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  • FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION - 3 - A,
    CHARLES FINNEY SYS. THEOLOGY

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    I now enter upon the discussion of the theory, that the goodness, or moral excellence of God is the foundation of moral obligation.

    To this philosophy I reply,

    1. That the reason of obligation, or that which imposes obligation, is identical with the end on which the intention ought to terminate. If, therefore, the goodness of God be the reason, or foundation of moral obligation, then the goodness of God is the ultimate end to be intended. But as this goodness consists in love or benevolence, it is impossible that it should be regarded or chosen, as an ultimate end; and to choose it were to choose the divine choice, to intend the divine intention as an ultimate end, instead of choosing what God chooses, and intending what He intends. Or if the goodness or moral excellence of God is to be regarded not as identical with, but as an attribute or moral quality of benevolence, then, upon the theory under consideration, a moral agent ought to choose a quality or attribute of the divine choice or intention as an ultimate end, instead of the end upon which the divine intention terminates. This is absurd.

    2. It is impossible that virtue should be the foundation of moral obligation. Virtue consists in a compliance with moral obligation. But obligation must exist before it can be complied with. Now, upon this theory, obligation cannot exist until virtue exists as its foundation. Then this theory amounts to this: virtue is the foundation of moral obligation; therefore virtue must exist before moral obligation can exist. But as virtue consists in a conformity to moral obligation, moral obligation must exist before virtue can exist. Therefore neither moral obligation nor virtue, can ever by any possibility, exist. God's virtue must have existed prior to His obligation, as its foundation. But as virtue consists in compliance with moral obligation, and as obligation could not exist until virtue existed as its foundation; in other words, as obligation could not exist without the previous existence of virtue as its foundation, and as virtue could not exist without the previous existence of obligation, it follows, that neither God nor any other being could ever be virtuous, for the reason that he could never be the subject of moral obligation. Should it be said, that God's holiness is the foundation of our obligation to love Him, I ask in what sense it can be so. What is the nature or form of that love, which His virtue lays us under an obligation to exercise? It cannot be a mere emotion of complacency, for emotions being involuntary states of mind and mere phenomena of the sensibility, are not strictly within the pale of legislation and morality. Is this love resolvable into benevolence or goodwill? But why will good to God rather than evil? Why, surely, because good is valuable in itself. But if it is valuable in itself, this must be the fundamental reason for willing it as a possible good; and His virtue must be only a secondary reason or condition of the obligation to will His actual blessedness. But again, the foundation of moral obligation must be the same in all worlds, and with all moral agents, for he simple reason that moral law is one and identical in all worlds. If God's virtue is not the foundation of moral obligation in Him, which it cannot be, it cannot be the foundation of obligation in us, as moral law must require Him to choose the same end that it requires us to choose. His virtue must be a secondary reason of His obligation to will His own actual blessedness, and the condition of our obligation to will His actual and highest blessedness, but cannot be the fundamental reason, that always being the intrinsic value of His well-being.

    If this theory is true, disinterested benevolence is a sin. Undeniably benevolence consists in willing the highest well-being of God and the universe for its own sake, in devoting the soul and all to this end. But this theory teaches us, either to will the moral excellence of God, for its own sake, or as an ultimate end, or to will His good and the good of the universe, not for its own sake, but because He is morally excellent. The benevolence theory regards blessedness as the end, and holiness or moral excellence only as a condition of the end. This theory regards moral excellence itself as the end. Does the moral excellence of God impose obligation to will His moral excellence for its own sake? If not, it cannot be a ground of obligation. Does His moral excellence impose obligation to will His highest good, and that of the universe, for its own sake? No, for this were a contradiction. For, be it remembered, no one thing can be a ground of obligation to choose any other thing, for its own sake. That which creates obligation to choose, by reason of its own nature, must itself be the identical object of choice; the obligation is to choose that object for its own sake.

    If the divine moral excellence is the ground of obligation to choose, then this excellence must be the object of this choice, and disinterested benevolence is never right, but always wrong.

    2. But for the sake of a somewhat systematic examination of this subject, I will:

    (1.) Show what virtue, or moral excellence is.

    (2.) That it cannot be the foundation of moral obligation.

    (3.) Show what moral worth or good desert is.

    (4.) That it cannot be the foundation of moral obligation.

    (5.) Show what relation virtue, merit, and moral worth sustain to moral obligation.

    (6.) Answer objections.

    (1.) Show what virtue, or moral excellence is.

    Virtue, or moral excellence, consists in conformity of will to moral law. It must either be identical with love or goodwill, or it must be the moral attribute or element of good will or benevolence.

    (2.) It cannot be the foundation of moral obligation.

    It is agreed, that the moral law requires love, and that this term expresses all that it requires. It is also agreed that this love is goodwill, or that it resolves itself into choice, or ultimate intention. Or, in more common language, this love consists in the supreme devotion of heart and soul to God and to the highest good of being. But since virtue either consists in choice, or is an attribute of choice, or benevolence, it is impossible to will it as an ultimate end. For this would involve the absurdity of choosing choice, or intending intention, as an end, instead of choosing that as an end upon which virtuous choice terminates. Or, if virtue be regarded as the moral attribute of love or benevolence, to make it an ultimate end would be to make an attribute of choice an ultimate end, instead of that which choice terminates, or ought to terminate. This is absurd.

    (3.) Show what moral worth, or good desert is.

    Moral worth, or good desert, is not identical with virtue, or obedience to moral law, but is an attribute of character, resulting from obedience. Virtue, or holiness, is a state of mind. It is an active and benevolent state of the will. Moral worth is not a state of mind, but is the result of a state of mind. We say that a man's obedience to moral law is valuable in such a sense that a holy being is worthy, or deserving of good, because of his virtue, or holiness. But this worthiness, this good desert, is not a state of mind, but, as I said, it is a result of benevolence. It is an attribute or quality of character, and not a state of mind.

    (4.) Moral worth or good desert cannot be the foundation of moral obligation.

    (a.) It is admitted, that good, or the intrinsically valuable to being, must be the foundation of moral obligation. The law of God requires the choice of an ultimate end. This end must be intrinsically valuable, for it is its intrinsic value that imposes obligation to will it. Nothing, then, can be the foundation of moral obligation but that which is a good, or intrinsically valuable in itself.

    (b.) Ultimate good, or the intrinsically valuable, must belong to, and be inseparable from, sentient existences. A block of marble cannot enjoy, or be the subject of, good. That which is intrinsically good to moral agents, must consist in a state of mind. It must be something that is found within the field of consciousness. Nothing can be to them an intrinsic good, but that of which they can be conscious. By this it is not intended that everything of which they are conscious, is to them an ultimate good, or a good in any sense; but it is intended, that cannot be to them an ultimate, or intrinsic good, of which they are not conscious. Ultimate good must consist in a conscious state of mind. Whatever conduces to the state of mind that is necessarily regarded by us as intrinsically good or valuable, is to us a relative good. But the state of mind alone is the ultimate good. From this it is plain, that moral worth, or good desert, cannot be the foundation of moral obligation, because it is not a state of mind, and cannot be an ultimate good. The consciousness of good desert, that is, the consciousness of affirming of ourselves good desert, is an ultimate good. Or, more strictly, the satisfaction which the mind experiences, upon occasion of affirming its good desert, is an ultimate good. But neither the conscious affirmation of good desert, nor the satisfaction occasioned by the affirmation, is identical with moral worth or good desert. Merit, moral worth, good desert, is the condition, or occasion, of the affirmation, and of the resulting conscious satisfaction and is therefore a good, but it is not, and cannot be an ultimate, or intrinsic good. It is valuable but, not intrinsically valuable. Were it not that moral beings are so constituted, that it meets a demand of the intelligence, and therefore produces satisfaction in its contemplation, it would not be, and could not reasonably be regarded as a good in any sense. But since it meets a demand of the intelligence, it is a relative good, and results in ultimate good.

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