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  • FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION - 4 - D,
    CHARLES FINNEY SYS. THEOLOGY

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    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 olfactory 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, etc. 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. The mental eye might perceive order, beauty, physical and moral, or anything else; but these things would no more be 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 the good, or of the valuable, must exist before virtue can exist. It is and must be the development of the idea of the valuable, that develops 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 development 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.

    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.

    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.

    Thus we see:

    1. That the utility of ultimate choice cannot be a foundation of obligation to choose, for this would be to transfer the ground of obligation from what is intrinsic in the object chosen to the useful tendency of the choice itself. As I have said, utility is a condition of obligation to put forth an executive act, but can never be a foundation of obligation; for the utility of the choice is not a reason found exclusively, or at all, in object of choice.

    2. The moral character of the choice cannot be a foundation of obligation to choose, for this reason is not intrinsic in the object of choice. To affirm that the character of choice is the ground of obligation to choose, is to transfer the ground of obligation to choose from the object chosen to the character of the choice itself; but this is a contradiction of the premises.

    3. The relation of one being to another cannot be the ground of obligation of the one to will good to the other, for the ground of obligation to will good to another must be the intrinsic nature of the good, and not the relations of one being to another. Relations may be conditions of obligation to seek to promote the good of particular individuals; but in every case the nature of the good is the ground of the obligation.

    4. Neither the relation of utility, nor that of moral fitness or right, as existing between choice and its object, can be a ground of obligation, for both these relations depend, for their very existence, upon the intrinsic importance of the object of choice; and besides, neither of these relations is intrinsic in the object of choice, as it must be to be a ground of obligation.

    5. The relative importance or value of an object of choice can never be a ground of obligation to choose that object, for its relative importance is not intrinsic in the object. But the relative importance, or value, of an object may be a condition of obligation to choose it, as a condition of securing an intrinsically valuable object, to which it sustains the relation of a means.

    6. The idea of duty cannot be a ground of obligation; this idea is a condition, but never a foundation, of obligation, for this idea is not intrinsic in the object which we affirm it our duty to choose.

    7. The perception of certain relations existing between individuals cannot be a ground, although it is a condition of obligation, to fulfil to them certain duties. Neither the relation itself, nor the perception of the relation, is intrinsic in that which we affirm ourselves to be under obligation to will or do to them; of course, neither of them can be a ground of obligation.

    8. The affirmation of obligation by the reason, cannot be a ground, though it is a condition of obligation. The obligation is affirmed, upon the ground of the intrinsic importance of the object and not in view of the affirmation itself.

    9. The sovereign will of God is never the foundation, though it often is a condition of certain forms, of obligation. Did we know the intrinsic or relative value of an object, we should be under obligation to choose it, whether God required it or not.

    The revealed will of God is always a condition of obligation, whenever such revelation is indispensable to our understanding the intrinsic or relative importance of any object of choice. The will of God is not intrinsic in the object which He commands us to will, and of course cannot be a ground of obligation.

    10. The moral excellence of a being can never be a foundation of obligation to will his good; for his character is not intrinsic in the good we ought to will to him. The intrinsic value of that good must be the ground of the obligation, and his good character only a condition of obligation to will his enjoyment of good in particular.

    Good character can never be a ground of obligation to choose anything which is not itself; for the reasons of ultimate choice must be found exclusively in the object of choice. Therefore, if character is a ground of obligation to put forth an ultimate choice, it must be the object of that choice.

    11. Right can never be a ground of obligation, unless right be itself the object which we are under obligation to choose for its own sake.

    12. Susceptibility for good can never be a ground, though it is a condition, of obligation to will good to a being. The susceptibility is not intrinsic in the good which we ought to will, and therefore cannot be a ground of obligation.

    13. No one thing can be a ground of obligation to choose any other thing, as an ultimate; for the reasons for choosing anything, as an ultimate, must be found in itself, and in nothing extraneous to itself.

    14. From the admitted fact, that none but ultimate choice or intention is right or wrong per se, and that all executive volitions, or acts, derive their character from the ultimate intention to which they owe their existence, it follows:

    (a.) That if executive volitions are put forth with the intention to secure an intrinsically valuable end, they are right; otherwise, they are wrong.

    (b.) It also follows, that obligation to put forth executive acts is conditioned, not founded, upon the assumed utility of such acts. Again:

    (c.) It also follows, that all outward acts are right or wrong, as they proceed from a right or wrong intention.

    (d.) It also follows that the rightness of any executive volition or outward act depends upon the supposed and intended utility of that volition, or act. Their utility must be assumed as a condition of obligation to put them forth, and, of course, their intended utility is a condition of their being right.

    (e.) It also follows that, whenever we decide it to be duty to put forth any outward act whatever, irrespective of its supposed utility, and because we think it right, we deceive ourselves; for it is impossible that outward acts or volitions, which from their nature are always executive, should be either obligatory or right, irrespective of their assumed utility, or tendency to promote an intrinsically valuable end.

    (f.) It follows also that it is a gross error to affirm the rightness of an executive act, as a reason for putting it forth, even assuming that its tendency is to do evil rather than good. With this assumption no executive act can possibly be right. When God has required certain executive acts, we know that they do tend to secure the highest good, and that, if put forth to secure that good, they are right. But in no case, where God has not revealed the path of duty, as it respects executive acts, or courses of life, are we to decide upon such questions in view of the rightness, irrespective of the good tendency of such acts or courses of life; for their rightness depends upon their assumed good tendency.

    But it is said that a moral agent may sometimes be under obligation to will evil instead of good to others. I answer:

    It can never be the duty of a moral agent to will evil to any being for its own sake, or as an ultimate end. The character and governmental relations of a being may be such that it may be duty to will his punishment to promote the public good. But in this case good is the end willed, and misery only a means. So it may be the duty of a moral agent to will the temporal misery of even a holy being, to promote the public interests. Such was the case with the sufferings of Christ. The Father willed His temporary misery, to promote the public good. But in all cases when it is duty to will misery, it is only as a means or condition of good to the public, or to the individual, and not as an ultimate end.

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