similar freedom of all. When, in the pursuit of their respective ends, two individuals clash, the movements of the one remain free only in so far as they do not interfere with the like movements of the other. This sphere of existence into which we are thrown not affording room for the unrestrained activity of all, and yet all possessing in virtue of their constitutions simi. lar claims to such unrestrained activity, there is no course but to apportion out the unavoidable restraint equally. Wherefore we arrive at the general proposition, that every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty by every other man.

§ 4. Upon a partial consideration this statement of the law will perhaps seem open to criticism. It may be thought better to limit the right of each to exercise his faculties, by the proviso that he shall not hurt any one else-shall not inflict pain on any one else. But although at first sight satisfactory, this expression of the law allows of erroneous deductions. It is true that

men, answering to those conditions of greatest happiness set forth in the foregoing chapter, cannot exercise their faculties to the aggrieving of one another. It is not, however, that each avoids giving pain by refraining from the full exercise of his faculties; but it is that the faculties of each are such that the full exercise of them offends no one. And herein lies the difference. The giving of any pain may have two

Either the abnormally-constituted man may do something displeasing to the normal feelings of his neighbours, in which case he acts wrongly; or the behaviour of the normally-constituted man may irritate the abnormal feelings of his neighbours; in which case it is not his

causes.

LIMIT TO FREEDOM OF ACTION.

95

а

behaviour that is wrong, but their characters that are 60. Under such circumstances the due exercise of his faculties is right, although it gives pain; and the remedy for the evil lies in the modification of those abnormal feelings to which pain is given.

To elucidate this distinction let us take a few illustrations. An honest man discovers some friend, of whom he had previously thought well, to be a rogue. He has certain high instincts to which rougery is repugnant; and allowing free play to these, he drops the acquaintanceship of this unworthy one. Now, though in doing so he gives pain, it does not follow that he transgresses the law. The evil must be ascribed, not to an undue exercise of faculties by him, but to the immorality of the man who suffers. Again, a Protestant in a Roman Catholic country, refuses to uncover his head on the passing of the host. In so obeying the promptings of certain sentiments, he annoys the spectators; and were the above modified expression of the law correct, would be blamable. The fault, however, is not with him, but with those who are offended. It is not that he is culpable in thus testifying to his belief, but it is that they ought not to have so tyrannical an intolerance of other opinions than their own.

Or again, a son, to the great displeasure of his father and family, marries one who, though in all respects admirable, is dowerless. In thus obeying the dictates of his nature he may entail considerable distress of mind upon his relatives; but it does not follow that his conduct is bad; it follows rather that the feelings which his conduct has wounded are bad.

Hence we see that in hourly-occurring cases like these, to limit the exercise of faculties by the necessity of not giving pain to others, would be to stop the proper exercise of faculties in some persons, for the purpose of allowing the improper exercise of faculties in the rest. More

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »