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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 24a



The only plausible objections made to the foregoing were that I had omitted to consider, firstly, man in his twofold nature : and secondly contingent events; cases in which it was contended that man's will was really free.

As to man's twofold nature, I think those who gratuitously assert it should prove it to be a fact, before they quote t as proving anything else. Such a doctrine would be as destructive of moral responsibility as pre-destination or freewill. Responsibility essentially depends upon the absolute unity and singleness of the subject. Paul certainly, but in appearance inadvertently, let fall an expression (Rom. vii. 19, 20) by which he might seem to countenance such an opinion. "The evil which I would not that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. "But what is this but an overt, not to say impudent attempt to evade all responsibility entirely? He lays the blame not on himself, but, on sin; and he says in the 28th verse, that no one can deliver him from this sin but Jesus Christ. Sin, however was obviously nothing but the quality, real or supposed, of his act; and if for that he was not responsible, who else could be so, unless either Jesus in not delivering him from sin (as he says he only could), or God—who he says in my text works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure? Paul constantly got into this dilemma, and seemed to fancy that he could get out of it by simply avoiding the consideration of both the horns of it at once. In any view the passage is nonsense. But a man who in any court of Justice should plead that an offence with which he might be charged was due to his "second nature," would be treated as a rogue rather than a fool, and very properly too. Such a method of trifling with the basis of moral responsibility would be too dangerous to society to be tolerated for a moment in any practical matter; and never was considered admissible except page 25 in theology and in metaphysics, which Hobbes has well described as that wherein a man may contradict himself without perceiving it. Those who assume a dual nature in man can scarcely appreciate or perceive the pernicious consequences, any more than they do the gross inconsistency into which the exigencies of a defective argument betray them.

As to contingent events, it should be clear that those two words are improperly connected. Events cannot be contingent in themselves, and are only said to be so, in relation to our ignorance of their causes, in the future or the past. A future event can only be said' to be contingent upon one or other of two doubtful, because unknown, alternatives. If we are ignorant of certain causes, it is not wonderful that we should not foreknow the effects, which are to us therefore, and therefore only, contingent. If all antecedent conditions are known, contingency is excluded. To adduce contingency as an argument for freewill is merely to beg the question; for both are equally antagonistic to the absolute uniformity with which effects follow causes, without which experience and knowledge would be impossible.

A common and at first sight plausible argument against the adoption of the necessitarian, or any theory of the will different from the popular one, is that necessitarians and libertarians both sow in order to reap, and send for a doctor when sick; and that as both thus act alike, the particular theoretical principle upon which they act can be of no essential importance. And this is true as regards acts which regard self only, for which natural instinct is generally an ample guide irrespective of speculative principles. But in our social conduct when we judge others by our experience and knowledge epitomised in principles, the case is altogether different. For evidently the libertarian's principles compel him to blame (which is equivalent to hate) those who offend or differ from him; whereas the necessitarian acquits, and simply desires to instruct and furnish superior motives to those whose conduct he disapproves.—Thus it is obvious that their social conduct will be essentially different, and that the one will be intolerant, and therefore immoral, while the other will or should be tolerant and therefore moral. The question thus, instead of being, as it is too commonly supposed, one of mere theoretical speculation, becomes one of universal and the very highest practical importance, and cannot be too earnestly investigated or too widely discussed.

It may be desirable to explain that I have used the word blame as imputing voluntary badness, and the word praise, voluntary goodness, as they are never applied except to supposed free agents. The imputation of voluntary goodness or badness, is, of course, baseless on the necessitarian theory. Hobbes certainly says, that to praise a thing is only to say it is good. But he thus deprives the word of its special import; which is, not only that the object of it is good, but that he is so, because with the same antecedents he might have been bad, had he not chosen to be otherwise.

Hobbes seems to have overlooked that praise and blame are not appropriated but to imagined free agents; for horses, tables and chairs are called good or bad, but are neither praised nor blamed, their goodness in the admitted absence of freewill being allowed to be intrinsic and necessary.

page 26

Man's self conceit* alone seems to furnish him with the idea that he is worthy or meritorious, and those who differ from him the contrary.

Blame and praise have been defended as being useful motives to form men's wills; but they merely minister to his self-conceit,—create uncharitableness,—and are based as I think I have shewn, on essentially false pretences, which alone should secure their condemnation. Praise is injurious as reproducing the self-conceit from which it arose, and as causing contempt of others; blame is worse, as creating hatred and all uncharitableness. Let us be content with being if we can, good, without claiming merit for it. This is a description of humility which I conceive to be incomparably more genuine and even really æsthetic, than the Christian vanity disguised under the name, which not only indirectly repudiates goodness, unless meretriciously adorned with the imaginary quality of merit, but actually also exacts undeserved and over-payment in a fictitious heaven. The imaginary right to merit and such reward is only secured by consigning others to the contrary. But what good man except a Christian would not cheerfully relinquish all claim to merit, while reserving the privilege of doing good? and to a heaven, the idea of which supposes a hell for nearly all his neighbours? Let those who exclaim that to deny the reality of merit and demerit, desert and sin, is degrading to humanity; pause when they reflect that it is their theory alone which constitutes man, the only animal in the known universe guilty of voluntary crime. This should surely teach his spurious pride humility.

* In the Fortnightly Review, for 1st August, 1868, Professor Bain traces the notion of freewill to pride, a slightly less offensive name for the same thing.