Front Page Titles (by Subject) EIGHT: PERFECTING BY SOCIAL ACTION: THE PRESUPPOSITIONS - The Perfectibility of Man
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EIGHT: PERFECTING BY SOCIAL ACTION: THE PRESUPPOSITIONS - John Passmore, The Perfectibility of Man 
The Perfectibility of Man (3rd ed.) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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PERFECTING BY SOCIAL ACTION: THE PRESUPPOSITIONS
Pelagius and Augustine agreed on one point—the alternatives were clear, at least at the extremes. Either man could perfect himself, by the exercise of his own free will, or else he could be perfected only by the infusion of God’s grace. These were the poles between which Christian controversy fluctuated. In the seventeenth century, however, a third possibility began to be canvassed, cutting across the ancient quarrel between Pelagians and Augustinians. Perhaps men could be perfected not by God, not by the exercise of their own free will, not even by some combination of the two, but by the deliberate intervention of their fellow-men.
So long as the Platonic or the Augustinian way of defining perfection was taken for granted, this possibility could be ruled out of court. No man—however clever, however wise, however technically well-equipped—could, purely as a consequence of his own efforts, bring his fellow-men to a condition in which they were able to contemplate the form of the good, or unite themselves with the One, or love nobody and nothing except God. He could, no doubt, assist them in their attempts to attain those ends. In his Republic, Plato described a course of education which, undertaken by a selected few, could help them to reach a point at which they were ready to contemplate the form of the good; Plotinus can tell such men as are fit to undertake an arduous quest what steps are necessary to achieve union with the One; her spiritual advisers can advise Teresa in her search for spiritual perfection. The fact remains that for Plato and for Plotinus natural endowments, for Christianity the grace of God, are essential prerequisites for the attaining of perfection; the educator, the spiritual adviser, have an important but only an ancillary role to play in the perfecting of men.
But must perfection be conceived of in such ambitious terms? There are two programmes of education in Plato’s Republic, one designed for ordinary men, who could not hope to achieve perfection but could attain to “civic goodness,” the other restricted to such civically good men as gave promise, in virtue of their qualities of temperament and intellect, of being incipient philosopher-kings. Suppose Plato were to abandon the idea that, to be perfect, men must first contemplate the form of the good. Then perfection could be described in wholly non-metaphysical terms, as the attainment of the maximum possible civic goodness together, perhaps, with such a degree of “philosophical goodness” as education could ensure. It is then as if Aristotle’s Ethics had contained no reference to the theoretical life, or had described that life in purely secular terms as a life of scientific investigation, or as if the Stoic ideal of the perfected Sage had been abandoned but the Stoic account of moral progress retained.
This is the kind of perfection which, towards the end of the fourteenth century, the Florentine “civic humanists” began to extol.1 Whereas the neo-Platonists and their Christian successors had, so we suggested, amalgamated Plato and Aristotle into a single, metaphysical, philosopher, the civic humanists brought into prominence the Aristotle of the Politics and of those books of the Nicomachean Ethics in which he describes the life of the ordinary citizen. They read Lucretius and rediscovered the ethics of Epicurus; they read Epictetus and Cicero’s De Officiis and admired the moral outlook they found expounded there, Stoicism without metaphysics. Refusing to admit the superiority of the contemplative over the active life, they at the same time redefined both kinds of life.
For most Christian moralists the active life meant what it had meant for Cassian—that part of the life of a monk or, at most, of a secular priest which was devoted to works of charity and mercy or to ecclesiastic administration. There were isolated exceptions, like the fourteenth-century English mystic Walter Hilton, who were prepared to allow that a layman, as well as a priest or a member of a religious order, could live that “mixed life” of action and contemplation which Augustine had advocated.2 But not even such dissentients were prepared to count the ordinary virtues of the citizen—“civic goodness” as distinct from the peculiarly Christian virtues—as the “active” ingredient in a mixed life. The civic humanists, however, at once extolled the active life, as contrasted with either the purely contemplative or the mixed life, and identified it with the “civically good” life of free, enterprising, community-minded citizens. Theirs was essentially a city-centred view of life, reminding us of the etymological origins of such words as “urbane” and “civilized.” They totally rejected that ideal of retirement which Epicurus had advocated and monasticism had carried into practice. In many ways, indeed, their attitude represented a resurgence of the ideals of ancient Athens, the Periclean City-State.
On the other side, the “contemplative” life gradually came to be identified not with the life of the monk or the hermit, withdrawn in silence from the ways of man, but with the vigorous, inquiring life of the scholar, the philosopher, the scientist, typified by Leonardo da Vinci but no less manifest in the burning, inexhaustible zeal of the Renaissance classicist. The traditional sharp distinction between the contemplative and the active life was thus blurred. Florence, city of businessmen, scholars, statesmen, artists and scientists, prepared the way for that eighteenth-century alliance between commerce and philosophy which did so much to encourage men’s hopes that they not only could be, but would be, perfected.
It is true that for the time being the civic humanists were defeated. Florence itself, as it lost its civic freedoms, came to be dominated by the Platonic Academy, by philosophers like Ficino who carried neo-Platonism to vertiginous extremes. But the new spirit, once aroused, could not be entirely destroyed. It carried over, in important respects, into Lutheranism and Calvinism; it continued to survive, as a thin but continuous line, until the time was ripe for it once more to expand at the Enlightenment.
The Renaissance break with the past was not, of course, absolute and decisive. Such breaks never are. One of the most notable expressions of the new attitude is Pietro Pomponazzi’s sixteenth-century On the Immortality of the Soul. This is the work of a Paduan Aristotelian, more than suspect, it is true, to ecclesiastical authorities, but well-versed in, and amicably disposed towards, the Thomistic tradition. Pomponazzi does not for a moment deny that in so far as men can become godlike this can only be through the cultivation of their “theoretical intellect.” What he does deny is that the perfection of this intellect is man’s natural end, or that men can properly be described as “perfect” only in so far as they are wholly devoted to the contemplative life.
Taking over an Aristotelian classification, Pomponazzi distinguished between three forms of intellect: the theoretical, the practical, the productive. All men, he says, possess these three forms of intellect in some degree. They possess some knowledge, however rudimentary, of fundamental theoretical truths—such truths as that nothing can both be and not be at the same time. They are “productive,” they can create and build. They are “practical” in Aristotle’s sense of the word, capable, that is, of making moral and political decisions. But only the “practical” form of intellect, according to Pomponazzi, is proper and peculiar to man, and this is the only form of intellect which all men must attempt to develop to its full perfection. It is neither possible nor desirable for all men to perfect themselves as metaphysicians or as builders. But it is both possible and desirable, according to Pomponazzi, for them all to perfect themselves morally. “As to the practical intellect,” he writes, “which is proper to man, every man should possess it perfectly. . . . For the whole would be most perfectly preserved if all men were righteous and good, but not if all were philosophers or smiths or builders.”3
Pomponazzi’s reference to “the whole” is particularly significant. By “the whole” he means “mankind” or “the human race.” There was nothing new in thinking of mankind in this way as a single whole; the Greeks had not done so, but Augustine had. What is novel in Pomponazzi’s approach is that he takes as his point of departure the perfecting of “the whole”—of mankind—rather than the perfecting of the individual. In so doing, he anticipated the characteristic approach of modern perfectibilism, at least since the eighteenth century. The individual is to be perfected only as part of the perfection of mankind. And if mankind as a whole is to be perfected then—unless within the framework of a Buddhist-type theory of reincarnation—the ideal of perfection has to be set at a level which men can, in their present life, hope to achieve. And this is the case, Pomponazzi is suggesting, if perfection is identified with moral or “practical” perfection.
If it be objected that the perfection of the practical intellect will not of itself bring men perfect peace, Pomponazzi’s answer is that men are not to expect perfect peace. Were, indeed, a human being to arrive at a state in which, like the Stoic sage, he was entirely free of anxiety, he would cease to be human. Nor should men repine at the fact that they will never know all that they might wish to know, and will never be secure in an eternal happiness. A mortal being ought not to desire eternal happiness, “since the immortal is not fitting for a mortal.” He should abandon his desire to be like God, whether in knowledge, in security or in happiness. “It is characteristic of the temperate man to be content with what suits him and what he can have.” A few men, no doubt, should try to perfect themselves as philosophers, a few men as builders or as sculptors. But it is not necessary to the perfection of mankind that they should do so. What is necessary is that all men should perfect themselves as active, moral, beings. Perfection, then, is not metaphysical perfection but task-perfection, and man’s task is a moral one.
We are back at last, in spirit, with Pindar, with Pindar’s exhortation to “think mortal thoughts.” Contemplating in retrospect the long history of Graeco-Christian thought, to say nothing of the Eastern religions, what strikes us most of all is the extravagant nature of the objectives it sets before men, and what goes with this, the severity of the conditions it lays down for their perfection. To be a philosopher-king or a Stoic sage, to love nobody and nothing except God for his own sake, to make oneself worthy of eternal happiness, to achieve union with the One, to attain to the vision of God or the form of the good—what vaulting ambitions these are! But now Pomponazzi exhorts men to forget the ambition to be godlike. “The bliss of man . . . ,” as Pope was to put it, “is not to think or act beyond mankind.”4 Man is neither god nor beast: let him recognize this fact, and be content with the perfection proper to him. “All men can and ought to be of good character.” That is the kind of perfection, perfection of character, which men should therefore take as their objective.
In his Of Wisdom, published almost a century later in 1601, that enigmatic but influential philosopher-theologian Pierre Charron adopted a still more worldly attitude.* His object, he tells us, is not to “prepare men for a cloister” but rather to set down the right method of “training a man up for the world, and forming him for business and mixed conversation”5 —a most un-Augustinian ambition, very characteristic of the eighteenth-century world to come, not least in its reference to the delights of “mixed conversation.”6 Charron’s heroes, his exemplars, are neither Stoic sages nor saints and martyrs. He sets up as “ideal types,” rather, such practical men of affairs as Aristides the Just, Pericles, Alexander, Camillus, Scipio. The ideal wise man, he says, can properly be compared with a perfect piece of workmanship “which hath all its parts entire, and is finished according to the nicest rules of art.” He has been so educated that “every part within and without, his thoughts, and words and actions, and every motion is graceful, and noble, and what is for the honour of his nature.” It is obvious what is happening. The teleological concept of perfection, for which to be perfect is to attain some remote end, has been replaced by an aesthetic concept, for which to be perfect is to possess a harmoniously developed moral character, a character which men can, in principle, be so educated as to possess here and now. The perfect man is a work of art, the harmonious realization of an educator’s ideal; education, not God, is the source of grace.* This was a typically Renaissance attitude to the human being and human perfection, carried over by Charron into the early seventeenth century and made central by Shaftesbury.
But are not men so bedevilled with lust, so tarnished with egoism, that such a moral character lies wholly beyond their reach? Not even Calvin, as we have already seen, was prepared to go quite so far: however violently he reacted against the Renaissance picture of man, he admitted, like Augustine before him, the merits of a Camillus and a Scipio. What is wrong, for an Augustinian, with a Camillus or a Scipio is not their actions, not the mode of life they live, but their motives. It is not enough, on Calvin’s view, for a man’s life to be as harmonious as a work of art; if it is not infused by the love of God it is through-and-through corrupt.
One thing that happened in the seventeenth century was that men began to question whether motives are of such overwhelming importance. Augustine himself had drawn attention to the fact that actions performed out of pride could be quite indistinguishable from actions performed out of charity. “All the good works that are willed and done by charity,” Augustine wrote, “may be set in motion by its contrary pride.” “Charity,” to take one of Augustine’s examples, “clothes the naked, so does pride.”7 Taking his cue from Augustine, the eighteenth-century moralist Pierre Nicole was even more explicit about what could be achieved by men’s natural motives, without spiritual aid. “Entirely to reform the world,” he wrote, “that is to say, to banish from it all vices and all the grosser disorders . . . one would only need, given the absence of charity, that men should possess an enlightened self-interest. . . . However corrupted such a society might be within and to the eyes of God, there need be nothing lacking to it in the way of being well regulated . . . and what is even more wonderful is that although it would be entirely animated and moved by self-love, self-love would nowhere appear in it; and although it would be entirely devoid of charity, one would see everywhere only the form and characteristics of charity.”8 If enlightened self-interest could produce a society so much better than any in which men were now living, it was more sensible, some of Nicole’s readers were to conclude, to try to develop in men a greater degree of enlightened self-interest rather than to wait until God, so unpredictable in his ways, should choose to infuse them with charity.
“We shall have to transform it [virtue] into the idea of doing good and vice into the idea of doing ill,” says the materialist Bordeu in Diderot’s dialogue D’Alembert’s Dream.9 Diderot’s dialogue was written in 1769—although not published until 1830—and Bordeu is not so much laying down a programme for action as describing what, very largely, had by that time already been done. Virtue, it had come to be widely agreed, consists in “doing good,” even if that “doing of good” flows from self-love rather than from the love of God. Provided the poor are clothed, does it really matter whether this is out of vanity or out of charity?
Naturally enough there were dissentients from this novel attitude. Traditional Augustinians—and even Christians of a less severe kind—continued to argue that actions not performed out of a love of God were worthless. But as the century wore on, the disfavour attaching to “self-love” generally diminished. Pascal’s “God alone is to be loved, self alone to be hated” was generally condemned as what Dr. Johnson called “monastic morality.” Bishop Butler, preaching in 1726, was prepared to maintain that “self-love in its due degree is as just and morally good, as any affection whatever.”10
The important thing, it was more and more commonly argued, is that a man shall so act, whatever his motive, as to bring happiness to his fellow-men. “Charity” no longer had, as its principal meaning, “the love of God”; it came to be identified, by clergy and laymen alike, with disinterested benevolence, good nature, usefulness to others. “The highest merit which human nature is capable of attaining” is conveyed, Hume tells us, by such epithets as “sociable, good-natured, humane, merciful, grateful, friendly, generous, beneficent.”11 The novels of Henry Fielding teach the same lesson, implicitly. In Joseph Andrews, Mr. Barnabas is depicted as telling Joseph that “he must divest himself of all human passions,” but Fielding makes it clear what he thinks of Mr. Barnabas. He greatly prefers Tom Jones, who is scarcely a model of Christian virtue. No doubt Tom Jones needs to reform, but his generosity and warm-heartedness make his “sins” venial, not mortal.
The moral guide-books, such books as The Whole Duty of Man, gradually shift their emphasis. Man’s primary duties for seventeenth-century moralists are directed towards God, for their eighteenth-century successors towards man. The very word “bienfaisance” had to be invented in France to convey the new moral attitude. As for those who feared that self-love and the love of man might be in conflict, Pope, following Shaftesbury, had the answer: “Thus God and nature linked the general frame, And bade self-love and social be the same.”12 Just as Augustine was convinced that “true” self-love and the love of God would coincide, so Pope was convinced that “true” self-love would coincide with “true” benevolence.
To an intransigent Christian like Kierkegaard what happened was a tragedy. Morality, he says, was cut off from its roots in the infinite, in divine grace, reduced to what Kierkegaard calls “finite good sense,” to a “flat, self-indulgent mediocrity.” Man said to God, “No thank you; I should prefer to have none of this help, and salvation, and grace”; he set out to perfect himself only by the criteria of the “finite understanding” and in so doing he cut himself off from his “natural tendency” towards the eternal.13 But by the end of the seventeenth century even churchmen were tired of disputes about grace and free will, and both tired of and frightened by fanaticism—or what they called “enthusiasm.” Metaphysics had fallen into disrepute; Revelation had proved to be too controversial a guide. Only a few bold spirits went so far as to deny the existence of God—an act which still required physical as well as spiritual courage. It was sufficiently obvious, however, that a morality based on theology would be an endless source of wrangling. All men seemed to agree, in contrast, that benevolence was, at the secular level, the key virtue; the Scriptural injunction to “love one’s neighbour” made it possible for broad-minded Christians, forgetting for the nonce that this was no more than the second commandment, to feel themselves at one with Deists or secularists on this point.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries not only the Reformers—and Calvin, it must be remembered, was a humanist compared with some of his followers—but within Roman Catholicism the Jansenists had carried the Augustinian emphasis on human impotence and human worthlessness to a new pitch of intensity. The reaction is already manifest in seventeenth-century Cambridge. The Cambridge Platonists had all of them been educated as Calvinists. To a man they rejected Calvinism, reviving against it the neo-Platonism of the Renaissance.14 Men, they argued, were rational beings, endowed with free will, and it is as rational, freely-choosing beings that they must live their lives, moral and religious. Mere submission to the divine will, a blind faith in revelation, a passive waiting for grace were not enough. One of them, Ralph Cudworth, condemned with particular vigour that “merely legal state” when “men are only passive to God’s law, and unwillingly subject to it for fear of wrath and vengeance, [which] must needs be a state of miserable bondage and servility, distraction and perplexity of mind.”15 And this is what, in practice, Calvinism had come to advocate.
The new tendencies of thought, both in France and in England, can be seen even more clearly outside philosophy, in, for example, Molière’s Tartuffe. Professedly, of course, Molière’s satire was directed only against religious hypocrites. But his ecclesiastical opponents, who succeeded for some years in preventing its performance, were not deceived. Implicit in Tartuffe there is a moral and religious outlook quite opposed to Augustinianism. “He has taught me,” says his dupe-disciple Orgon of Tartuffe, “to have affection for nothing; he has detached my soul from every friendship; were I to see die my brother, my children, my mother, my wife, I should regard that as a matter of no importance whatever.”16 To which Cléante, spokesman for what Kierkegaard was so indignantly to call “finite good sense,” replies no less indignantly, “What humane sentiments you profess!”
A little later, Cléante expounds more directly his own convictions. Truly devout men, he says, display “a devotion which is human, which is gentle.” They are not censorious; it is in their action, not in their judgements on their fellow-men, that they make it clear what kind of person they are. The same emphasis on action is involved, implicitly, in Tartuffe’s own self-defence; it is Tartuffe who argues that he must be judged not by his deeds but by his “heart,” i.e. by his motives and his intentions. He is more than ready, he says, to forgive his enemies “in his heart” but it would be “a cause for scandal” if he were to enter into further communication with them. For Molière, then, religion must be “sensible,” humane, not unduly censorious, not destroying human affections in the name of the love of God. And morality must be manifested in men’s deeds; Valère, generously offering his wealth to facilitate Orgon’s escape from his persecutor, is the truly moral man. We do not need first to ask ourselves whether he has acted out of “love for God” in order to settle that point.
Let us forget about the older metaphysical definitions of perfection, let us concentrate on exhorting men to perfect themselves in their relations with their fellow-men—that, Pomponazzi’s and Charron’s injunction, looked for a time as if it might be acceptable to all men, or to all but a few “enthusiasts.” One can still feel, as one reads the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century moralists, the sense of relief with which they set their sights on these comfortable, finite objectives, and still share the exhilaration, too, with which some of them set out to remake the world in the image of universal benevolence, to perfect it in secular charity.
Such an ideal of perfection differs from the classical Graeco-Christian ideals not only in its metaphysical unambitiousness, but in another fundamental respect: it suggests that perfection is incremental. Men can be brought little by little, and to an unlimited degree, to care for their fellow-men. In classical theories of perfection, perfection involves a sudden breaking-through to a new life. Consider, for example, how John of the Cross describes the path to perfection. Our ordinary, secular life must be thought of, he says, as a web. What the soul prays for is that this web should be broken, “broken by some encounter and supernatural assault of love.” Spiritual acts, according to John of the Cross, “are performed in the soul as in an instant.”17 No doubt a long discipline has to precede mystical experience—just as, for Plato, it had to precede the vision of the form of the good or, for Plotinus, union with the One. The fact remains that men are finally perfected, as the Stoic sage was perfected, in an instant, by an immediate act.
Calvin had taken a different view of God’s manner of action. “God,” he wrote, “abolishes the corruptions of the flesh in his elect in a continuous succession of time, and indeed little by little.”18 What men have to hope for in this life, according to Calvin, is not to be suddenly raised up to perfection but rather to grow “little by little.” Calvin’s emphasis on gradual improvement, at least during man’s earthly life, is only one of the ways in which he prepared the ground for that eighteenth century he would so wholeheartedly have detested. It was important, too, that Calvin, like Luther before him, was so bitterly opposed to the ideal of a special “religious life,” so emphatic that a man’s “spiritual growth” must be exhibited in his daily work, that men will not grow towards perfection by turning their backs on the world. In arguing thus, Calvin inherited the spirit of the Renaissance “civic humanists”—sometimes to be found, of course, in New Testament epistles—and carried it on into modern times. Moral philosophers, then, had an audience partly prepared for them when they argued that the perfectibility of man consists in his capacity to be morally improved rather than in his capacity to enter into relation with some higher metaphysical Being, and that this capacity is exhibited in his purely secular activities.
“Perfection,” that is, is no longer thought of as a peculiar spiritual experience, to be sought after in the monastery or convent; it consists, rather, in the daily practice of morality. No doubt the older idea of a cataclysmic break-through, in the form of a political and social revolution, continued to haunt the imagination of men, combining itself in a variety of ways with a gradualist perfectibilism. But such break-throughs, it was generally agreed, did no more than prepare men for greater perfection; men are perfected gradually, even if only after a revolution, whereas on the traditional view, the preparation was gradual, the break-through to perfection sudden. Even the traditional idea of heaven as a place where perfection would be experienced at once and for all time is replaced by the idea of a heaven where, as Joseph Addison puts it, the soul “is to shine for ever with new accessions of glory and brighten to all eternity . . . still adding virtue to virtue and knowledge to knowledge.” When Joseph Priestley’s son died, Priestley expressed the hope, in a similar spirit, that he “had the foundation of something in his character, on which a good superstructure may be raised hereafter.”19
What happened, indeed, is that the idea of perfectibility came to be entirely divorced from the idea of absolute perfection. In the 1796 edition of Political Justice Godwin could write: “By perfectible . . . is not meant . . . capable of being brought to perfection. But the word seems sufficiently adapted to express the faculty of being continually made better and receiving perpetual improvement.” And he continues thus: “The term perfectible, thus explained, not only does not imply the capacity of being brought to perfection, but stands in express opposition to it. If we could arrive at perfection, there would be an end to our improvement.”20
The final outcome of this view is that there is no such thing as perfection, understood as a condition to be achieved once and for all, in which man can finally rest; the very idea of absolute perfection, Godwin himself suggests, may turn out to be “pregnant with absurdity and contradiction.” If that still has to be demonstrated, he is sure of this much at least: the very nature of man excludes it, since man is so constituted that so long as he survives, he will learn. There is no such thing as a “perfect man” if by this we mean a man who has no longer any potentiality for improvement. There is, however, such a thing as perfecting men, bringing about moral improvement, and such a thing as perfectibility, the capacity for being morally improved. The doctrine of the perfectibility of man can now be reformulated thus: all men are capable of being perfected, and to a degree that has no limit. Or, as Robert Owen spelled it out in more detail, to assert that man is perfectible is to assert the possibility of “endless progressive improvement, physical, intellectual and moral, and of happiness, without the possibility of retrogression or of assignable limit.”21 The classical ideal of perfection identified it with something which could not possibly be gone beyond; a man who had once seen the form of the good or achieved union with the One had no greater perfection left to hope for. The new perfectibilist looked forward, rather, to an infinitely extensible moral improvement.
Suppose we then go on to ask how this perfecting is to be brought about. The obvious candidate—obvious since the time of Plato—is education, and it is in education, or in education supplemented, as in Plato’s Republic, by such other forms of social control as legislation, that eighteenth-century perfectibilists placed their trust. But it had first to be shown that education, as distinct from divine grace, was capable, even, of leading men to virtue. The great turning-point, in this respect, is Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education, first published in 1693.
“Of all the men we meet with,” Locke there writes, “nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education. It is that which makes the great difference in mankind.”22 Notice that Locke is talking about men’s moral character; education, he is saying, makes men “good or evil, useful or not.” For Locke, indeed, education is essentially moral education. “It is virtue then,” he maintains, “direct virtue, which is the hard and valuable part to be aimed at in education.”23 The Augustinian denied that men can be educated into virtue; man’s corruption is too deep-seated to be corrigible by any merely human means. That is the view which Locke is rejecting.
He exaggerates, Locke confesses at the very end of Concerning Education, whenever he writes, as he often does, as if the young child were “white paper, or wax, to be moulded and fashioned as one pleases.”24 “Few of Adam’s children,” he is quite prepared to admit, “are so happy, as not to be born with some bias in their natural temper, which it is the business of education either to take off, or counter-balance.”25 Notice, however, the implicit presumption—the bias is always of a kind which education can “take off” or counter-balance. Like Robert Owen after him, that is, Locke denies that there is any innate “bias” which education is powerless to correct. Some men are harder to educate than others—they are slower to learn or too hasty in their judgements: that is all. With this fact in mind, let us look again at Locke’s concession, at first sight granting so much to the Christian tradition: “few of Adam’s children are so happy as not to be born with some bias in their natural temper . . .” Surely, Augustinian Christians would protest, all Adam’s children have “a bias in their natural temper,” a bias towards evil, the effect of original sin. This bias, furthermore, cannot be “taken off” or “counter-balanced” by any merely natural means, and certainly not by education.
In fact, Locke is entirely rejecting, as he does more explicitly in The Reasonableness of Christianity, the doctrine of original sin. He reverted to an old heresy, condemned by the Council of Orange in 529, to the effect that, in the Council’s words: “Only the death of the body, the wages of sin, was transmitted through one man to the whole human race, and not sin also, the death of the soul.”26 He admits that, as a result of Adam’s sin, men are born mortal; he denies, however, that they are born with an innate inclination towards depravity. That is the point at which modern perfectibilism, in all of its forms, most sharply separates itself from the orthodox Augustinian tradition.
Nor yet, on the other side, are men born, according to Locke, with an inclination towards goodness, endowed by nature with “propensities of benevolence to each other.” Some of Locke’s immediate predecessors, especially the Cambridge Platonists, had taken this view. “There is . . . ,” Ralph Cudworth had argued, “a principle of common sympathy in everyone.”27 Another Cambridge man, Richard Cumberland, although no Platonist, is even more positive on this point. “There are in mankind,” he wrote, “considered as animal beings only, propensities of benevolence to each other.”28 Even without the aid of divine grace, that is, human beings are inclined by nature to love one another.* This, according to Cumberland, is a matter of everyday experience. By the latter part of the seventeenth century, indeed, the native goodness of man was a clerical commonplace, insisted on by innumerable Latitudinarian divines.29
Locke will have none of it. In a marginal note to his copy of a tract by Thomas Burnet, a friend of Cudworth’s, Locke succinctly rejects the Cudworth–Cumberland picture of human nature. “Men have a natural tendency,” Locke writes, “to what delights and from what pains them. This, universal observation has established past doubt. But that the soul has such a tendency to what is morally good and from evil has not fallen under my observation, and therefore I cannot grant it.”30 Then what is the situation? Men are born with one, and only one, natural impulse—the morally neutral impulse to pursue what gives them pleasure and avoid what gives them pain. Apart from that one natural tendency their minds are entirely devoid of any impulses whatsoever.
The continuity, as well as the contrast, with traditional Christian doctrines is very striking. Christian perfectibilists commonly laid down as the first step on the road to perfection what they called purgation. As Charron sums up: “Theology, even like mysticism, teaches us that to prepare the soul properly for God and his work . . . we must empty it, cleanse it, strip it and denude it of all opinion, belief, inclination, make it like a white sheet of paper . . . so that God may live and operate in it.”31 And this is because, in the words of the eighteenth-century Quaker poet Matthew Green:
But, Locke is now saying, when men are born their minds are already “empty rooms”—“furnished best,” in consequence, for the intervention of the educator. So the new-born child does not need to go through a period of purgation. He is already in that condition to which, according to the mystics, he could bring himself only by a prolonged discipline; he is already “denuded of all beliefs, opinion, and inclinations” with the important exception of his inclination towards happiness and aversion from pain. The educator can move into that empty room and furnish it with habits, thereby bestowing upon the child his moral character.
For virtue, according to Locke, consists in having good habits; moral education, therefore, is essentially habit-formation. Such habits can be inculcated in many different ways. Essentially, however, the educator appeals to that original impulse towards pleasure and aversion from pain with which Locke endows the new-born child. This does not mean that the educator should depend on blows and sweet-meats. Quite the contrary: to proceed in this way, Locke argues, is so to shape the child that he will respond only to physical pain and physical pleasure. Shame is the form of pain to which the educator must principally appeal, and reputation the form of pleasure. “If by these means,” Locke writes, “you can come once to shame them out of their faults, (for besides that, I would willingly have no punishment) and make them in love with the pleasure of being well thought on, you may turn them as you please, and they will be in love with all the ways of virtue.”33
At a certain level, there is nothing original in Locke’s analysis of moral education. A similar doctrine is to be found in Plato, at the beginning of the second book of his Laws. A child’s first consciousness, Plato there says, is of pleasure and pain. “This is the domain,” he goes on to suggest, “wherein the soul first acquires virtue or vice”; he will acquire virtue if and only if he is subject to “early discipline in appropriate habits.”34 To that extent Plato and Locke—and many other educators, like Quintilian, in the centuries that separated them—are at one. But for Plato true virtue, “philosophical” goodness, must rest on knowledge, not on habit. Locke’s contemporary, Leibniz, took the same view. “The practices of virtue,” he wrote in the preface to his Theodicy, “as well as those of vice, may be the effect of a mere habit, one may acquire a taste for them; but when virtue is reasonable, when it is related to God . . . it is founded on knowledge.”35
Scholastic theologians, basing themselves on Aristotle but modifying his views in the interests of Christianity, had a great deal to say about habit. They admitted that “acquired habits”—acquired by “education,” in a broad sense of the word—could carry man a certain distance. The fact remains, they argued, that “infused habits,” conferred by the grace of God, are essential for “true” goodness. The Calvinists, too, were confident that virtues founded on habit, virtues available to pagan and to Christian alike, could only be a simulacrum of true virtue. Locke, in contrast, is suggesting that true virtue is a matter of habit. He grants that, at a later stage in his development, the child should be brought to understand how virtue and religion are related, but he denies that this knowledge is essential to virtue.
Even more shocking than the elevation of habits, derived from education, to being both necessary and sufficient for virtue in the fullest sense of the word was Locke’s belief that shame and reputation were the instruments by which men were to be educated into virtue. “Shame and reputation”—in short that amour propre, that concern for one’s position in the world, which Christian moralists united in denouncing. Contrast the reformer Zwingli, whose ideal educator must forbid “all desire for fame,” must persuade his pupils that “ambition is a deadly poison,” and above all must root out “self-pleasing,” which Zwingli identifies with the devil.36 Contrast, too, Pascal for whom “admiration ruins all from childhood”; in his eyes it is only another sign of human depravity that “children . . . who lack this spur of emulation and glory fall into indifference.”37 (He is opposing the educational practices of the more worldly-wise Jesuits.)38 The idea that children could be morally educated by an appeal to such spurs would have been, in his eyes, quite monstrous.
It is clear enough what Locke is doing. Not only enlightened self-interest—amour de soi—but even a concern for reputation—amour propre—were to lose their old terrors.* In some ways, indeed, we are back in the atmosphere of Homeric Greece. Reputation and shame are the important things; if a man can learn to feel ashamed at the right moments there is no need to fear for his virtue.
Of course, nothing is ever quite as it was before. Locke is a Christian. In the long run, he freely admits, it is the law of God which determines what is virtue and what is not. But the law of God is sometimes difficult to determine, and remote from the affairs of men. The actual, day to day, test of virtue and vice, so Locke argues in his Essay, is that “approbation or dislike . . . which by a secret and tacit consent, establishes itself in the several societies, tribes, and clubs of men in the world.”39 Fortunately, he says, the rules established by such societies largely coincide with the laws which God has laid down for men. (Locke knew Nicole well, having translated him, indeed, into English.) We can therefore safely take them as our guide. And it is quite unrealistic, he thinks, not to recognize that “commendation and disgrace” are the strongest incentives to conformity. So an Augustinian might with melancholy have reflected. But to Locke the power of commendation and disgrace is rather a reason for optimism: it provides the educator with a weapon for forming men’s moral character.
Let us look now at what Locke thought he had shown and its relevance to perfectibilism. Locke has argued, first, that there is nothing in men, no innate depravity, to prevent them from being morally improved. Secondly, that there are secular processes, controllable by men, by which they can bring about the moral improvement of their fellow-men, particularly the processes of education. (Locke uses the word “education” very broadly, to cover, for example, the control of diet and “toilet training.”) Thirdly, that secular reformers can achieve their end by manipulating pleasures and pains, especially the pleasures of reputation and the pains of blame. It will at once be obvious that Locke has opened up, in principle, the possibility of perfecting men by the application of readily intelligible, humanly controllable, mechanisms. All that is required is that there should be an educator, or a social group, able and willing to teach the child what to pursue and what to avoid.
A great deal of detail had still to be filled out. Locke’s own moral theory is notoriously obscure; he is by no means a consistent utilitarian. Only relatively late in the eighteenth century was moral action unambiguously defined—by Francis Hutcheson and after him by Helvetius, Priestley and Bentham—as the pursuit of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and moral education, in consequence, as the process of ensuring, by the judicious application of pleasures and pains, that men will pursue this end. The fact remains that Locke laid the foundations of what was to be one of the most influential forms of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century perfectibilism, according to which men can be morally improved to an unlimited degree by education and other forms of social action.
Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education was an immensely popular book. By the end of the eighteenth century it had been reprinted at least twenty-one times; almost immediately translated into French, it was reprinted in that language at least sixteen times.40 At first, however, it was read, for the most part, as a manual for mothers rather than as incorporating, or suggesting, a revolutionary theory of human nature and the formation of moral character. It is interesting to observe the tenour of the protests which, even so, were raised against it. In general, they were protests that Locke had underestimated the importance of men’s innate tendencies and, in consequence, had exaggerated the influence of education. Thus began that controversy between the proponents of “nature” and the proponents of “nurture” which was to prove as persistent and as obdurate as the controversy between Pelagians and Augustinians, of which, in important respects, it is the secular echo.
In his Man a Machine—first published in 1747, just before Hartley and Condillac had carried Locke’s teachings to new extremes—La Mettrie distinguished what he calls “the outstanding excellence” (premier mérite) of man from his “second excellence.” The “outstanding excellence” derives from man’s natural constitution. “Whence comes skill, science, and virtue,” La Mettrie asks, “if not from a disposition which makes us fit to become skilful, wise and virtuous? And whence comes this disposition, if not by Nature? We have admirable qualities only from her; we owe her all that we are.”41 Only the “secondary excellences,” according to La Mettrie, derive from education—such excellences as the social graces. And what, he asks, “would be the fruit of the most excellent school, without a matrix open to the entry or to the conception of ideas?” Some people, La Mettrie admits, might be reformed by education, but very few. In general, he thought, “it is easier for the good to become wicked, than for the latter to improve.”42 So if La Mettrie is correct, there are important limits to the possibility of perfecting men by education, limits set by man’s inherent physical constitution, a constitution varying from one person to another. Locke had admitted, as we saw, native differences in temperament but not, what La Mettrie contends for, a native difference in moral capacity.
In Great Britain the “nativists” emphasized innate psychological impulses rather than innate physiological structures. The eponymous heroine of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, minx turned matron, expounds at considerable length Locke’s advice on the training of children and for the most part does so with complete approval. But on one point she demurs: in laying down principles for the training of children, Locke did not, she says, pay sufficient attention to their “little innate passions.” This was the characteristic reaction.43 There were, no doubt, exceptions. In his Concerning Virtue or Morality, first published in 1731, John Gay set out to demonstrate, in a manner which to an extraordinary degree anticipated the utilitarianism and associationism of the century that was to follow, that what Pamela called “little innate passions” were in fact not innate but the product of experience, experience acting upon that impulse towards pleasure and away from pain to which even Locke had been prepared to allow innateness.44 But Gay was for a time ignored or dismissed.
David Hume, however, had read Gay; it is Gay he has in mind, almost certainly, when he condemns the attempt to reduce all other passions to complications of the desire for pleasure and aversion from pain, describing this attempt, forgetting his own blackened pots, as a striking illustration of “that love of simplicity which has been the source of so much false reasoning in philosophy.” “I should desire to know,” Hume asked rhetorically, “what can be meant by asserting, that self-love, or resentment of injuries, or the passion between the sexes is not innate.”45 For Hume, in consequence, education has only a limited role in forming man’s moral nature; it strengthens, but certainly does not create, the moral tendencies of men—those moral principles “most deeply radicated in our internal constitution,” principles like “the desire of punishment to our enemies, and of happiness to our friends,” which, he says, arise in our minds directly, “from a natural impulse or instinct, which is perfectly unaccountable.”46 In short, education, if Hume is right, is in some measure the secular equivalent of co-operative grace, but it is neither essential to nor does it precede the moral tendencies of man. It is not, therefore, as it is for Locke, the secular equivalent of “prevenient” grace, the grace without which men cannot even begin to be moral. Nor can it perfect men, whose innate passions already irresistibly incline them, before education begins its work, to particular courses of action.
But in 1749, just one year after Hume had rhetorically asked what could be meant by asserting “that self-love, or resentment of injuries, or the passion between the sexes is not innate,” David Hartley took that question as a genuine one and answered it in painstaking detail—freely acknowledging his indebtedness to Locke and to Gay. Neither self-love, nor resentment of injuries, nor “the passion between the sexes,” nor even the pursuit of happiness, is, according to Hartley, innate. Each of them derives from the working of associative mechanisms upon our original experiences of pleasure and pain.
The child stretches out his hand and touches the fire; he feels a painful sensation. Thereafter, as a purely mechanical consequence of his action, he “fears to touch it.” In other words, he associates touching the fire with pain and avoids doing so. Hartley, then, explains human actions by invoking the “association of ideas” whereas Locke had contented himself with the everyday language of “habit.” But Hartley thinks of himself as doing no more than pointing to the mechanism which underlies habit formation, a mechanism suggested to him, indeed, by Locke’s own psychological analyses. “All that has been delivered by the ancients and moderns, concerning the power of habit, custom, example, education, authority,” he writes, “goes upon this doctrine [of association] as its foundation and may be considered as the detail of it in various circumstances.”47
In France, very similar views were worked out by Condillac. In his Treatise on Sensations—which was published in 1754, five years after Hartley’s Observations on Man, but derives directly from Locke—he set out to demonstrate that man is no more than the sum of all he has learnt. Even those intellectual powers and differences in temperament which Locke had admitted to be innate were no more, Condillac tried to show, than habits formed as a result of experience. It was Hartley, however, who deduced from this picture of man those social and educational conclusions which are our more immediate concern; in his work the basic psychological assumptions of a Locke-based perfectibilism appear for the first time in a fully-developed form.
“If beings of the same nature,” Hartley tells us, “but whose affections and passions are, at present, in different proportions to each other, be exposed for an indefinite time to the same impressions and associations, all their particular differences will, at last, be overruled, and they will become perfectly similar, or even equal. They may also be made perfectly similar, in a finite time, by a proper adjustment of the impressions and associations” (my italics).48 So, it would seem, not only can children be educated to think and feel alike, but also men can be re-educated to the same effect, and in a finite time. This practical intention is never far from Hartley’s mind. “It is,” he says, “of the utmost consequence to morality and religion, that the affections and passions should be analysed into their simple compounding parts, by reversing the steps of the associations which concur to form them. For thus we may learn how to cherish and improve good ones, check and root out such as are mischievous and immoral.” Even our power of willing, of governing our passions derives, he suggests, from the automatic operations of associative mechanisms.49 As Locke had put the same point, our power of willing the good is both “got and improved” by practice, as a result of experience. Or as Locke’s French disciple Morelly had expressed the matter: “we are habituated to willing just as we are habituated to thinking.”50 Willing is one of our habits—not, as Pelagius had thought, the work of an innate faculty which can cut across our habits.
Admittedly, the possibility of remaking men, so Hartley agrees with Locke, is subject to a certain condition: it is “beings of the same nature” who can be educated, or re-educated, in this way. But this is not to Hartley, any more than it was to Locke, an important distinction. He has bodily differences in mind, and these, he thinks, profoundly affect a few persons—absolute idiots, for example—but only a few. He is prepared to sum up his conclusions, conclusions on which he bases his hope that all men will eventually be perfected, in the most general terms: “association tends to make us all ultimately similar.” Thus, given only that association is in good hands, human or supernatural, the operations of association can, and will, make all men happy: “if one be happy, all must.”51
Although it was an eighteenth-century creation, associationism had its hey-day in the middle of the nineteenth century at the hands of James Mill and Alexander Bain; towards the end of that century it came under attack on a variety of grounds. Galton and his fellow-geneticists, like the eighteenth-century French materialists before them, sought to demonstrate the crucial importance of innate differences in intellect and character; MacDougall and Freud raised instinct-psychologies, which at no time had wholly succumbed to associationism, to a new pitch of sophistication; Bradley, Ward, Stout, the Gestalt psychologists, in their very different ways, attacked associationism’s underlying psychological and philosophical assumptions; “behavioural” psychologists forcefully contended that “ideas,” the fundamental Lockian units, ought to play no part in psychological explanations, which should confine themselves, solely, to overt behaviour.
Yet the spirit of associationism lived on, and nowhere more vigorously than in the writings of these very same behavioural psychologists. A conditioned response, no doubt, is importantly different from an associated idea; the language and the procedures of behavioural psychologists bear little resemblance to the language and the procedures of their associationist predecessors. But the behavioural psychologists still maintained, like the Lockians before them, that human behaviour can be explained only by supposing it to be a complication of single units, united under the influence of the environment; they still argued that innate differences are of no real significance in the formation of character; they still expressed the conviction that men can be improved to an unlimited degree by controlling the formation of their habits. It is not surprising that, under Pavlov’s influence, such a psychology won official approval in the Soviet Union and wide acceptance in the United States, both of them countries which are deeply involved in the technological “management” of human beings, and both of them committed to the belief that, in some ill-defined sense, “all men are equal.”
“All healthy individuals . . . ,” proclaims J. B. Watson in his Behaviorism, “start out equal. . . . It is what happens to individuals after birth that makes one a hewer of wood and a drawer of water, another a diplomat, a thief, a successful business man or a far-famed scientist.”52 Men are born, that is, “blank sheets,” to be furnished with behavioural responses. Their moral defects do not originate in the perversity of their instincts—Watson is a vigorous critic of “instinct” psychologies—but rather in the fact that they carry over into adult life the “organized habit systems” they have formed as children. These habit systems can, in principle, be reconstructed by deconditioning—the behavioural equivalent of Hartley’s “reversing the steps of the association.”
Watson admits that he does not yet fully know how this is to be done. He is convinced, nevertheless, that “some day we shall have hospitals devoted to helping us change our personality, because we can change the personality as easily as we can change the shape of the nose.” This belief in the possibility of transforming personality by psychological means is linked, in Watson as in the associationists, with perfectibilist ideals—“perfectibilist” in the modern sense in which it means “admitting of unlimited improvement.” “I wish I could picture for you what a rich and wonderful individual we should make of every healthy child,” Watson writes, “if only we could let it shape itself properly and then provide for it a universe in which it could exercise that organization—a universe unshackled by legendary folk-lore of happenings of thousands of years ago; unhampered by disgraceful political history; free of foolish customs and conventions which have no significance in themselves, yet which hem the individual in like taut steel bands.”53 This is the unmistakable, the clarion, voice of eighteenth-century perfectibilism, ringing out in twentieth-century America. When the Founding Fathers of America, inspired by Enlightenment ideals, laid it down that all men are equal, they were wrong, Watson willingly admits, if they meant that men as they are at present constituted are equal. But they were correct on the fundamental point; men are born equal even if they now everywhere live in hierarchies.
When Christianity was still young, it was possible for a Christian to hold views not very different from Watson’s. In his Contra Celsum, Origen ascribed to the pagan Celsus the view that “no one could entirely change people who sin by nature and habit” and Origen retorted against Celsus that “every rational soul is of the same nature” even if “many men have become evil by upbringing and by perversion and by environment.”54 But once Christianity was committed to the conception of original sin, the doctrine that the source of human wickedness lies in man’s environment rather than in his nature had to be abandoned to the opponents of Christianity. To Watson, indeed, Christianity is the outstanding example of that folk-lore which prevents men from understanding and improving their modes of conduct—from constructing for themselves a better society by building better men.
The “behavioural scientist” B. F. Skinner has written a Utopia in the form of science fiction, bearing the name of Walden Two, which will serve to illustrate his perfectibilist hopes. Some of Skinner’s disciples have found inspiration in Walden Two, so much inspiration that they have set out to establish a similar colony in which to live and work; others among his readers have seen in it cause for desperation, a frightening reflection of the kind of world behavioural science may make not only possible but actual.
The founder of Skinner’s colony, Frazier, expounds a full-blown Locke-Watson theory of human nature—or, rather, of human non-nature, at least as far as moral differences are concerned. Although he is prepared to allow, if reluctantly, that there are innate differences in intelligence, Frazier has found, he tells us, no such differences in moral tendency. “We have no truck,” he says bluntly, “with philosophies of innate goodness—or evil, either, for that matter. But we do have faith in our power to change human behaviour.” His leading principle, as he elsewhere expresses it, is that “men are made good or bad and wise or foolish by the environment in which they grow.”55 Experiment is still needed, he admits, in order to determine exactly how men’s environment can be so modified as to ensure that they will be good rather than bad, wise rather than foolish. But that such experiments can be made to succeed Frazier, like Skinner himself in his Science and Human Nature, does not for a moment doubt.
In the omnipresence of experiment, Skinner’s Frazier sees the special virtue of his Utopia as compared with its classical predecessors and its superiority, too, over the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, he is ready to concede, started well; it failed because it abandoned the spirit of social experiment in favour of a static orthodoxy. It is not only individuals, according to Frazier, who can be improved by experiment; the State—the “superorganism”—is no less subject to experimental manipulation. Our present-day societies, he tells us, operate at an “efficiency of the order of a fraction of one per cent”; the possibility of improvement, therefore, is practically unlimited. So Frazier conjoins a boundless confidence in experiment with the Lockian belief in the malleability of man in order to construct a Utopia which is not, on his view, an impracticable ideal but a realizable society.
Once again we note the characteristic modern emphasis on change, novelty, improvement as opposed to the characteristic Graeco-Christian-Buddhist yearning for eternity, for a state of perfect rest in which change could only be a disruption to perfection. H. G. Wells had already drawn attention to this contrast in his A Modern Utopia, first published in 1905. The classical Utopias were all of them, he pointed out, “perfect and static States,” whereas “the Modern Utopia must be not static but kinetic, must shape not as a permanent state but as a hopeful stage leading to a long ascent of stages.”56 Perfection is dead, long live perfectibility!
The time has come to sum up. Beginning with the Renaissance, but with increasing confidence in the seventeenth century, men began to maintain that in their relationships to their fellow-men, rather than in their relationships to God, lay their hope of perfection. “Perfection” was defined in moral rather than in metaphysical terms, and came gradually to be further particularised as “doing the maximum of good.” It was no longer supposed that in order to act morally men must abjure self-love; self-love was harnessed to the improvement of the human condition. “Perfectibility” meant the capacity to be improved to an unlimited degree, rather than the capacity to reach, and rest in, some such ultimate end as “the vision of God” or “union with the One.” If men are to be able to perfect one another without divine assistance, however, it has to be presumed that they are not invincibly corrupt. Hence perfectibilists, following in Locke’s footsteps, rejected original sin. Indeed, they agreed with Locke that men have no inborn moral tendencies, no innate tendency to act well or to act badly, but only a tendency to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.
This new “moral psychology” opened the way to the suggestion that men could be to an infinite degree improved by the use of appropriate social mechanisms—in the first place, education. Education, Locke suggested, consists in forming moral habits in children by associating certain of their activities with pleasure, especially pleasure in the form of commendation, and others with pain, especially in the form of blame. Hartley developed Locke’s innovations into a systematic perfectibilism by working out in detail an associationist psychology, according to which men could be not only educated but re-educated to any desired pattern.
In the twentieth century “behavioural” psychologies have taken the place of associationism, but the fundamental assumptions remain. Innate differences are unimportant; men can be moulded to any desired shape by employing the appropriate psychological procedures. The road to infinite improvement lies open, on this view, to man: the only question is whether he is prepared to seize the opportunities which psychological science now offers him.
[1. ]See especially H. Baron: The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance, 2 vols (Princeton, 1955). The complexity of Renaissance thought is brought out in P. O. Kristeller’s essay on “Philosophy and Humanism in Renaissance Perspective” in B. O’Kelly, ed.: The Renaissance Image of Man and the World (Athens, Ohio, 1966). See also J. A. Mazzeo: Renaissance and Revolution (London, 1967), ch. I.
[2. ]See Joy Russell-Smith: “Walter Hilton” in James Walsh, ed.: Pre-Reformation English Spirituality (London, 1965), pp. 182–97.
[3. ]Quotations are based on the trans. by William H. Hay, rev. by J. H. Randall in The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, ed. cit., pp. 355–57. For a fuller discussion of Pomponazzi’s views see A. H. Douglas: The Philosophy and Psychology of Pietro Pomponazzi (Cambridge, 1910), ch. x.
[4. ]Alexander Pope: Essay on Man, Epistle I, lines 189–90.
[* ]Charron’s own intentions are still disputed. He was accused by one of his more violent Jesuit opponents of being a secret atheist, intent on destroying religion. His own expressed view, sincere or not, is that he was teaching men how they should live even in the absence of divine revelation. What he was rejecting, he said, is not God, but the idea of a rational theology. In other words, he was a disciple of William of Ockham. Whatever his intentions, the effect of his teachings was to set up a concept of moral perfection which is entirely independent of theology. “The true science and the true study of man is man”—in saying this, Charron anticipated the preoccupations of the eighteenth century. Man, not God, is moving into the central position. Calvin had begun his Institutes by laying it down that what wisdom men possess is concerned either with God or with man. In fact, Charron is suggesting, man’s wisdom is entirely about man. See R. H. Popkin: The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes (Assen, 1960), especially ch. 3.
[5. ]All quotations are from the preface (pages not numbered) of De la Sagesse in the trans. Of Wisdom, by George Stanhope (London, 1697).
[6. ]Compare H. Davis: “The Conversation of the Augustans” in R. F. Jones, et al.: The Seventeenth Century (Stanford, 1951; repr. 1965), pp. 181–97.
[* ]It is interesting to observe the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives as the main meaning of grace “attractiveness, charm, now usually the charm belonging to elegance of proportions or (especially) ease and refinement of movement, action, or expression.” The other meaning of “grace,” as “a favour granted,” is treated as secondary and the specifically theological sense as a technical variant. There could scarcely be a better illustration of the degree to which the Renaissance has overcome the Augustinian attitude to life.
[7. ]Ten Homilies on the First Epistle General of St John, 8th Homily, §9, as trans. by John Burnaby in Augustine: Later Works, Library of Christian Classics, 8 (London, 1955).
[8. ]“De la charité et de l’amour propre,” ch. xi, in Essais de morale, first publ. Paris, 1671–78 (Mons, 1707 ed.), Vol. 3, pp. 197–98. On this theme see also Gilbert Chinard: En lisant Pascal (Lille, 1948), pp. 97–118.
[9. ]Quoted from Rameau’s Nephew, trans. J. Barzun and R. H. Bowen (New York, 1956), p. 168.
[10. ]Blaise Pascal: Pensées, No. 617; James Boswell: Life of Samuel Johnson, 1778, Everyman’s Library (London, 1906), Vol. 2, p. 210; Joseph Butler: Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel (London, 1726), Preface, §34.
[11. ]David Hume: An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1752), Section II, pt. 1; in the ed. by C. W. Hendel (New York, 1957), p. 9.
[12. ]Pope: Essay on Man, Epistle III, lines 317–18. For fuller details and a demonstration that this transition dates back to the late seventeenth century, see R. S. Crane: “Suggestions Toward a Genealogy of the ‘Man of Feeling’” in The Idea of the Humanities, 2 vols (Chicago, 1967), Vol. 1, pp. 188–213. For the persistence of the older view see A. O. Lovejoy: Reflections on Human Nature (Baltimore, 1961).
[13. ]Søren Kierkegaard: The Last Years: Journals, 1853–5, ed. and trans. R. Gregor Smith (London, 1965), pp. 280, 290.
[14. ]For details see J. A. Passmore: Ralph Cudworth and articles on “Cambridge Platonists” and the individual Cambridge Platonists in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. See also Ernst Cassirer: The Platonic Renaissance in England, trans. J. P. Pettegrove (Edinburgh, 1953).
[15. ]Second Sermon, reprinted in Ralph Cudworth: The True Intellectual System of the Universe, 2nd English ed. by T. Birch (London, 1743; repr. 1820), IV, 382. Compare J. A. Passmore: Ralph Cudworth, ch. VI. p. 70.
[16. ]Molière: Tartuffe, Act I, Scene 5. Literally: “Que je m’en soucierais autant que de cela.” In actual performances, a piece of stage business is used to bring out the force of “cela,” e.g. Orgon blows away a puff of smoke.
[17. ]Complete Works, ed. cit., Vol. 3, pp. 123–24.
[18. ]Institutes, III. iii. 9, as trans. in F. Wendel: Calvin, trans. P. Mairet, p. 243.
[19. ]The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley, ed. J. T. Rutt (London, 1817–32), Vol. 1, p. 328, as quoted in Priestley’s Writings on Philosophy, Science and Politics, ed. J. A. Passmore (New York, 1965), p. 18. The passage from Addison may be found in The Spectator, No. 111 (Saturday, July 7, 1711).
[20. ]Enquiry concerning Political Justice, Bk. I, ch. 5, in the facsimile of the 3rd ed. by F. E. L. Priestley, 3 vols (Toronto, 1946), Vol. 1, p. 93. This whole chapter was added to the 3rd ed.
[21. ]The Book of the New Moral World (London, 1836), p. iv.
[22. ]John Locke: Some Thoughts Concerning Education, §1. Compare The Educational Writings of John Locke, ed. J. L. Axtell (Cambridge, 1968), p. 114.
[23. ]Ibid., §70. Compare Educational Writings, p. 170.
[24. ]Ibid., §216. Compare Educational Writings, p. 325.
[25. ]Ibid., §139. Compare Educational Writings, p. 244.
[26. ]Council of Orange, Canon 2, quoted in H. Bettenson, ed.: Documents of the Christian Church, p. 86. For The Reasonableness of Christianity see The Works of John Locke, 12th ed., 9 vols (London, 1824), Vol. 6, p. 6. In his Paraphrases on the Epistles of St Paul (Works, Vol. 7, p. 323) Locke argues that his view of original sin is identical with Paul’s.
[27. ]British Museum Add. MSS. 4983, 83, quoted and discussed in J. A. Passmore: Ralph Cudworth, p. 72.
[28. ]A Philosophical Enquiry into the Laws of Nature, first publ. in Latin in 1672, trans. John Towers (Dublin, 1750), p. 211. My italics.
[* ]It is interesting to observe that in China, as early as the fourth century bc, Mencius had already committed himself to the view that “Man’s nature is naturally good just as water naturally flows downward” (Book of Mencius, 6A:2). He explicitly rejects the Lockian doctrine that it is education which makes men virtuous: “Humanity, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom are not drilled into us from outside. We originally have them with us” (6a:6). This came to be the standard Confucian doctrine. Confucius himself had been by no means so explicit. “By nature,” he is reported as saying, “men are alike. Through practice they have become far apart” (Analects 17:2). This could well be interpreted in a Lockian sense. But Confucianism, as a religious movement, came to be committed to the view that man is naturally good. There could scarcely be a greater contrast than there is between the Augustinianism which governed European thinking for over a thousand years and the Confucianism which reigned in China—although by no means without competition from Taoism and from Buddhism—for some two millennia. In many respects Confucianism stands very close to the characteristic teachings of the eighteenth century, which was, it is worth noting, fascinated by Chinese civilization. Confucius, like the eighteenth century, seeks the perfection of man through the exercise of virtue, a virtue with two aspects, knowledge and “humanity” (jen). Knowledge, for Confucius as for the eighteenth century, is first and foremost knowledge of mankind (Analects 12:22). He defines “humanity” as “earnestness, liberality, truthfulness, diligence and generosity” (17:6)—typical eighteenth-century virtues. The “heavenly law” of Confucianism, furthermore, is very like the God of the deists, an impersonal governor of the Universe. What happened in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, one might almost say, is that European thought became Confucianised. Not, of course, that this is a correct historical account of what happened, if we are thinking in terms of “influences.” Confucian-type ideas—originating, as we have suggested, in Greek sources, Platonic, Stoic or Epicurean—were already abroad before Confucius was translated. But Confucianism served as a living proof that the love of neighbours was not a peculiarly Christian doctrine and that morality could be separated, as Shaftesbury argued, from religion. Compare Virgile Pinot: La Chine et la formation de l’esprit philosophique, 1640–1740 (Paris, 1932), Bk. 2, ch. III. Confucius and Mencius are quoted from Wing-tsit Chan: A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton, 1963).
[29. ]See, for example, R. S. Crane in The Idea of the Humanities, Vol. 1, pp. 188–213.
[30. ]Cited in A. C. Fraser’s ed. of Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford, 1894), Vol. 1, p. 67 n., quoting from Noah Porter’s “Marginalia Lockeana,” New Englander and Yale Review, July, 1887. See also pp. xliii–iv of Fraser.
[31. ]Petit traité de sagesse (Paris, 1646), pp. 46–48, as trans. in Louis I. Bredvold: The Intellectual Milieu of John Dryden (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1934; repr. 1956), p. 35.
[32. ]Matthew Green: “On Barclay’s Apology for the Quakers” in Minor Poets of the Eighteenth Century, ed. Hugh l’Anson Fausset, Everyman’s Library (London, 1930), p. 234.
[33. ]Some Thoughts Concerning Education, §58. Compare Educational Writings, p. 154.
[34. ]Plato: Laws, §653, as trans. A. E. Taylor (London, 1934), p. 29.
[35. ]Theodicy, Preface; in the ed. by Austin Farrer, trans. E. M. Huggard (London, 1952), p. 52.
[36. ]Ulrich Zwingli: Of the Education of Youth, as trans. G. W. Bromiley in Zwingli and Bullinger: Selected Translations, Library of Christian Classics, 24 (London, 1953). See especially pp. 105–13.
[37. ]Pascal: Pensées, No. 142.
[38. ]See Ian Cumming: Helvetius (London, 1955), p. 13.
[* ]This distinction was made famous by Rousseau. But it has its roots in Aristotle and had been Gallicised by the Protestant philosopher Jacques Abbadie in his L’art de se connoistre soy-même (1692). Abbadie spent some years in England.
[39. ]Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Bk. II, ch. xxviii, in the ed. by A. C. Fraser, Vol. 1, pp. 477–79.
[40. ]For details see The Educational Writings of John Locke, ed. Axtell, pp. 98–104.
[41. ]Trans. from the critical ed. by A. Vartanian: La Mettrie’s L’Homme machine (Princeton, 1960), p. 166.
[42. ]Anti-Sénèque, ou Discours sur le bonheur (1748), quoted in Lester G. Crocker: An Age of Crisis (Baltimore, 1959), p. 208.
[43. ]The Pamela quotation is from Letter XCI. For a fuller account of the reaction to Locke see J. A. Passmore: “The Malleability of Man in Eighteenth-Century Thought,” in Earl R. Wassermann, ed.: Aspects of the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore, 1965), pp. 21–46.
[44. ]John Gay’s “Dissertation concerning the fundamental principle of virtue or morality” can most easily be read in L. A. Selby-Bigge, ed.: British Moralists, 2 vols (Oxford, 1897), vol. II, pp. 267–85, where the text is of the fifth ed. of 1781. The title of the first ed. is “A dissertation concerning the fundamental principle and immediate criterion of virtue and the origin of the passions.”
[45. ]Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, §2, p. 22 n.
[46. ]Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. III, pt. II, §3 and Bk. II, pt. III, §9; in the ed. by L. A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford, 1888; repr. 1951), pp. 501, 439.
[47. ]Observations on Man, Pt. I, ch. 1, §2, Prop. X, in the 5th ed. (London, 1810), Vol. 1, p. 67. Locke had drawn attention in his Essay to the importance of the association of ideas although he describes it only as a source of error and confusion. See J. A. Passmore: Hume’s Intentions, rev. ed. (London, 1968), pp. 106–7, for a fuller discussion of what Hartley learnt from Locke on this point.
[48. ]Observations on Man, Pt. I, ch. 1, §2, Prop. XIV, Cor. 6; in the 5th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 84–85.
[49. ]Observations on Man, Pt. I, ch. 1, §2, Prop. XIV, Cor. 5; in the 5th ed., Vol. 1, p. 84.
[50. ]Essai sur l’esprit humain (1743) quoted in L. G. Crocker: An Age of Crisis, p. 119. For the Locke reference see Some Thoughts Concerning Education, §38. Compare Educational Writings, p. 143.
[51. ]Observations on Man, Pt. I, ch. 1, §2, Prop. XIV, Cor. 12; in the 5th ed., Vol. 1, p. 87.
[52. ]J. B. Watson: Behaviorism, rev. ed. (Chicago, 1930; repr. 1957), ch. XII, p. 270.
[53. ]Ibid., pp. 302–3.
[54. ]Origen: Contra Celsum, III, 67–69, trans. Chadwick, pp. 173–74.
[55. ]B. F. Skinner: Walden Two (1948; repr. in Macmillan Paperbacks, New York, 1962), pp. 196, 273.
[56. ]A Modern Utopia (London, 1905), ch. 1, §1.