Introductory Notices.

From: Essays on the Principles of Morality, and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind (1834).
Author: Jonathan Dymond
Published: Harper & Brothers 1834 Philadelphia



  OF the two causes of our deviations from rectitude—want of knowledge and want of virtue—the latter is undoubtedly the more operative. Want of knowledge is, however, sometimes a cause; nor can this be any subject of wonder when it is recollected in what manner many of our notions of right and wrong are acquired. From infancy, every one is placed in a sort of moral school, in which those with whom he associates, or of whom he hears, are the teachers. That the learner in such a school will often be taught amiss, is plain: so that we want information respecting our duties. To supply this information is an object of moral philosophy, and is attempted in the present work.

  When it is considered by what excellences the existing treatises on moral philosophy are recommended, there can remain but one reasonable motive for adding yet another—the belief that these treatises have not exhibited the principles and enforced the obligations of morality in all their perfection and purity. Perhaps the frank expression of this belief is not inconsistent, with that deference which it becomes every man to feel when he addresses the public; because, not to have entertained such a belief, were to have possessed no reason for writing. The desire of supplying the deficiency, if deficiency there be; of exhibiting a true and authoritative standard of rectitude, and of estimating the moral character of human actions by an appeal to that standard, is the motive which has induced the composition of these Essays.

  In the FIRST ESSAY the writer has attempted to investigate the Principles of Morality. In which term is here included, first, the ultimate standard of right and wrong; and secondly, those subordinate rules to which we are authorized to apply for the direction of our conduct in life. In these investigations, he has been solicitous to avoid any approach to curious or metaphysical inquiry. He has endeavoured to act upon the advice given by Tindal the reformer to his friend John Frith: “Pronounce not or define of hid secrets, or things that neither help nor hinder whether it be so or no; but stick you stiffly and stubbornly in earnest and necessary things.”

  In the SECOND ESSAY these principles of morality are applied in the determination of various questions of personal and relative duty. In making this application it has been far from the writer’s desire to deliver a system of morality. Of the unnumbered particulars to which this essay might have been extended, he has therefore made a selection; and in making it, has chosen those subjects which appeared peculiarly to need the inquiry, either because the popular or philosophical opinions respecting them appeared to be unsound, or because they were commonly little adverted to in the practice of life. Form has been sacrificed to utility. Many great duties have been passed over, since no one questions their obligation; nor has the author so little consulted the pleasure of the reader as to expatiate upon duties simply because they are great. The reader will also regard the subjects that have been chosen, as selected, not only for the purpose of elucidating the subjects themselves, but as furnishing illustrations of the general principles:—as the compiler of a book of mathematics proposes a variety of examples, not merely to discover the solution of the particular problem, but to familiarize the application of his general rule.

  Of the THIRD ESSAY, in which some of the great questions of political rectitude have been examined, the subjects are in themselves sufficiently important. The application of sound and pure moral principles to questions of government, of legislation, of the administration of justice, or of religious establishments, is manifestly of great interest; and the interest is so much the greater because these subjects have usually been examined, as the writer conceives, by other and very different standards.

  The reader will probably find, in each of these essays, some principles or some conclusions respecting human duties to which he has not been accustomed—some opinions called in question which he has habitually regarded as being indisputably true, and some actions exhibited as forbidden by morality which he has supposed to be lawful and right. In such cases I must hope for his candid investigation of the truth, and that he will not reject conclusions but by the detection of inaccuracy in the reasonings from which they are deduced. I hope he will not find himself invited to alter his opinions or his conduct without being shown why; and if he is conclusively shown this, that he will not reject truth because it is new or unwelcome.

  With respect to the present influence of the principles which these essays illustrate, the author will feel no disappointment if it is not great. It is not upon the expectation of such influence that his motive is founded or his hope rests. His motive is, to advocate truth without reference &o its popularity; and his hope is, to promote, by these feeble exertions, an approximation to that state of purity, which he believes it is the design of God shall eventually beautify and dignify the condition of mankind.

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