« AnteriorContinuar »
because it is in the choice of the will, to which it is propounded, and no commandment laid upon it. But in matters of opinion and intellectual notices, where there is no liberty, there is a necessity of following the natural proportions, that is, that the stronger efficient upon the same suscipient should produce the more certain and regular effect. - To think or to opine is not free,” said Aristotle“; and yet he that chooses the less probable, omitting that which is more, makes the determination by his will, not by his understanding ; and, therefore, it is not an honest act or judgment of conscience, but a production of the will.
2. It is unreasonable: because in all those degrees of unreasonableness, in which the less probable is excelled
that which is more probable, a man does wholly proceed without and against that reason. And why does he choose the less probable ? I do not ask why he chooses the less probable opinion,—that I mean, which is so in itself; for he
may do that, because it seems more reasonable, or he knows nothing else : but I ask, why he proceeds according to a less probable conscience that is, why does he choose that, which he believes to be less probable ? for what reason does he choose that, for which he hath the least reason? If there be no reason to choose that rather than the other, then it is an unreasonable thing to do so.
If there be a reason, which is not in the other, or which is not excelled or equalled by it-then the case is altered, and this is not the less probable, but equally or more. But supposing it less probable, it is a contradiction to say a man can reasonably choose it. For if he could, there must be some greater reason in that, which hath less reason; something there · must be in it, whereby it can be preferred, or be more eligible, which is directly against the supposition and state of the question. The unreasonableness of this we may also perceive by the necessities of mankind, which are served by the more probable, and disserved by that which is less. For thus judges are bound for the interest of all parties, and the reasonableness of the thing, to judge on that side, where the sentence is most probable : and the physician, in prescribing medicines, must not choose that, which he least confides in, and reject
c Lib. ii. de anima. text. 153.
that, which he rather trusts. And why do all the world, in their assemblies, take that sentence, which is chosen by the greater part? but because that is presumed more probable, and that which is so, ought to be followed; and why it ought not to be so in matters of our soul, is not easily to be told, unless our conscience may be governed by will rather than by reason, or that the interest of souls is wholly inconsiderable.
3. It is also imprudent: a man that believes a less probable, is light of heart, he is incurious of his danger, and does not use those means in order to his great end, which himself judges the most reasonable, effective, and expedient. He does, as Rehoboam did, who rejected the wiser counsel of the seniors, and chose the less likely sentence of the young gallants, and does against the advice of all those rules, which are prescribed us in prudent choice; and if no man ever advised another to choose that which is less reasonable,-he that does so, does against the wisdom and the interest of all the wise men in the world.
4. After all this, it is not honest to do it. For in two probables, only one of them is true; and which that is, he can only take the best way of the best reason to find out; and it is impossible he should believe that, which to him seems less likely, to be the more likely; and, therefore, so far as is in him, he chooses that which is false, and voluntarily abuses his conscience ;-which, besides the folly of it, is also criminal and malicious.
This doctrine thus delivered was the opinion of the ancient casuists, Angelus, Sylvester, Cordubensis, Cajetan, and some others; but fiercely opposed by the latter, who are bold and confident to say, that their opinion is the common and more received, and it relies
these reasons ; 1. Because if it were unlawful to follow the less probable and to leave the greater, it is because there is danger in so doing, and no man ought to expose himself to a danger of sinning : but this pretence is nothing; for by the consent of all sides, it is lawful to follow the more probable, though it be less safe; and, therefore, all danger of sinning is not, under pain of sin, to be avoided.
2. The people are not tied to greater severity in their practices, than the doctors are in their sermons and discourses, nor yet so much : because, in these, an error is an evil principle, and apt to be of mischievous effect and dissemination ; whereas an error in practice, because it is singular and circumstantiate, is also personal and limited. But the doctors may lawfully teach an opinion less probable, if they be moved to it by the authority of some more eminent person.
3. It is confessed to be lawful to follow the opinion that is more probable; but that it is lawful to leave the more probable and to follow the less, say they, is the more common and received opinion, and therefore also more probable; and therefore this opinion may be chosen and pursued ; and then, because we may follow that opinion which is more probable, we may follow that which is less, because it is more probable
that we may.
These objections I answer : 1. That the danger of sinning is not the only reason, why we may not follow the less probable opinion ; for it is not always lawful to expose ourselves to a danger of sinning ; for sometimes it is necessary that we endure a noble trial, and resist openly, and oppose an enemy, which cannot be done without danger, but is often without sin; but to leave the more probable for the less is not only a danger of sinning, but a sin directly, and beyond a danger; and if it were not more than a mere danger, it could not be a sin. For besides that this hath danger, it is a most unreasonable, and a most unnatural thing, against the designs of God, and the proper effects of reason. But besides, this way of arguing is neither good in logic nor in conscience. He that can answer one of my arguments, does not presently overthrow my proposition ; and it is not safe to venture upon an action, because the contrary relies upon one weak leg. But then as to the instance in this argument, I answer, he that follows the more probable, though it be less safe, does not expose himself to any danger at all of sinning, because though he does not follow his greatest fears, yet he follows his greatest reason, and in that he is sometimes safest though he perceives it not: however, there is in this case no danger that is imputable to the man, that follows the best reason he hath. But this excuses not him, who follows that which seems to him to have in it less reason; for unless it be by some other
intervening accident, which may alter the case (of which I shall afterwards give account), the less probable opinion hath in it a direct danger, and therefore to choose it, is ordinarily against charity, and, in some degree, against conscience itself.
2. To the second I answer, that both doctors and the people, though they may safely follow the less probable opinion, yet they may never directly follow a less probable conscience: that is, though a probable opinion is a sufficient guide of conscience, and it is sufficient both for publication and for practice that it is so; and, therefore, that we are not strictly tied to make a curious search into the two probables, which excels others in the degrees of reason, lest there should arise eternal scruples, perpetual restlessness and dissatisfaction in the minds of men; yet when of two probables there is an actual persuasion that this is more, and that is less, neither may the doctors teach, nor any man follow the less,--because here it is not the better opinion, but the better conscience that is despised. It may happen that what I believe more probable, is indeed less; and therefore it must be admitted to be safe to follow the less probable opinion, if it happen to stand on the fairest side of conscience,—that is, that it be better thought of than it deserves; but for the same reason it is also certain, that we must follow that which we think the more probable opinion, whether it be so or no-because this is to be done, not for the opinion, but for conscience sake. And whereas it is said in the objection, that a doctor may lawfully teach an opinion less probable, if he be moved to it by the authority of some more eminent person,' that is as much as to say, when the opinion, which intrinsically, or at least in his private judgment seems less probable, becomes extrinsically the more probable, he may follow either; of which in this chapter I am yet to give a more particular account; but it no way rifles the present doctrine. Only this I add, if it were lawful and safe to follow the less probable opinion, and reject the greater, then in such questions, which are only determined by authority and sentences of wise men, it were lawful to choose any thing that any one of them permits, and every probable doctor may rescind all the laws in Christendom, and expound all the precepts of the Gospel in easy senses, and change discipline into liberty, and confound interests, and arm rebels against their princes, and flocks against their shepherds and prelates, and set up altar against altar, and mingle all things sacred and profane. Because if any one says it is lawful, all that have a mind to do evil things, may choose him for their guide, and his opinion for their warranty.
3. To the third, I answer, that the opinion which is more common, is not always the more probable; for it may be false and heretical: and if at any times it seems more probable, it is because men understand little or nothing of it. But then if it were so, yet this opinion, which is lately taught by the modern casuists, is not the more common, simply and absolutely; it was once the less common, and whether it be so now or no, it is hard to tell; but admit it be so, yet the community and popularity of opinion is but a degree of extrinsical probability, and is apt to persuade only in the destitution of other arguments, which because they are not wanting in this question, the trick in the objection appears trifling
When two Opinions seem equally probable, the last Deter
mination is to be made by Accidents, Circumstances, and collateral Inducements.
In the matter of this rule it is variously disputed; some affirming that the understanding must for ever remain suspended, and the action wholly omitted, as in the case of a doubting conscience. Others give leave to choose either part, as a man please, making the will to determine the understanding.
The first cannot be true, because while they both seem equally consonant to reason, it cannot be dishonest to choose that, which to me seems reasonable; and, therefore, the understanding may choose practically. They are like two things equally good, which alike move the will,--and the choosing of the one is not a refusing the other, when they cannot be both enjoyed: but like the taking one piece of gold, and letting the other that is as good, alone: and the