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ON THE MORAL CONSTITUTION OF MAN.
The subjects to which I have hitherto directed your attention have been of a practical and popular character. You have followed me with ease, if not with profit, for I have touched on nothing deep or abstruse. I am in this lecture to treat a subject a little more abstract, though in the end quite as practical as any which I have presented, The Moral Constitution of Man. I do it by way of experiment, that I may discover how far an audience composed of all ages and both sexes may be interested in a psychological investigation.
The existence of a moral nature in man is early demonstrated by the rise of the consciousness, on doing certain actions; "This is right; I am justified and meritorious in doing it.” And on another occasion, "This is
wrong, I am guilty if I do it, and I cannot look on my own conduct with approbation." This power of distinguishing right and wrong, and its involuntary exercise is one of the elementary principles of the human mind. Wherever there is a perfect human soul, there this faculty is developed. The child, the first time that it tells a falsehood, feels compunction, feels that it has done wrong, it cannot tell why. What account is to be given of this fact? Does it see the reasons why it is wrong? By no means.
It has had no experience of the evils which the violation of truth brings upon society, and finally upon the fabricator himself. All we can say of it is, that it is the will of the Creator, that such a feeling should spring up in the human mind as soon as the faculty of speech is developed, as a guard against the abuse of that faculty. We can truly say then, that it is a moral instinct implanted by God in the human soul. I know no reason why we should withhold from it this appellation. It ought to rank with the filial affection, or the desire of society, which is developed much later, but the rudiments of which must have been created within us, or we could never have
known what it was. The Almighty in creating man foresaw all the conditions and relations in which he was to be placed, and he gave him every power and faculty necessary to fit him for every relation which he was ever to sustain. God's universe is one perfect whole, every part of which is fitted to every other part. He created the ocean, the element of water, and likewise fish to live, and breathe, and swim in it. The myriads of embryo fish, which are formed every year, before they have imparted to them the principle of animal life, before they have touched the element in which they are afterwards to have their existence, have the tiny rudiments of lungs by which they are to draw vitality from the water, and the outline of those fins, which are one day to bear them with wonderful velocity through the waves. Go to the bird's nest, and you will there see the same prospective adaptation. The bones which form within those dark and rounded walls have precisely that combination of strength and lightness which fits them to be the frame of a body upborne on the thin and yielding atmosphere, every feather is a miracle of wisdom considered with reference to
warmth, and strength, and buoyancy, and beauty. In every animal there is a third correspondent, which resides in its spiritual part, that something, whatever it is, which bears the same relation to the animal that the soul does to man, an instinct which immediately prompts it to betake itself to the element for which it was formed, the fish to the sea, and the bird to the air. So I know no reason for doubting that the same Omniscient Mind, which created man for society, and predetermined to give him speech and reason, gave him likewise an instinctive moral law for the government of speech, à regard for truth. He thus established a higher communion than can take place among the inferior orders of creation, and made truth the basis of that communion, and absolutely essential to the well being of society.
It was necessary that it should be instinctive, otherwise it would come too late. Reason and experience were not to be developed sufficiently early for the safety of society. It would have been fatal to man's social well being to have permitted each generation to learn by a succession of disastrous experiments that it is necessary to speak the truth. The obligation of truth then may be set down as one of the moral instincts of man, an ultimate fact which cannot be resolved into any law more simple, or into any other principle. All we can say of it is, that such is the will of God, that on the development of the powers of reason and speech, every human being should feel the obligation of speaking the truth, and should feel reproached and humiliated when he violates it. As it is a moral instinct with regard to ourselves, so it is a moral sentiment with respect to others. It is impossible for us to regard another who has violated the truth with moral approbation. We cannot help feeling for him a hearty contempt. As no sophistry can altogether excuse us to ourselves for violating the truth, so no apology can restore another who has violated it to our entire esteem.