23 AUGUST 1856, Page 18

A. LAYMAN'S INQUIRY INTO MORAL EVIL. * Iv a fundamental sense

the existence of physical evil is just as difficult to account for as that of moral evil. The question in either ease arises, why should an all-benevolent and omnipotent being create evil ? In a more limited sense, the existence of phy- sical evil seems to admit of a better explanation than that of moral evil. Whether we take the general or the particular view, reasons can be assigned for the existence of pain and death. Geologists point out " rocks " and coral islands, which are the production of countless insects that perished. in producing them. Numberless animals are necessary to the food of other animals ; while many genera are so prolific, that if not snapped up by " wild beasts," fishes, or fishermen, they would. destroy other life as well as their own. In a philosophical survey of the globe, we trace through countless series. of ages a progress from baldness to richness, from an inability to support the merest animal life up to the marvellous variety of the existing world : errand this progress is clearly produced. by successive lives and deaths, with their accompaniments of pain. Paley, indeed, points out that pain and disease are the accidents, not the objects of living structure ; which, though perhaps sufficient for his ar- ent, is not quite true, since death is the lot of all living -, and the decrepitude of decay is unavoidable if even pain CO, • be escaped. Physiologists also tell us that pain is a neces- sity to indicate disease. An organ of the body is inflamed; distress or agony ensues ; it is a warning to call in the doctor, and get cured. mayhap. Had the part been destitute of nerves of sensation, the lesion would have gone on till function or the organ was destroyed, and every patient would go off as suddenly as an alderman in a fit of apoplexy. All this is true. In a logical sense, it carries conviction why evil should exist as things are constituted ; but it does not answer the question why things were constituted as they are. It is still less satisfactory as to the existence of evil to those who are smarting under evil. Philo- mela shrieking in the talons of the hawk, a stag compressed by a boa constrictor, " the wild gazelle " in the claws of a large species of the genus Fells, or a man writhing under the agonies of an acute disorder, might be convinced, but scarcely consoled, and not at all relieved, by a discourse on the poet's text.—" all partial evil universal good.' It may be a comprehensive truth, but it does not remove a particular evil.

Beneficial consequences, however, are clearly traceable from evils purely physical, which in a philosophical sense may counterba- lance though they cannot relieve the evils themselves. If the eternity of matter and its inherent properties were conceded, the existence of evil might be considered unavoidable—a some- thing like the ancient Fates. Unless we set aside creative power altogether, and adopt the theory of progressive development, the same conclusion cannot be predicated of moral evil, although it inflicts upon mankind, and even on the brute creation, more misery than physical evil naturally produces. Wars, violence, sensuality, give rise to greater physical misery than would spon- taneously result from our physical constitution, while the wan- tonness or cruelty of man inflicts upon animals greater suffering than follows from natural decay or from their instinctive assaults upon one another ; the evils resulting from mental feelings being, it will be observed, left out of the question. If we could trace in the world of mind as comprehensively as we can in the world of matter the reasons for evil, the same difficulty as to the why would still remain. Nay, the difficulty would be greater. We cannot easily. form the plan of a better physical world. Neither can we imagine a world inhabited by perfectly virtuous people, as men are now constituted. We can, however, readily conceive the world very much better than it is, by our own experience of • An Inquiry emwermins the Priteiples :sae Constitution of Human Nature, which arc the Comma of Moral. Moil. .ay a layman. ,Published by Rivingtons.

individuals, classes, or even societies. As a fact, the moral pro- gress of the human race is clear. Bad as Europe may be now, it is better than it was before the birth of Christ or for many hundred years after. Vices and crimes may abound in North America, but the people taken as a whole are superior to the savages they superseded. Individual or perhaps national crimes are continually overruled," as it is called, for good. Still we cannot trace the explanation, or, as matters stand, the necessity, for moral evil, so clearly as we can for physical evil.

The argument of our Layman in the Inquiry concerning the Principles in the Constitution of Human Nature .which are the Causes of Moral Evil tends to place moral upon the same footing as physical evil ; though the author does not seem to apprehend the full scope of his own theory. The fundamental proposition of the treatise is, that moral evil " proceeds from the animal part of our nature, and not from the intellectual part; which, on the contrary, is only employed in opposing those excesses of the animal nature that constitute moral evils." This position is main- ly supported by a train of arguments drawn from the leading phi- losophical writers who have treated the subject of mind and. body and evil,—Locke, Bishop Butler, Reid, D d Stewart, and others ; the object being to show that Reason, wi the higher intellectual faculties and sentiments, is favourable to virtue ; whence, argues the Layman, they are overpowered. by the animal nature. This argument of course is expanded : at its close it is clinched by passages from Scripture, ascribing our sins to our insufficient con- trol over the flesh ; which texts, the author admits, are not to be received as philosophical proofs, but merely as confirmations. He closes with a passage which, whatever be its theoretical value, is true as a fact.

" But whatever may be the course of the future world, whether it be ac- cording to a system of gradation, or it be at once complete, it is evident that the scheme of this world is progressive improvement. That, no one can doubt, who traces the progress of man from the infancy of his history to the present advanced state of civilization; who considers the improvements he has made in all that concerns his food, his habitations, and the comforts and conveniences of life ; who reflects on the great discoveries he has been permitted to make in science, in the arts, in navigation, in manufactures, in medicine, and in means for the alleviation of pain and suffering. By these, the sufferings, pains, and inconveniences of natural evil have been greatly alleviated or diminished ; and with regard to moral evil, when we consider the revelations that have been made to man in religion, the ad- vance he has made in education, and his improvement in manners, and in the discharge of his personal and social duties, although yet much, very much, remains to be done, it will be conceded that great progress has been


made in virtue, and that the progress still continues. If man's improve- ment in virtue and in physical condition be conceded, then may the famous dilemma of Epicurus be solved. For if man, in his original condition, was not so free from evils as he has since by the power of God become? the exertion of the same power originally might have placed him, then, in as advanced a state as he has now attained : therefore God was able to abolish evils, although He was not willing. And if He were not willing, although able, His unwillingness could only be because of His original intention and design, (which has since become apparent by the progressive advance that has been made,) to give man that perfection, or freedom from evils, by gradual and progressive steps, which He was able to have given him originally and at once."

A large portion of the arguments brought forward by the Lay- man are only his own by application, being drawn from metaphy- sical writers; and to enter into them would carry us into the wide and unsatisfactory region of metaphysics. It may be stated generally, that they are often theoretical, or proceed upon the ex- perience of man in a state of cultivation, not in a state of nature. The writer's own reasonings seem often pushed too far.

" Here, then, we have in man faculties, principles, and affections, inherent in or springing out of the mind, and quite distinct from the appetites, de- sires, and passions of the body; and which but for the latter would 'make man a virtuous and moral being. The full and unopposed play of the former would make man truthful, just, kind, benevolent, compassionate, honest, merciful, and adoring. If that should be doubted, let man be imagined to exist as a spiritual being, deprived of his body, its appetites and passions,— what sin could he commit having any resemblance to the forma of moral evil that now prevail ? "

What a disembodied. man might be or do, we cannot of course positively say ; but we can readily conceive that evil passions could animate an evil soul, and our author does not prove that there is no possibility of a bad mind. " Pride, and worse, am- bition," caused the fall of Satan ; it is easy to conceive of envy, hatred, and other bad passions, in a spirit. The vulgar vices of the mass of mankind no doubt originate in physical desires. As i long as man consists of mind and body, and is compelled to act by physical instruments of action, (for such are even speech and look,) it is difficult to separate earthy desires from the earth. Love of power, imperial ambition, strictly originate in physical things ; since an ideal realm is only that of a madman, and fame itself depends upon physical men. If desires, however, exist in mere spirits, there is nothing to prevent evil desires, unless they are existing in a heaven where evil is not admitted ; which is the very question under discussion. " Why is not earth a heaven?"

But if the Layman's arguments were more cogent than they are, the difficulty would not be overcome, but only shifted further off. The author does not seem to imagine that moral evil will totally .cease in man ; only there will be less of it by and by. The question why evil was created—or permitted, which from the or- thodox point of view is the same thing—still remains unsolved. To say it arises from the physical nature of man overcoming his mental nature, is only saying in other words that evil arises from man's constitution ; and the theory pushed to its full extent would land us in Manichean principles with a change of form. Even if " progress " were eventually to get rid of all evil, physical as well as moral, the difficulty with the past evil would still remain.