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SECTION VI.: FOUNDATIONS OF A MORE JUST THEORY OF ETHICS. - Sir James Mackintosh, The Miscellaneous Works 
The Miscellaneous Works. Three Volumes, complete in One. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871).
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FOUNDATIONS OF A MORE JUST THEORY OF ETHICS.
From the beginning of ethical controversy to the eighteenth century, it thus appears, that the care of the individual for himself, and his regard for the things which regard self, were thought to form the first, and, in the opinion of most, the earliest of all principles which prompt men and other animals to activity; that nearly all philosophers regarded the appetites and desires, which look only to self-gratification, as modifications of this primary principle of self-love; and that a very numerous body considered even the social affections themselves as nothing more than the produce of a more latent and subtile operation of the desire of interest, and the pursuit of pleasure. It is true that they often spoke otherwise; but it was rather from the looseness and fluctuation of their language, than from distrust in their doctrine. It is true, also, that perhaps all represented the gratifications of Virtue as more unmingled, more secure, more frequent, and more lasting, than other pleasures; without which they could neither have retained a hold on the assent of mankind, nor reconciled the principles of their systems with the testimony of their hearts. We have seen how some began to be roused from a lazy acquiescence in this ancient hypothesis, by the monstrous consequences which Hobbes had legitimately deduced from it. A few, of pure minds and great intellect, laboured to render Morality disinterested, by tracing it to Reason as its source; without considering that Reason, elevated indeed far above interest, is also separated by an impassable gulf, from feeling, affection, and passion. At length it was perceived by more than one, that through whatever length of reasoning the mind may pass in its advances towards action, there is placed at the end of any avenue through which it can advance, some principle wholly unlike mere Reason,—some emotion or sentiment which must be touched, before the springs of Will and Action can be set in motion. Had Lord Shaftesbury steadily adhered to his own principles,—had Leibnitz not recoiled from his statement, the truth might have been regarded as promulged, though not unfolded. The writings of both prove, at least to us, enlightened as we are by what followed, that they were skilful in sounding, and that their lead had touched the bottom. But it was reserved for another moral philosopher to determine this hitherto unfathomed depth.*
Butler, who was the son of a Presbyterian trader, early gave such promise, as to induce his father to fit him, by a proper education, for being a minister of that persuasion. He was educated at one of their seminaries under Mr. Jones of Gloucester, where Seeker, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury was his fellow-student. Though many of the dissenters had then begun to relinquish Calvinism, the uniform effect of that doctrine, in disposing its adherents to metaphysical speculation, long survived the opinions which caused it, and cannot be doubted to have influenced the mind of Butler. When a student at the academy at Gloucester, he wrote private letters to Dr. Clarke on his celebrated Demonstration, suggesting objections which were really insuperable, and which are marked by an acuteness which neither himself nor any other ever surpassed. Clarke, whose heart was as well schooled as his head, published the letters, with his own answers, in the next edition of his work, and, by his good offices with his friend and follower, Sir Joseph Jekyll, obtained for the young philosopher an early opportunity of making his abilities and opinions known, by the appointment of preacher at the Chapel of the Master of the Rolls. He was afterwards raised to one of the highest seats on the episcopal bench, through the philosophical taste of Queen Caroline, and her influence over the mind of her husband, which continued long after her death. “He was wafted,” says Horace Walpole, “to the See of Durham, on a cloud of Metaphysics.”* Even in the fourteenth year of his widowhood, George II. was desirous of inserting the name of the Queen’s metaphysical favourite in the Regency Bill of 1751.
His great work on the Analogy of Religion to the Course of Nature, though only a commentary on the singularly original and pregnent passage of Origen,† which is so honestly prefixed to it as a motto, is, notwithstanding, the most original and profound work extant in any language on the philosophy of religion. It is entirely beyond our present scope. His ethical discussions are contained in those deep and sometimes dark dissertations which he preached at the Chapel of the Rolls, and afterwards published under the name of “Sermons,” while he was yet fresh from the schools, and full of that courage with which youth often delights to exercise its strength in abstract reasoning, and to push its faculties into the recesses of abstruse speculation. But his youth was that of a sober and mature mind, early taught by Nature to discern the boundaries of Knowledge, and to abstain from fruitless efforts to reach inaccessible ground. In these Sermons,‡ he has taught truths more capable of being exactly distinguished from the doctrines of his predecessors, more satisfactorily established, more comprehensively applied to particulars, more rationally connected with each other, and therefore more worthy of the name of “discovery,” than any with which we are acquainted;—if we ought not, with some hesitation, to except the first steps of the Grecian philosophers towards a theory of Morals. It is a peculiar hardship, that the extreme ambiguity of language, an obstacle which it is one of the chief merits of an ethical philosopher to vanquish, is one of the circumstances which prevent men from seeing the justice of applying to him so ambitious a term as “discoverer.” He owed more to Lord Shaftesbury than to all other writers besides. He is just and generous towards that philosopher; yet, whoever carefully compares their writings, will without difficulty distinguish the two builders, and the larger as well as more regular and laboured part of the edifice, which is the work of Butler.
Mankind have various principles of action, some leading directly to the good of the individual, some immediately to the good of the community. But the former are not instances of self-love, or of any form of it; for self-love is the desire of a man’s own happiness, whereas the object of an appetite or passion is some outward thing. Self-love seeks things as means of happiness; the private appetites seek things, not as means, but as ends. A man eats from hunger, and drinks from thirst; and though he knows that these acts are necessary to life, that knowledge is not the motive of his conduct. No gratification can indeed be imagined without a previous desire. If all the particular desires did not exist independently, self-love would have no object to employ itself about; for there would in that case be no happiness, which, by the very supposition of the opponents, is made up of the gratifications of various desires. No pursuit could be selfish or interested, if there were not satisfactions to be gained by appetites which seek their own outward objects without regard to self. These satisfactions in the mass compose what is called a man’s interest.
In contending, therefore, that the benevolent affections are disinterested, no more is claimed for them than must be granted to mere animal appetites and to malevolent passions. Each of these principles alike seeks its own object, for the sake simply of obtaining it. Pleasure is the result of the attainment, but no separate part of the aim of the agent. The desire that another person may be gratified, seeks that outward object alone, according to the general course of human desire. Resentment is as disinterested as gratitude or pity, but not more so. Hunger or thirst may be, as much as the purest benevolence, at variance with self-love. A regard to our own general happiness is not a vice, but in itself an excellent quality. It were well if it prevailed more generally over craving and short-sighted appetites. The weakness of the social affections, and the strength of the private desires, properly constitute selfishness; a vice utterly at variance with the happiness of him who harbours it, and as such, condemned by self-love. There are as few who attain the greatest satisfaction to themselves, as who do the greatest good to others. It is absurd to say with some, that the pleasure of benevolence is selfish because it is felt by self. Understanding and reasoning are acts of self, for no man can think by proxy; but no one ever called them selfish. Why? Evidently because they do not regard self. Precisely the same reason applies to benevolence. Such an argument is a gross confusion of “self,” as it is a subject of feeling or thought, with “self” considered as the object of either. It is no more just to refer the private appetites to self-love because they commonly promote happiness, than it would be to refer them to self-hatred in those frequent cases where their gratification obstructs it.
But, besides the private or public desires, and besides the calm regard to our own general welfare, there is a principle in man, in its nature supreme over all others. This natural supremacy belongs to the faculty which surveys, approves, or disapproves the several affections of our minds and actions of our lives. As self-love is superior to the private passions, so Conscience is superior to the whole of man. Passion implies nothing but an inclination to follow an object, and in that respect passions differ only in force: but no notion can be formed of the principle of reflection, or Conscience, which does not comprehend judgment, direction, superintendency, authority over all other principles of action is a constituent part of the idea of it, and cannot be separated from it. Had it strength as it has right, it would govern the world. The passions would have their power, but according to their nature, which is to be subject to Conscience. Hence we may understand the purpose at which the ancients, perhaps confusedly, aimed when they laid it down “that Virtue consisted in following Nature.” It is neither easy, nor, for the main object of the moralist, important, to render the doctrines of the ancients by modern language. If Butler returns to this phrase too often, it was rather from the remains of undistinguishing reverence for antiquity, than because he could deem its employment important to his own opinions.
The tie which holds together Religion and Morality is, in the system of Butler, somewhat different from the common representations of it, but not less close. Conscience, or the faculty of approving or disapproving, necessarily constitutes the bond of union. Setting out from the belief of Theism, and combining it, as he had entitled himself to do, with the reality of Conscience, he could not avoid discovering that the being who possessed the highest moral qualities, is the object of the highest moral affections. He contemplates the Deity through the moral nature of man. In the case of a being who is to be perfectly loved, “goodness must be the simple actuating principle within him, this being the moral quality which is the immediate object of love.” “The highest, the adequate object of this affection, is perfect goodness, which, therefore, we are to love with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength.” “We should refer ourselves implicitly to him, and cast ourselves entirely upon him. The whole attention of life should be to obey his commands.”* Moral distinctions are thus presupposed before a step can be made towards Religion: Virtue leads to piety; God is to be loved, because goodness is the object of love; and it is only after the mind rises through human morality to divine perfection, that all the virtues and duties are seen to hang from the throne of God.†
There do not appear to be any errors in the ethical principles of Butler: the following remarks are intended to point out some defects in his scheme. And even that attempt is made with the unfeigned humility of one who rejoices in an opportunity of doing justice to that part of the writings of a great philosopher which has not been so clearly understood nor so justly estimated by the generality as his other works.
1. It is a considerable defect, though perhaps unavoidable in a sermon, that he omits all inquiry into the nature and origin of the private appetites, which first appear in human nature. It is implied, but it is not expressed in his reasonings, that there is a time before the child can be called selfish, any more than social, when these appetites seem as it were separately to pursue their distinct objects, and that this is long antecedent to that state of mind in which their gratification is regarded as forming the mass called “happiness.” It is hence that they are likened to instincts distinct as these latter subsequently become.‡
2. Butler shows admirably well, that unless there were principles of action independent of self, there could be no pleasures and no happiness for self-love to watch over. A step farther would have led him to perceive that self-love is altogether a secondary formation, the result of the joint operation of Reason and habit upon the primary principles. It could not have existed without presupposing original appetites and organic gratifications. Had he considered this part of the subject, he would have strengthened his case by showing that self-love is as truly a derived principle, not only as any of the social affections, but as any of the most confessedly acquired passions. It would appear clear, that as self-love is not divested of its self-regarding character by considering it as acquired, so the social affections do not lose any part of their disinterested character, if they be considered as formed from simpler elements. Nothing would more tend to root out the old prejudice which treats a regard to self as analogous to a self-evident principle, than the proof that self-love is itself formed from certain original elements, and that a living being long subsists before its appearance.*
3. It must be owned that those parts of Butler’s discourses which relate to the social affections are more satisfactory than those which handle the question concerning the moral sentiments. It is not that the real existence of the latter is not as well made out as that of the former. In both cases he occupies the unassailable ground of an appeal to consciousness. All men (even the worst), feel that they have a conscience and disinterested affections. But he betrays a sense of the greater vagueness of his notions on this subject: he falters as he approaches it. He makes no attempt to determine in what state of mind the action of Conscience consists. He does not venture steadily to denote it by a name; he fluctuates between different appellations, and multiplies the metaphors of authority and command, without a simple exposition of that mental operation which these metaphors should only have illustrated. It commands other principles: but the question recurs, Why, or How?
Some of his own hints and some fainter intimations of Shaftesbury, might have led him to what appears to be the true solution, which, perhaps from its extreme simplicity, has escaped him and his successors. The truth seems to be, that the moral sentiments in their mature state, are a class of feelings which have no other object but the mental dispositions leading to voluntary action, and the voluntary actions which flow from these dispositions. We are pleased with some dispositions and actions, and displeased with others, in ourselves and our fellows. We desire to cultivate the dispositions and to perform the actions, which we contemplate with satisfaction. These objects, like all those of human appetite or desire, are sought for their own sake. The peculiarity of these desires is, that their gratification requires the use of no means; nothing (unless it be a volition) is interposed between the desire and the voluntary act. It is impossible, therefore, that these passions should undergo any change by transfer from being the end to being the means, as is the case with other practical principles. On the other hand, as soon as they are fixed on these ends, they cannot regard any further object. When another passion prevails over them, the end of the moral faculty is converted into a means of gratification. But volitions and actions are not themselves the end or last object in view, of any other desire or aversion. Nothing stands between the moral sentiments and their object; they are, as it were, in contact with the Will. It is this sort of mental position, if the expression may be pardoned, that explains or seems to explain those characteristic properties which true philosophers ascribe to them, and which all reflecting men feel to belong to them. Being the only desires, aversions, sentiments, or emotions which regard dispositions and actions, they necessarily extend to the whole character and conduct. Among motives to action, they alone are justly considered as universal. They may and do stand between any other practical principle and its object, while it is absolutely impossible that another shall intercept their connexion with the Will. Be it observed, that though many passions prevail over them, no other can act beyond its own appointed and limited sphere; and that such prevalence itself, leaving the natural order disturbed in no other part of the mind, is perceived to be a disorder, whenever seen in another, and felt to be so by the very mind disordered, when the disorder subsides. Conscience may forbid the Will to contribute to the gratification of a desire: no desire ever forbids the Will to obey Conscience.
This result of the peculiar relation of Conscience to the Will, justifies those metaphorical expressions which ascribe to it “authority” and the right of “universal command.” It is immutable; for, by the law which regulates all feelings, it must rest on action, which is its object, and beyond which it cannot look; and as it employs no means, it never can be transferred to nearer objects, in the way in which he who first desires an object as a means of gratification, may come to seek it as his end. Another remarkable peculiarity is bestowed on the moral feelings by the nature of their object. As the objects of all other desires are outward, the satisfaction of them may be frustrated by outward causes: the moral sentiments may always be gratified, because voluntary actions and moral dispositions spring from within. No external circumstance affects them;—hence their independence. As the moral sentiment needs no means, and the desire is instantaneously followed by the volition, it seems to be either that which first suggests the relation between command and obedience, or at least that which affords the simplest instance of it. It is therefore with the most rigorous precision that authority and universality are ascribed to them. Their only unfortunate property is their too frequent weakness; but it is apparent that it is from that circumstance alone that their failure arises. Thus considered, the language of Butler concerning Conscience, that, “had it strength, as it has right, it would govern the world,” which may seem to be only an effusion of generous feeling, proves to be a just statement of the nature and action of the highest of human faculties. The union of universality, immutability, and independence, with direct action on the Will, which distinguishes the Moral Sense from every other part of our practical nature, renders it scarcely metaphorical language to ascribe to it unbounded sovereignty and awful authority over the whole of the world within;—shows that attributes, well denoted by terms significant of command and control, are, in fact, inseparable from it, or rather constitute its very essence; and justifies those ancient moralists who represent it as alone securing, if not forming the moral liberty of man. When afterwards the religious principle is evolved, Conscience is clothed with the sublime character of representing the divine purity and majesty in the human soul. Its title is not impaired by any number of defeats; for every defeat necessarily disposes the disinterested and dispassionate by-stander to wish that its force were strengthened: and though it may be doubted whether, consistently with the present constitution of human nature, it could be so invigorated as to be the only motive to action, yet every such by-stander rejoices at all accessions to its force; and would own, that man becomes happier, more excellent, more estimable, more venerable, in proportion as it acquires a power of banishing malevolent passions, of strongly curbing all the private appetites, and of influencing and guiding the benevolent affections themselves.
Let it be carefully considered whether the same observations could be made with truth, or with plausibility, on any other part or element of the nature of man. They are entirely independent of the question, whether Conscience be an inherent, or an acquired principle. If it be inherent, that circumstance is, according to the common modes of thinking, a sufficient proof of its title to veneration. But if provision be made in the constitution and circumstances of all men, for uniformly producing it, by processes similar to those which produce other acquired sentiments, may not our reverence be augmented by admiration of that Supreme Wisdom which, in such mental contrivances, yet more brightly than in the lower world of matter, accomplishes mighty purposes by instruments so simple? Should these speculations be thought to have any solidity by those who are accustomed to such subjects, it would be easy to unfold and apply them so fully, that they may be thoroughly apprehended by every intelligent person.
4. The most palpable defect of Butler’s scheme is, that it affords no answer to the question, “What is the distinguishing quality common to all right actions?” If it were answered, “Their criterion is, that they are approved and commanded by Conscience,” the answerer would find that he was involved in a vicious circle; for Conscience itself could be no otherwise defined than as the faculty which approves and commands right actions.
There are few circumstances more remarkable than the small number of Butler’s followers in Ethics; and it is perhaps still more observable, that his opinions were not so much rejected as overlooked. It is an instance of the importance of style. No thinker so great was ever so bad a writer. Indeed, the ingenious apologies which have been lately attempted for this defect, amount to no more than that his power of thought was too much for his skill in language. How general must the reception have been of truths so certain and momentous as those contained in Butler’s discourses,—with how much more clearness must they have appeared to his own great understanding, if he had possessed the strength and distinctness with which Hobbes enforces odious falsehood, or the unspeakable charm of that transparent diction which clothed the unfruitful paradoxes of Berkeley!
This ingenious writer began to try his own strength by private letters, written in his early youth to Dr. Clarke, the metaphysical patriarch of his time; on whom young philosophers seem to have considered themselves as possessing a claim, which he had too much goodness to reject. His correspondence with Hutcheson is lost; but we may judge of its spirit by his answers to Butler, and by one to Mr. Henry Home, afterwards Lord Kames, then a young adventurer in the prevalent speculations. Nearly at the same period with Butler’s first publication,‡ the writings of Hutcheson began to show coincidences with him, indicative of the tendency of moral theory to assume a new form, by virtue of an impulse received from Shaftesbury, and quickened to greater activity by the adverse system of Clarke. Lord Molesworth, the friend of Shaftesbury, patronised Hutcheson, and even criticised his manuscript; and though a Presbyterian, he was befriended by King, Archbishop of Dublin, himself a metaphysician; and aided by Mr. Synge, afterwards also a bishop, to whom speculations somewhat similar to his own had occurred.
† Butler and Hutcheson coincided in the two important positions, that disinterested affections, and a distinct moral faculty, are essential parts of human nature. Hutcheson is a chaste and simple writer, who imbibed the opinions, without the literary faults of his master, Shaftesbury. He has a clearness of expression, and fulness of illustration, which are wanting in Butler. But he is inferior to both these writers in the appearance at least of originality, and to Butler especially in that philosophical courage which, when it discovers the fountains of truth and falsehood, leaves others to follow the streams. He states as strongly as Butler, that “the same cause which determines us to pursue happiness for ourselves, determines us both to esteem and benevolence on their proper occasions—even the very frame of our nature.”* It is in vain, as he justly observes, for the patrons of a refined selfishness to pretend that we pursue the happiness of others for the sake of the pleasure which we derive from it; since it is apparent that there could be no such pleasure if there had been no previous affection. “Had we no affection distinct from self-love, nothing could raise a desire of the happiness of others, but when viewed as a mean of our own.”† He seems to have been the first who entertained just notions of the formation of the secondary desires, which had been overlooked by Butler. “There must arise, in consequence of our original desires, secondary desires of every thing useful to gratify the primary desire. Thus, as soon as we apprehend the use of wealth, or power, to gratify our original desires, we also desire them. From their universality as means arises the general prevalence of these desires of wealth and power.”‡ Proceeding farther in his zeal against the selfish system than Lord Shaftesbury, who seems ultimately to rest the reasonableness of benevolence on its subserviency to the happiness of the individual, he represents the moral faculty to be, as well as self-love and benevolence, a calm general impulse, which may and does impel a good man to sacrifice not only happiness, but even life itself, to Virtue.
As Mr. Locke had spoken of “an internal sensation;” Lord Shaftesbury once or twice of “a reflex sense,” and once of “a moral sense;” Hutcheson, who had a steadier, if not a clearer view of the nature of Conscience than Butler, calls it “a moral sense;” a name which quickly became popular, and continues to be a part of philosophical language. By “sense” he understood a capacity of receiving ideas, together with pleasures and pains, from a class of objects: the term “moral” was used to describe the particular class in question. It implied only that Conscience was a separate element in our nature, and that it was not a state or act of the Understanding. According to him, it also implied that it was an original and implanted principle; but every other part of his theory might be embraced by those who hold it to be derivative.
The object of moral approbation, according to him, is general benevolence; and he carries this generous error so far as to deny that prudence, as long as it regards ourselves, can be morally approved;—an assertion contradicted by every man’s feelings, and to which we owe the Dissertation on the Nature of Virtue, which Butler annexed to his Analogy. By proving that all virtuous actions produce general good, he fancied that he had proved the necessity of regarding the general good in every act of virtue;—an instance of that confusion of the theory of moral sentiments with the criterion of moral actions, against which the reader was warned at the opening of this Dissertation, as fatal to ethical philosophy. He is chargeable, like Butler, with a vicious circle, in describing virtuous acts as those which are approved by the moral sense, while he at the same time describes the moral sense as the faculty which perceives and feels the morality of actions.
Hutcheson was the father of the modern school of speculative philosophy in Scotland; for though in the beginning of the sixteenth century the Scotch are said to have been known throughout Europe by their unmeasured passion for dialectical subtilties,* and though this metaphysical taste was nourished by the controversies which followed the Reformation, yet it languished, with every other intellectual taste and talent, from the Restoration,—first silenced by civil disorders, and afterwards repressed by an exemplary, but unlettered clergy,—till the philosophy of Shaftesbury was brought by Hutcheson from Ireland. We are told by the writer of his Life (a fine piece of philosophical biography) that “he had a remarkable degree of rational enthusiasm for learning, liberty, Religion, Virtue, and human happiness;”† that he taught in public with persuasive eloquence; that his instructive conversation was at once lively and modest; and that he united pure manners with a kind disposition. What wonder that such a man should have spread the love of Knowledge and Virtue around him, and should have rekindled in his adopted country a relish for the sciences which he cultivated! To him may also be ascribed that proneness to multiply ultimate and original principles in human nature, which characterized the Scottish school till the second extinction of a passion for metaphysical speculation in Scotland. A careful perusal of the writings of this now little studied philosopher will satisfy the well-qualified reader, that Dr. Adam Smith’s ethical speculations are not so unsuggested as they are beautiful.
This great metaphysician was so little a moralist, that it requires the attraction of his name to excuse its introduction here. His Theory of Vision contains a great discovery in mental philosophy. His immaterialism is chiefly valuable as a touchstone of metaphysical sagacity; showing those to be altogether without it, who, like Johnson and Beattie, believed that his speculations were sceptical, that they implied any distrust in the senses, or that they had the smallest tendency to disturb reasoning or alter conduct. Ancient learning, exact science, polished society, modern literature, and the fine arts, contributed to adorn and enrich the mind of this accomplished man. All his contemporaries agreed with the satirist in ascribing.
“To Berkeley every virtue under heaven.”†
Adverse factions and hostile wits concurred only in loving, admiring, and contributing to advance him. The severe sense of Swift endured his visions; the modest Addison endeavoured to reconcile Clarke to his ambitious speculations. His character converted the satire of Pope into fervid praise; even the discerning, fastidious, and turbulent Atterbury said, after an interview with him, “So much understanding, so much knowledge, so much innocence, and such humility, I did not think had been the portion of any but angels, till I saw this gentleman.”‡ Lord Bathurst told me, that the members of the Scriblerus Club being met at his house at dinner, they agreed to rally Berkeley, who was also his guest, on his scheme at Bermudas. Berkeley, having listened to the many lively things they had to say, begged to be heard in his turn, and displayed his plan with such an astonishing and animating force of eloquence and enthusiasm, that they were struck dumb, and after some pause, rose all up together, with earnestness exclaiming, ‘Let us set out with him immediately.’ ”§ It was when thus beloved and celebrated that he conceived, at the age of forty-five, the design of devoting his life to reclaim and convert the natives of North America; and he employed as much influence and solicitation as common men do for their most prized objects, in obtaining leave to resign his dignities and revenues, to quit his accomplished and affectionate friends, and to bury himself in what must have seemed an intellectual desert. After four years’ residence at Newport, in Rhode Island, he was compelled, by the refusal of government to furnish him with funds for his College, to forego his work of heroic, or rather godlike benevolence; though not without some consoling forethought of the fortune of the country where he had sojourned.
Thus disappointed in his ambition of keeping a school for savage children, at a salary of a hundred pounds by the year, he was received, on his return, with open arms by the philosophical queen, at whose metaphysical parties he made one with Sherlock, who, as well as Smalridge, was his supporter, and with Hoadley, who, following Clarke, was his antagonist. By her influence, he was made bishop of Cloyne. It is one of his highest boasts, that though of English extraction, he was a true Irishman, and the first eminent Protestant, after the unhappy contest at the Revolution, who avowed his love for all his countrymen. He asked, “Whether their habitations and furniture were not more sordid than those of the savage Americans?”* “Whether a scheme for the welfare of this nation should not take in the whole inhabitants?” and “Whether it was a vain attempt, to project the flourishing of our Protestant gentry, exclusive of the bulk of the natives?”† He proceeds to promote the reformation suggested in this pregnant question by a series of Queries, intimating with the utmost skill and address, every reason that proves the necessity, and the safety, and the wisest mode of adopting his suggestion. He contributed, by a truly Christian address to the Roman Catholics of his diocese, to their perfect quiet during the rebellion of 1745; and soon after published a letter to the clergy of that persuasion, beseeching them to inculcate industry among their flocks, for which he received their thanks. He tells them that it was a saying among the negro slaves, “if negro were not negro, Irishman would be negro.” It is difficult to read these proofs of benevolence and foresight without emotion, at the moment when, after a lapse of near a century, his suggestions have been at length, at the close of a struggle of twenty-five years, adopted, by the admission of the whole Irish nation to the privileges of the British constitution.‡ The patriotism of Berkeley was not, like that of Swift, tainted by disappointed ambition, nor was it, like Swift’s, confined to a colony of English Protestants. Perhaps the Querist contains more hints, then original, and still unapplied in legislation and political economy, than are to be found in any other equal space. From the writings of his advanced years, when he chose a medical tract§ to be the vehicle of his philosophical reflections, though it cannot be said that he relinquished his early opinions, it is at least apparent that his mind had received a new bent, and was habitually turned from reasoning towards contemplation. His immaterialism indeed modestly appears, but only to purify and elevate our thoughts, and to fix them on Mind, the paramount and primeval principle of all things. “Perhaps,” says he, “the truth about innate ideas may be, that there are properly no ideas, or passive objects, in the mind but what are derived from sense, but that there are also, besides these, her own acts and operations,—such are notions;” a statement which seems once more to admit general conceptions, and which might have served, as well as the parallel passage of Leibnitz, as the basis of the modern philosophy of Germany. From these compositions of his old age, he appears then to have recurred with fondness to Plato and the later Platonists, writers from whose mere reasonings an intellect so acute could hardly hope for an argumentative satisfaction of all its difficulties, and whom he probably rather studied as a means of inuring his mind to objects beyond the “visible diurnal sphere,” and of attaching it, through frequent meditation, to that perfect and transcendent goodness to which his moral feelings always pointed, and which they incessantly strove to grasp. His mind, enlarging as it rose, at length receives every theist, however imperfect his belief, to a communion in its philosophic piety. “Truth,” he beautifully concludes, “is the cry of all, but the game of a few. Certainly, where it is the chief passion, it does not give way to vulgar cares, nor is it contented with a little ardour in the early time of life; active perhaps to pursue, but not so fit to weigh and revise. He that would make a real progress in knowledge, must dedicate his age as well as youth, the later growth as well as first fruits, at the altar of Truth.” So did Berkeley, and such were almost his latest words.
His general principles of Ethics may be shortly stated in his own words:—“As God is a being of infinite goodness, His end is the good of His creatures. The general well-being of all men of all nations, of all ages of the world, is that which He designs should be procured by the concurring actions of each individual.” Having stated that this end can be pursued only in one of two ways,—either by computing the consequences of each action, or by obeying rules which generally tend to happiness,—and having shown the first to be impossible, he rightly infers, “that the end to which God requires the concurrence of human actions, must be carried on by the observation of certain determinate and universal rules, or moral precepts, which in their own nature have a necessary tendency to promote the well-being of mankind, taking in all nations and ages, from the beginning to the end of the world.”* A romance, of which a journey to an Utopia, in the centre of Africa, forms the chief part, called “The Adventures of Signor Gaudentio di Lucca,” has been commonly ascribed to him; probably on no other ground than its union of pleasing invention with benevolence and elegance.* Of the exquisite grace and beauty of his diction, no man accustomed to English composition can need to be informed. His works are, beyond dispute, the finest models of philosophical style since Cicero. Perhaps they surpass those of the orator, in the wonderful art by which the fullest light is thrown on the most minute and evanescent parts of the most subtile of human conceptions. Perhaps, also, he surpassed Cicero in the charm of simplicity, a quality eminently found in Irish writers before the end of the eighteenth century;—conspicuous in the masculine severity of Swift, in the Platonic fancy of Berkeley, in the native tenderness and elegance of Goldsmith, and not withholding its attractions from Hutcheson and Leland, writers of classical taste, though of inferior power. The two Irish philosophers of the eighteenth century may be said to have co-operated in calling forth the metaphysical genius of Scotland; for, though Hutcheson spread the taste for, and furnished the principles of such speculations, yet Berkeley undoubtedly produced the scepticism of Hume, which stimulated the instinctive school to activity, and was thought incapable of confutation, otherwise than by their doctrines.
The life of Mr. Hume, written by himself, is remarkable above most, if not all writings of that sort, for hitting the degree of interest between coldness and egotism which becomes a modest man in speaking of his private history. Few writers, whose opinions were so obnoxious, have more perfectly escaped every personal imputation. Very few men of so calm a character have been so warmly beloved. That he approached to the character of a perfectly good and wise man, is an affectionate exaggeration, for which his friend Dr. Smith, in the first moments of his sorrow, may well be excused.‡ But such a praise can never be earned without passing through either of the extremes of fortune,—without standing the test of temptations, dangers, and sacrifices. It may be said with truth, that the private character of Mr. Hume exhibited all the virtues which a man of reputable station, under a mild government, in the quiet times of a civilized country, has often the opportunity to practise. He showed no want of the qualities which fit men for more severe trials. Though others had warmer affections, no man was a kinder relation, a more unwearied friend, or more free from meanness and malice. His character was so simple, that he did not even affect modesty; but neither his friendships nor his deportment were changed by a fame which filled all Europe. His good nature, his plain manners, and his active kindness, procured him in Paris the enviable name of “the good David,” from a society not so alive to goodness, as without reason to place it at the head of the qualities of a celebrated man.* His whole character is faithfully and touchingly represented in the story of La Roche,† where Mr. Mackenzie, without concealing Mr. Hume’s opinions, brings him into contact with scenes of tender piety, and yet preserves the interest inspired by genuine and unalloyed, though moderated, feelings and affections. The amiable and venerable patriarch of Scottish literature,—opposed, as he was to the opinions of the philosopher on whom he has composed his best panegyric,—tells us that he read his manuscript to Dr. Smith, “who declared that he did not find a syllable to object to, but added, with his characteristic absence of mind, that he was surprised he had never heard of the anecdote before.”‡ So lively was the delineation, thus sanctioned by the most natural of all testimonies. Mr. Mackenzie indulges his own religious feelings by modestly intimating, that Dr. Smith’s answer seemed to justify the last words of the tale, “that there were moments when the philosopher recalled to his mind the venerable figure of the good La Roche, and wished that he had never doubted.” To those who are strangers to the seductions of paradox, to the intoxication of fame, and to the bewitchment of prohibited opinions, it must be unaccountable, that he who revered benevolence should, without apparent regret, cease to see it on the throne of the Universe. It is a matter of wonder that his habitual esteem for every fragment and shadow of moral excellence should not lead him to envy those who contemplated its perfection in that living and paternal character which gives it a power over the human heart.
On the other hand, if we had no experience of the power of opposite opinions in producing irreconcilable animosities, we might have hoped that those who retained such high privileges, would have looked with more compassion than dislike on a virtuous man who had lost them. In such cases it is too little remembered, that repugnance to hypocrisy and impatience of long concealment, are the qualities of the best formed minds, and that, if the publication of some doctrines proves often painful and mischievous, the habitual suppression of opinion is injurious to Reason, and very dangerous to sincerity. Practical questions thus arise, so difficult and perplexing that their determination generally depends on the boldness or timidity of the individual,—on his tenderness for the feelings of the good, or his greater reverence for the free exercise of reason. The time is not yet come when the noble maxim of Plato, “that every soul is unwillingly deprived of truth,” will be practically and heartily applied by men to the honest opponents who differ from them most widely.
It was in his twenty-seventh year that Mr. Hume published at London the Treatise of Human Nature, the first systematic attack on all the principles of knowledge and belief, and the most formidable, if universal scepticism could ever be more than a mere exercise of ingenuity.* This memorable work was reviewed in a Journal of that time,† in a criticism not distinguished by ability, which affects to represent the style of a very clear writer as unintelligible,—sometimes from a purpose to insult, but oftener from sheer dulness,—which is unaccountably silent respecting the consequences of a sceptical system, but which concludes with the following prophecy so much at variance with the general tone of the article, that it would seem to be added by a different hand. “It bears incontestable marks of a great capacity, of a soaring genius, but young, and not yet thoroughly practised. Time and use may ripen these qualities in the author, and we shall probably have reason to consider this, compared with his later productions, in the same light as we view the Juvenile works of Milton or the first manner of Raphael.”
The great speculator did not in this work amuse himself, like Bayle, with dialectical exercises, which only inspire a disposition towards doubt, by showing in detail the uncertainty of most opinions. He aimed at proving, not that nothing was known, but that nothing could be known,—from the structure of the Understanding to demonstrate that we are doomed for ever to dwell in absolute and universal ignorance. It is true that such a system of universal scepticism never can be more than an intellectual amusement, an exercise of subtilty, of which the only use is to check dogmatism, but which perhaps oftener provokes and produces that much more common evil. As those dictates of experience which regulate conduct must be the objects of belief, all objections which attack them in common with the principles of reasoning, must be utterly ineffectual. Whatever attacks every principle of belief can destroy none. As long as the foundations of Knowledge are allowed to remain on the same level (be it called of certainty or uncertainty), with the maxims of life, the whole system of human conviction must continue undisturbed. When the sceptic boasts of having involved the results of experience and the elements of Geometry in the same ruin with the doctrines of Religion and the principles of Philosophy, he may be answered, that no dogmatist ever claimed more than the same degree of certainty for these various convictions and opinions, and that his scepticism, therefore, leaves them in the relative condition in which it found them. No man knew better or owned more frankly than Mr. Hume, that to this answer there is no serious reply. Universal scepticism involves a contradiction in terms: it is a belief that there can be no belief. It is an attempt of the mind to act without its structure, and by other laws than those to which its nature has subjected its operations. To reason without assenting to the principles on which reasoning is founded, is not unlike an effort to feel without nerves, or to move without muscles. No man can be allowed to be an opponent in reasoning, who does not set out with admitting all the principles, without the admission of which it is impossible to reason.* It is indeed a puerile, nay, in the eye of Wisdom, a childish play, to attempt either to establish or to confute principles by argument, which every step of that argument must presuppose. The only difference between the two cases is, that he who tries to prove them can do so only by first taking them for granted, and that he who attempts to impugn them falls at the very first step into a contradiction from which he never can rise.
It must, however, be allowed, that universal scepticism has practical consequences of a very mischievous nature. This is because its universality is not steadily kept in view, and constantly borne in mind. If it were, the above short and plain remark would be an effectual antidote to the poison. But in practice, it is an armoury from which weapons are taken to be employed against some opinions, while it is hidden from notice that the same weapon would equally cut down every other conviction. It is thus that Mr. Hume’s theory of causation is used as an answer to arguments for the existence of the Deity, without warning the reader that it would equally lead him not to expect that the sun will rise to-morrow. It must also be added, that those who are early accustomed to dispute first principles are never likely to acquire, in a sufficient degree, that earnestness and that sincerity, that strong love of Truth, and that conscientious solicitude for the formation of just opinions, which are not the least virtues of men, but of which the cultivation is the more especial duty of all who call themselves philosophers.*
It is not an uninteresting fact that Mr. Hume, having been introduced by Lord Kames (then Mr. Henry Home) to Dr. Butler, sent a copy of his Treatise to that philosopher at the moment of his preferment to the bishopric of Durham; and that the perusal of it did not deter the philosophic prelate from “everywhere recommending Mr. Hume’s Moral and Political Essays,”† published two years afterwards;—essays which it would indeed have been unworthy of such a man not to have liberally commended; for they, and those which followed them, whatever may be thought of the contents of some of them, must be ever regarded as the best models in any language, of the short but full, of the clear and agreeable, though deep discussion of difficult questions.
Mr. Hume considered his Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals as the best of his writings. It is very creditable to his character, that he should have looked back with most complacency on a tract the least distinguished by originality, and the least tainted by paradox, among his philosophical works; but deserving of all commendation for the elegant perspicuity of the style, and the novelty of illustration and inference with which he unfolded to general readers a doctrine too simple, too certain, and too important, to remain till his time undiscovered among philosophers. His diction has, indeed, neither the grace of Berkeley, nor the strength of Hobbes; but it is without the verbosity of the former, or the rugged sternness of the latter. His manner is more lively, more easy, more ingratiating, and, if the word may be so applied, more amusing, than that of any other metaphysical writer.‡ He knew himself too well to be, as Dr. Johnson asserted, an imitator of Voltaire; who, as it were, embodied in his own person all the wit and quickness and versatile ingenuity of a people which surpasses other nations in these brilliant qualities. If he must be supposed to have had an eye on any French writer, it would be a more plausible guess, that he sometimes copied, with a temperate hand, the unexpected thoughts and familiar expressions of Fontenelle. Though he carefully weeded his writings in their successive editions, yet they still contain Scotticisms and Gallicisms enough to employ the successors of such critics as those who exulted over the Patavinity of the Roman historian. His own great and modest mind would have been satisfied with the praise which cannot be withheld from him, that there is no writer in our language who, through long works, is more agreeable; and it is no derogation from him, that, as a Scotsman, he did not reach those native and secret beauties, characteristical of a language, which are never attained, in elaborate composition, but by a very small number of those who familiarly converse in it from infancy. The Inquiry affords perhaps the best specimen of his style. In substance, its chief ment is the proof, from an abundant enumeration of particulars, that all the qualities and actions of the mind which are generally approved by mankind agree in the circumstance of being useful to society. In the proof (scarcely necessary), that benevolent affections and actions have that tendency, he asserts the real existence of these affections with unusual warmth; and he well abridges some of the most forcible arguments of Butler,* whom it is remarkable that he does not mention. To show the importance of his principle, he very unnecessarily distinguishes the comprehensive duty of justice from other parts of Morality, as an artificial virtue, for which our respect is solely derived from notions of utility. If all things were in such plenty that there could never be a want, or if men were so benevolent as to provide for the wants of others as much as for their own, there would, says he, in neither case be any justice, because there would be no need for it. But it is evident that the same reasoning is applicable to every good affection and right action. None of them could exist if there were no scope for their exercise. If there were no suffering, there could be no pity and no relief; if there were no offences, there could be no placability: if there were no crimes, there could be no mercy. Temperance, prudence, patience, magnanimity, are qualties of which the value depends on the evils by which they are respectively exercised†
With regard to purity of manners, it must be owned that Mr. Hume, though he controverts no rule, yet treats vice with too much indulgence. It was his general disposition to distrust those virtues which are liable to exaggeration, and may be easily counterfeited. The ascetic pursuit of purity, and hypocritical pretences to patriotism, had too much withdrawn the respect of his equally calm and sincere nature from these excellent virtues; more especially as severity in both these respects was often at apparent variance with affection, which can neither be long assumed, nor ever overvalued. Yet it was singular that he who, in his essay on Polygamy and Divorce,* had so well shown the connection of domestic ties with the outward order of society, should not have perceived their deeper and closer relation to all the social feelings of human nature. It cannot be enough regretted, that, in an inquiry written with a very moral purpose, his habit of making truth attractive, by throwing over her the dress of paradox, should have given him for a moment the appearance of weighing the mere amusements of society and conversation against domestic fidelity, which is the preserver of domestic affection, the source of parental fondness and filial regard, and, indirectly, of all the kindness which exists between human beings. That families are schools where the infant heart learns to love, and that pure manners are the cement which alone holds these schools together, are truths so certain, that it is wonderful he should not have betrayed a stronger sense of their importance. No one could so well have proved that all the virtues of that class, in their various orders and degrees, minister to the benevolent affections, and that every act which separates the senses from the affections tends, in some degree, to deprive kindness of its natural auxiliary, and to lessen its prevalence in the world. It did not require his sagacity to discover that the gentlest and tenderest feelings flourish only under the stern guardianship of these severe virtues. Perhaps his philosophy was loosened, though his life was uncorrupted, by that universal and undistinguishing proftigacy which prevailed on the Continent, from the regency of the Duke of Orleans to the French Revolution; the most dissolute period of European history, at least since the Roman emperors.* At Rome, indeed, the connection of licentiousness with cruelty, which, though scarcely traceable in individuals, is generally very observable in large masses bore a fearful testimony to the value of austere purity. The alliance of these remote vices seemed to be broken in the time of Mr. Hume. Pleasure, in a more improved state of society, seemed to return to her more natural union with kindness and tenderness, as well as with refinement and politeness. Had he lived fourteen years longer, however, he would have seen, that the virtues which guard the natural seminaries of the affections are their only true and lasting friends. He would also then have seen (the demand of well-informed men for the improvement of civil institutions,—and that of all classes growing in intelligence, to be delivered from a degrading inferiority, and to be admitted to a share of political power proportioned to their new importance, having been feebly, yet violently resisted by those ruling castes who neither knew how to yield, nor how to withstand,) how speedily the sudden demolition of the barriers (imperfect as they were) of law and government, led to popular excesses, desolating wars, and a military dictatorship, which for a long time threatened to defeat the reformation, and to disappoint the hopes of mankind. This tremendous conflagration threw a fearful light on the ferocity which lies hid under the arts and pleasures of corrupted nations; as earthquakes and volcanoes disclose the rocks which compose the deeper parts of our planet, beneath a fertile and flowery surface. A part of this dreadful result may be ascribed, not improbably, to that relaxation of domestic ties, which is unhappily natural to the populace of all vast capitals, and was at that time countenanced and aggravated by the example of their superiors. Another part doubtless arose from the barbarising power of absolute government, or, in other words, of injustice in high places. A narration of those events attests, as strongly as Roman history, though in a somewhat different manner, the humanising efficacy of the family virtues, by the consequences of the want of them in the higher classes, whose profuse and ostentatious sensuality inspired the labouring and suffering portion of mankind with contempt, disgust, envy, and hatred.
The Inquiry is disfigured by another speck of more frivolous paradox. It consists in the attempt to give the name of Virtue to qualities of the Understanding; and it would not have deserved the single remark about to be made on it, had it been the paradox of an inferior man. He has altogether omitted the circumstance on which depends the difference of our sentiments regarding moral and intellectual qualities. We admire intellectual excellence, but we bestow no moral approbation on it. Such approbation has no tendency directly to increase it, because it is not voluntary. We cultivate our natural disposition to esteem and love benevolence and justice, because these moral sentiments, and the expression of them, directly and materially dispose others, as well as ourselves, to cultivate these two virtues. We cultivate a natural anger against oppression, which guards ourselves against the practice of that vice, and because the manifestation of it deters others from its exercise. The first rude resentment of a child is against every instrument of hurt: we confine it to intentional hurt, when we are taught by experience that it prevents only that species of hurt; and at last it is still further limited to urong done to ourselves or others, and in that case becomes a purely moral sentiment. We morally approve industry, desire of knowledge, love of Truth, and all the habits by which the Understanding is strengthened and rectified, because their formation is subject to the Will;* but we do not feel moral anger against folly or ignorance, because they are involuntary. No one but the religious persecutor,—a mischievous and overgrown child, wreaks his vengeance on involuntary, inevitable, compulsory acts or states of the Understanding, which are no more affected by blame than the stone which the foolish child beats for hurting him. Reasonable men apply to every thing which they wish to move, the agent which is capable of moving it;—force to outward substances, arguments to the Understanding, and blame, together with all other motives, whether moral or personal, to the Will alone. It is as absurd to entertain an abhorrence of intellectual inferiority or error, however extensive or mischievous, as it would be to cherish a warm indignation against earthquakes or hurricanes. It is singular that a philosopher who needed the most liberal toleration should, by representing states of the Understanding as moral or immoral, have offered the most philosophical apology for persecution.
That general utility constitutes a uniform ground of moral distinctions, is a part of Mr. Hume’s ethical theory which never can be impugned, until some example can be produced of a virtue generally pernicious, or of a vice generally beneficial. The religious philosopher who, with Butler, holds that benevolence must be the actuating principle of the Divine mind, will, with Berkeley, maintain that pure benevolence can prescribe no rules of human conduct but such as are beneficial to men; thus bestowing on the theory of moral distinctions the certainty of demonstration in the eyes of all who believe in God
The other question of moral philosophy which relates to the theory of moral approbation, has been by no means so distinctly and satisfactorily handled by Mr. Hume. His general doctrine is, that an interest in the well-being of others, implanted by nature, which he calls “sympathy” in his Treatise of Human Nature, and much less happily “benevolence” in his subsequent Inquiry,* prompts us to be pleased with all generally beneficial actions. In this respect his doctrine nearly resembles that of Hutcheson. He does not trace his principle through the variety of forms which our moral sentiments assume: there are very important parts of them, of which it affords no solution. For example, though he truly represents our approbation, in others, of qualities useful to the individual, as a proof of benevolence, he makes no attempt to explain our moral approbation of such virtues as temperance and fortitude in ourselves. He entirely overlooks that consciousness of the rightful supremacy of the Moral Faculty over every other principle of human action, without an explanation of which, ethical theory is wanting in one of its vital organs.
Notwithstanding these considerable defects, his proof from induction of the beneficial tendency of Virtue, his conclusive arguments for human disinterestedness, and his decisive observations on the respective provinces of Reason and Sentiment in Morals, concur in ranking the Inquiry with the ethical treatises of the highest merit in our language,—with Shaftesbury’s Inquiry concerning Virtue, Butler’s Sermons, and Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.
The great name of Adam Smith rests upon the Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations; perhaps the only book which produced an immediate, general, and irrevocable change in some of the most important parts of the legislation of all civilized states. The works of Grotius, of Locke, and of Montesquieu, which bear a resemblance to it in character, and had no inconsiderable analogy to it in the extent of their popular influence, were productive only of a general amendment, not so conspicuous in particular instances, as discoverable, after a time, in the improved condition of human affairs. The work of Smith, as it touched those matters which may be numbered, and measured, and weighed, bore more visible and palpable fruit. In a few years it began to alter laws and treaties, and has made its way, throughout the convulsions of revolution and conquest, to a due ascendant over the minds of men, with far less than the average of those obstructions of prejudice and clamour, which ordinarily choke the channels through which truth flows into practice.‡ The most eminent of those who have since cultivated and improved the science will be the foremost to address their immortal master,
In a science more difficult, because both ascending to more simple general principles, and running down through more minute applications, though the success of Smith has been less complete, his genius is not less conspicuous. Perhaps there is no ethical work since Cicero’s Offices, of which an abridgment enables the reader so inadequately to estimate the merit, as the Theory of Moral Sentiments. This is not chiefly owing to the beauty of diction, as in the case of Cicero; but to the variety of explanations of life and manners which embellish the book often more than they illuminate the theory. Yet, on the other hand, it must be owned that, for purely philosophical purposes, few books more need abridgment; for the most careful reader frequently loses sight of principles buried under illustrations. The naturally copious and flowing style of the author is generally redundant; and the repetition of certain formularies of the system is, in the later editions, so frequent as to be wearisome, and sometimes ludicrous. Perhaps Smith and Hobbes may be considered as forming the two extremes of good style in our philosophy; the first of graceful fulness falling into flaccidity; while the masterly concision of the second is oftener carried forward into dictatorial dryness. Hume and Berkeley, though they are nearer the extreme of abundance,† are probably the least distant from perfection.
That mankind are so constituted as to sympathize with each other’s feelings, and to feel pleasure in the accordance of these feelings, are the only facts required by Dr. Smith; and they certainly must be granted to him. To adopt the feelings of another, is to approve them. When the sentiments of another are such as would be excited in us by the same objects, we approve them as morally proper. To obtain this accordance, it becomes necessary for him who enjoys, or suffers, to lower the expression of his feeling to the point to which the by-stander can raise his fellow-feelings; on this attempt are founded all the high virtues of self-denial and self-command: and it is equally necessary for the by-stander to raise his sympathy as near as he can to the level of the original feeling. In all unsocial passions, such as anger, we have a divided sympathy between him who feels them, and those who are the objects of them. Hence the propriety of extremely moderating them. Pure malice is always to be concealed or disguised, because all sympathy is arrayed against it. In the private passions, where there is only a simple sympathy,—that with the original passion,—the expression has more liberty. The benevolent affections, where there is a double sympathy,—with those who feel them, and those who are their objects,—are the most agreeable, and may be indulged with the least apprehension of finding no echo in other breasts. Sympathy with the gratitude of those who are benefited by good actions, prompts us to consider them as deserving of reward, and forms the sense of merit; as fellow-feeling with the resentment of those who are injured by crimes leads us to look on them as worthy of punishment, and constitutes the sense of demerit. These sentiments require not only beneficial actions, but benevolent motives; being compounded, in the case of merit, of a direct sympathy with the good disposition of the benefactor, and an indirect sympathy with the persons benefited; in the opposite case, with precisely opposite sympathies. He who does an act of wrong to another to gratify his own passions, must not expect that the spectators, who have none of his undue partiality to his own interest, will enter into his feelings. In such a case, he knows that they will pity the person wronged, and be full of indignation against him. When he is cooled, he adopts the sentiments of others on his own crime, feels shame at the impropriety of his former passion, pity for those who have suffered by him, and a dread of punishment from general and just resentment. Such are the constituent parts of remorse.
Our moral sentiments respecting ourselves arise from those which others feel concerning us. We feel a self-approbation whenever we believe that the general feeling of mankind coincides with that state of mind in which we ourselves were at a given time. “We suppose ourselves the spectators of our own behaviour, and endeavour to imagine what effect it would in this light produce in us.” We must view our own conduct with the eyes of others before we can judge it. The sense of duty arises from putting ourselves in the place of others, and adopting their sentiments respecting our own conduct. In utter solitude there could have been no self-approbation. The rules of Morality are a summary of those sentiments; and often beneficially stand in their stead when the self-delusions of passion would otherwise hide from us the non-conformity of our state of mind with that which, in the circumstances, can be entered into and approved by impartial by-standers. It is hence that we learn to raise our mind above local or temporary clamour, and to fix our eyes on the surest indications of the general and lasting sentiments of human nature. “When we approve of any character or action, our sentiments are derived from four sources: first, we sympathize with the motives of the agent; secondly, we enter into the gratitude of those who have been benefited by his actions; thirdly, we observe that his conduct has been agreeable to the general rules by which those two sympathies generally act; and, last of all, when we consider such actions as forming part of a system of behaviour which tends to promote the happiness either of the individual or of society, they appear to derive a beauty from this utility, not unlike that which we ascribe to any well-contrived machine.”*
That Smith is the first who has drawn the attention of philosophers to one of the most curious and important parts of human nature,—who has looked closely and steadily into the workings of Sympathy, its sudden action and re-action, its instantaneous conflicts and its emotions, its minute play and varied illusions, is sufficient to place him high among the cultivators of mental philosophy. He is very original in applications and explanations; though, for his principle, he is somewhat indebted to Butler, more to Hutcheson, and most of all to Hume. These writers, except Hume in his original work, had derived sympathy, or a great part of it, from benevolence.† Smith, with deeper insight, inverted the order. The great part performed by various sympathies in moral approbation was first unfolded by him; and besides its intrinsic importance, it strengthened the proofs against those theories which ascribe that great function to Reason.—Another great merit of the theory of “sympathy” is, that it brings into the strongest light that most important characteristic of the moral sentiments which consist in their being the only principles leading to action, and dependent on emotion or sensibility, with respect to the objects of which, it is not only possible but natural for all mankind to agree.‡
The main defects of this theory seem to be the following.
1. Though it is not to be condemned for declining inquiry into the origin of our fellow-feeling, which, being one of the most certain of all facts, might well be assumed as ultimate in speculations of this nature, it is evident that the circumstances to which some speculators ascribe the formation of sympathy at least contribute to strengthen or impair, to contract or expand it. It will appear, more conveniently, in the next article, that the theory of “sympathy” has suffered from the omission of these circumstances. For the present, it is enough to observe how much our compassion for various sorts of animals, and our fellow-feeling with various races of men, are proportioned to the resemblance which they bear to ourselves, to the frequency of our intercourse with them, and to other causes which, in the opinion of some, afford evidence that sympathy itself is dependent on a more general law.
2. Had Smith extended his view beyond the mere play of sympathy itself, and taken into account all its preliminaries, and accompaniments, and consequences, it seems improbable that he would have fallen into the great error of representing the sympathies in their primitive state, without undergoing any transformation, as continuing exclusively to constitute the moral sentiments. He is not content with teaching that they are the roots out of which these sentiments grow, the stocks on which they are grafted, the elements of which they are compounded;—doctrines to which nothing could be objected but their unlimited extent. He tacitly assumes that if a sympathy in the beginning caused or formed a moral approbation, so it must ever continue to do. He proceeds like a geologist who should tell us that the body of this planet had always been in the same state, shutting his eyes to transition states, and secondary formations; or like a chemist who should inform us that no compound substance can possess new qualities entirely different from those which belong to its materials. His acquiescence in this old and still general error is the more remarkable, because Mr. Hume’s beautiful Dissertation on the Passions* had just before opened a striking view of some of the compositions and decompositions which render the mind of a formed man as different from its original state, as the organization of a complete animal is from the condition of the first dim speck of vitality. It is from this oversight (ill supplied by moral rules,—a loose stone in his building) that he has exposed himself to objections founded on experience, to which it is impossible to attempt any answer. For it is certain that in many, nay in most cases of moral approbation, the adult man approves the action or disposition merely as right, and with a distinct consciousness that no process of sympathy intervenes between the approval and its object. It is certain that an unbiassed person would call it moral approbation, only as far as it excluded the interposition of any reflection between the conscience and the mental state approved. Upon the supposition of an unchanged state of our active principles, it would follow that sympathy never had any share in the greater part of them. Had he admitted the sympathies to be only elements entering into the formation of Conscience, their disappearance, or their appearance only as auxiliaries, after the mind is mature, would have been no more an objection to his system, than the conversion of a substance from a transitional to a permanent state is a perplexity to the geologist. It would perfectly resemble the destruction of qualities, which is the ordinary effect of chemical composition.
3. The same error has involved him in another difficulty perhaps still more fatal. The sympathies have nothing more of an imperative character than any other emotions. They attract or repel like other feelings, according to their intensity. If, then, the sympathies continue in mature minds to constitute the whole of Conscience, it becomes utterly impossible to explain the character of command and supremacy, which is attested by the unanimous voice of mankind to belong to that faculty, and to form its essential distinction. Had he adopted the other representation, it would be possible to conceive, perhaps easy to explain, that Conscience should possess a quality which belonged to none of its elements.
4. It is to this representation that Smith’s theory owes that unhappy appearance of rendering the rule of our conduct dependent on the notions and passions of those who surround us, of which the utmost efforts of the most refined ingenuity have not been able to divest it. This objection, or topic, is often ignorantly urged; the answers are frequently solid; but to most men they must always appear to be an ingenious and intricate contrivance of cycles and epicycles, which perplex the mind too much to satisfy it, and seem devised to evade difficulties which cannot be solved. All theories which treat Conscience as built up by circumstances inevitably acting on all human minds, are, indeed, liable to somewhat of the same misconception; unless they place in the strongest light (what Smith’s theory excludes) the total destruction of the scaffolding, which was necessary only to the erection of the building, after the mind is adult and mature, and warn the hastiest reader, that it then rests on its own foundation alone.
5. The constant reference of our own dispositions and actions to the point of view from which they are estimated by others, seems to be rather an excellent expedient for preserving our impartiality, than a fundamental principle of Ethics. But impartiality, which is no more than a removal of some hinderance to right judgment, supplies no materials for its exercise, and no rule, or even principle, for its guidance. It nearly coincides with the Christian precept of “doing unto others as we would they should do unto us;”—an admirable practical maxim, but, as Leibnitz has said truly, intended only as a correction of self-partiality.
6. Lastly, this ingenious system renders all morality relative, by referring it to the pleasure of an agreement of our feelings with those of others,—by confining itself entirely to the question of moral approbation, and by providing no place for the consideration of that quality which distinguishes all good from all bad actions;—a defect which will appear in the sequel to be more immediately fatal to a theorist of the sentimental, than to one of the intellectual school. Smith shrinks from considering utility in that light, as soon as it presents itself, or very strangely ascribes its power over our moral feelings to admiration of the mere adaptation of means to ends, (which might surely be as well felt for the production of wide-spread misery, by a consistent system of wicked conduct,)—instead of ascribing it to benevolence, with Hutcheson and Hume, or to an extension of that very sympathy which is his own first principle.
About the same time with the celebrated work of Smith, but with a popular reception very different, Dr. Richard Price, an excellent and eminent non-conformist minister, published A Review of the Principal Questions in Morals;† —an attempt to revive the intellectual theory of moral obligation, which seemed to have fallen under the attacks of Butler, Hutcheson, and Hume, and before that of Smith. It attracted little observation at first; but being afterwards countenanced by the Scottish school, it may seem to deserve some notice, at a moment when the kindred speculations of the German metaphysicians have effected an establishment in France, and are no longer unknown in England.
The Understanding itself is, according to Price, an independent source of simple ideas. “The various kinds of agreement and disagreement between our ideas, spoken of by Locke, are so many new simple ideas.” “This is true of our ideas of proportion, of our ideas of identity and diversity, existence, connection, cause and effect, power, possibility, and of our ideas of right and wrong.” “The first relates to quantity, the last to actions, the rest to all things.” “Like all other simple ideas, they are undefinable.”
It is needless to pursue this theory farther, till an answer be given to the observation made before, that as no perception or judgment, or other unmixed act of Understanding, merely as such, and without the agency of some intermediate emotion, can affect the Will, the account given by Dr. Price of perceptions or judgments respecting moral subjects, does not advance one step towards the explanation of the authority of Conscience over the Will, which is the matter to be explained. Indeed, this respectable writer felt the difficulty so much as to allow, “that in contemplating the acts of moral agents, we have both a perception of the understanding and a feeling of the heart.” He even admits, that it would have been highly pernicious to us if our reason had been left without such support. But he has not shown how, on such a supposition, we could have acted on a mere opinion; nor has he given any proof that what he calls “support” is not, in truth, the whole of what directly produces the conformity of voluntary acts to Morality.*
The work of Dr. Hartley, entitled “Observations on Man,”‡ is distinguished by an uncommon union of originality with modesty, in unfolding a simple and fruitful principle of human nature. It is disfigured by the absurd affectation of mathematical forms then prevalent; and it is encumbered and deformed by a mass of physiological speculations,—groundless, or at best uncertain, and wholly foreign from its proper purpose,—which repel the inquirer into mental philosophy from its perusal, and lessen the respect of the physiologist for the author’s judgment. It is an unfortunate example of the disposition predominent among undistinguishing theorists to class together all the appearances which are observed at the same time, and in the immediate neighbourhood of each other. At that period, chemical phenomena were referred to mechanical principles; vegetable and animal life were subjected to mechanical or chemical laws: and while some physiologists§ ascribed the vital functions of the Understanding, the greater part of metaphysicians were disposed, with a grosser confusion, to derive the intellectual operations from bodily causes. The error in the latter case, though less immediately perceptible, is deeper and more fundamental than in the other; since it overlooks the primordial and perpetual distinction between the being which thinks and the thing which is thought of,—not to be lost sight of, by the mind’s eye, even for a twinkling, without involving all nature in darkness and confusion. Hartley and Condillac,∥ who, much about the same time, but seemingly without any knowledge of each other’s speculations,¶ began in a very similar mode to simplify, but also to mutilate the system of Locke, stopped short of what is called “materialism,” which consummates the confusion, but touched the threshold. Thither, it must be owned, their philosophy pointed, and thither their followers proceeded. Hartley and Bonnet,* still more than Condillac, suffered themselves, like most of their contemporaries, to overlook the important truth, that all the changes in the organs which can be likened to other material phenomena, are nothing more than antecedents and prerequisites of perception, bearing not the faintest likeness to it,—as much outward in relation to the thinking principle, as if they occurred in any other part of matter; and that the entire comprehension of those changes, if it were attained, would not bring us a step nearer to the nature of thought. They who would have been the first to exclaim against the mistake of a sound for a colour, fell into the more unspeakable error of confounding the perception of objects, as outward, with the consciousness of our own mental operations. Locke’s doctrine, that “reflection” was a separate source of ideas, left room for this greatest of all distinctions; though with much unhappiness of expression, and with no little variance from the course of his own speculations. Hartley, Condillac, and Bonnet, in hewing away this seeming deformity from the system of their master, unwittingly struck off the part of the building which, however unsightly, gave it the power of yielding some shelter and guard to truths, of which the exclusion rendered it utterly untenable. They became consistent Nominalists; in reference to whose controversy Locke expresses himself with confusion and contradiction: but on this subject they added nothing to what had been taught by Hobbes and Berkeley. Both Hartley and Condillac† have the merit of having been unseduced by the temptations either of scepticism, or of useless idealism; which, even if Berkeley and Hume could have been unknown to them, must have been within sight. Both agree in referring all the intellectual operations to the “association of ideas,” and in representing that association as reducible to the single law, “that ideas which enter the mind at the same time, acquire a tendency to call up each other, which is in direct proportion to the frequency of their having entered together.” In this important part of their doctrine they seem, whether unconsciously or otherwise, to have only repeated, and very much expanded, the opinion of Hobbes.* In its simplicity it is more agreeable than the system of Mr. Hume, who admitted five independent laws of association; and it is in comprehension far superior to the views of the same subject by Mr. Locke, whose ill-chosen name still retains its place in our nomenclature, but who only appeals to the principle as explaining some fancies and whimsies of the human mind. The capital fault of Hartley is that of a rash generalization, which may prove imperfect, and which is at least premature. All attempts to explain instinct by this principle have hitherto been unavailing: many of the most important processes of reasoning have not hitherto been accounted for by it.† It would appear by a close examination, that even this theory, simple as it appears, presupposes many facts relating to the mind, of which its authors do not seem to have suspected the existence. How many ultimate facts of that nature, for example, are contained and involved in Aristotle’s celebrated comparison of the mind in its first state to a sheet of unwritten paper!‡ The texture of the paper, even its colour, the sort of instrument fit to act on it, its capacity to receive and to retain impressions, all its differences, from steel on the one hand to water on the other, certainly presuppose some facts, and may imply many, without a distinct statement of which, the nature of writing could not be explained to a person wholly ignorant of it. How many more, as well as greater laws, may be necessary to enable mind to perceive outward objects! If the power of perception may be thus dependent, why may not what is called the “association of ideas,” the attraction between thoughts, the power of one to suggest another, be affected by mental laws hitherto unexplored, perhaps unobserved?
But, to return from this digression into the intellectual part of man, it becomes proper to say, that the difference between Hartley and Condillac, and the immeasurable superiority of the former, are chiefly to be found in the application which Hartley first made of the law of association to that other unnamed portion of our nature with which Morality more immediately deals;—that which feels pain and pleasure,—is influenced by appetites and loathings, by desires and aversions, by affections and repugnances. Condillac’s Treatise on Sensation, published five years after the work of Hartley, reproduces the doctrine of Hobbes, with its root, namely, that love and hope are but transformed “sensations,”* (by which he means perceptions of the senses,) and its widespread branches, consisting in desires and passions, which are only modifications of self-love. “The words ‘goodness’ and ‘beauty,’ ” says he, almost in the very words of Hobbes, “express those qualities of things by which they contribute to our pleasure.”† In the whole of his philosophical works, we find no trace of any desire produced by association, of any disinterested principle, or indeed of any distinction between the percipient and what, perhaps, we may venture to call the emotive or the pathematic part of human nature, for the present, until some more convenient and agreeable name shall be hit on by some luckier or more skilful adventurer.
To the ingenuous, humble, and anxiously conscientious character of Hartley himself, we owe the knowledge that, about the year 1730, he was informed that the Rev. Mr. Gay of Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge, then living in the west of England, asserted the possibility of deducing all our intellectual pleasures and pains from association; that this led him (Hartley) to consider the power of association; and that about that time Mr. Gay published his sentiments on this matter in a dissertation prefixed to Bishop Law’s Translation of King’s Origin of Evil.‡ No writer deserves the praise of abundant fairness more than Hartley in this avowal. The dissertation of which he speaks is mentioned by no philosopher but himself. It suggested nothing apparently to any other reader. The general texture of it is that of homespun selfishness. The writer had the merit to see and to own that Hutcheson had established as a fact the reality of moral sentiments and disinterested affections. He blames, perhaps justly, that most ingenious man,§ for assuming that these sentiments and affections are implanted, and partake of the nature of instincts. The object of his dissertation is to reconcile the mental appearances described by Hutcheson with the first principle of the selfish system, that “the true principle of all our actions is our own happiness.” Moral feelings and social affections are, according to him, “resolvable into reason, pointing out our private happiness; and whenever this end is not perceived, they are to be accounted for from the association of ideas.” Even in the single passage in which he shows a glimpse of the truth, he begins with confusion, advances with hesitation, and after holding in his grasp for an instant the principle which sheds so strong a light around it, suddenly drops it from his hand. Instead of receiving the statements of Hutcheson (his silence relating to Butler is unaccountable) as enlargements of the science of man, he deals with them merely as difficulties to be reconciled with the received system of universal selfishness. In the conclusion of his fourth section, he well exemplifies the power of association in forming the love of money, of fame, of power, &c.; but he still treats these effects of association as aberrations and infirmities, the fruits of our forgetfulness and shortsightedness, and not at all as the great process employed to sow and rear the most important principles of a social and moral nature.
This precious mine may therefore be truly said to have been opened by Hartley; for he who did such superabundant justice to the hints of Gay, would assuredly not have withheld the like tribute from Hutcheson, had he observed the happy expression of “secondary passions,” which ought to have led that philosopher himself farther than he ventured to advance. The extraordinary value of this part of Hartley’s system has been hidden by various causes, which have also enabled writers, who have borrowed from it, to decry it. The influence of his medical habits renders many of his examples displeasing, and sometimes disgusting. He has none of that knowledge of the world, of that familiarity with Literature, of that delicate perception of the beauties of Nature and Art, which not only supply the most agreeable illustrations of mental philosophy, but afford the most obvious and striking instances of its happy application to subjects generally interesting. His particular applications of the general law are often mistaken, and are seldom more than brief notes and hasty suggestions;—the germs of theories which, while some might adopt them without detection, others might discover without being aware that they were anticipated.—To which it may be added, that in spite of the imposing forms of Geometry, the work is not really distinguished by good method, or even uniform adherence to that which had been chosen. His style is entitled to no praise but that of clearness, and a simplicity of diction, through which is visible a singular simplicity of mind. No book perhaps exists which, with so few of the common allurements, comes at last so much to please by the picture it presents of the writer’s character,—a character which kept him pure from the pursuit, often from the consciousness of novelty, and rendered him a discoverer in spite of his own modesty. In those singular passages in which, amidst the profound internal tranquillity of all the European nations, he foretells approaching convulsions, to be followed by the overthrow of states and Churches, his quiet and gentle spirit, elsewhere almost ready to inculcate passive obedience for the sake of peace, is supported under its awful forebodings by the hope of that general progress in virtue and happiness which he saw through the preparatory confusion. A meek piety, inclining towards mysticism, and sometimes indulging in visions which borrow a lustre from his fervid benevolence, was beautifully, and perhaps singularly, blended in him with zeal for the most unbounded freedom of inquiry, flowing both from his own conscientious belief and his unmingled love of Truth. Whoever can so far subdue his repugnance to petty or secondary faults as to bestow a careful perusal on the work, must be unfortunate if he does not see, feel, and own, that the writer was a great philosopher and a good man.
To those who thus study the work, it will be apparent that Hartley, like other philosophers, either overlooked or failed explicitly to announce that distinction between perception and emotion, without which no system of mental philosophy is complete.—Hence arose the partial and incomplete view of Truth conveyed by the use of the phrase “association of ideas.” If the word “association,” which rather indicates the connection between separate things than the perfect combination and fusion which occur in many operations of the mind, must, notwithstanding its inadequacy, still be retained, the phrase ought at least to be “association” of thoughts with emotions, as well as with each other. With that enlargement an objection to the Hartleian doctrine would have been avoided, and its originality, as well as superiority over that of Condillac, would have appeared indisputable. The examples of avarice and other factitious passions are very well chosen; first, because few will be found to suppose that they are original principles of human nature;* secondly, because the process by which they are generated, being subsequent to the age of attention and recollection, may be brought home to the understanding of all men; and, thirdly, because they afford the most striking instance of secondary passions, which not only become independent of the primary principles from which they are derived, but hostile to them, and so superior in strength as to be capable of overpowering their parents. As soon as the mind becomes familiar with the frequent case of the man who first pursued money to purchase pleasure, but at last, when he becomes a miser, loves his hoard better than all that it could purchase, and sacrifices all pleasures for its increase, we are prepared to admit that, by a like process, the affections, when they are fixed on the happiness of others as their ultimate object, without any reflection on self, may not only be perfectly detached from self-regard or private desires, but may subdue these and every other antagonist passion which can stand in their way. As the miser loves money for its own sake, so may the benevolent man delight in the well-being of his fellows. His good-will becomes as disinterested as if it had been implanted and underived. The like process applied to what is called “self-love,” or the desire of permanent well-being, clearly explains the mode in which that principle is gradually formed from the separate appetites, without whose previous existence no notion of well-being could be obtained.—In like manner, sympathy, perhaps itself the result of a transfer of our own personal feelings by association to other sentient beings, and of a subsequent transfer of their feelings to our own minds, engenders the various social affections, which at last generate in most minds some regard to the well-being of our country, of mankind, of all creatures capable of pleasure. Rational Self-love controls and guides those far keener self-regarding passions of which it is the child, in the same manner as general benevolence balances and governs the variety of much warmer social affections from which it springs. It is an ancient and obstinate error of philosophers to represent these two calm principles as being the source of the impelling passions and affections, instead of being among the last results of them. Each of them exercises a sort of authority in its sphere; but the dominion of neither is co-existent with the whole nature of man. Though they have the power to quicken and check, they are both too feeble to impel; and if the primary principles were extinguished, they would both perish from want of nourishment. If indeed all appetites and desires were destroyed, no subject would exist on which either of these general principles could act.
The affections, desires, and emotions, having for their ultimate object the dispositions and actions of voluntary agents, which alone, from the nature of their object, are co-extensive with the whole of our active nature, are, according to the same philosophy, necessarily formed in every human mind by the transfer of feeling which is effected by the principle of Association. Gratitude, pity, resentment, and shame, seem to be the simplest, the most active, and the most uniform elements in their composition. It is easy to perceive how the complacency inspired by a benefit may be transferred to a benefactor,—thence to all beneficent beings and acts. The well-chosen instance of the nurse familiarly exemplifies the manner in which the child transfers his complacency from the gratification of his senses to the cause of it, and thus learns an affection for her who is the source of his enjoyment.—With this simple process concur, in the case of a tender nurse, and far more of a mother, a thousand acts of relief and endearment, the complacency that results from which is fixed on the person from whom they flow, and in some degree extended by association to all who resemble that person. So much of the pleasure of early life depends on others, that the like process is almost constantly repeated. Hence the origin of benevolence may be understood. and the disposition to approve all benevolent, and disapprove all malevolent acts. Hence also the same approbation and disapprobation are extended to all acts which we clearly perceive to promote or obstruct the happiness of men. When the complacency is expressed in action, benevolence may be said to be transformed into a part of Conscience. The rise of sympathy may probably be explained by the process of association, which transfers the feelings of others to ourselves, and ascribes our own feelings to others,—at first, and in some degree always, in proportion as the resemblance of ourselves to others is complete. The likeness in the outward signs of emotion is one of the widest channels in this commerce of hearts. Pity thereby becomes one of the grand sources of benevolence, and perhaps contributes more largely than gratitude: it is indeed one of the first motives to the conferring of those benefits which inspire grateful affection.—Sympathy with the sufferer, therefore, is also transformed into a real sentiment, directly approving benevolent actions and dispositions, and more remotely, all actions that promote happiness. The anger of the sufferer, first against all causes of pain, afterwards against all intentional agents who produce it, and finally against all those in whom the infliction of pain proceeds from a mischievous disposition, when it is communicated to others by sympathy, and is so far purified by gradual separation from selfish and individual interest as to be equally felt against all wrongdoers,—whether the wrong be done against ourselves, our friends, or our enemies,—is the root out of which springs that which is commonly and well called a “sense of justice”—the most indispensable, perhaps, of all the component parts of the moral faculties.
This is the main guard against Wrong. It relates to that portion of Morality where many of the outward acts are capable of being reduced under certain rules, of which the violations, wherever the rule is sufficiently precise, and the mischief sufficiently great, may be guarded against by the terror of punishment. In the observation of the rules of justice consists duty; breaches of them we denominate “crimes.” An abhorrence of crimes, especially of those which indicate the absence of benevolence, as well as of regard for justice, is strongly felt; because well-framed penal laws, being the lasting declaration of the moral indignation of many generations of mankind, as long as they remain in unison with the sentiments of the age and country for which they are destined, exceedingly strengthen the same feeling in every individual; and this they do wherever the laws do not so much deviate from the habitual feelings of the multitude as to produce a struggle between law and sentiment, in which it is hard to say on which side success is most deplorable. A man who performs his duties may be esteemed, but is not admired; because it requires no more than ordinary virtue to act well where it is shameful and dangerous to do otherwise. The righteousness of those who act solely from such inferior motives, is little better than that “of the Scribes and Pharisees.” Those only are just in the eye of the moralist who act justly from a constant disposition to render to every man his own.* Acts of kindness, of generosity, of pity, of placability, of humanity, when they are long continued, can hardly fail mainly to flow from the pure fountain of an excellent nature. They are not reducible to rules; and the attempt to enforce them by punishment would destroy them. They are virtues, of which the essence consists in a good disposition of mind.
As we gradually transfer our desire from praise to praiseworthiness, this principle also is adopted into consciousness. On the other hand, when we are led by association to feel a painful contempt for those feelings and actions of our past self which we despise in others, there is developed in our hearts another element of that moral sense. It is a remarkable instance of the power of the law of Association, that the contempt or abhorrence which we feel for the bad actions of others may be transferred by it, in any degree of strength, to our own past actions of the like kind: and as the hatred of bad actions is transferred to the agent, the same transfer may occur in our own case in a manner perfectly similar to that of which we are conscious in our feelings towards our fellow-creatures. There are many causes which render it generally feebler; but it is perfectly evident that it requires no more than a sufficient strength of moral feeling to make it equal; and that the most apparently hyperbolical language used by penitents, in describing their remorse, may be justified by the principle of Association.
At this step in our progress, it is proper to observe, that a most important consideration has escaped Hartley, as well as every other philosopher.* The language of all mankind implies that the Moral Faculty, whatever it may be, and from what origin soever it may spring, is intelligibly and properly spoken of as One. It is as common in mind, as in matter, for a compound to have properties not to be found in any of its constituent parts. The truth of this proposition is as certain in the human feelings as in any material combination. It is therefore easily to be understood, that originally separate feelings may be so perfectly blended by a process performed in each mind, that they can no longer be disjoined from each other, but must always co-operate, and thus reach the only union which we can conceive. The sentiment of moral approbation, formed by association out of antecedent affections, may become so perfectly independent of them, that we are no longer conscious of the means by which it was formed, and never can in practice repeat, though we may in theory perceive, the process by which it was generated. It is in that mature and sound state of our nature that our emotions at the view of Right and Wrong are ascribed to Conscience. But why, it may be asked, do these feelings, rather than others, run into each other, and constitute Conscience? The answer seems to be what has already been intimated in the observations on Butler. The affinity between these feelings consists in this, that while all other feelings relate to outward objects, they alone contemplate exclusively the dispositions and actions of voluntary agents. When they are completely transferred from objects, and even persons, to dispositions and actions, they are fitted, by the perfect coincidence of their aim, for combining to form that one faculty which is directed only to that aim.
The words “Duty” and “Virtue,” and the word “ought,” which most perfectly denotes duty, but is also connected with Virtue, in every well-constituted mind, in this state become the fit language of the acquired, perhaps, but universally and necessarily acquired, faculty of Conscience. Some account of its peculiar nature has been attempted in the remarks on Butler; for a further one a fitter occasion will occur hereafter. Some light may however now be thrown on the subject by a short statement of the hitherto unobserved distinction between the moral sentiments and another class of feelings with which they have some qualities in common. The “pleasures” (so called) of imagination appear, at least in most cases, to originate in association: but it is not till the original cause of the gratification is obliterated from the mind, that they acquire their proper character. Order and proportion may be at first chosen for their convenience: it is not until they are admired for their own sake that they become objects of taste. Though all the proportions for which a horse is valued may be indications of speed, safety, strength, and health, it is not the less true that they only can be said to admire the animal for his beauty, who leave such considerations out of the account while they admire. The pleasure of contemplation in these particulars of Nature and Art becomes universal and immediate, being entirely detached from all regard to individual beings. It contemplates neither use nor interest. In this important particular the pleasures of imagination agree with the moral sentiments: hence the application of the same language to both in ancient and modern times;—hence also it arises that they may contemplate the very same qualities and objects. There is certainly much beauty in the softer virtues,—much grandeur in the soul of a hero or a martyr: but the essential distinction still remains; the purest moral taste contemplates these qualities only with quiescent delight or reverence; it has no further view; it points towards no action. Conscience, on the contrary, containing in it a pleasure in the prospect of doing right, and an ardent desire to act well, having for its sole object the dispositions and acts of voluntary agents, is not, like moral taste, satisfied with passive contemplation, but constantly tends to act on the will and conduct of the man. Moral taste may aid it, may be absorbed into it, and usually contributes its part to the formation of the moral faculty; but it is distinct from that faculty, and may be disproportioned to it. Conscience, being by its nature confined to mental dispositions and voluntary acts, is of necessity excluded from the ordinary consideration of all things antecedent to these dispositions. The circumstances from which such states of mind may arise, are most important objects of consideration for the Understanding; but they are without the sphere of Conscience, which never ascends beyond the heart of the man. It is thus that in the eye of Conscience man becomes amenable to its authority for all his inclinations as well as deeds; that some of them are approved, loved, and revered; and that all the outward effects of disesteem, contempt, or moral anger, are felt to be the just lot of others.
But, to return to Hartley, from this perhaps intrusive statement of what does not properly belong to him: he represents all the social affections of gratitude, veneration, and love, inspired by the virtues of our fellow-men, as capable of being transferred by association to the transcendent and unmingled goodness of the Ruler of the world, and thus to give rise to piety, to which he gives the name of “the theopathetic affection.” This principle, like all the former in the mental series, is gradually detached from the trunk on which it grew: it takes separate root, and may altogether overshadow the parent stock. As such a Being cannot be conceived without the most perfect and constant reference to His goodness, so piety may not only become a part of Conscience, but its governing and animating principle, which, after long lending its own energy and authority to every other, is at last described by our philosopher as swallowing up all of them in order to perform the same functions more infallibly.
In every stage of this progress we are taught by Dr. Hartley that a new product appears, which becomes perfectly distinct from the elements which formed it, which may be utterly dissimilar to them, and may attain any degree of vigour, however superior to theirs. Thus the objects of the private desires disappear when we are employed in the pursuit of our lasting welfare; that which was first sought only as a means, may come to be pursued as an end, and preferred to the original end; the good opinion of our fellows becomes more valued than the benefits for which it was at first courted; a man is ready to sacrifice his life for him who has shown generosity, even to others; and persons otherwise of common character are capable of cheerfully marching in a forlorn hope, or of almost instinctively leaping into the sea to save the life of an entire stranger. These last acts, often of almost unconscious virtue, so familiar to the soldier and the sailor, so unaccountable on certain systems of philosophy, often occur without a thought of applause and reward;—too quickly for the thought of the latter, too obscurely for the hope of the former; and they are of such a nature that no man could be impelled to them by the mere expectation of either.
The gratitude, sympathy, resentment, and shame, which are the principal constituent parts of the Moral Sense, thus lose their separate agency, and constitute an entirely new faculty, co-extensive with all the dispositions and actions of voluntary agents; though some of them are more predominant in particular cases of moral sentiment than others, and though the aid of all continues to be necessary in their original character, as subordinate but distinct motives of action. Nothing more evidently points out the distinction of the Hartleian system from all systems called “selfish,”—not to say its superiority in respect to disinterestedness over all moral systems before Butler and Hutcheson,—than that excellent part of it which relates to the “rule of life.” The various principles of human action rise in value according to the order in which they spring up after each other. We can then only be in a state of as much enjoyment as we are evidently capable of attaining, when we prefer interest to the original gratifications; honour to interest; the pleasures of imagination to those of sense; the dictates of Conscience to pleasure, interest, and reputation; the well-being of fellow-creatures to our own indulgences; in a word, when we pursue moral good and social happiness chiefly and for their own sake. “With self-interest,” says Hartley, somewhat inaccurately in language, “man must begin. He may end in self-annihilation. Theopathy, or piety, although the last result of the purified and exalted sentiments, may at length swallow up every other principle, and absorb the whole man.” Even if this last doctrine should be an exaggeration unsuited to our present condition, it will the more strongly illustrate the compatibility, or rather the necessary connection, of this theory with the existence and power of perfectly disinterested principles of human action.
It is needless to remark on the secondary and auxiliary causes which contribute to the formation of moral sentiment;—education, imitation, general opinion, laws, and government. They all presuppose the Moral Faculty: in an improved state of society they contribute powerfully to strengthen it, and on some occasions they enfeeble, distort, and maim it; but in all cases they must themselves be tried by the test of an ethical standard. The value of this doctrine will not be essentially affected by supposing a greater number of original principles than those assumed by Dr. Hartley. The principle of Association applies as much to a greater as to a smaller number. It is a quality common to it with all theories, that the more simplicity it reaches consistently with truth, the more perfect it becomes. Causes are not to be multiplied without necessity. If by a considerable multiplication of primary desires the law of Association were lowered nearly to the level of an auxiliary agent, the philosophy of human nature would still be under indelible obligations to the philosopher who, by his fortunate error, rendered the importance of that great principle obvious and conspicuous.
It has been the remarkable fortune of this writer to have been more prized and more disregarded by the cultivators of moral speculation, than perhaps any other philosopher.† He had many of the qualities which might be expected in an affluent country gentleman, living in a privacy undisturbed by political zeal, and with a leisure unbroken by the calls of a profession, at a time when England had not entirely renounced her old taste for metaphysical speculation. He was naturally endowed, not indeed with more than ordinary acuteness or sensibility, nor with a high degree of reach and range of mind, but with a singular capacity for careful observation and original reflection, and with a fancy perhaps unmatched in producing various and happy illustration. The most observable of his moral qualities appear to have been prudence and cheerfulness, good-nature and easy temper. The influence of his situation and character is visible in his writings. Indulging his own tastes and fancies, like most English squires of his time, he became, like many of them, a sort of humourist. Hence much of his originality and independence; hence the boldness with which he openly employs illustrations from homely objects. He wrote to please himself more than the public. He had too little regard for readers, either to sacrifice his sincerity to them, or to curb his own prolixity, repetition, and egotism, from the fear of fatiguing them. Hence he became as loose, as rambling, and as much an egotist as Montaigne; but not so agreeably so, notwithstanding a considerable resemblance of genius; because he wrote on subjects where disorder and egotism are unseasonable, and for readers whom they disturb instead of amusing. His prolixity at last so increased itself, when his work became long, that repetition in the latter parts partly arose from forgetfulness of the former; and though his freedom from slavish deference to general opinion is very commendable, it must be owned, that his want of a wholesome fear of the public renders the perusal of a work which is extremely interesting, and even amusing in most of its parts, on the whole a laborious task. He was by early education a believer in Christianity, if not by natural character religious. His calm good sense and accommodating temper led him rather to explain established doctrines in a manner agreeable to his philosophy, than to assail them. Hence he was represented as a time-server by freethinkers, and as a heretic by the orthodox.* Living in a country where the secure tranquillity flowing from the Revolution was gradually drawing forth all mental activity towards practical pursuits and outward objects, he hastened from the rudiments of mental and moral philosophy, to those branches of it which touch the business of men.† Had he recast without changing his thoughts,—had he detached those ethical observations for which he had so peculiar a vocation, from the disputes of his country and his day, he might have thrown many of his chapters into their proper form of essays, and these might have been compared, though not likened, to those of Hume. But the country gentleman, philosophic as he was, had too much fondness for his own humours to engage in a course of drudgery and deference. It may, however, be confidently added, on the authority of all those who have fairly made the experiment, that whoever, unfettered by a previous system, undertakes the labour necessary to discover and relish the high excellences of this metaphysical Montaigne, will find his toil lightened as he proceeds, by a growing indulgence, if not partiality, for the foibles of the humourist, and at last rewarded, in a greater degree perhaps than by any other writer on mixed and applied philosophy, by being led to commanding stations and new points of view, whence the mind of a moralist can hardly fail to catch some fresh prospects of Nature and duty.
It is in mixed, not in pure philosophy, that his superiority consists. In the part of his work which relates to the Intellect, he has adopted much from Hartley, hiding but aggravating the offence by a change of technical terms; and he was ungrateful enough to countenance the vulgar sneer which involves the mental analysis of that philosopher in the ridicule to which his physiological hypothesis is liable.* Thus, for the Hartleian term “association” he substitutes that of “translation,” when adopting the same theory of the principles which move the mind to action. In the practical and applicable part of that inquiry he indeed far surpasses Hartley; and it is little to add, that he unspeakably exceeds that bare and naked thinker in the useful as well as admirable faculty of illustration. In the strictly theoretical part his exposition is considerably fuller; but the defect of his genius becomes conspicuous when he handles a very general principle. The very term “translation” ought to have kept up in his mind a steady conviction that the secondary motives to action become as independent, and seek their own objects as exclusively, as the primary principles. His own examples are rich in proofs of this important truth. But there is a slippery descent in the theory of human nature, by which he, like most of his forerunners, slid unawares into Selfishness. He was not preserved from this fall by seeing that all the deliberate principles which have self for their object are themselves of secondary for mation; and he was led into the general error by the notion that pleasure, or, as he calls it, “satisfaction,” was the original and sole object of all appetites and desires;—confounding this with the true, but very different proposition, that the attainment of all the objects of appetite and desire is productive of pleasure. He did not see that, without presupposing desires, the word “pleasure” would have no signification; and that the representations by which he was seduced would leave only one appetite or desire in human nature. He had no adequate and constant conception, that the translation of desire from being the end to be the means occasioned the formation of a new passion, which is perfectly distinct from, and altogether independent of, the original desire. Too frequently (for he was neither obstinate nor uniform in error) he considered these translations as accidental defects in human nature, not as the appointed means of supplying it with its variety of active principles. He was too apt to speak as if the selfish elements were not destroyed in the new combination, but remained still capable of being recalled, when convenient, like the links in a chain of reasoning, which we pass over from forgetfulness, or for brevity. Take him all in all, however, the neglect of his writings is the strongest proof of the disinclination of the English nation, for the last half century, to metaphysical philosophy.*
This excellent writer, who, after Clarke and Butler, ought to be ranked among the brightest ornaments of the English Church in the eighteenth century, is, in the history of philosophy, naturally placed after Tucker, to whom, with praiseworthy liberality, he owns his extensive obligations. It is a mistake to suppose that he owed his system to Hume,—a thinker too refined, and a writer perhaps too elegant, to have naturally attracted him. A coincidence in the principle of Utility, common to both with so many other philosophers, affords no sufficient ground for the supposition. Had he been habitually influenced by Mr. Hume, who has translated so many of the dark and crabbed passages of Butler into his own transparent and beautiful language, it is not possible to suppose that such a mind as that of Paley would have fallen into those principles of gross selfishness of which Mr. Hume is a uniform and zealous antagonist.
The natural frame of Paley’s understanding fitted it more for business and the world than for philosophy; and he accordingly enjoyed with considerable relish the few opportunities which the latter part of his life afforded of taking a part in the affairs of his county as a magistrate. Penetration and shrewdness, firmness and coolness, a vein of pleasantry, fruitful though somewhat unrefined, with an original homeliness and significancy of expression, were perhaps more remarkable in his conversation than the restraints of authorship and profession allowed them to be in his writings. Grateful remembrance brings this assemblage of qualities with unfaded colours before the mind at the present moment, after the long interval of twenty-eight years. His taste for the common business and ordinary amusements of life fortunately gave a zest to the company which his neighbours chanced to yield, without rendering him insensible to the pleasures of intercourse with more enlightened society. The practical bent of his nature is visible in the language of his writings, which, on practical matters, is as precise as the nature of the subject requires, but, in his rare and reluctant efforts to rise to first principles, become indeterminate and unsatisfactory; though no man’s composition was more free from the impediments which hinder a man’s meaning from being quickly and clearly seen. He seldom distinguishes more exactly than is required for palpable and direct usefulness. He possessed that chastised acuteness of discrimination, exercised on the affairs of men, and habitually looking to a purpose beyond the mere increase of knowledge, which forms the character of a lawyer’s understanding, and which is apt to render a mere lawyer too subtile for the management of affairs, and yet too gross for the pursuit of general truth. His style is as near perfection in its kind as any in our language. Perhaps no words were ever more expressive and illustrative than those in which he represents the art of life to be that of rightly “setting our habits.”
The most original and ingenious of his writings is the Horæ Paulinæ. The Evidences of Christianity are formed out of an admirable translation of Butler’s Analogy, and a most skilful abridgment of Lardner’s Credibility of the Gospel History. He may be said to have thus given value to two works, of which the first was scarcely intelligible to the majority of those who were most desirous of profiting by it; while the second soon wearies out the larger part of readers, though the more patient few have almost always been gradually won over to feel pleasure in a display of knowledge, probity, charity, and meekness, unmatched by any other avowed advocate in a case deeply interesting his warmest feelings. His Natural Theology is the wonderful work of a man who, after sixty, had studied Anatomy in order to write it; and it could only have been surpassed by one who, to great originality of conception and clearness of exposition, adds the advantage of a high place in the first class of physiologists.*
It would be unreasonable here to say much of a work which is in the hands of so many as his Moral and Political Philosophy. A very few remarks on one or two parts of it may be sufficient to estimate his value as a moralist, and to show his defects as a metaphysician. His general account of Virtue may indeed be chosen for both purposes. The manner in which he deduces the necessary tendency of all virtuous actions to promote general happiness, from the goodness of the Divine Lawgiver, (though the principle be not, as has already more than once appeared, peculiar to him, but rather common to most religious philosophers,) is characterised by a clearness and vigour which have never been surpassed. It is indeed nearly, if not entirely, an identical proposition, that a Being of unmixed benevolence will prescribe those laws only to His creatures which contribute to their well-being. When we are convinced that a course of conduct is generally beneficial to all men, we cannot help considering it as acceptable to a benevolent Deity. The usefulness of actions is the mark set on them by the Supreme Legislator, by which reasonable beings discover it to be His will that such actions should be done. In this apparently unanswerable deduction it is partly admitted, and universally implied, that the principles of Right and Wrong may be treated apart from the manifestation of them in the Scriptures. If it were otherwise, how could men of perfectly different religions deal or reason with each other on moral subjects? How could they regard rights and duties as subsisting between them? To what common principles could they appeal in their differences? Even the Polytheists themselves, those worshippers of
by a happy inconsistency are compelled, however irregularly and imperfectly, to ascribe some general enforcement of the moral code to their divinities. If there were no foundation for Morality antecedent to the Revealed Religion, we should want that important test of the conformity of a revelation to pure morality, by which its claim to a divine origin is to be tried. The internal evidence of Religion necessarily presupposes such a standard. The Christian contrasts the precepts of the Koran with the pure and benevolent morality of the Gospel. The Mahometan claims, with justice, a superiority over the Hindoo, inasmuch as the Musselman religion inculcates the moral perfection of one Supreme Ruler of the world. The ceremonial and exclusive character of Judaism has ever been regarded as an indication that it was intended to pave the way for an universal religion, a morality seated in the heart, and a worship of sublime simplicity. These discussions would be impossible, unless Morality were previously proved or granted to exist. Though the science of Ethics is thus far independent, it by no means follows that there is any equality, or that there may not be the utmost inequality, in the moral tendency of religious systems. The most ample scope is still left for the zeal and activity of those who seek to spread important truth. But it is absolutely essential to ethical science that it should contain principles, the authority of which must be recognised by men of every conceivable variety of religious opinion.
The peculiarities of Paley’s mind are discoverable in the comparison, or rather contrast, between the practical chapter on Happiness, and the philosophical portion of the chapter on Virtue. “Virtue is the doing good to mankind, in obedience to the will of God, and for the sake of everlasting happiness.”* It is not perhaps very important to observe, that these words, which he offers as a “definition,” ought in propriety to have been called a “proposition;” but it is much more necessary to say that they contain a false account of Virtue. According to this doctrine, every action not done for the sake of the agent’s happiness is vicious. Now, it is plain, that an act cannot be said to be done for the sake of any thing which is not present to the mind of the agent at the moment of action: it is a contradiction in terms to affirm that a man acts for the sake of any object, of which, however it may be the necessary consequence of his act, he is not at the time fully aware. The unfelt consequences of his act can no more influence his will than its unknown consequences. Nay, further, a man is only with any propriety said to act for the sake of his chief object; nor can he with entire correctness be said to act for the sake of any thing but his sole object. So that it is a necessary consequence of Paley’s proposition, that every act which flows from generosity or benevolence is a vice;—so also is every act of obedience to the will of God, if it arises from any motive but a desire of the reward which He will bestow. Any act of obedience influenced by gratitude, and affection, and veneration towards Supreme Benevolence and Perfection, is so far imperfect; and if it arises solely from these motives it becomes a vice. It must be owned, that this excellent and most enlightened man has laid the foundations of Religion and Virtue in a more intense and exclusive selfishness than was avowed by the Catholic enemies of Fenelon, when they persecuted him for his doctrine of a pure and disinterested love of God.
In another province, of a very subordinate kind, the disposition of Paley to limit his principles to his own time and country, and to look at them merely as far as they are calculated to amend prevalent vices and errors, betrayed him into narrow and false views. His chapter on what he calls the “Law of Honour” is unjust, even in its own small sphere, because it supposes Honour to allow what it does not forbid; though the truth be, that the vices enumerated by him are only not forbidden by Honour, because they are not within its jurisdiction. He considers it as “a system of rules constructed by people of fashion;”—a confused and transient mode of expression, which may be understood with difficulty by our posterity, and which cannot now be exactly rendered perhaps in any other language. The subject, however, thus narrowed and lowered, is neither unimportant in practice, nor unworthy of the consideration of the moral philosopher. Though all mankind honour Virtue and despise Vice, the degree of respect or contempt is often far from being proportioned to the place which virtues and vices occupy in a just system of Ethics. Wherever higher honour is bestowed on one moral quality than on others of equal or greater moral value, what is called a “point of honour” may be said to exist. It is singular that so shrewd an observer as Paley should not have observed a law of honour far more permanent than that which attracted his notice, in the feelings of Europe respecting the conduct of men and women. Cowardice is not so immoral as cruelty, nor indeed so detestable; but it is more despicable and disgraceful: the female point of honour forbids indeed a great vice, but one not so great as many others by which it is not violated. It is easy enough to see, that where we are strongly prompted to a virtue by a natural impulse, we love the man who is constantly actuated by the amiable sentiment; but we do not consider that which is done without difficulty as requiring or deserving admiration and distinction. The kind affections are their own rich reward, and they are the object of affection to others. To encourage kindness by praise would be to insult it, and to encourage hypocrisy. It is for the conquest of fear, it would be still more for the conquest of resentment,—if that were not, wherever it is real, the cessation of a state of mental agony,—that the applause of mankind is reserved. Observations of a similar nature will easily occur to every reader respecting the point of honour in the other sex. The conquest of natural frailties, especially in a case of far more importance to mankind than is at first sight obvious, is well distinguished as an object of honour, and the contrary vice is punished by shame. Honour is not wasted on those who abstain from acts which are punished by the law. These acts may be avoided without a pure motive. Wherever a virtue is easily cultivable by good men; wherever it is by nature attended by delight; wherever its outward observance is so necessary to society as to be enforced by punishment, it is not the proper object of honour. Honour and shame, therefore, may be reasonably dispensed, without being strictly proportioned to the intrinsic morality of actions, if the inequality of their distribution contributes to the general equipoise of the whole moral system. A wide disproportion, however, or indeed any disproportion not justifiable on moral grounds, would be a depravation of the moral principle. Duelling is among us a disputed case, though the improvement of manners has rendered it so much more infrequent, that it is likely in time to lose its support from opinion. Those who excuse individuals for yielding to a false point of honour, as in the suicides of the Greeks and Romans, may consistently blame the faulty principle, and rejoice in its destruction. The shame fixed on a Hindoo widow of rank who voluntarily survives her husband, is regarded by all other nations with horror.
There is room for great praise and some blame in other parts of Paley’s work. His political opinions were those generally adopted by moderate Whigs in his own age. His language on the Revolution of 1688 may be very advantageously compared, both in precision and in generous boldness,* to that of Blackstone,—a great master of classical and harmonious composition, but a feeble reasoner and a confused thinker, whose writings are not exempt from the charge of slavishness.
It cannot be denied that Paley was sometimes rather a lax moralist, especially on public duties. It is a sin which easily besets men of strong good sense, little enthusiasm, and much experience. They are naturally led to lower their precepts to the level of their expectations. They see that higher pretensions often produce less good,—to say nothing of the hypocrisy, extravagance, and turbulence, which they may be said to foster. As those who claim more from men often gain less, it is natural for more sober and milder casuists to present a more accessible Virtue to their followers. It was thus that the Jesuits began, till, strongly tempted by their perilous station as the moral guides of the powerful, some of them by degrees fell into that absolute licentiousness for which all, not without injustice, have been cruelly immortalized by Pascal. Indulgence, which is a great virtue in judgment concerning the actions of others, is too apt, when blended in the same system with the precepts of Morality, to be received as a licence for our own offences. Accommodation, without which society would be painful, and arduous affairs would become impracticable, is more safely imbibed from temper and experience, than taught in early and systematic instruction. The middle region between laxity and rigour is hard to be defined; and it is still harder steadily to remain within its boundaries. Whatever may be thought of Paley’s observations on political influence and ecclesiastical subscription to tests, as temperaments and mitigations which may preserve us from harsh judgment, they are assuredly not well qualified to form a part of that discipline which ought to breathe into the opening souls of youth, at the critical period of the formation of character, those inestimable virtues of sincerity, of integrity, of independence, which will even guide them more safely through life than will mere prudence; while they provide an inward fountain of pure delight, immeasurably more abundant than all the outward sources of precarious and perishable pleasure.
The general scheme of this Dissertation would be a sufficient reason for omitting the name of a living writer. The devoted attachment and invincible repugnance which an impartial estimate of Mr. Bentham has to encounter on either side, are a strong inducement not to deviate from that scheme in his case. But the most brief sketch of ethical controversy in England would be imperfect without it; and perhaps the utter hopelessness of finding any expedient for satisfying his followers, or softening his opponents, may enable a writer to look steadily and solely at what he believes to be the dictates of Truth and Justice. He who has spoken of former philosophers with unreserved freedom, ought perhaps to subject his courage and honesty to the severest test by an attempt to characterize such a contemporary. Should the very few who are at once enlightened and unbiassed be of opinion that his firmness and equity have stood this trial, they will be the more disposed to trust his fairness where the exercise of that quality may have been more easy.
The disciples of Mr. Bentham are more like the hearers of an Athenian philosopher than the pupils of a modern professor, or the cool proselytes of a modern writer. They are in general men of competent age, of superior understanding, who voluntarily embrace the laborious study of useful and noble sciences; who derive their opinions, not so much from the cold perusal of his writings, as from familiar converse with a master from whose lips these opinions are recommended by simplicity, disinterestedness, originality, and vivacity,—aided rather than impeded by foibles not unamiable,—enforced of late by the growing authority of years and of fame, and at all times strengthened by that undoubting reliance on his own judgment which mightily increases the ascendant of such a man over those who approach him. As he and they deserve the credit of braving vulgar prejudices, so they must be content to incur the imputation of falling into the neighbouring vices of seeking distinction by singularity,—of clinging to opinions, because they are obnoxious,—of wantonly wounding the most respectable feelings of mankind,—of regarding an immense display of method and nomenclature as a sure token of a corresponding increase of knowledge,—and of considering themselves as a chosen few, whom an initiation into the most secret mysteries of Philosophy entitles to look down with pity, if not contempt, on the profane multitude. Viewed with aversion or dread by the public, they become more bound to each other and to their master; while they are provoked into the use of language which more and more exasperates opposition to them. A hermit in the greatest of cities, seeing only his disciples, and indignant that systems of government and law which he believes to be perfect, are disregarded at once by the many and the powerful, Mr. Bentham has at length been betrayed into the most unphilosophical hypothesis, that all the ruling bodies who guide the community have conspired to stifle and defeat his discoveries. He is too little acquainted with doubts to believe the honest doubts of others, and he is too angry to make allowance for their prejudices and habits. He has embraced the most extreme party in practical politics;—manifesting more dislike and contempt towards those who are moderate supporters of popular principles than towards their most inflexible opponents. To the unpopularity of his philosophical and political doctrines, he has added the more general and lasting obloquy due to the unseemly treatment of doctrines and principles which, if there were no other motives for reverential deference, ought, from a regard to the feelings of the best men, to be approached with decorum and respect.
Fifty-three years have passed since the publication of Mr. Bentham’s first work, A Fragment on Government,—a considerable octavo volume, employed in the examination of a short paragraph of Blackstone, unmatched in acute hypercriticism, but conducted with a severity which leads to an unjust estimate of the writer criticised, till the like experiment be repeated on other writings. It was a waste of extraordinary power to employ it in pointing out flaws and patches in the robe occasionally stolen from the philosophical schools, which hung loosely, and not unbecomingly, on the elegant commentator. This volume, and especially the preface abounds in fine, original, and just observation; it contains the germs of most of his subsequent productions, and it is an early example of that disregard for the method, proportions, and occasion of a writing which, with all common readers, deeply affects its power of interesting or instructing. Two years after, he published a most excellent tract on the Hard Labour Bill, which, concurring with the spirit excited by Howard’s inquiries, laid the foundation of just reasoning on reformatory punishment. The Letters on Usury,* are perhaps the best specimen of the exhaustive discussion of a moral or political question, leaving no objection, however feeble, unanswered, and no difficulty, however small, unexplained;—remarkable also, as they are, for the clearness and spirit of the style, for the full exposition which suits them to all intelligent readers, and for the tender and skilful hand with which prejudice is touched. The urbanity of the apology for projectors, addressed to Dr. Smith, whose temper and manner the author seems for a time to have imbibed, is admirable.
The Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Politics, printed before the Letters, but published after them, was the first sketch of his system, and is still the only account of it by himself. The great merit of this work, and of his other writings in relation to Jurisprudence properly so called, is not within our present scope. To the Roman jurists belongs the praise of having alloted a separate portion of their Digest to the signification of the words of the most frequent use in law and legal discussion.† Mr. Bentham not only first perceived and taught the great value of an introductory section, composed of the definitions of general terms, as subservient to brevity and precision in every part of a code; but he also discovered the unspeakable importance of natural arrangement in Jurisprudence, by rendering the mere place of a proposed law in such an arrangement a short and easy test of the fitness of the proposal.*
But here he does not distinguish between the value of arrangement as scaffolding, and the inferior convenience of its being the very frame-work of the structure. He, indeed, is much more remarkable for laying down desirable rules for the determination of rights, and the punishment of wrongs, in general, than for weighing the various circumstances which require them to be modified in different countries and times, in order to render them either more useful, more easily introduced, more generally respected, or more certainly executed. The art of legislation consists in thus applying the principles of Jurisprudence to the situation, wants, interests, feelings, opinions, and habits, of each distinct community at any given time. It bears the same relation to Jurisprudence which the mechanical arts bear to pure Mathematics. Many of these considerations serve to show, that the sudden establishment of new codes can seldom be practicable or effectual for their purpose; and that reformations, though founded on the principles of Jurisprudence, ought to be not only adapted to the peculiar interests of a people, but engrafted on their previous usages, and brought into harmony with those national dispositions on which the execution of laws depends.† The Romans, under Justinian, adopted at least the true principle, if they did not apply it with sufficient freedom and boldness. They considered the multitude of occasional laws, and the still greater mass of usages, opinions, and determinations, as the materials of legislation, not precluding, but demanding a systematic arrangement of the whole by the supreme authority. Had the arrangement been more scientific, had there been a bolder examination and a more free reform of many particular branches, a model would have been offered for liberal imitation by modern lawgivers. It cannot be denied, without injustice and ingratitude, that Mr. Bentham has done more than any other writer to rouse the spirit of juridical reformation, which is now gradually examining every part of law, and which, when further progress is facilitated by digesting the present laws, will doubtless proceed to the improvement of all. Greater praise it is given to few to earn: it ought to satisfy him for the disappointment of hopes which were not reasonable, that Russia should receive a code from him, or that North America could be brought to renounce the variety of her laws and institutions, on the single authority of a foreign philosopher, whose opinions had not worked their way, either into legislation or into general reception, in his own country. It ought also to dispose his followers to do fuller justice to the Romillys and Broughams, without whose prudence and energy, as well as reason and eloquence, the best plans of reformation must have continued a dead letter;—for whose sake it might have been fit to reconsider the obloquy heaped on their profession, and to show more general indulgence to all those whose chief offence seems to consist in their doubts whether sudden changes, almost always imposed by violence on a community, be the surest road to lasting improvement.
It is unfortunate that ethical theory, with which we are now chiefly concerned, is not the province in which Mr. Bentham has reached the most desirable distinction. It may be remarked, both in ancient and in modern times, that whatever modifications prudent followers may introduce into the system of an innovator, the principles of the master continue to mould the habitual dispositions, and to influence the practical tendency of the school. Mr. Bentham preaches the principle of Utility with the zeal of a discoverer. Occupied more in reflection than in reading, he knew not, or forgot, how often it had been the basis, and how generally an essential part, of all moral systems.* That in which he really differs from others, is in the Necessity which he teaches, and the example which he sets, of constantly bringing that principle before us. This peculiarity appears to us to be his radical error. In an attempt, of which the constitution of human nature forbids the success, he seems to us to have been led into fundamental errors in moral theory, and to have given to his practical doctrine a dangerous direction.
The confusion of moral approbation with the moral qualities which are its objects, common to Mr. Bentham with many other philosophers, is much more uniform and prominent in him than in most others. This general error, already mentioned at the opening of this Dissertation, has led him more than others to assume, that because the principle of Utility forms a necessary part of every moral theory, it ought therefore to be the chief motive of human conduct. Now it is evident that this assumption, rather tacitly than avowedly made, is wholly gratuitous. No practical conclusion can be deduced from the principle, but that we ought to cultivate those habitual dispositions which are the most effectual motives to useful actions. But before a regard to our own interest, or a desire to promote the welfare of men in general, be allowed to be the exclusive, or even the chief regulators of human conduct, it must be shown that they are the most effectual motives to such useful actions: it is demonstrated by experience that they are not. It is even owned by the most ingenious writers of Mr. Bentham’s school, that desires which are pointed to general and distant objects, although they have their proper place and their due value, are commonly very faint and ineffectual inducements to action. A theory founded on Utility, therefore, requires that we should cultivate, as excitements to practice, those other habitual dispositions which we know by experience to be generally the source of actions beneficial to ourselves and our fellows;—habits of feeling productive of habits of virtuous conduct, and in their turn strengthened by the re-action of these last. What is the result of experience on the choice of the objects of moral culture? Beyond all dispute, that we should labour to attain that state of mind in which all the social affections are felt with the utmost warmth, giving birth to more comprehensive benevolence, but not supplanted by it;—when the Moral Sentiments most strongly approve what is right and good, without being perplexed by a calculation of consequences, though not incapable of being gradually rectified by Reason, whenever they are decisively proved by experience not to correspond in some of their parts to the universal and perpetual effects of conduct. It is a false representation of human nature to affirm that “courage” is only “prudence.”* They coincide in their effects, and it is always prudent to be courageous: but a man who fights because he thinks it more hazardous to yield, is not brave. He does not become brave till he feels cowardice to be base and painful, and till he is no longer in need of any aid from prudence. Even if it were the interest of every man to be bold, it is clear that so cold a consideration cannot prevail over the fear of danger. Where it seems to do so, it must be the unseen power either of the fear of shame, or of some other powerful passion, to which it lends its name. It was long ago with striking justice observed by Aristotle, that he who abstains from present gratification, under a distinct apprehension of its painful consequences, is only prudent, and that he must acquire a disrelish for excess on its own account, before he deserves the name of a temperate man. It is only when the means are firmly and unalterably converted into ends, that the process of forming the mind is completed. Courage may then seek, instead of avoiding danger: Temperance may prefer abstemiousness to indulgence: Prudence itself may choose an orderly government of conduct, according to certain rules, without regard to the degree in which it promotes welfare. Benevolence must desire the happiness of others, to the exclusion of the consideration how far it is connected with that of the benevolent agent; and those alone can be accounted just who obey the dictates of Justice from having thoroughly learned an habitual veneration for her strict rules and for her larger precepts. In that complete state the mind possesses no power of dissolving the combinations of thought and feeling which impel it to action. Nothing in this argument turns on the difference between implanted and acquired principles. As no man can cease, by any act of his, to see distance, though the power of seeing it be universally acknowledged to be an acquisition, so no man has the power to extinguish the affections and the moral sentiments, (however much they may be thought to be acquired,) any more than that of eradicating the bodily appetites. The best writers of Mr. Bentham’s school overlook the indissolubility of these associations, and appear not to bear in mind that their strength and rapid action constitute the perfect state of a moral agent.
The pursuit of our own general welfare, or of that of mankind at large, though from their vagueness and coldness they are unfit habitual motives and unsafe ordinary guides of conduct, yet perform functions of essential importance in the moral system. The former, which we call “self-love,” preserves the balance of all the active principles which regard ourselves ultimately, and contributes to subject them to the authority of the moral principles.* The latter, which is general benevolence, regulates in like manner the equipoise of the narrower affections,—quickens the languid, and checks the encroaching,—borrows strength from pity, and even from indignation,—receives some compensation, as it enlarges, in the addition of beauty and grandeur, for the weakness which arises from dispersion,—enables us to look on all men as brethren, and overflows on every sentient being. The general interest of mankind, in truth, almost solely affects us through the affections of benevolence and sympathy, for the coincidence of general with individual interest,—even where it is certain,—is too dimly seen to produce any emotion which can impel to, or restrain from action. As a general truth, its value consists in its completing the triumph of Morality, by demonstrating the absolute impossibility of forming any theory of human nature which does not preserve the superiority of Virtue over Vice;—a great, though not a directly practical advantage.
The followers of Mr. Bentham have carried to an unusual extent the prevalent fault of the more modern advocates of Utility, who have dwelt so exclusively on the outward advantages of Virtue as to have lost sight of the delight which is a part of virtuous feeling, and of the beneficial influence of good actions upon the frame of the mind. “Benevolence towards others,” says Mr. Mill, “produces a return of benevolence from them.” The fact is true, and ought to be stated: but how unimportant is it in comparison with that which is passed over in silence,—the pleasure of the affection itself, which, if it could become lasting and intense, would convert the heart into a heaven! No one who has ever felt kindness, if he could accurately recall his feelings, could hesitate about their infinite superiority. The cause of the general neglect of this consideration is, that it is only when a gratification is something distinct from a state of mind, that we can easily learn to consider it as a pleasure. Hence the great error respecting the affections, where the inherent delight is not duly estimated, on account of that very pecularity of its being a part of a state of mind which renders it unspeakably more valuable as independent of every thing without. The social affections are the only principles of human nature which have no direct pains: to have any of these desires is to be in a state of happiness. The malevolent passions have properly no pleasures; for that attainment of their purpose which is improperly so called, consists only in healing or assuaging the torture which envy, jealousy, and malice, inflict on the malignant mind. It might with as much propriety be said that the toothache and the stone have pleasures, because their removal is followed by an agreeable feeling. These bodily disorders, indeed, are often cured by the process which removes the sufferings; but the mental distempers of envy and revenge are nourished by every act of odious indulgence which for a moment suspends their pain.
The same observation is applicable to every virtuous disposition, though not so obviously as to the benevolent affections. That a brave man is, on the whole, far less exposed to danger than a coward, is not the chief advantage of a courageous temper. Great dangers are rare; but the constant absence of such painful and mortifying sensations as those of fear, and the steady consciousness of superiority to what subdues ordinary men, are a perpetual source of inward enjoyment. No man who has ever been visited by a gleam of magnanimity, can place any outward advantage of fortitude in comparison with the feeling of being always able fearlessly to defend a righteous cause.* Even humility, in spite of first appearances, is a remarkable example:—though it has of late been unwarrantably used to signify that painful consciousness of inferiority which is the first stage of envy.† It is a term consecrated in Christian Ethics to denote that disposition which, by inclining towards a modest estimate of our qualities, corrects the prevalent tendency of human nature to overvalue our merits and to overrate our claims. What can be a less doubtful, or a much more considerable blessing than this constant sedative, which soothes and composes the irritable passions of vanity and pride? What is more conducive to lasting peace of mind than the consciousness of proficiency in that most delicate species of equity which, in the secret tribunal of Conscience, labours to be impartial in the comparison of ourselves with others? What can so perfectly assure us of the purity of our Moral Sense, as the habit of contemplating, not that excellence which we have reached, but that which is still to be pursued,‡ —of not considering how far we may outrun others, but how far we are from the goal?
Virtue has often outward advantages, and always inward delights: but the last, though constant, strong, inaccessible and inviolable, are not easily considered by the common observer as apart from the form with which they are blended. They are so subtile and evanescent as to escape the distinct contemplation of all but the very few who meditate on the acts of the mind. The outward advantages, on the other hand,—cold, uncertain, dependent and precarious as they are,—yet stand out to the sense and to the memory, may be as it were handled and counted, and are perfectly on a level with the general apprehension. Hence they have become the almost exclusive theme of all moralists who profess to follow Reason. There is room for suspecting that a very general illusion prevails on this subject. Probably the smallest part of the pleasure of Virtue, because it is the most palpable, has become the sign and mental representative of the whole: the outward and visible sign suggests only insensibly the inward and mental delight. Those who are prone to display chiefly the external benefits of magnanimity and kindness, would speak with far less fervour, and perhaps less confidence, if their feelings were not unconsciously affected by the mental state which is overlooked in their statements. But when they speak of what is without, they feel what was within, and their words excite the same feeling in others.
Is it not probable that much of our love of praise may be thus ascribed to humane and sociable pleasure in the sympathy of others with us? Praise is the symbol which represents sympathy, and which the mind insensibly substitutes for it in recollection and in language. Does not the desire of posthumous fame, in like manner, manifest an ambition for the fellow-feeling of our race, when it is perfectly unproductive of any advantage to ourselves? In this point of view, it may be considered as the passion the very existence of which proves the mighty power of disinterested desire. Every other pleasure from sympathy is derived from contemporaries: the love of fame alone seeks the sympathy of unborn generations, and stretches the chain which binds the race of man together, to an extent to which Hope sets no bounds. There is a noble, even if unconscious union of Morality with genius in the mind of him who sympathizes with the masters who lived twenty centuries before him, in order that he may learn to command the sympathies of the countless generations who are to come.
In the most familiar, as well as in the highest instances, it would seem, that the inmost thoughts and sentiments of men are more pure than their language. Those who speak of “a regard to character,” if they be serious, generally infuse into that word, unawares, a large portion of that sense in which it denotes the frame of the mind. Those who speak of “honour” very often mean a more refined and delicate sort of conscience, which ought to render the more educated classes of society alive to such smaller wrongs as the laborious and the ignorant can scarcely feel. What heart does not warm at the noble exclamation of the ancient poet: “Who is pleased by false honour, or frightened by lying infamy, but he who is false and depraved!”* Every uncorrupted mind feels unmerited praise as a bitter reproach, and regards a consciousness of demerit as a drop of poison in the cup of honour. How different is the applause which truly delights us all, a proof that the consciences of others are in harmony with our own! “What,” says Cicero, “is glory but the concurring praise of the good, the unbought approbation of those who judge aright of excellent Virtue!”† A far greater than Cicero rises from the purest praise of man, to more sublime contemplations.
Those who have most earnestly inculcated the doctrine of Utility have given another notable example of the very vulgar prejudice which treats the unseen as insignificant. Tucker is the only one of them who occasionally considers that most important effect of human conduct which consists in its action on the frame of the mind, by fitting its faculties and sensibilities for their appointed purpose. A razor or a penknife would well enough cut cloth or meat; but if they were often so used, they would be entirely spoiled. The same sort of observation is much more strongly applicable to habitual dispositions, which, if they be spoiled, we have no certain means of replacing or mending. Whatever act, therefore, discomposes the moral machinery of Mind, is more injurious to the welfare of the agent than most disasters from without can be: for the latter are commonly limited and temporary; the evil of the former spreads through the whole of life. Health of mind, as well as of body, is not only productive in itself of a greater amount of enjoyment than arises from other sources, but is the only condition of our frame in which we are capable of receiving pleasure from without. Hence it appears how incredibly absurd it is to prefer, on grounds of calculation, a present interest to the preservation of those mental habits on which our well-being depends. When they are most moral, they may often prevent us from obtaining advantages: but it would be as absurd to desire to lower them for that reason, as it would be to weaken the body, lest its strength should render it more liable to contagious disorders of rare occurrence.
It is, on the other hand, impossible to combine the benefit of the general habit with the advantages of occasional deviation; for every such deviation either produces remorse, or weakens the habit, and prepares the way for its gradual destruction. He who obtains a fortune by the undetected forgery of a will, may indeed be honest in his other acts; but if he had such a scorn of fraud before as he must himself allow to be generally useful, he must suffer a severe punishment from contrition; and he will be haunted with the fears of one who has lost his own security for his good conduct. In all cases, if they be well examined, his loss by the distemper of his mental frame will outweigh the profits of his vice.
By repeating the like observation on similar occasions, it will be manifest that the infirmity of recollection, aggravated by the defects of language, gives an appearance of more selfishness to man than truly belongs to his nature; and that the effect of active agents upon the habitual state of mind,—one of the considerations to which the epithet “sentimental” has of late been applied in derision,—is really among the most serious and reasonable objects of Moral Philosophy. When the internal pleasures and pains which accompany good and bad feelings, or rather form a part of them, and the internal advantages and disadvantages which follow good and bad actions, are sufficiently considered, the comparative importance of outward consequences will be more and more narrow; so that the Stoical philosopher may be thought almost excusable for rejecting it altogether, were it not an almost indispensably necessary consideration for those in whom right habits of feeling are not sufficiently strong. They alone are happy, or even truly virtuous, who have little need of it.
The later moralists who adopt the principle of Utility, have so misplaced it, that in their hands it has as great a tendency as any theoretical error can have, to lessen the intrinsic pleasure of Virtue, and to unfit our habitual feelings for being the most effectual inducements to good conduct. This is the natural tendency of a discipline which brings Utility too closely and frequently into contact with action. By this habit, in its best state, an essentially weaker motive is gradually substituted for others which must always be of more force. The frequent appeal to Utility as the standard of action tends to introduce an uncertainty with respect to the conduct of other men, which would render all intercourse with them insupportable. It affords also so fair a disguise for selfish and malignant passions, as often to hide their nature from him who is their prey. Some taint of these mean and evil principles will at least spread itself, and a venomous animation, not its own, will be given to the cold desire of Utility. Moralists who take an active part in those affairs which often call out unamiable passions, ought to guard with peculiar watchfulness against such self-delusions. The sin that must most easily beset them, is that of sliding from general to particular consequences,—that of trying single actions, instead of dispositions, habits, and rules, by the standard of Utility,—that of authorizing too great a latitude for discretion and policy in moral conduct,—that of readily allowing exceptions to the most important rules,—that of too lenient a censure of the use of doubtful means, when the end seems to them good,—and that of believing unphilosophically, as well as dangerously, that there can be any measure or scheme so useful to the world as the existence of men who would not do a base thing for any public advantage. It was said of Andrew Fletcher, “that he would lose his life to serve his country, but would not do a base thing to save it.” Let those preachers of Utility who suppose that such a man sacrifices ends to means, consider whether the scorn of baseness be not akin to the contempt of danger and whether a nation composed of such men would not be invincible. But theoretical principles are counteracted by a thousand causes, which confine their mischief as well as circumscribe their benefits. Men are never so good or so bad as their opinions. All that can be with reason apprehended is, that these last may always produce some part of their natural evil, and that the mischief will be greatest among the many who seek excuses for their passions. Aristippus found in the Socratic representation of the union of virtue and happiness a pretext for sensuality; and many Epicureans became voluptuaries in spite of the example of their master,—easily dropping by degrees the limitations by which he guarded his doctrines. In proportion as a man accustoms himself to be influenced by the utility of particular acts, without regard to rules, he approaches to the casuistry of the Jesuits, and to the practical maxims of Cæsar Borgia.
Injury on this, as on other occasions, has been suffered by Ethics, from their close affinity to Jurisprudence. The true and eminent merit of Mr. Bentham is that of a reformer of Jurisprudence: he is only a moralist with a view to being a jurist; and he sometimes becomes for a few hurried moments a metaphysician with a view to laying the foundation of both the moral sciences. Both he and his followers have treated Ethics too juridically: they do not seem to be aware, or at least they do not bear constantly in mind, that there is an essential difference in the subjects of these two sciences.
The object of law is the prevention of actions injurious to the community: it considers the dispositions from which they flow only indirectly, to ascertain the likelihood of their recurrence, and thus to determine the necessity and the means of preventing them. The direct object of Ethics is only mental disposition: it considers actions indirectly as the signs by which such dispositions are manifested. If it were possible for the mere moralist to see that a moral and amiable temper was the mental source of a bad action, he could not cease to approve and love the temper, as we sometimes presume to suppose may be true of the judgments of the Searcher of Hearts. Religion necessarily coincides with Morality in this respect; and it is the peculiar distinction of Christianity that it places the seat of Virtue in the heart. Law and Ethics are necessarily so much blended, that in many intricate combinations the distinction becomes obscure: but in all strong cases the difference is evident. Thus, law punishes the most sincerely repentant; but wherever the soul of the penitent can be thought to be thoroughly purified, Religion and Morality receive him with open arms.
It is needless, after these remarks, to observe, that those whose habitual contemplation is directed to the rules of action, are likely to underrate the importance of feeling and disposition;—an error of very unfortunate consequences, since the far greater part of human actions flow from these neglected sources; while the law interposes only in cases which may be called exceptions, which are now rare, and ought to be less frequent.
The coincidence of Mr. Bentham’s school with the ancient Epicureans in the disregard of the pleasures of taste and of the arts dependent on imagination, is a proof both of the inevitable adherence of much of the popular sense of the words “interest” and “pleasure,” to the same words in their philosophical acceptation, and of the pernicious influence of narrowing Utility to mere visible and tangible objects, to the exclusion of those which form the larger part of human enjoyment.
The mechanical philosophers who, under Descartes and Gassendi, began to reform Physics in the seventeenth century, attempted to explain all the appearances of nature by an immediate reference to the figure of particles of matter impelling each other in various directions, and with unequal force, but in all other points alike. The communication of motion by impulse they conceived to be perfectly simple and intelligible. It never occurred to them, that the movement of one ball when another is driven against it, is a fact of which no explanation can be given which will amount to more than a statement of its constant occurrence. That no body can act where it is not, appeared to them as self-evident as that the whole is equal to all the parts. By this axiom they understood that no body moves another without touching it. They did not perceive, that it was only self-evident where it means that no body can act where it has not the power of acting; and that if it be understood more largely, it is a mere assumption of the proposition on which their whole system rested. Sir Isaac Newton reformed Physics, not by simplifying that science, but by rendering it much more complicated. He introduced into it the force of attraction, of which he ascertained many laws, but which even he did not dare to represent as being as intelligible, and as conceivably ultimate as impulsion itself. It was necessary for Laplace to introduce intermediate laws, and to calculate disturbing forces, before the phenomena of the heavenly bodies could be reconciled even to Newton’s more complex theory. In the present state of physical and chemical knowledge, a man who should attempt to refer all the immense variety of facts to the simple impulse of the Cartesians, would have no chance of serious confutation. The number of laws augments with the progress of knowledge.
The speculations of the followers of Mr. Bentham are not unlike the unsuccessful attempt of the Cartesians. Mr. Mill, for example, derives the whole theory of Government* from the single fact, that every man pursues his interest when he knows it; which he assumes to be a sort of self-evident practical principle,—if such a phrase be not contradictory. That a man’s pursuing the interest of another, or indeed any other object in nature, is just as conceivable as that he should pursue his own interest, is a proposition which seems never to have occurred to this acute and ingenious writer. Nothing, however, can be more certain than its truth, if the term “interest” be employed in its proper sense of general well-being, which is the only acceptation in which it can serve the purpose of his arguments. If, indeed, the term be employed to denote the gratification of a predominant desire, his proposition is self-evident, but wholly unserviceable in his argument; for it is clear that individuals and multitudes often desire what they know to be most inconsistent with their general welfare. A nation, as much as an individual, and sometimes more, may not only mistake its interest, but, perceiving it clearly, may prefer the gratification of a strong passion to it.* The whole fabric of his political reasoning seems to be overthrown by this single observation; and instead of attempting to explain the immense variety of political facts by the simple principle of a contest of interests, we are reduced to the necessity of once more referring them to that variety of passions, habits, opinions, and prejudices, which we discover only by experience. Mr. Mill’s essay on Education† affords another example of the inconvenience of leaping at once from the most general laws, to a multiplicity of minute appearances. Having assumed, or at least inferred from insufficient premises, that the intellectual and moral character is entirely formed by circumstances, he proceeds, in the latter part of the essay, as if it were a necessary consequence of that doctrine that we might easily acquire the power of combining and directing circumstances in such a manner as to produce the best possible character. Without disputing, for the present, the theoretical proposition, let us consider what would be the reasonableness of similar expectations in a more easily intelligible case. The general theory of the winds is pretty well understood; we know that they proceed from the rushing of air from those portions of the atmosphere which are more condensed, into those which are more rarefied: but how great a chasm is there between that simple law and the great variety of facts which experience exhibits! The constant winds between the tropics are large and regular enough to be in some measure capable of explanation: but who can tell why, in variable climates, the wind blows to-day from the east, to-morrow from the west? Who can foretell what its shifting and variations are to be? Who can account for a tempest on one day, and a calm on another? Even if we could foretell the irregular and infinite variations, how far might we not still be from the power of combining and guiding their causes? No man but the lunatic in the story of Rasselas ever dreamt that he could command the weather, The difficulty plainly consists in the multiplicity and minuteness of the circumstances which act on the atmosphere: are those which influence the formation of the human character likely to be less minute and multiplied?
The style of Mr. Bentham underwent a more remarkable revolution than perhaps befell that of any other writer. In his early works, it was clear, free, spirited, often and seasonably eloquent: many passages of his later writings retain the inimitable stamp of genius; but he seems to have been oppressed by the vastness of his projected works,—to have thought that he had no longer more than leisure to preserve the heads of them,—to have been impelled by a fruitful mind to new plans before he had completed the old. In this state of things, he gradually ceased to use words for conveying his thoughts to others, but merely employed them as a sort of short-hand to preserve his meaning for his own purpose. It was no wonder that his language should thus become obscure and repulsive. Though many of his technical terms are in themselves exact and pithy, yet the overflow of his vast nomenclature was enough to darken his whole diction.
It was at this critical period that the arrangement and translation of his manuscripts were undertaken by M. Dumont, a generous disciple, who devoted a genius formed for original and lasting works, to diffuse the principles, and promote the fame of his master. He whose pen Mirabeau did not disdain to borrow,—who, in the same school with Romilly, had studiously pursued the grace as well as the force of composition, was perfectly qualified to strip of its uncouthness a philosophy which he understood and admired. As he wrote in a general language, he propagated its doctrines throughout Europe, where they were beneficial to Jurisprudence, but perhaps injurious to the cause of reformation in Government. That they became more popular abroad than at home, is partly to be ascribed to the taste and skill of M. Dumont; partly to that tendency towards free speculation and bold reform which was more prevalent among nations newly freed, or impatiently aspiring to freedom, than in a people such as ours, long satisfied with their government, but not yet aware of the imperfections and abuses in their laws;—to the amendment of which last a cautious consideration of Mr. Bentham’s works will undoubtedly most materially contribute.
Manifold are the discouragements rising up at every step in that part of this Dissertation which extends to very recent times. No sooner does the writer escape from the angry disputes of the living, than he may feel his mind clouded by the name of a departed friend. But there are happily men whose fame is brightened by free discussion, and to whose memory an appearance of belief that they needed tender treatment would be a grosser injury than it could suffer from a respectable antagonist.
Dugald Stewart was the son of Dr. Matthew Stewart, Professor of Mathematics in the University of Edinburgh,—a station immediately before filled by Maclaurin, on the recommendation of Newton. Hence the poet* spoke of “the philosophic sire and son.” He was educated at Edinburgh, and he heard the lectures of Reid at Glasgow. He was early associated with his father in the duties of the mathematical professorship; and during the absence of Dr. Adam Ferguson as secretary to the commissioners sent to conclude a peace with North America, he occupied the chair of Moral Philosophy. He was appointed to the professorship on the resignation of Ferguson,—not the least distinguished among the modern moralists inclined to the Stoical school.
This office, filled in immediate succession by Ferguson, Stewart, and Brown, received a lustre from their names, which it owed in no degree to its modest exterior or its limited advantages; and was rendered by them the highest dignity, in the humble, but not obscure, establishments of Scottish literature. The lectures of Mr. Stewart, for a quarter of a century, rendered it famous through every country where the light of reason was allowed to penetrate. Perhaps few men ever lived, who poured into the breasts of youth a more fervid and yet reasonable love of liberty, of truth, and of virtue. How many are still alive, in different countries, and in every rank to which education reaches, who, if they accurately examined their own minds and lives, would not ascribe much of whatever goodness and happiness they possess, to the early impressions of his gentle and persuasive eloquence! He lived to see his disciples distinguished among the lights and ornaments of the council and the senate.† He had the consolation, to be sure, that no words of his promoted the growth of an impure taste, of an exclusive prejudice, or of a malevolent passion. Without derogation from his writings, it may be said that his disciples were among his best works. He, indeed, who may justly be said to have cultivated an extent of mind which would otherwise have lain barren, and to have contributed to raise virtuous dispositions where the natural growth might have been useless or noxious, is not less a benefactor of mankind, and may indirectly be a larger contributor to knowledge, than the author of great works, or even the discoverer of important truths. The system of conveying scientific instruction to a large audience by lectures, from which the English universities have in a great measure departed, renders his qualities as a lecturer a most important part of his merit in a Scottish university which still adheres to the general method of European education. Probably no modern ever exceeded him in that species of eloquence which springs from sensibility to literary beauty and moral excellence,—which neither obscures science by prodigal ornament, nor disturbs the serenity of patient attention,—but though it rather calms and soothes the feelings, yet exalts the genius, and insensibly inspires a reasonable enthusiasm for whatever is good and fair.
He embraced the philosophy of Dr. Reid, a patient, modest, and deep thinker,* who, in his first work (Inquiry into the Human Mind), deserves a commendation more descriptive of a philosopher than that bestowed upon him by Professor Cousin,—of having made “a vigorous protest against scepticism on behalf of common sense.” Reid’s observations on Suggestion, on natural signs, on the connection between what he calls “sensation” and “perception,” though perhaps suggested by Berkeley (whose idealism he had once adopted), are marked by the genuine spirit of original observation. As there are too many who seem more wise than they are, so it was the more uncommon fault with Reid to appear less a philosopher than he really was. Indeed his temporary adoption of Berkeleianism is a proof of an unprejudiced and acute mind. Perhaps no man ever rose finally above the seductions of that simple and ingenious system, who had not sometimes tried their full effect by surrendering his whole mind to them.
But it is never with entire impunity that philosophers borrow vague and inappropriate terms from vulgar use. Never did any man afford a stronger instance of this danger than Reid, in his two most unfortunate terms, “common sense” and “instinct.” Common sense is that average portion of understanding, possessed by most men, which, as it is nearly always applied to conduct, has acquired an almost exclusively practical sense. Instinct is the habitual power of producing effects like contrivances of Reason, yet so far beyond the intelligence and experience of the agent, as to be utterly inexplicable by reference to them. No man, if he had been in search of improper words, could have discovered any more unfit than these two, for denoting that law, or state, or faculty of Mind, which compels us to acknowledge certain simple and very abstract truths, not being identical propositions, to lie at the foundation of all reasoning, and to be the necessary ground of all belief.
Long after the death of Dr. Reid, his philosophy was taught at Paris by M. Royer Collard,* who on the restoration of free debate, became the most philosophical orator of his nation, and now† fills, with impartiality and dignity, the chair of the Chamber of Deputies. His ingenious and eloquent scholar, Professor Cousin, dissatisfied with what he calls “the sage and timid” doctrines of Edinburgh, which he considered as only a vigorous protest, on behalf of common sense, against the scepticism of Hume, sought in Germany for a philosophy of “such a masculine and brilliant character as might command the attention of Europe, and be able to struggle with success on a great theatre, against the genius of the adverse school.”* It may be questioned whether he found in Kant more than the same vigorous protest, under a more systematic form, with an immense nomenclature, and constituting a philosophical edifice of equal symmetry and vastness. The preference of the more boastful system, over a philosophy thus chiefly blamed for its modest pretensions, does not seem to be entirely justified by its permanent authority even in the country which gave it birth; where, however powerful its influence still continues to be, its doctrines do not appear to have now many supporters. Indeed, the accomplished professor himself has rapidly shot through Kantianism, and now appears to rest or to stop at the doctrines of Schelling and Hegel, at a point so high, that it is hard to descry from it any distinction between objects,—even that indispensable distinction between reality and illusion. As the works of Reid, and those of Kant, otherwise so different, appear to be simultaneous efforts of the conservative power of philosophy to expel the mortal poison of scepticism, so the exertions of M. Royer Collard and M. Cousin, however at variance in metaphysical principles, seem to have been chiefly roused by the desire of delivering Ethics from that fatal touch of personal, and, indeed, gross interest, which the science had received in France at the hands of the followers of Condillac,—especially Helvetius, St. Lambert, and Cabanis. The success of these attempts to render speculative philosophy once more popular in the country of Descartes, has already been considerable. The French youth, whose desire of knowledge and love of liberty afford an auspicious promise of the succeeding age, have eagerly received doctrines, of which the moral part is so much more agreeable to their liberal spirit, than is the Selfish theory, generated in the stagnation of a corrupt, cruel, and dissolute tyranny.
These agreeable prospects bring us easily back to our subject; for though the restoration of speculative philosophy in the country of Descartes is due to the precise statement and vigorous logic of M. Royer Collard, the modifications introduced by him into the doctrine of Reid coincide with those of Mr. Stewart, and would have appeared to agree more exactly, if the forms of the French philosopher had not been more dialectical, and the composition of Mr. Stewart had retained less of that oratorical character, which belonged to a justly celebrated speaker. Amidst excellencies of the highest order, the writings of the latter, it must be confessed, leave some room for criticism. He took precautions against offence to the feelings of his contemporaries, more anxiously and frequently than the impatient searcher for truth may deem necessary. For the sake of promoting the favourable reception of philosophy itself, he studies, perhaps too visibly, to avoid whatever might raise up prejudices against it. His gratitude and native modesty dictated a superabundant care in softening and excusing his dissent from those who had been his own instructors, or who were the objects of general reverence. Exposed by his station, both to the assaults of political prejudice, and to the religious animosities of a country where a few sceptics attacked the slumbering zeal of a Calvinistic people, it would have been wonderful if he had not betrayed more weariness than would have been necessary or becoming in a very different position. The fulness of his literature seduced him too much into multiplied illustrations. Too many of the expedients happily used to allure the young may unnecessarily swell his volumes. Perhaps a successive publication in separate parts made him more voluminous than he would have been if the whole had been at once before his eyes. A peculiar susceptibility and delicacy of taste produced forms of expression, in themselves extremely beautiful, but of which the habitual use is not easily reconcilable with the condensation desirable in works necessarily so extensive. If, however, it must be owned that the caution incident to his temper, his feelings, his philosophy, and his station, has somewhat lengthened his composition, it is not less true, that some of the same circumstances have contributed towards those peculiar beauties which place aim at the head of the most adorned writers on philosophy in our language.
Few writers rise with more grace from a plain groundwork, to the passages which require greater animation or embellishment. He gives to narrative, according to the precept of Bacon, the colour of the time, by a selection of happy expressions from original writers. Among the secret arts by which he diffuses elegance over his diction, may be remarked the skill which, by deepening or brightening a shade in a secondary term, and by opening partial or preparatory glimpses of a thought to be afterwards unfolded, unobservedly heightens the import of a word, and gives it a new meaning, without any offence against old use. It is in this manner that philosophical originality may be reconciled to purity and stability of speech, and that we may avoid new terms, which are the easy resource of the unskilful or the indolent, and often a characteristic mark of writers who love their language too little to feel its peculiar excellencies, or to study the art of calling forth its powers.
He reminds us not unfrequently of the character given by Cicero to one of his contemporaries, “who expressed refined and abstruse thought in soft and transparent diction.” His writings are a proof that the mild sentiments have their eloquence as well as the vehement passions. It would be difficult to name works in which so much refined philosophy is joined with so fine a fancy,—so much elegant literature, with such a delicate perception of the distinguishing excellencies of great writers, and with an estimate in general so just of the services rendered to Knowledge by a succession of philosophers. They are pervaded by a philosophical benevolence, which keeps up the ardour of his genius, without disturbing the serenity of his mind,—which is felt equally in the generosity of his praise, and in the tenderness of his censure. It is still more sensible in the general tone with which he relates the successful progress of the human understanding, among many formidable enemies. Those readers are not to be envied who limit their admiration to particular parts, or to excellencies merely literary, without being warmed by the glow of that honest triumph in the advancement of Knowledge, and of that assured faith in the final prevalence of Truth and Justice, which breathe through every page of them, and give the unity and dignity of a moral purpose to the whole of these classical works.
In quoting poetical passages, some of which throw much light on our mental operations, if he sometimes prized the moral common-places of Thomson and the speculative fancy of Akenside more highly than the higher poetry of their betters, it was not to be wondered at that the metaphysician and the moralist should sometimes prevail over the lover of poetry. His natural sensibility was perhaps occasionally cramped by the cold criticism of an unpoetical age; and some of his remarks may be thought to indicate a more constant and exclusive regard to diction than is agreeable to a generation which has been trained by tremendous events to a passion for daring inventions, and to an irregular enthusiasm, impatient of minute elegancies and refinements. Many of those beauties which his generous criticism delighted to magnify in the works of his contemporaries, have already faded under the scorching rays of a fiercer sun.
Mr. Stewart employed more skill in contriving, and more care in concealing his very important reforms of Reid’s doctrines, than others exert to maintain their claims to originality. Had his well-chosen language of “laws of human thought or belief” been at first adopted in that school, instead of “instinct” and “common sense,” it would have escaped much of the reproach (which Dr. Reid himself did not merit) of shallowness and popularity. Expressions so exact, employed in the opening, could not have failed to influence the whole system, and to have given it, not only in the general estimation, but in the minds of its framers, a more scientific complexion. In those parts of Mr. Stewart’s speculations in which he farthest departed from his general principles, no seems sometimes, as it were, to be suddenly driven back by what he unconsciously shrinks from as ungrateful apostasy, and to be desirous of making amends to his master, by more harshness, than is otherwise natural to him towards the writers whom he has insensibly approached. Hence perhaps the unwonted severity of his language towards Tucker and Hartley. It is thus at the very time when he largely adopts the principle of Association in his excellent Essay on the Beautiful,* that he treats most rigidly the latter of these writers, to whom, though neither the discoverer nor the sole advocate of that principle, it surely owes the greatest illustration and support.
In matters of far other importance, causes perhaps somewhat similar may have led to the like mistake. When he absolutely contradicts Dr. Reid, by truly stating that “it is more philosophical to resolve the power of habit into the association of ideas, than to resolve the association of ideas into habit,”† he, in the sequel of the same volume,‡ refuses to go farther than to own, that “the theory of Hartley concerning the origin of our affections, and of the Moral Sense, is a most ingenious refinement on the Selfish system, and that by means of it the force of many of the common reasonings against that system is eluded;” though he somewhat inconsistently allows, that “active principles which, arising from circumstances in which all the situations of mankind must agree, are therefore common to the whole species, at whatever period of life they may appear, are to be regarded as a part of human nature, no less than the instinct of suction, in the same manner as the acquired perception of distance, by the eye, is to be ranked among the perceptive powers of man, no less than the original perceptions of the other senses.”§ In another place also he makes a remark on mere beauty, which might have led him to a more just conclusion respecting the theory of the origin of the affections and the Moral Sense: “It is scarcely necessary for me to observe, that, in those instances where association operates in heightening” (or he might have said creates) “the pleasure we receive from sight, the pleasing emotion continues still to appear, to our consciousness, simple and uncompounded.”¶ To this remark he might have added, that until all the separate pleasures be melted into one,—as long as any of them are discerned and felt as distinct from each other,—the associations are incomplete, and the qualities which gratify are not called by the name of “beauty.” In like manner, as has been repeatedly observed, it is only when all the separate feelings, pleasurable and painful, excited by the contemplation of voluntary action, are lost in the general sentiments of approbation or disapprobation,—when these general feelings retain no trace of the various emotions which originally attended different actions,—when they are held in a state of perfect fusion by the habitual use of the words used in every language to denote them, that Conscience can be said to exist, or that we can be considered as endowed with a moral nature. The theory which thus ascribes the uniform formation of the Moral Faculty to universal and paramount laws, is not a refinement of the Selfish system, nor is it any modification of that hypothesis. The partisans of Selfishness maintain, that in acts of Will the agent must have a view to the pleasure or happiness which he hopes to reap from it: the philosophers who regard the social affections and the Moral Sentiments as formed by a process of association, on the other hand, contend that these affections and sentiments must work themselves clear from every particle of self-regard, before they deserve the names of benevolence and of Conscience. In the actual state of human motives the two systems are not to be likened, but to be contrasted to each other. It is remarkable that Mr. Stewart, who admits the “question respecting the origin of the affections to be rather curious than important,”* should have held a directly contrary opinion respecting the Moral Sense,† to which these words, in his sense of them, seem to be equally applicable. His meaning in the former affirmation is, that if the affections be acquired, yet they are justly called natural; and if their origin be personal, yet their nature may and does become disinterested. What circumstance distinguishes the former from the latter case? With respect to the origin of the affections, it must not be overlooked that his language is somewhat contradictory. For if the theory on that subject from which he dissents were merely “a refinement on the Selfish system,” its truth or falsehood could not be represented as subordinate; since the controversy would continue to relate to the existence of disinterested motives of human conduct.‡ It may also be observed, that he uniformly represents his opponents as deriving the affections from ‘self-love,’ which, in its proper sense, is not the source to which they refer even avarice, and which is itself derived from other antecedent principles, some of which are inherent, and some acquired. If the object of this theory of the rise of the most important feelings of human nature were, as our philosopher supposes, “to elude objections against the Selfish system,” it would be at best worthless. Its positive merits are several. It affirms the actual disinterestedness of human motives, as strongly as Butler himself. The explanation of the mental law, by which benevolence and Conscience are formed habitually, when it is contemplated deeply, impresses on the mind the truth that they not only are but must be disinterested. It confirms, as it were, the testimony of consciousness, by exhibiting to the Understanding the means employed to insure the production of disinterestedness. It affords the only effectual answer to the prejudice against the disinterested theory, from the multiplication of ultimate facts and implanted principles, which, under all its other forms, it seems to require. No room is left for this prejudice by a representation of disinterestedness, which ultimately traces its formation to principles almost as simple as those of Hobbes himself. Lastly, every step in just generalization is an advance in philosophy. No one has yet shown, either that Man is not actually disinterested, or that he may not have been destined to become so by such a process as has been described: the cause to which the effects are ascribed is a real agent, which seems adequate to the appearance; and if future observation should be found to require that the theory shall be confined within narrower limits, such a limitation will not destroy its value.
The acquiescence of Mr. Stewart in Dr. Reid’s general representation of our mental constitution, led him to indulge more freely the natural bent of his understanding, by applying it to theories of character and manners, of life and literature, of taste and the arts, rather than to the consideration of those more simple principles which rule over human nature under every form. His chief work, as he frankly owns, is indeed rather a collection of such theories, pointing toward the common end of throwing light on the structure and functions of the mind, than a systematic treatise, such as might be expected from the title of “Elements.” It is in essays of this kind that he has most surpassed other cultivators of mental philosophy. His remarks on the effects of casual associations may be quoted as a specimen of the most original and just thoughts, conveyed in the best manner.* In this beautiful passage, he proceeds from their power of confusing speculation to that of disturbing experience and of misleading practice, and ends with their extraordinary effect in bestowing on trivial, and even ludicrous circumstances, some portion of the dignity and sanctity of those sublime principles with which they are associated. The style, at first only clear, afterwards admitting the ornaments of a calm and grave elegance, and at last rising to as high a strain as Philosophy will endure, (all the parts, various as their nature is, being held together by an invisible thread of gentle transition,) affords a specimen of adaptation of manner to matter which it will be hard to match in any other philosophical writing. Another very fine remark, which seems to be as original as it is just, may be quoted as a sample of those beauties with which his writings abound. “The apparent coldness and selfishness of mankind may be traced, in a great measure, to a want of attention and a want of imagination. In the case of those misfortunes which happen to ourselves or our near connections, neither of these powers is necessary to make us acquainted with our situation. But without an uncommon degree of both, it is impossible for any man to comprehend completely the situation of his neighbour, or to have an idea of the greater part of the distress which exists in the world. If we feel more for ourselves than for others, in the former case the facts are more fully before us than they can be in the latter.”* Yet several parts of his writings afford the most satisfactory proof, that his abstinence from what is commonly called metaphysical speculation, arose from no inability to pursue it with signal success. As examples, his observations on “general terms,” and on “causation,” may be appealed to with perfect confidence. In the first two dissertations of the volume bearing the title “Philosophical Essays,” he with equal boldness and acuteness grapples with the most extensive and abstruse questions of mental philosophy, and points out both the sources and the uttermost boundaries of human knowledge with a Verulamean hand. In another part of his writings, he calls what are usually denominated first principles of experience, “fundamental laws of human belief, or primary elements of human reason;”† which last form of expression has so close a resemblance to the language of Kant, that it should have protected the latter from the imputation of writing jargon.
The excellent volume entitled “Outlines of Moral Philosophy,” though composed only as a text-book for the use of his hearers, is one of the most decisive proofs that he was perfectly qualified to unite precision with ease, to be brief with the utmost clearness, and to write with becoming elegance in a style where the meaning is not overladen by ornaments. This volume contains his properly ethical theory,‡ which is much expanded, but not substantially altered, in his Philosophy of the Active and Moral Powers,—a work almost posthumous, and composed under circumstances which give it a deeper interest than can be inspired by any desert in science. Though, with his usual modesty, he manifests an anxiety to fasten his ethical theory to the kindred speculations of other philosophers of the “Intellectual school,” especially to those of Cudworth,—recently clothed in more modern phraseology by Price,—yet he still shows that independence and originality which all his aversion from parade could not entirely conceal. “Right,” “duty,” “virtue,” “moral obligation,” and the like or the opposite forms of expression, represent, according to him, certain thoughts, which arise necessarily and instantaneously in the mind, (or in the Reason, if we take that word in the large sense in which it denotes all that is not emotive) at the contemplation of actions, and which are utterly incapable of all resolution, and consequently of all explanation, and which can be known only by being experienced. These “thoughts” or “ideas,” by whatever name they may be called, are followed,—as inexplicably as inevitably,—by pleasurable and painful emotions, which suggest the conception of moral beauty;—a quality of human actions distinct from their adherence to, or deviation from rectitude, though generally coinciding with it. The question which a reflecting reader will here put is, whether any purpose is served by the introduction of the intermediate mental process between the particular thoughts and the moral emotions? How would the view be darkened or confused, or indeed in any degree changed, by withdrawing that process, or erasing the words which attempt to express it? No advocate of the intellectual origin of the Moral Faculty has yet stated a case in which a mere operation of Reason or Judgment, unattended by emotion, could, consistently with the universal opinion of mankind, as it is exhibited by the structure of language, be said to have the nature or to produce the effects of Conscience. Such an example would be equivalent to an experimentum crucis on the side of that celebrated theory. The failure to produce it, after long challenge, is at least a presumption against it, nearly approaching to that sort of decisively discriminative experiment. It would be vain to restate what has already been too often repeated that all the objections to the Selfish philosophy turn upon the actual nature, not upon the original source, of our principles of action, and that it is by a confusion of these very distinct questions alone that the confutation of Hobbes can be made apparently to involve Hartley. Mr. Stewart appears, like most other metaphysicians, to have blended the inquiry into the nature of our Moral Sentiments with that other which only seeks a criterion to distinguish moral from immoral habits of feeling and action; for he considers the appearance of the Moral Sentiments at an early age, before the general tendency of actions can be ascertained, as a decisive objection to the origin of these sentiments in Association,—an objection which assumes that, if utility be the criterion of Morality, associations with utility must be the mode by which the Moral Sentiments are formed: but this no skilful advocate of the theory of Association will ever allow. That the main, if not sole object of Conscience is to govern our voluntary exertions, is manifest: but how could it perform this great function if it did not impel the Will? and how could it have the latter effect as a mere act of Reason, or, indeed, in any respect otherwise than as it is made up of emotions? Judgment and Reason are therefore preparatory to Conscience,—not properly a part of it. The assertion that the exclusion of Reason reduces Virtue to be a relative quality, is another instance of the confusion of the two questions in moral theory, for though a fitness to excite approbation may be only a relation of objects to our susceptibility, yet the proposition that all virtuous actions are beneficial, is a proposition as absolute as any other within the range of our understanding.
A delicate state of health, and an ardent desire to devote himself exclusively to study and composition, induced Mr. Stewart, while in the full blaze of his reputation as a lecturer, to retire, in 1810, from the labour of public instruction. This retirement, as he himself describes it, was that of a quiet but active life. Three quarto and two octavo volumes, besides the magnificent Dissertation prefixed to the Encyclopædia Britannica, were among its happy fruits. This Dissertation is, perhaps, the most profusely ornamented of any of his compositions;—a peculiarity which must in part have arisen from a principle of taste, which regarded decoration as more suitable to the history of philosophy than to philosophy itself. But the memorable instances of Cicero, of Milton, and still more those of Dryden and Burke, seem to show that there is some natural tendency in the fire of genius to burn more brightly, or to blaze more fiercely, in the evening than in the morning of human life. Probably the materials which long experience supplies to the imagination, the boldness with which a more established reputation arms the mind, and the silence of the low but formidable rivals of the higher principles, may concur in producing this unexpected and little observed effect.
It was in the last years of his life, when suffering under the effects of a severe attack of palsy, with which he had been afflicted in 1822, that Mr. Stewart most plentifully reaped the fruits of long virtue and a wellordered mind. Happily for him, his own cultivation and exercise of every kindly affection had laid up a store of that domestic consolation which none who deserve it ever want, and for the loss of which, nothing beyond the threshold can make amends. The same philosophy which he had cultivated from his youth upward, employed his dying hand; aspirations after higher and brighter scenes of excellence, always blended with his elevated morality, became more earnest and deeper as worldly passions died away, and earthly objects vanished from his sight.
A writer, as he advances in life, ought to speak with diffidence of systems which he has only begun to consider with care after the age in which it becomes hard for his thoughts to flow into new channels. A reader cannot be said practically to understand a theory, till he has acquired the power of thinking, at least for a short time, with the theorist. Even a hearer, with all the helps of voice in the instructor, and of countenance from him and from fellow-hearers, finds it difficult to perform this necessary process, without either being betrayed into hasty and undistinguishing assent, or falling while he is in pursuit of an impartial estimate of opinions, into an indifference about their truth. I have felt this difficulty in reconsidering old opinions: but it is perhaps more needful to own its power, and to warn the reader against its effects, in the case of a philosopher well known to me, and with whom common friendships stood in the stead of much personal intercourse, as a cement of kindness. I very early read Brown’s Observations on the Zoonomia of Dr. Darwin,—the perhaps unmatched work of a boy in the eighteenth year of his age.* His first tract on Causation appeared to me to be the finest model of discussion in mental philosophy since Berkeley and Hume,—with this superiority over the latter, that its aim is that of a philosopher who seeks to enlarge knowledge,—not that of sceptic, who—even the most illustrious—has no better end than that of displaying his powers in confounding and darkening truth,—and the happiest efforts of whose scepticism cannot be more leniently described than as brilliant fits of mental debauchery.† From a diligent perusal of his succeeding works at the time of their publication, I was prevented by pursuits and duties of a very different nature. These causes, together with ill health and growing occupation, hindered me from reading his Lectures with due attention, till it has now become a duty to consider with care that part of them which relates to Ethics.
Dr. Brown was born of one of those families of ministers in the Scottish Church, who, after a generation or two of a humble life spent in piety and usefulness, with no more than needful knowledge, have more than once sent forth a man of genius from their cool and quiet shade, to make his fellows wiser or better by tongue or pen, by head or hand. Even the scanty endowments and constant residence of that Church, by keeping her ministers far from the objects which awaken turbulent passions and disperse the understanding on many pursuits, affords some of the leisure and calm of monastic life, without the exclusion of the charities of family and kindred. It may be well doubted whether this undissipated retirement, which during the eighteenth century was very general in Scotland, did not make full amends for the loss of curious and ornamental knowledge, by its tendency to qualify men for professional duty; with its opportunities for the cultivation of the reason for the many, and for high meditation, and concentration of thought on worthy objects for the few who have capacity for such exertions.* An authentic account of the early exercises of Brown’s mind is preserved by his biographer,† from which it appears that at the age of nineteen he took a part with others (some of whom became the most memorable men of their time), in the foundation of a private society in Edinburgh, under the name of “the Academy of Physics.”‡
The character of Dr. Brown is very attractive, as an example of one in whom the utmost tenderness of affection, and the indulgence of a flowery fancy, were not repressed by the highest cultivation, and by a perhaps excessive refinement of intellect. His mind soared and roamed through every region of philosophy and poetry; but his untravelled heart clung to the hearth of his father, to the children who shared it with him, and after them, first to the other partners of his childish sports, and then almost solely to those companions of his youthful studies who continued to be the friends of his life. Speculation seemed to keep his kindness at home. It is observable, that though sparkling with fancy, he does not seem to have been deeply or durably touched by those affections which are lighted at its torch, or at least tinged with its colours. His heart sought little abroad, but contentedly dwelt in his family and in his study. He was one of those men of genius who repaid the tender care of a mother by rocking the cradle of her reposing age. He ended a life spent in searching for truth, and exercising love, by desiring that he should be buried in his native parish, with his “dear father and mother.” Some of his delightful qualities were perhaps hidden from the casual observer in general society, by the want of that perfect simplicity of manner which is doubtless their natural representative. Manner is a better mark of the state of a mind, than those large and deliberate actions which form what is called conduct; it is the constant and insensible transpiration of character. In serious acts a man may display himself; in the thousand nameless acts which compose manner, the mind betrays its habitual bent. But manner is then only an index of disposition, when it is that of men who live at ease in the intimate familiarity of friends and equals. It may be diverted from simplicity by causes which do not reach so deep as the character;—by bad models, or by a restless and wearisome anxiety to shine, arising from many circumstances,—none of which are probably more common than the unseasonable exertions of a recluse student in society, and the unfortunate attempts of some others, to take by violence the admiration of those with whom they do not associate with ease. The association with unlike or superior companions which least distorts manners, is that which takes place with those classes whose secure dignity generally renders their own manners easy,—with whom the art of pleasing or of not displeasing each other in society is a serious concern,—who have leisure enough to discover the positive and negative parts of the smaller moralities, and who, being trained to a watchful eye on what is ludicrous, apply the lash of ridicule to affectation, the most ridiculous of faults. The busy in every department of life are too respectably occupied to form these manners: they are the frivolous work of polished idleness; and perhaps their most serious value consists in the war which they wage against affectation,—though even there they betray their origin in punishing it, not as a deviation from nature, but as a badge of vulgarity.
The prose of Dr. Brown is brilliant to excess: it must not be denied that its beauty is sometimes womanly,—that it too often melts down precision into elegance,—that it buries the main idea under a load of illustration, of which every part is expanded and adorned with such visible labour, as to withdraw the mind from attention to the thoughts which it professes to introduce more easily into the understanding. It is darkened by excessive brightness; it loses ease and liveliness by over-dress; and, in the midst of its luscious sweetness, we wish for the striking and homely illustrations of Tucker, and for the pithy and sinewy sense of Paley;—either of whom, by a single short metaphor from a familiar, perhaps a low object, could at one blow set the two worlds of Reason and Fancy in movement.
It would be unjust to censure severely the declamatory parts of his Lectures: they are excusable in the first warmth of composition; they might even be justifiable allurements in attracting young hearers to abstruse speculations. Had he lived, he would probably have taken his thoughts out of the declamatory forms of spoken address, and given to them the appearance, as well as the reality, of deep and subtile discussion. The habits, indeed, of so successful a lecturer, and the natural luxuriance of his mind, could not fail to have somewhat affected all his compositions; but though he might still have fallen short of simplicity, he certainly would have avoided much of the diffusion, and even common-place, which hang heavily on original and brilliant thoughts: for it must be owned, that though, as a thinker, he is unusually original, yet when he falls among the declaimers, he is infected by their common-places. In like manner, he would assuredly have shortened, or left out, many of the poetical quotations which he loved to recite, and which hearers even beyond youth hear with delight. There are two very different sorts of passages of poetry to be found in works on philosophy, which are as far asunder from each other in value as in matter. A philosopher will admit some of those wonderful lines or words which bring to light the infinite varieties of character, the furious bursts or wily workings of passion, the winding approaches of temptation, the slippery path to depravity, the beauty of tenderness, and the grandeur of what is awful and holy in Man. In every such quotation, the moral philosopher, if he be successful, uses the best materials of his science; for what are they but the results of experiment and observation on the human heart, performed by artists of far other skill and power than his? They are facts which could have only been ascertained by Homer, by Dante, by Shakspeare, by Cervantes, by Milton. Every year of admiration since the unknown period when the Iliad first gave delight, has extorted new proofs of the justness of the picture of human nature, from the responding hearts of the admirers. Every strong feeling which these masters have excited, is a successful repetition of their original experiment, and a continually growing evidence of the greatness of their discoveries. Quotations of this nature may be the most satisfactory, as well as the most delightful, proofs of philosophical positions. Others of inferior merit are not to be interdicted: a pointed maxim, especially when familiar, pleases, and is recollected. I cannot entirely conquer my passion for the Roman and Stoical declamation of some passages in Lucan and Akenside: but quotations from those who have written on philosophy in verse, or, in other words, from those who generally are inferior philosophers, and voluntarily deliver their doctrines in the most disadvantageous form, seem to be unreasonable. It is agreeable, no doubt, to the philosopher, and still more to the youthful student, to meet his abstruse ideas clothed in the sonorous verse of Akenside; the surprise of the unexpected union of verse with science is a very lawful enjoyment: but such slight and momentary pleasures, though they may tempt the writer to display them, do not excuse a vain effort to obtrude them on the sympathy of the searcher after truth in after-times. It is peculiarly unlucky that Dr. Brown should have sought supposed ornament from the moral common-places of Thomson, rather than from that illustration of philosophy which is really to be found in his picturesque strokes.
Much more need not be said of Dr. Brown’s own poetry,—somewhat voluminous as it is,—than that it indicates fancy and feeling, and rises at least to the rank of an elegant accomplishment. It may seem a paradox, but it appears to me that he is really most poetical in those poems and passages which have the most properly metaphysical character. For every varied form of life and nature, when it is habitually contemplated, may inspire feeling; and the just representation of these feelings may be poetical. Dr. Brown observed Man, and his wider world, with the eye of a metaphysician; and the dark results of such contemplations, when he reviewed them, often filled his soul with feelings which, being both grand and melancholy, were truly poetical. Unfortunately, however, few readers can be touched with fellow-feelings. He sings to few, and must be content with sometimes moving a string in the soul of the lonely visionary, who, in the day-dreams of youth, has felt as well as meditated on the mysteries of nature. His heart has produced charming passages in all his poems; but, generally speaking, they are only beautiful works of art and imitation. The choice of Akenside as a favourite and a model may, without derogation from that writer, be considered as no proof of a poetically formed mind.* There is more poetry in many single lines of Cowper than in volumes of sonorous verses such as Akenside’s. Philosophical poetry is very different from versified philosophy: the former is the highest exertion of genius; the latter cannot be be ranked above the slighter amusements of ingenuity. Dr. Brown’s poetry was, it must be owned, composed either of imitations, which, with some exceptions, may be produced and read without feeling, or of effusions of such feelings only as meet a rare and faint echo in the human breast.
A few words only can here be bestowed on the intellectual part of his philosophy. It is an open revolt against the authority of Reid; and, by a curious concurrence, he began to lecture nearly at the moment when the doctrines of that philosopher came to be taught with applause in France. Mr. Stewart had dissented from the language of Reid, and had widely departed from his opinions on several secondary theories: Dr. Brown rejected them entirely. He very justly considered the claim of Reid to the merit of detecting the universal delusion which had betrayed philosophers into the belief that ideas which were the sole objects of knowledge had a separate existence, as a proof of his having mistaken their illustrative language for a metaphysical opinion;* but he does not do justice to the service which Reid really rendered to mental science, by keeping the attention of all future speculators in a state of more constant watchfulness against the transient influence of such an illusion. His choice of the term “feeling”† to denote the operations which we usually refer to the Understanding, is evidently too wide a departure from its ordinary use, to have any probability of general adoption. No definition can strip so familiar a word of the thoughts and emotions which have so long accompanied it, so as to fit it for a technical term of the highest abstraction. If we can be said to have a feeling “of the equality of the angle of forty-five to half the angle of ninety degrees,”‡ we may call Geometry and Arithmetic sciences of “feeling.” He has very forcibly stated the necessity of assuming “the primary universal intuitions of direct belief,” which, in their nature, are incapable of all proof. They seem to be accurately described as notions which cannot be conceived separately, but without which nothing can be conceived. They are not only necessary to reasoning and to belief, but to thought itself. It is equally impossible to prove or to disprove them. He has very justly blamed the school of Reid for “an extravagant and ridiculous” multiplication of those principles which he truly represents as inconsistent with sound philosophy. To philosophize is in deed nothing more than to simplify securely.§
The substitution of “suggestion” for the former phrase of “association of ideas,” would hardly deserve notice in so cursory a view, if it had not led him to a serious misconception of the doctrines and deserts of other philosophers. The fault of the latter phrase is rather in the narrowness of the last than in the inadequacy of the first word. ‘Association’ presents the fact in the light of a relation between two mental acts: ‘suggestion’ denotes rather the power of the one to call up the other. But whether we say that the sight of ashes ‘suggests’ fire, or that the ideas of fire and ashes are ‘associated,’ we mean to convey the same fact, and, in both cases, an exact thinker means to accompany the fact with no hypothesis. Dr. Brown has supposed the word “association” as intended to affirm that there is some “intermediate process”* between the original succession of the mental acts and the power which they acquired therefrom of calling up each other. This is quite as much to raise up imaginary antagonists for the honour of conquering them, as he justly reprehends Dr. Reid for doing in the treatment of preceding philosophers. He falls into another more important and unaccountable error, in representing his own reduction of Mr. Hume’s principles of association (—resemblance, contrariety, causation, contiguity in time or place) to the one principle of contiguity, as a discovery of his own, by which his theory is distinguished from “the universal opinion of philosophers.”† Nothing but too exclusive a consideration of the doctrines of the Scottish school could have led him to speak thus of what was hinted by Aristotle, distinctly laid down by Hobbes, and fully unfolded both by Hartley and Condillac. He has, however, extremely enlarged the proof and the illustration of this law of mind, by the exercise of “a more subtile analysis” and the disclosure of “a finer species of proximity.”‡ As he has thus aided and confirmed, though he did not discover, the general law, so he has rendered a new and very important service to mental science, by drawing attention to what he properly calls “secondary laws of Suggestion”§ or Association, which modify the action of the general law, and must be distinctly considered, in order to explain its connection with the phenomena. The enumeration and exposition are instructive, and the example is worthy of commendation. For it is in this lower region of the science that most remains to be discovered; it is that which rests most on observation, and least tempts to controversy: it is by improvements in this part of our knowledge that the foundations are secured, and the whole building so repaired as to rest steadily on them. The distinction of common language between the head and the heart, which, as we have seen, is so often overlooked or misapplied by metaphysicians, is, in the system of Brown, signified by the terms “mental states” and “emotions.” It is unlucky that no single word could be found for the former, and that the addition of the generic term “feeling” should disturb its easy comprehension, when it is applied more naturally.
In our more proper province Brown followed Butler (who appears to have been chiefly known to him through the writings of Mr. Stewart), in his theory of the social affections. Their disinterestedness is enforced by the arguments of both these philosophers, as well as by those of Hutcheson.* It is observable, however, that Brown applies the principle of Suggestion, or Association, boldly to this part of human nature, and seems inclined to refer to it even Sympathy itself.† It is hard to understand how, with such a disposition on the subject of a principle so generally thought ultimate as Sympathy, he should, inconsistently with himself, follow Mr. Stewart in representing the theory which derives the affections from Association as “a modification of the Selfish system.”‡ He mistakes that theory when he states, that it derives the affections from our experience that our own interest is connected with that of others; since, in truth, it considers our regard to our own interest as formed from the same original pleasures by association, which, by the like process, may and do directly generate affections towards others, without passing through the channel of regard to our general happiness. But, says he, this is only an hypothesis, since the formation of these affections is acknowledged to belong to a time of which there is no remembrance;§ —an objection fatal to every theory of any mental functions,—subversive, for example, of Berkeley’s discovery of acquired visual perception, and most strangely inconsistent in the mouth of a philosopher whose numerous simplifications of mental theory are and must be founded on occurrences which precede experience. It is in all other cases, and it must be in this, sufficient that the principle of the theory is really existing,—that it explains the appearances,—that its supposed action resembles what we know to be its action in those similar cases of which we have direct experience. Lastly, he in express words admits that, according to the theory to which he objects, we have affections which are at present disinterested.* Is it not a direct contradiction in terms to call such a theory “a modification of the Selfish system?” His language in the sequel clearly indicates a distrust of his own statement, and a suspicion that he is not only inconsistent with himself, but altogether mistaken.†
As we enter farther into the territory of Ethics, we at length discover a distinction, originating with Brown, the neglect of which by preceding speculators we have more than once lamented as productive of obscurity and confusion. “The moral affections,” says he, “which I consider at present, I consider rather physiologically” (or, as he elsewhere better expresses it, “psychologically”) “than ethically, as parts of our mental constitution, not as involving the fulfilment or violation of duties.”‡ He immediately, however, loses sight of this distinction, and reasons inconsistently with it, instead of following its proper consequences in his analysis of Conscience. Perhaps, indeed, (for the words are capable of more than one sense) he meant to distinguish the virtuous affections from those sentiments which have Morality exclusively in view, rather than to distinguish the theory of Moral Sentiment from the attempt to ascertain the characteristic quality of right action. Friendship is conformable in its dictates to Morality; but it may, and does exist, without any view to it: he who feels the affections, and performs the duties of friendship, is the object of that distinct emotion which is called “moral approbation.”
It is on the subject of Conscience that, in imitation of Mr. Stewart, and with the arguments of that philosopher, he makes his chief stand against the theory which considers the formation of that master faculty itself as probably referable to the necessary and universal operation of those laws of human nature to which he himself ascribes almost every other state of mind. On both sides of this question the supremacy of Conscience is alike held to be venerable and absolute. Once more, be it remembered, that the question is purely philosophical, and is only whether, from the impossibility of explaining its formation by more general laws, we are reduced to the necessity of considering it as an original fact in human nature, of which no further account can be given. Let it, however, be also remembered, that we are not driven to this supposition by the mere circumstance, that no satisfactory explanation has yet appeared; for there are many analogies in an unexplained state of mind to states already explained, which may justify us in believing that the explanation requires only more accurate observation, and more patient meditation, to be brought to that completeness which it probably will attain.
[* ] The doctrine of the Stoics is thus put by Cicero into the mouth of Cato: “Placet his, inquit, quorum ratio mihi probatur, simul atque natum sit animal (hinc enim est ordiendum), ipsum sibi conciliari et commendari ad se conservandurn, et ad suum statum, et ad ea, quæ conservantia sunt ejus status, diligenda; alienari autem ab interitu, iisque rebus quæ interitum videantur afferre. Id ita esse sic probant, quod, antequam voluptas aut dolor attigerit, salutaria appetant parvi, aspernenturque contraria: quod non fieret, nisi statum suum diligerent, interitum timerent: fieri autem non posset, ut appeterent aliquid, nisi sensum haberent sui, eoque se et sua diligerent. Ex quo intelligi debet, principium ductum esse a se diligendi sui.”—De Fin. lib. iii. cap. v. We are told that diligendo is the reading of an ancient MS. Perhaps the omission of “a” would be the easiest and most reasonable emendation. The above passage is perhaps the fullest and plainest statement of the doctrines prevalent till the time of Butler.
[† ] Born, 1692; died, 1752.
[* ] Memoirs of Geo. II., i. 129.
[† ] “Ejus (analogia) vis est; ut id quod dubium est ad aliquid simile de quo non quæritur, referat; ut incerta certis probet.”
[‡ ] See Sermons i. ii. iii. On Human Nature; v. On Compassion; viii. On Resentment; ix. On Forgiveness; xi. and xii. On the Love of Our Neighbour; and xiii. On the Love of God; together with the excellent Preface.
[* ] Sermon xiii.—“On the Love of God.”
[† ] “The part in which I think I have done most service is that in which I have endeavoured to slip in a foundation under Butler’s doctrine of the supremacy of Conscience, which he left baseless.”—Sir James Mackintosh to Professor Napier.—Ed.
[‡ ] The very able work ascribed to Mr. Hazliti, entitled “Essay on the Principles of Human Action.” Lond. 1805, contains original views on this subject.
[* ] Compare this statement with the Stoical doctrine explained by Cicero in the book De Finibus, quoted above, of which it is the direct opposite.
[* ] Born in Ireland, 1694; died at Glasgow, 1747.
[‡ ] The first edition of Butler’s Sermons was published in 1726, in which year also appeared the second edition of Hutcheson’s Inquiry into Beauty and Virtue. The Sermons had been preached some years before, though there is no likelihood that the contents could have reached a young teacher at Dublin. The place of Hutcheson’s birth is not mentioned in any account known to me. Ireland may be truly said to be “incuriosa suorum.”
[† ] Woodhouselee’s Life of Lord Kames, vol. i. Append. No. 3.
[* ] Inquiry, p. 152.
[† ] Essay on the Passions, p. 17.
[‡ ] Ibid. p. 8.
[* ] The character given of the Scotch by the famous and unfortunate Servetus (edition of Ptolemy. 1533,) is in many respects curious: “Gallis amicissimi, Anglorumque regi maximê infesti.*** Subita ingenia, et in ultionem prona, ferociaque.*** In bello fortes; inediæ, vigiliæ, algoris patientissimi; decenti formâ sed cultu negligentiori; invidi naturâ, et cæterorum mortalium contemptores; ostentant plus nimio nobilitatem suam, et in summâ etiam egestate suum genus ad regiam stirpem referunt; nec non dialecticis argutiis sibi blandiuntur.” “Subita ingenia” is an expression equivalent to the “Præfervidum Scotorum ingenium” of Buchanan. Churchill almost agrees in words with Servetus:“Whose lineage springsFrom great and glorious, though forgotten kings.”
The strong antipathy of the late King George III. to what he called “Scotch Metaphysics,” proves the permanency of the last part of the national character.
[† ] Life by Dr. Leechman, prefixed to the System of Moral Philosophy.
[* ] Born near Thomastown, in Ireland, 1684; died at Oxford, 1753.
[† ] Epilogue to Pope’s Satires, dialogue 2.
[‡ ] Duncombe’s Letters, pp. 106, 107.
[§ ] Wharton on Pope, i. 199.
[* ] See his Querist, 358; published in 1735.
[† ] Ibid., 255.
[‡ ] April, 1829.
[§ ] Siris, or Reflections on Tar Water.
[* ] Sermon in Trinity College chapel, on Passive Obedience, 1712.
[* ] See Gentleman’s Magazine for January, 1777.
[† ] Born at Edinburgh, 1711; died there, 1776.
[‡ ] Dr. Smith’s Letter to Mr. Strahan, annexed to the Life of Hume.
[† ] Mirror, Nos. 42, 43, 44.
[‡ ] Mackenzie’s Life of John Home, p. 21.
[* ] Sextus, a physician of the empirical, i. e. antitheoretical school, who lived at Alexandria in the reign of Antoninus Pius, has preserved the reasonings of the ancient Sceptics as they were to be found in their most improved state, in the writings of Ænesidemus, a Cretan, who was a professor in the same city, soon after the reduction of Egypt into a Roman province. The greater part of the grounds of doubt are very shallow and popular: there are, among them, intimations of the argument against a necessary connection of causes with effects, afterwards better presented by Glanville in his Scepsis Scientifici.—See Note Q .
[† ] The Works of the Learned for Nov. and Dec. 1739, pp. 353—404. This review is attributed by some (Chalmer’s Biogr. Dict., voce Hume to Warburton, but certainly without foundation.
[* ] This maxim, which contains a sufficient answer to all universal scepticism, or, in other words, to all scepticism properly so called, is significantly conveyed in the quaint title of an old and rare book, entitled, “Scivi; sive Sceptices et Scepticorum a Jure Disputationis Exclusio,” by Thomas White, the metaphysician of the English Catholics in modern times. “Fortunately,” says the illustrious sceptic himself, “since Reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, Nature herself suffices for that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical delirium.”—Treat. of Hum. Nat., i. 467; almost in the sublime and immortal words of Pascal: “La Raison confond les dogmatistes, et la Nature les sceptiques.”
[* ] It would be an act of injustice to those readers who are not acquainted with that valuable volume entitled, “Essays on the Formation of Opinions,” not to refer them to it as enforcing that neglected part of morality. To it may be added, a masterly article in the Westminster Review, vi. 1, occa sioned by the Essays.
[† ] Woodhouselee’s Life of Kames, i. 86, 104.
[‡ ] These commendations are so far from being at variance with the remarks of the late most ingenious Dr. Thomas Brown, on Mr. Hume’s “mode of writing,” (Inquiry into the Relation of Cause and Effect, 3d ed. p. 327,) that they may rather be regarded as descriptive of those excellencies of which the excess produced the faults of Mr. Hume, as a mere searcher and teacher, justly, though perhaps severely, animadverted on by Dr. Brown.
[* ] Inquiry, § ii. part. i., especially the concluding paragraphs; those which precede being more his own.
[† ] “Si nobis, cum ex hac vita migraverimus, in beatorum insulis, ut fabulæ ferunt, immortale ævum degere liceret, quid opus esset eloquentia, cum judicia nulla fierent? autipsis etiam virtutibus? Nec enim fortitudine indigeremus, nullo proposito aut labore aut periculo; nec justitia, cum esset nihil quod appeteretur alieni; nec temperantia, quæ regeret eas quæ nullæ essent libidines: ne prudentia quidem egeremus, nullo proposito delectu bonorum et malorum. Una igitur essemus beati cognitione rerum et scientia.”—Frag. Cic. Hortens. apud Augustine de Trinitate. Cicero is more extensive, and therefore more consistent than Hume; but his enumeration errs both by excess and defect. He supposes Knowledge to render beings happy in this imaginary state, without stooping to inquire how. He omits a virtue which might well exist in it, though we cannot conceive its formation in such a state—the delight in each other’s well-being; and he omits a conceivable though unknown vice, that of unmixed ill-will, which would render such a state a hell to the wretch who harboured the malevolence.
[* ] Essays and Treatises, vol. i.
[* ] “In hâc quæstione primas tenet Voluntas, quâ, ut ait Angustinus, peccatur, et recte vivitut,”—Erasmus, Diatribe adversus Lutherum.
[* ] Essays and Treatises, vol. ii.
[† ] Born, 1723; died, 1790.
[* ] Lucret. lib. iii.
[† ] This remark is chiefly applicable to Hume’s Essays. His Treatise of Human Nature is more Hobbian in its general tenor, though it has Ciceronian passages.
[* ] Theory of Moral Sentiments, Edinb. 1801, ii. 304.
[† ] There is some confusion regarding this point in Butler’s first sermon on Compassion.
[‡ ] The feelings of beauty, grandeur, and whatever else is comprehended under the name of Taste, form no exception, for they do not lead to action, but terminate in delightful contemplation; which constitutes the essential distinction between them and the moral sentiments, to which, in some points of view, they may doubtless be likened.
[* ] Essays and Treatises, vol. ii.
[* ] Born, 1723; died, 1791.
[† ] The third edition was published at London in 1787.
[* ] The following sentences will illustrate the text, and are in truth applicable to all moral theories on merely intellectual principles: “Reason alone, did we possess it in a higher degree, would answer all the ends of the passions. Thus there would be no need of parental affection, were all parents sufficiently acquainted with the reasons for taking upon them the guidance and support of those whom Nature has placed under their care, and were they virtuous enough to be always determined by those reasons.”—Review, p. 121. A very slight consideration will show, that without the last words the preceding part would be utterly false, and with them it is utterly insignificant.
[† ] Born, 1705; died, 1757.
[‡ ] London, 1749.
[§ ] Among them was G. E. Stahl, born, 1660; died, 1734;—a German physician and chemist of deserved eminence.
[∥ ] Born, 1715; died, 1780.
[¶ ] Traité sur l’Origine des Connoissances Humaines, 1746; Traité des Systèmes, 1749; Traité des Sensations, 1754. Foreign books were then little and slowly known in England. Hartley’s reading, except on theology, seems confined to the physical and mathematical sciences: and his whole manner of thinking and writing is so different from that of Condillac, that there is not the least reason to suppose the work of the one to have been known to the other. The work of Hartley, as we learn from the sketch of his life by his son, prefixed to the edition of 1791, was begun in 1730, and finished in 1746.
[* ] Born, 1720; died, 1793.
[† ] The following note of Condillac will show how much he differed from Hartley in his mode of considering the Newtonian hypothesis of vibrations, and how far he was in that respect superior to him. “Je suppose ici et ailleurs que les perceptions de l’âme ont pour cause physique l’ébranlement des fibres du cerveau; non que je regarde cette hypothèse comme démontrée, mais parcequ’elle est la plus commode pour expliquer ma pensée.”—Œuvres de Condillac, Paris, 1798, i. 60.
[† ] “Ce que les logiciens ont dit des raisonnements dans bien des volumes, me paroit entièrement superflu, et de nul usage.”—Condillac, i. 115; an assertion of which the gross absurdity will be apparent to the readers of Dr. Whateley’s Treatise on Logic, one of the most important works of the present age.
[* ] Condillac, iii. 21; more especially Traité des Sensations, part ii. chap. vi. “Its love for outward objects is only an effect of love for itself.”
[† ] Traité des Sensations, part iv. chap. iii.
[‡ ] Hartley’s preface to the Observations on Man. The word “intellectual” is too narrow. Even “mental” would be of very doubtful propriety. The theory in its full extent requires a word such as “inorganic” (if no better can be discovered), extending to all gratification, not distinctly referred to some specific organ, or at least to some assignable part of the bodily frame.
[§ ] It has not been mentioned in its proper place, that Hutcheson appears nowhere to greater advantage than in some letters on the Fable of the Bees, published when he was very young, at Dublin, with the signature of “Hibernicus.” “Private vices—public benefits,” says he, “may signify any one of these five distinct propositions: 1st. They are in themselves public benefits; or, 2d. They naturally produce public happiness; or, 3d. They may be made to produce it; or, 4th. They may naturally flow from it; or, 5th. At least they may probably flow from it in our infirm nature.” See a small volume containing Thoughts on Laughter, and Remarks on the Fable of the Bees, Glasgow, 1758, in which these letters are republished.
[* ] A very ingenious man, Lord Kames, whose works had a great effect in rousing the mind of his contemporaries and countrymen, has indeed fancied that there is “a hoarding instinct” in man and other animals. But such conclusions are not so much objects of confutation, as ludicrous proofs of the absurdity of the premises which lead to them.
[* ] “Justitia est constans et perpetua voluntas suum cuique tribuendi:” an excellent definition in the mouth of the Stoical moralists, from whom it is borrowed, but altogether misplaced by the Roman jurists in a body of laws which deal only with outward acts in their relation to the order and interests of society.
[* ] See suprà, section on Butler.
[* ] Born, 1705; died, 1774.
[† ] “I have found in this writer more original thinking and observation upon the several subjects that he has taken in hand than in any other,—not to say than in all others put together. His talent also for illustration is unrivalled.”—Paley, Preface to Moral and Political Philosophy. See the excellent preface to an abridgment, by Mr. Haslitt, of Tucker’s work, published in London in 1807. May I venture to refer also to my own Discourse on the Law of Nature and Nations, London, 1799? Mr. Stewart treats Tucker and Hartley with unwonted harshness.
[* ] This disposition to compromise and accommodation, which is discoverable in Paley, was carried to its utmost length by Mr. Hey, a man of much acuteness, Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.
[† ] Perhaps no philosopher ever stated more justly, more naturally, or more modestly than Tucker, the ruling maxim of his life. “My thoughts,” says he, “have taken a turn from my earliest youth towards searching into the foundations and measures of Right and Wrong; my love for retirement has furnished me with continual leisure; and the exercise of my reason has been my daily employment.”
[* ] Light of Nature, vol. ii. chap. xviii., of which the conclusion may be pointed out as a specimen of unmatched fruitfulness, vivacity, and felicity of illustration. The admirable sense of the conclusion of chap. xxv. seems to have suggested Paley’s good chapter on Happiness. The alteration of Plato’s comparison of Reason to a charioteer, and the passions to the horses, in chap. xxvi., is of characteristic and transcendent excellence.
[* ] Much of Tucker’s chapter on Pleasure, and of Paley’s on Happiness (both of which are invaluable), is contained in the passage of the Traveller, of which the following couplet expresses the main object:
“Unknown to them when sensual pleasures cloy, To fill the languid pause with finer joy.”
“An honest man,” says Hume, (Inquiry concerning Morals, § ix.) “has the frequent satisfaction of seeing knaves betrayed by their own maxims.” “I used often to laugh at your honest simple neighbour Flamborough, and one way or another generally cheated him once a year: yet still the honest man went forward without suspicion, and grew rich, while I still continued tricksy and cunning, and was poor, without the consolation of being honest.”—Vicar of Wakefield, chap. xxvi.
[† ] Born, 1743; died, 1805.
[* ] See Animal Mechanics, by Mr. Charles Bell, published by the Society for the diffusion of Useful Knowledge.
[† ] Essay on Man. Ep. iii.
[* ] Book i. chap. vii.
[* ] “Government may be too secure. The greatest tyrants have been those whose titles were the most unquestioned. Whenever, therefore, the opinion of right becomes too predominant and superstitious, it is abated by breaking the custom. Thus the Revolution broke the custom of succession, and thereby moderated, both in the prince and in the people, those lofty notions of hereditary right, which in the one were become a continual incentive to tyranny, and disposed the other to invite servitude, by undue compliances and dangerous concessions.”—Book vi. chap. 2.
[* ] Born, 1748; died, 1832.—Ed.
[* ] They were addressed to Mr. George Wilson, who retired from the English bar to his own country, and died at Edinburgh in 1816;—an early friend of Mr. Bentham, and afterwards an intimate one of Lord Ellenborough, of Sir Vicary Gibbs, and of all the most eminent of his professional contemporaries. The rectitude of judgment, purity of heart, elevation of honour, the sternness only in integrity, the scorn of baseness, and indulgence towards weakness, which were joined in him with a gravity exclusive neither of feeling nor of pleasantry, contributed still more than his abilities and attainments of various sorts, to a moral authority with his friends, and in his profession, which few men more amply possessed, or more usefully exercised. The same character, somewhat softened, and the same influence, distinguished his closest friend, the late Mr. Lens. Both were inflexible and incorruptible friends of civil and religious liberty, and both knew how to reconcile the warmest zeal for that sacred cause, with a charity towards their opponents, which partisans, often more violent than steady, treated as lukewarm. The present writer hopes that the good-natured reader will excuse him for having thus, perhaps unseasonably, bestowed heartfelt commendation on those who were above the pursuit of praise, and the remembrance of whose good opinion and good-will help to support him under a deep sense of faults and vices.
[† ] Digest. lib. i. tit. 16. De Verborum Significatione.
[* ] See a beautiful article on Codification, in the Edinburg Review, vol. xxix. p. 217. It need no longer be concealed that it was contributed by Sir Samuel Romilly. The steadiness with which he held the balance in weighing the merits of his friend against his unfortunate defects, is an example of his union of the most commanding moral principle with a sensibility so warm, that, if it had been released from that stern authority, it would not so long have endured the coarseness and roughness of human concerns. From the tenderness of his feelings, and from an anger never roused but by cruelty and baseness, as much as from his genius and his pure taste, sprung that original and characteristic eloquence, which was the hope of the afflicted as well as the terror of the oppressor. If his oratory had not flowed so largely from this moral source, which years do not dry up, he would not perhaps have been the only example of an orator who, after the age of sixty, daily increased in polish, in vigour, and in splendour.
[† ] An excellent medium between those who absolutely require new codes, and those who obstinately adhere to ancient usages, has been pointed out by M. Meyer, in his most justly celebrated work, Esprit, &c. des Institutions Judiciares des Principaux Pays de l’Europe, La Haye, 1819, tome i. Introduction, p. 8.
[* ] Mill, Analysis of the Human Mind, vol. ii. p. 237. It would be unjust not to say that this book, partly perhaps from a larger adoption of the principles of Hartley, holds out fairer opportunities of negotiation with natural feelings and the doctrines of former philosophers, than any other production of the same school. But this very assertion about courage clearly shows at least a forgetfulness that courage, even if it were the offspring of prudence, would not for that reason be a species of it.
[* ] According to Cicero’s definition of fortitude, “Virtus pugnans pro æquitate.” The remains of the original sense of “virtus,” manhood, give a beauty and force to these expressions, which cannot be preserved in our language. The Greek “ὀρετή,” and the German “tugend,” originally denoted “strength,” afterwards “courage,” and at last “virtue.” But the happy derivation of “virtus” from “vir” gives an energy to the phrase of Cicero, which illustrates the use of etymology in the hands of a skilful writer.
[† ] Anal. Hum. Mind. vol. ii. p. 222.
[‡ ] For a description of vanity, by a great orator, see the Rev. R. Hall’s Sermon on Modern Infidelity.
[* ] Horat. Epistol. lib. i. 16.
[† ] Probably quoted memoriter from De Fin. lib. iv. cap. 23.—Ed.
[* ] Lycidas, l. 78.
[* ] Encyc. Brit., article “Government.”
[* ] The same mode of reasoning has been adopted by the writer of a late criticism, on Mr. Mill’s Essay. See Edinburgh Review, vol. xlix. p. 159.
[† ] Encyc. Brit., article “Education.”
[* ] Born, 1753; died, 1828.
[* ] Burns.
[† ] As an example of Mr. Stewart’s school may be mentioned Francis Horner, a favourite pupil, and, till his last moment, an affectionate friend. The short life of this excellent person is worthy of serious contemplation, by those more especially, who, in circumstances like his, enter on the slippery path of public affairs. Without the aids of birth or fortune, in an assembly where aristocratical propensities prevail,—by his understanding, industry, pure taste, and useful information,—still more by modest independence, by steadiness and sincerity, joined to moderation,—by the stamp of unbending integrity, and by the conscientious considerateness which breathed through his well-chosen language, he raised himself, at the early age of thirty-six, to a moral authority which, without these qualities, no brilliancy of talents or power of easoning could have acquired. No eminent speaker in Parliament owed so much of his success to his moral character. His high place was therefore honourable to his audience and to his country. Regret for his death was expressed with touching unanimity from every part of a divided assembly, unused to manifestations of sensibility, abhorrent from theatrical display, and whose tribute on such an occasion derived its peculiar value from their general coldness and sluggishness. The tears of those to whom he was unknown were shed over him; and at the head of those by whom he was “praised, wept, and honoured,” was one, whose commendation would have been more enhanced in the eye of Mr. Horner, by his discernment and veracity, than by the signal proof of the concurrence of all orders, as well as parties, which was afforded by the name of Howard.
[* ] Those who may doubt the justice of this description will do well to weigh the words of the most competent of judges, who, though candid and even indulgent, was not prodigal of praise. “It is certainly very rare that a piece so deeply philosophical is wrote with so much spirit, and affords so much entertainment to the reader. Whenever I enter into your ideas, no man appears to express himself with greater perspicuty. Your style is so correct and so good English, that I found not any thing worth the remarking. I beg my compliments to my friendly adversaries Dr. Campbell and Dr. Gerard, and also to Dr. Gregory, whom I suspect to be of the same disposition, though he has not openly declared himself such.”—Letter from Mr. Hume to Dr. Reid: Stewart’s Biographical Memoirs, p. 417. The latter part of the above sentences (written after a perusal of Dr. Reid’s Inquiry, but before its publication) sufficiently shows, that Mr. Hume felt no displeasure against Reid and Campbell, undoubtedly his most formidable antagonist, however he might resent the language of Dr. Beattie, an amiable man, an elegant and tender poet, and a good writer on miscellaneous literature in prose, but who, in his Essay on Truth,—(an unfair appeal to the multitude of philosophical questions) indulged himself in the personalities and invectives of a popular pamphleteer.
[* ] Fragments of his lectures have been recently published in a French translation of Dr. Reid, by M. Jonffroy: Œuvres Completes de Thomas Reid, vol iv. Paris, 1828.
[† ] 1831.—Ed.
[* ] Cours de Philosophie, par M. Cousin, leçon xii. Paris, 1828.
[* ] Philosophical Essays, part ii. essay i., especially chap. vi. The condensation, if not omission, of the discussion of the theories of Buffier, Reynolds, Burke, and Price, in this essay, would have lessened that temporary appearance which is unsuitable to a scientific work.
[† ] Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1792, 4to.), vol. i. p. 281.
[‡ ] Ibid. p. 383.
[§ ] Ibid. p. 385.
[¶ ] Philosophical Essays, part ii. essay i. chap. xi.
[* ] Outlines of Moral Philosophy, p. 93.
[† ] Outlines, p. 117. “This is the most important question that can be stated with respect to the theory of Morals.”
[‡ ] In the Philosophy of the Active and Moral Powers of Man (vol. i. p. 164.), Mr. Stewart has done more manifest injustice to the Hartleian theory, by calling it “a doctrine fundamentally the same with the Selfish system,” and especially by representing Hartley, who ought to be rather classed with Butler and Hume, as agreeing with Gay, Tucker, and Paley.
[* ] Elem Philos. Hum. Mind, vol. i. pp. 340—352.
[* ] Ibid. vol. i. p. 502.
[† ] Ibid. vol. ii. p. 57.
[‡ ] pp. 76—118.
[* ] Born, 1778; died. 1820.
[* ] Welsh’s Life of Brown, p. 43;—a pleasingly affectionate work, full of analytical spirit and metaphysical reading,—of such merit, in short, that I could wish to have found in it no phrenology. Objections a priori in a case dependent on facts are, indeed, inadmissible: even the allowance of presumptions of that nature would open so wide a door for prejudices, that at most they can be considered only as maxims of logical prudence, which fortify the watchfulness of the individual. The fatal objection to phrenology seems to me to be, that what is new in it, or peculiar to it, has no approach to an adequate foundation in experience.
[† ] “Bayle, a writer who, pervading human nature at his ease, struck into the province of paradox, as an exercise for the unwearied vigour of his mind; who, with a soul superior to the sharpest attacks of fortune, and a heart practised to the best philosophy, had not enough of real greatness to overcome that last forble of superior minds, the temptation of honour, which the academic exercise of wit is conceived to bring to its professor.” So says Warburton (Divine Legation, book i. sect. 4), speaking of Bayle, but perhaps in part excusing himself, in a noble strain, of which it would have been more agreeable to find the repetition than the contrast in his language towards Hume.
[* ] See Sir H. Moncreiff’s Life of the Reverend Dr. Erskine.
[† ] Welsh’s Life of Brown, p. 77, and App. p. 498.
[‡ ] A part of the first day’s minutes is here borrowed from Mr. Welsh:—“7th January, 1797.—Present, Mr. Erskine, President,—Mr. Brougham, Mr. Reddie, Mr. Brown, Mr. Birbeck, Mr. Leyden,” &c. who were afterwards joined by Lord Webb Seymour, Messrs. Horner, Jeffrey, Sidney Smith, &c. Mr. Erskine, who thus appears at the head of so remarkable an association, and whom diffidence and untoward circumstances have hitherto withheld from the full manifestation of his powers, continued to be the bosom friend of Brown to the last. He has shown the constancy of his friendship for others by converting all his invaluable preparations for a translation of Sultan Baber’s Commentaries, (perhaps the best, certainly the most European work of modern Eastern prose) into the means of completing the imperfect attempt of Leyden, with a regard equally generous to the fame of his early friend, and to the comfort of that friend’s surviving relations. The review of Baber’s Commentaries, by M. Silvestre de Sacy, in the Journal des Savans for May and June 1829, is perhaps one of the best specimens extant of the value of literary commendation when it is bestowed with conscientious calmness, and without a suspicion of bias, by one of the greatest orientalists, in a case where he pronounces every thing to have been done by Mr. Erskine “which could have been performed by the most learned and the most scrupulously conscientious of editors and translators.”
[* ] His accomplished friend Mr. Erskine confesses that Brown’s poems “are not written in the language of plain and gross emotion. The string touched is too delicate for general sympathy. They are in an unknown tongue to one half” (he might have said nineteen twentieths) “of the reading part of the community.”—Welsh’s Life of Brown, p. 431.
[* ] Brown’s Lectures, vol. ii. pp. 1—49.
[† ] Ibid. vol. i. p. 220.
[‡ ] Ibid. vol. i. p. 222.
[§ ] Dr. Brown always expresses himself best where he is short and familiar. “An hypothesis is nothing more than a reason for making one experiment or observation rather than another.”—Lectures, vol. i. p. 170. In 1812, as the present writer observed to him that Reid and Hume differed more in words than in opinion, he answered, “Yes, Reid bawled out, we must believe an outward world, but added in a whisper, we can give no reason for our belief: Hume cries out, we can give no reason for such a notion, and whispers, I own we cannot get rid of it.”
[* ] Brown’s Lectures, vol. ii. pp. 335—347.
[† ] Ibid. vol. ii. p. 349.
[‡ ] Ibid. vol. ii. p. 218.
[§ ] Ibid. vol. ii. p. 270.
[* ] Brown’s Lectures, vol. iii. p. 248.
[† ] Ibid. vol. iv. p. 82.
[‡ ] Ibid. vol. iii. p. 282.
[§ ] Ibid. vol. iv. p. 87.
[* ] Brown’s Lectures, vol. iv. p. 87.
[† ] Ibid. vol. iv. pp. 94—97.
[‡ ] Ibid. vol. iii. p. 231.
[Note P. page 139.] Though some parts of the substance of the following letter have already appeared in various forms, perhaps the account of Mr. Hume’s illness, in the words of his friend and physician Dr. Cullen, will be acceptable to many readers. I owe it to the kindness of Mrs. Baillie, who had the goodness to copy it from the original, in the collection of her late learned and excellent husband, Dr. Baillie. Some portion of what has been formerly published I do not think it necessary to reprint.
From Dr. Cullen to Dr. Hunter.
“My Dear Friend,—
I was favoured with yours by Mr. Halket on Sunday, and have answered some part of it by a gentleman whom I was otherwise obliged to write by; but as I was not certain how soon that might come to your hand. I did not answer your postscript; in doing which, if I can oblige you, a part of the merit must be that of the information being early, and I therefore give it you as soon as I possibly could. You desire an account of Mr. Hume’s last days, and I give it you with some pleasure; for though I could not look upon him in his illness without much concern, yet the tranquillity and pleasantry which he constantly discovered did even then give me satisfaction, and, now that the curtain is dropped, allows me to indulge the less allayed reflection. He was truly an example des grands hommes qui sont morts en plaisantant. . . . For many weeks before his death he was very sensible of his gradual decay; and his answer to inquiries after his health was, several times, that he was going as fast as his enemies could wish, and as easily as his friends could desire. He was not, however, without a frequent recurrence of pain and uneasiness; but he passed most part of the day in his drawing-room, admitted the visits of his friends, and, with his usual spirit, conversed with them upon literature, politics, or whatever else was accidentally started. In conversation he seemed to be perfectly at ease, and to the last abounded with that pleasantry, and those curious and entertaining anecdotes, which ever distinguished him. This, however, I always considered rather as an effort to be agreeable; and he at length acknowledged that it became too much for his strength. For a few days before his death, he became more averse to receive visits; speaking became more and more difficult for him, and for twelve hours before his death his speech failed altogether. His senses and judgment did not fail till the last hour of his life. He constantly discovered a strong sensibility to the attention and care of his friends; and, amidst great uneasiness and langour, never betrayed any peevishness or impatience. This is a general account of his last days; but a particular fact or two may perhaps convey to you a still better idea of them.
* * * *
“About a fortnight before his death, he added a codicil to his will, in which he fully discovered his attention to his friends, as well as his own pleasantry. What little wine he himself drank was generally port, a wine for which his friend the poet [John Home] had ever declared the strongest aversion. David bequeaths to his friend John one bottle of port; and, upon condition of his drinking this even at two down-sittings, bestows upon him twelve dozen of his best claret. He pleasantly adds, that this subject of wine was the only one upon which they had ever differed. In the codicil there are several other strokes of raillery and pleasantry, highly expressive of the cheerfulness which he then enjoyed. He even turned his attention to some of the simple amusements with which he had been formerly pleased. In the neighbourhood of his brother’s house in Berwickshire is a brook, by which the access in time of floods is frequently interrupted. Mr. Hume bequeaths 100l. for building a bridge over this brook, but upon the express condition that none of the stones for that purpose shall be taken from a quarry in the neighbourhood, which forms part of a romantic scene in which, in his earlier days, Mr. Hume took particular delight:—otherwise the money to go to the poor of the parish.
“These are a few particulars which may perhaps appear trifling; but to me no particulars seem trifling that relate to so great a man. It is perhaps from trifles that we can best distinguish the tranquillity and cheerfulness of the philosopher, at a time when the most part of mankind are under disquiet, anxiety, and sometimes even horror. . . . I had gone so far when I was called to the country; and I have returned only so long before the post as to say, that I am most affectionately yours,
“William Cullen. “Edinburgh, 17th September, 1776.”
[Note Q. page 139.] Pyrrho was charged with carrying his scepticism so far as not to avoid a carriage if it was driven against him. Ænesidemus, the most famous of ancient sceptics, with great probability vindicates the more ancient doubter from such lunacy, of which indeed his having lived to the age of ninety seems sufficient to acquit him. Αἰνεσίδημος δέ ϕησι ϕιλοσοϕεῖν μὲν αὐτὸν ϰατὰ τὸν τῆς ἐπο· χῆς λόγον, μὴ μέντοι γε ἀπροορατὼς ἕϰαστα πράττεα[Editor: illegible word] Diogenes Laertius, lib. ix. sect. 62. Brief and imperfect as our accounts of ancient scepticism are, it does appear that their reasoning on the subject of causation had some resemblance to that of Mr. Hume. Ἀναιροῦσι δὲ τὸ αἴτιον ῶδε· τὸ αἴτιον τῶν πρός τί ἐστι, πρὸς γὰρ τῷ αἰτιατῷ ἐστι· τὰ δὲ πρός τι ἐπινοεῖται μόνον ὑπάρχει δὲ οὔ· ϰαὶ τὸ αἴτιον οὖν ἐπινοοῖτο ἀν μόνον.—Ibid. sec. 97. It is perhaps impossible to translate the important technical expression τὰ πρός τι. It comprehends two or more things as related to each other; both the relative and correlative being taken together as such. Fire considered as having the power of burning wood is τὸ πρός τι. The words of Laertius may therefore be nearly rendered into the language of modern philosophy as follows: “Causation they take away thus:—A cause is so only in relation to an effect. What is relative is only conceived, but does not exist. Therefore cause is a mere conception.” The first attempt to prove the necessity of belief in a Divine revelation, by demonstrating that natural reason leads to universal scepticism, was made by Algazel, a professor at Bagdad, in the beginning of the twelfth century of our era; whose work entitled the “Destruction of the Philosopher” is known to us only by the answer of Averroes, called “Destruction of the Destruction.” He denied a necessary connection between cause and effect; for of two separate things, the affirmation of the existence of one does not necessarily contain the affirmation of the existence of the other; and the same may be said of denial. It is curious enough that this argument was more especially pointed against those Arabian philosophers who, from the necessary connection of causes and effects, reasoned against the possibility of miracles;—thus anticipating one doctrine of Mr. Hume, to impugn another.—Tennemann, Geschichte der Philosophie, vol. viii. p. 387. The same attempt was made by the learned but unphilosophical Huet, bishop of Avranches.—(Quæstiones Alnetanæ, Caen, 1690, and Traité de la Foiblesse de l’Esprit Humain, Amsterdam, 1723.) A similar motive urged Berkeley to his attack on Fluxions. The attempt of Huet has been lately renewed by the Abbé Lamennais, in his treatise on Religious Indifference;—a fine writer whose apparent reasonings amount to little more than well-varied assertions, and well-disguised assumptions of the points to be proved. To build religion upon scepticism is the most extravagant of all attempts; for it destroys the proofs of a divine mission, and leaves no natural means of distinguishing between revelation and imposture. The Abbé Lamennais represents authority as the sole ground of belief. Why? If any reason can be given, the proposition must be false; if none, it is obviously a mere groundless assertion.
[Note R. page 142.] Casanova, a Venetian doomed to solitary imprisonment in the dungeons at Venice in 1755, thus speaks of the only books which for a time he was allowed to read. The title of the first was “La Cité Mystique de Sœur Marie de Jesus, appellée d’Agrada.” “J’y lus tout ce que peut enfanter l’imagination exaltée d’une vierge Espagnole extravagamment dévote, cloitrée, mélancholique, ayant des directeurs de conscience, ignorans, faux, et dévots. Amoureuse et amie très intime de la Sainte Vierge, elle avait reçu ordre de Dieu même d’écrire la vie de sa divine mère. Les instructions nécessaires lui avaient été fournies par le Saint Esprit. Elle commençoit la vie de Marie, non pas du jour de sa naissance, mais du moment de son immaculée conception dans le sein de sa mère Anne. Après avoir narré en détail tout ce que sa divine héroïne fit les neuf mois qu’elle a passé dans le sein maternel, elle nous apprend qu’à l’âge de trois ans elle balayoit la maison, aidée par neuf cents domestiques, tous anges, commandés par leur propre Prince Michel. Ce qui frappe dans ce livre est l’assurance que tout est dit de bonne foi. Ce sont les visions d’un esprit sublime, qui, sans aucune ombre d’orgueil, ivre de Dieu, croit ne révéler que ce que l’Esprit Saint lui inspire.”—Mémoires de Casanova (Leipsic, 1827), vol. iv. p. 343. A week’s confinement to this volume produced such an effect on Casanova, an unbeliever and a debauchee, but who was then enfeebled by melancholy, bad air, and bad food, that his sleep was haunted, and his waking hours disturbed by its horrible visions. Many years after, passing through Agrada in Old Castile, he charmed the old priest of that village by speaking of the biographer of the virgin. The priest showed him all the spots which were consecrated by her presence, and bitterly lamented that the Court of Rome had refused to canonize her. It is the natural reflection of Casanova that the book was well qualified to turn a solitary prisoner mad, or to make a man at large an atheist. It ought not to be forgotten, that the inquisitors of state at Venice, who proscribed this book, were probably of the latter persuasion. It is a striking instance of the infatuation of those who, in their eagerness to rivet the bigotry of the ignorant, use means which infallibly tend to spread utter unbelief among the educated. The book is a disgusting, but in its general outline seemingly faithful, picture of the dissolute manners spread over the Continent of Europe in the middle of the eighteenth century.
[Note S. page 143.] “The Treatise on the Law of War and Peace, the Essay on Human Understanding, the Spirit of Laws, and the Inquiry into the Causes of the Wealth of Nations, are the works which have most directly influenced the general opinion of Europe during the two last centuries. They are also the most conspicuous landmarks in the progress of the sciences to which they relate. It is remarkable that the defects of all these great works are very similar. The leading notions of none of them can, in the strictest sense, be said to be original, though Locke and Smith in that respect surpass their illustrious rivals. All of them employ great care in ascertaining those laws which are immediately deduced from experience, or directly applicable to practice; but apply metaphysical and abstract principles with considerable negligence. Not one pursues the order of science, beginning with first elements, and advancing to more and more complicated conclusions; though Locke is perhaps less defective in method than the rest. All admit digressions which, though often intrinsically excellent, distract attention and break the chain of thought. Not one of them is happy in the choice, or constant in the use, of technical terms; and in none do we find much of that rigorous precision which is the first beauty of philosophical language. Grotius and Montesquieu were imitators of Tacitus,—the first with more gravity, the second with more vivacity; but both were tempted to forsake the simple diction of science, in pursuit of the poignant brevity which that great historian has carried to a vicious excess. Locke and Smith chose an easy, clear, and free, but somewhat loose and verbose style,—more concise in Locke,—more elegant in Smith,—in both exempt from pedantry, but not void of ambiguity and repetition. Perhaps all these apparent defects contributed in some degree to the specific usefulness of these great works; and, by rendering their contents more accessible and acceptable to the majority of readers, have more completely blended their principles with the common opinions of mankind.”—Edinburgh Review, vol. xxxvi. p. 244. [This is a further extract from the article alluded to at p. 192.—Ed.]
[Notes T—U. p. 147.] Δει̑ δ’ οὓτως, ὥσπερ ἐν γραμματείω ῷ μηδεν ὑπάρχει ἐντεΛεχεία γεγραμμένον· ὁσπερ συμβαίνει ἐτὶ τοῦ νοῦ.—Aristotle. “De Animâ,” Opera, (Paris, 1639) tome ii. p. 50. A little before, in the same treatise, appears a great part of the substance of the famous maxim, Nil est in intellectu quod non prius fuit in sensu. Ἥδε φαντασία ϰίνησίς τις δοϰει εἴναι, ϰαὶ οὐϰ ἀνευ αἰσθήσεως γίγνεσθαι.—Ibid. p. 47. In the tract on Memory and Reminiscence we find his enumeration of the principles of association. Διὰ ϰαὶ το εφεξῆς ϑηρεύομεν, νοησοῦντες ἀπὸ τοῦ νὺν ἢ ἀλλου τινος, ϰαὶ αφ’ ὁμοίου ἢ ἐναντίου, ἢ τοῦ σύνεγγος.—Ibid. p. 86. If the latter word be applied to time as well as space, and considered as comprehending causation, the enumeration will coincide with that of Hume. The term ϑηρεύω is as significant as if it had been chosen by Hobbes. But it is to be observed, that these principles are applied only to explain memory.
Something has been said on the subject, and something on the present writer, by Mr. Coleridge, in his unfortunately unfinished work called “Biographia Literaria,” chap. v., which seems to justify, if not to require, a few remarks. That learned gentleman seems to have been guilty of an oversight in quoting as a distinct work the “Parva Naturalia,” which is the collective name given by the scholastic translators to those treatises of Aristotle which form the second volume of Duval’s edition of his works, published at Paris in 1639. I have already acknowledged the striking resemblance of Mr. Hume’s principles of association to those of Aristotle. In answer, however, to a remark of Mr. Coleridge, I must add, that the manuscript of a part of the Aquinas which I bought many years ago (on the faith of a bookseller’s catalogue) as being written by Mr. Hume, was not a copy of the Commentary on the “Parva Naturalia,” but of Aquinas’ own “Secunda Secundæ;” and that, on examination, it proves not to be the handwriting of Mr. Hume, and to contain nothing written by him. It is certain that, in the passages immediately preceding the quotation, Aristotle explains recollection as depending on a general law,—that the idea of an object will remind us of the objects which immediately preceded or followed when originally perceived. But what Mr. Coleridge has not told us is, that the Stagyrite confines the application of this law exclusively to the phenomena of recollection alone, without any glimpse of a more general operation extending to all connections of thought and feeling,—a wonderful proof, indeed, even so limited, of the sagacity of the great philosopher, but which for many ages continued barren of further consequences. The illustrations of Aquinas throw light on the original doctrine, and show that it was unenlarged in his time. “When we recollect Socrates, the thought of Plato occurs ‘as like him.’ When we remember Hector, the thought of Achilles occurs ‘as contrary.’ The idea of a father is followed by that of a son ‘as near.’ ”—Opera, vol. i. pars ii. p. 62. et seq. Those of Ludovicus Vives, as quoted by Mr. Coleridge, extend no farther. But if Mr. Coleridge will compare the parts of Hobbes on Human Nature which relate to this subject, with those which explain general terms, he will perceive that the philosopher of Malmesbury builds on these two foundations a general theory of the human understanding, of which reasoning is only a particular case. In consequence of the assertion of Mr. Coleridge, that Hobbes was anticipated by Descartes in his excellent and interesting discourse on Method, I have twice reperused the latter’s work in quest of this remarkable anticipation, though, as I thought, well acquainted by my old studies with the writings of that great philosopher. My labour has, however, been vain: I have discovered no trace of that or of any similar speculation. My edition is in Latin by Elzevir, at Amsterdam, in 1650 the year of Descartes’ death. I am obliged, therefore, to conjecture, that Mr. Coleridge, having mislaid his references, has, by mistake, quoted the discourse on Method, instead of another work; which would affect his inference from the priority of Descartes to Hobbes. It is not to be denied, that the opinion of Aristotle, repeated by so many commentators, may have found its way into the mind of Hobbes, and also of Hume; though neither might be aware of its source, or even conscious that it was not originally his own. Yet the very narrow view of Association taken by Locke, his apparently treating it as a novelty, and the silence of common books respecting it, afford a presumption that the Peripatetic doctrine was so little known, that it might have escaped the notice of these philosophers;—one of whom boasted that he was unread, while the other is not liable to the suspicion of unacknowledged borrowing.
To Mr. Coleridge, who distrusts his own power of building a bridge by which his ideas may pass into a mind so differently trained as mine, I venture to suggest, with that sense of his genius which no circumstance has hindered me from seizing every fit occasion to manifest, that more of my early years were employed in contemplations of an abstract nature, than of those of the majority of his readers,—that there are not, even now, many of them less likely to be repelled from doctrines by singularity or uncouthness; or many more willing to allow that every system has caught an advantageous glimpse of some side or corner of the truth; or many more desirous of exhibiting this dispersion of the fragments of wisdom by attempts to translate the doctrine of one school into the language of another; or many who when they cannot discover a reason for an opinion, consider, it more important to discover the causes of its adoption by the philosopher;—believing, as I do, that one of the most arduous and useful offices of mental philosophy is to explore the subtile illusions which enable great minds to satisfy themselves by mere words, before they deceive others by payment in the same counterfeit coin. My habits, together with the natural influence of my age and avocations, lead me to suspect that in speculative philosophy I am nearer to indifference than to an exclusive spirit. I hope that it can neither be thought presumptuous nor offensive in me to doubt, whether the circumstance of its being found difficult to convey a metaphysical doctrine to a person who, at one part of his life, made such studies his chief pursuit, may not imply either error in the opinion, or defect in the mode of communication.
[Note V. page 159.] A very late writer, who seems to speak for Mr. Bentham with authority, tells us that “the first time the phrase of ‘the principle of utility’ was brought decidedly into notice, was in the ‘Essays,’ by David Hume, published about the year 1742. In that work it is mentioned as the name of a principle which might be made the foundation of a system of morals, in opposition to a system then in vogue, which was founded on what was called the ‘moral sense.’ The ideas, however, there attached to it, are vague, and defective in practical application.”—Westminster Review, vol. xi. p. 258. If these few sentences were scrutinised with the severity and minuteness of Bentham’s Fragment on Government, they would be found to contain almost as many misremembrances as assertions. The principle of Utility is not “mentioned,” but fully discussed, in Mr. Hume’s discourse. It is seldom spoken of by “name.” Instead of charging the statements of it with “vagueness,” it would be more just to admire the precision which it combines with beauty. Instead of being “defective in practical application,” perhaps the desire of rendering it popular has crowded it with examples and illustrations taken from life. To the assertion that “it was opposed to the moral sense,” no reply can be needful but the following words extracted from the discourse itself: “I am apt to suspect that reason and sentiment concur in almost all moral determinations and conclusions. The final sentence which pronounces characters and actions amiable or odious, probably depends on some internal sense or feeling, which nature has made universal in the whole species.”—Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, sect. i. The phrase “made universal,” which is here used instead of the more obvious and common word “implanted,” shows the anxious and perfect precision of language, by which a philosopher avoids the needless decision of a controversy not at the moment before him.
[Dr. Whewell puts the case against the present mis-denomination assumed by the disciples of Mr. Bentham thus neatly:—“If the word from which Deontology is derived had borrowed its meaning from the notion of utility alone, it is not likely that it would have become more intelligible by being translated out of Latin into Greek. But the term ‘Deontology’ expresses moral science (and expresses it well), precisely because it signifies the science of duty, and contains no reference to Utility. Mackintosh, who held that τὸ δέον,—what men ought to do—was the fundamental notion of morality, might very probably have termed the science “Deontology.” The system of which Mr. Bentham is the representative,—that of those who make morality dependent on the production of happiness,—has long been designated in Germany by the term ‘Eudemonism,’ derived from the Greek word for happiness (ευδαιμονὶα). If we were to adopt this term we should have to oppose the Deontological to the Eudemonist school; and we must necessarily place those who hold a peculiar moral faculty,—Butler, Stewart, Brown, and Mackintosh,—in the former, and those who are usually called Utilitarian philosophers in the latter class.”—Preface to this Dissertation, 8vo, Edinburg, 1837.—Ed.]
[Note W. page 160.] A writer of consummate ability, who has failed in little but the respect due to the abilities and character of his opponents, has given too much countenance to the abuse and confusion of language exemplified in the well-known verse of Pope,
Modes of self-love the Passions we may call.
“We know,” says he, “no universal proposition respecting human nature which is true but one,—that men always act from self-interest.”—Edinburgh Review, vol. xlix. p. 185. It is manifest from the sequel, that the writer is not the dupe of the confusion; but many of his readers may be so. If, indeed, the word ‘self-interest’ could with propriety be used for the gratification of every prevalent desire, he has clearly shown that this change in the signification of terms would be of no advantage to the doctrine which he controverts. It would make as many sorts of self-interest as there are appetites, and it is irreconcilably at variance with the system of association embraced by Mr. Mill. To the word ‘self-love’ Hartley properly assigns two significations:—1. gross self-love, which consists in the pursuit of the greatest pleasures, from all those desires which look to individual gratification; or, 2, refined self-love, which seeks the greatest pleasure which can arise from all the desires of human nature,—the latter of which is an invaluable, though inferior principle. The admirable writer whose language has occasioned this illustration,—who at an early age has mastered every species of composition,—will doubtless hold fast to simplicity, which survives all the fashions of deviation from it, and which a man of a genius so fertile has few temptations to forsake.