Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

ist, I am certain that man is not the being. There is perhaps not a person above the condition of a changeling, but can say why he did so and so, what moved him, what he intended. Nor is a single fact stated to make us believe, that ever a man acted against his own will or desire, who was not compelled by external force. On the contrary, constant and universal experience proves, that human actions are governed by certain inflexible laws; and that a man cannot exert his self-motive power, but in pursuance of some desire or motive.

Had a motive always the fame influence, actions proceeding from it would appear no less necessary than the actions of matter. The various degrees of influence that motives have on different men at the fame time, and on the fame man at different times, occasion a doubt by suggesting a notion of chance. Some motives however have such influence, as to leave no doubt: a timid female has a physical power to throw herself into the mouth of a lion, roaring for food; but (lie is withheld by terror no less effectually than by cords: if she should rush upon the lion,

Vol. IV. N would would not every one conclude that file was frantic? A man, tho' in a deep sleep, retains a physical power to act, but he cannot exert it. A man, tho' desperately in love, retains a physical power to refuse the hand of his mistress; but he cannot exert that power in'contradiction to his own ardent desire, more than if he were fast asleep. Now if a strong motive have a necessary influence, there is no reason for doubting, but that a weak motive must also have its influence, the fame in kind, tho' not in degree. Some actions indeed are strangely irregular: but let the wildest action be scrutiniz'd, there will always be discovered some motive or desire, which, however whimsical or capricious, was what influenced the person to act. Of two contending motives, is it not natural to expect that the stronger will prevail, however little its excess may be? If there be any doubt, it must arise from a supposition that a weak motive can be resisted arbitrarily. Where then are we to fix the boundary between a weak and a strong motive? If a weak motive can be resisted, why not one a little stronger, and why not the strongest ?. In Elements of

Criticism Criticism (a) the reader will find many examples of contrary motives weighing against each other. Let him ponder these with the strictest attention: his conclusion will be, that between two motives, however nearly balanced, a man has not an arbitrary choice, but must yield to the stronger. The mind indeed fluctuates for some time, and feels itself in a measure loose: at last, however, it is determined by the more powerful motive, as a balance is by the greater weight after many vibrations.

Such then are the laws that govern our voluntary actions. A man is absolutely free to act according to his own will; greater freedom than which is not conceivable. At the fame time, as man is made accountable for his conduct, to his Maker, to his fellow-creatures, and to himself, he is not left to act arbitrarily; for at that rate he would be altogether unaccountable: his will is regulated by desire; and desire by what pleases or displeases him. "Where we are subjected to the will of another, would it be our wish, that his will

(<?) Chap. 2. part 4.

N z should should be tinder no regulation? And where we are guided by our own will, would it be reasonable to wish, that it should be under no regulation, but be exerted without reason, without any motive, and contrary to common sense? Thus, with regard to human conduct, there is a chain of laws established by nature, • no one link of which is left arbitrary. By that wise system, man is made accountable: by it, he is made a fit subject for divine and human government: by it, persons of sagacity foresee the conduct of others: and by it, the prescience of the Deity with respect to human actions, is clearly established.

The absurd figure that a man would make. acting in contradiction to motives, should be sufficient to open our eyes without an argument. What a despicable figure does a person make, upon whom the same motive has great influence at one time, and very little at another? He is a bad member of society, and cannot be rely'd on as a friend or as an associate. But how highly rational is this supposed person, compared with one who can act in contradiction to every motive? The

former

former may be termed whimsical or capricious: the latter is worse; he is absolutely unaccountable, and cannot be the subject of government, more than a lump of matter unconscious of its own motion.

Let the faculty of acting be compared with that of reasoning: the comparison will reconcile every unbiassed mind to the necessary influence of motives. A man is tied by his nature to form conclusions upon what appears to him true at the time. This indeed does not always secure him against error; but would he be more secure by a power to form conclusions contrary to what appears true? Such a power would make him a most absurd reasoner. Would he be less absurd in acting, if he had a power to act against motives, and contrary to what he thinks right or eligible? To act in that manner, is inconsistent with any notion we can form of a sensible being. Nor do we suppose that man is such a being: in accounting for any action, however whimsical, we always ascribe it to some motive; never once dreaming that there was no motive.

And after all, where would be the advantage of such an arbitrary power? Can

a

« ForrigeFortsett »