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  • FOUNDATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION - 5 - C,
    CHARLES FINNEY SYS. THEOLOGY

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    (1.) It naturally, and I may say, necessarily diverts the attention from that in which all morality consists, namely, the ultimate intention. Indeed, it seems that the abettors of this scheme must have in mind only outward action, or at most executive volitions, when they assert that the tendency of an action is the reason of the obligation to put it forth. It seems impossible that they should assert that the reason for choosing an ultimate end should or could be the tendency of choice to secure it. This is so perceptible a contradiction, that it is difficult to believe that they have ultimate intention in mind when they make the assertion. An ultimate end is ever chosen for its intrinsic value, and not because choice tends to secure it. How, then, is it possible for them to hold that the tendency of choice to secure an ultimate end is the reason of an obligation to make that choice? But if they have not their eye upon ultimate intention, when they speak of moral obligation, they are discoursing of that which is, strictly without the pale of morality. A consistent utilitarian, therefore, cannot conceive rightly of the nature of morality or virtue. He cannot consistently hold that virtue consists in willing the highest well-being of God and of the universe as an ultimate end, or for its own sake, but must, on the contrary, confine his ideas of moral obligation to volitions and outward actions, in which there is strictly no morality, and with assign an entirely false reason for these, to wit, their tendency to secure an end, rather than the value of the end which they tend to secure.

    This is the proper place to speak of the doctrine of expediency, a doctrine strenuously maintained by utilitarians, and as strenuously opposed by rightarians. It is this, that whatever is expedient is right, for the reason, that the expediency of an action or measure is the foundation of the obligation to put forth that action, or adopt that measure. It is easy to see that this is just equivalent to saying, that the utility of an action or measure is the reason of the obligation to put forth that action or to adopt that measure. But, as we have seen, utility, tendency, expediency, is only a condition of the obligation, to put forth outward action or executive volition, but never the foundation of the obligation that always being the intrinsic value of the end to which the volition, action, or measure, sustains the relation of a means. I do not wonder that rightarians object to this, although I do wonder at the reason which, if consistent, they must assign for this obligation, to wit, that any action or volition, (ultimate intention excepted), can be right or wrong in itself, irrespective of its expediency or utility. This is absurd enough, and flatly contradicts the doctrine of rightarians themselves, that moral obligation strictly belongs only to ultimate intention. If moral obligation belongs only to ultimate intention, then nothing but ultimate intention can be right or wrong in itself. And every thing else, that is, all executive volitions and outward actions must be right or wrong, (in the only sense in which moral character can be predicated of them) as they proceed from a right or wrong ultimate intention. This is the only form in which rightarians can consistently admit the doctrine of expediency, viz., that it relates exclusively to executive volitions and outward actions. And this they can admit only upon the assumption that executive volitions and outward actions have strictly no moral character in themselves, but are right or wrong only as, and because, they proceed necessarily from a right or wrong ultimate intention. All schools that hold this doctrine, to wit, that moral obligation respects the ultimate intention only, must, if consistent, deny that any thing can be either right or wrong per se, but ultimate intention. Further, they must maintain, that utility, expediency, or tendency to promote the ultimate end upon which ultimate intention terminates, is always a condition of the obligation to put forth those volitions and actions that sustain to this end the relation of means. And still further, they must maintain, that the obligation to use those means must be founded in the value of the end, and not in the tendency of the means to secure it; for unless the end be intrinsically valuable, the tendency of means to secure it can impose no obligation to use them. Tendency, utility, expediency, then, are only conditions of the obligation to use any given means, but never the foundation of obligation. The obligation in respect to outward action is always founded in the value of the end to which this action sustains the relation of a means, and the obligation is conditionated upon the perceived tendency of the means to secure that end. Expediency can never have respect to the choice of an ultimate end, or to that in which moral character consists, to wit, ultimate intention. The end is to be chosen for its own sake. Ultimate intention is right or wrong in itself, and no questions of utility, expediency, or tendency, have any thing to do with the obligation to put forth ultimate intention, there being only one ultimate reason for this, namely, the intrinsic value of the end itself. It is true, then, that whatever is expedient is right, not for that reason, but only upon that condition. The inquiry then, Is it expedient?, in respect to outward action, is always proper; for upon this condition does obligation to outward action turn. But in respect to ultimate intention, or the choice of an ultimate end, an inquiry into the expediency of this choice or intention is never proper, the obligation being founded alone upon the perceived and intrinsic value of the end, and the obligation being without any condition whatever, except the possession of the powers of moral agency, with the perception of the ed upon which intention ought to terminate, namely, the good of universal being. But the mistake of the utilitarian, that expediency is the foundation of moral obligation, is fundamental, for, in fact, it cannot be so in any case whatever. I have said, and here repeat, that all schools that hold that moral obligation respects ultimate intention only, must, if consistent, maintain that perceived utility, expediency, etc., is a condition of obligation to put forth any outward action, or, which is the same thing, to use any means to secure the end of benevolence. Therefore, in practice or in daily life, the true doctrine of expediency must of necessity have a place. The railers against expediency, therefore, know not what they say nor whereof they affirm. It is, however, impossible to proceed in practice upon the utilitarian philosophy. This teaches that the tendency of an action to secure good, and not the intrinsic value of the good, is the foundation of the obligation to put forth that action. But this is too absurd for practice. For, unless the intrinsic value of the end be assumed as the foundation of the obligation to choose it, it is impossible to affirm obligation to put forth an action to secure that end. The folly and the danger of utilitarianism is, that it overlooks the true foundation of moral obligation, and consequently the true nature of virtue or holiness. A consistent utilitarian cannot conceive rightly of either.

    The teachings of a consistent utilitarian must of necessity abound with destructive error. Instead of representing virtue as consisting in disinterested benevolence, or in the consecration of the soul to the highest good of being in general, for its own sake, it must represent it as consisting wholly in using means to promote good: that is, as consisting wholly in executive volitions and outward actions, which, strictly speaking, have no moral character in them. Thus, consistent utilitarianism inculcates fundamentally false ideas of the nature of virtue. Of course it must teach equally erroneous ideas respecting the character of God the spirit and meaning of His law the nature of repentance of sin of regeneration and, in short, of every practical doctrine of the Bible.

    Practical bearings and tendency of rightarianism.

    It will be recollected that this philosophy teaches that right is the foundation of moral obligation. With its advocates, virtue consists in willing the right for the sake of the right, instead of willing the good for the sake of the good, or more strictly, in willing the good for the sake of the right, and not for the sake of the good; or, as we have seen, the foundation of obligation consists in the relation of intrinsic fitness existing between the choice and the good. The right is the ultimate end to be aimed at in all things, instead of the highest good of being for its own sake. From such a theory the following consequences must now speak only of consistent rightarianism.

    (1.) If the rightarian theory is true, there is a law of right entirely distinct from, and opposed to, the law of love or benevolence. The advocates of this theory often assume, perhaps unwittingly, the existence of such a law. They speak of multitudes of things as being right or wrong in themselves, entirely independent of the law of benevolence. Nay, they go so far as to affirm it conceivable that doing right might necessarily tend to, and result in, universal misery; and that, in such a case, we should be under obligation to do right, or will right, or intend right, although universal misery should be the necessary result. This assumes and affirms that right has no necessary relation to willing the highest good of being for its own sake, or, what is the same thing, that the law of right is not only distinct from the law of benevolence, but may be directly opposed to it; that a moral agent may be under obligation to will as an ultimate end that which he knows will and must, by a law of necessity, promote and secure universal misery. Rightarians sternly maintain that right would be right, and that virtue would be virtue, although this result were a necessary consequence. What is this but maintaining that moral law may require moral agents to set their hearts upon and consecrate themselves to that which is necessarily subversive of the well-being of the entire universe? And what is this but assuming that may be moral law that requires a course of willing and acting entirely inconsistent with the nature and relations of moral agents? Thus virtue and benevolence not only may be different but opposite things; and benevolence may be sin. This is not only opposed to our reason, but a more capital or mischievous error in morals or philosophy can hardly be conceived.

    Nothing is or can be right, as an ultimate choice, but benevolence. Nothing can be moral law but that which requires that the highest well-being of God and of the universe should be chosen as an ultimate end. If benevolence is right, this must be self-evident. Rightarianism overlooks and misrepresents the very nature of moral law. Let any one contemplate the grossness of the absurdity that maintains, that moral law may require a course of willing that necessarily results in universal and perfect misery. What then, it may be asked, has moral law to do with the nature and relations of moral agents, except to mock, insult, and trample them under foot? Moral law is, and must be, the law of nature, that is, suited to the nature and relations of moral agents. But can that law be suited to the nature and relations of moral agents that requires a course of action necessarily resulting in universal misery? Rightarianism then, not only overlooks, but flatly contradicts, the very nature of moral law, and sets up a law of right in direct opposition to the law of nature.

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