§ 5. Conflict among motives.
XLIII. When a man has it in contemplation to engage in
any action, he is frequently acted upon at the same time by the force of divers
motives: one motive, or set of motives, acting in one direction; another
motive, or set of motives, acting as it were in an opposite direction. The
motives on one side disposing him to engage in the action: those on the other,
disposing him not to engage in it. Now, any motive, the influence of which
tends to dispose him to engage in the action in question, may be termed an
impelling motive: any motive, the influence of which tends to dispose
him not to engage in it, a restraining motive. But these appellations
may of course be interchanged, according as the act is of the positive kind, or
XLIV. It has been shown, that there is no sort of
motive but may give birth to any sort of action. It follows, therefore, that
there are no two motives but may come to be opposed to one another. Where the
tendency of the act is bad, the most common case is for it to have been
dictated by a motive either of the self-regarding, or of the dissocial class.
In such case the motive of benevolence has commonly been acting, though
ineffectually, in the character of a restraining motive.
XLV. An example may be of use, to show the variety of
contending motives, by which a man may be acted upon at the same time. Crillon,
a Catholic (at a time when it was generally thought meritorious among Catholics
to extirpate Protestants), was ordered by his king, Charles IX. of France, to
fall privately upon Coligny, a Protestant, and assassinate him: his answer was,
“Excuse me, Sire; but I'll fight him with all my heart”. Here, then, were all the three forces above
mentioned, including that of the political sanction, acting upon him at once.
By the political sanction, or at least so much of the force of it as such a
mandate, from such a sovereign, issued on such an occasion, might be supposed
to carry with it, he was enjoined to put Coligny to death in the way of
assassination: by the religious sanction, that is, by the dictates of religious
zeal, he was enjoined to put him to death in any way: by the moral sanction, or
in other words, by the dictates of honour, that is, of the love of reputation,
he was permitted (which permission, when coupled with the mandates of his
sovereign, operated, he conceived, as an injunction) to fight the adversary
upon equal terms: by the dictates of enlarged benevolence (supposing the
mandate to be unjustifiable) he was enjoined not to attempt his life in any
way, but to remain at peace with him: supposing the mandate to be
unjustifiable, by the dictates of private benevolence he was enjoined not to
meddle with him at any rate. Among this confusion of repugnant dictates,
Crillon, it seems, gave the preference, in the first place, to those of honour:
in the next place, to those of benevolence. He would have fought, had his offer
been accepted; as it was not, he remained at peace.
Here a multitude of questions might arise. Supposing the dictates of the
political sanction to follow the mandate of the sovereign, of what kind were
the motives which they afforded him for compliance? The answer is, of the
self-regarding kind at any rate: inasmuch as, by the supposition, it was in the
power of the sovereign to punish him for non-compliance, or reward him for
compliance. Did they afford him the motive of religion (I mean independently of
the circumstance of heresy above mentioned) the answer is, Yes, if his notion
was, that it was God's pleasure he should comply with them; No, if it was not.
Did they afford him the motive of the love of reputation? Yes, if it was his
notion that the world would expect and require that he should comply with them:
No, if it was not. Did they afford him that of benevolence? Yes, if it was his
notion that the community would upon the whole be the better for his complying
with them: No, if it was not. But did the dictates of the political sanction,
in the case in question, actually follow the mandates of the sovereign: in
other words, was such a mandate legal? This we see is a mere question of local
jurisprudence, altogether foreign to the present purpose.
XLVI. What is here said about the goodness and badness
of motives, is far from being a mere matter of words. There will be occasion to
make use of it hereafter for various important purposes. I shall have need of
it for the sake of dissipating various prejudices, which are of disservice to
the community, sometimes by cherishing the flame of civil dissensions, at other times, by obstructing the course of
justice. It will be shown, that in the case of many offences, the consideration of the motive is a most
material one: for that in the first place it makes a very material difference
in the magnitude of the mischief: in the
next place, that it is easy to be ascertained; and thence may be made a ground
for a difference in the demand for punishment: but that in other cases it is
altogether incapable of being ascertained; and that, were it capable of being
ever so well ascertained, good or bad, it could make no difference in the
demand for punishment: that in all cases, the motive that may happen to govern
a prosecutor, is a consideration totally immaterial: whence maybe seen the
mischievousness of the prejudice that is so apt to be entertained against
informers; and the consequence it is of that the judge, in particular, should
be proof against the influence of such delusions.
Lastly, The subject of motives is one with which it is necessary to be
acquainted, in order to pass a judgment on any means that may be proposed for
combating offenses in their source.
But before the theoretical foundation for these practical observations can
be completely laid, it is necessary we should say something on the subject of
disposition: which, accordingly, will furnish matter for the ensuing
32. See ch. vii. [Actions], par. viii.
33. The idea of the case here supposed is taken from an
anecdote in real history, but varies from it in several particulars.
34. See B. II. tit. [Rebellion].
35. See B. II. tit. [Simp. corp. injuries]. Ib. tit.
36. See ch. vii. [Dispositions].
37. See Append. tit. [Preventive Institutions].
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