Page:Moralreflection00stangoog.djvu/25

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xvii
INTRODUCTION.

that any inquiry into the reality of virtue must go deeply into the theory of human motives. An action may be externally virtuous; but, when the motive comes to be examined, may prove to be deserving of censure rather than commendation. And it is evident that, to constitute a virtuous action a virtuous motive is absolutely necessary. "Celui," as La Bruyèreobserves, "qui loge chez soi dans un palais avec deux appartemens pour les deux saisons, vient coucher au Louvre dans un entresol, n'en use pas ainsi par modestie; et autre, qui pour conserver une taille fine s'abstient du vin et ne fait qu'un seul repas, n'est ni sobre ni tempérant; et d'un troisième, qui, importimé d'un ai]c4' pauvre, lui donne enfin quelque secours, l'on dit qu'il achète son repos et nullement qu'il est libéraL Le motif seul fait le mérite des actions des hommes, et le désintéressement y met la perfection."[1] The last illustration will recall the parable of the unjust judge, which is familiar to every one. In these instances the result may be beneficial; but, so far as the actor is concerned, this is evidently an accidental effect to which it would be preposterous to give the name of virtue.

It is this inquiry, then, into the motives of men which La Rochefoucauld appears to have had in view in the ***Maxims," and in prosecuting this he has pointed out that a vast part of what passes in the world for virtue and goodness, is by no means genuine, but the result of meaner and more debased principles of action. He has unmasked with consummate skill the appearances of virtue so fre-

  1. Montaigne is rather more plain spoken. "We ought to love temperance for itself, and in obedience to God who has commanded it and chastity; but what I am forced to by catarrhs, or owe to the stone, is neither chastity nor temperance."