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A POPULAR MAXIM EXAMINED
[AFTER disputing the saying that circumstantial evidence falls short of positive proof, he goes on :-)
The other maxim which deserves a similar examination is this :“That it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent man should suffer." If by saying it is better be meant that it is more for the public advantage, the proposition, I think cannot be maintained. The security of civil life, which is essential to the value and the enjoyment of every blessing it contains, and the interruption of which is followed by universal misery and confusion, is protected chiefly by the dread of punishment. The misfortune of an individual (for such may the sufferings, or even the death, of an innocent person be called when they are occasioned by no evil intention) cannot be placed in competition with this object. I do not contend that the life or safety of the meanest subject ought, in any case, to be knowingly sacrificed : no principle of judicature, no end of punishment can quire that.
But, when certain rules of adjudication must be pursued, when certain degrees of credibility must be accepted in order to reach the crimes with which the public are infested ; courts of justice should not be deterred from the application of these rules by every suspicion of danger, or by the mere possibility of confounding the innocent with the guilty. They ought rather to reflect, that he who falls by a mistaken sentence, may be considered as falling for his country, whilst he suffers under the operation of those rules, by the general effect and tendency of which the welfare of the community is maintained and upholden.
(From Moral and Political Philosophy.)
HERE then we have a man of liberal attainments, and in other points of sound judgment, who had addicted his life to the service
of the Gospel. We see him, in the prosecution of his purpose, travelling from country to country, enduring every species of hardship, encountering every extremity of danger, assaulted by the populace, punished by the magistrates, scourged, beat, stoned, left for dead ; expecting, wherever he came, a renewal of the same treatment and the same dangers, yet, when driven from one city, preaching in the next ; spending his whole time in the employment, sacrificing to it his pleasures, his ease, his safety, persisting in this course to old age, unaltered by the experience of perverseness, ingratitude, prejudice, desertion ; unsubdued by anxiety, want, labour, persecutions ; unwearied by long confinement, undismayed by the prospect of death. Such was St. Paul. We have his letters in our hand; we have also a history purporting to be written by one of his fellow-travellers, and appearing, by a comparison with these letters, certainly to have been written by some person well acquainted with the transactions of his life. From the letters, as well as from the history, we gather not only the account which we have stated of him, but that he was one out of many who acted and suffered in the same manner; and that of those who did so, several had been the companions of Christ's ministry, the ocular witnesses, or pretending to be such, of his miracles, and of his resurrection. We moreover find this same person referring in his letters to his supernatural conversion, the particulars and accompanying circumstances of which are related in the history, and which accompanying circumstances, if all or any of them be true, render it impossible to have been a delusion. We also find him positively, and in appropriated terms, asserting that he himself worked miracles, strictly and properly so called, in support of the mission which he executed; the history, meanwhile, recording various passages of his ministry, which come up to the extent of this assertion. The question is, whether falsehood was attested by evidence like this. Falsehoods, we know, have found their
way into reports, into tradition, into books; but is an example to be met with of a man voluntarily undertaking a life of want and pain, of incessant fatigue, of continual peril ; submitting to the loss of his home and country, to stripes and stoning, to tedious imprisonment, and the constant expectation of a violent death, for the sake of carrying about a story of what was false, and of what if false he must have known to be so ?
(From Hore Paulina.)
THE ADVANTAGE OF PROOFS FOR THE
BEING OF GOD
In all cases wherein the mind feels itself in danger of being confounded by variety, it is sure to rest upon a few strong points, or perhaps upon a single instance. Amongst a multitude of proofs it is one that does the business. If we observe in any argument that hardly any two minds fix upon the same instance, the diversity of choice shows the strength of the argument, because it shows the number and competition of the examples. There is no subject in which the tendency to dwell upon select or single topics is so usual, because there is no subject, of which, in its full extent, the latitude is so great, as that of natural history applied to the proof of an intelligent Creator. For my part, I take my stand in human anatomy ; and the examples of mechanism I should be apt to draw out from the copious catalogue which it supplies are,—the pivot on which the head turns, the ligament within the socket of the hip-joint, the pulley or trochlear muscles of the eye, the epiglottis, the bandages which tie down the tendons of the wrist and instep, the slit or perforated muscles at the hands and feet, the knitting of the intestines to the mesentery, the course of the chyle into the blood, and the constitution of the sexes as extended through the whole of the animal creation. To these instances the reader's memory will go back, as they are ge rally set forth in their places ; there is not one of the number which I do not think decisive ; not one which is not strictly mechanical ; nor have I read or heard of any solution of these appearances, which, in the smallest degree, shakes the conclusion that we build upon them.
But, of the greatest part of those, who, either in this book or any other, read arguments to prove the existence of a God, it will be said, that they leave off only where they began ; that they were never ignorant of this great truth, never doubted of it ; that it does not therefore appear, what is gained by researches from which no new opinion is learnt, and upon the subject of which no proofs were wanted. Now I answer, that, by investigation, the following points are always gained, in favour of doctrines even the most generally acknowledged (supposing them to be true), viz., stability and impression. Occasions will arise to try the firmness of our most habitual opinions. And upon these occasions it is a
matter of incalculable use to feel our foundation ; to find a support in argument, for what we had taken up upon authority. In the present case, the arguments upon which the conclusion rests, are exactly such, as a truth of universal concern ought to rest upon. “They are sufficiently open to the views and capacities of the unlearned, at the same time that they acquire new strength and lustre from the discoveries of the learned.” If they had been altogether abstruse and recondite, they would not have found their way to the understandings of the mass of mankind ; if they had been merely popular, they might have wanted solidity.
But, secondly, what is gained by research in the stability of our conclusion, is also gained from it in impression.
Physicians tell us that there is a great deal of difference between taking a medicine, and the medicine getting into the constitution. A difference not unlike which obtains with respect to those great moral propositions which ought to form the directing principles of human conduct. It is one thing to assent to a proposition of this sort ; another and a very different thing, to have properly imbibed its influence. I take the case to be this : perhaps almost every man living has a particular train of thought, into which his mind glides and falls, when at leisure from the impressions and ideas that occasionally excite it: perhaps, also, the train of thought here spoken of, more than any other thing, determines the character. It is of the utmost consequence, therefore, that this property of our constitution be well regulated. Now it is by frequent or continued meditation upon a subject, by placing a subject in different points of view, by induction of particulars, by variety of examples, by applying principles to the solution of phenomena, by dwelling upon proofs and consequences, that mental exercise is drawn into any particular channel.
It is by these means, at least, that we have any power over it. The train of spontaneous thought, and the choice of that train, may be directed to different ends, and may appear to be more or less judiciously fixed, according to the purpose in respect of which we consider it : but, in a moral view, I shall not, I believe, be contradicted when I say, that, if one train of thinking be more desirable than another, it is that which regards the phenomena of nature with a constant reference to a supreme intelligent Author.
(From Natural Theology.)
[The Man of Feeling" is said to have been born at Edinburgh in August 1745, on the very day on which Charles Edward landed at Loch-na-Nuagh (which, however, is usually given as the 25th of July). His father's name was Joshua, and his mother was Margaret Rose, of the old Nairnshire family of Kilravock. He was articled to a lawyer in the special department of Exchequer business, which he studied both in Scotland and in London, the Exchequer being the one court in which Scotch and English practice and law were the
He had thoughts of being called to the English bar, but returned to Scotland and became Crown Attorney there. He is said to have written The Man of Feeling early ; it was published (at first anonymously) in 1771, and then he followed it up with his other two novels The Man of the World and Julia de Roubigné. He married one of the Grants of Grant in 1776, and it was shortly after this that the plan was formed which resulted in two periodicals on the model of the Spectator, called The Mirror (1779-80) and The Lounger (1785-87) which still hold their place in the “ British Essayists,” and are perhaps better worth reading than most of the later constituents of that voluminous and neglected but far from uninteresting collection. Mackenzie was a prominent member of Edinburgh literary society, then in its palmiest days ; wrote lives of Blacklock and of John Home, and in 1808 published a portly edition of complete works, including some tragedies and a comedy. He was appointed by Lord Melville, Comptroller of Taxes for Scotland in 1804, and survived far into a generation younger than his own, dying in 1831 at the age of eighty-six. Scott, in whose Life by Lockhart many agreeable notices of Mackenzie's green old age will be found, included the Man of Feeling and its companions, with an enthusiastic introduction, in the Ballantynė collection during their author's lifetime.
MACKENZIE is one of those writers who, though by no means uninteresting intrinsically, require the historic estimate to bring out their full interest and value. On first opening The Man of Feeling or Julia de Roubigné, the imitation of Sterne in the first case, of Sterne and Rousseau in the second, is so marked that the modern reader may be half inclined to put the books aside as mere schoolwork if not mere parody. It is certain that Mackenzie's vein was rather more imitative than original, and he has inserted in his different works studies from other writers (notably