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Definition and use of the science.
MORAL Philosophy, Morality, Ethics, Casuistry, Natural law, mean all the same thing; namely, that science which teaches men their duty and the reasons of it.
The use of such a study depends upon this, that, without it, the rules of life, by which men are ordinarily governed, oftentimes mislead them, through a defect either in the rule, or in the application. These rules are, the Law of Honour, the Law of the Land, and the Scriptures.
The law of honour.
THE Law of Honour, is a system of rules constructed by people of fashion, and calculated to facilitate their intercourse with one another; and for no other purpose.
Consequently, nothing is adverted to by the Law of Honour, but what tends to incommode this inter
Hence this law only prescribes and regulates the duties betwixt equals; omitting such as relate to the -Supreme Being, as well as those which we owe to our inferiors,
For which reason, profaneness, neglect of public worship or private devotion, cruelty to servants, rigorous treatment of tenants or other dependants want of charity to the poor, injuries done to tradesmen by insolvency or delay of payment, with numberless examples of the same kind, are accounted no breaches of honour; because a man is not less an agreeable companion for these vices, nor the worse to deal with, in those concerns which are usually transacted between one gentleman and another.
Again; the Law of Honour, being constituted by men occupied in the pursuit of pleasure, and for the mutual conveniency of such men, will be found, as might be expected from the character and design of the law-makers, to be, in most instances, favourable to the licentious indulgence of the natural passions. Thus it allows of fornication, adultery, drunkenness, prodigality, duelling, and of revenge in the extreme; and lays no stress upon the virtues opposite to these.
The law of the land.
THAT part of mankind, who are beneath the Law of Honour, often make the Law of the Land their rule of life; that is, they are satisfied with themselves, so long as they do or omit nothing, for the doing or omitting of which the law can punish them. Whereas every system of human laws, considered as a rule of life, labours under the two following defects:
I. Human laws omit many duties, as not objects of compulsion; such as piety to God, bounty to the poor, forgiveness of injuries, education of children, gratitude to benefactors.
The law never speaks but to command, nor commands but where it can compel; consequently those duties, which by their nature must be voluntary, are left out of the statute-book, as lying be yond the reach of its operation and authority.
II. Human laws permit, or, which is the same thing, suffer to go unpunished, many crimes, because
they are incapable of being defined by any previous description. Of which nature are luxury, prodigality, partiality in voting at those elections in which the qualifications of the candidate ought to determine the success, caprice in the disposition of men's fortunes at their death, disrespect to parents, and a multitude of similar examples.
For, this is the alternative: either the law must define beforehand and with precision the offences which it punishes; or it must be left to the discretion of the magistrate to determine upon each particular accusation, whether it constitute that offence which the law designed to punish, or not; which is, in effect, leaving to the magistrate to punish or not to punish, at his pleasure, the individual who is brought before him; which is just so much tyranny. Where, therefore, as in the instances above mention. ed, the distinction between right and wrong is of too subtile or of too secret a nature to be ascertained by any preconcerted language, the law of most countries, especially of free states, rather than commit the liberty of the subject to the discretion of the magistrate, leaves men in such cases to themselves.
WHOEVER expects to find in the Scriptures a specific direction for every moral doubt that arises, looks for more than he will meet with. And to what a magnitude such a detail of particular precepts would have enlarged the sacred volume, may be partly understood from the following consideration:-The laws of this country, including the acts of the legislature, and the decisions of our supreme courts of justice, are not contained in fewer than fifty folio volumes; and yet it is not once in ten attempts that you can find the case you look for, in any law book whatever: to say nothing of those numerous points of conduct, concerning which the law professes not to prescribe or determine any thing. Had then the same particularity which obtains in human laws, so far as they go, been at