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SEDGWICK’S DISCOURSE 1835 - 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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“Professor Sedgwick’s Discourse on the Studies of the University of Cambridge,” D&D, I (2nd ed., 1867), 95-159, with footnote to title: “London Review, April 1835.” Reprinted from the London Review, I (Apr., 1835), 94-135, signed “A”. Original heading: “Art. V. Professor Sedgwick’s Discourse.—State of Philosophy in England. / A Discourse on the Studies of the University. By Adam Sedgwick, M.A., F.R.S.; Woodwardian Professor, and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. [London: Parker,] 1834. 3d edit.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A review of Sedgwick’s ‘Discourse on the Studies of the University,’ headed ‘Professor Sedgwick’s Discourse—State of Philosophy in England’, in the first number of the London Review (April, 1835)” (MacMinn, 43). The article, which he had begun writing by 14 October, 1834, was finished, presumably in an unrevised state, by 26 November (see JSM’s letters to J. P. Nichol on those dates, Earlier Letters, XII, 235 and 238). See also the footnote to 45 below, which describes a passage as “Written in 1834.” For JSM’s attitude to this article, and its relation to others in this volume, see the Textual Introduction, cxvii-cxx above.
The following text is collated with that in D&D (1st ed.), and that in the London Review. In the footnoted variants, D&D (2nd ed.) is indicated by “67”; D&D (1st ed.) by “59”; the London Review by “35”. There are no corrections or alterations in the Somerville College copies of D&D and the London Review.
if we were asked for what end, above all others, endowed universities exist, or ought to exist, we should answer—To keep alive philosophy. This, too, is the ground on which, of late years, our own national endowments have chiefly been defended. To educate common minds for the common business of life, a public provision may be useful, but is not indispensable: nor are there wanting arguments,a not conclusive, yet of considerable strength, to show that it is undesirable. Whatever individual competition does at all, it commonly does best. All things in which the public are adequate judges of excellence, are best supplied where the stimulus of individual interest is the most active; and that is where pay is in proportion to exertion: not where pay is made sure in the first instance, and the only security for exertion is the superintendence of government; far less where, as in the English universities, even that security has been successfully excluded. But there is an education of which it cannot be pretended that the public are competent judges; the education by which great minds are formed. To rear up minds with aspirations and faculties above the herd,b capable of leading on their countrymen to greater achievements in virtue, intelligence, and social well-being; to do this, and likewise so to educate the leisured classes of the community generally, that they may participate as far as possible in the qualities of these superior spirits, and be prepared to appreciate them, and follow in their steps—these are purposes, requiring institutions of education placed above dependence on the immediate pleasure of that very multitude whom they are designed to elevate. These are the ends for which endowed universities are desirable; they are those which all endowed universities profess to aim at; and great is their disgrace, if, having undertaken this task, and claiming credit for fulfilling it, they leave it unfulfilled.
In what manner are these purposes—the greatest which any human institution can propose to itself—purposes which the English Universities must be fit for, or they are fit for nothing—performed by those universities?—Circumspice.
In the intellectual pursuits which form great minds, this country was formerly pre-eminent. England once stood at the head of European philosophy. Where stands she now? Consult the general opinion of Europe. The celebrity of England, in the present day, rests upon her docks, her canals, her railroads. In intellect she is distinguished only for a kind of sober good sense, free from extravagance, but also void of lofty aspirations; and for doing all those things which are best done where man most resembles a machine, with the precision of a machine. Valuable qualities, doubtless; but not precisely those by which cmankind raise themselvesc to the perfection of dtheird nature, or eachievee greater and greater conquests over the difficulties which encumber ftheirf social arrangements. Ask any reflecting person in France or Germany his opinion of England; whatever may be his own tenets—however friendly his disposition to us—whatever his admiration of our institutions, and gof some parts of our national characterg ; however alive to the faults and errors of his own countrymen, the feature which always strikes him in the English mind is the absence of enlarged and commanding views. Every question he finds discussed and decided on its own basis, however narrow, without any light thrown upon it from principles more extensive than itself; and no question discussed at all, unless parliament, or some constituted authority, is to be moved to-morrow or the day after to put it to the vote. Instead of the ardour of research, the eagerness for large and comprehensive inquiry, of the educated part of the French and German youth, what find we? Out of the narrow bounds of mathematical and physical science, not a vestige of a reading and thinking public engaged in the investigation of truth as truth, in the prosecution of thought for the sake of thought. Among hfewh except sectarian religionists—and what they are we all know—is there any interest in the great problem of man’s nature and life: among istill feweri is there any curiosity respecting the nature and principles of human society, the history or the philosophy of civilization; nor any belief that, from such inquiries, a single important practical consequence can follow. Guizot, the greatest admirer of England among the Continental philosophers, nevertheless remarks that, in England, even great events do not, as they do everywhere else, inspire great ideas.[*] Things, in England, are greater than the men who accomplish them.j
But perhaps this degeneracy is the effect of some cause over which the universities had no control, and against which they have been ineffectually struggling. If so, those bodies are wonderfully patient of being baffled. Not a word of complaint escapes any of their leading dignitaries—not a hint that their highest endeavours are thwarted, their best labours thrown away; not a symptom of dissatisfaction with the intellectual state of the national mind, save when it discards the boroughmongers, lacks zeal for the Church, or calls for the admission of Dissenters within their precincts. On the contrary, perpetual boasting how perfectly they succeed in accomplishing all that they attempt; endless celebrations of the country’s glory and happiness in possessing a youth so taught, so mindful of what they are taught. When any one presumes to doubt whether the universities are all that universities should be, he is not told that they do their best, but that the tendencies of the age are too strong for them; no—he is, with an air of triumph, referred to their fruits, and asked whether an education which has made English gentlemen what we see them, can be other than a good education? All is right so long as no one speaks of taking away their endowments, or encroaching upon their monopoly.* While they are thus eulogizing their own efforts, and the results of their efforts; philosophy—not any particular school of philosophy, but philosophy altogether—speculation of any comprehensive kind, and upon any deep or extensive subject—has been falling more and more into distastefulness and disrepute among the educated classes of England. Have those classes meanwhile learned to slight and despise these authorized teachers of philosophy, or ceased to frequent their schools? Far from it. The universities then may flourish, though the pursuits which are the end and justification of the existence of universities decay. The teacher thrives and is in honour, while that which he affects to teach vanishes from among mankind.
If the above reflections were to occur, as they well might, to an intelligent foreigner, deeply interested in the condition and prospects of English intellect, we may imagine with what avidity he would seize upon the publication before us. It is a discourse on the studies of Cambridge, by a Cambridge Professor, delivered to a Cambridge audience, and published at their request. It contains the opinion of one of the most liberal members of the University on the studies of the place; or, as we should rather say, on the studies which the place recommends, and which some few of its pupils actually prosecute. Mr. Sedgwick is not a mere pedant of a college, who defends the system because he has been formed by the system, and has never learned to see anything but in the light in which the system showed it to him. Though an intemperatek , he is not a bigoted, partisan of the body to which he belongs; he can see faults as well as excellences, not merely in their mode of teaching, but in some parts of what they teach. His intellectual pretensions, too, are high. lNotl of him can it be said that he aspires not to philosophy; he writes in the character of one to whom its loftiest eminences are familiar. Curiosity, therefore, cannot but be somewhat excited to know what he finds to say respecting the Cambridge scheme of education, and what notion may be formed of the place from the qualities he exhibits in himself, one of itsm favourable specimens.
Whatever be the value of Professor Sedgwick’s Discourse in the former of these two points of view, in the latter we have found it, on examination, to be a document of considerable importance. The Professor gives his opinion (for the benefit chiefly, he says, of the younger members of the University, but in a manner, he hopes, “not altogether unfitting to other ears”[*] ) on the value of several great branches of intellectual culture, and on the spirit in which they should be pursued. Not satisfied with this, he proclaims in his preface another and a still more ambitious purpose—the destruction of what nhas been termedn the Utilitarian theory of morals. “He has attacked the utilitarian theory of morals, not merely because he thinks it founded on false reasoning, but because he also believes that it produces a degrading effect on the temper and conduct of those who adopt it.”[†]
This is promising great things: to refute a theory of morals; and to trace its influence on the character and actions of those who embrace it. A better test of capacity for philosophy could not be desired. We shall see how Professor Sedgwick acquits himself of his two-fold task, and what were his qualifications for undertaking it.
From an author’s mode of introducing his subject, and laying the outlines of it before the reader, some estimate may generally be formed of his capacity for discussing it. In this respect, the indications afforded by Mr. Sedgwick’s commencement are not favourable. Before giving his opinion of the studies of the University, he had to tell us what those studies are. They are, first, mathematical and physical science; secondly, the classical languages and literature; thirdly (if some small matter of Locke and Paley deserve so grand a denomination), mental and moral science. For Mr. Sedgwick’s purpose, this simple mode of designating these studies would have been sufficiently precise; but if he was determined to hit off their metaphysical characteristics, it should not have been in the following style:—
The studies of this place, as far as they relate to mere human learning, divide themselves into three branches: First, the study of the laws of nature, comprehending all parts of inductive philosophy. Secondly, the study of ancient literature, or, in other words, of those authentic records which convey to us an account of the feelings, the sentiments, and the actions of men prominent in the history of the most famous empires of the ancient world: in these works we seek for examples and maxims of prudence and models of taste. Thirdly, the study of ourselves, considered as individuals and as social beings: under this head are included ethics and metaphysics, moral and political philosophy, and some other kindred subjects of great complexity, hardly touched on in our academic system, and to be followed out in the more mature labours of after life.
How many errors in expression and classification in one short passage! The “study of the laws of nature” is spoken of as one thing, “the study of ourselves” as another. In studying ourselves, are we not studying the laws of our nature? “All parts of inductive philosophy” are placed under one head; “ethics and metaphysics, moral and political philosophy,” under another. Are these no part of inductive philosophy? Of what philosophy, then, are they a part? Is not all philosophy, which is founded upon experience and observation, inductive?* What, again can Mr. Sedgwick mean by calling “ethics” one thing and “moral philosophy” another? Moral philosophy must be either ethics or a branch of metaphysics—either the knowledge of our duty, or the theory of the feelings with which we regard our duty. What a loose description, too, of ancient literature—where no description at all was required. The writings of the ancients are spoken of as if there were nothing in them but the biographies of eminent statesmen.
This want of power to express accurately what is conceived, almost unerringly denotes inaccuracy in the conception itself: such verbal criticism, therefore,o is far from unimportant. But the topics of a graver kind, which Mr. Sedgwick’s Discourse suggests, are fully sufficient to occupy us, and to them we shall henceforth confine ourselves.
The Professor’s survey of the studies of the University commences with “the study of the laws of nature,” or, to speak a more correct language, the laws of the material universe. Here, to a mind stored with the results of comprehensive thought, there lay open a boundless field of remark, of the kind most useful to the young students of the University. At the stage in education which they are supposed to have reached, the time was come for disengaging their minds from the microscopic contemplation of the details of the various sciences, and elevating them to the idea of Science as a whole—to the idea of human culture as a whole—of the place which those various sciences occupy in the former, and the functions which they perform in the latter. Though an actual analysis would have been impossible, there was room to present, in a rapid sketch, the results of an analysis, of pthe methodsp of the various physical sciences—q the processes by which they severally arrive at truth: the peculiar logic of each science, and the light thrown thereby upon universal logic: the various kinds and degrees of evidence upon which the truths of those sciences rest; how to estimate them; how to adapt our modes of investigation to them: how far the habits of estimating evidence, which these sciences engender, are applicable to other subjects, and to evidence of another kind; how far inapplicable. Hence the transition was easy to the more extensive inquiry, what these physical studies are capable of doing for the mind; which of the habits and powers that constitute a fine intellect those pursuits tend to cultivate; what are those which they do not cultivate those even (for such there are) which they tend to impede; by what other studies and intellectual exercises by what general reflections, or course of reading or meditation, those deficiencies may be supplied. The Professor might thus have shown (what it is usual only to declaim about) how highly a familiarity with mathematics, with dynamics, with even experimental physics and natural history, conduces both tor strength ands soundness oft understanding; and yet how possible it is to be master of all these sciences, and to be unable to put two ideas together with a useful result, on any other topic. The youth of the university might have been taught to set a just value on these attainments, yet to see in them, as branches of general education, what they really are—the early stages in the formation of a usuperioru mind; thev instruments of a higher culture. Nor would it have been out of place in such a discourse, though perhaps not peculiarly appropriate to this part of it, to have added a few considerations on the tendency of scientific pursuits in general; the influence of habits of analysis and abstraction upon the character:—how, without those habits, the mind is the slave of its own accidental associations, the dupe of every superficial appearance, and fit only to receive its opinions from authority:—on the other hand, how their exclusive wcultivationw , while it strengthens the associations which connect means with ends, effects with causes, tends to weaken many of those upon which our enjoyments and our social feelings depend; and by accustoming the mind to consider, in objects, chiefly the properties on account of which we refer them to classes and give them general names, leaves our conceptions of them as individuals, lame and meagre:—how, therefore, the corrective and antagonist principle to the pursuits which deal with objects only in the abstract, is to be sought in those which deal with them altogether in the concrete, clothed in properties and circumstances: real life in its most varied forms, poetry and art in all their branches.
These, and many kindred topics, a xtruex philosopher, standing in the place of Professor Sedgwick, would, as far as space permitted, have illustrated and insisted on. But the Professor’s resources supplied him only with a few trite commonplaces, on the high privilege of comprehending the mysteries of the natural world; the value of studies which give a habit of abstraction, and a “power of concentration;” the use of scientific pursuits in saving us from languor and vacuity; with other truths of ythat small calibrey . To these he adds, that “the study of the higher sciences is well suited to keep down a spirit of arrogance and intellectual pride,” by convincing us of “the narrow limitation of our faculties;”[*] and upon this peg he appends a dissertation on the evidences of design in the universe—a subject on which much originality was not to be hoped for, and the nature of which may be allowed to protect feebleness from any severity of comment.
The Professor’s next topic is the classical languages and literature. And here he begins by wondering. zIt is a common propensity of writers on natural theologyz to erect everything into a wonder. aTheya cannot consider theb greatness and wisdom of God, once for all, as proved, but cthink themselvesc bound to be finding fresh arguments for it in every chip or stone; and dthey thinkd nothing a proof of greatness unless etheye can wonder at it; and to most minds a wonder explained is a wonder no longer. Hence a sort of vague feeling, as if, to ftheirf conceptions, God would not be so great if he had made us capable of understanding more of the laws of his universe; and hence a reluctance to admit even the most obvious explanation, lest it should destroy the wonder.
The subject of Professor Sedgwick’s wonder is a very simple thing—the manner in which a child acquires a language.
I may recall to your minds, [says he,] the wonderful ease with which a child comprehends the conventional signs of thought formed between man and man—not only learns the meaning of words descriptive of visible things; but understands, by a kind of rational instinct, the meaning of abstract terms, without ever thinking of the faculty by which he comes to separate them from the names of mere objects of sense. The readiness with which a child acquires a language may well be called a rational instinct: for during the time that his knowledge is built up, and that he learns to handle the implements of thought, he knows no more of what passes within himself, that he does of the structure of the eye, or of the properties of light, while he attends to the impressions on his visual sense, and gives to each impression its appropriate name.
gIfg whatever we do without understanding the machinery by which we do it, be done by a rational instinct, we learn to dance by instinct: since few of the dancing-master’s pupils have ever heard of any one of the muscles which his instructions and their own sedulous practice give them the power to use. Do we grow wheat by “a rational instinct,” because we know not how the seed germinates in the ground? We know by experience, not by instinct, that it hdoes germinateh , and on that assurance we sow it. A child learns a language by the ordinary laws of association; by hearing the word spoken, on the various occasions on which the meaning denoted by it has to be conveyed. This mode of acquisition is better adapted for giving a loose and vague, than a precise, conception of the meaning of an abstract term; accordingly, most people’s conceptions of the meaning of many abstract terms in common use remain always loose and vague. The rapidity with which ichildren learni a language is not more wonderful than the rapidity with which jthey learnj so much else at an early age. It is a common remark, that we gain more knowledge in the first few years of life, without labour, than we ever kafterwardsk acquire by the hardest toil, in double the time. There are many causes to account for this; among which it is sufficient to specify, that lmuch ofl the knowledge we then acquire concerns our most pressing wants, and that our attention to outward impressions is not yet deadened by familiarity, nor distracted, as in grown persons, by a previously accumulated stock of inward mfeelings and ideasm .
Against the general tendency of the Professor’s remarks on the cultivation of the ancient languages, nthere is little to be saidn . We think with him, that “our fathers have done well in making classical studies an early and prominent part of liberal education” (p. 36). We fully coincide in his opinion, that “the philosophical and ethical works of the ancients deserve a much larger portion of our time than we” (meaning Cambridge) “have hitherto bestowed on them” (p. 39). We commend the liberality (for, in a professor of an English University, the liberality which admits the smallest fault in the university system of tuition deserves to be accounted extraordinary) of the following remarks:—
It is notorious, that during many past years, while verbal criticism has been pursued with so much ardour, the works to which I now allude (coming home, as they do, to the business of life; and pregnant, as they are, with knowledge well fitted to fortify the reasoning powers) have, by the greater number of us, hardly been thought of; and have in no instance been made prominent subjects of academic training. (P. 39.)
I think it incontestably true, that for the last fifty years our classical studies (with much to demand our undivided praise) have been too critical and formal; and that we have sometimes been taught, while straining after an accuracy beyond our reach, to value the husk more than the fruit of ancient learning: and if of late years our younger members have sometimes written prose Greek almost with the purity of Xenophon, or composed iambics in the finished diction of the Attic poets, we may well doubt whether time suffices for such perfection—whether the imagination and the taste might not be more wisely cultivated than by a long sacrifice to what, after all, ends but in verbal imitations.—In short, whether such acquisitions, however beautiful in themselves, are not gained at the expense of something better. This at least is true, that he who forgets that language is but the sign and vehicle of thought, and, while studying the word, knows little of the sentiment—who learns the measure, the garb, and fashion of ancient song, without looking to its living soul or feeling its inspiration—is not one jot better than a traveller in classic land, who sees its crumbling temples, and numbers, with arithmetical precision, their steps and pillars, but thinks not of their beauty, their design, or the living sculptures on their walls—or who counts the stones in the Appian way instead of gazing on the monuments of the ‘eternal city.’
The illustration which closes the above passage (though, as is often the case with illustrations, it does not illustrate) is rather pretty: a circumstance which we should be sorry not to notice, as, amid much straining, and many elaborate flights of imagination, we have not met with any other instance in which the Professor makes so near an approach to actual eloquence.
We have said that we go all lengths with our author in claiming for classical literature a place in education, at least equal to that commonly assigned to it. But though we think his opinion right, we think most of his reasons wrong. As, for example, the following:—
With individuals as with nations, the powers of imagination reach their maturity sooner than the powers of reason; and this is another proof that the severer investigations of science ought to be preceded by the study of languages; and especially of those great works of imagination which have become a pattern for the literature of every civilized tongue.
This dictum respecting Imagination and Reason is only not a truism, because it is, as Coleridge would say, a falsism. Does the Professor mean that oany “greato work of imagination”—the Paradise Lost, for instance—could have been produced at an earlier age, or by a less matured or less accomplished mind, than the Mécanique Céleste?[*] Does he mean that a learner can appreciate Æschylus or Sophocles before he is old enough to understand Euclid or Lacroix? In nations, again, the assertion, that imagination, in any but the vulgarest sense of the word, attains maturity sooner than reason, is so far from being pcorrectp , that throughout all history the two have invariably flourished together; have, and necessarily must. Does Mr. Sedgwick think that any great work of imagination ever was, or can be, produced, without great powers of reason? Be the country Greece or Rome, Italy, France, or England, the age of her greatest eminence in poetry and the fine arts hasq been that of her greatest statesmen, generals, orators, historians, navigators—in one word, thinkers, in every department of active life; not, indeed, of her greatest philosophers, but only because Philosophy is the tardiest product of Reason itself.*
rOf the true reasons, and there are most substantial and cogent ones, for assigning to classical studies a high place in general educationr , we find not a word in Mr. Sedgwick’s tract; but, instead of them, much harping on the value of the writings of antiquity as “patterns” and “models.” This is lauding the abuse of classical knowledge as the use; and is a very bad lesson to sthe “youngers members” of the University. The study of the ancient writers has been of unspeakable benefit to the moderns; from which benefit, the attempts at direct imitation of those writers have been no trifling drawback. The necessary effect of imitating “models” is, to set manner above matter. The imitation of the classics has perverted the whole taste of modern Europe on the subject of composition: it has made style a subject of cultivation and of praise, independently of ideas; whereas, by the ancients, style was never thought of but in complete subordination to matter. The ancients t(in the good times of their literature)t would as soon have thought of a coat in the abstract, as of style in the abstract: the merit of a style, in their eyes, was, that it exactly fitted the thought. Their first aim was, by the assiduous study of their subject, to secure to themselves thoughts worth expressing; their next was, to find words which would convey those thoughts with the utmost degree of nicety; and only when this was made sure, did they think of ornament. Their style, therefore, whether ornamented or plain, grows out of their turn of thought; and may be admired, but cannot be imitated, by any one whose turn of thought is different. The instruction which Professor Sedgwick should have given to his pupils, was to follow no models; to attempt no style, but let their thoughts shape out the style best suited to them; to resemble the ancients, not by copying their manner, but by understanding their own subject as well, cultivating their faculties as highly, and taking as much trouble with their work, as the ancients did. All imitation of an author’s style, except that which arises from making his thoughts uouru own, is mere affectation and vicious mannerism.
In discussing the value of the ancient languages, Mr. Sedgwick touches upon the importance of ancient history. On this topic, on which so much, and of the most interesting kind, might have been said, he delivers nothing but questionable commonplaces. “History,” says he, “is, to our knowledge of man in his social capacity, what physical experiments are to our knowledge of the laws of nature” (p. 42). Common as this notion is, it is a strange one to be held by a professor of physical science; for assuredly no person is satisfied with such evidence in studying the laws of the natural world, as history affords with respect to the laws of political society. The evidence of history, instead of being analogous to that of experiment, leaves the philosophy of society in exactly the state in which physical science was, before the method of experiment was introduced. The Professor should reflect, that we cannot make experiments in history. We are obliged, therefore, as the ancients did in physics, to content ourselves with such experiments as we find made to our hands; and these are so few, and so complicated, that little or nothing can be inferred from them.v There is not a fact in history which is not susceptible of as many different explanations as there are possible theories of human affairs.w Not only is history not the xsourcex of political philosophy, but the profoundest political philosophy is requisite to explain history; without it all in history which is worth understanding remains mysterious. Can Mr. Sedgwicky explain why the Greeks, in their brief career, so far surpassed their zcotemporariesz , or why the Romans conquered the world? aMr. Sedgwick mistakes the functions of history in political speculation. History is not the foundation, but the verification, of the social science; it corroborates, and often suggests, political truths, but cannot prove them. The proof of them is drawn from the laws of human nature; ascertaineda through the study of ourselves by reflection, and of mankind by actual intercourse with them. That what we know of former ages, like what we know of foreign nations, is, with all its bimperfectionsb , of much use, by correcting the narrowness incident to personal experience, cis undeniablec ; but the usefulness of history depends upon its being kept in the second place.
The Professor dseemsd wholly unaware of the importance of accuracy, either in thought or in expression. “In ancient history,” says he (p. 42), “we can trace the fortunes of mankind under almost every condition of political and social life.” So far is this from being true, that ancient history does not so much as furnish an example of a civilized people in which the bulk of the inhabitants were not slaves. Again, “all the successive actions we contemplate are at such a distance from us, that we can see their true bearings on each other undistorted by that mist of prejudice with which every modern political question is surrounded.” We appeal to all who are conversant with the modern writings on ancient history, whether even this is true. The most elaborate Grecian history which we possess* is impregnated with the anti-Jacobin spirit in every line; and the Quarterly Reviewe laboured as diligently for many years to vilify the Athenian republic as the American.
Thus far, the faults which we have discovered in Mr. Sedgwick aref of omission rather than of commission: or at worst, amount only to this, that he has gcontented himself with repeatingg the trivialities he found currenth . Had there been nothing ibut thisi to be said of the remainder of the Discourse, we should not have disturbed its peaceful progress to oblivion.
We have now, however, arrived at the opening of that part of Professor Sedgwick’s Discourse which is most laboured, and for the sake of which all the rest may be surmised to have been written,—his strictures on Locke’s Essay on the Human Understanding, and Paley’s Principles of Moral Philosophy. These works comprise what little of ethical and metaphysical instruction is given, or professed to be given, at Cambridge. The remainder of Mr. Sedgwick’s Discourse is devoted to an attack upon them.
We assuredly have no thought of defending either work as a text-book, still less as the sole text-book, on their respective subjects, in any school of philosophy. Of Paley’s work, though it possesses in a high degree some minor merits, we think, on the whole, meanly. Of Locke’s Essay, the beginning and foundation of the modern analytical psychology, we cannot speak but with the deepest reverence; whether we consider the era which it constitutes in philosophy, the intrinsic value, even at the present day, of its thoughts, or the noble devotion to truth, the beautiful and touching earnestness and simplicity, which he not only manifests in himself, but has the power beyond almost all other philosophical writers of infusing into his reader. His Essay should be familiar to every student. But no work, a hundred and fifty years old, can be fit to be the sole, or even the principal work for the instruction of youth in a science like that of Mind. In metaphysics, every new truth sets aside or modifies much of what was previously received as truth.j Berkeley’s refutation of the doctrine of abstract ideas would of itself necessitate a complete revision of the phraseology of the most valuable parts of Locke’s book. And the important speculations originated by Hume and kimprovedk by Brown, concerning the nature of our experience, are acknowledged, even by the philosophers who do not adopt in their full extent the conclusions of those writers, to have carriedl the analysis of our knowledge and of the process of acquiring it, so much beyond the point where Locke left it, as to require that his work should be entirely recast.
Moreover, the book which has changed the face of a science, even when not superseded in its doctrines, is seldom suitable for didactic purposes. It is adapted to the state of mind, not of those who are ignorant of every doctrine, but of those who are instructed in an erroneous doctrine. So far as it is taken up mwithm directly combating the errors which prevailed before it was written, the more completely it has done its work, the more certain it is of becoming superfluous, not to say unintelligible, without a commentary. And even its positive truths are defended against such objections only as were current in its own times, and guarded only against such misunderstandings as the people of those times were likely to fall into. Questions of morals and metaphysics differ from physical questions in this, that their aspect changes with every change ninn the human mind. At no two periods is the same question embarrassed by the same difficulties, or the same truth in need of the same explanatory comment. The fallacy which is satisfactorily refuted in one age, re-appears in another, in a shape which the arguments formerly used do not precisely meet; and seems to triumph, until some one, with weapons suitable to the altered form of the error, arises and repeats its overthrow.
These remarks are peculiarly applicable to Locke’s Essay. His doctrines were new, and had to make their way: he therefore wrote not for learners, but for the learned; for omeno who were trained in the systems pantecedentp to his—qin thoseq of the Schoolmen or of the Cartesians. He said what he thought necessary to establish his own opinions, andr answered the objections of such objectors as the age afforded; but he could not anticipate all the objections which might be made by a subsequent age: least of all could he anticipate those which would be made now, when his philosophy has long been the prevalent one; when the arguments of objectors have been rendered as far as possible consistent with his principles, and are often such as could not have been thought of until he had cleared the ground by demolishing some received opinion, which no one before him had thought of disputing.*
To attack Locke, therefore, because other arguments than it was necessary for him to use have become requisite to the support of some of his conclusions, is like reproaching the Evangelists because they did not write Evidences of Christianity. The question is, not what Locke has said, but what would he have said if he had heard all that has since been said against him? sUnreasonables , however, as is a criticism on Locke conceived in this spirit, Mr. Sedgwick indulges in another strain of criticism even more tunreasonablet .
The “greatest fault,” he says, of Locke’s Essay, “is the contracted view it takes of the capacities of man—allowing him, indeed, the faculty of reflecting, and following out trains of thought according to the rules of abstract reasoning; but depriving him both of his powers of imagination and of his moral sense” (p. 57). Several pages are thereupon employed in celebrating “the imaginative powers.” And a metaphysician who “discards these powers from his system” (which, according to Mr. Sedgwick, Locke does), is accused of “shutting his eyes to the loftiest qualities of the soul” (p. 49).
Has the Professor so far forgotten the book which he must have read once, and on which he passes judgment with so much authority, as to fancy that it claims to be a treatise on all “the capacities of man?” uCan heu write in the manner we have just quoted about Locke’s book, with the fact looking him in the face from his own pages, that it is entitled An Essay on the Human Understanding? Who besides Mr. Sedgwick would look for a treatise on the imagination under such a title? What place, what concern could it have had there?
The one object of Locke’s speculations was to ascertain the limits of our knowledge; what questions we may hope to solve, what are beyond our reach. This purpose is vannouncedv in the Preface, and manifested in every chapter of the book. He wdeclaresw that he commenced his inquiries because “in discoursing on a subject very remote from this,” it came into his thoughts that “before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings were, or were not, fitted to deal with.”* The following, from the first chapter of the first book, are a few of the passages in which he describes the scope of his speculations:—
“To inquire into the original, certainty, and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of belief, opinion, and assent.” “To consider the discerning faculties of man, as they are employed about the objects which they have to do with.” “To give an account of the ways whereby our understandings come to attain those notions of things we have,” and “set down” some “measures of the certainty of our knowledge, or the grounds of those persuasions which are to be found amongst men.” “To search out the bounds between opinion and knowledge, and to examine by what measures, in things whereof we have no certain knowledge, we ought to regulate our assent, and moderate our persuasions.” And “by this inquiry into the nature of the understanding,” to “discover the powers thereof, how far they reach, to what things they are in any degree proportionate, and where they fail us;” and thereby to “prevail with the busy mind of man to be more cautious in meddling with things exceeding its comprehension, to stop when it is at the utmost extent of its tether, and to sit down in a quiet ignorance of those things which, upon examination, are found to be beyond the reach of our capacities.”[*]
x And because a philosopher, having placed before himself an undertaking of this magnitude, and of this strictly scientific character, and having his mind full of thoughts which were destined to effect a revolution in the philosophy of the human intellect, does not quit his subject to panegyrize the imagination, he is accused of saying that there is no such thing; or of saying that it is a pernicious thing; or rather (for to this pitch of ingenuity Mr. Sedgwick’s criticism reaches) of saying ybothy that there is no such thing, and zalsoz that it is a pernicious thing. He “deprives man of his powers of imagination;” he “discards these powers from his system;” and at the same time he “speaks of those powers only to condemn them;” he “denounces the exercise of the imagination as a fraud upon the reason.”[†] As well might it be asserted, that Locke denies that man has a body, or condemns the exercise of the body, because he is not constantly proclaiming what a beautiful and glorious thing the body is. Mr. Sedgwick cannot conceive the state of mind of such a man as Locke, who is too entirely absorbed in his subject to be able to turn aside from it every time that an opportunity offers for a flight of rhetoric. With the imagination in its own province, as a source of enjoyment, and a means of educating the feelings, Locke had nothing to do; nor was the subject suited to the character of his mind. He was concerned with imagination, only in the province of pure intellect; and all he had to do with it there, was to warn it off the ground. This Mr. Sedgwick calls “denouncing the exercise of the imagination as a fraud upon the reason,” and “regarding men who appeal to the powers of imagination in their proofs and mingle them in their exhortations as no better than downright cheats” (p. 50). Locke certainly says that imagination is not proof. Does the Professor then mean—and by his rhapsody about the imagination does he intend us to understand—that imagination is proof? But how can we expect clearness of ideas on metaphysical subjects, from a writer who cannot discriminate between the Understanding and the Will? Locke’s Essay is on the Understanding; Mr. Sedgwick tells us, awitha much finery bof languageb , that the imagination is a powerful engine for acting on the will. So is a cat-o’-nine-tails. Is a cat-o’-nine-tails, therefore, one of the sources of human knowledge? “In trying circumstances,” says the Professor, “the determination of the will is often more by feeling than by reason” (p. 51). In all circumstances, trying or otherwise, the determination of the will is wholly by feeling. Reason is not an end in itself: it teaches us to know the right ends, and the way to them; but if we desire those ends, this desire is not Reason, but a feeling. Hence the importance of the question, how to give to the imagination that direction which will exercise the most beneficial influence upon the feelings. But the Professor probably meant that “in trying circumstances, the determination” not “of the will,” but of the understanding, “is often more by feeling than by reason.” Unhappily it is; this is the tendency in human nature, against which Locke warns his readers; and by so warning them, incurs the censure of Mr. Sedgwick.*
The other accusation which the Professor urges against Locke—that of overlooking “the faculties of moral judgment,” and “depriving” man of his “moral sense”[*] —will best be considered along with his strictures on Paley’s Moral Philosophy; for against Paley, also, the principal charge is that he denies the moral sense.
It is a fact in human nature, that we have moral judgments and moral feelings. We judge certain actions and dispositions to be right, others wrong: this we call approving and disapproving them. We have also feelings of pleasure in the contemplation of the former class of actions and dispositions—feelings of dislike and aversion to the latter; which feelings, as everybody must be conscious, do not exactly resemble any other of our feelings of pain or pleasure.
Such are the phenomena. Concerning their reality there is no dispute. But there are two theories respecting the origin of these phenomena, which have divided philosophers from the earliest ages of philosophy. One is, that the distinction between right and wrong is an ultimate and inexplicable fact; that we perceive this distinction, as we perceive the distinction of colours, by a peculiar faculty; and that the pleasures and pains, the desires and aversions, consequent upon this perception, are all ultimate facts in our nature; as much so as the pleasures and pains, or the desires and aversions, of which sweet or bitter tastes, pleasing or grating sounds, are the object. This is called the theory of the moral sense—or of moral instincts—or of eternal and immutable morality—or of intuitive principles of morality—or by many other names; to the differences between which, those who adopt the theory often attach great importance, but which, for our present purpose, may all be considered as cequivalentc .
The other theory is, that the ideas of right and wrong, and the feelings which attach themselves to those ideas, are not ultimate facts, but may be explained and accounted for; are not the result of any peculiar law of our nature, but of the same laws on which all our other complex ideas and feelings depend: that the distinction between moral and immoral acts is not a peculiar and inscrutable property in the acts themselves, which we perceive by a sense, as we perceive colours by our sense of sight; but flows from the ordinary properties of those actions, for the recognition of which we need no other faculty than our intellects and our bodily senses. And the particular property in actions, which constitutes them moral or immoral, in the opinion of those who hold this theory (all of them, at least, who need dhered be noticed), is the influence of those actions, and of the dispositions from which they emanate, upon human happiness.
This theory is sometimes called the theory of Utility; and is what Mr. Sedgwick means by “the utilitarian theory of morals.”[*]
Maintaining this second theory, Mr. Sedgwick calls “denying the existence of moral feelings” (p. 32). This is, in the first place, misstating the question. Nobody denies the existence of moral feelings. The feelings exist, manifestly exist, ande cannot be denied. The questions on which there is a difference are—first, whether they are simple or complex feelings, and if complex, of what elementary feelings they are fcomposed:f which is a question of metaphysics; and secondly, what kind of acts and dispositions are the proper objects of those gfeelings;g in other words, what is the principle of hmorals.h These questions, and more peculiarly the last, the theory which ihas been termed utilitariani professes to solve.
Paley adopted this theory. Mr. Sedgwick, who professes the other theory, treats Paley, and all who take Paley’s side of the question, with extreme contumely.
We shall show that Mr. Sedgwick has no right to represent Paley as a type of the theory of utility; that he has failed in refuting even Paley; and that the tone of jhigh moral reprobationj which he has kassumedk towards all who adopt that theory is altogether unmerited on their part, and on his, from his extreme ignorance of the subject, peculiarly unbecoming.
Those who maintain that human happiness is the end and test of morality are bound to prove that the principle is true; but not that Paley understood it. lNo one isl entitled to found an argument against a principle, upon the faults or blunders of a particular writer who professed to build his system upon it, without taking notice that the principle may be understood differently, and has in fact been understood differently by other mwriters.m What would be thought of an assailant of Christianity, who should judge of its truth or beneficial tendency from the nviewn taken of it by the Jesuits, or by the Shakers? A doctrine is not judged at all until it is judged in its obesto form. The principle of utility may be viewed in as many different lights as every other rule or principle may. If it be liable to mischievous misinterpretations, this is true of all very general, and therefore of all first, principles. Whether the ethical creed of a follower of utility will lead him to moral or immoral consequences, depends on what he thinks useful;—just as, with a partizan of the opposite doctrine—that of pinnatep conscience—it depends on what he thinks his conscience enjoins. But either the one theory or the other must be true. Instead, therefore, of cavilling about the abuses and perversions of either, real manliness would consist in accepting the true, with all its liabilities to abuse and perversion; and then bending the whole force of our intellects to the establishment of such secondary and intermediate maxims, as may be guides to the bonâ fide inquirer in the application of the principle, and salutary checks to the sophist and the dishonest casuist.
There are faults in Paley’s conception of the philosophy of morals, both in its foundations and its subsequent stages, which prevent his book from being an example of the conclusions justly deducible from the doctrine of utility, or of the influences of that doctrine, when properly understood, upon the intellect and character.
In the first place, he does not consider utility as itself the source of moral obligation, but as a mere index to the will of God, which he regards as the ultimate groundwork of all morality, and the origin of its binding force. This doctrine (not that utility is an index to the will of God, but that it is an index and nothing else) we consider as highly exceptionable; and having really many of those bad effects on the mind, erroneously ascribed to the principle of utility.
The only view of the connexion between religion and morality which does not annihilate the very idea of the latter, is that which considers the Deity as not qmaking, but recognising and sanctioningq , moral obligation. In the minds of most English rthinkersr down to the middle of the last century, the idea of duty, and that of obedience to God, were so indissolubly united, as to be inseparable even in thought: and when we consider how in those days religious motives and ideas stood in the front of all speculations, it is not wonderful that religion should have been thought to constitute the sessences of all obligations to which it annexed its tsanctiont . To have inquired, Why am I bound to obey God’s will? would, to a Christian of that age, have appeared irreverent. It is a question, however, which, as much as any other, requires an answer from a Christian philosopher. “Because he is my Maker” is no answer. Why should I obey my Maker? From gratitude? Then gratitude is in itself obligatory, independently of my Maker’s will. From reverence and love? But why is he a proper object of love and reverence? Not because he is my Maker. If I had been made by an evil spirit, for evil purposes, my love and reverence (supposing me to be capable of such feelings) would have been due, not to the evil, but to the good Being. Is it because he is just, righteous, merciful? Then these attributes are in themselves good, independently of his pleasure. If any person has the misfortune to believe that his Creator commands wickedness, more respect is due to him for disobeying such imaginary commands, than for obeying them. If virtue would not be virtue unless the Creatoru commanded it—if it derive all its obligatory force from his will—there remains no ground for obeying him except his power; no motive for morality except the selfish one of the hope of heaven, or the selfish and slavish one of the fear of hell.
Accordingly, in strict consistency with this view of the nature of morality, Paley not only represents the proposition that we ought to do good and not harm to mankind, as a mere corollary from the proposition that God wills their good, and not their harm—but represents the motive to virtue, and the motive which constitutes it virtue, as consisting solely in the hope of heaven and the fear of hell.
It does not, however, follow that Paley believed mankind to have no feelings except selfish ones. He doubtless would have admitted that they are acted upon by other motives, or, in the language of Bentham and Helvetius, that they have other interests, than merely self-regarding ones. But he chose to say that actions done from those other motives are not virtuous. The happiness of mankind, according to him, was the end for which morality was enjoined; yet he would not admit anything to be morality, when the happiness of mankind, or of any of mankind except ourselves, is the inducement of it. He annexed an arbitrary meaning to the word virtue. How he came to think this arbitrary meaning the right one may be a question. vPartly, perhaps,v by the habit of thinking and talking of morality under the metaphor of a law. In the notion of a law, the idea of the command of a superior, enforced by penalties, is of course the main element.
If Paley’s ethical system is thus unsound in its foundations, the spirit which runs through the details is no less exceptionable. It is, indeed, such as to prove, that neither the character nor the objects of the writer were those of a philosopher. There is none of the single-minded earnestness for truth, whatever it may be—the intrepid defiance of prejudice, the firm resolve to look all consequences in the face, which the word philosopher supposes, and without which nothing worthy of note was ever accomplished in moral or political philosophy. One sees throughout that he has a particular set of conclusions to come to, and will not, perhaps cannot, allow himself to let in any premises which would interfere with them. His bookw is one of a class which has since become very numerous, and is likely to become still more so—an apology for commonplace. Not to lay a solid foundation, and erect an edifice over it suited to the professed ends, but to construct pillars, and insert them xunderx the existing structure, was Paley’s object. He took the doctrines of practical morals which he found current. Mankind were, about that time, ceasing to consider mere use and wont, or even the ordinary special pleading from texts of scripture, as sufficient warrants for ythosey common opinions, and were demanding something like a philosophic basis for them. This philosophic basis, Paley, consciously or unconsciously, made it his endeavour to supply. The skill with which his book was adapted to satisfy this want of the time, accounts for the popularity which attended it, notwithstanding the absence of that generous and inspiring tone, which gives so much of their usefulness as well as of their charm to the writings of Plato, and Locke, and Fenelon, and which mankind are accustomed to pretend to admire, whether they really respond to it or not.
When an author starts with such an object, it is of little consequence whatz premises he sets out from. In adopting the principle of utility, Paley, athere isa no doubt, followed the convictions of his bintellectb ; but if he had started from any other principle, we have as little doubt that he would have arrived at the very same conclusions. These conclusions, namely, the received maxims of his time, were (it would have been strange if they were not) accordant in manyc points with those which philosophy would have dictated. But had they been accordant on all points, that was not the way in which a philosopher would have dealt with them.
The only deviation from commonplace which hasd been made an accusation (for all departures from commonplace are made accusations) against Paley’s moral system, is that of too readily allowing exceptions to important rules; and this Mr. Sedgwick does not fail to lay hold of, and endeavour, as others have done before him, to fix eite upon the principle of utility as fan immoral consequencef . It is, however, imputable to the very same cause which we have already pointed out. Along with the prevailing maxims, Paley borrowed the prevailing laxity in their application. He had not only to maintain existing doctrines, but to save the credit of existing practices also. He found in his country’s morality (especiallyg its political morality), modes of conduct universally prevalent, and applauded by all persons of station and consideration, but which, being acknowledged violations of great hmoral principlesh , could only be defended as cases of exception, resting on special grounds of expediency; and the only expediency which it was possible to ascribe to them was political expediency—that is, conduciveness to the iinteresti of the jruling powersj . To this, and not to the tendencies of the principle of utility, is to be ascribed the lax morality taught by Paley, and justly objected to by Mr. Sedgwick, on the subject of lies, of ksubscriptionk to articles, of the abuses of influence in the British constitution, and various other topics. The principle of utility leads to no such conclusions. Let us be permitted to add that, if it did, we should not of late years have heard so much in reprobation of it from all manner of persons, and from none more than from the sworn defenders of those very malpractices.
When an inquirer knows beforehand the conclusions which he is to come to, he is not likely to seek far for grounds to rest them upon. Accordingly, the considerations of expediency upon which Paley founds his moral rules, are almost all of the most obvious and vulgar kind. In estimating the consequences of actions, in order to obtain a measure of their morality, there are always two sets of considerations involved: the consequences to the outward interests of the parties concerned (including the agent himself); and the consequences to the characters of the same persons, and to their outward interests so far as dependent on their characters. In the estimation of the first of these two classes of considerations, there is in general not much difficulty, nor much room for difference of opinion. The actions which are directly hurtful, or directly useful, to the outward interests of oneself or of other people, are easily distinguished, sufficiently at least for the guidance of a private individual. The rights of individuals, which other individuals ought to respect, over external things, are lin generall sufficiently pointed out by a few plain rules, and by the laws of one’s country. But it often happens that an essential part of the morality or immorality of an action or a rule of action consists in its influence upon the agent’s own mind: upon his susceptibilities of pleasure or pain, upon the general direction of his thoughts, feelings, and imagination, or upon some particular association. Many actions, moreover, produce effects upon the character of other persons besides the agent. In all these cases there will naturally be as much difference in the moral judgments of different persons, as there is in their views of human nature, and of the formation of character. Clear and comprehensive views of education and human culture must therefore precede, and form the basis of, a philosophy of morals; nor can the latter subject ever be understood, but in proportion as the former is so. For this, much yet remains to be done. Even the materials, though abundant, are not complete. Of those which exist, a large proportion have never yet found their way into the writings of philosophers; but are to be gathered, on the one hand, from actual observers of mankind; on the other, from those autobiographers, and from those poets or novelists, who have spoken out unreservedly, from their own experience, any true human feeling. To collect together these materials, and to add to them, will be a labour for successive generations. But Paley, instead of having brought from the philosophy of education and character any new light to illuminate the subject of morals, has not even availed himself of the lights which had already been thrown upon it from that source. He, in fact, had meditated little on this branch of the subject, and had no ideas in relation to it, but the commonest and most superficial.m
Thus much we have been induced to say, rather from the importance of the subject, than for the sake of a just estimate of Paley, which is a matter of inferior consequence; still less for the nsake of repelling Mr. Sedgwick’s onslaught, whichn , as we shall soon see, might have been more summarily disposed of.
Mr. Sedgwick’s objections to the principle of utility are of two kinds—first, that it is not true; secondly, that it is dangerous, degrading, and so forth. What he says against its truth, when picked out from a hundred different places, and brought together, would fill about three pages, leaving about twenty consisting of attacks upon its tendency. This already lookso ill; for, after all, the truth or falsehood of the principle is the main point. When, of a dissertation on any controverted question, a small part only is employed in proving the author’s own opinion, a large part in ascribing odious consequences to the opposite opinion, we are apt to think peitherp that, on the former point, there was not very much to be saidq; or, if there was, that the author is not very well qualified to say itq . One thing is certain; that if an opinion have ever such mischievous consequences, that cannot prevent any thinking person from believing it, if the evidence is in its favour. Unthinking persons, indeed, if they are very solemnly assured that an opinion has mischievous consequences, may be frightened from examining the evidence. When, therefore, we find that this mode of dealing with an opinion is the favourite one—is resorted to in preference to the other, and with greater vehemence, and at greater length—we conclude that it is upon unthinking rather than upon thinking persons that the author calculates upon making an impression; or else, that he himself is one of the former class of persons—that his own judgment is determined, less by evidence presented to his understanding, than by the repugnancy of the opposite opinion to his partialities and affections; and that, perceiving clearly the opinion to be one which it would be painful to him to adopt, he has been easily satisfied with reasons for rejecting it.
All that the Professor says to disprove the principle of utility, and to prove the existence of a moral sense, is found in the following paragraph:—
Let it not be said that our moral sentiments are superinduced by seeing and tracing the consequences of crime. The assertion is not true. The early sense of shame comes before such trains of thought, and is not, therefore, caused by them; and millions, in all ages of the world, have grown up as social beings and moral agents, amenable to the laws of God and man, who never traced or thought of tracing the consequences of their actions, nor ever referred them to any standard of utility. Nor let it be said that the moral sense comes of mere teaching—that right and wrong pass as mere words, first from the lips of the mother to the child, and then from man to man; and that we grow up with moral judgments gradually ingrafted in us from without, by the long-heard lessons of praise and blame, by the experience of fitness, or the sanction of the law. I repeat that the statement is not true—that our moral perceptions show themselves not in any such order as this. The question is one of feeling; and the moral feelings are often strongest in very early life, before moral rules or legal sanctions have once been thought of. Again, what are we to understand by teaching? Teaching implies capacity: one can be of no use without the other. A faculty of the soul may be called forth, brought to light, and matured; but cannot be created, any more than we can create a new particle of matter, or invent a new law of nature.
The substance of the last three sentences is repeated at somewhat greater length shortly after (pp. 54-5), in a passage from which we rneedr only quote the following words:—“No training (however greatly it may change an individual mind) can create a new faculty, any more than it can give a new organ of sense.” In many other parts of the Discourse, the same arguments are alluded to, but no new ones are introduced.
Let us, then, examine these arguments.
First, the Professor says, or seems to say, that our moral sentiments cannot be generated by experience of consequences, because a child feels the sense of shame before he has any experience of consequences; and likewise because millions of persons grow up, have moral feelings, and live morally, “who never traced, or thought of tracing, the consequences of their actions,” but who yet, it seems, are suffered to go at large, which we thought was not usually the case with persons who never think of the consequences of their actions. The Professor continues—“who never traced, or thought of tracing, the consequences of their actions, nor ever referred them to any standard of utility.”
Secondly;s that our moral feelings cannot arise from teaching, because those feelings are often strongest in very early life.
Thirdly; that our moral feelings cannot arise from teaching, because teaching can only call forth a faculty, but cannot create one.
Let us first consider the singular allegation, that the sense of shame in a child precedes all experience of the consequences of actions. Is it not astounding that such an assertion should be ventured upon by any person of sane mind? At what period in a child’s life, after it is capable of forming the idea of an action at all, can it be without experience of the consequences of actions? As soon as it has the idea of one person striking another, is it not aware that striking produces pain? As soon as it has the idea of being commanded by its parent, has it not the notion that, by not doing what is commanded, it will excite the parent’s displeasure?t A child’s knowledge of the simple fact (one of the earliest he becomes acquainted with), that some acts produce pain and others pleasure, is called by pompous names, “seeing and tracing the consequences of crime,” “trains of thought,” “referring actions to a standard,” terms which imply continued reflection and large abstractions; and because these terms are absurd when used of a child or an uneducated person, we are to conclude that a child or an uneducated person has no notion that one thing is caused by another. As well might it be said that a child requires an instinct to tell him that he has ten fingers, because he knows it before he has ever thought of “ucarrying onu arithmetical computations.”[*] Though a child is not a jurist or a moral philosopher (to whom alone the Professor’s phrases would be properly applicable), he has the idea of himself hurting or offending some one, or of some one hurting or annoying him. These are ideas which precede any sense of shame in doing wrong; and it is out of these elements, and not out of abstractions, that the supporters of the theory of utility contend that the idea of wrong, and our feelings of disapprobation vofv it, are originally formed. Mr. Sedgwick’s argument resembles one we often hear, that the principle of utility must be false, because it supposes morality to be founded on the good of society, an idea too complex for the majority of mankind, who look only to the particular persons concerned. Why, none but those who mingle in public transactions, or whose example is likely to have extensive influence, have any occasion to look beyond the particular persons concerned. Morality, for all other people, consists in doing good and refraining from harm, to themselves and to those who immediately surround them. As soon as a child has the idea of voluntarily producing pleasure or pain to any one person, he has an accurate notion of utility. When he afterwards gradually rises to the very complex idea of “society,” and learns in what manner his actions may affect the interests of other persons than those who are present to his sight, his conceptions of utility, and of right and wrong founded on utility, undergo a corresponding enlargement, but receive no new element.
Again, if it were ever to true that the sense of shame in a child precedes all knowledge of consequences, what is that to the question respecting a moral sense? wIs the sense of shame the same thingw with a moral sense? A child is ashamed of doing what he is told is wrong; but so is he also ashamed of doing what he knows is right, if he expects to be laughed at for doing it; he is ashamed of being duller than another child, of being ugly, of being poor, of not having fine clothes, of not being able to run, or wrestle, or box so well as another. He is ashamed of whatever causes him to be thought less of by the persons who surround him. This feeling of shame is accounted for by obvious associations; but suppose it to be innate, what would that prove in favour of a moral sense? If all that Mr. Sedgwick can show for a moral sense is the sense of shame, xit might well be supposedx that all our moral sentiments are the result of opinions which come to us from without; since the sense of shame so obviously follows the opinion of others, and, at least iny early years, is wholly determined by it.
On the Professor’s first argument no more needs zherez be said. His second is the following: that moral feelings cannot “come of mere teaching,” because they do not grow up gradually, but are often strongest in very early life.
Now, this is, in the first place, a mistaking of the matter in dispute. aThe Professor is not arguing with Mandeville, or with the rhetoricians in Plato.a Nobodyb, with whom he is concerned,b says that moral feelings “come of mere teaching.” It is not pretended that they are factitious and artificial associations, inculcated by parents and teachers purposely to further certain social ends, and no more congenial to our natural feelings than the contrary associations. The idea of the pain of another is naturally painful; the idea of the pleasure of another is naturally pleasurable. From this cfactc in our natural constitution,d all our affections both of love and aversion towards human beings, in so far as they are different from those wee entertain towards mere inanimate objects which are pleasant or disagreeable to usf, are held, by the best teachers of the theory of utility, to originatef . In this, the unselfish part of our nature, lies a foundation, even independently of inculcation from without, for the generation of moral feelings.
But if, because it is not inconsistent with the constitution of our nature that moral feelings should grow up independently of teaching, Mr. Sedgwick would infer that they generally do so, or that teaching is not the source of almost all the moral feeling which exists in the world, his assertion is a piece of sentimentality completely at variance with the facts. If by saying that “moral feelings are often strongest in very early life,” Mr. Sedgwick means that they are strongest in children, he only proves hisg ignorance of children. Young children have affections, but hnoth moral feelings; and children whose will is never resisted, never acquire them. There is no selfishness equal to ithati of children, as every one who is acquainted with children well knows. It is notj the hard, cold selfishness of a grown person, for the most affectionate children have itk, where their affection is not supplying a counter-impulsek ; but the most selfish of grown persons does not come up to a child in the reckless seizing of any pleasure to himself, regardless of the consequences to others. The pains of others, though naturally painful to us, are not so until we have realized them by an act of imagination, implying voluntary attention; and that no lvery youngl child ever pays, while under the impulse of a present desire. If a child restrains the indulgence of any wish, it is either from affection or sympathy, which are quite other feelings than those of morality; or else (whatever Mr. Sedgwick may think) because he has been mtaughtm to do so. And he only learns the habit gradually, and in proportion to the assiduity and skill of the teaching.
The assertion that “moral feelings are often strongest in very early life,” is true in no sense but one which confirms what it is brought to refute. The time of life at which moral feelings are apt to be strongest, is the age when we cease to be merely members of our own families, and begin to have intercourse with the world; that is, when the teaching has continued longest in one direction, and has not commenced in any other direction. When we go forth into the world, and meet with teaching, both by precept and example, of an opposite tendency to that which we have been used to, the feeling begins to weaken. Is this a sign of its being wholly independent of teaching? Has a boy quietly educated in na well-regulated homen , or one who has been at a public school, the strongest moral feelings?
oEnough has probably been saido on the Professor’s second argument. pHis thirdp is, that teaching may strengthen our natural faculties, and call forth those which are powerless because untried; but cannot create a faculty which does not exist; cannot, therefore, have created the moral faculty.
It is surprising that Mr. Sedgwick should not see that his argument begs the question in dispute. To prove that our moral judgments are innate, he assumes that they proceed from a distinct faculty. But this is precisely what the adherents of the principle of utility deny. They contend that the morality of actions is perceived by the same faculties by which we perceive any other of the qualities of actions, namely, our intellects and our senses. They qholdq the capacity of perceiving moral distinctions rto ber no more a sdistincts faculty than the capacity of trying causes, or of making a speech to a jury. This last is a very peculiar power, yet no one says that it must have preexisted in Sir James Scarlett before he was called to the bar, because teaching and practice cannot create a new faculty. They can create a new power; and a faculty is but a finer name for a power. tMr. Sedgwick loses sight of the very meaning of the word faculty—facultas. He talks of a faculty “powerless because untried.”[*] A power powerless!t*
The only colour for representing our moral judgments as the result of a peculiar part of our nature, is that our feelings of moral approbation and disapprobation are really peculiar feelings. But is it not notorious that peculiar feelings, unlike any others which we have experience of, are created by association every day? What does the Professor think of the feelings of ambition; the desire of power over our fellow-creatures, and the pleasure of its possession and exercise? These are peculiar feelings. But they are obviously generated by the law of association, from the connexion between power over our fellow-creatures and the gratification of almost all our other inclinations. What will the Professor say of the chivalrous point of honour? What of the feelings of envy and jealousy? What of the feelings of utheu miser to his gold? Who ever looked upon these last as the subject of a distinct natural faculty? Their origin in association is obvious to all the world. Yet they are feelings as peculiar, as unlike any other part of our nature, as the feelings of conscience.
It will hardly be believed that what we have now answered is all that Mr. Sedgwick advances, to prove the principle of utility untrue; yet such is the fact. Let us now see whether he is more successful in proving the pernicious consequences of the principle, and the “degrading effect” which it produces “on the temper and conduct of those who adopt it.”[†]
The Professor’s talk is more indefinite, and the few ideas he has are more overlaid with declamatory phrases, on this point, than even on the preceding one. We can, however,v descry through the mist some faint semblance of two tangible objections: one, that the principle of utility is not suited to man’s capacity—that if we were ever so desirous of applying it correctly, we should not be capable; the other, that it debases the moral practice of those who adopt it—which seems to imply (strange as the assertion is) that wthew adoption of it as a principle xis not consistent with an attemptx to apply it correctly.
We must quote Mr. Sedgwick’s very words, or it would hardly be believed that we quote him fairly:—
Independently of the bad effects produced on the moral character of man, by a system which makes expediency (in whatever sense the word be used) the test of right and wrong, we may affirm, on a more general view, that the rule itself is utterly unfitted to his capacity. Feeble as man may be, he forms a link in a chain of moral causes, ascending to the throne of God; and trifling as his individual acts may seem, he tries in vain to follow out their consequences as they go down into the countless ages of coming time. Viewed in this light, every act of man is woven into a moral system, ascending through the past—descending to the future—and preconceived in the mind of the Almighty. Nor does this notion, as far as regards ourselves, end in mere quietism and necessity. For we know right from wrong, and have that liberty of action which implies responsibility; and, as far as we are allowed to look into the ways of Providence, it seems compatible with his attributes to use the voluntary acts of created beings, as second causes in working out the ends of his own will. Leaving, however, out of question that stumbling-block which the prescience of God has often thrown in the way of feeble and doubting minds, we are, at least, certain, that man has not foreknowledge to trace the consequences of a single action of his own; and hence that utility (in the highest sense of which the word is capable) is, as a test of right and wrong, unfitted to his understanding, and therefore worthless in its application. (Pp.
Mr. Sedgwick appears to be one of that numerous class who never take the trouble to set before themselves fairly yany opinion which they have an aversion to. Who ever said that it was necessary to foresee all the consequences of each individual action, “as they go down into the countless ages of coming time?” Some of the consequences of an action are accidental; others are its natural result, according to the known laws of the universe. The former, for the most part, cannot be foreseen; but the whole course of human life is founded upon the fact that the latter can. In what reliance do we ply our several trades—in what reliance do we buy or sell, eat or drink, write books or read them, walk, ride, speak, think, except on our foresight of the consequences of those actions? The commonest person lives according to maxims of prudence wholly founded on foresight of consequences; and we are told by a wise man from Cambridge, that the foresight of consequences, as a rule to guide ourselves by, is impossible! Our foresight of consequences is not perfect. Is anything else in our constitution perfect? Est quodam prodire tenus, si non datur ultra: Non possis oculo quantum contendere Lynceus; Non tamen idcirco contemnas lippusinungi.[*] If the Professor quarrels with such means of guiding our conduct as zwe are gifted withz , it is incumbent on him to show that, in point of fact, awe have been provideda with better. Does the moral sense, allowing its existence, point out any surer practical rules? If so, let us have them in black and white. If nature has given us rules which suffice for our conduct, without any consideration of the probable consequences of our actions, produce them. But no; for two thousand years, nature’s moral code has been a topic for declamation, and no one has yet produced a single chapter of it: nothing but a few elementary generalities, which are the mere alphabet of a morality founded upon utility. Hear Bishop Butler, the oracle of the moral-sense school, and whom our author quotes:—
However much men may have disputed about the nature of virtue, and whatever ground for doubt there may be about particulars, yet in general there is an universally acknowledged standard of it. It is that which all ages and all countries have made a profession of in public; it is that which every man you meet puts on the show of; it is that which the primary and fundamental laws of all civil constitutions over the face of the earth make it their business and endeavour to enforce the practice of upon mankind: namely, justice, veracity, and regard to the common good. (P. 130.)[†]
Mr. Sedgwick praises Butler for not being more explanatory.* Did Butler, then, or does Mr. Sedgwick, seriously believe that mankind have not sufficient foresight of consequences to perceive the advantage of “justice, veracity, and regard to the common good?” That, without a peculiar faculty, they would not be able to see that these qualities are useful to them?
When, indeed, the question arises, what is justice?—that is, what are those claims of others which we are bound to respect? and what is the conduct required by “regard to the common good?” the solutions which we can deduce from our foresight of consequences are not infallible. But let any one try those which he can deduce from the moral sense. Can bheb deduce any? Show us, written in the human heart, any answer to these questions. Bishop Butler gives up the point; and Mr. Sedgwick praises him for doing so. When Mr. Sedgwick wants something definite, to oppose to the indefiniteness of a morality founded on utility, he has recourse not to the moral sense, but to Christianity. With such fairness as this does he hold the cbalancec between the two principles: he supposes his moral-sense man provided with all the guidance which can be derived from a revelation from heaven, and his dutilitariand destitute of any such help. When one sees the question so stated, one cannot wonder at any conclusion. Need we say that Revelation, as a means of supplying the uncertainty of human ejudgmente , is as open to one of the two parties as to the other? Need we say that Paley, the very author who, in this Discourse, is treated as the representative of fthe utilitarian systemf , appeals to Revelation throughout? and gobtainsg no credit from Mr. Sedgwick for it, but the contrary; for Revelation, it seems, may be referred to in aid of the moral sense, but not to assist or rectify our judgments of utility.
The truth, however, is, that Revelation h(if by Revelation be meant the New Testament)h , as Paleyi justly observed, jenters little intoj the details of ethics. Christianity does not deliver a code of morals, any more than a code of laws. Its practical morality is altogether indefinite, and was meant to be so. This indefiniteness has been considered by some of the ablest defenders of Christianity as one of its most signal merits, and among the strongest proofs of its divine origin: being the quality which fits it to be an universal religion, and distinguishes it both from the Jewish dispensation, and from all other religions, which as they invariably enjoin, under their most awful sanctions, acts which are only locally or temporarily useful, are in their own nature local and temporary. Christianity, on the contrary, influences kthe conductk by shaping the character itself: it aims at so elevating and purifying the desires, that there shall be no hindrance to the fulfilment of our duties when recognised; but of what our duties are, at least in regard to outward acts, it says very little but what lmoralists in generall have said. If, therefore, we would have any definite morality at all, we must perforce resort to that “foresight of consequences,” of the difficulties of which the Professor has so formidable an idea.
But this talk about uncertainty is mere exaggeration. There mwould be greatm uncertainty if each individual had all to do for himself, and only his own experience to guide him. But we are not so situated. Every one directs himself in morality, as in all his conduct, not by his own unaided foresight, but by the accumulated wisdom of all former ages, nembodied inn traditional aphorisms. So strong is the disposition to submit to the authority of such traditions, and so little danger is thereo, in most conditions of mankind,o of erring on the other side, that the absurdest customs are perpetuated through a lapse of ages from no other cause. A hundred millions of human beings think it the most exalted virtue to swing by a hook before an idol, and the most dreadful pollution to drink cow-broth—only because their forefathers thought so. A Turk thinks it the height of indecency for women to pbe seenp in the streets unveiled; and when qhe is toldq that in some countries rthis happensr without any evil result, he shakes his head and says, “If you hold butter to the fire it will melt.” Did not many generations of the most educated men in Europe believe every line of Aristotle to be infallible? So difficult is it to break loose from a received opinion. The progress of experience, and the growth of the human intellect, succeed but too slowly in correcting and improving traditional opinions. There is little fear, truly, that the mass of mankind should insist upon “tracing the consequences of actions” by their own unaided lights;—they are but too ready to let it be done for them once for all, and to think they have nothing to do with rules of morality (as sTory writerss say they have with the laws) but to obey them.
Mr. Sedgwick is master of tthe stockt phrases of those who know nothing of the principle of utility but the name. To act upon rules of conduct, of which utility is recognised as the basis, he calls “waiting for the calculations of utility”—a thing, according to him, in itself immoral, since “to hesitate is to rebel.”[*] On the same principle, navigating by rule instead of by instinct might be called waiting for the calculations of astronomy. uThere seems no absolute necessity for putting off the calculations until the shipu is in the middle of the South vSea.v Because a sailor has not verified all the computations in the Nautical Almanac, does he therefore “hesitate” to use it?
A word like “debasing,” applied to anything which acts upon the mind, may mean several things. It may mean, making us unprincipled; regardless of the rights and feelings of other people. It may mean, making us slavish; spiritless, submissive to injury or insult; incapable of asserting our own rights, and vindicating the just independence of our minds and actions. It may mean, making us cowardly; slothful; incapable of bearing pain, or nerving ourselves to exertion for a worthy object. It may mean, making us narrow-minded; pusillanimous, in Hobbes’s sense of the word:[*] too intent upon little things to feel rightly about great ones: incapable of having our imagination fired by a grand object of contemplation; incapable of thinking, feeling, aspiring, or acting, on any but a small scale. An opinion which produced any of these effects upon the mind would be rightly called debasing. But when, without proving, or even in plain terms asserting, that it produces these effects, or any effects which he can make distinctly understood, a man merely says of an opinion that it is debasing,—all he really says is, that he has a xfeeling, which he cannot exactly describe, but upon which he values himself, and to which the opinion is in some way or other offensivex . What definite proposition concerning the effect of any doctrine on the mind can be extracted from such a passage as this?—
If expediency be the measure of right, and every one claim the liberty of judgment, virtue and vice have no longer any fixed relations to the moral condition of man, but change with the fluctuations of opinion. Not only are his actions tainted by prejudice and passion, but his rule of life, under this system, must be tainted in like degree—must be brought down to yitsy own level: for he will no longer be able, compatibly with his principles, to separate the rule from its application. No high and unvarying standard of morality, which his heart approves, however infirm his practice, will be offered to his thoughts. But his bad passions will continue to do their work in bending him to the earth; and unless he be held upright by the strong power of religion (an extrinsic power which I am not now considering), he will inevitably be carried down, by a degrading standard of action, to a sordid and grovelling life. It may perhaps be said, that we are arguing against a rule, only from its misapprehension and abuse. But we reply, that every precept is practically bad when its abuse is natural and inevitable—that the system of utility brings down virtue from a heavenly throne, and places her on an earthly tribunal, where her decisions, no longer supported by any holy sanction, are distorted by judicial ignorance, and tainted by base passion.
What does this tell us? First, that if utility be the standard, different persons may have different opinions on morality. This is the talk about uncertainty, which zhas beenz already disposed of. Next,a that where there is uncertainty, men’s passions will bias their judgment. Granted; this is one of the evils of our condition, and must be borne with. We do not diminish it by pretending that nature tells us what is right, when nobody ever ventures to set down what nature tells us, nor affects to expound her laws in any way but by an appeal to utility. All that the remainder of the passage does, is to repeat, in various phrases, that Mr. Sedgwick feels such a “standard of action” to be “degrading;” that Mr. Sedgwick feels it to be “sordid” and “grovelling.” If so, nobody can compel Mr. Sedgwick to adopt it. If he feels it debasing, no doubt it would be so to him. But until he is able to show some reason why it must be so to others, may we be permitted to suggest, that perhaps the cause of its being so to himself, is only that he does not understand it?
Christianity considers every act grounded on mere worldly consequences as built on a false foundation. The mainspring of every virtue is placed by it in the affections, called into renewed strength by a feeling of self-abasement—by gratitude for an immortal benefit—by communion with God—and by the hopes of everlasting life. Humility is the foundation of the Christian’s honour—distrust of self is the ground of his strength—and his religion tells him that every work of man is counted worthless in the sight of heaven, as the means of his pardon or the price of his redemption. Yet it gives him a pure and perfect rule of life; and does not for an instant exempt him from the duty of obedience to his rule: for it ever aims at a purgation of the moral faculties, and a renewal of the defaced image of God; and its moral precepts have an everlasting sanction. And thus does Christian love become an efficient and abiding principle—not tested by the world, but above the world; yet reaching the life-spring of every virtuous deed, and producing in its season a harvest of good and noble works incomparably more abundant than ever rose from any other soil.
The utilitarian scheme starts, on the contrary, with an abrogation of the authority of conscience—a rejection of the moral feelings as the test of right and wrong. From first to last, it is in bondage to the world, measuring every act by a worldly standard, and estimating its value by worldly consequences. Virtue becomes a question of calculation—a matter of profit or loss; and if man gain heaven at all on such a system, it must be by arithmetical details—the computation of his daily work—the balance of his moral ledger. A conclusion such as this offends against the spirit breathing in every page of the book of life; yet is it fairly drawn from the principle of utility. It appears, indeed, not only to have been foreseen by Paley, but to have been accepted by him—a striking instance of the tenacity with which man ever clings to system, and is ready to embrace even its monstrous consequences rather than believe that he has himself been building on a wrong foundation.
In a note, he adds,—
The following are the passages here referred to:—
‘The Christian religion hath not ascertained the precise quantity of virtue necessary to salvation.’
‘It has been said, that it can never be a just economy of Providence to admit one part of mankind into heaven, and condemn the other to hell; since there must be very little to choose between the worst man who is received into heaven, and the best who is excluded. And how know we, it might be answered, but that there may be as little to choose in their conditions?’ (Moral Philosophy, Bk. I, Chap. vii [London: Tegg, 1824, 29, 30].)
In the latter years of his life, Paley would, I believe, have been incapable of uttering or conceiving sentiments such as these.
So that a “purgation of the moral faculties” is necessary: the moral feelings require to be corrected. Yet the moral feelings are “the test of right and wrong;” and whoever “rejects” them as a test, must be called hard names. But we do not want to convict Mr. Sedgwick of inconsistency; we want to get at his meaning. Have we come to it at last? The gravamen of the charge against the principle of utility seems to lie in a word. Utility is a worldly standard; and estimates every act by worldly consequences.
bLike most persons who are speaking from their feelings only, on a subject on which they have never seriously thought, the Professor is imposed upon by words. He is carried away by an ambiguity.b To make his assertion about the worldliness of the standard of utility, true, it must be understood in one sense; to make it have the invidious effect which is intended, it must be understood in another. By “worldly,” does he mean to cimplyc what is commonly meant when dthe word is usedd as a reproach—an undue regard to interest in the vulgar sense, our wealth, power, social position, and the like, our command over agreeable outward objects, and over the opinion and good offices of other people? If so, to call utility a worldly standard is eto misrepresent the doctrinee . It is not true that utility estimates actions by this sort of consequences; it estimates them by fallf their consequences. If he means that the principle of utility regards only (to use a scholastic distinction) the objective consequences of actions, and omits the subjective; attends to the effects on our outward condition, and that of other people, too much—to those on our internal sources of happiness or unhappiness, too little; this criticism is, as we have already remarked, in some degree applicable to Paley; but to charge this blunder upon the principle of utility, would be to say, that if git is your rule tog judge of a thing byh its consequences, you will judge only by ia portion of themi . Again, if Mr. Sedgwick meant to speak of a “worldly standard” in contradistinction to a religious standard, and to say that if we adopt the principle of utility, we cannot admit religion as a sanction for it, or cannot attachj importance to religious motives or feelings, the assertion would be simply false, and a gross kinjustice even tok Paley. What, therefore, can Mr. Sedgwick mean? lMerelyl this: that our actions take place in the world; that their consequences are produced in the world; that mwe have been placedm in the world; and that there, if anywhere, we must earn a place in heaven. The morality founded on utility allows this, certainly: does Mr. Sedgwick’s system of morality deny it?
Mark the nconfusion of ideasn involved in this sentence: “Christianity considers every act grounded on mere worldly consequences as built on a false foundation.” What is saving a father from death, but saving him from a worldly consequence? What are healing the sick, clothing the naked, sheltering the houseless, but acts which wholly consist in producing a worldly consequence? Confine Mr. Sedgwick to unambiguous words, and he is already answered. What is really true is, that Christianity considers no act as meritorious which is done from mere worldly motives; that is, which is in no degree prompted by the desire of our own moral perfection, or of the oapprobationo of a perfect being. These motives, we need scarcely observe, may be equally powerful, whatever be our standard of morality, provided we believe that the Deity approves it.
Mr. Sedgwick is scandalized at the supposition that the place awarded to each of us in the next world will depend on the balance of the good and evil of our lives. According to his notions of justice, we presume, it ought to depend wholly upon one of the two. As usual, Mr. Sedgwick begins by a misapprehension; he neither understands Paley, nor the conclusion which, he says, is “fairly drawn from the principles of utility.” Paley held, with potherp Christians, that our place hereafter would be determined by our degree of moral perfection; that is, by the balance, not of our good and evil qdeedsq , which depend upon opportunity and temptation, but of our good and evil rdispositionsr ; by the intensity and continuity of our will to do good; by the strength with which we have struggled to be virtuous; not by our accidental lapses, or by the unintended good or evil which has followed from our actions. When Paley said that Christianity has not ascertained “the precise quantity of virtue necessary to salvation,” he did not mean the number or kind of beneficial actions; he meant, that Christianity has not decided what positive strength of virtuous inclinations, and what capacity of resisting temptations, will procure acquittal at the tribunal of God. And most swiselys is this left undecided. Nor can there be a solution more consistent with the attributes which Christianity ascribes to the Deity, than Paley’s own—that every step tof advancet in uthe direction ofu moral perfection, will be something gained towardsv everlasting welfare.
The remainder of Mr. Sedgwick’s argument—if argument it can be called—is a perpetual ignoratio elenchi. He lumps up the principle of utility—which is a theory of right and wrong—with the theory, if there be such a theory, of the universal selfishness of mankind. We never know, for many sentences together, which of the two he is arguing against; he never seems to know it himself. He begins a sentence on the one, and ends it on the other. In his mind they seem to be one and the same. Read this:—
Utilitarian philosophy and Christian ethics have in their principles and motives no common bond of union, and ought never to have been linked together in one system: for, palliate and disguise the difference as we may, we shall find at last that they rest on separate foundations; one deriving all its strength from the moral feelings, and the other from the selfish passions of our nature.
If we suppress the authority of conscience, reject the moral feelings, rid ourselves of the sentiments of honour, and sink (as men too often do) below the influence of religion; and if, at the same time, we are taught to think that utility is the universal test of right and wrong; what is there left within us as an antagonist power to the craving of passion, or the base appetite of worldly gain? In such a condition of the soul, all motive not terminating in mere passion becomes utterly devoid of meaning. On this system, the sinner is no longer abhorred as a rebel against his better nature—as one who profanely mutilates the image of God: he acts only on the principles of other men, but he blunders in calculating the chances of his personal advantage: and thus we deprive virtue of its holiness, and vice of its deformity; humanity of its honour, and language of its meaning; we shut out, as no better than madness or folly, the loftiest sentiments of the heathen as well as of the Christian world; and all that is great or generous in our nature droops under the influence of a cold and withering selfishness.
wEvery line of this passage convicts Mr. Sedgwick of never having taken the trouble to know the meaning of the terms in which the doctrine he so eagerly vilifies is conveyed.w What has “calculating the chances of personal advantage” to do with the principle of utility? The object of Mr. Sedgwick is, to represent that principle as leading to the conclusion, that a vicious man is no more a subject of disapprobation than a person who blunders in a question of prudence. If Mr. Sedgwick did but know what the principle of utility is, he would see that it leads to no such conclusion. Some people have been led to that conclusion, not by the principle of utility, but xeither by the doctrine of philosophical necessity, incorrectly understood, orx by a theory of motives, which has been called the selfish theory; and even from that it does not justly follow.
The finery about shutting out “lofty sentiments” scarcely deserves notice. It resembles what yis saidy in the next page  about “suppressing all the kindly emotions which minister to virtue.” zWe are far from charging Mr. Sedgwick withz wilful misrepresentation, but athisa is the very next thing to it—misrepresentation in voluntary ignorance. Who proposes to suppress bany “kindly emotion?”b Human beings, the Professor may be assured, will always love and honour every sentiment, whether “lofty” or otherwise, which is either directly pointed to their good, or tends to raise the mind above the influence of the petty objects for the sake of which mankind injure one another. The Professor is afraid that the sinner will be “no longer abhorred.” We imagined that it was not the sinner who should be abhorred, but sin. Mankind, however, are sufficiently ready to abhor whatever is obviously noxious to them. A human being filled with malevolent dispositions, or coldly indifferent to the feelings of his fellow-creatures, will never, the Professor may assure himself, be amiable in their eyes. Whether they will speak of him as “a rebel against his better nature,”—“one who profanely mutilates the image of God,” and so on, will depend upon whether they are proficients in commonplace rhetoric. But whatever words they use, rely on it that, while men dread and abhor a wolf or a serpent, which have no better nature, and no image of God to mutilate, they will abhor with infinitely greater intensity a human being who, outwardly resembling themselves, is inwardly their enemy, and, being far more powerful than “toad or asp,”[*] voluntarily cherishes the same cdisposition to mischiefc .
If utility be the standard, “the end,” in the Professor’s opinion, “will be made to sanctify the means” (p. 78). We answer—just so far as in any other system, and no dfartherd . In every system of morality, the end, when good, justifies all means which do not conflict with some more important good. On Mr. Sedgwick’s own scheme, are there not ends which sanctify actions, in other cases deserving the utmost abhorrence—such, for instance, as taking the life of a fellow-creature in cold blood, in the face of the whole people? According to the principle of utility, the end justifies all means necessary to its attainment, except those which are more mischievous than the end is usefule; an exception amply sufficient.e
We have now concluded our fexaminationf of Mr. Sedgwick: first, as a commentator on the studies which form part of a liberal education; and next, as an assailant of the “utilitarian theory of morals.” We have shown that, on the former subject, he has omitted almost everything which ought to have been said; that almost all which he has said is trivial, and much of it gerroneousg . With regard to the other part of his design, we have shown that he has not only failedh to refute the doctrine that human happiness is the foundation of morality, but has, in the attempt, proved himself not to understand what the doctrine is;i and to be capable of jbringing the most serious charges againstj other men’s opinions, and themselves, kwhich even a smattering of the knowledge appropriate to the subject, would have shown to be groundlessk .
lWe by no means affect to consider Mr. Sedgwick as (what he would not himself claim to be) a sufficient advocate of the cause he has espoused, nor pretend that his pages contain the best that can be said, or even the best that has been said, against the theory of utility. That theory numbers among its enemies, minds of almost every degree of power and intellectual accomplishments; among whom many are capable of making out a much better apparent case for their opinion. But Mr. Sedgwick’s is a fair enough sample of the popular arguments against the theory; his book has had more readers and more applauders than a better book would have had, because it is level with a lower class of capacities: and though, by pointing out its imperfections, we do little to establish our own opinion, it is something to have shown on how light grounds, in some cases, men of gravity and reputation arraign the opinion, and are admired and applauded for so arraigning it.l
The question is not one of pure speculation. Not to mention the importance, to those who are entrusted with the education of the moral sentiments, of just views respecting their origin and nature; we may remark that, upon the truth or falseness of the doctrine of a moral sense, it depends whether morality is a fixed or a progressive body of doctrine. If it be true that man has a sense given him to determine what is right and wrong, it follows that his moral judgments and feelings cannot be susceptible of any improvement; such as they are they ought to remain. The question, what mankind in general moughtm to think and feel on the subject of their duty, must be determined by observing what, when no interest or passion can be seen to bias them, they think and feel already.n According to the theory of utility, on the contrary, the question, what is our duty, is as open to discussion as any other question. Moral doctrines are no more to be received without evidence, onoro to be sifted less carefully, than any other doctrines. An appeal lies, as on all other subjects, from a received opinion, however generally entertained, to the decisions of cultivated reason. The weakness of human intellect, and all the other infirmities of our nature, are considered to interfere as much with the rectitude of our judgments on morality, as on any other of our concerns; and changes as great are anticipated in our opinions on that subject, as on every other, both from the progress of intelligence, from more authentic and enlarged experience, and from alterations in the condition of the human race, requiring altered rules of conduct.
pItp deeply concerns the greatest interests of our race, that the only mode of treating ethical questions which qaimsq at correcting existing maxims, and rectifying any of the perversions of existing feeling, should not be borne down by clamour.r The contemners of analysis have long enough had all the pretension to themselves. They have had the monopoly of the claim to pure, and lofty, and sublime principles; and those who gave reasons to justify their feelings have submitted to be cried down as low, and cold, and degraded. We hope they will submit no longers; and not content with meeting the metaphysics of their more powerful adversaries by profounder metaphysics, will join battle in the field of popular controversy with every antagonist of name and reputation, even when, as in the present case, his name and reputation are his only claims to be heard on such a subject.s
[c-c]35 man raises himself
[g-g]35 even his desire to introduce them into his native country
[h-h]35 no class
[i-i]35 no class whatever
[[*] ]François Guizot. Cours d’histoire moderne: Histoire de la civilisation en France. 5 vols. Paris: Pichon and Didier, 1829-32, Vol. I, pp. 12-13.
[j]35 [paragraph] This torpid state of the national mind on the noblest subjects of thought would not be surprising, if in other respects the English were a declining people; if all intellectual energy and manly activity were, as in the later times of the Roman empire, verging towards extinction. But the direct contrary is the fact. Since the time when the English philosophers gave the law to Europe, England has maintained and added to every other superiority which she possessed. She has advanced immeasurably in wealth, still more immeasurably in power; civilization has spread to the remotest corner of her territory; the manners of her people have been humanized, their tastes refined; they have outstripped all nations in what most distinguishes a civilized people from barbarians, the power of co-operating for a common object; in the diffusion of reading, of philanthropy, of interest in public affairs, no other poeple in the Old World can be compared with them. While all these changes have been taking place for the better, in the minds and condition of those whom our two great endowed seminaries do not educate, there must be some grievous defect in the training of the classes whom those establishments do educate, to account for the low state of all higher pursuits; of the pursuits which the very existence of universities is but a means to the cultivation of—and in which it is the duty of such establishments to send forth their pupils qualified, some to extend the bounds of knowledge itself, and all to enter into its spirit, and turn it to account for the purposes of life.
[* ] Written before the advent of the present comparatively enlightened body of University Reformers.
[k]35 (witness his replies to Mr. Beverley) [Four Letters to the Editors of the Leeds Mercury in Reply to R. M. Beverley. Cambridge: not published, 1836.]
[[*] ]Sedgwick, Discourse, p. 8.
[n-n]35 he terms
[[†] ]Ibid., p. vii.
[* ] It is just to Mr. Sedgwick to subjoin the following passage from the Preface to a later edition of his Discourse:—
[o]35 as the above,
[p-p]35 what Hobbes and Descartes would have called the methods* [footnote:] *Method, the methodus philosophandi. The employment of the word to denote order and arrangement, is a modern corruption.
[s]35 to the
[t]35 a fine
[y-y]35 the calibre of the Penny Magazine
[[*] ]Sedgwick, p. 12.
[z-z]35 This is one of the ways of his profession. Mr. Sedgwick, besides being a professor of geology, is also a clergyman; and it seems to be a propensity inherent in the clerical office
[a-a]35 A clergyman
[c-c]35 thinks himself
[d-d]35 he thinks
[g-g]35 This, on its own account, would scarcely require remark: but in illustration of the Professor’s metaphysics, of which it is a fair sample, we may observe, that if
[h-h]35 germinates somehow
[i-i]35 a child learns
[j-j]35 he learns
[m-m]35 ideas and feelings
[n-n]35 we have nothing to say
[o-o]59 “any great [printer’s error?]
[[*] ]Pierre Simon de La Place. Traité de mécanique céleste. 5 vols. Paris: Duprat, et al., 1798-1823.
[* ]In the earlier stages of a nation’s culture, the place of philosophy is always pre-occupied by an established religion: all the more interesting questions to which philosophy addresses itself, find a solution satisfactory to the then state of human intellect, ready provided by the received creed. The old religion must have lost its hold on the more cultivated minds, before philosophy is applied to for a solution of the same questions. With the decline of Polytheism came the Greek philosophy; with the decline of Catholicism, the modern.
[r-r]35 The true ground for assigning to classical studies a high place in general education—a far higher one, indeed, than to what the Professor calls “the severer investigations of science” (meaning mathematics, and the applications of mathematics) is, that the former cultivate the whole mind, the latter only a narrow corner of it. The subject of the one is but lines and numbers; of the other, human life, from its highest to its homeliest concerns. In the one, the only faculty exercised is ratiocination; and that, too, under circumstances of unusual facility: in the other, there is scarcely a valuable power or habit of the intellect which finds not its appropriate nourishment. We believe, accordingly, that the superiority of scholars over mathematicians, wherever intellects are brought fairly into competition, is borne out by a wide experience. As between the Greek and Roman, and any modern literature, the superiority of the former, as an instrument of education, lies in this—that in all other literatures the various nutriment which is needful for the mind lies scattered, some here, some there, and the same book is seldom food for more than a small part of the character; but in classical literature the whole man drinks from the same fountain; the sense of beauty, the admiration of exalted personal excellence, and the most varied powers of thought, are all nourished and called into action, each in the highest degree, and not separately but simultaneously.
[s-s]35,59 “the younger
[v]35 There is a remark of David Hume, of which perhaps Mr. Sedgwick never heard—that the world is yet too young to have a political philosophy. [“Of Civil Liberty,” in Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Cadell, 1793, Vol. I, pp. 89-90.] If history is to be the basis of it, after ten thousand years the world will still be too young.
[w]35 Whoever knows not this, must be as superficially acquainted with history as with principle; and so, indeed, those who build confidently upon history always are: those who are really versed in it know better in what its value consists.
[y]35 , for instance,
[a-a]35 The real foundation of political wisdom is our experience, not of the men of former ages, whom we cannot know, either themselves or their circumstances, but of those whom and whose circumstances we can know, the people of our own time; and this experience is acquired
[c-c]35 we need not be told
[* ] Written in 1834. [The reference is presumably to William Mitford. The History of Greece. 10 vols. London: Cadell and Davies, 1818-20.]
[h]35 , not having depth or strength of mind to see beyond them
[q-q]35 the systems
[* ]As an example, and one which is in point to Mr. Sedgwick’s attack, let us take Locke’s refutation of innate ideas. The doctrine maintained in his time, and against which his arguments are directed, was, that there are ideas which exist in the mind antecedently to experience. Of this theory his refutation is complete, and the error has never again reared its head. But a form of the same doctrine has since arisen, somewhat different from the above, and which could not have been thought of until Locke had established the dependence of all our knowledge upon experience. In this modern theory, it is admitted that experience, or, in other words, impressions received from without, must precede the excitement of any ideas in the mind; no ideas, therefore, exist in the mind antecedently to experience; but there are some ideas (so the theory contends) which, though experience must precede them, are not likenesses of anything which we have experience of, but are only suggested or excited by it; ideas which are only so far the effects of outward impressions, that they would for ever lie dormant if no outward impressions were ever made. Experience, in short, is a necessary condition of those ideas, but not their prototype, or their cause [35 or cause]. One of these ideas, they contend, is, the idea of substance or matter; which is no copy of any sensation; neither, on the other hand, should we ever have had this notion, if we had never had sensation [35, 59 sensations]; but as soon as any sensation is experienced, we are compelled by a law of our nature to form the idea of an external something (which we call matter), [35 something called matter,] and to refer the sensation to this [35 this something] as its exciting cause. Such, it is likewise contended, are [35 is] the idea of duty, and the moral judgments and feelings. We do not bring with us into the world any idea of a criminal act: it is only experience which gives us that idea; but the moment we conceive the act, we instantly, by the constitution of our nature, judge it to be wrong, and frame the idea of an obligation to abstain from it.
[t-t]35 absurd still
[u-u]35 Are words altogether without meaning to the Professor, that he can
[v-v]35 distinctly declared
[w-w]35 tells us
[* ]Preface to Locke’s Essay. [“The Epistle to the Reader,” Of Human Understanding, in Works, I (London: Tegg, Sharpe, Offor, Robinson, Evans, 1823) xlvi-xlvii.]
[[*] ]Locke, Of Human Understanding, pp. 1-3.
[[†] ]Sedgwick, pp. 57, 49, 49, 50.
[* ] The word Imagination is currently taken in such a variety of senses, that there is some difficulty in making use of it at all without risk of being misunderstood. In one of its acceptations, Imagination is not the auxiliary merely, but the necessary instrument of Reason—namely, by summoning and keeping before the mind a lively and complete image of the thing to be reasoned about. The differences which exist among human beings in their capacity of doing this, and the influence which those differences exercise over the soundness and comprehensiveness of their thinking faculties, are topics well worthy of an elaborate discussion. But of this mode of viewing the subject there are no traces in Mr. Sedgwick’s Discourse.
[[*] ]Sedgwick, pp. 52, 57.
[[*] ]Sedgwick, p. vii.
[i-i]35 Mr. Sedgwick terms “the utilitarian theory”
[k-k]35 thought fit to assume
[l-l]35 Who can be
[q-q]35 making, but recognizing and sanctioning
[v-v]35 Perhaps it was
[w]35 , in truth,
[z]35 are the
[a-a]35,59 we have
[c]35 , possibly in most,
[f-f]35 one of its immoral consequences
[g]35 , in
[h-h]35 principles of morality
[m]35 [paragraph] What may have been done in this department by the philosophers who have adopted the principle of utility subsequently to Paley, cannot be known, so long as none of them have laid before the world their ethical opinions. But the general laws of the formation of character have to no inquirers been a subject of more attentive investigation; nor, in truth, have the phenomena ever been successfully analyzed into the ultimate elements, but by them.
[n-n]35 appreciation of Mr. Sedgwick, who
[s]35 the Professor says,
[t]35 Two things manifest themselves throughout the whole passage; extreme ignorance both of children and of grown persons, and an incapacity of making the most obvious distinctions.
[[*] ]Cf. Sedgwick, p. 67.
[w-w]35 Has the sense of shame anything to do
[x-x]35 we might well suppose
[i-i]35 the selfishness
[j]35 , indeed,
[n-n]35 the parental house
[o-o]35 We have said enough, we think,
[p-p]35 We proceed to his third. This
[q-q]35 contend that
[t-t]35 [in footnote; see JSM’s note to powerless below]
[[*] ]Sedgwick, p. 55.
[* ]We cannot help referring the Professor back to Locke, and to that very chapter “On Power” which he singles out for peculiar objurgation. We recommend to his special attention the admirable remarks in that chapter on the abuse of the word “faculty.” [Of Human Understanding, Bk. II, Chap. xxi, § 6; Works, Vol. I, pp. 239-40.] [35 as 67 . . . “faculty.” [paragraph] Mr. Sedgwick falls into the blunder of the prevailing sect among the Schoolmen of the middle ages, the people called the Realists. These people gave to some classes of objects the name species, to others not; and then imagined that the classes to which they had given a peculiar name had a peculiar nature. Mr. Sedgwick gives to some of the powers of the mind the name faculties, to others not; and then falls into a like error. He loses sight of the very meaning of the word faculty—facultas. He talks of a faculty “powerless because untried.” A power powerless!]
[[†] ]Sedgwick, p. vii.
[x-x]35 inspires them with a desire not
[[*] ]Horace. Epistle I, ll. 32, 28-9; in Opera. Glasgow: Mundell, 1796.
[z-z]35 God has given us
[a-a]35 God has thought fit to furnish us
[[†] ]See Joseph Butler. “Of the Nature of Virtue,” in The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature. London: Knapton, 1736, p. 310.
[* ]“Here everything,” says he, “remains indefinite: yet all the successive propositions have their meaning. The author knew well that the things he had to deal with were indefinite, and that he could not fetter them in the language of a formal definition, without violating their nature. But how small has been the number of moral writers who have understood the real value of this forbearance!” [Sedgwick, pp. 130-1.]
[f-f]35 “the utilitarian system”
[j-j]35 gives little guidance in
[k-k]35 our actions only
[l-l]35 all moralists
[m-m]35 might be
[n-n]35 in the form of
[q-q]35 you tell him
[r-r]35 they do so
[s-s]35 the Tories
[t-t]35all the hack
[[*] ]Sedgwick, p. 61.
[u-u]35 Who puts off his calculations till the vessel
[w]35 It will scarcely be required of us to say more on this part of the question.
[[†] ]Ibid., p. 63.
[[*] ]Leviathan. In The English Works of Thomas Hobbes. Ed. William Molesworth. London: Bohn, 1839-45, Vol. III, p. 79.
[x-x]35 dislike to the opinion, and that he does not know why, but finding himself dislike it, concludes that it must be very bad
[y-y]Source, 35 his
[z-z]35 we have
[a]35 he says,
[b-b]35 The Professor is like other persons whose intellects are not used to grapple with things: all his feelings hang upon words. There is nothing you might not disgust him with, if, by taking advantage even of an ambiguity, you could fasten upon it a bad word.
[d-d]35 we use the word
[j]35 the fitting
[k-k]35 calumny even against
[m-m]35 God has placed us
[n-n]35 trick of words
[t-t]35 we gain
[w-w]35 A writer who heaps abuse in this style upon an opinion, and upon those who profess it, when every word he writes proves that he has never taken the trouble even to know the meaning of the terms in which it is conveyed, is not free from moral culpability.
[y-y]35 he says
[z-z]35 This may not be
[b-b]35 a single kindly emotion?
[[*] ]John Milton. Sonnet XI, ll. 12-14. In The Poetical Works. London: Tonson, 1695, p. 25 of Poems Upon Several Occasions.
[c-c]35 dispositions to evil
[e-e]35 . What fault can the Professor find with this?
[i]35 to be ignorant of almost everything which it is peculiarly incumbent upon a philosopher to know;
[k-k]35 without the slightest pretensions to a knowledge of either
[l-l]35 Such is a man whom general opinion places in the foremost rank of Cambridge minds. Such, if we might judge from this specimen, is Cambridge herself.
[n]35 Accordingly this is an admirable doctrine for those who have hitherto, by education and government, had the framing of the opinions and feelings of mankind mainly in their own hands. A general prejudice may, on this scheme, be at any time erected, by those who are disinterestedly attached to it, or by those whose convenience it suits, into a law of our universal nature. [paragraph]
[p-p]35 The question, therefore, is of the utmost importance. And it
[q-q]35 even aims
[r]35 All who do not think the morality taught to English gentlemen at English universities perfect, are interested in withstanding the attempt.
[s-s]35 . Our part, at least, shall not be wanting; and whoever shall hereafter deal with this question in Mr. Sedgwick’s manner, may expect, if he be a person whose reputation or influence render it needful, a no less unsparing exposure.
[k-k]38 in check