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beings that have no perception or will; which are not properly capable objects of benevolence.
Love is commonly distinguished into love of benevolence, and love of complacence. Love of benevolence is that affection or propensity of the heart to any being, which causes it to incline to its well-being, or disposes it to desire and take pleasure in ts happiness. And if I mistake not, it is agreeable to the common opinion, that beauty in the object is not always the ground of this propensity; but that there may be a disposition to the welfare of those that are not considered as beautiful, unless mere existence be accounted a beauty. And benevolence or goodness in the divine Being is generally supposed, not only to be prior to the beauty of many of its objects, but to their existence; so as to be the ground both of their existence and their beauty, rather than the foundation of God's benevolence; as it is supposed that it is God's goodness which moved him to give them both being and beauty. So that if all virtue primarily consists in that affection of heart to being, which is exercised in benevolence, or an inclination to its good, then God's virtue is so extended as to include a propensity not only to being actually existing, and actually beautiful, but to possible being, so as to incline him to give a being beauty and happiness.
What is commonly called love of complacence, presupposes beauty. For it is no other than delight in beauty; or complacence in the person or being beloved for his beauty. If virtue be the beauty of an intelligent being, and virtue consists in love, then it is a plain inconsistence, to suppose that virtue primarily consists in any love to its object for its beauty; either in a love of complacence, which is delight in a being for his beauty, or in a love of benevolence, that has the beauty of its object for its foundation. For that would be to suppose, that the beauty of intelligent beings primarily consists in love to beauty; or that their virtue first of all consists in their love to virtue. Which is an inconsistence, and going in a circle. Because it makes virtue, or beauty of mind, the foundation or first motive of that love wherein virtue originally consists, or wherein the very first virtue consists; or, it supposes the first virtue to be the consequence and effect of virtue. Which makes the first virtue both the ground and the consequence, both cause and effect of itself. Doubtless virtue primarily consists in something else besides any effect or consequence of virtue. If virtue consists primarily in love to virtue, then virtue, the thing loved, is the love of virtue : so that virtue must consist in the love of the love of virtue-and so on in infinitum. For there is no end of going back in a relale. We never come to any beginning or foundation; it is it c it beginning, and hangs on nothing.-Therefore, if the
essence of virtue, or beauty of mind, lies in love, or a disposi tion to love, it must primarily consist in something different both from complacence, which is a delight in beauty, and also from any benevolence that has the beauty of its object for its foundation. Because it is absurd to say, that virtue is primarily and first of all the consequence of itself; which makes virtue primarily prior to itself.
Nor can virtue primarily consist in gratitude; or one being's benevolence to another for his benevolence to him. Because this implies the same inconsistence. For it supposes a benevolence prior to gratitude, which is the cause of gratitude. The first benevolence cannot be gratitude. Therefore there is room left for no other conclusion, than that the primary object of virtuous love is being, simply considered; or that true virtue primarily consists, not in love to any particular beings, because of their virtue or beauty, nor in gratitude, because they love us; but in a propensity and union of heart to being simply considered; exciting absolute benevolence, if I may so call it, to being in general. I say true virtue primarily consists in this. For I am far from asserting, that there is no true virtue in any other love than this absolute benevolence. But I would express what appears to me to be the truth on this subject, in the following particulars.
The first object of a virtuous benevolence is being, simply considered; and if being, simply considered, be its object, then being in general is its object; and what it has an ultimate propensity to is the highest good of being in general. And it will seek the good of every individual being unless it be conceived as not consistent with the highest good of being in general. In which case the good of a particular being, or some beings, may be given up for the sake of the highest good of being in general. And particularly, if there be any being statedly and irreclaimably opposite, and an enemy to being in general, then consent and adherence to being in general will induce the truly virtuous heart to forsake that enemy, and to oppose it.
Further, if BEING, simply considered, be the first object of a truly virtuous benevolence, then that object who has most of being, or has the greatest share of existence, other things being equal, so far as such a being is exhibited to our faculties, will have the greatest share of the propensity and benevolent affections of the heart. I say, "other things being equal," especially because there is a secondary object of virtuous benevolence, that I shall take notice of presently, which must be considered as the ground or motive to a purely virtuous benevolence. Pure benevolence in its first exercise is nothing else but being's uniting consent, or propensity to being; and inclining to the general highest good, and to each being, whose
welfare is consistent with the highest general good, in propor tion to the degree of existence,* understand, "other things being equal."
The second object of a virtuous propensity of heart is benevolent being. A secondary ground of pure benevolence is virtuous benevolence itself in its object. When any one under the influence of general benevolence, sees another being possessed of the like general benevolence, this attaches his heart to him, and draws forth greater love to him, than merely his having existence: because so far as the being beloved has love to being in general, so far his own being is, as it were, enlarged; extends to, and in some sort comprehends being in general: and therefore, he that is governed by love to being in general, must of necessity have complacence in him, and the greater degree of benevolence to him, as it were out of gratitude to him for his love to general existence," that his own heart is extended and united to, and so looks on its interest as its own. It is because his heart is thus united to being in general, that he looks on a benevolent propensity to being in general, wherever he sees it, as the beauty of the being in whom it is; an excellency that renders him worthy of esteem, complacence, and the greater good-will. But several things may be noted more particularly concerning this secondary ground of a truly virtuous love.
1. That loving a being on this ground necessarily arises from pure benevolence to being in general, and comes to the same thing. For he that has a simple and pure good will to general existence, must love that temper in others, that agrees and conspires with itself. A spirit of consent to being must agree with consent to being. That which truly and sincerely seeks the good of others, must approve of, and love that which joins with him in seeking the good of others.
2. This secondary ground of virtuous love is the thing wherein true moral or spiritual beauty primarily consists. Yea, spiritual beauty consists wholly in this, and in the various qualities and exercises of mind which proceed from it, and the external actions which proceed from these internal qualities and exercises. And in these things consists all true virtue, viz. in this love of being, and the qualities and acts which arise from it.
* I say, "in proportion to the degree of existence," because one being may have more existence than another, as he may be greater than another. That which is great has more existence, and is further from nothing, than that which is little. One being may have every thing positive belonging to it, or every thing which goes to its positive existence (in opposition to defect) in an higher degree than another; or a greater capacity and power, greater understanding, every faculty and every positive quality in an higher degree. An archangel must be supposed to have more existence, and to be every way further removed from nonentity, than a
3. As all spiritual beauty lies in these virtuous principles and acts, so it is primarily on this account they are beautiful, viz. that they imply consent and union with being in general. This is the primary and most essential beauty of every thing that can justly be called by the name of virtue, or is any moral excellency in the eye of one that has a perfect view of things. I say," the primary and most essential beauty," because there is a secondary and inferior sort of beauty; which I shall take notice of afterwards.
4. This spiritual beauty, which is but a secondary ground of virtuous benevolence, is the ground not only of benevolence, but complacence, and is the primary ground of the latter; that is, when the complacence is truly virtuous. Love to us in particular, and kindness received may be a secondary ground: but this is the primary objective foundation of it.
5. It must be noted, that the degree of the amiableness of true virtue primarily consisting in consent, and a benevolent propensity of heart to being in general, is not in the simple proportion of the degree of benevolent affection seen, but in a proportion compounded of the greatness of the benevolent being, or the degree of being and the degree of benevolence.One that loves being in general, will necessarily value good will to being in general, wherever he sees it. But if he sees the same benevolence in two beings, he will value it more in two, than in one only. Because it is a greater thing, more favourable to being in general, to have two beings to favour it, than only one of them. For there is more being that favours being both together having more being than one alone. So if one being be as great as two, has as much existence as both together, and has the same degree of general benevolence, it is more favourable to being in general, than if there were general benevolence in a being that had but half that share of existence. As a large quantity of gold, with the same quality, is more valuable than a small quantity of the same metal.
6. It is impossible that any one should truly relish this beauty, consisting in general benevolence, who has not that temper himself. I have observed, that if any being is possessed of such a temper, he will unavoidably be pleased with the same temper in another. And it may in like manner be demonstrated, that it is such a spirit, and nothing else, which will relish such a spirit. For if a being destitute of benevolence, should love benevolence to being in general, it would prize and seek that for which it had no value. For how should one love and value a disposition to a thing, or a tendency to promote it, and for that very reason, when the thing itself is what he
is regardless of, and has no value for, nor desires to have promoted.*
In this masterly Dissertation on the nature of virtue, our author enters at once on his own definition of the term, and explains very clearly what he means by true virtue. His views, in some respects, are considerably different from those which are most current among ethical writers; and probably for want of some explanations, whereby the different definitions adopted by others may be accounted for, his invaluable treatise has not only been underrated, but even, by some, unreasonably opposed. We shall here offer a few remarks, which perhaps may tend to cast some light on the subject in general, as well as to relieve our author's definition from unfair imputations.
1. Virtue, if we regard the use of the term (p) among the Greeks, seems to have been appropriated as much to the idea of martial courage, as the English term is appropriated to that of female chastity. Not that it was used exclusively in the former case, any more than in the latter. It often signifies power, energy, efficacy, and excellence. But by moral writers, both ancient and modern, it has been unanimously adopted to represent a very general moral idea. It would be easy to produce a great number of definitions from moralists and divines; but this is neither necessary, nor does it comport with our present purpose.
2. If we mistake not, there is no just definition of virtue, which is not reducible to this general one: VIRTUE IS A LAUDABLE MEAN OF REAL HAPPINESS. Cicero, indeed, says of it, that it is "affectio animi constans conveniensque, laudabiles efficiens eos, in quibus est, et ipsa per se, sua sponte, separata etiam utilitate laudabilis" (Tuscul. Quæst. Lib. iv. § 15.) But virtue being laudable from its very nature, independently of any advantageous result, does not hinder it from being "a laudable mean of real happiness."
3. Now happiness being the uniform and voluntary end of intellectual existence, a desire of it being inseparable from our nature; we become liable to err, not only by adopting wrong means for accomplishing the end we propose to ourselves, but also by forming a false estimate of the nature of happiness, or the end itself. If the happiness be not real but imaginary, in the contemplation of the agent, however well adapted the means may be in order to attain it, they deserve not the epithet virtuous.
4. To discover the nature of true happiness, the light of wisdom is requisite; and while desire is blind, false estimates will be made. But every one thinks himself wise and prudent enough to prescribe his own happiness, till such folly be shewn him by the wisdom which is from above; and he who supposes himself adequate to fix the end, cannot be very diffident about the means to be employed.
5. Hence there is room for as many representations of virtue, as there are kinds of happiness which men think to be real; in addition to as many means employed to accomplish their proposed end, as they judge to be laudable.
6. From these preliminary remarks it appears, that the nature and real character of virtue must arise from the nature of the end proposed, and of the means employed for securing it. We shall now attempt to illustrate the ground of numerous representations of virtue, by comparison.
7. Let the different kinds of happiness which we propose to ourselves, whether those which have been classified by moral writers, or any others, be represented by so many concentric circles. For instance, let happiness be considered as personal and relative, private and public, domestic and national, temporal and eternal, or the like; and for every species of happiness let there be a corresponding circle drawn. Let the filling up of that circle express the virtue requisite to attain the happiness thus represented.
8. Suppose, for example, that health, friendship, domestic unanimity, national prosperity, the welfare of the human race, and our individual conformity to God in his moral excellence through eternal ages, or the happiness implied in these respectively, be represented by the concentric circles above-mentioned. Then the happiness implied in health, a small circle, will be filled by corresponding virtues, when the end is sought by laudable means; such as temperance, moderation, chastity, government of the passions, &c. The circle representing the happiness implied in friendship will be filled by corresponding virtues, when the end is sought, as before, by laudable means; such as benevolence, fidelity, prudence, sympathy,