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sense, is meant in common speech, that which deserves praise or blame, respect or resentment ; and mankind in general have a sense of desert, by this natural moral sense.
Therefore here is a question which may deserve to be considered: Seeing sentiment is the rule of language, as to what is called good and evil, worthy and unworthy; and it is apparent that sentiment, at least as to many particulars, is different in different persons, especially in different nations—that be. ing thought to deserve praise by one, which by others is thought to be worthy of blame--how therefore can virtue and vice be any other than arbitrary ; not at all determined by the nature of things, but by the sentiments of men with relation to the nature of things?
In order to the answering of this question with clearness, it may be divided into two: viz. Whether men's sentiments of moral good and evil are casual and accidental ? And, whether their way of using words in what they call good and evil, is not arbitrary, without respect to any common sentiment conformed to the nature of things ?
As to the first I would observe that the general disposition or sense of mind, exercised in a sense of desert of esteem or resentment, may be the same in all : though as to particular objects and occasions with regard to which it is exercised, it may be very various in different men or bodies of men, through the partiality or error that may attend the view or attention of the mind. In all a notion of desert of love or resentment, may consist in the same thing in general-a suitableness, or natural uniformity and agreement between the affections and acts of the agent, and the affection and treatment of others some way concerned-and yet occasions and objects through a variety of apprehensions about them, and the various manner in which they are viewed, by reason of the partial attention of the mind, may be extremely various. Besides, example, custom, education, and association, may contribute to this, in ways innumerable. But it is needless to enlarge here, since what has been said by others, Mr. HUTCHISON in particular, may abundantly shew, that the differences which are to be found among different persons and nations concerning moral good and evil, are not inconsistent with a general moral sense, common to all mankind.
Nor, secondly, is the use of the words, good and evil, right and wrong, when used in a moral sense, altogether unfixed and arbitrary, according to the variety of notions, opinions and views, that occasion the forementioned variety of sentiment. For though the signification of words is determined by particular use, yet that which governs in the use of terms, is general or common use. And mankind, in what they would signify by terms, are obliged to aim at a consistent use ; because it is
easily found that the end of language, which is to be a common medium of manifesting ideas and sentiments, cannot be obtained any other way than by a consistent use of words ; both that men should be consistent with themselves, and one with another, in the use of them. But men cannot call any thing right or wrong, worthy or ill-deserving, consistently, any other way than by calling things so, which truly deserve praise or blame. i. e. things wherein, all things considered, there is most uniformity in connecting with them praise or blame. There is no other way in which they can use these terms consistently with themselves. Thus if thieves or traitors may be angry with informers that bring them to justice, and call their behavi. our by odious names; yet herein they are inconsistent with themselves; because when they put themselves in the place of those who have injured them, they approve the same things they condemn. And therefore, such are capable of being convinced, that they apply these odious terms in an abusive manner. So a nation that prosecutes an ambitious design of universal empire, by subduing other nations with fire and sword, may affix terms that signify the highest degrees of virtue, to the conduct of such as shew the most engaged, stable, resolute spirit in this affair, and do most of this bloody work. But yet they are capable of being convinced that they use these terms inconsistently, and abuse language in it, and so having their mouths stopped. And not only will men use such words inconsistently with themselves but also with one another, by using them any otherwise than to signify true merit or ill deserving, as before explained. For there is no way else wherein men have any notion of good or ill desert, in which mankind in general can agree. Mankind in general seem to suppose some general standard, or foundation in nature, for an universal consistence in the use of the terms whereby they express moral good and evil; which none can depart from but through error and mistake. This is evidently supposed in all their disputes about right and wrong ; and in all endeavours used to prove that any thing is either good or evil, in a moral sense.
THE WORK OF REDEMPTION,
OUTLINES OF A BODY OF DIVINITY,
A VIEW OF CHURCH HISTORY,
IN A METHOD ENTIRELY NEW.