The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY'S
FOUNDATION OF OBLIGATION.
9. COMPLEX THEORY.
I PASS NOW to the consideration of another form of the theory that affirms the complexity of the foundation of moral obligation; complex, however, only in a certain sense.
This philosophy admits and maintains that the good, that is, the valuable to being, is the only ground of moral obligation, and that in every possible case the valuable to being, or the good, must be intended as an end, as a condition of the intention being virtuous. In this respect it maintains that the foundation of moral obligation is simple, a unit. But it also maintains that there are several ultimate goods or several ultimates or things which are intrinsically good or valuable in themselves, and are therefore to be chosen for their own sake, or as an ultimate end; that to choose either of these as an ultimate end, or for its own sake, is virtue.
It admits that happiness or blessedness is a good, and should be willed for its own sake, or as an ultimate end, but it maintains that virtue is an ultimate good; that right is an ultimate good; that the just and the true are ultimate goods; in short, that the realization of the ideas of the reason, or the carrying out into concrete existence any idea of the reason, is an ultimate good. For instance: there were in the Divine Mind from eternity certain ideas of the good or valuable; the right, the just, the beautiful, the true, the useful, the holy. The realization of these ideas of the divine reason, according to this theory, was the end which God aimed at or intended in creation; he aimed at their realization as ultimates or for their own sake, and regarded the concrete realization of every one of these ideas as a separate and ultimate good: and so certain as God is virtuous, so certain it is, says this theory, that an intention to realize these ideas for their own sake, or for the sake of the realization, is virtue. Therefore the intention on our part to realize these ideas for the sake of the realization is virtue. Then the foundation of moral obligation is complex in the sense that to will either the good or valuable, the right, the true, the just, the virtuous, the beautiful, the useful, &c., for its own sake, or as an ultimate end, is virtue; that there is more than one virtuous ultimate choice or intention. Thus any one of several distinct things may be intended as an ultimate end with equal propriety and with equal virtuousness. The soul may at one moment be wholly consecrated to one end, that is, to one ultimate good, and sometimes to another, that is, sometimes it may will one good, and sometimes another good, as an ultimate end, and still be equally virtuous.
In the discussion of this subject I will,
(1.) State the exact question to be discussed.
(2.) Define the different senses of the term good.
(3.) Show in what sense of the term good it can be an ultimate.
(4.) That satisfaction or enjoyment is the only ultimate good.
(1.) The exact question. It is this: In what does the supreme and ultimate good consist?
(2.) The different senses of the term good.
(a.) Good may be natural or moral. Natural good is synonymous with valuable. Moral good is synonymous with virtue. Moral good is in a certain sense a natural good, that is, it is valuable as a means of natural good; but the advocates of this theory affirm that moral good is valuable in itself.
(b.) Good may be absolute and relative. Absolute good is that which is intrinsically valuable. Relative good is that which is valuable as a means. It is not valuable in itself, but valuable because it sustains to absolute good the relation of a means to an end. Absolute good may also be a relative good, that is, it may tend to perpetuate and augment itself.
(c.) Good may also be ultimate. Ultimate good is that intrinsically valuable or absolute good in which all relative good, whether natural or moral, terminates. It is that absolute good to which all relative good sustains the relation of a means or condition.
(3.) In what sense of the term good it can be an ultimate.
(a.) Not in the sense of moral good or virtue. This has been so often shown that it needs not to be repeated here. I will only say that virtue belongs to intention. It is impossible that intention should be an ultimate. The thing intended must be the ultimate of the intention. We have seen that to make virtue an ultimate, the intention must terminate on itself, or on a quality of itself, which is absurd.
(b.) Good cannot be an ultimate in the sense of relative good. To suppose that it could, were to suppose a contradiction; for relative good is not intrinsically valuable, but only valuable on account of its relations.
(c.) Good can be an ultimate only in the sense of the natural and absolute, that is, that only can be an ultimate good which is naturally and intrinsically valuable to sentient being. And we shall soon inquire whether anything can be intrinsically valuable to them but enjoyment, mental satisfaction, or blessedness.
I come now to state the point upon which issue is taken, to wit:--
(4.) That enjoyment, blessedness, or mental satisfaction, is the only ultimate good.
(a.) It has been before remarked, and should be repeated here, that the intrinsically valuable must not only belong to, and be inseparable from, sentient beings, but that the ultimate or intrinsic absolute good of moral agents must consist in a state of mind. It must be something to be found in the field of consciousness. Nothing can be affirmed by a moral agent to be an intrinsic, absolute, ultimate good, but a state of mind. Take away mind, and what can be a good per se; or, what can be a good in any sense?
(b.) Again, it should be said that the ultimate and absolute good can not consist in a choice or in a voluntary state of mind. The thing chosen is, and must be, the ultimate of the choice. Choice can never be chosen as an ultimate end. Benevolence then, or the love required by the law, can never be the ultimate and absolute good. It is admitted that blessedness, enjoyment, mental satisfaction, is a good, an absolute and ultimate good. This is a first truth of reason. All men assume it. All men seek enjoyment either selfishly or disinterestedly, that is, they seek their own good supremely, or the general good of being. That it is the only absolute and ultimate good, is also a first truth. But for this there could be no activity--no motive to action--no object of choice. Enjoyment is in fact the ultimate good. It is in fact the result of existence and of action. It results to God from his existence, his attributes, his activity, and his virtue, by a law of necessity. His powers are so correlated that blessedness cannot but be the state of his mind, as resulting from the exercise of his attributes and the right activity of his will. Happiness, or enjoyment results, both naturally and governmentally, from obedience to law both physical and moral. This shows that government is not an end, but a means. It also shows that the end is blessedness, and the means obedience to law.
The ultimate and absolute good, in the sense of the intrinsically valuable, cannot be identical with moral law. Moral law, as we have seen, is an idea of the reason. Moral law and moral government, must propose some end to be secured by means of law. Law cannot be its own end. It cannot require the subject to seek itself, as an ultimate end. This were absurd. The moral law is nothing else than the reason's idea, or conception of that course of willing and acting, that is fit, proper, suitable to, and demanded by the nature, relations, necessities, and circumstances of moral agents. Their nature, relations, circumstances, and wants being perceived, the reason necessarily affirms, that they ought to propose to themselves a certain end, and to consecrate themselves to the promotion of this end, for its own sake, or for its own intrinsic value. This end cannot be law itself. The law is a simple and pure idea of the reason, and can never be in itself the supreme, intrinsic, absolute, and ultimate good.
Nor can obedience, or the course of acting or willing required by the law, be the ultimate end aimed at by the law or the lawgiver. The law requires action in reference to an end, or that an end should be willed; but the willing, and the end to be willed, cannot be identical. The action required, and the end to which it is to be directed, cannot be the same. To affirm that it can, is absurd. It is to affirm, that obedience to law is the ultimate end proposed by law or government. The obedience is one thing, the end to be secured by obedience, is and must be another. Obedience must be a means or condition; and that which law and obedience are intended to secure, is and must be the ultimate end of obedience. The law, or the lawgiver, aims to promote the highest good, or blessedness of the universe. This must be the end of moral law and moral government. Law and obedience must be the means or conditions of this end. It is absurd to deny this. To deny this is to deny the very nature of moral law, and to lose sight of the true and only end of moral government. Nothing can be moral law, and nothing can be moral government, that does not propose the highest good of moral beings as its ultimate end. But if this is the end of law, and the end of government, it must be the end to be aimed at, or intended, by the ruler and the subject. And this end must be the foundation of moral obligation. The end proposed to be secured, must be intrinsically valuable, or that would not be moral law that proposed to secure it. The end must be good or valuable, per se, or there can be no moral law requiring it to be sought or chosen as an ultimate end, nor any obligation to choose it as an ultimate end.
The sanctions of government or of law, in the widest sense of the term, must be the ultimate of obedience and the end of government. The sanctions of moral government must be the ultimate good and evil. That is, they must promise and threaten that which is, in its own nature, an ultimate good or evil. Virtue must consist in the impartial choice of that as an end which is proffered as the reward of virtue. This is, and must be, the ultimate good. Sin consists in choosing that which defeats or sets aside this end, or in selfishness.
But what is intended by the right, the just, the true, &c., being ultimate goods and ends to be chosen for their own sake? These may be objective or subjective. Objective right, truth, justice, &c., are mere ideas, and cannot be good or valuable in themselves. Subjective right, truth, justice, &c., are synonymous with righteousness, truthfulness, and justness. These are virtue. They consist in an active state of the will, and resolve themselves into choice, intention. But we have repeatedly seen that intention can neither be an end nor a good in itself, in the sense of intrinsically valuable.
Again: Constituted as moral agents are, it is a matter of consciousness that the concrete realization of the ideas of right, and truth, and justice, of beauty, of fitness, of moral order, and, in short, of all that class of ideas, is indispensable as the condition and means of their highest well-being, and that enjoyment or mental satisfaction is the result of realizing in the concrete those ideas. This enjoyment or satisfaction then is and must be the end or ultimate upon which the intention of God must have terminated, and upon which ours must terminate as an end or ultimate.
Again: The enjoyment resulting to God from the concrete realization of his own ideas must be infinite. He must therefore have intended it as the supreme good. It is in fact the ultimate good. It is in fact the supremely valuable.
Again: If there is more than one ultimate good, the mind must regard them all as one, or sometimes be consecrated to one and sometimes to another--sometimes wholly consecrated to the beautiful, sometimes to the just, and then again to the right, then to the useful, to the true, &c. But it may be asked, Of what value is the beautiful, aside from the enjoyment it affords to sentient existences? It meets a demand of our being, and hence affords satisfaction. But for this in what sense could it be regarded as good? The idea of the useful, again, cannot be an idea of an ultimate end, for utility implies that something is valuable in itself to which the useful sustains the relation of a means and is useful only for that reason.
Of what value is the true, the right, the just, &c., aside from the pleasure or mental satisfaction resulting from them to sentient existences? Of what value were all the rest of the universe, were there no sentient existences to enjoy it?
Suppose, again, that everything else in the universe existed just as it does, except mental satisfaction or enjoyment, and that there were absolutely no enjoyment of any kind in anything any more than there is in a block of granite, of what value would it all be? and to what, or to whom, would it be valuable? Mind, without susceptibility of enjoyment, could neither know nor be the subject of good nor evil, any more than a slab of marble. Truth in that case could no more be a good to mind than mind could be a good to truth; light would no more be a good to the eye, than the eye a good to light. Nothing in the universe could give or receive the least satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Neither natural nor moral fitness nor unfitness could excite the least emotion or mental satisfaction. A block of marble might just as well be the subject of good as anything else, upon such a supposition.
Again: It is obvious that all creation, where law is obeyed, tends to one end, and that end is happiness or enjoyment. This demonstrates that enjoyment was the end at which God aimed in creation.
Again: It is evident that God is endeavouring to realize all the other ideas of his reason for the sake of, and as a means of, realizing that of the valuable to being. This, as a matter of fact, is the result of realizing in the concrete all those ideas. This must then have been the end intended.
But again: The Bible knows of but one ultimate good. This, as has been said, the moral law has for ever settled. The highest well-being of God and the universe is the only end required by the law. Creation proposes but one end. Physical and moral government propose but one end. The Bible knows but one end, as we have just seen. The law and the gospel propose the good of being only as the end of virtuous intention. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and thy neighbour as thyself." Here is the whole duty of man. But here is nothing of choosing, willing, loving, truth, justice, right, utility, or beauty, as an ultimate end for their own sakes. The fact is, there are innumerable relative goods, or conditions, or means of enjoyment, but only one ultimate good. Disinterested benevolence to God and man is the whole of virtue, and every modification of virtue resolves itself in the last analysis into this. If this is so, well-being in the sense of enjoyment must be the only ultimate good. But well-being, in the complex sense of the term, is made up of enjoyment and the means and sources or conditions of enjoyment. Conformity to law universal, must be the condition and enjoyment; the ultimate end, strictly and properly speaking.
It is nonsense to object that, if enjoyment or mental satisfaction be the only ground of moral obligation, we should be indifferent as to the means. This objection assumes that in seeking an end for its intrinsic value, we must be indifferent as to the way in which we obtain that end. That is, whether it be obtained in a manner possible or impossible, right or wrong. It overlooks the fact that from the laws of our own being it is impossible for us to will the end without willing also the indispensable, and therefore the appropriate, means: and also that we cannot possibly regard any other conditions or means of the happiness of moral agents as possible, and therefore as appropriate or right, but holiness and universal conformity to the law of our being. Enjoyment or mental satisfaction results from having the different demands of our being met. One demand of the reason and conscience of a moral agent is that happiness should be conditionated upon holiness. It is therefore naturally impossible for a moral agent to be satisfied with the happiness or enjoyment of moral agents except upon the condition of their holiness.
But this class of philosophers insist that all the archetypes of the ideas of the reason are necessarily regarded by us as good in themselves. For example: I have the idea of beauty. I behold a rose. The perception of this archetype of the idea of beauty gives me instantaneous pleasure. Now it is said, that this archetype is necessarily regarded by me as a good. I have pleasure in the presence and perception of it, and as often as I call it to remembrance. This pleasure, it is said, demonstrates that it is a good to me; and this good is in the very nature of the object, and must be regarded as a good in itself. To this I answer, that the presence of the rose is a good to me, but not an ultimate good. It is only a means or source of pleasure or happiness to me. The rose is not a good in itself. If there were no eyes to see it and no olfactories to smell it, to whom could it be a good? But in what sense can it be a good except in the sense that it gives satisfaction to the beholder? The satisfaction, and not the rose, is and must be the ultimate good. But it is inquired, Do not I desire the rose for its own sake? I answer, Yes; you desire it for its own sake, but you do not, cannot choose it for its own sake, but to gratify the desire. The desires all terminate on their respective objects. The desire for food terminates on food; thirst terminates on drink, &c. These things are so correlated to these appetites that they are desired for their own sakes. But they are not and cannot be chosen for their own sakes or as an ultimate end. They are, and must be, regarded and chosen as the means of gratifying their respective desires. To choose them simply in obedience to the desire were selfishness. But the gratification is a good and a part of universal good. The reason, therefore, urges and demands that they should be chosen as a means of good to myself. When thus chosen in obedience to the law of the intelligence, and no more stress is laid upon the gratification than in proportion to its relative value, and when no stress is laid upon it simply because it is my own gratification, the choice is holy. The perception of the archetypes of the various ideas of the reason will, in most instances, produce enjoyment. These archetypes, or, which is the same thing, the concrete realization of these ideas, is regarded by the mind as a good, but not as an ultimate good. The ultimate good is the satisfaction derived from the perception of them.
The perception of moral or physical beauty gives me satisfaction. Now moral and physical beauty are regarded by me as good, but not as ultimate good. They are relative good only. Were it not for the pleasure they give me, I could not in any way connect with them the idea of good. Suppose no such thing as mental satisfaction existed, that neither the perception of virtue nor of natural beauty, nor of any thing else, could produce the least emotion, or feeling, or satisfaction of any kind. In this case, a rose would no more be regarded as a good, than the most deformed object in existence. All things would be equally indifferent to such a mind. There would be the idea and its archetype, both in existence and exactly answering to each other. But what then? The archetype of the perfection of beauty would no more be a good, to such a mind, than would the archetype of the perfection of deformity. The mental eye might perceive order, beauty, physical and moral, or any thing else; but these things would no more be a good to the intellect that perceived them than their opposites. The idea of good or of the valuable could not in such a case exist, consequently virtue, or moral beauty, could not exist. The idea of good, or of the valuable, must exist before virtue can exist. It is and must be the developement of the idea of the valuable, that developes the idea of moral obligation, of right and wrong, and consequently, that makes virtue possible. The mind must perceive an object of choice that is regarded as intrinsically valuable, before it can have the idea of moral obligation to choose it as an end. This object of choice cannot be virtue or moral beauty, for this would be to have the idea of virtue or of moral beauty before the idea of moral obligation, or of right and wrong. This were a contradiction. The mind must have the idea of some ultimate good, the choice of which would be virtue, or concerning which the reason affirms moral obligation, before the idea of virtue, or of right or wrong, can exist. The developement of the idea of the valuable, or of an ultimate good must precede the possibility of virtue or of the idea of virtue, of moral obligation, or of right and wrong. It is absurd to say that virtue is regarded as an ultimate good, when in fact the very idea of virtue does not and cannot exist until a good is presented, in view of which, the mind affirms moral obligation to will it for its own sake, and also affirms that the choice of it for that reason would be virtue.
The reason why virtue and moral excellence or worth, have been supposed to be a good in themselves, and intrinsically and absolutely valuable, is, that the mind necessarily regards them with satisfaction. They meet a demand of the reason and conscience; they are the archetypes of the ideas of the reason, and are therefore naturally and necessarily regarded with satisfaction, just as when we behold natural beauty, we necessarily enjoy it. We naturally experience a mental satisfaction in the contemplation of beauty, and this is true, whether the beauty be physical or moral. Both meet a demand of our nature, and therefore we experience satisfaction in their contemplation. Now it has been said, that this satisfaction is itself proof that we pronounced the beauty a good in itself. But ultimate good must, as we have said, consist in a state of mind. But neither physical nor moral beauty is a state of mind. Apart from the satisfaction produced by their contemplation, to whom or to what can they be a good? Take physical beauty for example, apart from every beholder, to whom or to what is it a good? Is it a good to itself? But, it cannot be a subject of good. It must be a good, only as, and because, it meets a demand of our being, and produces satisfaction in its contemplation. It is a relative good. The satisfaction experienced by contemplating it, is an ultimate good. It is only a condition of ultimate good.
So virtue or holiness is morally beautiful. Moral worth or excellence is morally beautiful. Beauty is an attribute or element of holiness, virtue, and of moral worth, or right character. But the beauty is not identical with holiness or moral worth, any more than the beauty of a rose, and the rose are identical. The rose is beautiful. Beauty is one of its attributes. So virtue is morally beautiful. Beauty is one of its attributes. But in neither case is the beauty a state of mind, and, therefore, it cannot be an ultimate good. The contemplation of either, and of both, naturally begets mental satisfaction, because of the relation of the archetype to the idea of our reason. We are so constituted, that beholding the archetypes of certain ideas of our reason, produces mental satisfaction. Not because we affirm the archetypes to be good in themselves; for often, as in the case of physical beauty, this cannot be, but because these archetypes meet a demand of our nature. They meet this demand, and thus produce satisfaction. This satisfaction is an ultimate good, but that which produces it is only a relative good. Apart from the satisfaction produced by the contemplation of moral worth, of what value can it be? Can the worthiness of good, or the moral beauty, be the end proposed by the lawgiver? Or must we not rather, seek to secure moral worth in moral agents, for the sake of the good in which it results? If neither the subject of moral excellence or worth, nor any one else, experienced the least satisfaction in contemplating it--if it did not so meet a demand of our being, or of any being, as to afford the least satisfaction to any sentient existence, to whom or to what would it be a good? If it meets a demand of the nature of a moral agent, it must produce satisfaction. It does meet a demand of our being, and therefore produces satisfaction to the intelligence, the conscience, the sensibility. It is therefore necessarily pronounced by us to be a good.
We are apt to say, that moral worth is an ultimate good; but it is only a relative good. It meets a demand of our being, and thus produces satisfaction. This satisfaction is the ultimate good of being. At the very moment we pronounce it a good in itself, it is only because we experience such a satisfaction in contemplating it. At the very time we erroneously say, that we consider it a good in itself, wholly independent of its results, we only say so, the more positively, because we are so gratified at the time, by thinking of it. It is its experienced results, that is the ground of the affirmation.
4. It cannot be too distinctly understood, that right character, moral worth, good desert, meritoriousness, cannot be, or consist in, a state of mind, and, therefore, it is impossible that it should be an ultimate good or intrinsically valuable. By right character, moral worth, good desert, meritoriousness, &c., as distinguished from virtue, we can mean nothing more than that it is fit and proper, and suitable to the nature and relation of things, that a virtuous person should be blessed. The intelligence is gratified when this character is perceived to exist. This perception produces intellectual satisfaction. This satisfaction is a good in itself. But that which produces this satisfaction, is in no proper sense a good in itself. Were it not for the fact that it meets a demand of the intelligence, and thus produces satisfaction, it could not so much as be thought of, as a good in itself, any more than anything else that is a pure conception of the reason, such, for instance, as a mathematical line.
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