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FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION - 3 - B, PREVIOUS SECTION - NEXT SECTION - HELP - FACEBOOK
(5.) Show what relation moral excellence, worth, merit, desert, sustain to moral obligation.
(a.) We have seen, that neither of them can be the foundation of moral obligation; that neither of them has in it the element of the intrinsic, or ultimate good, or valuable; and that therefore, a moral agent can never be under obligation to will or choose them as an ultimate end.
(b.) Worth, merit, good desert, cannot be a distinct ground, or foundation, of moral obligation, in such a sense as to impose obligation, irrespective of the intrinsic value of good. All obligation must respect, strictly, the choice of an object for its own sake, with the necessary conditions and means. The intrinsic value of the end is the foundation of the obligation to choose both it and the necessary conditions and means of securing it. But for the intrinsic value of the end there could be no obligation to will the conditions and means. Whenever a thing is seen to be a necessary condition or means of securing an intrinsically valuable end, this perceived relation is the condition of our obligation to will it. The obligation is, and must be, founded in the intrinsic value of the end, and conditionated upon the perceived relation of the object to the end. The intelligence of every moral agent, from its nature and laws, affirms, that the ultimate good and blessedness of moral beings is, and ought to be, conditionated upon their holiness and good desert. This being a demand of reason, reason can never affirm moral obligation to will the actual blessedness of moral agents, but upon condition of their virtue, and consequent good desert, or merit. The intelligence affirms that it is fit, suitable, proper, that virtue, good desert, merit, holiness, should be rewarded with blessedness. Blessedness is a good in itself, and ought to be willed for that reason, and moral agents are under obligation to will that all beings capable of good may be worthy to enjoy, and may, therefore, actually enjoy blessedness. But they are not under obligation to will that every moral being should actually enjoy blessedness, but upon condition of holiness and good desert. The relation that holiness, merit, good desert, etc., sustains to moral obligation, is this: they supply the condition of the obligation to will the actual blessedness of the being or beings who are holy. The obligation must be founded in the intrinsic value of the good we are to will to them. For it is absurd to say, that we are, or can be, under obligation to will good to them for its own sake, or as an ultimate end, and yet that the obligation should not be founded in the intrinsic value of the good. Were it not for the intrinsic value of their good, we should no sooner affirm obligation to will good to them than evil. The good or blessedness is the thing, or end, we are under obligation to will. But obligation to will an ultimate end cannot possibly be founded in anything else than the intrinsic value of the end. Suppose it should be said, that in the case of merit, or good desert, the obligation is founded in merit, and only conditionated on the intrinsic value of the good I am to will. This would be to make desert the end willed, and good only the condition, or means. This were absurd.
(c.) But again, to make merit the ground of the obligation, and the good willed only a condition, amounts to this: I perceive merit, whereupon I affirm my obligation to will what? Not good to the deserving because of its value to Him, nor from any disposition to see Him enjoy blessedness for its own sake, but because of His merit. But what does He merit? Why, good, or blessedness. It is good, or blessedness, that I am to will to Him, and this is the end I am bound to will; that is, I am to will His good, or blessedness, for its own intrinsic value. The obligation, then, must be founded in the intrinsic value of the end, that is, His well-being, or blessedness, and only conditionated upon merit.
(6.) I am to answer objections.
(a.) It is objected, that, if virtue is meritorious, if it merits, deserves anything, this implies corresponding obligation, and that merit, or desert, must impose, or be the ground of, the obligation to give that which is merited. But this objection is either a mere begging of the question, or it is sheer logomachy. It assumes that the words, desert and merit, mean what they cannot mean. Let the objector remember, that he holds that obligation respects ultimate intention. That ultimate intention must find the grounds of its obligation exclusively in its object. Now, if desert or merit is a ground of obligation, then merit or desert must be the object of the intention. Desert, merit, must be willed for its own sake. But is this the thing that is deserved, merited? Does a meritorious being deserve that his merit or desert should be willed for its own sake? Indeed, is this what he deserves? We understandingly speak of good desert, the desert of good and of evil; can a being deserve that his desert shall be chosen for its own sake? If not, then it is impossible that desert or merit would be a ground of obligation; for be it remembered, that whatever is a ground of obligation ought to be chosen for its own sake. But if good desert deserves good, it is self-evident that the intrinsic value of the good is the ground, and merit only a condition, of obligation to will the actual and particular enjoyment of the good by the meritorious individual. Thus, merit changes merely the form of obligation. If an individual is wicked, I ought to will his good as valuable in itself, and that he would comply with the necessary conditions of happiness, and thereupon actually enjoy happiness. If he is virtuous, I am to will his good still for its intrinsic value; and, since he has complied with the conditions of enjoyment, that he actually enjoy happiness. In both cases, I am bound to will his good, and for the same fundamental reason, namely, its intrinsic value. Neither the fact nor the ground of obligation to will hi good is changed by his virtue; the form only of the obligation is changed. I may be under obligation to will evil to a particular being, but in this case I am not bound to will the evil for its own sake, and therefore, not as an end or ultimate. I ought sometimes to will the punishment of the guilty, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the public good; and the intrinsic value of the good to be promoted is the ground of the obligation, and guilt or demerit is only a condition of the obligation in that form. If merit or desert be a ground of obligation, then merit or desert ought to be chosen for its own sake. It would follow from this, that ill desert ought to be chosen for its own sake, as well as good desert. But who will pretend that ill desert ought to be willed for its own sake? But if this is not, cannot be so, then it follows, that desert is not a ground of obligation, and that is not an object of ultimate choice, or of choice at all, only as a means to an end.
To this I answer, the Bible may assign, and does assign the goodness of God as a reason for loving Him, but it does not follow, that it affirms, or assumes, that this reason is the foundation, or a foundation of the obligation. The inquiry is, in what sense does the Bible assign the goodness of God as a reason for loving Him? Is it that the goodness of God is the foundation of the obligation, or only a condition of the obligation to will His actual blessedness in particular? Is His goodness a distinct ground of obligation to love Him? But what is this love that His goodness lays us under an obligation to exercise to Him? It is agreed, that it cannot be an emotion, that it must consist in willing something to Him. It is said by some, that the obligation is to treat Him as worthy. But I ask, worthy of what? Is He worthy of anything? If so, what is it? For this is the thing that I ought to will to Him. Is He merely worthy that I should will His worthiness for its own sake? This must be, if His worthiness is the ground of obligation; for that which is the ground of obligation to choose must be the object of choice. Why, He is worthy of blessing, and honor, and praise. But these must all be embraced in the single word, love. The law has forever decided the point, that our whole duty to God is expressed by this one term. It has been common to make assertions upon the subject, that involve a contradiction of the Bible. The law of God, as revealed in the two precepts, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself," covers the whole ground of moral obligation (Deut. 6:5). It is expressly and repeatedly taught in the Bible, that love to God and our neighbor is the fulfilling of the law. It is, and must be admitted, that this love consists in willing something to God and our neighbor. What, then, is to be willed to them? The command is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matt. 19:19). This says nothing about the character of my neighbor. It is the value of His interests, of His well-being, that the law requires me to regard. It does not require me to love my righteous neighbor merely, nor to love my righteous neighbor better than I do my wicked neighbor. It is my neighbor that I am to love. That is, I am to will His well-being, or His good, with the conditions and means thereof according to its value. If the law contemplated the virtue of any being as a distinct ground of obligation, it could not read as it does. It must, in that case, have read as follows: "If thou art righteous, and thy neighbor is as righteous as thou art, thou shalt love him as thyself, and not thy neighbor." How far would this be from the gloss of the Jewish rabbis so fully rebuked by Christ, namely, "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you; and pray for them that despitefully use and persecute you. For if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? Do not even the publicans the same" (Matt. 5:43-44, 46)? The fact is, the law knows but one ground of moral obligation. It requires us to love God and our neighbor. This love is goodwill. What else ought we to will, or can we possible will to God and our neighbor, but their highest good, or well-being, with all the conditions and means thereof? This is all that can be of any value to them, and all that we can or ought to, will to them under any circumstances whatever. When we have willed this to them, we have done our whole duty to them. "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10). We owe them nothing more, absolutely. They can have nothing more. But this the law requires us to will to God and our neighbor, on account of the intrinsic value of their good, whatever their character may be; that is, this is to be willed to God and our neighbor, as a possible good, whether they are holy or unholy, simple because of its intrinsic value.