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BLAKEY’S HISTORY OF MORAL SCIENCE 1833 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume X - Essays on Ethics, Religion, and Society 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume X - Essays on Ethics, Religion, and Society, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by F.E.L. Priestley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985).
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BLAKEY’S HISTORY OF MORAL SCIENCE
Monthly Repository, VII (Oct., 1833), 661-9. Unsigned; not republished. The title is footnoted: “History of Moral Science. By Robert Blakey, Author of an Essay on Moral Good and Evil. 2 vols. 8vo. [London: Duncan,] 1833.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A review of Blakey’s ‘History of Moral Science’ in the Monthly Repository for October 1833” (MacMinn, 34). In the brief account in the Autobiography (138) of his writings for the Monthly Repository, JSM does not mention this article. The writing of it can be dated fairly precisely by JSM’s letter (7/9/33) to W. J. Fox, editor of the Monthly Repository, in which he says: “I am ashamed to say I can give no hope that Blakey will be ready on Monday [9 Sept.]—though I think part of him will be.” Telling Carlyle (5/10/33) which of the articles in the October number are his, JSM writes: “one [is] a review of a foolish book by a man named Blakey, of Morpeth, called a History of Moral Science; for writing which he is utterly unfit, being a man who as you would say, has no eyes, only a pair of glasses and I will add, almost opake ones.” (Earlier Letters, XII, 177, 181.)
There are no corrections or alterations in the two Somerville College copies.
Blakey’s History of Moral Science
an ambitious title, and one which promises much; but the promises of title-pages are so seldom followed by performances! “Moral science” should naturally mean the science of morals. It were something to find that there is a writer alive who believes that such a science exists; and not only exists, but is in such a state of advancement that the time is come to write its history; who, consequently, is not only able to tell us the opinions of others, but has systematic ones of his own. For how should he write the history of a science, who has not constructed a consistent scheme of the science in its present state? The historian of moral philosophy must himself have a philosophy of morals; must have surveyed the field of ethics extensively enough, and with sufficient power of concatenation, to have arranged its truths (or whatever present themselves to his mind as such) into a connected series, following and flowing out of one another: thus much, at least, is implied in the name of science. But Mr. Blakey has no such thought. There are few ways in which a mind of little depth or compass is more apt to betray itself than by the use of big words to express small things; whoever does this innocently and without quackery, shows himself to be unfurnished with the larger idea for which he should have reserved his large phrase. By giving the name “History of Moral Science” to a book, which should have been called “Sketch of the Opinions of various Authors on the Foundation of Moral Obligation, with critical Remarks,” Mr. Blakey demonstrates how little meaning even the word “Science” has for him, since he considers the whole history of a science to be summed up in the controversial discussions concerning the first principle of it.
After a short preamble, and a few loose remarks about “the ancient systems of morality,” Mr. Blakey presents us with what professes to be a summary of the opinions of the following writers, concerning the first principle of ethics:—Hobbes, Cudworth, Bishop Cumberland, Locke, Archbishop King, Wollaston, Clarke, Shaftesbury, Mandeville, Bolingbroke and Pope, Soame Jenyns, Hutcheson, a Mr. Thomas Rutherford, Hume, Hartley and Priestley, Lord Kames, Bishop Butler, Dr. Ferguson, Dr. Price, Adam Smith, Paley, Gisborne, Bentham, Godwin, Dugald Stewart, Cogan, Dr. Thomas Brown, and a certain Dr. Dewar. All foreign authors whatever are then disposed of in a single chapter; and two chapters more are employed in promulgating such of the author’s own opinions as have not been sufficiently manifested by his strictures on other writers.
Mr. Blakey’s statement of the opinions of these various authors deserves the praise of honesty. He never perversely distorts an opinion, in the blindness of prejudice, or to serve a purpose. He generally treats the intentions and talents, even of those from whom he differs most, with justice and liberality. He does not insist upon fastening on them a meaning or consequence which they never contemplated; and he employs but sparingly the favourite weapon of the uncandid and the bigot, imputation of immoral tendency. But our commendation cannot go much further. It is not every man who can give an instructive view of other men’s opinions.
There are two modes of writing usefully concerning systems of philosophy: the one, suitable to a mind which is qualified to judge; the other, to one which can only describe. The intellect which can survey the wanderings of imperfect thinkers from a higher eminence of thought, commanding a view not only of the right track, but of all the by-ways of error, and all the fallacious appearances which seduce the unguarded to deviate into them—such a critic (we use the prostituted word only because we have no other) can not only estimate more justly, but can actually state more clearly and forcibly an author’s theory, than the author himself; can really understand it better; because he sees (what the author himself does not see) how the doctrine arose in the author’s own mind; of what peculiar position in regard to opportunities of observation, or of what peculiarity of intellect or of disposition, it is the natural consequence. Any thing like this we were not entitled to expect from Mr. Blakey; it supposes a philosopher, and such Mr. Blakey is not. But if this was impossible, the next thing to it in usefulness, though at a vast distance, would have been a condensed view of each system, not as it appears to a higher intelligence, but as it appeared to its author; such a statement of the author’s train of thought, of the series of his premises and his conclusions, as would be conveyed by a well-made abstract of his principal works, or as would be given by an intelligent disciple thoroughly conversant with his master’s doctrines. Mr. Blakey’s summaries by no means come up to this idea; they are vague and sketchy, and not only do not, to those who knew the doctrines before, exhibit them in any new light, but give no sufficiently distinct conception of them to those who knew them not. Often the conclusions are exhibited almost without the premises: and on the whole there is little to be learnt even by the merest tyro in philosophy, from these volumes, except a few generalities, and a few forms of expression. He is told in what words philosophers have expressed the results of their speculations, but though he may not be made positively to misunderstand, he is not made thoroughly to feel, the meaning in the philosopher’s own mind, to which the words are but an index, and often a most imperfect one.
An overweening self-confidence, and contemptuous assumption of superiority, in judging of the intellects of others, would be peculiarly unbecoming in a mind of Mr. Blakey’s calibre: and he cannot be accused of those faults; he mostly treats with due respect all who by their speculations have deserved any. To the liberal appreciation of merit which he commonly evinces, there are indeed exceptions; and, unfortunately, in the very cases in which there is most merit to appreciate. But this is a very different thing from arrogance. It is not because an author differs from Mr. Blakey, that Mr. Blakey deems scornfully of him; but because, in addition to differing from Mr. Blakey, he has been cried down by the world—that is to say, the English world. Over-reliance on our own judgment is one thing, over-reliance on the judgment of the world when in unison with our own, is another. The latter is the failing of a weaker, but certainly of a more modest mind. The misfortune is, that the contempt of those who have confidence enough to be scornful only when they are backed by a crowd, is aptest to fall upon those who are most in advance of their age. Mr. Blakey’s strongest expressions of disdain are divided between the association-philosophy as taught by Hartley, and the metaphysics of the German school. In other words, the only metaphysical doctrines which he utterly despises, are the two systems between which, and which only, almost every metaphysician, deserving the name, in all Europe, is now beginning to be convinced that it is necessary to choose: the two most perfect forms of the only two theories of the human mind which are, strictly speaking, possible. Both are alike worthless in Mr. Blakey’s eyes, because it has been the fashion among English writers to treat both with disrespect, and because he himself understands neither of them. The difference is, he pronounces the one unintelligible, because it is so to him; the other he flatters himself that he sees through and through, and can discern that there is nothing in it.
So little does Mr. Blakey comprehend of the theory which resolves all the phenomena of the mind into ideas of sensation connected together by the law of association, that he does not even see any thing peculiar in the doctrine. Association itself, he will not allow to be a distinct principle or fact in human nature. It is nothing more, he says, than remembrance; it has been known in all ages, as the faculty of memory. Just so we may conceive, on the appearance of Newton’s Principia,[*] some mind of the same character objecting to the theory of gravitation, that there was nothing in it but the ancient and familiar fact of weight.
If a person, [says Mr. Blakey,] will take the first volume of the treatise On Man, and read it carefully over, and whenever he finds the words association, associates, associating, &c. let him replace them with the words memory, remembered, remembrance, connected in his mind, and he will find that the sense of the various passages in which the former class of words are used, will remain as completely the same, when words descriptive of memory are thus employed.
(Vol. II, p. 124.)
Not so, Mr. Blakey. Memory and remembrance only denote the fact that somehow we do remember: association denotes that our remembrances (pardon the expression) suggest and recall one another in an order, determined by the order of succession of the facts remembered; or rather, determined partly by the order of succession, and partly by the more or less interesting nature, of those previous impressions. Cannot Mr. Blakey understand the difference between a phenomenon, and the law of the phenomenon? The reflexion of light, and of sound, is a fact; that the angle of reflexion is equal to the angle of incidence, is the law of that fact. And this law of nature may be something new to a person, even although he may have heard an echo, and seen his face in a mirror. In like manner a person may know that when we have seen an object or experienced a feeling, we remember it, (which is all that is expressed by the words faculty of memory,) and may, notwithstanding, have yet to learn that when we have seen two objects or had two feelings together, we think of them together, and not otherwise; and that the strength of their connexion in our remembrance, depends jointly upon the number of previous conjunctions in fact or in thought, and upon the intensity of the original impressions. Once for all, association is not memory, but the law of memory.
Now, the theory of the human mind of which Dr. Hartley was the principal author, maintains that this same law, which is the law of memory, namely, that the order of our thoughts follows the order of our sensations, is not only the law of memory, but the law of imagination, of belief, of reasoning, of the affections, of the will. This may not be true; but it is at least very different from every other theory. But Mr. Blakey knows so little about the Hartleian doctrine, that he propounds as a complete summary of it, the following proposition: The advocates of association state a simple fact, that there is a connexion amongst our ideas. (Vol. II, p. 126.) We exhort him to read Hartley; or a more recent work, which has done far more for Hartley’s theory, than Hartley himself, Mr. Mill’s Analysis of the Human Mind.[*]
As a specimen of argumentation which Mr. Blakey considers to be conclusive, we quote the following:
Association is the tendency of one idea to introduce another into the mind. Very well, then; but how do we come to set it down as a general fact, that one set of ideas has an invariable tendency to introduce another set of ideas? By experience, it must be answered. But what is experience? Why, it is the remembrance of that which is past.
[Vol. II, pp. 116-17.]
Therefore, association is nothing but memory.
We will treat Mr. Blakey with a specimen in return. The pretended science of chemistry is nothing but memory.
Chemistry is the properties of simple substances, and their various compounds. But how do we come to set it down as a general fact, that two substances, as oxygen and hydrogen, being compounded together, form a third substance, water? By experience, it must be answered. But what is experience? Why, it is the remembrance of that which is past. In what, therefore, does this chemistry differ from memory?
Mr. Blakey continues—
But to put this matter in as clear a light as possible, let us suppose that A is a present idea in the mind, and that it has a tendency to introduce another idea which has never been in the mind before, and which we will call B. To this tendency of A to introduce B into the mind, is given the name of association. Now how can we assert or deny any thing respecting the tendency of A to introduce B, till we have witnessed A’s power over B, and have had B present to the understanding? The very proposition that A has an influence over B implies that we have seen this tendency, and that B must have previously been in the mind, and consequently an object of memory. Thus we see then, when we speak about connexions among our ideas, we must consider them as connexions which have been known before; and therefore we ought to infer, that the treating of them comes within the province of memory, and not within any other intellectual power whatever.
(Vol. II, p. 117.)
What a paralogism; we might almost call it a bull. Yes, certainly, the proposition that A has a tendency to introduce B, implies that we have seen this tendency at some former time, because otherwise we should not know it: but the fact itself implies nothing of the kind. When A for the first time introduced B, “which had never been in the mind before,” B was not an object of memory; although it is so when we have observed and treasured up the occurrence. Because an event must be remembered before it can be talked about, Mr. Blakey imagines that it was a subject of memory when it first happened. It is upon the strength of such reasoning that he assumes such a tone as this:
What a dull and paralyzing effect has the reading of a book in which the principle of the association of ideas forms the philosophical dramatis personæ in the piece. . . . There is no way of getting through the book, without violating the rules of politeness by enjoying a smile at the expense of the system.
(Vol. II, p. 127.)
With much more of the same sort.
Of foreign authors Mr. Blakey seems to be profoundly ignorant. He affirms that in the majority of cases—
The continental philosophy of human nature presents to a well-constituted mind a repulsive aspect, and is profusely saturated with everything that is impure, ridiculous, profane, whimsical, and pernicious.
(Vol. II, p. 300.)
Meaning, we suppose, some French writers only, and those only in the eighteenth century. The celebrated theory of Malebranche he states thus, that “all things should be seen in God;” (Vol. II, p. 308) and he imagines that Candide[*] was written to support the doctrines which are put into the mouth of Pangloss! (Vol. II, p. 289.)
At the conclusion of his abstract of the opinions of previous authors, which, it is but justice to say, is in general much fairer, and even more intelligent, than might be supposed from the specimens which we have given, Mr. Blakey sums up the result of the examination in the following words:
All the systems we have examined may, I conceive, be referred to six distinct heads. 1st. The eternal and immutable nature of all moral distinctions. 2nd. That utility, public or private, is the foundation of moral obligation. 3rd. That all morality is founded upon the will of God. 4th. That a moral sense, feeling, or emotion, is the ground of virtue. 5th. That it is by supposing ourselves in the situation of others, or by a species of sympathetic mechanism, that we derive our notions of good and evil. And 6th, the doctrine of vibrations,* and the association of ideas.
(Vol. II, p. 317.)
After declaring that “there are none of these different systems that are not in some degree founded on truth,” and that “we cannot resolve all the moral feelings and habits of our nature into one general principle,” he assigns, nevertheless, his reasons for preferring to all the other theories the doctrine, “that virtue depends upon the will of God,” as made known by revelation. [Vol. II, pp. 319, 320.]
Mr. Blakey’s enumeration is illogical: it confounds two distinct, though nearly connected, questions; the standard or test of moral obligation, and the origin of our moral sentiments. It is one question what rule we ought to obey, and why; another question how our feelings of approbation and disapprobation actually originate. The former is the fundamental question of practical morals; the latter is a problem in mental philosophy. Adam Smith’s doctrine of sympathy which stands fifth, and the doctrine of association which stands sixth in Mr. Blakey’s list, are theories respecting the nature and origin of our feelings of morality. His second and third are theories respecting the rule or law by which we ought to guide our conduct. His first and fourth involve, or may be so understood as to involve, both considerations.
These several theories, therefore, are not exclusive of one another. It is possible, for instance, to hold with Hartley, that our feelings of morality originate in association, and with Bentham that our conduct, in all things which depend on our will, and among the rest, in the cultivation of those very feelings, should be guided by utility; or with our author, that the will of God is itself the foundation of the obligations of virtue. David Hume seems to have combined the recognition of utility as the standard or test of morality, with the belief of a moral sense, independent of association. Paley has no theory respecting the nature of moral feelings, but his notion of the moral law is compounded of the second and third of the theories enumerated by our author.
But of all those theories, whether ethical or metaphysical, whether declaring what our conduct should be, or what our feelings are, none surely is so utterly destitute of plausibility as Mr. Blakey’s own doctrine, that virtue is constituted by the will of God.
If we believe this, we believe that God does not declare what is good, and command us to do it, but that God actually makes it good. Good is whatever God makes it. What we call evil, is only evil because he has arbitrarily prohibited it. The countless myriads to whom he has never signified his will, are under no moral obligations. This doctrine takes away all motives to yield obedience to God, except those which induce a slave to obey his master. He must be obeyed because he is the stronger. He is not to be obeyed because he is good, for that implies a good which he could not have made bad by his mere will. If we had the misfortune to believe that the world is ruled by an evil principle, that there is no God, but only a devil, or that the devil has more power over us than God, we ought by this rule to obey the devil. Mr. Blakey is evidently quite unconscious of these consequences of his theory. But, that they are legitimate consequences who can doubt?
And this theory Mr. Blakey believes to rest upon the authority of scripture.
I venture to affirm, [says he,] that from Genesis to Revelation inclusive, there is not a single passage, which, when fairly examined, claims the attention and homage of mankind upon any other ground than what is implied in the command which accompanies it.
(Vol. II, p. 326.)
The scriptures, as Mr. Blakey himself says elsewhere, do not enter into speculative questions; they tell us what to do, not why. But do they not say perpetually, God is good, God is just, God is righteous, God is holy? And are we to understand by these affirmations nothing at all, but the identical and unmeaning proposition God is himself, or a proposition which has so little to do with morality as this, God is powerful? Has God in short no moral attributes? no attributes but those which the devil is conceived to possess in a smaller degree? and no title to our obedience but such as the devil would have, if there were a devil, and the universe were without God?
Mr. Blakey insists much upon the sublimity of the scriptures, and the perfection of scripture morality; considerations which tell strongly against his own doctrine; for if we are capable of recognising excellence in the commands of the Omnipotent, they must possess excellence independently of his command; and excellence discoverable by us even without revelation; for whatever reason can recognise when found, reason can find. If the morality of the scriptures is admirable because it conduces to happiness, this implies that the production of happiness is a legitimate purpose of morals: if because it accords with our sympathies, that implies that morality may be founded on sympathy. If the precepts of scripture have nothing intrinsically good, but are good solely by reason of the power from which they emanate, their character ought to be as mysterious and incomprehensible to us as the ceremonies of magic: nor could there on that supposition be any reason apparent to us, why we are not commanded to hate our neighbour instead of to love him.
Not being of opinion, with Mr. Blakey, that our reception of a philosophic doctrine ought to be determined, not solely by its truth, but by what we imagine respecting the arguments it may afford for or against our religious belief, we ought not, perhaps, to notice the claim which Mr. Blakey sets up for his doctrine, of being peculiarly favourable to the interests of revealed religion. But though such arguments go for nothing with those who can trust themselves to judge of the true and the false, who are resolved to believe the truth, whatever may be its consequences, and are not afraid of finding one truth irreconcilable with another; those who are diffident of their own intellectual powers, naturally dread any doctrine which they can be led to think tends to shake from under their feet, the foundation on which they have built all their hopes and purposes. Mr. Blakey, therefore, shall not be allowed the exclusive use of this argument. We tell him that his doctrine is more destructive to the foundations of Christianity, than any of the theories of moral obligation which he has enumerated; by taking away altogether its internal evidences, the only ones which are not common to it with a thousand superstitions. In Judea itself, both before and after Christ appeared, numbers of false Christs and charlatans of all descriptions had pretended to work miracles, and had been believed; believed not only by their proselytes, but by those who rejected them, and who ascribed their miraculous powers to the agency of evil spirits. If these impostors sunk, and were heard of no more, while Christianity spread itself over the earth, it was not that greater credence was given to the Christian miracles than to theirs; it was, that the simple-hearted men who gathered themselves round the founder of Christianity, far from believing the doctrines to be excellent because they came from God, believed them to come from God because they felt them to be excellent. The fervour of their love and admiration could not find fit utterance but in the phrase, “he spake as never man spake.”[*] Christianity had perished with its founder if Mr. Blakey’s theory had been true. The world has acknowledged him as sent of God, has believed him to be God, because there was a standard of morality by which man could test not the word of man merely, but what was vouched for as the word of God; because of that internal evidence, which according to the repeated declarations of Christ himself, ought to have been sufficient. It was out of the hardness of their hearts that they needed signs.[*] Had all been right within, the precepts themselves would have sufficed to prove their own origin.
We have expended more words than were perhaps necessary upon so preposterous a doctrine. Our excuse must be, the infinitely mischievous tendency of a theory of moral duty, according to which God is to be obeyed, not because God is good, nor because it is good to obey him, but from some motive or principle which might have dictated equally implicit obedience to the powers of darkness. Such a philosophy, in proportion as it is realized in men’s lives and characters, must extirpate from their minds all reverence, all admiration, and all conscience, and leave them only the abject feelings of a slave.
Such a theory cannot be combated too often; it should be warred against wherever it rears its head. But with regard to most of the other conflicting opinions respecting the primary grounds of moral obligation, it appears to us that a degree of importance is often attached to them, more than commensurate to the influence they really exercise for good or for evil. Doubtless they are important, as all questions in morals are important: a clear conception of the ultimate foundation of morality, is essential to a systematic and scientific treatment of the subject, and to the decision of some of its disputed practical problems. But the most momentous of the differences of opinion on the details of morality, have quite another origin. The real character of any man’s ethical system depends not on his first and fundamental principle, which is of necessity so general as to be rarely susceptible of an immediate application to practice; but upon the nature of those secondary and intermediate maxims, vera illa et media axiomata, in which, as Bacon observes, real wisdom resides.[†] The grand consideration is, not what any person regards as the ultimate end of human conduct, but through what intermediate ends he holds that his ultimate end is attainable, and should be pursued: and in these there is a nearer agreement between some who differ, than between some who agree, in their conception of the ultimate end. When disputes arise as to any of the secondary maxims, they can be decided, it is true, only by an appeal to first principles; but the necessity of this appeal may be avoided far oftener than is commonly believed; it is surprising how few, in comparison, of the disputed questions of practical morals, require for their determination any premises but such as are common to all philosophic sects.
[[*] ]Isaac Newton. Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. London, 1687.
[[*] ]James Mill. Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind. 2 vols. London: Baldwin and Cradock, 1829.
[[*] ]Voltaire. Candide, ou l’optimisme.
[* ]The doctrine of vibrations, a mere physiological hypothesis, which has no connexion at all with Hartley’s theory of association, ought not to have been included in an enumeration of theories of morals. [JSM’s footnote.]
[[*] ]John, 7:46.
[[*] ]See Mark, 3:5.
[[†] ]Novum Organum. In Works. Ed. J. Spedding, R. L. Ellis, and D. D. Heath. London: Longman, 1857-74, Vol. I, p. 205.