Can Change the World Again.
A SYSTEM OF MENTAL PHILOSOPHY. 1882.
REV. ASA MAHAN, D. D. LL.D.
GENERAL ACTIVE PRINCIPLES.
Among the general active principles of universal mind, the following require special attention; to wit, the principles of self-defense, self-love, conscience, and the love of justice.
That this principle is a universal law, not only of rational, but also of irrational, sentient existence, is obvious to the slightest observer of the facts which surround us. I may also remark that there are few individuals, who, under certain circumstances, would not yield to the impulse of this law. My object on the present occasion is, not so much to inquire into the lawfulness of self-defense, nor if lawful, when and by what means, but to inquire into the nature of the feelings which arise under such circumstances. The causes which excite these feelings are the action of certain powers which endanger, either our lives or our particular interests. The causes may be intelligent or unintelligent. In either case the first feeling excited is the emotion of fear or apprehension. Hence a desire arises to escape the impending evil,a desire impelling us either to remove ourselves from the presence of the cause, or to arrest or destroy the action of the cause itself. In case the cause is an intelligent one, the desire is associated with feelings of displeasure towards the agent himself, strongly impelling us to prevent the evil intended, by destroying his power to inflict it. On this feeling I deem it important to make the following remarks:
1. As an original impulse of our nature, it has no moral qualities.
2. It differs in kind from revenge. To ward off a blow aimed at my body, or simply to disarm the individual who aims the blow, and then to proceed to inflict positive injury upon him after he is disarmed, are totally different things.
3. This is a universal principle operating in regard to all interests, real and assumed, right or wrong.
4. It is under the cover of this principle, that almost all injuries inflicted upon men are perpetrated.
5. Virtue, and moral excellence can never be hated by us except when they are placed before the mind; as opposed to the inflexible purposes of our will, or to some darling gratification upon which our hearts are set.
6. An inquiry purely ethical demands a passing remark here: Within what limits may we lawfully yield to the impulse under consideration? Just so far, I answer, as to prevent the occurrence of the impending evil. Whatever injury the antagonist must endure in order to accomplish this, can never be laid to our account.
This is a feeling or impulse of our nature,an impulse connected with the idea of well-being; an idea elucidated in a former chapter, and shown to be a necessary conception of the reason. The term well-being should be understood as applicable to our entire existence. The feeling under consideration, impels the mind to sacrifice present pleasure, when necessary to secure our general well-being, and to endure present evils for the same reasons. I remark:
1. This impulse differs in kind from all the other impulses, such as appetites, desires, and affections, which were illustrated in former chapters. These are all particular, and impel the mind towards present gratification, irrespective of the future. Hence it often happens, that the impulses arising from the action of these propensities, coincide with, or are opposed to the impulse under consideration. The determinations of the will are accordingly sometimes in conformity with one, and sometimes with the other.
2. Equally distinct is this principle from selfishness. The former simply impels the will to choose our own happiness. The latter consists in yielding to this impulse when our interests are opposed to the higher good of others.
3. This is a rational active principle, the impulse being conditioned on the development of the idea of well-being.
4. The mistake of utilitarians in maintaining that this is the only active principle of our nature now becomes obvious. Self-love, as we have seen, is totally distinct from all our particular propensities, and but for their influence, as President Wayland has shown, would exist in the mere form of desire, impelling to no particular acts whatever. It is only one among many other active principles of our nature.
The ideas of right and wrong, of merit and demerit, based upon the two former; and of reward and punishment based upon those of merit and demerit, and conscience considered as the testifying state of the reason, have been sufficiently illustrated in former chapters. It only remains here to analyze the phenomena of the sensibility connected with the above ideas. To accomplish this, I remark:
1. That in all right and virtuous actions there is perceived by the mind a certain intrinsic beauty, fitness, and propriety, which perception is attended with those delightful emotions which the idea of beauty, and of moral beauty alone can excite. Precisely the opposite feelings are awakened by the contemplation of what is wrong.
2. In reference to the above perceptions there is always a strong feeling of love or hate, impelling us to choose the one and reject the other. That is what is called the impulsive power of conscience.
3. When we have done right or wrong, there is always a judgment that we deserve reward or punishment, and also a judgment or expectation, that we shall receive the due reward of our deeds. These judgments are always attended with certain feelings of delight and joyful anticipation, or of anguish and fear, which are called the testimony or joys of a good conscience, or the pangs of remorse.
Now that function of the reason which gives us the judgments above referred to, together with the functions of the sensibility, which give existence to these feelings, constitute those complex operations of the mind, denominated conscience. Conscience is neither the former nor the latter, considered by themselves, but both together. Hence conscience has been wrongly defined, as a mere susceptibility, on the one hand, and as an exclusively rational faculty, on the other.
LOVE OF JUSTICE.
In the presence of actions right or wrong, all men not only judge that the agents deserve reward or punishment, but experience what are called feelings of good-will, or the opposite,feelings or desires, impelling us to choose, that the virtuous may be happy, and the vicious miserable. This is a universal and necessary impulse of our nature, and constitutes what is called the love of justice or of moral order. This principle, in case of aggravated guilt, induces the will to turn inward, and prey upon the mind itself. This is the last stage of human anguish.