The Moral Faculty -- By: Joseph Hayven

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 013:50 (Apr 1856)
Article: The Moral Faculty
Author: Joseph Hayven


The Moral Faculty

Joseph Hayven

Professor in Amherst College.

The subject proposed is one of which it would not be easy to decide which is the greater, the importance or the difficulty. Its importance is seen in the fact that it concerns, at once, the psychologist, who would explain the laws of the human mind; the moralist, who would propound a system of ethical truth; the theologian, who would base his doctrines on a correct philosophy of mind and of morals; and, more than all, the individual man, who seeks to conform, in the practical government of the conduct, to the dictates of his moral nature. Its difficulty is apparent from the fact that it has, for so long a period, employed the energies of the ablest minds, giving rise to so many questions, so many discussions, by so many writers, with conclusions so diverse.

In entering upon the investigation of this subject, it is hardly necessary to raise the preliminary inquiry, as to the existence of a moral faculty in man. That we do possess the power of making moral distinctions, that we do discriminate between the right and the wrong in human conduct, is an obvious fact in the history and psychology of the race. Con-

sciousness, observation, the forms of language, the literature of the world, the usages of society, all attest and confirm this truth. We are conscious of the operation of this principle in ourselves, whenever we contemplate our own conduct or that of others. We find ourselves, involuntarily, and as by instinct, pronouncing this act to be right; that, wrong. We recognize the obligation to do, or to have done, otherwise. We approve, or condemn. We are sustained by the calm sense of that self-approval, or cast down by the fearful strength and bitterness of that remorse. And what we find in ourselves, we observe also in others. In like circumstances, they recognize the same distinctions, and exhibit the same emotions. At the story or the sight of some flagrant injustice and wrong, the child and the savage are not less indignant than the philosopher. Nor is this a matter peculiar to one age or people. The languages and the literature of the world indicate, that, at all times, and among all nations, the distinction between right and wrong has been recognized and felt. The τὸ δίκαιον and τὸ καλόν of the Greeks, the honestum and the pulchrum of the Latins, are specimens of a class of words, to be found in all languages, the proper use and significance of which is to express the distinctions in question.

Since, then, we do unquestionably recognize moral distinctions, it is clear that we have a moral faculty. For a...

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