Finney's Lectures On Theology
Volume 1, Unpublished, c. 1860
INTRODUCTORY - REASON.
Locke's philosophy of the human understanding logically resulted in atheism. He maintained that all knowledge is founded on, or derived from, sensation, or from sense. Now it is plain that sense can give material facts but not principles and laws. Hence, legitimately no inference whatever could be drawn from the facts of sense or sensation. It could not be inferred that there was any cause whatever of these sensations, for sensation knows nothing of cause. If no faculty of the human mind gave the idea of cause and effect, and the law of causality, all that could be known by us would simply be the material acts that occur. It would be impossible for us to refer them to any law or cause whatever. Therefore, the inquiry after cause, upon the principles of Locke's philosophy, was entirely impertinent.
The logical consequences of this theory were gradually perceived by philosophers, and those of a skeptical tendency seemed very willing to admit the soundness of his philosophy, and to triumph in its logical consequences. As was logically necessary, it finally brought forth its fruits in the atheism of David Hume and his school. Hume simply upon trust [assumed] the Christian philosophy of his time, and pushed it to its logical consequences. This result lead Kant, a German philosopher, to call attention to the existence and province of an a priori function of the intelligence, to wit, the pure reason, as this function is given in consciousness. He asserted, and philosophers now generally admit, that we are conscious of a faculty that directly intuits laws and principles, as consciousness intuits our inward experiences.
I. WHAT WE MEAN BY THE REASON, AS DISTINCT FROM THE OTHER FUNCTIONS OF THE INTELLECT.
1. I have said that it is the a priori function of the intellect as distinct from, and opposed to, the logical function, or the a posteriori function of the intellect. The a posteriori function of the intellect gets its conclusions or knowledges from reasoning, or from induction; this, the a priori function, gets its knowledge from a direct beholding or intuition.
2. The pure reason gives or is concerned with ideas, as opposed to concrete existences. Reason gives ideas and their mutual relations, as opposed to the mutual relations of things and beings. The reason gives laws and principles as sense and consciousness give facts or phenomena. Reason gives certainties as opposed to hypotheses; reason gives the necessary as opposed to the contingent; reason gives the unconditional as opposed to the conditioned; reason gives the infinite as opposed to the finite; reason gives the perfect as opposed to the imperfect; reason gives the ideal as opposed to the real; reason gives the axiomatic as opposed to the logical. Reason does not prove but affirms; reason does not suppose but knows; it does not deduce but postulates; it does not give the exceptional but the universal; it does not give plurality but unity; it gives truths of certain knowledge as opposed to opinion or belief.
3. Its knowledges are all universal and irresistible, as opposed to those truths that can be really doubted. In the course of study that is before you, it is of great importance that you should continually keep in mind the distinction between the rational function of the intellect and some other functions of this faculty; because, whatever is directly intuited by this faculty is to be taken as a truth of certain knowledge. By this I do not mean that the same is not true of consciousness and sense within their respective spheres; for they also are intuitive functions of the intellect. But whatever is given by this faculty is to be distinguished from whatever is given by the understanding, the judgment, the imagination, or memory. Its truths are peculiar in their kind, being self-evident, necessary, and universal, they are therefore truths of irresistible knowledge. No one of them can need to be proved, because it is a truth of direct and certain knowledge. I will now proceed to notice two classes of truth given by this function: First what are commonly denominated first truths of reason.
II. FIRST TRUTHS OF REASON HAVE THE FOLLOWING CHARACTERISTICS.
1. They are self-evident; that is, they are truths of intuition, perceived by a direct beholding of them. They need no proof because they are irresistibly seen to be true in their own light. They stand face to face with the intuitive faculty. Such is the nature of this function of the intellect and the nature of these truths, that the mind cannot help knowing them. It knows by a certain, direct, and irresistible knowledge, as when you open your eyes with your face toward the sun you cannot avoid the sensation of vision, nor that perception of sense that directly beholds the sun. So the reason, in the presence of its objects, that is, of those truths adapted to its nature, cannot avoid beholding them. All the truths of the reason have this characteristic; but at present I speak of first truths as being universally self-evident.
2. Another characteristic of first truths is, they are necessary as opposed to contingent truths. The reason does not merely perceive that they are so, but that they must be so. The reason does not merely affirm that they are true, but that their opposite is impossible and absurd.
3. A third characteristic of first truths is that they are universal as opposed to the exceptional or general. That is, there are no exceptions to these truths. The reason affirms not only that they are true and that there is no exception to them, but also that there can be no exception to them -- not only that they are but that they must be universally true.
4. First truths are truths of certain knowledge, as opposed to opinion, speculation, belief, or even demonstration. Truths of demonstration are affirmed by the reason to be certain, provided there is no mistake in the premises; but as mistake in the premises is in many cases possible, they are not certain in the sense in which first truths are certain. These truths are not deduced from premises in which there may be mistake; but being truths of direct intuition they are truths of certain knowledge in the highest sense. We do not merely believe them, or opine them, or demonstrate them, we know them by a direct certainty.
5. First truths of reason have this characteristic, which, in fact, distinguishes them from all other truths; they are truths of universal knowledge, the denial of them always and necessarily involves a contradiction. That is, all beings in whom reason is developed do actually assume and practically acknowledge their truth, even though they may never have made them an object of attention, or even have been aware that such truths are known by them. They may never have been thought of in the form of a proposition, and yet they are known, assumed, and always acted upon. In specifying some of these we shall see that they have these characteristics.
III. EXAMPLES OF SOME FIRST TRUTHS OF REASON.
1. The existence of space is a first truth of reason. It is a truth known and assumed by every rational being. We find it impossible to doubt the existence of space, even if we suppose the non-existence of everything else. This is a universal knowledge, and has all the characteristics that have been specified as belonging to the first truths of reason.
2. The existence of time is also a first truth of reason. All rational beings know that time exists. Although in consciousness we find that we can conceive of the non-existence of all things in time, yet time will remain; to conceive its non-existence we find in consciousness to be impossible.
3. The truth that every effect must have a cause is a first truth of reason. I do not mean that it is a first truth of reason that there is any effect, or that there is any cause in existence; but that effect and cause imply each other, that no effect can exist without a cause, and that no cause can exist without an effect. The law, then, that every effect must have a cause is a first truth of reason, everywhere assumed.
4. That every event must be an effect, and have a cause, is a first truth of reason. An event is something that comes to pass. That whatever change occurs, or whatever comes to pass, must have had a cause is a truth that cannot be doubted. It is not a contingent but a necessary and universal truth, and one that must be universally assumed and is therefore a first truth of reason.
5. That a series of causes and effects cannot be infinite, is a first truth. Every effect is a unit. Infinity cannot be made up of parts or units.
6. That time and space are infinite, is a first truth of reason. That either time or space should have limits is inconceivable and impossible. This is and must be universally assumed.
7. Another first truth of reason is that the will of a moral agent must be free. A moral agent is a responsible agent. A responsible agent is truly an agent, an actor, a self-acting being, one who originates and directs his own activity. A moral agent is one who acts under the responsibility of moral obligation. Moral obligation, strictly, respects acts of will, choices, and volitions. Now the reason directly affirms that moral obligation to will, implies power to will in accordance with obligation, or the contrary. That a moral agent must be free -- not in the Edwardsean sense, able to execute his volitions, for this he may not have power to do; but free in the sense of being able to will as moral law requires him to will, or will in an opposite direction at his sovereign discretion. This ability is liberty of will. The reason directly intuits and affirms that this liberty of will is an indispensable condition of moral agency, and that this is a necessary and universal truth. It is a truth also known to, and affirmed by, all moral agents; and no being could conceive of moral obligation to will unless he assumed the ability to will.
These are only some of the first truths of reason, given as specimens. It will be seen that they consist in ideas, laws, and principles, as distinct from concrete realities or proper beings.
IV. HOW THESE TRUTHS ARE DEVELOPED IN THE REASON.
I next proceed to notice the condition upon which these truths are developed in the reason. They are necessarily known to all rational intelligences. The inquiry at present is how they came to be thus known, or the conditions upon which they are thus known.
1. The first condition upon which they are known is the existence of this function of the intellect, as distinct from the other functions of the intellect. The sense, like the reason, is an intuitive function of the intellect; and so is consciousness. But sense gives only the material; consciousness gives the facts of our existence and mental acts and states; but reason gives not these, but pure abstractions. This is the peculiarity of this function. Reason gives the logical antecedents of sense perceptions. Sense gives the chronological antecedents of rational conceptions.
2. A second condition is a fact given, as a sense perception. Sense perceives an object possessing the qualities of extension, form, solidity, whereupon the rational idea of space is developed. This perception is the chronological antecedent, and the necessary condition of the development of the idea of body and the affirmation that space exists. The ideas of body and space must be simultaneously developed; for they cannot be thought or defined except as they are distinguished from each other, body and space. The existence of body is not affirmed by the reason; but the perception of body develops the conception of space and the affirmation that it really exists. Sense gives the existence of that which the reason affirms bodiness, or of that which the reason calls body, without affirming anything of its actual existence. But of space it not only has the conception of what it is, but also affirms that it is. The idea being once developed, the actual existence of space is affirmed by us as a necessary truth. The idea always lies in the mind as a first truth, whether thought of or not. It is always there, assumed and acted upon by a necessity of our nature.
3. How we come by the first truth, time is. This truth may be developed either by some conscious succession in our inward states, thoughts, or feelings, or by the sense perception of the succession of outward events. The consciousness or the perception of succession develops the rational ideas of succession and time. These must be developed simultaneously, as a succession is seen by the reason to imply time, and time to imply the possibility of succession. The consciousness or the perception of succeeding events, within or without us, is the chronological antecedent of the development of these rational ideas. The ideas do not develop each other, but are developed upon the occurrence of conscious[ness] or sense perceptions.
The rational idea of succession is not an affirmation that events do exist in succession, but that succession implies time. The idea of succession is simply that of relation in time. But the rational conception of the existence of time, as a first truth of reason is not only an idea of what time is, but that it is, and must be. The rational idea of succession is not that succession is, but what succession must be, if it is.
Time, then, given as a first truth of reason, is that time is and must be whether anything else is or not. It is not that the rational conception of time is that of flux, or flow, or any movement or succession in it; but that it is a unit, duration, that in which succession exists, or may exist. The rational conception of time, then, is simply that of duration as necessarily existent, as having neither beginning nor end nor parts, but as infinite and a unity. Both space and time, as first truths, are given as absolute, that is, unconditional truths -- their existence depending on no conditions. Hence, did we suppose that nothing else existed, we affirm that time and space must exist.
4. How we attain to a knowledge of the law of cause and effect as a first truth of reason. Either by the spontaneous exercise of our own causality, our consciousness or sense gives some occurrence or event, whereupon the reason instantly affirms that this event had a cause; and that this event had a cause because every event must have a cause, or must be an effect.
Locke in his philosophy could not consistently arrive at this; there being in his estimation no a priori faculty to affirm that an event must be an effect, and that an effect implied a cause, and that events imply causes or cause; he could not conclude that there was any necessary connection between events. Brown assumed Locke's philosophy, and hence consistently denied that there is any cause or effect in the proper sense of these terms. Cause and effect, with him, meant nothing more than precedent and subsequent events -- not antecedent and consequent, but merely preecedent and subsequent. Hamilton denied all causality. This, on the principles of Locke's philosophy, is consistent. But the pure reason irresistibly intuits the law of causality. It affirms that no effect can exist without a cause, and that no cause can exist without an effect -- that they mutually imply each other.
Hence the ideas of cause and effect are both rational ideas, simultaneously developed upon the perception or consciousness of an event. This perception or consciousness, let it be remembered, is the chronological antecedent of the development of both of these ideas. The law of causality is not a first truth of reason, in the sense that reason affirms that cause and effect do really exist, but in the sense that if one exists the other must, that they mutually imply each other, and that this truth is necessary and universal. In this form it is strictly a first truth of reason, universally known and practically assumed -- as well by Locke, Krouse, and Hamilton, as by others.
5. That the will of a moral agent must be free I have said is also a first truth of reason. This truth is developed in the mind by the perception of that of which we affirm oughtness, or obligation, or duty. Something comes before the mind that demands the action of the will. Some outward act is performed, or some inward choice or volition to be put forth or declined. The moral function of the reason thereupon affirms obligation; and in affirming obligation it assumes ability to choose or act in the required direction. The assumption of the freedom of the will no doubt lies back of this, as from our earliest infancy we assume the freedom of our will in constantly asserting it and manifesting it in our actions. So also we assume that every event is an effect, and that every effect must have a cause. This we do in the exercise of our own causality, or in the actions of our wills put forth to produce effects. These assumptions are clearly made by us previous to the development of the rational conception of the freedom of the will, of cause and effect.
The first truth about which we are now inquiring, that the will of a moral agent must be free, is a rational conception added to that instinctive knowledge which from the beginning we posses, that we have a will and are able to use it at discretion. The first truth that the will of a moral agent must be free, is developed by the reason's directly beholding that which demands the will's action, and in the presence of which the moral function of the reason affirms obligation. In the affirming of obligation by the moral function of the reason, the natural function of the reason affirms not merely that my will is free as a condition of the obligation, but this is a universal truth, that obligation implies liberty of will in the sense of power to act in either direction in the presence of obligation, and therefore that freedom of will is essential to moral agency, and that the will of every moral agent must in this sense be free.
V. DIVISION OF FIRST TRUTHS OF REASON.
The first truths of reason are strictly of two kinds. First, they are ideas of necessary existences, or what Cousin calls necessary ideas. The idea of a necessary existence is an idea which we necessarily conceive as having an archetype, the non-existence of which we cannot conceive possible. Such are the ideas of time and space. These we necessarily regard as having archetypes, or that which is represented by their ideas. Duration and space we necessarily conceive must exist; and in this sense we call these ideas necessary ideas, or more properly ideas of necessary existence.
The other class of first truths, that is, truths of necessary and universal knowledge, are not ideas of necessary existences, but ideas which under our circumstances we necessarily have. Such, for example, that a whole is equal to all its parts, and that all the parts of anything are equal to the whole; that every effect implies a cause and every cause an effect; that a moral agent must be a free agent; that a moral agent must have moral character; that a moral agent must be under moral law; ideas of right and wrong. These are some of the first truths which are given in reason as ideas which we necessarily have, but of which we do not necessarily affirm that they have any archetype.
VI. SECOND CLASS OF TRUTHS OF REASON.
1. It is common to speak of self-evident truths of reason. But it should be remembered that reason is an intuitive function of the intellect, and therefore that all its truths are necessarily self-evident. They are all developed by a direct beholding or intuition, by which it is intended that they are seen to be true in the light of their own evidence, and therefore are self-evident truths. The reason knows no other than self-evident truths; therefore to speak of self-evident truths of reason is not to designate any particular class of truths given by this faculty, for this is the universal characteristic of all the truths given by it.
But the second class of rational intuitions or truths, to which I call attention, are not truths of universal knowledge in the sense that they are necessarily recognized or known to, or assumed by, all rational beings whose reason is developed. But nevertheless they are truths of rational intuition; although in many cases where the reason is in some degree developed many of these truths are not already intuited or known. Such are, for example, the truths of mathematics, mathematical relations and proportions, the laws and principles of science -- indeed, all the laws, principles, and postulates of all the exact sciences. These laws, axioms, postulates, and principles are all given by the reason when they are apprehended, are directly intuited as being self-evident in their own nature. Whenever they are apprehended the mind calls for no proof of them, because they are seen to be necessarily true. Although they are not truths necessarily known to all whose reason is developed, yet they have the attributes of necessity and universality; that is, they are seen not only to be true, but necessarily and universally true from their own nature. Such, for example, as, "Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other." All the propositions of Euclid contain truths of direct intuition; that is, in these propositions the major premise is a postulate. The minor may be a fact, or it may be another postulate.
But in mathematical reasoning, as a general thing, the whole process is a rational one; because the relations are ideal or abstract relations, not the relations of things but of ideas. Hence, properly speaking, the science of mathematics is to a very great extent made up of rational intuitions. These are not first truths in the sense that they are universally known, but in the sense that they are necessary and universal truths, discovered by the direct intuitions of reason.
VII. HOW THIS CLASS OF TRUTHS (SECOND CLASS) IS DEVELOPED IN THE REASON
1. Not empirically. We do not, for example, and cannot prove by mere measurement that a whole is equal to all its parts; or that all the parts whatever of anything are equal to the whole. And could we in any particular case show that the whole is equal to the parts or the parts to the whole, this would not give us a universal truth. It would be illogical to conclude that because it was so in a particular case it must be so in every case. It is the reason alone that gives this truth in the form of a universal and necessary truth. The chronological antecedent of the development of this, as a universal and necessary truth, might be the fact that we perceive in a given case that a whole is equal to all its parts, or that all its parts are equal to the whole. But it is plain that no experiment upon isolated facts or cases could logically give truths necessary and universal. These truths, then, are not given empirically in the sense that we logically infer them from any experiment. Experience may be the chronological antecedent of their development; but they are never a logical inference from experiment.
2. These truths are not obtained a posteriori. This of course is implied in their being truths of intuition. But some may suppose that a truth obtained by syllogistic reasoning is after all really given by intuition; and that therefore a truth obtained by a course of reasoning or a posteriori argument, might be said to be intuitively obtained. But whatever may be said of a truth arrived at by induction, the class of truths of which we have been speaking are not of this kind. They are not conclusions from premises, but are rather themselves postulated as premises. In other words, they are a priori truths given in the reason, not as conclusions from any other truth, but as postulates or axioms, universal and necessary in their own nature. They are, then, developed as a priori truths, principles, and laws, sustaining such a relation to the reason as not to be inferred from other truths but affirmed as first principles.
3. Again, these truths are developed by teaching -- not in the sense of proving them to be true, but in the sense of stating them in such a manner and in such connections, as to render them intelligible and place them face to face with the reason. The teacher of mathematics, for example, is employed, not in proving these truths, but in so presenting them to the mind that the terms of the proposition in which they are stated are rendered intelligible, and thus they are placed directly before the intuitive gaze of the reason.
4. These truths are developed by study, in the sense of giving the attention of the mind to them. Not study in the sense of demonstration, but in the sense of meditation.
5. Again, these truths are developed in intellectual culture, in the sense of developing them in their necessary order. The reason seems to be capable of indefinite development; and all self-evident truths are not seen by it at once, but we learn from consciousness that there is a natural and necessary order for their development. A student of mathematics, for example, will not at once receive the statement of all the axioms that belong to that science; much less of the mathematical truths, proportions, and relations that in the course of development are seen to be self-evident. The human reason is not omniscient; it gets its truths by intuitions, but by successive steps, and rises from the recognition of the first truths of reason into the region of other necessary and universal truths, doubtless in endless progress of development.
1. The truths of reason need no proof, because they cannot be doubted.
2. This last class of rational intuitions are not like first truths, truths of universal knowledge, but only truths that must be known in the order of their development, because when the conditions are fulfilled they are seen to be true in their own light and from their own nature, necessarily and universally true.
3. We should not assume that all the self-evident truths of reason are of course at present self-evident to all minds. Many may not yet have attained to that stage of development in which the statement of them would be understood, or in which they can even be conceived by the reason. A child, for example, that already has the first truths of reason, the ideas of time, space, that every effect implies a cause, etc., may nevertheless not have attained that degree of development in which it could understand the terms in which many axioms and postulates of science are stated. In all steps of intellectual development we shall find that as the reason advances, the field of self-evident truths is enlarged, the number of these truths multiplied. Innumerable truths would be self-evident to a Newton or a LaPlace, that could not so much as be conceived of by children and youth.
4. Again, we may not suppose that many truths may not be self-evident to others which are not so to us. On the one hand we have no right to suppose that all minds, whatever their degree of development, will intuit all the truths that we intuit as necessary and universal truths; nor on the other hand make our own degree of development the limit of intuitive knowledge, and assume that what we do not know is not knowable, what we do not intuit is not a truth of intuition. The reason of this difference is not that reason in it laws, modes of activity and affirmations is not identical in all; but it is a question of development, of progress, there being no end to the progress of development. The first truths of reason are developed through the instrumentality of sense perceptions at the very dawn of reason. No one probably can remember when he had not these truths, or did not make these assumptions; when he had not the ideas of time, space, cause and effect, and the law of causality. But we can all remember how gradually our reason has come to the apprehension or intuition of many necessary and universal truths.
5. Again, it is important in teaching or studying for us to inquire to what category any given truth belongs. Is it a first truth? Then everybody knows it. We may well assume it, and assume that those around us know it. Although they may not have thought of it, still they know and assume it; and we may safely proceed with them upon the assumption that this truth is in their minds as a certain and irresistible knowledge. But if it is not a first truth, but a truth belonging to the class which we have just considered, a necessary and universal truth but not a truth universally known, we need, if teaching, to proceed to fulfill the conditions of its development.
6. Again, we need to consider the natural place or connection in the order of development which such a truth sustains to the reason. It is a familiar fact to us all that after considering a matter well, many truths are seen by us to be self-evident, as necessary and universal truths, which at first we did not see to be so. This is a constant experience in the study of the exact sciences. By this I do not mean that these truths did not appear to us to belong to this class, to be self-evident and universal, when we really apprehend them; but that the apprehension of them required study, consideration, and the fixing the attention upon them.
With respect to truths of reason, then, it should be said, that to develop first truths of reason, objects should be presented to sense perceptions that will serve as chronological antecedents to spring them into development in the reason. Let sense perceive body, and anything be said or done that shall spring the idea of its being body, and with this idea is naturally also sprung the idea of space. So, call attention to the fact of succession in a manner that shall spring the idea of events being separated in time, and it forces into development the rational apprehension and affirmation of the existence of duration. In a modified sense of the term this may be called the proving of first truths of reason; but only in the sense that you fulfill the conditions of their development, and not in the sense that you present an argument, or logical formula, or proof, or evidence according to the common acceptation of these terms.
Of the other class of truths of reason, I would say that it often happens that they may be proved in this sense, by the reductio ad absurdum -- that the denial of them involves a contradiction or an absurdity. Truths of reason, sense, or consciousness, can seldom be proved by any process of argument, for the reason that there is no truth more certain in the light of which they may be established or from which they may be inferred. And it is often dangerous to volunteer an attempt to prove these truths, because a failure to prove them might lead to their being called in question, when in fact the reason why they cannot be proved is because they are in themselves certain in the highest sense of certainty, and nothing is more certain as premises from which they can be deduced. They are not truths of deduction, because they are the major premises of syllogistic reasonings. To attempt, therefore, to prove them is to overlook their nature and their relations to the intellect, and consequently virtually to represent them as doubtful or as needing proof; whereas it should be understood that all truths of intuition, whether of consciousness, of sense, or of reason, are not only too certain to need proof, but so certain that they cannot be proved, except as I have said, by the reductio ad absurdum.
I make these remarks, because in the course of study upon which we are entering, it is important that we should understand what we are to prove, and what we are to take for granted as needing no proof -- that when any truth lies in our course of study that is plainly a truth of intuition, its truthfulness cannot rationally be called in question.
IX. TRUTHS OF CONSCIENCE.
I have already said that conscience is a function of the reason, or is reason applied to moral objects. The truth of this is evident because conscience is plainly concerned with ideas, qualities, laws, principles, and relations -- with the abstract, the necessary, the universal. I call that conscience, that upon certain conditions being fulfilled, affirms moral obligation; that postulates the great rule of moral action; that affirms the law of universal benevolence as an authoritative rule in conformity with which all moral agents ought to act. The conception or affirmation of this rule as a rule of duty, as implying and enforcing obligation, is given by the moral function of the reason.
The ideas, then, given by conscience are such as these: Moral law subjectively affirmed or imposed by the conscience, moral obligation or oughtness; the ideas of right and wrong, of moral character, vice, virtue, desert, justice, injustice; the ideas of moral attributes, qualities and relations; the idea of God as a moral governor; the idea of God's moral attributes as distinct from his natural attributes, which are given by the natural function of the reason. Reason applied to natural objects gives God as a first cause and as infinite in all his natural attributes. Conscience, or the reason applied to moral objects, gives the moral attributes of God, and his relation to his creatures, not as cause, but as governor, or as having rightful authority. The natural function of the reason gives God as naturally infinite and perfect, while the conscience gives him as morally infinite and perfect. Conscience gives the idea of virtue in its universal form as the moral quality of disinterested benevolence; and it gives all the moral qualities or attributes of disinterested benevolence as virtues. It gives the idea of justice, mercy, veracity; in short, the idea of virtue and vice in every form in which virtue and vice can exist. The quality virtue or vice, as affirmed of any action or state of mind, is given by the conscience, is perceived and affirmed by that function of the reason.
Feelings arising in the sensibility as a consequence of the intuitions of conscience are strictly no part of conscience; but only a result of its affirmations and intuitions; although in popular language we often speak, and the inspired writers appear to speak, of conscience as including these states of the sensibility. But speaking as philosophers in the light of conscience, we regard the conscience as purely an intellectual function, as belonging to the pure reason, and as strictly consisting in reason applied to moral questions.
X. HOW THE IDEAS OF CONSCIENCE ARE DEVELOPED.
It has been common for skeptics to suppose that conscience is altogether a matter of education, and that morality, or our ideas of morals, are mere prejudices, the result of education and a superstitious tendency. But is should be observed that had we not a conscience that necessarily gave us these ideas, men could never be educated in morals, or have any prejudices upon that subject. Were not the ideas of moral right and wrong irresistibly given as first moral truths, children could never be taught that anything was right or wrong, except in the physical sense of these terms. It is in vain to tell a mere animal that a thing is right or wrong. It has not the idea; consequently, if you could make it understand language, to say that this or that particular thing or act is morally right or wrong would be totally unintelligible. Not having the abstract idea of moral law, nothing can be compared with it, or brought into its light so as to be conceived of as right or wrong. The mind must have a law, and a moral law, in its intuitive conceptions or affirmations, as the condition of having any conception of moral right or wrong in the life. The rule can never be given by teaching. But the rule once in the mind, we can teach children or others what particular acts come under it as being in accordance with or opposed to it. But moral education is a sheer absurdity, unless there is a moral nature or conscience that postulates moral law and obligation as necessary and universal truths; and that, too, antecedent to all possible teaching as to what is and is not morally right or wrong in the life.
The ideas of conscience, then, are by no means prejudices of education; it is impossible that they should be. They are irresistible intuitions of our very nature, and lie developed in the moral reason or conscience as laws and principles, in the light of which education on moral subjects, as touching the activities of life, is possible.
But how, then, are the ideas of conscience developed? Instrumentally, no doubt, they are developed by some experience. We experience pleasure or pain. This experience of pleasure or pain is the condition of developing in the reason the rational conception of the good or valuable, that which is valuable to being for its own sake, and the evil, or that which is naturally evil on its own account to a moral being. Happiness is affirmed to be intrinsically valuable, or a good; misery as intrinsically an evil. The ideas of natural good and evil develop in the conscience the affirmation that the good ought to be chosen for its own sake, and that the evil ought never to be chosen for its own sake, and only as a condition of good; and these affirmations are developed in the universal form as necessary and universal truths, or in the form of moral law -- that the good of universal being ought to be chosen by moral agents for its own sake, and that misery ought to be universally avoided, except as a condition of good. The law is also extended naturally to the lives of all moral agents; and the conscience postulates irresistibly that all moral agents ought to devote themselves to the promotion of the highest good of universal being, and consequently to avoid as far as possible the introduction of misery. This affirmation of conscience is made upon condition of the intuitive perception of a moral relation existing between the choice and the good of being -- that such is the nature of good and such the nature of choice, that it is morally fit that the good should be chosen for its own sake. Upon the perception by the conscience of this moral relation between choice and its object, the affirmation is developed that it is right to choose, or in other words, that choice ought to terminate on the good, and that we and all moral agents ought to choose the good and therein refuse the evil.
The perception, then, of that which is naturally good, to wit, the blessedness or happiness of being, develops in the conscience the conception of the morally good, or of virtue. Natural good being perceived by the natural reason, or happiness being affirmed by the natural reason to be a good in itself, conscience thereupon affirms that moral good or virtue consists in the disinterested choice of natural good or happiness. Thus the idea of moral good is developed in the conscience by the intuition of natural good in the intrinsically valuable to being by natural reason.
The condition, then, of the development of the ideas of conscience, is the experience of pleasure or happiness. In an animal, this experience does not suggest the idea of the intrinsically valuable, and consequently of moral law and obligation to choose it; but in rational beings, the experience of happiness and its opposite at a very early age develops the idea of the good or valuable whereupon the moral nature simultaneously affirms moral law, moral obligation, right, wrong, virtue, vice, good and ill desert. It is not so much my object in this place to state the exact order which these truths are developed in the conscience, as the condition of their development. It will be observed that in the development of these ideas of conscience we assume necessarily and irresistibly our moral agency, the freedom of our will, the existence and rightful authority of God, his moral perfections, and that he requires of us conformity to this law which conscience imposes on us in his name.
So it should be remembered that obligation is always invoked in the name of God; and we cannot resist the conviction that he requires of us that which our conscience affirms that we ought to do. If we consider the matter as revealed in consciousness, we shall perceive that obligation in us implies two parties, one under obligation and one to whom obligation is due; that we do not affirm moral obligation to ourselves nor to society, but to God as our rightful lawgiver. Hence the Psalmist affirms that he had sinned against God only. We cannot possibly regard this obligation as imposed by society, or by any other being than God. The will of no being but God can be moral law. We cannot conceive of moral obligation, then, in any other light than as an obligation to God; and in affirming this obligation we necessarily assume his existence, his moral attributes, relations, and his moral perfections, as conditions of our obligation to obey him. (Roman numerals added -- Gordon Olson).
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