I. Man a Subject of Moral Obligation.

II. Extent of Moral Obligation.

I. Man is a Subject of Moral Obligation.

This is a first truth of reason. A first truth has this invariable characteristic, namely, all moral agents know it by a necessity of nature and assume its truth in all their practical judgments, whatever their philosophical theories may be.

Now who does not know that men possess the attributes of moral agents: to wit, Intellect, (including reason, conscience, and consciousness,) Sensibility, and Free Will. Every moral agent does know and can not but know this. That man has Intellect and Sensibility, or the powers of knowing and feeling, has not to my knowledge been doubted. In theory, the freedom of the will in man has been denied. Yet the very deniers have, in their practical judgments, assumed the freedom of the human will as well and as fully as the most staunch defenders of human liberty of will. Indeed nobody ever did or can in practice call in question the freedom of the human will without justly incurring the charge of insanity. By a necessity of his nature every moral agent knows himself to be free. He can no more hide this fact from himself, or reason himself out of the conviction of its truth, than he can speculate himself into a disbelief of his own existence. He may in speculation deny either, but in fact he knows both. That he is, that he is free, that he is a subject of moral obligation are truths equally well known, and known precisely in the same way, namely, he intuits them--sees them in their own light by virtue of the constitution of his being. I have said that man is conscious of possessing the powers of a moral agent. He has also the idea of the valuable, of right and of wrong: of this he is conscious. But nothing else is necessary to constitute man or any other being a subject of moral obligation than the possession of these powers together with sufficient light on moral subjects to develop the ideas just mentioned.

Again. Man, by a law of necessity, affirms himself to be under moral obligation. He can not doubt it. He affirms absolutely and necessarily that he is praise or blame-worthy as he is benevolent or selfish. Every man assumes this of himself and of all other men of sound mind. This assumption is irresistible as well as universal.

The truth assumed then is a first truth and not to be called in question. But if it be called in question in theory, it still remains and must remain, while reason remains, a truth of certain knowledge from the presence of which there is and can be no escape. The spontaneous, universal, and irresistible affirmation that men of sound mind are praise or blame-worthy as they are selfish or benevolent, shows beyond contradiction that all men regard themselves and others as the subjects of moral obligation.

II. Extent of Moral Obligation.

By this is intended, to what acts and states of mind does moral obligation extend? This certainly is a solemn and a fundamentally important question.

In the examination of this question I shall,

1. State again the conditions of moral obligation.

2. Show by an appeal to reason or to natural theology, to what acts and states of mind moral obligation can not directly extend.

3. To what acts or states of mind moral obligation must directly extend.

4. To what acts and mental states moral obligation must indirectly extend.

5. Examine the question in the light of the oracles of God.

1. State again the conditions of moral obligation. These must of necessity be introduced here if we would understand this subject, although they have been examined in a former Lecture at considerable length. These conditions are:

(1.) The powers and susceptibilities of moral agency. Intellect, including Reason, Conscience, and Self-consciousness. Reason is the intuitive faculty or function of the intellect. It gives by direct intuition the following among other truths: the absolute--for example, right and wrong; the necessary--space exists; the infinite--space is infinite; the perfect--God is perfect--God's law is perfect, etc. In short it is the faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to act in conformity with perceived moral relations. It is that faculty that postulates all the a priori truths of science whether mathematical, philosophical, theological, or logical.

Conscience is the faculty or function of the Intelligence that recognizes the conformity or disconformity of the heart and life to the Moral Law as it lies revealed in the reason, and also awards praise to conformity and blame to disconformity to that law. It also affirms that conformity to the moral law deserves reward and that disconformity deserves punishment. It also possesses a propelling or impulsive power by which it urges the conformity of Will to Moral Law. It does, in a certain sense, seem to possess the power of retribution.

Consciousness is the faculty or function of self-knowledge. It is the faculty that recognizes our own existence, mental actions, and states, together with the attributes of liberty or necessity, belonging to those actions or states.

"Consciousness is the mind in the act of knowing itself." By consciousness I know that I am--that I affirm that space is,--that I also affirm that the whole is equal to all its parts--that every event must have a cause, and many such like truths. I am conscious not only of these affirmations, but also that necessity is the law of these affirmations, that I can not affirm otherwise than I do in respect to this class of truths. I am also conscious of choosing to sit at my desk and write, and I am just as conscious that liberty is the law of this choice. That is, I am conscious of necessarily regarding myself as entirely free in this choice, and of affirming my own ability to have chosen not to sit at my desk and of being now able to choose not to sit and write. I am just as conscious of affirming the liberty of necessity of my mental states as I am of the states themselves. Consciousness gives us our existence and attributes, our mental acts and states, and all the attributes and phenomena of our being of which we have any knowledge. In short all our knowledge is given to us by consciousness. The Intellect is a receptivity as distinguished from a voluntary power. All the acts and states of the intelligence are under the law of necessity or physical law. The will can command the attention of the intellect. Its thoughts, perceptions, affirmations, and all its phenomena are involuntary and under a law of necessity. Of this we are conscious. Another faculty indispensable to moral agency is,

(2.) Sensibility. This is the faculty or susceptibility of feeling. All sensation, desire, emotion, passion, pain, pleasure, and in short every kind and degree of feeling as the term feeling is commonly used, is a phenomenon of this faculty. This faculty supplies the chronological condition of the idea of the valuable, and hence of right and wrong and of moral obligation. The experience of pleasure or happiness develops the idea of the valuable just as the perception of body develops the idea of space. But for this faculty the mind could have no idea of the valuable and hence of moral obligation to will the valuable, nor of right and wrong, nor of praise and blame-worthiness.

This faculty like the intellect is a receptivity or purely a passive as distinguished from a voluntary faculty. All its phenomena are under the law of necessity. I am conscious that I can not, by any direct effort, feel when and as I will. This faculty is so correlated to the intelligence that when the intellect is intensely occupied with certain considerations, the Sensibility is affected in a certain manner, and certain feelings exist in the Sensibility by a law of necessity. I am conscious that when certain conditions are fulfilled, I can not but have certain feelings, and that when these conditions are not fulfilled, I can not have those feelings. I know by consciousness that my feelings and all the states and phenomena of the Sensibility are only indirectly under the control of my Will. By willing I can direct my Intelligence to the consideration of certain subjects, and in this way alone affect my Sensibility, and produce a given state of feeling. So on the other hand if certain feelings exist in the Sensibility which I wish to suppress, I know that I can not annihilate them by directly willing them out of existence, but by diverting my attention from the cause of them, they cease to exist of course and of necessity. Thus feeling is only indirectly under the control of the Will.

Another faculty indispensable to moral agency is,

(3.) Free Will. By Free Will is intended the power to choose, in every instance, in accordance with moral obligation, or to refuse so to choose. This much must be implied in Free Will, and I am not concerned to affirm anything more. The Will is the voluntary power. In it resides the power of causality. As consciousness gives the affirmation that necessity is an attribute of the phenomena of the Intellect and of the Sensibility, so it just as unequivocally gives the affirmation that Liberty is an attribute of the phenomena of the Will. I am as conscious of affirming that I could will differently from what I do in every instance of moral obligation, as I am of the affirmation that I can not affirm, in regard to truths of intuition, otherwise than I do. I am as conscious of being free in willing as I am of not being free or voluntary in my feelings and intuitions.

Consciousness of affirming the Freedom of the Will, that is, of power to will in accordance with moral obligation, or to refuse thus to will, is a necessary condition of the affirmation of moral obligation. For example: No man affirms, or can affirm, his moral obligation to undo all the acts of his past life, and to live his life over again. He can not affirm himself to be under this obligation, simply because he can not but affirm the impossibility of it. He can affirm, and indeed can not but affirm his obligation to repent and obey God in future, because he is conscious of affirming his ability to do this. Consciousness of the affirmation of ability to comply with any requisition, is a necessary condition of the affirmation of obligation to comply with that requisition. Then no moral agent can affirm himself to be under moral obligation to perform an impossibility.

(4.) A fourth condition of moral obligation is Light, or so much knowledge of our moral relations as to develop the idea of oughtness. This implies,

[1.] The perception or idea of the intrinsically valuable.

[2.] The affirmation of obligation to will the valuable for its own sake.

[3.] The development of the idea that it is right to will the good or the valuable and wrong not to will it for its own sake or disinterestedly.

Before I can affirm my obligation to will, I must perceive something in that which I am required to will as an ultimate end, that renders it worthy of being chosen. I must have an object of choice. That object must possess in itself that which commends itself to my Intelligence as worthy of being chosen.

All choice must respect means or ends. That is, everything must be willed either as an end or a means. I can not be under obligation to will the means until I know the end. I can not know an end, or that which can possibly be chosen as an ultimate end, until I know that something is intrinsically valuable. I can not know that it is right or wrong to choose or refuse a certain end, until I know whether the proposed object of choice is intrinsically valuable or not. It is impossible for me to choose it as an ultimate end, unless I perceive it to be intrinsically valuable. This is self-evident; for choosing it as an end is nothing else than choosing it for its intrinsic value. Moral obligation, therefore, always and necessarily implies the knowledge that the well being of God and of the Universe is valuable in itself, and the affirmation that it ought to be chosen for its own sake, that is, impartially and on account of its intrinsic value. it is impossible that the ideas of right and wrong should be developed until the idea of the valuable is developed. Right and wrong respect intentions, and strictly nothing else, as we shall see. Intention implies an end intended. Now that which is chosen as an ultimate end, is and must be chosen for its own sake or for its intrinsic value. Until the end is apprehended no idea or affirmation of obligation can exist respecting it. Consequently no idea of right or wrong in respect to that end can exist. The end must first be perceived. The idea of the intrinsically valuable must be developed. Simultaneously with the development of the idea of the valuable the Intelligence affirms, and must affirm obligation to will it, or, which is the same thing, that it is right to will it, and wrong not to will it.

It is impossible that the idea of moral obligation and of right and wrong should be developed upon any other conditions than those just specified. To affirm the contrary were absurd. Suppose, for instance, it should be said that the idea of the intrinsically valuable is not necessary to the development of the idea of moral obligation, and of right and wrong. Let us look at it. It is agreed that moral obligation, and the ideas of right and wrong, respect, directly, intentions only. It is also admitted that all intentions must respect either means or ends. It is also admitted that obligation to will means, can not exist until the end is known. It is also admitted that the choice of an ultimate end implies the choice of a thing for its own sake, or because it is intrinsically valuable. Now, from these admissions, it follows that the idea of the intrinsically valuable is the condition of moral obligation, and also of the idea of moral obligation. It must follow also that the idea of the valuable must be the condition of the idea that it would be right to choose or wrong not to choose the valuable. When I come to the discussion of the subject of moral depravity, I shall endeavor to show that the idea of the valuable is very early developed, and is among the earliest, if not the very first, of human intellections. I have here only to insist that the development of this idea is a sine qua non of moral obligation. It is, then, nonsense to affirm that the ideas of right and wrong are developed antecedently to the idea of the valuable. It is the same as to say that I affirm it to be right to will an end, before I have the idea of an end, or which is the same thing, of the intrinsically valuable, or wrong not to will an end when as yet I have no idea or knowledge of any reason why it should be willed, or in other words, while I have no idea of an ultimate end. This is absurd.

Let it be distinctly understood then, that the conditions of moral obligation are,

1. The possession of the powers, or faculties, and susceptibilities of a moral agent.

2. Light, or the development of the ideas of the valuable, of moral obligation, of right and wrong.

It has been absurdly contended that Sensibility is not necessary to moral agency. This assertion overlooks the fact that Moral Law is the Law of Nature; that, therefore, were the powers and susceptibilities radically different from what they are, or were the correlation of these powers radically otherwise than it is they could not still be moral agents in the sense of being under the same law that moral agents now are. Possessing a different nature, they must of necessity be subject to a different law. The law of their nature must be their law, and no other could by any possibility be obligatory upon them.

2. I am to show by an appeal to reason or to natural theology, to what acts and states of mind moral obligation can not directly extend.

(1.) Not to external or muscular action. These actions are connected with the actions of the Will by a law of necessity. If I will to move my muscles they must move, unless the nerves of voluntary motion are paralyzed, or some resistance is offered to muscular motion that overpowers the strength of my Will, or, if you please, of my muscles. It is generally understood and agreed that moral obligation does not directly extend to bodily or outward action.

(2.) Not to the states of the Sensibility. I have already remarked that we are conscious that our feelings are not voluntary but involuntary states of mind. Moral obligation can not, therefore, directly extend to them.

(3.) Not to states of the Intelligence. The phenomena of this faculty we also know by consciousness to be under the law of necessity. It is impossible that moral obligation should extend directly to any involuntary act or state of mind.

(4.) Not to unintelligent acts of Will. There are many unintelligent volitions or acts of Will, to which moral obligation can not extend, for example, the volitions of maniacs, or of infants, before the reason is at all developed. They must at birth be the subjects of volition, as they have motion or muscular action. The volitions of somnambulists are also of this character. Purely instinctive volitions must also come under the category of unintelligent actions of Will. For example: A bee lights on my hand, I instantly and instinctively shake him off. I tread on a hot iron, and instinctively move my foot. Indeed there are many actions of will which are put forth under the influence of pure instinct, and before the Intelligence can affirm obligation to will or not to will. These surely can not have moral character, and of course moral obligation can not extend to them.

3. To what acts and states of mind moral obligation must directly extend.

(1.) To all intelligent acts of will. These are and must be free.

(2.) All intelligent acts of will must consist, either in the choice of ends or means. The mind does not act intelligently, except as it acts in reference to some end or object of choice.

(3.) The choice of an ultimate end is an ultimate intention.

(4.) The choice of the means to secure an ultimate end, is but an endeavor of the will to secure it, and is therefore, but an exertion of the ultimate intention. It is choosing this as a means to that, that is, it is the choice of the end and of the means for its sake. Choosing the means is sometimes, though I think improperly, denominated subordinate choice, or the choice of subordinate ends.

(5.) All intelligent willing, choosing, intending, must consist, either in the choice of an end, or in volitions or efforts to secure an end. In other words, all choosing must consist in choosing an end, or something for its own sake, or in choosing means to compass the end. This must be, or there is really no object of choice.

(6.) I have said, that Moral Obligation respects the ultimate intention only. I am now prepared to say still further, that this is a first truth of Reason. It is a truth universally and necessarily assumed by all Moral Agents, their speculations to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding. This is evident from the following considerations.

[1.] Very young children know and assume this truth universally. They always deem it a sufficient vindication of themselves, when accused of any delinquency, to say, "I did not mean to," or if accused of shortcoming, to say, "I meant or intended to have done it--I designed it." This, if true, they assume as an all-sufficient vindication of themselves. They know that this, if believed, must be regarded as a sufficient excuse to justify them in every case.

[2.] Every Moral Agent necessarily regards such an excuse as a perfect justification, in case it be sincerely and truly made.

[3.] It is a saying as common as men are, and as true as common, that men are to be judged by their motives, that is, by their designs, intentions. It is impossible for us not to assent to this truth. If a man intends evil, though perchance he may do us good, we do not excuse him, but hold him guilty of the crime which he intended. So if he intends to do us good, and perchance do us evil, we do not, and can not condemn him. For this intention and endeavor to do us good, we can not blame him, although it has resulted in evil to us. He may be to blame for other things connected with the affair. He may have come to our help too late, and may have been to blame for not coming when a different result would have followed; or he may have been blamable for not being better qualified for doing us good. He may have been to blame for many things connected with the transaction, but for a sincere, and of course hearty endeavor to do us good, he is not culpable, nor can he be, however it may result. If he honestly intended to do us good, it is impossible that he should not have used the best means in his power at the time: this is implied in honesty of intention. And if he did this, reason can not pronounce him guilty, for it must judge him by his intentions.

[4.] Courts of Criminal Law have always in every enlightened country assumed this as a first truth. They always inquire into the quo animo, that is, the intention, and judge accordingly.

[5.] The universally acknowledged truth that lunatics are not moral agents and responsible for their conduct, is but an illustration of the fact that the truth we are considering is regarded and assumed as a first truth of Reason.

(7.) Again if it be true, which certainly it must be, that all choices respect ends or means, and that the choice of means to effect an end is only an endeavor to secure the intended end, it must also be true that Moral Obligation extends directly only to ultimate intention.

(8.) But the Bible everywhere, either expressly or impliedly recognizes this truth. "If there be a willing mind, that is, a right willing or intention, it is accepted," etc.

(9.) Again. All the Law is fulfilled in one word, love. Now this can not be true if the spirit of the whole Law does not directly respect intentions only. If it extends directly to thoughts, emotions, and outward actions, it can not be truly said that love is the fulfilling of the Law. This love must be good will, for how could involuntary love be obligatory?

(10.) Again. The spirit of the Bible everywhere respects the intention. If the intention is right, or if there be a willing mind it is accepted as obedience. But if there be not a willing mind, that is, right intention, no outward act is regarded as obedience. The willing is always regarded by the Scriptures as the doing. If a man look on a woman to lust after her, that is, with licentious intention or willing, he hath committed adultery with her already, etc. So on the other hand, if one intends to perform a service for God which after all he is unable to perform, he is regarded as having virtually done it, and is rewarded accordingly.

This is too obviously the doctrine of the Bible to need further elucidation.

4. To what Acts and Mental States Moral Obligation indirectly extends.

Under this head I remark,

That it has been already said that outward action together with the states of the Intelligence and Sensibility are connected with the actions of the Will by a Law of Necessity.

(1.) The muscles of the body are directly under the control of the Will. I will to move, and my muscles must move, unless there be a paralysis of the nerves of voluntary motion, or unless some opposing power of sufficient magnitude to overcome the strength of my Will be interposed.

(2.) The Intellect is also directly under the control of the Will. I am conscious that I can control and direct my attention as I please, and think upon one subject or another.

(3.) The Sensibility, I am conscious, is only indirectly controlled by the Will. Feeling can be produced only by directing the attention and thoughts to those subjects that excite Feeling by a Law of Necessity.

The way is now prepared to say,

[1.] That Moral Obligation extends indirectly to outward or bodily actions. These are often required in the Word of God. The reason is that being connected with the actions of the Will by a Law of Necessity, if the Will is right the outward action must follow, except upon the contingencies just named, and therefore such actions may reasonably be required. But if the contingencies just named intervene so that outward action does not follow the choice or intention, the Bible accepts the Will for the deed invariably. "If there be a willing mind it is accepted accordingly", etc.

[2.] Moral Obligation extends indirectly to the states of the Sensibility, so that certain emotions or feelings are required as outward actions are, and for the same reason, namely, the states of the Sensibility are connected with the actions of the Will by a Law of Necessity. But when the Sensibility is exhausted, or when for any reason the right action of the Will does not produce the required feelings, it is accepted upon the principle just named.

[3.] Moral Obligation indirectly extends also to the states of the Intellect; consequently the Bible, to a certain extent, and in a certain sense, holds men responsible for their Thoughts and Opinions. It everywhere assumes that if the heart be constantly right the Thoughts and Opinions will correspond with the state of the Heart or Will; "If any man will do his will he shall know the doctrine whether it be of God." It is, however, manifest that the Word of God everywhere assumes that, strictly speaking, all virtue and vice belong to the heart or intention. Where this is right, all is regarded as right; and where this is wrong, all is regarded as wrong. It is upon this assumption that the doctrine of total depravity rests. It is undeniable that the veriest sinners do many things outwardly which the Law of God requires. Now unless the intention decides the character of these acts, they must be regarded as really virtuous. But when the intention is found to be selfish, then it is ascertained that they are sinful notwithstanding their literal conformity to the Law of God.

The fact is that Moral Agents are so constituted that it is impossible for them not to judge themselves and others by their motives and intentions. They can not but assume it as a first truth that a man's character is as his intention is, and consequently that Moral Obligation respects directly only intention.

[4.] Moral Obligation then indirectly extends to everything about us, over which the Will has direct or indirect control. The Moral Law, while, strictly, it legislates over intention only, yet in fact legislates over the whole being, inasmuch as all our powers are directly or indirectly connected with intention by a Law of Necessity. Strictly speaking, however, Moral Character belongs alone to the intention. In strict propriety of speech, it can not be said that either outward action or any state of the Intellect or the Sensibility has a moral element or quality belonging to it. Yet in common language, which is sufficiently accurate for most practical purposes, we speak of thought, feeling, and outward action as holy or unholy.


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