Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION V.: CONTROVERSIES CONCERNING THE MORAL FACULTIES AND THE SOCIAL AFFECTIONS. - The Miscellaneous Works
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SECTION V.: CONTROVERSIES CONCERNING THE MORAL FACULTIES AND THE SOCIAL AFFECTIONS. - Sir James Mackintosh, The Miscellaneous Works 
The Miscellaneous Works. Three Volumes, complete in One. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871).
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CONTROVERSIES CONCERNING THE MORAL FACULTIES AND THE SOCIAL AFFECTIONS.
Dr. Richard Cumberland,* raised to the See of Peterborough after the Revolution of 1688, was the only professed answerer of Hobbes. His work On the Laws of Nature still retains a place on the shelf, though not often on the desk. The philosophical epigrams of Hobbes form a contrast to the verbose, prolix, and languid diction of his answerer. The forms of scholastic argument serve more to encumber his style, than to insure his exactness. But he has substantial merits. He justly observes, that all men can only be said to have had originally a right to all things, in a sense in which “right” has the same meaning with “power.” He shows that Hobbes is at variance with himself, inasmuch as the dictates of Right Reason, which, by his own statement, teach men for their own safety to forego the exercise of that right, and which he calls “laws of Nature,” are coeval with it; and that mankind perceive the moral limits of their power as clearly and as soon as they are conscious of its existence. He enlarges the intimations of Grotius on the social feelings, which prompt men to the pleasures of pacific intercourse, as certainly as the apprehension of danger and of destruction urges them to avoid hostility. The fundamental principle of his system of Ethics is, that “the greatest benevolence of every rational agent to all others is the happiest state of each individual, as well as of the whole.”† The happiness accruing to each man from the observance and cultivation of benevolence, he considers as appended to it by the Supreme Ruler; through which He sanctions it as His law, and reveals it to the mind of every reasonable creature. From this principle he deduces the rules of Morality, which he calls the “laws of Nature.” The surest, or rather the only mark that they are the commandments of God, is, that their observance promotes the happiness of man: for that reason alone could they be imposed by that Being whose essence is Love. As our moral faculties must to us be the measure of all moral excellence, he infers that the moral attributes of the Divinity must in their nature be only a transcendent degree of those qualities which we most approve, love, and revere, in those moral agents with whom we are familiar.* He had a momentary glimpse of the possibility that some human actions might be performed with a view to the happiness of others, without any consideration of the pleasure reflected back on ourselves.† But it is too faint and transient to be worthy of observation, otherwise than as a new proof how often great truths must flit before the Understanding, before they can be firmly and finally held in its grasp. His only attempt to explain the nature of the Moral Faculty, is the substitution of Practical Reason (a phrase of the Schoolmen, since become celebrated from its renewal by Kant) for Right Reason;‡ and his definition of the first, as that which points out the ends and means of action. Throughout his whole reasoning, he adheres to the accustomed confusion of the equality which renders actions virtuous, with the sentiments excited in us by the contemplation of them. His language on the identity of general and individual interest is extremely vague; though it be, as he says, the foundation-stone of the Temple of Concord among men.
It is little wonderful that Cumberland should not have disembroiled this ancient and established confusion, since Leibnitz himself, in a passage where he reviews the theories of Morals which had gone before him, has done his utmost to perpetuate it.—“It is a question,” says the latter, “whether the preservation of human society be the first principle of the law of Nature. This our author denies, in opposition to Grotius, who laid down sociability to be so;—to Hobbes, who ascribed that character to mutual fear; and to Cumberland, who held that it was mutual benevolence; which are all three only different names for the safety and welfare of society.”* Here the great philosopher considered benevolence or fear, two feelings of the human mind, to be the first principles of the law of Nature, in the same sense in which the tendency of certain actions to the well-being of the community may be so regarded. The confusion, however, was then common to him with many, as it even now is with most. The comprehensive view was his own. He perceived the close resemblance of these various, and even conflicting opinions, in that important point of view in which they relate to the effects of moral and immoral actions on the general interest. The tendency of Virtue to preserve amicable intercourse was enforced by Grotius; its tendency to prevent injury was dwelt on by Hobbes; its tendency to promote an interchange of benefits was inculcated by Cumberland.
Cudworth, one of the eminent men educated or promoted in the English Universities during the Puritan rule, was one of the most distinguished of the Latitudinarian, or Arminian, party who came forth at the Restoration, with a love of Liberty imbibed from their Calvinistic masters, as well as from the writings of antiquity, yet tempered by the experience of their own agitated age; and with a spirit of religious toleration more impartial and mature, though less systematic and professedly comprehensive, than that of the Independents, the first sect who preached that doctrine. Taught by the errors of their time, they considered Religion as consisting, not in vain efforts to explain unsearchable mysteries, but in purity of heart exalted by pious feelings, manifested by virtuous conduct.‡ The government of the Church was placed in their hands by the Revolution, and their influence was long felt among its rulers and luminaries. The first generation of their scholars turned their attention too much from the cultivation of the heart to the mere government of outward action: and in succeeding times the tolerant spirit, not natural to an establishment, was with difficulty kept up by a government whose existence depended on discouraging intolerant pretensions. No sooner had the first sketch of the Hobbian philosophy* been privately circulated at Paris, than Cudworth seized the earliest opportunity of sounding the alarm against the most justly odious of the modes of thinking which it cultivates, or forms of expression which it would introduce;† —the prelude to a war which occupied the remaining forty years of his life. The Intellectual System, his great production, is directed against the atheistical opinions of Hobbes: it touches ethical questions but occasionally and incidentally. It is a work of stupendous erudition, of much more acuteness than at first appears, of frequent mastery over diction and illustration on subjects where it is most rare; and it is distinguished, perhaps beyond any other volume of controversy, by that best proof of the deepest conviction of the truth of a man’s principles, a fearless statement of the most formidable objections to them;—a fairness rarely practised but by him who is conscious of his power to answer them. In all his writings, it must be owned, that his learning obscures his reasonings, and seems even to repress his powerful intellect. It is an unfortunate effect of the redundant fulness of his mind, that it overflows in endless digressions, which break the chain of argument, and turn aside the thoughts of the reader from the main object. He was educated before usage had limited the naturalization of new words from the learned languages; before the failure of those great men, from Bacon to Milton, who laboured to follow a Latin order in their sentences, and the success of those men of inferior powers, from Cowley to Addison, who were content with the order, as well as the words, of pure and elegant conversation, had, as it were, by a double series of experiments, ascertained that the involutions and inversions of the ancient languages are seldom reconcilable with the genius of ours; and that they are, unless skilfully, as well as sparingly introduced, at variance with the natural beauties of our prose composition. His mind was more that of an ancient than of a modern philosopher. He often indulged in that sort of amalgamation of fancy with speculation, the delight of the Alexandrian doctors, with whom he was most familiarly conversant; and the Intellectual System, both in thought and expression, has an old and foreign air, not unlike a translation from the work of a later Platonist. Large ethical works of this eminent writer are extant in manuscript in the British Museum.‡ One posthumous volume on Morals was published by Dr. Chandler, Bishop of Durham, entitled “A Treatise concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality.’* But there is the more reason to regret (as far as relates to the history of Opinion) that the larger treatises are still unpublished, because the above volume is not so much an ethical treatise as an introduction to one. Protagoras of old, and Hobbes then alive, having concluded that Right and Wrong were unreal, because they were not perceived by the senses, and because all human knowledge consists only in such perception, Cudworth endeavours to refute them, by disproving that part of their premises which forms the last-stated proposition. The mind has many conceptions (νοηματα) which are not cognizable by the senses; and though they are occasioned by sensible objects, yet they cannot be formed but by a faculty superior to sense. The conceptions of Justice and Duty he places among them. The distinction of Right from Wrong is discerned by Reason; and as soon as these words are defined, it becomes evident that it would be a contradiction in terms to affirm that any power, human or Divine, could change their nature; or, in other words, make the same act to be just and unjust at the same time. They have existed eternally in the only mode in which truths can be said to be eternal, in the Eternal Mind; and they are indestructible and unchangeable like that Supreme Intelligence.† Whatever judgment may be formed of this reasoning, it is manifest that it relates merely to the philosophy of the Understanding, and does not attempt any explanation of What constitutes the very essence of Morality,—its relation to the Will. That we perceive a distinction between Right and Wrong, as much as between a triangle and a square, is indeed true; and may possibly lead to an explanation of the reason why men should adhere to the one and avoid the other. But it is not that reason. A command or a precept is not a proposition: it cannot be said that either is true or false. Cudworth, as well as many who succeeded him, confounded the mere apprehension by the Understanding that Right is different from Wrong, with the practical authority of these important conceptions, exercised over voluntary actions, in a totally distinct province of the human soul.
Though his life was devoted to the assertion of Divine Providence, and though his philosophy was imbued with the religious spirit of Platonism,* yet he had placed Christianity too purely in the love of God and Man to be considered as having much regard for those controversies about rights and opinions with which zealots disturb the world. They represented him as having fallen into the same heresy with Milton and with Clarke;† and some of them even charged him with atheism, for no other reason than that he was not afraid to state the atheistic difficulties in their fullest force. As blind anger heaps inconsistent accusations on each other, they called him at least “an Arian, a Socinian, or a Deist.”‡ The courtiers of Charles II., who were delighted with every part of Hobbes but his integrity, did their utmost to decry his antagonist. They turned the railing of the bigots into a sarcasm against Religion; as we learn from him who represented them with unfortunate fidelity. “He has raised,” says Dryden, “such strong objections against the being of God, that many think he has not answered them;”—“the common fate,” as Lord Shaftesbury tells us, “of those who dare to appear fair authors.”§ He had, indeed, earned the hatred of some theologians, better than they could know from the writings published during his life; for in his posthumous work he classes with the ancient atheists those of his contemporaries, (whom he forbears to name,) who held “that God may command what is contrary to moral rules; that He has no inclination to the good of His creatures; that He may justly doom an innocent being to eternal torments; and that whatever God does will, for that reason is just, because He wills it.”∥
It is an interesting incident in the life of a philosopher, that Cudworth’s daughter, Lady Masham, had the honour to nurse the infirmities and to watch the last breath of Mr. Locke, who was opposed to her father in speculative philosophy, but who heartily agreed with him in the love of Truth, Liberty, and Virtue.
Connected with Cudworth by principle, though separated by some interval of time, was Dr. Samuel Clarke, a man eminent at once as a divine, a mathematician, a metaphysical philosopher, and a philologer; who, as the interpreter of Homer and Cæsar, the scholar of Newton, and the antagonist of Leibnitz, approved himself not unworthy of correspondence with the highest order of human Spirits. Roused by the prevalence of the doctrines of Spinoza and Hobbes, he endeavoured to demonstrate the Being and Attributes of God, from a few axioms and definitions, in the manner of Geometry. In this attempt, with all his powers of argument, it must be owned that he is compelled sometimes tacitly to assume what the laws of reasoning required him to prove; and that, on the whole, his failure may be regarded as a proof that such a mode of argument is beyond the faculties of man.† Justly considering the Moral Attributes of the Deity as what alone render him the object of Religion, and to us constitutes the difference between Theism and atheism, he laboured with the utmost zeal to place the distinctions of Right and Wrong on a more solid foundation, and to explain the conformity of Morality to Reason, in a manner calculated to give a precise and scientific signification to that phraseology which all philosophers had, for so many ages, been content to employ, without thinking themselves obliged to define.
It is one of the most rarely successful efforts of the human mind, to place the understanding at the point from which a philosopher takes the views that compose his system, to recollect constantly his purposes, to adopt for a moment his previous opinions and prepossessions, to think in his words and to see with his eyes;—especially when the writer widely dissents from the system which he attempts to describe, and after a general change in the modes of thinking and in the use of terms. Every part of the present Dissertation requires such an excuse; but perhaps it may be more necessary in a case like that of Clarke, where the alterations in both respects have been so insensible, and in some respects appear so limited, that they may escape attention, than after those total revolutions in doctrine, where the necessity of not measuring other times by our own standard must be apparent to the most undistinguishing.
The sum of his moral doctrine may be stated as follows. Man can conceive nothing without at the same time conceiving its relations to other things. He must ascribe the same law of perception to every being to whom he ascribes thought. He cannot therefore doubt that all the relations of all things to all must have always been present to the Eternal Mind. The relations in this sense are eternal, however recent the things may be between whom they subsist. The whole of these relations constitute Truth: the knowledge of them is Omniscience. These eternal different relations of things involve a consequent eternal fitness or unfitness in the application of things, one to another; with a regard to which, the will of God always chooses, and which ought likewise to determine the wills of all subordinate rational beings. These eternal differences make it fit and reasonable for the creatures so to act; they cause it to be their duty, or lay an obligation on them so to do, separate from the will of God,* and antecedent to any prospect of advantage or reward.† Nay, wilful wickedness is the same absurdity and insolence in Morals, as it would be in natural things to pretend to alter the relations of numbers, or to take away the properties of mathematical figures.‡ “Morality,” says one of his most ingenious scholars, “is the practice of reason.”§
Clarke, like Cudworth, considered such a scheme as the only security against Hobbism, and probably also against the Calvinistic theology, from which they were almost as averse. Not content, with Cumberland, to attack Hobbes on ground which was in part his own, they thought it necessary to build on entirely new foundations. Clarke more especially, instead of substituting social and generous feeling for the selfish appetites, endeavoured to bestow on Morality the highest dignity, by thus deriving it from Reason. He made it more than disinterested; for he placed its seat in a region where interest never enters, and passion never disturbs. By ranking her principles with the first truths of Science, he seemed to render them pure and impartial, infallible and unchangeable. It might be excusable to regret the failure of so noble an attempt, if the indulgence of such regrets did not betray an unworthy apprehension that the same excellent ends could only be attained by such frail means; and that the dictates of the most severe reason would not finally prove reconcilable with the majesty of Virtue.
The adoption of mathematical forms and terms was, in England, a prevalent fashion among writers on moral subjects during a large part of the eighteenth century. The ambition of mathematical certainty, on matters concerning which it is not given to man to reach it, is a frailty from which the disciple of Newton ought in reason to have been withheld, but to which he was naturally tempted by the example of his master. Nothing but the extreme difficulty of detaching assent from forms of expression to which it has been long wedded, can explain the fact, that the incautious expressions above cited, into which Clarke was hurried by his moral sensibility, did not awaken him to a sense of the error into which he had fallen. As soon as he had said that “a wicked act was as absurd as an attempt to take away the properties of a figure,” he ought to have seen that principles which led logically to such a conclusion were untrue. As it is an impossibility to make three and three cease to be six, it ought, on his principles, to be impossible to do a wicked act. To act without regard to the relations of things,—as if a man were to choose fire for cooling, or ice for heating,—would be the part either of a lunatic or an idiot. The murderer who poisons by arsenic, acts agreeably to his knowledge of the power of that substance to kill, which is a relation between two things; as much as the physician who employs an emetic after the poison, acts upon his belief of the tendency of that remedy to preserve life, which is another relation between two things. All men who seek a good or bad end by good or bad means, must alike conform their conduct to some relation between their actions as means and their object as an end. All the relations of inanimate things to each other are undoubtedly observed as much by the criminal as by the man of virtue.
It is therefore singular that Dr. Clarke suffered himself to be misled into the representation, that Virtue is a conformity with the relations of things universally, Vice a universal disregard of them, by the certain, but here insufficient truth, that the former necessarily implied a regard to certain particular relations, which were always disregarded by those who chose the latter. The distinction between Right and Wrong can, therefore, no longer depend on relations as such, but on a particular class of relations. And it seems evident that no relations are to be considered, except those in which a living, intelligent, and voluntary agent is one of the beings related. His acts may relate to a law, as either observing or infringing it; they may relate to his own moral sentiments and those of his fellows, as they are the objects of approbation or disapprobation; they may relate to his own welfare, by increasing or abating it; they may relate to the well-being of other sentient beings, by contributing to promote or obstruct it: but in all these, and in all supposable cases, the inquiry of the moral philosopher must be, not whether there be a relation, but what the relation is; whether it be that of obedience to law, or agreeableness to moral feeling, or suitableness to prudence, or coincidence with benevolence. The term “relation” itself, on which Dr. Clarke’s system rests, being common to Right and Wrong, must be struck out of the reasoning. He himself incidentally drops intimations which are at variance with his system. “The Deity,” he tells us, “acts according to the eternal relations of things in order to the welfare of the whole Universe;” and subordinate moral agents ought to be governed by the same rules, “for the good of the public.”* No one can fail to observe that a new element is here introduced,—the well-being of communities of men, and the general happiness of the world,—which supersedes the consideration of abstract relations and fitnesses.
There are other views of this system, however, of a more general nature, and of much more importance, because they extend in a considerable degree to all systems which found moral distinctions or sentiments, solely or ultimately, upon Reason. A little reflection will discover an extraordinary vacuity in this system. Supposing it were allowed that it satisfactorily accounts for moral judgments, there is still an important part of our moral sentiments which it passes by without an attempt to explain them. Whence, on this scheme, the pleasure or pain with which we review our own actions or survey those of others? What is the nature of remorse? Why do we feel shame? Whence is indignation against injustice? These are surely no exercise of Reason. Nor is the assent of Reason to any other class of propositions followed or accompanied by emotions of this nature, by any approaching them, or indeed necessarily by any emotion at all. It is a fatal objection to a moral theory that it contains no means of explaining the most conspicuous, if not the most essential, parts of moral approbation and disapprobation.
But to rise to a more general consideration: Perception and Emotion are states of mind perfectly distinct, and an emotion of pleasure or pain differs much more from a mere perception, than the perceptions of one sense do from those of another. The perceptions of all the senses have some qualities in common. But an emotion has not necessarily anything in common with a perception, but that they are both states of mind. We perceive exactly the same qualities in the taste of coffee when we may dislike it, as afterwards when we come to like it. In other words, the perception remains the same when the sensation of pain is changed into the opposite sensation of pleasure. The like change may occur in every case where pleasure or pain (in such instances called “sensations”), enter the mind with perceptions through the eye or the ear. The prospect or the sound which was disagreeable may become agreeable, without any alteration in our idea of the objects. We can easily imagine a percipient and thinking being without a capacity of receiving pleasure or pain. Such a being might perceive what we do; if we could conceive him to reason, he might reason justly; and if he were to judge at all, there seems no reason why he should not judge truly. But what could induce such a being to will or to act? It seems evident that his existence could only be a state of passive contemplation. Reason, as Reason, can never be a motive to action. It is only when we superadd to such a being sensibility, or the capacity of emotion or sentiment, or (what in corporeal cases is called sensation) of desire and aversion, that we introduce him into the world of action. We then clearly discern that, when the conclusion of a process of reasoning presents to his mind an object of desire, or the means of obtaining it, a motive of action begins to operate, and Reason may then, but not till then, have a powerful though indirect influence on conduct. Let any argument to dissuade a man from immorality be employed, and the issue of it will always appear to be an appeal to a feeling. You prove that drunkenness will probably ruin health: no position founded on experience is more certain; most persons with whom you reason must be as much convinced of it as you are. But your hope of success depends on the drunkard’s fear of ill health; and he may always silence your argument by telling you that he loves wine more than he dreads sickness. You speak in vain of the infamy of an act to one who disregards the opinion of others, or of its imprudence to a man of little feeling for his own future condition. You may truly, but vainly tell of the pleasures of friendship to one who has little affection. If you display the delights of liberality to a miser, he may always shut your mouth by answering, “The spendthrift may prefer such pleasures; I love money more.” If you even appeal to a man’s conscience, he may answer you that you have clearly proved the immorality of the act, and that he himself knew it before; but that now when you had renewed and freshened his conviction, he was obliged to own that his love of Virtue, even aided by the fear of dishonour, remorse, and punishment, was not so powerful as the desire which hurried him into vice.
Nor is it otherwise, however confusion of ideas may cause it to be so deemed, with that calm regard to the welfare of the agent, to which philosophers have so grossly misapplied the hardly intelligible appellation of “self-love.” The general tendency of right conduct to permanent well-being is indeed one of the most evident of all truths. But the success of persuasives or dissuasives addressed to it, must always be directly proportioned, not to the clearness with which the truth is discerned, but to the strength of the principle addressed, in the mind of the individual, and to the degree in which he is accustomed to keep an eye on its dictates. A strange prejudice prevails, which ascribes to what is called “self-love” an invariable superiority over all the other motives of human action. If it were to be called by a more fit name, such as “foresight,” “prudence,” or, what seems most exactly to describe its nature, “a sympathy with the future feelings of the agent,” it would appear to every observer to be one very often too languid and inactive, always of late appearance, and sometimes so faint as to be scarcely perceptible. Almost every human passion in its turn prevails over self-love.
It is thus apparent that the influence of Reason on the Will is indirect, and arises only from its being one of the channels by which the objects of desire or aversion are brought near to these springs of voluntary action. It is only one of these channels. There are many other modes of presenting to the mind the proper objects of the emotions which it is intended to excite, whether of a calmer or of a more active nature; so that they may influence conduct more powerfully than when they reach the Will through the channel of conviction. The distinction between conviction and persuasion would indeed be otherwise without a meaning; to teach the mind would be the same thing as to move it; and eloquence would be nothing but logic, although the greater part of the power of the former is displayed in the direct excitement of feeling;—on condition, indeed (for reasons foreign to our present purpose), that the orator shall never appear to give counsel inconsistent with the duty or the lasting welfare of those whom he would persuade. In like manner it is to be observed, that though reasoning be one of the instruments of education, yet education is not a process of reasoning, but a wise disposal of all the circumstances which influence character, and of the means of producing those habitual dispositions which insure well-doing, of which reasoning is but one. Very similar observations are applicable to the great arts of legislation and government; which are here only alluded to as forming a strong illustration of the present argument.
The abused extension of the term “Reason” to the moral faculties, one of the predominant errors of ancient and modern times, has arisen from causes which it is not difficult to discover. Reason does in truth perform a great part in every case of moral sentiment. To Reason often belong the preliminaries of the act; to Reason altogether belongs the choice of the means of execution. The operations of Reason, in both cases, are comparatively slow and lasting; they are capable of being distinctly recalled by memory. The emotion which intervenes between the previous and the succeeding exertions of Reason is often faint, generally transient, and scarcely ever capable of being reproduced by an effort of the mind. Hence the name of Reason is applied to this mixed state of mind; more especially when the feeling, being of a cold and general nature, and scarcely ruffling the surface of the soul,—such as that of prudence and of ordinary kindness and propriety,—almost passes unnoticed, and is irretrievably forgotten. Hence the mind is, in such conditions, said by moralists to act from reason, in contradistinction to its more excited and disturbed state, when it is said to act from passion. The calmness of Reason gives to the whole compound the appearance of unmixed reason. The illusion is further promoted by a mode of expression used in most languages. A man is said to act reasonably, when his conduct is such as may be reasonably expected. Amidst the disorders of a vicious mind, it is difficult to form a reasonable conjecture concerning future conduct; but the quiet and well-ordered state of Virtue renders the probable acts of her fortunate votaries the object of very rational expectation.
As far as it is not presumptuous to attempt a distinction between modes of thinking foreign to the mind which makes the attempt, and modes of expression scarcely translatable into the only technical language in which that mind is wont to think, it seems that the systems of Cudworth and Clarke, though they appear very similar, are in reality different in some important points of view. The former, a Platonist, sets out from those “Ideas” (a word, in this acceptation of it, which has no corresponding term in English), the eternal models of created things, which, as the Athenian master taught, preexisted in the Everlasting Intellect, and, of right, rule the will of every inferior mind. The illustrious scholar of Newton, with a manner of thinking more natural to his age and school, considered primarily the very relations of things themselves;—conceived indeed by the Eternal Mind, but which, if such inadequate language may be pardoned, are the law of Its will, as well as the model of Its works.*
EARL OF SHAFTESBURY.†
Lord Shaftesbury, the author of the Characteristics, was the grandson of Sir Antony Ashley Cooper, created Earl of Shaftesbury, one of the master spirits of the English nation, whose vices, the bitter fruits of the insecurity of a troublous time succeeded by the corrupting habits of an inconstant, venal, and profligate court, have led an ungrateful posterity to overlook his wisdom and disinterested perseverance, in obtaining for his country the unspeakable benefits of the Habeas Corpus act. The fortune of the Characteristics has been singular. For a time the work was admired more undistinguishingly than its literary character warrants. In the succeeding period it was justly criticised, but too severely condemned. Of late, more unjustly than in either of the former cases, it has been generally neglected. It seemed to have the power of changing the temper of its critics. It provoked the amiable Berkeley to a harshness equally unwonted and unwarranted;* while it softened the rugged Warburton so far as to dispose the fierce, yet not altogether ungenerous, polemic to praise an enemy in the very heat of conflict.†
Leibnitz, the most celebrated of Continental philosophers, warmly applauded the Characteristics, and, (what was a more certain proof, of admiration) though at an advanced age, criticised that work minutely.‡ Le Clerc, who had assisted the studies of the author, contributed to spread its reputation by his Journal, then the most popular in Europe. Locke is said to have aided in his education, probably rather by counsel than by tuition. The author had indeed been driven from the regular studies of his country by the insults with which he was loaded at Winchester school, when he was only twelve years old, immediately after the death of his grandfather;§ —a choice of time which seemed not so much to indicate anger against the faults of a great man, as triumph over the principles of liberty, which seemed at that time to have fallen for ever. He gave a genuine proof of respect for freedom of thought, by preventing the expulsion, from Holland, of Bayle, (from whom he differs in every moral, political, and, it may be truly added, religious opinion) when, it must be owned, the right of asylum was, in strict justice, forfeited by the secret services which the philosopher had rendered to the enemy of Holland and of Europe. In the small part of his short life which premature infirmities allowed him to apply to public affairs, he co-operated zealously with the friends of freedom; but, as became a moral philosopher, he supported, even against them, a law to allow those who were accused of treason to make their defence by counsel, although the parties first to benefit from this act of imperfect justice were persons conspired together to assassinate King William, and to re-enslave their country. On that occasion it is well known with what admirable quickness he took advantage of the embarrassment which seized him, when he rose to address the House of Commons. “If I,” said he, “who rise only to give my opinion on this bill, am so confounded that I cannot say what I intended, what must the condition of that man be, who, without assistance is pleading for his own life!” Lord Shaftesbury was the friend of Lord Somers; and the tribute paid to his personal character by Warburton, who knew many of his contemporaries and some of his friends, may be considered as evidence of its excellence.
His fine genius and generous spirit shine through his writings; but their lustre is often dimmed by peculiarities, and, it must be said, by affectations, which, originating in local, temporary, or even personal circumstances, are particularly fatal to the permanence of fame. There is often a charm in the egotism of an artless writer, or of an actor in great scenes: but other laws are imposed on the literary artist. Lord Shaftsbury, instead of hiding himself behind his work, stands forward with too frequent marks of self-complacency, as a nobleman of polished manners, with a mind adorned by the fine arts, and instructed by ancient philosophy; shrinking with a somewhat effeminate fastidiousness from the clamour and prejudices or the multitude, whom he neither deigns to conciliate, nor puts forth his strength to subdue. The enmity of the majority of churchmen to the government established at the Revolution, was calculated to fill his mind with angry feelings; which overflowed too often, if not upon Christianity itself, yet upon representations of it, closely intertwined with those religious feelings to which, in other forms, his own philosophy ascribes surpassing worth. His small, and occasional writings, of which the main fault is the want of an object or a plan, have many passages remarkable for the utmost beauty and harmony of language. Had he imbibed the simplicity, as well as copied the expression and cadence, of the greater ancients, he would have done more justice to his genius; and his works, like theirs, would have been preserved by that first-mentioned quality, without which but a very few writings, of whatever mental power, have long survived their writers. Grace belongs only to natural movements; and Lord Shaftesbury, notwithstanding the frequent beauty of his thoughts and language, has rarely attained it. He is unfortunately prone to pleasantry, which is obstinately averse from constraint, and which he had no interest in raising to be the test of truth. His affectation of liveliness as a man of the world, tempts him sometimes to overstep the indistinct boundaries which separate familiarity from vulgarity. Of his two more considerable writings, The Moralists, on which he evidently most valued himself, and which is spoken of by Leibnitz with enthusiasm, is by no means the happiest.—Yet perhaps there is scarcely any composition in our language more lofty in its moral and religious sentiments, and more exquisitely elegant and musical in its diction, than the Platonic representation of the scale of beauty and love, in the speech to Palemon, near the close of the first part.* Many passages might be quoted, which in some measure justify the enthusiasm of the septuagenarian geometer. Yet it is not to be concealed that, as a whole, it is heavy and languid. It is a modern antique. The dialogues of Plato are often very lively representations of conversations which might take place daily at a great university, full, like Athens, of rival professors and eager disciples, between men of various character, and great fame as well as ability. Socrates runs through them all. His great abilities, his still more venerable virtues, his cruel fate, especially when joined to his very characteristic peculiarities,—to his grave humour, to his homely sense, to his assumed humility, to the honest slyness with which he ensnared the Sophists, and to the intrepidity with which he dragged them to justice, gave unity and dramatic interest to these dialogues as a whole. But Lord Shaftesbury’s dialogue is between fictitious personages, and in a tone at utter variance with English conversation. He had great power of thought and command over words; but he had no talent for inventing character and bestowing life on it.
The inquiry concerning Virtue† is nearly exempt from the faulty peculiarities of the author; the method is perfect, the reasoning just, the style precise and clear. The writer has no purpose but that of honestly proving his principles; he himself altogether disappears; and he is intent only on earnestly enforeing what he truly, conscientiously, and reasonably believes. Hence the charm of simplicity is revived in this production, which is unquestionably entitled to a place in the first rank of English tracts on moral philososophy. The point in which it becomes especially pertinent to the subject of this Dissertation is, that it contains more intimations of an original and important nature on the theory of Ethics than perhaps any preceding work of modern times.* It is true that they are often but intimations, cursory, and appearing almost to be casual; so that many of them have escaped the notice of most readers, and even writers on these subjects.—That the consequences of some of them are even yet not unfolded, must be owned to be a proof that they are inadequately stated; and may be regarded as a presumption that the author did not closely examine the bearings of his own positions. Among the most important of these suggestions is, the existence of dispositions in man, by which he takes pleasure in the well-being of others, without any further view;—a doctrine, however, to all the consequences of which he has not been faithful in his other writings.† Another is, that goodness consists in the prevalence of love for the system of which we are a part, over the passions pointing to our individual welfare;—a proposition which somewhat confounds the motives of right acts with their tendency, and seems to favour the melting of all particular affections into general benevolence, because the tendency of these affections is to general good. The next, and certainly the most original, as well as important, is, that there are certain affections of the mind which, being contemplated by the mind itself through what he calls “a reflex sense,” become the objects of love, or the contrary, according to their nature. So approved and loved, they constitute virtue or merit, as distinguished from mere goodness, of which there are traces in animals who do not appear to reflect on the state of their own minds, and who seem, therefore, destitute of what he elsewhere calls “a moral sense.” These statements are, it is true, far too short and vague. He nowhere inquires into the origin of the reflex sense: what is a much more material defect, he makes no attempt to ascertain in what state of mind it consists. We discover only by implication, and by the use of the term “sense,” that he searches for the fountain of moral sentiments, not in mere reason, where Cudworth and Clarke had vainly sought for it, but in the heart, whence the main branch of them assuredly flows. It should never be forgotten, that we owe to these hints the reception, into ethical theory, of a moral sense; which, whatever may be thought of its origin, or in whatever words it may be described, must always retain its place in such theory as a main principle of our moral nature.
His demonstration of the utility of Virtue to the individual, far surpasses all other attempts of the same nature; being founded, not on a calculation of outward advantages or inconveniences, alike uncertain, precarious, and degrading, but on the unshaken foundation of the delight, which is of the very essence of social affection and virtuous sentiment; on the dreadful agony inflicted by all malevolent passions upon every soul that harbours the hellish inmates; on the all-important truth, that to love is to be happy, and to hate is to be miserable,—that affection is its own reward, and ill-will its own punishment; or, as it has been more simply and more affectingly, as well as with more sacred authority, taught, that “to give is more blessed than to receive,” and that to love one another is the sum of all human virtue.
The relation of Religion to Morality, as far as it can be discovered by human reason, was never more justly or more beautifully stated. If he represents the mere hope of reward and dread of punishment as selfish, and therefore inferior motives to virtue and piety, he distinctly owns their efficacy in reclaiming from vice, in rousing from lethargy, and in guarding a feeble penitence; in all which he coincides with illustrious and zealous Christian writers. “If by the hope of reward be understood the love and desire of virtuous enjoyment, or of the very practice and exercise of virtue in another life; an expectation or hope of this kind is so far from being derogatory from virtue, that it is an evidence of our loving it the more sincerely and for its own sake.”*
As the last question, though strictly speaking theological, is yet in truth dependent on the more general question, which relates to the reality of disinterested affections in human nature, it seems not foreign from the present purpose to give a short account of a dispute on the subject in France, between two of the most eminent persons of their time; namely, the controversy between Fenelon and Bossuet, concerning the possibility of men being influenced by the pure and disinterested love of God. Never were two great men more unlike. Fenelon in his writings exhibits more of the qualities which predispose to religious feelings, than any other equally conspicuous person; a mind so pure as steadily to contemplate supreme excellence; a heart capable of being touched and affected by the contemplation; a gentle and modest spirit, not elated by the privilege, but seeing clearer its own want of worth as it came nearer to such brightness, and disposed to treat with compassionate forbearance those errors in others, of which it felt a humbling consciousness. Bossuet was rather a great minister in the ecclesiastical commonwealth; employing knowledge, eloquence, argument, the energy of his character, the influence, and even the authority of his station, to vanquish opponents, to extirpate revolters, and sometimes with a patrician firmness, to withstand the dictatorial encroachment of the Roman Pontiff on the spiritual aristocracy of France. Fenelon had been appointed tutor to the Duke of Burgundy. He had all the qualities which fit a man to be the preceptor of a prince, and which most disable him to get or to keep the office. Even birth, and urbanity, and accomplishment, and vivacity, were an insufficient atonement for his genius and virtue. Louis XIV. distrusted so fine a spirit, and appears to have early suspected, that a fancy moved by such benevolence might imagine examples for his grandson which the world would consider as a satire on his own reign. Madame de Maintenon, indeed, favoured him; but he was generally believed to have forfeited her good graces by discouraging her projects for at least a neare, approach to a seat on the throne. He offended her too by obeying her commands, in laying before her an account of her faults and some of those of her royal husband, which was probably the more painfully felt for its mildness, justice, and refined observation.* An opportunity for driving such an intruder from a court presented itself somewhat strangely, in the form of a subtile controversy on one of the most abstruse questions of metaphysical theology. Molinos, a Spanish priest, reviving and perhaps exaggerating the maxims of the ancient Mystics, had recently taught, that Christian perfection consisted in the pure love of God, without hope of reward or fear of punishment. This offence he expiated by seven years’ imprisonment in the dungeons of the Roman Inquisition. His opinions were embraced by Madame Guyon, a pious French lady of strong feeling and active imagination, who appears to have expressed them in a hyperbolical language, not infrequent in devotional exercises, especially in those of otherwise amiable persons of her sex and character. In the fervour of her zeal, she disregarded the usages of the world and the decorum imposed on females. She left her family, took a part in public conferences, and assumed an independence scarcely reconcilable with the more ordinary and more pleasing virtues of women. Her pious effusions were examined with the rigour which might be excusable if exercised on theological propositions. She was falsely charged by Harlay, the dissolute Archbishop of Paris, with personal licentiousness. For these crimes she was dragged from convent to convent, imprisoned for years in the Bastile, and, as an act of mercy, confined during the latter years of her life to a provincial town, as a prison at large. A piety thus pure and disinterested could not fail to please Fenelon. He published a work in justification of Madame Guyon’s character, and in explanation of the degree in which he agreed with her. Bossuet, the oracle and champion of the Church, took up arms against him. It would be painful to suppose that a man of such great powers was actuated by mean jealousy; and it is needless. The union of zeal for opinion with the pride of authority, is apt to give sternness to the administration of controversial bishops; to say nothing of the haughty and inflexible character of Bossuet himself. He could not brook the independence of him who was hitherto so docile a scholar and so gentle a friend. He was jealous of novelties, and dreaded a fervour of piety likely to be ungovernable, and productive of movements of which no man could foresee the issue. It must be allowed that he had reason to be displeased with the indiscretion and turbulence of the innovators, and might apprehend that, in preaching motives to virtue and religion which he thought unattainable, the coarser but surer foundations of common morality might be loosened. A controversy ensued, in which he employed the utmost violence of polemical or factious contest. Fenelon replied with brilliant success, and submitted his book to the judgment of Rome. After a long examination, the commission of ten Cardinals appointed to examine it were equally divided, and he seemed in consequence about to be acquitted. But Bossuet had in the mean time easily gained Louis XIV. Madame de Maintenon betrayed Fenelon’s confidential correspondence; and he was banished to his diocese, and deprived of his pensions and official apartments in the palace. Louis XIV. regarded the slightest differences from the authorities of the French church as rebellion against himself. Though endowed with much natural good sense, he was too grossly ignorant to be made to comprehend one of the terms of the question in dispute. He did not, however, scruple to urge the Pope to the condemnation of Fenelon. Innocent XII. (Pignatelli,) an aged and pacific Pontiff, was desirous of avoiding such harsh measures. He said that “the archbishop of Cambray might have erred from excess in the love of God, but the bishop of Meaux had sinned by a defect of the love of his neighbour.”* But he was compelled to condemn a series of propositions, of which the first was, “There is an habitual state of love to God, which is pure from every motive of personal interest, and in which neither the fear of punishment nor the hope of reward has any part.”† Fenelon read the bull which condemned him in his own cathedral, and professed as humble a submission as the lowest of his flock. In some of the writings of his advanced years, which have been recently published, we observe with regret that, when wearied out by his exile, ambitious to regain a place at court through the Jesuits, or prejudiced against the Calvinising doctrines of the Jansenists, the strongest anti-papal party among Catholics, or somewhat detached from a cause of which his great antagonist had been the victorious leader, he made concessions to the absolute monarchy of Rome, which did not become a luminary of the Gallican church.
‡ Bossuet, in his writings on this occasion, besides tradition and authorities, relied mainly on the supposed principle of philosophy, that man must desire his own happiness, and cannot desire anything else, otherwise than as a means towards it; which renders the controversy an incident in the history of Ethics. It is immediately connected with the preceding part of this Dissertation, by the almost literal coincidence between Bossuet’s foremost objection to the disinterested piety contended for by Fenelon, and the fundamental position of a very ingenious and once noted divine of the English church, in his attack on the disinterested affections, believed by Shaftesbury to be a part of human nature.*
There is a singular contrast between the form of Leibnitz’s writings and the character of his mind. The latter was systematical, even to excess. It was the vice of his prodigious intellect, on every subject of science where it was not bound by geometrical chains, to confine his view to those most general principles, so well called by Bacon “merely notional,” which render it, indeed, easy to build a system, but only because they may be alike adapted to every state of appearances, and become thereby really inapplicable to any. Though his genius was thus naturally turned to system, his writings were, generally, occasional and miscellaneous. The fragments of his doctrines are scattered in reviews; or over a voluminous literary correspondence, or in the prefaces and introductions to those compilations to which this great philosopher was obliged by his situation to descend. This defective and disorderly mode of publication arose partly from the conflicts between business and study, inevitable in his course of life; but probably yet more from the nature of his system, which while it widely deviates from the most general principles of former philosophers, is ready to embrace their particular doctrines under its own generalities, and thus to reconcile them to each other, as well as to accommodate itself to popular or established opinions, and compromise with them, according to his favourite and oft-repeated maxim, “that most received doctrines are capable of a good sense;”‡ by which last words our philosopher meant a sense reconcilable with his own principles. Partial and occasional exhibitions of these principles suited better that constant negotiation with opinions, establishments, and prejudices, to which extreme generalities are well adapted, than would have a full and methodical statement of the whole at once. It is the lot of every philosopher who attempts to make his principles extremely flexible, that they become like those tools which bend so easily as to penetrate nothing. Yet his manner of publication perhaps led him to those wide intuitions, as comprehensive as those of Bacon, of which he expressed the result as briefly and pithily as Hobbes. The fragment which contains his ethical principles is the preface to a collection of documents illustrative of international law, published at Hanover in 1693* to which he often referred as his standard afterwards, especially when he speaks of Lord Shaftesbury, or of the controversy between the two great theologians of France. “Right,” says he, “is moral power; obligation, moral necessity. By “moral” I understand what with a good man prevails as much as if it were physical. A good man is he who loves all men as far as reason allows. Justice is the benevolence of a wise man. To love is to be pleased with the happiness of another; or, in other words, to convert the happiness of another into a part of one’s own. Hence is explained the possibility of a disinterested love. When we are pleased with the happiness of any being, his happiness becomes one of our enjoyments. Wisdom is the science of happiness.”†
It is apparent from the above passage, that Leibnitz had touched the truth on the subject of disinterested affection; and that he was more near clinging to it than any modern philosopher, except Lord Shaftesbury. It is evident, however, from the latter part of it, that, like Shaftesbury, he shrunk from his own just conception; under the influence of that most ancient and far-spread prejudice of the schools, which assumed that such an abstraction as “Happiness” could be the object of love, and that the desire of so faint, distant, and refined an object, was the first principle of all moral nature, and that of it every other desire was only a modification or a fruit. Both he and Shaftesbury, however, when they relapsed into the selfish system, embraced it in its most refined form; considering the benevolent affections as valuable parts of our own happiness, not in consequence of any of their effects or extrinsic advantages, but of that intrinsic delightfulness which was inherent in their very essence. But Leibnitz considered this refined pleasure as the object in the view of the benevolent man; an absurdity, or rather a contradiction, which, at least in the Inquiry concerning Virtue, Shaftesbury avoids. It will be seen from Leibnitz’s limitation, taken together with his definition of Wisdom, that he regarded the distinction of the moral sentiments from the social affections, and the just subordination of the latter, as entirely founded on the tendency of general happiness to increase that of the agent, not merely as being real, but as being present to the agent’s mind when he acts. In a subsequent passage he lowers his tone not a little. “As for the sacrifice of life, or the endurance of the greatest pain for others, these things are rather generously enjoined than solidly demonstrated by philosophers. For honour, glory, and self-congratulation, to which they appeal under the name of Virtue, are indeed mental pleasures, and of a high degree, but not to all, nor outweighing every bitterness of suffering; since all cannot imagine them with equal vivacity, and that power is little possessed by those whom neither education, nor situation, nor the doctrines of Religion or Philosophy, have taught to value mental gratifications.”* He concludes very truly, that Morality is completed by a belief of moral government. But the Inquiry concerning Virtue, had reached that conclusion by a better road. It entirely escaped his sagacity, as it has that of nearly all other moralists, that the coincidence of Morality with well-understood interest in our outward actions, is very far from being the most important part of the question; for these actions flow from habitual dispositions, from affections and sensibilities, which determine their nature. There may be, and there are many immoral acts, which, in the sense in which words are commonly used, are advantageous to the actor. But the whole sagacity and ingenuity of the world may be safely challenged to point out a case in which virtuous dispositions, habits, and feelings, are not conducive in the highest degree to the happiness of the individual; or to maintain that he is not the happiest, whose moral sentiments and affections are such as to prevent the possibility of any unlawful advantage being presented to his mind. It would indeed have been impossible to prove to Regulus that it was his interest to return to a death of torture in Africa. But what, if the proof had been easy? The most thorough conviction on such a point would not have enabled him to set this example, if he had not been supported by his own integrity and generosity, by love of his country, and reverence for his pledged faith. What could the conviction add to that greatness of soul, and to these glorious attributes? With such virtues he could not act otherwise than he did. Would a father affectionately interested in a son’s happiness, of very lukewarm feelings of morality, but of good sense enough to weigh gratifications and sufferings exactly, be really desirous that his son should have these virtues in a less degree than Regulus, merely because they might expose him to the fate which Regulus chose? On the coldest calculation he would surely perceive, that the high and glowing feelings of such a mind during life altogether throw into shade a few hours of agony in leaving it. And, if he himself were so unfortunate that no more generous sentiment arose in his mind to silence such calculations, would it not be a reproach to his understanding not to discover, that, though in one case out of millions such a character might lead a Regulus to torture, yet, in the common course of nature, it is the source not only of happiness in life, but of quiet and honour in death? A case so extreme as that of Regulus will not perplex us, if we bear in mind, that though we cannot prove the act of heroic virtue to be conducive to the interest of the hero, yet we may perceive at once, that nothing is so conducive to his interest as to have a mind so formed that it could not shrink from it, but must rather embrace it with gladness and triumph. Men of vigorous health are said sometimes to suffer most in a pestilence. No man was ever so absurd as for that reason to wish that he were more infirm. The distemper might return once in a century: if he were then alive, he might escape it; and even if he fell, the balance of advantage would be in most cases greatly on the side of robust health. In estimating beforehand the value of a strong bodily frame, a man of sense would throw the small chance of a rare and short evil entirely out of the account. So must the coldest and most selfish moral calculator, who, if he be sagacious and exact, must pronounce, that the inconveniences to which a man may be sometimes exposed by a pure and sound mind, are no reasons for regretting that we do not escape them by possessing minds more enfeebled and distempered. Other occasions will call our attention, in the sequel, to this important part of the subject; but the great name of Leibnitz seemed to require that his degrading statement should not be cited without warning the reader against its egregious fallacy.
This ingenious philosopher and beautiful writer is the only celebrated Cartesian who has professedly handled the theory of Morals.† His theory has in some points of view a conformity to the doctrine of Clarke; while in others it has given occasion to his English follower Norris‡ to say, that if the Quakers understood their own opinion of the illumination of all men, they would explain it on the principles of Malebranche. “There is,” says he, “one parent virtue, the universal virtue, the virtue which renders us just and perfect, the virtue which will one day render us happy. It is the only virtue. It is the love of the universal order, as it eternally existed in the Divine Reason, where every created reason contemplates it. This order is composed of practical as well as speculative truth. Reason perceives the moral superiority of one being over another, as immediately as the equality of the radii of the same circle. The relative perfection of beings is that part of the immovable order to which men must conform their minds and their conduct. The love of order is the whole of virtue, and conformity to order constitutes the morality of actions.” It is not difficult to discover, that in spite of the singular skill employed in weaving this web, it answers no other purpose than that of hiding the whole difficulty. The love of universal order, says Malebranche, requires that we should value an animal more than a stone, because it is more valuable; and love God infinitely more than man, because he is infinitely better. But without presupposing the reality of moral distinctions, and the power of moral feelings,—the two points to be proved, how can either of these propositions be evident or even intelligible? To say that a love of the Eternal Order will produce the love and practice of every virtue, is an assertion untenable, unless we take Morality for granted, and useless, if we do. In his work on Morals, all the incidental and secondary remarks are equally well considered and well expressed. The manner in which he applied his principle to the particulars of human duty is excellent. He is perhaps the first philosopher who has precisely laid down and rigidly adhered to the great principle, that Virtue consists in pure intentions and dispositions of mind, without which, actions, however conformable to rules, are not truly moral:—a truth of the highest importance, which, in the theological form, may be said to have been the main principle of the first Protestant Reformers. The ground of piety, according to him, is the conformity of the attributes of God to those moral qualities which we irresistibly love and revere.* “Sovereign princes,” says he, “have no right to use their authority without reason. Even God has no such miserable right.”† His distinction between a religious society and an established church, and his assertion of the right of the temporal power alone to employ coercion, are worthy of notice, as instances in which a Catholic, at once philosophical and orthodox, could thus speak, not only of the nature of God, but of the rights of the Church.
This remarkable man, the metaphysician of America, was formed among the Calvinists of New England, when their stern doctrine retained its rigorous authority.† His power of subtile argument, perhaps unmatched, certainly unsurpassed among men, was joined, as in some of the ancient Mystics, with a character which raised his piety to fervour. He embraced their doctrine, probably without knowing it to be theirs. “True religion,” says he, “in a great measure consists in holy affections. A love of divine things, for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency, is the spring of all holy affections.”‡ Had he suffered this noble principle to take the right road to all its fair consequences, he would have entirely concurred with Plato, with Shaftesbury, and Malebranche, in devotion to “the first good, first perfect, and first fair.” But he thought it necessary afterwards to limit his doctrine to his own persuasion, by denying that such moral excellence could be discovered in divine things by those Christians who did not take the same view as he did of their religion. All others, and some who hold his doctrines with a more enlarged spirit, may adopt his principle without any limitation. His ethical theory is contained in his Dissertation on the Nature of True Virtue; and in another, On God’s chief End in the Creation, published in London thirty years after his death. True virtue, according to him, consists in benevolence, or love to “being in general,” which he afterwards limits to “intelligent being,” though “sentient” would have involved a more reasonable limitation. This good-will is felt towards a particular being, first in proportion to his degree of existence, (for, says he, “that which is great has more existence, and is farther from nothing, than that which is little;”) and secondly, in proportion to the degree in which that particular being feels benevolence to others. Thus God, having infinitely more existence and benevolence than man, ought to be infinitely more loved; and for the same reason, God must love himself infinitely more than he does all other beings.§ He can act only from regard to Himself, and His end in creation can only be to manifest His whole nature, which is called acting for His own glory.
As far as Edwards confines himself to created beings, and while his theory is perfectly intelligible, it coincides with that of universal benevolence, hereafter to be considered. The term “being” is a mere encumbrance, which serves indeed to give it a mysterious outside, but brings with it from the schools nothing except their obscurity. He was betrayed into it, by the cloak which it threw over his really unmeaning assertion or assumption, that there are degrees of existence; without which that part of his system which relates to the Deity would have appeared to be as baseless as it really is. When we try such a phrase by applying it to matters within the sphere of our experience, we see that it means nothing but degrees of certain faculties and powers. But the very application of the term “being” to all things, shows that the least perfect has as much being as the most perfect; or rather that there can be no difference, so far as that word is concerned, between two things to which it is alike applicable. The justness of the compound proportion on which human virtue is made to depend, is capable of being tried by an easy test. If we suppose the greatest of evil spirits to have a hundred times the bad passions of Marcus Aurelius, and at the same time a hundred times his faculties, or, in Edwards’ language, a hundred times his quantity of “being,” it follows from this moral theory, that we ought to esteem and love the devil exactly in the same degree as we esteem and love Marcus Aurelius.
The chief circumstance which justifies so much being said on the last two writers, is their concurrence in a point towards which ethical philosophy had been slowly approaching from the time of the controversies raised up by Hobbes. They both indicate the increase of this tendency, by introducing an element into their theory, foreign from those cold systems of ethical abstraction, with which they continued in other respects to have much in common. Malebranche makes virtue consist in the love of “order.” Edwards in the love of “being.” In this language we perceive a step beyond the representation of Clarke, which made it a conformity to the relations of things; but a step which cannot be made without passing into a new province;—without confessing, by the use of the word “love,” that not only perception and reason, but emotion and sentiment, are among the fundamental principles of Morals. They still, however, were so wedded to scholastic prejudice, as to choose two of the most aerial abstractions which can be introduced into argument,—“being” and “order,”—to be the objects of those strong active feelings which were to govern the human mind.
The same strange disposition to fix on abstractions as the objects of our primitive feelings, and the end sought by our warmest desires, manifests itself in the ingenious writer with whom this part of the Dissertation closes, under a form of less dignity than that which it assumes in the hands of Malebranche and Clarke. Buffier, the only Jesuit whose name has a place in the history of abstract philosophy, has no peculiar opinions which would have required any mention of him as a moralist, were it not for the just reputation of his Treatise on First Truths, with which Dr. Reid so remarkably, though unaware of its existence, coincides, even in the misapplication of so practical a term as “common sense” to denote the faculty which recognises the truth of first principles. His philosophical writings* are remarkable for that perfect clearness of expression, which, since the great examples of Descartes and Pascal, has been so generally diffused, as to have become one of the enviable peculiarities of French philosophical style, and almost of the French language. His ethical doctrine is that most commonly received among philosophers, from Aristotle to Paley and Bentham: “I desire to be happy; but as I live with other men, I cannot be happy without consulting their happiness:” a proposition perfectly true indeed, but far too narrow; as inferring, that in the most benevolent acts a man must pursue only his own interest, from the fact that the practice of benevolence does increase his happiness, and that because a virtuous mind is likely to be the happiest, our observation of that property of Virtue is the cause of our love and reverence for it.
[* ] Born, 1632; died, 1718.
[† ] De Leg. Nat. chap. i. § 12, first published in London, 1672, and then so popular as to be reprinted at Lubeck in 1683.
[* ] Ibid. cap. v. § 19.
[† ] Ibid. cap. ii. § 20.
[‡ ] “Whoever determines his Judgment and his Will by Right Reason, must agree with all others who judge according to Right Reason in the same matter.”—Ibid. cap. ii. § 8. This is in one sense only a particular instance of the identical proposition, that two things which agree with a third thing must agree with each other in that, in which they agree with the third. But the difficulty entirely consists in the particular third thing here introduced, namely, “Right Reason,” the nature of which not one step is made to explain. The position is curious, as coinciding with “the universal categorical imperative,” adopted as a first principle by Kant.
[* ] Leib. Op. pars. iii. 271. The unnamed work which occasioned these remarks (perhaps one of Thomasius) appeared in 1699. How long after this Leibnitz’s Dissertation was written, does not appear.
[† ] Born 1617; died, 1688.
[‡ ] See the the beautiful account of them by Burnet, (Hist. of His own Time, i. 321. Oxford, 1823) who was himself one of the most distinguished of this excellent body; with whom may be classed, notwithstanding some shades of doctrinal difference, his early master, Leighton, Bishop of Dunblane, a beautiful writer, and one of the best of men. The earliest account of them is in a curious contemporary pamphlet, entitled, “An Account of the new Sect of Latitude-men at Cambridge,” republished in the collection of tracts, entitled “Phœnix Britannicus.” Jeremy Taylor deserves the highest, and perhaps the earliest place among them: but Cudworth’s excellent sermon before the House of Commons (31st March 1647) in the year of the publication of Taylor’s Liberty of Prophesying, may be compared even to Taylor in rharity, piety, and the most liberal toleration.
[* ] De Cive, 1642.
[† ] “Dantur boni et mali rationes æternæ et indispensabiles.” Thesis for the degree of B. D. at Cambridge in 1664.—Birch’s Life of Cudworth, prefixed to his edition of the Intellectual System. (Lond. 1743.) i. 7.
[‡ ] A curious account of the history of these MSS. by Dr. Kippis, is to be found in the Biographia Britannica, iv. 549.
[* ] 8vo. Lond. 1731.
[† ] “There are many objects of our mind which we can neither see, hear, feel, smell, nor taste, and which did never enter into it by any sense; and therefore we can have no sensible pictures or ideas of them, drawn by the pencil of that inward limner, or painter, which borrows all his colours from sense, which we call ‘Fancy:’ and if we reflect on our own cogitations of these things, we shall sensibly perceive that they are not phantastical, but noematical: as, for example, justice, equity, duty and obligation, cogitation, opinion, intellection, volition, memory, verity, falsity, cause, erfect, genus, species, nullity, contingency, possibility, impossibility, and innumerable others.”—Ibid. 140. We have here an anticipation of Kant.
[* ] Ευσέϐει, ω τέϰνον, ὁ γαρ ευσέϐων ἄχρως Χριστιανίζει.—(Motto affixed to the sermon above mentioned.)
[† ] The following doctrine is ascribed to Cudworth by Nelson, a man of good understanding and great worth: “Dr. Cudworth maintained that the Father, absolutely speaking, is the only Supreme God; the Son and Spirit being God only by his concurrence with them, and their subordination and subjection to him.”—Life of Bull, 339.
[‡ ] Turner’s discourse on the Messiah, 335.
[§ ] Moralists, part ii. § 3.
[∥ ] Etern. and Immut. Mor. 11. He quotes Ockham as having formerly maintained the same monstrous positions. To many, if not to most of these opinions or expressions, ancient and modern, reservations are adjoined, which render them literally reconcilable with practical Morals. But the dangerous abuse to which the incautious language of ethical theories is liable, is well illustrated by the anecdote related in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander of the sycophant Anaxarchas consoling that monarch for the murder of Clitus, by assuring him that every act of a ruler must be just. Πᾶν [Editor: illegible word]ο πραχθεν ὑπο του ϰρατοῦντος δίϰαιον.—Op. i. 639.
[* ] Born, 1675; died, 1729.
[† ] This admirable person had so much candour as in effect to own his failure, and to recur to those other arguments in support of this great truth, which have in all ages satisfied the most elevated minds. In Proposition viii. (Being and Attributes of God, 47) which affirms that the first cause must be “intelligent” (wherein, as he truly states, “lies the main question between us and the atheists”), he owns, that the proposition cannot be demonstrated strictly and properly à priori.—See Note M .
[* ] “Those who found all moral obligation on the will of God must recur to the same thing, only they do not explain how the nature and will of God is good and just.”—Being and Attributes of God, Proposition xii.
[† ] Evidence of Natural and Revealed Religion, p. 4. Lond. 1724.
[‡ ] Ibid. p. 42.
[§ ] Lowman on the Unity and Perfections of God, p. 29. Lond. 1737.
[* ] Evid. of Nat. and Rev. Rel. p. 4.
[* ] Mr. Wollaston’s system, that morality consisted in acting according to truth, seems to coincide with that of Dr. Clarke. The murder of Cicero by Popilius Lenas, was, according to him, a practical falsehood; for Cicero had been his benefactor, and Popilius acted as if that were untrue. If the truth spoken of be that gratitude is due for benefits, the reasoning is evidently a circle. If any truth be meant, indifferently, it is plain that the assassin acted in perfect conformity to several certain truths;—such as the malignity of Antony, the ingratitude and venality of Popilius, and the probable impunity of his crime, when law was suspended, and good men without power.
[† ] Born. 1671: died. 1713.
[* ] See Minute Philosopher, Dialogue iii.; but especially his Theory of Vision Vindicated, Lond. 1733 (not republished in the quarto edition of his works), where this most excellent man sinks for a moment to the level of a railing polemic.
[† ] It is remarkable that the most impure passages of Warburton’s composition are those in which he lets loose his controversial zeal, and that he is a fine writer principally where he writes from generous feeling. “Of all the virtues which were so much in this noble writer’s heart, and in his writings, there was not one he more revered than the love of public liberty. . . . The noble author of the Characteristics had many excellent qualities, both as a man and a writer: he was temperate, chaste, honest, and a lover of his country. In his writings he has shown how much he has imbibed the deep sense, and how naturally he could copy the gracious manner of Plato.—(Dedication to the Freethinkers, prefixed to the Divine Legation.) He, however, soon relapses, but not without excuse; for he thought himself vindicating the memory of Locke.
[‡ ] Op. iii. 39—56.
[§ ] [With regard to this story, authorised as it is, the Editor cannot help, on behalf of his own “nursing mother,” throwing out some suspiction that the Chancellor’s politics must have been made use of somewhat as a scapegoat; else the nature of boys was at that time more excitable touching their schoolmates’ grandfathers than it is now. There is a rule traditionally observed in College, “that no boy has a right to think till he has forty juniors;” upon which rock the cockboat of the embryo metaphysician might have foundered.]
[* ] § 3.
[† ] Characteristics, treatise iv.
[* ] I am not without suspicion that I have overlooked the claims of Dr. Henry More, who, notwithstanding some uncouthness of language, seems to have given the first intimations of a distinct moral faculty, which he calls “the Boniform Faculty:” a phrase against which an outcry would now be raised as German. Happiness, according to him, consists in a constant satisfaction, εν τῳ ἀγαθοεἶδει της ψυχῆς.—Enchiridion Ethicum, lib. i. cap. ii.
[† ] “It is the height of wisdom no doubt to be rightly selfish.”—Charact. i. 121. The observation seems to be taken from what Aristotle says of Φιλαυτία: Τον μεν ἀγαθον δει φίλαυτον εἰ̑ναι.—Ethics, lib. ix. c. viii. The chapter is admirable, and the assertion of Aristotle is very capable of a good sense.
[* ] Inquiry, book i. part iii. § 3. So Jeremy Taylor; “He that is grown in grace pursues virtue purely and simply for its own interest. When persons come to that height of grace, and love God for himself, that is but heaven in another sense.”—(Sermon on Growth in Grace.) So before him the once celebrated Mr. John Smith of Cambridge: “The happiness which good men shall partake is not distinct from their godlike nature. Happiness and holiness are but two several notions of one thing. Hell is rather a nature than a place, and heaven cannot be so well defined by any thing without us, as by something within us.”—(Select Discourses, 2d edit. Cambridge, 1673.) In accordance with these old authorities is the recent language of a most ingenious as well as benevolent and pious writer. “The holiness of heaven is still more attractive to the Christian than its happiness. The desire of doing that which is right for its own sake is a part of his desire after heaven.”—(Unconditional Freeness of the Gospel, by T. Erskine, Esq. Edinb. 1828, p. 32. 33.) See also the Appendix to Ward’s Life of Henry More, Lond. 1710, pp. 247—271. This account of that ingenious and amiable philosopher contains an interesting view of his opinions, and many beautiful passages of his writings, but unfortunately very few particulars of the man. His letters on Disinterested Piety (see the Appendix to Mr. Ward’s work), his boundless charity, his zeal for the utmost toleration, and his hope of general improvement from “a pacific and perspicacious posterity,” place him high in the small number of true philosophers who, in their estimate of men, value dispositions more than opinions, and in their search for good, more often look forward than backward.
[* ] Born, 1651; died, 1715.
[† ] Born, 1627; died, 1704.
[* ] Bausset, Histoire de Fénelon, i. 252.
[* ] Bausset, Histoire de Fénelon, ii. 220, note.
[† ] Œuvres de Bossuet, viii. 308.—(Liege, 1767.)
[‡ ] De Summi Pontificis Auctoritate Dissertatio.
[* ] “Hæc est natura voluntatis humanæ, ut et beatitudinem, et ea quorum necessaria connexio cum beatitudine clare intelligitur, necessario appetat. . . Nullus est actus ad quem revera non impellimur motivo beatitudinis, explicite vel implicite;” meaning by the latter that it may be concealed from ourselves, as he says, for a short time, by a nearer object.—Œuvres de Bossuet, viii. 80. “The only motive by which individuals can be induced to the practice of virtue, must be the feeling or the prospect of private happiness.”-Brown’s Essays on the Characteristics, p. 159. Lond. 1752. It must, however, be owned, that the selfishness of the Warburtonian is more rigid; making no provision for the object of one’s own happiness slipping out of view for a moment. It is due to the very ingenious author of this forgotten book to add, that it is full of praise of his adversary; which, though just, was in the answerer generous; and that it contains an assertion of the unbounded right of public discussion, unusual even at the tolerant period of its appearance.
[† ] Born, 1646; died, 1716.
[‡ ] “Nouveaux Essais sur l’Entendement Hitmain,” liv. i. chap. ii. These Essays, which form the greater part of the publication entitled “Œuvres Philosophiques,” edited by Raspe-Amst. et Leipz. 1765, are not included in Dutens. edition of Leibnitz’s works.
[* ] Codex Juris Gentium Diplomaticus.—Hanov. 1695.
[* ] Born, 1638; died, 1715.
[† ] Traité de Morale. Rotterdam, 1684.
[‡ ] Author of the Theory of the Ideal World, who well copied, though he did not equal, the clearness and choice of expression which belonged to his master.
[* ] “Il faut aimer l’Etre infiniment parfait, et non pas un fantôme épouvantable, un Dieu injuste, ab solu, puissant, mais sans bonté et sans sagesse, S’il y avoit un tel Dieu, le vrai Dieu nous défendroit de l’adorer et de l’aimer. Il y a peut-être plus de danger d’offenser Dieu lorsqu’on lui donne une forme si horrible, que de mépriser son fantôme”—Traité de Morale, chap. viii.
[† ] Ibid. chap. xxii.
[* ] Born in 1703, at Windsor in Connecticut; died in 1758, at Princeton in New Jersey.
[‡ ] On Religious Affections, pp. 4, 187.
[§ ] The coincidence of Malebranche with this part of Edwards, is remarkable. Speaking of the Supreme Being, he says, “Il s’aime invinciblement.” He adds another more startling expression, “Certainement Dieu ne peut agir que pour lui-même: il n’a point d’autre motif que son amour propre.”—Traité de Morale, chap. xvii.
[* ] Born, 1661 died, 1737.
[* ] Cours de Sciences. Paris, 1732.
[Note M. page 120.] “Alors en repassant dans mon esprit les diverses opinions qui m’avoient tour-à-tour entrainé depuis ma naissance, je vis que bien qu’aucune d’elles ne fût assez évidente pour produire immédiatement la conviction, elles avoient divers degrés de vraisemblancé, et que l’assentiment intérieur s’y prétoit ou s’y refusoit à différentes mesures. Sur cette première observation, comparant entr’elles toutes ces différentes idées dans le silence des préjugés, je trouvai que la première, et la plus commune, étoit aussi la plus simple et la plus raisonnable; et qu’il ne lui manquoit, pour réunir tous les suffrages, que d’avoir été proposée la dernière. Imaginez tous vos philosophes anciens et modernes, ayant d’abord épuisé leur bizarres systèmes de forces, de chances, de fatalité, de nécessité, d’atomes, de monde animé, de matière vivante, de matérialisme de toute espèce; et après eux tous l’illustre Clarke, éclairant le monde, annoncant enfin l’Etre des êtres, et le dispensateur des choses. Avec quelle universelle admitation, avec quel applaudissement unanime n’eût point été reçu ce nouveau système si grand, si consolant, si sublime, si propre à élever l’âme à donner une base à la vertu, et en même tems si frappant, si lumineux, si simple, et, ce me semble, offrant moins de choses incompréhensibles à l’esprit humain, qu’il n’en trouve d’absurdes en tout autre système! Je me disois, les objections insolubles sont communes à tous, parceque l’esprit de l’homme est trop borné pour les résoudre; elles ne prouvent donc rien contre aucun par préférence: mais quelle différence entre les preuves directes!”—Rousseau. Œuvres, tome ix. p. 25.
[Note N. page 128.] “Est autem jus quædam potentia moralis, et obligatio necessitas moralis. Moralem autem intelligo, quæ apud virum bonum æquipollet naturali: Nam ut præclarè jurisconsultus Romanus ait, quæ contra bonos mores sunt, ea nec facere nos posse credendum est. Vir bonus autem est, qui amat omnes, quantum ratio permittit. Justitiam igitur, quæ virtus est hujus affectus rectrix, quem Φιλανθρωπίαν Græci vocant, commodissimè, ni fallor, definiemus caritatem sapientis, hoc est, sequentem sapientiæ dictata. Itaque, quod Carneades dixisse fertur, justitiam esse summam stultitiam, quia alienis utilitatibus consuli jubeat, neglectis proprtis, ex ignoratâ ejus definitione natum est. Caritas est benevolentia universalis, et benevolentia amandi sive diligendi habitus. Amare autem sive diligere est felicitate alterius delectari, vel, quod eodem redit, felicitatem alienam adsciscere in suam. Unde difficilis nodus solvitur, magni etiam in Theologia momenti, quomodo amor non mercenarius detur, qui sit a spe metuque et omni utilitatis respectu separatus: scilicet, quorum utilitas delectat, eorum felicitas nostram ingreditur; nam quæ delectant, per se expetuntur. Et uti pulchrorum contemplatio ipsa jucunda est, pictaque tabula Raphaelis intelligentem afficit, etsi nullos census ferat, adeo ut in oculis deliciisque feratur, quodam simulacro amoris; ita quum res pulchra simul etiam felicitatis est capax, transit affectus in verum amorem. Superat autem divinus amor alios amores, quos Deus cum maximc successu amare potest, quando Deo simul et felicius nihil est, et nihil pulchrius felicitateque dignius intelligi potest. Et quum idem sit potentiæ sapientiæque summæ, felicitas ejus non tantum ingreditur nostram (si sapimus, id est, ipsum amamus), sed et facit. Quia autem sapientia caritatem dirigere debet, hujus quoque definitione opus erit. Arbitror autem notioni hominum optimè satisfieri, si sapientiam nihil aliud esse dicamus, quam ipsam scientiam felicitatis.”—Leibnitii Opera, vol. iv. pars iii. p. 294. “Et jus quidem merum sive strictum nascitur ex principio servandæ pacis; æquitas sive caritas ad majus aliquid contendit, ut, dum quisque alteri prodest, quantum potest, felicitatem suam augeat in aliena; et, ut verbo dicam. jus strictum miseriam vitat, jus superius ad felicitatem tendit, sed qualis in hanc mortalitatem cadit. Quod verò ipsam vitam, et quicquid hanc vitam expetendam facit, magno commodo alieno posthabere debeamus, ita ut maximos etiam dolores in aliorum gratiam perferre oporteat; magis pulchre præcipitur a philosophis quàm solidè demonstratur. Nam decus et gloriam, et animi sui virtute gaudentis sensum, ad quæ sub honestatis nomine provocant, cogitationis sive mentis bona esse constat, magna quidem, sed non omnibus, nec omni malorum acerbitati prævalitura, quando non omnes æquè imaginando afficiuntur; præserum quos neque educatio liberalis, neque consuetudo vivendi ingenua, vel vitæ sectæve disciplina ad honoris æstimationem, vel animi bona sentienda assuefecit. Ut verò universali demonstrationi conficiatut: omne honestum esse utile, et omne turpe damno sum, assumenda est immortalitas animæ et rector universi Deus. Ita fit, ut omnes in civitate perfectissima vivere intelligamur, sub monarcha, qui nec ob sapientiam falli, nec ob potentiam vitari potest; idemque tam amabilis est, ut felicitas sit tali domino servire. Huic igitur qui animam impendit, Christo docente, eam lucratur. Hujus potentia providentiaque efficitur, ut omne jus in factum transeat, ut nemo lædatur nisi a se ipso, ut nihil rectè gestum sine præmio, sit, nallum peccatum sine pœna.”—p. 296.