Can Change the World Again.
A SYSTEM OF MENTAL PHILOSOPHY. 1882.
REV. ASA MAHAN, D. D. LL.D.
The propensities have been defined, as those original principles or laws of our sensitive nature which render certain classes of desires habitual or permanent in our experience. When the object of such propensity is a living being, or a class of living beings, said principle of our nature, is denominated an affection. The object of this chapter is to classify this division of mental phenomena, and give their essential characteristics. In this class of the propensities we enumerate the following:the love of society, the love of kindred, the love of the sexes, the love of friends, the love of home, the love of country, the love of benefactors, the love of the species, the love of God. We shall consider these in the order above specified.
THE LOVE OF SOCIETY.
From the original constitution of our nature, we are social beings. Society, of some sort, is so essential to our well-being that absolute solitude is intolerable. When excluded from human society, association with the irrational creation is sought as a necessary alleviation of that sense of utter desolation which, if long continued, would break down the mental faculties. In no mind does this principle become utterly extinct. Even the socially blighted misanthrope who flies from human society to the solitude of the wilderness or of mountain caves, and from that solitude imprecates curses upon the race, would find his mental desolation doubly desolate, were he informed that the race he curses had become extinct. Nor will he, in his exclusion from his kind, remain utterly alone; but will there encircle himself with his pet brutes. There is almost no form of good that we can fully enjoy without society of some sort. Society indeed gives value to all we possess. What we know would be painful to us, could we have no interchange of thought with other minds, and our most delicious food would become loathsome in the continued absence of all social endearments.
THE LOVE OF KINDRED.
The term kindred represents all relations by birth; such, for example, as the parental, filial, and fraternal. In the condition and well being of individuals within the circle of recognized consanguinity we naturally feel, a deeper interest than we can entertain towards individuals of the same class not thus related to us, and this interest is generally proportionate to the nearness or remoteness of the relation referred to. The most endearing of all, is that which exists between the parent and the child, and next to this in strength is the tie that binds together those who derive their being from a common parentage. The affection of the parent for the child is generally deeper than that of the child for the parent. By some also maternal affection is regarded as more intense than paternal. But which is the strongest and most enduring, it would be difficult to determine. The absolute universality of the form of affection under consideration undeniably evinces, that it has its cause in an original principle of human nature, and not in the mere external relations of the parties concerned. Such relations, add to the strength of the affection; but cannot account for its existence in the form in which it appears among mankind in all conditions of society. When these affections exist in their purity, and are attended with a cordial fulfillment of the duties arising from the varied relations of the parties concerned, they impart an ineffable beauty and attractiveness to character. When they become causes of blind partiality in respect to their objects, or obstacles to the stern discipline of duty, then they impart to character its most unattractive aspects, and become fruitful causes of individual and social demoralization. Of all forms of worldly endearment, none are so tender and happifying as those induced by the domestic affections, when they exist in their purity, and when love, in all its manifestations, conforms to the law of duty. On the other hand, no forms of hate can be so embittered and enduring as that which obtains when discord disturbs the peace and harmony of the domestic circle; this law of the sensibility holding universally, that in those relations where the most beautiful harmony and the most blissful endearments should obtain, the wildest disorder, and most embittered malignity may be induced.
LOVE OF THE SEXES.
The love which, from the original principles of our nature, exists between the sexes, takes on two forms;that of general interest, and that which constitutes the basis of the marriage union. Individuals of each sex are naturally more interested in those of the other, than of their own. The natural desire for the respect of individuals of the other sex,a desire which dwells in the minds of men and women in common, is one of the chief regulative principles in respect to good manners and good morals in society. When members of either sex, to the exclusion of individuals of the other, are massed together for any considerable time, they naturally become vulgarized in manners, and degenerate, in morals. A properly regulated intercourse of the sexes, on the other hand, in families, in schools, and in society generally, tends, unconsciously to all to be sure, to the development of the most genial manners and the most perfect morals, which communities can possess. In the intercourse of society, and that on account of original and necessary tendencies of our nature, forms of exclusive affection are generated between individuals of opposite sexes, forms of affection which induce the mutual desire for the most intimate and enduring union known among mankind, a union never to be dissolved but by the death of one of the parties. The affection that lays the basis for this union has this peculiarity about it, that when, by the mutual vows of the parties in marriage, it takes on the form of duty, it becomes absolutely permanent in its existence and activity, unless limited by crime on the part of one, or both of the parties concerned.
THE LOVE OF FRIENDS.
In our intercourse with our kind, we meet, from time to time, with individuals whose spirit possesses a special geniality for our own, and with whom, as a consequence, we delight to associate. Social intercourse, under such circumstances, induces a mutual attachment between such individuals and ourselves, an attachment of a peculiar and special kind, represented by the term friendship. This conscious mutual geniality is the exclusive condition of friendship. When this is felt, as the result of social intercourse, this relationship is established, and when it is not felt, that relationship never exists. Various characteristics of men and women, may command our admiration, or esteem. Nothing, however, but this sentiment of mutual geniality induces that form of endearing attachment, known as friendship. Individuals may have many admirers, and even attached disciples, but no real friends. Individuals, on the other hand, with no qualities which command special admiration or esteem, may have many friends. There are individuals of high and commanding characteristics, who pass through life with little or no experience of true friendship. The reason is obvious. They have no social geniality of temperament which draws other minds into endearing intercommunion with their own. When the geniality under consideration obtains, all forms of real excellence combine with this, to strengthen and perpetuate the bonds of friendship. The real condition of friendship, however, is not, as already stated, any special forms of excellence, intellectual or moral. Even in heaven, where all are morally perfect, special genialities may induce special intimacies known even there by the name of friendship; and among the lost for aught we know, forms of geniality may obtain among individuals on account of which they may be known as friends.
Friendship induces universally special confidences, and one immutable condition of the perpetuity of this tenderly endearing relation is, that confidence shall, in no case, be betrayed; for confidence betrayed sunders the bond forever.
As natural affection may be supplanted by feelings of the bitterest malignity, the same holds true of the ties of friendship. There are few individuals towards whom we can experience feelings of deeper repulsion than towards those whom we have once known as special friends, the ties that once united us to them having been rudely sundered. Misanthropy is the almost exclusive result of affection blighted by cruelty, confidence rudely betrayed, and friendship repulsively broken. This principle almost, if not quite universally prevails in regard to the affections now under consideration. When once changed to indifference, coldness, or aversion, the tenderness which formerly obtained is never again renewed. As friendship is one of the sources of the purest bliss ever known, so its loss leaves a pang in the breast which hardly any cause can soothe, and time can hardly remove. If you have gained a real friend, think yourself happy indeed. If you have lost such a friend, regard the loss as a great calamity. The love of society, of kindred, of the sexes, and of friends, all in common, and each in particular, have their origin in distinct and original principles of our sensitive nature. From the immutable principles of that nature, we not only desire society, but as naturally seek, in society, for intercommunion with genial minds whom we can recognize as friends.
THE LOVE OF HOME.
What is it that renders that sentiment so genial to all minds in common? It is an original principle of our nature, which generated the universal desire to have some one spot, which, in all our wanderings, we may regard as our special dwelling place,the place to which we hope to return as out permanent abode. This spot is represented by the term home, and the affection which consecrates it, and renders it sacred in our esteem, is the love of home. As we naturally desire the perfection of all objects which we love, so we as naturally desire to beautify home with every conceivable charm. The love of home is one of the great civilizers of society.
THE LOVE OF COUNTRY, OR PATRIOTISM.
Why did Mr. Peabody send his munificent gifts across the ocean, to enrich the institutions, and educate the poor of his native country, instead of devoting the same to the institutions and poor of other nations? and why does the world commend the direction which he has given to the mass of his benefactions? We account for both these facts, by referring to a fundamental principle of universal human nature, patriotism, or the love of country. The proper exercise of this affection does not involve hatred of other nations, or indifference to the rights or interests of any human being. It does imply what should exist in all minds, a form of special love for the land of our birth. This is natural to man in all conditions of existence. The affection of which we are now speaking, in its varied manifestations, takes on the form of zeal for the perfection of the government, administration, laws, and institutions of one's country, and for whatever tends to its highest prosperity, together with a jealous regard for its honor. In its perverted form, it harmonizes with the base maxim, "Our country, right or wrong."
LOVE OF THE SPECIES.
By an original principle of our nature, we are impelled to will the good of all men, without distinction of race or color. Under the influence of this affection, we naturally participate in the joys and sorrows of our kind, rejoice in their prosperity, and regret their adversities; we reprobate injustice and oppression, and rejoice in the triumph of justice, truth, and liberty among all nations, and in all communities, in common. Whenever and wherever, a human being lifts his manacled hands before us, and asks the question, "Am I not a man, and a brother" we do violence, not only to our intellectual and moral, but to original laws of our sensitive nature, when we turn from the suppliant, as if he was not a man, and our brother. We best obey the laws of our intellectual, spiritual, moral, and sensitive nature, when we make the sentiment of universal and impartial philanthropy our chief frame of mind. Of all the principles of our emotive and sensitive nature, activity under this one is least likely to lead us astray from the principles of truth and duty.
LOVE OF BENEFACTORS.
Years ago a Scottish nobleman died. At his funeral, a stranger to all present,a stranger clad in deep mourning, appeared and took his seat with the mourners, and during all the services in the House of God, and at the grave, no one manifested deeper grief. At the close of the solemnities, he disappeared, and no one present ever saw or heard of him again. Among the papers of the deceased, a record to this effect was discovered. Whilst passing alone, and on horseback, during a cloudy night, through a mountain gorge, he was stopped by a highwayman. The deep breathing and hesitation of the robber convinced the nobleman that it was the first crime of the stranger, and that he had been driven to the act by some very pressing necessity. On expressing his apprehensions, the nobleman was assured that he was correct. "What amount of money would bring you relief?" asked the nobleman. The sum was named, and the stranger was assured, that if he would appear at a certain place, the next day and give a sign then designated, the money would be handed to him, no questions being asked, and the recipient not being recognized. The amount pledged was handed over as promised. Just one year from that day, the gift, principal and interest, was, from a source unknown, remitted. So on every succeeding anniversary of that event, the same identical sum was always remitted. No one doubted that the recipient of the great relief, was the stranger mourner referred to. This was, and is, gratitude, an affection which always implies a cherished remembrance of the gift received, the most kindly recollection of the giver, and a strong desire to make full, and more thankful returns for the good conferred. "It is more blessed to give, than to receive;" yet few forms of joy lie deeper than those which attend the exercise of genuine gratitude. The benevolent affections, manifested in appropriate acts, impart an ineffable beauty to character. Gratitude cherished and duly manifested impart to character forms of beauty and perfection hardly less attractive. A coldly selfish mind is a blot and blank in the creation of God. An ungrateful recipient of kindly benefactions, is one of the most repulsive and odious objects that ever has place in the sphere of thought.
LOVE OF GOD.
By nature we are religious beings, and naturally delight in the contemplation of whatever is beautiful, grand, sublime, excellent, or perfect. The idea of infinity and perfection is the highest idea that can have a place within the sphere of thought. The idea of an eternal mind possessed of every possible mental attribute, and each attribute absolutely infinite and perfect, is the highest form which the idea of infinity can conceive. To this one idea, all the higher departments of our sensitive nature, the moral and spiritual, are immutably correlated. God must be to the mind the great, central object of thought and contemplation; and the consciousness of His approbation and favor ever must be the all-overshadowing want of its nature. Love to God, as a sentiment of our emotive nature, assumes the form of delight, wonder, awe, reverence, veneration, and adoration; as different attributes of the divine mind, and different relations of the infinite to the finite, become objects of thought and contemplation. When the mind is consciously pure in heart, "God is its everlasting light, and the days of its mourning are ended." When consciously impure, He can be to it nothing but an object of dread and terror. We close our elucidation of the affections with a few suggestions of a general nature in respect to them.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE AFFECTIONS.
1. They must each be referred, to distinct and original principles of our sensitive nature. Neither class can be resolved into one of the others; nor can they all be resolved into any one common principle.
2. The proper exercise of the affections is genial to our nature, and is attended with passive impressions happifying to the mind. They occasion pain when they take on the form of sympathy for the suffering; but even then they are universally agreeable.
3. The affections are, in themselves, disinterested. The well being of their respective objects, is regarded by the mind as a good in itself, irrespective of any reflex influence upon our own happiness.
4. In themselves, as mere impulsions of our sensitive nature, the affections have no moral character. They prompt to actions right or wrong, and under their influence, we may become virtuous or vicious. As mere states of the sensibility, however, they constitute us neither morally good nor bad.
5. As the affections must exist, excepting when extinguished, or turned to hate by crime in the subject, to be "without natural affection" implies moral depravity and criminality in their most aggravated forms.
6. The existence of the affections, resulting as they do from the original constitution of our nature, most strikingly evinces and illustrates the divine beneficence. God has so constituted us, that we are not only prompted to duty by conscience, but impelled to its performance by the original principles of our sensitive nature.
7. As the highest happiness results, when duty is discharged by all within the circle of the affections, so almost no form of unhappiness is more intense than that which results from duty violated within that circle. What a ceaseless gloom, for example, is thrown over an entire domestic circle, when one of its members falls into crime, or under the influence of some debasing vice. Just in proportion to the nearness of the relations existing between individuals, is their mutual power to render each other immeasurably happy or miserable.