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section iii: Mr. Woolaston’s Significancy of Truth, as the Idea of Virtue considered - Francis Hutcheson, An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections, with Illustrations on the Moral Sense 
An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections, with Illustrations on the Moral Sense, ed. Aaron Garrett (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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Mr. Woolaston’s Significancy of Truth, as the Idea of Virtue considered
[253/258] Mr. Woolaston* has introduced a new Explication of moral Virtue, viz. Significancy of Truth in Actions, supposing that in every Action there is some Significancy,47 like to that which Moralists and Civilians speak of in their Tacit Conventions, and Quasi Contractus! 48
Signification wherein it consists.The Word Signification is very common, but a little Reflection will shew it to be very ambiguous. In Signification of Words these things are included: 1. An Association of an Idea with a Sound, so that when any Idea is formed by the Speaker, the Idea of a Soundaccompanies it. 2. The Sound perceivedby the Hearer excites the Idea to which it is connected. 3. In like manner a Judgment in the Speaker’s Mind is accompanyed with the Idea of a Combination of Sounds. 4. This Combination of Sounds heard raises the Apprehension of that Judgment  in the Mind of the Hearer. Nothing farther than these Circumstances seems to be denoted by Signification.
Conclusions drawn from Speech.Hearing a Proposition does not of itself produce either Assent or Dissent, or Opinion in the Hearer, but only presents to his Apprehension the Judgment, or Thema Complexum.49 But the Hearer himself often forms Judgments or Opinions upon this occasion, either immediately without Reasoning, or by some short Argument. These Opinions are some one or more of the following Propositions.1.That a Sound is perceived, and a Judgment apprehended.2.Such a Person caused the Sound heard. 3. The Speaker intended to excite in the Hearer the Idea of the Sound, and the Apprehension of the Judgment, or Thema Complexum. This Judgment is not always formed by the Hearer, nor is it always true, when Men are heard speaking. 4.The Speaker intended to produce Assent in the Hearer: This Judgment is not always true. 5.The Speaker assents to the Proposition spoken: This Judgment in the Hearer is often false, and is formed upon Opinion of the Speaker’s Veracity, or speaking what expresses his Opinion usually. 6.The Speaker does not assent to the Proposition spoken: This Judgment of the Hearer is often false, when  what is spoken is every way  true. 7.The Speaker intended that the Hearer should believe or judge, “that the Proposition spoken was assented to by the Speaker.”8.The Speaker had the contrary Intention, to that supposed in the last Judgment: Both these latter Judgments may be false, when the Proposition spoken is every way true.9.The Proposition spoken represents the Object as it is, or is logically true.10.The Proposition spoken does not represent the Object as it is, or it is logically false.
Morality does not consist in Significancy.As to the first four Circumstances which make up the proper Significancy of Speech, ’tis scarce possible that any one should place moral Goodor Evil in them. Whether the Proposition were logically true or false, the having a bare Apprehension of it as a Thema Complexum, or raising this in another, without intending to produce Assent or Dissent, can have no more moral Goodor Evil in it, than the Reception of any other Idea, or raising it in another. This Significancy of Falshoodis found in the very Propositions given in Schools, as Instances of Falshood, Absurdity, Contradiction to Truth, or Blasphemy. The pronouncing of which, are Actions signifying more properly than most of our other Actions; and yet no body condemns them as immoral.
Nor in Conclusions formed by Hearers.[256 ] As to the Opinions formed by the Hearer, they are all his own Action as much as  any other Conclusion or Judgment formed from Appearances of any sort whatsoever. They are true or false, according to the Sagacity of the Observer, or his Caution. The Hearer may form perfectly true Opinions or Judgments, when the Speaker is guilty of the basest Fraud; and may form false Judgments, when the Speaker is perfectly innocent, and spoke nothing false in any Sense.
The Evils which may follow from the false Judgments of the Hearer, are no otherwise chargeable on the Speaker, than as the evil Consequences of another’s Action of any kind may be chargeable upon any Person who co‐operated; or, by his Action, or Omission, the Consequence of which he might have foreseen, did either actually intendthis Evil, or wanted that Degree of kind Affection, which would have inclined him to have prevented it.
The Morality of Speech in the Intention.The Intention of the Speaker is what all Moralists have hitherto imagined the Virtue or Vice of Words did depend upon, and not the bare Significancy of Truth or Falshood. This Intention is either, 1.To lead the Hearer into a true or false Opinion about the Sentiments of the Speaker.  2.To make the Hearer assent to the Proposition spoken. Or, 3.Both to make the Hearer assent to the Proposition, and judge that the  Speaker also assents to it. Or, 4.To accomplish some End, by means of the Hearer’s assent to the Proposition spoken. This End may be known by the Speaker to be either publickly useful, or publickly hurtful.
Some Moralists* of late have placed all Virtue in Speech in the Intention of the last kind, viz. “Accomplishing some publickly useful End, by speaking either logical Truth or Falshood: and that all Vice in speaking, consists in intending to effect something publickly hurtful by Speech, whether logically true or false, and known to be such; or by using Speech in a manner which we may foresee would be publickly hurtful, whether we actually intendthis evil Consequence or not.” Some stricter Moralists 50 assert, that “the publick Evils which would ensue from destroying mutual Confidence, by allowing to speak Propositions known to be false on any occasion, are so great, that no particular Advantage to be expected from speaking known logical Falshoods, can ever over‐ballance  them; that all use of Speech supposes a tacit Convention of Sincerity, the Violation of which is always evil.” Both sides in this Argument agree, that the moral Evil in Speech consists either in some direct malicious Intention, or a Tendency to the publick Detriment of  Society; which Tendency the Agent might have foreseen, as connected with his Action, had he not wantedthat Degree of good Affections which makes Men attentive to the Effects of their Actions. Never was bare Significancy of Falshoodmade the Idea of moral Evil. Speaking logical Falshoodwas still looked upon as innocent in many cases. Speaking contrary to Sentiment, or moral Falshood, was always proved evil, from some publickly hurtful Tendency, and not supposed as evil immediately, or the same Idea with Vice. The Intention to deceive was the Foundation of the Guilt. This Intention the Speaker studies to conceal, and does not signify it: It is an Act of the Will, neither signifiedby his Words, nor itself signifying any thing else.
This Point deserved Consideration, because if any Action be significant, ’tis certainly the Act of Speaking: And yet even in this the Virtue is not the signifying of Truth, nor the Vice the signifying Falshood.
The Significancy of Actions. The Signification of some Actions depends upon a like Association of Ideas with them, made either by Nature, or arbitrarily, and by Custom, as with Sounds. Letters are by Custom the Signs of Sounds. A Shriek or Groan is a natural Sign of Fear or Pain: A Motion of the Handor Headmay signify  Assent, Dissent, or Desire. The cutting down tall Poppies was an answer: The sending Spurs, advice to Flight: Kindling many Fires raises the Opinion of an Encampment: Raising a Smoke will raise Opinion of Fire.
The most important Distinction of Signs is this, that*1. “Some Appearances are the Occasion upon which an Observer, by his own reasoning, forms a Judgment, without supposing, or having reason to believe, that the Agent, who caused these Appearances, did it with design to communicate his Sentiments to others; or when the Actions are such as are usually done by the Agents, without designing to raise Opinions in Observers. 2. Some Actions are never used but with professed Design to convey the Opinions of the Agent to the Observer; or such as the Observer  infers nothing from, but upon having reason to believe that the Causer of the Appearance intended to convey some Sentiment to the Observer.” 3. Other Signs are used, when “the Signifier gives no reason to conclude any other Intention, but only to raise an Apprehension of the Judgment, or the Thema Complexum, without professing any design to communicate  his Sentiments, or to produce any Assent in the Observer.”
To do Actions from which the Observer will form false Opinions, without having reason to imagine an Intention in the Agent, is never of itself imagined evil, let the Signs be natural or instituted; provided there be no malicious Intention, or neglect of publick Good. ’Tis never called a Crime in a Teacher, to pronounce an absurd Sentence for an instance; in a Nobleman, to travel without Coronets; or a Clergyman in Lay‐Habit, for private Conveniency, or to avoid troublesome Ceremony; to leave Lights in a Lodge, to make People conclude there is a Watch kept. This Significancy may be in any Action which is observed; but as true Conclusions argue no Virtue in the Agent, so false ones argue no Vice.
Raising false Opinions designedly by the second Sort of Signs, which reasonably  lead the Observer to conclude Intention in the Agent to communicate his Sentiments, whether the Signs be customary, instituted, or natural, is generally evil, when the Agent knows the Falshood; since it tends to diminish mutual Confidence. To send Spurs to a Friend, whom the Sender imagines to be in no danger, to deceive by Hieroglyphicks or Painting, is as criminal  as a false Letter. This Significancy occurs in very few human Actions: Some of the most important Virtues profess no design of communicating Sentiments, or raising Opinions either true or false: Nor is there any more Intention in some of the most vicious Actions. Again, who can imagine any Virtue, in all Actions, where there is this Significancy of Truth with Intention? Is it Virtue to say at Christmas, that “the Mornings are sharp?” to beckon with the Hand, in sign of Assent to such an Assertion? And in false Propositions thus signified by Actions or Words, there is no Evil apprehended where the Falshoodis only logical. When the Falshood is known by the Agent, the Evil is not imagined in the Significancy, but in doing what one may foresee tends to breed Distrust in Society. And did all moral Evil consist in moral Falshood, there could be no Sins of Ignorance. If Mr. Woolaston alledges, that “Ignorance of some things signifies this Falshood, viz. We are not  obliged to know the Truth:” This Falshood is not signified with Intention; nor is it moral Falshood, but only logical: since no Man in an Error knows that “he is obliged to know the contrary Truth,” Mr. Woolaston’s use of the Words [ought] or [obliged] without a distinct Meaning, is not peculiar to this Place.51
 The third sort of Significancy of Falsehoodis never apprehended as morally Evil: if it were, then every Dramatick Writer drawing evil Characters, every History Painter, every Writer of Allegories, or Epicks, every Philosopher teaching the Nature of contradictory Propositions, would be thought criminal.
Significancy different from the Morality.But since only the first sort of Significancy can be in all Actions, and that too supposing that every Action whatsoever is observedby some Being or other: Let us see if this will account for Morality. Perhaps either, 1st, “Every Action is goodwhich leads the Observer into true Opinions concerning the Sentiments of the Agent, whether the Agent’s Opinions be true or false.” Or, 2dly. “That Action is good which leads the Observer into true Opinions concerning the Object, the Tendency of the Action, and the Relation between the Agent and the Object.”
 Did Virtue consist in this first sort of Significancy of Truth, it would depend not upon the Agent but the Sagacity of the Observer: The acute Penetration of one would constitute an Action virtuous, and the Rashness or Stupidity of another would make it vicious: And the most barbarous Actions  would raise no false Opinion of the Sentiments of the Agent, in a judicious Observer.
The second sort of Significancy would also make Virtue consist in the Power of Observers. An exact Reasoner would receive no false Opinion from the worst Action concerning the Object or Relation of the Agent to it: And a false Opinion might be formed by a weak Observer of a perfectly good Action.—An Observer who knew an Agent to have the basest Temper, would not from his worst Action conclude any thing false concerning the Object: And all such false Opinions would arise only upon Supposition that the Agent was virtuous.
But may it not be said, that “whether Men reason well about Actions or not, there are some Conclusions really deducible from every Action? It is a Datum from which something may be inferred by just Consequence, whether any one  actually infers it or not. Then may not this Quality in Actions, whether we call it Significancy or not, that only true Propositions can be inferred from them by just Reasoning, be moral Goodness? And may it not be the very Idea of moral Evil in Actions, that some false Conclusions  can by just Consequence, be deduced from them? ” Or if we will not allow these to be the very Ideas of moral Good and Evil, “are they not universal just Characters to distinguish the one from the other?”
One may here observe in general, that since the Existence of the Action is supposed to be a true Premise or Datum, no false Conclusion can possibly be inferred from it by just Reasoning. We could perhaps often justly infer, that the Agent had false Opinions; but then this Conclusion of the Observer, viz. “that the Agent has false Opinions,” is really true.
True Conclusions deducible from Actions, no just Character of Virtue.But again, it will not make an universal Character of good Actions, that a just Reasoner would infer from them, that “the Opinions of the Agent are true.” For it is thus Men must reason from Actions; viz. Given the Constitution of Nature, the Affections of Agents, and the Action, to conclude concerning the Opinions: Or more generally given any three  of these to conclude the fourth. Thus suppose the “Constitution of Nature such, that the private Interest of each Individual is connected with the publick Good:” Suppose an Agent’s Affections selfish only, then from a publickly useful  Action we infer, that “the Agent’s Opinions are true:” And from a publickly hurtful Action conclude his Opinions to be false.
The same Constitution supposed with publick Affections as well as selfish. The observing a kind or publickly useful Action, will not immediately infer, that the Agent’s Opinions are either true or false: With false Opinions he might do publickly useful Actions out of his publick Affections, in those cases wherein they are not apparently opposite to his Interest. A publick Action opposite to some present private Interest, would generally evidence true Opinions; or if the Opinions were false, that his publick Affections were in this Case much stronger than his Self‐Love. A cruel Action would indeed evidence false Opinions.
Suppose the same Constitution in all other respects, with malicious Affections in an Agent. A cruel or ungrateful Action would not always prove the Opinions of the Agent to be false; but only that his  Malice in this instance, was more violent than regard to his Interest. A beneficent Action would prove only one of these two, either that his Opinions of the Constitution were true; or, that if  he was mistaken about the Constitution, he had also a false Opinion of the natural Tendency of the Action. Thus false Opinions may be evidenced by contrary Actions.
Suppose “a Constitution wherein a private Interest could be advanced in Opposition to the publick” (this we may call an evil Constitution:) Suppose only Self‐Love in the Agent, then a publickly useful Action, any way toilsome or expensive to the Agent, would evidence false Opinions: And the most cruel selfish Actions would evidence true Opinions.
In an evil Constitution, suppose kind Affections in the Agent; a publickly useful Action would not certainly argue either true or false Opinions. If his Opinions were true, but kind Affections stronger than SelfLove, he might act in the same manner, as if his Opinions were false, and Self‐Love the reigning Affection.
In an evil Constitution, suppose malicious Affections in an Agent, all publickly useful Actions would argue false Opinions;  and publickly hurtful Actions would argue true ones.
 This may shew us that Mens Actions are generally publickly useful, when they have true Opinions, only on this account; that we neither have malicious Affections naturally, nor is there any probability, in our present Constitution, of promoting a private Interest separately from, or in Opposition to the Publick. Were there contrary Affections and a contrary Constitution, the most cruel Actions might flow from true Opinions; and consequently publickly useful Actions might flow from false ones.
How far it is a Character of Virtue, that it flows from true Opinions.In our present Constitution, ’tis probable no Person would ever do anything publickly hurtful, but upon some false Opinion. The flowing from true Opinions is indeed a tolerable Character or Property of Virtue, and flowing from some false Opinion a tolerable Character of Vice; tho neither be strictly universal. But, 1. This is not proper Signification. A judicious Observer never imagines any Intention to communicate Opinions in some of the most important Actions, either goodor evil.2. Did an Action signify Falshood, ’tis generally only logical.3. The false Opinion in the Agent is not the Quality for which the evil Action is condemned; nor is the  true Opinion that for which the good Action is approved. True Opinions in Agents  often aggravate Crimes, as they shew higher Degrees of evil Affection, or total Absence of good. And false Opinions generally extenuate Crimes, unless when the very Ignorance or Error has flowed from evil Affection, or total Absence of good.
’Tis surprizing, for instance, how any should place the Evil of Ingratitude in denying the Person injured, to have been a Benefactor. The Observer of such an Action, if he supposed the Agent had really that false Opinion, would think the Crime the less for it: But if he were convinced that the Agent had a true Opinion, he would think his Ingratitude the more odious. Where we most abhor Actions, we suppose often true Opinions: And sometimes admire Actions flowing even from false Opinions, when they have evidenced no want of good Affection.
To write a Censure upon a Book so well designed as Mr. Woolaston’s, and so full of very good Reasoning upon the most useful Subjects, would not evidence much good Nature. But allowing him his just Praise, to remark any Ambiguities or Inadvertencies which may lead Men into Confusion in their Reasoning, I am confident would  have been acceptable to a Man of so much Goodness, when he was living.
 One may see that he has had some other Idea of moral Good, previous to this Significancy of Truth, by his introducing, in the very Explication of it, Words presupposing the Ideas of Morality previously known: Such as [Right,] [Obligation,] [Lye,] [his] denoting [Property.]
Signifying of Truth equal in unequal Virtue.Mr. Woolaston acknowledges that there may be very little evil in some Actions signifying Falshood; such as throwing away that which is of but little Use or Value. It is objected to him, that there is equal Contrariety to Truth in such Actions, as in the greatest Villany: He, in answer to it, really unawares gives up his whole Cause. He must own, that there may be the strictest Truth and Certainty about Trifles; so there may be the most obvious Falshoodsignified by trifling Actions. If then Significancy of Falshoodbe the very same with moral Evil, all Crimes must be equal. He answers, that Crimes increase according to the Importance of the Truth denied; and so the Virtue increases, as the Importance of the Truths affirmed. Then
 Virtue and Vice increase, as the Importance of Propositions affirmed or denied;
But Signification of Truth and Falshooddoes not so increase:
Therefore Virtue and Vice are not the same with Signification of Truth or Falshood.
But what is this Importance of Truth? Nothing else but the Moment or Quantity of good or evil, either private or publick, which should be produced by Actions, concerning which these true Judgments are made. But it is plain, the Signification of Truth or Falshood is not varied by this Importance; therefore Virtue or Vice denote something different from this Signification.
But farther, The Importance of Actions toward publick Good or Evil, is not the Idea of Virtue or Vice: Nor does the one prove Virtue in an Action, any farther than it evidences kind Affections; or the other Vice, farther than it evidences either Malice or Want of kind Affections: Otherwise a casual Invention, an Action wholly from views of private Interest, might be as virtuous as the most kindand generous Offices: And Chance-Medley, or kindly‐intended, but unsuccessful Attempts  would be as vicious as Murder or Treason.
Some Ambiguities in Mr. Woolaston.One of Mr. Woolaston’s Illustrations that Significancy of Falshoodis the Idea of moral  Evil, ends in this, “’Tis acting a Lye.”52 What then? Should he not first have shewn what was moral Evil, and that every Lye was such?
Another Illustration or Proof is that, “it is acting contrary to that Reason whichGodhas given us as the Guide of our Actions.”53 Does not this place the original Idea of moral Evil in counteracting theDeity, and not in signifying Falshood? But, he may say, “Counteracting the Deity denies him to be our Benefactor, and signifies Falshood.” Then why is signifying Falshoodevil? Why, ’tis counteracting theDeity, who gave us Reason for our Guide. Why is this evil again? It denies the Truth, that “he is our Benefactor.”
Another Illustration is this, “That signifying Falshood is altering the Natures of Things, and making them be what they are not, or desiring at least to make them be what they are not.”54 If by altering the Natures be meant destroying Beings, then moral Evil consists in desiring the Destruction of other Natures,  or in Evil Affections. If what is meant be altering the Laws of Nature, or desiring that they were stopped; this is seldom desired by any but Madmen, nor is this Desire evidenced by some of the  worst Actions, nor is such Desire always criminal; otherwise it were as great a Crime as any, to wish, when a Dam was broken down, that the Water would not overflow the Country.
If making Things be what they are not, means “attempting or desiring that any Subject should have two opposite Qualities at once, or a Quality and its Privation;” ’tis certain then, that according to the Stoicks, all vicious Men are thorowly mad. But ’tis to be doubted, that such Madness never happened to even the worst of Mankind. When a Man murders, he does not desire his Fellow‐Creature to be both deadand living. When he robs, he does not desire that both he and the Proprietor should at the same time possess. If any says, that he desires to have a Right to that, to which another has a Right; ’tis probably false. Robbers neither think of Rights at all, nor are solicitous about acquiring them: Or, if they retain some wild Notions of Rights, they think their Indigence, Conquest or Courage gives them a Right, and makes the other’s Right to cease. If attempting to make  old Qualities or Rights give place to new, be the Idea of moral Evil, then every Artificer, Purchaser, or Magistrate invested with an Office is criminal.
 Many of Mr. Woolaston’s Propositions contradicted by Actions, are about Rights, Duties, Obligation, Justice, Reasonableness. These are long Words, principal Names, or Attributes in Sentences. The little Word [his,] or the Particles [as, according] are much better: they may escape Observation, and yet may include all the Ambiguities of Right, Property, Agreement, Reasonableness: “Treating Things as they are, and not as they are not:” Or, “According to what they are, or are not,” are Expressions he probably had learned from another truly great Name, who has not explained them sufficiently.
In Quasi Contracts, or Tacit, no Signification of Truth.It may perhaps not seem improper on this occasion to observe, that in the Quasi Contractus, the Civilians do not imagine any Act of the Mind of the Person obligedto be really signified, but by a sort of Fictio juris supposing it, order him to act as if he had contracted, even when they know that he had contrary Intentions.
In the Tacit Conventions, ’tis not a Judgment which is signified, but an Act of the Will transferring Right, in which  there is no Relation to Truth or Falshoodof itself. The Non‐performance of Covenants is made  penal, not because of their signifying Falshoods, as if this were the Crime in them: But it is necessary, in order to preserve Commerce in any Society, to make effectual all Declarations of Consent to transfer Rights by any usual Signs, otherwise there could be no Certainty in Mens Transactions.
[*]In his Religion of Nature delineated.
[47.]“I lay down this as a fundamental maxim, That whoever acts as if things were so, or not so, doth by his acts declare, that they are so, or not so; as plainly as he could by words, and with more reality,” Wollaston, The Religion of Nature Delineated, 13.
[48.]Tacit conventions and “quasi contractus” were standard natural law expressions, the latter derived from Justinian, Institutes I.iii.28. Hutcheson defines them as follows: “Some rights arise, not from any contract, but from some other action either of him who has the right, or of the person obliged… . the Civilians … call them * obligationes quasi ex contractu ortae: feigning a contract obliging men in these cases to whatever could reasonably have been demanded by the one party, and wisely promised by the other, had they been contracting about these matters” (System, II.2.14).
[49.]“A thema is whatever is able to be offered to the understanding to be known.” A thema complexum is a “proposition or speech to be confirmed or explicated,” (Hutcheson, Logicae Compendium (Glasgow: Foulis, 1756), “Appendix,” III.ii, 100–101).
[*]Barberack’s Notes on Puffendorf, Lib. iv. c. 1, 7.
[50.]It is not clear to whom this refers. One possibility is Cumberland.
[*]See Grotius de Jure Bell. Lib. 3. c. 1.
[51.]No passage in Wollaston matches these two quotes exactly, but Hutcheson seems to have in mind Religion of Nature Delineated, I §5, 16–18.
[52.]Wollaston argues that someone who violates another’s property rights “acts a lie,” (Religion of Nature Delineated, VI §§15, 138). The exact formulation is found in John Clarke’s attack on Wollaston: “I suppose this Sort of Language of denying Truth by Action, or acting a Lie, as the Author somewhere expresses himself, will be a little surprising to the Reader” (John Clarke, An Examination of the Notion of Moral Good and Evil [London: A. Bettesworth, 1725], 6).
[53.]See Religion of Nature Delineated, I.4, 14–15.
[54.]See Religion of Nature Delineated, I.4, 13.